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Early occult roots of the “shithole” notion

Friday, January 12th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a wobbly, entirely speculative history would suggest a source in Johann Georg Gichtel transmitted to our President via Anabaptist, Rosicrucian and allied Hermetic strands ]
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It would be easy to DoubleQuote President Donald Trump‘s shit-awful remark today in terms of his base appreciatiing it:

I’d like to go for broke and show you something far more intriguing: to wit, the earliest western expression of the “shithole” concept, drawn from Johann Georg Gichtel‘s Theosophia Practica (1701):

Note the clear indication of the anal region seen from behind as Satan’s Hell.

This image, with its corresponding face-forward companion, present what is widely acknowledged as the first western equivalent of the eastern chackra system of spiritual presences arranged in a progressive, ascending alignment up the spine:

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I imagine Trump derives his association of “shithole” with that which he despises via the Anabaptist, Rosicrucian, and early upper New York State hermetic strands so ably reported by John L. Brooke in his Bancroft Prize-winning The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844.

Not entirely kidding.

Ecologians, meet the US Army

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — with huge hat-tips to Foreign Policy and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers ]
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From Foreign Policy:

The Only Force That Can Beat Climate Change Is the U.S. Army

America’s military is the only institution that can break the partisan deadlock on the worst threat the nation faces.

The precise extent of human-induced climate change is unclear, but the basic science is unequivocal, as is the danger it poses to the United States. This threat comes from the direct impact of climate change on agricultural production and sea levels but equally importantly from the huge waves of migration that climate change is likely to cause, on a scale that even the world’s richest states and societies will be unable either to prevent or accommodate.

Yet for two out of the past four U.S. administrations, action on this issue has been frozen due to the refusal of a large section of the political establishment and electorate to accept the clear scientific evidence that this threat exists — and the Trump administration has now decided to remove climate change from the list of security threats to the United States under its new National Security Strategy (NSS).

The most urgent and important task facing climate change activists in the United States is to persuade the U.S. national security establishment of the mistakenness of this decisionThe most urgent and important task facing climate change activists in the United States is to persuade the U.S. national security establishment of the mistakenness of this decision. If no serious progress can be made under this administration, then concentrated thought must be dedicated to placing climate change at the heart of the next administration’s NSS and of U.S. security thinking in general.

This is because the most promising avenue to convince conservative American voters and to generate genuinely serious action in the United States against climate change would be to firmly establish the link between global warming and critical issues of national security. The threat should be obvious, but even before Donald Trump took office, the security elites in the United States and other major countries had not yet really integrated it into their thinking. Thus the vast majority of reporting and analysis of security issues in the Persian Gulf relates to classical security threats: the future of the Iran nuclear deal, the geopolitical and religious rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Saudi-led boycott of Qatar, and so on.

Almost unnoticed by security institutions has been a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which states that by the last quarter of this century, climate change is likely to make it impossible for people in the Persian Gulf and South Asia to operate in the open for much of the year due to a combination of extreme heat waves and humidity. South Asia is currently home to the largest concentration of people in the world, many of them engaged in agriculture. If the MIT forecast proves true, what will future historians say about the current security preoccupations of the Gulf and South Asian governments and their Western allies?

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This strikes me as one of the most important posts I’ve read, confronting often military-averse eco-thinkers with the one governmental source that has been eco-concerned at an impressively high level, see this High-level Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

Hm — when they say “high level” they mean something along the lines of “overview from 30,000 feet”, although they get into considerable detail as befits a military with suitable high alitude intelligence capabilities — even metaphorically speaking. OTOH, by “at an impressively high level” I mean “with strong support from an impressive group of general officers”.

Go, Army! Go U.S. Army Corp of Engineers!

Go, eco-warriors and ecologians!

T. Greer on the Geopolitics of Rising India

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Friend of zenpundit.com, T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage had an outstanding post on the implications of Indian power relative to an increasingly aggressive China. It’s one of the better pieces I have read on the topic in some time.

Leveraging Indian Power The Right Way

Now that the affair in Doklam has come to a close, analysts of various stripes are trying to make sense of what happened and what lessons can be learned from the episode. One of the smartest of these write ups was written by Oriana Skylar Mastro and Arzan Tarapore for War on the Rocks. They’ve titled their piece “Countering Chinese Coercion: The Case of Doklam,” and as their title suggests, Dr. Mastro and Mr. Tarapore believe the strategy employed by the Indians in Dolkam can be generalized and should be deployed to defend against Chinese coercion in other domains. They make this case well. I agree with their central arguments, and urge you to read the entire thing without regret.

