Aleppo Has Fallen. Now What?

Aleppo Syria
View of Aleppo, Syria before the war, March 30, 2010 (Michał Unolt)

I am waiting to die or be captured.

That is the farewell message of one of the handful of remaining anti-Assad activists in Aleppo. As the Assad regime now triumphs a murderous, four-year-long victory, the question of what comes next must be asked.

Syria is a ruined country. It was a state imposed upon a land not yet a nation and while that state had made progress in building a Syrian nation over the past forty years under the Assad family, at the end of the day the corruption and incompetence of the regime coalesced into an uprising that almost immediately became a civil war.

As early as the summer of 2013, a year into the battle of Aleppo, Bashar al-Assad’s regime had concluded they would have to create a wilderness to manufacture peace. This they have done in several places, emptying out whole villages and neighborhoods and helping create the world’s largest postwar refugee crisis.

Under the barrage of relentless bombing, Russian and barrel, Aleppo, the symbol of the rebellion, has collapsed.

So now what? Read more “Aleppo Has Fallen. Now What?”

Why Taiwan Could (Still) Start World War III

Guam
A B-52 Stratofortress bomber leads a formation of American and Japanese fighter jets in a flight over Guam, February 21, 2011 (USAF/Angelita M. Lawrence)

Surely you know already the tripwire: Taiwan is a de facto country but a de jure province of mainland China. The people’s republic wants to bring it back under mainland China’s rule while the people of Taiwan want exactly the opposite.

Moreover, Taiwan’s military security is guaranteed by the United States via the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which stipulates the United States must respond militarily to a communist invasion.

So if the PRC tries to bring Taiwan back into the fold by military force, the United States must retaliate. Conventional battles turn to nuclear battles and then we all die in the irradiated glow of our own monstrous weapons. Read more “Why Taiwan Could (Still) Start World War III”

The Rational Person’s Guide to Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro Nikita Khrushchev
Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, the leaders of Cuba and the Soviet Union, greet onlookers in Moscow’s Red Square, Russia, May 1963 (TASS)

There are few leaders who inspire the kind of irrational passion that surrounds the recently-deceased Fidel Castro. He is a hero and a villain and to have an opinion on him so often forces you to choose between the two.

But there is another way to judge leadership. To understand Castro’s true historical legacy, we should think of him geopolitically.

That means setting aside moral judgements, which rely on evidence that’s so readily cherrypicked, and pushing past propaganda to look not on Castro’s intentions or his personality but his geopolitical outcomes.

All leaders who are judged in such a manner must therefore pass a basic question: How much did they secure their nations and/or states and for how long can their methods work?

Security, of course, should break down as both physical security from invasion and rebellion as well as economic and social security from recessions, poverty and unrest. We are asking, in essence, about how well a leader used their ever-limited power to strengthen their nation state.

Such strengthening goes beyond mere morality, because murder is murder and always wrong in the eyes of the ethicist. But to murder someone who might corrupt or weaken a nation state is wise geopolitical policy. After all, it’s hard to argue that murdering Adolf Hitler in 1931 would have weakened Germany. Read more “The Rational Person’s Guide to Fidel Castro”

The Middle East in the Age of Trump

Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

We should, of course, discount rumors that Trump will be deposed before even taking office on account of hacked voting machines; until evidence of that becomes clear, we must carry on the discussion of what the new president-elect will do with humanity’s most powerful nation state.

Nowhere will this be more apparent than in the Middle East, long the recipient of a disproportionate amount of American hard and soft power. I say “disproportionate” because America has, especially since the Cold War, spent a ridiculous amount of power trying to reorder the region as though it were Europe in 1950. Read more “The Middle East in the Age of Trump”

The Geopolitics of President-Elect Donald Trump

Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015 (Michael Vadon)

What, exactly, does President-elect Donald J. Trump believe?

From 1987 until 1999, he was a Republican. That year, he changed to the nearly-defunct Reform Party, an obscure New York City legacy party. He then became a Democrat from 2001 until 2008, when he switched back to the Republicans again.

Meanwhile, simply in the past week, he’s walked back from several campaign pledges, including his promise to deport many millions of immigrants and wholly repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it’s so often known.

