Is the Pax Anglo-Saxonica worth defending?

Recently, expressing opinions, let alone writing them down, has felt like wading through mud. Given the absolute flood of bad, unfounded, wrong, nonsense opinions that is The Internet, one less take is not necessarily a bad thing. Still, if I want to become a white middle-aged male columnist paid absurd sums to write vacuously on topics I have no real expertise on in The Guardian, I need to get the practice in.

Naked aggregating wasn’t actually a particularly good way to do so, and while I do still occasionally reach for the “add to favourites” button on Pocket like it’s a missing limb, the reading list is ultimately an experiment I’ve moved on from*. I’m not ready to let go of the crutch of other people’s work to buttress my own though**, so I’m going to try something here. Here endeth the navel-gaze, which I’ve put in italics for you. Post begins now.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that an essay by a man who can get commissioned by both the leftish*** New Statesman and the (seemingly) broadly neo-con/liberal hawk American Interest magazines should have such an interestingly broad reach, but there you go. Dr. John Bew’s “Pax Anglo-Saxonica”, published in The American Interest in April 2015, is the rare essay on the special relationship, benevolent hegemony, and the liberal world order that a) doesn’t include a call to bomb a single country (explicitly) and b) might not entirely alienate The Left.

Bew argues that the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the USA is founded not simply on strategic interests so much as a shared set of norms and ideological assumptions, perhaps drawn from their shared sense of relative security:

“Wolfers argued that the distinguishing characteristic of Continental theorists was that they operated in the face of constant external threats to their national existence. Meanwhile, the Anglo-Americans had the advantage of relative security from foreign invasion; they were both islands of sorts. Theirs “was a philosophy of choice, then, which was bound to be ethical, over against a philosophy of necessity, in which forces beyond moral control were believed to prevail.””

The key is Bew’s articulation of the hypocrisy at the heart of what he calls “the higher realism”. Both the British Empire, and in turn, the USA, acted aggressively to maintain the status quo, defending it as a liberal, rules-based international order, “while failing to mention that those laws had been crafted in their image and in their interests.” Both powers created self-serving myths to set themselves apart from each other:

“The British myth is that the United Kingdom wielded a softer, more subtle form of power, replete with a more sophisticated diplomatic armory […] The American myth is that the British Empire of the 19 century represented something immeasurably different from the American Century that followed it.”

This account is helpful for understanding the past two centuries, and the continuities between British and American foreign policy, and like most of what I’ve seen of Dr. Bew’s work, it’s just generally quite interesting in that anecdote/reference-rich way good historians have****. What is, I find, more interesting, is the unspoken assumptions in this:

“the world today could still benefit from a Leviathan with a skin thick enough to bear the allegation of hypocrisy, all in the name of a higher realism. Alas, for that to work the Leviathan must believe in its own benign nature, however self-serving that may be. Too much humility and not enough ethical egoism, it turns out, is not good for international security.”

And it is, of course, here, with the “benign” Leviathan and the “ethical egoism” of the British Empire and the USA, that one must turn left. Not even that far left, really. In the recurrent debates over American retreat*****, a point that the better critics often make is that what the Kagans and Fergusons of the world wilfully obscure is that the golden age of hegemonic stability, while obviously devoid of the horrors of great power war in Eurasia, was pretty grim for lots of people in lots of the world.

There is almost a dishonesty in claims for the benevolence of empire and hegemony that don’t mention the cruelty, violence and aggression they are all founded on. Bew toes this line in this piece, but I think what saves him from the bin Niall Ferguson lives in is that he doesn’t pretend the positive side-effects of British self-interest were the point – he makes a realist case for British foreign policy, not the sketchy case that the Empire and its intentions were noble.

Nevertheless, this problem recurs when you try and extend the logic in this essay to the present. Bew discusses how the German and Japanese challenges to this liberal world order were born of their resentment of their place behind the “noble Anglo-American vanguard”. Particularly in the European context, this is fair enough as an explanation, encompassing strategic rivalries and ideological differences. This has the advantage of ultimately being resolvable by a conflict of arms. Implicit in the idea of benevolent hegemony is that at the end of the day, it’s backed by a big stick.

Bew provides more optimism than most on hegemonic transitions:

“Britain was swift to reconcile itself to the fact that the United States had inherited its role as the strongest nation on earth”

Which invites the possibility that when the United States face the same challenge from China, they might also ‘swiftly reconcile’ themselves to that fact. Except while Britain and the United States shared a culture, history, and interests which helped them through the transition******, it is less clear that the United States and China share anything similar – there is not, to my knowledge, a Chinese Castlereagh.

