Friday, 29 January 2016

What happens when Facebook unfriends you?

Few countries have a more complicated relationship with free speech than Germany. Although it’s certainly come a long way from the dark days of the mid-twentieth century, there’s still plenty of things you can’t talk about in Deutschland.

But when a handful of stories eventually found their way into German media about hundreds of migrants sexually assaulting German women in Cologne during the New Year’s celebrations, it was the lack of free speech that angered many citizens.

I say “eventually” because the mainstream media refused to report the alleged crimes for three days until alternative media outlets began to do so. The German and European press has censored news about migrants for years, so the silence wasn’t too much of a surprise.

Instead it is the wider social context that makes this particular episode stand out. Because for the past few months, Berlin has been asking Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to censor anti-refugee “hate speech” and who knows what else.

Then last week, Facebook announced it has created a dedicated, site-wide project to do precisely this. The creepily Orwellian-named Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI) will be based in Berlin. At the official launch, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg says the best cure for bad ideas is good ideas, which would be a great sentiment if it didn’t come from someone who represented a company more insidiously allergic to privacy than the NSA. (I’m going to go ahead and protect myself by saying that’s a joke).

But first, to understand why Germany co-opted Facebook, or how Facebook tricked Berlin – depending on who’s side you’re on – a tiny bit of multiculturalist history is needed. Don’t worry, it’s not long.


Germany is dying. Its demography is aging and Germans aren’t breeding anywhere near the required replacement rate, let alone a rate suitable for growth. According to official statistics, Germany’s 81 million people will drop to between 68 and 73 million people by 2060, in a low or high immigration scenario respectively. Compounding the demographic problem, Germany’s economy requires high numbers of both producers and consumers to remain strong.

Both factors were likely behind Berlin’s controversial plan to admit hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2015. Some analysts say this explanation borders on conspiracy theory, but whether German Chancellor Angela Merkel is playing for 50 years of guaranteed voters or it’s all a rational plan to boost Germany’s demography, the social effect on Germany has been the same – negative.

Europe, and especially Germany, operates a totally different multiculturalism to the United States. In Europe, immigrants and refugees are encouraged to transplant their cultures into an adopted country and there is no official policy to cajole new arrivals to integrate. Even German citizens don’t encourage immigrant integration, preferring to “respect” the foreign culture with complete tolerance.

In Germany, becoming “German” isn’t possible by adopting the cultural norms anyway. The key is heredity. Someone born in France to German parents is a German. And someone born in China to German parents is a German. But if a Syrian is born in Germany, that person is still a Syrian and will always be. In fact, many Germans would look at you sideways if you suggested they encourage the Syrian to become German. In the German worldview, it simply isn’t possible.

However, the entire American project pivots on the idea that anyone can become American, regardless of ethnicity. Often first generation immigrants will respond to social pressures and quickly “act American”. Multiculturalism in the US expects a high level of cultural homogeneity. Ethnic concentrations in many US cities are tolerated, so long as a basic of American-ness is followed.


While this isn’t an exhaustive catalogue of Germany’s problems, it helps explain why the German media decided not to report on the alleged sexual assaults in Cologne. The perpetrators were all described as “Arab or North African” and the media is well aware of the contradiction. Berlin’s fear is that its multiculturalism expects amiable ethnic segregation so any exacerbation of this segregation, which would scuttle the economic benefits of the immigrants, should be avoided.

And since the only way of accurately understanding the media’s position in society is to see it as an arm of the state, with journalists as civil servants, the goal of Berlin becomes the goal of the media: avoid stirring ethnic discontent among German citizens. By Berlin’s calculation, the success of its strategy is the difference between life and death for the German state.

Regardless of the correct reason, Germany is struggling with an unassimilable population numbering in the millions that threaten to drastically alter its society. This is the context of Berlin’s decision to pressure Facebook into actively policing the way its users express their thoughts and beliefs.

