In my post five days ago, US Diplomacy as Greek Tragedy, I wrote that:
Anyone taking the trouble – few do of course – to study the speeches and interviews of Vladimir Putin, Sergei Lavrov and Maria Zhakarova in Russia; Xi Jinping and Wang Yi in China, is struck by their gravitas, and how poorly it reflects on the sound byte driven short termism of the West’s figurehead and increasingly clownish ‘leaders’.
The Russian and Chinese leaders are more in control of their ship – hence their routine denunciation in the West as authoritarian or even, see this Economist piece of two days ago, “fascist” – than are the figureheads of what is routinely depicted as The Free World but is in reality ruled by cabals whose self serving stupidity and cynicism leave them incapable of distinguishing ‘democracy’ from ‘free markets’ (which are anything but).
I realise my description of the men and woman I just named marks me out in the eyes of many as a “Putin-bot” or worse. Truth is, I do not have sufficient information, from sources untainted by overt or covert ties to the elites ruling the West, to make a call either way. My observations on them as individuals flow from the fact, easily ascertained by anyone studying their words and deeds, that they show considerably more responsibility and decorum – yes, even bare chested on horseback! – than do the “increasingly clownish leaders” of the West.
Speaking of whom, just yesterday I posted Caitlin Johnstone’s withering piece on the incendiary visit to Taiwan by a Nancy Pelosi who, along with Joe Biden, may well be one of the people DC pharmacist Mike Kim had in mind when he told Erin Mershon at STAT News that he has:
… gotten used to knowing the most sensitive details about some of the most famous people in Washington. “At first it’s cool, and then you realize, I’m filling some drugs that are for some pretty serious health problems as well. And these are the people that are running the country,” Kim said, listing treatments for conditions like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
“It makes you kind of sit back and say, ‘Wow, they’re making the highest laws of the land and they might not even remember what happened yesterday.’”
Below that Greek Tragedy post, showcasing extracts from a recent Michael Hudson piece, Dave Hansell links to a short but compelling read by Robin McAlpine, Scottish campaigner, former journalist and Director of the Common Weal think tank from 2014 to 2021. (Before that he was first director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation.) Here in full is what he wrote.
There are no adults in the room
World leaders are acting like reckless school children and we should all be terrified
If you’re not scared just now you should be. The world is petrifying, and it is so for a simple reason – almost without exception it is being run by unruly children who lack wisdom, patience, tolerance or foresight. Yet my god are they in love with themselves, even as they push us further and further towards a real risk of the demise of civilisation.
Soon I will be unable to write the words that follow, because soon the provocations that Western powers are currently accelerating will kick off some kind of war. And when that war kicks off the armies of liberal centrist commentators will condemn those who point to the escalations and provocations that brought us to the precipice.
We will be accused of whataboutery, or siding with the enemy, or being useful fools, or that perennial favourite ‘haters’ who ‘hate America and the free world’. So let me set out my case before the liberal centrists have an enemy bogeyman to hide behind to deflect from their complicity in the horrors to come.
Right now the power-drunk forces of Western global dominance have clearly seen the ramp-up of militarism and paranoia around the Ukraine War as the perfect cover to escalate further and further. They are spending on weapons like there is no tomorrow, pumping oil and gas like the world is expendable, provoking and bullying and inflaming and drawing lines where lines don’t belong.
The US has made its position on Taiwan unambiguously clear – it will actively oppose a Chinese invasion. There is not much nuance to that position and no-one has failed to hear it. In that context Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is nothing more than a clear, planned and intentional ramping-up of tension with China. It serves no diplomatic purpose other than to humiliate.
If you want to judge your actions, reverse them; in your head you should do unto yourself what you are doing to others. So let’s imagine that next week Beijing announces a major diplomatic visit to Cuba. It indicates that any further military suppression of the people of Cuba will be met by force and that the the People’s Liberation Army will defend the freedom of the tiny nation.
During its visit the Chinese delegation offers extensive weapons sales to Cuba and starts to provide them with critical intelligence information to enable them to ‘repel the threat to their freedom posed by the US’. Would that be a contribution to a safer world?
Or try this; the Taliban acquire drone technologies which enable it to strike targets on the US mainland. It identifies a target it believes is a legitimate security threat to Afghanistan so it eliminates that threat with a missile, all without communication with or permission from Washington.
The world is being run by unruly children who lack wisdom, patience, tolerance or foresight
Yet that is what the US has just done in reverse. It is seldom said out loud but extra-judicial murders in another sovereign territory is an international crime, a blatant breach of the ‘rules-based order’. Much has been made of Russia’s programme of poisoning opponents abroad, yet Russia’s assassination programme is tiny compared to America’s. Remember, President Obama dropped more bombs than any world leader in all of human history, most of them by drone. 1
We stand firmly beside Israel which is executing scientists in Iran at a rate Putin could only dream of. We sell weapons to virtually anyone and pretend it’s about ‘defence’, not the pursuit of war. 2 We have used the Ukraine War to push an aggressive military presence closer and closer to Russia’s border. The US is openly and explicitly setting out a policy of economic warfare with China.
All of this lies somewhere on a scale that runs from utterly reckless to unequivocally illegal. It seems that nowhere in the world is a conflict smouldering without someone from the ‘rules-based liberal world order’ standing over it pouring on accelerant.
It is worth understanding why this is so dangerous, how unsophisticated and idiotic our current stance is. During the Cold War there were a small number of precepts which may well have saved the planet from a devastating Third World War.
