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Why the ‘Geo’ in Geopolitics Still Matters

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Geopolitics is one of the most difficult sciences to have a single—and precise—definition, as it can have a wide array of interpretations.

A political analyst could perceive geopolitics as the exercise and distribution of power within the legislative branch of a government, analyzing the power dynamics—within a congress—of who and which party will support a new foreign policy towards another country (e.g. United States and Cuba); an ambassador may interpret geopolitics as the status of his native country’s relations with his assigned country, the conflicts that may unfold and what interests to uphold; and a hedge fund manager may perceive geopolitics in terms of what events could impact international commodity markets, therefore affecting international investments and his clients’ portfolios. In general the concept is often contextualized, reported, and thought of in terms of international conflicts, risks, and vulnerabilities between one country and another, or multiple parties fighting for influence in a specific part of a territory—i.e. ISIS/ISIL, Crimea, Syria, Korean peninsula. Yet this overlooks the root meaning of the word and the fact that physical geography — if not completely determines — still heavily influences the dynamics of many conflicts, whether military, resource-driven, ethnic, political and so on.

To understand the different meanings of the word, we must first grasp the rationale behind the two leading schools in the realm of geopolitics, which are the classical geopolitics and the more academically-based critical geopolitics schools. The former stems from late nineteenth and early twentieth century writings, primarily those of Sir. Halford Mackinder, Friedrich Ratzel, Alfred Mahan, and Nicholas Spykman, whose work, to this day, is still taken into account in contemporary analysis (the Eurasian landmass as the holy grail of natural resources, the state as a living organism, the paramount importance of controlling the seas, and the importance of littoral/rimland territories in the Asian continent). The critical geopolitics school, championed by prominent scholars such as Simon Dalby, John Agnew, Gerard Toal, and Klaus Dodds, has advocated another point of view within the field of geopolitical studies: that geopolitics is the spatialization of international politics, generally portrayed via words and images by an elite, the media, or academia itself.

Both schools are valid when discussing contemporary geopolitics. However, do they leave any room for the inclusion of physical geography when analyzing a nascent geopolitical conflict? Unfortunately, the theory of environmental determinism – the limits of human development owing to geography and environment – is automatically discarded and viewed pejoratively, as if it were an archaic interpretation of a particular human occurrence. My response to those who would automatically discard such matters: The ‘geo’ in geopolitics still matters.
Which climate type is the most ecumene for human living conditions? Which climatic conditions are most favorable to produce an adequate amount of food and water? Could physiographic conditions isolate certain types of groups that could eventually become guerrillas or terrorists? For example, stretching from Oregon to the Midwest, the United States is blessed with a favorable, temperate climate, balanced enough to have the right quantity of rain, temperature, and soil fertility, which as a result produces enough potable water, rich farmlands, and temperate forests to aid – not determine – the geopolitical condition of the United States as a whole. In Europe, if you are a farmer in the north European plain or in the lowlands of the British Isles, well, most likely you will not have much to worry about planting and harvesting cash crops, since the temperate climate provides similar climatic features to that of United States, thus providing a stable and moderate temperature that is perfect for farming.

Now what if you are a born in the central highlands of Afghanistan, with an unfavorable soil type for planting and harvesting, obligating you to become a pastoral nomad by raising cattle in the foothills of the mountains? What type of life and behavior do you think these herders would have after generations in the harsh, indomitable, fluctuating weather of the unforgiving central Afghan highlands? Most likely it would not be the community-oriented attitude of a farmer living in the Corn Belt region of United States. Possibly your comportment would evolve into a protective, reserved, distrustful-of-others variety, for in animal grazing you most prevent the theft of your only resource to provide a living for your family: your cattle. Thus, honor and reputation would be your dearest, most sacred elements to prevent others from trying to steal from you. As a result, you would rather be feared than loved, for the only respect and honor comes that from your kinship and clan. This is how Afghanistan has been for hundreds of years, given the numerous feuds the country has had amongst tribes and clans.

What if your cattle and your fellow tribesman live in a disconnected and inaccessible mountainous region where hunting, grazing cattle, and felling trees is imperative for the survival of your clan? Possibly, you would develop a separate identity given the isolation of your group over time, forming a different concept of what governance is and how you should be governed according to your own codes and laws. Now, this has been the social structure of the Russian North Caucasus nations—from Karachay-Cherkessia to Dagestan—as well as northern Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Iraqi and Turkish Kurdistan, the Basque region of Spain, northern Greece, the highlands of Guatemala, southern Mexico, and parts of southern Italy, particularly Calabria and Sicily. These regions have been fashioned by a ‘pastoral/mountain culture’- protecting your resources, your kinship and honor – which in turn affects the cultural character of their contemporary societies.
Now to the formula of geopolitical analysis, please add culture, religious beliefs, political concepts of governance, ethnic affiliation, and production means – all the elements of what make a geographic entity ‘unique.’

Nigeria, like many countries in the tropics, enjoys substantial levels of precipitation in the south, consistently up to Nassarawa state in central Nigeria. And as in many tropical/equatorial climates, there are favorable climatic conditions to animal and plant life in the southern lowlands of Nigeria. Yet this is not the case for Borno state – the symbolic hub of Boko Haram. Northern Nigeria is affected by what a physical geographer would call ‘the rain shadow effect,’ originating in the humid waters of the Gulf of Guinea, which, to put it simply, means that it rains more on one side of a mountain (windward side) or plateau range than the other (leeward side). This produces the arid and dry, Sahel-like climate that exists in most of Nigeria’s Islamic north—Kano, Sokoto and Borno. As a result, this type of geographic phenomena has given the local population in the north—the leeward side of Nigeria—a less favorable climatic condition than in the predominantly Christian south, providing both populations with different means of production and different conditions to manage their local economies, in great extent influencing their behavior and shared experience given the uniqueness of each group’s territory.