Although there might be a description of hate speech we can agree upon in a democratic society, I don’t think giving a corporation the power to decide what constitutes hate speech is a good idea. With matters of such gravity, being concerned about where the lines are drawn should be outweighed by who draws the lines.


But the issue breaks down further into some nasty implications. It certainly is accurate to classify Facebook as a private corporation, but that classification doesn’t quite explain what it is. After all, a corporation is simply a group of people working towards a common cause.

Being a private corporation makes Facebook different to other types of corporations, such as government and NGOs. And in the German case, the fact that people willingly supply Facebook with their personal data compounds the complexity of exactly whose freedom of speech is actually in question. Yet at bottom, what is happening in Germany is an abuse of power. And I do mean real power.

Because from the perspective of a journalist, the bit that really gets me is the “media” label these private organisations such as Facebook and Twitter apply to themselves. The term “social media” has entered the lexicon of all developed societies and is widely considered to be the next iteration of traditional media. This is the illusion Facebook is using to enrich itself.

If these companies truly consider themselves “media”, then there are certain societal expectations that come with that role. Being part of a media organisation is a job with clear and important responsibilities. This isn’t aggrandising a journalist’s role, it is simply a reflection of the fact that their fundamental job is to report accurately. Does this always happen? Of course not. But a self-correcting philosophy and an explicit function as an arm of the state generally keeps journalists honest.

But responsibility is synonymous with power. A person can’t be responsible for something without the ability to affect it. What was the point of Berlin asking Facebook to censor its users’ free speech if the German government didn’t think the company had both the power and responsibility? Yet for a ‘media’ outlet to arbitrarily decide both what constitutes hate speech and then attempt to “gag at the source” is by definition a failure of responsibility, and therefore an abuse of power.

Now, these dark implications for the future of freedom could all be avoided if Facebook, Twitter, et al admit they are not media at all. They might describe themselves as private corporations gathering people’s digital data in order to sell advertising. But that pesky label ‘media’ has drummed into our collective brains that Facebook is the natural offspring of traditional media. This is the central lie in what is occurring in Germany and across the world.


What’s worse is that traditional media are helping the social ‘media’ hangman tie the noose that will kill it. Facebook and other social ‘media’ are the direct cause of traditional media losing traffic and revenue online. Facebook hosts content from traditional media, paying lip service to the items journalists create. And traditional media outlets think allowing Facebook to display its content is a good thing! Madness.

Facebook and other social “media” no longer rely on real, flesh-and-blood human minds to filter the words it considers hate speech. Instead, Facebook uses computer algorithms to search for keywords, and algorithms to delete or manipulate this speech. These are not the actions of a media organisation, they are the actions of a factory creating a product.

But Facebook doesn’t want to stop describing itself as ‘media’ from its description because the nomenclature offers the company an aura of importance and legitimacy it wouldn’t have if it were merely considered a humble website. So it can get away with almost anything by claiming the same rights and responsibilities usually apportioned only to traditional media.

Perhaps we’re in need of a conversation about whether a social network is media. Otherwise these attacks on freedom of speech will only get worse. Our ancestors fought for these rights, which are not permanent, and could disappear under cover of “prudent political policy.” Maybe it’s a poetic irony all this is occurring in Germany after all.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Sitrep - 27 Jan, 2016

The UN-backed proposal for a unity government in Libya was rejected this week by the Tobruk parliament. Based in the east of the country, the parliament remains at odds with a rival government in Tripoli. The retired General Khalifa Hifter’s militia appears to have the lead over other groups, but the country is teetering on fragmentation once again.

However, elements of the Islamic State have gained a foothold in the centre of Libya, attracting the potential for a foreign military intervention in the coming months. Should an intervention be organised, some sort of unity between the militias will be necessary. The oil fields and which group controls them will be the connecting factor.

Chinese President Xi Jinping continues with his risky overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army. The reforms reflect more attempts by Mr Xi to consolidate control over both the government and the military in what some suspect is a direction of becoming a dictator.

