THE COSMOPOLITAN GLOBALISTS
The Suez is at last unblocked. But listen all the same to our Saturday night Cosmopolitan Globalist Partycast, because it is a fine discussion of global shipping and a rollicking good Saturday night—by pandemic standards.
We marvel at the weirdness of China’s recent diplomatic self-sabotage. We drink. We ask what Macron’s thinking about Russia. We wonder just who actually believes it. Does he? We gossip about Germany. We gossip about the Atlantic Council. We wander around looking for popcorn. We ask if the United States is really so broke that it should sacrifice Estonia. We miss smoking.
Vivek Kelkar weighs in from Mumbai. Jon Nighswander from Vienna. Rachel Motte from Houston. Owen Lewis from Alberta. Akshaya Jose from Paris—me, too, of course. Toomas Hendrik Ilves from Estonia. (We don’t know where in Estonia he is, exactly, but we understand it involves a promising herd of moose.) Monique Camarra, as usual, runs the Cosmopolicast out of Siena. Thank you, Monique!
Part I: The Cosmopolitan Globalists resolve that the Suez Canal crisis is bogus
First we did a go-round to see who had the best idea for getting that ever-loving ship unstuck.
Toomas: Zeus! SOS, Suez! I came up with that yesterday.
A moose snorts in the background.
Claire: Why can’t we just blow it up?
Toomas: The environmental damage wouldn’t be so nice.
Claire: Owen, you’d be good at this. What do we do?
Owen: I’m a geologist, not an engineer.
Claire: I don’t get why the US hasn’t fixed this. You can understand all of US foreign policy in the 20th century if you think of the US as this giant machine designed to keep the SLOCs open. That’s our whole mission in life.
Toomas: A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!
Jon: A lot of Chinese trade to Germany goes through that canal. It’s going to have a lot of knock-on effects.
Claire: I wouldn’t expect Germany to do anything, but this is what America exists to do.
Vivek: The US has never been able to do much about the Suez Canal. Ever. It was shut for eight years between 1967 and 1975! Even after the Sinai accords, you still couldn’t use it for two years because it was full of mines.
Toomas: Maybe it’s not so bad, and global warming has come to our assistance. You can go along the northern route, so who cares?
Claire: Huh? I’m having trouble visualizing this.
Monique gets a map.
Jon: It’s great for China and Russia. Turns Harbin into a major shipping center. Awful for India.
Toomas: Look at Russian side of the northern route. Look at coast of Russia, which used to be frozen in winter. Now it’s open. This is why the PRC is a member of the Arctic Council.
Owen: It’s mostly summer shipping, though.
Toomas: It’s April. You have six months to deal with the Suez Canal. Screw it.
Claire: So this whole Suez Canal crisis is bogus?
Toomas: For India, it’s a disaster.
Rachel: It’s bad for all the boats that are stuck.
Toomas: The next problem—if you go around the Cape of Good Hope: Somali pirates.
Claire: That’s just what I thought! Why did Twitter make fun of me for saying it?
Toomas: They’ll have an orgy.
Claire: I mean yeah, right? Banquet!
Jon: Wouldn’t the Americans come in then?
Toomas: No, they have to go around, too. Imagine a traffic jam in Los Angeles, and people decide this is a perfect time to start robbing cars. The police can’t get to you—they’re stuck in traffic, too—
Claire: How would you fight off Somali pirates if you’re stuck on a ship off the coast of Africa and you’re not properly insured for fighting pirates?
We do a quick go-round.
Claire: And what good does it do to be the mightiest seafaring power the world has ever seen if we can’t deal with a blocked canal and a bunch of pirates? Where is our tax money even going?
Toomas: We’ll see. You do have a US naval presence in the Indian Ocean, and you have Diego Garcia. Maybe they could start doing renditions there again. It doesn’t take that long to get any fleet anyplace—six or seven days, max.
Claire: This has got to be our special area of expertise. If it isn’t, what are they doing with the money?
Toomas: It wasn’t wasted, all kinds of things were prevented.
Jon: If you were to be cynical, US-China trade isn’t really affected, because it mostly goes across the Pacific. So what’s mostly affected is Europe-China trade. It has a dire effect on China. From the US point of view, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.
Claire: Wow, yes.
Jon: Show Europe there are some risks associated with that relationship.
Part II: The Cosmopolitan Globalists wonder what’s wrong with Chinese diplomats
Toomas: Moving on, the utter collapse of EU relations with China in the past week—it’s like progressive FM rock in the late 1960s. Chinese Wolf Warrior diplomacy—
Claire: Yeah, what are they thinking?
