It’s always interesting to see what it takes to go big on YouTube. In my second critique of the YouTuber Kraut, I analyze his biggest video ever, “Trump’s Biggest Failure”. This thing has racked up over four million views over the past five years. Kraut is very skilled at his medium, and is very intelligent. But I think it’s very telling that his most successful video, by a factor of four or so, is so very standard in its views. It’s more compelling and fun in its presentation, but this video on China is basically a Pentagon briefing or a Cable news special in its content. I wonder if there’s a broader lesson there?
I hope you enjoy this latest “YouTube Drama” video. Stuff like this keeps the channel ticking over so I can produce less popular but more worthwhile content.
I’ve been avoiding watching videos by the YouTuber Kraut for years now. At the request of a viewer, I finally took the plunge this past weekend, and found it pretty irritating. Having now written and produced a 15 minute video, I think my problem is largely with the style of argument. The blithe assumption that there is no point in even discussing the details of politically useful mayhem is infuriating to me. This style of argument is often used against my attempt to analyze the horror in Syria. Part of Kraut’s anger at Chomsky is that he would even dare to attempt to construct a chronology of deaths in Kosovo. A chronology of death, and the awareness that only a few thousand people died in Syria before the US intelligence community and ally intervention is a key part of my critique of what happened there. If Kraut and folks like him got their way, we wouldn’t be able to establish basic information about catastrophes. That’s not a world I want to deal with. So, to the horror of my 20something self, I’ve managed to make a 15 minute video defending Noam Chomsky.
The Prager U video on the British Empire has a lot of issues, but I think it also vindicates my decision to deal with the empire as a multi-part series. Today’s video goes through a lot of the assumptions and foolishness in the video, but Prager’s biggest mistake is probably trying to tell this epic, world-altering story in such a short form. There wasn’t much agreement on what the British Empire was, and what it represented at the time, and there isn’t much more now. I’ve now got over a dozen videos that attempt to put forward an argument about the British Empire. Prager’s attempt to sum it all up in just five and a half minutes looks deeply silly by comparison.
This has been one of the most requested videos since I launched the British Empire series last fall. I hope you enjoy it!
I think this video is a fairly clever way to launch this epic series on the British Empire’s lessons for the world of today. One of the many things I think about when I’m doing any sort of persuasive writing is “What are the arguments against this?” It may not be apparent this week, but what today’s video does, is get out ahead of what I anticipate will be some of the most prevalent arguments against this video. The vids this week are probably more likely to piss off fans of the British Empire, But the vids on the two following Tuesdays should start annoying the “Why U No Like America” types. As with many videos, the argument here had its genesis in a facebook argument years ago. I’m glad to finally get it out there.
And no, Rambo, the symbol of rampaging 1980s hyper-patriotism, does not appear in this video. I’m hoping to capitalize on some of the magic of this video, which kicked off my Everybody’s Lying About Islam series. “Saudi Arabia Is Finished” did not feature Eddard Stark of Game of Thrones Fame, despite his being featured on the thumbnail. My guess is that pop culture reference might have had something to do with the almost 800K views that video has racked up. I am hoping Rambo can help with this one…
The New Trailer is Up! I had been thinking about this for about a year and it’s great to finally have it out there. Probably the most over-thought out and hashed over three minutes in this channel’s history. It’s always difficult for me to figure out what this channel is about. With this trailer I think I’ve gotten it down to something I’m happy with, is well produced, and might appeal to a broader group of people. I’m pretty pleased. Let me know what you think.
This is my third attempt at a channel trailer, and I think it’s useful to compare it to the other two. The first is probably the funniest, and definitely the best produced of the trailers, but it’s neither representative of what this channel is, nor does it have much of a point other than the fact that pie is funny. With the second trailer, in the direct aftermath of the Trump election, I’m clearly failing to come up with an ideological response to what had just happened. It’s also really shittily produced. It’s embarrassing that that has been the face of my channel for the unsubscribed for almost three years now. With this new trailer I think I’m much better situated to retain subscribers and grow the channel.