Up to 300,000 troops may be disbanded while various military forces are streamlined in a “joint” concept. These reforms are in line with other modern militaries’, including the US, to streamline and lower the manpower requirements for an increasingly tech-heavy modern fighting force. For the CCP’s survival, the party needs the PLA to remain loyal. These reforms will be a crucial test of that loyalty.

In Portugal, a centre right government returns to control of Lisbon. The election of Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa replaces a leftist party which managed to make many enemies with its poorly planned financial and banking reforms in the short two months it was in power.

However, despite the new government’s wide popularity, it faces immediately an instable parliament and upcoming legislative elections. A dissolution of the parliament is likely before April which will weaken Mr de Sousa’s already toothless Presidency. Mr de Sousa will also need to strike a new agreement with Brussels for extra financial assistance.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

IS struggles with the problem of revolution

For all the talk of the Islamic State (IS) being essentially “al Qaeda 3.0”, a strange thing is happening to the militant group that fails to fit it into the same box alongside Osama bin Laden’s splintered terror group.

US President Barack Obama attracts plenty of criticism for his administration’s military prosecution of the IS crowd. The strategy is called weak, ineffective and over-regulated. Although few people in are calling for US armour brigades manoeuvring in the Iraqi desert, many think the stand-off and uncommitted bombing campaign is insufficient.

Michel Foucault
So too is relying on local Kurdish Peshmerga, Syrian rebels, Iraqi regulars or Shiite militias. If the grand plan is to “degrade and destroy” IS, as Mr Obama has stated, he’s going to need a better strategy. Despite setbacks in late 2015, IS ended the year strong due to Mr Obama’s reticence.

Yet two things should immediately be clear about this criticism. Mr Obama is only the president of the United States. The Republicans might think this role is equivalent to a corporation’s CEO, but it is nothing of the sort. The office of the White House, especially when in control of the Democrats, is best understood as a ceremonial position, not quite as toothless as the modern British monarchy, but similarly weak.

Mr Obama’s anti-IS options are presented to him by civil servants, all of whom are unelected employees of the permanent government. Thousands of such people are involved in running US strategy. The President sometimes signs off ideas, but mostly the system runs autonomously. This process only slows down during a Republican presidency, but that’s probably worth another article.

So a preliminary conclusion about the Islamic State war is that some people in the State Department or Pentagon have assessed the situation and developed a conducive plan. The (entirely possible) alternative is that no one on the Beltway knows what they’re doing. And while that would make some observers smug, this writer isn’t prepared to give up hope just yet.

What, then, are the civil servants and generals seeing? What factors cause them to formulate such a stand-off, uncommitted strategy? Clearly, Mr Obama’s administration has decided to “wait and see” how the situation on the ground develops. This reality deserves some closer attention.

From a geopolitical perspective – and through the lens of the US-led international community’s overarching grand strategy – the IS group from 2014 to mid-2015 represented a usurper threat to the world system. Its goal was to catalyse a new Islamic Caliphate to overrule the nation-state concept in the Middle East. The response of the international community was, of course, the marshalling of military power.

Yet had IS been a true continuation of the al Qaeda project, it would have embraced its decentralised leadership and amorphous terror cells. Instead it made the mistake of standing still, falling into the trap of time and space. It gave itself a quantifiable and time-bound religious goal while choosing a physical city (Raqqa) to call its capital and base of operations.

This would have been the first indication to US planners that they were dealing with a foe very different to al Qaeda. IS was making a mistake. And to paraphrase the French Emperor Napoleon: when your enemy is making a mistake, it is best not to interrupt them.

In explicit terms, the group’s fundamental error is simple: while it thought it was liberating the cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, it was actually adopting a much larger burden of municipal administration. Raqqa is home to 200,000 people while Mosul boasts 600,000. The militant’s plan suddenly demanded taking care of these people, so it was forced to play inside a well-known box.

