Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Why All-Out War is Good, Actually

How's your anxiety these days? Mine's a motherfucker. Rumors of nuclear war, PTSD, and a coffee addiction are not a fun combination.

Which is why I'm hoping the rumored "big news" out of Moscow come May 9th - V-E Day - will be a general mobilization. Brutal as it's been, the Russo-Ukrainian war thus far really has been a "special military operation" and not a formal war. This is a logistical as much as legal distinction, because it means the Kremlin cannot call up reservists or directly conscript new soldiers.  Should Putin declare "a state of war" on or before the big Red Square celebrations planned for next week, that all changes as the entire Russian society will be placed on a war footing. Going all-in on Donbass, which will succeed no matter how many Polish BMPs Zelensky can get.

And that's a good thing. The terrible logic of this war from the beginning has been a conventional Russian victory - however that can defined and spinned by the siloviki - is better for the world than continued Ukrainian success. Because nukes. Many American and other Western talking heads and political class suckpuppets have bemoaned that the 4000+ nuclear warheads in the Russian arsenal puts Europe and the US in a sort of hostage situation, where NATO air forces can't just roll in and carpet bomb Russian forces without suffering actual consequences in London and DC.

Somewhere in Baghdad, people are muttering, "See how you like it..."

There's been talk recently, which I am not linking to, about a possible deployment of tactical nukes against Ukraine to clear the current impasse in Donbass. Exaggerated and ridiculous talk but still alarming, as such an escalation besides the horror and suffering immediately in Ukraine would breach the global nuclear taboo that has persisted since 1945. Once Russia uses nukes in a conflict, that sets a precedent for US and Chinese (and Israeli) nuclear forces that amounts to, "Hey, we can do this now." Which will either translate into many tactical deployments as the Great Powers go about beating on weaker countries or - and who knows the odds on this anymore - an escalation to a strategic exchange as NATO "cannot let this go unanswered" or whatever other idiot excuse for annihilating the Northern Hemisphere.

But, should Putin declare All-out War on Ukraine, the possibility of a tac nuke goes way down:

If Putin declares a mobilization on May 9, that would almost certainly indicate a deferral of possible WMD use. More Russian soldiers in Ukraine means more of them exposed to potential WMD fallout. And conquering Ukraine, if parts of it are devasted by WMD, makes no sense.

Michael Kofman, one of the few to predict the war who isn't a hysterical neocon, talked about this a week ago. He argues that current Russian forces, once the Donbass Offensive is done, is a "spent force" that cannot prosecute further military operations against Ukraine - let alone other neighboring countries, despite the yelpings of Polish and Baltic reactionaries. Kofman also makes the point that such a mobilization would commit Putin to maximalist war aims - the total Kyiv regime change that initally failed - and that could prove politically untenable.

There's an inevitable argument that invading Ukraine in the first place made no sense so Putin might still pull the nuclear trigger, but Anatol Lieven makes a good point that while reckless and ruthless, Putin is not insane. His miscalculations are still rational. So here's hoping he doubles down conventionally, or just pulls a "mission accomplished" while the Donbass offensive stalemates, instead of trying to shock and awe the world one last time before that cancer gets him.

UPDATE 2:59PM: A rare good Twitter thread on the costs versus benefits of doing a Bush-In-His-Flightsuit victory lap rather than whole-hog mobilization.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Loosed Upon the World

Two weeks ago, if you told me Ukraine would still be resisting the Russian invasion and Zelensky would still be alive, I'd have laughed in your face. In fairness, I laughed at the prospect of an invasion of this scale up until the morning of February 24th. The idea was simply too stupid across every dimension - tactically, strategically, and politically. I like to think I've so far been vindicated on that analysis, the Russian tactics of shock and awe have stupidly abandoned any sense of modern logistics and led to a whole new genre of internet video: tank theft! Strategically, Putin has stupidly reinvigorated NATO and even inspired Germany to start arming itself again. And politically, this has galvanized the once waning opposition movement within Russia, to say nothing of how it's compromised Vova's position among his fellow siloviki in the Kremlin.

It was all so obviously stupid from the start. And it happened anyway.

