Seeing through the smoke

The last week has been extraordinary, even by the standards of these extraordinary times. A flurry of Executive Orders from the new President of the United States has thrown the global order into chaos and sparked outrage throughout the world.

But he has only done exactly what he said he would do. There is nothing in the Executive Orders signed so far that was not announced during the Presidential campaign, repeatedly and to loud cheers from his many supporters. The President was lawfully voted in by the people of the United States on the basis of the promises he made to them, and he is now following through on those promises. Frankly, I find this hard to criticise. If his decisions are illiberal, discriminatory and racist, that is because a substantial proportion of the American people are illiberal, discriminatory and racist. The problem is not the President, it is those who elected him.

I do not understand why those who cherish liberal values and human rights convinced themselves that President Trump did not mean what he said. Not to follow through on his promises would have been a major betrayal of those who voted for him. How could anyone possibly respect or trust a President who made promises on the campaign trail that he had no intention of keeping once in office? Honesty, loyalty and trustworthiness are the foundation of civic society. What price "liberal values", if they can only be maintained through bad faith?

There is a distressing tendency in the mainstream press to dismiss the election of an illiberal, discriminatory and racist President as "populism", as if that is somehow different from, and inferior to, democracy. The liberal elites that have been in the ascendant for the last half-century or so cherish a reified concept of "democracy" in which informed people choose their government on the basis of frankly altruistic principles. The good of all, not their own narrow self-interests, determines their choice: and for liberal elites, the "good of all" is self-evidently the open, tolerant, inter-connected world in which they believe. Thus, "democracy" must mean the triumph of liberalism. Anything else is not "democracy", it is something lower, something primitive, even animal. If only we could perfect "democracy", there would never be another fascist government, never be any more despised and ill-treated minorities, never be any more government-sponsored atrocities.  

But populism is democracy. Democracy does not guarantee liberalism, tolerance and respect for human rights. Democracy can elevate both saints and monsters to power. The fact is that the American people democratically elected this President. They voted for illiberalism, intolerance and racism. And not for the first time, either. 

Nor are they the only ones to do so. The global, integrated world order is unravelling fast, as country after country turns to fascist authoritarianism. I choose my words carefully. The Fascists of the past will not return: but the values and beliefs that they espoused live on. For seventy years, they have lain hidden, dormant like a volcano: and like those who live on the slopes of a dormant volcano, we have fooled ourselves that they were extinct. We are now learning how wrong we were. 

Except.....we are not. We are still focusing on the wrong things. The world erupts in outrage over the Executive Order temporarily banning refugees from the United States and imposing additional checks on visitors from certain countries. But this is a smokescreen. The Executive Order was clearly designed to create chaos and confusion. It is entirely malevolent, yes: it peremptorily removes long-established rights of movement and residence from certain minorities, chosen on the basis of an an entirely mythical "threat": it is discriminatory on both racial and religious grounds. It may well turn out to be unlawful under the American Constitution. But its primary purpose is to distract attention from what is really going on. And in that, it has succeeded all too well. 

On the same day as the immigration ban was imposed, the President signed two Memoranda. 
The first changed the composition of the Principals Committee of the National Security Council (though not the Council itself, whose composition is governed by law), removing the Chiefs of Staff and adding the President's Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon.

Bannon's world view makes fascinating reading. He frames America's relationship with the rest of the world as a religious war in which America bears primary responsiblity for marshalling the forces of the Judaeo-Christian West against a growing Muslim threat:
But I strongly believe that whatever the causes of the current drive to the caliphate was — and we can debate them, and people can try to deconstruct them — we have to face a very unpleasant fact. And that unpleasant fact is that there is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global. It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.
It is not hard to work out what US national security policy is likely to look like, if these are the views of the man now driving it. 

In reality Bannon has been driving security policy for some time. The Memorandum merely legitimizes his authority. He had the President's ear from the start. And it is Bannon's world view that underlies the second Presidential Memorandum signed last Friday. That Memorandum requires the Defense Secretary, in conjunction with other members of the Cabinet and advisers, to come up with a plan to defeat Islamic State. The draft plan must be produced within 30 days. 