It’s worth noting that the insurgency problem of northern Nigeria is not exclusively a consequence of climate and agricultural productivity. Borno state lies right in the middle of the African Transition Zone — the cultural border dividing North Africa from Sub-Saharan Africa (different climatic conditions alongside religious and cultural dynamics). Now add the political history of Borno: a part of Nigeria that was not entirely penetrated by the British colonial apparatus; was deeply affected by trade routes vis-à-vis other Muslim tribal-polities; was marginalized prior the birth of Boko Haram; and is a part of Nigeria with poor arable land that mostly depends on animal grazing. As a result—and begging the question—how do these physiographic effects shape the cultural and religious dynamics that, in turn, influence the character and behavior of northern Nigerians, more precisely Borno state villagers? What are the cultural legacies of their villages and tribes? By analyzing Borno villagers’ ecosystem—arid climate and dry savannah/grasslands—alongside productivity means and cultural legacies, could it help us to understand the rise of a group such as Boko Haram and its growing geopolitical impact in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger?

As initially mentioned, physiographic conditions do not determine our destiny as humans, but it would be fallacy not to think that some nations are simply more favored than others in terms of physical geography. Would it be helpful to break the taboo on the importance of analyzing the climatic and topographic characteristics of a particular territory for a particular population? For instance, one thinks of human possibilism when thinking of Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. Yet, arguably, these ports are located in some of the most geostrategic hubs of maritime commerce, without forgetting the fact that a country like the U.A.E.—thanks in great part to their natural resources, political institutions, and migrant communities—has taken advantage of its strategic location to become the global city it is. Now could the Central African Republic have the same level of geostrategic importance as Djibouti or Crimea? Most likely not. Some territories are simply more strategic than others—mobility, location, geographic chokepoints, maritime commerce, agriculture, natural resources, and so forth.
Perhaps the secret to further understanding geopolitical events and insurgencies lies in the notion of biogeography in combination with cultural legacies. For instance, Professor Jarred Diamond points out that the main reason why Australia remained the biggest territory inhabited by hunters and gatherers for thousands of years prior to British colonization was mainly biogeographic: a very small number of plants could be domesticated. Thus it was only after the British arrived with domesticable animals and crops that Australia was put on the path of becoming the world exporter of wool and food it is today. Additionally, if you wonder in what type of climate the major Australian cities are located? Well, you guessed correctly: in the temperate climate zone—Brisbane to Adelaide and also a small regional area that circulates the city of Perth—where the most favorable climatic living and agricultural conditions occur.

Yes, political institutions and reforms were paramount in the socioeconomic transformation of countries like United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and, a most recent example, Israel (prior to massive migration from Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, it was generally a semi-arid, deserted space). Yes, human decisions, opportunities and implementation of new technologies have made other polities more competitive than others; yes, technology, social media networks and the Internet, have shortened time and space across the globe; yes, theories like environmental/geographic determinism were written by racist, bigot-type geographers and anthropologists; and yes, it is extremely difficult to scientifically prove how climatic and biogeographic conditions may influence our behavior and political identity as human beings. Yet, human possibilism still has limits, as Professor Diamond once again argues: “the human spirit won’t keep you warm north of the Artic Circle if you are nearly naked, as are equatorial lowland peoples. Nor will the human spirit enable you to herd kangaroos, whose social structure is different from that of the dozen species of herdable Old World large domestic mammals.” Were the Australian aborigines – before the British settlement – less competitive because of environmental determinism and/or geographic limitations? If no, well, how could human possibilism have made the aborigines more competitive without domesticable plants and animals? This is why I still think environmental determinism should not be discarded automatically; instead one should ponder the more undeniable physiographic, climatic, and biogeographic conditions that can shape the character of the inhabitants in a particular ‘place,’ allowing them to become more competitive than other ‘places.’

In the science and interpretation of geopolitics, it should be paramount to comprehend how different biomes (e.g. grasslands, highlands, coastal regions, deserts, lowlands, basins, valleys, and so on) and climatic conditions (e.g. tropical/equatorial, arid/dry, moderate/temperate, continental/cold, polar/extreme, and highland) could have an effect on a given communities’ political and social behavior, especially and more specifically in the Global South, where many conflicts are arising, and which is why scholars, policymakers, journalists, business leaders, and all of those interested—like myself—in the realm of geopolitics, should break the environmental determinism taboo by simply asking ourselves: Could climatic and biogeographic conditions further helps us in our understanding, analysis, and forecasting of geopolitical events?
As a last remark, in his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell brilliantly expresses the fact that “each of us has his or her own distinct personality. But overlaid on top of that are tendencies and assumptions and reflexes handed down to us by the history of the community we grew up in, and those differences are extraordinarily specific. Why is the fact that each of us comes from a culture with its own distinctive mix of strengths and weaknesses, tendencies and pre-dispositions, so difficult to acknowledge? Who we are cannot be separated from where we’re from”…

First published by the Geopolitical Monitor

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Americas

The Overriding Strategic Threat: Donald Trump, American “Mass” And Nuclear War

Prof. Louis René Beres

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Carl G. Jung

“The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.”-Carl G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957)

More than anywhere else, Donald Trump take his decisional cues from the American “mass.”  In present circumstances, this term  references a succession of  viscerally compliant private citizens and a seemingly endless chorus of similarly deferential public officials. If there should  still arise any further doubts about such a worrisome assessment, one need only consider Trump’s rancor-filled “rallies” or the undiminished  Republican Senate support for his always-accumulating leadership derogations.

What is to be done? Most concerning among these ample derogations are those actions that would impact a US presidential authorization of military force. In  an evidently worst case scenario, these impacts could include an actual use of nuclear weapons, either by the American side or by a pertinent adversarial state (e.g., North Korea).

