Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In the Twilight of Empires

Last week’s post on the logic of nuclear deterrence in an age of decline got what was, all things considered, a much less irrational response than discussions of nuclear war generally field.  I’m not sure whether or not that counts as evidence for my theory that we’ve all somehow slipped into an alternate reality, the kind of eerie parallel universe where right-wing shock jocks quote archdruids approvingly and delusional claims about limitless shale oil get critiqued in the media.  Still, it’s emboldened me to go on to the second of the hot button topics I have in mind—perhaps the hottest of hot button topics these days, in fact, one that routinely attracts top-of-the-lungs bellowing from both ends of a hopelessly polarized debate.

Yes, it’s time to talk about Israel.

By this I don’t mean that we need to go through yet another round of who-did-what-to-whom rhetoric in the shrill tones of moral absolutism that pervade the subject these days. There’s a point to discussing ethical issues surrounding the origins, conduct, and future of the nation-state of Israel, to be sure, but that discussion is already happening elsewhere, or more precisely would be happening if most of the potential participants weren’t too busy shouting past each other.  What gets misplaced in all the noise, though, is that this is not the only discussion worth having.

In particular, the central theme of this series of posts—the decline and fall of America’s global empire—has aspects that are easiest to see from the perspective of one of America’s more vulnerable client states.  Those aspects are not particularly moral in nature, and the stridently self-righteous arguments that fill most current discussions of Israel’s fate have nothing to contribute here.  For the moment, then, I’d like to set aside squabbles about whether the nation-state of Israel as currently constituted should survive, and ask instead whether, in the post-American world of the not too distant future, it can survive. That’s a much simpler question, and the answer is equally simple:  no.

To explain that answer, I’d like to tell a story.  Once upon a time—isn’t that how stories are supposed to begin?—there was a group of people who believed that their god had promised them a particular corner of the Middle East, and decided to take him up on the offer. It so happened that conditions just then were propitious for their project.  The cultural politics of the major Western powers of the time favored it, and not merely in an abstract sense:  money and weapons could be had for the attempt, and a great deal more could be made available if the project succeeded in establishing a foothold.

Even more crucial was the state of the Middle East at that time.  The history of that region has a regular rhythm of systole and diastole that can be traced back very nearly to the earliest clay-tablet records: periods of centralization, in which a single major Middle Eastern power dominates as large a fraction of the world as the current transport technology will allow, alternate with periods of disintegration, in which the region fragments and turns into a chessboard on which powers from outside the region play their own power games.  At the time we’re discussing, the Middle East was in one of its diastole phases, fractured into small quarrelling states, and the sudden seizure of a strategically important part of the region drew only a local and ineffective response.

So a new state came into being, surrounded by hostile neighbors, and a great deal of the shrill self-justifying rhetoric already described came from both sides of the new frontiers. Several of the major Western powers supported the new state with significant financial and military aid; of at least equal importance, members of the religious community responsible for creating the new state, who remained back in those same Western nations, engaged in vigorous fundraising efforts to support the new state, and equally vigorous political efforts to get existing governmental support maintained or increased. The resources thus made available to the new state gave it a substantial military edge against its hostile neighbors, and its existence became enough of a fait accompli that some of its neighbors backed away from a wholly confrontational stance.

Still, the state’s survival depended on three things.  The first, and by far the most crucial, was the ongoing flow of support from the Western powers to pay for a military establishment far larger than the economic and natural resources of the territory in question would permit.  The second was the continued fragmentation and relative weakness of the surrounding states.  The third was the maintenance of internal peace within the state and of collective assent to a clear sense of priorities, so that it could respond with its full force to threats from outside instead of squandering its limited resources on civil strife or popular projects that contributed nothing to its survival.

In the long run, none of these three conditions could be met indefinitely.  Shifts in cultural politics and, more importantly, in the economic stability of the Western powers of the time turned the large subsidies supporting the state into a political liability that eventually lost out in the struggle for available wealth. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, the power struggles between competing statelets began to give way to a new era of centralization.  Finally, the internal cohesion of the state broke down in power struggles between different factions, and too many resources had been committed to politically necessary but practically useless projects such as the support of large religious communities that did nothing but pray and study the scriptures.  The arrogant certainty that the state could always overcome its enemies and that the Western powers owed it the subsidies that paid for its survival put bitter icing on an already overbaked cake, and all but guaranteed the final disaster.

And that, dear reader, was why the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem fell to the armies of Saladin in  1187, and why the last scraps of the kingdoms of Outremer, as the Crusaders called the land now known as Israel, were mopped up by Muslim armies over the century that followed.

Now I’m quite aware that comparing the current state of Israel to the Crusader states of Outremer is waving a red flag at some already overexcited bulls.  Any of my readers who are ready to leap up and insist that Israel either can or can’t be compared to the Crusaders on moral grounds are encouraged to stop, and remember that that’s not what we’re talking about. The relative moral standing of Crusaders and Israelis is irrelevant to the issues this post is trying to discuss; what’s relevant is that, in the purely pragmatic realms of politics and war, there are a great many parallels between the two examples.

To begin with, Israel, as Outremer did in its time, depends for its survival on very large subsidies from the major Western powers.  In the case of Israel, those mostly come from the United States.  The US government spends many billions of dollars a year on direct and indirect aid to Israel, while America’s large and relatively wealthy Jewish community—which comprises the largest number of Jews in any single nation on Earth—engages in a great deal of fundraising for Israel on its own behalf.  Many synagogues and other Jewish community instititions in America serve just as effectively to channel resources to Israel as, say, the European properties and chapter houses of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller did to keep wealth and weapons flowing to the kingdoms of Outremer.  Without that aid, governmental and private, the large and well-equipped Israeli military would be far too great a burden on the economy of what is, after all, a very small and resource-poor country, and the balance of power in the region would shift dramatically to Israel’s disadvantage.

Equally, the continued fragmentation of the Middle East is a crucial factor in Israel’s survival. The last two centuries or so have seen the long rhythm of Middle Eastern history enter a diastole period, splintering the once-powerful Ottoman Empire into more than two dozen small, quarrelsome, and vulnerable nations that were generally unable to counter incursions from Europe and America. To a real extent, the current condition of the Middle East is one of waiting for the next Saladin, with Iran, Turkey, or a future Islamic Republic of Arabia likely contenders for the center around which the next Middle Eastern superstate will coalesce. Of course it’s a core principle of Israeli diplomacy and military strategy to prevent the emergence of a single center of power capable of  mobilizing any large fraction of the resources of the Arab world; still, it bears remembering that this was an equally central principle of the strategy of Outremer, and the Crusaders’ efforts in this direction eventually failed.

I don’t propose to pass judgment on the current state of Israeli politics and culture, even to the extent of deciding whether current trends toward political factionalism and the support of Orthodox communities at state expense do or don’t mirror the vicious political infighting of the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s final decades and the economic burden of Christian monasteries and nunneries that played so large a role in weakening Outremer. The crucial point just now, it seems to me, is Israel’s dependence on a constant inflow of funds from the United States.  If that goes away, the military balance of power shifts irrevocably, and so does the Israeli government’s capacity to afford the unproductive but politically necessary payoffs that maintain such social cohesion as there is; these shifts, in turn, promise an outcome as unwelcome to Israel, at least as currently constituted, as the equivalent was to Outremer.

One of the central consequences of the trajectory of imperial decline we’ve been discussing over the course of the past year, in turn, is that the capacity of the United States government to afford lavish subsidies to client states overseas, as well as the capacity of any significant group of American citizens to carry out large-scale fundraising projects on their own, will not last indefinitely.  The United States has the ample wealth that allows it to support Israel because of the imperial wealth pump, that is to say, the systematic patterns of unbalanced exchange that funnel an oversized share of the world’s wealth into American hands.  As those patterns break down—and they are breaking down already—the subsidies that keep the Israeli economy afloat and make its current rate of military expenditure possible  will inevitably slow to a trickle and then stop.

 When that happens, Israel will find itself backed into a corner with no readily available means of escape. Finding another nation willing to take over the American role as sugar daddy is easier said than done; much of the support Israel gets from the US comes out of the fact that the American Jewish community is one of the better organized veto groups in American politics just now, with the votes and funding to swing a close election, while none of the rising powers likely to take over America’s role in the world has either a large enough Jewish minority or a political system sufficiently gridlocked to allow the same sort of pressure to be applied.  Given a choice between funding Israel and placating the petroleum-rich nations and ample export markets of the Arab world, it’s not hard to see where, for example, China’s obvious interest lies.

Lacking outside support, in turn, Israel faces a future in which it can no longer dominate its region and may not be able to ward off military threats.  Its military depends, like most modern militaries, on large and reliable inputs of petroleum products, and petroleum is one of the many resources that Israel lacks; its ability to import as much gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and so on as it needs depends, like so much else, on the subsidies it gets from the United States.  The ability to field a large and technically advanced military machine also depends on those direct and indirect subsidies.  Lacking them, Israel’s military potential is not much greater than, say, Lebanon’s or Jordan’s—not enough, in other words, to sustain anything like its current dominance.  Its nuclear arsenal gives it a temporary edge, but one that will last only until a rival power in the region equips itself with its own stockpile of warheads and delivery systems.

It’s probably necessary at this point to put paid to one of the widely repeated fantasies of our time, the notion that Israel might set out to guarantee its survival by threatening the rest of the world with nuclear war, or might simply start flinging warheads around in the event of its imminent demise. That’s one of those theories that seems to make sense as long as no one asks what happens next. The downside to any such action on Israel’s part, of course, is that the nations threatened or attacked would be able to respond with far more compelling threats and far more devastating reprisals.

To begin with, Israel is a very small country.  Any nation with a significant nuclear arsenal could turn the whole of it into incandescent ash, along with its entire population, and still have bombs left over.  The threat to wreck a city or two has very little clout when the cost of following through on that threat could quite easily amount to immediate national annihilation.

Furthermore, many of the nations that might plausibly be threatened with a bomb or two can respond at least as effectively by means of conventional warfare. Let’s imagine, for example, that Israel were to threaten Russia, among other countries, with nuclear bombs—we’ll assume, borrowing one of the common tropes, that the bombs in question have been smuggled into Saint Petersburg and Moscow—unless something is done to stop an otherwise unstoppable Arab advance.  Anyone who thinks Russia would respond in a manner favorable to Israel knows nothing of Russian culture or history, but then that’s a common mistake on this side of the Atlantic.

We’ll assume, for the moment, that for some reason the Russian government decides not to inform the Israelis calmly that thirty minutes after either bomb goes off, a MIRV-tipped missile or two will return the favor to Tel Aviv with several hundred kilotons of interest.  The obvious alternative is to inform the Israelis with equal sang-froid that if either bomb goes off, Russia will declare war on Israel, and twenty or thirty Russian divisions with air support and all the other desiderata of modern warfare will join the Arab forces assaulting Israel. We don’t even need to talk about what additional threats the Russian government might quietly make concerning, for example, Russia’s remaining Jewish population. The same logic applies to other countries facing some comparable threat, since the only nation that would face assured destruction in a nuclear exchange with Israel, after all, is Israel.

The existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, mind you, makes it unlikely that the sort of final Arab assault beloved of American fundamentalist apocalypse-mongers will happen at any point in the near to middle future. A far more likely scenario, as America’s empire enters its twilight, would see economic and political crisis in Israel spiraling out of control as moderate and extremist factions scramble for control of a dwindling stock of wealth and resources, and everyone who has the resources and common sense to flee the country gets out.  How the endgame would play out is anyone’s guess at this point, and it’s not impossible that a few mushroom clouds may have a part in it one way or another. As I mentioned in last week’s post, the next few decades may well see a few nuclear weapons being used, and it’s exactly in situations like Israel’s that this seems most likely.

The western shores of the Pacific Ocean include another flashpoint of the same kind.  Taiwan is another American client state that has everything to lose as America’s global empire goes down, and it’s also a likely focus of the old and bitter geopolitical rivalry between China and Japan. It’s a core requirement of Chinese policy to regain control of Taiwan in order to secure the Chinese coast against any hostile power; Ir’s an equally core requirement of Japanese policy to keep China from regaining control of Taiwan, in order to secure the sea lanes that carry Japan’s fuel and food supplies against Chinese interdiction. It’s hard to think of a more perfect zero-sum game in the post-American world.  Japan’s position is by far the weaker, and it will face the difficult choice between submitting to Chinese suzerainty, and going to war as it did in 1941 against a rising superpower with vastly greater resources. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty.

That’s the sort of thing that happens routinely in the twilight of empires, when client states that have staked everything on support from an imperial patron find themselves twisting in the wind. In empires that expand by annexing territory, it’s the frontier provinces that get clobbered first and hardest when decline sets in; in empires that prefer to expand by building a network of client states, it’s the client states closest to major hostile powers that generally pay the heaviest price when the empire falters. Israel is wedged tightly into such a position; and its fate will be the result of the hard realities of history, not of any set of ethical considerations—nor, it probably has to be said, of which side in the current debates claims the moral high ground most loudly.

End of the World of the Week #49

What could be more colorful than a rogue planet crashing into the Earth, or at least sweeping by close enough to send the poles topsy-turvy and wipe out most of humanity?  Whether or not that’s what motivated New Age writer and self-proclaimed extraterrestrial abductee Nancy Lieder to announce, in 1995,  the imminent and Earth-wrecking arrival of the planet Nibiru, her proclamation quickly became a cause célèbre in New Age circles. The name of the planet came from the ancient-astronaut theories of Zechariah Sitchin, who got it from ancient Babylonian astrology texts via his own dubious translations, but Sitchin’s notions were quickly swallowed up by the apocalypse meme once Lieder got hold of it—or, as she described the situation, was warned of it by the little gray aliens from Zeta Reticuli who talk to her via a mysterious implant in her brain.

Lieder’s original prediction was that Nibiru would come zooming past Earth on May 27, 2003, causing the Earth to stop rotating for 5.9 days and then undergo a pole shift. When that didn’t happen, she stopped giving specific dates, but still insists that Nibiru’s arrival will happen very, very soon. Fortunately for connoisseurs of absurdity, others are not so squeamish, and this June, the Weekly World News loudly announced that Nibiru’s long-awaited collision with the Earth would take place on November 21, 2012.

Yes, that’s today. So, dear reader, if you’re sitting at your computer reading this, and haven’t been scattered into interplanetary dust by a vagrant planet, the long list of failed apocalyptic predictions has just gained another entry...

—for more failed end time prophecies, see my book Apocalypse Not


John Michael Greer said...

As I noted in the post, Israel is a hot button topic these days, and I've seen far too many attempts to have a conversation about anything connected to it that almost instantly devolved into incoherent shouting. For that reason, I'm going to be moderating comment more strictly than usual this week. In particular, the who-did-what-to-whom rhetoric and moral posturing I mentioned early in the post is off topic, and any comment attempting to drag the discussion back to that overworked set of tropes will not be put through. 'Nuf said.

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

Awesome post.

As a westerner who has lived in Japan and now Taiwan while watching China raise a formidable military, I've come to think neither would stand a chance against the PRC without US support. Taiwan only exists as a state because of US protection.

Taiwan is already being bought by Chinese business interests. A lot of Taiwanese expats live in cities like Shanghai. There is no sense of widespread patriotism in Taiwan anymore because everyone knows they're still Chinese and this current political arrangement doesn't make for a unique national identity. People funnel their time and resources into making money and enjoying life, not nationalism with the exception of the small pro-independence crowd.

