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John Kerry, climate, and constants of human behavior

Back in 2004, I probably didn't know most of the things about John Kerry and his way of thinking that I know today. Today, it looks utterly insane to me that so many people in the U.S. – and perhaps 95% of Harvard faculty – would vote for this guy who is completely detached from reality.

Today, Kerry declined a meeting with Putin. It's probably not an important enough work for the U.S. Secretary of State these days. Or perhaps, Kerry believes that Putin will be so sad that he isn't allowed to meet Kerry that he will order all the Russian and Crimean troops and self-defense units to commit seppuku. After Putin suggested a meeting with Kerry, Kerry rejected it and his spokesgirl explained the step by saying that Kerry first wants to see evidence that Russia wants to be engaged in diplomacy. Huh!? ;-)

The events around Ukraine are not sufficiently interesting for Kerry so he just revealed his #1 priority: over the weekend, all U.S. diplomats were ordered to press case for "climate action". It's apparently not enough that no one else than the U.S. Secretary of State seriously believes the decadent postmodern religion about the need to "fight climate change". All U.S. diplomats will probably be required to unanimously parrot this complete pseudoscientific idiocy, too.

The pathologically twisted priorities in John Kerry's brain were recently intelligently discussed by the Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. After Krauthammer criticized Obama for presenting the climate threats as a settled science, he quickly became a target of the climate activists' inquisition – despite Krauthammer's "lukewarmer" attitudes. But the observation by Krauthammer that I want to spend some time with came just a week ago.

You may watch the video where Krauthammer made some good observations. He's arguably not a terribly charismatic speaker but some of the content is right on the money. And I say it despite the fact that we may be rooting for "different players" in this so far nearly bloodless confrontation. But the main point is that Kerry tries to deny the very fact that there are important interests involved:

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: It wasn't the weakness of Europe that precipitated all of this. And it wasn't Obama's flinching on Syria. When Putin had to make a calculation whether to go into Ukraine – and Ukraine isn't Georgia, a small republic that is sort of on the fringes of the west, Ukraine is at the crossroads, a huge country. To go into Ukraine and to take over, to invade Crimea, is a huge step. And he would only have done it with a president who has shown from the very beginning that he is living in a fantasy world.

Remember the speech he gave at the U.N. when he started his administration? He said no nation can or should dominate another. I mean, there's not a 12-year-old in the world who believes that. And he said the alignment of nations rooted in the cleavages of the long ago Cold War make no sense in this interconnected world.

As our Secretary of State said today, or yesterday, after all this, this is a 19th century action in a 21st century world. As if what he means his actions where governments pursue expansion, territory domination, no longer exist in this century, as if that hasn't been a constant in all of human history since Hannibal.

They imagine the world as a new interconnected world where climate change is the biggest threat and they are shocked that the Russians actually are interested in territory.
LOL. In a widely mocked CBS interview, Kerry indeed said:
You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text.
If you think about the 2003 invasion into Iraq and dozens of other similar interventions, it sounds really funny for Kerry to say that one just doesn't invade another country on completely trumped up pretext. But this hypocrisy is obvious and has been discussed many times.

What I want to focus on are Kerry's ideas about the 19th century vs 21st century. Kerry apparently believes that some fundamental aspects of the relationships between nations and countries have qualitatively changed between the 19th century and 21st century. Kerry is already living in a pinko commie utopian world without any interests and conflicts.

Why would someone believe such a self-evidently idiotic meme such as the claim that countries' interests in other countries and invasions can no longer occur in the 21st century? We have new technologies, new media, new wordings of treaties, and so on. But these are just details. This kind of "decoration" has indeed been modernized. But what really drives the political decisions in foreign policy are still the same human interests and desires.

People and nations want (or need) some dignity, freedom, territory, capital, control over things that affect their life, and pride, among other things.

They sometimes team up with other people or other nations or press or invade another country if it is seen as desirable or necessary. In most cases, an apparently stronger country collides with a weaker one and they typically use different strategies. The dependence of the strategy on the size of the country hasn't really changed for millennia, either. Even though every country tends to create some ties and coalitions with others, smaller countries tend to complain a little bit more and they are looking for some help from third parties, perhaps countries that are even stronger than the stronger side of the conflict. Larger countries are more likely to talk about the "restoration of order" because chaos is viewed as a threat. Smaller countries often thrive on chaos – or something that looks like chaos from the larger players' viewpoint. When smaller countries are already fighting, they may be forced to use some principles of asymmetric warfare. Politicians have to think about all the goals they have and tools that may help them to achieve the goals – including all kinds of "trade" where the costs and benefits must be carefully compared.