I’m stretching here, but I can’t help but read Bew as suggesting that the USA either faces, or will face, another situation akin to the World Wars, where it was reluctantly dragged in despite its attempts to stay aloof from the world’s problems. There are about three steps from this argument to the credibility fairy and American support for literally any war that should crop up. Once you concede that the USA can’t “avoid suffering the consequences when [the Anglo-Saxon world order] began to unravel due to neglect” you invite more vigilance for signs of neglect or unravelling.

This is where, as much as I like Dr. Bew’s work, and this piece, my wariness leads me to tense up and compose some snarky tweets.

There is a very strong case to be made that despite being driven by elite self-interest in the respective countries, the Pax Anglo-Saxonica has been more benign than it could have been.

It is nevertheless undeniable that the Pax Anglo-Saxonica has been very bad for a really large proportion of humanity. From the Bengal Famine to concentration camps in Kenya to literally any U.S. policy south of its borders until about last week, you don’t have to be Noam Chomsky to concede that the Pax hasn’t been universal.

Again, not the worst. I genuinely don’t know where I stand on the truth of this but I think there is a case to be made that, even accepting the very worst claims made by critics of American foreign policy, you could do a lot worse as far as hegemons go.

But the fact that you could also do a lot better leaves me very uncertain about the implications of this argument for the future. Bew posits some inherent qualities to Anglo-Saxon ideology******* that make it more benevolent, which would then suggest that this particular hegemony is the best we can hope for, and therefore worth seeking to protect, aggressively if need be. This is unclear, at best.

I’ve yet to see challenges to the Pax Anglo-Saxonica that aren’t from that strand of the left that critique the current order without offering anything else. I’m far from convinced a 安******** would be better. Nor am I convinced that it would be so much worse that we should be supportive of future great power (and nuclear) war to prevent it.

I have gotten this far without losing faith in my own words********* and I am not about to pretend I can offer a glib conclusion on the future of great power relations, the Asia pivot, liberal internationalism, the rules of the game as we know them, and imperial power in the 21st Century. This is where I trail ineffectually away in true mediocre columnist style.

You should read Dr. Bew’s essay********************. He’s smarter than me, tbh. I just hope I’ve offered some Food For Thought for when you’re done with it.



*although I did get to use it fairly credibly in a job interview earlier which was interesting – I didn’t mention the Kanye gifs

**which to be completely fucking honest I’m going to put down in the “pro-Gabby_L_M” column, as there are altogether too many amateurs writing authoritatively on stuff they don’t know about and even though I’m mostly refraining out of insecurity, I’m going to reframe it as a moral stand against the student bloggers of the world

***despite its best efforts to drag itself down by standing on all the worst sides of every internet feminism debate going recently

****dude looks young which makes him all the more impressive

*****cf. the grand strategy section in at least one post a month from the reading list

******pretty sure the bit about Britain during the American Civil War is my favourite in this essay just because of Germany being all “SMH England you’re weak man”

*******am I being unfair here?

********this is ‘peace’ in Mandarin and don’t you ever say that I don’t treat you, dear reader

*********at the cost of a bottle of cheap wine and a ton of asterisks

**********once a content-aggregator….

31st of August: Final Stretch

In the UK at least, summer seems to have collapsed in on itself. Which can only mean I’m that much closer to moving into a flat and restarting some semblance of a life again, so with any luck, these posts will get a lot more streamlined. Until then, I’m still pinging across London multiple times a day, several days of week, with all the scope for consuming enormous amounts of reading. Without any further ado, then, let’s get stuck in.

Song of the week was my favourite revelation of last week’s VMAs – Usher and Nicki Minaj have done a song together, and it sounds like something that could have come off Confessions, which was lovely as I’ve kind of lost touch with Usher since then. NB: Going to be a Nicki-heavy week*. EDIT: There’s a real video! Excitement!


First up, NATO Council of Canada article this week involves neither Canada or NATO, but it is on procurement, so I just about stayed on-topic – I looked at Brazil’s military modernization programme.

Also, weekly reminder – I’m still sending this out in newsletter form every Sunday, hoping that it’ll eventually hit critical mass – you can subscribe here.

