Originally published in RT on July 5, 2016
Almost six years ago, President Putin proposed to Germany 'the creation of a harmonious economic community stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.'
This idea represented an immense trade emporium uniting Russia and the EU, or, in Putin’s words, “a unified continental market with a capacity worth trillions of dollars.”
In a nutshell: Eurasia integration.
Washington panicked. The record shows how Putin’s vision – although extremely seductive to German industrialists – was eventually derailed by Washington’s controlled demolition of Ukraine.
Three years ago, in Kazakhstan and then Indonesia, President Xi Jinping expanded on Putin’s vision, proposing One Belt, One Road (OBOR), a.k.a. the New Silk Roads, enhancing the geoeconomic integration of Asia-Pacific via a vast network of highways, high-speed rail, pipelines, ports and fiber-optic cables.
In a nutshell: an even more ambitious version of Eurasia integration, benefiting two-thirds of the world population, economy and trade. The difference is that it now comes with immense financial muscle backing it up, via a Silk Road Fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the BRICS’s New Development Bank (NDB), and an all-out commercial offensive all across Eurasia, and the official entry of the yuan in the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights; that is, the christening of the yuan as a key currency worth holding by every single emerging market central bank.
At the recent G20 in Huangzhou, President Xi clearly demonstrated how OBOR is absolutely central to the Chinese vision of how globalization should proceed. Beijing is betting that the overwhelming majority of nations across Eurasia would rather invest in, and profit from, a “win-win” economic development project than be bogged down in a lose-lose strategic game between the US and China.
And that, for the Empire of Chaos, is absolute anathema. How to possibly accept that China is winning the 21st century / New Great Game in Eurasia by building the New Silk Roads?
And don't forget the Silk Road in Syria
Few in the West have noticed, as reported by RT, that the G20 was preceded by an Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. Essentially, that was yet another de facto celebration of Eurasia integration, featuring Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.
And that integration plank will soon merge with the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union – which in itself is a sort of Russian New Silk Road.
All these roads lead to total connectivity. Take for instance cargo trains that are now regularly linking Guangzhou, the key hub in southeast China, to the logistics center in Vorsino industrial park near Kaluga. The trip now takes just two weeks – saving no less than a full month if compared with shipping, and around 80 percent of the cost if compared with air cargo.
That’s yet another New Silk Road-style connection between China and Europe via Russia. Still another, vastly more ambitious, will be the high-speed rail expansion of the Transiberian; the Siberian Silk Road.
Then take the closer integration of China and Kazakhstan – which is also a member of the EEU. The duty-free Trans-Eurasia railway is already in effect, from Chongqing in Sichuan across Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland all the way to Duisburg in Germany. Beijing and Astana are developing a joint free trade zone at Horgos. And in parallel, a $135 million China-Mongolia Cross-Border Economic Cooperation Zone started to be built last month.
Kazakhstan is even flirting with the ambitious idea of a Eurasian Canal from the Caspian to the Black Sea and then further on to the Mediterranean. Sooner or later Chinese construction companies will come up with a feasibility study.
A virtually invisible Washington agenda in Syria – inbuilt in the Pentagon obsession to not allow any ceasefire to work, or to prevent the fall of its “moderate rebels” in Aleppo – is to break up yet another New Silk Road hub. China has been commercially connected to Syria since the original Silk Road, which snaked through Palmyra and Damascus. Before the Syrian “Arab Spring”, Syrian businessmen were a vital presence in Yiwu, south of Shanghai, the largest wholesale center for small-sized consumer goods in the world, where they would go to buy all sorts of products in bulk to resell in the Levant.
The “American lake”
Neocon/neoliberalcon Washington is totally paralyzed in terms of formulating a response – or at least a counter-proposal – to Eurasia integration. A few solid IQs at least may understand that China’s “threat” to the US is all about economic might. Take Washington’s deep hostility towards the China-driven AIIB (Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank). Yet no amount of hardcore US lobbying prevented allies such as Germany, Britain, Australia and South Korea from joining in.
Then we had the mad dash to approve TPP – the China-excluding, NATO-on-trade arm of the pivot to Asia that was meant to be the cherry of the mostly flat Obama global economic policy cake. Yet the TPP as it stands is practically dead.
What the current geopolitical juncture spells out is the US Navy willing to go no holds barred to stop China from strategically dominating the Pacific, while TPP is deployed as a weapon to stop China dominating Asia-Pacific economically.
With the pivot to Asia configured as a tool to “deter Chinese aggression”, exceptionalists have graphically demonstrated how they are incapable of admitting the whole game is about post-ideological supply chain geopolitics. The US does not need to contain China; what it needs, badly, is key industrial, financial, commercial connection to crucial nodes across Asia to (re)build its economy.
Those were the days, in March 1949, when MacArthur could gloat, “the Pacific is now an Anglo-Saxon lake”. Even after the end of the Cold War the Pacific was a de facto American lake; the US violated Chinese naval and aerial space at will.
Now instead we have the US Army War College and the whole Think Tankland losing sleep over sophisticated Chinese missiles capable of denying US Navy access to the South China Sea. An American lake? No more.
The heart of the matter is that China has made an outstanding bet on infrastructure building – which translates into first-class connectivity to everyone – as the real global 21st century commons, way more important than “security”. After all a large part of global infrastructure still needs to be built. While China turbo-charges its role as the top global infrastructure exporter – from high-speed rail to low-cost telecom – the “indispensable” nation is stuck with a “pivoting”, perplexed, bloated military obsessed with containment.
Divide and rule those “hostile” rivals
Well, things haven’t changed much since Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski dreaming in the late 1990s of a Chinese fragmentation from within, all the way to Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy, which is no more than futile rhetorical nostalgia about containing Russia, China and Iran.
Thus the basket of attached myths such as “freedom of navigation” – Washington’s euphemism for perennially controlling the sea lanes that constitute China’s supply chain – as well as an apotheosis of“China aggression” incessantly merging with “Russia aggression”; after all, the Eurasia integration-driven Beijing-Moscow strategic partnership must be severed at all costs.
Why? Because US global hegemony must always be perceived as an irremovable force of nature, like death and taxes (Apple in Ireland excluded).
Twenty-four years after the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guide, the same mindset prevails; “Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival…to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union and southwest Asia”.
Oops. Now even Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski is terrified. How to contain these bloody silky roads with Pentagon“existential threats” China and Russia right at the heart of the action? Divide and Rule – what else?
For a confused Brzezinski, the US should“fashion a policy in which at least one of the two potentially threatening states becomes a partner in the quest for regional and then wider global stability, and thus in containing the least predictable but potentially the most likely rival to overreach. Currently, the more likely to overreach is Russia, but in the longer run it could be China.”
Have a pleasant nightmare.
Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) "Empire of Chaos" (2014),and "2030" (2015), all published by Nimble Books.
Originally published in Counterpunch on June 2, 2016
So Taliban supremo Mullah Mansour’s white Toyota Corolla was rattling across the Baluchestan desert just after it had crossed the Iranian border when a Hellfire missile fired from a US drone incinerated it into a charred / twisted wreck.
That’s the official narrative. The Pentagon said Mansour was on Obama’s kill list because he had become “an obstacle to peace and reconciliation.”
There’s way more to it, of course. Mansour was a savvy businessman who was extensively traveling to Dubai – the Taliban’s historic clearing house where all sorts of dodgy deals are made. He was also in close connection with Jundullah – a.k.a. the hardcore Sunni anti-Tehran militia very much active in Sistan-Baluchestan province in Iran.
This time Mansour was in Sistan-Baluchestan on a medical visit – allegedly to eschew hospitals in Pakistan heavily monitored by the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence]. Yet arguably Pakistan intel knew about it – so US intel also may have known about it and thus were able to track him.
But then there’s the real ace in the hole: the New Opium War.
The usual suspects in the Beltway insist that the Taliban profit handsomely from overseeing the opium trade out of Afghanistan –and now operate as a multi-billion-dollar drug cartel. That’s nonsense.
Bets can be made that Mansour’s kill will not reduce Afghanistan’s opium production – which has been steadily on the rise for years now. Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, Mansour’s former number two, has been designated as the new leader.
The fact is, poppy production in Afghanistan remains at the highest levels in provinces that are – in thesis – controlled by Kabul. More opium was produced last year – also in thesis the last year of NATO’s Enduring Freedom operation – than in any other year since the UN started tracking it way back in 2002. In 2016 Afghanistan will produce more opium – thus heroin – than the entire global consumption.
An inkling of what’s really going on in the New Opium War is provided by a recent book (in Italian) by Enrico Piovesana. He tells of shady military operations conducted by NATO in which massive quantities of opium have been sequestered by helicopter – never to be seen again.
So we’re back to the same old CIA opium rat line, which translates into control of the Afghan opium market in collusion with local police, military high brass in Kabul and the Karzai family, of former President a.k.a. «mayor of Kabul» Hamid Karzai. Doing business with narco traffickers has also handily provided liquidity – as in dirty money – to Western big banks. None of this has anything to do with the Taliban, which actually brought down opium production to near zero in 2001, before 9/11 and the American bombing/occupation of Afghanistan.
Those shadowy Af-Pak players
The first US drone strike ever in Baluchestan (another Obama «first») remains something of a mystery. A credible working hypothesis is that this was a covert US-Pakistani co-op. The hit allegedly came via the Pentagon, not the CIA. Mansour’s Corolla was something like 40 km inside Baluchestan after it had crossed the border – in an area where US drones would have been quite vulnerable to upgraded (in 2011) Pakistani air defenses.
A plausible – but unconfirmed – scenario would see RQ-170 Sentinels tracking Mansour’s Toyota, with the coordinates then fed to Reaper drones flying out of Kandahar airfield. Assuming the drones began tracking the Toyota at the Iran-Pakistan border, they would have been in action over Baluchestan air space for hours on end, undisturbed.
But then there are the incongruities. Pakistani sources mention that the Toyota – as in any real drone hit – was not totally smashed, but was still on its wheels. And a mysterious passport (Mullah Mansour’s) also showed up on the scene, unscathed.
As for the original HUMINT that led to Mansour’s trail, the notion that Washington had scored it stretches credulity. It would be more like a very well placed/rewarded asset somewhere – be it a military in Kabul or a disgruntled ISI operative.
What was Mansour really up to? He was quite savvy in playing for time. He clearly saw through the US «strategy» – which boiled down to encouraging Afghan president Ashraf Ghani to convince Islamabad to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Mansour though knew the Taliban could always advance militarily without negotiations; that’s why he duly announced the 2016 spring offensive – an annual Taliban ritual. At the same time he was very careful not to antagonize Islamabad so Taliban safe havens in Pakistan would not be compromised.
As far as what Islamabad is up to, that’s way hazier. Islamabad’s man in the Taliban succession was actually Sirajuddin Haqqani. After the death of his notorious father, Haqqani leads the homonymous network – which is very cozy with the ISI, arguably closer than the traditional Kandahar/Quetta Shura, a.k.a. the historic Afghan Taliban.
The new Taliban supremo will now have a handy window of opportunity to consolidate power. By early 2017 there will be a new US president, a new Pakistani army chief but the same Afghan so-called National Unity Government still disunited. The Taliban know what they want; be part of the government in Kabul, and get their cut in case the fractious Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline will ever be built. The more things change in Afghanistan, the more they hark back to two decades ago, during the second Clinton administration.
Meanwhile, former CIA asset, former pal of Osama bin Laden and still one of the US’s Public Enemies, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, defined by Washington as a «global terrorist» and the leader of the Hezbi Islami organization, is about to close a deal with Kabul.
Hezbi Islami is the second largest «insurgency» in Afghanistan. Most of the top brass have defected to the Taliban. Hekmatyar lives in exile somewhere in Pakistan; the ISI, of course, knows all about it. So if Ghani in Kabul can’t bag the Taliban, at least he bags a currently much smaller fish, Hekmatyar. Does it help? Not really. It will fall eventually to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – as in Russia-China joint leadership – to solve the Taliban riddle. Certainly not to Operation Enduring Freedom Forever – no matter the size of their kill list.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
Originally published in Sputnik on May 17, 2016
Let’s start by examining what the Dragon himself – President Xi Jinping – has to say about China being largely derided in influential Beltway circles as a House of Cards.
Xi has forcefully dismissed the notion that a House of Cards power struggle has been raging at the rarified heights of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Yet at the same time he’s adamant; “conspirators”, “careerists”, “cabals” and “cliques” are attempting to undermine the CCP from within.
Thus, with ironic/poetic justice, a 42-part series on corruption in China – titled In the Name of the People and financed by the Middle Kingdom’s top law enforcement agency – is bound to go live before the end of 2016, featuring a CCP stalwart as the bad guy (that’s a first). Call him the Chinese Frank Underwood.
This means that what Xi is saying – and acting — live will be mirrored on hundreds of millions of Chinese screens, pitting conflicting factions within the 88 million-member CCP. Xi’s war on corruption has produced a rash of severely disgruntled CCP officials – to put it mildly.
Xi not only is the Commander-in-Chief in the fight against corruption; he’s now Commander-in-Chief of China’s joint battle command center as well. He monitors a [Central Military Commission] Chairman Responsibility System as well as the central guard corps, which monitors the security of all other CCP heavyweights.
Add to these Xi’s status as CCP’s general secretary, chairman of the Central Military Commission, president of the national security commission and head of the top group for reform of the Chinese system, and a Harvard academic who refers to him as “the chairman of everything” does not seem to be that far off the mark.
Yet even this awesome concentration of power does not mean that Xi is an unassailable deity. On the key drama – the state of the economy – it has emerged that in a recent interview by the People’s Daily with an anonymous “authoritative person”, printed on the front page and exposing deep economic divergence among the CCP leadership, the “authoritative person” in question was none other than Xi.
He had to take to the key media read by anyone who’s anyone in China to press his point on how to fix China’s debt-ridden economy; low growth is OK, and the new normal; as for blind credit expansion/monetary easing, that’s not OK. Xi, once again, is adamant; it’s now or never to start a painful restructuring of the Chinese system.
Beware the “nests of foreign spies”
Xi Jinping does wield astonishing power. There can’t be any other way. Imagine the man on top of a civilization-state of 5,000 years who needs, among myriad other crucial issues, to; tweak/manage an economic system that was successful for over 30 years but now needs to be upgraded; shift the system from export-led demand to domestic consumption; manage the aspirations – and broken dreams – of a vast working class including millions of newly unemployed; reorganize monster state-owned enterprises (SOEs); find ways to get rid of Himalayas of bad bank loans and “nonperforming” investments; downsize and at the same time vitally upgrade the Chinese military.
And if that was not enough, Beijing has to be fully alert 24/7 about all those non-stop Pentagon provocations – actual and rhetorical – centered in the South China Sea.
You’ve got to be alert. Full time. All the time. And be alert at “foreign hostile forces” or, more plainly, “nests of foreign spies” who want you to be mired in chaos. Thus the new law on NGOs operating in China. There are too many — over 7,000. And the (hidden) agenda for quite a few – from NED to the Soros gang — is to try to promote pure, unadulterated color revolution, as difficult as that may be in ultra-regimented China.
