Third Culture Queen vol. 5

Commentaries on today's crises of grand strategy and modern thought

It’s authoritarianism 101.

When you’re unpopular and the economy begins to slump, revert to expansionism to boost your numbers. Putin with Georgia and Crimea. Erdogan with Cyprus and Kurdistan. Modi and Kashmir. Even Trump thought he could do it with Greenland.

And, round and round we go. (Read the longer intro on my website!)

On the domestic front, we have Incels putting on fascist pageants in Portland and white people losing their minds over historical facts (the very ones I’ve shared below, as a matter fact)! NIMBYs in San Francisco are vilifying the homeless in press conferences as the only denizens of violence, meanwhile my partner and I witnessed – on the same day as the aforementioned presser – a driver TURNING AROUND to mow down a homeless woman. (The woman is thankfully alive and fine.)

Something seems to be off with Americans’ collective psyche. We’re quicker to violence than usual (that’s saying something for the United States), and there seems to be no solutions in sight. From our anxiety-inducing president to the instability of most Americans’ day-to-day lives, it’s not hard to understand where the tension is created.

Will we choose a shallow liberty for a select few or will we pursue true equality for all?

To achieve the latter, we’ve at least got to get on the same page about our history. Personally, I don’t believe the majority of Americans align with the triggered white men online, but it will take time for a new narrative to settle in the American mind.

The 1619 Project is an amazing start. It pivots our nation’s beginning to August 1619, rather than July 1776, when the first ship of African slaves arrived on the shores of Virginia. It was on that day a distinctly American culture was born. A people that would be like none before and who would do things – some extraordinary, some tragic – that would change the world forever.

For me, extending the timeline of our history is exciting. It’s thrilling to learn of our 400 years of history as a culture, a people. We can’t change our past but, by embracing all of it, we can hope to stop repeating it.

If you haven’t yet, check out the NYT’s #1619Project!

If you weren’t able to find a physical copy on Sunday like me, the NYT Store is making them available to order online! Ships on August 26.

American Empire (“The Greater United States”)

  • American Imperialists Have Always Dreamed of Greenland (Foreign Policy)

    Robert J. Walker, a former treasury secretary and influence-peddler in the mid-nineteenth century, learned that Denmark might be induced to sell Greenland and Iceland in 1867 as he negotiated the purchase of Denmark’s Caribbean colonies in the West Indies. It failed, but the West Indies would be purchased fifty years later and became the US Virgin Islands.

    The second attempt came in the aftermath of the Second World War. In the end, the Danes turned down the bid, and offered Greenland greater status as a full part of the Kingdom of Denmark instead of a colony.

    Right now, there’s reason to think that Greenland may well be on a path to full independence, not simply switching one protectorate for another.

    Could the United States offer Greenland’s people a better deal? Probably not.  The Trump administration’s neglect of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria forms only the most recent in a long chronicle of US mistreatment of its colonies. The US still holds more than four million people as colonial subjects in islands from Guam to the Northern Marianas – and they get a worse deal than mainland Americans on every score. And who would trade the Danish healthcare sysstem for the American one anyway?

  • Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of Trump (The New Yorker)

    Pompeo, an evangelical Christian who keeps an open Bible on his desk, now says it’s possible that God raised up Trump as a modern Queen Esther, the Biblical figure who convinced the King of Persia to spare the Jewish people. He defines his own job as serving the President, whatever the President asks of him. “A Secretary of State has to know what the President wants,” he said, at a recent appearance in Washington. “To the extent you get out of synch with that leader, then you’re just out shooting the breeze.” No matter what Trump has said or done, Pompeo has stood by him. As a former senior White House official told me, “There will never be any daylight publicly between him and Trump.” The former official said that, in private, too, Pompeo is “among the most sycophantic and obsequious people around Trump.” Even more bluntly, a former American ambassador told me, “He’s like a heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass.”

