T Nation

Geopolitical Catch-all

We’ll the post-WW1 drawing of imaginary borders did mess up a lot, creating sunni states with a sizeable shia minority and vice versa - Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. And the Kurds into the mix - the largest ethnic group in the world without a nation state and you’ve created quite a mess, creating additional friction points between sunnis and shias.

Yes, literal interpretation of Quran is the problem. People in the West tend to dismiss this point because literally no one takes the Bible word-for-word immutable. Sure, some profess their belief in, I don’t know, every single word in the Old Testament but they’re not actually backing that up with actions - otherwise we would have slaves and stoning of adulteresses.

In the West it’s broadly acceptable for members of society to hold very specific wildly divergent doctrinal viewpoints and still be able to function inside the society. Sides may clash on doctrinal issues such as abortion, gay rights and exchange angry posts on Facebook but, extreme cases aside (McVeigh), they’re not actively trying to violently bring down the present system of government but to influence it from within through the democratic process.

So Westerners deep down believe, that like Christians, salafi islamists do not actually mean all that about sex slaves, division of plunder and the need to submit infidels to the will of Allah. That’s it’s just a method for adressing their specific grievances such as “islamophobia”, advancing their political agenda and what not.

Bad news - they actually mean it. I don’t know if you’ve read the Quran and the Hadiths but one things that immediately stands out is how weirdly specific they are. No ambiguous theological thought, just submit to the will of Allah and do so and so, in great detail. It’s a “how to” guide for desert tribesmen - prohibition of alcohol was the competitive advantage in battle in times when literally everybody was drunk all the time and personal hygiene requirements were designed to address disease outbreaks during military campaigns.

And here we come to the root of the problem - a bunch of backward warring desert tribesmen who lived virtually ignored for hundreds of years became awash with oil money. Like I said in my previous post, Saudi Arabia without the oil would have been Yemen - one of the poorest countries in the world.

It’s no surprise that the literal interpretation of Islam survived in three distinct places - what is today Saudi Arabia, Sudan and with Pashtuns in Afghanistan. All of these places were isolated and dirt poor. And then, one of them (later Sudan as well) struck rich.

It’s difficult to emphasize how backward the Arabian peninsula was. Ottomans, who nominally controlled the entire peninsula, controlled the coastline, Mecca and Medina and at the end of the 19th century built the railway from Aden to Palestine, never bothered to venture deeper inland. Why? Nothing else but sand, the occasional camel and a bunch of unhinged fanatics better left to their own devices.

So suddenly these unhinged fanatics started raking in billions of oil money and immediately set on taking over the sunni world with their literal version of islam. Don’t forget that 60 years ago socialism was the next big thing in the Arab world, slowly supplanted by the Saudi virulent strain of islam.

And slowly, Saudi funded mosques started spreading throughout the muslim world, from Pakistan to Europe, spewing hate. One of the bizarre side effects of this is that today, based on several studies, Pakistanis living the UK exhibit the strongest antisemitic attitudes, despite practically never been in contact with the Jews in history.

So to address this cancer-like spread of salafi islam, one has to address the funding from Gulf dictatorships - Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain… Killing ISIS footsoldiers is simply not enough.

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Why do know so much about this?
Hobby? Necessity of working in the culture? Proximity of upbringing?

When you’re sitting in a container on a construction site in Saudi Arabia in the middle of the desert, there are only so many pushups, pullups and bodyweight squats that you can do.

You can’t access much on the internet because everything is deemed “decadent”, your notebook and luggage have been searched upon entering the country for potential “unislamic” material which means literally everything you can think of and occasionally the Religious Police barge in unannounced to check that you’re not celebrating Valentine’s Day (us several guys in a glorified shipping container) so there’s not much else to do but read the Quran.

Fortunately, I’m not in that line of work anymore.

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It’s really quite fascinating though. It’s a completely different world. Thank you for sharing.

It’s also interesting that we in the US deem the Saudis our allies even though they’re sponsoring much of the terrorism around the world.
You already explained our reasons for doing so, it’s just…silly lol.
So what do you think of Obama’s ME policy vs that of G W Bush and Clinton’s?
Do you think the multiple proxy wars in Afghanistan made a difference on how they perceive “The West” and Russia?

