This year, 2021, may be remembered as a pivot year in world history. Not because of the pandemic. Not only because of the protracted crisis of the American republic. But because of the changed balance of power in international relations brought about by the decrepitude of the American Atlanticist Alliance and the strengthening of the Eurasian Alliance of China, Russia and the Central Asian States. The Fall of Kabul may be remembered as the American Empire’s Suez Crisis moment, when a declining empire’s authority at last collapsed, and the world’s diplomatic, economic and geo-strategic institutions began to reassemble to meet newly revealed realities.
It is not only an empire’s authority that has collapsed, but its ideas of itself in the world. It is no longer the beacon of democracy, but besieged by domestic enemies within; no longer the land of the brave and the home of the free, but the echo-chamber of the woke and refuge of the oligarchs; no longer the hyper-power that can create its own reality, but an expelled occupying power that cannot organise a safe airlift from Kabul airport; no longer the CENTCOM of all the seas, skies and lands of the world, but the self-aggrandising fantasist staring at a TV screen topped by clocks of the world’s capital, which the most over-resourced intelligence agencies of the world cannot even set to the correct time. America no longer occupies the geographic pivot of history, but is crumbling back to its place in the outer or insular crescent.
These terms – “geographic pivot of history” and the “outer or insular crescent” – come from the essay by Halford Mackinder, “The Geographical Pivot of History,” originally read at the Royal Geographical Society of London in January 1904 and later published in The Geographical Journal and as a book. Mackinder was a geographer, who later became a British Liberal Unionist politician who associated with the Fabians (a kind of early twentieth century progressive). He was also an early example of the poisoning of that progressive tradition by Anglo-American Russophobia – born in the rivalries of the nineteenth century, including the paranoid Great Game in Afghanistan (narrated so brilliantly in William Dalrymple’s Return of a King: the Battle for Afghanistan), heightened by World War One and the Civil War in Russia (which Mackinder participated in on behalf of the Whites as British High Commissioner to Russia), bequeathed to America in the Cold War, and lately descended into Lear-like senile madness in the Russia Gate hoax. As an early entrepreneur of ideas, Mackinder is credited as one of the founding fathers of geostrategy and geopolitics.
In his 1904 essay, Mackinder gave voice to one of the enduring ideas of geo-strategy in the Anglo-American Empires, with all the tragic grandiosity of the “realist” school in international relations – to control the Eurasian continent was possible for the Anglo-American Empires through hemming in the pivot area of Russia. The idea was seeded in “The Geographical Pivot of History” and would later be promoted, in the wake of WWI and Mackinder’s own sabotage of the early Soviet Union, in the book, Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction (1919). His famous quote, memorised by a dozen geo-strategists of the American Empire, from this book was:
Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the WorldHalford mackinder
The Heartland was Russia and Central Asia. The World Island was Eurasia. And the vain ambition to command the World has at long last been exposed as a folly in Afghanistan today.
Towards the end of his life in 1943 Mackinder reiterated and expanded his Heartland view of the world for the post-war world dominated by the new Atlantic world, with the fond hope that Britain could still hang onto the knees of its new imperial master. The Atlantic Ocean would become the new command centre of the world, tying together North America and Britain as a “moated aerodrome”. The rest of the world was confined to the “girdle of deserts and wilderness”, and the “Monsoon lands” of the Indo-Pacific. But the determination to weaken Russia and play a Great Game in Central Asia endured. His intellectual successors in the American security state stripped these ideas of the their British imperial nostalgia and turned Mackinder’s will to command the World into the Atlanticist worldview.
The Grand Master of this geostrategic worldview was Zbigniew Brzezinski, who advocated in The Grand Chessboard, an aggressive American global hegemony regardless of any doubts that might arise from the weak pusillanimous democratic temper. In 1997 Brzezinski expressed his essential concept of how America could command the world through an eagle’s nest in the Hindu Kush:
Eurasia is the world’s axial supercontinent. A power that dominated Eurasia would exercise decisive influence over two of the world’s three most economically productive regions, Western Europe and East Asia. A glance at the map also suggests that a country dominant in Eurasia would almost automatically control the Middle East and Africa. With Eurasia now serving as the decisive geopolitical chessboard, it no longer suffices to fashion one policy for Europe and another for Asia. What happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America’s global primacy and historical legacy … In a volatile Eurasia, the immediate task is to ensure that no state or combination of states gains the ability to expel the United States or even diminish its decisive role.Brzezinski, foreign affairs (1997)
In the late 1970s Brzezinski was the National Security Adviser to the President Jimmy Carter. He wrote a memo to the President outlining the importance for America to command the World of controlling Afghanistan, and its routes to the Persian Gulf, Iran, Southern Russia and Western China. And it was Brzezinski, moreover, who in 1979 armed the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, prior to the Soviet intervention. You can view below the youthful Brzezinski arriving by helicopter at the Afghan-Pakistan border to incite the start of the American-Afghan wars that ended this week in the capitulation of the global hegemon.
