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Placing the USA on a collapse continuum with Dmitry Orlov By The Saker

Placing the USA on a collapse continuum with Dmitry Orlov

By The Saker

January 14, 2019 

The wordcatastrophehas several meanings, but in its original meaning in Greek, the word means a “sudden downturn” (in Greek katastrophē ‘overturning, a sudden turn,’ from kata- ‘down’ + strophē ‘turning’). As for the word “superpower” it also has several possible definitions, but my preferred one is this one Superpower is a term used to describe a state with a dominant position, which is characterized by its extensive ability to exert influence or project power on a global scale. This is done through the combined-means of economic, military, technological and cultural strength, as well as diplomatic and soft power influence. Traditionally, superpowers are preeminent among the great powers” this one, “an extremely powerful nation, especially one capable of influencing international events and the acts and policies of less powerful nations” or this one “an international governing body able to enforce its will upon the most powerful states“.

I have mentioned the very visible decline of the US and its associated Empire in many of my articles already, so I won’t repeat it here other than to say that the “ability to exert influence and impose its will” is probably the best criteria to measure the magnitude of the fall of the US since Trump came to power (the process was already started by Dubya and Obama, but it sure accelerated with The Donald). But I do want to use a metaphor to revisit the concept of catastrophe.

If you place an object in the middle of a table and then push it right to the edge, you will exert some amount of energy we can call “E1”. Then, if the edge of the table is smooth and you just push the object over the edge, you exercise a much smaller amount of energy we can call “E2”. And, in most cases (if the table is big enough), you will also find that E1 is much bigger than E2 yet E2, coming after E1 took place, triggered a much more dramatic event: instead of smoothly gliding over the table top, the object suddenly falls down and shatters. That sudden fall can also be called a “catastrophe”. This is also something which happens in history, take the example of the Soviet Union.

Some readers might recall how Alexander Solzhenitsyn repeatedly declared in the 1980s that he was sure that the Soviet regime would collapse and that he would return to Russia. He was, of course, vitriolically ridiculed by all the “specialists” and “experts”. After all, why would anybody want to listen to some weird Russian exile with politically suspicious ideas (there were rumours of “monarchism” and “anti-Semitism”) when the Soviet Union was an immense superpower, armed to the teeth with weapons, with an immense security service, with political allies and supporters worldwide? Not only that, but all the “respectable” specialists and experts were unanimous that, while the Soviet regime had various problems, it was very far from collapse. The notion that NATO would soon replace the Soviet military not only in eastern Europe but even in part of the Soviet Union was absolutely unthinkable. And yet it all happened, very, very fast. I would argue that the Soviet Union completely collapsed in the span of less than 4 short years: 1990-1993. How and why this happened is beyond the scope of this article, but what is undeniable is that in 1989 the Soviet Union was still an apparently powerful entity, while by the end of 1993, it was gone (smashed into pieces by the very nomenklatura which used to rule over it). How did almost everybody miss that? The fate of all empires…

 

 

 

 

Because ideologically-poisoned analysis leads to intellectual complacency, a failure of imagination and, generally, an almost total inability to even hypothetically look at possible outcomes. This is how almost all the “Soviet specialists” got it wrong (the KGB, by the way, had predicted this outcome and warned the Politburo, but the Soviet gerontocrats were ideologically paralyzed and were both unable, and often unwilling, to take any preventative action). The Kerensky masonic regime in 1917 Russia, the monarchy in Iran or the Apartheid regime in South Africa also collapsed very fast once the self-destruction mechanism was in place and launched.

You can think of that “regime self-destruction mechanism” as our E1 phase in our metaphor above. As for E2, you can think of it as whatever small-push like event which precipitates the quick and final collapse, apparently with great ease and minimum energy spent.

