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Life Arts    H4'ed 11/16/22

PODCAST: Talking with Rick Staggenborg: Geopolitics

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Rick Staggenborg is a former staff psychiatrist at the Coos Bay VA hospital in Oregon. He is anti-war, because it is anti-people; the wars serve only the corporate overlords turfing out and pawning American patriots into hegemonic actions that often run counter to what makes America the exceptional democracy it often claims to be. Rick ran for the US Senate in 2010.

At Rick's website, Soldiers for Peace International, he describes a goal for the soldiers he supports:

To challenge the US Congress to put the needs of the people above those of their plutocratic sponsors. We can only establish democracy in America and the world by working together to abolish the "rights" of corporations and those who control them to determine the collective destiny of the Peoples of the United States and of the world.

This is Rick's ongoing "cause," but it has significant relevance to domestic and foreign policies -- class containment at home and the mission of militarism abroad.

Today, in our fourth podcast, Rick and I will discuss Geopolitics. Rick reckons that many Americans are ignorant of the importance of this area of study to the detriment of understanding their government's foreign policy strategies and positions. This can leave Americans open to manipulation by both politicians and their enablers, the MSM.

We can start with a succinct description of Geopolitics from the Wikipedia entry:

According to Britannica: The word geopolitics was originally coined by the Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjelle'n about the turn of the 20th century, and its use spread throughout Europe in the period between World Wars I and II (1918-39) and came into worldwide use during the latter. In contemporary discourse, geopolitics has been widely employed as a loose synonym for international politics.

They go on:

Geopoliticians sought to understand how the new industrial capabilities of transportation, communication, and destruction--most notably railroads, steamships, airplanes, telegraphy, and explosives--interacting with the largest-scale geographic features of the Earth would shape the character, number, and location of viable security units in the emerging global international system. Most believed that the new era of world politics would be characterized by the closure of the frontier, territorial units of increased size, and intense interstate competition; most also thought that a great upheaval was imminent, that the balance-of-power system that helped to maintain order in Europe during most of the 19th century was obsolete, that the British Empire (the superpower of the 19th century) was ill-suited to the new material environment and would probably be dismembered, and that the United States and Russia were the two states best situated in size and location to survive in the new era. Geopoliticians vigorously disagreed, however, about the character, number, and location of the entities that would prove most viable.

The rationale and justification for the post-9/11 invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were poorly understood by the public because the MSM failed to be adversarial to the Bush administration as it banged its war drums and allowed the president's advisors to baldly lie to the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The now largely acknowledged false pretense for the invasion of Iraq covered up its legality, making the things the US government did there war crimes by the dozen. The Wikileaks publication of "Collateral Murder" was merely a taster for the often indiscriminate marauding that took place in Iraq and later Afghanistan, where America stayed beyond its mandate to "get" bin Laden. Call it "a failure of Vietnamization."

Without further grass dew, we begin by illustrating a typical American procurement of geopolitical understanding -- the university classroom on history. Here is a scene from the film Back To School, starring Rodnet Dangerfield and Sam Kinison. The latter plays a post Vietnam professor, who served in Nam, discussing America's military loss in Southeast Asia. He asks the class to explain what happened, and when a front row female student gives a standard sanitized understanding of what happened there, the neo-conservative professor lays into her with crazed passion.

Rick Staggenborg weighs in on Geopolitics.

The following conversation took place by Zoom on October 28, 2022.

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John Hawkins: [00:00:00]

We just got through watching a clip from Back to School and it's a funny little clip, but what do we learn from a clip like that about geopolitics, Rick?

Rick Staggenborg: [00:00:58]

I think we learn that Americans have been ignorant about geopolitics for a long time. Because both the young woman who gives the very sophisticated answer and Sam Kinison, who screams right wing talking points back at her, neither one of them is really looking at the real causes of the war. She talks about the failure of the Vietnamization policy as if, you know, maybe if it could have been tweaked, it could have worked. Who knows? But the fact of the matter is it couldn't have been won. And Kennedy knew that in the 50s. What was it, 1954 when he went to visit Vietnam for the first time, he came away knowing that a war fought against people that are defending their own country could not be won because they're not going to give up.

Hawkins: [00:02:01]

That's true. Kinison's response to the woman suggests he believed that either nuking the Vietnamese or just bringing in 100,000 more troops to just swamp them,would have won the day. And it's an attitude that still lives. It's an attitude that got us into Iraq and Afghanistan, and now Ukraine, and probably more wars in the future.

