World War III

How Goes the War?

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation February 16, 2015

Oh, you didn’t notice that World War Three is underway, actually has been for more than year? Well, that’s because most of it has been taking place in the banking sector, which for most people is just an alternative universe of math. The catch, which many people either miss or don’t care about, is that the math doesn’t add up.

For instance, the runaway choo-choo train of linked European sovereign bond obligations with its overloaded caboose of interest rate swaps and other janky derivatives of mass destruction. That train left the station in Athens a few weeks ago bound for Frankfurt. Ever since, the German government and its cohorts in the EU, the ECB, and the IMF have been issuing reassurances that the choo choo train will not blow up when it reaches its destination.

Few people grok that Greece is an entity with an economy not much bigger than North Carolina’s, yet it is burdened with roughly $350 billion of old debt that will never be paid back. The only thing at issue is how it will not be paid back, that is, what mode of pretense will be employed to disguise the inability to pay back this debt. The mode du jour has been the crude one of lending Greece more money to pay back the interest on the old debt. A seven-year-old ought to be able to understand where that leads.

It’s kind of up to the Greeks this week to possibly opt out of that farcical deal. They have at least two other present options: return to being a sunwashed semi-medieval backwater of olive farmers, shepherds, and inn-keepers, or perhaps lease out some cozy corner of their vast Mediterranean coastline to the Russian navy for enough annual walking-around money to keep the lights on for the aforementioned farmers, shepherds, and inn-keepers. Of course, that would drive the US and its NATO quislings batshit crazy.

We’ve already got our knickers in a twist over Ukraine, a so-called nation whose highest and best purpose over the millennia has been as a sort of lethal doormat in front of Russia, leaving adventurers like Napoleon and Hitler bleeding in the snow as they crawled back to their nations of origin. In short, Ukraine has worked so well for Russia that we must be insane to imagine that it would give up that traditional relationship. Yet the US and NATO persist in their foolishness and attempt to back up their Kievan intrigues with financial “sanctions” against Russia.

Russia is doing what it has always done in the face of adversity, which is to suck it up. And, anyway, these western financial monkeyshines don’t hold a candle to ordeals like the siege of Stalingrad. What’s more, the Russians, despite their peculiar alphabet and thuggish demeanor, are at least as clever with computers as our code jockeys. We (in the USA) think just because we’ve made it possible for everyman to drool over Kim Kardashian’s booty on an iPhone screen that we have some kind of immunity against cyber counter-attack from way out east.

It seems to me that Russia (with China and others) is very busy constructing an alternate financial network that will allow for international money transfers and other necessities for conducting normal trade operations, outside of systems like the SWIFT code, which the US has been using as a knout against our imagined enemies. The upshot will leave America high and dry in a lot of what remains of international trade, especially in oil.

Meanwhile we continue to tell ourselves the false and idiotic story of “energy independence,” based on the shale oil Ponzi scheme that blew up last fall — the consequences of which won’t really be felt for about another eight months, when all those wells drilled and fracked in 2013-14, start to fall off their production cliff, and the replacement wells will not have been drilled. We’re still importing almost 8 million barrels of oil a day, contrary to all the fairy tales we tell ourselves. What happens when the sellers decide they won’t take US dollars for it? Hmmmm….

 

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

The Clash of Civilizations

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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LotsofOil-650x360
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation January 12, 2014

The big turnout in Paris was bracing but it also might reveal a sad fallacy of Western idealism: that good intentions will safeguard soft targets. The world war underway is not anything like the last two. Against neo-medieval barbarism, the West looks pretty squishy. All of the West is one big fat soft target.

Recriminations are flying — as if this was something like a Dancing with the Stars contest — to the effect that the Charlie Hebdo massacre should not be labeled as “France’s 9/11.” It’s a matter of proportion, they say: only 12 dead versus 2977 dead, plus, don’t forget, the shock of two skyscrapers pancaking into the morning bustle of lower Manhattan. Interesting to see how the West tortures itself psychologically into a state of neurasthenic fecklessness.

The automatic cries for “unity,” only beg the question: for or against what? The same cries went up in the USA after the Ferguson, Missouri, riots and the Eric Garner grand jury commotion, pretty much disconnected from the reality of ghetto estrangement, as if unity meant brunch together. The demonstrators quickly reminded everybody that Homey don’t play brunch. If French politicians think that some magical overnight state of fraternité will congeal between the alienated Islamic masses and the rest of the citizenry, they’re liable to be disappointed. If anything, mutual distrust is only hardening on each side, and, anyway, I think that is not the kind of unity they have in mind. Over in Germany, they don’t have to travel very far psychologically to recall the awful efficiency of Hitler in purifying the social scene according to some dark cthonic principle that remains essentially unexplained even after all these years and ten thousand books on the subject. It happened that he picked on a group that wasn’t disturbing the peace in any way; if anything, the Jews were busier than anyone contributing to Western culture, knowledge, and science.

