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Five Academics Who Unleashed the “Demon” of Geopolitical Power

Five Academics Who Unleashed the “Demon” of Geopolitical Power

Photo Source pedrik | CC BY 2.0

As Washington’s leadership fades more quickly than anyone could have imagined and a new global order struggles to take shape, a generation of leaders has crowded onto the world stage with their own bold geopolitical visions for winning international influence. Xi Xinping has launched his trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative” to dominate Eurasia and thereby the world beyond. To recover the Soviet Union’s lost influence, Vladimir Putin seeks to shatter the Western alliance with cyberwar, while threatening to dominate a nationalizing, fragmenting Eastern Europe through raw military power. The Trump White House, in turn, is wielding tariffs as weapons to try to beat recalcitrant allies back into line and cripple the planet’s rising power, China. However bizarrely different these approaches may seem, they all share one strikingly similar feature: a reliance on the concept of “geopolitics” to guide their bids for global power.

Over the past century, countless scholars, columnists, and commentators have employed the term “geopolitics” (or the study of global control) to lend gravitas to their arguments. Few, though, have grasped the true significance of this elusive concept. However else the term might be used, geopolitics is essentially a methodology for the management (or mismanagement) of empire. Unlike conventional nations whose peoples are, in normal times, readily and efficiently mobilized for self-defense, empires, thanks to their global reach, are a surprisingly fragile form of government. They seem to yearn for strategic visionaries who can merge land, peoples, and resources into a sustainable global system.

The practice of geopolitics, even if once conducted from horseback, is as old as empire itself, dating back some 4,000 years. Until the dawn of the twentieth century, it was the conquerors themselves — from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte — whose geopolitical visions guided the relentless expansion of their imperial domains.

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The CIA and Me: How I Learned Not to Love Big Brother

The CIA and Me: How I Learned Not to Love Big Brother

Photo by Andrea Yori | CC BY 2.0

In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Washington pursued its elusive enemies across the landscapes of Asia and Africa, thanks in part to a massive expansion of its intelligence infrastructure, particularly of the emerging technologies for digital surveillance, agile drones, and biometric identification. In 2010, almost a decade into this secret war with its voracious appetite for information, the Washington Post reported that the national security state had swelled into a “fourth branch” of the federal government — with 854,000 vetted officials, 263 security organizations, and over 3,000 intelligence units, issuing 50,000 special reports every year.

Though stunning, these statistics only skimmed the visible surface of what had become history’s largest and most lethal clandestine apparatus. According to classified documents that Edward Snowden leaked in 2013, the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies alone had 107,035 employees and a combined “black budget” of $52.6 billion, the equivalent of 10% percent of the vast defense budget.

By sweeping the skies and probing the worldwide web’s undersea cables, the National Security Agency (NSA) could surgically penetrate the confidential communications of just about any leader on the planet, while simultaneously sweeping up billions of ordinary messages. For its classified missions, the CIA had access to the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command, with 69,000 elite troops(Rangers, SEALs, Air Commandos) and their agile arsenal. In addition to this formidable paramilitary capacity, the CIA operated 30 Predator and Reaper drones responsible for more than 3,000 deaths in Pakistan and Yemen.

While Americans practiced a collective form of duck and cover as the Department of Homeland Security’s colored alerts pulsed nervously from yellow to red, few paused to ask the hard question: Was all this security really directed solely at enemies beyond our borders?

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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