Yet it worked in Brazil – a BRICS weak link. The CCP leadership has carefully – and silently – understood the Brazilian lesson, and is fully aware that Exceptionalistan would stop at nothing to slow down China’s already spectacular global reach. So if you’re a NGO operating in China, from now on you need to find an official Chinese sponsor and register with local police.
Back to the Chinese economy, the mantra across multiple, powerful Beltway factions is that a crash is imminent. Once again; the House of Cards theme.
China’s total debt is now a whopping 280% of GDP. That includes the 115% that apply to SOEs’ debts; in Japan, for instance, that SOE figure is only 31%. Yet what really matters is that only a maximum of 25% of Chinese SOEs’ debts will need to be restructured.
Xi’s strategy is that the Goddess of the Market will turbo-charge those SOEs, not kill them. So forget about the CPP handing out control of the Chinese economy to companies that the CCP itself does not control. No wonder what’s left for US Big Capital’s spokespersons is to carp about a House of Cards.
All eyes on 2021
It’s never enough to remind everyone that absolutely everything that’s happening in China now is subordinated to Xi’s official target of achieving “a moderately prosperous society” (xiaokang shehui) by the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding, in 2021.
That’s a mere five years from now. More long term, 2049, is the target of achieving a “socialist modernized society” (shehuizhuyi xiandaihua shehui) with a $30,000 GDP per capita; that should tie in with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Beijing’s army of planners estimate that this overwhelming target is achievable if the Middle Kingdom is able to produce over 30% of global GDP by 2049; for comparison, that’s about 1 and ½ times more than the proportion currently produced by the US (and considering that the US does not manufacture much apart from weapons and infotech.)
As breathtaking as this vision may be, it’s always reduced by the same old catastrophist Western “experts” to variations of Xi being the new Mao Zedong. That’s so pedestrian. The men – and the historical contexts – are radically diverse. Mao decided on a few core issues by himself – and left the rest to his underlings. The Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping was a man of consensus. Xi decides by himself on virtually everything – but he does pay attention to some selected advisers. Examples include the Ministry of Trade, which first came up with the concept that developed into the New Silk Roads, and Liu He, the advisor who conceptualized Xi’s current economic strategy.
The fact that Xi is now designated as the “core” (hexin) of the Beijing leadership is not such a big (Maoist) deal. The word in Beijing is that an assembly line of editors is now compiling a book of Xi thought (sixiang) that would make him as crucial as Mao as a contributor to Sino-Marxist theory. So what? Xi is a man in a rush, on a roll and with a mission – and 2021 is just around the corner. House of Cards? No; this looks more like a case of Xi landing a Full House on the table.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).and "Empire of Chaos" (Nimble Books, 2014). His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015. He currently lives between Paris and Bangkok. Follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pepe.escobar.77377
Never in modern political history has it been so easy to “abolish the people” and simply erase 54 million votes cast in a free and fair presidential election.
Forget about hanging chads, as in Florida 2000. This is a day that will live in infamy all across the Global South – when what was one of its most dynamic democracies veered into a plutocratic regime, under a flimsy parliamentary/judicial veneer, with legal and constitutional guarantees now at the mercy of lowly comprador elites.
After the proverbial marathon, the Brazilian Senate voted 55-22 to put President Dilma Rousseff on trial for “crimes of responsibility” – related to alleged window dressing of the government’s budget.
This is the culmination of a drawn-out process that started even before Rousseff won re-election in late 2014 with over 54 million votes. I have described the bunch of perpetrators of what Brazilian creativity has termed ‘golpeachment’ (a mix of coup – “golpe” in Portuguese – and impeachment) as Hybrid War hyenas.
Sophisticated golpeachment – supported by what amounts to an Electoral Inquisition College – has propelled Hybrid War to whole new levels.
Hybrid War as applied to Brazil exhibited classic elements of a color revolution. Of course there was no need for no-fly zones or humanitarian imperialism to “protect human rights” – not to mention provoking a civil war. But considering the high resistance level of the victim state, where civil society is very dynamic, Hybrid War designers in this case bet on a mix of capitulation – and betrayal – of local elites, mixed with “peaceful protests” and a relentless mainstream media campaign. Call it ‘Civil War Light.’
That carried with it a fabulous cost-benefit ratio. Now the (immensely corrupt) Brazilian political system and the current executive/legislative/judiciary/mainstream media alignment can be used by the usual suspects for their geopolitical agenda.
Welcome to regime change light – politics, in a nutshell – as war by other means on the BRICS. A new software, a new operating system. Carrying a pathetic corollary; if the US is the Empire of Chaos, Brazil has now gloriously reached the status of Sub-Empire of Scoundrels.
Rousseff may be accused of serious economic mismanagement, and of being incapable of political articulation among the shark pool that is (immensely corrupt) Brazilian politics. But she is not corrupt. She made a serious mistake in fighting inflation, allowing interest rates to rise to an unsustainable level; so demand in Brazil dramatically dropped, and recession became the norm. She is the (convenient) scapegoat for Brazil’s recession.
She certainly may be blamed for not having a Plan B to fight the global recession. Brazil essentially works on two pillars; commodity exports and local companies relying on the teats of the state. Infrastructure in general is dismal – adding to what is described as the “Brazilian cost” of doing business. With the commodity slump, state funds dwindled and everything was paralyzed – credit, investment, consumption.
The pretext for Rousseff’s impeachment – allegedly transferring loans from public banks to the Treasury in order to disguise the size of Brazil’s fiscal deficit – is flimsy at best. Every administration in the West does it – and that includes Clinton’s, Bush’s and Obama’s.
The Operation Car Wash investigation, dragging on for two years now, was supposed to uncover corruption in the Brazilian political system – as in the collusion of oil giant Petrobras executives, Brazilian construction companies, and political campaign financing. Car Wash has nothing to do with the golpeachment drive. Yet these have been two parallel highways converging to one destination: the criminalization of the Workers’ Party, and the definitive – if possible – political assassination of Rousseff and her mentor, former President Lula.
When golpeachment reached the lower house of Congress – an appalling spectacle – Rousseff was eviscerated by Hybrid War hyenas of the BBC variety; “BBC,” in English, stands for “bullet,”“bible” and “cattle,” where “bullet” refers to the weapons and private security industry, “bible” to pastors and evangelical fanatics, and “cattle” to the powerful agribusiness lobby.
The “BBC” hyenas are members of almost all Brazilian political parties, paperboys for major corporations, and – last but not least – corruption stalwarts. They all benefited from millionaire political campaigning. The whole Car Wash investigation ultimately revolves around campaign financing, which in Brazil, unlike the US with its legalized lobbies, is a Tarantino-worthy Wild West.
The Brazilian Senate is not exactly an “upper” – as in more polished – house. Eighty percent of members are white men – in a country where miscegenation rules. A staggering 58 percent is under criminal investigation – linked to Car Wash. Sixty percent hail from political dynasties. And 13 percent – as alternates – were not elected at all. Among those favoring impeachment, 30 out of 49 are in trouble with the law. Charges include mostly money laundering, financial crimes and outright corruption. Renan Calheiros, the president of the Senate – who oversaw today’s impeachment vote – is the target of no fewer than nine separate money laundering/corruption Car Wash lines of investigation, plus another two criminal probes.
Meet the three Banana Republic amigos
Rousseff is now suspended for a maximum 180 days while a Senate committee decides whether to impeach her for good. Enter President-in-Waiting Michel Temer – a dodgy, shady operator – who has been branded a “usurper” by Rousseff. And usurper this provincial Brutus certainly is – according to his own words. On March 30 last year, he was tweeting that,“Impeachment is unthinkable, it would create an institutional crisis. There is no judicial or political basis for it.”
His administration is born with the original sin of being illegal and massively unpopular; his approval rating floats between an epic 1 percent and 2 percent. He was already fined last week for violating campaign finance limits. And, predictably, he’s drowning in a corruption swamp – named in two Car Wash plea bargains and accused of being part of an illegal scheme of ethanol buying; he may become ineligible for the next eight years. Almost 60 percent of Brazilians also want him impeached – on the same charges leveled against Rousseff.
Members of Brazil's Senate react after a vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff for breaking budget laws in Brasilia, Brazil, May 12, 2016. © Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters
Brutus 1 (Temer) would not bask in the glow of his 15 minutes of fame without the shenanigans of Brutus 2 (Brazil’s number one crook, former speaker of the lower house Eduardo Cunha, facing charges of bribery and perjury, holder of illegal Swiss accounts, and now finally sidelined by the Supreme Court). It was Brutus 2 who fast-tracked impeachment as pure vengeance; the Workers’ Party did not cover his back as he was facing a tsunami of corruption charges. Brutus 2 used all his vast powers – he runs a campaign financing scam inside Congress – to obstruct the Car Wash investigation. His replacement, the interim speaker, is also under investigation for bribery.
So meet Temer, Cunha, Calheiros; these three amigos are the true stars of the Banana Republic of Scoundrels/Crooks.
As if the Supreme Court would be rascal-free. Judge Gilmar Mendes, for instance, is a lowly plutocrat vassal. When an attorney for the government entered a motion to suspend impeachment, he quipped, “Ah, they can go to heaven, to the Pope, or to hell.” Another pompous judge received a request to sideline Cunha as early as December 2015. He only examined the request over four months later, when the whole golpeachment scam was in its decisive phase. And still he argued, “there’s no proof Cunha contaminated the impeachment process.”
Finally, complementing the whole scam, we find Brazilian mainstream media, with the toxic Globo media empire – which lavishly profited from the 1964 military coup – at the forefront.
All hail the neoliberal restoration
Wall Street – as well as the City of London – could not hide its excitement with golpeachment, believing Brutus 1 Temer will be an economic upgrade. Arguably, he might dare to tweak Brazil’s Kafkaesque tax code and do something about the enormous hole in the pension system. But what that mythical entity – the “markets” – and myriad “investors” are salivating about is the prospect of fabulous rates of return in a reopened-for-speculation Brazil. The Brutus 1 game will be a neoliberal feast, actually a restoration, with no popular representation whatsoever.
The golpeachment gang gets really incensed when they are identified as coup plotters. Still, they could not give a damn about the OAS, Mercosur, Unasur – all of them condemned the coup – not to mention the Holy Grail: the BRICS. Under Brutus 1, the Foreign Ministry, to be led by a sore loser senator, is bound to sink Brazil’s key role in BRICS cooperation, to the benefit of Exceptionalistan.
All one needs to know is that neither Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack “kill list” Obama nor Queen of Chaos Hillary “We came, we saw, he died” Clinton condemned the ongoing regime change light/golpeachment. That’s predictable, considering Exceptionalistan’s NSA spied on Petrobras and Dilma Rousseff personally – the genesis of what would develop as the Car Wash investigation.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest limited himself to the proverbial platitudes: “challenging moment”; “trust in Brazilian democratic institutions”; or even “mature democracy.” Yet he added, significantly, that Brazil is “under scrutiny.”
Of course, the current stage of a very sophisticated Hybrid War strategy has been accomplished. But there are countless cliffhangers ahead. The Car Wash investigation – currently in slow motion – will pick up speed as a rash of dodgy plea bargains is already in store to create the conditions to criminalize for good not only Dilma Rousseff but the key piece in the chessboard: Lula.
Game over? Not so fast. The anti-golpeachment front does have a strategy: to imprint especially in “deep Brazil,” the vast masses of the working poor, the notion of illegality; to rebuild Rousseff’s image as the victim of a profound injustice; to re-energize the progressive political front; to make sure the Brutus 1 government will fail; and to create the conditions for the man who will come in from the cold to win the 2018 presidential elections.
Brazilian House of Cards? Bets could be made this may even end up as Anaconda, with Lula immobilizing the Hybrid War hyenas in a cobra clutch.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
We are all living in Hybrid War time. From R2P (“responsibility to protect”) to color revolutions, from currency attacks to stock market manipulations.
From judicial-financial-political-media enabled “soft” coups – as in Brazil – to support for “moderate” jihadis, multiple stages of Hybrid War now cross-pollinate and generate a vortex of new mutant viruses.
© AP PHOTO/ GERO BRELOER
Hybrid War, a Beltway concept, has even been turned upside down by the conceptualizers. NATO, affecting puzzlement at the very existence of the concept, interprets the Russian “invasion” of Ukraine as Hybrid War. That serves prime Hybrid War purveyors such as the RAND corporation to take it further, peddling war game scenarios of Russia being able to invade and conquer the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — in less than 60 hours.
And that, in turn, foments even more Western military hysteria, encapsulated by the new NATO commander, a.k.a. Dr. Strangelove; Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who made sure he would come up with a stage entrance worthy of his predecessor, Philip Breedlove/ Breedhate.
Slightly amused at the whole conceptual circus, Russians respond with actions. Extra deployments in our Western borderlands? No problem; here’s your asymmetrical answer. And say hello, soon, to our new toy: the S-500s.
What Hillary wants
The notion that Moscow would have any interest at all to capture Baltic states is ludicrous in itself. But with the evidence of direct occupation of Afghanistan (the Taliban will never quit) and R2P in Libya (a failed state devastated by militias) spelling miserable failure, NATO badly needs a “success”. Enter warmongering rhetoric and conceptual manipulation – and this when it’s actually Washington that is deploying Hybrid War all across the chessboard.
© AP PHOTO/ CAROLYN KASTER, FILE
Reality occurs beyond NATO’s looking glass. Russia is way ahead of the Pentagon/NATO in A2AD — anti-access/area denial; Russian missiles and submarines may easily prevent NATO fighter jets from flying in Central Europe and NATO ships from “patrolling” the Baltic Sea. For the “indispensable nation”, that hurts – so bad.
Relentless rhetorical hysteria masks the real high-stakes game in play. And that’s where US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton fits in. Throughout her campaign, Clinton has extolled “a major strategic objective of our transatlantic alliance”. The major “strategic objective” is none other than the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – a NATO-on-trade complementing political and military NATO.
The fact that TTIP, after the latest Dutch leaks, now runs the risk of being mired in Walking Dead territory may be a temporary setback. The imperial “project” is clear; to configure NATO, which already mutated into a global Robocop (Afghanistan, Libya, Syria), into an integrated political-economic-commercial-military alliance. Always under Washington’s command, of course. And including key peripheral vassals/contributors, such as the Gulf petromonarchies and Israel.
The imperial “enemy”, of course, would have to be the only authentic project available for the 21st century: Eurasia integration – which ranges from the Chinese-led New Silk Roads to the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union; BRICS integration, which includes their New Development Bank (NDB), in tandem with the Chinese Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); a resurgent, still independent Iran – Eurasia-connected; and all other independent poles among Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) nations.