This box was not of the group’s choosing, it is a framework created by Western institutions. IS discovered the constraints of hundreds of thousands of civilians, each with personal lives and occupations. And it therefore turned, unsurprisingly, back to the status quo institutions which existed in the cities prior to occupation: judicial systems, infrastructure, internet, police, commerce, oil pumping, banking, etc.

IS-controlled Raqqa, Syria
That process began quietly in early 2015 when IS increased its call for doctors, engineers and accountants, not just soldiers. They must be Muslim, but it was their skills which were crucial – IS needed administrators. Regardless of the specifics, any revolutionary group wishing to control populations will approach this nearly insurmountable philosophical obstacle. IS has fallen into exactly the same trap.

To understand the obstacle, we need to turn to Michel Foucault once again. The French political philosopher spotted the pivotal transition point many years ago. In a conversation with Maoists, M. Foucault was asked how the victorious revolutionaries should prosecute fairly their bourgeois prisoners. They had torn down the corrupt judicial system and wished to replace it with a more just alternative.

But M. Foucault exposed their faulty thinking. If the Maoist’s ideal was to form a new social structure and avoid falling back under control of the previous system, then whom would they choose to occupy the position of judge in this new court? Obviously none of them would have the skills, so it must naturally be certain members of the bourgeois which did have the skills.

In other words, where they believed they were constructing a new societal framework, the Maoists had never left behind the old framework. And worse, they were about to make the old box stronger by marrying it with the revolution. M. Foucault never offered a truly different alternative for the Maoists, a problem he admitted was precisely the fundamental intellectual obstacle for any revolution.

In 2016, something similar is perhaps happening in the Middle East. In hoping to upturn the status quo, IS quickly reached its intellectual limits. Its core territory is structured around semi-developed cities. Its revenue stream is deeply plugged into the world financial and trading system. And its communications use the internet. None of these are Islamic State ideas, they are all controlled by the institutions invented by the international community.

This is why the US strategy against IS appears so uncommitted. If war is a continuation of politics, then other avenues of politics can achieve the desired results. A good result for the US-led international community is the integration of all people-groups into a common world system. Dropping bombs could work, or an encouragement to naturally bend in the required direction by offering the “neutral” institutions used by the overarching system.

Of course, the real question is whether Washington understands the problem at this level, or whether it truly is on autopilot. But it hardly matters. Either way, the Islamic State is increasingly playing by our rules and it is only a matter of time before it is destroyed or, more appropriately, integrated into the international community. Watch this space.

Monday, 25 January 2016

What is the future for women? or How to spot an empire

I seem to be writing about freedom of speech a lot these days. How can people screw it up so often? That really shouldn’t really be chemically possible. Then again, they often think their opinions are a human right. They think there’s rights on the internet! Maybe it’s easier just to laugh…


The first problem is the article isn’t very clear. If she’s talking about New Zealand’s domestic human and female issues, then she should be nervous. The rights we think are set in concrete are anything but fixed and immovable. They could disappear tomorrow if the-powers-that-be decide they no longer find them useful. The system giveth and the system taketh away.

We’re all capable of returning to the metaphorical savannah when the thin, slippery lid of society cracks. But in the big scheme of things, freedom of speech isn’t a terrible thing to get worked up over, especially if you think it’s real. The tragedy is forcing others to believe in your nonsense.

The world has turned, she says, and, “whilst turning, tipped a little to the right.” There’s no way this is a typo. In her mind, problems occur when the world isn’t progressive enough. So of course she thinks Rome is the archetype for repression and failure. This is the economic and political universe Ms Gillespie finds herself in: every form of empire is always doomed. If an empire isn’t collapsing, then it’s up to “the people” to push it over the edge.

