I talked yesterday evening with the intimable Johnny Video over at Smartasses Radio for a lively conversation spanning space weaponization, Judge Dredd, cats, Wonder Woman, Prometheus and Jerry Pournelle, among other sundry topics. Check it out here…
Archive for the ‘Geopolitics’ Category
It seems a little ironic that the laws allowing the government to indefinitely detain human beings drew less protest than SOPA has. Then again, the line has to be drawn somewhere. As I wrote a few years back in my essay on the Future of War, the national security state is keenly aware that domination of the web is critical. Indeed, this past July, the Defense Department declared that the Internet to be an “operational domain of war”, and what’s going on right now is war by another name. For now, I think (and hope) that the wave of protests that constitute Black Wednesday will stem the encroachment; then again, if they can’t shut down your website, they can always arrest you and throw away the key.
Keep in mind, too, that this is merely the first round. The bills and executive orders that will be the successors of SOPA will be framed and justified by a national security imperative: i.e., telling the American public they need to give away their freedoms because companies need to make more money (e.g., SOPA) is one thing, but telling them they need to give it up for security…. hell, that works every time. Especially if the inevitable cyber-terrorist attacks that will be used to justify it came in the midst of food riots, looting, and economic chaos… shit, you won’t even notice that your screens have gone dark then.
It’s strange to think there’s an entire generation of kids who don’t remember the day the Towers collapsed. It’s even stranger to think that there’s an entire generation for whom this was their first “event” memory, the way my generation remembers the Challenger exploding or those in the early 60s remembered Kennedy’s assassination. And now we’re almost a decade into the so-called “long war”, a term I resist because it’s impossible to name the victory conditions….as will become woefully apparent the next time an attack occurs on American soil, as it assuredly will, unless we throw out everything that makes us a free society.
Arguably, the most potent damage that Al-Qaeda did to us that day had nothing to do with the death and the carnage. Thucydides was deeply skeptical of the ability of a democracy to maintain a coherent foreign policy; the ease with which Bin Laden was able to lure us into Middle Eastern quagmires would have done nothing to change his mind on that score. An even more severe fallout was the division in American society that the event engendered. America is weaker now because of the near-fratricidal level of venom and vitriol unleashed by those who would label those who disagree with them as traitors. To some extent this is the natural tension of a republic operating on the world stage; Democrats tend to forget that FDR’s supporters labeled those who voted for his GOP opponents as aiding and abetting the Nazis. But that a handful of men operating out of caves could have facilitated such polarization of American society beggars belief. Nine years later, we mourn the victims, yes, but also the path along which we’ve been careening ever since.
They’re still digging out the rubble from where Joseph Stack crashed his plane into the IRS building in Austin, TX. And they’re still poring over the letter he allegedly wrote that appeared on his website earlier today, where he detailed the “American nightmare” of economic marginalization he’d endured across the last quarter-century. It’s fascinating to watch the web try to make sense of Stack’s own words. Some of the more specious debate centers on whether the man was a right-wing nut or a left-wing nut; another line of ‘analysis’ is aimed at trying to decide whether or not he was a terrorist. As if we even know what that term means: “causes terror” is a little too broad, yet anything less than that, and one’s own ideological prejudices come into play.
Which is, I suppose, the point. We’re so eager to categorize everything into our taxonomy of preconceptions that most of us never even wonder just how logical that taxonomy is in the first place. Stack will be called ‘insane’ and ‘mad’, and he clearly was: but his so-called rant threw a lot of issues into sharp and uncomfortable relief. At a time when the labels of Left vs. Right are ever more useless for describing the contemporary United States in objective terms, Stack is the anomaly. And the greater tragedy is that we’ll be seeing a lot more of his ilk: the way in which those forced to the brink by an unravelling social order articulate their predicament is far more likely to resemble Stack’s primal cry of rage than any politician’s manifesto. Labelling something means you no longer need to think about it. In the age of the web’s firehose-blast of information, that’s ever more important in allowing us to handle tomorrow the same way we handled yesterday.
Happy new year, folks. When the ball dropped, I was way off the grid: standing in the middle of a field in the foothills of the Appalachians, listening to shotgun blasts echo across the valleys as the locals celebrated the new decade and I mulled over what its first year might have in store.
Most of my predictions are fairly pessimistic. I can’t help that. Anyone who’s not pessimistic right now about the short to middle term is deluding themselves; indeed, I think that Barbara Ehrenreich is correct that the cult of positive thinking is a large part of the reason we’re in this mess in the first place.
Anyway, let’s get this show on the road:
#1. All talk of an economic recovery falls by the wayside. Obama’s decision to prop the economy up rather than try to reform it has merely replaced a housing bubble with a government bailout bubble. The unemployment figures alone should tell us that the stock market rally is for rich suckers getting played by those who are even richer. But once it becomes clear that the mammoth expansion of debt has only worsened the underlying fundamentals, we will officially enter the land of Terra Incognita, whereupon all bets are off. Except for one certainty amidst all else, namely a . . .