This is the ultimate, ongoing 21st confrontation that will keep generating multiple, localized hybrid warfare forms – as it takes place not only across Eurasia but across the whole Global South. It’s all interlocked – from Maidan to the secret TTIP negotiations; from provoking China in the South China Sea to an oil price war and an attack on the ruble; from the NSA spying on Petrobras feeding a slow motion, legalistic regime change process in Brazil to an EU ravaged by twin plagues; a refugee crisis ultimately provoked by NATO’s wars (and instrumentalized by Turkey) coupled with Salafi-jhadi terrorism also spawned by the same wars.
Even with France and Germany still dithering – as in paying too heavy a price for sanctions on Russia — Washington’s “project” counts on a ravaged EU being a perpetual hostage of NATO. And ultimately, a hostage of NATO on trade – because of those US geostrategic imperatives against Eurasia integration.
This implies another necessity; the conceptual war – it’s the evil Russians who are waging Hybrid War, not us! — must be won at all costs, by instilling constant fear into the average EU citizen. In parallel, it’s also essential to put on a show; thus one of the most massive US-designed military operations on European soil since the end of the Cold War – complete with Navy and Air Force displaying nuclear capability.
This is the new normal; Cold War 2.0, 24/7.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
Originally published in RT on May 4, 2016
The President of the United States (POTUS) is desperate. Exhibit A: His Op-Ed defending the Asian face – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – of a wide-ranging, twin-headed NATO-on-trade “pivoting”.
The European face is of course the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
POTUS frames TPP – as well as TTIP – in terms of a benign expansion of US exports, and private (US) firms having “a fair shot at competing against state-owned enterprises.” “Fair”? Not really. Let’s see how the mechanism works, focusing on TPP’s European twin.
With impeccable timing, almost simultaneously to Obama’s Op-Ed, Greenpeace Netherlands leaked 248 pages of classified TTIP documents that were to be re-discussed last week by negotiators in New York. There have been no less than 13 rounds of TTIP negotiations so far, over nearly three years.
The documents – negotiated in total secrecy since 2013 – represent roughly two-thirds of the latest negotiating text. An array of detailed studies, like this one, had been warning about the state of play. The veil of secrecy ended up being the ultimate giveaway to TTIP’s toxicity. Before the Greenpeace Netherlands leak, EU elected representatives could only examine these documents under a police watch, in a secure room, without access to experts, and on top of it they could not discuss the content with anyone else.
I will crush you with my GMOs
Everything civil society across Europe – for at least three years – has been debating, and fearing, is confirmed; this is a sophisticated, toxic US-led corporate racket, a concerted assault across the spectrum, from the environment and animal welfare to labor rights and internet privacy. In a nutshell; it’s all about the US corporate galaxy pushing the EU to lower – or abase – a range of consumer protections.
Hardball, predictably, is the name of the game. Washington no less than threatened to block EU car exports to force the EU to buy genetically engineered fruits and vegetables. In my travels in France, Italy and Spain over the past two years, I confirmed this to be the ultimate nightmare expressed by practitioners of top-end artisanal agriculture.
Predictably, the lobbyist-infested European Commission (EC) fiercely defends TTIP, stressing it could benefit the EU’s economy by $150 billion a year, and raise car exports by 149 percent. Obviously don’t expect the EC to connect these “car exports” to a US-led GMO invasion of Europe.
At least some nations have finally woken up from their (corporate lobbyist-induced) slumber. The French Minister for Foreign Trade, Matthias Fekl, said negotiations over a “bad deal” should stop. He went straight to the point, blaming Washington’s intransigence; “There cannot be an agreement without France and much less against France.”
Perennially ineffectual President Francois Hollande, for his part, has threatened to block the deal altogether. Three years ago Paris had already secured an exemption for the French film industry not to be gobbled up by Hollywood. Now it’s also about the crucial agriculture front. Hollande said he would never accept “the undermining of the essential principles of our agriculture, our culture, of mutual access to public markets.”
And what is the EC – leading the negotiations on behalf of the EU – doing? Pulling its predictable Trojan horse act; these are all “alarmist headlines” and “a storm in a teacup”. Puzzled EU citizens, en masse, may question if this is really the way for the EC – a bureaucratic Brussels behemoth – to supposedly defend the rights of EU consumers. Yet, infiltrated as it is by corporate lobbyism, the EC simply can’t protect the EU’s environmental and health standards, much more sophisticated than the US’s, from a corporate America bent on meddling with the content of EU laws all along the regulatory line.
I got an offer you can’t refuse
POTUS was heavily campaigning for TTIP last month in Germany. POTUS still hopes he may have a deal in the bag before he leaves office in January 2017. White House spokesman Josh Earnest has tried to put on a brave face, saying the leaks will not have a "material impact" on the negotiations. Wrong; they will – as they are mobilizing public opinion all across the EU.
David Cameron, in the UK, is also in a bind. He’s fiercely pro-TTIP. But Obama has already warned; this means Brexit is a no-no. Club Med nations, for their part, are leaning against. All 28 EU member nations – plus the European Parliament – would have to ratify TTIP if a deal is eventually reached.
TPP, for its part, has been negotiated. But it has not been approved by the US Congress (nor by Pacific nations). The approval process has gone nowhere. In fact it will be up to either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Trump arguably is oblivious to TPP’s details; but considering the deal is being heavily championed by Obama, Trump may go against it.
A case can be made that both TPP and TTIP vow to distort markets, in Europe and Asia; prop up (US) monopolies; transfer jobs to slave labor markets (in the case of parts of Asia); trample on intellectual property rights (in the case of the EU); facilitate tax evasion; and ultimately transfer more wealth from the many to the 0.00001 percent.
And this leads us to how Hillary Clinton – the Wall Street/US establishment candidate – views both TPP and TTIP. Well, she supported both NAFTA and CAFTA, approved under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. As Secretary of State, she lobbied for the Panama trade deal. And, crucially, she has always treated the TPP as the “gold standard”. No wonder; this is the trade arm of the “pivoting to Asia” she’s been so fond of – a Pacific trade deal that excludes China, which happens to be the top trade partner of most Asian nations.
Moreover, those by now famous Goldman Sachs speeches are increasingly being seen as payments for services rendered (and promised) by Hillary Clinton to the 0,0001 percent, who are, of course, in favor of global corporate America expansion.
Yet it ain’t over till the November ballot sings. Hillary now faces serious scrutiny by working class voters in the US. So no wonder, in another flip-flopping masterpiece, she’s now leaning towards describing herself as opposing both TPP and TTIP.
Still, TPP at least may be approved during the post-election ‘lame-duck’ session of the US Congress. As for TTIP, it’s now mired in Walking Dead zone. Talk about what it takes for the Obama administration to imprint its trade “legacy” in the history books; to keep blackmailing Europeans and Asians alike as if it was just a lowly Mob extortion racket.
Originally published in Strategic Culture on April 26, 2016
Soon after the impeachment motion against President Dilma Rousseff was approved in the Brazilian Congress by what I chose to call Hybrid War hyenas, President-in-Waiting Michel «Brutus» Temer, one of the coup’s articulators, dispatched a senator to Washington as special paperboy to deliver the news on the coup in progress. The senator in question was not on an official mission for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Brutus Temer was alarmed by global media reaction, which is increasingly interpreting what he’s doing – allied with Brutus Two, notoriously corrupt head of the lower house Eduardo Cunha – for what it is: a coup.
The senator’s mission was allegedly to launch a PR offensive to counter the coup narrative, which is, according to Brutus One, «demoralizing Brazilian institutions».
Nonsense. The paperboy senator was sent to tell the US State Department that everything is proceeding according to plan.
In Washington, the paperboy senator mumbled, «we will explain that Brazil is not a banana republic». Well, it was not, but now, thanks to the Hybrid War hyenas, it is.
When you have a man holding 11 illegal bank accounts in Switzerland, listed in the Panama Papers, and already under investigation by the Supreme Court controlling the political destiny of a whole nation, you have a banana republic.
When you have a self-righteous provincial judge threatening to imprison former President Lula for a modest apartment and a ranch that he does not own, but at the same time is incapable of laying a finger on Brutus Two, alongside largely pompous Supreme Court judges, you have a banana republic.
Now compare Washington’s non-reaction with Moscow’s. The Russian Foreign Ministry, via the irrepressible Maria Zakharova, stressed the crucial BRICS partnership as well as the common Brazil-Russia positions within the G20. And Moscow made it clear that Brazil’s problems should be solved within «the constitutional legal framework and without any external interference».
Everyone knows what «external interference» means.
Full Spectrum Dominance reloaded
I have been following the Brazilian coup-in-progress with a special emphasis on the US-backed/driven Hybrid Warfare bent on destroying «the neo-developmentalist project for Latin America – uniting at least some of the local elites, invested in developing internal markets, in association with the working classes». The key Hybrid War objective in this case is to install a neoliberal restoration.
Obviously the key target had to be Brazil, a BRICS member and the 7th largest economy in the world.
Imperial hacks go straight to the point when listing the Hybrid War tools and aims of what the Pentagon defined as Full Spectrum Dominance way back in 2002. So, «US power flows from our unmatched military might, yes. Anything that expands the reach of US markets – such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership in trade, for example – adds to the arsenal of US power. But in a deeper way, it’s a product of the dominance of the US economy».
Yet the US economy is far from dominant. What matters now is what drives «business away from America, or allow other nations to build a rival financial architecture that’s less encumbered by a smorgasbord of sanctions».
«Rival financial architecture» has BRICS written all over it. And a «smorgasbord of sanctions» was not enough to make Iran cry uncle; Tehran will continue to practice a «resistance economy». Not by accident, two of the BRICS – Russia and China – as well as Iran, feature as the Pentagon’s top five existential threats, alongside nuclear-armed North Korea and, as the last lowly priority, «terrorism».
Cold War 2.0 is essentially about Russia and China – but Brazil is also a key player. Edward Snowden revealed how NSA spying was centered on Petrobras, whose proprietary technology was responsible for the largest oil discovery of the young 21st century; the pre-salt deposits. US Big Oil is excluded from its exploitation. That’s anathema; and that requires deployment of Hybrid War techniques inbuilt in Full Spectrum Dominance.
Brazilian comprador elites have been gleefully playing the game. Over two years ago JP Morgan analysts were already conducting seminars with neoliberal macro-economy enforcers preaching how to destabilize the Rousseff government.
Industry, commerce, banking and agribusiness lobbies have ostensibly favored impeachment, as representing the end of the Lula-Dilma social democracy experiment. So it’s no wonder President-in-Waiting Brutus Temer made a comprehensive deal with Big Capital – including no limits for interests on public debt (way above the international norm); the relation between debt and GDP bound to go up; more expensive credit; and the corollary being cuts on health and education.
As far as Washington is concerned, and that’s bipartisan, it’s absolutely out of the question to allow an autonomous regional power in the South Atlantic, blessed with unrivalled eco-wealth (think the Amazon rainforest and all that water, coupled with the Guarani aquifer) and on top of it closely linked to key BRICS members Russia-China, which have their own strategic partnership.
The pre-salt factor is the cherry in the tropical cake. Out of the question for US Big Oil to allow Petrobras to have the monopoly of exploitation. And just in case, if need be, the US 4th Fleet is already in position in the South Atlantic.
One BRICS down, two to go
The Cheney regime-declared «war on terra» distracted the Empire of Chaos for too long. Now finally comes a – coordinated, global – chaos offensive. From Southwest Asia to South Asia, the Hybrid War dream would be some sort of Iraqi chaos to replace the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and Egypt – as the leading-from-behind Empire of Chaos is trying hard in Syria even though the Assad dynasty was a «secret» US ally for decades.
The Masters of the Universe above paperboy Obama decided to stab the House of Saud in the back – not necessarily a bad thing – over Iran; the prevailing wishful thinking was to have Iranian natural gas replacing Russian natural gas going to Europe, thus collapsing the Russian economy. Major fail.
Yet there’s still another option; the Qatari natural gas pipeline through Saudi Arabia and Syria, also replacing Russian natural gas to Europe. That remains the CIA chief goal in Syria – no matter what; Daesh, the phony Caliphate – this is all just propaganda.
The CIA is also keen on Saudi Arabia destroying the Russian economy through an oil price war – and they do not want that to stop; thus holding over the Saudis those famous 28 pages on 9/11 to keep the oil price war going.
The CIA has also been trying like mad to lure Moscow into a Syrian trap as in 1980s Afghanistan, and as they did with the Kiev coup, even to the extent of ordering the Turkish military, which is their agent, to shoot down a Russian Su-24. The «problem» is that the Kremlin did not bite the poisoned apple.
Way back in the 1980s, the mix of House of Saud unleashing their reserves along with the GCC petrodollar gang, driving the price of oil to $7 a barrel in 1985, together with the Afghanistan Vietnam op, ended up driving the USSR bankrupt. Arguably, the whole op was brilliant – in conception and execution; a Hybrid War of economics plus Vietnam. Now, «leading from behind», Dr. Zbig «Grand Chessboard» Brzezinski – Obama’s foreign policy mentor – is trying to pull off a similar trick.
But oops, we got a problem. The Beijing leadership, already preoccupied with tweaking the Chinese development model, clearly saw the Empire of Chaos’s effort to Divide and Rule (and Conquer) the entire world. If Russia went down, China would be next.
It was only, virtually yesterday, around 2010, when US intel regarded China as their major military threat, and were starting to move against the Middle Kingdom via the «pivoting to Asia». But suddenly the CIA realized that Moscow had spent a trillion dollars jumping two generations ahead in defensive and offensive missiles – not to mention submarines; the weapons of choice for WWIII.
That is when Russia was enthroned as the major threat. Carefully surveying the chessboard, the Beijing leadership then accelerated the alliance with Russia and the BRICS as an alternative force, creating an earthquake in Washington of absolutely devastating proportions.
Now, Beijing has deftly engineered the BRICS into play as a serious alternative power structure – with their own IMF, SWIFT payment system, and World Bank.
Beware the wrath of an Empire of Chaos scorned. That’s what’s in play now against the BRICS; Brazil under siege, the fall of South Africa, the weakness of India, China and Russia progressively surrounded. Hybrid War variations from Ukraine to Brazil, mounting pressure in Central Asia, the «Syraq» powder keg, all point to a concerted Full Spectrum Dominance offensive to break up the BRICS, the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership, and ultimately the New Silk Roads uniting Eurasia. Oil price wars, the ruble collapse, the refugee flood in the EU (caused by «erratic» Sultan Erdogan), 21st century Operation Gladio remixes all over, distract the masses against imaginary enemies while terrorism of the phony Daesh variety is manipulated as a sophisticated diversionist tactic.
It may be brilliant, even masterful, in its conception and in its execution, and it’s so flashy in a cinematic sense. But make no mistake; there will be blowback.
Originally published in RT on April 19, 2016
The gloomy and repulsive night when the female president of the 7th largest economy in the world was the prey of choice fed to a lynch mob of hyenas in a drab, provincial Circus Maximus will forever live in infamy.
By 367 votes for and 137 against, the impeachment/coup/regime change-light drive against Dilma Rousseff cleared the Brazilian Congressional circus and will now go to the Senate, where a “special commission” will be set up. If approved, Rousseff will then be sidelined for 180 days and a low-rent tropical Brutus, Vice-President Michel Temer, will ascend to power until the Senate’s final verdict.