But Rome is a side-issue. So is her baffling inclusion of Vietnamese or French warrior-chicks. “They’re called heroines, you sexist!” Jesus. a) heroine is a sexist word; b) listen to me: the only reason they‘re considered “strong females” is because when they took control of their femininity they became men – that sentence is 100% correct. I always think of Lacan who in this case might have said, "How do you know they are women?" There is sex. And then there is gender. But when it comes to appearing in history books, in other words to exist, females must be depicted either as tools for or a reflection of males, that’s called controlling the narrative.


Ms Gillespie says without a hint of delicious irony that “Triu Thi Trinh was my kind of gal. Whilst carrying two swords and wearing robes of brilliant gold…she rode a war-elephant. Another of her famous quotes that even inspires me today: ‘I'd like to ride storms, kill sharks in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the ties of serfdom, and never bend my back to be the concubine of whatever man.’ Other than the shark killing, I'm with you girlfriend!”

Sweet loving Buddha, have mercy. First of all, of what use was Lady Triu’s battlefield success to the millions of women suffering in Southeast Asia? Not only was she eventually killed, with no change to woman’s freedoms at all, men were the ultimate victors. Wikipedia says “many streets are named after her in Vietnamese cities”, so she’s on parity with other powerful revolutionary figures like MLK…

Secondly, there’s a tiny detail Ms Gillespie doesn’t mention which makes me think Lady Triu isn’t a very good representation of “strong female”. According to La Wik, when she surrounded a Chinese port,

“the Chinese general made his troops kick up lots of dust while they fought naked making her flee in disgust so her small army lost upon which she committed suicide.” 

Yikes. If that’s your idea of strength, then you’ll probably like Katniss from The Hunger Games, she’s a total badass as well.

Ms Gillespie’s principal worry is the impending threat to females from neo-fascism. But I don’t believe her because that idea suspiciously coincides with the media’s desire to frame the controversy as a war between of the sexes, and that makes for good clicking. She feels acute anxiety while blaming this result on the world becoming more conservative – the direction on the political spectrum she presumably thinks is the enemy. Meanwhile conservatives all over the world are left questioning why their own rights are just as threatened although their answer can’t be fascism.

In this way, she’s just like everyone else. People are desperate to find reasons to explain their impotence in a world where few have power while the rest are either tools or useful idiots/consumers. To avoid blaming herself for this feeling of impotence Ms Gillespie chooses one of the media-approved categories of blame, depending on the media: sexism, racism, fascism, feminism, etc. People are being directed to feel anger, but never wonder why they read about it in a newspaper.


Of course, free speech in society is not restricted to the press. Anyone can say whatever he wants, as I am doing now. However, this is not at all inconsistent with the interests of the state. It just makes it harder for us to notice how much the combination of mainstream media, public education, and accredited universities resembles a comprehensive official information system. Or how little the whole system would have to change if journalism was reorganised as the Department of Knowledge. But then, Ms Gillespie might have noticed how her concern lined up perfectly with the system’s.

She initially focuses on New Zealand but what drives the article is an emphasis that the true problem is “our world as we know it.” In fact, she mentions “world” eight times and “women” nine times. To her, the “world” is full of “women” at risk of losing freedom. Therefore something (what exactly?) must be done to protect the world’s women. But neither of those two concepts are real to her, they are only waypoints. Which is what bothers me.

Let’s quickly summarise the media’s thesis via unsuspecting Ms Gillespie: 1. Freedom of speech is a woman’s issue, never mind all the men who are silenced. 2. The appropriate way to handle women’s issues is not necessarily to solve them but to discuss them in the media. Message received. But what was the expected outcome from shedding light on this problem? I’m serious. What was supposed to happen by pointing out the threat to freedom of speech?

Because as far as I can tell the article’s only effect was to reinforce that while freedoms are important, discussing them only counts if done through the medium of a newspaper. The medium is the message. “But it’s still an important message!” For whom? Certainly not women. Ms Gillespie is being used to defend freedom of speech for the media – the only industry to have successfully monetised a “human right.”

