‘End of History’ Found Dead at Moscow’s Gates

July 28, 2015 at 11:03 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , )

Battle of Cape St. Vincent of 1833. A squadron of Portuguese frigates commanded by British Admiral Napier on behalf of the Liberal faction (Queen Maria) defeated the Absolutist squadron loyal to King Miguel, in the Portuguese Civil War

Battle of Cape St. Vincent of 1833 – a squadron of Portuguese frigates commanded by British Admiral Napier on behalf of the Queen Maria’s Liberal faction defeated King Miguel’s Absolutist squadron, in the Portuguese Civil War

Ukraine and the Euromaidan revolution were a turning page in History. One could argue that the Colour revolutions, the Arab Spring, the Ossetia War and even the Atlantic interventions of the preceding decades, had been proof enough of the limits of the ‘end of history’ but Ukraine is more meaningful because it had everything to become the poster child of globalism: it is an avowedly pro-Western movement, nurtured by the West, while not depending on the West in military hard-power terms. Yet, Ukraine’s economy is the worst performer of 2015, corruption endures, extremists now occupy positions of importance in the government and armed forces, such civil liberties as gay rights might actually be more in peril today than during the Yanukovych days, and far from being a triumph for NATO, Ukraine quickly revealed itself the quicksand of Western soft-power (potentially also hard-power) that many had foreseen.

It was not always so. The record of Atlanticist interventionism at the service of universalist policies spans all the way back to the Enlightenment. Liberal governments in London, Paris and Washington have been proselytizing their creed for centuries, now. Before the Islamic world and the pan-Slavic territories, it was the Catholic world and Latin-America. With the possible exception of the Russian Civil War, Atlanticist interventions have consistently sought to exclude Traditionalists from power and replace them with Liberals, in the Atlantic Ocean rim. For the most part such support has been discreet but at times also overt. Led by Britain and America, liberal governments intervened in Spain’s Carlist Wars, in the Portuguese Civil War, waged successive wars against the South African Boers (against independent Boer states and then the Apartheid regime) and encouraged coups, actions and secessions throughout Latin America.

The instance of the American Civil War was also a slight deviation as France and Britain were divided between their interests, their ideology and military calculations. Ideologically opposed to slavery, economically and strategically motivated to preclude New England from building an industrial competitor apparatus to their own and from raising tariffs on cotton exports, and finally fearful of projecting power over the Atlantic, considering the results of the American Revolutionary and 1812 wars.

Is interventionism always successful? The rare occasions when domestic liberal forces, supported by exogenous Liberal financing and political endorsement, were not effective was usually when some alternative power was willing to equally sponsor the opposing faction in the domestic conflict, as was the case in the Spanish Civil War, or earlier when the Holy Alliance was willing to finance the status quo against the 1848 movements. The instances of the Arab Spring and of the Colour Revolutions diverge from the otherwise victorious streak of liberal Atlanticism because in both examples the host society was poorly suited to manage a liberal socio-economic model but mostly because the economic and political pressure of the Liberal governments had to contend with opposing economic and political pressure, spoiling the endeavour: be it the reactionary GCC in the case of the Arab Spring or the counter-revolutionary Russia in eastern Europe.

BloemfonteinThe main conclusion then is, as always, that structural forces carry more weight than normative ones. Just as was discussed a propos of the Second World War, in the case of Atlanticist triumphalism there are also pecuniary and strategic incentives speaking louder than values. As Timothy Garton Ash once observed, democracy tends to implant itself more easily in those societies economically dependent and culturally more permeated by already democratic powers.

To be clear, it is not a foregone conclusion that a liberal latin world would exist without express northern Atlantic pressure. Same being true for the ‘reconstructed’ American South, the ‘British’ Boers or ‘decolonised’ Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Atlantic Liberals bear a fundamental intolerance for the concept of sovereignty because the Enlightenment philosophical foundation of the ideology is inherently universalist and thus, structurally incompatible with the Westphalian system.

Does this then mean that liberal expansionism is over? Not so. It is difficult to imagine how the Atlantic rim can in any way digress from the normative consensus of the rim’s hegemon, especially considering such a hegemon is itself structurally a deterritorialised idea-state. Russia, as strong as it may be, does not possess the power to challenge the North-Atlanticists in the rim and China cannot efficiently project power that far either. The southern hemisphere is devoid of any major military power that might help.

The only possibility would be a collapse from within. If the USA were to undergo a second civil war, particularly one that opposed New England to the Midwest, then the vacuum of power would provide countries like France and Brazil, the opportunity to conciliate an alternate centre of power. This, however, is not a plausible eventuality.

