July 17, 2015
Lords and Vassals: A quick update on America’s Empire
I tend to be somewhat bullish on the more optimistic assessments of the current Kremlin strategy, for example the comparison to the Punic Wars and the delaying tactics of Fabius Maximus Cunctator, because it is a strategy that takes into account the weaknesses of the US-centric world order.
frequently see comments under my posts arguing that the EU is basically
a feudal fiefdom of the United States. That’s fine as far as it goes,
however, once you introduce that idea, you should also examine its
implications. Because the lord-vassal relationship is not and has never
been one of unconditional obedience. It is rather a social contract with
mutual duties and responsibilities. The vassal’s loyalty is conditional
on a variety of services, starting with protection and ending with
opportunities for enrichment. If you, as the lord, fail to organize one
or both, your vassals will leave you. Therefore a strategy that targets
the lord’s capacity for delivering rewards to the vassals happens to
strike at that realm’s Achilles heel.
America’s relationship with
its “allies” can in fact be characterized as a collection of feudal
relationships, with the nature of the relationship being very much
dependent on the power of the vassals. There are in fact several
categories of vassals. Category I includes countries like UK and Israel
which actually enjoy a pretty privileged relationship. And yes, J.Hawk has heard of AIPAC–it’s a major component of Israel’s power which enables this tiny country to enjoy the privileged relationship it does, really, Category I with perks–but it’s still a vassal because on matters which really matter to the US, the US calls the shots, not Israel. Consider, for example, how Israel has timed campaigns against Gaza in order to avoid embarrassing US presidents–in other words, it knows its (privileged but subordinate) place. Thus, for
example, UK intel services are practically an extension of the NSA (on
equal rights), the US doesn’t read the British PM’s emails, and it does
not set up CIA “black sites” on its soil. Category II: Germany, France,
Italy, etc. Hold intel services at arms length, read leaders’ email, but
no black sites. Category III: Poland, Ukraine, lots and lots of others.
Treat like dirt, spy on leaders, set up black sites. Here, you are basically part of the fodder for Cat I and II vassals. There’s also a
Category IV (which, frankly, Ukraine is on the brink of joining), where
the US basically takes sides in a civil war raging on that country’s
territory. But in any event, it’s clear that the more powerful vassals
can establish lines that the lord can’t cross.
more important the vassal, the greater the amount of spoils the lord has
to have fall off his table. So UK gets the F-35 source codes, Israel
gets billions of dollars of US weapons, Germany gets to cooperate with
the US in advanced weapon development, Poland gets some used F-16s. This
inequality of treatment is, incidentally, a source of considerable
chagrin among Poland’s elites who aspire to Category I treatment, but
don’t know how to make that “civilizational jump.” I get a distinct impression Ukraine’s post-Maidan elite is…disappointed…with the lowly Category III vassal status it was assigned. I suspect they were thinking “we’re gonna be just like Israel!”, forgetting for a moment that Israel, aside from having an ability to directly influence domestic US political process, is also genuinely useful as an ally to the US. The combination of these two factors accounts for Israel’s “favorite son” status. Ukraine has neither of these factors going for it, so it’s relegated to the doghouse.
Speaking of Ukraine. Whether it likes it or not, consistent with Category III vassal role as fodder to states higher on the food chain, Ukraine was supposed
to be part of the feudal reward scheme. It was supposed to be the
Ukrainian railroads, Ukrainian coalmines that were supposed to be taken
over by German (and, to a lesser extent, Polish) interests. Well, that
ship not only has sailed, it was blown up by a Russian torpedo and is
now resting in a very deep part of the ocean. So what is Germany to do?
One thing it can do is cannibalize another lower category vassal which is not
as important to the US as Germany itself is. So now it’s Greece, Italy,
Spain, Portugal and, yes, Poland on the chopping block. Hannibal’s
armies, unable to despoil Roman provinces, are reduced to despoiling the
provinces of its allies who were attracted by the prospect of a
victorious march on Rome. What’s worse, Hannibal’s allies are actually starting with one another, so that he now has his hands full trying to keep various components of his vast army from killing one another. In the final account, what happened to Hannibal’s diverse and
ally-heavy army as a result of this turn of events is a lot like what is
happening in the relationship that America has with its lesser and
greater vassals (though note that in most Polish articles Germany’s
power magnified by its proximity is such that it eclipses America’s
superior but more distant power) as well as in the relationship among
the vassals. Notice the rather futile US effort to get Germany to go easy on Greece.
How does the feudal lord and/or the more powerful
of its vassals respond? There are many options. You can always do
something desperate (and lose, because “something desperate” usually
means fighting under unfavorable conditions). You can seek accommodation
with your adversary. You can look for an easier source of spoils. Or
you can simply abdicate your feudal lord’s obligations since you can no
longer meet them. US foreign policy is right now at a crossroads.
Looking at the various US political candidates, it’s clear they are
exploring various combinations of the above options. We are also seeing greater and lesser vassals exploring various ways of returning to Russia’s good graces. But that’s a topic
for a separate article.