If push came to shove the business community which runs the place would probably just cave in and insist on some "sustainable reunification process" as they'd have too much lose, and in the absence of nationalism I don't think the population would argue much.

Castus said...


Thought provoking. I would share this with people I knew if I also knew that it wouldn't immediately cause them to go mad and foam at the mouth. Most people in the modern world have a very strong opinion on the situation in Holy Land and unfortunately, that makes it non-conducive to lucid conversations.

But at least I can get something out of this!


Robert said...

I had an argument with an Israel supporter back in 2009 after Operation Cast Lead and I tried to convince them that at some point America would decline and the military balance of power would swing to the East. She claimed that if necessary the Israelis would use their nuclear weapons and to use the classic trope bring down the temple on their heads. I've heard this expression used elsewhere.

I don't believe this is anything more than a bluff. If Israel were losing a conventional war and was threatened with invasion it might threaten to nuke an Arab city but all the Arab commander would have to do would be to say if you commit genocide against one of our cities I will not be responsible for what my men do to your women when Tel Aviv falls. Alternatively you can surrender now and I will guarantee their safety. In such circumstances the Israelis would have to be psychotic to use their nukes.

Also the world reaction to an Israeli nuclear strike would seriously endanger the safety of Jews everywhere in the disapora and they must know that.

Andrew H said...


I wonder how much (if any) 'aid' to Isreal will be affected if the US falls over the so called 'Fiscal Cliff'. Perhaps it might just be the first step.
Any sign the Jewish population there is exerting pressure on the GOP to come to a compromise?



Thijs Goverde said...

Hooo boy, Israel! In the parlance of our times: pass teh popcorn.

Some of my smartest friends turn completely irrational when Israel is mentioned; that's always a bit embarassing.

Another friend of mine is Israeli as well as Dutch, and he has a lot of family there. I hope for his sake they will be alright in times to come, although I realise that's a bit selfish of me; their being alright automattically entails a great many others being not alright. That, I guess, is just the way the cookie crumbles. Fotunately my hopes carry exactly zero weight when it comes to determining the history of the Middle East, so I'm spared any anguish over this moral conundrum.

By the way, I loved the way you talked about Outremer. You totally had me there - I am most certainly going to forward it to my more irrational friends, just for laughs!

Leo said...

While i assume Australia's a client state, we'll hopefully be spared most of the problems by inherent isolation and sheer distance all the major population centres are from anyone else.

TaylorTeal said...

Excellent post! I agree with pretty much everything you said. I think you hit the nail on the head and I feel really bad for what might happen in Israel, Taiwan and Japan.
Japan seems to really be nearing the end. And I love Japan and Japanese people; I don't want bad things to happen, but things are not looking good: -3.5 GDP, soon will be in 3rd recession in 4 years, trade deficit, few natural resources, hostile neighbors, poor demographics (they sold more adult diapers last year than baby diapers), and on and on.
Which do you think happens first, Israel and/or Taiwan are brought down by America's decline, or Japan collapses under its own problems?

Jim R said...

In the who-did-what department, I think Nina Paley's animation sums it up nicely, covering four or five thousand years' history in only 3:32.

She also did a clever mashup of the Ramayana a few years ago.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

This comment is basically errata for last week's post, but feels oddly appropriate for this week's topic.

I've been reading your blog for awhile now and I finally ordered some of your books. In a previous post a commenter asked how to order them so that you got the biggest commission and you said local book stores were the best option. I ordered them from Amazon.

I ordered them from Amazon because I live in a weird sort of monastery to the modern religion; a secluded society dedicated to the pursuit of our highest aims of science and technology. We built the bomb.

Los Alamos has branched out from it's early days of nuclear weapons research to include sequencing the human genome, supercomputing, green energy, and nuclear weapons research. But despite the highest concentration of PhDs in the world and one of the highest per capita incomes we have no book store.

I guess that my little rant about Los Alamos feels appropriate to the topic of Israel because my contemporary normative notions of modernity expect a wealthy and educated community to support a book store. In much the same way that I expect an enlightened world to provide a safe haven for the Jews that were so heavily persecuted in WWII and before. And in much the same way I expect an enlightened world to end what looks like apartheid in what was the mandate of Palestine.

Needless to say my notions of modernity have no effect on reality; there is no book store in Los Alamos.

John Michael Greer said...

Jeffrey, I hope so. Given the geopolitical situation, a peaceful reunion is probably the least unpleasant available outcome.

Castus, glad it's of use! Yes, I've seen the same effect with too many others.

Robert, as I mentioned last week, a lot of people say a lot of silly things when nukes come up. I think it comes from not actually having any responsibility for what happens.

Andrew, not that I've seen.

Thijs, the subject is definitely a craziness magnet. Please do forward it to your friends; once the yelling is over, it might just make 'em think a bit.

Leo, you've got one of the most crowded countries on Earth within easy sailing distance of your northern coast. Australia's going to have to make some very hard choices once the US goes down.

Taylor, heck of a good question. That's one of those things that can't be predicted in advance, since it depends on a galaxy of local factors and specific events.

Jim, that'd be funny if it wasn't so true.

Tim, thank you for ordering them, anyway!

Cake the Small said...

HeyYa John Michael,
Thank you! You have teased us readers with a post about Israel fo some time now and it's been worth the wait. When it's time, I will enjoy your hinted-at thoughts on the proliferation of zombie apocalypse computer games. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Clare.

Tam said...

Interesting post, but it all rests on the assumption that Israel couldn't find another sponsor after the US.
You might be right, but I wonder whether other countries, in particular, Russia, (to humiliate the US, if for no other reason...) or Germany, (for fairly obvious historical reasons) might step in to help Israel out. They'd probably offer far more qualified support than the US does, but that could ultimately be exactly what Israel needs...

Avery said...

JMG, you got the very beginning of the story wrong. Zionism was never a religious movement. It was actually anti-religious, and the religious Jews opposed it. You can check Wikipedia to confirm this.

That said, your analysis of their military resources is correct and not very controversial, I don't think. As a religious quasi-Zionist I think it's time for Israeli Jews to start taking the future seriously.

Raymond Wharton said...

Brilliant, I was actually wondering to myself if you would be touching Israel in your hot button series. I am glad to see that you did.

How consistent is the pattern that the more entrenched a predicament becomes the more overcharged and hot-button any attempts to discuss it publicly become? Are there any cultural habits of thought to speak of which would effect such an association? Hopefully I will find some time to read Bateson this winter.

In the context of the catabolic cycle, what are the implications of a client state being cut off from a wealth pump, locally and globally? Especially poorly positioned client states could face very rapid changes in way of life, perhaps even more volatile than the imperial state. How much resource does an imperial state save for itself by letting go of a client; what are the costs to the imperial state of letting a client state drop hard? I must imagine the wreckage from such an event would it self seed ten thousand troubles.

J9 said...

Hi JMG! Great post, great thread, great blog!
@Leo - thanks for bringing up Aust as a client state. In this context it really shows why the PM et al have been so keen to put a bob each way on tryiing to develop 'closer ties' w China, but not alienate the US.
IMHO failing a little on the China front as they are keeping the r'ship pragmatic - 'you dig it, we'll buy it'.

Leo said...

While the Indonesians will certainly take the north coast, considering current population levels (even Tasmania has more people) and personal experience from travelling there, thats not a huge problem. Its relatively uninhabitable, filled with crocdiles and snakes and the qualities needed for a population in the millions (or just a million). Moving via land from the north coast for large amounts of people on foot is also impossible

Whats more likely is the loss of trade routes though that region, which would create more isolation, or raiders.

My bets on the iranians forming the Middle Eastern superpower, by all counts they're smart people.

Chris Travers said...

A couple quick points.

First regarding the theory that Israel might use nuclear weapons if it feels it has nothing to lose, I agree with you that this is unlikely, but I disagree as to why. I do think that Israel could safely launch a retaliatory strike in the case of an actual nuclear attack but that raises the problem you mention which is that they are a small country.

But for a first strike there is a major problem. Israel depends for its survival on two things: US aid and EU trade. The first is in danger if Israel uses a nuclear weapon first. The second one would surely disappear overnight in the event of such a strike. Israel has already had major run-ins with the EU over conflicts with neighbors and the EU wins every time it decides to actually take action and, say, stop buying Israeli products.

The second point has to do with the Asian flashpoint. Japan is starting to remilitarize, but economically they are still in tough shape. Taiwan I think is more of a simple gain for China than something aimed at Japan. The real flash point between China and Japan though is Korea and the US policy there is to maintain division for fear of a unified Chinese-allied Korea threatening Japan. If Korea unifies, keep in mind that South Korea's largest trading partner is China. This has the potential to really heat up a conflict between China and Japan.

PioneerPreppy said...

The US in decline would mean the same for Russia and China, at least financially. I am not sure that would help in Taiwan's situation but I believe it would help Israel's.

If your theory is holding out for another Saladin we can just as easily throw a David reborn into the mix as well. While the money and arms have certainly helped Israel they are not the only advantage the IDF has and a reduction in Israel's support would be matched by similar reductions in the other player's support as well from other countries. Not the least of which would be arm imports.

Yes Israel and the US along with others like to keep the Middle East in factions and squabbling with each other but it isn't like it takes some miracle of underhanded diplomacy to do it. The various tribes have done a very good job of that themselves over the centuries. Finally it would take more than a Saladin reborn to make a real fighting force out of the armies those Muslim countries would field. It would require years of defeat and embarrassing losses before the Arab states would be willing to unify their own factions and accept a Saladin to begin with.

In the end Israel would fall more than likely but it would take a very long time and many chapters before the end. The decline of the American empire and it's support would only be the first chapter of that story.

phil harris said...

Nice one JMG
There is a strong anti-Israel minority strand in both right and left British political thinking - and only some of it has a murky anti-Semitic past. A few (?) remaining British empire buffs tend to blame the USA for Israel's existence, which is one way of putting responsibility elsewhere. I guess perhaps a majority of middle class who might be interested take the line that Israel is a modern progressive high-performing tip of 'civilisation' set against a backwash of unreasonable terrorists and dangerous religion. No evidence to support it, but I guess most Brits do not care and/or are clueless.


Sabretache said...

Thanks for yet another determindly rational and thought-provoking post.

It's persuasive analysis of what the future likely holds for Israel prompts me to takes a close look at two issues which I've never really considered much before:

1. The extent to which Jewish diaspora wealth and substantial influence over the media and host politics can/will be maintained through a US Empire decline.
2. The ultimate loyalties of both the US and Western Alliance military establishments - ie. to whom/what is the allegiance of their respective officer classes sworn.

It Seems to me that researching and pondering both of those is likely to be time well spent in fine tuning your prognosis.

Considering the increasingly militarized nature of both the US and Western European societies (eg. Our UK PM says things like "I want to put the military at the centre of our national life"; fatigue-clad soldiers mingle with the Olympic crowds and nary a whisper of dissent) item 2 takes on particular significance. It seems to me unlikely that UK and European retreat into nationalism of ANY kind will bode well for either Israel or the Jewish diaspora - deja view anyone?

Karim said...

Greetings all!

Excellent post as usual! About 25 years ago, when I was at University in London, I met a Jewish student (and we still e-mail to each other on occasion). We more or less agreed that beyond the moral issues, it was clear then that without US support, Israel would be faced with an intractable situation.

I was of the opinion (and still is) that one way out would be to cut a deal with the Palestinians as soon as possible whilst Israel was still in a dominant position to ensure a lasting peace so that Arabs and Jews could live together in peace, justice and harmony! (Well we all have some degree of naivety!)

Furthermore, as time goes by and the US empire begins to crack it seems to me that the ONLY WAY to guarantee that Israel, in some form or shape survives, is actually to do what morality dictates: make peace with one's neighbours and reciprocally. An interesting case of morality and politics re-enforcing each other!

I even ventured to say that an Israeli-Palestinian Federation would be a great idea. And yes I am sober!

Your account of Middle East History in terms of systolic and diastolic phases is really good and I agree that sooner or later a regional power will coalesce other countries into a larger political entity. As soon as US power wanes seriously, this new regional power will begin making serious moves. The current phase of political trouble there is conducive to the nucleus of such a new regional power. Needless to say, China will do every thing it possibly can do assist its birth and beyond.

For what's it's worth, my best bet for the next regional power would be the coalescence of parts of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon because of its large population base, large agricultural areas, large rivers, oil and gas, fairly well educated population, a common language and history, overlapping cultures, religions and a tradition of some tolerance towards minorities!

Well that's my contribution!

cracked pot said...

Living in Israel, I think a major concern is population overshoot. Israel currently exports about 80% of its wheat (mostly from the US) through two main ports, both of which are within missile-range from Lebanon and Gaza. Israel also has one of the highest birthrates of any Western country, and nobody is talking about trying to reduce it. COuple that with the effects global warming will likely have on the region. The population will have to shrink somehow - the way I see it happening is that most wealthy and secular Jews will leave the country, thus crippling it economically (today over 50% of the state budget comes from taxing the top 10%). That will probably leave the Arabs and a traditional and mostly ideological Jewish population. I actually think that if this were the case, it would be easier for the Israelis and Palestinians to actually work something out together. It's easier for a religion to respect and understand another religion than it is to understand the current form of secularized, materialized Western society.
Also, there is the possibilty that once Iran has a nuclear weapon, it will actually become more moderate (either through ground-up revolutions, or by the government becoming more even-headed once it realizes the power they have in its hands), and it could form an alliance with Israel.

phil harris said...

My apologies.
I usually try not to put words into other persons mouths, but I have just done so on TOD's Drumbeat of 21st November in reply to a link and comment discussing 'collapse'
Please correct me if I misrepresent your position. Thanks. Phil
Yes, a thoughtful article on collapse.
Thread commenter mentions Greer.
Greer as I understand him is talking about the slow lurching up and down collapse of industrial civilisation - with follow-on dark ages after a hundred or a few hundred years or so. (In a dark-age you do not have even the resources you had before the flowering of the said civilisation.)On the other hand Greer's discussion of the collapse of empires suggests from historical comparisons (comparison based on scale-free factors) that collapse is often swift, where the hegemon's core region fractures into ‘statelets’, and a new hegemon arises elsewhere whose reach depends on transport technology and resources available at the time. He thinks the benefits the US derives from empire e.g. imported resources, are already in visible decline and the balance of powers is shifting toward tipping points.
Anyway, that is my reading."

Phil Knight said...

Excellent post - probably the only piece on Israel that I can remember over the last, oohh, 20+ years, that's worth reading.

One thing I would say is that the end of Israel may not be the end of the Israeli people. The Ottomon Empire IIRC peacefully supported quite a large Jewish population, and if a country like Turkey were to become the dominant power again, then it might be prepared to leave the current occupants of Israel in place, all be it minus the legal and status privileges.

Obviously, that would require a certain amount of humility on the part of the Israelis, but you never know....

Hypnos said...

Yes, the Crusader states is such an apt comparison. People tend to think they were ephemeral, but they actually lasted a century. That would give Israel until 2048. Sounds like a reasonable timeframe.

Of course, it didn't have to work out that way. They two state solution was a very real possibility in the '90s which Israel just forsake (regardless of who did what, the strongest party always shares most of the responsibility in taking a negotiation to the end). It would have had to be followed by a one state solution eventually, but with a reconciliation process like South Africa's it could have worked. Unfortunately it appears Israel's Mandela was shot in 1995.

Now they have chosen to go the way of Southern Rhodesia. You might notice it's not called that anymore.

Mean Mr Mustard said...