Well, that’s the paradox, a legacy of the “containment of communism” dating back all the way to Eisenhower, despite the facts the Saudi always played their own game.

It’s frankly amazing how the Saudi 9/11 connection was quickly brushed aside - most of the hijackers were Saudis, bin Laden was a Saudi (and a member of one of the most prominent families in the Kingdom) and the declassified part of the 9/11 report shows that the hijackers were in regular contact with Saudi consular officials, received wire transfers and that some high ranking embassy officials with their families abruptly left the US just days before the attack.

Instead, the US focused on invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, costing untold billions of dollars and deaths of several thousand of US servicemen not to mention civilians without addressing the root of the problem. So the US was(is) waging an undeclared war against their ally, whom they continue to lavishly shower with arms sales.

At the end, bin Laden was found to be hiding in a Pakistani military town, another “US ally” that sponsors terrorism.

The same whitewashing of Saudi responsibility occurred with the San Bernardino shooting - just an offhanded comment that the terrorists were “radicalized in Saudi Arabia” and not much else, no follow up.

I know that everyone mentions AIPAC and the Israeli lobby, but Saudis have one of the most formidable lobbies in Washington:

When a Western politician loses patience and finally dares to speak up (UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson) or offer even a meek critique like Obama, the Saudi PR switches into full battle mode and usually a grovelling Western apology follows, or in Obama’s case, further arms sales.

I remember several years back when FOX news was whipping up outrage over the Ground Zero Mosque and Sean Hannity questioning the shady charitable foundation behind it wondering “what is the role of Iran in all of this” (actually, Iranian mullahs would rather commit collective suicide than finance a takfir mosque) and mentioning the mastermind behind the Mosque as “that guy”. The reason he didn’t name “that guy” is that he’s Al-Waleed bin Talal, a minority shareholder in FOX’s parent company.

Another aspect is how the US manages to reconcile it’s support of Israel with the Saudi alliance. Grand mufti of Medina (highest cleric in Saudi Arabia) regularly calls to jihad and calls for the extermination of shias, Christians and Jews. They even call out Iranian mullahs for allowing several thousand Jews to live in Iran and not killing them. That doesn’t stop US oil executives from being all chummy with the Saudi government, despite their professed Christianity.

One cannot emphasize how backward Saudi Arabia is, despite billions and billion from oil sales. The late Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia plainly stated that for him only two things matter “Islamic faith and his ancestral traditions”. This is the mindset that formed ISIS.

Paradoxically, he is considered as a “liberal” by Saudi standards by uttering the controversial phrase “It is permissible for women to read”.

And the US foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia is depressingly constant. I think Obama is a smart guy, who correctly identified the root problem, but like his other foreign policy endeavors, lacked moral courage, willpower and possibly means to fight against entrenched interests and the formidable lobby.

The Saudis and other Gulf dictatorships were quick to adjust and instead of funneling money to the Clinton foundation started lavishly betting on Trump, renting out space in his hotels and facilitating his construction projects in the Kingdom.

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Let me put it this way - Germany accepted over a million overwhelmingly muslim migrants and refugees, fed and housed them and has suffered recently a spate of islamic terrorist attacks.

I know that some circles, especially on the far left, conditioned by Palestinian acts of political activism and terrorism, tend to rationalize these terrorist acts as a “response to invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan”, but that’s bullshit. They recently attacked a Christmas market, which clearly illustrates their priorities.

Muslim brotherhood founder published a vitriolic rant against the US back in the 1950ies, before US started actively supporting Israel, so that pretty much excludes the most common justification.

For salafi islam it’s simple - we are all infidels. Now matter what you do, how accommodating you are, it doesn’t matter. Same thing with US foreign policy and the perception of US.

If the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t happen, there would be some other alleged slight and perceived injustice, whether the Crusades, support for Israel or what not.

It’s amazing how people who cut off hands for minor crimes, behead people for apostasy and owning a Bible suddenly when they come to the West become hypersensitivet to slight and insults.


Definitely experiencing cognitive dissonance right now in reference to my feelings about moslems lol.

While it’s easy to pin the blame on “brown people”, don’t forget that salafi Saudi funded propaganda cuts across racial and ethnic lines and in the West appeals to people on the fringes of society.