Also on the day of the immigration ban, the President had a phone call with President Putin of Russia. The Kremlin helpfully summarised the content of their phone call in a press release. This was their discussion of international affairs: 
Mr Putin and Mr Trump had a detailed discussion of pressing international issues, including the fight against terrorism, the situation in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, strategic stability and non-proliferation, the situation with Iran’s nuclear programme, and the Korean Peninsula issue. The discussion also touched upon the main aspects of the Ukrainian crisis. The sides agreed to build up partner cooperation in these and other areas. 
The two leaders emphasised that joining efforts in fighting the main threat – international terrorism – is a top priority. The presidents spoke out for establishing real coordination of actions between Russia and the USA aimed at defeating ISIS and other terrorists groups in Syria.
Russia, remember, was instrumental in the recent destruction of East Aleppo at a huge cost in civilian lives. The Obama administration stood by, wringing its hands, while the city was flattened. That was bad enough. But the Trump administration, it seems, would have joined in the bombing. And will, in future.

The final piece in the puzzle is this Presidential Memorandum signed the day before the immigration ban. It directs the Defense Secretary to conduct a 30-day "readiness review" of the armed forces, and in conjunction with that, produce an amendment to the 2017 fiscal budget for "military readiness". And within 60 days, he is to submit a "plan of action" to rebuild America's armed forces to the level of "readiness" he considers necessary. Of course, rebuilding the armed forces was another of President Trump's campaign promises, so there are no surprises here. But this paragraph should give everyone pause for thought:
Upon transmission of a new National Security Strategy to Congress, the Secretary shall produce a National Defense Strategy (NDS).  The goal of the NDS shall be to give the President and the Secretary maximum strategic flexibility and to determine the force structure necessary to meet requirements.
No-one in their right minds would deny that a new National Security Strategy is desperately needed. But just look who would be driving it. The Chief Strategist now has a key role in national security. It is beyond doubt that Steve Bannon's views will significantly influence the new National Security Strategy.

So America is rearming, in anticipation of a new war in the Middle East. A much larger and wider-ranging war than the previous inadequate and inconclusive incursions in Iraq and Libya, which probably did more harm than good: removing the dictators simply left a void into which Islamic State stepped. The immigration ban on seven Middle Eastern countries should be seen as the precursor to the coming conflict. It is ostensibly "temporary", but then so is a war. And if the National Defense Strategy concludes that those countries pose a sufficiently grave threat to the US to justify military intervention - which to me looks like a racing certainty - then the ban would obviously be made permanent, for reasons of national security. You don't allow immigration, or even casual visitors, from countries you intend to invade.

Nor should we imagine that the coming war would be limited to those countries.The White House has already indicated that more countries could be included in the immigration ban. Personally, I would regard inclusion in the immigration ban as a statement of intent.

But how would such a war play out? After all, Islamic State is hardly your usual tinpot dictatorship. It is not even a coherent country. It is a diffuse network of enclaves in multiple countries, and its terrorist tentacles extend even into developed countries such as Belgium and France.

Clearly, strikes against IS strongholds would incur a terrible civilian price, which is unlikely to be remotely palatable to Western populations. Security is one thing, but genocide is another. And because IS does not hesitate to use civilians as shields, genocide would be necessary. So I hope - I really hope - that those now planning the defeat of IS can find another way.

This interesting piece in the FT might give a clue as to a possible strategy. Islamic State is critically dependent on oil. If Western forces, including Russia, can break IS's grip on the oilfields of Iraq and Libya, it might be possible to starve them out. Thousands would die, of course, but the US could blame IS for their deaths. President Trump's comments about "seizing Iraq's oil" should perhaps be seen in this light, though their acquisitive tone suggests there is another agenda too. After all, he is a businessman: takeovers are his daily bread.

So flatten anywhere in the Middle East where IS has a foothold, seize control of oil production in those countries and hand it over to Western oil companies (starting with Exxon Mobil - Rex Tillerson's appointment is no accident). Russia would need a cut, of course - probably the Caspian oilfields currently belonging to Iran.