This lowly farce should serve as a wake-up call not only to the BRICS but to the whole Global South. Who needs NATO, R2P (“responsibility to protect”) or “moderate rebels” when you can get your regime change just by tweaking a nation’s political/judicial system?
The Brazilian Supreme Court has not analyzed the merit of the matter – at least not yet. There’s no solid evidence anywhere Rousseff committed a “crime of responsibility”; she did what every American President since Reagan has done – not to mention leaders all across the world: along with her vice-president, the lowly Brutus, Rousseff got slightly creative with the federal budget’s numbers.
The coup has been sponsored by a certified crook, president of the lower house Eduardo Cunha; reportedly the holder of several illegal accounts in Switzerland, listed in the Panama Papers and under investigation by the Supreme Court. Instead of lording over near-illiterate hyenas in a racist, largely crypto-fascist circus, he should be behind bars. It beggars belief that the Supreme Court has not launched legal action against Cunha. The secret of his power over the circus is a gigantic corruption scheme lasting many years, featuring corporations contributing to his and others’ campaign financing.
And that’s the beauty of a regime change-light/color revolution of Hybrid War when staged in such a dynamically creative nation such as Brazil. The hall of mirrors yields a political simulacrum that would have driven deconstructionists Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco, if alive, green with envy; a Congress crammed with fools/patsies/traitors/crooks, some of whom are already being investigated for corruption, has conspired to depose a president who is not under any formal corruption investigation – and has not committed any “crime of responsibility”.
The neoliberal restoration
Still, without a popular vote, the massively rejected tropical Brutus twins, Temer and Cunha, will find it impossible to govern, even though they would perfectly incarnate the project of the immensely arrogant and ignorant Brazilian elites; a neoliberal triumph, with Brazilian “democracy” trampled down six feet under.
It’s impossible to understand what happened at the Circus Maximus this Sunday without knowing there’s a gaggle of Brazilian political parties that are seriously threatened by the non-stop overspill of the Car Wash corruption investigation. To ensure their survival, Car Wash must be “suspended”; and it will, under the bogus “national unity” proposed by lowly Brutus Temer.
But first, Car Wash must produce a high-profile scalp. And that has to be Lula in jail – compared to which the crucifixion of Rousseff is an Aesop fable. Corporate media, led by the noxious Globo empire, would hail it as the ultimate victory, and nobody would care about Car Wash’s enforced retirement.
The 54 million-plus who voted for Rousseff’s reelection in 2014 voted wrong. The overall “project” is a government without vote and without people; a Brazilian-style parliamentary system, without bothering with pesky “elections” and crucially, including very“generous” campaign financing flexibility not bound to incriminate powerful companies/corporations.
In a nutshell, the ultimate aim is to perfectly “align” the Brazilian Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and corporate media interests. Democracy is for suckers. Brazilian elites remote controlling the hyenas know very well that if Lula runs again in 2018, he will win. And Lula has already warned; he won’t buy any “national unity” crap; he’ll be back in the streets fighting whatever illegitimate government pops up.
We’re now open for plundering
As it stands, Rousseff runs the risk of becoming the first major casualty of the NSA-originated, two-year-long Car Wash investigation. The President, admittedly an incompetent economic manager and lacking the right stuff of a master politician, believed that Car Wash – which practically prevented her from governing – would not reach her because she is personally honest. Yet Car Wash’s not so hidden agenda was always regime change. Who cares if in the process the nation is left on the verge of being controlled exactly by many of those indicted by the anti-corruption drive?
Lowly Brutus Temer – a vanity case version of Argentina’s Macri – is the perfect conduit for the implementation of regime change. He represents the powerful banking lobby, the powerful agribusiness lobby and the powerful federation of industries in Brazil’s economic leader, the state of Sao Paulo.
The neo-developmentalist project for Latin America – uniting at least some of the local elites, invested in developing internal markets, in association with the working classes – is now dead, because what may be defined as sub-hegemonic, or peripheral, capitalism is mired in crisis after the 2008 Wall Street-provoked debacle. What’s left is just neoliberal restoration. TINA (“there is no alternative”). This implies, in the Brazilian case, the savage reversion of Lula’s legacy; social policies, technological policies, the drive to globally expand large, competitive Brazilian companies, more public universities, better salaries.
In a message to the nation, Brutus Temer admitted as much; “hope”after impeachment will be absolutely swell for “foreign investment”, as in let them plunder the colony at will; back to the trademark history of Brazil since 1500.
So Wall Street, US Big Oil and the proverbial “American interests” win this round at the circus – thanks to the, once again proverbial, vassal/comprador elites. Chevron execs are already salivating with the prospect of laying their hands on the pre-salt oil deposits; that was already promised by a trusted vassal in the Brazilian opposition.
The coup goes on. The real hyenas haven’t yet pounced. So it's far from over.
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva © Paulo Whitaker / Reuters
Originally published in RT on March 8, 2016
“BRICS” is the dirtiest of acronyms in the Beltway/Wall Street axis, and for a solid reason: the consolidation of the BRICS is the only organic, global-reach project with the potential to derail Exceptionalistan’s grip over the so-called “international community.”
So it’s no surprise the three key BRICS powers have been under simultaneous attack, on many fronts, for some time now. On Russia, it’s all about Ukraine and Syria, the oil price war, the odd hostile raid over the ruble and the one-size-fits-all “Russian aggression” demonization. On China, it’s all about “Chinese aggression” in the South China Sea and the (failed) raid over the Shanghai/Shenzhen stock exchanges.
Brazil is the weakest link among these three key emerging powers. Already by the end of 2014 it was clear the usual suspects would go no holds barred to destabilize the seventh largest global economy, aiming at good old regime change via a nasty cocktail of political gridlock (“ungovernability”) dragging the economy to the mud.
Myriad reasons for the attack include the consolidation of the BRICS development bank; the BRICS’s concerted push for trading in their own currencies, bypassing the US dollar and aiming for a new global reserve currency to replace it; the construction of a major underwater fiber-optic telecom cable between Brazil and Europe, as well as the BRICS cable uniting South America to East Asia – both bypassing US control.
And most of all, as usual, the holy of the holies – connected with Exceptionalistan’s burning desire to privatize Brazil’s immense natural wealth. Once again, it’s the oil.
Get Lula or else
WikiLeaks had already exposed how way back in 2009 Big Oil was active in Brazil, trying to modify – by all extortion means necessary – a law proposed by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, establishing profitable state-run Petrobras as the chief operator of all offshore blocks in the largest oil discovery of the young 21st century; the pre-salt deposits.
Lula not only kept Big Oil – especially ExxonMobil and Chevron – out of the picture but he also opened Brazilian oil exploration to China’s Sinopec, as part of the Brazil-China (BRICS within BRICS) strategic partnership.
Hell hath no fury like Exceptionalistan scorned. Like the Mob, it never forgives; Lula one day would have to pay, like Putin must pay for getting rid of US-friendly oligarchs.
The ball started rolling with Edward Snowden revealing how the NSA was spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and top Petrobras officials. It continued with the fact that the Brazilian Federal Police cooperate, receive training and/or are fed, closely, by both the FBI and CIA (mostly in the anti-terrorism sphere). And it went on via the two-year-old “Car Wash” investigation, which uncovered a vast corruption network involving players inside Petrobras, top Brazilian construction companies and politicians from the ruling Workers’ Party.
The corruption network is real – with “proof,” usually oral, rarely backed up by documents, obtained mostly from artful dodgers-cum-serial liars who rat on someone as part of a plea bargain.
But for the “Car Wash” prosecutors, the real deal was, from the beginning, how to ensnare Lula.
Enter the tropical Elliott Ness
That brings us to the Hollywood spectacular enacted last Friday in Sao Paulo that sent shockwaves around the world. Lula “detained,” interrogated, humiliated in public. This is how I analyzed it in detail.
Plan A for the Hollywood-style blitz on Lula was an ambitious double down; not only to pave the way for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff under a “guilty by association” stretch, but to “neutralize” Lula for good, preventing him from running for office again in 2018. There was no Plan B.
Predictably – as in many an FBI sting – the whole op backfired. Lula, in a political master class of a speech beamed live across the country, not only convincingly clad himself as the martyr of a conspiracy, but also re-energized his troops; even respectable conservatives vocally condemned the Hollywood show, from a minister in the Supreme Court to a former justice minister, as well as top economist Bresser Pereira, one of the founders of the PSDB – the former social democrats turned Exceptionalistan-allied neoliberal enforcers and leaders of the right-wing opposition.
Bresser actually stated the Brazilian Supreme Court should intervene on Car Wash to prevent abuses. Lula, for instance, had asked for the Supreme Court to detail which jurisprudence was relevant to investigate the accusations against him. Moreover, a lawyer on center stage during the Hollywood blitz said Lula answered all questions during the almost four-hour interrogation without blinking – questions he had already answered before.
Lawyer Celso Bandeira de Mello, for his part, went straight to the point: the Brazilian upper middle classes – which include a largely appalling lot wallowing in arrogance, ignorance and prejudice, whose dream is a condo in Miami – are fearful and terrified to death that Lula may run, and win again, in 2018.
And that brings us to the judge and executioner of the whole drama: Sergio Moro, Car Wash’s leading actor.
Moro’s academic career is hardly exciting. He’s not exactly a theorist heavyweight. He graduated as a lawyer in 1995 in a mediocre university in the middle of nowhere in one of Brazil’s southern states and made a few trips to the US, one of them financed by the State Department to learn about money laundering.
As I noted before, his chef-d’oeuvre is an article published way back in 2004 in an obscure magazine (in Portuguese only, titled Considerations about Mani Pulite, CEJ magazine, issue number 26, July/September 2004), where he clearly extols “authoritarian subversion of juridical order to reach specific targets” and using the media to intoxicate the political atmosphere.
In a nutshell, judge Moro literally transposed the notorious 1990s Mani Pulite (“Clean Hands”) investigation from Italy to Brazil – instrumentalizing to the hilt mainstream media and the judiciary to achieve a sort of “total delegitimization” of the political system. But not the whole political system; just the Workers’ Party, as if the comprador elites permeating Brazil’s rightwing spectrum were cherubic angels.
So it comes as no surprise that Moro’s prime sidekick as Car Wash unrolled is the Marinho family’s oligopoly, the Globo media empire – a nest of reactionary, and not very clever, vipers who entertained very cozy relations with the Brazilian military dictatorship from the 1960s to the 1980s. Not by accident, Globo was informed about Lula’s Hollywood-style “arrest” way before the fact, allowing it to invest in CNN-style blanket coverage.
Moro is viewed by legions in Brazil as an indigenous Elliot Ness. Other lawyers who have closely followed his work though hint he harbors the warped fantasy of a Workers’ Party as a mob leeching and plundering the state apparatus with the aim of delivering it, in pieces, to trade unions.
According to one of these lawyers who talked to Brazilian independent media, a former president of the Lawyers’ Association in Rio, Moro is surrounded by a bunch of young fanatical prosecutors, with little juridical knowledge, and posing as the Brazilian Antonio di Pietro (but without the solidity of the “Clean Hands” Milanese prosecutor). Worse, Moro is oblivious that the implosion of the Italian political system led to the rise of Berlusconi. In Brazil, it would certainly lead to the rise of a clown/village idiot supported by the Globo empire, whose oligopolistic practices are quite Berlusconian.
The digital Pinochets
A case can be made that the Hollywood blitz on Lula holds a direct parallel to the first attempt at a coup d’etat in Chile in 1973, which tested the waters in terms of popular response before the real deal. In the Brazilian remix, assorted Globo media maggots pose as digital Pinochets. At least many a street in Sao Paulo now bears graffiti to the effect of “Military coup – Never again.”
Yes, because this is all about a white coup – in the form of a Rousseff impeachment and sending Lula to the gallows. But old (military) habits die hard; Globo media maggots are now extolling the Army to take to the streets to “neutralize” popular militias. And this is just the beginning. Right-wingers are getting ready for a national mobilization on Sunday calling for – what else – Rousseff’s impeachment.
Car Wash’s merit is to investigate corruption, collusion and traffic of influence in abysmally corrupt Brazil. But everyone, every political faction, should be investigated – including those representing Brazilian comprador elites. That’s not the case. Because the political project allied with Car Wash couldn’t care less about “justice”; the only thing that matters is to perpetuate a vicious political crisis as a means to drag the seventh largest economy in the world into the mud and reach the Holy Grail: a white coup, or good ol’ regime change. But 2016 is not 1973, and the whole world by now knows who’s a sucker for regime change.
Originally published in Op-Ed News on March 3, 2016
From a failed attempt to clear the Calais jungle to the appalling situation at the Greek-Macedonian border, the EU crumbles under the strain of a massive refugee crisis. Even the Kafkaesque Brussels Eurocrat construct admits it — off the record, because official EU must always project a mythical image of unity: We are on the edge of an abyss.
Across the EU and amidst Russian intellectual elites, scenarios proliferate on the imminent collapse of Western civilization, as a huge number of refugees cannot be properly assimilated. In Russia, this process is examined with extreme concern because it happens not far from Russia's western borderlands, and involves what the Kremlin traditionally defines as our partners.
But what if this European slow-motion debacle was not enacted as a Mad Max dystopia, but rather brought about by a tsunami of Muslims ultimately displaced by Western-engineered wars?
Behold Fortress Europe
It was only six months ago that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government took a huge gamble in adopting a so-called humanitarian refugee policy; call it the civilized face of the otherwise politically tainted R2P (responsibility to protect) concept, which was ruthlessly manipulated for the invasion and destruction of Libya.
Six months later, we have swarms of refugees stranded all along the Balkan Route — and progressively encircled/trapped by strict border controls, the disappearance of social benefits, creeping fences and walls, and the practical extermination of the Schengen accords. The Merkel gambit is over; Fortress Europe is back with a vengeance.
Can you hear the sound of a basket of myths crumbling? Here are a few. The notion of European solidarity — not to mention egality and fraternity. The notion that EU members would accept a sensible, harmonious, proportional distribution of refugees. The notion that Europe would not reject, deport and repatriate people fleeing from war zones. The notion that Turkey would protect the EU from the crisis.
The Balkan Route, for all practical purposes, is now sealed off to refugees while Ankara, for its part, is slowly building a wall along stretches of the Turkish-Syrian border — not as much to really contain them (after all Ankara must keep open the Jihadi highway), but as a propaganda coup.
Germany's humanitarian refugee policy is in tatters and corroded by self-doubt; only two weeks ago Chancellor Merkel was wondering whether she should pursue our European-Turkish approach or whether the EU should order the absolute sealing off of the Greek-Macedonian border, pure and simple.
And that leads us close to the heart of the matter — which is, of course, Turkey.
The majority of German conservative politicos want Merkel to seal off German borders to refugees, while Merkel still believes in the Hand of Providence; help from European partners — which won't come — and most of all from Ankara.
And that's exactly where Turkey's Sultan Erdogan wants her to be; as a supplicant, not as the leader of the number one European economic power.