  • Lots on the Islamic State this week** A thought-provoking John Schindler essay (/polemic) on what he sees as the generational struggle against militant Islamists. IDK. Worth reading, possibly overblown.
  • A couple of good pieces looking more closely at IS – this one on the Britons going to join it, and this on its rise, relationship with Al-Qaeda, and future
  • Boris Johnson is a cretin.
  • Interesting discussion of why we respond so much more to IS’ violence than, for example, gang violence in Latin America, given their apparent similarities
  • Clear pushback on the emerging idea that we should side with Assad against IS
  • Great essay on the vacuum of power (but not a “why won’t Obama lead”) in the Middle East
  • Kind of terrifying article embedded with the Shia militias on the frontlines in Iraq
  • Important reminder from a while back that bombing Syria last year would have done fuck-all, and diplomacy has eliminated their chemical weapons
  • Investigation of the possible legal justifications for American airstrikes against IS in Syria
  • Another good Stephen Saideman piece on reforming NATO
  • First of the week’s New Yorker backlog clearout – long feature on Putin and the new anti-Americanism in Russia
  • Lot of talk of Obama’s foreign policy falling apart this week. A reminder that the low-hanging fruit is gone.
  • Hopi Sen continues his hot-streak in his first appearance this week, on the “Stop the World” coalition – I remember wanting to argue with something in this but not finding anything.
  • Second New Yorker is a feature on the Sri Lankan civil war. Hard reading, but nothing that’ll surprise anyone who watched the Channel 4 documentary (go watch that if you haven’t)
  • This profile of an abortion doctor in Mississippi is a great look at a wonderful man, that doesn’t lose sight of the fucked up conditions he is forced into
  • Couple of good pieces on the dangers of condescending reporting on the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. This one, at the Atlantic, is heartbreaking (that ending – chills). This one, at the Monkey Cage (I know), more scholarly
  • Hugh Muir is excellent on the continuing horrors coming out of Rotherham and the shameless attempts to blame them on PC gone mad.
  • Thoughtful essay on admitting your white privilege
  • History of race riots in the USA, and growing more positively out of similar fuckery in the UK, a history of the Notting Hill Carnival
  • Harsh piece on war reporting today
  • Rather weirdly beautiful piece of writing on war through the eyes of the C-130 transport plane
  • Obviously this is a great blog on what all the horrid images shared on Twitter do to us, but I’m mostly sharing it because despite having consigned Thinking Fast and Slow to the “two-thirds read” pile***, I recognised the quote!
  • Fascinating account of the botched rescue of the Iranian embassy hostages
  • I may have linked to this before, but you should all be checking out Willard Foxton’s WW1 History Tumblr – based on a collection of contemporary magazines, he also shares little anecdotes or histories. Really interesting little tidbits every day.
  • Hopi Sen, again, on the need for a Spotify for news – I feel this.Even if money wasn’t a concern, the hassle is maddening – the Financial Times is pretty egregious in this regard.
  • Told you Nicki was going to feature heavily. These two posts that I found really helpful provide context to the brilliant Anaconda video– plenty overlap, but this one is a snappy Tumblr, and this one is a bit boilerplate feminist. Meanwhile, this by Emily Reynolds is just quite funny.
  • Now that Playboy have de-perved their website (mostly), can respectably link to them. This, on the whitewashing of hip-hop, is great.
  • Suspect time-lapse videos are going to be everywhere soon (Dad showed me the new Instagram app), but until then, this one of the Panama canal is quite incredible
  • IDK if I’m horrified or enticed by Arby’s Meat Mountain but this is a brilliant article
  • I defer to no man**** in my love for About a Boy/Bridget Jones Hugh, but this is funny.
  • As the start of the academic year approaches, this might be helpful to some of you.
  • Finally, Fuck this tortoise.

A long one, but there you go. Lots to be getting on with – see you in September! x

*I have some thoughts on Super Bass, which for some reason, I hadn’t heard before, and I have a platform so: 1) the aesthetic of this video is terrifyingly frenzied. Just that blinking in the first verse is disquieting 2) first time I heard it, I was immediately reminded of the soundtrack to Thomas Was Alone and this felt like a really good insight. Look!

**I’ve noticed that about half of these articles are still referring to ISIS. There are sound political reasons for this (not legitimising them as a state, chiefly) but I go with IS largely out of laziness and Twitter character limits.

***started it up again last night after writing this

****admittedly I probably don’t need to

10th August: Binary Mood

I don’t know if this is just one of those confirmation bias things but I feel like the past few weeks have just been a bleak, bleak time to be human. The last awful headline barely has time to be fade before another horror arrives on the news. So I’m rejigging the structure a bit this week. The first half is pretty grim but, I hope, interesting as ever. Meanwhile, I’ve shoved anything mildly optimistic/light-hearted into the second half, regardless of topic. If you’ve read enough dire reports on the state of the world today, scroll straight down.

Song of the week  – Guns N’ Roses’ “Coma”. Had forgotten about it as I’m no longer 16 ( 😦 ) The last two or three minutes of this song are properly incredible – rest is good two but from the solo onwards it’s something else.


After some hiccups in the posting schedule, my latest-ish piece at NATO Council is up (hoping for a couple more to appear soon) – this one was on the United Kingdom procuring the F-35. It’s also the last of the little miniseries I was writing (in my mind) on British defence matters so that’s cool. Been playing with a concluding post to go up here, may arrive this week.