These basic considerations and many others have been constant for quite some time. They haven't qualitatively changed since the 19th century, i.e. for 200 years. In fact, they haven't changed for 2,200 years, since the times of Hannibal, as Krauthammer said. And one could probably go even deeper to the global history. The only exception was Genghis Khan who owes the expansion of his empire to global warming from the medieval Mongolian SUVs, according to a new paper in PNAS. ;-)

Is it OK for the U.S. Secretary of State to be incompetent in all this "art of geopolitics" because we already live in a new world where none of these things is needed anymore? Have all these things become history? They haven't. Conflicts keep on emerging, wars keep on being fought, and so on. The idea that the people's and nations' sentiments, desires, and decisions to transform desires to reality has fundamentally disappeared sometime in the 21st century or earlier is a postmodern kitsch. For a politician, this postmodern kitsch is nothing else than a lazy schoolkid's excuse that "his dog ate his homework" from geopolitics.

Europe has looked quite peaceful since 1945; it has only witnessed a couple of "regional" or "local" conflicts which only involved two, usually small enough, parties (think about the conflicts in former Yugoslavia). The warless period 1945-2014 (or more) has been relatively long. The fear of a destructive nuclear warfare may have been a key driver behind this extended period without wars. But does it mean that we may use mathematical induction and prove that there won't be any new conflicts and changes to the national borders anymore? It's silly, of course.

Trade within a working capitalist economic area is the main factor that reduces the frequency or probability of wars. But the world is sufficiently heterogeneous – and will be heterogeneous for quite some time – that such uniform capitalist areas can never be as large as the whole world. So while the "internal" conflicts in an economic area may nearly disappear, the "external" ones don't disappear and may even become more likely, more global, or more bloody. And even if the whole world (or huge regions) became a uniform enough area, the non-uniformities are guaranteed to grow and reappear, anyway. This evolution revives the potential for internal conflicts.

Is the length of the peaceful period 1945-2014 unprecedented? Well, it's not. First of all, the years 1871-1914 were also peaceful but you could say that the peaceful period 100 years ago was shorter, anyway. However, I can point to a longer period of peace: Pax Romana [Roman Peace], also known as Pax Augusta, lasted for 206 years between 27 BC and 180 AD. That's 2,000 years ago and so far, we are very far from matching the long period of peace that was established by August, the founder of the Roman Empire. Note that the period of Pax Romana included the whole life of Jesus Christ, too.

I sort of hope that our peaceful period will continue because generally speaking, I do prefer peace although from my perspective, it is not an "ultimate dogma" that is infinitely more powerful than any other value. But we don't know. Even if the peace continues, the same pressures that have sparked wars in the past still exist and operate.

John Kerry could just mean that the "civilized world" no longer works as it did in the 19th century. But it does. The main difference is that the goals that the leaders of countries such as the U.S. are often fighting for today are dreams dictated by kitschy postmodern religions such as the global warming ideology. By pushing the diplomats and making them to push other countries, John Kerry is also doing some imperial politics – he is making similar steps as the Russian politicians to protect what he considers his interests. The only difference is that Kerry's priorities – such as the "fight against climate change" – don't make any sense whatsoever while e.g. Vladimir Putin's behavior is rational and attempting to achieve things that actually do make sense.

One might say that in this respect, the early 21st century is indeed different than the previous history of the mankind. There are tons of politicians who are fighting for goals that don't make any sense. In the past, most of the politicians were thinking "rationally egotistically" when it came to their relationships to other state entities. So the principles were more logical and universal. These days, we see lots of "politicians" like Kerry who are completely clueless and who consider things like "global warming" to be the most urgent issues during the very same weeks that arguably see the highest geopolitical tension and the strongest potential for fast and dramatic enough changes in the international politics since 1989 if not 1945.

I guess that people like Putin – and perhaps even many people in much less Western countries such as Iran – do understand pretty well how Kerry and his likes "operate" inside. Similar Kerries are rather simple-minded gadgets, indeed. It's sort of annoying to see that "our" world is intellectually degenerating in this way. Is that really necessary? Does the high degree of prosperity of the West make it inevitable that clueless folks living in an utopia and detached from reality get to the power? People who can't understand what will happen if they irritate the Russian bear, for example? People who consider a "fight against climate change" to be the #1 priority of foreign policy?

