Francis Fukuyama’s famous essay “The End of History” – often cited, less often actually read, and frequently misunderstood – is commonly thought to have been rendered irrelevant and proved wrong. After all, aren’t we perpetually at war – and didn’t 9/11 show that history, far from having ended, seems not to have noticed Fukuyama’s obituary of Clio? Yet if one actually reads what Fukuyama wrote, it’s clear he foresaw the continuation of conflict in what we used to call the Third World, and that his thesis – the end of the cold war signaled the end of ideological conflict between rival universalist creeds in favor of Western neo-liberalism – retains much of its persuasive power. In any case, I bring this up because I am haunted by Fukuyama’s final paragraph:
“The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed. Such nostalgia, in fact, will continue to fuel competition and conflict even in the post-historical world for some time to come. Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its north Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.”
Surely one of the largest exhibits in Fukuyama’s Museum of Human History, and the one most accessible to our understanding, is devoted to the cold war between the Western powers and the old Soviet Union. And if boredom, nostalgia, and the desire to restart history is what motivates our political class, then this final paragraph perhaps explains the current revival of the cold war.
Shorn of viable enemies against which to test their mettle – and their bloodstained “idealism” – Western elites are opting for historical reenactment, like those suburban burghers who don Civil War uniforms and reenact the Battle of Appomattox around this time every year.
Of course this sort of reenactment has one vital difference – it brings with it the risk of a real war.
The Warfare State, by definition, requires a constant supply of enemies, and with the passing of Osama bin Laden and our apparent working alliance with the Islamists we once held up as a Dire Threat to the “homeland,” Russophobia is the latest fashion that’s all the rage in the corridors of power. Putin is an ogre both right and left can agree to hate. Indeed, you’ll recall that the Clinton administration faced down Putin in the Balkans, and of course the neocons have hated Putin and all things Russian ever since the Russian leader drove out the oligarchs with as much dispatch as St. Patrick ridded Ireland of snakes.
The cold war is being reenacted on two fronts: Europe, where Ukraine sits at an uneasy midpoint between the NATO powers and Russia’s front door, and Syria, where a Russo-Iranian alliance is facing off against the US, the UK, Turkey, and their Islamist allies amongst the Syrian rebels – including al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of Al-Qaeda.
While the Islamic State, or ISIS, is supposedly Washington’s main target in the region, efforts to degrade and destroy them aren’t going all that well, at least according to dissident intelligence analysts in the national security bureaucracy, and this is perhaps no accident. For the military reality is that the Syrian rebel forces we spent so much time funding and training have largely gone over to ISIS, and to the extent that our efforts to isolate and bring down the regime of Bashar al-Assad succeed, ISIS is, in effect, Washington’s silent partner. As it turns out, a top ISIS commander was trained by the US military when he served in the Georgian army: his talents, honed by US taxpayer dollars, are now being put to use in the service of the Islamic State.
Israel, by the way, is playing an important role here, treating wounded Syrian rebels at its hospitals and helpfully transporting them back to the battlefield. Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren has said ISIS is the “lesser evil” in its conflict with Assad. ISIS, for its part, has gained a foothold contiguous to the Jewish state, but for some reason there seems to be a détente between the two supposedly mortal enemies.
As I pointed out in my last column, Washington has been far more concerned with destroying the Ba’athist regime than with bringing peace to Syria and defeating ISIS. Indeed, as the Guardian reports even as I write:
“Russia proposed more than three years ago that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, could step down as part of a peace deal, according to a senior negotiator involved in back-channel discussions at the time.
“Former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari said western powers failed to seize on the proposal…. Ahtisaari held talks with envoys from the five permanent members of the UN security council in February 2012. He said that during those discussions, the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, laid out a three-point plan, which included a proposal for Assad to cede power at some point after peace talks had started between the regime and the opposition.
“But he said that the US, Britain and France were so convinced that the Syrian dictator was about to fall, they ignored the proposal.”
Of course they ignored the Russian proposal: they didn’t want anything to get in the way of their regime-change operation. Back when Ahtisaari met with Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin and the Russians made their proposal the Syrian death toll was around 7,000. That our “humanitarian interventionists” are today shedding crocodile tears over the hundred-thousand-plus killed to date in the Syrian civil war – not to mention the floodtide of refugees inundating Europe – underscores their criminal hypocrisy. It also highlights their real goal in the region: the end of the Ba’athist regime, at any price – even if they have to use our alleged mortal enemies in order to accomplish their goal.
This was made clear by the release of a formerly secret 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency memorandum defining the Syrian opposition as Salafist and oriented to Al Qaeda, and predicting the rise and consolidation of a radical jihadist state that would span the Syrian-Iraqi border. Yet Washington went ahead and aided the oppositionists in any way it could . That this was a deliberate policy, and not just unintended “blowback,” has now been confirmed by then DIA director Michael T. Flynn in a rather amazing interview with Al-Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan, in which Flynn bluntly states that cooperating with Al Qaeda was (and is) Washington’s policy:
“Hasan: You are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew these groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?