Such  risks and dangers did not arise ex nihilo, out of nothing. Rather, Donald Trump’s very conspicuous derelictions – both in the past, and still-impending – are rooted in a population that disavows two complementary obligations. These obligations are the reinforcing imperatives of serious analysis and true learning.   “I  love the poorly educated,” exclaimed the successful US presidential candidate in 2016. “Intellect rots the brain,” shrieked Third Reich Chief of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at his own Nazi rallies, back in 1935 and 1936.

Truth, however inconvenient or embarrassing, is always exculpatory. Any differences between the purposely dissembling statements of  President Trump and those of Minister Goebbels are minor at best. Reciprocally, the evident commonalities are distressingly plain and compelling. Both Donald Trump and his de facto German philosophical mentor represent champions of public disinformation or anti-thought.

Both seek or sought results without even a scintilla of human empathy or hint of compassionate intention.

At first, these comparisons may seem scandalous, even outrageous, but upon further reflection, they are not at all un reasonable or  unfair. Indeed, what would be more manifestly unfair or dishonest is for such tangible and information-based comparisons to be blithely dismissed or casually overlooked. This is because any such whimsical disregard could lead, ineluctably, to catastrophic war.

It’s not  a mysterious connection.  No sensible US war avoidance policies can be expected to emerge from a society that is being steadily weakened by a compliant and obsequious mass culture.[1] In any such anti-science context,  there exists a widespread American indifference to intellect or “mind.” .

More precisely, within the demeaning interstices of United States mass culture, any such  brazen indifference could result in irremediable misfortunes. These hard-to-imagine outcomes could arrive more-or-less immediately, or eventually, that is, in various foreseeable and unforeseeable increments.

Among these especially portentous prospects,  the most worrisome would be nuclear attack and/or nuclear war.

There is more. Though not readily apparent in America’s current national politics, nuclear violence in variously assorted forms represents the greatest possible risk posed. No such dire prediction could be expressed as a true mathematical probability (because any nuclear war would necessarily represent a unique event), but the broader connections between generalized American anti-intellectualism and American national security are recognizably evident.

There has never been any specific or general American outcry about an American president who proudly reads nothing, literally nothing at all. At his first Republican presidential convention, an early Trump-selected “speaker” was Duck Dynasty.  

Need anything more be said?

Still, there are always core lessons to be learned. Americans should look much more carefully  behind the news. Everything that we/they most genuinely need to know is not on  television or on  the internet. More generally, “The crowd,” noted the 19th-century Danish philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard, “is untruth.”  

In present-day United States, no single characterization could be more obvious or less contestable.

In this mass or crowd-based society, a continuing Trump presidency – the most  patently injurious result of America’s demeaning orientation to mass- could (sooner or later) become intolerable. “The  best lack all conviction,” warned the Irish poet W. B. Yeats in The Second Coming, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” For now at least for bewildered or beleaguered Americans, this existential warning remains confined to cerebral poetry.

But the stanza deserves a far wider audience,

Let all relevant assessments be forthright and candid. For the United States and certain of its allies,  a nuclear war is never really out of the question. At the moment, the most plausible site for any such unprecedented conflagration would be northeast Asia (US versus North Korea). Still, in light of a resurrecting “Cold War” with Russia (“Cold War II”), preliminary and contagious “sparks” could ignite virtually anywhere on earth. Most problematic, in this regard, would be southwest Asia (India/Pakistan)  

There is more. I have lectured and published widely on these issues since chairing Project Daniel for Israeli Prime Minister Arik Sharon back in 2003.

 Substantial nuclear conflict dangers will obtain in the Middle East even if Iran should somehow remain non-nuclear. This is the case, inter alia, because Israel could sometime need to rely upon nuclear deterrence or actual nuclear weapons use in response to certain non-nuclear forms of unconventional aggression (i.e., biological attack) and/or “only” massive conventional aggressions.

More than likely, this second category of risk would involve assorted “hybrid” aggressions launched (plausibly, in some definitive concert with Iran) by Hezbollah.

Already, the size and military capacity of this formidable Shiite militia exceeds that of many area armies.

 Let us look more closely at these strategic issues. What discernible linkages exist between mass society and nuclear war? Though mass thinking[2] or “crowd” thinking (Kierkegaard) is always “untruth,” Donald Trump is not the most genuinely root cause of America’s expanding atomic war perils. He is rather, an “outcome,”  a mere result, though a prospectively devastating result, of larger and far more deeply insidious national pathologies. More formally, knowledgeable scientists and philosophers (not this president’s mass “base”) would identify Trump’s incessantly demeaning incumbency as “epiphenomenal.”

But this does not make them any less dangerous.

There is more.Some complementary or corollary concerns aremore expressly legal than military or strategic.In these similarly urgent matters of US foreign policy making, President Donald Trump, leading a major world power that remains party to both the Geneva Convention (1949) and the Genocide Convention (1948), has no defensible legal right to call openly for international aggression.  But this is exactly what Trump demanded when he first threatened “total destruction” of North Korea in the earliest days of his presidency.

While the American president  intermittently claims (with evident pride)   that he and Kim Jung Un are “in love,” this allegedly deep affection remains an unreliable basis for nuclear war avoidance. Moreover, looking ahead dispassionately, the more visible and credible source of verbal belligerence between Washington and Pyongyang is the White House.

In law, there is no legitimate American right of tu quoque (Latin for “you too”). Among other historical instances, this legal defense was rejected at the original Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946, and also at the later Tokyo Trials. A significant portion of Donald Trump’s seemingly endless legal derogations lies in his sweeping unfamiliarity with all normally recognizable instances of history and jurisprudence.