Or is the fundamental misunderstanding of wars and pre-war situations a consequence of the fact that the U.S. hasn't experienced a war on its territory for 150 years? Maybe a war per generation (or two generations) is needed for politicians in a nation to keep touch with the reality. Maybe the proliferation of religions dreaming about hypothetical problems such as global warming or ocean acidification is an unavoidable consequence of its believers' having had no real problems since 1945? I guess it must be partly true. It seems to me that the people who tend to believe junk such as the global warming ideology are mostly people who have been born into luxury, who have never experienced any serious "real" problems, and who are still experiencing no serious problems. This "problemlessness" could very well be the quantity that is most tightly correlated with the belief in the global warming orthodoxy, among other crazy things.

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snail feedback (27) :

reader Smoking Frog said...

I never thought highly of John Kerry, but when he opened his presidential nomination acceptance speech (2004) by saluting and saying, "My name is John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty," I almost threw up.

reader Smoking Frog said...

It's sort of annoying to see that "our" world is intellectually degenerating in this way. Is that really necessary? Does the high degree of prosperity of the West make it inevitable that clueless folks living in an utopia and detached from reality get to the power? People who can't understand what will happen if they irritate the Russian bear, for example? People who consider a "fight against climate change" to be the #1 priority of foreign policy?

In my experience, many American liberals have what I call "an illusion of safety," meaning that they think the U.S. is so powerful that it can easily handle any trouble that comes up, even without sacrificing anything for the sake of remaining powerful. This is in addition to their idea that all foreigners basically think the same way Americans do. I wouldn't put it past conservatives to catch the same disease, though.

reader W.A. Zajc said...

This link http://video.foxnews.com/v/2769890032001/the-freak-accident-that-changed-charles-krauthammers-life/#sp=show-clips should explain why Charles Krauthammer is not a terribly charismatic speaker. He has a really rather compelling life story and body of work.

reader scooby said...

I remember once reading an article on the decimation of native species in French Polynesia by rats, probably imported by the first Polynesian settlers. The rats had no predators. As the author wrote, this was like letting Al Capone loose in a convent. I wonder if the comparison applies equally well to the relations of Putin with the current US administration.

reader pkgn said...

Cannot they? Is it really so blatantly illogical to plan your defense against a specific (anticipated, preconceived) enemy, as opposed to anybody at all?

reader John Archer said...

Traditional religion seems to be in decline in much of the West so those otherwise fucking useless many with the impulse to join a revered priesthood as the only way of satisfying their overblown egos have to look elsewhere. This noble craving to preach at and be exalted by others is strong with them.

The top choices for this brigade today are politics and academe, probably in that order. Law's not a bad choice though. Combine all three and there's a good chance you could end up as pope. Hey, put boot polish on your face and make it a dead cert!

The only way they have of competing is by showing they're holier than the next fellow. This requires ostentatious display of their snake-oil product: their no-bollocks-barred sacred morality™. No need for reality to intrude with this stuff: there's no substance to it — it's all in the selling. And there are plenty of mugs ready to buy.

Will Kerry ever make it beyond Cardinal?

Don't take any chances — hide that boot polish.

reader BobSykes said...

The US is the evil empire, and it is systematically destroying Russia's allies (Serbia, Iraq, Libya, Syria) and tightening the noose around Russia's neck. It has violently overthrown the democratically elected government of the Ukraine because is was merely pro-Russian, not even an ally. Whatever happens in the Ukraine (most likely partition), the next target is Belarus. The justification will be R2P for the Belarusian people and the "need" to remove the last dictatorship in Europe.

reader Casper said...

Lubos is wasting his intellect in attempting to analyze the mind of the US political class. Think a mixture of dollars, hypocrisy, more dollars, militarism, bombast and leftist crap. That about covers it.

reader Eastern_European said...

wow, Putin's propagandists even reached 'The Reference Frame'.

reader Uncle Al said...

One small suggestion: The radar sight must be named Laputa. If local custom demands a dearth off vowels, Tsadski.

reader Swine flu said...

That Russia could turn somewhat more aggressive in the future is not a "contrived conspiracy theory", it is simply a possibility that should not be considered impossible. Given its size, it is probably enough for the EU to maintain reasonable defense capabilities to counter that type of possibility.

A rather interesting take on what makes Putin (and Russia) tick is in this column by Pat Buchanan:


He is outside the political mainstream in the US, but he seems to think for himself, which is a rare enough quality these days.

reader de_mol said...

If the EU and US keep on pushing Russia with their imperialism (see Syria and now Ucraine), well yes, then Russia might become aggressive in the future. However, if we look in detail to what is going on with the rebels in Syria and the ultr rights in Ukraine it is in fact the West that is threatening Russia and the reaction from Putin is a logical one.

reader Gene Day said...

