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All posts in "World War IV"

Turkey Didn’t Happen in Isolation

Published July 16, 2016 in Europe , World War IV - 0 Comments
People react near a military vehicle during an attempted coup in Ankara, Turkey, July 16, 2016.     REUTERS/Tumay Berkin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

People react near a military vehicle during an attempted coup in Ankara, Turkey, July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Tumay Berkin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Yesterday’s coup attempt in Turkey didn’t happen in isolation. Turkey has been at the nexus of global geopolitics since the Trojan War nearly three thousand years ago. Its neighbors have always interfered. There’s no reason to believe that this time is any different. Indeed, the fact that Germany reportedly denied Erdogan asylum indicates that larger forces were at play. The Merkel regime has never met a refugee it didn’t love – so why deny entry to this one? More to the point, though, why deny asylum to the leader of a nation thatthe EU has courted for more than a decade?

We all know how Russia has meddled in the Ukraine. But many are less familiar with the US and Western European interference that predated that. Games are afoot. And as I have noted previously, World War is a fact on the ground whether we want it or not. Escalation was inevitable. The coup attempt in Turkey clearly shows that the next phase is upon us. As I predicted early this year, events are accelerating. They will continue to accelerate as this spirals out of control.

There are no longer any good options open to world leaders to prevent a full blown World War – not of the variety that I’ve been calling out. I’m talking about the kind that nobody can any longer pretend is not a true World War. The only options remain are the ones that nobody has the stomach for.

The powder keg isn’t waiting for a spark. We’re not waiting for the fuse to burn. The primer charges are already firing. Expect the bigger explosions to come soon.

Violence Always Escalates

Published July 11, 2016 in Culture , Philosophy , Politics , World War IV - 0 Comments

violenceLast week I mentioned a saying that my sensei used to drill into us at the dojo. “Violence always escalates,” he said. Once violence begins, it doesn’t stop on its own. Violence only ends for three reasons.

  1. Violence ends when one party loses the ability to continue.
  2. Violence ends when one party loses the will to continue.
  3. Violence ends when one party makes a conscious effort to deescalate it and the other party is amenable to deescalation.

That’s it. Violence never ends for any other reason. Even one party achieving its objectives can’t end the violence on its own. If the other party still has the will and ability to fight, conflict will continue. Worse, as my sensei noted, it will escalate.

Retaliation is never equal. It is always greater. In the immortal words of Sean Connery, “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

If it seems like 2016 is going off the rails, that’s because it is. There are many ongoing conflicts in the world today: Palestinians vs Israelis,ISIS vs the west, Black Lives Matters vs Blue Lives Matter, Russia vs Europe, the US vs… well, everyone it seems like. All of these conflicts are escalating. At times we’ve had leaders willing to make a conscious effort to deescalate. At times we’ve had leaders on the other sides amenable to deescalation. We’ve never quite managed to have both at once. Given that, escalation is inevitable.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing special about the modern age. We like to believe that we have evolved, but we have not left conflict behind us. There is no right side of history. History is riddled with pockets of peace as long as the one we’ve recently enjoyed. Some have been even longer. They inevitably end and conflict returns, as it is now. And when it comes, it always comes faster than people believe possible.

All of the conflicts I’ve listed are going to get worse before they get better – because violence always escalates.

Conflict is Nonlinear

Published July 8, 2016 in Culture , Martial Arts , Politics , World War IV - 0 Comments

dallasFor years and years as I was training in the martial arts, my sensei drilled many sayings into us. One of them is particularly appropriate at the moment: Violence always escalates. Over the years I’ve learned to put some caveats and limits on that saying – but the core of it remains true. Violence always escalates.

Today I’d like to add a corollary to that: Conflict is Nonlinear. What the heck does that mean?

