Archive for the ‘World’ Category

Quote note (#186)

The first paragraph of a (short) big-picture piece by Robert Kaplan:

A vast crumbling can be heard across Europe, coupled with an ennui that is the ironic upshot of being stunned by too many disparate crises. The Mediterranean, it turns out, is not the southern border of Europe: Rather, that border lies somewhere in the Sahara Desert from where African migrants coalesce into caravans headed north. And as they have throughout history, the Balkans still form a zone of human migration from the Near East. For decades, the dream of the European Union was to become a post-national paradise of prosperity and the rule of law, and gradually, through various association agreements, extend the bounties of civil society to contiguous regions. Now the process is being reversed: The contiguous regions are exporting their instability into Europe itself. Eurasia, a super-continent of historic exoduses, is starting to reintegrate Europe. …

(Like Europe, the article undergoes progressive disintegration into directionless chaos as it continues, but it’s worth a look — if just for the symptomatology.)

September 21, 2015admin 15 Comments »
TAGGED WITH : , , , ,

London II

Surreptitiously recorded commentary on The Thing:

It‘s started to spread from … to …”

“You see some remnants of the housing estate people around, and they really seem as if they’re from another century…”

“Of course, the Conservative government is not going to do anything to stop what is happening …”

“There are still islands of social housing …”

June 27, 2015admin 14 Comments »

Mackinder in Beijing

A long, but insightful look at the planetary strategic environment puts recent developments in theoretical context:

After decades of quiet preparation, Beijing has recently begun revealing its grand strategy for global power, move by careful move. Its two-step plan is designed to build a transcontinental infrastructure for the economic integration of the world island from within, while mobilizing military forces to surgically slice through Washington’s encircling containment.

The initial step has involved a breathtaking project to put in place an infrastructure for the continent’s economic integration. By laying down an elaborate and enormously expensive network of high-speed, high-volume railroads as well as oil and natural gas pipelines across the vast breadth of Eurasia, China may realize Mackinder’s vision in a new way. For the first time in history, the rapid transcontinental movement of critical cargo — oil, minerals, and manufactured goods — will be possible on a massive scale, thereby potentially unifying that vast landmass into a single economic zone stretching 6,500 miles from Shanghai to Madrid. In this way, the leadership in Beijing hopes to shift the locus of geopolitical power away from the maritime periphery and deep into the continent’s heartland.

As a trivial point of perspective, it might be worth noting that this blog’s ferocious Atlanteanism completely overwhelms its Sinophilia in regard to this question. If the emergence of a diasporic-maritime China, attuned to its Pacific Rim ethnic offshoots, is to be forestalled by a revival of dreams of dominion on the world island, the 21st century is about to take a peculiarly unfortunate turn.

June 10, 2015admin 17 Comments »

The Islamic Vortex (Note-5)

Michael Klare takes a look at the Islamic State logistics train (bullish for US defense stocks):

In the years after invading Iraq and disbanding Saddam Hussein’s military, the U.S. sunk about $25 billion into “standing up” a new Iraqi army. By June 2014, however, that army, filled with at least 50,000 “ghost soldiers,” was only standing in the imaginations of its generals and perhaps Washington. When relatively small numbers of Islamic State (IS) militants swept into northern Iraq, it collapsed, abandoning four cities — including Mosul, the country’s second largest — and leaving behind enormous stores of U.S. weaponry, ranging from tanks and Humvees to artillery and rifles. In essence, the U.S. was now standing up its future enemy in a style to which it was unaccustomed and, unlike the imploded Iraqi military, the forces of the Islamic State proved quite capable of using that weaponry without a foreign trainer or adviser in sight.

In response, the Obama administration dispatched thousands of new advisers and trainers and began shipping in piles of new weaponry to re-equip the Iraqi army. It also filled Iraqi skies with U.S. planes armed with their own munitions to destroy, among other things, some of that captured U.S. weaponry. Then it set to work standing up a smaller version of the Iraqi army. Now, skip nearly a year ahead and on a somewhat lesser scale the whole process has just happened again. Less than two weeks ago, Islamic State militants took Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. Iraqi army units, including the elite American-trained Golden Division, broke and fled, leaving behind — you’ll undoubtedly be shocked to hear — yet another huge cache of weaponry and equipment, including tanks, more than 100 Humvees and other vehicles, artillery, and so on.

The Obama administration reacted in a thoroughly novel way: it immediately began shipping in new stocks of weaponry, starting with 1,000 antitank weapons, so that the reconstituted Iraqi military could take out future “massive suicide vehicle bombs” (some of which, assumedly, will be those captured vehicles from Ramadi). Meanwhile, American planes began roaming the skies over that city, trying to destroy some of the equipment IS militants had captured.

Notice anything repetitive in all this — other than another a bonanza for U.S. weapons makers? Logically, it would prove less expensive for the Obama administration to simply arm the Islamic State directly before sending in the air strikes.