In recent years the focus of the channel has changed. I dive in deep on what’s going on in certain countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria or Yemen. This new, in depth approach has been great for the channel, and I think it also makes for much better videos. When something comes up with one of those countries, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to say, and I usually have some good, under-covered context to add to the conversation. Writing those scripts rarely takes more than 5 or 6 hours. My research on those countries is constantly on-going, and I don’t have to think too hard to put together something I’m proud of.
This one was different. I don’t claim to be an expert in anything, I only promise to do a better job than any cable news channel. This is super easy with the countries I’ve been covering for years. Venezuela is new for me. For years I’ve wanted to do more Latin America coverage, but I haven’t had the time to do the in depth reading that is necessary. It’s impossible to avoid having an opinion on Venezuela of course, but they are not really “MY” opinions. It’s what I’ve been force fed by other news sources. That made writing this one super tough. I had to try to cut through the layers of bullshit and say something original. The story of what’s really behind Venezuela’s drop in oil production was one I’ve wanted to tell since May, but the framing was super difficult. I just don’t have the necessary context, which I hope I made clear… Today’s video went through multiple drafts over multiple weeks. I hope you think it was worth the wait!
Let me preface this by saying again that I’m not any kind of Israel expert, but I figured I should talk a bit more about the claim at the end of today’s video, that Israel has helped reduce its neighbors to smoking ruins. The question of Israel’s role in the run-up to the Iraq war is controversial, but the consensus seems to be that they were very much for Bush’s invasion, and did what they could to promote it. The current Israeli government’s almost gleeful support for the destruction of Syria is less controversial. Israel is officially neutral, but in 2017 they conceded that they had carried out around 100 airstrikes against Syrian and Hezbollah targets over the course of the war, and they have acted as a stumbling block to the peace process.
I think this is all a terrible mistake. This policy of aiding in the destruction of Iraq and Syria might have made sense during the Cold War. It would have been vicious then, but it would at least have had some justification. During that era, when they were faced with the opposition of a vastly better armed Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as the opposition of the Soviet Union, taking these sorts of actions would have been rational. Israel’s current leadership still acts as if they face this sort of existential threat. They don’t. And the world knows it. The desperately promoted threat from Iran is virtually nonexistent. The policies against Iraq and Syria that Israel supported did give Iran more power on the ground in these countries, but Israel remains free to bomb them at will in Syria. Most of Iran’s weapons systems date back to the Shah. Iran has made some limited progress with missile technology, but the use of that technology would quickly result in a complete roll-back of Iranian power in the region, and no doubt the destruction of multiple Iranian and Syrian cities by the Israeli and US air forces.
The Soviet Union is gone. Egypt and Jordan are now Israeli allies, and amazingly Saudi Arabia, if still officially hostile, is now largely seen as an Israeli ally as well. The international Palestinian terrorist threat of yore has been almost completely neutralized. It has been co-opted by the Palestinian Authority, and it has been fairly comprehensively rooted out of its old homes in Lebanon and Jordan. With the fences and walls around Gaza and the West Bank, the threat of a third Intifadah is largely meaningless. Palestinians would die in their thousands, in return for a few miles of burned Israeli farms. Netanyahu and company seem to think they are now secure enough to treat the Palestinians any way they want. This is a terrible mistake.
Despite all Israel’s protestations, the world, outside of Washington, DC, can now clearly see that it is more secure than it has ever been. All 21st century wars are media wars, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even more so than others. Netanyahu’s behavior makes it look, even to Israel’s most natural allies, like Israel is THE destabilizing element in the region. Much of Israel’s support in the world, and in the US in particular, is based on the perception that the country is a plucky underdog. Killing Palestinians by the thousand, with the support of former enemies like Egypt, while increasing security cooperation with Saudi Arabia, does not fit that image. As today’s video says, Israel’s current leadership serves the interest of US defense contractors, not the interests of Israel.
