An exploration of the open secret that is Geopolitics…
Hello world…, er, …, you might have noticed that GeoPolichinelle has gone rather quite of late. I noticed that too, and thought I should take a moment to say that a) I ain’t dead, b) things are in the works, and c) the world of geopolitics continues unabashed in it’s descent into the inner circles of Hades, with Rex Tillerson gallantly at the helm – so it is not as if there is any shortage of things to write about. What there is, however, is a lack of time on my end. Grad school is a constant source of annoyance, what with research and teaching, and so forth. However, I have a good feeling about 2018 – I’m not basing that on anything substantive of course, as there are no indicators whatsoever that the ship of state intends to right itself anytime soon – just blind optimism, and the hope that getting into the field and beginning my own hands-on research will be a suitable distraction from impending nuclear annihilation. You know, good vibes!
I have two more “Titans of Geopol” lined up (starting with the OG himself, Thucydides!), and a couple of ideas revolving around cyber-espionage and the physical locations/networks that make up he shadowy world of cyber-geopol – so stay tuned, true believers.
Today is rather a somber one here at GeoPolichinelle, as reports have now been confirmed that Syrian free speech advocate and all around super nice guy, Bassel Khartabil was executed by the Syrian authorities two years ago.
Bassel was in many ways emblematic of the protest movement that arose in Syria during the Arab Spring of 2011. A successful software engineer and internet entrepreneur, he was young, intelligent, and part of a new generation of people that genuinely believed the world could change for the better. Aside from his leet skills in all things techie, Bassel also had the rare combination of desire and conviction – particularly when it came to advocating for a free and open internet, the development of open source software, and the basic human right to engage in the open exchange of ideas (that should be) central to the development of 21st century democratic governance. Add to that the fact that he had some dashing good looks (he always reminded me of an Arabic Ed Norton!) and you can see why the authorities were so threatened by him. In essence, Bassel represented the potential for a new Syria, and I guess that was just too much for them to allow.
If you want to read the (depressing) details of his arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution then the WIKI page is a fine place to start. If you want to know what his fellow techies thought about him, both as a man, and as a tireless advocate for the creation of and access to knowledge, then the Creative Commons press release is here. If you would like to see some of his stunning work on preserving the heritage of Syria in digital format, then take a look at the New Palmyra project. If you want to truly understand just how much he meant to those that knew him, then watch the following video, but I warn you now – it’s emotional
Bassel stands out as a real life embodiment of all those things we are taught to cherish and emulate in our modern 21st century zeitgeist. He was kind, strong, intelligent, optimistic (at least, to begin with), and a fervent believer in the ability of technology to help create a better, stronger, more cohesive world, both domestically and internationally. He stood up for what he thought was right in the face of oppression, and was cut down for it. He was recognized by his peers as an example of what we should all hope to be, and as one of the most influential thinkers of his generation. He was a Hero of the Resistance.
Greetings friend! Welcome back to GeoPolichinelle as we prepare once more to explore the impact on the present day of another dead geo-political theorist. In part 5 of our ongoing 435 part series Better Know a Titan of Geopolitics, we fall head first down the rabbit hole with “The Clash of Civilizations” by Samuel Huntingdon – the fightin’ Crimson!
Fellow followers of the forlorn fiasco that is foreign policy and geopolitics in the age of President Trump will no doubt be familiar with the name of this piece, if not the name of the author. A few days ago the Donald gave a rousing speech to an enthusiastic gathering of rent-a-crowd extras in Warsaw, during which he called upon the ideal of a clash between Western values and the insidious forces of evil (read “Muslims”). He sounded remarkably like a freshman student who has been assigned Huntingdon in an intro to IR class, but didn’t bother to actually read it (like most of them!) and just read the Wikipedia page instead.* Doubtless our 45th president also keeps a copy of Atlas Shrugged conspicuously on display in the Oval office, and secretly yearns to play Ultimate Frisbee with all the cool kids as well, but that is as may be. Suffice it to say, he gets a D+ on this homework assignment – must try harder.