With that, let’s get the nastiness out of the way first

The Bad

  • So IS(IS/L) have been all over the headlines (and all up in US bombsights now) this weekend. This essay in the London Review of Books is properly depressing stuff – they look increasingly likely to be here to stay
  • I’m sure you’re all dying to know – the official stance here is cautiously in favour of the operations against IS announced this weekend. Then again what the fuck do I know I was pleased when UNSC1973 got passed and look at Libya now. Regardless this is a well-argued proposal at Foreign Policy for a proper disengagement by the USA from the Middle East.
  • I’ve spent the past few days sneering, sniping and generally being unpleasant about the various irritants who make up the British liberal interventionist segment of the media. So it’s only fair that I share with you this thoughtful, honest meditation by Hopi Sen, shining light among them, on the current state of Western foreign policy
  • Properly arming the Kiev government would be a bad idea right now
  • Vladimir Putin seems a bit of a tragic figure, aside from all the nastiness. But what if sanctions do force him out of power?
  • Bringing research and scholarship to bear on the ongoing problem of creating a lasting ceasefire in Gaza
  • The fact that the Ebola serum has only been used on two white Americans while Africans die by the hundred looks bad – but it’s more complicated than that
  • This is a powerful, upsetting read about a young reporter’s first night in Kiev. Dispiriting but important. TW for sexual assault.

Ugh. All-round unpleasant.

But look.

  • First up, Daniel Woodburn presents a more optimistic look at ISIS’ prospects*
  • Intriguing proposal to end the violence in Ukraine from Dan Drezner
  • Slight, but fascinatingly futuristic idea for humanitarian relief
  • Realistic proposals for positive change in the DRC? :O
  • A reminder that there are no nuclear weapons in South America – that’s nice. Interesting look at why that is.
  • Hesitated on where to put this, as it’s bittersweet, but a lovely profile of one of the women involved in the Supreme Court case against the Defence of Marriage Act.
  • The New Statesman has a tendency to publish pretty irritating stuff on feminism**, but this brilliant (long) essay on trans people and radical feminism kind of makes up for it
  • Was only vaguely aware of this – amid the commemorations of the soldiers, Paul Mason argues the First World War was brought to an end by workers’ movements
  • CityMetric is an interesting project. This is cool on the definition of a city, and this is encouraging on the urban revolution.
  • Speaking of cities: very fun account by Clive Martin of a pub crawl through the worst of gentrifying London dickery. Surprisingly even-handed. While most of my trips into Central London make me pray for the day all its wanky boutiques, pop-ups, craft beer and fancy coffee houses disappear from the face of the Earth, this sort of piece makes me wonder if I shouldn’t give it a chance while I’m still here.
  • Great interview with the wonderful Christina Hendricks
  • Been reading a lot of The Debrief this week (you should too) – enjoyed this on the mad reactions to J-Law’s breakup, and not just because her dating that annoying kid out of About a Boy was annoying
  • Liked this by Daisy Buchanan – just eight years to go till I hit my peak, apparently
  • Really want to play Far Cry 3 again after reading this great piece
  • I identify deeply with this Buzzfeed.
  • My hero.

Also, I wanted to do a Kanye-eyeroll here but can’t be arsed, but can we just take a moment to note that on Thursday morning Dan Hodges wrote a weasel wordy, incoherent, ignorant column decrying the paralysis and cowardice of the non-interventionism that dominates Western policy and literally like twelve hours later, Obama was authorising airstrikes on ISIS (just in time to spare us a tedious Nick Cohen column on the topic, I hope). Beautiful.

Long’un this week. Whoops. We’re done. Enjoy the week as best you can guys. This too shall pass, maybe? IDK.

As ever, if receiving this thing to your email inbox late Saturday night instead of seeking it out yourselves during Sunday appeals to you, I’ve started a newsletter which you can subscribe to ->here<-

*optimistic for us, not them, obv.

**which I’m loathe to really criticise because I’m a bloke but.

3rd of August: “Commuter” Edition

I’ve decided I don’t like coming into London during the week. As befits my status as “a bit of a waste of space” ™, recently I’ve been coming in to the centre, wearing shorts and sunglasses, and overlapping with various segments of commuters on the train, all besuited and miserable, and god. Nothing quite like it to remind you you’ve done nothing with your week.