Regarding nukes and Israel these past two posts, coincidentally, I just got myself a copy of 'Those Who Had The Power - South Africa - an unofficial Nuclear Weapons History!. (Badenhorst and Victor) Fairly unreadable like a bad thesis, but a few interesting snippets and insights nevertheless. In particular, it's worth noting that the De Klerk regime decommissioned their modest weapons stockpile ahead of inevitable regime change. As they head further into decline, maybe that was a smart move.

Of course, the PW Botha regime was heavily dependent on advanced Israeli tech knowledge in many areas of their defence effort besides the covert nuclear programme, but in the end, the massive costs combined with sanctions rendered it unsustainable.

I'd also recommend Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi's 'The Israeli Connection - whom Israel Arms and Why' - the back cover summarises it thus -

"Israel and the Pariahs - South Africa, Iran, Taiwan and South Korea
Israel and the Right-wing dictatorships
Israel and the Third World - arms for influence"



Bill Pulliam said...

Just about everything about the middle east at present is structured by huge inputs of money and military power from the West, North, and East. Ergo, one should expect that nothing about the middle east will remain the same as the rest of the world hits the hard limits to growth. This should be blatantly obvious, and yet it hardly enters the discussion in most circles.

Just makes me glad to be an animist, because I have an entire planet-full of Holy Land

Teo mihailoiu said...

I thought about those issues myself.
Great post as usual.

1. Taiwan is going to be reunited with the mainland. The problem was a "dynastic" debate almost forgotten now. Periodically China splits. But each time it reunites it is a little bit bigger. Constant demographic
2. Japan will be crushed by the energy economics changes.
You already discussed it much better then I ever could.
3. The hot potato I think it's rather more complicated.
Some will bail out. But others will not and will go to the end of the story.
It is going to be one of the most heroic and spectacular stories of out age.
Israel never ever mentioned the idea that some cities might be nuked in case it faced destruction. Never such a thing.
What they threatened was complete destruction of their enemies.
Nuclear arsenal is in the range of hundreds of explosive devices.
Biological weapons are a very probable option also. I am not talking about anthrax or something similar. Rather superweapons like ebolapox.
I believe the desire of Israelis to survive and the amount of effort they are willing to spare in order to insure that are extremely underestimated.
No Superstate will be born in the Middle East on the corpse of Israel. Because a MENA area as we know it today would not exist any more.
Not one or two cities would turn to ash. All of them would.
Very interesting and spectacular evolutions in store it seems.

Western World would still have decades of prosperity ahead if the take over of Eurasia would have been successful(meaning former USSR). The stakes were huge but it could not be done.
Because the Russian response to an open attempt to wipe them out would have been something similar to an Israeli one. Russian strategic forces would have eliminated all western cities. And kill the largest majority of the inhabitants of the Western World.
No matter how tempting the prize was it was impossible to take it and survive.
I do not see anyone supporting the destruction of Israel from outside the area. And from the area also.
The amount of destruction Israelis would bring on the head of an existential enemy is beyond anything tat might be gained.
I see accommodation in the future.
The future Israeli semi theocracy will find a modus vivendi with whomever will be the dominant power in the area.
There is no reason for example why a future Persian Empire ( in a very loose form as it always was) would not accept to cooperate with a sort of semi vassal/enemy Israeli theocracy.
A Turkish one would be more dangerous. But that is one of the reasons why Turkey will be crushed and fragmented.
I do believe that after Syria the next target will be Turkey. And a very nice civil war they will receive. Plus a financial collapse of course.
So in conclusion I think Israel will survive. As a theocratic dystropia and a very poor one.
About long term future of course no attempt to predict anything has any sense so I'll pass that.

Diotima said...

John -- I agree entirely. Israel will not survive without US backing, and US backing is a finite thing. Not sure how you feel about astrology, but, interestingly, I just posted about Israel's chart last night, and made the point that the country's very existence is entirely dependent on allies and neighbors. The post is here:
In the post, I also noted that this cease fire won't last, but really, one does not even need the astrology to predict that.

gaias daughter said...

I have been watching the news on the current conflict in Israel with a high level of concern for possible escalation, and find your analysis to be disturbing but both rational and realistic. But it is the China/Japan story that I find most compelling. An article this week's Time Magazine is extremely informative:,9171,2129409,00.html

Of course, with all the attention given to the demise of the Hostess Twinkie, the main stream media hasn't gotten around to reporting the international news, the only exception being the coverage of Gaza. Here is another story that seems to have escaped notice:

Sorry for not having clickable links -- but copy and paste will get one there!

Jasmine said...

Dear Mr Greer
That was a good post. Using the example of the Crusaders kingdom as an historical parallel for the situation with Israel was a good stroke. As for Taiwan, their best option would be to follow the example of Hong Kong which was handed back to China by the UK in 1997. If I remember correctly, the UK had a treaty in 1898 which gave it a lease of 99 years over the new territories. The UK would still retain sovereignty over Hong Kong Island, but this would not have been much of a viable entity once the new territories were handed over. Therefore the Thatcher government negotiated a treaty to hand over Hong Kong in 1997, with an agreement to allow it to have its own special status and form of government for the next 50 years. So far the Chinese have kept to their agreement. Taiwan would be better off negotiating an agreement with China now, while they still have American support and can get a good deal. If they leave it until American power collapses,then China will be able to make their own terms through the barrel of a gun. The same principle applies to Israel. They would be much better off reaching a peace deal now, while they are backed up by American power. If they don’t then they could be left in a precarious position.
Probably the most important attitude America and it client states are going to need is Pragmatism. Pragmatism is something that Britain was fairly good at during its period of empire and the subsequent imperial decline. Of course, like all empires the British were capable of cruelty, arrogance and pride. Those periods when British policy was driven by arrogance, pride and an attitude of exceptionalism usually ended badly. The most obvious example was the period leading up to the American Revolution in 1776. With the exception of Suez in 1956, British policy after the Second World War was largely pragmatic, which enabled it to come out of the process of imperial decline intact and relatively unscathed. This is a lesson that America and its client states are going to have to learn if they want to do the same.

DesertedPictures said...

You write this post where in the future of client states is inevitably grim: but might they not be able to influence their ulitimate fate, (up to a point)?

I think it's important to remember that the image of the US-empire is still quite high: the values of democracy and human rights (imagined as they may be) are better 'export-products' then the dictatorship-values of China. In other words: nations are far more willing to roll over for the big dog, if they think it has their best-interest at hand. China is presumed to be a far more (openly) hostile nation, for example

Japan, for example, might not be able to keep the Chinese at bay, on it's own: but is it not possible that Japan might form an alliance with allies in the region. I can imagine (semi)-democratic nations like India, Thailand, Korea
that want to maintain their independence (and are more culturally similar) in light of a rising (slightly more autotarian) new empire forming some sort of defense association.

That would not prevent a global Chinese empire: but it might limit it's influence.

Robert said...

The parallel with Outremer makes a lot of sense. The Israelis can be seen as a Crusader state of sorts wearing the Star of David instead of the Cross.

When the First Crusade took Jerusalem they murdered most of the Jewish inhabitants of the city. Many tried to take refuge in a synagogue which was burned to the ground. When Saladin reconquered Jerusalem he spared the Christian and Jewish inhabitants of the city. At the time of the Crusades the Muslim world was more advanced than Europe. Islam was not intolerant in its early centuries and historically Jews were better treated in the Muslim world than they were in Christian Europe. The Arab and Muslim world is now sadly full of antisemtism but the chief reason for this is Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

russell1200 said...

The Israel/Judea state founded by King David came to power after a large collapse/withdrawal of the various Empires of the time: Hittites, Egypt, Homeric Greeks, Cypress, etc. It lost its independence when the large states recovered and returned to the area.

The Phoenicians (Canaanites) , the northern neighbor next door neighbors also rose and fell within this cycle. In their case, the colony of Carthage, was far enough removed to survive.

Israel today is similar to those early city states survive on a thin populated belt near the coast. They do not have enough depth to survive incursions from larger neighbors.

There has been study done that shows that during times of international piece, there is a tendancy for there to be a fragmentation of country/nation size as the smaller nations piggy back off the security provided by the great power s of their day. Israel is not alone in being threatened if international peace breaks down in a general way.

Don Plummer said...

I read somewhere (can't remember where so I can't give a reference) that mere population demographics probably doom Israel, apart from military threats, decline of the US empire, and international politics. The culprit here is a huge disparity in birth rate between Israelis and Palestinians. I think the source said that by something like 2024, barring a huge Jewish migration to Israel between now and then, the Palestinian population within Israel and the occupied territories will exceed the Israeli population.

Twilight said...

Yes, Israel has an area about the size of New Jersey with almost no natural resources, including water. Some are clearly aware of this, hence the attempts to secure access to the rivers in southern Lebanon as well as oil or gas pipeline access where they might position themselves as transit brokers for other's energy resources. But these seem like long shots.

And Japan is in very desperate straights. The effects of the (ongoing) Fukushima nuclear catastrophe have only begun to be felt, and this will be crushing to a nation with a small area and an already ailing economy. The costs of that will be just incredible, both economically, socially and in the loss of habitable land. I doubt Japan will be able to contest much of anything in regard to China.

South Korea is another US client state that will be interesting to watch.

Juhana said...

English is not my native language, so I beg your pardon if I make many mistakes with your funny language. I have been reading your blog for a a while now from my European home country. Have to say, you probably got it right with future prospects of Canaan. Still, it seems to me that your relative safety inside huge colossus of USA blinds you to fear factor of pogromi... Having pogromi hanging over your national head can bury factional infighting. Here in Finland we had that situation with soviets during last big one,communists (about 20 % of voters during that time)and hard core nationalists fighting side by side against people's commissariat. Insane alliances are made and military victories are won when losing means annihilation of whole thousands-of-years old bloodline... Or when fighters believe that is going to happen. Same thing for them, anyway. What I am trying to say, I see same things happening as you in Canaan during near future: escalation, dehumanization of the enemy and war, but who wins... Nobody knows. Given the ABSOLUTELY insane political claustrophobia here in the Old World right now, I don't even rule out some kind of European relief force getting involved. To whose side, I have no idea. Europe is going to see big political upheaval during following years. All bets are off right now. People just don't believe any more what rulers are saying in here, and surprisingly many don't believe in core principles of our system anymore. I just fear that identity politics here in the Old World will be copied from Ulster during Troubles, not from liberals fairy tale book. Who knows if this will benefit somebody in Canaan? After all, we are relatively close to fertile crescent here in Europe, as Greeks and Italians have already seen with floodgates of immigration opened... Writing IS in the walls of Babilu, but who is gonna fall, nobody has any idea I believe...

Wandering Sage said...

Thank you for addressing this subject. It is a subject that truly needs rational discourse. The extremes on both sides are getting hard to bear. Your concise and logical arguments strike a chord.
And while this time we live in is not the 'great apocalypse of zombie armageddon' it is a time of epoch change in the world.
Your words are a beacon for those seeking to navigate the challenges to come.
wishing you much peace...

Sue W said...

To coin a phrase, even he who studies history is doomed to repeat it.

Climate change, migration of peoples, and relentless resource exhaustion. If one is standing in opposition to any of these it's probably a waste of time.

Seaweed Shark said...

This was a noble attempt to grapple with a divisive topic. I think Israel is actually in a better strategic position than you say -- better than the crusaders and certainly better than the Hellenistic client states that existed for a thousand years before the Islamic conquest. Israel is much less dependent on US aid than it was even 15 years ago: some numbers would have helped that part of your argument. Several of its neighbors, notably Egypt, are more dependent on Western subsidies than Israel is. Its neighbors all hate and fear each other more than any of them dislikes Israel. And even a declining USA would likely be able to project power in the Mediterranean littoral for some time to come, even if the Pacific rim were to fall out of its control. But no need to argue details. A noble effort.

More generally, I noticed in this post a rhetorical strategy that I've seen before in this blog, an approach that might be summarized as "Give it up, boys; the dream is dead." You did that with the space program, with the USA, now with Israel. I acknowledge the consistency of this, and its relation to your larger project, but I have to admit I'm growing a bit tired of it, and I don't think these topics are your core field. They come across as no more credible than any opinionated blog post written by any other educated guy with an internet connection. I would like to hear more about cultural thaumaturgy and theurgy and the like: the respective fields of your critique and of your expertise, applied to these topics.

Jonathan Blake said...

Thought you might like this video which gives some historical perspective on the morass that is Palestine.

Hal said...

You're a brave man, John Michael. I'm just a little mystified as to the why of the subject of this post, though.

I don't mean that to sound critical. I just usually see your blog as an account of the big picture, a reminder to look at the grand sweep of history as we are involved in living the minutia of it. Now you devote a whole column to a part I haven't really considered in the whole post-peak narrative.

My first thought is seeing you were going to tackle the issue is that you might see Israel as acting as a pivot on the grander scheme. Now I wonder if your point to show that, as important as some people hold this issue, it is really more or less a footnote to the story of the decline of the US empire. But then, again, why a whole post?

Stu from Rutherford said...

"Yes, it's time to talk about Israel."

JMG, you are a true leader/thinker to start an essay with that sentence. I got to thinking about the mess that they will be in at some point (and Taiwan and Japan, too), but then realized that we will be in a rather large mess ourselves. Just a reminder to the other readers that when the current Israeli regime's survival is at stake, many if not most American families will be scrambling to get something to eat and keep warm. When it actually comes to pass, it may not seem very important to half our population.

As far as Niburu is concerned, maybe they were referring to a different November? Or perhaps a different 2012?? I imagine that today's date was chosen in order to pre-empt the next end-of-world event a month from now.

russell1200 said...

Sorry, I was a little fuzzy earlier and forgot that I had the source on hand rather than it being a vaguely remembered paper from the internet.

The study on the size of countries relative to a variety of conditions is within:

Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore, The Size of Nations, MIT, 2005.

And for those who don't want to track back to my earlier comment: it would on less specific grounds agree with what you are saying here.

Goldmund said...

John, excellent post, as always. It's rare to see a level headed discussion of this topic. Having been traumatized as a child forced to attend an evangelical Christian church until I was old enough to rebel it's hard for me to think about this part of the world without my eyes glazing over. But then, how can you avoid it when it's in the news constantly?... I'm surprised you didn't mention Isreal's wall of security as a symbol of a nation in decline. Hasn't this always been the case, from the Berlin Wall to the Great Wall of China? Anyway, I always look forward to reading your blog each week, as I always learn something new. Happy Thanksgiving, the day we celebrate the triumph of European settler society over the Indigenous peoples of this land, er, I mean the day we show gratitude and express loving kindness towards our wonderful neighbors. Let's all hold hands and sing now...

Richard Larson said...

You covered quite the topic in one very short blog this week. I have described the situation as like the Alamo magnified. A few million people surrounded by a billion enemies.

Interesting you converged last week's topic with this blog.

As time goes, I doubt that desert-kingdom Is-real exsists even with the outside inputs. The climate is getting hotter right along with the threats, and it will all dry up, I think, sooner rather than later.

Without outside inputs? Is-real would mist back into the minds of the wealthy Jews that founded the place.

You are a brave archdruid!

Jennifer D Riley said...

I can see "America in Decline" and failing to send Israel military support. However, a contradiction to me is the "Jews who have veto power in America." Will the "Jews with veto power" continue to support Israel until their last dime is spent? Or will "Jews with veto power" abandon Israel and save their own necks?

A third question: do you foresee an unnamed party in the United States banding together and taking out the "Jews with veto power"? (whether in reality or in fiction).

