Tag Archives: Empire

Putin Dreaming

A while ago I hazarded a prediction on the future of ISIS — one based solely on telling a story. It was from a mind adept at predicting plot-lines and surprises in stories. (Here) Today I will venture again into the world of predicting the future. Or, at the very least, the future that I believe with almost certainty figures in the daydreams of one Vladimir Putin.

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The daydream starts with the Kurds. See, the Kurds have always been somewhat close to Russia since Turkey was NATO and the Kurds and the Turks don’t get along (to say the least). Russia has certainly supported Kurdish separatists ( or terrorists, depending on who you ask) In fact, I would say that Putin already veiws the Kurds as a trump card to be played against Turkey.  I believe that the imminence of a Turkish intervention in northern Syria to ‘establish a safe zone’ but in reality to eliminate a budding Kurdish state on the Turkish border was the real cause of the recent Russian intervention in Syria. With the Russians running around and particularly bombing northern Syria, how would the Turkish army move in? Today, that would almost certainly involve going to war against Russia.

Since there are no ethnic Russians in Turkey, I have seen it assumed that Putin could not pull off in Turkey what he did in Ukraine. But, there are somewhere around 10 million Kurds in Tukey. Putin could put advisers in Syrian Kurdistan and send in Kurds. I think, under this hypothesis, that Ukraine (while part necessity from Putin’s point of view) was also a dress rehearsal for Putin’s plan for Turkey.

So Putin (who has probably long dreamed the daydream that I will get to) wakes up one day and realizes that it might (oh so infinitesimally small odds) be possible. (Due in some large degree to Erdogan.) The daydream requires a knockdown dragged out Turkish civil war. So Putin dreams thus:

The Syrian civil war and the Turkish unrest whirl together. The Turkish border (in the Kurdish regions at least) is currently well secured. But in the event of even a large scale uprising, the border would become more porous. Putin continues to dream. He dreams of massive civil unrest. The different pieces of the Turkish state finally tears themselves apart. The Kurds are only one piece of a messy puzzle. The Alevi are considered Heterodox and Shia. There are roughly as many of them as there are Kurds. They certainly know what happened to the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek Christians in Turkey. There are the strict, zealous Sunni Turks and there are fairly Westernized almost European Turks… No country is even remotely as monolithic as it seems from across the sea. So Putin dreams of a civil war in Turkey like that on Syria. A mess with no on in charge. (And you would have to be very sheltered to think that Putin would not happily assist Turkey down this road of self destruction.)

And then, for two reasons, one altruistic and one practical, he would intervene. Both reasons are such that the international community would have a hard time condemning,.the Russians seize the Bosporus and the strait of Dardanelles. The practical reason is to protect international commerce and Russian military and civilian access to the Mediterranean.

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Does anyone know what is right by the Bosporus?

That’s right… Istanbul… also known at one point as Constantinople. What is there? That is where Putin’s dream lives. The Patriarchate is there, also the Hagia Sophia is there. (The Hagia Sophia is the oldest Cathedral in Christendom, and it is currently owned by the Turks. ) Why, someone must protect the few Christians left in Turkey… Someone must be a shield to the Patriarchate. If that someone liberated the patriarchate from the Turks….

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And so, Putin dreams on. He dreams of Charlemagne. The one who liberates the Patriarchate (so long as they at least pretend to Orthodoxy)  could be crowned Emperor. Not just any Emperor, but Roman Emperor — something the Russians have always been keen on. And Putin would be crowned in a renovated Hagia Sophia which would again become the seat of the Patriarchate.

Oddly enough, the world might be better off with an Emperor. Less pretense all around (since the Russians already basically are an empire, as are the Chinese, and Iran…)  It would be ironic, or poetic depending on how you look at it if this had the result I would write into a novel. I suspect that having an Orthodox emperor, and a free Patriarchate of Constantinople would breathe fresh life back into the some of the very countries whose souls were slaughtered by the Soviets (Bulgaria springs to mind).

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What would Putin do if he had this in mind? What would have to happen in a novel to make this even slightly believable?

  1. Prop up the Kurds
  2. Get Assad (or at least the Alawites… Assad is technically disposable) on the same page as the Kurds
  3. Generally provoke the Turks 
  4. Giggle about Erdogan 
  5. Start making noises about the Hagia Sophia (To signal to the Patriarchate that he was looking out for them)
  6. Set international precedent that seizing territory to protect military assets is something that everyone just complains about (no one actually does anything).
  7. Establish Russian presence  in the Alawite region of Syria (soon to be part of the Empire)… and invite all the oppressed Christian and Shia communities to relocate to there… that practically makes him a good guy
  8. Get seen in churches a lot
  9. ?