In true “I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but this sounds good” fashion, el Generalissimo took the opportunity to frame his presidency in terms of the classic “us v. them” mentality so reminiscent of old school geopolitical narratives. Given that this speech was delivered in Poland – a country that is going through some serious political upheavals over the populist, right-wing agenda of the ruling “Law & Democracy Party” it cannot be much of a coincidence that a) the Donald was invited to come over and pontificate in the first place or b) the following week there were mass protests in the streets and an outpouring of concern about the authoritarian trends being displayed by the government. Causation and correlation are, of course, two separate things but the environment that facilitated the first was clearly also the catalyst for the second. Donald is not the cause of resurgent right-wing populism by any means, but he is surely symptomatic of its disquieting effects, both at home and abroad.
To that end, he swung hard for the fences by stating, “I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.” Quite what was threatening the immanent fall of Western civilization was not clear, nor was it immediately apparent who the President intended to put on notice with this heroic declaration, but like a modern day Horatius he stepped forward to defend the Sublician bridge of Western values against the forces of darkness, and there was a great rejoicing throughout the land – or something to that effect (WARNING: The previous link is to a gruesomely AGITPROP report from Brietbart News. GeoPolichinelle does not condone and is not responsible for the content of third party webpages!).
So, how does all of this connect back to the illustrious Prof. Huntingdon, I hear you ask? Well, for one thing, Huntingdon’s most celebrated contribution to the world of Geo-Politics was penned in 1993 as a response to the end of the Cold War (in 1990) and the emergence of a “new world order.” His central premise was that now the clash of “ims” had ended (Communism v. Capitalism, and so forth) the next source of inevitable conflict would occur between “cultures” rather than states or ideologies – a clash of civilizations, if you will. Poland is an ideal example of the kind of thing that Huntingdon was concerned with, as it was transitioning from being a Soviet satellite state into the new/resurgent “identity” of a Western Christian state. He identified a variety of “civilizations” that now dominated the world, from Confucian to “possibly African” (I’m not kidding – he actually says this) but saved most of his interest for the coming tensions between the Western Christian, Eastern Orthodox, and Muslim civilizations. His original article from 1993, which you can listen to below, was later expanded into a book, and played a role in helping to galvanize the ethnic cleansing and genocidal insanity of the Balkan conflicts during the mid 1990s – and while it is not fair to suggest that Prof. Huntingdon was in any way responsible for those events, it is fair to say that his vision of a world driven into a zero-sum game of cultural conflict provided a convenient framework through which to actualize that rather heinous vision.
For those of you who are seriously interested in geopolitics, this illustrates a key concept for modern “critical” geopolitical theorists: namely, that old school geopolitical narratives are inherently anti-geographical in nature, and are designed in many ways to obfuscate the complexity and heterogeneity of the real world by subsuming them under convenient labels – First, second and third worlds for example, or the “heartland” and the “marginal crescent.” In this instance entire swaths of the world are lumped together as “possibly African” or “Muslim” with only limited thought expended on the total lack of cohesion that these labels serve to obliterate. To be clear, Huntingdon does explore the divisions that can exist within these otherwise monolithic constructs, but that kind of nuance quickly falls away when folks tend to just read the cliff-notes Wikipedia version, or alternatively insist that their foreign policy briefings come in at under four minutes and on a one page memo, preferably with pictures.
Here we find the importance of maps, and the ways in which they help to solidify specific visions of the world. Even though the original article does not include a global overview image, if you plot out Huntingdon’s basic premise it looks an awful lot like a “Risk” board. The map above perfectly captures the giant brushstrokes of Huntingdon’s analysis, and as with Risk, in both instances the “The Ukraine is weak.”
So, in order to ensure that you, faithful reader and follower of the farce, are not caught short I have recorded (complete and unabridged) Huntingdon’s original 1993 article, in all its somewhat hyperbolic glory. This is intended for educational purposes only, in that I really wish folks who bandied the concepts around on a regular basis actually understood just how…, er…, dangerous a little knowledge can be, when you don’t actually engage fully with the reasoning behind the catchy slogans. Huntingdon DOES state that it is “the West against the rest” and that “Islam has bloody borders” – but in-between those two sound bites he also goes on for another hour about why he think this. If you don’t understand his reasoning, then it is very hard to know how/why/if you agree/disagree/think he was a nut-job!
