Euphemisms in geopolitics

November 29,2018

Euphemisms in geopolitics

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International relations is premised on a handful of theoretical frameworks. They explain how nations relate with one another and provide an understanding of human events that take place around the world. The most familiar of these frameworks is the realist paradigm. Realism is easy to grasp – states behave rationally, and are calculative and egoistic. Realism obscures any state behaviour based on morality.

It is time for Malaysia to articulate its own narrative to describe the reality of geopolitics. We should call a spade, a spade. I applaud Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his speech at the recent UN general assembly when he called for nations to recognise Palestine and “stop Israel’s blatant atrocities”. Mahathir did not say “aggression” or “hostility”. Contrary to realist euphemisms, Mahathir re-introduced unambiguous truisms on the world stage. Up till then, the US narrative had dominated, especially since the notorious “undemocratic” 2000 election. What we need now is an alternative global dialogue. The views and aspirations of the developing and third world nations should be given a prominent platform.

The current ambivalent narrative is really an apology for an underlying reality. To put it simply, the ongoing discourse detailing global conflicts has been accepted as normal, even sophisticated. The following are common phrases we read on a daily basis explaining regional unrest. “Pushing back against Iran’s regional ambitions” is one example that appeared in a recent Washington Post article. It described America’s “pushing back” strategy, and Iran’s “ambition”. Another is the headline in a leading Asian weekly. It reads “The China Threat Cannot Be Ignored”. This refers, obviously, to the so-called China “threat”.

Mass media and the academia are overflowing with realist overtones in analysing world politics. We can accept, to a certain degree, that the media uses catchy headlines to attract readership. However, these realist concepts (ambition and threat) hide reality. The world of analysis has instead been dominated by US parlance. A more poignant narrative has to be re-introduced which includes the words “imperialist” and “imperialism”.

21st-century international relations is characterised by fear and distrust. This has resulted in a feeling of insecurity between states. China, for example, invokes feelings of trepidation for many countries in the South China Sea region. Its rapidly expanding navy is considered threatening to many regional states. This feeling is exacerbated by China’s bold economic designs such the Belt and Road Initiative.However, since there is no world government, when one nation accumulates power other countries feel insecure. As a result, they are compelled to do the same. What emerges is a “security dilemma”.Classic realism accepts this as a fait accompli. There is no issue of whether it is right or wrong. It just is. Describing such a situation as a “dilemma” suggests a mood of predicament and difficulty. Due to this security dilemma, all countries are in a state of political conundrum.

The current debate on the international stage suggests constant tension between the powerful and the less powerful, i.e. an asymmetric dilemma. There is tension between equal powers as well, a symmetric dilemma. However, the narrative always avoids what is really at play: abject bullying.Global geopolitics reflects states’ behaviour based on fear, reputation and national interest.

I take issue with the concept “national interest”. Given the current state of international politics, we should be reading more about imperialism as a motivating factor. National interest is the kid gloves that academia and diplomats love to wear. The ongoing Yemen war illustrates my point.We are made to believe that the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is the result of a Sunni-Shia conflict among Muslims. However, it is more complex than that. It is not just about petty Muslims fighting over sects. Since September 2014, the civil war between the Houthi rebels in the north and the Yemeni government has escalated into a free-for-all onslaught by several players. The Arab coalition, made up of nine countries, the US, UK, France and Iran are involved in a proxy war over Yemen. What began as an internal civil war exploded into a complicated web of international intrigues, lies and imperialist aggression.

The Yemen war is not only based on religious grievances. The narrative has failed to highlight economic and political issues. Realism has sustained the discourse which highlights phrases such as “fighting for freedom”, “liberation of the true Islam” and national interest. Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the chaos and launched several attacks on Houthi rebels whom they consider infidels. But this situation does not justify billions exchanged in arms sales between US-led bullies and the coalition of Arab states. The US and Arab bombing campaigns in Yemen have created a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations recognises this but till now remains emasculated. Trade sanctions on Iran are another act of imperialist bullying.US imperialist designs are clear in the events following Donald Trump’s exit in May from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal).

This resulted in the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran. It was engineered to cripple its economy. European, Japanese and South Korean companies who are heavily invested in Iran are very dependent on the U.S financial system. So they are in a dilemma over whether to pull their businesses out of Iran or face the wrath of Trump.Earlier this year, Japan needed to “seek exemption” from the US in order to continue importing oil from Iran. The tables are turned now as a former imperialist power (Japan) has to seek permission from a neo-imperialist superpower (the US). Japan was worried because putting the brakes on all Iranian oil exports would result in a loss of around 165,481 barrels per day.In August, Iran’s investment contracts with European, Japanese and South Korean banks were suspended. The US had obviously denied Japan’s request. While China and Russia are still committed to their deals with Iran, the rest have halted their interaction. This is classic imperialism at work. Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, yet the US threatens others who continue to uphold JCPOA. Not only is Iran’s access to foreign financial services and facilities targeted, nations who are committed to business deals with Iran are also punished. Financial strangulation has become the imperialistic arm of US power politics.In July, Malaysia reaffirmed support for the JCPOA. Predictably, on September 14, the US treasury imposed sanctions on a Thai aviation company (My Aviation Company Ltd, Bangkok) which was acting on behalf of Iran’s Mahan Air.

The US claims the latter was ferrying troops and supplies into Syria. Mahan Travel and Tourism is based in Malaysia.In response to Trump’s recent bellowing to the UN Security Council (when he said Iran would “suffer consequences”), Mahathir declared that “smaller nations like Malaysia will suffer”. He said “we have no choice and if you do not obey them, they will take action on your banks and currencies”.