Even now, Donald Trump appears unaware of the basics.  International law remains an integral part of U.S. domestic (municipal) law. To date, at least, this president has been unable to nullify Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution (the “Supremacy Clause”) or any of the several major Supreme Court decisions detailing binding sources for “incorporation.” Among  seminally core case judgments linking valid international rules to United States obligations, the most plainly important are the Paquete Habana (1900) and Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (1984).

Does anyone reasonably expect that US President Trump or his personal lawyers would have even a tiny substantive notion about these landmark American decisions?

It’s a silly question.

This sort of essential information is discussed only by the Constitutional lawyers. Now, unassailably, our vaunted American democracy rests unsteadily on the retrograde sovereignty of wholly unqualified persons. Even now, in the Senate leadership of his own party, only a pitiful few are prepared to say emphatically and unambiguously: “This emperor is naked, irremediably naked. He has no clothes.”[3]

 In metaphoric candor, Donald Trump’s refractory authority has “slipped back,” to use the illuminating images of twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “through the wings, and on to the age-old stage of civilization.” This ancient “stage” remains shabby, shaky and profoundly anti-democratic. Cumulatively, it does not bode well for a secure American life at any level.

At the conceptual heart of our America’s “crowd” or “mass” problem, the current US president remains a malignant and determinative “symptom.” Any further American “slippage” into the presidentially-augmented mass will have discernible and distinctly palpable consequences. There are certain obvious and unstoppable reasons for this. Reasonably, no country so openly fearful of independent thought – no country so fervidly torn between its loud public proclamations of  “exceptionalism” and the silent estrangements of its grievously unhappy people –  can hope to overcome  its screaming declensions.      

We may continue this nuclear war background analysis.  No blustering affirmations of “America First” can supplant authentic thought.

Such painfully shallow affirmations, now repeated daily,  as if they were some sort of religious incantation, can only deflect America’s attention from what remains vitally important. Most urgently, Trump must better ensure that his seat-of-the-pants strategic posture toward North Korea (a posture drawn directly from the commercial worlds of real estate branding and casino gambling) does not sometime explode uncontrollably. Significantly, such an obviously unacceptable outcome may at first seem less likely or worrisome than is actually the case.

“Do not seek the higher man in the marketplace” warned  Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra.As usual, the philosopher’s underscored wisdom was timeless.

Should North Korea and the United States enter into any outright hostilities or even an unintentional  nuclear war, the horrors of the earlier Vietnam conflict will be magnified many-fold. Before anything decent could ever be born from the rubble of such a conflict, an army of gravediggers would need to wield the “forceps.”

 Once upon a time in America, virtually every barely-attentive adult could recite some intuitively Spenglerian theory of decline. Today, at a very different historical moment – at an especially acquiescent national juncture where the riddle of human destiny has been reduced by American public life to vulgar and degrading entertainments –  almost no one can recognize The Decline of the West. “Logically,” this far-reaching lack of recognition should be expected whether we are speaking of a classic historical text written by a once-obscure German professor or some actual and precipitous historical declension.

What else should one now expect of a nation where the 2016 keynote presidential convention speaker of the victorious political party was Duck Dynasty.

In some respects, it is a very old story. Both frightened and repelled by any plausible expectations of genuine learning, expanding masses of Americans proceed blindly and in reassuring lockstep with crowds of similarly-fearful marchers. Consciously, this Trumpian “mass,” these obliging “crowds,” keep a desperate pace with all those other homogenized men and women who similarly loathe serious thought. Always, identifiably sizable segments of this submissive crowd coalesce energetically around a delusionary “pied-piper.”

In the present American case,  Trump reflects a president who promises multiple accessible scapegoats in compensation for citizens’ most stubborn  fears and personal failures. For the all-too-many listeners, these seductive promises are convenient, but untrue.

In the real American past, which has been “great” only selectively,  certain  circumstances have never been quite as degrading or ominous as today. In the words of Nixon-era White House advisor John Dean, speaking on CNN in March 2018, “Donald Trump is Richard Nixon on steroids and stilts.” That’s quite a telling (and accurate) metaphor.

Worldwide, this is hardly the first time in the past hundred years that a dissembling political wizard has promised self-blinding followers some sort of lascivious “redemption” in exchange for their total political obedience. In an easily best remembered example, the ultimate costs inflicted by Third Reich wizardry included the destruction of an entire continent and over100 million souls. The lesson for those Americans still willing to read and think?  It is that there is always a great and unforgivable price to be paid by societies that wittingly abjure intellect, history and capable thought.

Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” At the very moment when an American president should be focusing systematically and analytically on prospective nuclear war dangers from  North Korea, China, Russia, and elsewhere,  Donald Trump prefers to lead his chanting crowds in strange and futile directions. Now, more than ever, these incoherent refrains are not “only” inane and irrelevant.  More portentously, they will drown out the still-surviving vestiges of any residually sensible American thought.

 In every presidential election, the American mass more-or-less indefatigably patronizes itself.  The difference in 2016 was that these results were effectively sui generis; that is, they were darkly unique in the most regrettable and forseeably sinister ways. Over time, as we have seen, the palpable consequences could include nuclear/existential harms.

The remedy? Above all, it must be founded upon a  meaningfully prior understanding: No society, including allegedly “exceptional” ones, can coexist together with mindlessly chanting crowds that masquerade as democracy.Unless we can finally display some sincere willingness to oppose the shrill and yelling American mass –  a crowd that increasingly becomes a corrosive solvent of social conformance and intellectual mediocrity – Americans will continue to find too little air to breathe. Inevitably, at some point in the declining Trump years, there will be no air to breathe at all.[4]

Asphyxiation, Americans would only then discover, is a bad way to die.

Every mass society, not just the United States, loves to chant deliriously and in some form of stupefied chorus. “We the people” continue to seek comforting resonances of “exceptionalism” in pitifully shallow slogans, raw commerce and blatantly vacuous political promises. Oddly enough, this elusive search for happiness, amid its convulsive shrieking and imitation, would be less perilous if it did not issue from a  depressingly terminal ailment.