Don’t be like our commander in chief, my friends – settle in for your morning commute, and listen to 56 minutes worth of new “old school” geopolitical shenanigans, complete with prophecy, paranoia, and prolific pontifications. – just like the good old days!
*Note: As an aside to all my student readers – we know you do that. Why do you think we set the exam questions the way we do, eh? I know one TA who goes into wiki and changes specific details just before exams, so that s/he can tell who has the done the least possible work. Just read the damned articles already! You have been warned…
Greetings, loyal readers! It has been a couple of months since my last post – due (for the most part) to a combination of too much work at UCLA, and a increasing sense of doom as I read the Washington Post every morning. However, nil desperandum, as they say! Life goes on – at least for the moment – and even in the doldrums of the PhD process you occasionally come across a milestone or two. For, me, that was defending my nascent PhD research proposal a couple of weeks ago, meaning that I am now “advanced to candidacy” or ABD (All But Dissertation) as the cool kids like to call it. Huzzah!
Ostensibly, that means a couple of things – a) my TA pay goes up by some abysmally small amount, b) I get to add “C. Phil” to my e-mail signature, and c) I actually have to start working on my research agenda. Now, I’m not going to bore you with the minutia of what I told my committee I was going to achieve over the next two years, but it did occur to me that I have never explicitly stated what it is I actually work on, here on GeoPolichinelle. So here goes…
I focus on the changing nature of the relationship between state and non-state actors on the international plane. In particular, I am interested in the ways that technology (particularly remote sensing tech such as satellites and UAVs) provides leverage for human rights INGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. This involves trying to understand how such groups view, produce, and utilize RS imagery, both for advocacy and evidentiary purposes. In other words, what does satellite and drone imagery do for human rights groups?
This kind of geopolitical analysis has a tendency to head off into odd, niche realms of interest. For me, one of the most significant is GEOINT, or “Geospatial Intelligence” gathering – a very specific way of viewing and understanding the world. For a brief overview of what that entails, I have included below a conference presentation I gave last year. The video is over an hour long, but don’t let that put you off. It includes four excellent presentations (well, 3 excellent ones, and mine), and I’m the first to speak, from 1:53 – 16:24. Enjoy!
I hope this brief window into my research has been enlightening. It certainly helped me to procrastinate away another day of my summer – a summer I promised my committee would be filled to the brim with archival research and analysis. Ah, the life of a grad student! For more insight into what being a PhD grad is all about, please check out the following link: Piled Higher & Deeper
And now I must return to my “research” – i.e.: binge watching the entire season go “Better Call Saul” that I have on my DVR.
Are you interested in mass grave detection and remote sensing? If so, then you should probably have that impulse checked out by a professional. I, on the other hand, do have something of an interest in such matters out of purely professional curiosity – given that I am ostensibly studying the effect that RS technology has upon the ability of non-state actors to get their feet under the proverbial table. As such, I was asked by some colleagues from the human rights world to pen a quick piece for Lemming Cliff on the various technologies employed in finding mass graves from above, which you will find here.
The article is short (for me), and much more in the “just the facts, Ma’am” style associated with more reputable outlets than this one. Feel free to share it with your legions of avid followers too. 😉
So, we are all of three weeks into the Trump administration and it is already apparent that for those of us with an interest in international geopolitics, the next four years are going to be a looooong haul. So much so, in fact, that I for one am already feeling exhausted by the effort of trying to keep up the constant barrage of insanity emanating from the White House. As your stalwart chronicler of the farce, I feel a certain obligation to try and add a morsel of levity to the ever increasing sense of doom that we are all feeling at present, but to be perfectly honest, I am finding it difficult to maintain my natural, cheery disposition. Much like young Freder (above) I am finding it harder and harder to keep up with the constant barrage of lightbulbs, and find myself crying out in desperation “Father – Father – will 10 hours never end?” – or words to that effect.
Therefore, instead of taking an in-depth look at any one of the countless calamities our Commander-in-Chief has cast carelessly into the cauldron of our communal consciousness, let us simply list out a few of the more choice diplomatic faux pas he has graced the international community with so far.