And while how it's been happening has been even more of a surprise, how it ends still looks written in stone. A Russian military victory, followed by occupation and insurgency. Putin's very own Iraq quagmire, right on the border and fed by NATO weapons shipments. Hundreds of thousands dead, a nuclear superpower destabilized for a generation, and Ukraine a breeding ground for all the worst sorts of throat-slitters.

Though you wouldn't think it, to judge by every anglophone corner of the internet. Between r/worldnews and Facebook memes, there is a popular certainty Russia is losing the war and will soon be driven from the Ukrainian plains, to allow the sacred sunflowers to grow. Or something. While the conspiratorial may be inclined to see this total domination of the propaganda space to be the works of some three-letter-agency, I think it's genuinely organic. Millions of people throwing moral support to Ukrainians, who despite the sins of the Azov Battalion really are defending their homes from an aggressive invasion. Much like Iraqis or Afghans or Vietnamese or Yemenis or...

And it helps the blue and gold flag memes that Russia's performance - so far - has been so blitheringly incompetent. Michael Kofman, one of the few commentators to have predicted war, has gone on numerous social media threads about both logistical failures and the bizarre way Russia has abandoned their own combined arms doctrine, opting for slap-dash "special ops" zipping in, getting overstretched, and either captured or killed by even Ukrainian militia. Russian soldier morale, already not the highest among armies, has reportedly been sinking faster than the ruble. The way things look - the way they're made to look - is Ukraine only needs to hold out through another week or two of bombardments until either mass desertion renders Russian forces combat ineffective or Vova suffers a palace coup by generals upset that even their own are dying in this stupid war.

Serious question: when was the last time an American General died in battle? I can't think of any since the Civil War - maybe, since Confederates don't count.

A lesson everyone should have learned from Syria is light infantry craft matters. The Kurdish YPG demonstrated this over and over against Islamic State. Ukrainian regular military and militia have demonstrated it over and over again. But light infantry can only do so much against heavy armor, especially when Russia can afford to keep throwing men and material into the Ukraine meatgrinder. For all their bravery, a Ukraine that doesn't reach some ceasefire deal with the invaders is looking at the decimation of Kyiv (which might be happening as you read this) followed by an occupation and insurgency.

Here's how an insurgency works: think about everyone in your entire extended family. All of them, from the old yia-yias to the bouncing new babies to the middle-aged failures. Now kill two thirds of them. Of those, a third died bad. Like basement and power drill bad. In exchange, you maybe get the occupiers to back off for a while. In rare cases, the occupiers leave because the political situation among their bosses no longer allows for the costs of the occupation. That usually takes a few changes in the political leadership or maybe a new generation reaching age of majority. Also, for this thought experiment, you are not one of the guerillas. You just live in the occupied territory. The guerrillas lose more.

A bad deal for Ukraine. And every neighboring country. And it's the big plan inside the Beltway:

The ways that Western countries would support a Ukrainian resistance are beginning to take shape. Officials have been reluctant to discuss detailed plans, since they’re premised on a Russian military victory that, however likely, hasn’t happened yet. But as a first step, Ukraine’s allies are planning for how to help establish and support a government-in-exile, which could direct guerrilla operations against Russian occupiers, according to several U.S. and European officials.

NATO will not engage Russia directly. Which is a good thing, no matter how many schools and hospitals get shelled into rubble. But NATO will keep an unconventional war simmering in occupied Ukraine, nominally to bleed Russia, but also empowering the worst factions within Ukraine. Thoughtful, democratic types make for poor guerillas and Langley never arms Marxist rebels no matter who they're fighting. All this proposed support is going to the Azov Battalion and fellow travelers, because arming the Afghan Mujahideen worked out so well.

Except now, the Great Powers quagmire with militant reactionaries is in the middle of "civilized" Europe. The blowback coming from Putin's stupid war is going to make Paris 2015 look like harsh language.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Oh Shit

Putin is having his Bush Goes to Baghdad moment. Whether this is shock and awe to break off those breakaway regions or a prelude to a Ukraine-wide military occupation, it both amounts to the same thing: thousands dead and the weakness of the Russian state exposed (counter-intuitively) by it's massive violent demonstration.