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The Corrosive Legacy of the ‘Good War’ Standard

April 28, 2015 at 12:22 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

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The Second World War is still held by many intellectuals as the best example of ‘the good war’. Hollywood often pays it tribute by devising heroic epics that depict Allied courage in the face of Nazi barbarism – the same honour is not bestowed to Vietnam War films… Pundits in the West spend their days portraying contemporary conflicts in the light of WWII teachings: analogies with Munich or Pearl Harbor are invoked ad nauseam, Churchillian anecdotes and quotes abound.

For Liberals, WWII represents a true victory of good Vs evil and no other conflict comes close to such a clear moral crusade. In fact, it is probably the worst possible conflict to admire. Yes, Liberals won, and yes, a very destructive force was defeated but it is not a coincidence that it was a ‘moral war’ that caused the greatest conflict the world has ever seen. While technology played an important part in the scope of the war, it was conventional means that caused the most causalities; gas chambers , atomic bombs and planned starvations being responsible for roughly only 15% of total casualties. The key factor was in fact the totalitarian nature of the conflict. If states had not been fighting wars of absolute survival/annihilation, the methods employed would not have been equally absolute. Also relevant are the exceptions: liberal Finland was an enemy of the Allies and an ally of the III Reich, the totalitarian USSR was an ally and did most of the leg work of the ground war – not to mention co-presiding over the Nuremberg Tribunal… – and then of course it was the Allies that burned Dresden, used atomic weapons and equally starved indigenous populations.

Yet, it is crucial to realise that the current narrative is highly pernicious in this regard: a student of International Relations or History will learn that the Bismarckian balance of power system was very flawed and that WWII’s outcome – however horrific – was in fact a blessing in disguise because it set the world on the righteous path of progressive ethics. Then there are those who believe that the result of WWII was not even a matter of chance but that Liberal values would have always triumphed, given their natural superiority.  In truth, as Azar Gat demonstrated very lucidly, WWII was won largely because of “contingent factors”, not because of any practical superiority of Liberal ideals. If the Axis powers had enjoyed the large imperial holdings of the British Empire, the USA or the USSR, they too would have won what it ultimately became a war of attrition.  

The Second Great War should instead be regarded as  the worst possible conflict because it consisted in a complete erosion of the Westphalian system in Europe. Whereas Münster and Osnabrück had established a structure averse to moral/ideological interventionism and reliant on geostrategic alignments to ensure a balance of power – and, in turn, limited war – the outcome of WWII was precisely the destruction of Westphalia by allowing as victors two out of three universalist powers. If in the east of the old continent the Brezhnev doctrine was to rule until 1989, in the west the Washington Consensus would, in its triumphalist moment of the post Cold War, seek to intervene to punish dissenters on a regular basis and even promote gratuitous evangelizing interventions.

The direct result of the victory of one of the ideological empires was a predictable hegemony of the values of said empire in the predominant political narrative; it helped that the United States also functions as the main source of Western soft power and lingua franca. The American revolutionary enlightenment and liberal exceptionalist narrative has in time contaminated states that used to be particularist by their very nature, namely in Europe. The commonality stems from the replacement of utopian internationalist and universalist ideologies of the past such as communism or Christianism, with democratic liberalism. The idealists of the past have either left politics/political philosophy behind or converted to the doctrine of the temporal winners of WWII – and only consequently, spiritual winners.298822-alexfas01 - Cópia

Problems arise when the very structure of polities around the world is incompatible with a specific ideology which is why universal doctrines are usually a bad idea. In Europe, those facing such a reality eventually turned to the European Union and NATO as the natural bridge between their admiration for their new Church/International – carrying the mantle of ‘leadership of the free world’ – and the millenia of antecedents sustaining political power as a measure of local ethnic identity. In the case of such nations as Britain or the Netherlands, it is actually easier because much of their historical experience has been based around liberal values such as Grotius’s Mare Liberum or England’s parliamentary system. In more homogeneous and unitary nations such as Poland or France, more perverse forms of populism come to the fore as a consequence.

The most serious problem of American/Liberal exceptionalism is not however related to the domestic dysfunctions that it causes in nation-states – and not, as in the case of America , idea-states – but rather in the overall conduct it incites in Western states’ foreign policy. Every conflict that pits a Western democracy against a non Western or non liberal-democratic regime is automatically viewed as a Manichean moral contest whose outcome must be an absolute victory of the ‘good’ against ‘evil’. Apart from a complete absence of consideration for the national (not ideological) interest, there is also an inherent and fundamental strategic incompetence of not considering means when advocating for ends. In other words, the moral cause is the casus belli, not whichever specific political grievance motivates it. This implies that a limited political settlement involving territorial or economic concessions is not the desired end but rather an unconditional surrender of the morally inferior opponent.