The accommodation with Russia might require a larger sacrifice too. President Trump has already said he wants to reform NATO, and President Putin has made no secret of his preference for recovering the territories of the former Soviet Union. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the price for Russia's cooperation with the US would be that NATO withdraws from the former Soviet states, leaving them at Putin's mercy. The Baltic states clearly fear this.

President Trump has also made no secret of his intention to break up the EU: the EU's Guy Verhofstadt sees the President as one of three major threats to the bloc, the others being Islamic State and President Putin. If the EU fails, then Europe could perhaps end up being divided into a Russian zone and an American zone: where the line falls would be decided by a summit, rather than a Cold War. There would be some poetic justice in this: the continual conflicts in the Middle East and much of Africa are themselves to a considerable extent the long-run consequence of the former European powers deciding colonial claims by drawing lines on a map. And like their former colonies, the countries of Europe would pay tribute to their new overlords in the guise of "defence contributions" or "economic contributions". Such is the fate of vassal states.

It would be a mistake to imagine that US aggression would be limited to the Middle East. The White House's website cites North Korea as a serious risk justifying the development of a completely new, state of the art weapons system: it is telling that the President discussed Korea in his call with President Putin. And a few days ago, the White House warned China that it would not allow it to seize "international territory"in the South China Sea. Whether this develops into a full-scale war, or simply a simmering standoff like the Cold War, remains to be seen.

The present turmoil is the prelude to a major redrawing of the global political map and realignment of powers. In the past, such realignments have always involved war, as resurgent tribal interests fight to restore historic territorial claims: even the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was not conflict-free. There is no reason whatsoever to assume that this time is different.

Related reading:

Currency wars and the fall of empires - Pieria
Austerity and the rise of populism
What have we learned from history?
The immigration ban is a headfake and we're all falling for it - Medium

Also read Heather Richardson's Facebook post on the "shock event" and how important it is not to play the game.

Image from CNN.


  1. Careful, you might be doing Kremlinology!


    The above article presents a similar perspective to yours, but argues war would primarily intended to cow people into submission, not about taking oil.

    1. There is one thing everybody seems to agrees on at least: it's a kleptocracy by grabbing power - whether done with supreme intelligent conspiracy or lurching, bumbling incompentence - both with no regard to losers or collateral damage, of course!

  3. Much of the geopolitics here is so wrong. Your description of what happened in East Aleppo is bad.
    I'd urge you to read Patrick Cockburn's latest article in the LRB. He's Britain's foremost expert on ISIS, Al Qaeda and the recent wars in the Middle East - and has written several excellent books on the subject. A couple of quotes:

    The nadir of Western media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Syria has been the reporting of the siege of East Aleppo. the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War.

    There was so much propaganda about the 'siege' of Aleppo, but as soon as the 'rebels' left the media lost ALL interest. That's because it no longer fit their bogus narrative. It was quickly revealed that the white helmets worked closely with Al Qaeda; that 'the rebels' were dominated by Al Qaeda, etc, etc.
    Russia only had to bomb the city because it had been taken over by Al Qaeda. Who were supplied and trained by Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia. With the full knowledge of the US.
    When the Syrian Army and Russians took over they let 'the rebels' go, they restored the water supply the rebels had cut, they re-opened the schools, they supplied healthcare, etc... Of course, none of this made in into the media in Europe or the US.

    In 2016, the saintlike Obama bombed Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Libya. The evil Putin bombed Syria.

    I'd also recommend reading Joshua Landis's interview in Talking Points Memo. He's a scholar who has got Syria right from the start whereas the mainstream media and the lobbyists they rely on have got it wrong from the beginning. He's not anti-American, he just knows his stuff.