I remember Stan Goff making this point in late 2004 (can't dig up the old Counterpunch/Beast article, may only be on Wayback now). That the US invading Iraq in 2003 was because they couldn't bring any other measures to bear, that US hegemony had already degraded to the point that soft power didn't work. Short-term, the US military defeated the Iraqi military but then a decade of occupation only managed to produce a corrupt government-in-name-only and the Islamic State.

That's the Russo-Ukraine War trajectory. Swift Russian tactical victory followed by long, grinding decline. It's already a domestically unpopular operation (which will probably fluctuate back and forth, people can forgive any atrocity if it achieves "victory") and has now effectively shut Russia out of the global economy with the all but stated death of Nord Stream 2. Now, the US faced a huge backlash for the Iraq adventure but the US in 2003 was also at it's hyperpower peak. Russia today has been under 8 years of Crimea sanctions and last I checked has a negative birth rate. Holding the threat of invasion was getting dialogue with the US and EU but now that's done. In trying to make Russia great again, Putin just set them on the path to being North Korea.

Anatol Lieven has been one of the war skeptics to still honestly assess what a war might be like. And he doesn't mince words:

The European Union would impose greatly intensified sanctions that would do vast damage to an already troubled Russian economy; the Nord Stream gas pipeline would be abandoned; Russia would be forced into almost complete dependence on China; parts of the Ukrainian army would fight very hard, and might inflict heavy Russian casualties; and if it occupies large new territories, Russia would face the challenge of ruling not the pro-Russian populations of the Donbas and Crimea, but significant numbers of infuriated and rebellious Ukrainians.

That the Siloviki running the Kremlin would take a look at all of this and decide Operation Ukrainian Freedom is better than it's coy brinksmanship of the past year is testament to Neocon-level idiot hubris, an air of desperation over maintaining their own power domestically, or likely both.

And, living on a different continent, this would all be so much background noise - the usual misery of the universe - if not for all the Acela corridor ghouls now salivating to arm Ukraine. Maybe that's why I'm rambling all over the place, because waking up to "War's on," in the one country that sabre-rattles the most at Russia, calling this "Our Sudetenland!" while forgetting Our Haditha means living in the crossfire of two sclerotic oligarchies, always threatening to sock each other in the goshdarn teeth while the ice caps continue melting.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

White Riot

History repeats itself but it's important to be clear what history. Last week's failed coup attempt by MAGA and QAnon reactionaries on behalf of President Trump has already been likened to a "putsch" or even the infamous Kristallnacht. These comparisons are natural as Trump and his supporters are fascists - absolutely and beyond any reasonable doubt - but as detailed in such histories of World War II like William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, when the Brownshirts had their own riot the rest of the Nazi Party was already well connected to the Conservative Party within the Reichstag as well as German business leaders. That's how Hitler ascended to the chancellorship despite the Nazis never gaining a plurality of political support.

Rather, the attack on Capitol Hill of 6 January is most comparable to Al Qaeda bombing the USS Cole.

In late 2000, the US Navy destroyer USS Cole was anchored off the coast of Yemen. Prior to this, Al Qaeda had already placed itself on the FBI's radar with the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, leading then President Clinton to reportedly develop a fixation on shutting down the terrorist network. This doubled after a small boat loaded with munitions slammed into the Cole, killing fifteen American sailors and injuring a further 37. FBI investigators, with lackluster CIA help, were closing in on Osama bin Laden in late 2000 and into early 2001, then the new Bush administration ordered everyone to drop this Al Qaeda nonsense and turn their attention to Iraq.

Then September 11th happened.

The United States is currently in such a liminal space as it was between the USS Cole Bombing and September 11th. Without the latter, the war against Al Qaeda would have remained a shadowy business of investigations and interrogations. After September 11th, the world got the War on Terror. Either scenario ends with Al Qaeda demolished as it was never a sustainable model for an irregular force but the scenario we know came with tremendous destruction and pain.

