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Manhattan Gothic

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Between a Rock and a Laugh Track

      After the British parliament put the kibosh on following the American punishment brigade to Syria, and then NATO, and the UN wrinkled their noses at the project, well, that pretty much left President Obama to twist slowly, slowly in the wind — washed, rinsed, and hung out to dry. It looks like a watershed moment in the USA’s increasingly klutzy career as the world’s hall monitor. International power relations are suddenly in flux. A phase change has occurred causing all that was solid a few days ago to melt into liquid.

     The Iranians are having a good laugh, for now. Mr. Assad of Syria responded with a beaming smirk. However, any sentient observer can see this region of the world for what it is, a political demolition derby which, left to its own blundering devices, would blow up the whole arena when the last player sputters to a standstill.

     First of all, it seems to me that extremists in the Republican-dominated US House of Representatives have been quietly searching for a pretext to impeach President Obama. Committing an overt act of war without congressional approval would have been a good case, legally, despite the fact that executive branch war-making has been absolutely the rule for decades in Washington. The British parliamentary move against the avid David Cameron pretty much begged the question for American legislators. The foggy part is whether they would actually come back to Washington from the fried dough alleys of their state fairs and mount a “debate” about whether it would be a good or bad thing to whack Syria for gassing more than a thousand of its own citizens.

     Lately when America mounts a high moral horse about how other nations behave, we have gone into these places and smashed things up, bringing much more death and destruction than we anticipated. The hope is always that some surgical military operation can correct a political illness, but a cruise missile is not exactly a scalpel and once the patient is blown to pieces it is rather hard to patch up the body politic again. You’re just left, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a lot of bloody fragments fought over by political rats and cockroaches.

     Syria is a real crossroads both for America’s policy in the region and for its position on the world stage. The region is in a state of destructive turmoil that is likely to lead to the further fall of regimes and the breakup of states. Many of these states are figment nations anyway, with boundaries drawn in the 20th century by the winners of the two world wars. The discovery of oil from North Africa to Iran and beyond has been catastrophic for everybody in the world, but most vividly for the exploding populations of these mostly desert states, which could not have supported so many people without the artificial support of petro-money. Now, faced with the specter of peak oil production, the whole region is flying apart from the stress of population overshoot, including countries like Syria which never produced much oil itself.

    But the drama over the trade in the oil remaining only becomes more intense. For instance, the position of Saudi Arabia, pretending to sit quietly on the sidelines through all this, is curious. There are rumors, unverified, that the gas incident in Syria happened because Saudi Arabia sent canisters of Sarin to the Syrian rebels, who then mishandled them and gassed their own neighborhood. The world’s recent experience with so-called “intel reports” about weapons has made everybody skeptical of claims made by politicians that a particular country poses a danger to others.

     Otherwise, there is a whole other strategic realm of concerns around the petro trade and its financing that is totally off the radar screen of the mainstream media. For instance, the sometimes erratic but brilliant blogger Jim Willie describes the larger struggle of Russia, Iran, China, and other interested parties to displace the US dollar dominance in oil trade — in particular a dollar based on increasingly sketchy US Treasury bonds, which has deformed global banking, roiled currencies, and made the settling of international accounts problematical for everybody else in the world. The opposition to the US, and its client / partner Saudi Arabia, the story goes, would replace the dollar with gold-backed oil trade and a logistical work-around based on a growing pipeline system from Iran and beyond, in Asia, to desperate customers in Europe. The implications are a collapse of the dollar (and the US bond market), a wedge between European and American interests, and a dominant partnership of oil-and-gas rich Russia with China — that is, a major power shift from west-to-east.

    Who knows how much of this has informed President Obama’s decision process. The stall in the American whack-attack against Syria may itself be a symptom of the swirling new conditions in world finance and power relations. In any case, a great empire — which we have been — can’t afford to make idle threats. The outcome of the Syria melodrama may be that the US has been knocked down a big step in its ability to project power without terrible consequences to itself.

To posters in the comments section: Do not post YouTube videos. Do not engage in quarrels. Do not make stupid political puns.
We are making an effort to combat the trolldom that has reigned here for a while. If you misbehave, you will be kicked off.

About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

228 Responses to “Between a Rock and a Laugh Track” Subscribe

  1. Being There September 8, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Here’s a real good one that answers some questions we have.


    • K-Dog September 8, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

      “Bernanke and the Fed doves would like nothing better than another ‘controlled’ war in the Mideast, because with war comes massive debt issuance, and with massive debt issuance comes the transmission mechanism (QE) for monetizing that debt and mainlining it onto the Wall Street banks’ broken balance sheets.”