Well, that’s all for now… What does a powerful man dream of? More power and more prestige… maybe more on the topic later… such as Putin the intelligent and cautious… 🙂

 

The Looking Glass

Let’s take a look at the world, and its ‘recent’ history.  It is a history of European aggression: of armies from a powerful continent raping and pillaging lands and peoples in pursuit of ever more power and wealth. In the modern world, this cadre of ‘western’ countries monopolizes the weath, inflicts its morality and worldview on everyone else and uses force to get what it wants from oppressed and beaten down third world countries. These westerners pollute and waste the world they tyrannize, all while poor people in Bangladeshi die in workplace accidents and Arabs in Egypt starve. It is all from the injustice of the west dominating everyone else, like petty emperors.

That, at least, is the worldview that is implicitly and explicitly taught in schools and texts and believed by many people running the country today.  However, let’s go through the looking glass and try to see this recent history through other, alien eyes. Let’s follow the little white rabbit of demographics first. I saw this the other day. Not sure exactly if it is true, but China (1,349,585,838 people), India (1,220,800,359 people), Indonesia (251,160,124 people) Bangladesh (163,654,860) are all inside the highlighted circle as are Japan, the Philippines and probably Pakistan too. (Numbers are from CIA world factbook)

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I think the people who had posted that (wherever I saw it I don’t know… it just shows up in places.) Were making an argument that other places should be less important. Why, for instance, does Canada have more ‘importance’ than Laos? Surely it must be the bigotry and xenophobia of the ruling western cadre. However, the looking glass looks back at us, and everything is flipped around and we must be left to wonder why most of the world’s population lives in a dirt poor country without much influence outside its own borders? North Korea has to threaten nuclear war to get attention, whereas Canada probably would only have to politely clear its throat. The answer of the bigotry of western countries is a hollow answer, since that would imply countries cooperating in their own marginalization.

Aha! You say, aha, the West has dominated them and forced them into cooperating with military power. The looking glass looks at you, and the real question comes up. If they are forced to comply with western bigotry, the question is: How? This population disparity is not new.

Think back to  ancient history. This is the Roman Empire.

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What you may not realize is that what is today France, Spain, and England were the frontier of the Empire. The cities and the wealth were all Rome and east, which is why the capitol was moved to Constantinople, and probably part of the reason why the eastern empire lived on longer than the western empire.

So we get to the real point, at roughly the time of the fall of Rome (and the emergence of Byzantium in the east) the people that have dominated the world for the last few centuries were tribal barbarians with a thin (oh so thin) veneer of Roman civilization and organization on them. At the same point in time, China in 609 is supposed to have had 46,019,956 people in:

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The Merovingians (Early France) were at about the same time, but I cannot find a population estimate. However their successors (with a double sized empire, 1-200 years later) were supposedly 10-20 million people.

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Basically, for all of recorded history of the peoples that dominated the world from the 17th century through today, the vast majority of people have NOT been these people. As opposed to the Mongols who brought armies larger than most Europeans could imagine these people were relatively few in number, and just ever so little past tribalism. Why, then, did not China dominate the world? Why did not India?

This is where we fall into wonderland, and as Alice, we wander around in stupid amazement. What if the summary of these past centuries actually goes more like this:

The globally disadvantaged minority in terms of population, organization, and land area suddenly, somehow, dominate. Though they fight each other and slaughter each other for very little reason, though their cultural roots only run back a few generations to wild war-cult pagans, though their armies are numbered in tens of thousands whereas Chinese armies were in the hundreds of thousands, they somehow conquered effectively the entire world. They also manage to dominate for hundreds of years.  That would be this:

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Conquering this:

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(Color code and each separate empire cataloged at Wiki)

You may make the argument (and you may have good arguments too) that this conquest of the world was wrong, but you cannot deny that it was spectacularly improbable. By any rubric of population and organization, the maps should be of worldwide empires should have been Chinese and Indian. You also cannot claim with much credibility that only westerners are power hungry enough for world empires. That kind of racism so strange it is funny, as if genetics have anything to do with it.

There is an explanation for this, but you will have to read Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power by Victor Davis Hanson.

He explores this looking-glass world for what unique attributes this rag-tag group of countries had that made this even possible. He explores the western culture by analyzing the western way of war, for his contention is that cultures cannot hide their true natures in battles (and he is a war historian). It is an excellent book.

My short answer is that innovation and liberty and property rights breed cultural power. Whereas despotism and tyrants breed insecurity. An example from Carnage and Culture given by VDH is from the battle of Lepanto. Ali Pasha (the commander of the Ottoman fleet) had almost his entire net personal wealth on board his galley, whereas the Christian leaders fought penniless. Ali Pasha was afraid that the Sultan, in a fit of displeasure,  would take his stuff while he was gone, while the wealthy leaders of the Christian fleet knew that their belongings, their money and property were almsot certainly protected.