It has been an incredible week at the More Freedom Foundation. I’ve spent a lot more time than I like to admit refreshing the real-time view statistics and just repeating “Wow!” As this video shows, viewership this past week was up by a factor of ten from two months ago. This is tremendously satisfying, and I’m endlessly grateful to all of you, the viewers and readers for making this possible. It’s now possible to call this weird project of mine successful. That’s amazing.
But there’s a bit of an odd contrast here, laid out in this video. As the channel reaches new heights of success, I’m crashing in some friends’ guest room and taking care of their dogs. The dogs are awesome, and it’s a lot of fun. But it’s not what I should be focused on right now. For the past year I have been floating from couch to couch, trying to make this YouTube channel a success. It’s been amazing, dropping into so many different lives and cities, and I’m tremendously grateful to the friends that have put me up, and the Patrons whose pledges have covered my travel and living expenses. It’s great, but it’s tiring. I really want an apartment of my own, after most of a year on the road. I’ve got new projects to work on, and it’s difficult to do that when I’m staying at a new place every week or so.
Everybody thinks that the Middle East is different somehow. It’s really not. The real reason it’s a mess isn’t “centuries old hatreds” or the “oil curse”. 30 years ago, much of the rest of the world was just as screwed up. The reason the Middle East is still a mess, is because it remains the subject of competition between regional and world powers. The US and Saudi Arabia against Iran, and Israel against everybody else (supposedly), has kept a “Cold War” dynamic going in the Middle East long after it has faded everywhere else.
China, the only power that may one day rival the United States, is a paid up member of the US system. “Competition” in the rest of the world is about “Trade Wars” not “War Wars”. The US has provided a good enough deal to get everyone on the same page. Donald Trump wants to end that. He has a straightforwardly mercantilist, or even mercenary way of looking at the world. As I put it in the video, he wants to replace a generous deal with “F#*K you, pay me!”. These rough edges might be in the process of being shaved off, but it’s worth looking at what would happen to the world if he got his way.
Trump’s world would be one of renewed competition between the US and regional powers on every continent. It wouldn’t be one of great power war, not during Trump’s term anyway, but it would mean more proxy wars. Likely locations are some you’ve heard of, like Ukraine and Libya, and some you might not have thought of, like Thailand and Azerbaijan. Political tussles that are worked out locally today would quickly attain an international dimension. The Cold War’s ability to turn every local issue into competition between the US and the USSR was extraordinary. In a world of renewed competition between regional powers, this dynamic would resurface. In the words of Thucydides…
“the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.
Let’s try to avoid that shall we?
I should probably explain what I’m up to with this World War 3 Series I’ve been developing over the past couple months. On one level it’s a shameless bid for views. YouTube loves World War 3. There’s a lot of stuff out there insisting that world war is imminent. One of the most annoying bits of fake news during the 2016 election was the assumption that Hillary Clinton would bring it about if she were elected. My annoyance has now transitioned to the folks who insist that Trump is going to turn the world into a cinder. The chances of that are definitely higher than they would have been under Clinton, but I think they are still pretty trivial. If we’re looking for a partner for World War III, we’ve got the same problem we’ve had since 1989. Nobody’s really interested. In the first episode in this series “Will Trump Start a War With China?” I address China’s inability to challenge us today, and Trump’s possible role in encouraging a conflict down the line. In Part two, “Is Russia Winning?” I laid out why they are pretty clearly not.
So in one sense, the point of this series is to get people to relax. But it’s not that I don’t think World War 3 is possible. In fact I think it’s inevitable. The only question in my mind is when it happens. Will it happen 50 years from now, or 500 years from now? It’s our responsibility to push that day off for as long as possible. That’s the point of this series beyond the clicks. The internet shouldn’t be talking about World War III the way it does, but it’s a good thing to think about nonetheless. We humans are violent folks. Past performance is no indicator of future results, of course, but the every year that goes by without a conflagration is a win for us. We need to think more seriously about how to keep that streak going. Which is exactly what today’s video tries to do.