    Trump will have a war or two. Obama came to power as an anti-war candidate and had several wars. Clinton would definitely have started wars. She was promising to really push things much further in Syria and then move on to Iran. She is nothing if not a warmonger. Trump's people are mostly anti-Iran so they'll probably do that.
    But presidents can't hold off the war machine anyway. Obama wanted to do that little thing - close Guantanomo. The Pentagon wouldn't let him. And then at the end, when he had his last go at a ceasefire in Syria, the Pentagon deliberately sabotaged it by killing 90 Syrian soldiers. No-one was disciplined for humiliating the Commander-in-Chief.
    These bombings were in Deir Ezzor where a REAL siege is taking place. Right now. These bombs also took out several bridges and were aimed at stopping the Syrian Army from attacking ISIS. The US also used bombs to cut supply lines to the city, which is right now surrounded by ISIS. But the media don't care.

    As for Putin taking back former Soviet states, why hasn't he taken back Georgia? They continue to have free elections and go from pro-US to pro-Russia governments all the time. As did Ukraine. Until the coup that was bought by the US and carried out by neo-nazis. What's really happened in central and eastern Europe is that NATO has constantly expanded eastwards despite the promise to Gorbachev that this wouldn't happen. It has long been known that Russia has said 'ok, enough now' and that the redlines are Georgia and Ukraine. NATO has confirmed though that it still wants them? Why? They have got nothing of value from Ukraine. It is corrupt, bankrupt. They pushed fracking and GMOs and that's all they've got.
    They want these countries because they want to encircle Russia and bring about regime change so that they can run the country like they did under Yeltsin.

    Verhofstadt's ideas of the threats are dissembling. The greatest threat is surely it's economy, the fact that the eurozone is unworkable, the destruction of Greece? No?

    1. I said very little about Syria in this piece, and the little I did say is not contradicted in any way by Patrick Cockburn's work - with which I am very familiar. Nor have I denied that the Obama administration bombed several countries in the Middle East. It did not intervene in East Aleppo. That is the only point of relevance to this piece. The Obama admininstration's scattergun approach was expensive - both fiscally and in human terms - and ineffective. You've interpreted my comments about Trump's plans as critical, but in fact I think there is a strong argument for well-planned and decisive intervention in the Middle East, and I sincerely hope that Trump's "plan to defeat IS" achieves this. That was the point I was making. It seems to have been completely lost on you.

      You express a particular opinion about Putin's ambitions along the border of the former Soviet Union, and about the aims of NATO. Sadly, opinions are not facts. You are entitled to your opinion, and I am entitled to take a different view. Please respect the fact that not everyone agrees with you. I am not anti-Russia, but neither am I blind.

      Verhofstadt is as entitled to his opinion as you. As am I. And no, I don't think the greatest threat to the EU is its economy. If it were, it would have collapsed long ago.

    2. Putin could get most, if not all, of what he wanted by ensuring that former soviet states simply assumed neutrality, and then possibly subsequently using soft power to maintain a sphere of influence. Occupying countries costs a lot of money and energy, simply stopping them from joining NATO costs far less.

      The best way to achieve this would be to act friendly whilst his heighbours were scared out of their wits due to Trump's indifference. Even the very fact that Putin could arrange for hacking could be sufficient to scare the Baltic states.

    3. Yes, 1729torus. I'm not sure how articulate I was but I was suggesting the same thing. Russia does not want to occupy, it just wants NATO to stay out of Ukraine and Georgia. And using soft power is of course the most benign option for every country. It is not nefarious just because our official enemies are doing it, though the hysterical media would present it that way.

      It is interesting that we're always told that Europe must fear coups from Moscow, despite the FACT (easily checkable) that the US carries out regime change and sponsors coups way more than any other country.

      On your last sentence though, it is not a 'fact' that Putin hacked the data that was then given to Wikileaks. The media is doing everything it can to shamelessly push this story but we've seen no evidence. Just the 'opinion' of the notoriously rancid CIA. Many of the best journalists are sceptical, including Stephen Cohen, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, etc.

      And many tech experts, such as Jeffrey Carr, have written that they are also very sceptical of this scenario.