Linear phenomena are simple. If you make a small change, get small and predictable result. Make a big change and you get a large, also predictable, result. Think about your water faucet. You turn the knob a little bit and you get a trickle of water. You turn it a lot and you get a deluge. Turn it the other way and it turns off. The direction that you turn it always produces the same effect: one way gives you more water, the other way gives you less. And the amount that you turn it adjusts the magnitude of the effect in a smooth manner.

Nonlinear phenomena are completely different. Imagine that your faucet worked completely differently. Pretend for a moment that turning the knob a little bit in one direction gave you a trickle of water. But turning it more in that direction turned it off. Give it another turn – a large one – and… you get a trickle. Give it another tiny turn, still in the same direction, and it gives you a flood. Try turning it in the opposite direction and you get similar effects.

True nonlinear systems follow complex mathematics. In one sense, they’re not quite as completely unpredictable as what I just described. You can predict patterns of behavior that can give you some ideas of how the systems work. On the other hand, they can be even more unpredictable than what I just described. Predicting exact, precise results for nonlinear systems is pretty much impossible. This is why the weathermen still can’t predict the weather more than a day or three in advance, and they’ll probably never be able to.

The human brain handles linear systems very well. We encounter them every day and they match with our natural intuition. But we don’t handle nonlinear systems well at all. They respond in completely non-intuitive ways.

Conflict is nonlinear. Once it starts, it doesn’t respond predictably at all. Tiny events can escalate it out of all proportion. Meanwhile drastic events can have imperceptible effects, barely effecting anything. Or maybe the tiny events have tiny effects and big events have big effects. The reality is that both can and do happen once the conflict starts.

Racial tensions in this country have been growing for at least the last year – I’d actually argue for far longer. Last night, the conflict kicked off in earnest. It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. Once bullets are in the air, they don’t care which side you’re on.

World War Is A Fact On the Ground

Published June 15, 2016 in World War IV - 0 Comments


  • Saudi Arabia has forces fighting in Yemen and is quietly providing aid in other Middle Eastern conflicts.
  • Boko Haram, an Islamic insurgency, is fighting in four African nations.
  • ISIS is involved in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Algeria, and other parts of Africa… and France and the US and the Caucasus Mountains (in Russia).
  • Turkey has forces involved in civil war with Kurds in its own territory – a civil war that has spilled over into Iraq.
  • Pakistan is involved in the conflict in Afghanistan, it’s in semi-civil-war with itself, and it’s involved in conflict with India over Kashmir.
  • The US has forces involved in conflicts in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and has participated in and/or instigated conflict in the Ukraine.
  • Russia is involved in conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, the Caucasus Mountains and more.
  • The Phillipines is still fighting a conflict against Islamic insurgents… with US aid.

Notice the pattern yet? This isn’t just a list of all currently ongoing conflicts in the world. That list is much longer. Every conflict on this list is connected, and the fighting is occurring on at least four continents: Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. There’s a good case to be made that current conflicts in South America are part of this as well, bringing it up to five continents. That leaves only Australia and Antarctica out… but Australia has provided aid to the US in several of these conflicts, as have many western European nations.

There is interconnected conflict going on involving nations from at least five and maybe six continents involving dozens of countries. In what way is this not a world war already?

Only one: the intensity level is much lower than what we associate with a world war. Now consider further:

  • Saudi Arabia is fundamentally unstable, and getting worse.
  • Ukraine still hasn’t stabilized from its conflict.
  • ISIS’s influence outside of the middle east – and inside it – is growing.
  • Syria is fundamentally unstable.
  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is threatening to blow up again.
  • Russia is meddling in everything in the Middle East, which is typical for them.
  • The US is also meddling in everything in the Middle East, and not always for the best.
  • Mass migration of refugees from the Middle East is already a destabilizing influence in Europe, and it’s getting worse.
  • Portugal, Italy, Spain and especially Greece still face major economic crises that threaten to destabilize them – just as that same mass migration is destabilizing in other ways.

Now tell me exactly how any of this isn’t going to the next level.

More Than One Shooter or Police Foul-Up?