Staggenborg: [00:02:30]

That's the ignorance. Yeah, it's just not realistic at all. Starting a nuclear war cannot be won. That's why we took great precautions back then, not to confront Russia face to face or even in a proxy war. But we're doing it right now. We're practically face to face. We're obviously belligerents. God knows how many weapons we're sending, and we're financing, and we're training them. We supported the coup that put the neo-Nazis in a position to control the new government. And people don't understand any of this. I talk to people every day. I try to explain this thing on my video background saying stand with Ukraine, with the Nazi symbol and a nuclear explosion behind it. my Zoom video background saying "Stand with Ukraine," No, no, that's not what that message means. It means if we continue to stand with Ukraine threatening Russia, poking the bear in the face over and over and backing it up against a wall, we very well could trigger World War Three. And what are we going to do if they do drop a tactical nuclear weapon?

Hawkins: [00:04:20]

So that's just playing the MAD game.

Staggenborg: [00:04:27]

Nixon said that. You have to convince the other guy that you're crazy enough to actually do it. And then they backed down well. It was with Soviet Russia. That might have been because Soviet Russia was not the threat that we thought it was. And they did back down a lot of times; they backed down in Cuba. But it's not going to work every time, especially when you're an existential threat to their existence. It's insane. Yeah. But if you don't know anything about geopolitics, you don't understand that they're in a position of existential threat.

Hawkins: [00:05:06]

Well, why don't you describe what geopolitics is, or give us a working understanding of it so we can all see what we're missing out on.

Staggenborg: [00:05:15]

Sure. Well, it's had different definitions at different times and for different uses. Technically, the the term means the relations between nation states as they are affected by geography. Well, geography isn't really a big factor anymore with the new technology. You can spy on anybody from space. You could potentially use weapons from space. And even if you don't, you can still hit anybody on the planet with an ICBM in a matter of minutes, or at least Russia can. We can't yet; they can do it faster than us, which is another reason that's crazy to be playing this game of chicken with them. They have hypersonic nukes and we don't. That's as simple as that. And Putin demonstrated that has no effect on the thinking of these insane neocons who are dictating US foreign policy now.

Hawkins: [00:07:13]

So it used to be that geography played a part, but now it's less important because of the technology available as you just referred to.

Staggenborg: [00:07:53]

I should point out that geography isn't irrelevant, because the point of geopolitics is to figure out a way to control the world. Used to be: control as much of it as you could. But people were realistic and nobody really thought they could control the whole world. So we had this concept of spheres of influence. But now it really is a matter of how you can take over the whole world, because that's what the US is trying to do. Russia has known this for a long time. China knows this as well. I assume they've known about it for a long time, but they haven't really acted in a way that shows they knew that until recently. But geography still matters.

Hawkins: [00:09:40]

All right. So geopolitics, what does it mean? How has it changed over time? For instance, America has historically had a strong isolationist philosophy. They really didn't want to get involved in European wars. They certainly didn't want to return to Europe for a second go. That might be a good place to think of Americans involved in geopolitics. Do they care what's happening in Europe or Asia? Not really, because they are isolationists.

Staggenborg: [00:11:05]

I think that's a false dichotomy and it plays right into the imperialists hands. They criticize people for not wanting to be interventionist when that used to be called realist. Now they're called isolationists. It's an insult. But the reality is that it makes much more sense not to not to interfere with the affairs of other countries. That's a principle that was established after the 30 Years War, the Treaty of Westphalia. That was the basis of international law that's designed to prevent wars and the basic principle of noninterference with other states with their internal affairs. That was the basis of the League of Nations. That was the basis of the United Nations. And from a long way back, that's been a principle. And of course it's been observed mostly in the breach, especially by the United States in modern history. But so people haven't always been isolationist. So even though it makes a lot of sense, there was a lot of controversy over whether or not the United States should invade Canada in 1812, there was a lot of controversy over whether or not we should invade Mexico in 1840 and Cuba and declare war on Spain in 1898. A lot of controversy then. So it was more of a balance between people who were isolationists and people that weren't.

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Hawkins: [00:13:02]

If it weren't for the Lusitania and Pearl Harbor, we wouldn't have been in World War One or Two when we did. At least those events are required in order to be the precipitating points that people get outraged over, because the media paints a picture.

Staggenborg: [00:13:24]

The Gulf of Tonkin.

Hawkins: [00:13:26]

And the Gulf of Tonkin. That's right. So we constantly seem to be trying to dig up the bones of some dead idealism. These skull and bones elitists whose children still remain in power and pass down these ideas.

