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Do Not Ask Western Leadership to Fix Anything

2015 November 16
by Ian Welsh

Why are people calling for Western leaders to “fight terrorism”?

Global deaths from terrorism:

2002: 725

2010: 13,186

2014: 32,727

Those attacks mostly weren’t hitting the West. Now, a tiny fraction are.


Without the US arming and organizing the Afghani Mujahideen in the eighties there is no Al-Qaeda.

Without the US and British invasion of Iraq, there is no ISIS.

Understand this: Widespread global terrorism exists because of the US’s actions specifically and the West’s generally.

Let us turn now to economics. Inequality has been increasing since the 1970s. It has become worse every decade, with only minor reversals. After the financial crisis, it became so bad that more than all the productivity gains in the environment went to the top three percent.

This happened in large part due to various financial, economic, and legislative “reforms.” It was deliberate, in other words. Inequality is a result of deliberate action by US leadership.

Austerity is, likewise, the result of deliberate action by Western elites, generally. They decided to deliberately impoverish their citizens and have done so.

This is not unique to the West. India claims much economic progress, but the average number of calories eaten per capita has gone down over the last thirty years. The average Indian is worse off than they were when India was run on frankly socialist principles.

The leadership classes are chosen for their ability and desire to become leaders. If that overlaps with an ability and desire to make their society good for the majority of the population, that’s great, but in most countries right now, that’s not how or why they are selected.

These people are selected by oligarchs, for oligarchs, and their skillset is pleasing oligarchs. This is done through a system that selects candidates before they get to voters, even primary voters or the equivalent. In most cases, you do not get a choice of a leader who will put ordinary people’s interests first.

To see what happens when someone does slip through, take a look at how UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has been treated by the Press. I have never seen such libelous coverage of a political leader. One UK headline yesterday read “Corbyn and his friends must choose what side they are on” with respect to the Paris attacks.

Here is what Corbyn said, by the way:

“Today, all our thoughts and sympathy are with the people of Paris.

“What took place in the French capital yesterday was horrific and immoral.

“We stand in solidarity with the people of France – as with all victims of terror and violence.

“I have cancelled my engagements today to hold discussions on events in France with shadow cabinet colleagues and be briefed by Downing Street security officials.

“It’s vital at a time of such tragedy and outrage not to be drawn into responses which feed a cycle of violence and hatred.

“We are proud to live in a multicultural and multi-faith society, and we stand for the unity of all communities.”

This is an eminently sane, statesmanlike statement that simply says our response should not make the situation worse, but Corbyn is being vilified for it.

This sort of propaganda works, Corbyn took over the Labour leadership with negative favorability ratings, virtually unheard of. He did so because he had been endlessly smeared by the Press.

Let me blunt. Anyone who wants our leadership to “fix” terrorism has either not been paying attention, is a fool, or is a tool who knows they’ll make it worse but expects to personally benefit in some way.

This situation is similar to the Iraq war in the sense that anyone stupid and immoral enough to invade Iraq could not be expected to run the war in a way which would lead to good results.  One can make a  theoretical case that an invasion of Iraq could have worked out well, but that can’t happen in the real world because no one who would invade Iraq in the first place would be competent or just enough to actually implement improvements.

Note, however, that the Iraq war was an immense profit opportunity and that a great deal of money was funneled to the right people. Again, this is one of our leaders’ core competencies, this is what they do well.

Years ago, Stirling Newberry told me that the job of modern politicians was to wrangle the masses for oligarchs. He was right. That is what they do. They are good at manipulating enough of the population, and they are good at giving money and power to those who already have both.

They are not good at anything else, and expecting them to do anything else is insane.

You do not want Hollande, Obama, and Cameron (let alone Erdogan) trying to fix the Middle East. You do not want the people who report to them trying to do so. You do not want western militaries trying to do so.

At least not if you want a reduction, rather than an increase, in terrorism.

The first rule of holes applies. The first thing you want the leadership to do is stop digging. Other than criminal investigations, you should want them to do nothing. No military action, no legislative changes. Military action hasn’t worked, legislative changes will just be more gutting of civil liberties, and that hasn’t worked either.

This is true of virtually everything. They cannot and will not fix inequality, because their raison d’etre is to create inquality. They cannot fix the financial system or the economy because it exists as it is to increase inequality. They cannot run a war because they were not chosen for that sort of competence.

If you want to fix any problem in the West, or have the West be helpful for fixing any global problem, you need to fix the Western leadership class. That means fixing Western media, education, corporations, etc, etc. The list is long, because they have deliberately broken virtually everything to turn it into an opportunity for a very few people to become richer.