At this point, it is important to explain what exactly a “final collapse” looks like. Some people are under the very mistaken assumption that a collapsed society or country looks like a Mad Max world. This is not so. Ukraine has been a failed state for several years already, but it still exists on the map. People live there, work, most people still have electricity (albeit not 24/7), a government exists, and, at least officially, law and order is maintained. This kind of collapsed society can go on for years, maybe decades, but it is in a state of collapse nonetheless, as it has reached all the 5 Stages of Collapse as defined by Dmitry Orlov in his seminal book The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors’ Toolkitwhere he mentions the following 5 stages of collapse:

  • Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.
  • Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.
  • Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.
  • Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.
  • Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.

Having personally visited Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s, and seen the Russia of the early 1990s, I can attest that a society can completely collapse while maintaining a lot of the external appearances of a normal still functioning society. Unlike the Titanic, most collapsed regimes don’t fully sink. They remain about half under water, and half above, possibly with an orchestra still playing joyful music. And in the most expensive top deck cabins, a pretty luxurious lifestyle can be maintained by the elites. But for most of the passengers, such a collapse results in poverty, insecurity, political instability and a huge loss in welfare. Furthermore, in terms of motion, a half-sunk ship is no ship at all.

Here is the crucial thing: as long as the ship’s PA systems keep announcing great weather and buffet brunches, and as long as most of the passengers remain in their cabins and watch TV instead of looking out of the window, the illusion of normalcy can be maintained for a fairly long while, even after a collapse. During the E1 phase outlined above, most passengers will be kept in total ignorance (lest they riot or protest) and only when E2 strikes (totally unexpectedly for most passengers) does reality eventually destroy the ignorance and illusions of the brainwashed passengers.

Obama was truly the beginning of the end

I have lived in the US from 1986-1991 and from 2002 to today and there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the country has undergone a huge decline over the past decades. In fact, I would argue that the US has been living under E1 condition since at least Dubya and that this process dramatically accelerated under Obama and Trump. I believe that we reached the E2 “edge of the table” moment in 2018 and that from now on even a relatively minor incident can result in a sudden downturn (i.e. a “catastrophe”). Still, I decided to check with the undisputed specialist of this issue and so I emailed Dmitry Orlov and asked him the following question:

 In your recent articleThe Year the Planet Flipped Overyou paint a devastating picture of the state of the Empire:

It is already safe to declare Trump’s plan to Make America Great Again (MAGA) a failure. Beneath the rosy statistics of US economic growth hides the hideous fact that it is the result of a tax holiday granted to transnational corporations to entice them to repatriate their profits. While this hasn’t helped them (their stocks are currently cratering) it has been a disaster for the US government as well as for the economic system as a whole.  Tax receipts have shrunk. The budget deficit for 2018 exceeds $779 billion. Meanwhile, the trade wars which Trump initiated have caused the trade deficit to increase by 17% from the year before. Plans to repatriate industrial production from low-cost countries remain vaporous because the three key elements which China had as it industrialized (cheap energy, cheap labour and low cost of doing business) are altogether missing.  Government debt is already beyond reasonable and its expansion is still accelerating, with just the interest payments set to exceed half a trillion a year within a decade. This trajectory does not bode well for the continued existence of the United States as a going concern. Nobody, either in the United States or beyond, has the power to significantly alter this trajectory. Trump’s thrashing about may have moved things along faster than they otherwise would have, at least in the sense of helping convince the entire world that the US is selfish, feckless, ultimately self-destructive and generally unreliable as a partner. In the end, it won’t matter who was president of the US—it never has.  Among those, the US president has succeeded in hurting most are his European allies. His attacks on Russian energy exports to Europe, on European car manufacturers and on Europe’s trade with Iran have caused a fair amount of damage, both political and economic, without compensating for it with any perceived or actual benefits. Meanwhile, as the globalist world order, which much of Europe’s population appears ready to declare failure, begins to unravel, the European Union is rapidly becoming ungovernable, with established political parties unable to form coalitions with ever-more-numerous populist upstarts.  It is too early to say that the EU has already failed altogether, but it already seems safe to predict that within a decade it will no longer remain as a serious international factor. Although the disastrous quality and the ruinous mistakes of Europe’s own leadership deserve a lot of the blame, some of it should rest with the erratic, destructive behaviour of their transoceanic Big Brother. The EU has already morphed into a strictly regional affair, unable to project power or entertain any global geopolitical ambitions.  Same goes for Washington, which is going to either depart voluntarily (due to lack of funds) or get chased out from much of the world. The departure from Syria is inevitable whether Trump, under relentless pressure from his bipartisan warmongers, backtracks on this commitment or not. Now that Syria has been armed with Russia’s up-to-date air defence weapons the US no longer maintains air superiority there, and without air superiority, the US military is unable to do anything.  Afghanistan is next; there, it seems outlandish to think that the Washingtonians will be able to achieve any sort of reasonable accommodation with the Taliban. Their departure will spell the end of Kabul as a centre of corruption where foreigners steal humanitarian aid and other resources. Somewhere along the way, the remaining US troops will also be pulled out of Iraq, where the parliament, angered by Trump’s impromptu visit to a US base, recently voted to expel them. And that will put paid to the entire US adventure in the Middle East since 9/11: $4,704,439,588,308 has been squandered, to be precise, or $14,444 for every man, woman and child in the US.  The biggest winners in all of this are, obviously, the people of the entire region, because they will no longer be subjected to indiscriminate US harassment and bombardment, followed by Russia, China and Iran, with Russia solidifying its position as the ultimate arbiter of international security arrangements thanks to its unmatched military capabilities and demonstrated know-how for coercion to peace. Syria’s fate will be decided by Russia, Iran and Turkey, with the US not even invited to the talks. Afghanistan will fall into the sphere of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  And the biggest losers will be former US regional allies, first and foremost Israel, followed by Saudi Arabia.

 

My question for you is this: where would you place the USA (or the Empire) on your 5 stages of decline and do you believe that the USA (or the Empire) can reverse that trend?

Here is Dmitry’s reply:

Collapse, at each stage, is a historical process that takes time to run its course as the system adapts to changing circumstances, compensates for its weaknesses and finds ways to continue functioning at some level. But what changes rather suddenly is faith or, to put it in more businesslike terms, sentiment. A large segment of the population or an entire political class within a country or the entire world can function based on a certain set of assumptions for much longer than the situation warrants but then over a very short period of time switch to a different set of assumptions. All that sustains the status quo beyond that point is institutional inertia. It imposes limits on how fast systems can change without collapsing entirely. Beyond that point, people will tolerate the older practices only until replacements for them can be found.

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.

Internationally, the major change in sentiment in the world has to do with the role of the US dollar (and, to a lesser extent, the Euro and the Yen—the other two reserve currencies of the three-legged globalist central banker stool). The world is transitioning to the use of local currencies, currency swaps and commodities markets backed by gold. The catalyst for this change of sentiment was provided by the US administration itself which sawed through its own perch by its use of unilateral sanctions. By using its control over dollar-based transactions to block international transactions it doesn’t happen to like it forced other countries to start looking for alternatives. Now a growing list of countries sees throwing off the shackles of the US dollar as a strategic goal. Russia and China use the ruble and the yuan for their expanding trade; Iran sells oil to India for rupees. Saudi Arabia has started to accept the yuan for its oil.

This change has many knock-on effects. If the dollar is no longer needed to conduct international trade, other nations no longer have held large quantities of it in reserve. Consequently, there is no longer a need to buy up large quantities of US Treasury notes. Therefore, it becomes unnecessary to run large trade surpluses with the US, essentially conducting trade at a loss. Further, the attractiveness of the US as an export market drops and the cost of imports to the US rises, thereby driving up cost inflation. A vicious spiral ensues in which the ability of the US government to borrow internationally to finance the gaping chasm of its various deficits becomes impaired. Sovereign default of the US government and national bankruptcy then follow.