Published June 13, 2016 in World War IV - 0 Comments

nightclubMike Cernovich posits that, contrary to the official reports, there must have been more than one shooter in Orlando.

Even at closed quarters, it takes several rounds to kill a person. People are terrible shots. People who are full of adrenaline and have been running are also terrible shots. Witness interviews also indicate that Mateen shot into the ceiling.

How many rounds of ammo did Mateen have, and would that number be enough to take out over 100 people?

Assuming the shooter had tactical training, he’d be carrying a load bearing vest with 8 fully loaded 30 round magazines, for a total of 9 magazines (one on his weapon). That’s 270 rounds.

Mateen would also have a fully-loaded pistol with an unknown number of magazines. Let’s assume he was using a 9mm handgun, which holds a 15 round magazine, and that he was carrying 4 additional magazines. That’s 75 rounds of 9mm ammo.

In total, Mateen would have had 345 rounds of ammunition.

If you think 345 rounds of ammo is a lot, talk to some soldiers. People are hard to kill.

Also watch this video. You can hear 30 rounds go off in a matter of seconds. Yet somehow the shooter was killing people for 3 hours?

There’s more – much more – at the link, including eyewitness reports about multiple shooters. While I’m personally not ready to call it “case closed,” he does make a pretty good case. However, a few caveats:

First, how many people were actually in the club? I haven’t seen this detailed anywhere. If the club was at capacity – or worse, overcrowded (because nightclub managers never do that…) then this really could have been a case where the pickings were just that easy. However… even there, I would expect the injured list to be quite a bit larger to support a death list that long. Most people really aren’t that good of a shot.

Second, and more importantly, the killer had approximately two hours before the police intervened. That’s lots of time to get the job done. If he had some way of getting extra ammunition inside, then this could have been done.

Even with these objections, Mr. Cernovich makes a strong case. But I have an alternate hypothesis.

What if some of those deaths are the result of the police storming the place at the end?


  • Contrary to popular myth, the average police officer is not a very good shot.
  • Hostage rescue is hard. Ridiculously crazy hard. Standard rule of thumb in the business is to expect to lose 10-20% of the hostages – and that’s when you have full element of surprise and an elite team. Orlando police certainly didn’t have the former. And while I make no judgement about the quality of their team relative to other police departments, it’s unlikely that they were at, say, Navy SEAL levels.
  • When you have a squad of 6-10 SWAT officers opening fire, a good portion of that 50 person death toll can happen very quickly.

And all of that is if everything goes right with the hostage rescue.

Were there multiple shooters? Or are some of the victims dead due to police fire? Keep in mind that these answers are not mutually exclusive, and it’s very possible that both hypotheses are true. Or neither. This event is less than 36 hours old, which means we’re still in the fog of war stage. The only thing I can guarantee at this point is that the media reports are inaccurate.

Accelerating Faster

Published June 12, 2016 in World War IV - 0 Comments

My own words, February 2014:

At least one man is dead and three police officers are wounded after a terror attack in Europe – this time in Denmark. Violent Islamic attacks in the west are increasing, and the time between them is shortening. We are dealing with an acceleration. Things are going to get “interesting” soon – in a Chinese curse kind of way.

Since then we’ve had the concert hall attacks in Paris and now the attack in Orlando in the wee hours of this morning – which is looking like the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Not only is it accelerating, it’s migrating westward. Meanwhile, Libya is a disaster, Syria is worse, and attacks in Israel are accelerating again. Iran and Saudi Arabia are the only things holding the Middle East in any kind of stability. Our genius leadership in Washington is doing its best to destabilize the former. Meanwhile the latter seems to be doing everything it can to destabilize itself – aided by low oil prices.

World War isn’t coming. It’s a fact on the ground now. The middle east is a dry powder keg. It’s not a matter of if it’ll go off. It’s not a matter of when it’ll go off. The powder is already blowing.