His thinking was a high-class version of Mackinder’s heartland theory. Later George W. Bush would give it a common touch – we fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here. The same thinking justified the self-rationalising endless war strategies of a gaggle of generals including Mattis, McMaster and, most pathetically, the humbled Milley. This same thinking has now collapsed in Kabul.
And the collapse of this thinking will be a good thing for the world, assuming we can recover from and adapt to the shock. America should no longer dream of commanding the World, the World Island, and its Eurasian Heartland from its insular Atlantic coastline. The scales have fallen from the eyes of the world after its incompetence in Kabul. A former Italian Minister, Michele Geraci, wrote in the Global Times (the English-language unofficial mouthpiece of the Chinese Government):
In a few hours, the West has not only lost Afghanistan, which it had never owned, but has thrown away years, decades, centuries of moral standing, defender of the rights of the weak, of human rights, of women’s rights, of a democracy promoter. However, the betrayal that the West perpetrated against Afghan citizens, who are the ones who will pay the price for the West’s political choices, cracks, in fact, destroys even the last ethical bulwark that the West boasted about: being the champions of international justice and protector of the oppressed of the world.Geraci, for afghanistan the silk road is better than the tank road, global times
China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian States are now working actively to establish stable economic, diplomatic and political institutions that can include a stable, developing Afghan state. While the leaders of the Atlantic Alliance blame the Afghans, cry on television, gnash their teeth and throw out gratuitous insults about “stone-age” or “medieval” Afghani tribesmen, the Foreign Ministers of China and Russia are working together to establish a diplomatic solution that provides for regional security. They may not succeed, but at least they do not delude themselves.
It is worth quoting the recent remarks of Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, from a press conference on 19 August at length:
The Taliban does not yet control the entire territory of Afghanistan. There are reports about the situation in the Panjshir Gorge, where the resistance forces led by Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud are now concentrated. This makes our position even more consistent.
In a situation where the entire nation of Afghanistan was in the grips of a civil war, we advocated the need for an urgent transition to a nationwide dialogue with the participation of all opposing Afghan forces and ethnic and religious groups in that country. Likewise, now that the Taliban have in fact taken power in Kabul and most other cities and provinces, we advocate a national dialogue that will make it possible to form a representative government which, with the support of the Afghan public, will proceed to develop the final arrangements for this multi-ethnic country.
What’s our take on this? In recent years, within the framework of the “expanded troika” (Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan) and in the Moscow format, which is generally recognised as the most effective mechanism for promoting external support for an Afghan settlement, we pushed for an early start to these talks. The government and the president of Afghanistan, who were bound by corresponding agreements, were not in a hurry to act on them. What happened, happened. When politicians are unable to work effectively, the temptation to resort to a military solution mounts. In any case, what we are now faced with absolutely confirms our consistent policy for creating the right external conditions and providing every support for a nationwide dialogue in Afghanistan.
I’m convinced that the Moscow format has the best chance to succeed since the situation has already taken on a region-wide dimension, and neighbouring countries and countries located further away from Afghanistan are responding to it. As a reminder, all five Central Asian states (China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia and the United States) and the conflicting parties are participating in the Moscow format. No official proposals have been made so far. However, the effectiveness of this “backup group” behind the Afghan talks has invariably been recognised by everyone. We stand ready to resume the Moscow format, if needed.
We welcomed the Taliban saying they want to start a dialogue with other political forces in Afghanistan. A meeting with the participation of Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, former President Hamid Karzai and leader of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been announced. We operate on the premise that all members of this group said they were willing to meet and negotiate in the interests of the Afghan people. We will encourage these processes in every possible way and strive to translate these intentions into concrete actions.Sergei Lavrov, Russian ministry of foreign affairs
Let us hope it works. But for it to work the Atlantic Alliance must adjust to a diminished status in the world, and give way to the emerging Eurasian Alliance that appears now to control the World Island, but without the Anglo-American ambition to Command the World. Two days before these remarks by Sergei Lavrov, he spoke by phone to Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi. The read-out of the discussion states:
During the conversation, the ministers stressed the importance of the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation in terms of developing comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China in all spheres and elevating their relations to an all-time high, as the two countries mark the 20th anniversary of signing the treaty this year. On the subject of the approaching anniversary of the end of WWII, they paid special attention to stepping up coordinated efforts to counter any attempts to falsify the history of this war or to revise its outcomes. The ministers agreed on holding joint events devoted to the struggle of the two peoples against Nazis and militarists. They went on to exchange views on expanding coordination on foreign policy matters, including within the UN, as well as in light of the recent developments in Afghanistan and their regional implications.
The World Island has reemerged. The tide is receding on the Atlantic coast.