Ankara's power play
One of the key myths of the whole refugee crisis is that Erdogan's AKP government is doing all it can to contain it.
Nonsense. The crisis itself was engineered by Ankara in 2015 — when refugees were released from their holding camps in Turkey under threat that they would not be cared for anymore. The refugee flood was not a spontaneous creation, as Syrians, Iraqis and/or Afghans suddenly decided to flee to the EU; it was directly instigated by Ankara. And Erdogan from the start was already contemplating the Big Prize; to bribe the EU, especially Merkel, to pay — at least 3 billion euros — so most refugees remain not on Turkish soil, but on one of his own neo-Ottoman sub-plots; a safe zone to be built inside Syrian territory.
Extra evidence pointing to Ankara's plotting is the fact that Turkey has not increased patrols on its Mediterranean coast — the departure point for scores of refugees to try their luck by boat on their way to safety of the Greek islands. The priority for Ankara was to close the Turkish-Syrian border. Not really close it, as safe passage remains guaranteed for selected moderate rebels.
The Warsaw-based European border control agency Frontex is absolutely convinced that the Turkey-EU refugee power play will continue. Diplomatically, Frontex's director Fabrice Leggeri advances that Turkey has to make it more difficult for the migrant smugglers.
Yet that won't happen. And Germany — and the EU as a whole — will continue to be hostages of Ankara's political maneuvering.
A EU-Turkey summit was held in November 2015. At the time, Erdogan promised there would be more security in the Aegean coast and more raids on migrant smugglers. Too little, too late. Turkey's Aegean coast is 2,800 kilometers long. Ankara does not have the resources to police it properly.
So smuggling on a massive scale proceeds unabated. Smuggling rings with the right contacts — within Turkish police and AKP-related politicians — only need to pay roughly 3,000 euros for each group of refugees to clear the border and hit the sea.
In parallel, Ankara is clearly at war in Southeast Anatolia against the PKK Kurds. This is the number one priority, not smuggling of refugees, not to mention fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu could not be more straight to the point when he visited Berlin late last year: the Erdogan/Davutoglu Plan A is to annihilate the PKK Kurds. There is no Plan B.
Chaos, created then applauded
No one in Brussels will do it. So Frau Merkel ultimately would have to be the only EU leader to confront Erdogan and read him the riot act. It's not only a matter of politely requesting Ankara to reduce refugee numbers. It's to order him to do so; question him on why he released them en masse in the first place last year; and withhold any future financial rescue package, including the building of refugee camps inside Syrian territory.
The stark fact is that the whole refugee crisis — an existential crisis for Europe — is being used by Ankara as a bargaining chip for an elaborate extortion racket. Erdogan wants a tsunami of EU cash; and he wants a tsunami of concessions regarding Turkey's negotiations for accession to the EU.
Meanwhile, there's no concerted EU refugee policy to be seen. Not even a balancing act between humanitarian concerns and deterrence, altruism and realpolitik. No EU political leader will confront the responsibility of NATO's wars (with petrodollar GCC support) crafting the whole crisis. The absolute majority of refugees are Syrians, Afghans and Africans who depart the continent via NATO-destroyed Libya.
Polls consistently show that a majority of EU citizens don't want to welcome refugees anymore. As Belgium-based Jean Bricmont, author of Humanitarian Imperialism has correctly stressed, EU citizens who were never consulted on the issue of refugees and who are constantly asked to make sacrifices because "there is no money" understandably do not accept this moral discourse anymore.
Bricmont is among the very few in Europe to connect the dots: The same people who encouraged "humanitarian" interventions and "support" for armed insurrections abroad, that have led to perpetual wars, generating a constant flow of refugees, are now demanding that the population of our countries "welcome the refugees." They first generate chaos there, then they applaud chaos here.
Well, that's the whole logic of the Empire of Chaos in a nutshell.
Originally published in Counterpunch on February 26, 2016
Beijing is advancing a Chinese-led globalization that will challenge U.S. hegemony both regionally and globally.
Earlier last week, the first Chinese commercial train, with 32 containers, arrived in Tehran after a less than 14-day journey from the massive warehouse of Yiwu in Zhejiang, eastern China, crossing Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
This is a 10,400 km-long trip. Crucially, it’s also no less than 30 days shorter compared to the sea route from Shanghai to Bandar Abbas. And we’re not even talking about high-speed rail yet – which in a few years will be installed all along from eastern China to Iran and onward to Turkey and, crucially, Western Europe, enabling 500-plus container trains to crisscross Eurasia in a flash.
When Mohsen Pour Seyed Aghaei, president of Iran Railways, remarked that, “countries along the Silk Road are striving to revive the ancient network of trade routes,” he was barely touching the surface in what is an earth-shattering process.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran only last month – the first global leader to do so after nuclear sanctions were lifted. Then the heirs to the former Silk Road powers – imperial Persia and imperial China – duly signed agreements to boost bilateral trade to $600 billion over the next decade.
And that is just the beginning.
Trade Wars and Air/Sea Battles
To frame the earth-shattering process in a strategic perspective, from the Chinese point of view, it’s enlightening to revert to a very important speech delivered last summer by General Qiao Liang at the University of Defense, China’s top military school. It’s as if Liang’s formulations would be coming from the mouth of the dragon – Xi – himself.
Beijing’s leadership assesses that the U.S. won’t get into a war against China within the next 10 years. Pay attention to the time frame: 2025 is when Xi expects China to have turned into a “moderately prosperous” society as part of the renewed Chinese Dream. And Xi for his part would have fulfilled his mandate – arguably basking in glory once enjoyed only by the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping.
The secret for the next 10 years, as General Liang framed it, is for China to overhaul its economy (a work in progress) and internationalize the yuan. That also implies striking an Asian-wide free trade pact – which is obviously not the Chinese-deprived American TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), but the Chinese-driven RCEP.
General Liang directly connects the internationalization of the yuan to something way beyond the New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road, according to the official Chinese denomination. He talks in terms of a Northeast Asia free trade agreement, but in fact what’s in play, and what China aims at, is the trans-Asia free trade agreement.
As a consequence, a “ripple effect” will divide the world:
“If only a third of the global money is in the hands of the dollar, how can the U.S. currency maintain its leadership? Could a hollowed out United States, left without monetary leadership, still be a global leader?”
So the decline of the U.S. dollar is the key issue, according to the Beijing leadership, of China’s “recent troubles” under which loom “the shadow of the United States.”
Enter the U.S. “pivot to Asia.” Beijing clearly interprets its goal as “to balance out the momentum of China’s rising power today.” And that leads to the discussion of the former AirSea Battle concept (it has now “evolved” into another mongrel), which General Liang qualifies as an “intractable dilemma” for the U.S.
“The strategy primarily reflects the fact that the U.S. military today is weakening,” said Liang. “U.S. troops used to think that it could use airstrikes and the Navy against China. Now the U.S. finds neither the Air Force nor the Navy by themselves can gain advantages against China.”
Only this previous paragraph would be enough to put in perspective the whole, tumultuous cat and mouse game of Chinese advances and American bullying across the South China Sea. Beijing is very much aware that Washington cannot “offset some advantages the Chinese military has established, such as the ability to destroy space systems or attack aircraft carriers. The United States must then come up with 10 years of development and a more advanced combat system to offset China’s advantages. This means that Americans may schedule a war for 10 years later.”
Have War, Will Plan
So, no major war up to 2025, which leaves Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership free to advance like a juggernaut. Observers who follow the moves in Beijing in real time qualify it as “breathtaking “ or “a sight to behold.” The Beltway remains mostly clueless.
At the onset of the Chinese Year of the Monkey, the CCP under Xi’s orders released a sensational cartoon hip hop video that went mega-viral. Talk about Chinese soft power; that’s how Xi’s platform for his 10-year term, up to 2023, was announced to the masses.
Enter the Four Comprehensives: 1) to develop a “moderately prosperous society” (translated into a GDP per capita of US$10,000); 2) Keep deepening reforms (especially of the economic model); 3) Govern by the rule of law (that’s tricky; but essentially means the law as interpreted by the CCP); 4) Eliminate corruption from the CCP (a long work in progress).
None of this, of course, implies following a Western model; on the contrary, it shows off Beijing counteracting Western soft power on every domain.
And then, inevitably, all roads, sooner or later, lead to One Belt, One Road. And yet General Liang sees it as way beyond a globalization process, “the truly American globalization,” which he qualifies as “the globalization of dollars.” He – and the Beijing leadership – do not see the China-driven One Belt, One Road as “an integration into the global economic system. To say that the dollar will continue its globalization and integration is a misunderstanding. As a rising great power, One Belt, One Road is the initial stage of China globalization.”
Radically ambitious does not even begin to describe it. So as much as One Belt, One Road is the external vector of the Chinese Dream, bent on integrating the whole of Eurasia on a trade and commerce “win-win” basis, it is also “by far the best strategy China can put forward. It is a hedge strategy against the eastward move of the U.S.”
There we have it – mirroring what I have been writing since One Belt, One Road was launched. This is China’s “hedge strategy of turning its back to the U.S. eastward shift: You push in one direction; I go in the opposite direction. Didn’t you pressure me to it? I go west, neither to avoid you nor because I am afraid, but to very cleverly defuse the pressure you gave me on the east.” Welcome to China pivoting West.
Feel Free to Encircle Yourself
General Liang, predictably, prefers to concentrate on the military, not commercial aspects. And he could not spell it out more clearly.
“Given that China’s sea power is still weak, the first choice of One Belt, One Road should be to compete on land,” he said. Liang frames the top terrain of competition as the “belt” – overland New Silk Road routes; and that leads to worrying, still unanswered questions about the Chinese army “expeditionary capabilities.”
General Liang does not expand on this competition – arguably with the U.S. – along the New Silk Road belt. What he believes to be certain though, is “that in choosing China as its rival, America chose the wrong opponent and the wrong direction. Because in the future, the real challenge to the United States is not China; it is the United States itself, and the United States will bury itself.”
And how will that happen? Because of financial capitalism; it’s as if Gen. Liang has been reading Michael Hudson and Paul Craig Roberts (as he certainly does). He notes how “through the virtual economy, the United States has already eaten up all the profits of capitalism.”
And what about that “burial”? Well, it will be orchestrated by “the Internet, big data, and the cloud” as they are “pushed to the extreme” and will “gain a life of their own and oppose the government of the U.S.”
Who would have thought it? It’s as if the Chinese don’t even have to play go anymore. They just need to let the adversary encircle itself.
Europa, in classical Greek mythology, was this Phoenician princess babe that drove lusty Zeus absolutely bonkers.
A trickster par excellence, Zeus turned into a white bull, lured Europa into riding him, and before she could escape, dove into the Aegean Sea and carried her off to Crete. The product of their inevitable lovemaking was King Minos. So keep in mind that Europa is the Minotaur’s step-grandmother (more on the Minotaur in a minute.)
Prolific lover that he was, Zeus in the end always came back to his wife, Hera. But this time, not before bestowing selected gifts upon Europa. One of these gifts was Laelaps, a hound that never missed his prey. Then, one day, fate ruled that Laelaps should go after the Teumessian fox – which according to divine design should never be caught.
Imagine Zeus’s predicament. After racking his divine brain, Zeus finally found an easy way out; he turned them both into stone and cast them into the night sky.
We can always draw on the psychedelic bacchanalia of classical Greek mythology to find graphic illustrations to the turmoil of our times. Imagine, for instance, Europa’s elite – Mario Draghi and co. – racking their brains in Laelaps meets Teumessian mode trying to solve the eurozone riddle.
And imagine as well a new Minotaur eating modern Europa’s newborn sons and daughters.
Now to a new tale in the heart of Europa.
Seven months after resigning as the finance minister of Greece, self-described “erratic Marxist” Yanis Varoufakis is resurfacing (out of the Aegean Sea?) with a bang.
This past Tuesday, at the Volksbühne Theater in Berlin, Varoufakis launched a new project: the DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025), whose aim is to ultimately transfer power from Europa’s unaccountable, fiercely authoritarian elite and distribute it – fairly – among European citizens.
Greek myth? Why not? And exactly when Europa badly needs a new foundation myth. Varoufakis bets that the movement will eventually reach a “basic consensus” on what to do to really introduce democratic practices into how the European behemoth is run. And then, onwards to parliamentary democracy, via elections.
The diagnostic by Varoufakis would resonate among every sound minded EU citizen. It features unaccountable European elites; “big finance” and “big industry” forming the “unholy cartel” that is the “main driver of EU policy”; the European Central Bank (ECB) propping up the “cartel” by printing money like there’s no tomorrow through quantitative easing (QE); Italy as the new Greece, suffocated by its debt repayments; the fallacy of the theoretically apolitical ECB controlling interest rates across vastly disparate countries; and the Mafia behavior of the Eurogroup (comprising the 19 finance ministers of eurozone members).
Not surprisingly, the fallacy of this “model” of running the eurozone has produced devastating unemployment and facilitated the rise and rise and rise of the extreme right.
The concept of DiEM25 is inspired by what people across Europe should have done in the 1930s, before the ascension of Nazism and fascism; a pan-European, trans-political democratic movement. Varoufakis identifies all the toxic trends of the 1930s in the current, abysmal turmoil engulfing Europa.
He wants DiEM25 to be more than “just a think-tank and… an internet community”.
At the same time he’d like the movement to be essentially leaderless. And there’s the rub; Europa may not need heroes, but as it stands it definitely needs true leaders.
Chairperson of the German party 'Die Linke' Katja Kipping listens to Greek former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis during an event to mark the official launch of the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM) in Berlin on February 9, 2016. © AFP Photo
Meet the new Minotaur
Considering the current intellectual void all across Europa, Varoufakis at least is shaking up the torpor. Everything one needs to know about the deep causes of the 2008 global financial crisis has been dissected in his seminal book The Global Minotaur (Zed Books; check out the updated 2013 edition.)
The Minotaur metaphor is indispensable to understand the “model” – defined as “controlled disintegration of the world economy” – imposed upon the whole planet by former chairman of the Fed, Paul Volcker. Starting in the go-go 1980s, this “chaotic, yet strangely controlled flux,” as Varoufakis defines it, translated into foreign investors sending billions of US dollars to Wall Street every day, thus financing the US’s twin deficits – and feeding the Global Minotaur.
So we’re back, once again, to Greek classical mythology. King Minos of Crete asked Poseidon for a bull as a sign of divine endorsement. He promised Poseidon he would sacrifice the bull in the god’s honor. Yet he didn’t. Punishment, thus, was inevitable.
Talk about creative punishment. The gods, using Aphrodite’s expert qualifications, had Minos’s wife, Queen Pasiphae, fall madly in love/lust with the bull. Using various props built by the legendary engineer Dedalus, the queen managed to get pregnant. The product was the Minotaur: half human, half bull.