The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

The Archduke Ferdinand Moment Will Occur in Saudi Arabia

Published May 2, 2016 in Economics , History , Politics , World War IV - 0 Comments
King Salman of Saudi Arabia

King Salman of Saudi Arabia

As I have been stating for some time now, World War IV is upon us (there’s no logical case for not calling the Cold War World War III; 100 years hence historians will name it such). Many refuse to accept it, in large part because the great powers have yet to fully engage. Many are also under the mistaken impression that the war will ultimately be between the US and Russia, as if the Cold War never happened. It won’t be. It will be – and currently is – between the western world – nay, Christendom – and the Islamic world. Indeed, this is what’s already happening as we speak.

With that in mind, the following question arose on Twitter last night:

To which I immediately replied: Saudi Arabia.

A year ago I wrote about the uneasy situation in Saudi Arabia. Since then, the situation has not improved.

I’ve also already noted that oil has historically been overpriced. Middle eastern dictatorships have long relied on this for stability – Saudi Arabia most especially. Their entire nation essentially runs on a patronage system that begins at the top with the Saudi King. He buys loyalty from those directly beneath him – literally buys it – with oil money. And they buy loyalty from those beneath them with that same oil money. And so on. The entire system depends on the flow of oil money.

The recent plunges in oil prices have put this system in mortal peril. The money flow has slowed tremendously. In the past, Saudi Kings would have lowered output in order to push the price back up. But right now they can’t. The obvious reason that everyone is talking about these days is all the new oil sources coming into the market, specifically from fracking in the US, but also from other sources. On top of that, OPEC has lacked the discipline it’s had in the past. If they agreed to cut output, nobody would actually stick to the agreement.

But the other reason is the Saudis themselves. King Salman is caught in a huge catch-22 right now. On the one hand, if he doesn’t cut production and force prices back up it will bankrupt his country. On the other hand, if he cuts production he’ll run out of money to pay his cronies with in the short term. As I’ve noted previously, unlike his older brother King Abdullah, he has not yet had time to truly consolidate his power. He’s also eighty years old, and by all reports not in the best of mental health. And, as I noted in the piece last year, the succession path in the kingdom is currently shaky. It’s uncertain that his recently appointed heir would actually become the next king.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

The Archduke Ferdinand moment in World War IV will come when King Salman dies. Worse, it will likely happen whether he is assassinated or simply dies peacefully in his sleep. Saudi Arabia itself is very likely to face internal civil war. At best it will have a period of serious instability. Its adversaries in the region will not hesitate to take advantage of it. And when that happens, all pretense of stability in the region will collapse.

Why do you think the US government is so desperate to keep those 28 pages of the September 11 report classified? There are plenty of career folks in the State Department who are well aware of how tenuous the situation in Saudi is right now. But they’re fighting a losing battle. No matter what they do, this powder keg is going off.

The avalanche has already started. It’s too late for the pebbles to vote.

A Strange Blip in History



Make Death Proud to Take Us

Make Death Proud to Take Us

The future history of “The Fourth Fleet” (available in the anthologies Make Death Proud to Take Us and There Will Be War: Volume X) makes several assumptions about the course of historical development over the next century or so. However, they were intentionally left out of the story. They weren’t immediately relevant, and including them would have bogged the story down.

A big part of the setting of “The Fourth Fleet” is the course of history of the United States between now and the time of the story. The United States of America, at the time of the story (the specific year is intentionally left off in order to give me maximum story flexibility, but assume that it’s roughly 150 years from now) is no longer the nation that we think of today. It’s borders have changed but also – and more importantly – its government has changed. It is no longer a democratically representative republic. Unlike the government of today, which more often than not acts as an empire, the government of my future world is an empire. However, much like the Roman Empire of old, it strives hard to maintain all appearances of still being a constitutionally limited republic.

Some examples: President Covington is currently serving his fifth four year term in office. Before that, he finished out the term of his predecessor. It’s an open secret that he had his predecessor assassinated, but nobody very much minds because the man was a Nero-like lunatic. He was “elected” by the people in sham contests that garnered him vast majorities of the votes. He will never lose an election in the system as it exists in the books.

