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<nettime> World at War? Counter-revolution and Unbalanced Multipolarism
Alex Foti on Thu, 28 Aug 2014 09:54:14 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> World at War? Counter-revolution and Unbalanced Multipolarism

dear 'timers,

we are living in a William Gibson novel and it ain't pretty:
hypermediatization, random cruelty, aberrant irrationality, political
and ecological disintegration seem to rule the world.

yet there is a simple hobbesian logic to this all - i propose a simple
model to interpret the horrific events of 2014 based on two hypotheses
- one that the counter-revolution is trying to gain the upper hand in
the Middle East and elsewhere after the revolutionary wave of 2011
(let's call it the thermidorian hypothesis, incarnated by say Sisi and
Netanyahu) and two that we have entered a geopolitical era based on
a multipolar system which is unbalanced, i.e. where regional powers
vie for influence and dominance in the various areas of the world and
sectors of the global economy, augmenting the risk of war.

Since the G20 was first convened in April 2009 to address the
macroeconomic imbalances created by the financial crisis, it's clear
that the West is no longer in control of the world, and emergent
powers and sovereign funds increasingly call the shots. The reckless
bid to global hegemony launched by bushism in Iraq and Afghanistan has
failed miserably and marked an end to the post-cold-war world order of
unipolar (and often unilateral) American power, the "hyperpuissance"
as the French called it, of the 90s and 00s.

The Arab Spring and its aftermath has further exposed the political
and military weakness of the US and its EU allies. The intervention of
the west was crucial only in Libya, and it was initiated by the French
and only reluctantly Obama joined. Unfortunately, the overthrow and
execution of Qaddafi (justified in my eyes) has not led to some rough
kind of democracy but to civil war and a failed state in the former
Italian colony. Only in Tunisia, the homeland of the revolution,
there is no attempt to return to the status quo ante, as an uneasy
dynamic has set in opposing the muslim majority in government and the
secular urban young minorities who did the revolution, and especially
women fighting for their rights against clerical interference. It
was the same of dynamic (let's call it the muslim brothers vs black
bloc hooligans for theatric effect) that was at work during Morsi's
short democratic tenure, interrupted by the military coup at behest of
Saudi Arabia, the true evil power of the region, possibly even more
than Assad's murderous regime, in the light of the fact that it has
spawned ISIS, the nightmare finally come true: a revolutionary army of
ideological and sectarian fanatics loaded with weapons and cash, bent
on establishing the Sunni Caliphate across Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan,
and the whole Ummah. This is not the Al Qaeda beheaded by Obama, it's
an open call to jihadists across the world to conquer muslim land
unjustly apportioned by European powers after Versailles and slaughter
the infidels, starting with Kurdish and especially Shia people, a
confession for centuries dominated by Sunni despotism that is turning
the tables of history favoring the rise of Iran and the power it built
after the 1979 revolution, decidedly the year that the 21st century
started (the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and Carter roasted himself to

Of course it is in Syria-Iraq, Gaza and Ukraine that the geopolitical
fault-lines of multipolarism are exposing major volcanic activity,
and the lava is engulfing thousands and thousands of innocent people
killed remorselessly for dreams of great power and millennial
territorial expansion.

Let's see Syria first. Almost 200,000 people have died since Assad,
like Qaddafi before him, started bombing his own people. Homs is an
open-air cemetery, Aleppo, once the capital of the Umayyad empire
(the mosque that testified their long-gone power was destroyed last
year - an archeological crime against humanity just like Jonas' tomb
destroyed by ISIS a few weeks ago, or the Banyan Buhddas by the
talebans fifteen years ago) has been reduced to a mound of rubble.

Since the US and the UK dithered over direct intervention and
ultimately appeased Putin over Syria, ISIS has defeated all other
(mostly Qatari-funded) islamist fighting organizations and become
the most fearful enemy of Shias in the region and of the west in the
world. Northern Iraq and Western Syria are theirs, while Kurdistan is
threatened: this is the fearsome Islamic State.

 The Syrian war is a nest of ideological and geopolitical
contradictions. Assad's Alawite (minor shia sect) army is helped by
Hezbollah (the popular Lebanese shia miliatias which are fighting as
proxies of Iran) against the islamist forces funded by Saudi Arabia
(ISIS) and Qatar (Islamic Front), as well as other formations and
other emirates. The Free Syrian Army seems to count as much as the
Iraqi army, which melted at the sight of thousands of black-flagged
and black-clad jihadists on gun-toting pick-up trucks. The incredible
number of victims and refugees of the Syrian war mostly belong to the
civilian sunni majority of Syria.

