Belmont Club

Global Politics Becomes a House of Noise

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Could it be this bad? Lee Smith argues that the Iran nuclear deal was actually part of a deal to make Iran the new regional power in the Middle East.

The JCPOA was the instrument Obama used to secure the administration’s ultimate goal—realigning U.S. interests with those of Iran. For the U.S. to be able to minimize its footprint in the Middle East, the Obama White House needed a proxy force—much like the Iranians use proxies to advance their interests. Soleimani managed Iranian proxies and Obama, who praised the late commander, believed he was capable of stabilizing the region on behalf of America. …

If this all seems unbelievable, it’s because it is—and also because you’re probably still imagining that Obama’s goal was to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But once you understand the real purpose, these moves become much clearer. To wit: Why did Obama give the regime enough uranium to make 10 nuclear bombs? To pressure the incoming Trump administration to stick with the nuclear deal. If Trump chose to leave the JCPOA, he’d have to deal with the fact that with 130 tons of uranium already on hand Iran had an easier path to the bomb. In effect, the last president handed the Iranians a loaded gun to be pointed at his successor.

If you flip political sides, the Democrats’ accusations against Trump are equally bad. He is variously portrayed as a stooge for Russia, the henchman of Putin, a blackmailer of Ukraine to frame Joe Biden, or the provocateur of war with Iran to distract from his own impeachment. Whether such crimes have actually been committed by either side can be debated; what is undeniable is the animus of mutual accusations.

The blood-feuds of the old world are here; the linkage between foreign affairs and domestic politics has never been stronger. Any issue involving Ukraine, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran automatically evolves into accusations of “treason.” Every foreign crisis has its counterpart, the unintended consequence of the Global World.

The oceans used to be a fluid coupling that prevented sudden external shocks from being transmitted to domestic politics. The heydays of Hydramatic were coincidentally those of the saying that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” uttered in reference to the bipartisan creation of NATO. But now the gears are fused. As foreign influence grew in Washington, the drive-train stayed clutched in with no more slip at the water’s edge. The enabling ideology for this was “multiculturalism” and a naive globalism, supposedly good for all, but which transmits the shocks directly to the political engine and may in time destroy it. It’s already led to Crossfire Hurricane, an impeachment, and on the return stroke what may be an equivalent investigation of Obama and/or his security staff. It won’t end there. There’ll be many more investigations and impeachments and no way to decouple from external forces.

An example of how tightly linked domestic and foreign affairs are was illustrated by news that the U.S. is sending is home 21 Saudi cadets from NAS Pensacola after one shot his instructors in an “act of terrorism”: “Many of the 21 cadets being sent home had contact with child pornography and possessed jihadist or anti-American material, Barr said. None is accused of having advanced knowledge of the shooting.” That is 21 of nearly 900 Saudi students across the country.

If this is an unbiased sample of true attitudes in the Kingdom, the probability that at least one jihadi will become brass and reach a position to launch an insider attack is high. Senior Defense Department officials who insist that “suspending operational training for students from Saudi Arabia … would be short-term and would not upset the strategic relationship between the two countries” are almost certainly wrong. In the tightly bound world of the 21st century, what happens in Saudi reverberates in Florida as surely as Iranian shootdowns of Ukrainian airliners affect Canadian attitudes toward America.

Canadians have been questioning who is at fault for the downing last Wednesday of a plane carrying passengers from Canada, Iran and other nations. Over the weekend, Iran admitted accidentally shooting down the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, killing all 176 on board. But some prominent figures in Canadian business and media have pinned part of the blame on the United States. They say the U.S. provoked Iran by killing a top Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The complexity and inter-connectedness of the modern world means distant events can become latent or hidden variables that affect events without warning. For example, the anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong may have affected the outcome in the recent Taiwanese election. Roger Simon writes:

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen may not owe her entire record-breaking landslide reelection victory to Hong Kong’s democracy demonstrators, but she owes a good part of it to those courageous young people.

They made her reelection a referendum on China’s leader Xi Jinping’s harsh reaction toward protest in that famed city only 450 miles west of Taiwan.

The Taiwanese had already taken notice of the sudden decline in tourism to their island from the mainland. Last summer, the People’s Republic of China restricted individuals from traveling to Taiwan lest they learn too much about what was happening in Hong Kong. Only groups that could be more closely watched were allowed to go.

Democracy can be catching. (As I type this, it seems to be spreading all the way from Taipei to Tehran.)

In turn, the anti-government protests in Iran that Roger Simon refers to were triggered by yet another unforeseen event. Crowds mobilized to mourn deceased IRGC chief Soleimani turned in anger on the authorities when they admitted to accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian airliner loaded with Iranian-Canadian students, artists and academics. With video evidence emerging from the New York Times showing the Iranians actually fired not one, but two missiles, things could get worse.

It would be a bold man to predict what happens next in the face of so much noise. But societies are not entirely helpless against outside influences. Quantum computing scientists faced with the same problem have identified a novel solution: “the execution of quantum computations in such a way that changes in the initial operational parameters of the machine do not lead to a substantial change in the end result of the computation. This in turn helps to insulate the quantum computer from the effects of environmental ‘noise.'”

Translated into ordinary English this means creating a social consensus robust enough and government mechanisms transparent enough to ignore minor outside noise. One obvious implication is that the more fractious American politics becomes the more vulnerable it is to foreign interference. Perhaps Lincoln said it best, though he was quoting Jesus: survival requires brotherhood. “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” That is in response to the scribes’ claim that “by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.”

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Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America, by Scott Adams. The creator of Dilbert has come up with a guide to spot and avoid mental habits trapping victims in their own bubbles of reality, such as the inability to get ego out of your decisions, thinking with words instead of reasons, failing to imagine alternative explanations, and making too much of coincidences.

Humanity in a Creative Universe, by Stuart A. Kauffman. Best known for his philosophy of evolutionary biology, Kauffman calls into question science’s ability to ever accurately and precisely predict the future development of biological features in organisms. He argues that our preoccupation to explain all things with scientific law has deadened our creative natures and concludes that the development of life on earth is not entirely predictable, because no theory could ever fully account for the limitless variations of evolution.

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Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll. A masterful result of Coll’s indefatigable reporting, this book draws on more than 400 interviews; field reporting from the halls of Congress to the oil-laden swamps of the Niger Delta; more than 1,000 pages of previously classified U.S. documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act; heretofore unexamined court records; and many other sources. This is a defining portrait of ExxonMobil and the place of Big Oil in American politics and foreign policy.

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Open Curtains by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. Technology represents both unlimited promise and menace. Which transpires depends on whether people can claim ownership over their knowledge or whether human informational capital continues to suffer the Tragedy of the Commons.

The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

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