And remember, dear reader, this is only week 3…
Just to be clear, these are not listed in any particular order, as it frankly becomes harder and harder to identify what is most horrifying from one day to the next. I could go on and on with this stuff, but it is exhausting just thinking about it. There is so much more happening that has strong geopolitical implications (gutting Dodd Frank for example) but at some point you just have to take a step back, right?
Given all that has happened over the 21 or so days since the beginning of the end, it is perhaps no surprise that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced the Doomsday Clock by 30 seconds to 2 and a half minutes to midnight, suggesting that the Presidency of Donald J. Trump might actually be one of the signs of the apocalypse after all. In essence, dear reader, be sure to hold your loved ones close, while there is still time to enjoy the small pleasures in life, and before the barren wasted hellscape of global collapse consumes us all. Or at least, until the midterms come along and we can all go out there and do something constructive to reign this madman in again.
Now, where was my copy of Fallout 4…?
In a little under 24 hours from now, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of these United States! Now, I will be the first to admit that I REALLY did not see this coming. All joking aside, GeoPolichinelle has gone quite over the past two months due to a combination of shock, horror, and alcohol induced miasma. The entire premise of this blog is predicated on the notion that the world of politics is rife with clearly understood “truths” which, for the sake of decorum, obfuscation, and/or simply moving the plot-line along, all the major players (and the audience) choose to ignore, pay lip service too, or simply lie about, in order for the farce to continue. What is not supposed to happen, however, is for those “truths” to become…,er…True – with a capital T! For example, when RT reports that Russia is engaged in a regional life and death struggle against the forces of resurgent Fascism we all know exactly what that means. Or when President Erdogan of Turkey accuses foreigners of instigating the recently failed “coup” attempt, everyone in the room understands the not so subtle undertow. But what is not supposed to happen is for everyone to take this kind of blustery positioning seriously.
Everyone, that is, with the apparent exception of the American electorate. It turns out that no claim can be too outrageous, too blatant, too unbelievably crass and moronic, that it disqualifies the speaker from the highest public office in the land. We now truly live in a “post-truth” world, and without any of the saving graces of cynicism and irony that might make such a notion vaguely palatable. For the “true-believers” of Trumplandia, “post-truth” is an accolade, not an insult, and there is no arguing with that kind of position. Or is there? Lord alone knows what can be done to fight the rising tide of willful ignorance and abject stupidity that is about to overtake both the domestic and the international realms, but one way or another we are all going to find out.
Just off the top of my head, I can count of a variety of simply terrifying international “position” changes that are going to leave me in a cold sweat for the foreseeable future: Undermining NATO, for example, or getting into a pissing contest with China over trade policy, currency manipulation, and the “One China Policy,” or voluntarily abdicating the US position as the global leader on climate science and/or green technology, or abandoning the two party solution to the quagmire that is Israel & Palestine, or alienating our closest neighbor to the south with untenable demands and 3rd rate jingoism, or…, well…, you get the picture. The autocrats of yore were often accused of ruling by fiat, which at least still required some form of reflection and composure in the issuance – while our new glorious leader appears to dictate his foreign policy ad hoc, or “ruling by tweet” so to speak.
Truly, his words are almost Swiftian in their rapier like subtlety.
One way or another, we are all in for a rough ride. I’m not trying to single any specific demographic out for blame here, because there is plenty of it to go around, but I am suggesting that now is not the time to go gentle into that good night – if ever there was a time to get involved, then this is it, folks. Start small – attend a local council meeting, donate to your favorite civically minded institution, do the unthinkable and stand for office! Whatever the hell you choose to do, for the love of Jeebus, don’t let your resolution slip away. Your anger is a gift, but your resolve is your power.
And for all those on the right or the left who will instead choose to spend the next four years bitching from the sidelines, I say this – “I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’ both your houses!”
All your base are belong to him – for now!