The US may still look mighty, but its dire fiscal predicament coupled with its denial of the inevitability of bankruptcy makes it into something of a Blanche DuBois from the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She was “always dependent on the kindness of strangers” but was tragically unable to tell the difference between kindness and desire. In this case, the desire is for national advantage and security, and to minimize risk by getting rid of an unreliable trading partner.

How quickly or slowly this comes to pass is difficult to guess at and impossible to calculate. It is possible to think of the financial system in terms of a physical analogue, with masses of funds travelling at some velocity having certain inertia (p = mv) and with forces acting on that mass to accelerate it along with a different trajectory (F = ma). It is also possible to think of it in terms of hordes of stampeding animals who can change course abruptly when panicked. The recent abrupt moves in the financial markets, where trillions of dollars of notional, purely speculative value have been wiped out within weeks, are more in line with the latter model.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.

Within the US there is really no other alternative than the market. There are a few rustic enclaves, mostly religious communities, that can feed themselves, but that’s a rarity. For everyone else, there is no choice but to be a consumer. Consumers who are broke are called “bums,” but they are still consumers. To the extent that the US has a culture, it is a commercial culture in which the goodness of a person is based on the goodly sums of money in their possession. Such a culture can die by becoming irrelevant (when everyone is dead broke) but by then most of the carriers of this culture are likely to be dead too. Alternatively, it can be replaced by a more humane culture that isn’t entirely based on the cult of Mammon—perhaps, dare I think, through a return to a pre-Protestant, pre-Catholic Christian ethic that values people’s souls above objects of value?

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.

All is very murky at the moment, but I would venture to guess that most people in the US are too distracted, too stressed and too preoccupied with their own vices and obsessions to pay much attention to the political realm. Of the ones they do pay attention, a fair number of them seem clued into the fact that the US is not a democracy at all but an elites-only sandbox in which transnational corporate and oligarchic interests build and knock down each others’ sandcastles.

The extreme political polarization, where two virtually identical pro-capitalist, pro-war parties pretend to wage battle by virtue-signalling may be a symptom of the extremely decrepit state of the entire political arrangement: people are made to watch the billowing smoke and to listen to the deafening noise in the hopes that they won’t notice that the wheels are no longer turning.

The fact that what amounts to palace intrigue—the fracas between the White House, the two houses of Congress and a ghoulish grand inquisitor named Mueller—has taken centre stage is uncannily reminiscent of various earlier political collapses, such as the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire or of the fall and the consequent beheading of Louis XVI. The fact that Trump, like the Ottoman worthies, stocks his harem with East European women, lends an eerie touch. That said, most people in the US seem blind to the nature of their overlords in a way that the French, with their Jillettes Jaunes movement (just as an example), is definitely not.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.

I have been saying for some years now that within the US social collapse has largely run its course, although whether people actually believe that is an entire matter entirely. Defining “your people” is rather difficult. The symbols are still there—the flag, the Statue of Liberty and a predilection for iced drinks and heaping plates of greasy fried foods—but the melting pot seems to have suffered a meltdown and melted all the way to China. At present half, the households within the US speak a language other than English at home, and a fair share of the rest speak dialects of English that are not mutually intelligible with the standard North American English dialect of broadcast television and university lecturers.

Throughout its history, as a British colony and as a nation the US has been dominated by the Anglo ethnos. The designation “ethnos” is not an ethnic label. It is not strictly based on genealogy, language, culture, habitat, form of government or any other single factor or group of factors. These may all be important to one extent or another, but the viability of an ethnos is based solely on its cohesion and the mutual inclusivity and common purpose of its members. The Anglo ethnos reached its zenith in the wake of World War II, during which many social groups were intermixed in the military and their more intelligent members.