Nothing but read a bunch of stuff! The advantage of “commuting”, of course, is I read a bunch of stuff – which is good for you, as you don’t even need to do the commuting bit (unless you do anyway, in which case, sorry)

Song of the week isn’t exactly a song so much as an indulgence. Despite realising their audience is apparently mostly 14, and despite their hawking their songs to every awful thing from the Olympics to Twilight, I still have a lot of time for Muse, if only out of loyalty to high-school me. This week’s song is the three-part ‘symphony’ off the end of The Resistance, ‘Exogenesis’. It’s ridiculous, self-indulgent, and just a bit beautiful. It’s also twelve minutes long: luckily, there are a lot of links this week.

  • Two posts on the international response to Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. One arguing for a more assertive policy, and one praising the restrained one so far. You choose*
  • Interesting article examining different scenarios for China’s rise to challenge the narrative of its inevitable hegemony
  • What are NATO and the EU’s rapid response forces good for? Also wrote an article about this, which I submitted about three hours before reading – annoying.
  • Mean Girls reference and slamming right-wing orthodoxies? Sold. On Mitt Romney, the ‘fetch’ of presidential candidates
  • Damning piece on the aftermath of the Libyan intervention
  • The Early Warning Project present their assessments for risks of state-led mass killing in 2014 – interesting for my dissertation, but also for you
  • Adam Elkus has some problems (to say the least) with US policy in ‘AfPak’
  • Bitterly funny.
  • Quite nice interview with someone who I assume is famous in the States on travel, food, and …war
  • I don’t know how the hell to summarise this piece without sounding mad. One of their pictures might help:

    taken from The Atlantic

  • Reassuring blog by Tom Chivers on the Ebola outbreak.
  • There was a lot of money sloshing around for contractors after the Afghan and Iraq war – this piece looks at someone who made a lot of money from them, perhaps not too ethically.
  • Charlie’s got more thoughts on development – interesting ones
  • Lovely piece from Roxane Gay
  • Dorian Lynskey has an excellent feature on the egregious example of cultural appropriation that is the ‘festival headdress’
  • Mythologised history is fun, but it’s nice to know the truth about les taxis de la Marne
  • Speaking of mythologised history, this (multi-part, not sure which link I’ve given you) “degenerates” into mid-century Swiss army fan-fiction (as if that’s a bad thing), but is interesting on the German plans for an invasion of Switzerland in WW2
  • Ally Fogg is not unhappy that men’s appearances are getting more scrutiny than in the past
  • This sounds appalling to me, because strangers, but quite an interesting concept – like blablacar but for food
  • This is nice, somewhat encouraging, stuff by Bim Adewunmi
  • The pieces from the New Yorker archive are starting to come through. This week, celebrity profiles! First up, this is cool on George Clooney
  • Didn’t mean for this to happen, honest, but GQ’s interview with Kanye West is great, and it was right next to this very interesting (quite old, pre-Red) profile of Taylor Swift** in my bookmarks. I’mma let you finish indeed.
  • Got endless time for writing about Confessions
  • This is inexplicably funny.

Weekly reminder that if you’d prefer, the Reading List is available in newsletter form here, and with that, I bid you bubye. Enjoy the weather or something. x

*currently writing something on Parliament’s report on the issue, so watch this space

**god this has been a week for “guilty” pleasures, hasn’t it? Muse and Taylor Swift (who even my teenaged sister (ie, Swift’s target audience) rolls her eyes at me for liking).

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics: Review

nicked off

Earlier in the year, I wrote a review of an additional chapter John Mearsheimer had written for a revised edition of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics and published online – as I said at the time, I hadn’t actually read the original book. In my defence, the politics library at my university appeared to be a single room with some Spanish books in it, so I wasn’t confident I’d find it. Anyway, I’m back in London, and I’ve read it now. Review after the jump.

Continue reading

February 9th: Watch the Chinese Throne (Reading List)

I have literally spent all week concerned about titles etc. and can’t get past calling it something Sunday-papers-related (ie, what RPS call it) or something like what Another Angry Woman calls hers, but having linked to both of those last week, I can’t plausibly pretend I’m not just nicking their titles. So I’m going with a new approach – crappy jokes about the content of the post is the way forward.

Overthinking Rappers

Which is a lie as a title because I think there’s enough interesting stuff in any (well not all of them) Kanye song to justify writing at length about, but these articles go in such interesting directions that it almost feels strange that they’re built on the foundation of the man who wrote “in a French-ass restaurant/hurry up with my damn croissants”. Anyway, there are two segments to this section – the first half are articles that were mostly written years ago but since they were linked to in a post from this week, they fit. The second half I read months ago, probably around when Yeezus came out, but they seem to dovetail quite nicely with this theme and I really want you all* to read them.