EDITORS NOTE: From time to time here at GeoPolichinelle we like to step away from the heady world of international hypocrisy and spend a little time reflecting on the domestic variety. To be clear, we do not subscribed to the classic, Morgenthau inspired chasm between the two planes, as we are all about recursive political interactions and social constructivism – but for the most part we focus on what is happening “over there” because what is happening over here is simply too disappointing to acknowledge – Plus, Wonkette does such a good job of covering that stuff. In any event, today we have a guest speaker who would like to share a few thoughts on Mr. Trump…
A short polemic from Comrade Ogilvy
OK, let’s start off by clarifying a couple of major points before we get into the nitty-gritty of this tirade – Donald Trump is NOT Big Brother, or the new Hitler, or Mussolini, or Stalin, or whatever other totalitarian despot springs to mind when folks are looking to ramp up the rhetoric and invoke Godwin’s Law. For one thing, all of the previously mentioned individuals exhibited classic Weberian understandings of “Charismatic Authority” and with the best will in the world, the Donald can hardly claim to be a charismatic individual. No one follows Mr. Trump for the leadership and inspirational motivation that he provides. No – at best, Trump is good at whipping up externalized xenophobic hatred, and signaling out minority communities as a focal point for fear of loss and shrinking entitlements by an increasingly paranoid sub-section of the electorate. That is a tool used by despots, to be sure, but it is not enough to qualify as the new Hitler.
Also, (and it makes my bile rise to say this), all of the other demagogues that Trump is compared with actually had a series of strongly held principles, upon which they were willing to act. Crazy, hate-filled, racist, paranoid, insane principles –but principles non the less. What does Donald have? Aside from a few vague remarks about making America great again, has anyone identified the actual, principled notions that Trump wants to embody through his administration? America First? Isolationism? Killing Terrorists? He mentions these things in abstract ways, but never actually lays out what they mean in any definitive sense, except to state: “trust me, it’s going to be great.”
1984 is a seminal work, but as a political allegory folks generally just view it as a statement on the expression of totalitarian authority, and the oppressive nature of a total panoptic social order. You can pretty much type the search terms “Orwell” “1984” and ANY POLITICAL FIGURE for the past 25 years and you will find articles, memes, and badly photoshopped stills suggesting that the individual in question is the living embodiment of Big Brother – Hillary Clinton? Yup! Barak Obama? Sure, why not! The Donald? Absolutely! In other words, the constant overuse of this trope is both annoying and pointless, because when something can be used by partisan ideologues to demonize absolutely anyone, well then it loses all meaning and/or impact. At least Obama gets a little kudos for ripping off Apple and their rip off of Orwell in the famous “buy our product in order to prove you are not a mindless idiot” campaign from back in the day (Yeah! Consumerism as rebellion – edgy!) but for the most part the analysis is kind of lazy and focuses exclusively on making the “modern day Hitler” analogy.
As a “Hero of Oceania” and almost recipient of the Order of Conspicuous Merit, I feel like I have a duty to debunk the “despot” narrative that is doing the rounds, as there have been a number of articles attempting to use Orwell’s dystopian vision from 1984 to describe the Trump campaign, and while I think there is genuine value in the framing, people are missing the real comparison here. Donald Trump is not Big Brother, by any stretch of the imagination – what he is though, is the living embodiment of a mindless agitator from the “Inner Party.” In essence, he exemplifies the idea that it is not enough to be one of the sheep – you have to be one of the sheep on the inside of the flock – let me explain…
In Orwell’s vision, the panoptic screens and total surveillance state were simple tools that served to re-enforce the far more disturbing systems of control that dominated life in Oceania. Anyone familiar with the work of Michel Foucault (and in particular his work on “Disciplinary Societies”) will get when I am going with this. Without getting too much into the weeds, the real horror in 1984 is the way in which members of the party are able to suppress their own thoughts and instincts, to the point that all sense of logic, objective reality, or even phenomenological experience can be dismissed and replaced by the “truth” of party doctrine.
In order to accomplish this feat of cognitive dissonance, the true party member has to master two distinct cognitive processes – Doublethink and Duck Speak – and this is where Trump comes into his own.
Orwell describes doublethink as follows:
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ’doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.
Now, having read that passage, tell me that it does not scream “TRUMP 2016.” Orwell actually encapsulated Trump’s fundamental worldview when he pointed out that the process of doublethink worked because “All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory.” Bingo! The Donald has never lost at anything – ever! – regardless of reality, or history, or actual facts. Plus, everyone knows reality has a liberal bias, right?