June 2, 2015admin 20 Comments »
TAGGED WITH : , , , ,

Rough Triangles III

Déjà vu time at XS, courtesy of the Mesopotamian death spiral, and Fernandez’s strategic framing. The background is important, and relates the topic to a wider question of conservation laws.

The collapse in the Middle East feels like Black April, 1975, the month South Vietnam fell [*]. And it should, because just as the collapse of Saigon did not happen in Black April, but in a political American decision to allow South Vietnam to fall after a “decent interval”, so also is the ongoing collapse rooted, not in the recent tactical mistakes of the White House, but in the grand strategic decision president Obama made when he assumed office. […] This is the plan. It would be crazy not to acknowledge it.

A humanitarian foreign policy is as much a hostage to dark humor as any other affront to Gnon. Hell doesn’t go away just because you don’t like it. So instead it slides diagonally in the only direction left open, from bloody (and incompetent) hegemonism into radically cynical catastrophe tweaking:

Deep in their hearts the Washington Post and the New York Times must realize they endorsed Obama precisely because they knew that when this moment came he would harden his heart and refuse to re-engage, except for show. Since this is the plan, the only effective strategy, the only sane thing to do is to accept the liberal gambit and continue it. […] The obvious continuation is not to dampen the sectarian conflict, but to exacerbate it to the greatest degree possible. America, like Britain in the Napoleonic age, should adopt the policy of supporting first one side then the other, or preferably both at once, so that the combatants inflict the maximum degree of damage on each other. […] … To a cynic, what follows next is quite simple: to be the winner stand back and watch while the Arabian peninsula, Levant and North Africa destroys itself. Take every opportunity to make it worse. Clearly a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented scale will result. Hundreds of thousands are already dead and millions of displaced persons are on the road. That will only grow in scale and number to millions of dead and tens of millions of refugees. Therefore steps like preparing to sink the people smuggling boats, as the EU is doing, are in order. […] If you can stomach it, it can work like a charm. […] The main problem with this strategy is that Obama may not be able to contain its effects. …

(For the Rough Triangles XS log, see 1, 2, 3.)

* Cited over-excitedly here, with walk-back here.

May 19, 2015admin 16 Comments »

Quote note (#159)

Thomas Friedman doesn’t dig very deep, but he gets it 80-90% right (the title alone — whoever chose it — deserves to win some reality points):

Asian autocrats tended to be modernizers, like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who just died last week at 91 — and you see the results today: Singaporeans waiting in line for 10 hours to pay last respects to a man who vaulted them from nothing into the global middle class. Arab autocrats tended to be predators who used the conflict with Israel as a shiny object to distract their people from their own misgovernance. The result: Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq are now human development disaster areas.

— that’s the bread and butter, but here’s the jam:

Egypt may send troops to defeat the rebels in Yemen. If so, it would be the first case of a country where 25 percent of the population can’t read sending troops to rescue a country where the water comes through the tap 36 hours a month to quell a war where the main issue is the 7th century struggle over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad …

(Also grimly relevant.)

April 6, 2015admin 23 Comments »
TAGGED WITH : , , , ,

Things Fall Apart

Pax Americana is easy to laugh at, but so — no doubt — was Pax Britannica and even Pax Romana. Imperial order isn’t a tidy or pretty business. It was, however, something, and it’s very rapidly ceasing to be.

Powerful nonlinear dynamics are triggered at certain critical points of systemic transformation. The positive network effects that induced powers great and small to buy into a credible world order switch into reverse, with every defection making the value of continued adherence less convincing to everyone else. In Europe and East Asia the defection dominoes have yet to cascade, and the slow work of fundamental subversion proceeds at a misleadingly languid pace. In the Middle East, in sharp contrast, little remains of the preferred American status quo beyond a ghastly husk. It’s hard to see any way back.

America’s traditional regional lynch-pin allies — Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — are united (only) in alienation. The most important structural reason for this, beyond the inexorable decline of American global management capability, and coherent options for intervention, rumbles beneath the surface of this WSJ article. Everything the US is still trying to accomplish in the region is pushing it into deeper complicity with the Teheran regime — whether on the specific issue of the Iranian nuclear program, operations against ISIS, or involvement in Yemen — and this makes it an objective antagonist of the Sunni establishment. A deep Sunni reformation — in the most blood-drenched sense of the word — is unfolding in the region, and the US is simply incapable of aligning with it. Yet as conflict escalates, and polarization intensifies, even the most conservative Sunni players are driven into solidarity with revolutionary Jihadi radicalism. If an Iranian-orchestrated campaign, coordinated with Iraq’s Maliki regime*, Assad, and the Kurds, succeeds in crushing the ISIS Islamic State, it is a near certainty that the major Sunni powers will commit to its resurrection, or displacement, rather than concede to the triumph of a new Shia order in Mesopotamia. … Then Yemen happened.

A new Middle Eastern war scarcely raises an eyebrow outside the region today. The Islamic Vortex has passed the point of ignition, and the old order is beyond salvage. Among Western observers, impotence translates immediately into apathy, even when they notice a deluge of blood de-pinkering the world. The Battle for Saudi Arabia Begins, writes Fernandez — and there’s nothing at all that anybody can do about it.