Simultaneously, the geopolitical landscape around the USA has changed. In the early twenty-first century, the powder keg we call the Middle East exploded (hmm…). After a time of constant warfare, much of the region was finally forcibly united under a single ruling warlord calling himself the Caliph, and the new Caliphate was born. World War between the US, Japan and Europe on the one hand and the Caliphate on the other left Europe mostly a smoldering husk, including a few literally nuked cities. It is no longer a hub of civilization.

China rose – but not as fast as many feared. Despite the calamity facing the rest of the world, China had its own issues – including economic issues that are unfurling now in the real world and massive wars for Asian dominance against India, Russia, and Japan.

Thus in the story you have a sort of triumvirate of global (and extra-global, as it is a space story) powers: the US, China and India. The severely weakened but not destroyed Caliphate tries to play in this power game as well, but is most often lagging behind.

I would’ve liked to have worked more of this directly into the story. But the reality is that it would’ve bogged it down quite a bit. Even here in this form it took 460 words to very briefly summarize. The entire tale of “The Fourth Fleet” is a mere 8,017 words. Expanding the story by literally 6% (probably more after working it into the story cleanly) just to add this backstory would have ended up being cumbersome, and the reader would have bogged down in details that were only loosely relevant.

Instead, the story provides quite a bit of clues to give the reader just enough of a framework to figure out the major balance of power. It then leaves the rest to the reader’s imagination.

There’s another part of the backstory that I don’t particularly mind didn’t make it into the tale, because it really was irrelevant to this particular story. I am also strongly of the opinion that the Protestant Reformation is an aberration (albeit it one triggered with good justification) and that eventually (perhaps much sooner than many would think) the majority of Protestants will find themselves rejoining the fold in the mother Church. The Church will eventually come to regard this as “that weird little heresy that lasted for a short blip there.” The church thinks on different timescales than you and I. To a two thousand year old church, five hundred years just isn’t the same thing as it is to us mortals.

There Will Be War: Volume X

There Will Be War: Volume X

I also believe that the Church will find itself mending the Great Schism and reconciling with the Orthodox churches, although that will likely be more complicated. The Great Schism wasn’t primarily over issues of doctrine; it’s proximate cause was political conflict with Rome. Egos will have to be soothed and face maintained. But I believe that will eventually happen.

Within the context of the world of “The Fourth Fleet,” the churches largely reunite when a future pope calls for a new Crusade to respond to the potentially world-ending threat of a nuclear armed new Caliphate.

Interesting as it may be, all of this is just the speculation of a sci-fi author, right? Maybe.

Then again, maybe not.

Artificially Overpriced Oil

Published January 19, 2016 in Economics , World War IV - 0 Comments

oilwellOil has been artificially overpriced for quite some time. The recent plunge in oil prices represent a correction of highly distortive market forces. Unfortunately, the correction is unlikely to last – in no small part due to the effects caused by lower oil prices themselves.

Oil has been artificially overpriced for quite some time.

Eighteen months ago, oil was trading for over $100 a barrel. At that point, it had been above $80 a barrel for nearly five years. For the five years prior to that it had mostly stayed over $60 a barrel. All of these price points are far higher than a simple business analysis tells us they should be in an ideal market.

A little bit of napkin math makes this clear.

The US Energy Information Administration figures for oil consumption are out of date, but only by a little bit. They list 93 million barrels a day of global consumption. Let’s round that up to 100 billion barrels a day, both for easier math (we’re doing estimates here, we don’t have to be perfect) and to account for the numbers being a few years out of date. The US Energy Information Administration estimates total annual consumption for 2011 (chosen to match most closely with the Wikipedia consumption stats) at 88.5 million barrels a day. [Note: Wikipedia doesn’t provide a good measure of this or I’d use their numbers for consistency.]

Let’s grant that both of these are estimates and likely not quite perfect, but they’re probably close. What we see is that global production doesn’t quite meet global demand. But… it could.