So over at Foreign Policy, Matt Lynch wrote this really cool post about Kendrick Lamar (who I think I am about to understand the hype about – just one more play of good kid) and academia, which was good on its own merit – but then he linked to an earlier post about Jay-Z and international relations and I think this started the most entertaining reading I’ve done all week. First, the original post. Then the responses he compiled. And, finally, just when I was starting to feel upset at the absence of Kanye in the discussion – boom, Watch The Throne dropped and earned itself its own post! Highlights:

“Eminem returned strong after a long struggle with depression to make the ferociously brilliant Recovery album; but like, say, India or Brazil he has always been a powerhouse in his own world, neither influencing nor affected by the wider field.”

“many doubted whether Kanye could ever recover. This was a reputational collapse on a par with what the Bush administration did to America’s standing in the world.”

It’s absurd, but it absolutely works and is really fun – sort of like a hip-hop version of Daniel Drezner’s IR and zombies book.

In a similar vein, some of the writing in response to Yeezus and Kanye’s interviews, etc. in the months since has been absolutely brilliant.

Cord Jefferson, in particular wrote two really interesting, personal pieces discussing racism and his lived experience of discrimination and where Kanye West fits into this as an artist that are wonderful – this one was in response to that thing with Jimmy Kimmel, who comes off as a real tool.

“That Kanye West didn’t take it as a joke isn’t really a surprise, even if we ignore the fact that he’s famously self-serious. Here he’d done an interview explaining how hurtful it is to have proved one’s ability and still be seen as inferior by rich white people, and a rich white person responded by infantilizing him.”

Meanwhile, this piece is as much about race as gender, and the pretty shitty sexism that Kanye lyrics occasionally (frequently) swerve into. As Jefferson puts it,

“But if much of Kanye’s latest effort is intrepid, industrial progress, one big swath remains anchored firmly in the past, like a rocket ship heated with a wood-burning stove.”

Well worth a read and does a really good job of contextualizing the awfulness without giving it a pass. Also features some very bleak history and interesting personal touches.

Finally two good pieces from The Sabotage Times – one my favourite review of Yeezus and the other a really good defence of Bound 2 and its video. I love that song and I have a lot of time for Kanye but even I was baffled and derisive of that video, which was probably unfair. Hari Sethi takes it seriously and makes a solid case that

“Whilst we all cringed at silly ol’ Kanye, it’s highly plausible the rapper had the last laugh.”

Why we should(n’t) be afraid of China

A massive pile of pieces on politics in East Asia now. It’s a really interesting (in the terrifying way) situation at the moment and I have no idea whether to believe the doom-mongers but it does make me slightly troubled by the UK move towards losing aircraft carriers (how far I’ve fallen). Then again, the joy of not being the hegemon is not having to pay for global public goods I guess. Anyway. This week’s first of three War on the Rocks pieces is a persuasive case for a change in US response to Chinese “salami-slicing” which is my new favourite metaphor –

“It is the rivals of salami-slicers who are obligated to eventually draw red lines and engage in brinkmanship over actions others will view, in isolation, as trivial and far from constituting casus belli.”

It’s compelling and a bit scary. Linked to within that post is this brilliant article from the New York Times that I think has to be read on a computer browser to do it justice – it’s beautifully presented Snowfall-style stuff (I said this about a piece last week I think). It’s also a fascinating and surreal report on the Filipino efforts to keep hold of tiny little islands across the South China Sea and China’s basically unstoppable moves to take them. At its heart is an abandoned, rusty, collapsing beached WW2 boat and the handful of marines garrisoning it. Really good reporting, check it.

So while that’s all a bit terrifying, the pessimistic case may be somewhat overstated. For one thing, this piece in The Diplomat argues that the Chinese military is over-estimated as a threat – they’re poorly-trained and much much worse equipped than we think, despite all the publicity around their military budget. Meanwhile, this other piece on the F-35 fighter jet (I don’t know who I am anymore) turned out to be really interesting and nicked at least an hour of my life while I read up, pointlessly, on US fighter jets. Together, they make it quite clear that the US military is still so ridiculously powerful that in the event of a war it’s not implausible that the US would be able to wipe the floor with China, which in turn makes it highly unlikely that it’ll come to it. Fingers crossed. Also the F-35 thing paints this delightfully Skynet picture which I was more amused than terrified by – possibly because of this blog which got a giggle out of me.

Zack Beauchamp over at also outlines a lot of convincing reasons that war is ultimately pretty unlikely. So that’s good.