John Michael Greer said...

Cake, thank you.

Tam, what earthly advantage would they gain by supporting Israel? The US supports Israel largely for reasons of domestic politics, as I commented in the post.

Avery, where did I say that Zionism was a religious movement? It was standard 19th century irredentist nationalism.

Raymond, good. Sacrificing client states is one of the ways that the imperial center can go through catabolic collapse; in some cases, when well managed (for example, Britain's retreat from its imperial possessions) the results are very positive for the imperial center, though they're always pretty traumatic on the scene.

J9, thank you.

Leo, you're thinking in too short a time frame. The fall of the north coast is a first step; then comes movement by boat around the coasts to both sides, first to raid, then to settle. The whole process could well take about as long as the fall of Celtic Britain to the Anglo-Saxons did, with Tasmania quite possibly filling the role of Wales.

Chris, I don't recall bringing up an Israeli retaliatory strike at all. As I mentioned last week, the logic of mutually assured destruction makes it very hard to use nuclear weapons at all unless the other side doesn't have any way to retaliate, and once some of the other regional powers have their own nukes, that door's shut -- once the bombs go up, both sides lose.

Preppy, not so. First of all, the collapse of the US empire opens the door for someone else to expand, and as things go, that's probably China, which has every reason to funnel wealth to Iran and other petroleum-rich countries hostile to Israel. As long as those hostile countries have oil to trade, they've got a conduit for military aid that Israel doesn't have. Again, Israel's a small, resource-poor country, and without massive aid, it couldn't support much more of a military than, say, Lebanon.

Phil, that doesn't surprise me. On this side of the pond, Israel generally gets a sort of vague support, simply because a lot of Americans distrust and fear the Muslim world; there's also a large, or at least loud, anti-Israel scene on both ends of the political spectrum. Still, I've heard a lot of people wish that the Israelis and their enemies would all just go away.

Larry said...

Thanks for all the efforts that you put in to posting a blog each week; they are always thought provoking. In trying to come up with something to add to the discussion I had a couple stray thoughts.

The first is from a college professor who was quoting someone else. “If you are going to predict the future, don’t be specific, or if you are, don’t give a date.”

My reading of the business news makes me think that besides what’s said in the blog, Israel also has, as do other successful small counties such as Singapore or Switzerland, a vibrant export related economy with many modern and innovative businesses, which would help them carry on longer than one might otherwise think.

As far as China goes, snippets I’ve read or heard suggest that the inevitability of a dominant China is not as certain from within China as from without. They have significant issues with political transitions and with corruption, and their heavily state subsidized economy may be more of a house of cards than our own. Perhaps we need more reporters on the scene to give us the real scoop!

Finally, the protests in Europe against austerity seem to me the equivalent of looking up at the sky and shaking ones fist to berate an unjust deity.

John Michael Greer said...

Sabretache, the influence of the Jewish community here in the US is no different from the influence exercised by any other well-organized pressure group -- the retiree lobby has the same kind of clout that the Jewish lobby has, though of course it applies that clout in different contexts. (Lack of support for social security is just as lethal for an American political career as lack of support for Israel, and for parallel reasons.) That will change when the gridlock in DC finally breaks, and some party or personality is able to get a sufficiently large following to ignore the veto groups and enact drastic change; as I've commented in previous posts, that's part of the normal cycle of American politics, and last happened in 1933-1940.

Karim, well, one can hope!

Cracked, how much of that population increase is in the Jewish population of Israel, and how much is in the Muslim? That has a huge influence on what will happen.

Phil H., no need to apologize. It's a good summary of what I've been trying to say.

Phil K., of course! A century or two from now, I'd expect to see a large Jewish population in that province of the next Middle Eastern superstate, and a large diaspora population whose ancestors lived in Israel while it existed and fled before and during the collapse. That is to say, not much different from the situation over most of the last 2500 years or so.

Hypnos, one of the lessons of history is that an entire nation can very easily shrug off its best chance for survival, and go merrily down the road to its own destruction, insisting that it's doing what's right. In its own way, the US did that with the coming of the Reagan years.

Mustard, that's a fascinating story, with much to recommend it as a source of useful comparisons.

Bill, no argument there.

Teo, er, you need to read fewer cheap thrillers. First, Israel's arsenal of 200-odd nuclear weapons isn't even enough to nuke the entire Middle East, much less the world -- you do know, don't you, that a single Trident submarine has more nuclear warheads on board and ready to launch than the entire nation of Israel owns? As for biological warfare, again, that's for cheap thrillers; any nation smaller than a superpower that tried to use such things could count on taking a nuclear first strike, and you may be sure that the people in charge in Tel Aviv know that as well as anyone.

Diotima, I hope the more intransigent groups in Israel start paying attention to points like that.

Daughter, thanks for the links! I don't even bother with US media these days -- if there's a corner of the world where the news media is more vapid and disingenuous, I don't know of it.

John Michael Greer said...

Jasmine, pragmatism is in very short supply in the US these days. I suspect that we'll learn its importance the hard way over the years to come.

Deserted, an alliance of the sort you've described is all but inevitable, and it'll likely be a major trigger for the Sino-Japanese war of the mid-21st century, since China will just as inevitably see it as an attempt at encirclement (those of my readers who know their way around European power politics just before 1914 may get a feeling of deja vu here). That's par for the course in the rise of a new superpower.

Robert, when the Crusaders took Jerusalem they murdered most of the Christian inhabitants of the city, too. That's one of the places where "Kill them all, God will know His own" was the policy of the day.

Russell, good. Of course you're quite right -- a lot of nations that now consider themselves safe from aggression are going to be in a world of hurt as the global order of the late 20th century dissolves.

Don, I've heard that, too. If it's correct, Israel as currently constituted does not have much time left.

Twilight, it's precisely because Japan is in a tight and tightening vise that military adventurism there can't be ruled out.

Juhana, it's a very funny language, no question; I envy the people who will be living here in America a few centuries from now, who will speak a language descended from Spanish (and therefore much more logical). As for your comment, yes, sometimes that happens, as in Finland; sometimes the factional splits are hard enough that even invasion won't heal them. After the Jews revolted against Rome in 66 CE, for example, factions within the Jewish community played a major role in the Roman victory; toward the end, when Jerusalem was under siege, the city was divided between two sets of Jewish defenders who fought each other as much as the Romans. The question that remains to be answered is which of these models will apply to Israel as it nears the end of its history.

Sage, thank you.

Sue, good. If one is standing in opposition of any of the things you've noted, it's probably a good idea to get out of the way and go so something constructive where you're less likely to get flattened.

John Michael Greer said...

Seaweed, I write about the topics that interest me. If they don't interest you, there are thousands of other blogs you can read instead.

Jonathan, Jim R. posted the same video up above, with a useful guide to the characters.

Hal, see my response to Seaweed Shark. I've written any number of posts on specific details of the downward trajectory of the US empire and its ring of client states; the theme of this post has aspects that interest me, and that's what determines what I write.

Stu, and of course that's an excellent point. The collapse of the US empire is going to mean the impoverishment of most Americans; the forces affecting Israel's survival aren't acting in a vacuum.

Russell, thanks for the tip! That looks worth reading.

Goldmund, funny you should mention walls. I'll be talking about those in some detail next week.

Richard, "the Alamo magnified" is a pretty good metaphor.

Jennifer, please don't redefine what I'm saying, especially on a subject that attracts as many overheated passions as this one. "Jews with veto power" is an unhelpful rephrasing of what I've been talking about, which is that the American Jewish community is large, wealthy and organized enough to exercise significant influence on US domestic politics. There are quite a few other groups in the same position; I've referred to them as "veto groups" or "veto blocs" in past posts, because such groups can reliably block any attempt to take away funding from whatever their core issue is (for example, social security and Medicare benefits for the retiree lobby, or funding for Israel for the Jewish lobby). That will change only with the next really major shift in political power in the US, when the current gridlock that gives such groups their influence breaks down under the impact of crisis.

John Michael Greer said...

Larry, Singapore and Switzerland aren't surrounded by hostile nations and heavily invested in a military they couldn't afford without huge subsidies from overseas. Given different relations with its neighbors, Israel might well prosper, but then the same thing could have been said about the Crusader states of Outremer. China? Similar arguments were used a century ago to explain why the US, with its immense problems with corruption and social conflict, couldn't possibly oust Britain as global hegemon. As for the protests in Europe, well, there I agree with you!

Robert said...

JMG Indeed they did. The sectarian hatreds between the Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Church were at times as bitter as those between Christianity and Islam. The Fourth Crusade sacked Byzantium and the Byzantine Empire never really recovered. This eventually enabled the Ottoman Turks to invade Europe itself. The net effect of the Crusades was to help bring the Turks to the gates of Vienna. I'm in touch with an Orthodox Russian Christian who still loathes what he calls the Roman Papacy.

Crusading wars inspired by religious or political fundamentalism often tend to achieve the opposite of what they intend. The neocon jihad against the Middle East after 9/11 is another example.

Leo said...

You could add to the list of Israels woes a decaying military. The war nerd mentioned in his latest post that a large amount of israeli soldiers flinched from combat with Hezbollah. Not a good sign and probably comes from fighting all the far weaker (militarily) arabs and palestinans, no compotent or strong foes to learn from.

The theoritical migration of the Greenland Norse to America (called Vinland) i would say is closer to a potential Indonesian migration than the Invasion of Britian by the Saxons for two reasons.

1) The distances resemble the former rather than the latter, as well as the dominant transport mode. The North coast and the coast next to the North is all relatively uninhabitable,

2) Relative to the north and north-west/east coast all of britain is highly fertile and farmable, so that stepping process is much easier as the steps are smaller and more rewarding, while here you have to get to the South (focused on the South-Eastern) for it to be readily farmable and fertile. (There are spots of farming in Queensland, the part i've been to was ringed by mountains and is only accessable by a single pass tho).

Of course it will largely depend on what sailing technology the Indonesians have at that point, their traditional forms can't do it (or they would have done so long ago, as i understand it the Aboriginals walked across Australia)

Raymond Wharton said...

Forgive me for veering off topic, but I wanted to make a brief comment for Thanksgiving, and express my gratitude for this blog, the lively conversations taking place on it, and JMG himself for providing an island of sanity in the otherwise stormy seas of the internet and modern though generally. I have been thinking recently about how gratitude, or more precisely grace, is one of the habits of thought which could go a very long way toward less heated reactions to the various crisis of our time, especially for Americans, who have a heck of a lot to be grateful for; though the collapse of our empire will be rough the resources individuals still have, properly allocated, can do very considerable good on local and regional levels, though only if we let go of the entitlement to progress and the nihilism before Apocalypse.

The most unsettling thing about the abandonment of American client states is that many of them are armed with nuclear weapons, Israel being one among many. This nuclear diaspora that America sowed across the earth could lead to a bitter harvest. Both the last article and the current one have many good points considering Nuclear policy in the 21st century, but I wish I knew about which particular persons are in control of the various stockpiles, and whether all of them were prepared for the job by a proper education in game theory.

Nuclear deterrence has a very well worked out logic, and that logic is one of the main things keeping us comparatively safe from an all together horrific technology. I wish I knew how the control of such weapons would be determined in times of great political upheaval and regime change, hopefully most nuclear weapon systems won't be fully functional for too long.

OrwellianUK said...

Great post and analytic of what my father said for a long time, which is that Israel is utterly dependent on the United States.

On the subject of hot buttons, it always seemed to me that the greater amount of irrationality on the subject came from the pro-Israel side but perhaps they just have a louder and more pervading presence in the media and Western political circles than the Palestinians. (Actually, it is a fact that they do).

As Chomsky has pointed out, Israel long since discarded peace and security in favour of expansionism and although, since you request, I'm not going to get into the moral argument about this (I normally would - but that's a different blog theme I expect), it's exactly the Israeli Elite's focus on this policy aimed at National Survival and proliferation, which will likely be what causes Israel's eventual demise.

It's interesting to note for example, that the Hamas leader assassinated was in the process of drafting a permanent truce proposal at the time, which makes it difficult to conclude anything other than the Israeli's deliberately scuppered any such deal. It's probably not an accident that there are some parallels here with the policies of the Imperial benefactor.

It's fair to say, that as the United States ability to support Israel unconditionally begins to ebb (it has already begun I suspect), that the aforementioned power of the Israel lobby to influence State/Media entities such as the BBC to portray Israeli policy in a favourable light (and completely lacking in context or balance) will fade away too.

I suspect the future for the region will be extremely bloody, since I anticipate zero chance that the powerful interests in Israel will acknowledge and accept the realities you have pointed out in this post. No, they will carry on in much the same way that their Imperial benefactors in Washington have been doing - attempting to perpetuate hegemonic policy long after the circumstances which allowed such excessiveness have gone away.

It won't end pleasantly, that's for sure.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Wonderful high-level sanity, good-sense and erudition in this and last week's post, JM. Love it!

But, as far as I can remember, this is the first time I've seen you using a USuk lamestream-media hypercliche, though. Can you guess which?

Hwyl fawr, RhG

CGP said...

A cease fire has been declared in the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza. For a while there it looked like a ground operation was immanent but that seems to be off the table, at least for now. Do you think this might be evidence of the beginning of a power shift? What could have deterred a hawkish government from launching a ground operation that they seemed determined to stage?

frank.mcgillicuddy said...

so many comments, so much civility on such a topic - congrats to u all - i am thinking that canada is close to asia/pacific and russia over the north pole...i wonder what usa decline has in store for canada??

Jagger said...

When I hear the saying, "Live by the sword, die by the sword," I think of Israel. The chance for real peace was in the 90s and it was thrown away for more land. Now I am afraid it is too late.

The irrational and unconditional support of Israel by the US is just another sign of the corruption of our political system. The costs to the US, not to mention the Middle East, are incalculable.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, it's one of the consistent downsides of ideology that it blinds its believers to the consequences of their actions. More on this in a future post.

Leo, well, I hope you're right. As for the Israeli military, that's a startling claim -- if their combat troops are starting to lose their mettle, crisis is close. I'll take the War Nerd's word for most things, but will want to check into this.

Raymond, thank you! Fortunately, most US client states don't have nuclear weapons -- Britain and Israel are the only two that do; France is not quite a client state, though if you want to include it, that makes three. Of those, Israel's the only one that faces the kind of crisis that makes mushroom clouds a likely option.

Orwellian, we'll see. Nobody thought the apartheid regime in South Africa would end without a vast amount of blood, either.

Rhisiart, I have no idea. A hint would be welcome!

CGP, lots of things could have gotten in the way, ranging from diplomatic pressure from foreign countries that buy a lot of Israeli exports all the way to a worried report by the army chief of staff that the military simply wasn't ready for such an operation. Still, it's not typical, and suggests that a shift may be under way.

Frank, while Canada's got plenty of fossil fuels to sell, you may do fairly well -- and of course climate change may work out to your benefit.

Jagger, labeling US support of Israel "irrational" simply blinds you to the reasons why it's done, which have mostly to do with domestic politics: in today's political gridlock, supporting Israel is necessary to appeal to Jewish voters, who are a significant bloc in some states. It's the same logic that leads US politicians to refuse to put a means test on social security or Medicare when doing that would be the single largest and least traumatic way to balance the budget: the senior lobby would turn on any candidate who supported such a project. It really is that simple.

Leo said...