However, there is one paragraph in their analysis that I take issue with. It is really quite peripheral to their main point, but as it is a concise statement of beliefs widely held, it is a good starting point for this discussion:

Over the longer term, India should be wary of learning the wrong lessons from the crisis. As one of us has recently written, India has long been preoccupied with the threat of Chinese (and Pakistani) aggression on their common land border. The Doklam standoff may be remembered as even more reason for India to pour more resources into defending its land borders, at the expense of building capabilities and influence in the wider Indian Ocean region. That would only play into China’s hands. Renewed Indian concerns about its land borders will only retard its emergence as an assertive and influential regional power. [1]

From the perspective of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and the other redoubts of freedom that string the edges of the Pacific rim, the rise of the Indian republic is a positive good. We should do all we can to aid this rise. Here both the demands of moral duty and the exacting claims of realpolitik align.

I’ve phrased these ideas with more strength and moral clarity than the dry and jargon laden language of professional policy normally allows, but the sentiment expressed hits close to how most D.C. politicos think about the matter. The rightness of a rising India is a bipartisan consensus. Far less thought is given to what shape that rise should take. This is not something we should be neutral on. The contours of India’s rise matter a lot—not only for them, but for us, and ultimately, for all who will inherit the world we will together build. It might seem a bit grandiose to claim that the future of Asian liberty depends on the procurement policies of India’s Ministry of Defence… but this is exactly what I am going to try and convince you of.   

Read the rest here.

Greer gives very pragmatic advice to American policymakers courting India as to reasonable expectations and to the Indian defense establishment as to where Indian defense dollars would give PLA generals the greatest fits. This is sensible as both groups are likely to overreach: America too quickly pressing India for defense commitments it can neither afford nor politically digest and India seeking a naval contest with China for nationalist prestige at the expense of other critical defense needs.

China will build its own cordon sanitaire against itself by the relentless bullying and interference in the internal affairs of all its major neighbors in the Pacific Rim, friendless other than for two rogue state clients, Pakistan and North Korea and impoverished Cambodia. Our job is to assist China’s neighbors, including great powers India and Japan, in accelerating their acquisition of the military capacity to resist Beijing’s coercion; if it is less than an East Asian NATO, that’s fine. What matters is a robust counterbalance that has to be reckoned with in Beijing’s calculus.

Russian Sanctions and Soviet Ghosts

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

A friend asked me to weight in on the response of Russian Prime Minister Medvedev to the signing by President Trump of the Russia sanctions bill passed by Congress.  A translation of Medvedev’s remarks today:

“The US President’s signing of the package of new sanctions against Russia will have a few consequences. First, it ends hopes for improving our relations with the new US administration. Second, it is a declaration of a full-fledged economic war on Russia. Third, the Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way. This changes the power balance in US political circles.

What does it mean for them? The US establishment fully outwitted Trump; the President is not happy about the new sanctions, yet he could not but sign the bill. The issue of new sanctions came about, primarily, as another way to knock Trump down a peg. New steps are to come, and they will ultimately aim to remove him from power. A non-systemic player has to be removed. Meanwhile, the interests of the US business community are all but ignored, with politics chosen over a pragmatic approach. Anti-Russian hysteria has become a key part of both US foreign policy (which has occurred many times) and domestic policy (which is a novelty).

The sanctions regime has been codified and will remain in effect for decades unless a miracle happens. This legislation is going to be harsher than the Jackson-Vanik amendment as it is overarching and cannot be lifted by a special presidential order without Congress’ approval. Thus, relations between Russia and the United States are going to be extremely tense regardless of Congress’ makeup and regardless of who is president. Lengthy arguments in international bodies and courts are ahead, as well as rising international tensions and refusal to settle major international issues.

What does it mean for us? We will steadily continue our work on developing the economy and social sector, take efforts to substitute imports, and solve major national tasks, relying mostly on ourselves. We have learned to do so in the past few years, in conditions of almost closed financial markets as well as foreign investors’ and creditors’ fear of investing in Russia upon penalty of sanctions against third parties and countries. To some extent, this has even been to our advantage, although sanctions are meaningless overall. We will cope.”

My short take on this is that we are all watching a gambler or manipulator (President Putin not Medvedev) who has overplayed his hand and is now flailing about, trying to stir the pot a little, because they don’t have a follow up play.

Longer take: I find the reference to Jackson-Vanik extremely interesting. Far more than the crude effort to push Trump’s buttons or the lack of understanding on how our constitutional machinery works and agitprop spin.

Most Americans have forgotten Jackson-Vanik and the refusenik issue but Russians of Putin’s generation have not and it means something very different to them than to us. The reference to Jackson-Vanik is aimed less at us than their domestic audience and I find that quite telling. I certainly would not have used it if I were in their shoes. It would be like Xi exclaiming that some action by the US was an “unequal treaty“.