#2: Massive GOP mid-term victory . Economic turmoil breeds political unrest, and the GOP’s strategy of relentless obstructionism has been smart (if utterly cynical) politics, leaving them poised to take the blame game to a new level. The Right shows no more understanding than the Left as to why we’re really in this mess, but the public is even more clueless, meaning the GOP will probably seize majorities in both houses. Ironically, this might end up being Obama’s salvation in 2012, the same way the Republican victory in 1994 set Clinton up so beautifully to kick their asses two years later. Of course, there’s another intangible here, to wit:
#3. Someone takes a shot at Obama. There was a time we weren’t supposed to talk about this kind of possibility, but I have no problem doing so, given that those who would be celebrating an assassination are already talking so loudly themselves. Egged on by the rage of talk radio, the degree of hatred for Obama in the Red States has gone off the charts, and we have to be mentally prepared for at least one major incident. I’ll go out on a limb even further here and say that the shooter will probably fail, since he is likely to be a methhead amateur, and the Secret Service is primed like never before. The real question is whether an attempt to kill the U.S. president will finally inject some sanity into the rhetoric that’s out there. Somehow, I doubt it.
#4: Afghanistan’s quagmire becomes even more so. While I agree with George Will that we should get the hell out of Afghanistan and concentrate on fighting this war with Predator UAVs and proxies, I thought the Obama/Gates strategy had merit, in that the real objective was clearly to try to bag Bin Laden and what’s left of the Al-Qaeda leadership. But the just-occurred suicide bombing of a CIA base (the bait for which may have been info on the Bearded One’s location) leaves me fearing the worst: that our intelligence operations are in a state of total shambles, unable to follow even the most basic precautions in fighting a secret war. The closer we get to the Afghan-Pakistan border, the closer we get to the big leagues—and unless we up our game quick, we won’t have much left of one. Meanwhile, while we’re busy over there, we can expect to see more fun closer to home:
#5: Additional Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Soil. We’ve had a long run of good fortune in the aftermath of 9-11, but the recent close shave in Detroit is a sure sign that Al Qaeda is embarking on a new campaign, most of it emanating from the hellhole that is Yemen. Whatever hits us next is likely to come from there. Which in turns will mean that:
#5: Yemen A Close Contender for the Next Big U.S. Intervention. As Major Don Vandergriff points out, this would be utter folly, as it would overextend us still further and leave us no closer to the formulation of a true grand strategy to prosecute the so-called long war. Because what passes for a strategy right now is a clusterfuck, driven by domestic politics and the need to look tough for the home-front; particularly now that a Democrat’s in charge, that dynamic will continue to intensify.
#6: Iran Another Contestant in the Baiting-Uncle-Sam Sweepstakes. There’s a sense in which this should be #1 for the entire list, as the Iranian situation is moving toward a flashpoint within the next few weeks, especially since Israel has hinted rather broadly that it might intervene unilaterally to prevent Iran from crossing the next threshold of nuclear technology. And the domestic unrest now gripping Tehran is only serving to back the regime still further into a corner. Particularly problematic here is that a desperate clerical leadership still has the capability to do some serious damage, be it in Iraq, the Gulf, or the global economy beyond. And if they play their cards right, they just might end up winning this round; 1979 is a potent reminder that an Iranian regime in the throes of internal unrest can still make the U.S. look very, very stupid on the world stage.
#7: And Let’s Not Forget Mexico. While we’ve been embroiled in the rest of the world, we’ve scarcely noticed that the streets of northern Mexico are now run by the Zetas, the elite military force that was trained by the U.S. and has since gone over to the cartels. But we’re about to wake up to this fact, particularly since the violence has been spilling north into the border states (did you know Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of the U.S.?) All of which will provide some red meat to the anti-immigration lobby, but is unlikely to result in any truly coherent policy. And let’s not even talk about drug legalization. . . at least not until the baby boomers have died off.
#8: Dollar Somehow Avoids Catastrophe. Unless there’s a major course correction (hahaahaha), the spiraling U.S. debt spells doom for the U.S. dollar, but I suspect the real reckoning will come a few more years into the decade, rather than right now, in part because the question still remains as to what the hell the dollar will collapse against. In the meantime, look for some considerable greenback volatility.
And just in case you think it’s all downers at Chez Williams. . .
#9: Lady Gaga hailed in all quarters as the New Madonna. She shows a career/market savviness that Britney Spears et. al. can only dream of, and the quality of her songs justify all hype. This woman’s in it for the long haul, and if she’s going to continue weighing in on current events/politics, she may yet take her stardom to a level that even Madonna never reached.
#10: Ajax and Captain Zoom Hailed As Feline Gods. Let’s just say good looks will take you a long way round here.