Background: China’s ambassador to France was recently summoned and “firmly reminded” not to call French citizens “ideological pests,” “small-time hoodlums” and “crazed hyenas.” Then on March 22, the US, EU, UK, and Canada announced coordinated sanctions against Chinese officials directly involved in the abominations in Xinjiang. China promptly declared that in retaliation it would sanction pretty much everyone who’s anyone in Europe. Those who weren’t on the sanctions list felt properly ashamed.
Toomas: They’re just shooting themselves—
Monique: They’ve been everywhere.
Toomas: Every member state ambassador to the political committee of the EU—these are the people who make all the decisions—they’ve all been declared persona non grata. Ten think tanks, too, including some of the best! So now you’ve declared all these important, crucial people and institutions in the EU under sanction. And your trade is collapsing! There’s no f— way the EU-China trade agreement will in any way stand a chance of being ratified by the European Parliament—
Claire: Why did Merkel even embarrass herself by trying to make that deal?
Toomas: Because they’ll do anything for trade.
Jon: The German auto industry largely dictates foreign policy. When you’re an export nation, you’re always vulnerable.
Toomas: For thirty years, the Germans have caved into Russia because of “Wandel durch Handel!” Change through trade!
Claire: No one wants to see a vulnerable Germany, though. We all know how badly that can go.
Toomas: No. No. They’re too pacifist.
Claire: Compared to what?
Toomas, Jon: The next Chancellor is going to be a Green.
Toomas: They’re too Franco-centric. Even you, Claire, think France is the center of Europe when in fact it’s just part of the periphery.
Claire: I am not at the center, you say?
Part III: The Cosmopolitan Globalists wonder what Macron could possibly be thinking
Toomas: Macron has this grand vision about how he’s going to proceed while ignoring a population of Europe larger than France. And he thinks he can get away with it. “Oh, we will bring zee Russians in!”
Claire: Yeah, none of us understand this. Which constituency is he flattering?
Toomas: —ignoring 75 million East Europeans who are up against Russia, not listening to them, and he goes and does this.
Claire: But no one serious believes his claim that Russia can be seduced into being a normal European power, right? So what does he think he’s doing?
Toomas: I guess he wants to be the roi philosophe. The visionaire.
Claire: But it’s not very visionary. It’s been tried and failed.
Toomas: For about 200 years. The main problem is that the Russians haven’t been in Paris since 1814.
Claire: But he has a competent intelligence staff. They’ve got to be telling him, “This won’t work?”
Toomas: But he doesn’t listen to them. He thinks he’s smarter than they are. “That’s why I’m president and you’re not.” I don’t know, I can’t figure it out, either.
Claire: It’s weird.
Toomas: There’s also a lot of bizarrely Huntingtonian thinking France. “Our ultimate foe is Islam and Russia is a Christian nation.” I’ve heard this from foreign policy people.
Jon: They’ve never heard of Russia’s Muslim population, apparently?
Toomas: Which just gets bigger the more they invade—
Claire: This is the crazy stuff that Russia puts on the Internet, but why would smart people fall for it? Still, Macron put his finger on something a lot of people in Europe are thinking. America is down for the count, or off to the Pacific, and we need to go it alone, and that means making choices …
Toomas: A, I would work to counteract that—yes, the Pacific is the future theater and China is the—but to equate Russia with—
Claire: —it’s no stupider than the strategic fantasy I keep hearing from Americans: “We’re should team up with Russia to take on China!”
Toomas: But the smart people don’t say that.
Claire: They do! I’ve heard genuinely smart people say this.
Toomas: These are clowns. Think tanks bought with Koch Brothers’ money. The Atlantic Council, which used to be the paragon of transatlanticism, suddenly has a new section built up and paid for by the Koch people—
Claire: —Could they be right? Is the US just too broke to take on anything but China?
Toomas: No, no, no. The stupidity of the US and EU not forming and economic-tech alliance—the EU is obsessed with GAFA; the US doesn’t pay attention to Europe, this is my thesis—
Claire: —That is my thesis.
Toomas: Kinetic warfare as we’ve known it is over. Operationally, since 2007, the Newtonian basis of warfare no longer holds. Geography-based security thinking is dead.
Akshaya: To the contrary, the pandemic has really brough geography-based security thinking back.
Toomas: My point is that now you can just shut countries down, at a distance, without missiles.
Claire: You’re both right. So we’re in trouble.
Toomas: We’re in trouble.
Part IV: Pandemic Redux.
Claire: It seems as if with the pandemic we’ve slipped into an entirely new era, doesn’t it? We’re just standing at the edge of a void, staring at it, with no idea what’s on the other side.
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