The reports of Israeli infantry flinching came mostly from the Hezbollah, which puts it in partly propaganda territory so i assume they exagerrated it from a noticeable amount to all but one brigade. Might have had something to do with the cancelling of the Gaza invasion

The main problem with figuring out a potential indonesian migratory path is the lack of a similar (to my knowledge) historical situation. The saxon invasion was in an entirely different enviroment, the histroical pattern of pacific migration was island hopping (and mostly uninhabited islands) while the Greenland norse also has mjor differences. I'll (or my twin) will write a post on it because it will be an important process for Australia and deserves at least a semi-thorough look at.

Robert said...

On the question of the Israeli military I believe the War Nerd is right. You can tell this from Israel's performance in the 2006 July War against Hizbollah in Lebanon. The IDF had total air supremacy and was able to pound Lebanon at will but their ground troops weren't able to make progress against Hizbollah which defeated the Israelis on the tactical battlefield. They were only facing a few thousand Hizbollah fighters but could neither control the territory they were attempting to occupy nor get as far as the Litani River.

Look at how the Israelis fought at Bint Jbeil. They went in and retreated. Went in and retreated. Went in and retreated. They could not take the place in 33 days even though they practically flattened it. A Russian Airborne regiment would have gone in, taken the necessary losses and captured the place in 24 hours tops. So would a Chechen force. Or even the British army. But the Israelis?

The so-called "elite" Golani Brigade could not do that. This is not an impressive performance. I think Israeli culture has changed fudamentally over the decades and this is no longer the nation of warrior farmers who achieved their great victories back in 1948, 1967 and 1973.

They never seriously attempted to invade Gaza during Operation Cast Lead and now in this latest episode they have failed once more to confront Hamas on the ground. This will have the effect of strengthening Hamas's morale and their standing among their own people. If you are hated it is not a good idea to give your enemy the impression that you are also cowardly.

The Achilles heel of the IDF is that they are very reluctant to take casualties. Of course, all armies try to minimise losses, but when the one overriding motive of an army is to avoid military losses at all costs, then that is obviously a huge disadvantage. I've heard Israelis try to spin this as the usual 'we love life, while the Arabs love death' nonsense, but really what it means is that the Israelis have become so pampared by decades of overwhelming military superiority that they have lost much of the old fighting spirit.

Unfortunately it is a sad fact that air power is not enough to win wars against a determined enemy as Vietnam and Afghanistan demonstrate.

Of course the Lebanese and Gaza conflicts are not necessarily a guide to how the IDF would peform if they were fighting to defend themselves against invasion of their own territory. Nonetheless it doesn't bode well for Israel.

Andrew H said...


You are joking aren't you?

Have you ever visited the Darwin Museum. They have a small range of boats used by illegal immigrants to get to Australia. The cutest and by the smallest was one called the 'Sama Saja'. It was built from crude timber slabs and is 5 metres long. The mast is held up with galvanized fence wire. (No motor of course).

It was sailed to Australia in 1986 from the closest Indonesian Island, about 300 km of open ocean. It had a crew of 6 men, one of whom had made the crossing twice previously in dug-out canoes. So I hardly think that the distance and circumstances are a major barrier.

As for the habitability of the north. There are many areas along the coastal fringe which would be eminently habitable, with a relatively reliable (summer) rainfall and suitable for all sorts of crops. Afterall, a small part of it was heading towards being a major rice growing region until the geese started getting in on the act, and became impossible to control. So not so good for broadscale mechanized agriculture, but great for the high intensity man powered gardening found in many parts of Asia and Indonesia. And as for area, I suspect there would be more good useable agricultural land along the fringe than the entire area of England.

Of course the latter might become an ecological nightmare, but I doubt that would worry many in the circumstances.


Andrew H said...

Hi again,

If you want to see what I mean there are a few photos of Sama Saja


Tony said...

Speaking of client states, I'm more than a little interested in what could eventually happen to Alaska. Yes, they are certainly much more near and dear to our national heart than our various external client states, but they are still discontinuous and much of its land is uninhabitable with really everyone living along the Southern coastline. But as inhabitants of the Pacific rim in an area that can support so few people without external supply, they certainly are in an interesting position as the game continues.

I too would like to take the occasion of a post on Thanksgiving day to express my gratitude for everything Mr. Greer accomplishes here on a weekly basis. This is a fascinating place, with quite a bit to offer and which has changed my modes of thought more than a little bit. And thanks in no small part to a certain series of posts a while back, combined with my microbiology background, I've become a bit of a compost guru for my university's community garden (managing two meter-square piles sending steam dozens of feet into the sky at night) and managed to repopulate the nitrogen fixing bacteria that seemed to be largely missing in that same garden a year ago via some judicious bean transplantations. Still haven't gotten the hang of the fall garden, though...

Glenn said...

I think U.S. support of Israel is a bit more than domestic politics or a sense of guilt (shared with all the Western Powers) after WII.

Israel for the U.S. functions the same way that North Korea does for China. The pit bull in the region, that can barely be controlled by it's Patron State. I see continued U.S. support of Israel, clandestine or otherwise, as a form extortion exerted against the oil producing states in the greater mideast.

Marrowstone Island

morenewyorknews said...

thanks a lot for a post without excessive emotionalism.
I would like to focus attention on coming Muslim empire, I am not much worried about Israel(Jews were always a minority and they lived peacefully in Muslim countries).
My question to you is Who will lead Muslim empire?(I am interested in this because i am an Indian)
Iran,Iraqi Arabs,Saudi Arabia,turkey or Pakistan?
Among all the Muslim countries, Pakistan has the biggest military and nukes(but a failed economy).Plus they have some sort of modern-feudal-capitalistic-foreign-aid-based democracy. Currently Pakistan is deeply involved in its own racial/ethnic/religious war. But what i think(please don't laugh understand Pakistanis too well)is Pakistan might try to take over Saudi Arabia once US power goes down. Up to this time, Pakistani politicians have shown their subservient nature because of political situations but it may change color rapidly when US starts closing down its own military bases in south Asia. Pakistan TPTB doesn't overly likes religious fanatics but they use them to wage war against foreign nations(like india,china,USA,UK).If the prize is right(the right to head empire, oil),Pakistan might quickly coalesce into power center and might easily take over neighboring Muslim nations( like uzbekistan,tajikistan,afghanistan,Nigeria,yemen,oman,UAE).Iran will be difficult country to attack and conquer but Sunni Shia conflict were always bloody. The question of legitimacy throne of Sultan might come up but Pakistan have many Royal bloodlines still active in politics and government. Muslim Empires were always held loosely, they appointed feudal lords over a area and collected taxes(and bribes)what are your thoughts on this?

skintnick said...

I've only just realised the parallels between the imperial wealth pump you've referred to many times this last year and the eponymous "global minotaur" of Yanis Varoufakis' recent book. Have you read it?

Johan said...

Great post, JMG. There's not much evidence of careful thinking around the Middle East in Sweden, either. (When I'm in a less optimistic mood, I don't see much careful thinking around anything, of course. An example would be our security and defense policy, which all capable observers regard as a bad joke, but hey, eternal Pax Americana is here so why worry? Back to the subject.)

I read an analysis by a Swedish military commentator that said Israel's actions right now are driven by the rapidly worsening strategic situation. The logic would be that the Israelis really want to take out or set back Iran's nuclear program so that they can focus on their borders, and to do that, they need to keep their most volatile borders quiet in the short term.

Thus, they focused on taking out Hamas' heavy rocketry and called off the ground offensive when it turned out it wasn't needed. Now the "southern front" will be quiet enough for the next three to six months (until a new arsenal can be built up), and if the Israelis can (temporarily) pacify the "northern front" (Hizbollah) next, they'll have a chance to "do something" about the Iranian bomb.

After that, they'd focus again on their own borders.

We'll see how things turn out. If the analysis above is right, this was just the beginning.

As an aside, appararently the Iron Dome anti-rocket and anti-grenade system was a tactical success, taking out most of the 1500 rockets thrown at it. From the cost estimates I've seen, both for the system and for individual missiles, it looks like it's proving some of JMG's point in earlier posts.

Teo mihailoiu said...


The comparison with the crusader states is valid up to a point.
Franks had a civilization to go back to. They were quite few and going back to Normandy or whatever was not a catastrophic decision.
I believe we need to add some last stand of the Warsaw ghetto into the mix to get a more accurate picture.
Some secular Israelis would bail out in case of defeat. I can't give a proportion though I had worked with them.
But the traditional and a part of the seculars - won't be many by then - will sink with the ship. Or they rather won't. In case of an imperial collapse and major disruptions of the commercial flows a very impoverished religious ghetto is a probable outcome. It is not something new.
It happened before and the economic needs of such a structure are not very expensive.
Compare with the amount of resources which have to go into Gaza in order to insure survival.

And yes a poor ghetto as the one I described - no resemblance with the Crusader states any more by now - can not be eliminated by use of nukes or conventional forces. It needs are small. Social control is absolute.
Futures Elazars will be much harder to eliminate by their opponents.
On the other hand such a religious/tribal ghetto as I see in the future during the long descent is something very easy to live with. What they need and want - rabbis want - is to be left to themselves. Like it was before moderns states brought them to the mainstream and religious establishment lost the grip on the Jewish community. Communities led by the likes of Rabbi Ovadia lived quite nicely along gentile political powers.
Just that the pogrom/genocide part will have to be avoided this time.
It is preferable to let Ovadia keep his ghetto then to receive the meager 1-200 nukes he and his colleagues have on the head of your tribe and your children.
In conclusion I'd say you are right. Israel will not survive. The one which exists now. But it is not going to survive anyway in this form. A huge religious movement is already sweeping the country, and the demographic wave has just begun.
But something which will be called Israel is going to exist in the future. It might have some resemblances with Gaza, but it will be a religious version of it rather then the secular one with strong traditional values that exists there.

OrwellianUK said...

JMG, it would be wonderful if an equivalent process to the ending of South African apartheid occurred with its Israeli counterpart.

Rhisiart by the way, is a friend of mine and the cliche I would guess he is referring to is the one where the media and western governments portray the issue as an equal argument between two equally irrational parties while the rest of the world, particularly the United States looks on powerless. As I have hinted at in my 2 comments, it is anything but

Adrian Skilling said...

I can easily accept your clear analysis. It seems inevitable that Israel will lose US support and suffer. While the UK government shows a little more support for Palestine its still lets Israel get away with massive injustices probably so not to upset our close US relationship.

See some stats over the past few year here:|newe|11-21-2012|4215509|38148408|

Incidentally our own esteemed prime minister Tony Blair (not) has been middle East peace envoy for several years now. Just what has he done to improve things? apart from making himself very rich that is.

Cherokee Organics said...


I'm reasonably apathetic about Israel. It is just not an issue that ever comes up here.

I have heard the shouting that you mentioned only very recently from an Israeli journalist who was interviewed on an Australian radio current affairs program and the interviewer was a bit taken aback. Saying things a second or third time at ever higher volumes is no way to get a point across.

It is hard to be sympathetic for a people that fail to get along with their neighbours regardless as to whether they like them or not. It is not even a question of morals, it is basic human nature. I mentioned recently that I read Jared Diamonds book "Collapse" where he wrote about Rwanda and the civil strife. It was generally framed as a tribal issue, but researchers later found that even in villages where a single tribe predominated, they still had the same percentage of killings. When investigated further, they found that the killings were generally motivated by land grabs, family disputes and/or settlement of old scores. Human nature, anyone? I don’t know whether anyone is familiar with the experiment of rats in the box?

Behavioral Sink

I think this is the correct reference, could someone please correct me if wrong.

Perhaps it could be argued that the Israeli's have used their subsidies for the wrong purposes?

Anyway, a society (or even a family) built on subsidies is bound to fail sooner or later.

By the way, I'm with Leo on the Northern Australia invasion by Indonesia and I've travelled a lot of the country.

They have been trying agriculture in that area for upwards of 50 years and it is a failure and continues to be. There is even a dam that holds 27x the volume of water in Sydney Harbour (in fresh water of course) and it had the worst fruit and vegetables that I experienced. In some parts, the thin strip of land around the coast can sustain a very small population. The soils are too poor, the rain is too intermittent and the cyclones are too intense. Organic matter is simply lost. Inland from the coast, the country is arid land, the deserts are much further south again and they are impenetrable on foot for the inexperienced.

The rivers that have not had crocodile traps installed and maintained are really dangerous.

I dunno, but 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food comes along pretty quickly. There’s a reason that most of the population lives along a strip of coast along the south-east of the continent. Water is a problem, even in my location and I do everything I can to store the rainfall that I receive in the ground. There has been no significant rain here for the past four weeks now, who knows what summer will be like? I can’t tell and I’ve lived with the place for years now. This is the front line of climate weirding, it simply cannot support a bigger human population – let alone the current population on a sustainable basis.



Spanish fly said...

Jews will survive TEOTWAWKI, but dead man walking (with nukes)

anagnosto said...

In relation to last week post and this one, there is something that somehow amazes me. The idea that the final weapon was reached in 1945 and that we still play the dissuasory game by the rules of 1965. I am a plant molecular biologist, I have nothing to do with viruses, but from my position I can see the advances made on that field, thanks to all the knowledge got from HIV research. Nowadays is perfectly possible to make a biology weapon that, killing fiend and foe, would be as retaliatory as a nuclear war. And by a diminute fraction to its cost. Even in the scientific literature one finds such weapon has been created by mistake when looking for something else. There are no limitations to this club, just discretion is needed. I find that this is like giving all the attention to nuclear weapons and nothing to the biologic possibility, this will dissapear. If I do not see it, it does not exist. Of course there is no dissuassion from something that is unknown. But in this new game timing and selective knowledge could be important. The influenza scares of the last years could have had economic reasons, but also were a test of the possible answers. From my viewpoint this is a hidden factor in geostrategy, even when it could sound like out of an old 007 movie. Even the fact that there is no talk about this subject seems suspicious to me.

Avery said...

"Avery, where did I say that Zionism was a religious movement?"

You said it right here though...

"Once upon a time—isn’t that how stories are supposed to begin?—there was a group of people who believed that their god had promised them a particular corner of the Middle East, and decided to take him up on the offer."

This isn't how Zionism actually worked. This is all well-documented.

bluefruit said...

Mr. Greer,

My dad and his friend read your blog every week, and I've become a frequent visitor myself. I just started graduate school at Columbia in the political philosophy department. Could you recommend some of the reading material that has influenced your writing the most? Is there an email address where I could contact you regarding your thoughts on other issues? If not, that's fine. Thanks for your posts--they're phenomenal.


John Michael Greer said...

Leo, I'll look forward to your post!

Robert, that's as fascinating as it is troubling. Of course the same shift is very much a factor in the US, and may play a significant role in how this country reacts to its next major military crisis.

Tony, that's very good to hear -- the world needs more compost gurus. As for Alaska, yes, it's hugely vulnerable in the long run; anyone's guess who ends up with it down the road.

Glenn, I'm fairly sure that was the idea originally. I'm less sure that it's still the case, as Israel has become more and more of a loose cannon from a US perspective.

News, that's an interesting point. I hadn't considered Pakistan a likely contender for the core of the next Middle Eastern superstate, simply because it's so deeply embroiled in its own internal struggles. If it manages to get those sorted out, that's another matter.

Skintnick, no, I haven't. Thanks for the tip!

Johan, that's a plausible analysis. One way or another, I don't expect to see a prolonged peace in the Middle East for decades to come.

Teo, no argument there. One way or another, there will be at least some remaining Jewish population in what's now Israel, and it's probably a safe bet that the ultra-Orthodox will predominate, just as they did a couple of centuries ago. I do expect to see a fairly large exodus of refugees as Israel goes down, but we'll see.