The fantastic potential was unleashed when privilege—the curse of the Anglo ethnos since its inception—was temporarily replaced with merit and the more talented demobilized men, of whatever extraction, were given a chance at education and social advancement by the GI Bill. Speaking a new sort of American English based on the Ohio dialect as a Lingua Franca, these Yanks—male, racist, sexist and chauvinistic and, at least in their own minds, victorious—were ready to remake the entire world in their own image.

They proceeded to flood the entire world with oil (US oil production was in full flush then) and with machines that burned it. Such passionate acts of ethnogenesis are rare but not unusual: the Romans who conquered the entire Mediterranean basin, the barbarians who then sacked Rome, the Mongols who later conquered most of Eurasia and the Germans who for a very brief moment possessed an outsized Lebensraum are other examples.

And now it is time to ask: what remains of this proud conquering Anglo ethnos today? We hear shrill feminist cries about “toxic masculinity” and minorities of every stripe railing against “whitesplaining” and in response, we hear a few whimpers but mostly silence. Those proud, conquering, virile Yanks who met and fraternized with the Red Army at the River Elbe on April 25, 1945—where are they? Haven’t they devolved into a sad little sube-thnos of effeminate, porn-addicted overgrown boys who shave their pubic hair and need to write permission to have sex without fear of being charged with rape?

Will the Anglo ethnos persist as a relict, similar to how the English have managed to hold onto their royals (who are technically no longer even aristocrats since they now practice exogamy with commoners)? Or will it get wiped out in a wave of depression, mental illness and opiate abuse, its glorious history of rapine, plunder and genocide erased and the statues of its war heroes/criminals knocked down? Only time will tell.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.

The term “culture” means many things to many people, but it is more productive to observe cultures than to argue about them. Cultures are expressed through people’s stereotypical behaviours that are readily observable in public. These are not the negative stereotypes often used to identify and reject outsiders but the positive stereotypes—cultural standards of behaviour, really—that serve as requirements for social adequacy and inclusion. We can readily assess the viability of culture by observing the stereotypical behaviours of its members.

  • Do people exist as a single continuous, inclusive sovereign realm or as a set of exclusive, potentially warring enclaves segregated by income, ethnicity, education level, political affiliation and so on? Do you see a lot of walls, gates, checkpoints, security cameras and “no trespassing” signs? Is the law of the land enforced uniformly or are there good neighbourhoods, bad neighbourhoods and no-go zones where even the police fear to tread?
  • Do random people thrown together in public spontaneously enter into conversation with each other and are comfortable with being crowded together, or are they aloof and fearful, and prefer to hide their face in the little glowing rectangle of their smartphone, jealously guarding their personal space and ready to regard any encroachment on it as an assault?
  • Do people remain good-natured and tolerant toward each other even when hard-pressed or do they hide behind a façade of tense, superficial politeness and fly into a rage at the slightest provocation? Is conversation soft in tone, gracious and respectful or is it loud, shrill, rude and polluted with foul language? Do people dress well out of respect for each other, or to show off, or are they all just déclassé slobs—even the ones with money?
  • Observe how their children behave: are they fearful of strangers and trapped in a tiny world of their own or are they open to the world and ready to treat any stranger as a surrogate brother or sister, aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather without requiring any special introduction? Do the adults studiously ignore each others’ children or do they spontaneously act as a single family?
  • If there is a wreck on the road, do they spontaneously rush to each others’ rescue and pull people out before the wreck explodes, or do they, in the immortal words of Frank Zappa, “get on the phone and call up some flakes” who “rush on over and wreck it some more”?
  • If there is a flood or a fire, do the neighbours take in the people who are rendered homeless, or do they allow them to wait for the authorities to show up and bus them to some makeshift government shelter?

It is possible to quote statistics or to provide anecdotal evidence to assess the state and the viability of a culture, but your own eyes and other senses can provide all the evidence you need to make that determination for yourself and to decide how much faith to put in “the goodness of humanity” that is evident in the people around you.