But how to accomplish this feat of mental gymnastics? Well, the solution to the problem involves Duckspeak, which is a process designed to “make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all.” The real beauty of duckspeak is that it is a true doublethink process – “Applied to an opponent, it is abuse, applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.”Duckspeak works because it fully embraces the reductive, simplistic vocabulary of Newspeak, and allows the user to communicate emotion without having to convey any actual meaning.
“The use of [Newspeak] encouraged a gabbling style of speech, at once staccato and monotonous. And this was exactly what was aimed at. The intention was to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologically neutral, as nearly as possible independent of consciousness… [A] Party member called upon to make a political or ethical judgement should be able to spray forth the correct opinions as automatically as a machine gun spraying forth bullets. His training fitted him to do this, the language gave him an almost foolproof instrument, and the texture of the words, with their harsh sound and a certain wilful ugliness which was in accord with the spirit of Ingsoc, assisted the process still further.”
I mean, come on! I can’t be the only person seeing this, right? Even the description that Winston Smith gives for his role in erasing inconvenient truths and flushing them down the “memory hole” involves reframing the past to reflect current political needs, and is done in the voice of Big Brother – “a style at once military and pedantic, and, because of a trick of asking questions and then promptly answering them (’What lessons do we learn from this fact, comrades? The lesson — which is also one of the fundamental principles of Ingsoc — that,’ etc., etc.), easy to imitate.”
It’s uncanny, right? No matter how much he might try, the Donald could never be Big Brother – notwithstanding the fact that in Orwell’s vision B.B. is a composite figurehead, invented to serve a purpose and as insubstantial as every other figment of the party mythos. But Donald does a fine job of bleating like a sheep, gathering folks for their two minutes hate, and spouting whatever resonates with the unconscious fears of his fellow sheeple – whether he believes in it or not. After all, truth is what you make of it, by consensus, and with as much verbal word salad, incoherent rambling, and automatic duckspeak as the market will allow…
So let’s all just acknowledge that Donald and his vexatious campaign is not the cause of our depressingly low-brow and ill informed political dialog at present – he is just a product of a certain kind of gestalt fear on the part of a dwindling demographic who can see (but desperately want to avoid acknowledging) the electoral abyss ahead. Donald is the the inner sheep (or perhaps just an unwitting Judas Goat) who leeds the flock in chanting, and is just as bemused by what is happening as anyone else – or at least he would be, if his cognitive dissonance would allow him to exercise any form of self reflection.
Now if only we could get him on board with the Anti-Sex League…
This Week in Hypocrisy – “Surely, you can’t be Syrias” Edition
And so it goes – another week of horror and destruction in Syria, and other round of bold-face hyperbole and “outrage” from the players, as they stand aloof from the destruction, vying for position in the – oh so vital – arena of international public perceptions. Frankly, can it comes as a surprise to anyone with a pulse that the powers that be seem more concerned with scoring points off each other, than they do with assisting the benighted citizens of the Al Assad regime (R- Ghenna East). Taking the premise of GeoPolichinelle at face value, if the situation were actually a stage production, then rather than being part of the Comendia, it would be better suited as a farce by Phillip King (think “See how They Run”), given the propensity for crossed wires, mistaken identities, and major actors walking in through one door while their counterpart steps out through another. Hilarity and an ever increasing death toll ensue – Great fun for all the family!
Honestly, where to begin? Shall we start with the much touted “cease fire” that no-one at the table, on the ground, or watching from the cheap seats had any faith in? What about the idea that the US commitment to the plan involved the Solomenic task of dividing the bad rebels from the “moderate” ones in the byzantine labyrinth that is the Syrian opposition movement, enthusiastically undertaken (well, as close as he gets to positive human emotional exuberance anyways) by Secretary of State, and human beta blocker, John Kerry (D – El Dorado)? Or we could just cut strait to the chase, and go with the US led airstrike that killed 60 members of the Assad regime forces before the ink had time to dry on the tentative cease fire agreement, which resulted in the single most spectacular piece of international political theater since Vladimir Putin got all holier than thou about the need to fight the rising tide of Fascism in his neighborhood, whilst simultaneously annexing – er, I mean liberating – the Crimean peninsular.