Orwellian, then he was mistaken. I didn't say anywhere that the two sides are equally correct -- just that they're equally shrill and dogmatic, and that they're equally off topic for this blog.

Adrian S., it'll be interesting -- in the sense of the apocryphal Chinese curse -- to see how much current European support for Israel remains in place as the US empire comes apart.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, its importance over here is purely a matter of domestic politics. You don't hear a lot of people getting into screaming fights over the continuing bloodshed in the Congo, for example, though it's just as bitter and intractable a conflict and has had a significantly higher death toll. As for the Australian north coast, well, I don't claim to have detailed local knowledge. How many rivers in Indonesia have crocodile traps on them?

Spanish fly, no argument there.

Anagnosto, the problem with biological warfare is that it's all but impossible to keep your superplague from wiping out your own people along with the enemy. That makes germ warfare largely ineffective as a military or political tool. More generally, once you have the capacity to annihilate an enemy country, there's no advantage to be gained by coming up with even more colorful ways to do the same thing; dead is dead, and once you have mutually assured destruction, the economics of military power make it much more advantageous to direct the rest of your resources into weapons systems that can be used in less extreme conflicts.

Avery, now read down the post to the place where I explain that I was talking about the Crusaders, not the Zionists at all.

Bluefruit, post a comment here marked "Not For Posting" and include your email address, and we'll talk. As for reading material, have you read Spengler's Decline of the West and Toynbee's A Study of History yet? If not, those are good places to start.

Unknown said...

off topic warning: hello mr. greer, i enjoy your writing tremendously, and your historical insight has provided me more perspective than my 4 year undergraduate degree. however, one thing keeps nipping at me. and that is how you arrive at the idea that we are in decline from an energy standpoint. yes, saudi wells are depleting, and the bakken shale wells could provide no more than 4 years worth of total oil for u.s. consumption. but the potential of the bazhenov shale reserves is huge. and huge is an understatement. perhaps i missed any discussion you have had regarding this development, but the reserves found in the bazhenove amount to 1,000 billion barrels. i dont advocate hanging on to a fossil fuel addiction to power our lives, but i just dont see how we are looking at any significant decline in the near future. please advise. thanks!!!

Cherokee Organics said...


I reckon crocodile traps, whilst being a good idea, would possibly be the last thing anyone would think about in an exodus. The saltwater crocodile even swims out to sea, regularly. The beaches are no safe haven. They are an adaptable, long lived, apex, opportunistic predator. 6m+ (19.7ft) examples are quite common in Northern rivers. They are much like people really. You also never know when they are in the water with you. They are much tougher predators than the alligators found in the SE US.

Saltwater Crocodile

Also, I don't think that the local population up north (or down south) would sit on their hands and do nothing. Initially yes, but once they see how the wind blows...

Hi Andrew H,

Yes, what you are saying is theoretically possible, but until that point, what would all of those people eat? Remember that large scale agriculture has been tried and failed for many decades up north. The climate can be quite variable up north (just like down south) too and this impacts the types of crops grown. Also, Indonesia only has such a large population because they inhabit volcanoes and have outstanding (and very new and regularly maintained) soil. This is not the case up the north of Australia which has very old and very poor soils and rice would strip the soil within a few seasons at most - and then everyone would starve.

It is instructive that the saltwater crocodile can convert 97% of the food that they eat into a useable resource for them.



Bill Pulliam said...

The thing is... Sure Israel is a client state of the U.S. dependent on the U.S. global empire and imperial wealth pump for its economic and political survival. And people will expend an enormous amount of mental and rhertorical energy on it. But...

Every one of the 50 U.S. States is also a client state of the U.S. global empire with an economy utterly dependent on the imperial wealth pump. Our boats are not so different. Yet only a tiny fraction of the citizens in these states expends a single thought on how they and their community could possibly function without this support.

It's not just far-flung Alaska and Hawaii who need to think about these things. It's Tennessee and Kansas too. And some other future asian patron is going to be far, far less interested in taking us on that someplace with more strategic value. We'll be on our own.

DeVaul said...

Wow! Rarely am I caught off guard like I was by this article. When you started the "once upon a time" story, I just assumed you were talking about Israel, but was stunned when you said "and that's what happened to the Crusader States". Well done! When reading, I love surprises!

And you are correct. Israel does rely on massive inflows of external wealth, but I did not know the Crusader States did as well. It makes sense though. I have never understood how any state can exist there because of the desolate terrain. When Mark Twain was traveling there, it was an unproductive backwater filled with poverty stricken people.

I strongly suspect that it will become that again whenever the next empire takes over that area of land where nothing grows and all resources have been mined out eons ago (if there ever were any).

Chris Travers said...

JMG: My point about the difference between a retaliatory and first nuclear strike was intended to address the question of what temporary advantage, if any, Israel gains for having nuclear weapons. As it stands, I don't think it gives any significant edge at all.

:€ said...

@JMG Biological warfare can be covert, but still lethal in long-term: destroying crops and fertile soils, encouraging opportunistic diseases in humans and animals etc. Such attacks would be hard to prove and easy to deny.

It could be argued that Monsanto already does something resembling that, with all obvious dangers ignored. It's a rather small step from this to weaponized terminator stuff.

I see future wars as slow, protracted affairs of attrition. Idea of slow biowarfare fits this rather well.

End result could well resemble this excellent fiction:

Dennis D said...

On the biological warfare point, I think that there are more possibilities out there, when combined with the human genome project. If an entity could produce a bio-warfare agent that discriminated on genetic markers, then was released at an untraceable release point (an international airport?) it could be quite effective. Of course, this is textbook conspiracy theory from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. This could work in various ways, where the desired trait either is the target or the immunity (traits could be for black/white skin, eye folds, or any other distinctive gene). The persons designing/releasing the agent would have to believe that the collateral damage to their home population was acceptable, the risk of it mutating before it was brought under control was minimal, and that they would not be found out in time for it to matter. Unfortunately, there are enough people in the world today that someone would believe that they were the ones to pull it off that it is impossible to ignore.

Leo said...

@ Andrew H
Before White settlement the Indonesians (and other close islanders) used to annually come to the North coast for seasonal foods and unique local goods. I actually expect the North coast to become Indonesian (and/or New Guinean). They didn't settle here then because the enviroment wasn't habitable for their style of agriculture and they couldn't bring in some of the neccesary animals/crops. That pictures changed in that they have better crops (e.g. imports from South America such as potatoes) and that pigs, horses and other animals are now there and don't need to be brought. This changes it from not settlable to probably being able to sustain a quarter to a half of the population currently there.
To extend Cherokee Organics argument on growing food there, Industrial agriculture is far more able to ignore or alter the local enviroment (say by fertilizers and pesticides) than organic agriculture can. If its failed to work for 50 years, chances are the local enviroment just isn't suitable (And what else would the Indonesians use other than organic)
Also even if the total arable land was more than england's, its more marginal land than england's.

As for the boats, while the Sama Saja is impressive, its not the sort of ship used for mass migration or settling. That takes more than moving as many people as possible, you need cargo space for food, seeds, clothes, animals, tools etc. That takes a different design, organisation and building skills (parts are similar but not all). The original white settlements here almost starved because they couldn't bring enough food to bridge the gap between landing and growing food. The Sama Saja equivalents will affect intertactions, but in a different way than mass migration.

I'm not saying there won't be problems, there will but they'll be of a different kind.

Koshka said...

I am very grateful to have found John Michael Greer's writings.

Thank you.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, yes, and ten years ago it was supposed to be the Caspian Sea oil fields that disproved peak oil; five years ago it was the Bakken; now it's the Bazhenov -- do you see a pattern here? Every time, that "vast potential" turns out to be, shall we say, half-vast at best, and then believers in limitless petroleum go running after the next supposed source. All the while, the huge fields that provide most of our actual oil production are rapidly depleting, and frantic efforts to bring new production on line barely keep up.

Cherokee, my point is that they have the same big Asian saltwater crocodiles in Indonesia, and seem to have no problem dealing with them. It's a common mistake of people in industrial countries to forget that people in nonindustrial countries are often much more skilled at making a living on what, to us, looks like harsh territory than we are.

Bill, Hawaii doesn't have to worry about it at all. It can count on being picked up by somebody, in very short order, because of its strategic position. So will the good harbors along all three coasts, since a lot of people still read Mahan. Inland, that's more of an issue, so you're right to cite Tennessee and Kansas!

DeVaul, that corner of the Middle East has always been an unproductive backwater mostly filled with very poor people; the Hebrews of Old Testament times were impoverished hill tribes -- go look up the measurements of King Solomon's temple sometime; it was remarkably small. I don't have any doubt that a few centuries from now, it'll be one more peripheral province of whatever the current big Middle Eastern power happens to be.

Chris, thanks for clarifying -- that makes sense.

Euro, and what military advantage would result from that? I simply don't buy it.

Dennis, again, and what military advantage would result from that? It's only in bad Hollywood movies that bad guys do bad things just because of their badness, you know.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- it was actually the act of sitting here in rural Tennessee and thinking about the local folks who are "building towards sustainability" that got me thinking on these lines. When I thought about the "successful" startups in the "sustainability" realm, I noted that just about all of them depended on a big chunk of start-up cash acquired through the usual industrial/commercial/financial economy. And their cash flow is also derived almost entirely from this "unsustainable" economy as well. This left me wondering if there was ANYONE who was really contemplating what a true sustainable society here would look like in the absence of the suburbs, investment portfolios, retirement funds, and inheritances that are currently supporting all these activities. I think all the "green" movements might just be marching us just as far into unsustainability, just in different directions. I realize I am surely too harsh, but those were the thoughts I had.

So envisioning your hypothetical future with an asian successor to the American empire, it became very clear that most of the present-day area of the U.S. will be the impoverished sources for the new wealth pump, not the strategic sinks or the wealthy homeland (which we are now, of course). And if my own ponderings panned out that there might not even be another successor empire, at least not one that would extend its reach this far, then we are really on our own here. It's hillbilly dirt farming that might make the aftermath of the Civil War seem luxurious and leisurely by comparison; at least then there was a global market for exported corn whiskey; now we've got depleted and eroded soils that will no longer grow 100 gallons per acre without either industrial methods or a century or two of careful soil management (and let's not even talk about climate change...).

This is not a future that anyone seems to want to envision; which means no one is preparing for it or seriously considering how to ameliorate it. It's like they'd rather die than live that life -- the life that most of their ancestors lived for millennium after millennium.

Cherokee Organics said...


I might not have commented before, but your analysis of the Israeli situation smells of the truth to me. I also liked the historical comparison and it was so apt, that I didn’t even realise that it was a historical comparison until your disclosure.

Resource depletion is a massive issue in the Middle East. I've been reading about their aquifers for a few years now and it doesn't sound good and the situation is coming to a head pretty quickly. Still, oil exports buy food imports. I wonder what the Israeli's will eat though?

The saltwater crocodiles have been mostly eaten in Asia, which confirms your comment. The people are more than up for the task. However, the crocodile visitors the Asians get are largely from Australian rivers and it is something of a surprise for the locals.

By the way, I've eaten crocodile meat and it is quite good, I'd recommend it to all. I've also eaten kangaroo, wallaby, emu, possum, camel, guinea pig, alpaca meat amongst many others. Mostly vegetarian, doesn't mean totally vegetarian! hehe!

As to the Indonesians, they'll head east first into Papua New Guinea. My reasoning for this is that the climate, soils, crops are much more familiar to their population than northern Australia. Let's face it, they've already annexed West Papua.

Papua New Guinea has also supported small scale market gardens for more millennia than most locations on the planet. Unfortunately for the Indonesians, they may also cause massive environmental destruction and top soil loss should they decide not to follow the example of the locals. It is an area that is subject to excessive erosion and top soil loss if only annual crops are planted.

The saltwater crocodiles are a side issue.

The main issue is really human population overshoot and resource depletion.

This is an issue that few people concern themselves with, hoping that something will come along. The Israeli's are no different. If I were them, I'd be making peace with their neighbours. There seems to be little point in surviving a siege in a castle if you can't feed yourself because eventually you can’t eat fortifications.

I've been thinking about beneath's comment late last week and that person is on the money. Few people want to accept limitations on their activities. I'm unsure of what most people think when talking about freedom, but it is actually very freeing to accept limitations.

Mind you, a subsidised monastery sounds like a bad idea as it would be a drain on the resources of an agricultural economy. As the zen saying goes, "before enlightenment, chop wood, fetch water. After enlightenment, chop wood, fetch water." Wise words indeed! Tomorrow despite the heat, chopping wood will continue here.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Andrew H,

Sure, they could get here using the craft, but what would they eat once they got here? It is not like there is an excessive amount of produce just lying around Northern Australia just waiting to be eaten. It takes time to establish these agricultural systems that you speak of. If you know of a way around this predicament, I'd be keen to hear it.

The sort of boat required for such a journey which includes stored goods and livestock would similar to the canoes that the Polynesians used on their massive voyages.

Leo is right, the craft that you mentioned can hold no or little stores.



Cherokee Organics said...


As an off topic observation (if you'd please indulge me?)

I've had two surprising incidents this past week when people have confused magic (spin etc.) for substance and tried to pull one over me.

The interesting thing was that I hadn't previously expected that the people involved would attempt such an act.

I wonder what it means?



Cherokee Organics said...

Thanks to Bill and Deborah for the responses last week about mead and yeast. You've both given me a lot to think about.

Summer is here and there is so much available light that, well, it's hard to get Internet time.

PS: Bad mead sounds, bad. Thanks for the laughs too.


anagnosto said...

Dear John. Please notice that your answer for biological warfare fits into exactly the same problem that nuclear warfare during the cold war, asured mutual destruction. However while biological warfare is discarded because of this reason, nuclear warfare is not. Why is this so? It is possible to scale down a nuclear answer, but it is as well possible with biological. Maybe nuclear has its own mythos (in the hands of only the few chosen ones)and a kind of "aproval" while biological (free to everybody to get)is not?

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, exactly! This is what I've been trying to talk about all along -- the eighty per cent pay cut that comes with the end of our empire affects everyone, including those who think their green startups are exempt from the laws of economics. Here in America, we are all going to be very poor for a long time in the wake of our failed empire; any plan for the future that doesn't take that into account is wasted breath.

Cherokee, subsidies for monasteries are a luxury of comfortable times. Monastic traditions, in most places and times, embrace voluntary poverty -- and remember that this is poverty even by the standards of, say, the Dark Ages -- because they don't have subsidies, and have to produce everything they need themselves.

As for your strange experience -- hmm. Were both of them trying to convince you of the same thing, or of similar things? I saw a lot of that when our housing bubble was about to pop -- people who normally had some integrity pitching the most delusional nonsense about how home prices were going to keep going up forever, and they could get me in on a marvelous investment opportunity, etc.

Anagnosto, I think it's largely that you can't scale down a biological weapon reliably -- once your superplague is out, it's all but impossible to control where it will and won't spread. Nuclear weapons are a lot less random, since you know more or less how much real estate is going to get incinerated and where the fallout plume will drift.

:€ said...

@JMG Well, imagine destroying enemies crops while your own GMO ones are resistant to the plague. Or farm animals.

An outdated, but nice military overview from the horse's mouth:

As for plagues which would target specific ethnic groups: no. Differences in human genome are orders of difference smaller than margins of error in this business. You need to grow your own GMO humans first :/

Unknown said...