WWII has been reified by its own ultra-normative admirers because they mythologize it. Had they been in power then, they would have never allied with the USSR and probably would have gone to war with it over its invasion of Finland by the time Berlin arose as a threat. Finally, there is enormous danger in looking at the least ‘normal war’ the world has ever seen and viewing it as an example to follow and emulate.

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Iran – The Fallacy of Blowback

August 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

In this outlet we are in favour only of a conditional intervention against Iran: provided the Arab states participate.

Thus, not toeing the neoconservative line of ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’ as far as an attack on Iran is concerned, there should be no suspicion of our being belligerent tout court.

It is important though to analyse the liberal-libertarian-marxian case against an attack on Iran and dispel the myth of blowback.

It is said for example that the reason why Iranians today hate America is due to the Anglo-American subversion of the Mossadegh government and their installing a repressive regime thereafter. According to this logic, not only has Western policy towards Iran been flawed through the years but so would more belligerence today lead to additional negative results.

First of all it should be said that Iranians don’t hate America – in fact they are one of the most westernised peoples in MENA – that British and Americans wanted only more control over the Iranian government and that they were not behind the repressive tactics – albeit having provided the training – that Iran prospered to become a major regional geostrategic power under US sponsorship and most importantly that the decision to separate Iran from the West geopolitically was taken by the revolutionary regime and not by the Iranian people.

In fact, the assertion that the Islamic revolution was detrimental to the West because Iranians as a people were enraged against Western interference is ludicrous: the Arab states financed Iraq’s war against Iran, Russia had attempted to annex parts of northern Iran during the Allied occupation of World War II, and yet there were no chants of ‘Death to Russia’ or ‘Arabs are the middle Satan’ after the ‘people’s revolution’. The truth is that the regime conducted anti-Western indoctrination and even if the average Iranian would not approve of external interference in Iranian domestic politics then and now, it is also true they realise Iran has been playing with fire unnecessarily for a long time – even though they support the nuclear programme, only the regime’s puppets go on marches to shout ‘death to America’.

American and British resolve to remove Mossadegh came about quite simply because Mossadegh offended his patrons in the Cold War by nationalising the Iranian oil industry. Undoubtedly his intentions were pure and patriotic but they were also misguided for Iran was not strong enough to stand on its own in a bipolar system dominated by the superpowers. It was Mossadegh’s foolhardiness that brought about the end of his government, not gratuitous interventionism on the part of the West – the only blowback was that of his policies against the West.

It is also not as if Iran was alien to interfering in the affairs of its neighbours. Its designs over the Persian Gulf and the Mashreq have been well known for centuries and surely the Iranians, knowing their own history are not blind to the routine of intervention in an anarchic international system.

The coup that removed Mossadegh bought the West an additional quarter century of control during the dangerous period of the Cold War. True statesmen always plan on the long-term but the plans are made to defend national interests, not those of any other state. It is too bad if interference in Iran causes Iranians to blindly rally to the flag in favour of an irrational regime but if one were to always wait for the right timing, nothing would ever get done.

Additionally, it is also false that blowback is an inevitable consequence of intervention. Given enough time and resources, an intervention can manage to legitimise itself. We have but to think of Iranian subversion of Lebanon, of Pakistani operations in Afghanistan, Israel bombing of Iraq, Russian intervention in Georgia, etc. 

Finally one must weigh the pros and cons of bombing Iran’s nuclear programme. What is more costly? To allow a fanatical regime to acquire all the invulnerability it needs to destabilise a pro-Western MENA? Or to spend a few millions in bombs and temporary high oil prices, and incur the also temporary wrath of the people of one single country who don’t even appreciate the regime that rules them?

Ultimately the logic of Liberals is that democracy is more important than the West, that regime is more important than state. The logic of Libertarians is that market forces will take care of a state’s interests and that non-interference will miraculously take care of those forces that are prejudiced or interested in thwarting Western interests. The logic of Marxians is that developing-countries inherently carry more moral authority than developed ones and whatever they do or risks they take, the outcome must always ‘justly’ benefit them in detriment of developed countries so as to equalise the world.

Liberals do America and the West a disservice because as democratic as any country may be, democratic peace theory is a fallacy and does not necessarily bring with it automatic sympathy towards or peace with the West. Libertarians are also counter-productive because without force and hard-power, many parts of the world would succumb to forces more influential than money. Marxians keep advocating a utopia with no practical incarnation and would find it difficult to justify an inevitable ‘levelling’ down of developed societies’ living conditions in favour of developing ones’.

This blog stood against the intervention in Iraq, it condemns any conventional attack on Syria and it also criticised the Libyan adventure. Iran is different and this is not an endorsement of an immediate attack on Iran but rather the apology of a consequential and rational debate, based on facts rather than myths: is it in the West’s interest to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons? Absolutely! Should the West attack Iran to accomplish this? Debatable. Should it be one of the possible options? Always.

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