      Even the previous head of the NSA (William Binney) has said it clearly wasn't a hack because if it was, the NSA would know EVERYTHING about it. Obama admitted in his last address that it was a 'leak' not a 'hack'. And that they don't know how the data was taken. The NSA had less confidence (only 'moderate') in this silly report they all put out than the other agencies which is revealing because it's precisely their territory - they would know.

      And as far as the ludicrous Buzzfeed dossier goes, just read Masha Gessen (someone who despises Putin) destroy it's credibility in the NYRB.

  4. I found this article most disturbing. It's well argued, but to me it read as a 'falling over tickle my tummy' homily to this notion of 'democracy'. I'm probably being unfair, but it brought to my mind a book by Neville Shute (he postulated that brighter/more valid people got more than one vote) - the opposite of what Frances is arguing, but although it is the opposite, it seems to me to come from the same school of thought.
    It is a failure of politicians (IMO) to have not convinced the electorate of 'sensible' attitudes, and it is a complete 'cop out' (IMO) to roll over and say 'well, the people voted this or that way'. The fact that 'the popular vote' went 'the wrong way' does NOT mean that the popular vote is valid, or even a mandate.

    As far as the last part of John A's post, I'm quite okay with the conclusion that the eurozone is unworkable - but on neither side can you find any 'democratic' vote either for or against the eurozone, or maybe I've missed something?

    1. The eurozone has the agreement of the majority of citizens within that monetary zone. The problem is more about unrepresentative institutions like the eurogroup...and also the gap between the commercial balance of countries like Germany and others like Greece...But the greatest problem will be the political agenda of the altright in Europe...

  5. The people who voted for Trump see elections as war between the two following groups: those who believe that all men are created equal and those who believe that some men are created unequal. They believe that the first group is a tumor growing in the body politic, and if it is not controlled, or, preferably, excised, society will suffer greatly.

    The media are idiots. Why do you waste time wondering about their failures?

    The American people did not “democratically” elect Trump. No nation on earth is a democracy. You should read “Democracy, A Life,” by Paul Cartledge, and “Beasts and Gods” by Roslyn Fuller. Both are newly published and set the record straight about democracy. Before you declare that America is a democracy, or any other nation for that matter, or that it does things democratically, you should read both these books from cover to cover.

    I don’t see why you bother to “choose your words carefully.” There is no nuance in what is happening. I suppose the German intellectuals “chose their words carefully” in the 20th century, and we know how much difference that made. “The Fascists of the past will not return: but the values and beliefs that they espoused life on.” And those values and beliefs have never stopped shattering and stunting the lives of millions of people all over the world. Those are the words you should be choosing.

    You may have “fooled” yourself that fascists were extinct, but I haven’t. Fascism is part of human nature and human nature does not change.

    “We are now learning how wrong we were” Only now? I am 77 and as long as I can remember the warnings about dangerous men and political theories have been plentiful. We have not been helped by intellectuals who seem to always be above the fray. Pity.

  6. "Russia, remember, was instrumental in the recent destruction of East Aleppo at a huge cost in civilian lives."

    Russian forces assisted the Syrian government and the Syrian Arab Army in the liberation of Eastern Aleppo from the US sponsored jihadists and takfiris that had held the population captive for more than 2 years.

  7. "President Putin has made no secret of his preference for recovering the territories of the former Soviet Union."

    I'm sorry Frances but this is quite silly Western propaganda that flies in the face of the fact of NATO (US) expansionism.

    And that a few puppets in the Baltic states express this 'fear' doesn't make it so. These people's track records speak for themselves. Corrupt little satraps at best. Why would Russia want the Baltic states anyway other than as a buffer against an aggressive West?

    Let's not forget that the Warsaw Pact was formed 6 years after NATO had and the Cold War had been aggressively declared by the Anglo-US elite.

    1. John G's comment was no more poisonous than your own post. Your post contains propaganda (the stuff about Aleppo + the Baltic states) and this is a mirror image.