    Pompeo’s transformation reflects the larger story of how the Republican Party went from disdaining Trump to embracing him with barely a murmur of dissent. This account of how Pompeo became the last survivor of the President’s original national-security team and his most influential adviser on international affairs is based on dozens of interviews in recent months with current and former Administration officials, U.S. and foreign diplomats, and friends and colleagues of Pompeo’s; the Secretary did not answer repeated requests for comment.

    Trump often gushes about Pompeo, even as he has berated his hawkish national-security adviser, John Bolton, for taking similar positions. “I argue with everyone,” Trump told a reporter. “Except Pompeo.”

  • Space Command to launch Aug. 29 (Defense News)

    Upon its standup, SPACECOM head Gen. Jay Raymond will inherit 87 units, covering “missile warning, satellite operations, space control and space support," Dunford said. Raymond has previously said he expects to start with about 642 personnel pulled from U.S. Strategic Command. Army Lt. Gen. James Dickinson has been nominated to become the deputy commander.

    The creation of the new combatant command is the first step towards the creation of a full-up Space Force

  • Uncle Sam was Born Lethal (Counter Punch)

    Evangelical Christian barbarism wedded to lethal American white nationalism? American evangelicals have been terrorizing their fellow Americans and others around the world for as long as the United States has existed – and indeed before that.

    The racist American Empire’s racist lethality got worse after it belatedly helped the Soviet Union (the main target of Hitler’s Third Reich) prevail in the great global war against, well, fascism – and then graduated to the status of global hegemon. It is difficult, sometimes, to wrap one’s mind around the extent of the merciless savagery that Superpower Uncle Sam unleashed on the world to advance and maintain its global supremacy.

    America has become lethal under Trump? More openly and soul-numbingly racist, nativist, stupid, eco-cidal and sexist in the time of the textbook malignant narcissist and neofascist Trump-Pence-Bannon-Miller-McConnell regime, surely, but not lethal for the first time. Study North American and U.S. history with clear eyes: it’s a record loaded with vicious white-nationalist exterminist and lethal Americanism. 

China & Indo-Pacific (ASEAN, India, Japan, Korea, and Oceania)

  • China now strong enough for a surprise move in the Indo-Pacific (Defense News)

    “America’s military primacy in the Indo-Pacific is over and its capacity to maintain a favourable balance of power is increasingly uncertain,” researchers at the University of Sydney’s U.S. Studies Center warn in a new report. “After nearly two decades of costly distraction in the Middle East, the United States is struggling to meet the demands of great power competition with China and faces the uncomfortable truth that its armed forces are ill-prepared to succeed.”

    In its report, analysts also lament the “combined effect of ongoing wars in the Middle East, budget austerity, underinvestment in advanced military capabilities and the scale of America’s liberal order-building agenda has left the US armed forces ill-prepared for great power competition in the Indo-Pacific."

  • China's version of GPS now has more satellites than US original (Nikkei)

    China's BeiDou satellite positioning system has overtaken its U.S. rival GPS in size, a shift with potentially huge implications for both high-tech industry and national security.

  • Party Man: Xi Jinping’s Quest to Dominate China (Foreign Affairs)

    There has been much handwringing in the West in recent years about how so many got China, and Xi, so wrong. Foreign analysts have habitually confused Western beliefs about how China should reform with the party’s convictions about how to govern the country. But as misguided as many foreigners might have been, even Xi’s colleagues don’t appear to have known what they were getting when, in 2007, they tapped him to take over from Hu in five years’ time.

    Xi has always been a true believer in the party’s right to rule China. For him, the centrality of the party, of Mao, and of the communist canon are all of a piece. To deny one part of the CCP’s history is to deny all of it. In Xi’s eyes, a Chinese leader must be above all Red, meaning loyal to the Communist Party, its leader, and its ideological roots, in good times and bad.

    By the time he took office, Xi seemed possessed by a deep fear that the pillars of party rule—the military, the state-owned enterprises, the security apparatus, and the propaganda machine—were corrupt and crumbling. So he set out on a rescue mission. He would be the Reddest leader of his generation. And he expected all party members to follow in his footsteps, or else.

    There was no sense in 2007 that party leaders had deliberately chosen a new strongman to whip the country into shape. The compromise candidate would turn out to be a most uncompromising leader.