From the system’s perspective, people should only exercise their freedoms within the approved mechanisms: newspapers, placards, ballots, advertising, art, etc. Saying it is all the fault of right-leaning males is chosen precisely because the difficult and deadly work of radical political action can be avoided by hoping the problem is misogyny.

The system encourages women like Ms Gillespie to “defend freedom of speech” or “create awareness” because they stand no chance of moving the money, let alone the power. In her mind, a lack of female freedom is fixable, and she has the answer: revolution. Were you shocked? There is no alternative remedy. The only political action this mind-set knows is permanent revolution, there will never be a moment when paradise is achieved and revolution has to happen elsewhere. New Zealand needs a bit of fixing, sure, but it’s all the other crazy countries she’s targeting.

Splitting the world into free and not-free is a form of empire-building. Especially when it’s not clear what exactly a person means by freedom. The power to deny things is the prerogative of an empire. All apparatuses of an empire will suppress its rivals. They’ll describe their every action as legitimate. What is this empire? It’s hard to say, but the article in question is straight from the script of Whig history called Progressivism – a capricious and nasty branch of Idealism.


It’s the idea that human rights, democracy, environmentalism, scientific progress, secularism and other “good and proper” ideals will eventually spread into the world until every human believes. Progressivism came to power in the US in the 19c, and began chipping away until it gained total control of Washington via FDR in the early 20c. Note that Marxism specifically rejected the notion of world revolution to bring about a communist paradise. But it did go out of its way to support communist revolutions in other countries. Classic salami tactics – slice-by-slice.

Strange, though, how we were all told communism was defeated in 1989. Maybe when one enlightenment ideal (Parliamentarianism) doesn’t decisively defeat a rival enlightenment ideal (Communism) in war, they merge to create a corrupted hellspawn named Progressivism.

To attain power, Progressives cause problems then appoint themselves to fix those problems. So in this case, wherever “freedom” for “women” is under threat in the “world”. It doesn’t matter what the citizens in those sovereign countries actually want, or how many people have to die. They won’t stop until Progressivism is, well, universal… This ideal is in every sense of the word a religion. It’s shiny exterior only hides the rottenness of its core.

Ms Gillespie is not only caught by this ideology, she has never known anything else BUT this ideology for her entire life. She is so marinated in this world-view that every answer to the world’s problems comes from this playbook. But this is most definitely not a revolution because I’m reading about it in a newspaper. If someone wants a revolution and the media runs the story, then it has already been picked, boxed and shipped as a media commodity. The media will always be faster and stronger because it makes the rules. Power is three steps ahead while you use their own tools against them, and they make sweet money from engaging you in a “conversation”.

We don't think of today’s Progressives as a Christian movement because they don't want us to. But the movement is entirely religious. It is the modern descendant of the most powerful American Christian tradition - the “mainline” Protestants who infested New England in the early 16c and worked to break authoritarian governments in favour of “egalitarianism.”

If these people feel some occasional spiritual twinge, they’ll call themselves “Unitarians”. But they have long since discarded the burden of the supernatural. These days their opinions are simply the truth – “science” or “reason,” usually. I am particularly fond of the phrase “reality-based community,” which is so stupid it's almost ironic.

In other words, Ms Gillespie is a Roundhead, a Puritan, whatever you want to call it. And the power structure she represents reigns unchallenged across most of the world. The beliefs expounded at universities, and in all media outlets, is the complacent blabbing of today's global transnational governing class. Do not be distracted by Ms Gillespie’s dulcet tones (I can’t remember exactly what she sounds like, but I thought I’d try to be at least a bit nice). This lady works for the media, which means she is paid with money and compensated with power.