      Your reply suggests that he is a supporter of Russia, yet there's no evidence of that.
      I'm arguing against some of your statements yet i'm no fan of Putin. I just want detente and recognise that all this propaganda over the last few years has clearly been similar to what we had in the run up to the war in Iraq. It's to soften us up for war.
      When I was growing up it was a truism accepted by everyone that the Cold War was a bad thing and it was great that we had detente and we got past that moment of stupidness.
      It's unbelievable that politicians and the press have been whipping up propaganda against Russia for a couple of years and smart, intelligent people fall for it and think 'yes, we need a new Cold War!'
      I mean, how dumb?!

      When Obama was facing Romney, Romney made some little attempt to play the anti-Russia card against Obama and he was slapped down by the Democrats. For most of his time in office Obama kept good relations with Putin. When it came to Clinton vs Trump the Democrats shamefully tried to make the whole election about Russia. Apparently Clinton's team are furious with Obama for not joining in with the most hysterical McCarthyite stunts they pulled.

      Anyway, Russia clearly is not one of 'the least democratic countries in the world' is it? What a laughable claim.
      Did you know that Lithuanian politicians have recently been saying that Europe should take Kaliningrad from Russia?
      Did you know that they have Neo-Nazi marches in Latvia every year?
      Did you know Neo-Nazis run major parts of the Ukrainian government? Svoboda and Right Sector are Neo Nazi. These groups have murdered Russian Orthodox priests and nuns, journalists. They regularly deface Jewish graveyards. They have resurrected Bandera the war criminal who slaughtered thousands of Jews and Poles as a national hero. Our media whitewashes all of this.
      The US government recently overturned a ban on giving aid to precisely these Nazi groups, to the disgust of many Jewish groups.
      Now the Ukrainian government has started attacking its own citizens again to try to prevent detente.
      Minsk2 was signed by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France yet the Ukrainian govt is refusing to implement it because they are so deeply unpopular and if they do the Neo-Nazis will stage another coup and really take over this time.
      Yet Russia is the 'most corrupt' eh?
      Russia is the problem? What a joke.

      If you look at evidence like a Law Enforcement Officer then you would see how calm Putin is. Remember how people were predicting WW3 after the Russian plane got shot down and the pilots were murdered by 'moderate rebels'? Putin acted like an adult and subsequently built a closer relationship with Turkey. This is how he always reacts, not like a hothead. You can go back and look at many flashpoints for clues. Another one is when the airliner was blown out of the sky with a bomb planted in Egypt. Did he attack Egypt?
      Putin is not going to take the Baltic states. Anyone with any perception can see that. NATO is the aggressive one with troops lined up and down Russia's border. (can you imagine what the US would do with Russian troops along the Mexican border?). It would be madness to invade. Totally out of character.
      Compare this with the way other countries always lash out when they're attacked, such as the US and Israel.
      It's very simple if you look for evidence in things that have actually happened - rather than the propaganda of the mainstream media.

      I listened to a very good podcast recently with Stephen Cohen (of Princeton - an expert on Russia) on the John Batchelor Show. He was talking about detente and how difficult it is going to be to get back from this ridiculous situation the neocons have got us in. It's way more difficult than the Reagan-Gorbachev detente, and very serious.

    2. My post does not contain "propaganda". You are entitled to disagree with what I said, but I don't have to accept such loaded criticism. Withdraw it, please, or be banned from this site.

      Nor do I have to accept your implied accusation that I am trying to whip up a new Cold War. I too lived through the Cold War, and I have no desire whatsoever to see it return. And even less do I want to see a real war. Back off from the unfounded emotional accusations, please. I am as entitled as you to hold and express and opinion, and to be treated with respect even if you disagree with my opinion.

      With respect, you do not seem to know what the Baltic states are. They are members of the EU and users of the Euro. They have their faults, of course, but by and large they are democratic countries. Ukraine is not a Baltic state and I did not mention it in the post.

    3. Actually I'll just not bother to return to this absurd web site. You're no Bill Mitchell, Frances.

    4. "The Baltic states are far less democratic than Russia".

      Complete rubbish.

      The only person posting propaganda on this site is you.

    5. You're a willing victim of British elite propaganda. It is NATO taking over countries in Eastern Europe, not Russia.

      You have no factual basis for any of your bizarre assertions regarding Russian 'ambitions'. None whatsoever.