Like Al Qaeda, QAnon is unsustainable and born of a delusion. The paranoid ravings of pizza sex dungeons and turning the frogs gay are as grounded as the global holy war Osama bin Laden and his other Mujahideen buddies fantasized about. And also like Al Qaeda in 2000, QAnon thinks they’re winning. The storming of Capitol Hill looks like a victory because you didn’t see anyone stop them on TV. Over 80 people have since been arrested by the FBI and are facing felony murder charges, but the dream that Trump shall soon enact his master plan and all the evil Democrats will be swept aside for some glorious Patriot Reich still animates the thousands threatening to descend on Washington DC and state capitols before Joe Biden’s inauguration a week from now.

The scale of this upcoming armed revolt will determine how this second War on Terror plays out. If there are sporadic clashes, pipe bombs that go off or not, the next few years will see a low-key counter-insurgency waged by the FBI. A darker and more dystopian retread of the 1990s, when Timothy McVeigh and other homegrown bin Ladens made brief splashes in the national consciousness before being swiftly ground under by the federal security forces. And while a relatively more peaceful scenario, this will also see QAnon’s principles nursed by a Republican Party that has no other option for protecting their own jobs and transferred to later generations in a slow, ugly spiral into an ever more vicious and dangerous society outside increasingly over-policed urban enclaves.

Still, this is the best case scenario for the next week.

The worst case scenario is QAnon stages some real tactical victory. Not in DC - anyone making a run at the inauguration will be vaporized - but in state capitols in Michigan or Pennsylvania. A MAGA militia could conceivably occupy a state legislature or governor’s mansion by force of arms and could even hold it until a federal response - and there would have to be a federal response, as so many American police have drunk the QAnon kool aid.

This is the more dramatic scenario and arguably a very likely scenario because American reactionaries really think they can win a civil war - which in their imaginings is always fought against baristas and gender studies departments, not the National Guard. For all the shock and horror, a QAnon “victory” like this will be swiftly crushed because the interests that really matter in America cannot allow such insurrection and because the basic logic of power demands such threats be crushed as a message to the others. It would be horrific, a national trauma, and over much faster than the first scenario with QAnon designated a terrorist organization and the GOP collapsing as a viable political party. Like the first scenario, the FBI would spend years hunting down every last Parler account but without the sideshow of political nihilists trying to flirt with a terrorist base. The entire national conversation would go in one way and the de facto military totalitarianism that really dominates American politics would be laid bare.

Impeaching Trump a second time, while good and right, will not change his followers’ minds. They are diving all in on a civil war they believe they can win but simply cannot. No action on your part will affect the coming days and we are all now at the mercy of history.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

So I Just Read Les Misérables


This regards the 1987 Signet Classics edition of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, complete and unabridged, translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, based on the original French to English translation by C.E. Wilbour. All spoilers to follow.

I'd tried reading Les Misérables several years ago but quite honestly got tired with Hugo's overwrought prose somewhere in Volume II. Since the world is ending and I ran out of library books, I figured this was a good time to give it another go. I'm glad I did because while Hugo doesn't get any less wrought as the story grows, it's both a fascinating exploration of 19th Century society in the shadow of revolution and an insight into the psyche of the time, still wrestling with old aristocratic habits and new republican ideals.

But having said all that - and planning to say more - what really defines this gargantuan novel is a morality play, centered on the character of Jean Valjean. Imprisoned for stealing bread and kept for four times his original sentence because of repeated escape attempts, he is both sympathetic while being hardened and cunning enough to be a compelling hero. Some might be attempted to call him Byronic but rather his turn from a life of wickedness - or what society deems wicked - to the good is much more religious. Embittered and alienated from all humanity at the start, the kindness and forgiveness of a provincial bishop sets him on his path to redemption at the start to which he pursues with as little regard for the mores and norms of society as when he was a criminal but with rather with a focus on compassion and relieving the suffering of others.

Valjean finds his project of human betterment embodied in the orphaned Cosette. Orphaned by his own charitable machinations in his guise as Monsieur Madeleine, the benefactor from nowhere who builds up the factory town Montreuil-sur-Mer. A factory that employs - and degrades and throws away - Cosette's martyred mother Fantine. But before he can swoop in and save the poor orphan, Valjean's past catches up with him in a morality play within a morality play.