That’s why this whole act looks unbelievable, a farce: she is part of the ruling class and is calling for revolution. This is the central lie of the Progressive Movement. It believes the world will always be so terrible it requires the marshalling of “force” to make it better. Mostly this “force” is threats by the State Department and its cronies at the UN, IMF, World Bank or the World Economic Forum. The arms of the State Department known as the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Guardian or the NZ Herald each carry the Progressive gospel to all corners of a recalcitrant earth. Change will come, whether at the tip of a sword or on the back of a “funding” tranche. Change will always come.

How repugnant can such smugness get? This is our ruling class. This is our governing political party doctrine. These are the beliefs of celebrities, professors, novelists, poets, painters and musicians. All the best people bow and scrape to the Progressive’s ridiculous banalities - whether it’s the planetwide spoils system they call “environmentalism,” or the combination of pity with rule-by-corrupt-thug that is “postcolonialism.”

Their game is to spread the ideas of progress by breaking the “old order” everywhere. Nothing resembling hierarchy is to remain, only anarchy. I’m sure Ms Gillespie would have clapped her hands in delight when she heard the Arab Spring was organised using Twitter. But is she willing to take at least partial responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of people who have died as a result of the anarchy in the region disguises as “freedom”? Of course not.

You don’t have to worry what it would look like if these people get into power. They already have.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The International Community marches through Iran

US President Barack Obama isn’t likely to have a cheerful final year in the White House, despite what his press secretaries will constantly sell us. But he can step down in early 2017 knowing the major achievement of his presidency – rapprochement with Iran – has become the new status quo.

But as these columns have tried to describe, the real victor in this week’s lifting of heavy sanctions placed on the Islamic Republic is the much larger (and infinitely more important) concept of the “international community”. Mr Obama is simply the custodian of an idea which transcends his position as leader of the free world: everyone can and will be part of the international community.

The thing is: “global leadership” is exactly what it says it is. It's about ruling the world. In 2010, the Guardian’s Stephen Kinzer complained that bodies associated with the US State Department – such as the UN, Human Rights Watch, IAEA and IMF – aim to impose Western, “universal” standards on developing countries, and that they were doing more harm than good. He termed this ultimate policy “human rights imperialism”.

For example, any Iran policy that says Iran is Iran, that it is and likely will always be an Islamic Republic, that Islam and human rights imperialism are two different things, and that the way for the US to deal with Iran is to make the terms of the relationship clear and provide effective disincentives for Iranian transgressions, is a serious violation of the ultimate goal.

Because this says that Iran is not fully subject to the “global leadership” of the UN, Human Rights Watch, IAEA and IMF, that the world is not actually becoming one and that the best interests of the US and Iranian governments and populations may in fact be orthogonal. National sovereignty is absolutely allowed, so long as it is in line with the required direction as framed by the State Department. Just ask North Korea or the Islamic State about the consequences of non-conformity and attempts at alternative governmental.

In this way, human rights imperialism has spent the last two centuries attempting to corral the entire planet, using this same old script of protecting freedom and promoting democracy to smash every genuinely independent sovereignty which rules two sticks that can be rubbed together. Sometimes this process is successful, but not before many thousands of people often have to die. Are universal freedom and rights worth all this pain? The State Department seems to think so, as does Mr Obama.

None of this is to say the policy is objectively “bad”, it is simply a description of the world system. Throughout Mr Obama’s presidency almost every policy proposal for the Iran problem involved increasing the importance of the State Department, and/or decreasing the importance of the Defence Department. Foggy Bottom’s script is exactly the same as the Pentagon’s, however, it only thinks it can achieve the ultimate goal with fewer explosions.

Besides, only very ignorant people believe the United States military couldn’t atomise the entire Iranian armed forces in a matter of days to weeks. Yet in the 21st century, the true test of military victory is whether the country can become a responsible member of the international community once the bombs stop falling. Here the US is less confident. But there are always more ways to attach the leash around the neck of a recalcitrant nation-state.