The first was that, no matter the hostilities, a clear channel of communication was always open. Always. It could be confused-going-on-unhelpful (the Cuban Missile Crisis is the case study of this), but time and again it ultimately saved us from dangerous escalation.
Another was a pragmatic understanding of the significance of ‘sphere of influence’. Both sides – the West and the Soviet Union, realised that any major power has a region around it which is of significant strategic importance to that nation. Throughout the Cold War the attempts to interfere in the sphere of influence of the other side were heavily restrained (which is why the Cuban Missile Crisis was such a crisis).
And a crucial precept, certainly in the West, was a recognition that there was no final way out of the Cold War if the West kept its boots so firmly on the neck of the Russians that there was no breathing space because it would close down all the space which might enable internal reform.
If centrism isn’t overthrown soon and replaced by something sane, we’ll be lucky to see the end of the century
None of these sensible precepts apply today. There is zero direct communication between Russia and the US and virtually no indirect communication. No-one talks. The concept of ‘sphere of influence’ is not only not recognised, the Western liberal commentator will take your head off for even mentioning the concept.
And the new theory is that the way to enable internal reform is to try to destroy a nation until it finally throws up the white flag and emerges at the other side a liberal democracy.
This is the consequence of the swaggering arrogance of post-Cold War America and the ideology it imposed on the world, an ideology into which the liberal elite are so deeply enmeshed that they don’t think it’s an ideology. It is a consequence of the decline of America into a politics of unthinking violence, at home and abroad.
And never, ever forget, it is a consequence of the grotesque influence of the bomb-makers and weapons-dealers, corporations which seem able to drag Britain and America round on a leash.
In all this it is telling that it is the last remnants of the old-school Cold Warriors are often more aligned with the Elders (a distinguished group of global figures trying to bring sanity to the world) than with US foreign policy.
We are an era of outright fucking idiots and this just isn’t said enough. Those centrist ideologues who are most utterly certain that they are the solution and not the heart of the problem see no barrier or limit to their militarism. I trust we shall get no more lectures about ‘toxic masculinity’ from a First Minister who distastefully Tweets ‘strong man’ emojis onto a celebration of death and destruction. 3
Centrism is, as I have explained before, nothing whatsoever to do with being in the centre. It is an ideology which believes in a domestic and global elite whose destiny it is to save the world from the plebs. And it is that elite (from weapons manufacturers to oil executives, newspaper owners to nodding dog politicians) who are dragging us to the edge of the precipice.
That this precipice gives us simultaneous views over an environmental crisis, a military crisis, an economic crisis and a democratic crisis is beyond unnerving. Any one of these could drag us down any minute now.
Yet when the war with China breaks out, it will be verboten for me to mention Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan like it is verboten for me to mention Nato’s expansion right up to Russia’s borders for the duration of the Ukraine war. When the Taliban grow more and more extreme, destabilising the entire region again, I will not be permitted to mention our central role in pushing them there.
It used to be the case that our elites understood that there was a constraint on their actions. Then some mad man in the George W Bush administration wrote in a New York Times Magazine article that “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality”. That is the founding document of the ‘centrist, liberal world order’.
If centrism isn’t overthrown soon and replaced by something sane, we’ll be lucky to see the end of the century. It’s not too late, but we’re getting there.
* * *
- Robin McAlpine is right to say Barack Obama’s Tuesday morning drone sign-offs dwarf anything attributed to Vladimir Putin in the assassination league tables. To which I’d add that there is scant evidence, and no shortage of suspects other than the RF President, of the latter’s involvement in the Politkovskaya killing. The Skripals narrative is shot through with holes and remarkable ‘coincidences’. And the Navalny affair? Putin poisons water in hotel room. Navalny falls sick and is taken to a Russian state hospital. Nobody kills him there, though a hospital is an easy place to do so. Doctors find no poison, authorities approve transfer to Berlin, where medics find novichok and accuse Russia. France agrees, EU imposes sanctions. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? That last is sarcasm, btw, though in truth it doesn’t have to make sense, does it? Not when all the average westerner, educated or not, clocks is that ‘serious’ media like CNN and WashPo, Graun, Beeb and Economist vigorously promote such narratives so they must be right. Why trouble to study, let alone cross check, the details?
- Here Mr McAlpine alludes to another motive for the hostility of a US led West to Eurasia rising. I welcome his central thrust on the immaturity of the West’s leaders, but it’s unduly reductive to see this as the sole cause of our perilous times. In speaking of arms sales he points to another driver: a multi-trillion dollar military industrial complex, led by fewer than a dozen corporate goliaths – ‘free markets’ don’t get a look in – without which it has no serious manufacturing base, and through which it effects vast transfers of wealth from the many to the few; a complex made even more dangerous by its close and ‘revolving door’ links with Beltway, corporate media and assorted ‘think tanks‘. Even this, however, is surpassed by the most dangerous driver of all. I mean the response of a military super-power – its near infinite capacity for, and hefty record of, unrivalled violence paired with a hypnotic capacity to successfully present itself as a force for good – to being overtaken economically. These three factors in tandem are not an important part of any explanation for why the world is now so terrifying to the attentive. They are the explanation, end of. (And yes, do feel free to take me up on so bold a claim.)
- Robin McAlpine refers here to the first minister of his own country, Nicola Sturgeon, one of a very long line of figures usefully presented to uncritical audiences of vaguely leftist or ‘progressive’ stripe as heroes and heroines; a line to which Volodymyr Zeleneski is but the latest, albeit scariest, addition.