If you are British, you have a decent, honorable man who actually wants to do almost all the right things: Corbyn. Get to work supporting him, however you can. If he goes down, the political class will take it as a lesson that trying to help ordinary people is a really bad idea. (Well, they have already decided this, so work to prove them wrong.)

But, in general, you need to retake control of the system which creates leaders, you need to restructure, bypass, or break the media conglomerates (or all three), and you will need to restructure society from the ground up so that it does not produce either such corrupt leaders or the people who enable them.

This is a goddamn big job. It is far harder than dropping some bombs on the Middle East, or sending in the troops again. But it is an actual solution to a whole series of problems.

In the meantime, don’t ask your leadership to “fix” anything. That’s not what they are there for. Whenever they want to do anything, your default position should be to oppose it–unless you are 100 percent certain it’s in your interest and have done the hard, cold research and thinking to support that conclusion. Sure, sometimes you’ll be wrong, but most of the time you’ll be right, because they are not in power to make your lives better, but to enrich a small class of people and impoverish the majority.

Any knock-on effects, like terrorism, are secondary to them, and even if they had the desire to fix such problems, they cannot–they do not have the ability. They will simply make them worse, even if it was possible they were sincerely trying to do good.

If you live in the West, the great danger to your life, health, and prosperity is your leadership. It is how your society is run. This is cold, hard, and true.

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25 Responses
  1. Cloud permalink
    November 16, 2015

    “What is to be done?” There’s the old rub.

    Psychology of many a decent and politically aware human being seems to go in circles — from “leadership change via the current constitutional order!” to “the system is broke, REVOLUTION!” to “revolutions R bad, m’kay? we must cultivate our gardens”.

    “Don’t believe them; don’t fear them; don’t ask anything of them” has always seemed to me like a good beginning, at least.

  2. hng permalink
    November 16, 2015

    Orwell really did hit the nail on the head.

    Permanent misrule buttressed by permanent mass panic.

    A decade and a half in now, and there’s no sign of respite.

  3. tatere permalink
    November 16, 2015

    An exception I am hoping proves out is climate change. On the grounds that there is a fair sized fraction of the oligarchy that has a personal preference for a world that’s not on fire. Certainly the actions of government are going to be insufficient and incomplete, but there are real positive actions that they can take as well. Doing nothing can’t be accepted.

  4. Ivory Bill Woodpecker permalink
    November 16, 2015

    Climate Change does have the advantage that it will hurt Our (Alleged) Betters as well, hence Our Betters have selfish reasons for improving the situation–if only enough of Our Betters are smart enough to realize that they, too, face danger.

    Unfortunately, that’s a huge “if”. 🙁

  5. dfvs permalink
    November 16, 2015

    They’re not suicidal.

    Not all of them, anyway. O_o

  6. V. Arnold permalink
    November 16, 2015

    Excellent Ian; well written and timely.
    Nowhere is mentioned the Deep State or the Shadow Government.
    Stephen Kinzer’s new book, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, is a good place to start.
    Chomsky, Parenti, Hedges, and Peter Dale Scott (to name a few) speak volumes to the myth of American democracy and the existence of the Deep State.
    As long as the Deep State and the Shadow Government exist, there are no meaningful elections possible in the U.S.. As has been said over and over again; it’s a rigged game and you lose.
    The link below is a website with reams of information by well know speakers and lecturers, some of whom are noted above.

  7. Dan Lynch permalink
    November 16, 2015

    An energetic and truthy rant, Ian.

    I wish I knew the answers. I don’t expect things to get better in my lifetime. And then there is climate change ….. nature has a way of thinning out the incompetent.

  8. EGrise permalink
    November 17, 2015

    The big problem with Our Betters coming to realize that we’re all in the same boat is that they’ve already placed the bet that nothing truly horrible will happen until after they’re dead, so why bother? And they’re socio-/psychopathic enough that they don’t truly care what happens to their children and grandchildren.

    A quote from Trainspotting come to mind: “Some hate the English. I don’t. They’re just wankers. We, on the other hand, are COLONIZED by wankers.” So yeah, Our Betters might be wankers, but we (the collective we, present company excepted) let them rule us…

  9. Jessica permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Well put.
    The one point I disagree with is the notion that Western leadership is unified in any meaningful way.
    It is a congeries of parasites. They have some ability to work together to hold onto power and attack anything positive, but they no longer have the ability to take on anything positive. That it might be to their benefit to do so does not change their inability.
    One of the reasons why we have increasing levels of xenophobia in the West, taking the form of Islamicism and Islamophobia, is because those who are at the controls have no vision, making it for society have a sense of larger purpose.

  10. Jessica permalink
    November 17, 2015

    making it for society have a sense of larger purpose. ->
    making it harder for society have a sense of larger purpose.

    And I used to be a proofreader.