Let’s look at the breakdowns of oil production. The US leads the pack with nearly 14 million barrels per day, followed by Saudi Arabia at 11.6 million barrels per day. We’re going to skip a bit down the list, but not too far, and note a few others. Iran and Iraq, both sitting right around 3.4 million barrels per day, occupy places 6 and 7 on the list. Venezuela, at roughly 2.7 million barrels per day, is number 12.

Every country that I’ve named has producing oil at rates far below their capacity for years (probably several other nations as well, but let’s stick with what I can speak on reliably).

Iraq’s oil production has been hampered for two and a half decades by geopolitical realities: sanctions, then the first Gulf War, then another decade of sanctions, then the 2003 invasion, then years of internal civil war. Iraqi oil production has finally surpassed their peak production prior to the 2003 invasion. But does anybody think their production couldn’t be 10-20% higher – or more – if they hadn’t had their infrastructure ravaged by decades of sanctions and war?

Iran is in a similar boat, only it might be more drastic. [Iraqi production might be as drastically low a Iran’s, but we can’t prove it the way we can with Iran.] Iranian oil production is nearly half what it was at its peak – in the late 70s! That’s right – Iran’s production tanked after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But that’s not because they don’t want to produce it or because they lack the means. It’s because international sanctions prevent them from selling it. [Sidebar: this is why the “war for cheap oil” argument never made sense; if we wanted cheap oil, all we had to do was lift sanctions on Iran.]

It’s unclear exactly what sanctions are being lifted on Iran as part of the deal that went into full effect this weak, but it’s at least allowing them to sell more oil than they have been. But we know from historical data that they could feasibly double production if they chose to.

Venezuela’s production is off its peak because socialist dictator Hugo Chavez, spectacularly mismanaged their oil industry. They’re down nearly 30% from their peak.

Saudi Arabia has the opposite issue. It’s been underproducing oil for years – by conscious choice, in order to keep prices high. Note that in the last few years they’ve substantially raised their oil production – specifically to manipulate the price of oil and to try to claim market share from competitors. Note however that Saudi Arabia hasn’t made major new investments in oil production in decades. They haven’t wanted prices to go down. Until now they do for some reason [more on that tomorrow].

Then we get to the US – the world’s largest producer of oil. We use a lot of oil, but we produce a hell of a lot of it, too. But we could be producing more – much more. We have oil reserves all over the country that aren’t being tapped. But it’s not for international reasons or price manipulation. Here, it’s all about environmental regulation. [Note that for the purposes of this post, I’m not arguing for or against this; merely stating that it is reality.]

Now, let’s look at that. Iran alone could be putting out another 3 million barrels per day in an ideal world. Iraq could probably be putting out half a million to a million more. Venezuela could be putting out a million more. The US… let’s guesstimate that they could be putting out a million more (I’d be willing to bet that we could go much higher than that).

That’s a grand total of around 6 million barrels per day – or nearly six percent of total oil production – that is simply missing.

Now, we know from modern economics that the effects of changes in supply or demand on a market’s price are non-linear. A small change in supply or demand causes a small change in price, but a big change in supply or demand results in a huge change in price. In a commodity market like oil, six percent is a huge change in supply.

In an efficiently operating commodities market, the average price should be price just a bit higher than the marginal price. In other words, it should be right around (but probably a tad higher than) the highest cost to produce. Right now that’s fracking oil in the US, which costs around $40 per barrel to produce. So in a fully undistorted market, we should be seeing oil prices hovering below $45 per barrel.

However, that’s not the whole story. Because in a market with 6% higher supply, fracking might not make sense anymore. Saudi oil costs around $20 per barrel to extract, and much of the middle east is the same. So the undistorted market price might be somewhere closer to $25 a barrel. It’s hard to say exactly where it should be without… letting the markets figure it out.

What we’re seeing in the market today represents a price much closer to where oil actually should be (although the current prices might be a tad low, and in need of upward adjustment now; it’s hard to say). This is a direct result of Saudi Arabia ramping up their production.