When the Minotaur became huge and uncontrollable, Minos told Dedalus to build a labyrinth. The only way to appease the Minotaur in his labyrinth was to offer human flesh. And here we get into Minos from Crete getting his revenge on Athens; King Aegeus of Athens had killed Minos’s son after he won all the contests at the Pan-Athenian games. So after a brief war with Athens, Aegeus was forced to send seven young boys and seven unwed girls to be devoured by the Minotaur every year.
This – in myth – was the set up for a regular foreign tribute that kept the Minotaur well fed. Nowadays, or until 2008, this was the set up of Pax Americana. But unlike the myth, where Theseus – the son of Aegeus – eventually slaughtered the Minotaur, what doomed the new monster were the lowly subprime racket and a tsunami of CDOs and CDSs.
Varoufakis could not but be attracted to a remix of the Minotaur metaphor; a periodic one-sided tribute – in US dollars – from the whole planet enabling the hegemonic ‘Exceptionalists’ to project power across the seas. This Minotaur is now dying, the world is still encumbered with its rotting carcass, and no one knows what beast is to rise next.
For now, it’s time to fight another, lesser Minotaur; a monster devouring its step-grandmother Europa’s children by autocracy, austerity, unemployment and fear. And once again, it takes a Greek, not a hero by any means, to show Europeans the way.
Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
Picture sleepless nights at ‘Sultan’ Erdogan’s palace in Ankara. Imagine him livid when he learns the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), backed by Russian air power, started a preemptive Battle of Aleppo – through the Bayirbucak region – cutting off Ankara’s top weaponizing corridor and Jihadi highway.
Who controls this corridor will control the final outcome of the war in Syria.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, the remote-controlled Syrian opposition, a.k.a. High Negotiations Committee, graphically demonstrated they never wanted to meet with the Damascus delegation in the first place – “proximity” talks or otherwise, even after Washington and Moscow roughly agreed on a two-year transition plan leading to a theoretically secular, nonsectarian Syria.
The Saudi front wanted no less than Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and all Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria, collaborators at the table in Geneva. So the Geneva charade, quicker than one can say “Road to Aleppo!” was exposed for what it is.
And forget about NATO
Notorious Saudi intel mastermind Prince Turki, a former mentor of one Osama bin Laden, has been to Paris on a PR offensive; all he could muster was an avalanche of non-denial denials – and blaming the whole Syria tragedy on Bashar al-Assad.
The bulk of the Syrian ‘opposition’ used to be armchair warriors co-opted by the CIA for years, as well as CIA Muslim Brotherhood patsies/vassals. Many of these characters preferred the joys of Paris to a hard slog on Syrian ground. Now the ‘opposition’ is basically warlords answering to the House of Saud even for bottles of water – regardless of the suit-and-tie former Ba’ath Party ministers handpicked to be the face of the opposition for the gullible Western corporate media.
Meanwhile, the ‘4+1’ – Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, plus Hezbollah – is now winning decisive facts on the ground. The break down; there won’t be regime change in Damascus. Yet no one broke the news to the Turks and Saudis.
‘Sultan’ Erdogan is wallowing in a sea of desperation. He continues to divert the gravely serious issues at stake to his own war against the PYD – the umbrella organization of the Syrian Kurds – and the YPG (People's Protection Units, their military wing). Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu wanted the PYD not only banned from Geneva but they want it smashed on the ground, as they see the PYD/YPG as “terrorists” allied to the PKK.
Yet what is ‘Sultan’ Erdogan going to do? Defy the recently arrived 4G++ Sukhoi Su-35S fighters – which are scaring the hell out of every NATO Dr. Strangelove? The Turkish Air Force putting its bases on “orange alert” may scare the odd vagrant dog at best. The same applies to NATO Secretary-General, figurehead Jens Stoltenberg, pleading to Russia “to act responsibly and fully respect NATO airspace.”
Moscow is going after the Turkmen with a vengeance and at the same time providing air support to the PYD west of the Euphrates. That hits the ‘Sultan’ in his heart of hearts; after all Erdogan has threatened multiple times that a PYD/YPG advance west of the Euphrates is the ultimate red line.
An already scared NATO won’t support the folly of an Erdogan war against Russia – as much as US and UK neocons may crave it; as NATO decisions must be unanimous, the last thing EU powers Germany and France want is yet another Southwest Asia war. NATO may deploy the odd Patriot missiles in southern Anatolia and the odd AWACs to support the Turkish Air Force. But that’s it.
Pick your favorite regime change
ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, meanwhile, continues to profit from its own Jihadi highway across a 98 kilometer stretch of Turkish/Syrian border, especially in Jarablus and Al Rai across from Gaziantep and Kilis in Turkey.
Taking a cue from Israel, Ankara is building a wall – 3.6 meters high, 2.5 meters wide – covering the stretch between Elbeyli and Kilis, essentially for propaganda purposes. Because the Jihadi Highway, for all practical purposes, remains open – even as Turkish Armed Forces may apprehend the odd trespasser (always released). We're talking about a monster smuggler/soldier scam; as much as $300 change hands for each night crossing and a noncommissioned Turkish officer may earn as much as $2,500 to look the other way for a few minutes.
The real question is why Gaziantep is not under a curfew imposed from Ankara, with thousands of Turkish Special Forces actually fighting a “war on terra” on the spot. That’s because Ankara and provincial authorities couldn’t give a damn; the real priority is Erdogan’s war on the Kurds.
This brings us to the only leverage the ‘Sultan’ may enjoy at the moment. From Brussels to Berlin, sound minds are terrified that the EU is now actually hostage to Erdogan’s Kurd “priority”, while Ankara is doing next to nothing to fight massive migrant smuggling.
When Davutoglu went to Berlin recently not only did he make no promises; he re-stressed Erdogan’s vow to "annihilate" the Syrian Kurds.
And that explains German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own desperation. How could the alleged most powerful politician in Europe falls for such a crude extortion racket? The ‘Sultan’ wants a lot of cash, a lot of concessions, and even a further shot at entering the EU. Otherwise, he won’t turn off the tap on the grim refugee flood.
No wonder the regime change rumor mill is frantic. In Ankara? No; in Berlin.
Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. He is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
A case can be made that for Moscow it would be a tremendous waste of hard-earned foreign exchange – to try to counter a rig against their currency they simply cannot beat, as the entire fiat financial power of the US is against them. Russia’s Central Bank by now should be all-out selling rubles for gold, and building Russia’s gold reserves.
Well, it is happening, somewhat. Last week, Russia’s Central Bank estimated gold reserves to have reached 1,415 metric tons in 2015 – over 17 percent more than 2014, valued at almost $48.6 billion. The share of monetary gold in Russia’s foreign currency reserves rose from 11.96 percent to 13.18 percent.
That’s still not good enough. Why? A harsh answer would be that the Russian Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance, as some analysts argue, are in effect run by saboteurs and vassals of the US financial elite, a.k.a. the Masters of the Universe.
Still, the Russian Central Bank did not intervene to prop up the ruble. And they should not. The best course of action would be to let the ruble go, ending almost all imports, thus forcing self-sufficiency. Or introduce capital controls, with only approved transactions involving foreign currencies. It did work for Malaysia, for instance, after the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Forget about a China crash
A serious case can be made that Russia does not need much Western foreign investment. That was mostly encouraged by the Central Bank, who held interest rates higher in Russia than the US and EU, naturally leading Russian companies to borrow abroad in US dollars or Euros.
The responsibility of Russia’s Central Bank is to create domestic credit to build the industries that have been cut off from Russia by the falling ruble. This is not inflationary; the increased production out of these investments would nullify the inflationary implications on the newly created credit.
The Russian Central bank instead went for tight money to fight inflation. It would have been much more profitable for Russia to fight inflation by creating credit at low interest rates to finance the construction of the industries necessary to replace the import of foreign products.
Now let’s look at the Russia-China strategic partnership. While Russia may be on the ropes, China is not. China will grow at an estimated 6.5 percent this year – versus 7 percent in 2015. Amid an astounding web of economic restructuring and de-leveraging, US multinationals such as Apple and GM certainly have no interest in a Chinese “crash”.
A key indicator to watch is the growth in China’s demand for oil. Construction has ebbed; but not car manufacturing, which is pumping out 25 million vehicles per year.
To deal with China, the Masters of the Universe deployed a different strategy; they tried to stop Chinese economic growth from fueling the rise in the oil price. Thus the offensive by the usual Wall Street suspects trying to crash China’s stock market using cash settlement on A shares. It did not work.
Now, the Masters of Universe, remote-controlling the Saudis, are essentially trying to pull the plug on global stock markets. One could call it a trillion dollar cash settlement derivative game. There’s no evidence this will be enough to break Russia.
The “assassin” versus the fifth column
Masters of the Universe hysteria on getting rid of President Putin (and reinstating vassal oligarchs) by any means available has reached fever pitch; the latest manifestation is “Putin The Assassin”, with crucial assistance provided by British“intelligence”.
There is no question Masters of the Universe operatives are behind the collapse in oil and ruble prices. Somewhat it’s a repeat of the scenario in mid-2014, when the oil price crashed and there was no visible increase in output; what happened was the – invisible – dumping of seven million barrels a day of Gulf oil under orders by the Masters of the Universe, according to surefire (American) banking sources.
The Fed mightily contributed to the present disorder by raising interest rates when the US economy was sick, while cash settlement manipulators in Wall Street used this as the basis for their move to tank the markets. It goes without saying that the usual suspects will make hundreds of billions of dollars out of the current market crash. A good place to watch is what goes on inside BlackRock.
Into this gloomy scenario steps in none other than the aspiring Master of the (New) Universe, Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his high-profile tour of the Middle East. Xi’s three-pronged business/charm offensive in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt should be interpreted as Beijing’s shot at reshaping Southwest Asia in a framework closer to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Xi as much as anyone knows very well how the whole American economy – based on a worthless global reserve currency – is fuelled by a rapacious, barely disguised tribute, paid by every nation in the world to the Empire of Chaos. And Xi knows how this tribute scam is unraveling, fast.
In Riyadh, Xi even implied, in a very Chinese, nuanced way, that the House of Saud would be doing a very good deal if it eventually dropped Washington as the Mafia-style protector, as well as the petrodollar as the privileged conduit for recycling Saudi oil income. What about yuan-denominated bonds and yuan-based oil benchmarks?
Needless to add, should the House of Saud even contemplate such a move en masse, a CIA-engineered coup in Riyadh would be a certainty, and all House of Saud assets confiscated – as many a Master of the Universe minion in the Beltway is already advocating off the record.
So we have the Saudis – following Masters of the Universe orders – frantically dumping securities on the market while the Russian Central bank wavers on what to do next.
Yet even if the Saudis managed to dump their $8 trillion in estimated assets Russia, adopting the correct strategy, could still move to a self-sufficiency that the US – or the EU – can’t even dream of. And on top of it enjoying full employment – while the West crashes itself down as their markets disintegrate.
So, Russian Central Bank and Finance Ministry, the steaming hot ball is in your court.
Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) and "Empire of Chaos" (2014), all published by Nimble Books. His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015.
Facing the gleaming Doha skyline on a Persian Gulf winter carries the merit of a panoramic perspective. Most nations around it are going into melt down and the remaining ones – with the exception of Iran – exhibit neither the political leadership nor the economic and institutional infrastructure to do anything other than to meekly accept whatever tsunami hits their shores. They are nothing but scared spectators.
The Empire of Chaos has enough warmongering hardware pre-positioned within spitting distance to turn the whole of Southwest Asia into ashes – as a gaggle of usual suspects in the Beltway, neocon or neoliberalcon, still can’t find a cure to their itching to "really win the next war" in a sort of exponential Shock and Awe.
Fear reigns supreme. Jim Rickards, the author of Currency Wars, economist and CIA asset, has just released a new book, The Big Drop, with a pretty grim message. For his part Jim Rogers, a.k.a. the "Sage of Singapore", most of the time China-bound informing the Chinese elite where to place their investments, holds on to a nuanced perspective on the West blaming all the current global economy turmoil on China.
According to Rogers, "Yes, China is slowing. But mostly the world is doing so. Japan, one of China’s largest trading partners is officially in recession. Much of Europe is worse. The US stock market was down in 2015 while the Chinese stock market was one of the strongest in the world."
Rogers adds, "things are going to get worse worldwide so everyone will suffer and is to ‘blame’. The original source is the US Federal Reserve and its ludicrous, artificial interest rates caused by massive money printing which the world has copied. Throw in staggering debt increases by the US government [which the world has also copied] and there will soon be hell to pay."
So no wonder apocalyptic war rumors are the new normal – even as old timers boost their case for "only" a "good old-fashioned world war", as if nuclear exchanges wouldn’t be part of the equation. A few sound minds in the Atlanticist axis worry that if Il Duce Trump wins the next US presidential election, that translates into guaranteed bankruptcy for the US, and – what else – war if Il Trumpissimo implements half of what he’s boasting about.
Short all the oil you can
The Davos annual talkfest is about to begin; that’s one of those occasions when the Masters of the Universe – who usually decide everything behind closed doors – send their minions to "debate" the future of their holdings. The current debate centers on whether we are still in the midst of the Third – digitalized – Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things or whether we’re already entering the Fourth.
In the real world though all the cackle is about the age of old-fashioned oil. Which brings us to the myriad effects of the cheap oil strategy deployed by the House of Saud under Washington’s command.
Persian Gulf traders, off the record, are adamant that there is no longer any real global oil surplus of consequence as all shut-in oil has been dumped on the market based on that Washington command.
Petroleum Intelligence Weekly estimates the surplus is at a maximum 2.2 million a day, plus 600,000 barrels a day coming from Iran later this year. The US consumption of oil – at 19,840,000 barrels a day, 20% of world production – has not increased; it’s the other 80% that have been mostly absorbing the dumped oil.
Some key Persian Gulf traders are adamant that oil should be surging by the second half of 2016. That explains why Russia is not panicking with oil plunging towards $30 a barrel. Moscow is very much aware of the "partners" that are carrying oil market manipulation against Russia, and at the same time is anticipating this won’t last too long.
That explains why Russia's Deputy Finance Minister Maxim Oreshkin issued a sort of "keep calm and carry on" message; he expects oil prices to remain in the $40-60 range for at least the next seven years, and Russia can live with that.
The Masters of the Universe – just like the Russians – have realized their oil manipulation cannot last. Hysteria, predictably, took over. That’s why they ordered major Wall Street firms to short oil using cash settlement. Compliant US corporate media was ordered to spin the shortfalls will last forever. The target is to drive down the price of a barrel of oil to $7 if possible.
The original Masters of the Universe strategy would eventually lead to regime change in Russia and the usual oligarch suspects back in the saddle re-conducting the massive looting operation Russia suffered during the 1990s.
A fearful House of Saud is a mere pawn in this strategy. Assuming the plan would work, the House of Saud under – virtually demented – King Salman, now confined to a room in his Riyadh palace, would also be regime-changed, via Saudi military officers trained in the West and recruited by Western agents. As a bonus, the Islamic Republic of Iran would also collapse, with "moderates" (rebels?) taking control.
