Tag Archives: middle-east

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… 🙂

 

ISIS again

I promise, sometime I will blog more frequently and it will be about something other than ISIS… but for now: read.

Saudi Arabia is not the source of ISIS, it’s the group’s primary target.

ISIS’ core objective is to restore the caliphate (an Islamic empire led by a supreme leader), and because Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of Islam and the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina, ISIS’ road to the caliphate lies through the kingdom and its monarchy. Indeed, ISIS has even launched a campaign against Saudi Arabia, called qadimun, or “we are coming” to take over the country.

Here is a piece discussing what I mentioned many months (I think) ago. I believe that ISIS is run by some men who are at least canny and clever and sly. Perhaps they are brilliant too, but they don’t really need to be brilliant. It doesn’t take a brilliant leader to smash things. We should absolutely be taking ISIS at its word when it says that it is restoring the caliphate. THe article above points out the massive refugee recruiting pool, but not as clearly as Spengler at PJ Media:

There are always lunatics lurking in the crevices of Muslim politics prepared to proclaim a new caliphate; there isn’t always a recruiting pool in the form of nearly 14 million displaced people (11 million Syrians, or half the country’s population, and 2.8 million Iraqis, or a tenth of the country’s population). When I wrote about the region’s refugee disaster at Tablet in July (“Between the Settlers and Unsettlers, the One State Solution is On Our Doorstep“) the going estimate was only 10 million. A new UN study, though, claims that half of Syrians are displaced. Many of them will have nothing to go back to. When people have nothing to lose, they fight to the death and inflict horrors on others.

With this  recruiting tool: the water and food crisis makes these men realize that even if everyone has 10% of the food that one man needs in a day, he only has to kill (or displace) 10 people and take their food…  Its a snowball. And that is what ISIS wants. To be a caliphate, they need Mecca and Medina and money (three M’s). It seems to me that the best strategy to get these three things is to intentionally inflame the Sunni-Shia tension to add nucleating points for the regional chaos. The Saudi’s may be able to stand at their borders and keep ISIS out, but if they are dealing with a Shia insurgency in their east (over their oil fields, see last post) then, maybe, ISIS can come in too. They figure that if the whole region goes up in flames and slaughter, the Saudi’s will fall eventually. Then, they just have to be in the best position to pick up the pieces (Mecca, Medina, and the oil fields). If they keep up winning battles, holding territory and attracting the angry, hungry, and violent young men in the region, they might just manage.

What should we do about it? Well you should go read the Spengler piece. There doesn’t seem to be much that can be done, given the fundamental issues of food, water, population and violent tribal heritage. I’d say start arming the Kurds in earnest, and arm Israel even more (two stable and genuinely friendly societies on the edges of the coming insanity) and don’t pick one set of evil people to support… Playing favorites among a morass of evil and capricious potential allies seems to be insanity. (Like thinking ‘Hey, lets help Assad… he will massacre the ISIS folks if he can…) I’d also add, stand strong with our long time (though not nice at all…) allies the Saudis: mostly because they are sitting on the caliph-maker and have no interest in being caliphs. Its better if they have it than Al-Baghdadi.

A Map to Think About

Someday I may take up blogging more regularly again, but for now here is an interesting map. Bonus points to whoever can guess why I think it is important in the comments.  It is from a site with lots and lots of awesome maps: The Gulf/2000 Project that I came across looking for the information needed to make (poorly) my own version of this map. But they made it, so I don’t have to.

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Zombies

After a long hiatus of vacation, it is time to talk about zombies. I have never really liked zombies for monster stories, there are so many issues, like the fact that something that spreads via biting is perhaps the worst way for a disease to spread. From an author’s point of view, you cant just infect large amounts of people by having unknowingly infected walking through an airport… very convenient for flu pandemic stories, but Zombies… Also there is the problem that as corpses they should decay into static threats very quickly in summer heat. I always say that the way to survive the Zombie apocalypse is to lock the door and let the sun do the work. if everyone did that, there would be no zombie hordes to knock the doors down.

But upon reading this post from Michael Totten (Not even zombies can save the middle east) He is talking about the international griping that Israeli’s are portrayed positively in the movie World War Z, and this line stuck out “Most of the kvetchers are tired and predictable, are they’re over-reacting. World War Z is a popcorn movie. It doesn’t even pretend to be a serious geopolitical film. The novel is complex and brilliant.” that coupled with this piece of information: ‘In the film version, Israel is one of only two countries that survives the initial zombie outbreak. The other is North Korea. Pyongyang pulls out the teeth of the entire population in 24 hours, making it impossible for the virus to spread. But Israel is not a totalitarian police state. The Israelis survive the initial wave intact because they have a clever intelligence tool at their disposal that no other country in the world possesses.’ made me want to read the book. The horribly accurate portrayal of what a totalitarian regime like N. Korea might do in a zombie outbreak made me curious. And the Kindle edition was only ten dollars.