Unfortunately, today’s low prices will probably not last. Oil is likely to become once again artificially overpriced. But that’s a topic for a later post.

Falling Into Empire

Published January 18, 2016 in Culture , Economics , Military , Politics , World War IV - 0 Comments

List-Why-Rome-Fell-ENate has signed and sealed the death certificate of the United States.

Seems a bit early to be writing this… but the fact is the history is already written.  The nails are in the coffin.   Its already happened.  The US is down 34 to 10  and there are only 2 minutes to go.  There is no time for a come back.

If you saw the post last night or heard the show you know our friend Rycamor brought a great essay on the life cycle of nations.  This essay is called The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival.  It is written by Sir John Glubb.

I first read the essay Nate refers to several years ago, based on a thread at Vox Popoli. It may well have been Nate who posted the link, or it might have come from Vox himself. It’s been long enough that I honestly don’t recall. It’s a powerful essay, and it’s well worth the read. It’s also quite simple and easy to follow. On the whole, the essay makes a very strong case. But I do have a few issues with it, and I think they’re important.

First, the Sir John’s decision to split the Roman period is a glaring data point. Indeed, the author notes this himself:

(3) The division of Rome into two periods
may be thought unwarranted. The first, or
republican, period dates from the time when
Rome became the mistress of Italy, and ends
with the accession of Augustus. The imperial
period extends from the accession of
Augustus to the death of Marcus Aurelius. It
is true that the empire survived nominally
for more than a century after this date, but it
did so in constant confusion, rebellions, civil
wars and barbarian invasions.
However, this only partially deals with the issue. To be clear, I don’t object to his breaking of Rome into distinct periods. I do, however, object to him leaving out the third distinct period of the Roman empire – the time that we commonly refer to as the Byzantine Empire. It’s important to note that my objection comes not because I think this makes his case weaker, but rather because I think it makes his case generally stronger.
First, the divisions that he does include – the period of the Republic and the period of the Empire – represent a valid and distinct division. We must note that Sir John did not make this distinction arbitrarily – historians have made this distinction for centuries, and for good reason. The Empire was a very different beast from the Republic, and it’s correct to recognize them as so. Indeed, it is also correct to represent the Byzantine Empire as a separate period of its own. All three represent distinctly separate beasts, and although we might quibble about the exact dates of when one became another became the third, we can easily agree that they are, in fact, no longer the same beast.
And yet at one and the same time they clearly are one logical entity. The transition from Republic to Empire to Byzantine Empire honestly is a direct continuum. Roman citizens didn’t just go to sleep one considering their government a Republic and wake up the next morning singing the praises (or curses) of their new Empire. The early Roman emperors, especially Augustus, went to great trouble to maintain all of the outward appearance of the Republican government that they’d replaced. This continued, to one degree or another, all the way through the Byzantine Empire. Until the fourteenth century the citizens continued to call themselves Romans and the Senate – though completely powerless – continued to exist.
The division between the Republican and Imperial periods of Rome makes a nice split that aids Sir John’s theory. At first glance, the existence of the Byzantine Empire – and its thousand year reign – seems to cause the theory some problems.
I submit, however, that it doesn’t. People are fond of saying that every theory has its exceptions, by which they usually mean a glaring counterfactual that doesn’t conform to the theory at all. In reality, however, most real-world exceptions look a lot more like the case of Rome – they kind of fit the theory, but differ in important ways. And that’s why I think the case of Byzantium actually bolsters the theory.
Rome is the exception that proves the rule.
Because make no mistake about it, Rome is an exception – at every level. The very fact that it makes Sir John’s list twice, and with no gap between the periods, demonstrates that. But it’s not just on this list that Rome is the exception. Rome’s exceptional status has been well known for centuries. Indeed, until the current wave of globalism swept our educational system, Rome took center stage in history classes precisely because it was so exceptional.
What made it so exceptional? Lots of things, but here are a few.
  1. Rome built a level of infrastructure that had never before been seen. Their roads and aqueducts ran the length of the empire.
  2. They built to last. A non-trivial amount of that infrastructure still stands today, including some roads and aqueducts but especially a large number of buildings. Some are still even in use.
  3. At their peaks, they weren’t just a power, or even one of a few great powers – they were the great power.
  4. The empires around them had immolated each other (or in some cases self-immolated) so thoroughly that even as Rome’s power waned, there was nobody else to seriously challenge it.