Dmitry concluded his reply by summarizing his view like this:

Cultural and social collapse are very far along. Financial collapse is waiting for a trigger. The commercial collapse will happen in stages some of which—food deserts, for instance—have already happened in many places. The political collapse will only become visible once the political class gives up. It’s not as simple as saying which stage we are at. They are all happening in parallel, to one extent or another.

My own (totally subjective) opinion is that the USA has already reached stages 1 through 4 and that there are signs that stage 5 has begun; mainly in big cities as US small towns and rural areas (Trump’s power base, by the way) are still struggling to maintain the norms and behaviors one could observe in the USA of the 1980s.  When I have visitors from Europe they always comment how friendly and welcoming US Americans are (true, I live in small-town in East-Central Florida, not in Miami…).  These are the communities which voted for Trump because they said: “we want our country back”.  Alas, instead of giving them their country back, Trump gifted it to the Neocons…

Conclusion: Connecting the dots; or not

Frankly, the dots are all over the place; it is really hard to miss them.  However, for the double plus good thinking “ideological drone”, they remain largely invisible, and this is not due to an eyesight problem, but due to that drone’s total inability to connect the dots.  These are the kind of folks who danced on the deck of the Titanic while it was sinking.  For them, when the inevitable catastrophe comes, it will be a total, mind-blowing, surprise.  But, until that moment, they will keep on denying the obvious, no matter how obvious that obvious has become.

In the meantime, the US ruling elites are locked into an ugly internal struggle which only further weakens the USA.  What is so telling is that the Democrats are still stuck with their same clueless, incompetent and infinitely arrogant leadership, in spite of the fact that everybody knows that the Democratic Party is in deep crisis and that new faces are desperately needed.  But no, they are still completely stuck in their old ways and the same gang of gerontocrats continues to rule the party apparatus.

That is another surefire sign of degeneracy: when a regime can only produce incompetent, often old, leaders who are completely out of touch with reality and who blame their own failures on internal (“deplorables”) and external (“the Russians”) factors.  Again, think of the Soviet Union under Brezhnev, the Apartheid regime in South Africa under F. W. de Klerk, or the Kerensky regime in 1917 Russia.  It is quite telling that the political leader whom the AngloZionists try to scare the most simply thinks of them as “first-rate idiots“, it is not?

As for the Republicans, they are basically a subsidiary of the Israeli Likud Party. Just take a look at the long list of losers the Likud produced at home, and you will get a sense of what they can do in its US colony.

Eventually, the USA will rebound; I have no doubts about that at all.  This is a big country with millions of immensely talented people, immense natural resources and no credible threat to its territory.  But that can only happen after a real *regime* change (as opposed to a change in Presidential Administration) which, itself, is only going to happen after an “E2 catastrophe” collapse.

Until then, we will all be waiting for Godot.

This article was originally published by Saker ” 

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A Time Of Chaos By Boaventura de Sousa Santos

A Time Of Chaos

By Boaventura de Sousa Santos

May 03, 2018
The bombing of Syrian sites where chemical weapons are allegedly being manufactured or stocked, allegedly to be used by the Bashar al-Assad government against the rebels, has left citizens all over the world in a state of confusion, filled with a mixture of perplexity and scepticism. In spite of the bombing by the Western media (a particularly apt metaphor in this case), in their attempt to persuade public opinion of the latest atrocities committed by al-Assad’s regime; in spite of the near unanimous opinion of political commentators that this was nothing but a humanitarian response, a fair punishment, and one more proof of the vitality of the “Western alliance”; in spite of all this, citizens in the West (and much more so in the rest of the world), whenever asked, expressed their doubts about this media narrative and for the most part spoke against the attacks. Why is that?
The consequences
Because citizens who possess at least a modicum of information have a better memory than commentators, and because, although they lack expertise on the causes of such acts of war, they have an expert knowledge of their consequences, which is something that said commentators always fail to notice. They remember that in 2003 the justification for the invasion of Iraq was the existence of weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. They remember that the photos that were exhibited at the time had been tampered with so as to lend credibility to the big lie. They remember that then, as now, the attack occurred on the eve of the arrival of an independent commission of experts sent to investigate the existence of such weapons.
They remember that the lie left behind a million dead and a destroyed country, with fat reconstruction contracts being handed over to US companies (such as Halliburton) and oil exploration contracts given to Western oil companies. They remember that in 2011 the same coalition destroyed Libya, turning it into a den of terrorists and traffickers in refugees and emigrants, and yielding the same type of fat contracts. They remember that so far the war in Syria has caused 500,000 dead, 5 million refugees, and 6 million displaced within Syrian borders. Above all, thanks perhaps to that mysterious cunning of reason whereof Hegel spoke, they remember what the media does not tell them. They remember that two genocides are underway in the region.