      Yet you deny the reality of NATO expansion when it is there for all to see.

    6. I provided links supporting everything I said. Unlike you. You have provided no evidence whatsoever for any of your assertions.

      I have never denied that NATO has expanded eastwards. I disagree with your assertions about the reasons for that expansion. Your assertions are merely your opinion, with which I am entitled to disagree. You seem to have a problem with me disagreeing with your opinion. Yet you take to yourself the right not only to disagree with me, but to belittle me and make baseless allegations against me.

      This conversation ends now.

    7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Islamic State was professionally manufactured and supported by intelligence agencies, who cynically use impressionable youths as cannon fodder for exploits indoctrinating those not seduced by mayhem with a perverse corruption of sixth century desert Islam. This is all filmed with professional values and always reaches the world via communications in otherwise devastated conflict zones and cities.

    Meanwhile US satellites which can read your newspapers enable the US to interdict IS oil traffic and columns of white Toyotas at any time. The CIA chose to ship arms and materiel to the region knowing fine well where they would end up.

    ISIS is a cynically created chimera the purpose of which is to Balkanise Syria with the key elements being a Kurdish petro-state (hence the Turkish cod-Islamic Gulenist coup to remove the Nationalist Erdogan), a Mediterranean rump, annexation by Israel of the Golan and who cares who gets the desert?

    In my view, Putin is about Biznis: no more and no less: Corporates plus Tanks. USSR reliably supplied Europe with oil & gas and they reliably paid for it through the Cold War. Supply disruptions came as a result not of nationalism but of US Chicago Boys privatisation/theft and conflicts between strangely-named oil and gas corporates in the hands of oligarchs.

    China is no longer Communist in any meaningful sense - they are State Capitalists - while Iran is a Theoligarchy, where looting by the Ahmadinejad kleptocracy (following the USSR playbook via 'justice shares' & access to state credit) was stymied by US financial sanctions which prevented hard currency flows leaving Iran. ie US financial sanctions were tactically smart and strategically bonkers, while the physical sanctions simply forced Iran to become more resilient through building their own capacity.

    What we are now seeing, in my view, is an inflection point in global markets - a point of Peak Demand/Peak Stuff. As Yamani said the Stone Age did not end for lack of stones and the oil age isn't ending for want of oil but because it is becoming uneconomic (in energy terms) to extract it while the purchasing power is not widely disseminated enough to pay these price levels in any case. Why else are the Saudis IPO'ing Aramco?

    Bottom line is that the more expensive that finite resources such as fossil fuels and accessible fresh water get in $ terms the more profitable it is to save them, and while competition and commodity transactions works for selling resources in an intermediated market economy, co-operation and service provision works for saving them.

    So new calculations are entering into geopolitics and new alliances are possible. I believe that China privately exercised an economic veto over the US in 2007 in Iraq - I called it a Suez Moment. Even if the US could seize and hold the entirety of Middle East oil producing states in the face of well-funded attacks and sabotage (and the history of Iraq suggests not) - I think we will shortly see Russia, Iran, China plus friends forming an overt DEFENSIVE alliance against US military adventurism and resource seizures. I think that the EU will either support such a defensive alliance tacitly or will break up.

    As for Tillerson I have high hopes of this shrewd and decent engineer. ExxonMobil has recently taken an environmentalist onto their board; advocates a carbon tax, and understands that the cheapest oil and gas is oil & gas saved (the Fifth Fuel).

    As I said at the World Energy Congress

    it is only the absence of an energy-as-a-service business model which prevents this.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. John G, your post has been removed because it violated the comments policy of this site. You can find the policy on the About This Blog page.

  11. Sorry to see you have been besieged by Putin bots, a common problem.

    most people who voted in the US election voted for clinton. Those who did vote for trump often would have been unaware of the real far right fascist agenda he embodies.Such a shame needless human suffering will be occasioned by trump and his friend putin.

  12. We are not learning fast enough from our history on this planet.


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