Enter Inspector Javert, Hugo's embodiment not of Good but of Order. Javert's commitment to law and authority is tautological - it must be obeyed because it is law and authority - and he takes visible pleasure in subjecting others to the law's severity. At first suspecting the beloved Mayor Madeleine of being the convict Valjean, he later recants his theory as some poor dolt in a neighboring town is arrested for stealing apples and roundly accused of being the infamous Valjean. Real name Champmathieu, he is subjected to a Kafkaesque trial in which his insistence upon his true identity is proof of his guilt.

This play within a play serves to illustrate Hugo's larger point about the society of his day and law and order. How stealing bread or simply mistaken identity can condemn someone to lifelong ignominy, the old feudal castes persisting under different names, as further demonstrated when "Monsieur Madeleine" storms the trial to proclaim himself the true Jean Valjean, to which everyone reacts with incredulity. He can't possibly be a convict because he is a respected mayor and businessman.

However, as much as Hugo challenges these lingering ideas of inherent goodness and wickedness, of castes assigned either success or misery for all time, he still cannot break free of the essentialist view of human nature. This Great Man theory is a constant theme through Hugo's novel, often in tension with his professed republican ideals. For all his focus on the dignity and suffering of the lower classes, it's only through the superiority of Mayor Madeleine - the reformed Jean Valjean - that uplifts the community of Montfermeil. When he surrenders himself to the law to save Champmathieu, the whole town goes back to seed.

The long digression on the Battle of Waterloo further cements this paradox in Hugo's thinking. Hugo talks glowingly of Napoleon, of how his incredible successes had to be ordained by Providence, and contrasts this with the dull and offensively un-brilliant Wellington. But the dull guy won.

To go on my own brief digression - and Hugo would approve, having dedicated an entire chapter to the history of the sewers of Paris - this Great Man theory so enraptured the French post-Napoleon that it arguably led to their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The Grand Armee had long been accustomed to being the instrument of their supreme commander's genius, but where Napoleon III proved timid and dejected the mid-rank officers of the Prussian forces quickly exploited every opportunity to drive the fight across Europe and back to Paris. Not through any particular genius but rather through disciplined efficiency.

Speaking of the siege of Paris and glorious Great Men getting ground under by forces of history, the tension between Hugo's conflicting ideals also manifests in the dichotomy between Enjolras and Thenardier. The former a young republican idealist and leader of a sort of proletariat salon of downwardly mobile intellectuals styling themselves revolutionaries, the latter an unscrupulous thief and con artist always striving after a new payday. Thenardier appears first in the narrative, he and his wife nominally accepting Cosette into their home to care for her while Fantine works herself to an early grave to provide for the little girl. Thenardier naturally makes the little girl a Cinderella-like slave, while constantly demanding more and more payments from Fantine, citing the many expenses incurred raising Cosette. Which is a blatant lie.

When Valjean escapes the chain gang yet again and comes to rescue Cosette - his coat sewn up with bank bills from his Madeleine fortune - Thenardier lets the little girl go for a song and a mere 15,000 Francs. He's got a good grift going with a tavern at the time, where his wife gets to lord it over everyone and his own daughters get to play with dolls and a kitten. But when this family appears again, they are fallen much lower in circumstances and are living in a squalid boardinghouse. Thenardier is left to composing fraudulent letters begging well-to-do Parisians - or who he thinks are well-to-do - for a little remittance here and there, while quite literally whoring his own daughters out to his criminal contacts. As much pains as Hugo goes to in portraying society beating down the "good" scoundrels like Jean Valjean, here he offers no such compassion for low and grasping people in a chapter even named "The Noxious Poor."

Contrast with the impoverished in matter but not in spirit Enjolras and his coterie. At first secondary to the bildungsroman of Marius that makes up the second half of the novel, they represent the boiling political radicalism that claimed descent from the Revolution but doesn't have much to show in terms of concrete plans - at least as presented by Hugo. They have plenty of noble airs and when the uprising of 1832 comes, they all take up arms and man the barricades gladly, but they have no real plans beyond dying gloriously for "the cause."