Here’s the significance in my view. During early Détente, the Soviet side had the objective of leveraging better relations with the US to improve the Soviet economy. Brezhnev personally valued this outcome as a way to have both guns and butter. There were Soviet internal political drivers at work too in that Brezhnev was using Detente and the material rewards that would flow from it, to elbow aside Kosygin and Podgorny in the politburo and become the de facto leader of the USSR. And Nixon and Kissinger obliged, having the theory that a combination of trade, aid, American credibility, linkage, arms control, the China card and such could tame the Soviet bear and split the Soviet bloc while easing US problems in Vietnam. So in this time period you had incongruities like the rabidly anti-Communist Bill Casey, then Nixon’s head of the Import-Export Bank, defending credits, loans and various deals with Communist countries in Congressional testimony.

Well, Congressional Democrats led by Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson began putting sticks in the spokes of Nixon’s wheel, culminating in Jackson-Vanik in 1974. The Soviets reacted with rage out of all proportion to the actual value of the US-Soviet trade at the time, protesting this law was a violation of Soviet sovereignty; more to the point, Jackson-Vanik terminated the prospect of any future spigots of American cash that Brezhnev intended to use to increase consumer goods or reform moribund Soviet agriculture. Furthermore, it wounded Soviet prestige by essentially denying the equality between the Superpowers that Brezhnev and company were fairly desperate to trumpet on the world stage.

While there was an effort to sustain Detente through the Ford administration it was winding down and it collapsed entirely under President Carter as Soviet foreign policy became increasingly aggressive and adventurous in the Third World. The Soviets saw Jackson-Vanik as a turning point in relations with America and complained bitterly about the law ever after. In retrospect, you could trace the American pressure that nudged the USSR toward collapse in 1991 back to Jackson-Vanik; and whether Russian nationalists see the law as part of the vast Western conspiracy to destroy the Soviet Union or not ( many would) it is certainly seen as an example of our hostility. These events were part of Vladimir Putin’s formative experience in acquiring his chekist-siloviki worldview when he was a law student already in the KGB recruit track.

So given the vulnerability of the export based, relatively small Russian economy their reaction today strikes me as bluster and empty bravado. They really can’t win a serious economic confrontation with the West ( which these sanctions are not) and they know it. There’s some panicky, sky is falling, undercurrents here. The danger is that Putin’s regime if handled poorly may attempt to compensate, as did Brezhnev’s USSR, with small, foreign adventures. Russia can’t really afford this either – not sustained combat operations over months against a new semi serious conventional opponent, but subversion, terrorism and little green men paramilitaries are cheap

New Article up at Divergent Options

Monday, January 16th, 2017

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

I have a piece up at Divergent Options, a new national security site that aims to provoke thought regarding foreign policy with a concise template that distills the essence of foreign policy problems and provides but does not recommend options. As DO describes it:

What We Do:  In 1,000 words or less, Divergent Options provides unbiased, dispassionate, candid articles that describe a national security situation, present multiple options to address the situation, and articulate the risk and gain of each option.  Please note that while we assess a national security situation and provide options, we never recommend a specific option.

Who We Communicate To:  Our intended audience is National Security Practitioners worldwide.  We keep our articles short and to the point because we know that Practitioners have a limited amount of time and are likely reading our content on a digital device during a commute, a lunch break, or in-between meetings

My post is an effort to reconnect Syrian policy, widely regarded as a disaster by most foreign policy pundits, back to a coherent grand strategy.

Syria Options: U.S. Grand Strategy 

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Background:  Aleppo has fallen and with it the last shreds of credibility of President Obama’s policy on Syria.  None of Obama’s policy goals for Syria since the Arab Spring revolt were achieved.  In Syria, the Assad regime has crushed western-backed opposition fighters with direct Russian and Iranian military ground support; the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still controls swaths of Syrian territory[1] and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally Turkey has conspired with Iran and Russia to exclude the U.S. and UN[2] from Syrian settlement talks.

Significance:  While Syria itself is of little strategic value to the U.S. beyond secondary implications for Israeli security, the utter failure of the Obama administration has brought U.S. diplomatic prestige to a nadir reminiscent of the Iranian hostage crisis or the fall of Saigon.  Worse, defeat in Syria occurred in a broader context of successful Russian aggression in Ukraine, uncontested Russian meddling in an U.S. presidential election, and perceptions of U.S. strategic concessions to Tehran in the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA[3]).  Should the next administration want to accomplish more than Obama, it is vital that they  1) address Syria within the context of increased Russian-U.S. competition and 2) seize the initiative in restoring the influence of U.S. leadership with substantive and symbolic policy changes in regard to Syria and Russia.

Read the rest here.


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