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Stop Overestimating America

Jester-Uncle-Sam-250x250 [1]1,480 words

“America is not a serious country.” — Greg Johnson

I’m a polite guy, so I didn’t really want to say this just yet, but it looks like I have to because everyone and their cat seems to be grabbing hold of the wrong end of the stick. OK, ready? Here goes:

America is a geopolitical idiot, a moron nation whose position as the world’s leading power has nothing to do with its meagre or non-existent merits. In fact, to be brutally honest, it’s a dysfunctional entity with a sub-standard population, and a leadership that would be better off wearing bells. In a just and fair world it would be about the size of Belgium and surrounded by a high wall.

Although this may sound like a bit of a rant, it’s pretty much what you would expect if you spent a few hundred years clearing all the rubbish out from Europe – religious fanatics, convicts, rootless sociopaths, mental cases, bottom-of-the-heapers, and other various outcasts and failures – and dumping them all in a big, empty continent with a liberal sprinkling of losing tribalists from Africa. Yes, America is exceptional, exceptionally crap, and the only reason it was able to become the world’s leading power was because the World’s truly great powers all cancelled each other out.

Imagine someone on a tricycle winning a Formula One race because all the F-1 cars crashed into each other. That tricycle is America. Yet the myth persists that it is somehow superior to other nations, and that its elites, while obviously evil, are mind-bending masters of the world.

This certainly seems to be a view particularly held by the Russian leadership, who, rather than seeing the mess in the Middle East as the natural outcome of a moron superpower waddling around with its head firmly stuck up between its butt cheeks, see the breakdown of Iraq and Syria into a state of anarchy as shining proof of America’s omnipotent genius. This is the view put forward on Russia Today, in an article by “German American” academic William Engdahl, entitled “ISIS in Iraq stinks of CIA/NATO ‘dirty war’ op.” Engdahl writes:

Details leaking out suggest that ISIS and the major military ‘surge’ in Iraq — and less so in neighboring Syria — is being shaped and controlled out of Langley, Virginia, and other CIA and Pentagon outposts as the next stage in spreading chaos in the world’s second-largest oil state, Iraq, as well as weakening the recent Syrian stabilization efforts.

Engdahl draws our attention to the following facts:

Nice facts! The great thing about our complex, messed-up world (and the internet) is that whatever views you care to espouse, you can find little hints and half-facts to selectively fit into a plausible theory that can then be floated on the general sea of collective ignorance. With a highly selective micro-empirical approach like this, you can make a case for almost anything. To help construct his thesis, Engdahl ends up going to some unlikely places, quoting extensively from Jeffrey Silverman of Veterans Today, a relatively obscure webzine.

Yes, this fact may be true, and there may be something in such-and-such an association, blahdy, blahdy, blah . . . But once you get immersed in that kind of detail the argument has already been framed, the point made, and the allusion driven home.

Facts are never only facts, and only ever become facts when they combine with people’s emotional needs to believe in them, either out of fear or desire. If they don’t have that emotional component they tend to remain null and void.

The only way to attain a relative degree of objectivity is to take a macro-empirical approach, to look at all the factors while avoiding much of the quibblesome detail, and to factor in general truths. Among the main general truths that need to be factored in is the human propensity to believe only what humans want to believe.

The key point about the Russians – or more accurately the Russian political elite – is that they see themselves as one side of a superpower struggle. In the 19th-century they saw themselves as one of several players in the great European “balance of power” game and got RSVP invitations to all the big diplomatic balls in Vienna and elsewhere. Then, following the collapse of Europe in the 1914 to 1945 period, they took a step up and became part of a great binary with their rival the USA. This ended in 1990, but the Russians are emotionally driven to resurrect it, and, under President Putin, they have had some success in this respect.

But, unlike America, Russia has had to develop a complex understanding of other rival states, and show great geopolitical cunning merely to exist. Faced by tiny tribes of drunken, diseased, and dysfunctional Red Indians, the Americans grew up expecting everything on a plate, and through sheer serendipity the lunch trolley kept arriving. Among all the so-called “great nations” of history America has enjoyed the easiest ride to the top.

But there is a cost for such unearned power. The great tragicomedy of modern times is that the USA, on its way to number one status, never had to learn how the rest of the world worked, whilst Russia, just to survive, had to familiarize itself with every nut, bolt, cog, and camshaft. Quite simply, America is not a true hegemon, controlling the world through its superior qualities; rather it is a “hege-moron,” blundering around in parts of the world it can never understand

Mirror Vision

But although America is the World’s fool, the Russians are unable to see this. Russia, in order to survive, could not afford to underestimate its opponents, especially as most of them rose to power in equally challenging circumstances. The expectation that rival powers had at least as complex and nuanced an understanding of geopolitics as they did is deeply ingrained.

This expectation is further intensified when the rivalry is binary, because not only are you trying to avoid underestimating your opponent for security reasons, but there is also the question of how your opponent’s power reflects on you. If your opposite number is crap what does that say about you? You actually want to believe that the other guy is a worthwhile opponent. This is even truer in the case of Russia, as there is still a sense in Kremlin circles that Russia is still not quite equal to mighty America.

This impression was also driven home in recent months, when, after Putin’s masterly counterstroke to American adventurism in Syria, the coup in the Ukraine led the Russians to think that they had been victims of a devastating American counterstroke.

Now, don’t get all excited and start sending me the usual links. Sure, if you want to believe in America as malevolent geopolitical genius, you won’t have to log onto the internet for long to find convincing micro-empirical evidence that fits with your preconceived projection agenda. But, rather than a genius geopolitical chess move, the events in the Ukraine stink more of the unforeseen consequences of endemic political corruption (partly fostered by Russia) and the EU’s tendency to get economically touchy-feely with any part of Eastern Europe that it thinks it can sell and outsource production to.

But don’t expect the Russians to believe this. They didn’t see off Napoleon and the Mongols by believing the Golden Horde and Grande Armée were just oversized picnicking expeditions. Believing that your enemy is ruthless and cunning is a vital requirement for survival on the Eurasian plain. But this is a perception that the Russians continue to project onto America, a country that essentially arose within a geopolitical vacuum and therefore lacks the qualities that the Russians fear.

When the Russians see America pointlessly invading a country, occupying it, spending thousands of lives and trillions of dollars on its reconstruction, and then leaving it, only for it to collapse into complete anarchy, it is hard for them not to believe that it is all part of some infinitely cunning, satanic scheme hatched in Washington. Anyone who points in such a direction, like Engdahl, will be readily believed. Anyone who tells a different story won’t be.