  11. Jessica permalink
    November 17, 2015

    making it for society have a sense of larger purpose. ->
    making it harder for society have a sense of larger purpose. ->
    making it harder for society to have a sense of larger purpose.

    3rd time’s the charm.

  12. Sam Adams permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Strange. Nowhere is the Kingdom of Saud mentioned, nowhere is Texas’ Aramco or Charlie Wilson’s role discussed.

  13. November 17, 2015

    I don’t quite understand how you got to the point at which you became convinced that all of the leaders of Western democracies are dumber than you, as if you had information about human nature and conflict that they don’t.

  14. EGrise permalink
    November 17, 2015

    “making it harder for society to have a sense of larger purpose”

    An excellent observation, and one that I’ve been sensing too.

    Of course one of my fears is that someone *will* come along with a vision very soon, the people will find it as compelling as food to a starving man, and…well, you can guess where that will end up, we’ve had a number of examples just in the past century.

  15. EGrise permalink
    November 17, 2015

    And I don’t think Ian’s saying that our Western leaders are dumb at all: one doesn’t rise to the pinnacle of power by being an idiot. Rather that they possess neither the skills no the inclination to do any fixing; their talents lie elsewhere.

  16. Anon permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I agree with everything you said Ian, the only problem is that the psychopaths – on both sides – who wanted World War III have gotten exactly what they wanted. The ball is already rolling down the hill, and we can’t stop it, so now what? A change in leadership? During a time of war? Never going to happen, especially if the war is going to last way past most of our lifetimes. I would never suggest that people pick sides, but that’s because they’re not going to have a choice much longer. You can’t stand in the middle of the battlefield and wave your hands around and say, I have nothing to do with this! This isn’t my fault! I don’t want to fight! By doing nothing – and I mean nothing – over the last decade and a half we’ve already chosen which side we are on. Now we have to deal with the consequences of our inaction.

  17. seltzeraddict permalink
    November 17, 2015

    One can be very intelligent and lack all wisdom. Our leaders have zero wisdom. Although, quite frankly, I think most of them are dumb as well and don’t understand the prevailing law of nature- chaos and complexity.

  18. VietnamVet permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I agree there is no fix in sight.

    Pope Francis says a “Piecemeal World War III” is underway. The Russia airliner killing 224 was taken down a terrorist bomb. 129 killed in Paris. 25 long range strategic bombers from Russia hit the Islamic State. EU’s peripheral border control collapsed due to austerity. Three million Muslim refugees are trekking to the heart of the Eurozone.

    Let’s be honest, World War III has started. Other than the natural escalation of the war into exchange of nuclear weapons; the only two options for the White House are to pull back to North America or make an alliance Russia and China to take down the Islamic State. Neither are acceptable to oligarchs who rule the West who profit from austerity and war nor the allies; Israel. Turkey and the Gulf Monarchies. So western political leaders and corporate media deny reality and the world accelerates towards the end of times prophesied by the fanatic foot soldiers on all sides of the Middle Eastern conflict.

  19. Jessica permalink
    November 17, 2015

    @ EGrise
    I agree. There are things better than having no sense of purpose, but there are also things that are worse, even far worse.
    I think that the shattered, amoral nature of our oligarchs and other elites is caused by our need, as societies, to transform to the more advanced level for which the material groundwork has long been laid. When we understand what that transformation needs to be, or at least what we need to do in order to move in the right direction, that will make it possible to create a shared sense of purpose.
    It is possible that we may have the limits of how far we can go while still being run by the firmware evolved on the African savanna and the software evolved during millennia of scarcity driven civilization.
    It may be that even gaining the understanding of the required direction for social transformation will require a kind of inner transformation that could be considered spiritual.

  20. EGrise permalink
    November 17, 2015

    @Jessica: if you have a blog I would totally read it.

    @VietnamVet: “Piecemeal World War III” is a term I hadn’t come across, but rings uncomfortably true. I’ll be thinking about that in the nights to come.

  21. NoName permalink
    November 18, 2015

    This has got to be the most idiotic things I’ve ever read. Terrorism is somehow the US’s fault? Are you going to tell me a barbaric religion from the Dark Ages which hasn’t been slaughtering and conquering all nonbelievers throughout the middle east and north Africa for centuries long before the country was even established is somehow at fault?? Absurd!

  22. Frijoles Junior permalink
    November 18, 2015

    “This is a goddamn big job.” Indeed.

    How do you eat an elephant?
    One bite at a time.

    @Cloud’s invocation of Solzhynitsyn’s advice as a good starting point is apt. One might start by looking at the value that we do derive from our civilization and work toward small, independent parallel systems that might allow people to provide for their own needs without recourse to oligarch-corrupted systems.