Here’s the tape of my appearance last week on the Ed Morrissey show, in which I discuss the next generation of warfare, as outlined in this essay (not to mention my books). My part begins at 31:53. Shortly after that, feline infiltrator Captain Zoom manages to get into the room and wreak havoc, knocking over half the shit on my desk in the process. As you’ll hear, Ed was quite gracious about the whole thing, and the dreaded “Zoomerang” failed to stop us from having a great discussion.
The inimitable Ed Morrissey has invited me to appear on Hot Air blog radio today @ 3:30 to talk about the future of war and the Autumn Rain trilogy. The link’s available here.
Years from now, Dubai will be seen as the symbol of the age that’s drawing to a close: a massive white elephant in the desert, totally unsustainable in the era of peak oil—and totally embedded in denial while everything falls down around its ears. The Independent has published a magnificent expose of the Arabian Disneyland, underscoring the extent to which the whole place is (basically) a slave-state with medieval laws that imprisons immigrant workers and deports dissenters while degrading its environment to dangerous levels, particularly when the cash runs out.
Which is of course what’s happening now, as Dubai’s debt-crisis gives the lie to any notion that the global economy is on the path to recovery. The sad truth is that we pretty much sidestepped taking our medicine earlier this year, particularly when Obama put the same people in charge of the economy who had done so much to wreck it. Dubai is the accelerating sinkhole in our cozy illusions . . . . and as James Kunstler notes, civilizations build their most extreme monuments at the very moment of their collapse. The desert will ultimately do to Dubai what it did to Ozymandias, only the resultant poetry is unlikely to be anywhere near as good.
“Climategate” is, obviously, a PR debacle of the first magnitude. It’s also a first-class piece of agitprop—faced with the reality of a U.S. presidential administration finally getting onto the AGW bandwagon, global warming skeptics have been running scared for some time now. Dropping this bombshell on the eve of Copenhagen is aimed at the one audience that might still intervene to save them—the U.S. Congress, which will have to ratify anything Obama signs in Denmark . . .and which is now going to be that much less likely to do so, given the confusion that the revelation of these emails is going to cause.
Climate scientists haven’t helped themselves either–as the Guardian points out, the response of the University of East Anglia was nothing short of hare-brained. And Jones et. al. should be resigning pronto instead of acting like this is all much ado about nothing. They’ve done tremendous damage to their own cause, all the more so as the science beneath all of it remains fundamentally sound. Marine biologist and SF maestro Peter Watts provides good context in this regard.
Not that global warming deniers were ever really that worried about the evidence in the first place. Their core ideology centers around a conspiracy-laden meme whereby climate scientists and bureaucrats systematically falsify and distort evidence as part of a master plan to gather us all into One World Government. Climategate will play into their hands, fueling what Hofstadter once called the “paranoid style” in American politics. What’s particularly interesting about those who propound this meme is that they want to have it both ways: they see themselves as insurgents fighting a corrupt system, when the truth of the matter is that they’ve been running that system for decades now. We can read their hysteria as the product of their anxiety at being forced from power. And their propaganda has been nothing if not effective, causing people who should know better to deride environmentalism itself as a “religion” . . . . as though the idea that decades of sustained industrial activity might impact the world’s climate is somehow on a par with believing in invisible sky fairies or the transmutation of bread into the flesh of some dead god. Pulling off this hack on East Anglia constitutes their masterpiece. The result is nothing short of catastrophic.
Ah, the contrast between the U.S. and Chinese space programs. The Space Shuttle is due to be retired next year, even as budget pressures intensify for its Constellation/Ares successor. Meanwhile, China continues to forge ahead with plans for a lunar rover by 2012, a manned space station by 2020, and a taikonaut on the Moon shortly after that. It’s tempting to read this as a tale of two empires—one rising and the other in decline. But I’ve got a funny feeling that should the Chinese actually get hardware onto the lunar surface, the U.S. space program might receive the kick in the ass that’s been so long overdue. After all, the only reason we got to the Moon in the first place was because Sputnik scared us shitless. It’s a little sad that when you get down to it, the best reason for getting into space we’ve ever managed to find is that the other guy is doing it. . . . but the coming space race is likely to be a lot more intense than the one that occurred during the Cold War, because this time each side has the capability to field maturing space weaponry. China’s antisat test from two years back still reverberates, while the U.S. directed energy weaponry program continues to make strides.
But the next few years are likely to be all China’s, and the contrast between the two publics couldn’t be more stark. Space launches over there are big news, whereas here they’re pretty much a non-event, unless something blows up or astronauts die. And China has the added advantage of not having to worry about civilian vs. military coordination—the Chinese space program integrates the two (an advantage of dictatorships). Ironically, right now the U.S. is in a similar position to pre-modern Ming China back in the 14th century, when they scrapped their vast exploration fleets to focus on internal considerations. Indeed, there’s (disputed) evidence that China reached America first . . . just as centuries from now, it might seem like a curiosity of history that Americans walked on the Moon decades before China set up shop there permanently.