Category Archives: World War IV

Falling Into Empire

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.

Not Our Friend

The video below has been making the rounds and provides a curious mixture of truth and propaganda. But then, the best propaganda always has a strong component of truth.

Putin’s latest intervention against ISIS makes him the enemy of our enemy. Despite that, he’s not our friend.

For the better part of a century, Russian geopolitical strategy has been to stir up trouble around the world, basically forcing their rivals to expend energy dealing with that trouble. That’s energy that can’t be spent fighting Russian interests. Keep in mind that in many of these cases, the only actual Russian interest served by these interventions is… stirring up trouble.

Stalin was an absolute master of this and brought the technique to dominate Russian foreign policy. One of his biggest wins in this arena was pushing the Chinese and the Americans into a proxy war in Korea in the 1950s, while the Soviet Union resolutely kept the conflict at arms reach. They were not our friend.

His successors repeated the technique in the 1960s in Vietnam. The Soviets never cared about winning in Vietnam. They just cared about keeping the Americans occupied there. They supplied the North Vietnamese with plenty of weapons, materiel, training and intelligence. But again, they resolutely refused to get involved directly. They were not our friend.

Simultaneously, they carried out a proxy war with the west that still plagues us today. Namely, the KGB sponsored terrorist organizations throughout the world, specifically to cause unrest for western nations. It’s amazing how much this is forgotten in the modern world, but in the 1980s and 1990s we were well aware that middle eastern terrorist groups largely existed thanks to Soviet funding. Not that they didn’t have their own ideological reasons. But without that Soviet funding, they never would have survived into the present day.

It’s worse than that, though. The Soviets also funded the Irish Republican Army in the UK, the Red Army Faction in Germany, the National Liberation Army in Colombia, the Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, as well as noted individual terrorists such as Carlos the Jackal. They were not our friend.

As if that weren’t enough, they also had a huge influence on political groups in western politics – especially leftist organizations aimed at peace.

Russian GRU defector Stanislav Lunev said in his autobiography that “the GRU and the KGB helped to fund just about every antiwar movement and organization in America and abroad,” and that during the Vietnam War the USSR gave $1 billion to American anti-war movements, more than it gave to the VietCong

They were not our friend.

This isn’t paranoia. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, KGB documents were released confirming all of this (see many of the sources used in the two Wikipedia articles linked above.

Today, Russia carries on attacks against Isis in Syria. On the surface, we share the same goals. But don’t for a minute think that they’ve got our best interests at heart. Russia is simultaneously propping up the Assad regime, they’re still funding and propping up groups all over the world. They are not our friend.

The US government has made some really stupid decisions in geopolitics over the last 15 years. Looking at some of those decisions, it’s very easy to come to the conclusion that we’re not exactly the good guys in the world these days. Neither are the Russians. They are not our friend.

Recall that in World War II, the Russians were fighting on the side of the Nazis until Hitler double crossed them and invaded Russia. After that, they joined with the Allies against Germany. They were an ally. But they were not our friend.

When the tigers they’ve fed and nurtured in the middle east mature and turn on them – and they will – the Russians will join the western world to fight them. At the rate the western world is proceeding, they may even join us before we join ourselves. But don’t fool yourself – they haven’t done it yet. Until then, they will continue to foment chaos and unrest for their own gain. They will eventually become our allies in this conflict.

But they will not be our friend.

Waiting for Article 5

The tragic part of the 9/11 attacks were the tremendous loss of life. But the scary part was the sophisticated coordination of the attacks. Two coordinated airborne attacks that took place within minutes of each other, followed by a third not long after and a failed fourth attempt that came very close to working – but for civilian interference.

I was standing in my living room when the second plane hit the World Trade Center, dripping wet, watching it live. My boss had just called me to let me know about the first plane, interrupting my shower. When the second plane hit, we both knew what it meant. I don’t remember who said it first, but we were both thinking it: one plane was an accident. Two meant war.

The Paris attacks had a far lower death toll – thank God – but the coordination of the attacks carries far more military significance. At least six separate attacks, with at least seven suicide bombs. A police interception in Germany that implies that more attacks were planned.

This is the kind of coordinated terror attacks that we were afraid would follow after 9/11. They are finally upon us. Our leadership over the last 14 years has systematically failed to take the steps necessary to deal with this issue for real, instead opting to put band-aids over the situation (Bush) or to play ostrich (Obama). Instead of dealing with the situation decisively, we went out and created ISIS and made the situation worth.

War is upon us, whether we like it or not. We can argue about it all we like, but World War IV (call it World War III if you must, but I’d argue that the Cold War earned that name) has been a fact on the ground for months.

The biggest difference between today’s world and the world preceding World War I is that many of the alliances are out in the open. What will NATO do when push comes to shove? Will the French invoke Article 5? I’m ready to lay even odds that they will. It’s almost no-lose for them. If NATO steps up to the plate, then they get their retaliation with little cost. If NATO doesn’t step up to the plate, then it falls apart – and becomes a huge black eye for the Americans. The French spent half the Cold War giving us black eyes for fun, and they withdrew from the Alliance in 1966 for 30 years. They’ve got little to lose by calling in the chip.

What will Russia do? Whatever Putin is up to today, never forget that we wouldn’t have these problems in the Middle East without Russian interference. None of the terrorist groups in the region would have survived into the modern era without the training and funding they received from the Soviets in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. My bet? Putin will continue using the region to antagonize the United States and the west until the whole thing gets away from him and he realizes that he can’t control the Tiger anymore. Then Russia will join in with the western allies.