So the Masters of the Universe strategy essentially boils down to regime-change in Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, leading to Exceptionalistan-friendly elites/vassals; in sum, the ultimate chapter in the global Resource Wars. Yet what this is yielding so far is the House of Saud having absolutely no clue of what may happen to them; Riyadh royals may think that they are undermining both Iran and Russia, but in the end they may be only accelerating their own demise.
Losing my religion
In Europe, it’s as if we’re back to 1977 when The Stranglers sang No More Heroes. Now, no more heroes and no more ideals. Even as some of European youth’s best and brightest have tried to fight the immense violence of neoliberalism, via alter-globalization, the poorest among the young are now mired in violence and suicidal nihilism – extreme Wahhabism which they've learned online. Yet this has nothing to do with Islam, and it’s not a war of religion, as myriad extreme-right parties across Europe routinely insist.
All across the spectrum, driven by fear, the toxic mix of political and economic instability continues to spread, leading quite a few insiders to wonder whether both the Fed and the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing don't really know what’s happening.
And that once again feeds the warmongering hordes, for which that "good old-fashioned world war" is the easiest ticket out. Cancel all the old debt; issue loads of new debt; turn ploughshares and iPhones into cannons. And after a little thermonuclear exchange, welcome to full employment and a new (waste)land of opportunity.
It’s in this context that, under the volcano, surfaces an essay by Guido Preparata, an Italian-American political economist now based as a scholar in the Vatican. In The Political Economy of Hyper-Modernity, soon to appear in an anthology published by Palgrave/Macmillan, Preparata offers an account of the last 70 years of US/international monetary dynamics/history by using a single indicator: the overall US balance of payments – which has not been released since 1975.
Yet the most important conclusion in the essay seems to be that "the neoliberal engine, which has had to run mostly on domestic fuel, has shown… appreciable resilience". The US Treasury and the Federal Reserve, "together" managed to erect a "wall of money".
And yet "US technocrats seem to have grown disillusioned with the neoliberal machine". So, "as a momentous alternative, the technocrats have called for some kind of ‘global rebalancing’". The US-led system "seems to be transitioning to a neo-mercantilist regime". And the answer is the TPP (The Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) trade agreements that, together, "will place the United States at the center of an open trade zone representing around two-thirds of global economic output".
This would imply, ultimately, a sort of Make Trade, Not War endgame. So why so much fear? That’s because in the internal battle raging among the Masters of the Universe, the freewheeling neoliberalcons have not yet imprinted the last word. So beware the Falcons of War.
© Strategic Culture Foundation
The Empire of Chaos, today, is not about complacency. It’s about hubris – and fear. Ever since the start of the Cold War the crucial question has been who would control the great trading networks of Eurasia – or the “heartland”, according to Sir Halford John Mackinder (1861–1947), the father of geopolitics.
We could say that for the Empire of Chaos, the game really started with the CIA-backed coup in Iran in 1953, when the US finally encountered, face to face, that famed Eurasia crisscrossed for centuries by the Silk Road(s), and set out to conquer them all.
Only six decades later, it’s clear there won’t be an American Silk Road in the 21st century, but rather, just like its ancient predecessor, a Chinese one. Beijing’s push for what it calls “One Belt, One Road” is inbuilt in the 21st century conflict between the declining empire and Eurasia integration. Key subplots include perennial NATO expansion and the empire’s obsession in creating a war zone out of the South China Sea.
As the Beijing-Moscow strategic partnership analyses it, the oligarchic elites who really run the Empire of Chaos are bent on the encirclement of Eurasia – considering they may be largely excluded from an integration process based on trade, commerce and advanced communication links.
Beijing and Moscow clearly identify provocation after provocation, coupled with relentless demonization. But they won’t be trapped, as they’re both playing a very long game.
Russian President Vladimir Putin diplomatically insists on treating the West as “partners”. But he knows, and those in the know in China also know, these are not really “partners”. Not after NATO’s 78-day bombing of Belgrade in 1999. Not after the purposeful bombing of the Chinese Embassy. Not after non-stop NATO expansionism. Not after a second Kosovo in the form of an illegal coup in Kiev. Not after the crashing of the oil price by Gulf petrodollar US clients. Not after the Wall Street-engineered crashing of the ruble. Not after US and EU sanctions. Not after the smashing of Chinese A shares by US proxies on Wall Street. Not after non-stop saber rattling in the South China Sea. Not after the shooting down of the Su-24.
It’s only a thread away
A quick rewind to the run-up towards the downing of the Su-24 is enlightening. Obama met Putin. Immediately afterwards Putin met Khamenei. Sultan Erdogan had to be alarmed; a serious Russian-Iranian alliance was graphically announced in Teheran. That was only a day before the downing of the Su-24.
France’s Hollande met Obama. But then Hollande met Putin. Erdogan was under the illusion he fabricated the perfect pretext for a NATO war, to be launched following Article 5 of the NATO Charter. Not by accident failed state Ukraine was the only country to endorse – in haste – the downing of the Su-24. Yet NATO itself recoiled – somewhat in horror; the empire was not ready for nuclear war.
At least not yet. Napoleon knew history turns on a slender thread. As much as Cold War 2.0 remains in effect we were, and will remain, just a thread away from nuclear war.
Whatever happens in the so-called Syrian peace process the proxy war between Washington and Moscow will continue. Hubristic US Think-Tank Land can’t see it any other way.
For Exceptionalist neocons and neoliberalcons alike, the only digestible endgame is a partition of Syria. The Erdogan system would gobble up the north. Israel would gobble up the oil-rich Golan Heights. And House of Saud proxies would gobble up the eastern desert.
Russia literally bombed all these elaborate plans to ashes because the next step after partition would feature Ankara, Riyadh – and a “leading from behind” Washington – pushing a Jihadi Highway all the way north to the Caucasus as well as Central Asia and Xinjiang (there are already at least 300 Uyghurs fighting for ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.) When all else fails, nothing like a Jihadi Highway plunged as a dagger in the body of Eurasia integration.
In the Chinese front, whatever “creative” provocations the Empire of Chaos may come up with, they won’t derail Beijing’s aims in the South China Sea – that vast basin crammed with unexplored oil and gas wealth and prime naval highway to and from China. Beijing is inevitably configuring itself by 2020 as a formidable haiyang qiangguo – a naval power.
Washington may supply $250 million in military “aid” to Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia for the next two years, but that’s mostly irrelevant. Whatever “creative” imperial ideas would have to take into account, for instance, the DF-21D “carrier killer” ballistic missile, with a 2,500 km range and capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
On the economic front, Washington-Beijing will remain prime proxy war territory. Washington pushes the TPP – or NATO on trade pivoting to Asia? It’s still a Sisyphean task, because the 12 member nations need to ratify it, not least the US featuring an extremely hostile Congress.
Against this American one-trick pony, Xi Jinping, for his part, is deploying a complex three-pronged strategy; China’s own counterpunch to the TPP, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP); the immensely ambitious “One Belt, One Road”; and the means to finance a tsunami of projects, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – the Chinese counter-punch to the World Bank and the US-Japan-controlled Asian Development Bank (ADB)
For Southeast Asia, for instance, the numbers tell the story. Last year, China was the top ASEAN partner, to the tune of $367 billion. This will grow exponentially with One Belt, One Road – which will absorb $200 billion in Chinese investment up to 2018.
Heart of Darkness – revisited
Prospects for Europe are nothing but bleak. French-Iranian researcher Farhad Khosrokhavar has been one of the few who identified the crux of the problem. A jihadi reserve army across Europe will continue to feed on batallions of excluded youth in poor inner cities. There is no evidence EU neoliberalcons will be fostering sound socio-economic policies to extract these alienated masses from the ghettos, employing new forms of socialization.
So the escape route will continue to be a virus-like version of Salafi-jihadism, sold by wily, PR-savvy profiteers as a symbol of resistance; the only counter-ideology available on the market. Khosrokhavar defined it as the neo-umma – an “effervescent community that never existed historically”, but now openly inviting any young European, Muslim or otherwise, afflicted by an identity crisis.
In parallel, on our way into a full 15 years of the endless neocon war against independent states in the Middle East, the Pentagon will be turbo-charging an unlimited expansion of some of its existing bases – from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan – into “hubs”.
From sub-Saharan Africa to Southwest Asia, expect a hub boom, all of them merrily hosting Special Forces; the operation was described by Pentagon supremo Ash “Empire of Whining” Carter as “essential”; “Because we cannot predict the future, these regional nodes – from Moron, Spain to Jalalabad, Afghanistan – will provide forward presence to respond to a range of crises, terrorist and other kinds. These will enable unilateral crisis response, counter-terror operations, or strikes on high-value targets.”
It’s all here: unilateral Exceptionalistan in action against anyone who dares to defy imperial diktats.
From Ukraine to Syria, and all across MENA (Middle East and North Africa), the proxy war between Washington and Moscow, with higher and higher stakes, won’t abate. Imperial despair over the irreversible Chinese ascent also won’t abate. As the New Great Game picks up speed, and Russia supplies Eurasian powers Iran, China and India with missile defense systems beyond anything the West has, get used to the new normal; Cold War 2.0 between Washington and Beijing-Moscow.
I leave you with Joseph Conrad, writing in Heart of Darkness: "There is a taint of death, a flavor or mortality in lies….To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe….We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember, because we were traveling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign – and no memories…”
Smoke rises after what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Assad in Raqqa, which is controlled by the Islamic State
Originally published in RT on December 14, 2015
The FSB, SVR and GRU in Russia, while drawing all the right connections, cannot help but conclude that Washington is letting Cold War 2.0 escalate to the boiling point.
Imagine Russian intel surveying the geopolitical chessboard.
A Russian passenger jet is bombed by an affiliate of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. A Russian fighter jet is ambushed and downed by Turkey; here is a partial yet credible scenario of how it may have happened.
Ukrainian right-wing goons sabotage the Crimean electricity supply. A Syrian army base near Deir Ezzor – an important outpost against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in eastern Syria – is hit by the US-led Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO). The IMF “pardons” Ukraine’s debt to Russia as it joins, de facto, Cold War 2.0.
And this is just a shortlist.
This is a logical progression. The NATO-GCC compound in Syria is devoured by angst. Russia’s entry into the Syrian war theater – a proxy war, not a civil war – threw all elaborate, downright criminal regime change plans into disarray.
If the US-led CDO were really committed to fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, they would be working side by side with the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), not bombing it or trying to stall it.
And they would be actively trying to shut down the key Turkey-Syria crossroads – the Jarablus corridor which is in fact a 24/7 Jihadi Highway.
NATO’s game in Syria wallows in slippery ambiguity. Discussions with dissident EU diplomats in Brussels, not necessarily NATO vassals, reveal a counter-narrative of how the Pentagon clearly mapped out the Russian strategy; how they interpreted Russian forces to be relatively isolated; and how they decided to allow Ankara under Sultan Erdogan to go wild – a perfect tool offering plausible deniability.
Which brings us back to the downing of the Su-24. Venturing one step further, Russian expert Alexei Leonkov maintains that not only did NATO follow the whole operation with an AWACS, but another AWACS from Saudi Arabia actually guided the Turkish F-16s.
The F-16s are incapable of launching air-to-air missiles without guidance from AWACS. Both Russian and Syrian data – which can be independently verified – place the American and the Saudi AWACS in the area at the time. And to top it off, the detailed US-Turkey deal on the F-16s stipulates permission is mandatory for deploying the jets against a third country.
All this suggests an extremely serious possibility; a direct NATO-GCC op against Russia, which may be further clarified by the Su-24’s recovered black box.
As if this was not enough to raise multiple eyebrows, it could mean just the first move in an expanding chessboard. The final target: to keep Russia away from the Turkish-Syrian border.
But that won’t happen for a number of reasons – not least the Russian deployment of the ultra-lethal S-400s. The Turkish Air Force is so scared that everything – even owls and vultures – is grounded across the border.
Meanwhile, the Humint component is being boosted; more Western boots on the ground, Germans included, branded as mere “advisers” – which, if deployed to the battlefield, may inevitably clash with the SAA. To mold public opinion, the humanitarian bombing faction of German neoliberalcons is already spinning the tale that Assad is the real enemy, not ISISI/SIL/Daesh. Finally, the Germans have made it clear they won’t work alongside Russia and the SAA, but responding to Centcom in Florida and the CDO HQ in Kuwait.
The NATO master plan for northern Syria in the next few weeks and months essentially features US, UK and Turkey fighter jets, with the French still in the balance (are we de facto collaborating with the Russians, or is it just posture?) This is being sold to global public opinion as a “coalition” effort – with Russia barely mentioned.
The master plan, under the cover of bombing the fake “Caliphate” lair in Raqqa, would ideally open the way to a de facto, Erdogan-concocted “safe zone” across the Jarablus corridor, which in reality is a no-fly zone able to harbor a gaggle of“moderate rebels”, a.k.a. hardcore Salafi-jihadis of the al-Nusra kind.
In parallel, expect a torrent of Turkish spin centered on “protecting” the Turkmen minority in northern Syria, actually Turkey’s fifth column, heavily infiltrated by Islamo-fascists of the Grey Wolves kind. It started with Ankara accusing Moscow of “ethnic cleansing”. Erdogan will go no holds barred appealing even for R2P (“responsibility to protect” NATO liberation, Libyan-style.)
And here’s where NATO is totally in sync with Ankara; after all, a “safe zone” protected by NATO crammed with “moderate rebels” is the perfect tool to turbo-charge the breakup of the Syrian state.
It’s not legal but we don’t care
NATO’s Syria intervention is of course absolutely illegal.
UN Security Council resolution 2249 does not fall under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Yet once again creative language – French-style rhetorical artifice – blurs the non-justification of military might by conveying the impression the UNSC approves it.
And that’s exactly how David of Arabia Cameron interpreted it. Obfuscation is inbuilt in the process, with London pledging to work side by side with Moscow.
Resolution 2249 is yet another case of international law reduced to rubble. For these – sporadic – UK and French air strikes, covered by the pretext of hitting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, were never authorized by Damascus, and the UNSC was not even consulted. Russia, on the other hand, has been fully authorized by Damascus.
On top of this, the CDO is no coalition of 60 or 65 countries, as the Obama administration is frantically spinning. They are actually a gang of seven: Germany, France, UK, US, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In a nutshell; a pared-down-to-the-bone NATO-GCC compound.
Who’s actually fighting the fake “Caliphate” on the ground are the SAA; Hezbollah; Iraqi Shi’ites under Iranian advisers; and outside of the “4+1” alliance (Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq plus Hezbollah) a coalition of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and smaller Arab and Christian militias, now united under a political umbrella, the Syrian Democratic Council, which Ankara predictably abhors.
Ankara provocations won’t stop – including “creative” ways of denying the passage of “Syrian Express” Russian ships through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles without violating the Montreux Convention.
So NATO’s “new” master plan, twisting and turning, still slouches towards the prime objective: “liberating”, Libya-style, northern Syria and allow it to be occupied either by “moderate rebels” or in the worst case scenario Syrian Kurds, which in theory would be easily manipulated.