It is not unprecedented for a Secretary of State to spout utter nonsense in support of his boss’s political position. I also had great respect for Colin Powell before he made his infamous U.N. speech in February, 2003, justifying our invasion of Iraq on the basis of Saddam’s WMD:

reader nnon said...

The purpose of missle defence is not to take actions but to take REactions. If this system was used that would mean that someone tried to attack NATO. The nationality of the person who decided to fire this attack wouldn't matter. He could be a Russian, an Iranian, or and converted-muslim terrorist born in Switzerland. This system would by directed against attacking missiles (in nationality-agnostic way) not countries - it wouldn't be able to destroy cities nor military bases (in opposition to russian missiles in Kaliningrad). So talking about directing this system against any country is unfortunately a pure demagogy. Unfortunately, because I'm not capable to understand how one can be a right-winger, and support a country which instead of free market has a market of corruption, instead of capitalism it has crony capitalism (Russia is in 20 bottom countries with highest corruption, together with Angola, Burundi, Sudan or Somalia), which praises one of the most bandit states in whole human history (ie. Soviet Union), spits in the faces of victims of this hell, breaks agreements whenever it wants etc. Modern Russia is a bundle of everything that every conservative liberal should hate.

reader de_mol said...

I have watched the developments in Ukraine with awe and shock. Being right wing, believer in free market, always a big supporter of the US and the West, cannot believe what I am seeing. Kerry and his folks supporting rebels of fundamental islamists in Syria, spreading lies and trying to go to war. Then in Ucraine, installing ultra right fascist groups like Svoboda into an illegal government. Watching more and more of this unfolding, indeed taking more and more the side of Putin.
How is that possible? Simply because I haven't seen any lies by Putin yet, but more and more coming out of the west, and seeing more and more imperialism. The phone call between the Estonian minister and Catherine Ashton was also an eyeopener. Stating that there should come an investigation, but instead sending taxpayers money from European countries in crises where already millions suffer because of unemployment etc. with ever increasing taxes. They are suffocating the west by centralising more and more capital so they can play powergames in countries where we should not intervene at all, and then I see these power-high people without any self-criticism criticising Putin for defending his own people and interests. It's a bloody shame.

reader Swine flu said...

Russia could some day become more aggressive even if not pushed - one cannot discount that possibility. That the West has not acted wisely in Ukraine should not obscure that fact.

I would also not lump together Syria and Ukraine. Ukraine has a large Russian population and used to be part of the Soviet Union. Syria is a very different story and requires separate analysis.

reader Giotis said...

"The missile defense system was marketed as a general defense facility for the U.S. in particular and the West in general – against unknown threats and perhaps Iran. It has been repeatedly and explicitly stated that the system was not directed against Russia."


reader charris208 said...

I thought Kerry was the perfect senator from Massachusetts: ignorant, lazy, and unaccomplished. He achieved nothing in the Senate and that is the best one can ask of Massachusetts. For a Secretary of State those otherwise sterling qualities are less desirable.

As for the Ukraine, I don't know enough to say anything profound. But I never thought Russia would give up the Crimea. Perhaps partition is the way to go.

reader Eastern_European said...

It's pathetic indeed :) You haven't seen any lies by Putin? And your eyes are open? Putin "defending his own people"? Where are "his own people"? In Crimea? Why are they "his own"? For your information, Putin is invading a neighbouring country. But you like Anschluss, right? Read some history, for instance the year 1938-1939. If there is any fascist or nazi nowadays, he is sitting in the Kremlin. But of course it's no use for you to read history. Recently I've read thousands of Putin's propaganda botlike posts and I can say that there are more chances to have a proper discussion with a brainwashed religious sect than with Putin's botlike writers.

When Ukraine is taken, what's the next country Putin is going to invade "to defend his own people"?

A least it's a little bit easier to understand why there were so many Stalin's admirers in the West.

Oh, yeah, it's a bloody shame. Keep writing.

PS It's not like I think that you believe what you are writing.

reader de_mol said...

Syria and Ukraine are much the same, because of the western aggression found. Don't forget that the old Ottoman Empire was both fought by at Crimea and in Syria (close to Armenia). Turkey is now a NATO ally but more dangerous to Russia then when it was the Ottoman Empire, since it forms part of NATO. As you can see, both Syria and Ukraine are part of the same western game, to crush Russia. So no, not Russia is the aggressor, but the West (and Turkey). And yes, they are very much connected.

reader de_mol said...