An injured toddler rescued after being trapped under rubble from an air strike on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syria, August 15th 2016.

An injured toddler rescued after being trapped under rubble from an air strike on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syria, August 15th, 2016.  

Credit: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

They are being perpetrated by state terrorism but they are almost never mentioned because the aggressor states are “our” allies: one is the Yemeni genocide at the hands of Saudi Arabia, the other is Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people.
These are the more visible consequences. But there are other victims, of which the ordinary citizen is hardly aware, her suspicions sometimes not more than a vague discomfort. I will focus on three of those victims. The first is international law, which has once again been violated, given that actions of war are legitimate only in case of self-defence or under a UN Security Council mandate. None of these conditions has been met. Bilateral and multilateral treaties are being thrown out one after another, as trade wars become increasingly fierce. Are we in the process of entering a new Cold War, with fewer rules and more innocent deaths? Are we heading toward a third world war? Where is the UN, to prevent it through diplomacy? What else can countries like Russia, China or Iran be expected to do but move further away from Western countries and their fake multilateralism, and come up with their own alternatives for cooperation? The second victim is human rights. Here the West reached a paroxysm of hypocrisy: the military destruction of entire countries and the killing of innocent populations has become the sole means of promoting human rights. It somehow seems that there is no other means of fostering human rights except by violating them, and Western-style democracy does not know how to flourish except among ruins. The third victim is the “war on terror”. No person of good will can accept the death of innocent victims in the name of some political or ideological goal, much less when perpetrated by the countries – the United States and its allies – that over the last twenty years have given full priority to the war on terrorism. So how can one comprehend the current financing and arming, by the Western powers, of groups of Syrian rebels that are known to be terrorist organizations and that, like Bashar al-Assad, have also used chemical weapons against innocent populations in the past? I allude in particular to the al-Nusra front, the extremist Salafist group also known as the Al Qaeda of Syria, which seeks to establish an Islamic state. In fact, the most frequent accusations, by US institutions, with regard to the financing of extremist and terrorist groups point the finger precisely at that most loyal of US allies, Saudi Arabia. What are the hidden goals of a war on terror that supports terrorists with money and arms?
The causes
Given that the causes elude all the news noise, it is more difficult for ordinary citizens to identify them. Convention has it that one can distinguish between proximate and structural causes. Among the proximate causes, the dispute over the natural gas pipeline is the one most frequently mentioned. The large natural gas reserves in the Qatar and Iran region can take two alternative routes to reach the wealthy, voracious consumer called Europe: the Qatar pipeline, going through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey, and the Iranian pipeline, across Iran, Iraq and Syria. For geopolitical reasons, the US favours the former route while Russia prefers the latter. Bashar al-Assad was also in favour of the latter, as it benefitted Shiite governments only. From that moment on, the West viewed him as a target to be taken down. Major Rob Taylor, a professor at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College, wrote in the Armed Forces Journal of March 21, 2014: “Viewed through a geopolitical and economic lens, the conflict in Syria is not a civil war, but the result of larger international players positioning themselves on the geopolitical chessboard in preparation for the opening of the pipeline in 2016”.
