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Game of Nations

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By nature, Belgium, with its ports, rivers, fertile soil, and coal, is one of the richest places on Earth, as it has been for most of the last 900 years. As a state, however, it’s a failed 19th Century experiment in multiculturalism. The founding of the Kingdom of Belgium in the 1830s was popular with the Great Powers as a convenient neutral buffer zone between the great linguistic zones of Western Europe (Germanic and Romance) and/or a convenient place for Great  Powers to fight battles without messing up their own countries. And combining Catholics who spoke Flemish and Catholics who spoke French seemed to make sense.
Over time, religion became less salient, leaving language as the great divide. It’s natural to sympathize with other people with whom you converse more than with other people with whom you can’t as readily interchange thoughts. It’s also easier to monitor them to make sure they aren’t cheating you.

The rise of NATO and the European Union has made the sheer size of a country ever less important for warfare or trade. So, states increasingly exist in Europe today less as part of a great game to accumulate the most military-industrial might to conquer other states, but mostly as affirmations of nationhood and as a means to redistribute wealth, both to interests and to the pockets of the leaders of interests. 

In the past, both the aristocrats and the leading coal and iron regions of Belgium were French-speaking, so they had most of the money. Over time, however, the Flemish have become more productive, and resent having the wealth they earn taxed away and, net, given to Walloons. Both sides rightfully resent the corrupt rake-off by politicians, which is unusually high for northern Europe. My guess is that Belgium is not only unsurprisingly more corrupt than the Netherlands to the north but also more corrupt than France to the south, although I haven’t looked into this for years.
Mixed ethnicity democracies tend to be crooked for what might be called the Lee Kwan Yew-FDR reason: You can’t afford to vote out a corrupt SOB of your own group because while he might be an SOB, he’s your SOB and — at an admittedly high cost — he protects you against the other guys’ SOBs.
Belgium has been haltingly devolving toward a decentralized Switzerland model, but it might make more sense to just split the country into two countries along language lines with perhaps Brussels becoming the Vatican City of the EU.
But there’s tremendous resistance to this sensible solution among the Euro-elites. The NYT says, reflecting the unthinking elite consensus: 
“Europe as a whole may be busy papering over its differences, burying cultural disparities and centuries of feuding. But not Belgium. It seems headed the other way.”
In reality, the splitting up of Belgium would be a triumph for the European Union, showing that countries don’t need to be big in Europe anymore to avoid being trampled on the battlefield or isolated economically, and can now afford to reduce themselves to sizes more congenial to honest, effective self-rule and national affirmations. But, that’s too sophisticated of an idea for Euro-elites. They’ve been trumpeting themselves for 60 years as “burying cultural disparities and centuries of feuding,” so they feel they can’t afford to let Belgium, the proto-EU, break up, not matter how much better it would be for good government.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Here’s a podcast interview at Electric Politics with Larry Devlin about his new memoir Chief of Station, Congo about his years as the CIA’s man in the Congo, in which he says he wasn’t responsible for the murder of the decolonized state’s first President, Patrice Lumumba.

Strange as it seems now, in 1960, everybody — the UN, Washington, Moscow — kind of imagined the future of the world was being determined on the banks of the Congo. Now, we just try not to think about the place. The CIA’s man Mobutu was a prime stinker, but the place sure hasn’t improved in the decade since he’s been gone. Apres Mobutu, le Deluge, for which Mobutu and America bear much responsibility, but then maybe 35 years apres le Deluge is not so bad in tropical Africa. Anyway, it makes me tired to think about it.

Eisenhower liked to use the CIA as a cheap alternative to fighting the Cold War using the Army. (Similarly, he pushed ahead into the nuclear ICBM deterrent as an alternative to matching the Red Army tank for tank and man for man.) Not only did it save money and American lives, but it slowed the rise of the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower detested, and sidestepped the kind of war fever among the public that had made McCarthyism so popular during Truman’s Korean War. Playing Machiavellian games among the Congo’s elite was a lot better than sending American troops to the heart of darkness.