* Only very roughly speaking (see comments).

ADDED: I should have guessed there was already a Things Fall Apart (I) here. Apologies for any subsequent confusion. (WordPress is entirely relaxed about non-unique post titles, but I’m going to try not to be.)

ADDED: Pax Americana is over.

ADDED: David Rothkopf combining some valuable analysis with disastrously misconceived recommendations.

March 27, 2015admin 34 Comments »
TAGGED WITH : , , , , , , ,

Kill the Chicken …

… to scare the monkeys.

Andrew Lilico gets the game over Syriza exactly right.

In current discussions of what Greece might or might not get in the way of concessions from the Eurozone, there has so far been relatively little appreciation of one basic political reality: as far as the governments of Spain, Portugal, Ireland, probably Italy and perhaps even France are concerned, Syriza must fail and must be seen to fail. … […] And note: I haven’t even got on to the problem of how voters in Germany or Finland or the Netherlands would react to being told that Syriza had extracted concessions with its comic-book antics.

Unless Syriza-led Greece is hideously crucified, it wins — and what will be unfolding is an extremely brutal zero-sum game (in which Greece cannot be allowed to win). For the EU establishment, a Syriza success story would be a catastrophe of almost incomprehensible magnitude. It would bring with it an entire narrative of core institutional delegitimation, which in the case of the peripheral nations (as glossed by Lilico) runs: “… what we really should have done was to raise the minimum wage, hire back the public sector staff that had been fired, say we weren’t going to pay our debts to our eurozone partners, cosy up to the Russians and tell the Germans they didn’t feel nearly guilty enough about World War Two. Then everyone would have said we were ‘rock stars’ and and forgiven our debts.”

It’s unthinkable that Germany could let this story put down roots in the fertile manure of renewed growth. Instead, there will be war by other means. Crucially, the more calamitously things now turn out for Greece, the more the EU will be strengthened, if only for a while.

From the perspective of these eurozone governments, Syriza must fail. The best way for it to fail would be for it to capitulate utterly and crawl back to Greece with its tail between its legs and a few cosmetic patronising “concessions” such as renaming the “Troika” the “Consultative Committee” (or, if it makes them feel better, the “Symvouleftiki Epitropi”). If it won’t do that — and there’s a good chance that if it did try to do that then the Greek government would collapse, anyway — then things get a bit more complicated. Because if it’s bad and dangerous for Syriza to succeed inside the euro, it would be disastrous for it to succeed outside the euro.

It’s hard to see how this doesn’t get intense.

ADDED: The game (formalized)

February 12, 2015admin 11 Comments »

Quote note (#147)

The ‘Davoisie’ can’t imagine that there’s anyone who doesn’t secretly think they’re right, argues Walter Russell Mead. It’s educational, therefore, to take seriously the thought-processes of an emblematic figure from outside the ‘Davos box’:

Germany will not, Putin may well believe, find a way to turn the euro disaster around. The south will continue to fester and stew under an increasingly hateful and damaging system. Germany will also not be able to turn the Balkans into an orderly and quiet garden of Nordic and Teutonic virtues.

The key to Putin’s thinking is that he is betting less on Russian strength than on German and therefore Western weakness. In opposing the consolidation of a German Europe, he is betting on German failure more than he is betting on Russian success. The goal of Russian policy in Ukraine, for example, is not to create a new Ukraine in Russia’s image. It is not to conquer Ukraine –but to demonstrate that the East is indigestible. Germany cannot save Ukraine or organize Ukraine. It doesn’t have the money, the military culture or the political skills to convert this particular sow’s ear into the silk purse of a North Atlantic market democracy. Germany cannot save Ukraine when the price of oil is at $100 per barrel; it cannot save Ukraine when the price of oil is $25 per barrel.

But if Germany cannot save Ukraine at any price of oil, it also cannot reform Greece, Italy and Spain at any value of the euro. Putin doesn’t see his job as one of building up a powerful force to counter a rising Germany. He sees his job as being able to take advantage of the coming failures and catastrophes of what he believes to be the grandiose and unsustainable Western project in Europe.

The positioning, at least, makes sense. (And Greece looks likely to play along.)

January 28, 2015admin 15 Comments »


No one really denies that Singapore is the most functional society on earth, which is interesting in itself. Everything works here (even multiculturalism (of which they have the superior Confucian hegemony version, rather than the ethno-masochistic late-Christian fiasco)). Practical civilization reaches its zenith in the orchid zone of the Singapore botanic gardens, or somewhere close to it. This drives a lot of people — even those who profoundly admire the place — into a sulfurous rage.

No one likes an apple-polisher of Gnon (or scarcely anyone, I’m exempting myself, along with a few others). By demonstrating social functionality, Singapore makes everyone look bad, which doesn’t go down well. The Sings make us all look like useless scum. Yes, there is that.

Conversation snippets:

Continue Reading

January 7, 2015admin 58 Comments »