Flynn: I think the administration.
Hasan: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?
Flynn: I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.
Hasan: A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?
Flynn: It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing.”
Remember this the next time you see news reports of fleeing Syrians clamoring to get into Germany and/or the US: remember it when you hear about how we have to intervene in Syria in order to stop ISIS from beheading Western journalists and aid workers, destroying priceless artifacts, and threatening the US “homeland.”
Just as we aided bin Laden and the embryo of Al Qaeda during the cold war by arming the Afghan mujaheddin – Reagan, you’ll recall, met with them at the White House and touted them as “freedom-fighters” – so today we are reenacting that tragic mistake in Syria. Again, the target is Russia, which is trying to prop up a beleaguered secular client state against an Islamist assault.
I would also point out that ISIS is fighting side-by-side with Washington on the European front: in Ukraine, where – as The Intercept reported – brigades of Islamists are waging war against Russian-backed secessionists.
Ukraine is where the cold war reenactment takes on its period regalia, and then some: it isn’t just the cold war that’s being reenacted but also World War II. The Ukrainian government has recently passed a law forbidding the public display of Communist and Nazi symbols, but which pointedly paid tribute to the World War II collaborators with Nazi Germany who fought against the Soviet invasion – and made it a crime to criticize them! And of course the notoriously pro-Nazi Azov Brigade – the battle-tested volunteer unit that has done a lot of the fighting in Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist” war against the rebellious Eastern provinces – still proudly sports its Nazi symbols.
However, as in the cold war era, the Europeans are presenting the US and Britain with a problem: the Germans, for one, are caught between Russia and the West, and just as we are seeing the revival of cold war hostility to the Kremlin in Washington and London so the resurrection of Euro-neutralism is arriving fast on its heels.
Washington has largely dropped out of the Minsk peace process and the Europeans are taking the lead in tamping down the embers of the smoldering conflict, lest it turn into a fire that would soon rage out of control. Angela Merkel and the Euro-crats are distancing themselves from the provocations coming out of Washington and the mouths of NATO’s military establishment by sticking to the letter of the Minsk agreement and forcing Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to rein in his mad dogs, grant the Eastern provinces some degree of autonomy, and prepare for local elections in rebel-held territory. The ceasefire has held up, so far, perhaps because the militant rightist factions based in the Ukrainian military are now turning the guns around, so to speak, and aiming their fire – so far mostly rhetorical – against Poroshenko, who they accuse of “appeasing” Putin and selling out “the revolution.”
And so even as the target of the West’s unappeasable wrath shifts from “the terrorists” to the Russkies, so the scene of the cold war revival shifts, at least for the moment, from Ukraine to the Middle East. It’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope of enemies turned into allies and old antagonists turned into fresh targets, and you need a scorecard to keep up. But one factor remains constant: the relentless push of Washington to “restart” history and push the boundaries of empire ever outward in a constantly expanding arc of conquest and ruthless bloodletting.
Yes, history may have “ended” in the sense that none of these adversaries offer an ideological alternative universally applicable outside their particular realms of control and influence. Putinism, if we can speak of such a thing, is applicable only inside Russia and its “near abroad.” Islamism has no chance of spreading outside the Muslim world, despite the crazed rantings of the “sharia is coming to America” crowd. Yet that doesn’t mean the West will occupy itself solely with “economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.” Far from it!
Fukuyama and his ideological mentor, Alexandre Kojeve, foresaw the establishment of what they called a “universal homogenous state” at History’s End: a world government, dominated by the Western powers, that would police the globe and lead us to a Hegelian utopia. Yet no State has ever been founded in peace: all States are the result of a struggle to the death between contending actors, and in this case what we are seeing is a war waged by the West and its client states against the rest.
That’s why the identity of the “enemy” shifts so rapidly, according to the strategic and tactical considerations of the moment: when global hegemony is the goal, there is no dearth of possible targets. Yesterday it was Al Qadea, then it was Iran and ISIS, and now, coming just around the bend, looms the Russian Threat, a nuclear-armed adversary with a long history of conflict with the West. Think of all the out-of-work Sovietologists who will find new meaning – and gainful employment – in this latest phase of our empire-building project!
As US foreign policy goes retro, Russia is the ideal bogeyman: it’s big, it’s “bad,” and Putin is easily caricatured. Both the “liberal” and the “conservative” wings of the War Party can unite against this bogus “threat,” finding common ground in voting for an ever-expanding military budget while money from the military-industrial complex flows into their coffers. The discontent of restive voters can be funneled into war hysteria and hating “foreigners” – while the political class continues to rule over us all, laughing all the way to the bank.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.