Well, I must say that the book is complex and brilliant. What I found most impressive was the strong feeling of reality, that countries were behaving in a manner consistent with both the individual cultures of the countries and with the commonality of human nature. (What follows might be construed to be mild spoilers… but its a zombie apocalypse story, of you can’t predict 80% of what will happen, you need to pay more attention to what you read. Also, despite the general framework of the zombie apocalypse story being generally as expected, the story is unique, another discussion for another time.)

The outbreak starts in China. Why China, well because this solves the problem of spreading the zombie disease. Also, because it works really well. If the outbreaks had started in Topeka, Kansas, it would have died in Topeka, Kansas. everyone for hundreds of miles is armed, and everyone would know what to shoot on sight like everyone used to know about rabid dogs in short order. However, China is all about fact suppression and secrecy, the government’s power depends on it, an lo, the author uses the truth about the world to further the story. the story is fragmented, but essentially, China had an all out epidemic without anyone really knowing. China even starts a small shooting war to give reasons for its zombie suppression teams reasons for their movements. Also, in the real world, the source of most black market organ for illegal transplants is China… any guesses to a disease spreading mechanism? Also, for a long time in the story, China is undergoing the epidemic and its neighbors are absorbing refugees not knowing anything… So at least some of the zombie spread is reasonable.

Another interesting incident in the story is the result of about 5 million Americans fleeing to Cuba, the infection of freedom that they bring. There is a line that says:

‘Freedom isn’t something you have for the sake of having, you have to want something else first and then want the freedom to fight for it. That was the lesson we learned from the Nortecubanos (the Americans who fled to Cuba). They all had such grand dreams, and they’d lay down their lives for the freedom to make those dreams come true.’

Anyway, the story is also exciting and interesting. It is rather episodic being a ‘compilation’ of ‘interviews’ rather than a linear plot, however the interviews make up a well formed plot, with humankind as the protagonists and zombies and selfishness and chaos as the antagonists. If you enjoy apocalyptic type stories, I think this one plays on the same field as  Alas Babylon and The Postman. I guess I will have to give the movie a try too, and see if it is a decent popcorn film…

SciFi and Demographics (Science)

I have been reading Shadow of the Hegemon recently. (Another library book sale buy.) It has reminded me of a very important rule for writing science fiction that seems often overlooked. This relates back to the idea that fiction should be ‘true’ in many ways like human nature, personalities, how nations respond to things, the causes of war etc. Everything having to do with human nature can be known from a study of history, which leads to books in which people behave convincingly as do countries, armies, leaders etc.

Obviously, Orson Scott Card does not make the amateur mistake of breaking the actual first rule ‘Obey your own rules: make your universe self-consistent’. In Shadow of the Hegemon, however, he does break another rule. (For the Julian Delphiki lovers, this is no indictment of the characters in the story J ) The rule Card breaks is this: ‘If you base your story in the real world, it should be… well… believable. Shadow is sometime in the near-ish future… maybe 100-200 years I guess. Every major country today is still extant in the story, there are no new made up ones… etc. So, when predicting major kinds of conflict likely to be stirred up by Achilles (the villain) and deciding upon which countries will be powerful, the author should at least glance at demographic trends and take that into consideration. Otherwise, one ends up creating a book with a surreal feel where Russia ends up splitting world hegemony with China.

See, the birth rate now matters to the world stage 150 years from now. China and Russia at about 1.5 children/woman leave shrinking and aging populations which are only about 50 years away for China, and I believe already occurring for Russia. To add to the problem, China at least has a deficit of women due to sex-selective abortion and the one child policy.

To forecast into the future is always too simplistic. However, considering that not one nation that has tried to raise its birth rate has yet succeeded, and that virtually every major incident imaginable (Civil war, famine, plague, War war… etc) decreases population faster, it is not unreasonable to guess that every nation with a birth rate under 2.0 (2.1 or so is the ‘replacement rate’) is going to undergo either extinction (breaking up into smaller states, getting absorbed by a larger one, or something of the kind) or massive national instability as immigrants take a large percent of the population. This last effect is only mitigated in America where almost everyone is an immigrant population. (And America’s birth rate is one of the few ‘stable’ ones, right around 2.1)  But in Germany, the German identity is ethnic as well as geographic, the same with Russia, Italy, China… etc. I think it is more unreasonable to assume that China and Russia will have power and influence in 2150 like they do now, than to assume that they will either be non-existent as we know them or preoccupied.

Basically, with trends like this, it seems very strange to set the world up to be dominated by two people groups who basically refuse to repopulate themselves. So this comes back to the most important rule of fiction: your story must tell the truth. This takes different forms in different genres, but the key stays the same. Every major element must ring true with the real world to feel true in the story.

All that said, Shadow of the Hegemon has been fun. However, I have not thought that any of Card’s books set in that universe even begin to compare the first Ender’s Game. Also, for a thorough treatment of demographics and how they affect nations, look at ‘How Civilizations Die: And Why Islam is Dying Too’ by David P. Goldman and ‘America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It’ by Mark Steyn. They mostly deal with the demographics of the Islamic World and the Western World, but the ideas and trends apply elsewhere.