  • South Korea holds the key to the Indo-Pacific (The Hill)

    South Korea would bring legitimacy and credibility as a fairly independent foreign policy actor. Despite its alliance with the U.S., South Korea will not simply provide support for any U.S. policy out of habit. Its support for “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” therefore, would add much-needed gravitas to the initiative. Also, a middle or pivotal power such as South Korea can be an asset to superpowers seeking to garner the support of third countries behind their initiatives — a degree of multilateralism. This explains why Beijing sought the support of Seoul for BRI or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. 

    The failure to internationalize the concept of FOIP where it matters — in East Asia — further reinforces the need to get South Korea on board.

Europe & Central Asia (EU, Russia, Turkey, and the UK)

  • Evidence is building that China and Russia’s long-haul passenger plane won’t arrive on time (CNBC)

    Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) are building the CR929, a long-range, 250-320-seat, wide-body plane powered by two engines. The joint venture, headquartered in Shanghai, operates under the name CRAIC.

    The CR929 is aimed at winning a slice of the growing aviation pie and is particularly focused on the long-range routes currently dominated by Boeing’s 787 and the Airbus A350.

    The firms jointly unveiled a full-size model of the plane at the November 2018 Zhuhai Airshow in China where COMAC maintained that a first customer delivery should happen by 2025. That date now looks in doubt after UAC said in June this year that while it had received its first preliminary orders, the first finished plane may now not appear until 2027.

  • Germany likely to head into recession, central bank warns (The Guardian)

    The Bundesbank said a downturn in orders for cars and industrial equipment in the second quarter of the year was likely to continue in the third quarter, leaving the economy on the brink of a technical recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. The bank, blaming a drop in exports, said Brexit and the trade war between the US and China were among the factors responsible for a 0.1% drop in GDP.

  • Italian PM Giuseppe Conte resigns, sending Rome into tailspin (EuroNews)

    "Salvini's decision [to call time on the coalition] is serious, it has relevant consequences for the economic and social life of the country," Conte said in the Senate on Tuesday. "He has shown that he is seeking personal interest and party's interest (above the nation's one). When a political force pursues electoral convenience only, it compromises national interest. Salvini's choices reveal a lack of institutional sensitivity and a serious lack of institutional culture."

  • Ukraine, Moldova plan to create capacity for Romanian gas imports (Reuters)

    Ukraine, preparing for a possible cut in Russian gas supplies, has agreed with neighbouring Moldova to modernise their border gas metering stations so it can receive gas from Romania.

    More than a third of Russia’s gas exports to the European Union cross Ukraine. In winter Ukraine traditionally uses some of the gas pumped by Russia to European consumers for its own needs and compensates for this by deliveries from Ukrainian gas storage located in the west of the country.

Global South (Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East)

  • Brazil threatens EU-Mercosur trade deal (New York Post)

    Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, a federal agency, reported a double-digit increase in deforestation in the Amazon region in the last quarter of 2018. Citing Brazil’s apparent lack of commitment to fighting deforestation, German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze decided to freeze about 35 million euros ($39.6 million) earmarked for sustainability projects in the country’s forests. Days later, Norway also suspended its participation to the Amazon Fund, a donation-based project that fights deforestation in the vast rainforest, adding another $33 million to the tab of frozen funding. Norway has donated $1.2 billion since the fund’s creation in 2008.

    Reacting to the news, Bolsonaro said Brazil did not need foreign help and advised Norway to “take the money” and help Chancellor Angela Merkel “reforest Germany.” State governors in the Amazon, however, have come out against Bolsonaro’s statements, stressing the importance of foreign aid in the region.

    Germany and France are also weighing using the ratification of a trade deal between the European Union and Mercosur countries to pressure Brazil into complying with its environmental pledges within the Paris Climate Agreement.

  • Despite free trade area, ‘United States of Africa’ still a dream (The South African)

    First espoused by Jamaican-born political activist Marcus Garvey in the early years of the 20th century, the concept of a United States of Africa had an enthusiastic champion in former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who pushed for an African unity government for years, with a single military force, currency and passport.