Rising Iran and the decline of the House of Saud (source of that
wahabbism that has infected the Middle East and the world) are the
trends that have driven the political dynamic of the region in the
last three decades. They face each other in Syria and in Baghdad. But
now the creation of the Islamic State (on the 4th of July!) has become
too destabilizing. The violently intolerant jihadists have taken
Mosul, ancient Ninive, and its oil fields. Its giant dam is being
fought over by the Peshmerga, the fighters of autonomous Kurdistan,
pretty much the only positive force in a dark hell of ethnic cleansing
and violent misogyny. An independent Kurdish state is bound to emerge
from this war if ISIS is defeated. Although Erbil has been seriously
threatened, the Kurds have taken Kirkuk, which they regard as their
Jerusalem, and its oil fields. A rump Iraq based on a uneasy truce
between the shias of the south and the sunnis in the north brokered
by the US (and its limited military intervention against ISIS) is
possible, but unlikely to be stable, and would further veer the
country toward Iran, which is already exerting much influence there
through Al-Sistani and has now sent its own revolutionary army, the
Pasdaran, to directly fight the Islamic State, which is now turning
its ferocity back to Syria (it has just captured its main air force
base), to the point that Assad has extended a hand to the US.

I think the west should oppose such offer at all costs and instead
find an agreement with Iran, which albeit theocratic and repressive,
is definitely a modernist form of islam favoring popular participation
and tolerating a higher degree of anti-conformism (unless it turns
into a green revolution;) with respect to the Gulf petrocracies,
especially for what concerns women's rights.

An increasingly right-wing Israel opposes such rapprochement with all
its energies, and Netanyahu has callously seized the opportunity of US
attention caught by Ukraine and Iraq and start its own destabilization
of the region by bombing the people of Gaza, invading the city with
tanks, and pointlessly trying to eradicate Hamas from the strip. If
anything I think Meshal now stands a better chance of becoming the
president of a future Palestinian state (if it ever sees the light).
Thousand of kids have been mercilessly butchered by the Israeli
military, with appalling popular approval at home. Israel has become
an ethnic democracy intolerant of the Arab element in its midst. Rabid
nationalism is stronger there than in France, Denmark or Greece.
It's an apartheid state, but unlike South Africa, the majority is
in charge. Unless the US decides to break with the Israel lobby at
home and suspends its military aid, no progress will be made there,
although American Jews and Americans in general seem to disapprove of
Israel's actions to an unprecedented degree.

Putin's Russia, which had been on the defensive since 2011, went on
the offensive after the euromaidan forces seized power in Ukraine,
shifting the country from the Russian to the European (German)
sphere of influence. I have already written of how he seized Crimea
with blitzkrieg speed and destabilized Eastern Ukraine. From a
realist point of view, a country that has already lost a piece of its
territory will try to defend what it has left with all the military
resources at its disposal. And it's precisely what Poroshenko is doing
by hammering the Donetsk republic with all it has and inflicting
horrific civilian losses but also accepting high military casualties,
since the secession is militarily equipped and trained by the Kremlin:
whatever you think of these guys, they have tanks, they are no
partisan or guerrilla fighters.

The war will end when Merkel and Putin will find an understanding
over the status of Ukraine that doesn't compromise energy supplies
and eurorussian business ventures, but Russia has lost the Cold War,
not won it, Poland and the Baltic members of the EU object to the old
eurocore. So it will be a careful game for anemic European diplomacy
to navigate between Russian aggressiveness and an unstable Maghreb:
as for the Middle East, it is a nasty game best left to the once
protective Americans; what is sure is that Sykes-Picot is history for

In Ukraine, American and European interests seem to diverge. For
all the tension built in East Asia by signs of Chinese expansionism
and Japanese militarism, with the downing of the (second) Malaysian
passenger jet, it is Ukraine that is sending the shivers down the
spine of the global economy. But the real threat to an already
imbalanced multipolar geopolitical system (historically the most
war-prone, think the Napoleonic era or Belle Epoque) is ISIS
apocalyptic aggressiveness (uniting popes and ayatollahs in their
hostility to it), its mix of media sophistication and barbaric
determination something that seems to occur on a different historical
time-scale different than the one we normally use to make sense of
modernity. And this is occurring in the world's Heartland, where the
historical destinies of empires have been decided since the times of

In the end, Realpolitik and the radical democratic aspirations
unleashed by the Revolution will clash, as they have always had in the
past. War is a way to normalize revolution, to discipline its wild
outcomes. Historically, war has also been the tool of choice for every
expansionary ideology. For ISIS to lose, Assad, Sisi, and Erdogan
can't win.

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