One notorious ISIS butcher who killed himself in a suicide attack recently was an Irishman named Kelly. One of the perpetrators of a terrorist attack in Canada was a French-Canadian convert.

In Scandinavia, many bikers affiliated to neonazis converted to islam and have gone to Syria.

In the Middle East, the most obnoxious behavior is exhibited by white European converts who usually actively try to demean women - I guess they have to prove their mettle.

One of the more bizarre stories is the one about the ISIS mole in the German Intelligence Service (BND) - a Spaniard who is a retired gay porn star.

Also, if you look at the profile of attackers in almost all cases they’re young, extremely dumb and unemployable, with a history of petty theft and drug abuse. The Munich attacker spent his time, according to his neighbors, getting high and watching soccer from his sofa.

So to reiterate my point, cut the funding and you’ve made great strides in addressing the problem.

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Well said. If we begin hating all Muslims then the terrorists win. That’s not what we are all about as a people. We are truly inclusive. But at the same time we have to make sure that we are not inclusive to the point where we let in those young, dumb unemployable thieves who use drugs and are likely to try to kill innocent people.

I have a couple of questions about Putin and Crimea, and potentially the Baltics.

Maybe some of you can tell me what I’m missing here. Sincerely trying to understand this, I’ve admitted that I don’t know a lot about it and I’m trying to get up to speed a little this year.

When the Ukraine voted to become independent in 1991, they agreed to give up their nuclear weapons, shipping them to Russia. In exchange, the US (under President Clinton) signed an agreement that we would protect their security since they were agreeing to disarm. As part of the 1994 treaty, the US, Russia, Ukraine, and the UK promised to respect the borders, independence, etc… In effect, we promised to protect their sovereignty, right?

Then Russia invaded Crimea. We imposed sanctions, and gave the Ukraine some supplies, but we did not choose to go to war with Russia, right? They didn’t seem to be very concerned that the US would come after them, and we didn’t.

Let’s say that sometime in the next few years Putin decides to do the same thing in the Baltics, as many fear he will do. If we think Trump might look the other way, why has that become this partisan issue where Democrats think their team would handle it better? Didn’t Obama NOT go to war with Russia? If we had made assurances to the Ukraine, we have already not kept our commitments, right? And what is it we SHOULD do if Russia marches into Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania? How should our actions differ from what Obama did with Crimea? In other words, how will we know if Trump is a success? Is he only a success if Putin doesn’t invade the Baltics? Tagging you, @smh_23, although I’d like to hear from anyone who has an opinion.


This is FAR from being a partisan issue.

Some of Trump’s most vocal critics when it comes to his apparent “coziness”? and willingness to compromise with Putin comes from Republicans.

That’s true, Mufasa. It seems clear that Russia hacked DNC documents to influence our election, and we still don’t know a lot about what business dealings Trump and his staff may have with Russia. A lot of people on both sides, and in the international community are concerned.

Ok. Hillary Clinton was no longer Secretary of State in 2014, when Putin invaded the Crimea. It seems that people think she’d have been more hawkish against Putin then? Or is it just that we think it’s less likely that Putin (or Russian interests in general) has business dealings with her or the Clinton Foundation, or that there’s less risk of some potential black mail material out there?

Let’s say Putin decides to invade the Baltics in March. How will we know if he’s a success in dealing with Putin? What should he do?

Great topic – and, I think, one that’s going to be more relevant than any of us could’ve dreamed just a year or two ago.

Short quick answers for now (work work work); more engagement later.

The shortest answer is that this has become a partisan issue by virtue of the GOP’s nominating and then supporting a Kremlin stooge for POTUS. Obviously the most appallingly pro-Russian political candidacy in American history will not yield an administration equipped to constrain Russian behavior. A NATO skeptic (more on this in a minute, because it was a true turning point as far as many were concerned) who is soft on sanctions and open to legitimizing Russian revanchism…who will insult any & everyone but cannot bring himself to utter so much as a cross word about Vladimir Putin despite dozens of explicit opportunities to do so…who has repeatedly lied to the American people in order to cover for Russian violations of both international law (Aleppo) and American sovereignty (DNC & Podesta hacks) – it is quite literally impossible to make the case that such a person as this is anything but the worst-equipped candidate in modern history re: US-Russian relations. This is amplified by a factor of N, N being the extent and precise character of Trump’s involvement with everything from Russian money to Russian hookers to the GRU’s subversion of our election. At best he is the weak and willing recipient of illegal and unprecedented Kremlin favor – favor about which he spent the last couple of months lying to the American people in an act of outright and repugnant disloyalty to his country. At worst…well, it could get a lot worse. We shall see.