    Gaddafi argued a union was the only way the continent would progress without Western interference. But he found little support from fellow African leaders, who felt it was not practical and were reluctant to yield sovereignty.

    The concept died a natural death after Gaddafi’s assassination in a bloody 2011 uprising despite efforts to revive it by former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, who was himself forced to step down in 2017 by the military.

  • ISIS is biding its time in Afghanistan (Task & Purpose)

    According to the the Defense Department's June 2019 report to Congress on the security and stability situation in Afghanistan, ISIS-K — the terror group's Afghan offshoot that first appeared in the country in 2014— made significant "territorial gains" in the country's eastern provinces between December 2018 and May 2019.

    More importantly, ISIS forces continue to "evade, counter, and resist sustained [counterterrorism] pressure" from not just U.S. troops but the Afghan security forces who have proven increasingly ill-equipped to ensure security and stability across the country.

Modern Thought

  • Democracies in Danger (Project Syndicate)

    The personalization of power replaces formal and fair processes with discretionary decisions and favors. It erodes the democratic principle that all citizens – including the head of state – are subject to the rule of law, and that politicians exercise delegated power, not a personal fiat.

    Many voters have expressed outrage at the actions of Modi, Johnson, and Trump. But many other democracies are in trouble, too. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro all stand accused of unconstitutional behavior. Nonetheless, each man continues to fan divisions, weaken independent institutions, and ignore open conflicts of interest, in many cases involving family members.

    Shaming such leaders is unlikely to change their ways. They are all practiced in blithely dismissing mistakes and shrugging off incendiary past statements, conflicts of interest, corruption allegations, lying and deception, and improper dealings.

  • Make America Existentialist Again (Foreign Policy)

    While existentialism is no longer the rage it was in the immediate postwar era, it is neither a historical curiosity nor a philosophical afterthought. Just as existentialist thinkers wrote in response to the unprecedented events of the 1930s and 1940s—the rise of totalitarian states in Central and Eastern Europe, the burgeoning of illiberal movements in Western Europe, the proliferation of state propaganda, and the building of concentration and death camps—their writings might help us make moral sense of similar trends in our own post-truth and post-fact era. What drove Camus to write The Myth of Sisyphus is what should drive us today: the absurd condition that results from the clash between our demand for reason and the world’s indifference to this demand.

    Needless to say, the distance is great between the situation of France between 1940 and 1944 and the situation today of the United States, or any other Western democracy, with the rise of populist movements and illiberal governments. But while, with apologies to George Santayana, history by its very nature never repeats itself, it does tend to stutter. No less obviously, an American does not need an advanced degree in phenomenology to grasp the human cost exacted by the domestic and foreign policies pursued by President Donald Trump’s administration. But existentialism reminds us of our responsibility toward not just those lives, but our own life as well—at least, that is, if we want to believe that absurdity is a description, but not our fate.

  • What the Seas Will Swallow (Hakai Magazine)

    In North America, the Atlantic coast is at greatest risk from higher seas. A substantial fraction of the shoreline slopes gently to the ocean with relatively few protective bluffs. And the region has hundreds of kilometers of low-lying sandbar-like barrier islands, some densely developed. Both the US East and Gulf Coasts endure storm surges from perennial hurricanes.

    During his flights between Maine and Florida, MacLean noticed something he hadn’t given much thought to before: thousands of industrial sites and vast amounts of critical infrastructure perched perilously close to the water’s edge, not far above the current high water level.

  • Why ancient poems of Sappho are more stimulating than pornography (Aeon)

    Most of us have become accustomed to thinking of sex as something purely physical, an act limited to the temporal confines of coitus itself. Modern pornography perpetuates this through its prioritising of close-up action shots and hectic montages over narrative continuity. Eros, by contrast, is best approached through anticipation, memory and storytelling. In Sappho’s hands, we might say that poetry itself becomes an erotic technology, a unique time-machine, capable of stretching and containing the experiences of desire and climax into a unified artistic object.

Random (interesting) links!