And yet it matters much less than the 24/7 news cycle implies. President-elect Trump is not the be-all, end-all of the United States of America. He, as Barack Obama before him and George W. Bush before him, must play by the rules. Read more “The Geopolitics of President-Elect Donald Trump”

What Democrats Did Wrong And What We Must Do Now

Voters listen to a speech by Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine in Davidson, North Carolina, October 12
Voters listen to a speech by Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine in Davidson, North Carolina, October 12 (Hillary for America/Alyssa S.)

#notmypresident is only the latest in a string of absurd mistakes we on the left are making. We lost; yes, we won the popular vote, but we’ve all known since 2000 that the system allowed that. We have the power to do something about that in 2009-11, when we had a supermajority, but we lost focus, we forgot and now we’re here.

So we need to take responsibility for our own mistakes. In an age of atonement for progressives, we must first list our mistakes so we can understand why we lost. Here are the three biggest ones:

  • We became the party of Obama, not the party of progressives.
  • We allowed our activist allies to hijack the media narrative and alienated our passive allies in Middle America.
  • We lost focus on equality and became more obsessed with social justice, which are not always the same things. Read more “What Democrats Did Wrong And What We Must Do Now”

What Just Happened in America?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29 (Gage Skidmore)

The blog originally began with a simple vision: complicated foreign policy analysis stuffed with swears to soften the otherwise indigestible material. As the years have worn on, I’ve largely dropped that approach.

But I feel we deserve the old way today.

So let’s start to dig through the rubble and figure out what the fuck just happened in America. Read more “What Just Happened in America?”

To Save Us from Someone Like Trump, Look to Institutions

Lesley Stahl interviews businessman Donald Trump and Indiana governor Mike Pence for CBS News in New York, July 17
Lesley Stahl interviews businessman Donald Trump and Indiana governor Mike Pence for CBS News in New York, July 17 (CBS/Aaron Tomlinson)

Nothing, perhaps, is less sexy than an institution: a department’s interminable lines, the universal human experience of meandering through a faceless ministry of this or that, trying to accomplish some simple task.

Yet they may be all that protect us from the likes of President Trump. Read more “To Save Us from Someone Like Trump, Look to Institutions”

After Mosul Falls, What Then?

There are some 100,000 troops involved in the conquest (or reconquest, depending on your perspective) of Mosul. On the surface, the battle is meant to restore the Iraqi government to its full writ; a Baghdad-united Shia and Sunni realm, a nation state on the way to functionality. In other words, a normal country.

Ah, dreams.

Careful observation reveals a more wretched future. The Islamic State may be doomed, but that hardly means peace for Iraq. There are too many who want a piece of this particular pie.

Many players there are. Let’s start with the greatest of powers, who define the broadest outlines of geopolitics in the Middle East. Read more “After Mosul Falls, What Then?”

Why the Hell Is Yemen Shooting at the United States Navy?

The American amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry prepares to transit the Suez Canal, January 10, 2015
The American amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry prepares to transit the Suez Canal, January 10, 2015 (USN/Jonathan B. Trejo)

Of course, it isn’t Yemen shooting the navy at all, but the question would be fair to a layman.

Three times, Yemeni rebels (Rebels? Perhaps; but we’ll get to that later) have fired upon US Navy ships guarding the Straights of Aden. Now the United States has fired back, bombing from afar radar sites.

For Westerners, and especially Americans, creaky old stereotypes roar to life: Ali Baba, the Mad Dog of the Desert, lingers in the Western mind, reinforced by the shadows of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and now, most recently, Bashar al-Assad. Mad dogs, perhaps, but none were Yemeni.

There are layers upon layers of conflict here, all of which can be seen as reasonable in and of themselves but which complicate the matter of Yemen beyond the layman. It was not a mad dog nihilistically hoping for cruise-missile-delivered paradise who fired those missiles at the US Navy, nor do such folks give form and function to the overlaying conflicts within Yemen.

But first, we must understand Yemen. Read more “Why the Hell Is Yemen Shooting at the United States Navy?”