    I think it is at least possible that a small regional government can be justly administered. Getting out of our current mess is too big of a job because our collective institutions are too big for groups of motivated individuals to effectively counteract the influence of oligarchs that are closer to the decision-making center. Maybe if the people were closer to the hub they might have some influence. Smaller wheels have rims that are closer to the hub.

    Let a thousand communities bloom!

  23. Blissex permalink
    November 18, 2015

    «Years ago, Stirling Newberry told me that the job of modern politicians was to wrangle the masses for oligarchs. He was right. That is what they do.»

    That’s not exactly a secret, the technical term that is used and appears in political science textbooks is that politicians in a democracy are “aggregators of consensus”.

    That is they make sure that the majority of voters don’t object too much to the decisions of the elite, *either way*: by swinging public opinion behind what the elite decides where possible, or if that is not possible by delaying the elites from deciding things that the majority of voters would riot about.

  24. Hugh permalink
    November 18, 2015

    I do not find this argument compelling. Perhaps it is because friends and I were discussing the “Afghani” effect twenty years ago, long before I ever came to the internet. Perhaps it is because I see it as just a different form of imperialism, that the non-Western peoples of the world do not own their own histories, that they can not act well or badly except as puppets of the West.

    Perhaps it is because of what it leaves unasked. Where did the “Afghanis” who flocked to Afghanistan to fight the Russians come from? What was the situation like in their home countries that motivated them in the first place. How do you explain largely non-Afghani movements like Boko Haram? Or the collapse of the Somali government in 1991 which eventually gave rise to the Islamic Courts Union in 2006 and al Shabab in 2007? Or the Bedouin based groups in Sinai which are variously and loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS and which recently bombed the Russian tourist flight?

    The same goes for the form of the argument: if no Y, then no X. Yes, but what it doesn’t answer is the much more interesting question if no Y, then what? In 1979, what would now be called jihadis seized the Great Mosque in Mecca. This shook the corrupt, dictatorial Saudi monarchy to its thoroughly rotten core. The Mosque was retaken and its occupiers dealt with. But the monarchy knew it had a much bigger problem of which the seizure of Islam’s holiest site was only the tip of the iceberg. It made a deal with the religious leaders who inspired the attack on the Great Mosque: in return for no jihad at home, jihad was sanctioned abroad. First, it turned the education system over to them where these (even by Saudi standards) conservatives could indoctrinate a generation of Saudis in the most extreme form of xenophobic, anti-Western religious propaganda. No surprise that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi or that most suicide bombers in Iraq during the American occupation were foreign and that more than half of these were Saudi. Second, the monarchy poured money into the establishment of radical madrassas abroad. The mastermind of the Nairobi embassy bombings came out of one of these as well as many of the Taliban in Pakistan. Third, it encouraged (and still encourages) its crazies to go fight infidels (Westerners) and heretics (Shiites) and hopefully die in the process: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc. and allows its citizens to fund these efforts. Osama bin Laden was one of these. The Saudi royals had no problems with him and even sort of considered him a harmless kook until he started making noised against them. So if you want a different if no Y, then no X, then how about this. If these Saudi pressure valves had not been put in place (regardless of their costs to the rest of the world), the Saudi dictatorship might well have already blown up. If you think the Moslem world was enraged by US and Western wars in multiple Moslem countries, think of what the reaction would have been to a Western occupation (because of the oil) and desecration (because this is how it would have been portrayed) of Islam’s holiest sites by infidels? So much easier to ignore the local history and conditions and blame it on the hegemon, because isn’t that its role?

  25. Blissex permalink
    November 21, 2015

    «In 1979, what would now be called jihadis seized the Great Mosque in Mecca.»

    Your reminder of the Saudi history and its consequences are very relevant; especially as I have been repeatedly astonished by how easily even “intellectuals” forget about the past, for example the invasion of a major european country and the bombing of its capital to split it up in the early 1990s, or the petrol-less days in the oil crisis of the 1990s.

    I would add two points:

    * that that probably there is a significant faction of the Saudi royal family who are themselves sincere and not just opportunistic wahabi/salafi sympathizers;

    * that you should have mentioned what in the long run will be the most destructive “deal” the Saudi royal family did to pacify their subjects: because a large number of children is a huge status symbol in Arabia, for men but also for women, the Saudi royal family have been heavily subsidizing fertility.

    This has created a fantastic population explosion that has required spending ever more oil money and oil on food imports and especially on the water supply.

    If you think the problems with Arabia are bad now, try to imagine what will happen when oil dwindles and Arabia can no longer import food or power their water desalination plans which allow a population of 25-30 millions to live in a desert with a carrying capacity of perhaps 5-7 millions. If you look at the graph it is telling:

    When Arabia runs out of food and especially of water the ISIL troubles and the syrian refugee problem will look like the good old times.

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