Eisenhower’s VP, Richard Nixon, called Ike, who pretended to be a kindly old duffer in public, the most devious man he had known.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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The 9/11 slaughter was a byproduct of the “Great Game,” a phrase Kipling popularized in his classic novel Kim to describe the rivalry in Asia between the British Empire in India and the Russian Empire, which was subduing the Muslim “Stans” of Central Asia and pushing, vaguely, in the direction of India. From roughly 1813 onward, Britain and Russia jockeyed for power and influence over the buffer zone of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union inherited the Czarist empire and the U.S. inherited many British Empire strategic concerns. Thus, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and the U.S. encouraged Saudis to play a role in the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan, which eventually helped bring down the Soviet Union. But an unwanted side effect was that Osama bin Laden sharpened his taste for trouble in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Now, in the apocalyptic calculus of the Cold War, the 9/11 blowback was eminently a price worth paying. If in 1980 you asked me if I would trade 3,000 U.S. civilians’ lives to eliminate permanently all possibility of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war or even of just a U.S.-Soviet tank war in the Fulda Gap, I would have agreed instantly.

But the Cold War is over. We won.

In Kipling’s novel, the “Great Game” sounds like tremendous fun, but, when you stop and think about it, Christ Almighty, it’s only Afghanistan they are squabbling over, after all, not the Monterey Peninsula.

And that raises a more general issue. The “Great Game” is only a specific version of the “Game of Nations” (which was the title of a 1969 book by CIA agent Miles Copeland, father of Stewart Copeland, drummer of The Police).

For example, the U.S., apparently, recently encouraged Ethiopia to invade Somalia, as part of our revival of the Grand Strategy of the Crusaders, which was to make contact with the Christian King Prester John on the far side of the Islamic World and encourage him to open a two-front attack on the insolent Musselmen.

When I was younger and more testosterone-driven, this kind of thing seemed very exciting. Why, yes, of course America must assert its national interests in the strategically vital Horn of Africa!

But now, just thinking about it makes me very, very tired. I have no faith any longer that the U.S. government officials who are playing the Game of Nations in the Horn know what they are doing. I suspect they are men who, being extremely competitive by nature, should instead cultivate an obsession with college sports. America is full of successful used car dealers who find fulfillment in life by bribing 7-foot teenagers to play hoops for good old State U. It’s all a pointless arms race, but it sops up a lot of male competitiveness and nobody gets killed. America‘s foreign policy elite, in contrast, are far above such tasteless antics, but, on the other hand, they get people killed.

I’d imagine that our machinations in, say, the Horn will get people killed, and that only some of them will deserve killing. Further, I presume that some of the killees will have loved ones who will swear colorful desert nomad vows to wreak vengeance on Americans in return, and when some of them eventually carry out their promises, that will just encourage future American government officials to believe that we simply have to play the Game of Nations even harder. Rinse and repeat.

It strikes me that America has some straightforward national interests that are in line with at least some of the interests of other powerful countries, who would be happy to follow American leadership if we mostly restricted ourselves to:

- Defending existing national borders from wars of territorial conquest

- Discouraging the further cartelization of oil exporting capacity (you’ll note that our globally popular leadership of Desert Storm in 1990-91 combined these two interests)

- Defending freedom of the seas and the like

- Encouraging good government (most importantly in Mexico, a country that our foreign policies elites pay remarkably little attention to, relative to farther off lands).

On the other hand, maybe America has to play the Game of Nations to the fullest extent possible. Perhaps if we don’t do it, somebody else will, and they’ll be so good at it that our way of life is irreparably harmed.

On the other other hand, we have the example of the late, unlamented Soviet Union, which enthusiastically played the Game of Nations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Cuba, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and other strategically vibrant hellholes. How’s that working out for them?

I outlined my one-word Grand Strategy to replace the Bush Administration’s Invade-the-World-Invite-the-World here in But perhaps I’m being naive …

In summary, please let me know your views. Can America cut back on playing the Game of Nations, or are we fated to play it to the maximum?

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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