What, more precisely, is the underlying malady? If Donald Trump is “merely” a symptom, what is the country’s true national pathology? The correct answer has much to do with understanding current war threats from North Korea or even Russia. This answer is logically antecedent to discovering hopeful solutions to still-growing existential threats.

At the most sorely critical “illness” levels of national despair, politics and government have become pretty much beside the point. In America’s battered landscape of clichéd wisdom, mass shootings, copycat violence and dreary profanity, there remains, at bottom, a recalcitrant and metastasizing sickness of the soul. Ironically, America’s national debility of personal surrender to crowds lurks mainly undisguised.  Conspicuously, it is most easily detectable in Donald Trump’s proudly flaunted hatreds of intellect, individualism and real learning.

Alas,” observed T.S. Eliot,in a still-unheeded warning, “Our dried voices, when we whisper together, Are quiet and meaningless.”

 At their very deepest levels, American politics and government remain determinably extraneous to whatever is genuinely important. The bewildered nation’s expanding ocean of personal addictions, now too vast for remediation by any normal reformist strategies, is already deep enough to drown entire  libraries of a once-sacred poetry.

In an earlier and foundational American national history, both liberals and conservatives read Lucretius, Cicero, Grotius, Vattel, Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and (later) Blackstone. Excluding the eighteenth-century English jurist, whose refined thoughts were to become the starting point of all American jurisprudence, Thomas Jefferson read them all.

What does US President Donald Trump read or write?

Prima facie, this is a silly question.

Until just a few years ago, I had been a university professor for almost 50 years. For the most part, my students were less interested in exhibiting any high-thinking than in acquiring high net worth. Given a presumptive opportunity to earn impressive incomes without continuing their formal education, an overwhelming majority would have unhesitatingly grabbed at the “offer.” How do I know this?

Because, as an “experiment,” I occasionally asked them.

From year to year, the grimly anti-intellectual results never changed.

In our once still-ascendant American intellectual history, some time shortly after the literary ascendancies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of accomplishment earned commendably high marks . Then, more often than now, young people strove to rise originally, not by incessantly craving expensive and unnecessary goods, but as the still-confident proprietors of an exemplary American Self. Though Emerson and his fellow New England Transcendentalists had taught the flip side of “high thinking” must be “plain living,” current US citizenry generally seeks private wealth above any other barely competing objectives.

Nothing could possibly be more obvious.

This is true, at least in principle, for the poor and disregarded as well as for the very rich.

In America,  the truly telling question is implicit. Why bother to read or study literature? It has no cash value. Furthermore, as the current president can readily attest, it has no believable place in the acquisition of personal political power. Indeed, Americans now live in a land where visible intellectual deficits have become an unimpeachable political asset.

In the end, US President Donald Trump – however destructive his presidency eventually becomes  – must remain a symptom. On its face, with precious few exceptions, wealth is always taken as America’s final and quintessential form of personal validation. Many years back, economist Adam Smith concluded that wealth is most eagerly sought not because of any intrinsic purchasing power, but on account of its incomparable capacity to elicit envy. Later, Emerson expressed a very similar idea when he incautiously advised that any “foolish reliance upon property” is the inevitable result of “a want of self-reliance.”

In the end, the transient warmth of  an American mass or crowd promises each US citizen a concocted but still-comforting defense against loneliness. This reassuringly seductive mass quickly and expansively defiles whatever is pleasingly  wondrous, gracious and generous in American society. Already anticipating this lamentable development, Charles Dickens had observed, back in 1842:  “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country (USA), in the failure of its example to the earth.”

Dickens was “spot on.” Americans have protected their political freedom from the most visible and invidious kinds of oppression, though even this key protection is now subject to reasonable doubt.  At the same time, they have wittingly sacrificed the coequal obligation to become authentically fulfilled persons. More openly deploring a life of some greater meaning and purpose than this one of calculated imitation and sterile accumulation, Americans now routinely substitute reality shows for real literature and a reality show “wizard” for capable national leadership.

What should they expect?

Is it any wonder that America already stands on the precarious  brink of irremediable nuclear confrontations?

In America’s sorely blemished democracy, a declining system of governance driven by what political “elite” theorists had long called the “iron law of oligarchy,”[5] those individual Americans who would still choose disciplined thought over fitting-into the crowd must accept related kinds of “punishment.” Usually, these sanctions are delivered as some form or other of social or professional ostracism, but sometimes they are meted out in corollary examples of “aloneness.” “The most radical division,” observed Spanish existentialist Jose  Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity…. those who make great demands on themselves…and those who demand nothing special of themselves…”

 In reality, American democracy and its closely corresponding presidential elections represent an inelegant and simultaneously lethal masquerade. Again and again, they seek to  cover-up and legitimize what has been constituted and consecrated by a backward-looking mass. Now, at long last, it is high time for such perilous camouflage in the inert American mass to yield tosomething better.     

Now, in America, even after such a patently catastrophic presidential selection in 2016, the people may have been granted one graspable last chance for being-challenged-in-the-world.

In the end, creating proper American governance is not all that complicated: Only those few individuals who would dare to reject an insistently demeaning amusement society can offer this imperiled nation any enduring hope.What next?

To proceed, there are pertinent corollaries. The strength and courage of America’s desperately-needed “inner-directedness” can never lie only in holding an advanced degree, in engaging with others during periodic  electoral contests or in advancing various intentional contrivances of language. In America, the indispensable qualities of individual authenticity must be sought, instead, in the potentially complementary powers of intellectual independence, social justice and spontaneous empathy.

This last power cannot be taught. Nonetheless, it can be encouraged by stepping back from a declining American culture that values endlessly crude consumption over intelligent erudition and independent thought.

