Modest Proposal to End Syria’s Civil War, Destroy Islamic State

Barack Obama Vladimir Putin
Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia meet at the latter’s dacha outside Moscow, July 7, 2009 (White House/Pete Souza)

And modest, of course, it will be, involving cooperation on a scale not seen since World War II. But to genuinely destroy the Islamic State and end the regional crisis that fuels it, one must think big.

Diplomacy has been tried in the past, but diplomacy tends to fail when equally matched powers are unwilling to give ground. For all intents and purposes, every force within the Middle East is capable only of influencing and protecting portions of the region; even the United States has proven unable to impose a solution. This has produced a stalemate and between the partitioned spheres of influence these outside forces have left no man’s lands. Within those no man’s lands, predictably, the madmen are king.

Now, in the wake of Paris and the downing of a Russian airliner, geopolitical forces are converging that may well make international cooperation possible. Read more “Modest Proposal to End Syria’s Civil War, Destroy Islamic State”

Why the Hell Would ISIS Attack Paris? Geopolitics of Terrorism

Paris France
View of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France (Unsplash/Rodrigo Kugnharski)

It was not, of course, just Paris this weekend: Beirut also felt the murderous strategy of militant Islam. For those who are attuned to ignoring the developing world, the attacks in Paris were shocking, confusing and subject to simplistic explanation: they hate us, they hate freedom, they want Sharia, etc., etc.

But when it comes to organizations training, supplying and directing acts of terrorism, hate and religion are not the explanations we seek. Organizations, like nation states, are neither suicidal nor nihilistic: they seek to empower themselves and gain security through whatever means are available to them.

And understanding this need goes a long way towards understanding what happened this weekend. Read more “Why the Hell Would ISIS Attack Paris? Geopolitics of Terrorism”

Is Spain About to Break Up? Geopolitics of the New Europe

Barcelona Spain
Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain (Egor Myznik)

First it was Great Britain, now it’s Spain: the devolution of once all-powerful nation states continues. On Monday, Spain’s Catalonia region’s autonomous parliament voted to secede from Spain by 2017, having won elections in September promising to do just that.

Why is Europe breaking up? And what does this mean for Spain? Let’s get super. Read more “Is Spain About to Break Up? Geopolitics of the New Europe”

The Giant Awakes: America Begins to Reclaim Top Spot

Barack Obama
American president Barack Obama makes a speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 22, 2012 (Obama for America/Josh Burstein)

Here now is the predictability of geopolitics coming to the top of the news cycle: when you are top dog, you don’t take kindly to anyone trying to tear you down.

In the last week the United States, an empire in all but name, has struck back against its chief rivals. The first occurred in the disputed South China Sea where Beijing has constructed whole islands right in the middle of heavily-trafficked and potentially resource-rich waves. China’s plan was to extend its sea claim outwards from these islands, but the United States thwarted that scheme by sending a warship directly into China’s no-gone zone.

Meanwhile, in Syria’s murderous civil war, Russia’s deployment of bombers and tanks has now begun to be matched with the public announcement America is sending forces to fight in Iraq and to train allies in Syria.

In other words, the empire is striking back. But it’s playing by some well-defined rules as it does. Read more “The Giant Awakes: America Begins to Reclaim Top Spot”

The How-To Guide to Modern Propaganda

Russian president Vladimir Putin is seen on television screens in a store in Krasnoyarsk, April 17, 2014
Russian president Vladimir Putin is seen on television screens in a store in Krasnoyarsk, April 17, 2014 (Reuters/Corbis/Ilya Naymushin)

So many arguments across the Internet these bicker over the same thing: everyone’s sources are wrong. To post an article from a British source automatically makes it suspect of a pro-British bias; anything from America is Western propaganda; Saudi news agencies get their checks cut by the king while Al Jazeera is beholden to the al-Thani family and their interests.

Propaganda as a means of warfare is as old as war itself but only in the twentieth century did it become a pillar of any self-respecting state’s defense strategy. World War I saw posters; World War II saw films; the Cold War manipulated newspapers and media.

Now, in the Information Age, when facts are so readily verifiable, propaganda machines have gone into a node mode and the most successful propaganda regime of all is Russia. The Russian template has more effectively covered up Putin’s weaknesses than any other modern propaganda machine. It’s done so well that Facebook comments are riddled with adoration for Putin’s war in Syria, claiming Russia’s relatively small-scale air war will do something the much larger American-led coalition can’t.