Staggenborg: [00:13:50]

Absolutely. There is this conflict between the ruling class who benefit from war and the rest of us who fight their wars and our kids who die for it.

But let me just go back to your question, because I didn't really answer it. I kind of was setting the stage. So there's always been a balance between realists and interventionists, whatever you want to call them. World War I was a very important change, as far as that goes. Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew, was writing about techniques of propaganda, and how to influence people on a mass scale. So those ideas were employed in World War I to change opinions. So Lusitania was just part of it. It was okay to talk about joining the fight and Wilson suddenly discovered this urgent need to get involved after claiming to be a pacifist for all those years and needing to stay out of foreign entanglements. So then they had to convince the population, which was staunchly really overwhelmingly anti-interventionist. Before the Lusitania, this was different. That propaganda made a huge difference. And not only that, but they also changed the law. So they came up with the Espionage Act that they could use to imprison journalists who were opposed to the war. They imprisoned socialists who dared speak out against the war, especially Eugene Debs, the presidential candidate, who got I can't remember how many votes, when he ran for president from prison in 1920.

Staggenborg: [00:15:46]

It was a huge change. Propaganda played a huge role in it. And if you think about it, I mean, Wilson got elected on the basis of staying out of the war. He kept us out of war. That was a slogan in 1916. And then he turns around and totally changes. Well, why did he change now? He was a religious fanatic who thought he had a mission from God, so to speak, to save the world. And so maybe he really did think that was the price, that was the compromise he had to make to bring America to war so he would get the power to dictate terms of the peace, which, of course, he did. He impressed a lot of people. He influenced a lot of people. So you could see where he might have been motivated by that.

But on the other hand, when you think about it, the industrialists in the United States stood to gain by getting into the war. I mean, World War I was basically a war between the German empire and primarily the British Empire. There were other empires, Belgian and French, and then it was a world war for world domination, or at least European domination, with the intent of going on from there because they had already started going into Africa and China. You know, that was a very active period of colonization. That's what it was.

Staggenborg: [00:17:45]

I don't know all the complexities of the different alliances, but if you read histories, like Carol Quigley's history, Tragedy and Hope, he talks about how they were preparing for war, Germany and England, in particular. A war was inevitable. They both knew it. Whether Germany really wanted it or not. I hear different opinions, but certainly there were the imperialists in England eager to expand their empire because they thought they could do it.

Hawkins: [00:23:23]

It seems to me that it's really 'un-American' what we're doing. We started our own revolution because we were being taxed without representation back in the British parliament. It just pissed a lot of people off , and colonists were getting taxed more and more. And the Stamp Act really got some Sam Kinison juices going.

Staggenborg: [00:23:43]

Let me offer an alternative opinion. That sounds a little bit like the young lady who was explaining Vietnam by using the standard story.

Hawkins: [00:23:51]

Beg your pardon?

Staggenborg: [00:23:52]

Which is no more true than the standard Sam Kinison story.

Staggenborg: [00:24:06]

What was your main point there?

Hawkins: [00:24:19]

My main point is we say to ourselves as Americans that we fought off the British because we were being taxed without representation and Parliament back in Britain.

Staggenborg: [00:24:31]

I hate to disagree with you, but the real story of why we had a revolution was two things. Sure, they didn't like taxation without representation, no doubt. But the bigger problem was when you look at the tea tax, what were they protesting? Was it the tax itself or was it the fact that the British East India Company was exempt from the tax so that the colonies could not compete with the small traders that wanted to be part of the tea trade? Right. That was what it was about.

Hawkins: [00:25:17]

The world's first monopoly.

Staggenborg: [00:25:19]So they control it so sloppily. And it was state sponsored. And, you know, the marriage of the corporation and state is what Mussolini did. Fascism. So they don't want us to think about it in those terms because really it was about fighting off [fascism]. And now our government has become that way. The same way as the British. Now that we're the empire, we're forcing other countries into unfair deals, like through the so-called free trade acts or agreements. And our own people are suffering because of these policies. They're applying the same policies they apply to third world countries to us. Now we're becoming a third world country. They're taxing us. It's not that they're taxing us so much, it's that they're allowing the fire section, finance and real estate and insurance folks to extract money out of the economy. That's money that we could use or that we need to build the real economies that people benefit from.

Hawkins: [00:27:34]

Let's move on. Is the American empire the sole superpower?

Staggenborg: [00:27:42]

And what about Russia?

Hawkins: [00:27:44]

China?