It is at least well-understood that there are seasons in history, but they seem to have a mysterious, implacable dynamism that mere humans can only hope to ride like great waves, hoping to not get crushed. In the background of the present disturbances are not only the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, but the imminent collapse of the machinery that boosted up the greater Islamic economy of our time: the oil engine. It was oil and oil alone that allowed the populations of the Islamic world to blossom in a forbidding desert in the late 20th century, and that orgy of wealth is coming to an end. So will the ability of that region to support the populations now occupying it.

The violent outreach of Islamic wrath is actually a symptom of the region’s death throes, already obvious in the disintegration of one nation-state after another across North Africa and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia will only be one of the last dominoes to fall because it is so stoutly girded by desperate American support. The current theory is that Saudi Arabia can ride out $40-a-barrel oil because of its built-up cash reserves. But that seems mostly a schematic idea. Long before Saudi Arabia goes absolutely broke, it will face terrible internal political strife between the clans and the princes who happen not to be descendants of Muhammad ibn Saud — which represent only 15,000 of the roughly 29 million in the kingdom, and only about 2,000 of those actually in the power loop. King Abdullah is past 90 years old, a mere bit of fragile baling wire holding the whole thing together. Islamic violence is fierce as it is because the Islamic world is actually losing its mojo.

These are the stresses that are boiling over into the West these days. The West itself faces desperately terminal problems around its oil supply, too, mostly having to do with 100 years of the relationship between oil and finance in debt creation. The banking armature that is the dwelling place of all that debt is coming apart just as surely as the 20th century Muslim nation-states that were largely a creation of the West. The long war underway is a race to the bottom where the human project has to re-set the terms of a life above savagery.

 

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Voila: World War Three

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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isis crucifixion 2
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  June 30, 2014

Whoever really runs things these days for the semi-mummified royal administration down in Saudi Arabia must be leaving skid-marks in his small-clothes thinking about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ISIS army of psychopathic killers sweeping hither and thither through what is again being quaintly called “the Levant.” ISIS just concluded an orgy of crucifixions up in Syria over the weekend, the victims being other Islamic militants who were not radical enough, or who had dallied with US support.

Crucifixion sends an interesting and complex message to various parties around this systemically fracturing globe. It’s a step back from the disabling horror of video beheadings, but it still packs a punch. For the Christian West, it re-awakens a certain central cultural narrative that had gone somnolent there for a century or so. ISIS’s message: If you thought the Romans were bad…. Among the human race, you see, the memories linger.

ISIS has successfully shocked the work over the last two weeks by negating eight years, several trillion dollars, and 4,500 battle deaths in the USA’s endeavor to turn Iraq into an obedient oil dispensary. Now they have gone and announced that their conquests of the moment amount to a Caliphate, that is, an Islamic theocracy. In that sense, they are at least out-doing America’s Republican Party, which has been trying to do something similar here from sea to shining sea but finds itself thwarted by hostile blue states on both coasts.

More to the point, the press (another quaint term, I suppose) is not paying any attention whatsoever to what goes down with ISIS and the other states besides Iraq and Syria in the region. I aver to Saudi Arabia especially because Americans seem to regard it as an impregnable bastion against the bloodthirsty craziness spreading over the rest of the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia is, of course, the keystone of OPEC. Saudi Arabia has had the distinction of remaining stable through all the escalating tumult of recent decades, reliably pumping out its roughly 10 million barrels a day like Bossy the cow in America’s oil import barn.

Or seeming to remain stable, I should say, because the Saud family royal administration of mummified rulers and senile princes looks more and more like a Potemkin monarchy every month. 90-year-old King Abdullah has been rumored to be on life support lo these last two years, his successor brothers already dead and gone, and other powerful Arabian clans with leaders who can walk across a room and speak itching to kick this zombie Saud family off the throne. To make matters worse, the Sauds have also managed to sponsor much of the organized Sunni terrorism in the region (around the world, really) in their role as the chief enemy of the Shia ­— as represented by the politicized clergy of Iran.

