Bronze Age Cosmopolitan Globalists
Five Things You Need to Read Today
1. Cuba Libre
It's time for a bit of a foreign policy roundup, prompted mostly by a new uprising among the long-suffering people of Cuba.
This has happened before, during the "Special Period," a euphemism for the economic disaster that resulted when the Castro regime was no longer propped up by its Soviet patron. Now it's happening again as Cuba's socialist economy and its much-vaunted health-care system collapse under the pressure of the pandemic.
There will be some discussion and confusion about whether this uprising is motivated by a desire for political freedom or by anger at widespread economic deprivation. But surely we should be able to see how the two issues are connected, and the protesters certainly don't seem to regard them as separate. They are demanding freedom and a voice in their own government because they know this is the root of their impoverishment. They are poor because they are unfree—not just because central planning is bad economics, but because the impoverishment of the people is deliberate. A dictatorship is always run by a corrupt and unaccountable elite that has an interest in keeping its subjects down.
So far, the uprising in Cuba is following the usual pattern when a dictatorship loses its last illusions of legitimacy.
"Alfredo Martínez Ramírez was browsing his gray iPhone 6 in his Havana apartment Sunday when he saw the footage on Facebook Live.
"Ordinary people in the country's interior had taken to the streets to protest the communist government and its failure to protect the population from a failing economy, energy shortages and the ravages of the coronavirus.
"Martinez gasped. For months, the 29-year-old civil engineer and activist had joined small protests led by artists and intellectuals, but they had not gained broader traction. This was different.
"'It was the moment so many of us had waited for,' Martinez said. 'There were people who were not political, not intellectuals. The marginalized. People from different social classes. Everyone, just desperate, just fed up, standing together and screaming for freedom. Because the people are hungry, and they have lost their fear.'...
"What made Sunday remarkable was Cubans such as Anthony Dehesa, a 23-year-old Havana student, who protested for the first time in his life. He'd learned of the spreading demonstrations from social media and WhatsApp groups. He said that what he saw energized him.
"'I wanted to go out, I wanted to tell the world what is happening,' he said. 'My friends agreed, and we took a car and went to the Malecón,' Havana's famous seafront esplanade. He didn't know what to expect, he said, but as they walked toward central Havana, they heard people shouting 'freedom' and joined in. 'I knew we were doing the right thing: Everyone was feeling what I am feeling,' he said.
"Miguel, a 31-year-old who works in a restaurant that serves sandwiches, pizzas and spaghetti—part of the country's struggling and strictly controlled private sector—also protested for the first time Sunday.... 'It's very hard to be the first person to go out and protest,' he said. 'But if someone does, all of Cuba will join.'"
Doesn't this sound familiar? Every dictatorship looks like it has an iron grip on power because most people are afraid to speak out against it. But sometimes when a few find the courage, they reach a critical mass where everyone else feels safe, and we discover that the regime is in fact widely hated.
I don't know if this will lead to the collapse of the regime. (North Korea has big new problems, too, but it has shown a remarkable ability to survive past disasters.) As you read this, Cuban protesters are being beaten and even shot in the streets, and in the past, the regime has been able to use the safety valve of letting their most determined opponents escape by sea to Miami.
But in an era when dictatorships are attempting to promote the illusion that they are stable and successful, while the free nations of the West are chaotic and riven by conflict, this serves to remind us which side is actually far, far weaker.
2. Pirate Regimes
The dictatorships are getting particularly strident and brazen right now, and this can be seen in their acts of outright lawlessness and aggresssion, not just domestically, but internationally.
For example, the FBI just charged four Iranian operatives in absentia in a plot to kidnap an Iranian dissident from Brooklyn and ship her back to Iran. The Iranians "researched travel routes from Ms. Alinejad's home to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn.... Another of the agents....researched a service offering what the government described as military-style speedboats for a self-operated maritime evacuation out of Manhattan; and maritime travel from New York to Venezuela, whose leadership has friendly relations with the Iranian government."
"'This is not some far-fetched movie plot,' William F. Sweeney Jr., the head of the FBI's New York office, said in a statement. Audrey Strauss, the US attorney in Manhattan, said, 'A US citizen living in the United States must be able to advocate for human rights without being targeted by foreign intelligence operatives.'"
Similarly, a Belarussian lawyer and opposition leader with US citizenship was abducted from his Moscow hotel and carted back to Belarus to be tried under trumped-up charges of trying to assassinate dictator Alexander Lukashenko, supposedly with "the backing of the Jewish capital of America." That anti-Semitic flourish will give you an idea of how things are going in the new fascist East Bloc.