Staggenborg: [00:27:46]

It's fair to ask that. But when you think about it, there were two superpowers during the Cold War. Soviet Union, United States. The Soviet Union hasn't existed for quite some time. So you can think of whatever the definition was back then, that the United States was the only one left standing, the only empire. Now, when I say superpower, I'm thinking empire. Well, China is not an empire. China is not seeking to expand its borders. Tell me where it is. They consider Taiwan theirs, but they're not taking that territory. As far as the New Silk Road going from China to Europe, they're building infrastructure and they'll own the infrastructure. But they're making deals with those countries. They're not forcing them to cede land to do it.

Hawkins: [00:28:35]

So you're talking about physical expansion?

Staggenborg: [00:28:38]

Yes. Now you could say, well, this is a different form of colonization. The United States doesn't typically take over land in other countries, but we control them by other means. How is China doing that? They are making loans to willing customers and they're giving better terms than we do, even though we're told otherwise. Furthermore, when they make a bad loan more than once, instead of just taking everything that country has, all its resources, and calling that part of the repayment like the IMF does. They've actually forgiven loans or refinanced them. And again, not with extortionate terms, where they can never get free of it. Are all the deals China made well-considered, or were they trying to get some leverage over these countries? I don't know. There may be exceptions, but they're developing Africa in a way that Africa can really benefit from it economically. And the Africans are very grateful for that. And yet that's one of the main places where the United States is claiming that the deals they're making are designed to imprison them with debt. Well, guess what? That's what the United States does. And that's called projection [which is commonly seen in] psychosis.

Hawkins: [00:30:03]

I agree with you. We've reached the point where we've got a president who's from Delaware, the world's leading refuge for credit card banks. There's more registered corporations there than there are citizens. How fucked up is that? It's a free zone. But getting back to China and we've touched on this before, the world reserve currency - the dollar - is under threat. Some people think that Biden's really going after China more than Russia because the real threat to our economics is their ability to change the game entirely if they were to start cashing in their IOUs and then encourage other nations to bond together with them in a totally new global currency reserve that would leave the Americans high and dry. And the pretend middle class that America has is liable to collapse at any time because of the money issues.

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Staggenborg: [00:31:54]

Well, I see it a little bit differently, but thank you for bringing me back to the major point. You were asking about American imperialism and how it's different from past imperialism. So let me just take a big step backward and just say that imperialism, the goal of imperialism, is to control other countries' resources. That was the relationship between nations that are the imperial nations [and] the vassal states. They're their partners that only had to pay tribute. And then there were some countries that were colonized like Belgium, the Congo and Britain colonized North America or Britain and France, etc. Israel has colonized Palestine and is trying to establish a little mini empire there, or at least hegemony over all the Middle East. But America is in a unique position. I say they're the sole superpower because they not only have the largest army in history, that's distributed across the planet in something like 800 bases around the world, and at least 75% of the countries have an American troop presence. And obviously those aren't all friendly countries. But because we have troop presence in a lot of places that we don't know about, but, I won't get into how that works. So the point is that we have the largest army or largest military, spread out all over the whole planet. We have the largest economy still, at least by some measures. That's a financialized economy, which means it's tied to the GDP, (The GDP should be considered) a measurement of how much money is earned or spent on goods and services. So it's supposed to be a measure of productivity. But because so much of the money, and I say that advisedly, "money" on a computer screen somewhere is created through financial mechanisms that do not involve the productive economy. So every time somebody buys a financial instrument and then sells it at a profit, well, it didn't produce anything. And all they're doing is speculating on the future value of these instruments. It doesn't create a thing.

Well, you know, just before 2008, a substantial portion of the GDP was this financialized piece of the economy, let's just say 20%. I think that might be an underestimate, actually. If you want to be considerably higher, but imagine that's not the real GDP, that's the productive economy. That's the money that's made by buying and selling goods. That's the money that flows through the pockets of the workers and retirees and anybody else who has an income. That's the real economy. And the way the real economy works is when you put money in people's pockets, they spend it, and then that produces more wealth.

Staggenborg: [00:35:49]

That's how you produce wealth through productivity, not just consumption. If their consumption is based on debt, like in the United States, the debt just gets higher and higher, and debt has interest attached to it. The higher that debt gets, the less money there is for the productive economy. So we are killing our own economy, the real economy, by allowing it to be financialized.

Everything's being privatized and we have to pay for that. You know, health care is paid for in every industrialized country but ours, and that works very well for them. People don't have to buy insurance. They also don't have to pay (workers) them as much if they're not spending a fortune for insurance. That's 10% of the average American's income. I just looked at the figures in Oregon, and about 50% of households in the state I live in pay 30% or more of their income for rent. And you've got fuel costs skyrocketing. I mean, at what point do you have disposable income for things other than the absolute essentials? So it's squeezing the middle class. Their pay is not going up, but their debt is going farther and farther up. Right. Even the health care costs, they're paying it with credit cards. We're going bankrupt.