The structural causes are perhaps more convincing. It has been my contention that we are at a transitional moment between capitalism’s globalizations. The first globalization took place from 1860 to 1914 and was dominated by England. The second took place from 1944 to 1971 and was dominated by the US. The third began in 1989 and is now coming to an end. It was dominated by the US, but with the growing multilateral participation of Europe and China. In between globalization, the rivalry between would-be dominant countries tends to increase and can give rise to wars between them or their respective allies. At this point in time, the rivalry is between the US, an empire in decline, and China, a rising empire. In a study titled “Global Trends, 2030”, the US National Intelligence Council – an institution that could hardly be viewed as biased – states that in the year 2030 “Asia is going to be the center of world economy just as it was until 1500,” and China could become the world’s first economy.
The rivalry escalates but cannot lead to head-on confrontation because China already has a major influence on the domestic economy of the US and is a major creditor of its public debt. Trade wars are critical and they spread to the high-tech areas because whoever gets to dominate those areas (namely automation or robotics) will be poised to dominate the next globalization. The US will only enter treaties that are likely to isolate China. Since China is already too strong as it is, it has to be confronted by its allies. The most prominent among them is Russia, and recent agreements between the two countries provide for non-dollar denominated transactions, especially oil-related, which poses a fatal threat to the international reserve currency. Russia couldn’t possibly be permitted to boast about a victory in Syria, a victory, let it be said, against terrorist extremists, and one that Russia has been on the verge of obtaining, thanks supposedly to President Obama’s lack of direction when he left Syria out of his list of priorities. It was, therefore, necessary to find a pretext for returning to Syria to resume the war for a few more years, as is the case with Iraq and Afghanistan. North Korea is also an ally and must be treated with hostility so as to embarrass China. Finally, there is the fact that China, like all rising empires, is pursuing (fake) multilateralisms and therefore is responding to the trade war by fostering open trade.
But it has also pursued limited multilateral agreements aimed at creating alternatives to US economic and financial dominance. The most salient of these agreements was the BRICS, formed by Russia, India, South Africa and Brazil, besides China. The BRICS even created an alternative world bank. They had to be neutralized. Since Modi’s rise to power, India has lost interest in the agreement. Brazil was a particularly strategic partner because of the country’s articulation – albeit a reluctant one – with a more radical alternative that had emerged in Latin America at the initiative of a number of progressive governments, notably Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. Mention should be made, in this regard, to ALBA, UNASUR and CELAC, a set of political and trade agreements aimed at freeing Latin America and the Caribbean from US century-old tutelage. The most vulnerable of the BRICS countries were Brazil, perhaps because it was also the most democratic. The process whereby it was neutralized began with the institutional coup against President Dilma Rousseff and was taken further with the illegal imprisonment of Lula da Silva and the dismantling of every single nationalist policy undertaken by the PT governments. Curiously enough, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, no doubt a corrupt leader and a BRICS enthusiast, has been replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the richest men in Africa (not as corrupt as Zuma?) and a staunch advocate of global neoliberalism. The Summit of the Americas, which took place in Lima on 13-14 April and was virtually ignored by the European media, was a most relevant geopolitical piece in this context. Venezuela’s participation was vetoed, and according to El Pais of 15 April (Brazilian edition), the meeting signalled the demise of Bolivarian America. The strengthening of US influence in the region has become very clear, judging from the way in which the US delegation criticized China’s growing influence on the continent.
For all these reasons, the war in Syria is part of a much broader geopolitical game, whose future looks very uncertain. May 2, 2018
Boaventura de Sousa Santos is Portuguese professor of Sociology at the School of Economics, University of Coimbra (Portugal), the distinguished legal scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, and global legal scholar at the University of Warwick. Co-founder and one of the main leaders of the World Social Forum. Article provided to Other News by the author

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