I have a different take on Australian vulnerability to Asian invasion.

It is well in progress. When I lived in the Melbourne suburb of Glen Waverly in 90-91-92 it was white bread ozzie, when I returned for a working visit last year its Asianisation was absolute. Mainly Chinese. Finding a decent steak was a challenge, but TomYum and Hundred Year old eggs were everywhere. I watched Eastwood in Sydney go the same way from 93 to 98. I can see the beginings of a gradual change in the regional area of Tasmania but the cultural mix is Indian, Asian, African in about equal proportions.

Yes, Indonesia is across the water, but the reasons NW Australia has not been extensively colonised ever have not changed. Very poor soil, Unreliable rainfall, extreme temperatures are impossible to alter in an age of depleting energy, and the rising(for now) population in Asia will be subject to the same constraints of resource depletion as everyone else.
The more probable route to Asianisation of Australia lies in a gradual, largely peaceful movement by the means of marriage, migration, and commerce.
A client of mine who is a crusty Aussie farmer/engineer and who looks as redneck as any, was the other day singing the praises of his Vietnamese daughter in law, and his other son is about to marry her sister. He is absolutely thrilled and has thoroughly enjoyed going to their country and getting to know more about their culture.

The crocodiles are safe. There will be more militarty invasion, as it is not needed.

Goat Path said...


When I heard about the latest Israeli-Palestinian cease fire, about the number of missiles sent by Israel, I thought about how much that must have cost them. Also I saw a headline in the Wall Street Journal about how the Palestinians are getting more accurate with their missiles. No wonder the Israelis wanted a truce.

I just completed the novel "War Day" by Strieber and Kunetka,
which left me with a clearer and more realistic vision of what a nuclear war would mean. Israel's vulnerability to nuclear attack has got to be on the mind of many people especially in the Middle East.

My point is that the education I receive on your blog has helped me interpret current events differently, with much less confusion. Thank you for telling it like it is.

Red Neck Girl said...

@ Bill Pulliam

I recently listened to a program on NPR about depleted soils, the speaker had a cook book on beans and the author promoted recipes and the fact that soils could be at the least partially renewed by planting legumes. I was thinking if chickpeas could be ground and used as baking flour I could rotate and renew pastures by planting them, getting beans for baking flour, and improved soil for pastures for my horses, goats, chickens and lamas.

I firmly believe there's more than one way to get what you need to live out of the earth without damaging the ecosystem. I'm an optimist that way.

I do believe I need to google beans and cookbooks!


latheChuck said...

Just a further thought on biological warfare: indeed, it doesn't make sense in any "symmetrical" conflict, but I can see how a weak, oppressed state already struggling with endemic disease might find it satisfying to ensure that the same disease gets into the ecosystem of its oppressor. Don't think "synthetic superbug"; think "Foot and Mouth Disease". It wouldn't be a weapon to threaten with, but a weapon to weaken the oppressor's ability to oppress, or maybe just a satisfying degree of revenge. If your enemy eats pigs, but your people do not, then the risk of a pig-specifc virus blowing back on you is small. (Maybe this isn't such a good example, since a swine flu can become a human flu.)

Andrew H said...

Chris and Leo, I take your points.

However my point was in response to Leo's line "The main problem with figuring out a potential indonesian migratory path....". I don't see a problem because I don't see that the water between Indonesia and Australia constitutes much of a barrier. One can cross that stretch of water in anything from a canoe up. The peak in illegal boat people currently was 5500 in around the 2001 'boat season'. This happened with 89 more or less disposable boats, at the end of their life and with deterrent measures in place in Australia. (eg jail for the crew, years in detention centres etc) Imagine the numbers possible with good boats with no deterrent and with a lure of good open land. And there would not be much to stop boats from following the coast further south anyway.

However I doubt that there will be a sudden huge influx of millions of Indonesians. I was thinking more of a slow but steady and increasing migration over decades or a century.

When considering agricultural production all reports I have read consider agriculture that has significant fossil fuel inputs (eg fuel and fertilizer) but have been about production for export (from the farm to distant markets - usually to southern cities or other countries). I would have thought a more appropriate model would be the sort of locallized manual subsistence farming where most production ends up back in the same plot of land, practiced in many places , often tropical or semi-tropical areas with poor quality soil (Dare I mention permaculture). Admittedly some of the current practices and crops of potential migrants may not be suitable but I bet it wouldn't take long to work out a reasonable system. And if it really didn't work out then there would always be the overland migration to southern climes.

As for a lack of immigration in past centuries there was never the population pressure as there is now. The situation has changed significantly.


Rhisiart Gwilym said...

JM it was just 'spiraling out of control'. Isn't that a cliche yet in the US? I'd assumed that it had come here from there. Not far off done to death here.

Still, just one in all the years I've been following your blog is pretty good going. :-)

Leo said...

@ Andrew H
Your argument makes sense and you are right that the water barrier between the North coast and Indonesia is surmountable. What your forgetting is that success on ocean voyages also depends on where your going e.g. Viking raids could only continue while coastal defences were weak in Europe even if the Vikings became better sailors. As for continuing on to the South, there is a reason that the Austronesians island hopped in their expansions (which was driven by population growth and pressures). The First Fleet stopped at numerous ports on its journey for similar reasons, ships carrying passengers for settlement don't have enough cargo space for essential supplies (like fresh fruit to fight scurvy) and the equipment neccesary for settling when long journeys are needed. The Austronesians got partly around this by not having large colony forces (at most a couple hundred at a time) and most of the passengers were also the crew. For this sort of migration a way station is mandatory since the numbers are in their thousands (at a minimium).

And as for more local and intensive agriculture, the Indonesians who used to land in Australia would have tried often with their version of intensive agriculture (very similar to todays). A lot of those tropical islands have various soil renewal mechanism (dust coming from Asia is one) while Australian soils generally don't and ours can often lack organic matter while tropical islands don't. It can be similar to rainforests (they are tropical after all) in that the soils are incredible poor but everythings locked up in all the living things there (thats why its cycled on the same plot in those tropical Islands, mimicking the natural cycle). Also since they're going North-South, climate and other factors affecting gardening changes quickly, hampering and slowing adaption. That barrier has been partly solved but it still dosen't change the picture much, after collapse the dominate lifestyle is going to be hunter-gatherer (or a hybrid) with some gardeners around, this limits population densities quite a bit.

What we're more likely to see is a slow migration, similar to whats been going on since the original gold rushes with the Chinese. Note that Chinese only makes up about 4.3% of our population, the cultural influences are greater and its more adding variation rather than replacing chunks of our population. Its still migration just a different kind.

the lure of good open land only happened in America and here because about 90% of the natives were wiped out by diesease, not an event thats going to occur here since their diseases are tropical and don't travel North-South well.

Also why would we stop having deterrents, yes they don't stop illegal immigration but they put a herd ceiling on its throughput which is pretty good.

And my main contention with "The main problem with figuring out..." is that you can't simply take a historical example from another continent and place it on another without big changes and uncertainty because the enviroments and context differ by a lot.

Ceworthe said...

I remember how shocked I was when I realized that Israel is such a tiny country. At the same time I discovered how it had come into being, booting Palestinians off the land. Did they expect them to say, oh, ok, no worries?
As there will come a time where the US will not be able to support them, I would think they might take a clue from South Africa and FW DeClerk, who, when they lost support for apartheid, made reconciliation a priority. They were a small number of white rulers without support surrounded by alot of native africans and wisely thought twice about their odds of survival.
I hope that the powers that be in Israel realize that without support, they are surrounded by hostile neighbors, and their chances of survival as a country are slim. And I would hope they start making overtures for peace starting asap. Otherwise it may be the case of another Masada.

exiledbear said...

Nothing is truly new in this realm is it? The future is the past is the present and it's all malleable.

You've opened a big can of worms there talking about Israel. I hope you plan on sauteeing them in garlic sauce...

John said...

Great Post. I have definitely seen a lot of crazy posturing over the state of Israel. Thank you for your quite sane and relatively impartial take on the whole issue. You have definitely given me food for thought.

Ricardo Rolo said...

You did a good job Mr Greer ... I took until the centralizing of power bit to understand you were not talking about current day Israel :D But yes, the pattern of people coming from elsewhere and carve a small kingdom in the Med coast of the Middle east just to be eaten away when some warbent state gets critical mass and starts eating everything in their path is there atleast since the Sea people times and it will most likely not go away so soon ...

I do think your analysis of Israel position is basically correct: they got too many enemies nearby to deal with without massive external support and they clinged to much to the USA to be capable of making a U turn and start licking other power hands. In fact that is a stark diference of most of the fringe of the current US client states, that, with few exceptions ( Taiwan and Japan are exceptions that others already explained above ), are preparing B plans fast. See, for example, South Korea, that only has not got so far in a agreement with their northern counterpart because of heavy US pressure , or even the UK ( England has no permantent friends, just permanent interests, isn't it ? ;) ).

BTW, as a side dish on client states, I would like to give a update on the US bases in here ( Portugal ). Two weeks ago I mentioned the current US assets in portuguese soil, including the pivotal Lajes airbase ( for those that don't remember, it was where Bush and co officially delivered their ultimatum to Saddam Hussein in 2003 and is of prime importance for refueling anything of the USAF that flies across the North Atlantic ... it is still considered the #8 more important US base outside of their soil to the point that even Google Maps at a point simply had a black ink blot in the spot where the base is in map ). This week the USAF announced that they would fire 300 portuguese workers of the base ( USAF is obliged by contract to hire "native" personnel ,unlike it happens in other bases they have outside the US )due to budget cuts . The Portuguese foreign affairs minister ( that is a strong supporter of a US-UK alignement and that was the Defense minister at the time Bush came here to basically declare a undeclared war against Iraq in 2003 ) said almost literally this in response: our alliance with the US has a pivotal point in the USAF use of the Lajes airstrip and the contratual obligations that come from that ... and if the USAF does not honor their part, the alliance with the USA ( italic for emphasis ) will need to be reevaluated.

TBH, I do think it is a poach of hot air and grandstanding, but the issue is seeing a staunch defender of the so called "atlanticism" ( basically the doctrine that Portugal needs to allign with whoever controls the North Atlantic or else and that at this time it the US that has it ) saying this kind of harsh words, that were simply unthinkable even as hot air a decade ago. Not that I'm expecting a public bid for the use of the Lajes airstrip in the short future, but I've seen stranger things happening ...

( cont )

Ricardo Rolo said...

( cont )

Just to end, and because I have not commented the last post on nukes, I do think that nukes will go the way of the dum dum bullets and the crossbow in the Middle ages : they will be formally forbidden between "civilized", "noblemen" or whatever selfpraise term the countries of the club that has them uses for themselves with base on dubious morality reasons, but will be fair game for use on outsiders. And , as you point, there will a increased need to show that you still have a operational nuke , so I would not exclude that there will be a increase of nuke usage as the decline comes, but on non threatning targets ... This BTW excludes the Israeli "Samson option" as a viable option for Israel ( not that threatning people with nukes will do a lot for a continued goodwill relation ... ) as you point out: if a nuke concert is done ( and TBH we are already unofficially in it, otherwise there would be far less histrionic speech about more countries getting nukes or not ), the pariahs must be crushed even if as a example. The post-Napoleonic Europe is probably a good template of what would come of that situation: sworn enemies with zero reason to cooperate joining efforts to crush any defiance of the status quo ...

JP said...

Excellent post. I remember a few years ago when I realized that Israel was in fact akin to the old Crusader states. It was a fascinating revelation and, in hindsight, it is quite obvious. However, like most Americans, my European history was essentially limited to nothing, which means I was left to my own devices to fill in that hole.

Although with the decline of relative American power, it remains to be seen what Europe and Russia have to say about Israel, since it could be useful to either. And there is still German guilt.

I always wonder whether if Barbarossa had lived whether anything in the Middle East would have changed.

MawKernewek said...

Looking at the Middle East, perhaps we should also consider the case of Egypt - with a current population of 82 million it will face challenges since I assume it requires a lot of fossil-fuel dependent inputs to its agriculture now the Nile doesn't flood every year and despoit nutrients.

As far as Australia goes, I have a map which claims to represent the tribal/language groups of Aboriginal Australia, and the north coast looks the densest. I suppose that can arise from a poorly productive land leading to small groups isolated from one another by a land where travel is difficult.

This is only partially relevant, but I'm keen on this map: Sahul Time, showing the historical route to the first colonisation of Australia 50,000 years ago, when it was possible to walk there from New Guinea. Note however that it was still necessary to cross a 50 mile stretch of open water to get to New Guinea.

Cherokee Organics said...


I'm putting some serious thoughts and efforts towards voluntary poverty. Recent efforts has involved researching bees and I'm looking towards purchase tomorrow which should be interesting. Sugar and salt are major ingredients in preserving so it would be good to be a little bit self-sufficient on this front. Salt is a worry.

A local farmer always jokes to me that I live in hillbilly country. If only he saw the demijohns bubbling away on the veranda. hehe! Production has been scaled up after the initial success. All I need now is the rocking chair and I'd be a genuine cliché!

The economy here is showing signs of wear and tear in recent times.

The people involved in the strange experience quite surprised me because this was a new facet of their personalities. Usually they have had integrity in their dealings. Fortunately they were not trying to sell me anything. What surprised me was that they were both trying the exact same technique. Coincidence, maybe? Paradigm shift, maybe? It was interesting though.

Certainly, things and events are shifting here, albeit slowly.

I haven’t forgotten that here I'm just another part of the ecosystem and I play my part in it. This evening as night fell, I sat outside and watched the storm clouds roll in from the west and hoped that they would dump some useful rain on this part of the world. It's an old cycle that I'm humbled to be a part of.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Bill,

I always appreciate your thoughts and inputs and I don't believe that you are being too harsh in your comments.

Sustainability is a misused word that is bandied around. When I hear it now, I substitute the phrase, "maintaining the status quo" in my head. This seems to work well for me in providing deeper meaning whilst interpreting people’s statements.

As to imagining, well for a start, all those people commenting this week about bio-weapons should perhaps think about alternative medicines and herbal lore. Many plants and foods have anti-bacterial, anti-parasitical, anti-fungal and/or anti-viral properties. Perhaps not as good as modern western medicine in some respects, but they may be of help plus the lore (and sources of knowledge and plant materials) behind them is sustainable in the correct sense of the word. We have access to a world of plants that our forebears could only have dreamed about and yet we are praised for growing mono-cultures…

The reason I mention this is because without modern industrially sourced medicines many people would begin to fall back into the cycles of the ecosystem.

Take away industrially grown and produced foods, plus readily available energy sources and even more people come face to face with the limits of the ecosystem. Truly, we don’t need bio-weapons, nature is pretty raw.

By the way, I had an interesting experience a couple of weekends ago at my favourite local hippy market which lead me to ponder whether the benefits of germ theory would last more than a generation or two. I didn't get sick or anything, but it was an observation on food handling for some cherries which I purchased – mind you, I still ate them.

I ran out of bottled (I think you call them canned) fruit two months early this year which surprised me.

Also, healthy organic soils can be fast-tracked if you raid materials from other areas. Most of these materials are treated as waste products here which always amuses me. Also try to capture every bit of organic material that comes onto your property. Most people in Industrial countries bring organic matter onto their properties and then dispose of it again. In most cases this ends up in land-fills or the ocean thus contributing to the continuing acidification.