The moral indignation on display from the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, was a masterful demonstration of GeoPolichinelle in action – so much so that if he had appeared at the UNSC dressed as Matamoros it would not have been out of place. The sheer level of umbrage on display was (almost) comically unreal, to the point that Ambassador Powers (D – Turtle Bay) had to state her incredulity at the idea that Russia – RUSSIA! – of all parties to the conflict was demanding action from the UN Security Council. Given the almost gleeful disregard that the Mr. Lavrov has shown over the endless casualty list of Syrian civilians and US aligned resistance forces killed by Russian airstrikes, you can see why she might be somewhat taken aback by his sudden, abiding interest in accountability. In case you didn’t get the chance to watch this master of vainglorious vexation at work, let’s take a moment to reflect upon the immediate position taken by Mr. Lavarov and the Russian Foreign Ministry – you know, in order to really get the true measure of the man…
To begin with, the first statement released decided to forgo any of the traditional foreplay in these situations, and instead just went directly to “ludicrous speed” – as quoted in the Washington Post:
Spokewoman Maria Zakharova says Moscow is demanding “full and detailed explanations about whether this was deliberate support of the Islamic State or another mistake.” Zakharova was quoted by the state news agency Tass as saying that “after today’s attack on the Syrian army, we come to the terrible conclusion that the White House is defending the Islamic State.”
Yes indeed – the very first position staked out in this debacle was “Aha! This PROVES Obama is a secret terrorist Muslim.” Touché, mes amis.
Of course, this insistence on an absolute and detailed “mea culpa” was a one time only affair, as within hours of the first strike (low and behold!) another major airstrike takes place, but this time it is a UN aid convoy that gets targeted, and subsequently blown to smithereens. And, wouldn’t you know it, the convoy in question was supposed to be delivering aid to those poor bastards living in rebel held Aleppo, and was in point of fact one of the primary reasons for negotiating a cease fire in the first place. What a shocking coincidence that all the civilian aid that the Russians had been holding up at the border, refusing to allow them to go through to the starving masses that desperately need the help, were now a smoldering pile of rubble! What are the odds, eh? Of course, the full force of Mr. Lavrov’s moral indignation was immediately focused upon finding out who was responsible for this grievous crime, right?…right?…. Right????
Not exactly – after presenting what he described as the “full information” that Russia had on the event, Mr. Lavrov called for an “independent investigation” into what he felt was another “provocation” by shadowy forces intent upon disrupting any chance of peace in the region, and implied that the “shelling” was done in coordination with rebel forces on the ground. Quite why the rebels would want to shell an aid convoy was not explained, nor was the fact that, literally, everyone else clearly knew that Russia had itself carried out the attacks! Eye-witness reports from the ground could even identify the war-planes used!
So, fellow follower of the farce – what you have to ask yourself is this: Why do we bother? Or more to the point, why do they? What is all the chest-puffing and blather supposed to achieve? Did the insanity of Mr. Lavrov’s position make one iota of difference to how the players of the game saw the situation in Syria? Did one single person at the UN pause to think to themselves “hmmm, maybe the US geopolitical position really IS supporting ISIL!” Of course not! To the contrary, everyone involved has either been rolling their eyes in disgust or getting high blood pressure, as they have to wade through yet more obfuscation and bullshit. Good grief, even Ban Ki Moon (a man who was chosen for the top job of UN Secretary General on the basis that, unlike his predecessor Kofi Anan, he would be “more secretary than general”) took the opportunity afforded by his farewell speech to stick it to both the Russians and the Americans. Given what that man has seen (and compromised over) during his tenure at Turtle Bay, the fact that his last words to the assembled dignitaries roughly translate to “stop pretending that you are not directly responsible for all this horror, you assholes” is, in the final analysis, quite telling.
Not that any of this is likely to stop. Mr. Lavrov has, of course, become all indignant about accusations of Russian involvement, regardless of the fact that we all know he is lying. And for their part, while the US has admitted to the airstrike against the Syrian ground forces, let’s not forget that we are more than happy to use the old “fog of war” cliché every few weeks when we bomb another hospital, or wedding party, or,…, well, you get the idea.