Adam Smith, in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), saw in capitalism not just an admirably rising productivity, but also a required foundation for political liberty. He also understood that a system of “perfect liberty” –  one that we might presently call an ideal democracy – could never be based upon smug and facile encouragements of needless consumption. The inexorable laws of the marketplace, he had reasoned, demanded a suitable disdain for all vanity-driven buying.

 For Adam Smith, the main problem of any dangerously orchestrated hyper-consumption was neither economic nor political, but psychological.

It was, in other words, a problem of unresisted absorption into the mass or  crowd.

For Adam Smith, contrary to very widespread misunderstandings of his complex thought, “conspicuous consumption,” a phrase that would later be used more explicitly and engagingly by sociologist Thorsten Veblen, must never be taken as evidence of economic or political progress. It follows that while the crowd call of American democracy may remain loud, crass or even alluringly persuasive, We the people must still  keep up the struggle against the suffocating mass, purposefully, and, above all else, asgenuine individuals. 

 Then Americans could finally lay bare the essential ingredients of a democracy that would offer more than the sum total of individual souls fleeing desperately from themselves.

Then, perhaps, Americans could avoid re-electing a president who stands in chaotic opposition to sensible foreign policies of nuclear war avoidance, and who substitutes ad hominem attacks for any minimally intelligent diplomacy. Then, determinedly,  the American nation could choose its presidents from among candidates who can understand that the United States is part of a much wider world. This means from those aspirants who could acknowledge that “America First” represents a potentially irreversible triumph of mass.

In the end, if ever the American constitutional State should succumb to what Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung euphemistically called a “fit of weakness,”  such triumph could hasten the nation’s most utterly lethal declensions. A nuclear war would resemble any other terminal illness in at least one overarching respect. This is that the only “cure” would lie in prevention.


[1] “The mass-man,” we learn from Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses, 1930), “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”

[2] On the terrible possible outcomes of “mass,” see especially: C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957); Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1932); and Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952). Of course, all three share as core intellectual mentor Friedrich Nietzsche, especially the 19th-centiry German philosopher’s still-incomparable classic, Zarathustra (1883).

[3] “Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remains minors all their lives….” says Immanuel Kant in his classic essay: What is Enlightenment (1784).

[4] We learn, again, from Immanuel Kant’s 1784 essay, What is Enlightenment, that submission to deleterious mass is “self-imposed.” The core problem we read from the German philosopher, lies ultimately in a “lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance.”

[5] See especially: Vilfredo Pareto, The Mind and Society (1935); Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class (1939); and Robert Michels, The Iron Law of Oligarchy (1949).

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Trump Plans to Keep U.S. Troops Permanently in Iraq

Eric Zuesse

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A reliable and exceptionally knowledgeable source, who doesn’t wish to be publicly identified, has confidentially informed me that an agreement has been reached in which U.S. troops will remain permanently in Iraq but under exclusively NATO command, no longer under the command of CentCom (US Central Command in the Middle East).

On February 12th, NATO’s defense ministers agreed to increase operations in Iraq. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has been working ever since Fall of 2019 to prepare this plan (Trump had been pushing for it even before that), and Stoltenberg has consulted in Jordan with King Abdullah, and also in Brussels with Sabri Bachtabji, Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, because Tunisia is a key part of Trump’s plan, to use other NATO nations as America’s proxies controlling the Middle East.

On February 1st, pro-Muslim-Brotherhood Turkey agreed to the plan, and will be transferring jihadists (al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, plus some ISIS) from Syria’s jihadist-filled Idlib Province, into Libya, via Tunisia, so as to boost the forces of Fayez al-Sarraj (former monarchist now backed by U.S., EU, and Turkey) to defeat the forces of Khalifa Haftar (former Gaddafi-supporter, now in the Libyan civil war claiming as his objective the defeat of all jihadists there). Whereas U.S., EU, and Turkey, back al-Sarraj, Russia isn’t involved in the war, except trying to negotiate peace there, but al-Sarraj rejects any involvement by Russia. Turkey’s interest in Libya is to win Libya’s backing so as to be in a stronger position to win turf in the emerging competition for rights to oil and gas under nearby parts of the Mediterranean Sea. To have Libya beholden to Turkey would be to increase the likelihood of Turkey’s getting that offshore oil.

America’s position regarding the jihadists that Turkey has been protecting in Syria’s Idlib province is that they can be useful as proxy boots-on-the-ground to defeat Haftar, whom America too opposes, favoring al-Sarraj, whom Turkey likewise backs; so, Turkey and U.S. are cooperating on this effort in Libya.

America’s interest is in overthrowing Syria’s secular Government and replacing it with one that would be acceptable to the fundamentalist-Sunni Saud family who own Saudi Arabia. In order to do this, America will therefore need to keep its forces in Iraq. Otherwise, Russia and Iran, both of which America and the Sauds hope ultimately to conquer, would have stronger influence in the Middle East, which neither America nor the Sauds want. America invaded Iraq not only directly for its international corporations to profit, but also in order to have its hundreds of bases there from which to control the entire Middle East — bases that are supplied out of the world’s largest Embassy building (from which even other U.S. embassies are supplied), which building was constructed in Baghdad after the 2003 invasion. Trump’s plan now is to bring in NATO allies, so that they will help out in the Middle East, more than in the past. Trump wants America’s vassal-nations to absorb some of the financial burdens of imposing empire, so that America’s taxpayers won’t need to fund the full cost of it, for the benefit of the billionaire owners of international corporations that are based in the United States and in its allied (or vassal) (including other NATO) countries. This is why Stoltenberg has been working, for months, to effectuate Trump’s plan.

On February 1st, the veteran Middle Eastern reporter David Hearst headlined at his Middle East Eye site, “EXCLUSIVE: US military offers Iraq a partial pullback”, and he reported that,

A representative of the US military told the Iraqis present that the United States was prepared to leave positions in or near Shia-majority areas, such as Balad Air Base, which is located 80km north of Baghdad and houses US trainers and contractors.