I mean, it’s not like Stalin was allied with Hitler in the early years of World War II or anything. Oh, wait…

Batten down the hatches and get ready. This ride is just getting started.

Saudi King Lays Groundwork for Civil War

My very strong opinion is that whatever his actual intentions, King Salman has just laid the groundwork for a Saudi civil war.

In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line.

Muqrin himself was only appointed “Deputy Crown Prince” just over a year ago, and became Crown Prince when King Abdullah died a few months ago. His appointment jumped him up the line, bypassing several senior princes. The circumstances of the appointment leave cause for doubt that everyone was happy with the situation:

The royal decree stated that King Abdullah had made his decision in cooperation with Salman, but it appears that the council was not called into session to participate in Muqrin’s selection. Instead, its members were polled individually, according to an April 1 tweet by Khalid bin Talal, son of Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz who is regarded as an independent-minded maverick within the royal family. Asked about this tweeted information, the Saudi academic wrote in an email, “It seems that what Khaled bin Talal tweeted is more realistic and is accurate in stating that members were consulted individually.”

[text bolded by me].

By accounts, 25% of the council opposed the vote. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make the educated guess that it was, most likely, the princes skipped over by this appointment who were unhappy with it. Additionally, Muqrin held the post for about 13 months. Long enough to gain a bit of a power base, but not long enough to cement it. He is, however, a prince of the royal family, which means that he’d almost have to have a power base of his own before that.

bin Nayef, on the other hand, is recently appointed to the position and hence will also not have had much time to consolidate his power. Again, however, he is of the Saudi royal family, so there will be some built in power base there. But he’s also unlikely to have the time to consolidate a power base. King Salman is 79. How many years before he, too passes? His predecessor, King Abdullah, lived to 90. So perhaps another decade? Maybe a few years after that?

So two factions now exist for sure, each of which has an unconsolidated power base. Let’s not pretend for a minute that the princes who were passed over by these two aren’t interested in making a play themselves. And then recall that Saudi Arabia has only been a country since 1932 – a mere eighty three years since it was united by conquest. Don’t forget that there’s also an ongoing power struggle between those who would support the jihadis against the west and those who want to continue comfortably making money selling oil to the western world.

There’s no way to predict a timeline, but ultimately this only ends one way.

Who Shot Down DMSP-13?

Who shot down DMSP-13?
Who shot down DMSP-13?

A 20-year old military space satellite was shot down this week.

Air Force Space Command said DMSP-F13’s power subsystem experienced “a sudden spike in temperature” followed by “an unrecoverable loss of attitude control.” As DMSP operators were deciding to “render the vehicle safe” the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, identified a debris field near the satellite.

Sudden spikes in temperature don’t “just happen” in space. In fact, there must be an energy source to cause such an event – even here on Earth. The energy has to come from somewhere. What kinds of events can cause such a thing in near Earth orbit? There really isn’t much in the way of natural phenomena that can do it. Solar flares maybe, but they wouldn’t be precise enough to hit just one satellite.

But there is one thing that can do it: ground based anti-satellite lasers. Although there is very little public information about such weapons it’s widely acknowledged that several nations have experimented with them. There’s been quite a bit of speculation over the last fifteen years about such weapons, and a few other tests are believed to have happened. Nothing else really makes sense as a cause for this event.

So the question is, who shot it down? Was it a test of a US system, shooting down an old, unused satellite because we knew nobody would miss it? Or was another nation attempting to send us a message? There is a very real chance that either Russia or China wanted to let us know that they could shoot down our GPS satellites if they wanted to, and that there isn’t really anything we could do about it. Given how much we rely on those systems, that would be a huge tactical and strategic loss to the US in any conflict.

My money is on Russia, shooting it down as a warning for us not to get too involved in the Ukraine. Odds are good that whoever did it has found a quiet, plausibly-deniable way to let the White House know that they did it.

Rational Actors

This passage from a recent article on CNN got me thinking:

The mistake some make when viewing ISIS is to see it as a rational actor. Instead, as the magazine documents, its ideology is that of an apocalyptic cult that believes that we are living in the end times and that ISIS’ actions are hastening the moment when this will happen.

This isn’t the mistake that most of us make at all. Our problem is that we want to pigeon hole anybody who doesn’t think like a liberal westerner as “irrational.” Modern liberal or classical liberal? it doesn’t matter, take your pick. As is so often the case, both the left and the right sides of American political thought are completely guilty of this mistake.

I want to make it clear what I don’t mean: I’m not talking about individuals. Individuals act irrationally all the time, in any society. Depending upon the kind of irrationality and its effects, most societies end up pushing these people to the fringe.

No, I’m talking about the generally accepted behavior of any given culture [and in this case, we have to take the people who make up ISIS as a specific cultural group]. Viewed from the outside, culturally accepted behavior often seems flat out crazy. But viewed from inside the group it usually makes perfect sense.

This is true when it’s Republicans looking askew at those crazy Democrats, northerners making fun of those hick southerners, Europeans thinking all Americans are slightly crazy, or CNN journalists claiming that ISIS members are not rational actors.

From within their own culture, there are perfectly good reasons why they behave the way they do. They simply aren’t the same reasons why Peter Bergen behaves the way he does. Calling it irrational is simply a cop-out. What it really means is that Peter Bergen is trying to slap the label “crazy” on ISIS.

OK, fine. We can call them crazy. From our perspective it might even be an accurate word. But if we’re trying to fight them or stop them it’s useless. It’s not a model that actually helps us in the real world.

We must first understand why their actions are rational from their point of view. Only then will we be able to devise a strategy to actually defeat them.

Acceleration

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.

In the meantime, my thoughts and prayers go out today to the victims and their families.