Really, the particulars don't concern Hugo so much as Progress. Like Hegel, he sees a deliberate direction to history, rising from the barbarous Ancien Regime into the glorious Republic of freedom and reason. And in service of this Progress, the violence of the barricades is completely warranted. Enjolras feels morally empowered by his ideals to kill not just the gendarmes mobilized to suppress the uprising but also to execute those whose rebellion is too sloppy and undisciplined. He even plans to execute a police spy within the barricade - the long absent from the narrative at this point Inspector Javert - but is bamboozled by Jean Valjean who arrives to rescue not just his nemesis Javert but also Marius, who is due for a wedded ever after ending with Cosette. In the process, he manages to assist the barricade without taking a single life - allowing Hugo to maintain Valjean's sainthood while also indulging in the thrill of revolutionary violence.

In the midst of all this bloody climax though, we get to see an unintentionally more compelling character. Eponine, daughter of Thenardier whose arc takes her from playing with a kitten in the Thenardier Inn to walking barefoot and broken through the slums of Paris illustrates how society fails the unfortunate. She descends through the lower strata of acceptable morality not out of any personal failings or even mistakes, but rather from the misfortune of birth. Her father - and mother, to a lesser degree - are the few truly wicked in Hugo's novel and their vulgar machinations drag their daughter into ignominy, poverty, and an untimely death. A better illustration of how society fails the less fortunate than the transcendent sainthood of Jean Valjean.

All of this being said, I can appreciate how much of a classic Les Misérables is but I wouldn't recommend it as a quarantine read. You'd have a better time with George Eliot's Middlemarch, which offers a more digestible prose style and greater psychological depth. But if you've read that already, you should give Hugo's magnum opus a go.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Darkly Through a Mirror: 2020 to 2030

Elections are the least of your worries.

Climate change is on track for maximum damage in the next decade. Barring a catastrophic global war - not impossible - emissions will not be reduced, arctic ice will continue to melt, and this global hot house will get a lot hotter. So let's speculate on what's gonna get worse and what you can do to survive.

1. War is Coming Back in Style.

Whether or not the Beltway insiders get their longed for conflict with Iran or if all the armchair fascists will have to content themselves with border bush wars, the trend in militarizing American culture is due to accelerate. Trump already telegraphed this, unintentionally as he's more autistic Cassandra than Machiavellian schemer, packing his first season White House with generals. Democrats enable this, being just as if not more deferential to the brass than the GOP. When the Pentagon launches its coup on a President Sanders, plenty of professional liberals will cheer them on.

Meanwhile, regarding those border wars, they’ll be fed as much by climate migration as the full blown fascism of white suburbanites. The National Guard will eventually get involved which, depending on who they’re ordered to side with and who they actually side with, could kick off a hot civil war that all the alt-right violence has presaged in the past couple years. What will surprise all the MAGA-sucking chuds is how it doesn’t break down along a clean Mason-Dixon line or even the expected Democrat and Republican divide  but between urban and suburban/rural. The rurals will make good fighters but they’re commitment to the small business tyrants calling the shots will wax and wane with the seasons. And as the parched and mismanaged countryside fails to keep the supermarkets stocked, the suburbanites will realize their error and start scrambling for the cities – though not after they’ve tried to ethnically cleanse every cul de sac.

2. The New Feudalism.

The cities are where it’s at, for better and for worse. Already logistically integrated for delivering food, power, and most important of all water they will be able to outlast the dying howl of the suburbanites. They’ll also win every straight out battle as they have just as many guns as the NRA pickup truck squadrons but more people to man the barricades. War comes down to people and American cities have them to spare.

Once the Y’allqaeda attacks cease, the cities can benefit from real green innovations in solar power and rooftop gardens. They won’t have to defer to the hippie-hating Reaganites in the retirement exurbs and as anyone who’s spent real time in Brooklyn or Philadelphia can tell you, urban conservatives are much more agreeable to welfare programs and public works than their nominally ideological cousins haunting the outer strip malls.