But re: Ukraine and the Baltics. The latter – and not the former – are NATO member states, and are therefore included among the “Parties” joined together by the principle of collective self-defense generated under article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all[/quote]

Vladimir Putin’s ugly reign has materially coincided with the administrations of two presidents. Under each, he has agitated and then invaded a European country. It is not a coincidence that neither of these countries belonged to NATO. Indeed, as long as the Oval Office is home to a competent & sane & uncompromised C-I-C, Putin understands that he might as well bomb Anchorage if he’d planning on bombing Riga. Thus you have presidents who say, as Obama did, that “the defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London.” Compare and contrast this with Trump’s eh idk about that NATO thing i might not defend the little poor ones lol position during the campaign. This is the most successful alliance in history. It is the foundation of the world order. Whether you’re American or Russian, the math pretty much does itself from there.

Breaking NATO would of course be Putin’s Holy Grail. Invade a member state without triggering a world war – an unrivaled prize attached to an unthinkable risk. Would he have tried it in 2002? No. Would he have tried it in 2015? No. Will he try it if he can squeeze one more Right-populist herrenvolk nutjob – one more Kremlin stooge – into Europe? (I hear Paris is a nice place from which to collaborate with enemy autocrats…)

None of this applied to Ukraine because the Budapest Memorandum is comparatively weak. It is not an international treaty and it lays out no comparable principle of collective defense. I believe it asks that signatories consult or confer in case of an attack, or some such. With global nuclear war looming over every move made by either party, NATO is the operative distinction between touchable and untouchable countries. Note that despite the enormous body of confused and obscurantist nonsense written about Ukraine, no sane observer – not one – actually called for war, or expected Obama to. This would not have been the case if Putin had chosen to send his plainclothes paramilitaries into Munich rather than Crimea. Whether or not this conversation (or any) would be happening at all under such a scenario: this is a question the mere existence of which ought to be considered good and hard by anyone who has forgotten what is at stake in politics.

A closing note about the sanctions imposed on Russia after its illegal war in Ukraine: despite the feverishly unhinged Right-wing fan-fiction that passes for commentary on the post-9/11 world, these rounds of sanctions represent the first time the Russian Federation has been punished for a violation of the territorial sovereignty of one of its neighbors; most Americans don’t understand them and couldn’t speak in detail about them for more than four of five seconds (this is not an exaggeration); in the tangled-up world we’ve created, consequential sanctions regimes necessarily entail losses for the good guys, and it is thus not a remotely simple ask to get Europe on board in a meaningful way; the Russian economy was hurt deeply by these measures (just look at what Putin risked in 2016 to try to get them lifted) at a time when it was already weak…a monetary crisis & recession ensued; Putin knows that even if he were to spend the rest of his days as Russia’s chief kleptocrat staying assiduously away from NATO powers, he could not harass many more non-NATO states without taking the kinds of increasingly consequential economic blows that would endanger his own political career (and, given the exigencies of regime change in a securocracy, his life). Or he did know that, until about two months ago…

How’s that for short quick answers???

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I think Clinton was a well-known interventionist but I think Obama was not interested in starting any sort of war and thus, the same outcome would have taken place imo.
I do believe she would have been more opposed to Putin vs. Trump’s ambiguous relationship with him.

His and his cabinet’s possible conflicts of interest and his desire to defend Putin creates skepticism and worry in many people for good reason. Russia has always been the enemy of our enemy, and thus our friend, but certainly does not want to further Western influence or interests.

People such as Tillerson are saying “oh they can be our friend sometimes” but their leader is an Autocratic former KGB officer that kills his opposition…I don’t know how you could trust him. Is Trump playing him by pretending to be friendly? I hope so, but his past is showing otherwise such as this video from 2013.