Foggy Bottom understands the most direct route to bringing Iran in line with the international community would be to disassemble its nuclear programme from 50,000 feet. Iran had calculated that the US would be deterred by this nuclear programme, because owning a viable and deliverable nuclear weapon is one of the only known ways to avoid a country's otherwise inevitable inclusion in the human rights empire. Again, just ask North Korea (although this inevitability is creeping upon the Hermit Kingdom too).

Yet even the high priests at the State Department want to avoid any unnecessary pain and suffering in pursuit of its responsible global leadership project, especially when the alternative would empower its true rivals across the Potomac in the Pentagon in the great Washington power-struggle.

Foggy Bottom’s trick for success is, like dripping water on a rock, to convince Iranian citizens that the Islamic Republic should join the international community as an exercise of their “free choice”. It’s no surprise then that, according to World Bank statistics, as the penetration of the internet in Iran grew from scratching 1% in 2000 to a critical mass of 31.4% in 2013, the Iranian populace is now compelling the theocratic government to bend to the mighty will of global leadership and change its foreign policy. Checkmate.

Of course, no one in the US State Department is planning all this out in detail – it has been running on auto-pilot for more than 200 years since the British Empire ruled the world’s oceans. Nevertheless, the outcome is exactly conducive to Washington’s human rights imperialism. French philosopher Michel Foucault was convinced that knowledge is power, and the internet is a quintessentially American invention, packed to the brim with freedom and human rights ideas.

If countries aren’t irritated and constantly beaten or threatened, all these rogue states, liberation movements, jihadism, etc. will eventually settle down and become part of the international community. All humans everywhere will bend – that is the belief and structure of the world system. There are no aliens, only citizens we haven't naturalised yet.

Welcome to the international community club, Iran. We hope you enjoy the complimentary pancakes.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Sitrep - 20 Jan, 2016

After years of heavy sanctions on Iran’s finance and oil industries, an agreement between the US and Iran started to lift many of those sanctions this week. The immediate beneficiaries will be Iran’s oil industry as representatives of many oil majors begin to fly into Tehran hoping to negotiate access to the country’s large energy fields.

However, Iran’s energy infrastructure is dilapidated, having sat essentially in disuse for the better part of a decade. In order to reach the government’s stated goal of 1 million barrels of oil per day by the end of the year, the initial investments from oil majors will need to be directed first into upgrading the extraction infrastructure before more crude oil can be pumped. And in a world of drastically low oil prices, these investment decisions will be hard to justify, potentially dampening Iran’s optimism of returning to the international community.

The global crude oil price fell to below $30 per barrel this week as many crude producers refuse to lessen their already phenomenal output. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are planning to maintain their high production rate, however Oman in a notable separation announced this week it would work to decrease its output. Oman hopes other Gulf States will follow its example, otherwise it may suffer negative consequences alone.

Politics is a deep factor for current oil price. The re-entry of Iran’s oil to the market was telegraphed for many months, and Saudi Arabia aimed to undermine its rival’s return by weakening the prices to scare off investors. This strategy appears to be working. Riyadh and Tehran are competing for influence in the Middle East and fighting a number of proxy wars to achieve this. Regarding low oil prices, Riyadh is rearranging its social spending and tax schemes in preparation for long-term low prices.

Closer to home, between three and seven Islamic terrorists attacked Indonesia’s downtown Jakarta on January 14. Security forces were able to engage and kill the gunmen after four people were killed. Although the attack site was an extremely soft target (crowded streets at lunch time), the low death number displays the amateurishness of the terrorists. Indonesia has coped with an undercurrent of Islamic extremism for decades, however the ideology has failed to take root.

Although these terrorists claimed allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), it was simply rebranding rather than a true extension of IS territory. Introduced to Southeast Asia via trade routes rather than conquest, “tropical Islam” is far different in Indonesia than the Middle East. As a result, jihadism is not widely appreciated which denies militants a population base and strangles the ideology before it gains traction. These attacks probably do not constitute a nascent terror campaign in Indonesia.