      It would be nice to see a solidly put together explanation on how this is done exactly, who specifically benefits and by how much.

      I’d also like a pony.

  2. ozone September 8, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    As Paul Craig Roberts destroys the facade of fraud that he helped president Reagan build back in the glory days of twilight in america, his boulders appear to be getting heavier and his accuracy improving, month over month: Gird your loins before reading, as PCR has loaded up his trebuchet with a huge bladder filled with piss and vinegar.


    An outline of where we currently stand in power projection [that our host addresses at the top of the page] regarding the planned destruction of Syria and proxy participation in same.

    “…the support behind the liar obama is feeble and limited. The ability of the Western countries to dominate international politics came to an end at the G20 meeting. The moral authority of the West is completely gone, shattered and eroded by countless lies and shameless acts of aggression based on nothing but lies and self-interests. Nothing remains of the West’s “moral authority,” which was never anything but a cover for self-interest, murder, and genocide.” -PCR

    Ouch. A consensus by officially-maligned Cassandra’s is being reached.
    …Now I’m off to read BT’s zerohedge link.
    Thanks for the Themon blog link, Prog.
    Lots of good on-topic stuff this week. (Apologies for over-posting. If I get irritatingly blog-hoggy, please just holler! I can consciously contract, conserve and condense, I know I can. ;))

  3. Karah September 9, 2013 at 12:32 am #

    How informed our national leaders are about the ongoing TRAGIC DRAMA in the M.E. and our economy…

    A dead guy with money and power is the same as a dead guy without money and power. Death has a way of leveling the playing field, whoever can stay alive the longest reaps the rewards. Mortal threats have often been the turning point in human history.
    Enter stage right:

    “Throughout the first years of the 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood and various other Islamist factions staged hit-and-run and bomb attacks against the government and its officials, including a nearly successful attempt to assassinate president Hafez al-Assad on 26 June 1980, during an official state reception for the president of Mali. When a machine-gun salvo missed him, al-Assad allegedly ran to kick a hand grenade aside, and his bodyguard (who survived and was later promoted to a much higher position) smothered the explosion of another one. Surviving with only light injuries, al-Assad’s revenge was swift and merciless: only hours later a large number of imprisoned Islamists (reports more than 1200) were executed in their cells in Tadmor Prison (near Palmyra), by units loyal to the president’s brother Rifaat al-Assad…

    Eid al-Ghadeer is a festive day observed by Shia Muslims on the 18th of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Islamic calendar …
    It marks the anniversary of Muhammad’s sermon, described in Hadith of the pond of Khumm, in which he stated, Whomsoever’s master (maula) I am, Ali is also his (maula) master. O’ God, love those who love him, and be hostile to those who are hostile to him.
    – Wikipedia.org

    The U.S.A. is constantly having crises of conscience where there should be none. Sen. Kerry is the foremost case when it comes to religion and politics – the two can not mix. Does Barak Obama follow the path of blood for blood by directly issuing military strikes in the M.E. or can he somehow extricate himself and his people from the whole blood feud via the U.N. process. It’s too bad Assad is not completely secular, then he might accept the fact the world rulers have the means and will to wipe out him and all his religious allies.

  4. ozone September 9, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    In the Grand Chessboard, religion is just another lever, not an end in itself.

    Lihn Dihn weighs in with a incisive analysis/opinion, and another eminently plausible explanation of what the Syrian issue is really about: The empire is hoping to bring down a lot of birds with the military, proxy and covert stone here.


    Gazprom doesn’t ring any bells? It should, because it’s all about energy and money, BIGTME. This is about Russian ‘national interests’, and as we’ve seen in this country (by the frequency of its’ invocation) that meme is made for the rattling of sabers and forwarding of ordnance.

    • ozone September 9, 2013 at 9:26 am #

      “Linh Dinh”!
      Geeze, dyslexic much?

  5. CyberPass September 18, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    It was none other than Gen.Wesley Clark who said he was told, before Iraq was attacked, that Libya, Syria and Iran were next. The military considers that there is none who would dare stop us- what would they do, besides stop buying Tbonds? Wild Bill Hickock, with over 100 notches in his gun, was an inveterate gambler, and who was about to try to collect a gambling debt from him?
    K-Dog was right that the bankers are big winners when it comes to endless war- although the Fed has denied it, it is clear they are already monetizing the debt- exchanging newly printed dollars for TBonds- that is all that is needed to create whatever new spending is required hand in hand with a corrupt press which pretends not to notice that this is inflationary., but for once the American people, who know damn well what a pound of meat costs, have stood on their hind legs and let it be known they are sick of it.


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