But it won’t be all wine and DSA roses. These same cities also host the financial and corporate powers that brought us to this wretched state of affairs in the first place. So while you should flee to a city now, you should be very careful about which city. Some of them are just broken: Baltimore, Gary, Milwaukee – all ravaged by opiates and austerity. You’d stand a better chance tramping it with the rurals – who won’t all be white nationalists, as that’s a strictly suburban middle class phenomenon. Others will be too technocratic and oligarchic to be livable, especially New York City which will let Brooklyn drown in the rising seas as it extracts Brooklynite taxes to build a wall around Lower Manhattan. Wall Street is too sure of its own importance to consider moving, even as the waters come in. And the promise of all that wealth trickling down will keep a steady stream of migrant workers flowing into ever more cramped proletariat blocks and squats, their simmering rebellion kept in check by an NYPD that would already qualify as a standing army. Imagine the Mega-City One of Judge Dredd, just with trash everywhere and worse humidity than Atlanta.

3. Socialism and Barbarism.

The worst of both worlds will be SoCal and Denver. Not because they’re saturated with old money power but because outside their respective downtowns it’s all suburbs and strip malls. This will be where the bloodiest battles will be fought, along explicitly racist lines throughout SoCal and in a nihilistic war of all against all in the Mile High City, which already leads the nation in mass shootings. Boulder might survive, being more left than San Francisco and more armed than Texas.

The best – all things considered – will be the Twin Cities and Great Lakes. Beyond escaping the worst of the rising temperatures, these regions boast generous fresh water (I can’t emphasize water enough), much more leftish leanings than the East and West Coast sprawls – especially Minneapolis – and get you closer to the true mid-century goal: Canada. This is not to idealize the Great Northern Frontier – you’ll find just as many reactionaries polluting the Toronto and Vancouver suburbs – but northward is the only sensible option as the Colorado River runs dry, hurricanes batter down even New England, and fires spread from California into the Pacific Northwest. Get there now, before they militarize their own border!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Empire Strikes Out

Last week, the American Empire ended. It was short lived, as empires go, but managed to cover the most square miles across the globe with military bases and go directly from savagery to debauchery without any of that pesky civilization in between. Unless you still think the Eisenhower era wasn’t monstrous.

It may not look it, especially with Trump and his chickenhawks insisting no Americans – meaning nobody who mattered – died in Iran’s ballistic missile strike. Iran is saying 80, so by the rules of warfare body counts, we can estimate about a dozen US or US-allied casualties. None of whom compare strategically to Soleimani, but that’s not the point. The point is Iran, a supposedly third world backwater theocracy fired not one but two dozen missiles from their country across the border into another. Two dozen missiles demonstrating the capacity for more – if they spend this many in a choreographed show of force, how many can they call up if under direct threat by the US military? – as well as demonstrating the grit and determination to engage US forces on open military terms, rather than just through deniable proxies or the other impoverished peasants the American war machine has battled across the Islamic world for the past two decades. A serious and technologically capable opponent.

And Trump blinked.

A decade ago, even under Obama, a foreign nation launching missiles – not car bombs, not IEDs, actual weapons of war – at US troops would precipitate a thunderous response. Since the Clinton Pentagon of full spectrum dominance, the US military has cultivated a vast and vicious arsenal of scaleable mayhem. Nuclear capable artillery is just one of the reasons Americans can’t have cheap insulin. There’s also fleets of space age aircraft that cost whole congressional districts and even got to be deployed in a real fight on the night of the missiles. They didn’t engage Iranian aircraft but may have shot down a civilian jetliner – not a first for US air forces over Iran. But rather than deploying any of its hugely expensive arsenal, the American Empire waited out the missiles and, once the dust cleared, put on a dog-and-pony press conference to insist they didn’t just totally get their shit kicked in. For all his swagger and bluster, Trump is thankfully terrified of a real fight.

Thankfully, because while the US military could still win a battle with Iran, they would lose the war. And not the way they’ve lost to the Taliban or Iraqi insurgents but in hard material ways that would impact the American homefront – not because Iran is so formidable an opponent but because American hegemony has been collapsing.