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To be clear – nobody, including Putin, is interested in starting any sort of war. There are some nutjobs in the Kremlin (as there were some in the Pentagon in the past) who flirt with the nightmare scenario, but in terms of actual behavior, even the riskiest & most irrational actors have understood that the game ends once the keys turn, and the keys are terrifyingly likely to turn not long after the first bullets fly.

Yep yep yep. The lies about Russian financial relationships alone are enough to trigger immense suspicion. This is a guy who praised the state-murder campaign against addicts in Manila. He openly praises Putin, so it’s not like he’s worried about appearing soft on the Kremlin in public. So why would he suddenly get all shy about Russian money? The answer is forthcoming.

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The situation in Ukraine is far more complicated than the US news media seems to want it to be. In 2014, the democratically elected government of Ukraine was violently removed from power and a new government was put in place by force of arms. There is significant evidence that this uprising was supported by foreign actors, possibly US or European.

The supporters of that democratically elected government were and are geographically concentrated in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, while the uprising had support in the west, including Kiev.

Russian forces moved to help the supporters of the ousted government in Donbass and Crimea. As the government they had elected had been forcefully overthrown by forces from other regions, the people of Donbass and Crimea no longer felt allegiance to the Kiev government and looked for other options.

Obviously, you can make a lot of judgments about Russia should have done and what it had the right to do. But it’s important to realize:

–Ukraine had no legitimately elected government when Russian forces got involved.
–By treaty Russia already had forces in Crimea due to its fleet being based there.

I don’t suspect that Putin will end up with forces in Tallin or Riga for the simple reason that it would destabilize the region and there is really no upside. Putin got involved in Ukraine and Georgia because they were already a mess and he wanted to clean them up in a way that would be favorable to Russia. There are other countries that could conceivably fall into that mold such as Belarus, Moldova, and Azerbaijan. But none of those countries are in NATO.

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Just to clarify some details. For Russia (Imperial Russia/USSR/Russian Federation) international relationships are a zero-sum game. There’s no win-win scenario. If you’re somehow winning (and winning sometimes meant being able to produce a functioning refrigerator) it means they’re losing.

Any offer of constructive dialogue is considered a weakness by Russian leaders. That’s why two successive “resets” of US-Russia relationship by GWB and Obama respectively failed spectacularly.

And incidentally, that’s why Russians still show a grudging respect for Reagan.

For example, FDR believed “he could do business” with Joseph Stalin at Yalta. Stalin got everything he wanted despite meek protests by Churchill, immediately reneged on his implausible promises on “fair elections in Eastern Europe”. The fact that FDR gave central/eastern Europe to the USSR on a silver platter didn’t prevent the Cold War.

So to recap - giving in to Russian demands - and the current demand is Yalta 2.0 - only produces more geopolitical problems because like a compulsive gambler, Russia perceives every concession as a sign that they didn’t push hard enough.

Giving Kiev, Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn to Putin would only satiate the Russian Bear for an instant, like Yalta did.

The Russian intelligence-oligarchic elite constrained by the declining economy (gone are the days of triple digit oil prices) and the slow disappearance of the newly formed middle class rediscovered the old Russian cure for domestic problems - a deeply held belief that everybody hates Russia and that foreign adventures distract from domestic issues (Russo-Japanese and even WW1 come to mind).

Hence, the Jews (sorry, “international moneyed elites” is the code word) and Americans are to blame for everything, from declining incomes to increased costs of living. Even if a grand bargain with the US was reached, the rampant anti-americanism couldn’t be turned off because who’d be to blame for all the problems?


And just like that, a Trumpist appears spouting the alternate-reality Kremlin line, word for word and lie for lie. Been watching a lot of RT lately?

It’s awfully convenient that these countries “destabilize” as soon as Putin sees favorable way to clean them up…

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Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

Yanukovich wasn’t “violently removed from power”, he was impeached and dismissed by Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, where even some members of his own Party of Regions voted for his removal.

That he shat his pants and fled to Russia on his own accord is another matter.

Also how come Odessa and Kharkov/Harkiv - cities with more that a million Russian speakers each didn’t join the “spontaneous” revolt and formation of the puppet-republics?

Сегодня холодно в Санкт-Петербурге?

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