Another sign is that in the cases where non-western armies slaughter western ones, the non-westerns loot the weapons from the western bodies. This never seems to happen in reverse. It is like today, China does a vast amount of cyber war and intellectual property theft. We don’t steal their intellectual property or military technology, probably because the only things they have worth stealing, they stole from us. No matter how well educated a population is, no matter how large it is, unless its people are free to innovate, and free to keep and use the fruit of their labor,  un-free societies will always be behind the free ones. In fact, I think it is entirely possible that in an oppressive society a large population is a problem while in a free society, a large population is undoubtedly an asset.

The Postman and America

All of history is like a tangled mess of threads. You read about battles like Balaclava, or about the various intrigues of this or that king’s court, and it all feels rather pointless. It’s a mess of yarn a cat played with. I know all this sound nihilistic and fatalist, but it is often true about history. Sometimes, however, when reading a biography, or an original text or even sometimes a novel, a momentary glimmer appears of order in the chaos, of, perhaps, a plan in the mess: even a Divine plan. It is on those moments when history is transformed in the mind from ‘one damn thing after another’ to something with purpose, a beginning with an end, something whose order is so complex and huge that the mind cannot grasp it. It’s produces historical vertigo, and whenever it happens it is almost too bright for the mind.

Well I will get back to that thought, but about a week ago, our local library had its biannual book sale (last time I got ‘The End of the Affair’) and I bought this time a hardcover of The Postman by David Brin.

I had read it before a long while ago, and remembered really enjoying the story. This time, however, I was deeply impressed by the American-ness of the story.  And there was one moment, with a brief excursion to Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and the nefarious Aaron Burr. The whole book explores really two themes, taking responsibility, and a sort of three way battle between the very strong who wish to dominate, the weak, and the strong who wish to live their lives for little things, like their farm and their friends, and yet go forth when called to fight for big things like Liberty and Justice. In Archetypes it would be a battle between Julius Caesar, the Roman general/farmer Cincinnatus, and common folk.

While the discussions of feminism, flaws with American culture, and the exploration of what would cause a society to tear itself apart are complex (as they should be) and interesting, there was one section that struck me with historical vertigo, a sudden, and temporary feeling of seeing more in the history than is generally seen. The moment is when the hero, the Postman, is being held captive by the Holnists (followers of the fictitious Nathan Holn) who were basically worshipers of the strong. Rule was by the strong, for the strong, and the only rule for advancement in their fledgling barbarism was that your strength determined your status. The specific passage was ‘by’ Nathan Holn.  He discusses about Aaron Burr’s attempt to seize the territory to the west of the 13 colonies and create an empire of the strong. He also talks about how Burr was thwarted by Hamilton, and Franklin and an idea.

The idea was the Order of Cincinnatus and while I dont know how much influence that had, something very different did indeed happen just after America’s revolution. And so, all of a sudden in my mind came how every so often in America the drive of powerful people towards Empire has been a core fight, perhaps the core fight of the American experiment. How, as he says in the book, Aaron Burr and those like him did not envision new states, they wanted little empires of territory to the west. How the Democrats from the antebellum south desperately wanted Cuba to be annexed to be added to their constellation of slave states. How it is entirely possible that the Mexican War was started for just this purpose, that, in the mind of these almost Holnists, the whole western hemisphere south of the Potomac would be a slave empire, and the world north could do as it wished. And again, in my mind came the fact that despite this, the American people, who as yet still have nearly unprecedented power over their leaders, have, through recurring times of quiet courage, incessantly refused empire. If you consider all the territory America could have held and ruled if she had had any stomach for empire: Cuba, all of Mexico, the Philippines,  Japan, Korea, and who knows but half of Europe too… We may joke that some of these places would be better off if we still ran them, but America would have ceased to be what it is, a Giant among giant countries, with almost no appetite for conquest, so little in fact, that when some actual conquest might be necessary we frequently balk.

All this brings me around to something that I think about rather often, just one little observation: the American Revolution is one of the few that really worked. Compare and contrast the American Revolution and the French one just a few years later. Americans are now 236 years into our experiment. The French went through a massive, bloody purge during the Reign of Terror (thank you French Enlightenment) which was part of the 1st Republic, then they had an Empire (Napoléon) , then more Kings (last of the Bourbons), the 2nd Republic, another Napoléon/Empire,  the 3rd Republic, a puppet state Vichy France, and I think they are in the 5th Republic… Not a successful revolution. And I think the difference was that Washington, Franklin, Hamilton won out against the Aaron Burr types. It makes me wonder, if Rome had the same struggles to keep from becoming and Empire, and if we can continue having the Cincinnatus/ Washington /George Powhatan (from The Postman) types beat the Holnists who are ever present in our midst emerging as they do from basic human nature. As Ronald Reagan said “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” I think this is what he was referring to.

To return at the end to The Postman, it is a fun book, sometimes a deep book, and the author clearly loves America, yet sees it ‘warts and all’.