I am hardly the first person to note the parallels between the modern United States and ancient Rome. The comparisons are so obvious that my college history professors had to push people away from making the too-easy notes and force them to look deeper. Yet they are there, and they are real. In looking deeper, we must not forget that they exist. But more than anything, I’d like to call attention to point #4 on my list above.

As the US declines, nobody else is ready to take up the mantle.

The fact remains: on the open battlefield – be it land, sea, or air – no other military on earth can touch ours. Every other military is at least one full generation of technology and doctrine behind. That includes our western European allies. During the initial invasion of Afghanistan, our allies offered their aid. In most cases we either turned it down or imposed limits on it because their generation-old tech made it too difficult to integrate them effectively.

No other nation can even come close to the logistical capability that the US provides. It is often pointed out that we spend many multiples of the Europeans on our defense budget. It is equally often forgotten that they can spend so little because our European allies completely rely on the US for logistical capabilities. Indeed, this was official NATO doctrine for decades.

Economically, we remain in a similar boat. Our economy dwarfs everyone. The US still provides 14% of world GDP as of 2014, despite having only 5% of the world’s population. That’s well down from our peak, but not because our GDP has declined – it’s because China and other developing nations have actually been playing some catch up. Yet even though they passed our GDP as a percentage of world GDP in 2014, China did so representing 20% of the world’s population – five times ours.

Yes, 4th generation warfare is a real thing and the US sucks at it. This causes real problems to our military dominance.

Yes, our logistical capability is much more fragile than is often realized, and has also been in decline.

And yes, our economy is built on a foundation of debt that will likely soon prove to be catastrophic.

But the reality is that every other nation on Earth fares worse on at least two of these same scores, most on all three. China’s economy has been growing like mad for the last 15 years, but there are increasing signs that the house of cards is about to come down. Russia and the Middle East have built economies that rely on oil staying at quite high prices – prices that look increasingly like they’re not long-term viable. And Europe is too dependent upon the US. If our economy collapses, theirs goes down even further.

[Side note: I’ve believed for quite a long time that the price of oil was artificially high; recent events back up that opinion. But that’s another post for another day.]

In the comments, Nate’s post already start down the road to this when commenter Susan asks what other countries are ready to step into the void. Nate responds – not incorrectly – that there doesn’t need to be anybody to step into the void. But prior to that, his response that ISIS refugees are the ones conquering territory leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a long way from “conquering territory” to “launching a new empire.”

Where am I heading with this? The short version is this. I agree with both Nate and Sir John – the time of the American Republic is just about up. But I disagree with Nate about what comes next. My personal prediction is that the true American Empire arises from the ashes. Yes, I’m well aware of how much we already resemble an Empire. And yet there are certain lines that our nation has not yet crossed.

This is more fodder for another post on another day, but for now, suffice it to say… we will cross it. The historically literate will recognize its passing when a figure very reminiscent of Augustus Caeser comes to power in the American scene. He will probably retain the outward forms of the American presidency, and most notably the title (Augustus’s official title was neither “king (rex)” nor “emperor” nor “caeser” – it was “consul,” just as the countless Republican leaders before him had been called). The most obvious distinction? When we have a President who serves for life, you will know that the line has been crossed.

The time is not yet ripe for Americans to choose to elect that man (remember: Augustus was elected to his first term as consul). But it is coming. The right man has not yet presented himself for the post. But he will.

The US is declining, but not into nothing. We are falling into empire.