Interesting stuff and there are so many opportunities for change. Unfortunately people spend too much time envisioning and too little practising (I mean this as a sweeping generalisation and this comment is not directed at yourself whom I believe to be an enlightened and educated individual from your comments).



Teo mihailoiu said...

@ morenewyorknews

I think you are on to something important.
Pakistan has the world's fastest growing nuclear arsenal.
And creating all the tools to use nukes for everything in a military context. From tactical use to strategic ones - not there yet.
Tactical ballistic missiles, land/air launched cruise ones, medium distance ballistic ones, probably already working on arty nukes etc.
They are really preparing to contest the US ownership of the Gulf.
What Pakistan needs to survive is energy and capital. Both are plentiful in the Gulf but US and its vassals take all.
Of course behind the gigantic Paki nuclear complex is China. Pat of the needed capital comes from Saudi.
I do not believe that Paki will take over Saudi or attempt to. Just become a bodyguard for the Saud family. By the way the Saudis already took over practically all the smaller oil producing countries of the area. Now the Saud domain is quite too big for Paki to have a go at swallowing it.
And Indians are also there. Huge capital flows towards India from the Gulf. And lots of Indians going into the other direction. Same needs as Pakistan.The Saudis will not become too dependent on anyone.
Of course the big beneficiary is China. Paki and Indian shares are just crumbs in the best of cases. Enough for them to live another day but that is all. The replacement of the Western consumers is China. They need the energy.
But the most important actor for now is Paki. All depends on their nuclear umbrella.
Even Iran in trying to squeeze itself under it. And Pakis didn't even give an opening date.
( Can check the speed with which Iran is building a big gas duct towards Pakistan on its own money and trying to convince Pakis to accept the Persian tribute for a funny reading.)
I see there an unfolding scenario about a possible collapse of Pax Americana, much closer then the one given by JMG as a case study.
About Paki you can find details here :


In general the analysis made for this particular case - deterrence etc - by JMG are great. But in some particular cases I think people will behave a little bit differently. They will not go down gently into the night.
And Pakistan is preparing to fight for its people to have a chance to live another day. This means receiving a droplet of the huge energy and capital of the Gulf from the Saudis. Just have to push aside the US. And a large and sophisticated nuclear arsenal is enough to interdict US military options in that area. Just like a large and sophisticated nuclear arsenal eliminated all US military options - except some small scale operations like the Salafi/Chechen groups or the Georgian attack - in Eurasia.
Nothing predictable it seems.
Of course I agree with the assessment that Japan can only suffocate. And eliminating their nuclear complex makes me think that others had the same ideas.
Starving people might have funny ideas if armed. And the only weapons which matters in this case are nukes.
No nukes means Japanese will starve quietly and will not bother others.
Quite hmmm interesting to observe that Germany also has to dismantle its nuclear complex. Of course they both do it because of Fukushima. Or because no one want to see how a nuclear Japan or Germany might behave after the big energy descent starts to happen.

By the way, if you want to read the bureaucratic version of the begining of the long descent - more pleasat reading at JMG - with a lot of data and charts can find it here, courtesy of German army:

phil harris said...

I accept of course your thesis on Israel in a future more natural configuration of MENA.
But how do you rate in the near future the 'delaying tactics' by US et al using proxy (?) support for regime change in Syria? Leaves Turkey supporting a new 'status quo'? Saudi Arabia helps to secure a new Syria located within ‘western’ interests, and perhaps Kurdistan as well? Israel is more secure in the shorter term? This is a genuine question on my part.

phil harris said...

Relating to my question on a change in near-future context for Israel in my very recent email, I see the following in PO Review:
Turkey, its eyes on becoming the pivotal energy hub between East and West, is set to increase its presence in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish enclave by taking a majority stake with a British partner in a block containing an estimated 10.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.”


“The US government said plans by Iran to build a natural gas pipeline through Iraq to Syria may run into problems with economic sanctions.”


Hal said...

I think Bill Pulliam has it almost right. Any rural land available for homesteading today is available for a reason. Poor quality and not enough. If that's anyone's plan for weathering the crises, I'd suggest they look for another.

What I'm not sure of is the idea that the hinterlands will be on the business end of some other nation's wealth pump. Maybe indirectly, but I think a long time before that, they will return to being what they have most always been, the impoverished provinces of internal pumpage. Essentially colonies of what's left of the industrial matrix, which I suspect will be located in coastal and waterway cities.

Of course, our landed gentry will be happy to oblige if it means getting to shop in the big city, attend the opera and send our kids to school back east with the scions of the rulers.

Ian said...

I've been out of the internet loop for a little bit, just catching up on my Archdruid reading. What a delightful bait-and-switch for an opener! I admire the rhetorical savvy of that--get the reader focused and agitated on that then whisk it away to talk about the present.

I'm glad to see you raise the issue--I spent a little time musing about what you might say during your hiatus. Israel and Japan were both flashing their insecurities in neon lights; it looked like a clear sign of the U.S.'s weakening grip.

It seems another point along which military collapse scenario could unfold, with the client state getting desperate and overplaying U.S. capacities tipping the American Empire into full retreat.

John Michael Greer said...

Euro, problem there is that seed stock is controlled by so few corporations worldwide that your efforts to replace existing seed with your blight-resistant GMO strain would be so obvious you'd have no chance of doing the thing without ample warning to the other side. The devil is always in the details!

Unknown, that scenario assumes business as usual for the foreseeable future. I'm far from sure you'll get that.

Goat Path, thank you! That's good to hear.

Chuck, there are probably scenarios where that makes sense, but a weaker state on the verge of defeat has many other calls on its remaining resources. I'm not saying it can't happen, just that it's very unlikely.

Rhisiart, good heavens -- I've used that turn of phrase tolerably often here. It's a US coinage, as far as I know, but not massively overused here.

Ceworthe, well, look who was involved in the first Masada. The Jewish people have an uncomfortably long track record of picking fights they can't win, and then not winning them.

Bear, nah, worms belong in the compost heap out back.

Ricardo, you get tonight's gold star for remembering the Concert of Europe -- if I mentioned that on this side of the pond, most people would think I was talking about some rock festival or other. You're quite right that some such arrangement could well come out of the collapse of the US empire. As for Portugal, thanks for keeping me posted on this -- that's fascinating news. I wonder how soon the Brazilian government will lease the Lajes airbase...

JP, Russia's already cast its lot with the other side -- its naval base on Syria's Mediterranean coast is the reason the US, Britain et al. have manufactured a Syrian civil war; Germany has long and close ties with Turkey, and both sides would gain much more by throwing Israel to the wolves. I don't see that changing.

MawKernewek, once Egypt built the Aswan dam it neutralized its ability to be much of a threat to anyone, as a couple of bombs in the middle of the dam would be enough to send a wall of water down the Nile valley and wipe out nearly the entire country. I suspect that was why Egypt suddenly found reason to get all friendly with Israel, which has the planes and bombs to do the job. Now of course Egypt's still a powderkeg of sorts, but I don't expect it to have much of an impact until the mass migrations begin.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, the standard joke in the US is that you don't qualify as an accredited hillbilly unless the collapse of your porch would cause serious injuries to at least six dogs. (Or, rather, dawgs.) Still, git that thar rockin' chair! Might as well enjoy those demijohns properly.

Phil, heck of a good question. My touchstone is history, which is a very good guide to longterm trends but much less precise as a means of predicting the short term. My take, though, is that the reason the US et al. have manufactured a Syrian civil war has more to do with the Russian naval base at Tartus, which has been a thorn in the side of NATO for years and which was slated for expansion and modernization after Russia forgave a chunk of Syrian debt.

Hal, it'll be secondhand wealth pumping, no doubt -- remember that the cities where the local gentry will be seeing the opera will most likely be drained by somebody else's wealth pump, so the wealth of the countryside flows to the cities, and thence overseas. The alternative? The sort of high-tariff policy the US had from 1861 to the end of the 19th century, which kept most US wealth at home at the cost of hard restrictions on all kinds of foreign trade.

Ian, that's another plausible scenario, to be sure. I had to pick one out of a target-rich environment...

streamfortyseven said...

Taiwan: I'll bet it ends up like the former Crown Colony of Hong Kong, as a Special Administrative Region. The Noble Houses still exist, here's details on one of them: The Chinese are ultra-capitalists, they're not about to destroy any golden-egg laying geese to make some sort of ideological point. Incidentally, Macau, across from Hong Kong, is on a similar plan, with "a high degree of autonomy in all areas except in defence and foreign affairs.[9] Macau officials, rather than PRC officials, run Macau through the exercise of separate executive, legislative, and judicial powers, as well as the right to final adjudication.[44] Macau maintains its own separate currency, customs territory, immigration and border controls, and police force.[45][46]"

As for Israel, there are quite a few groups of people interested in cooperating with the Palestinians and mutual aid efforts do exist: The grassroots movements will be of greater importance in the long run, IMHO.

I think as soon as US aid begins to decline, the Israeli government will shift from the Likud and its ideological allies towards a more moderate approach with the goal of giving Palestinians more and more of a stake in Israeli society until full parity/political equality is reached. The settlements in the West Bank will be removed, probably with force, by the IDF under new command structure. The "This land is Ours" people won't like it one bit and they'll resist with violence, but they'll find out precisely what it means to be outgunned... Here's an interesting video made by an IDF refusenik about the situation:

Finally, nuclear weapons require periodic maintenance to remain useful: We're looking at 5 - 10 years max before a warhead has to be entirely scrapped - and if it's armed and ready to go, a couple of weeks - total. Tritium deuteride only lasts about six months before replacement is needed, and conventional weapons can be used to deform nukes sufficiently so that they can't be used, because the uranium or plutonium in the warhead must be stored in inert gas or vacuum. Plutonium exposed to air spontaneously ignites - then its use as a warhead is done for.

phil harris said...

I'm copying a follow-on find (below) concerning the current regional power-plays bordering Israel.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are energy hubs located within broad 'western' interest - and thereby included within the USA military network. (Thanks for the bit about Russian naval base in Syria.)
Israel will take opportunistic advantage of regional and world power play - deliberately dangerously - but will be unable to change or better secure its strategic position? Eventually the region will make proposals that Israel will find difficult to refuse?

Found this tit-bit
Michael Bagley, President of Jellyfish, a DC-based private intelligence firm advising multinational corporations in Iraq, told

“What we essentially have is an Iraq that has already been carved up, with Northern Iraq controlled by Turkey, the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the rest controlled by Iran,” Bagley said. “From this perspective, there are plenty of external forces who would like to see greater autonomy, and even independence, for Iraqi Kurdistan.”

But the timing isn’t quite right yet. The events in Syria lend some uncertainty to these ambitions, particularly for Turkey.

“Everyone will have to wait for the dust to settle in Syria, which has its own Kurds, to determine how the Iraqi Kurdish question will be answered,” he said.

Renaissance Man said...

There are a lot themes coming together here: anaclosis in the arab world where they unite behind a powerful leader then fragment and then unite again; the effect on client states during both growth and collapse of empires; the effects on the surrounding nations and peoples.
It occurs to me that -- very broadly speaking - similar histories to the Levant played out in Central Asia, China, around the Indus river, and the Balkans, wheneverr a client state or colony buffered an empire from hostile outside forces.
I'd also note that, parallel to the history you sketched out, a military pattern seems to emerge, too. At first, the soldiers of the empire and the client state show determination and ferocity and tenacity in battle. They are organized, motivated and disciplined. The local tribes are disorganized, disjointed, and fractious. The empire and client-state soldiers overcome them and they become demoralized.
Over time, the surrounding tribes absorb the ethic and culture of cooperation and organization until they are psychologically able to accept the idea of submission to a single leader. Meanwhile the troops of the client state, militarily supported by the empire, gradually become less motivated, more concerned with personal survival, less determined to conquer, with less willingness to sacrifice for the common future.
Eventually, beyond the mere costliness that you sketched out to run and maintain, the imbalance in qualiity of troops shifts, so that the result becomes inevitable.
The early Roman camps had wide gates, so the legionaries could easily sortie and reclaim the initiative in battle. Late Roman forts had narrow doors: the troops preferred to stay inside where they felt safe, leaving the besiegers with the ultimate victory.
The Goths coalesced behind Theodoric, copying the Roman organization, the Mongols under Chingis organized like the Chinese, just as the Arabs followed Saladin becoming united, like the Crusaders had been a generation before.

Hal said...

JMG, I imagine that sort of high-tarrif policy is only an option if you have the economic or political autonomy to pull it off. I can imagine that condition waxing and waning over time with circumstances and depending on whichever external power is operating the dominant pump at the time.

On another topic, I certainly have no dog in the fight over South Australia, but found this report interesting:

Cherokee Organics said...


Goshdarnit! I hope the porch doesn't fall in. hehe! Thanks for the laughs.

Hi Hal,

I knew of someone years ago that spent $250k on a renovation to a cafe. It looked really nice, but the problem is that the underlying business never made enough profit to be able to pay back the investment. You have to sell a lot of coffee to recoup the money spent in that renovation and the margins aren't that great to begin with.

The margins on agricultural produce are also low so they'd possibly never be able to recoup their initial investment. I'm probably wrong, but maybe this one has the smell of a ponzi scheme about it. I'd love for someone to make something like this work, but we'd perhaps have to all start paying more for our fruit and vegetables. Perhaps we may well, who knows? Again, I'm going by gut feel as they didn't really talk about numbers, but infrastructure in the middle of nowhere ain't cheap.

Such schemes are a good metaphor for our society.


Farka said...

Nice analysis, as expected. But given the climate forecasts for that part of the Middle East, I wonder how much will be left to fight over anyway? You've alluded to that issue elsewhere occasionally, but I'd be interested to see a more detailed discussion.

I see you've already made the point in comments that the end of Israel would not be the end for the Israeli population (much as the end of industrial civilisation does not mean the end of the world). Nightmares of a second Holocaust, or dreams of sending Israelis back where their grandparents came from, are both extremely unlikely outcomes. If more people realised this, maybe the shouting around this topic would be somewhat more coherent.

wiseman said...

You must have heard about peak phosphorus. At current rates of consumption, whole thing runs out in 90 years. But I guess like PO we never actually get to the end of it.

Apparently Morocco has 80% of the world's phosphate reserves. I definitely see a mad scramble for Morocco's fortunes as reality sets in. Maybe your five part series which starts in Tanzania could actually start in Morocco or do you think it's too close to Europe and will be immune from Chinese influence.


The State of Israel can´t be created if there wasn´t a massive emigration of European Jews because in Europe after of the Holocaust, the survivors where mistreated in their origin countries, in some cases (Kielce,…) they where killed for their neighbours , and they weren´t allowed to emigrate to another countries , don’t crashed for the war, as US, Australia, etc.

Droug Nochi said...

Dear JMG!
Sorry for commenting so late! (I only found this post recently)
This post of yours is, to me, very thought-provoking and, more importantly, pretty scary.
You see, I'm myself a long-time, Russian-born,Jewish Israeli citizen (for 9 out of my 21 years of age) and this wonderfully detailed post made me raise a pretty personal question: What, in your opinion, can I expect of my future in this part of the world (I really don't see anywhere else I can go, and returning to Russia is not an option - I'll be outright killed), what particular coping strategies could I explore and what should be my highest priorities in the face of the looming crises?
What makes the issue more complicated for me is that I'm an aspie, I'm homosexual and I don't have any combat/survival training (haven't been drafted, see above). I'm rather afraid of the future, in all honesty. I don't want to stupidly perish.

mike johnson said...

My friend, you are such an eloquent writer. I have never seen this topic expounded up like