So the point I was making was you compare us to China. And by that measure, if you look at the real economies, China is probably well ahead of us at this point.

Staggenborg: [00:50:51]

That's geopolitics. So [let's consider the geopolitical strategy in Ukraine]. The United States wanted to weaken Russia. We know that now because we pushed their backs against the wall until they invaded. Expanded NATO right to their borders. We'd already done that. But then we supported these neo-Nazis who are bombing Donbas for eight years, killed 14,000 people, and then we're threatening a genocidal attack on them to just slaughter en masse. That's what Russia was responding to. And we set it up. We train them, we arm them, we equip them, and we encourage them to do that. And we discouraged any attempts at negotiation. It's part of geopolitics. That's how the empire relates to countries that threaten it. Russia was interfering with the plan to take over Syria, and Russia was an obstacle anyway, so they just took them on at the same time (when were trying to destabilize Syria). But how does this make sense if we're paying for all this with dollars that we're just manufacturing off a printing press? People get confused about that. They think, how come it's inflationary? Well, we weren't having any inflation until recently and we've been doing it for over a decade. The reason it wasn't inflationary is because it wasn't real money and it wasn't going out into the economy and affecting the relationship between money supply and supply of goods. That's why it wasn't inflationary.

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Staggenborg: [00:52:32]

What was it doing? It was propping up the stock market casino, all these imaginary money people had to pay. They were buying these financial instruments on margin, paying a little bit, and then making payments on their investments and hoping it would pay off and paying it back so they could keep making more investments. That's the Wall Street Casino. It's similar to the same thing they did, and that caused the stock market crash in 1929. They were buying stocks at that time on margin like that. And when suddenly they couldn't make the payments. Whoops, Big crash. That's what happened in 2008. If it happens again, it's going to be way worse because it (derivatives trading) hasn't slowed down. It's accelerated. We are in a very tenuous position economically. We can't keep manufacturing that money forever. Someday those debts are coming due. So what's going to happen? The only reason that we've been able to get away with these wars, we haven't been paying for them. This is what people don't understand. Other countries have been paying because they were forced to buy oil in dollars. They all had to keep reserves. They also, especially smaller countries, had to keep reserves. So we couldn't make a run on their money by putting money into the country and then wanting to pull it out. That affects the value of their currency. So it's called dollar hegemony. So...it's called dollar hegemony. So, it all depends on countries having to settle their balance of payments in dollars.

Staggenborg: [00:54:11]

So they have to keep them in reserve. That's where those excess dollars are going. And what do they do with those dollars? They buy Treasury bills. Which are IOUs. So that money... instead of getting paid, paid dollars for their goods, they're getting excess dollars and they're buying T-bills and their IOUs. We're not paying them. We're giving them IOUs. And that's what we're using to pay for these wars. So the rest of the world is actually paying for us to invade them.

So coming back to why this monetary policy is a crisis right now, well, my hypothesis, and I can't prove this, is because they know that it's all going to collapse. When I talk about the empire collapsing, I'm talking about the dollar collapsing. I'm talking about this whole system of other countries having to pay us tribute by sending us money and getting nothing but IOUs in return. That system is going to collapse. Now, you said, does this mean that the empire is going to collapse? I'm saying I don't know. I've heard different things from different economists, but I think it will collapse if we don't drastically change the economy and deal with inequality and deal with all this excess debt that's crushing the real economy.

Staggenborg: [00:55:39]

That's the only way we're going to survive it. That's what the capitalists don't want. That's what the more warmongers don't want. That's what the economic elite that engineers these wars for profit don't want. That's why they're desperate. Things are falling apart. They know it. We don't know it, because nobody ever talks about it. But the fact of the matter is, if they don't preserve that system, they're going to have to radically change their plan. They wanted to control the world. They wanted to own everything. And look how close they've got. You know, what is it? (About 60) people now own half the world's wealth. I really recommend people read Michael Hudson or even watch his one-hour introductory video. It explains a lot of this stuff. On super imperialism, the US doesn't follow any of the rules. The only way they can control the world is militarily.

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(Alternatively, there is a new video specifically on his book The Destiny of Civilization, that covers most of the main themes of his book Super Imperialism: RP Live with Michael Hudson: The Destiny of Civilization

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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