It is clear that Malaysia now joins an elite list of nations that are the object of US imperialism.While I offer no concrete solutions to the growing economic and financial war waged by the US, I suggest we re-evaluate how we look at current affairs. The inter-connectedness of the global financial system is the new imperialistic “soft power” weapon. Trump has proven to be the heavy-handed emperor. He has successfully manipulated credible powers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, punishing them for remaining in the JCPOA.Trump is the embodiment of a new archetypical leader popularly referred to as the “strongman”. In reality, the US has reached the pinnacle as an imperial power, par excellence. What Lenin wrote decades ago is now a reality: capitalist competition has transformed into a monopoly; a monopoly of trade, commodities, services and most crucially, ideology.

8 thoughts on “Euphemisms in geopolitics

  1. The powers that be in the Western world uses literature and journalism to influence public opinion by way of directing and controlling the narratives in the widely circulated and read mass media – these mass media & their narratives are the colored spectacles through which the citizenries of the world view the unfolding world events around them. They are therefore important instruments for “educating” the mind of the public. It is natural therefore that the powers that be in the Western world would want to have proprietorships of these mass media so that they can so direct and control the narratives and in turn, lead public opinion in the direction of their aims. Their power does not, unfortunately, stops there. Dr Mahathir is a smart person who realizes the extent of this power when he said (quote) “We have no choice and if you do not obey them, they will take action on your banks and currencies” in reference to the punitive actions that can be unleashed on Third World nations. The Asian Financial Crisis in the late 90s bears testament to that power. In the face of such power and the realpolitik that they engage in, we are mostly economical with the truth lest we suffer the backlash. In any case anyway, much of the news of unfolding world events produced by the Third World nations’ presses are fed to them by the Western mass media and press organisations whose narratives they follow and whose proprietors are the powers that be in the Western world. The powers that be do not take too kindly to opposing viewpoints and contrasting narratives.

    • By means of proprietorship, and also by other sophisticated methods, none of which Third World nations and their leaders possess, the powers that be in Western world have at their disposition the necessary press organs by which it becomes relatively easy for them to determine the content of published materials so that it could be ensured that they would have their full view expressed through them, and all the while subverting the truth such that what is mostly consumed by the mind of the public is a narrative that is superficial – if not downright lies, fantasies and myths. And precisely under this condition that the author suggested “The views and aspirations of the developing and third world nations should be given a prominent platform”.

    • The author basically suggested that the 3rd World nations and their leaders exercise their own wise judgement and propagate their own worldview even if that means straying from the mainstream and popular opinion which are designed purposely to serve their master’s interests rather than to “educate” the mind of the public of the truth.

      It is a laudable call to action, but this will definitely take courage and initiative to carry it out.

      Even if the space accorded for dissemination of different – and perhaps critical – viewpoints would be limited under the circumstance, a contesting narrative could find its space still, especially in this age of the internet.

  2. “a contesting narrative could find its space still, especially in this age of the internet”

    Might not remain so for long: there’re moves among giant Internet providers to end so-called “net neutrality.”

    Also, propaganda is disseminated not only through news and articles but also through entertainment and academic outlets, including think tanks, various subsidised NGOs, etc., all of which push forward particular worldviews. As Jacques Ellul pointed out, propaganda isn’t propaganda unless it’s total propaganda.

  3. A very nice read with the highest journalist standards in writings.

    Sorry, I sekolah 2 tingkat je! Mungkin not qualified to post any of my 2 cents worth of kampung philosophy on this blog.

    So what happened to all our jaguh kampungs! All ada Masters, Oxford dan pelbagai lagi. Don’t they have an answer to the world’s problems?

    Can you try to reach out to those millions of kampung folks and millions of young graduates kampung mentality with your treatise.

    The intellectuals should of cause know what you are talking about. Maybe la.

    Well if all the nations in the world vetoed whatever the US of America wants, the green back would shrink to nothing and the great Americans will continue as another nation equal to any other or try to become great again!

    Unfortunately covenants have been made by Allied Forces, Nato, Eu and whatever remains sacred till only God knows when.
    Such are also the covenants made by humans to their Gods. Doesn’t matter which God!

    Kiasu and Kiasi are the main components in their quest to always be on the winning side and cannot die mah!

    Morality is only a second choice. Even that by fear or favour.

    Really wonder what the billions attending Mosques, Churches, temples etc seek.

    No money no religion. Guess no religion no money too

    It’s all economics my dear Watson. What’s God to do with it!

    Monopoly as it stands today is the monopoly of the corrupt.

    Nothing more, nothing less.

    And of cause don’t we have enough shining examples within our own borders.

    I’ll bet even God has given up the these species he created; self proclaimed human beings kononya.

    Now I’ll start looking for what Euphemism means. Me thinks it’s “bombastic”.

    The Equalizer-manonthestreet.

    Ruben Raj Daniel, you are fine.Look forward to hearing from you.Din.

    • Ruben, man on the street, I like what you wrote. The world is sick. But, God is not dead. God is in you to tell what is right and wrong, such that you could write what you wrote, in spite of the fact that no amount of education could explain why the messiness in this world. Forgive the world, so that you too could love the world as God loves the world.

  4. The Sunni Muslim leadership of the Muslim world maintains close ties with the US and the EU with the corrosive effect of undermining their fiscal integrity and independence of action. The Shiite leadership, on the other hand, seems to be just the opposite – assertive and fearless and trying to keep away from “decadent West” What stands out in this confrontation is that the Sunnis outnumber the Shiites many fold. Who follows the book closely is a conundrum not only for the ordinary and learned Muslims but the general non-Muslim public as well.

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