The thing about this current hypocrisy is that it is so unbelievably blatant – a true example of GeoPolichinelle in action – and while this continues pointlessly on in the halls of power, on the ground in Aleppo more people die, more children suffer, and more horror unfolds. Thankfully for us, we can all just take another glass of laudanum and move on to the next atrocity, or else we might all go quite, quite mad!
And on that note, I will leave you with a brief musical number:
Chin up, my friends! Never let the bastards see that they get to you!
Welcome, weary traveler, to part 4 of our 435 part series “Better Know a Titan of GeoPolitics” – Leonid Brezhnev – “the fightin’ Commie!”
Oh, the Cold War! What a fascinating time to be alive, especially if you took an interest in the abject hypocrisy of GeoPolitical narratives – provided you lived far enough away from the front lines that you didn’t have to deal with the actually consequences, of course. It is hard these days to understand just how messed up the Cold War was, even for those of us who did not live behind the “Iron Curtain” of the Warsaw Pact. I grew up in England in the 80s, meaning that the threat of nuclear annihilation was something you just had ticking away in the background. Mutually Assured Destruction – possibly the most moronic geopolitical phrase to filter through to my youthful self – was something that was discussed on a regular basis as if the concept was a perfectly normal approach to the idea of “national security.” So ubiquitous was the idea of laying waste to vast stretches of the Earth, ostensibly in order to stop the dreaded Commies from annexing Europe, that it even made its way into the popular culture of the day. The following clip from “Yes Prime Minister” is (possibly) the first piece of GeoPolitical satire that I can remember watching as a feckless youth…
All jokes aside, the prospect of the Red Menace sweeping away all resistance before them was quite palpable, given the fact that the Soviets had already demonstrated quite conclusively that there were willing to ‘go to the mats” if necessary. The “Warsaw Pact” (formed in response to the creation of NATO, and not the other way around as is often suggested) was a formidable opponent, and in 1968 things were looking a little tense along the fault lines between East & West.
The piece we are going to listen to today is known as the “Brezhnev Doctrine” and is the exemplar of a Soviet post-fact justification for the violent repression of a sovereign state. Shortly before Comrade Leonid gave this speech to a group of desperately enthusiastic Polish Communists, the USSR and its Warsaw buddies invaded Czechoslovakia in order to quell the rising tide of, well, anything that wasn’t considered to be “true” Marxist-Leninism.
What makes this piece of work so fascinating is the way in which it seeks to explain how invading a state and ruthlessly crushing its populace is, in fact, the clearest example of supporting the supreme sovereignty of the proletariat! All cognitive dissonance not-with-standing, you have to admire the bait and switch on display here – it is not the Soviets who threaten the sovereignty of the people of Czechoslovakia, but the Western Imperialists who have sought to undermine the advances of the populace. How insidious of those damned imperialists! Perhaps the greatest example of this is where it states that, sure – invading with an army might look like it is a violation of international law…, BUT that is only due to the fact that you are not looking at the, er, facts through the lens of ongoing class struggle! See, if you just apply the appropriate filter it all starts to makes sense!
While Commissar Brezhnev, in his capacity as the General Secretary to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (he liked a large business card) was a good man for delivering a finely tuned polemic, he was not necessarily the intellectual powerhouse behind this fine piece of rhetorical shenanigans. Therefore, I have also included a recitation of an article written for Pravda that lays out, in more scholarly terms, a more nuanced explanation of exactly what the Brezhnev doctrine does, vis a vis the notions of Soviet foreign policy moving forward.
For modern students of the farce, what might be most
surprising is the number of positions taken that sound disturbingly familiar to anyone who lived through the Bush administration. Pre-emptive strikes? Check! A bi-polar worldview that only envisions two camps – either with us or against us? Check! A foreign policy “doctrine” that brooks no dissent on the basis that we are effectively at war against enemies that would seek to destroy our very way of life? Check, check and check!
So there you have it! Pull up a chair, pour yourself a stiff shot of Vodka (adding a little pepper to soak up the diesel fumes) and revel in the belligerent double think, hyperbole, and relativistic obfuscation. Zda-ró-vye!
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