Washington, the Iraqis were told, could even consider reducing its presence in Baghdad.

“We are prepared to leave some of the Shia-majority areas, like the base in Balad. Maybe we could reduce our presence in Baghdad,” the military representative told his Iraqi counterparts, who understood from this that the US presence in the Iraqi capital would be reduced to guarding its embassy and the airport.

However, the US side categorically ruled out withdrawing from their biggest air base in Iraq, and indeed the whole Middle East, Ain al-Assad. …

For the US side, Ain al-Assad was its “red line”.

The representative said: “We cannot even start talking about withdrawing [from that base]. Withdrawal is out of the question.”

Such was the sensitivity of these discussions that they were held well away from Iraq. The meeting took place in the private residence of the Canadian ambassador to Jordan in Amman, Middle East Eye was told.

Present at the meeting was a representative of the US military, a Nato official and a senior Iraqi security adviser.

America needs the vast Ain al-Assad base in order ultimately to overthrow Bashar al-Assad (no relation), Syria’s secular President, who is allied with Russia and with Iran. NATO will increasingly be taking over this function of assisting the war for regime-change in Syria.

On February 15th, Middle East Monitor bannered “Iraq: Washington to strengthen presence of NATO to disengage militarily from Baghdad” and reported that America’s allies will take over there but “This will only work if the NATO mission includes a strong US component.” So: America’s withdrawal will be only nominal. This will help NATO by assuring that Trump won’t abandon NATO if he wins a second term, and it will also help Trump to win a second term by Trump’s claiming to be withdrawing from the Middle East even without actually doing any such thing.

The aim of this is to fool the public everywhere. In international affairs, this is the way to win: first, fool your own public; then, get your allies to fool theirs. That builds a “coalition.” Donald Trump is doing precisely this.

Trump is continuing Barack Obama’s wars, just like Barack Obama continued George W. Bush’s wars. The plan for America to control the Middle East remains on course, now, ever since 2001. As Obama often said, “America is the one indispensable nation.” (All others are therefore “dispensable.”) It is certainly the leading nation. And America’s aristocracy possess patience. They know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. In order to be the leading nation and the biggest international aggressor (so that “America is the one indispensable nation”), what is essential is to treat every other nation as being “dispensable” (make them fear you), so that either they will do as the leading nation wants, or else they will be dispensed with — they will become added to the list of target-nations to be conquered. They are dispensable; they are disposable. A disposable nation is aware of its subordinate position. On February 15th, the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported that 

the US dedicated a significantly higher proportion of its defence budget to procurement and R&D than its NATO allies. European countries are increasing their defence investments as a share of their total spending – for those countries with available data, funds rose from 19.8% in 2018 to 23.1% in 2019 – but the equivalent category reached 29% in the US. The United States’ defence investments were thus worth around four times as much as European states’ combined.

A nation which spends 29% of its GDP on “defence” might be weak in other ways, but everyone in the world will fear it, and all other nations will know that they are “dispensable,” because the country which spends that high a percentage (and there is only one which does) also happens to have the world’s largest economy. Any other country, which isn’t one of its vassals, will be viewed by it (or by its aristocracy) as being an “enemy” — a nation that is targeted for “regime-change,” instead of for being a market. And being a targeted nation is very different than being a target market. It is to be only a target — a target of sanctions, a target of coups, and, if those fail, then a target of invasion and military occupation, like Iraq is.

(However, actually, the U.S. spends only around 7% — $1.5 trillion divided by $22 trillion — of its economy toward the Pentagon and the rest of America’s military. Still, it might be the highest percentage on Earth. Because around $1 trillion yearly in U.S. military spending is off-the-books, that ‘defence’ figure could actually be closer to 10%. But it’s not 29%. Right now, around 20% of U.S. GDP goes to buy healthcare, which is the very largest percentage for healthcare of any country on the planet. America’s quality of healthcare is at or near the lowest of all industrialized nations; so, the wastage in its healthcare is even larger than in its military.)  

Iraq and Iran and Syria — and every other nation that is friendly toward Russia — all of them, are targets of the U.S. regime. That’s why Trump plans to keep U.S. forces in Iraq: Iraq was conquered in 2003, and he wants it to stay that way.

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Trump impeachment failure: What is in store for America and the world?

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On February 5, the US Senate found President Donald Trump not guilty of actions which could be classified as requiring his removal from office. All Republican Senators, who have a majority in the house, except Mitt Romney, turned down both charges against the president which accused him of “abuse of office” and ” obstructing Congress work.”

That impeachment is not the option was obvious to any Washington insider from the very beginning. To remove Trump from office it was necessary to enlist the support of two thirds in the Senate, which is unrealistic at the moment. The more moderate opponents of the head of the White House could, if they wanted, remind themselves and others that until the very last they were calling for considering all the pros and cons of an attempt to remove the president from office. A number of experts believed that “a threat of the impeachment procedure, without specific measures to this effect, would be a much safer way to ensure the defeat of Donald Trump in the next year’s presidential election.”The hearings as such would demonstrate the “incompetence” of the current head of state. Even Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who ultimately came to lead the Democratic attack against Trump, warned in March last year that “impeachment divides the country in such a bad way that … we should not follow this path”. Last December, The Washington Post pointed out that in America, “there is extremism, there is no political clairvoyance, while the voices of reason are drowned in hyper-party cacophony.”

Over the past years, Washington has indeed seen a continuing buildup of fierce political battles. The political layout which came into place after the mid-term elections in 2018 – the Democrats control the lower house and the Republicans have majority in the upper – has resulted in a situation in which battles are waged not just for every yard, but for every inch of political space.