What’s happened here? What kind of lessons can we draw from the Russian media machine? Here now is the How-To Guide to Modern Propaganda. Read more “The How-To Guide to Modern Propaganda”

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Made Super

Israeli tank
An Israeli tank in Gaza, July 31, 2014 (IDF)

And here we go again.

Especially in the United States, Palestinian-Israeli violence always sucks up the headlines, siphoning valuable media and filling it with tried-and-true journalistic narratives that play to the myriad of biases that always come to the fore when discussing the Holy Land.

Evangelical Christians get their dose of Biblical chaos, hoping beyond hope that this time, the Rapture will follow this latest spasm of violence. Conservatives and neoconservatives find yet more ammunition against Islam, Islamism or, to the brute racists lurking among them, merely Arabs in general to fill the Facebook comments of every article that covers the attacks. Liberals dredge up well-worn tirades against colonization, colonialism, Western power and Israeli abuse.

Rather than sit this one out, I’ve decided to delve into the very basics of the conflict at risk, of course, of revealing my own bias (spoiler: I don’t care).

So let’s make this very popular-to-recycle conflict super. Read more “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Made Super”

No Good Options: Why America Dithers in Syria

American president Barack Obama walks with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, outside the White House in Washington DC, September 3
American president Barack Obama walks with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, outside the White House in Washington DC, September 3 (White House/Pete Souza)

Haters do hate and many of President Barack Obama’s greatest haters despise what he’s done about Syria; or, more accurately, what he hasn’t done. Some of that criticism is fair but much of it is not, for Syria is not worth the blood, treasure or time of the United States when there are much bigger, nuclear-armed fish to fry elsewhere.

Here’s why. Read more “No Good Options: Why America Dithers in Syria”

Why They Come: The Balkans’ Desperation

Belgrade Serbia
View of Belgrade, Serbia, August 22, 2011 (Serzhile)

Much of the world’s attention is fixed on the refugee crisis emanating from the warzones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It’s a simple enough narrative for journalists: fleeing the bombs and bullets of the Islamic State or the Taliban, refugees swarm peaceful Europe, hoping for humanitarian salvation.

But that narrative overlooks a key failure of European migration policy. This wave of migration is hardly new. On the continent itself are states that have long propelled their citizens to jump the borders for greener pastures in Western Europe.

Three of Germany’s top five asylum-seeking countries of origin are not in the wartorn Middle East but rather the overlooked Balkans: Albania, Kosovo and Serbia. Macedonia, another Balkan state, ranks seventh.

What’s happening here? Why are fellow Europeans from peaceful states fleeing to Germany? Read more “Why They Come: The Balkans’ Desperation”

What the Hell Is Putin Doing in Syria?

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in Voronezh, August 5, 2014 (Kremlin)

And more importantly, what does he want?

It’s important to remember how swears like that will net the sort of Google-searching folks I very much want here: the sort who want to understand, but who don’t need the gross, and largely unimportant, blow by blows.

In two years, Vladimir Putin has taken Russia to war in not one but two countries; he’s conquered the strategically vital Crimea, froze a conflict in Ukraine and now has turned his war machine upon Syria’s conflict. The hapless United States under Barack Obama seems paralyzed with handwringing indecision and the Google searches for “World War III” are skyrocketing.

Yes, we all ought to be worried and we all should try to understand why powerful places choose to seek war in faraway lands.

So why is Russia now at war in Syria? What the hell happened, and, most importantly, what can happen?

Let’s get super. Read more “What the Hell Is Putin Doing in Syria?”

The Next Great Geopolitical Crisis: Venezuela

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela attends a ceremony in Caracas commemorating the 1992 coup by Hugo Chávez, February 4
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela attends a ceremony in Caracas commemorating the 1992 coup by Hugo Chávez, February 4 (Prensa Miraflores)

South America gets a lot less attention that it deserves from foreign policy chats and geopolitical blogs. Much of that is because the continent is largely stable: not since the 1930s have there been any interstate wars and now that Colombia’s FARC revolutionary army is on the back foot, it appears failed states have also receded over the horizon. South America’s stability is taken for granted by both the hemispheric superpower and much of the rest of the world.

But within Venezuela, all kinds of chaos is breaking loose.

Last week, the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, threatened to invade and annex half his neighbor, English-speaking Guyana. Before that, he deployed forces to the border with Colombia. Meanwhile, at home, he’s been arresting enemies and presiding over a state that feels very much like it’s collapsing.

Should Venezuela’s state behave as irresponsibly as its past suggests it will, the next great geopolitical crisis will not be in well-trodden battlefields in the Middle East, Asia or Europe but in the United States’ own backyard. Read more “The Next Great Geopolitical Crisis: Venezuela”