ISIS/ISIL/Daesh would be in this case “contained” (Obama administration lingo) not in eastern Syria but actually expelled to the Iraqi western desert, where they would solidify a Sunnistan. Erdogan also badly wants a Sunnistan, but his version is even more ambitious, including Mosul.
This is all happening while a gaggle of Syrian “moderate” rebels met – of all places – in Wahhabi/Salafi-Jihadi Central Riyadh to choose a delegation of 42 people to “select the negotiators” of future Syrian peace talks.
Once again they agreed “Assad must go” even during the transition process. And that “foreign forces” must leave Syria. Obviously that excludes the tsunami of mercenaries paid and weaponized by Riyadh alongside Doha and Ankara.
Any sound mind would ask how the House of Saud gets away with it: choosing who is a “moderate” in a nation they are heavily involved in destabilizing. Simple: because Riyadh owns a gaggle of US lobbyists and handsomely rewards PR gurus such as Edelman, the largest privately owned PR agency on the planet.
The die is cast. Whatever Ankara – under the cover of NATO – may be concocting to prevent the “4+1” from advancing on the ground in Syria, the writing is on the (lethal) wall. It may come embedded in cruise missiles delivered by the Caspian Fleet or delivered by submarines. And it will follow to the letter what President Putin himself told the Defense Ministry's collegium: And not by accident, the Syrian Democratic Council was not invited to go to Riyadh.
"I order you to act extremely tough. Any targets that threaten Russian forces or our infrastructure on the ground should be immediately destroyed."
Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
Silk Roads, Night Trains, and the Third Industrial Revolution in China
The U.S. is transfixed by its multibillion-dollar electoral circus. The European Union is paralyzed by austerity, fear of refugees, and now all-out jihad in the streets of Paris. So the West might be excused if it’s barely caught the echoes of a Chinese version of Roy Orbison’s “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” And that new Chinese dream even comes with a road map.
The crooner is President Xi Jinping and that road map is the ambitious, recently unveiled 13th Five-Year-Plan, or in the pop-video version, the Shisanwu. After years of explosive economic expansion, it sanctifies the country’s lower “new normal” gross domestic product growth rate of 6.5% a year through at least 2020.
It also sanctifies an updated economic formula for the country: out with a model based on low-wage manufacturing of export goods and in with the shock of the new, namely, a Chinese version of the third industrial revolution. And while China’s leadership is focused on creating a middle-class future powered by a consumer economy, its president is telling whoever is willing to listen that, despite the fears of the Obama administration and of some of the country’s neighbors, there’s no reason for war ever to be on the agenda for the U.S. and China.
Given the alarm in Washington about what is touted as a Beijing quietly pursuing expansionism in the South China Sea, Xi has been remarkably blunt on the subject of late. Neither Beijing nor Washington, he insists, should be caught in the Thucydides trap, the belief that a rising power and the ruling imperial power of the planet are condemned to go to war with each other sooner or later.
It was only two months ago in Seattle that Xi told a group of digital economy heavyweights, “There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.”
A case can be made — and Xi’s ready to make it — that Washington, which, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya to Syria, has gained something of a reputation for “strategic miscalculation” in the twenty-first century, might be doing it again. After all, U.S. military strategy documents and top Pentagon figures have quite publicly started to label China (like Russia) as an official “threat.”
To grasp why Washington is starting to think of China that way, however, you need to take your eyes off the South China Sea for a moment, turn off Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and the rest of the posse, and consider the real game-changer — or “threat” — that’s rattling Beltway nerves in Washington when it comes to the new Great Game in Eurasia.
Xi’s Bedside Reading
Swarms of Chinese tourists iPhoning away and buying everything in sight in major Western capitals already prefigure a Eurasian future closely tied to and anchored by a Chinese economy turbo-charging toward that third industrial revolution. If all goes according to plan, it will harness everything from total connectivity and efficient high-tech infrastructure to the expansion of green, clean energy hubs. Solar plants in the Gobi desert, anyone?
Yes, Xi is a reader of economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, who first conceived of a possible third industrial revolution powered by both the Internet and renewable energy sources.
It turns out that the Chinese leadership has no problem with the idea of harnessing cutting-edge Western soft power for its own purposes. In fact, they seem convinced that no possible tool should be overlooked when it comes to moving the country on to the next stage in the process that China’s Little Helmsman, former leader Deng Xiaoping, decades ago designated as the era in which “to get rich is glorious."
It helps when you have $4 trillion in foreign currency reserves and massive surpluses of steel and cement. That’s the sort of thing that allows you to go “nation-building” on a pan-Eurasian scale. Hence, Xi’s idea of creating the kind of infrastructure that could, in the end, connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. It’s what the Chinese call “One Belt, One Road”; that is, the junction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Twenty-First Century Maritime Silk Road.
Since Xi announced his One Belt, One Road policy in Kazakhstan in 2013, PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong estimates that the state has ploughed more than $250 billion into Silk Road-oriented projects ranging from railways to power plants. Meanwhile, every significant Chinese business player is on board, from telecom equipment giant Huawei to e-commerce monster Alibaba (fresh from its Singles Day online blockbuster). The Bank of China has already provided a $50 billion credit line for myriad Silk Road-related projects. China’s top cement-maker Anhui Conch is building at least six monster cement plants in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Laos. Work aimed at tying the Asian part of Eurasia together is proceeding at a striking pace. For instance, the China-Laos, China-Thailand, and Jakarta-Bandung railways — contracts worth over $20 billion — are to be completed by Chinese companies before 2020.
With business booming, right now the third industrial revolution in China looks ever more like a mad scramble toward a new form of modernity.
A Eurasian “War on Terror”
The One Belt, One Road plan for Eurasia reaches far beyond the Rudyard Kipling-coined nineteenth century phrase “the Great Game,” which in its day was meant to describe the British-Russian tournament of shadows for the control of Central Asia. At the heart of the twenty-first century’s Great Game lies China’s currency, the yuan, which may, by November 30th, join the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights reserve-currency basket. If so, this will in practice mean the total integration of the yuan, and so of Beijing, into global financial markets, as an extra basket of countries will add it to their foreign exchange holdings and subsequent currency shifts may amount to the equivalent of trillions of U.S. dollars.
Couple the One Belt, One Road project with the recently founded, China-ledAsian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Beijing’s Silk Road Infrastructure Fund ($40 billion committed to it so far). Mix in an internationalized yuan and you have the groundwork for Chinese companies to turbo-charge their way into a pan-Eurasian (and even African) building spree of roads, high-speed rail lines, fiber-optic networks, ports, pipelines, and power grids.
According to the Washington-dominated Asian Development Bank (ADB), there is, at present, a monstrous gap of $800 billion in the funding of Asian infrastructure development to 2020 and it’s yearning to be filled. Beijing is now stepping right into what promises to be a paradigm-breaking binge of economic development.
And don’t forget about the bonuses that could conceivably follow such developments. After all, in China’s stunningly ambitious plans at least, its Eurasian project will end up covering no less than 65 countries on three continents, potentially affecting 4.4 billion people. If it succeeds even in part, it could take the gloss off al-Qaeda- and ISIS-style Wahhabi-influenced jihadism not only in China’s Xinjiang Province, but also in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Imagine it as a new kind of Eurasian war on terror whose “weapons” would be trade and development. After all, Beijing’s planners expect the country’s annual trade volume with belt-and-road partners to surpass $2.5 trillion by 2025.
At the same time, another kind of binding geography — what I’ve long called Pipelineistan, the vast network of energy pipelines crisscrossing the region, bringing its oil and natural gas supplies to China — is coming into being. It’s already spreading across Pakistan and Myanmar, and China is planning to double down on this attempt to reinforce its escape-from-the-Straits-of-Malacca strategy. (That bottleneck is still a transit point for 75% of Chinese oil imports.) Beijing prefers a world in which most of those energy imports are not water-borne and so at the mercy of the U.S. Navy. More than 50% of China’s natural gas already comes overland from two Central Asian "stans" (Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) and that percentage will only increase once pipelines to bring Siberian natural gas to China come online before the end of the decade.
Of course, the concept behind all this, which might be sloganized as “to go west (and south) is glorious” could induce a tectonic shift in Eurasian relations at every level, but that depends on how it comes to be viewed by the nations involved and by Washington.
Leaving economics aside for a moment, the success of the whole enterprise will require superhuman PR skills from Beijing, something not always in evidence. And there are many other problems to face (or duck): these include Beijing’s Han superiority complex, not always exactly a hit among either minority ethnic groups or neighboring states, as well as an economic push that is often seen by China’s ethnic minorities as benefiting only the Han Chinese. Mix in a rising tide of nationalist feeling, the expansion of the Chinese military (including its navy), conflict in its southern seas, and a growing security obsession in Beijing. Add to that a foreign policy minefield, which will work against maintaining a carefully calibrated respect for the sovereignty of neighbors. Throw in the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia and its urge both to form anti-Chinese alliances of “containment” and to beef up its own naval and air power in waters close to China. And finally don’t forget red tape and bureaucracy, a Central Asian staple. All of this adds up to a formidable package of obstacles to Xi’s Chinese dream and a new Eurasia.
All Aboard the Night Train
The Silk Road revival started out as a modest idea floated in China’s Ministry of Commerce. The initial goal was nothing more than getting extra “contracts for Chinese construction companies overseas.” How far the country has traveled since then. Starting from zero in 2003, China has ended up building no less than 16,000 kilometers of high-speed rail tracks in these years — more than the rest of the planet combined.
And that’s just the beginning. Beijing is now negotiating with 30 countries to build another 5,000 kilometers of high-speed rail at a total investment of $157 billion. Cost is, of course, king; a made-in-China high-speed network (top speed: 350 kilometers an hour) costs around $17 million to $21 million per kilometer. Comparable European costs: $25 million to $39 million per kilometer. So no wonder the Chinese are bidding for an $18 billion project linking London with northern England, and another linking Los Angeles to Las Vegas, while outbidding German companies to lay tracks in Russia.
On another front, even though it’s not directly part of China’s new Silk Road planning, don’t forget about the Iran-India-Afghanistan Agreement on Transit and International Transportation Cooperation. This India-Iran project to develop roads, railways, and ports is particularly focused on the Iranian port of Chabahar, which is to be linked by new roads and railways to the Afghan capital Kabul and then to parts of Central Asia.
Why Chabahar? Because this is India’s preferred transit corridor to Central Asia and Russia, as the Khyber Pass in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands, the country’s traditional linking point for this, remains too volatile. Built by Iran, the transit corridor from Chabahar to Milak on the Iran-Afghanistan border is now ready. By rail, Chabahar will then be connected to the Uzbek border at Termez, which translates into Indian products reaching Central Asia and Russia.
Think of this as the Southern Silk Road, linking South Asia with Central Asia, and in the end, if all goes according to plan, West Asia with China. It is part of a wildly ambitious plan for a North-South Transport Corridor, an India-Iran-Russia joint project launched in 2002 and focused on the development of inter-Asian trade.
Of course, you won’t be surprised to know that, even here, China is deeply involved. Chinese companies have already built a high-speed rail line from the Iranian capital Tehran to Mashhad, near the Afghan border. China also financed a metro rail line from Imam Khomeini Airport to downtown Tehran. And it wants to use Chabahar as part of the so-called Iron Silk Road that is someday slated to cross Iran and extend all the way to Turkey. To top it off, China is already investing in the upgrading of Turkish ports.
Who Lost Eurasia?
For Chinese leaders, the One Belt, One Road plan — an “economic partnership map with multiple rings interconnected with one another” — is seen as an escape route from the Washington Consensus and the dollar-centered global financial system that goes with it. And while “guns” are being drawn, the “battlefield” of the future, as the Chinese see it, is essentially a global economic one.
On one side are the mega-economic pacts being touted by Washington — the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — that would split Eurasia in two. On the other, there is the urge for a new pan-Eurasian integration program that would be focused on China, and feature Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, and India as major players. Last May, Russia and China closed a deal to coordinate the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with new Silk Road projects. As part of their developing strategic partnership, Russia is already China’s number one oil supplier.
With Ukraine’s fate still in the balance, there is, at present, little room for the sort of serious business dialogue between the European Union (EU) and the EEU that might someday fuse Europe and Russia into the Chinese vision of full-scale, continent-wide Eurasian integration. And yet German business types, in particular, remain focused on and fascinated by the limitless possibilities of the New Silk Road concept and the way it might profitably link the continent.
If you’re looking for a future first sign of détente on this score, keep an eye on any EU moves to engage economically with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Its membership at present: China, Russia, and four "stans" (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan). India and Pakistan are to become members in 2016, and Iran once U.N. sanctions are completely lifted. A monster second step (no time soon) would be for this dialogue to become the springboard for the building of a trans-European “one-belt” zone. That could only happen after there was a genuine settlement in Ukraine and EU sanctions on Russia had been lifted. Think of it as the long and winding road towards what Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to sell the Germans in 2010: a Eurasian free-trade zone extending from Vladivostok to Lisbon.
Any such moves will, of course, only happen over Washington’s dead body. At the moment, inside the Beltway, sentiment ranges from gloating over the economic “death” of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), most of which are facing daunting economic dislocations even as their political, diplomatic, and strategic integration proceeds apace, to fear or even downright anticipation of World War III and the Russian “threat.”
No one in Washington wants to “lose” Eurasia to China and its new Silk Roads. On what former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski calls “the grand chessboard,” Beltway elites and the punditocracy that follows them will never resign themselves to seeing the U.S. relegated to the role of “offshore balancer,” while China dominates an integrating Eurasia. Hence, those two trade pacts and that “pivot,” the heightened U.S. naval presence in Asian waters, the new urge to “contain” China, and the demonization of both Putin’s Russia and the Chinese military threat.
Thucydides, Eat Your Heart Out
Which brings us full circle to Xi’s crush on Jeremy Rifkin. Make no mistake about it: whatever Washington may want, China is indeed the rising power in Eurasia and a larger-than-life economic magnet. From London to Berlin, there are signs in the EU that, despite so many decades of trans-Atlantic allegiance, there is also something too attractive to ignore about what China has to offer. There is already a push towards the configuration of a European-wide digital economy closely linked with China. The aim would be a Rifkin-esque digitally integrated economic space spanning Eurasia, which in turn would be an essential building block for that post-carbon third industrial revolution.
The G-20 this year was in Antalya, Turkey, and it was a fractious affair dominated by Islamic State jihadism in the streets of Paris. The G-20 in 2016 will be in Hangzhou, China, which also happens to be the hometown of Jack Ma and the headquarters for Alibaba. You can’t get more third industrial revolution than that.
One year is an eternity in geopolitics. But what if, in 2016, Hangzhou did indeed offer a vision of the future, of silk roads galore and night trains from Central Asia to Duisburg, Germany, a future arguably dominated by Xi’s vision. He is, at least, keen on enshrining the G-20 as a multipolar global mechanism for coordinating a common development framework. Within it, Washington and Beijing might sometimes actually work together in a world in which chess, not Battleship, would be the game of the century.
Thucydides, eat your heart out.