Yes, his own people, Russians. The mayority of the Crimea are Russians, whether you like it or not. That Chroestjev donated the Crimea to his own birthcountry, Ukraine, in 1954, doesn't change the fact that the mayority is Russian, and that Crimea was Russian. No Russian gave that away. In Chroestjovs time, it was USSR, remember? And no, he is not invading a country, but a) on invitation of the Crimea Parlement, the only democratically chosen in Ukraine (we can not say this about the nazi-based illegal government in Kiev), b) he has a contract that allows him 25000 troops to protect the Russian fleet in Sevastopol, which he has on rent until 2042.
And yes, eastern Ukraine is also mayority Russian. That's also where he has my merci to defend the Russians. Eastern Ukraine is also the hart of Russian history, its where Russia started. In any case he should kick the nazi thugs out of Kiev, before it gets out of hand. Western Ukraine is not, as is the rest of Europe, so he should stop there. That's the area that he is free to protect, whether you like it or not.

reader de_mol said...

I found this the best analysis by an American politician:
He is so right.

The support of 5 Billion American dollars to change the democratic process in Ucraine (a bloody shame):

The installment of nazi's in this toppled government:

And nazi's marching through Kiev:

There is so much shit, that I can not believe that there are still people around that dare to point to Putin as the bad guy. Changing all simple logic around. That must be what happened in the 30's and we are seeing it all over again.

reader Eastern_European said...

So Russian troops were invited and even given flowers perhaps, it's so nice and heartbreaking, I'm full of tears. Now Russian troops occupied the whole Crimea to protect Russian fleet in Sevastopol. It's so innocent.

And now Russia is collecting territories with Russians, good for you, don't stop - consider Berlin, there are a lot of Russians there. Don't worry, people in the West don't understand a fucking damn thing and care even less, they will be quiet, maybe a few symbolic sanctions.

You are talking a lot about nazis. That's exactly how Hitler started, namely collecting his own German territories.

reader ChrisFahlman said...

This is the real reason Kerry is not talking to Putin: the US doesn't
know what the heck it wants, and couldn't possibly articulate a
negotiable position. It can't even cajole NATO into taking a consistent interest in his silly staged fight between Rapunzel and Rumplestiltsken. Apparently he's been reduced to giving away seats to interested Euro celebrities who want to watch it from a skybox in an AWACS plane.

I would argue that you are wrong that Kerry thinks Climate Change is the world's biggest problem. For if Climate change is problem number one then Nuclear power suggests itself as perhaps the most appropriate and scalable solution. Don't take it from me, take it from American climate change scientists.

So why would Kerry be lashing out at the few countries which is at the moment exporting nuclear power plants, and planning to build them on its home soil to a degree that would allow electric decarbonization? Why would he also be seeking its worldwide economic isolation?

reader lukelea said...

That BBC report is truly scary. How can these violent right-wing extremists, for whom Nazi is not even a dirty word -- how be effectively opposed when there is no law and order, no police, and the moderate majority is essentially pacifist in nature, or at least appear to be. In a country as poor as western Ukraine you would think the forces of moderation would be more realistic, that their idealism would be tempered with pragmatic concerns about law and order. Are they entirely ignorant of the history of the 20th century?

reader opit said...

I am thinking of the assumptions and reassurances which attended the withdrawal of armies and tanks from behind the 'Iron Curtain.' NATO was not to intrude its presence in the countries which were vacated an which action the occupation was designed to prevent. Now we are listening to the flogging of the same sort of strategic threat which prompted the USSR to deploy subs and nuclear missiles to Cuba...in response to NATO's prior insertion of nuclear armed missiles in Turkey, which cut down the window of response time.
Russia will have lost none of its wariness of US/UK sponsored mischief during the past decades since Charlie Wilson's War in Afghanistan when Ismaloextremism ( which is sponsored by Saudi Arabia through the Taleban ) was flogged as a danger requiring suppression of a threat to the government. Even in the Crimea ( following Egypt,Lybia and Syria for example ) there are reports of false flag Colour Revolution activity.
I can't imagine why you would support such a base near your home. I believe Canadians have had US nuclear arms secreted in their land since the 1950's. There are even reports of such in Japan.
Oh yes. Al Qaeda is a farce. In the same way that Indian tribes in North America were reported as a homogenous group as much as they are in the Stans today. Intel is nonsense covering black ops run from Turkey. Sibel Edmonds at boilingfrogspost was introduced by Brad Blog some years ago. Her history as an FBI translator is that of a person whose testimony was suppressed for years.

reader Frank Ch. Eigler said...

"Russia might become aggressive in the future"

Check out our host's primary expertise in physics -- you must have found a view through a wormhole into an alternate universe.

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