Let’s assume Trump didn’t wimp out last week. Let’s assume he took the reins off all the conventional and “special” forces the US has deployed throughout the Gulf. There are even mid-rank officers chomping at the bit to go after Iran, because they blame Iran for the failure in Iraq and aren’t that bright. All of these elaborate, advanced, and very expensive weapons and troops the US is poised to use would immediately run into the one thing they haven’t experienced or expected in generations: an actually serious military opponent. Iran has the hardware and manpower to stop any US advance in its tracks, thanks to the shallow draught of the Gulf, the mountainous geography of the Iranian plateau, and the incredible vulnerability of American sea power to the sort of ballistic missile attacks just carried out.

Even once American forces could penetrate Iran’s defenses – likely after calling up reinforcements like Rumsfeld was forced to do for the much smaller and weaker Iraqi defenders in 2003 – any attempt at occupation would collide with a population universally opposed to a foreign presence on their soil. “Regime Change,” that idiot dream of neoconservatism, would immediately give way to conquest, which would need to be fought block by bloody block. Already popular American opinion has refused to rally around the flag for Trump’s assassination of Soleimani and the Iranian’s retaliatory fireworks show. The sinking confidence in official institutions ushered in by the Iraq War and the 2008 financial crash would quickly spiral into a popular disconnect, protests devolving into riots, and martial law being instigated by a police culture all too eager to murder their own neighbors. In defeating Iran, America would turn itself into a failed state and international pariah.

That’s not even counting the impact Iran can have beyond the immediate battle with an American invasion force. All the allegations of Iran terrorizing oil shipments through the Persian Gulf confess the reality that they really can disrupt the biggest oil export line in the world. The same missiles and irregular attacks that will sink an American carrier can shut down the Strait of Hormuz, causing enormous economic damage worldwide. Hezbollah and other Iran-friendly militias have already made it clear they will go all in against Israel just for a retaliation to last week’s Iranian retaliation. The American neoconservatives and their evangelical fellow travelers will finally get the crusade against all Islam they’ve desired since 2001 - and will quickly see they are outnumbered across the whole Middle East. Every day will be Benghazi.

That’s still a good scenario. When faced with such a serious, implacable foe and with a cruel dunderhead like Trump at the helm the inevitable question is “What about nukes?” The US has them and despite all the propaganda to the contrary Iran definitely does not. Once Marine battalions are retreating back to the shores of the Gulf, even the “reasonable” people middle class rubes have placed their hopes in might be arguing for a nuclear strike. A limited one, of course, at least at first. Limited to the battlefield or targeting Tehran and other population centers, two outcomes are certain: First, Russia and China will not launch in retaliation, no matter how friendly they are now with Iran, because mutually assured destruction would then be in effect. Beijing is too busy plotting out its Chinese Century to fall for that and the Kremlin – while being more cavalier on tactical nuclear deployment – isn’t looking for a kamikaze strike on their geopolitical rivals either. Second, and more important, nobody has to nuke the US back to retaliate over the ravaging of Iran.

Even if the nukes never enter the picture, the US launching a wildly unpopular war on the regional power most responsible for defeating ISIS could trigger the actual doomsday scenario of the United States Dollar being dropped as a reserve currency. It’s not the massive and massively expensive American armed forces ensuring imperial power so much as an international demand for dollars. Oligarchs from Russia to China to France can’t get enough of them and it’s how the US has managed to remain a top global economy despite hollowing out its own manufacturing sector. But abandon that reserve currency – something that’s already in the works – and the whole house of cards collapses. The mortgage crisis will look like a slow afternoon in comparison, the Great Depression merely a rainy day. And it won’t just wreck the financial markets and the suburban small business clowns – without that inflation-proofing granted by dollar hegemony, all the grand plans of DSA and the Sanders campaign really will be impossible to pay for.

So it’s for the best Trump blinked and we should all hope he keeps blinking. His whole existence was always an argument against the American system and it’s appropriate he be the one to preside over its final dissolution. Post-imperial life can be positive for nations, it’s how the Brits managed to finally do good things like the NHS and Monty Python. By not following through on his bullying, Donald Trump can end the era of Pax Americana and then Americans can have some actual peace in their lives.