This lawyer at least made the mistake of going to Moscow, where he must have known he was taking a risk. Yet Belarus has begun reaching out to impose its tyranny on the rest of Europe, engaging in what can only be described as the state hijacking of a European airliner.
"Ryanair flight 4978 was about to begin its descent to Vilnius in Lithuania on Sunday when it suddenly changed direction after a 'security alert,' turning sharply east and descending towards the capital of Belarus, Minsk.
"Whether that security alert was a fabrication by the Belarus authorities is now at the heart of an incident which has sparked widespread international condemnation and raised serious questions about safety in the skies. Some governments have described the incident as a state-sanctioned hijacking.
"One of the passengers on board the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was Belarus opposition activist Raman Pratasevich, who is wanted on a variety of charges. For him the diversion was much more than an inconvenience. As soon as the plane landed, he was arrested, according to the Belarus Interior Ministry."
This was an Irish airliner heading from Greece to Lithuania. In effect, Belarus has extended its tyranny over three free countries.
These are piratical regimes, and just as piracy threatens safe travel on the seas, so this is threatening safe travel in the skies, with Europe frantically redirecting its air routes to avoid Belarussian territory. Better yet to cut Belarus and Russia—because we all know that Lukashenko could not survive without Kremlin backing—entirely out of the international air travel system.
The benefits of the post-Cold War era of peace—even of the post-World War II era—are being eroded. Unfortunately, history suggests that the Europeans will be slow, reluctant, and far too late to respond to the danger.
3. The Last Helicopter Out of Saigon
I've been referring to our withdrawal from Afghanistan by invoking the image of the last helicopter out of Saigon, because it evokes the message of weakness created when the US abandons its allies in the face of a vicious and determined enemy.
It turns out I'm not the only one with that comparison in mind. The New York Times interviewed a group of Vietnamese veterans to find out what it was like for the allies we left behind.
"All said they saw stark similarities between Vietnam 46 years ago and Afghanistan today: a swift pullout, an enemy defying peace deals, and an American-made military suddenly left with little support. They shook their heads in disappointment and cautioned that a similar collapse could be in the making."
Note that as with Vietnam, the primary thing required of the US was not a massive commitment of our own troops, but simply continued support, largely from the outside. This is not a matter of America being exhausted or unable to prevent a defeat. It's about the fact that we can't be bothered (or, for the far left, that they cheer on American defeat).
So why should we have stayed? How will abandoning Afghanistan harm America's interests?
I could cite the "Vietnam Syndrome" that emboldened the Soviets in the late 1970s. And of course, I could invoke the 9/11 attacks, which were organized from an al-Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan that is currently being re-established.
But we don't even need to go back that far. In 2015, the rise of the Islamic State in Syria touched off a mini-wave of terrorist attacks in Europe, America, and Australia. I noted the connection at the time.
"Three years of dithering and refusing to take sides and treating Syria as if it really were none of our business made room for the rise of the Islamic State—and the success of the Islamic State is now rallying radical Islamists worldwide. There will be some discussion about whether this attack was planned as part of a wider conspiracy or whether it was a 'lone wolf' attack, but that's not a very comforting distinction, is it?
"Islamic terrorism thrives on examples of success. The Muslim god is a god of war, and his prophet was a victorious conqueror. The example of a strident and victorious Islamist movement that carries all before it is a palpable incitement to other aspiring jihadists, whether they are directly linked to the Islamic State, or whether they're just fanboys.
"There might even be some wisdom to that old notion about fighting them over there so we won't have to fight them over here."
In early 2017, before the Trump administration mounted a brief and successful campaign in Syria—demonstrating how small an effort was actually required—I elaborated on the parallels to pre-9/11 Afghanistan.
"There is a zone of constant warfare and chaos that allows terrorists to establish themselves. There is a new safe haven where a brutal terrorist group seizes state power, or quasi-state power, and puts themselves forward as a champion of Islam and a model of successful jihad. They call on supporters from around the world to rally to their banner, and then they support or incite terrorist attacks back home in the West—in Paris, in Brussels, in Sydney, in San Bernardino and Orlando.
"The Islamic State in Syria is a pretty obvious replay of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. I don't see how we can expect a fundamentally different result."
We certainly can't expect a different result when we let the Taliban and al-Qaeda go back to running Afghanistan again.
4. The Next Election
Back in December, as Donald Trump was beginning to whip up his followers for what would become the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, I warned that it's not about this election, it's about the next one.