International Diplomacy for dummies

Worryingly, on the strength of these two pieces, the US diplomatic corps doesn’t exactly sound up to managing these crises. This profile of former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul is interesting – he doesn’t come off awfully and seems like a decent bloke but… not great. Also:

“The only known association between the Russian president and American football was Putin’s alleged theft of Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s diamond-studded Super Bowl ring in 2005”

Amazing. (That said, there’s another Russia piece or two incoming that aren’t so fun so steel yourselves. On the problems with the diplomatic service generally this one has been doing the rounds on Twitter and is a bit worrying but also brilliant because hopefully the British or the Brazilian ambassadorships are as much of a joke which improves my chances (of course apparently you need to be a massive donor to get in so I’d still need to be loaded. So not that much of an improvement)

Middle Eastern things

As Iran moves back towards a degree of normalization internationally these two pieces are good for treating it like a normal country instead of a Holocaust-denying ranter (Ahmadinejad being gone helps with that). The Al-Jazeera piece is just a good outline of where its national interests lie and helps explain its behaviour. Meanwhile, the War on the Rocks one is more self-interested in a way.

“Because giving Iran a place at the table is the only way to make it take responsibility for its role in Syria’s civil war.”

By virtue of being a pariah Iran doesn’t get called out on all of its behaviour as much maybe it should – that post argues that its normalization could help in more ways than one. In a similar vein, this on Foreign Policy (also doing well this week) discusses Syria using the analogies of Bosnia and Iraq properly and seriously and actually drawing interesting and credible conclusions instead of “we should/shouldn’t bomb Syria because Bosnia/Iraq”. So good job there.

Finally, a really moving piece on how we talk about war at (ha) War on the Rocks. It really is to that site’s credit that they get both great scholars and experts and veterans (often in the same person) to write for them.

“We’ve abstracted Syria to the point that it’s no longer a war, but a giant Risk board we get to watch on CNN.” 

I can’t be bothered to make up a tenuous set of categories for the rest of these so the overflow section is really big and contains some of the best posts. Tough.

Who says titles have to be brief? Ok first up, and vaguely related to the last one, this piece about women and the media from Sarah Graham (who I know! Get me) is really good – it outlines all the different kinds of fuckery that are pervasive in the media and at its heart is the horrific work (I mean great work from her but awful) by Karen Ingala Smith –

“Her Counting Dead Women campaign recorded 140 women killed in 2013 by boyfriends, husbands, sons, grandsons, friends, relatives, acquaintances and strangers. That’s one woman every 2.6 days.”

It really underlines why this shit matters and it’s a great piece which you should read now – I’ll wait.

Tenuously linked (Sarah mentioned the Meredith Kercher trial) is this mildly surreal but quite powerful piece in the Guardian on Amanda Knox. It’s weird to read how sympathetic she sounds with the knowledge that she’s a convicted murderer but Hattenstone isn’t unaware of that tension. Also I never followed that trial so I didn’t have any opinions either way beyond “this is awful”. Good article though.

Stoya is wonderful and this piece from her in the New Statesman is really cool and funny but important and I love her rule 7:

“7. If your sexual partner(s) express a limit or ask for something to stop and you do not respect it, you are stepping onto a scale that ranges from “jerk” to “full-on rapist”. Personally, I don’t want to be on that scale at all, and I don’t want to engage in sexual activity with anyone who does hang out on that scale.”

For something completely different, but related to the war on women piece by virtue of it just being me boosting my friends, Charlie Satow’s blog on development is well worth following and this piece was nice and light-hearted but really captured the fundamental tension that lies in the fact that if development efforts achieve their aims,

“all of us lovely people in the global North who want to work in Development are out of a job”

Also I can’t wait to see the Romeo and Juliet piece.

I warned you about this one. This report in GQ about “Being Gay in Russia” by Jeff Sharlet is excellent. It’s driven by the voices and the stories of the people who have to live with the awful discrimination and is very powerful and moving and heartbreaking and if you only read one thing I link this week** make it this.

On the other hand, Another Angry Woman makes a very good point here – that while stuff in Russia is undeniably fucked up, it is far from the only place in which stuff is fucked up. It’s harsh and also contains a whole litany of depressingly shit stuff that LGBT people face and is entirely in keeping with the name of the blog and worth reading as a precursor to some uncomfortable looking in the mirror (metaphorically)

“I’m not saying don’t be pissed off about Sochi and Russia. I’m saying, be more pissed off.”

Now for some much more trivial but still interesting (but after the GQ piece, to be honest, anything would seem a bit trivial)…

Pop culture bits!

I’ve been meaning to write about Louie (literally directly beneath this in my word document are two half-written posts about it) and I still might, but this from Todd VanDerWerff almost*** makes me not want to bother because it says a lot of what I wanted to but well and with like… knowledge about TV. So read this and I’ll see if I can add to it. Also watch Louie – it’s really good.

Get this as a sentence. The next piece is an excerpt from a Harry Potter fan fiction written by respected IR scholar Daniel Drezner and published in Foreign Policy, called “Eat, Cast, Love.” Worth a click just to reward them with page-views for the weirdness.