Things are happening at lightning speed over in the region and beware of how the turmoil spreads from one flashpoint to another. This would be an opportunity for ISIS to put the Saud family on the spot regarding the just-announced Caliphate — as in the question: who really calls the shots for this new theocratic kingdom? (Answer: maybe not you, doddering, mummified, America suck-up Saudi Arabia). What’s more, what happens to the other kingdoms and rickety states in that corner of the world? For instance, Lebanon, which has been a sort of political demolition derby for three decades. The founder of the group al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), pre-cursor to ISIS, was the Lebanese Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi — blown up in a USA air strike some years ago. Lebanon has been under the sway of Hezbollah for a decade and Hezbollah is sponsored by Shi’ite Iran, making it an enemy of ISIS. Might ISIS roll westward over Hezbollah now to capture the pearl of the Mediterranean (or what’s left of it) Beirut? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Then there’s Jordan, and it’s youngish King Abdullah, another notorious USA ass-kisser. Those crucifixion photos coming out of Syria must be making him a little loose in the bowels. And, of course, Syria, where this whole thing started, is a smoldering rump-roast of a state. And finally, that bugbear in the bull’s-eye of the old Levant: Israel.

It is miraculous that Israel has managed so far to stay out of the way of this juggernaut. Of course, among its chief enemies are Hezbollah and Hezbollah’s foster father, Iran, which happen to be the enemy of ISIS and, of course, in that part of the world the enemy of my enemy is my ally — though, I’m sorry, it’s rather impossible to imagine Israel getting all chummy with the psychopaths of ISIS. One thing is a fact: all other things being equal, Israel has the capability of turning any other state or kingdom in region into an ashtray, if push came to shove. Voila: World War Three.

 isil2

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

 

Heads, You Lose

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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isis-iraq-2
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  June 16, 2014

 

Obama Pushes Iraqis to Mend Sectarian Rifts

— Headline, The New York Times

 

Have they tried diversity training? I doubt it. That’s not how things are done in the Shithole Formerly Known as Iraq (SFKI). They’re headhunters now. For the moment the ISIS hasn’t had the inclination to shrink any of their trophies. Their method for preserving the memory of all that is the smart phone video of decapitation posted on the Internet. So let’s skip the part where both sides talk about their feelings.

It all happened pretty quickly last week, but in case you haven’t noticed, Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall over there. The bonehead American news media affects to be too stunned to even ask the pertinent questions, starting with: is that all it took to undo eight years and — what? — maybe two trillion dollars in US-sponsored nation-building? Oh, plus 4,000 US dead and 50,000 wounded. So, my question would be: when do the political recriminations kick in? Pretty soon, I reckon, and when they do, expect them to be fiercely perverse. The theme of who lost Iraq? may cost more than who lost Vietnam?

How perverse is the loose talk of Iran joining forces with “the Great Satan” to support the Shiite-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki. Prediction: not going to happen. Events are moving so quickly that the ultimate nightmare scenario is at hand: the ISIS penetrates the “Green Zone” surrounding the US embassy in Baghdad. They take hostages and commence systematic decapitations of American personnel. This is not something I would like to happen, mind you. Just saying. And the thought must have loosened a few sphincters down at the US Department of State, too.

You can be sure that Obama will be blamed both for pulling out in 2011 and then not going back to war, to protect our two trillion dollar previous investment. I have to imagine that distrust for civilian control of the US military by a corps of rising officers will reach never-before-seen depths. It may not be expressed right away, but the knock-on effects of political breakdown in the Middle East could go long and far in upsetting US politics. The defeat of Eric Cantor is just the beginning of what could be the unraveling of the federal system.

The Iraq fiasco already threatens to spike oil prices way beyond the $107 level of today. That will crush whatever remains of the US economy all over again. God knows what it might do to the financialized Rube Goldberg shadow economy of counterparty booby traps that overlays an abyss of unpayable debt. You can’t squash price discovery forever, and one morning you might wake up to discover that the price of all those shenanigans was your political heritage.

Oh, one more thing: not much attention is being paid to Saudi Arabia, but note that it has been the chief sponsor of Sunni insurgency everywhere but Saudi Arabia itself, and that the genie they let out of that flask will probably come back and tear that country to shreds, especially in so far as King Abdullah at age 90 is a virtual mummy, and that many other clans besides the Saud tribe have designs on the throne (and its mighty revenue stream from oil production). Add to that inter-tribal tension the possibility of an ISIS-style insurgency in Saudi Arabia itself, with righteous Islamic puritan warriors drawn from all over the region, and you have quite the recipe for a global clusterfuck. Surely a lot of things would get broken in the event. Given all the jealousy and ill-feeling toward Saudi Arabia, it is a wonder that over the last 30 years no mischief-makers have, for instance, blown up the Ras Tenura oil terminal on the Persian Gulf. That would put the schnitz on global oil supply lines on a world war scale.

For the moment, it is hard to see how anything can be salvaged in Iraq. The ISIS may cause enough havoc there to shut down Iraqi oil production forever. They can start World War III. They can inspire insurgencies across the whole Islamic world and beyond. The caliphate they establish will then have to figure out how to support a population twenty times as great as the region truly can support with a medieval economy. Sooner or later, they’ll be selling shrunken heads in the souks.

 

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

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