"When it next comes time to appoint or elect a state election official, for example, do you think Republicans are going to back the kind of sane technocrat we've seen in this election? Or will the fanatical base view these figures as unacceptable and demand raving true believers?
"And then what happens when Donald Trump or some successor to his movement runs again, but with a party that has been thoroughly prepared, propagandized, and purged in order to sustain the narrative of a 'rigged election' that needs to be corrected by overturning its results?"
That is precisely what is now at stake.
"There's no legal avenue for Trump to reverse the 2020 results. But a half-dozen scholars who study democracy and election laws told NBC News they are increasingly worried that 2024 could be a repeat of 2020, only with a party further remade in the former president's image and better equipped to sow disorder during the process and even potentially overturn the results....
"Nightmare scenarios include local or state officials refusing to certify votes, governors and state legislatures submitting electoral votes that disagree with each other or overrule the apparent vote counts, fights over the legitimacy of judges overseeing the process, and the House and Senate disagreeing on the winner. A chaotic transition could create an opening for further violence, either from extremists attempting to disrupt the process again or mass unrest if the winner is viewed as illegitimate....
"New and proposed laws in states like Georgia and Arizona have sought to wrest power from state and local election officials, some of whom played a role in resisting the former president's demands last election.
"Republicans face significant pressure from their base to make these types of systemic changes—and potentially go much further. Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the New America foundation, released survey data last month that found 46 percent of Republicans supported empowering state legislatures to overturn election results in states President Joe Biden won, as Trump demanded they do in 2020.
"In 2020, every governor and state legislature accepted the election results, but the midterms could reshuffle the landscape. Trump has sought to punish Republican incumbents like Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger with primary challenges. Trump has also lashed out at otherwise supportive Republican legislators in states like Wisconsin and Michigan who have affirmed the results."
This is the top thing to look at as a battle within the Republican Party and within the right more generally, particularly as we head toward next year's midterm and state-level elections. A bunch of state and local offices that we normally don't pay much attention to could determine the results of the next presidential election—and, in fact, the fate of all future elections.
5. Bronze Age Cosmopolitan Globalists
There is a tendency, even among some of its defenders, to view capitalism as artificial and unnatural.
It's true that full-fledged modern capitalism did have to be built up with moral, political, and legal frameworks that make it function at a high level, enabling long-range investment and sophisticated financial instruments on a global scale.
Yet the root of capitalism, particularly the idea of an emergent order that arises out of self-regulating markets, is actually ancient. It is simply how things get done, how humans will naturally coordinate production and trade unless they are forcibly prevented from doing so.
I occasional like to bring your attention to a historical example that shows this, and here is a striking one: an academic study of Bronze Age weights and measures.
"To determine how different units of weight emerged in different regions, researchers compared all the weight systems in use between Western Europe and the Indus Valley from 3,000-1,000 BC. Analysis of 2,274 balance weights from 127 sites revealed that, with the exception of those from the Indus Valley, new and very similar units of weight appeared in a gradual spread west of Mesopotamia....
"The weight systems that emerged between Mesopotamia and Europe were very similar. This meant that a single merchant could travel, for instance, from Mesopotamia to the Aegean and from there to Central Europe and never need to change their own set of weights. The merchant could trade with foreign partners while simply relying on approximating the weights.
"There was no international authority that could have regulated the accuracy of weight systems over such a wide territory and long time span. In Europe, beyond the Aegean, centralized authorities did not even exist at this time. The researchers conclude that the emergence of accurate weight systems must have been the outcome of a global network regulating itself from the bottom-up.
"'With the results of our statistical analysis and experimental tests, it is now possible to prove the long-held hypothesis that free entrepreneurship was already a primary driver of the world economy even as early as the Bronze Age,' explains Professor Lorenz Rahmstorf from the Institute for Prehistory and Early History, University of Göttingen.... 'The idea of a self-regulating market existing some 4,000 years ago puts a new perspective on the global economy of the modern era,' says Dr. Nicola Ialongo, University of Göttingen. He adds, 'Try to imagine all the international institutions that currently regulate our modern world economy: is global trade possible thanks to these institutions, or in spite of them?'"
I have never heard of Dr. Nicola Ialongo before, but he is my new hero.
The really ironic part of this is that there is a faction of the illiberal "reactionary" right who fancy themselves devotees of a "Bronze Age mindset"—see Brad Thompson for more on this—and they are the kind who tend to sneer at the liberalism of us market-oriented "cosmopolitan globalists."
Yet judging from the propagation of standard weights and measures, it seems as if the Bronze Age itself was an era of cosmopolitan globalists.