Finally, I’ll leave you with an irresistibly nerdy post from Alan White**** on video-gaming in the past decade is really fun and reminded me of a lot of cool stuff. I was also weirdly proud of getting a lot of the moments.

Last week I was concerned that 1500 words was too many. This one has over 2200. Is that too many? Please feel free to comment or contact me or something if you have any thoughts on whether this thing should be less fucking long.

*I say “all”, last week’s blog got less than a dozen hits which makes “all” seem like an absurd word to use really

**please don’t only read one post though there are like twenty+ links in this post and this shit takes time.

***almost – I actually remembered it having more about why Louie is so good but it just kind of takes that as a given, so there’s hope for me yet.

****and I know that Buzzfeed gif-lists are kind of the opposite of this blog’s stated intent of sharing interesting stuff to read you may not have seen since it’s Buzzfeed so you will have done, and it’s a listicle so hardly even reading but….)

KONY2012 and why I give up on not being cynical

You’ve inevitably heard of it. The KONY 2012 video is one of the biggest viral campaigns I’ve seen in a while, which is especially surprising as the material is almost half an hour long. And I saw it, at about 1AM, and thought “Hm.”. I’ve had plenty of discussions with friends in the past over online advocacy networks, and have been reading about humanitarianism more generally, as well as civil wars for an essay, so my thoughts are up in the air on the topic. And I saw the video, and remembered having heard of the LRA before and having been sickened. And of course, the video only intensified those sentiments. So I thought: this’ll be the one. I’ll throw myself into this campaign, with all the idealistic open-mindedness I can muster. I’ll believe in the power of protest to bring change. I’ll forget sitting on Westminster bridge to “Block the Bill” which proceeded to pass. I’ll forget my disaffection with representative democracy. In fact, I’ll even write to MPs. I’ll put my cynic hat on the shelf for a while.

Then, inevitably, came the backlash. Within hours, criticisms had been raised of the video and the organisation behind it, Invisible Children. The video itself is quite questionable – very much the White Man coming to save Africa, with what I felt was an intrusively long shot of the boy crying for his lost brother, and an oversimplification of the situation in Uganda.  But the paternalist side of charity advertising, as well as the removal of the beneficiaries’ dignity, and the over-simplification, are issues that are widespread. The cause still seemed good.

The organisation, on the other hand, doesn’t. Their spending looks distinctly skewed, with around a third of their money actually getting to projects. The very name, Invisible Children, says it all – as has been pointed out, just because we don’t know about these children, does that make them invisible to their families, friends, and all the Ugandans working to help them already?

So my position became one of endorsing the campaign without endorsing its backers. But then even that is unsteady. The campaign calls for the arrest of Joseph Kony. Good. But he is already at the top of the ICC’s warrant list, and Obama has declared his arrest to be a US national security interest. Campaigning for his arrest would only make sense if people didn’t want to arrest him. That is not the case. Therefore, I can only assume that the campaign is for Western governments to facilitate his arrest. Which makes me uncomfortable. I need to straighten out my thoughts on the issue of humanitarian intervention – that is one of my key objectives for, if not the year, graduation. Despite all the completely compelling arguments against, there is a part of me that wouldn’t mind sending out the SAS to bundle Kony onto a helicopter to The Hague. This isn’t what KONY 2012 are advocating from what I can tell. Probably thankfully. As if governments needed another excuse to start a war, massive twitter-led public pressure in a big election year would be unhelpful.

That leaves the campaign without a clear objective – are they just trying to maintain pressure on the US government to keep the military advisors in Uganda? Good, I guess. But even then, the US involvement Vietnam War started with military advisors too. Not to mention that indirectly, this approach backs the Ugandan government by reinforcing its military strength, which seems fairly undesirable when you consider the pretty hideous nature of the regime itself (I would be interested to know how many gay people are backing the campaign…)

Now, obviously, it would be very trite for me to end this blog with the sobering moral that nothing is black and white, and that we must always scrutinise these issues further before proclaiming them, and oh, isn’t it awful that the Internet makes us all commit so quickly.

But seriously, right. Would it cost the world to just once present an issue to me on a silver platter? I tried to be open and idealistic and student activist, and look what happens?

*retrieves cynic hat from shelf*


*puts it back on*

PSEDIT: Thought of a great witticism while talking to a friend.

I don’t do one-night stands, but I suspect I feel about KONY2012 like I would waking up the morning after.

NB: If I wasn’t feeling lazy, I would include plenty of links here. If people want reading material on this, I’ve spent the afternoon avoiding work with it and have plenty to offer.