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Prester John

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The Bush Administration recently encouraged Ethiopia to invade Somalia, which had, after a number of years of quasi-anarchy, come under the rule of Islamic clerics. Who knows, it might work! An alliance with Ethiopia from the mid-1970s onward sure did the Soviet Union a load of good!

The funny thing is that forging an alliance with Abyssinia to catch the Musselmen in a pincer movement has been the most legendary of all strategic brainstorms. The Crusaders had heard that their was a Christian king named Prester John somewhere on the other side of the Islamic world, and their grand strategy was to get him to open a second front in the war with Islam. Eventually, they narrowed Prester John’s home down to the Christian kingdom in the Ethiopian highlands, and over several centuries diplomatic missions were exchanged. Thirty Ethiopians visited Pope Clement V at Avignon around 1306. In 1520, Farther Francisco Alvares was part of a 13 man delegation from the King of Portugal to Prester John, King of Ethiopia. Alvares published a detailed account of his travels in 1540. He returned from Ethiopia with a letter from the king of Ethiopia to the king of Portugal expressing the hope that “we might tear out and cast forth the evil Moors, Jews, and heathens from [our] countries.”

(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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