Success in the lower house midterm elections, that is, getting the largest number of seats since 1974, has clearly encouraged the Democrats. Given the situation, an attempt to impeach the president was seen by their leadership as a good opportunity to return anti-Trump inquiries to the political agenda. In addition, the expectations of Democratic Party supporters regarding the launch of impeachment procedure were so high that a refusal of the party leadership to try to remove Trump from office could cost Democrats votes this year. We should not forget that we are talking not only about the presidential election, but also about the next congressional election campaign.

The confrontational scenario of the 2020 election campaign appears almost inevitable. Critics of the president do understand this, so their statements after the failure of the impeachment move are predictably radical – now Trump is unbound. They believe that he will now move with renewed vigor towards the implementation of his “anti-American fantasies.” Trump’s supporters are so dazed by ideological confrontation with the opponents that they are ready to accept and defend “any lie from his mouth.” As for the American democracy, it is vulnerable “as never before.”

Trump, in turn, makes it clear that he craves political revenge. He has already fired several officials who testified against him during the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives. Most likely, Trump will continue to rely on “American nationalism” and “white identity”, so hated by Democrats. He has also got more grounds to blame the obstruction-creating Democrats for all his failures during the election campaign. Moreover, what with all the achievements in the midterm elections two years ago, the Democrats were defeated, or could not sufficiently build up their positions in a number of states which are considered to play a key role in the upcoming presidential election. And the recent primaries in Iowa where the calculation of the results dragged on for several days demonstrated that the Democratic Party is still experiencing chaos and confusion.

According to a generalized view of domestic political processes in the United States, the executive branch’s futile attempts to push through the Congress projects of significant legislative changes have long become a “tradition” in American domestic politics. This process originated a long time ago – after the end of the Cold War, when the need for coming to a bipartisan consensus lost the status of a national security issue. As a result, discussions of almost every important point of the presidential election campaign are accompanied by  emotions, which prevail over facts and over attempts to propose a reasonable and comprehensive solution.

This trend is consistent under Trump. On the one hand, the Republican president has a good reason to criticize the legacy of his predecessors. He would also be right to appeal to the importance of launching “at last” the practical implementation of reforms, the need for which has been acknowledged by all administrations since the mid-1990s. On the other hand, the presence of a political will faces the realities of the political process, the participants of which, as before, appeal not so much to national interests as to the moods of the public. Demand gives rise to supply – Trump prefers to focus on issues that find the strongest emotional response in society. In response, the opponents accuse Trump of pursuing a “chaotic” policy on almost any issue. However, in the long run, what is taking place is a split that is running through the entire spectrum of American political system, and this split, as impeachment battles have demonstrated, has been deepened by the efforts from both parties, which are ready to contribute to its worsening with “unprecedented” vigor.

Aggravation of internal political struggle in the USA, as historical experience shows, often pushes American presidents into abrupt, often ill-conceived foreign policy measures. A similar situation happened in the days of Nixon and Clinton. It could be the impeachment threat that prompted Trump to take two steps that could “blow up” the Middle East – the assassination of Iran’s IRGC leader Kassem Sulejmani and an ostentatiously one-sided plan for a Middle East “settlement” that has already been rejected by the Palestinians and a number of Islamic states.

Yet, even after the failure of the impeachment move the international community is unlikely to be able to breathe a sigh of relief. In the context of an easily predictable clash with Democrats in the House of Representatives, which is fraught with a dead end in promoting the legislative agenda, the most natural way for Trump to demonstrate effectiveness in the eyes of voters is foreign policy. From a legal point of view, it is in the field of foreign policy that the US president is least bound by the need to coordinate his steps with the Congress.

And hardly can we talk about the USA easing confrontation with China or Russia. Moreover, Washington has a bipartisan consensus on the need to tighten policies in relation to the two countries. On February 5, Trump’s National Security adviser Robert O’Brien said in Washington: “Look, our challenge and the challenge of our generation is China’s growth and the role that Russia continues to play on the world scene”.

After the failure of impeachment, the Democrats may well try to use their majority in the lower house to resume attempts to get the issue  of “Trump’s relations with Moscow” and “Kremlin interference” in US domestic politics back into the spotlight. The tightening of parliamentary pressure on the White House will create new obstacles to prevent contacts between Washington and Moscow. Meanwhile, there are grounds to fear that Washington will see a new round of fight for the title of the most irreconcilable opponent of Russia.

Optimists among Russian experts believe that the main focus of the White House, like all of American politics, is finally shifting to domestic issues. This may give Russia a certain freedom of maneuver in international affairs. Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center argues, “the risk of Congress introducing new sanctions against Russia will dwindle in the very near future.” Especially, if the Republicans consider them a potential threat to the image of Trump and his administration. On the other hand, … “Republicans may agree to approve the sanctions to once again dissociate themselves from” toxic “Russia,” – the expert said.

According to pessimists, for both Washington parties, relations with Russia remain “one of the main grounds of confrontation.” “Fairly soon, Americans may opt for a new strike on Nord Stream-2, the German Handelsblatt believes.” If Russia tries to complete the construction of the missing kilometers of the pipeline through the Baltic Sea, the House of Representatives and the Senate are ready to initiate another sanctions law, Washington’s diplomatic circles say. ”This bill could include sanctions against project investors from Europe, or companies that plan to buy Russian gas through the pipeline.“ As reported, a move to this effect  could be taken in in the very near future, possibly in February or March. ”

In general, the failure of impeachment is likely to further increase the degree of uncertainty in US policy. The realities of the political process remain the same – its participants will continue to appeal not so much to national interests as to public opinion, which is experiencing an ever deepening split. A certain political stabilization of America can be expected only after one of the parties regains control over both the executive and legislative branches of government.

From the point of view of an outside observer, what happened on Capitol Hill is all but a political formality. In essence, the US foreign policy will remain intact. 

From our partner International Affairs

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