NEW YORK – The East Mediterranean Business and Cultural Alliance (EMBCA) recently offered an intriguing presentation by geopolitics expert Dr. Michael Vlahos titled “The Empires Strike Back: Can America Avoid Major War in the Next 18 Months?”
During his greetings EMBCA founder Louis Katsos told the guests on the Ides of March “we are honored and happy to have Dr. Vlahos here tonight, and then introduced EMBCA VP and co-founder Architect John Fotiadis.
Fotiadis introduced Dr. Vlahos after noting that given the tumultuous events of the past year, “One can’t help but feel that we are moving towards an inflection point,” Dr. Vlahos, he said, would outline “what does this mean for the US and the rest of the world and where is it all going.”
Vlahos is an author and foreign affairs and national security TV commentator and is a professor in the Strategy and Policy Department at the US Naval War College and teaches in the Global Security Studies program of Johns Hopkins.
“I am honored to be here and bring to you elements of the end of the world as we know it,” his wry humor more unsettling than entertaining.
“If you look around, everywhere we see confrontation and conflict…and the prospect of clashes between the great powers, including a looming confrontation with China which will happen – I don’t know when and how and what it will lead to but it is in the cards.”
He then noted there are many issues with Russia “and a lot of scare talk – much of it from American experts,” who are focused on things like weapons systems.
But he emphasized, “War is not about the instruments of war, it’s about the people who are fighting the war and are sacrificing themselves and the reasons they are willing to sacrifice themselves.”
He spoke of the links between the lower level conflicts, including terrorism, that we have been used to in recent years and the possibility of higher level great power clashes, and then then shook the guests up more by pointing to the lighted match looming over the gasoline of clashing interests.
“What kind of dynamic is pushing humanity to conflict as the solution,” he asked, then answered: “People are literally fighting for their way of life.”
He hammered home the uncontrollable power of the emotional and the irrational in world affairs by noting that states, empires, unions “express the needs of people and they also express the failings of the ruling elites, who may not be leading for very much longer.”
Those elites have been guided for decades by a larger vision of the world with a more universal appeal than nationalism and religion “but that universal appeal is no longer the driving element of the world,” but neither are the wars we face imperial wars. “They are wars of identity. War is today about people who are searching to sustain and preserve their way of life,” he said.
“Look at the Empire of the West led by the United States in the war against the Islamic State. A tiny group kids has taken on all of the majesty and power and glory of the western empire. How could that happen,” he asked before exploring their nature after saying what is important is not what the wars look like, but what are they being fought for.
“What weapons they are using do not matter. The look in his eyes – that’s what matters,” and he continued, “The stake is who gets to decided who you are. Wars of identity are about doing anything it takes to preserve one’s way of life.”
Vlahos then raised the ancient parallel of the conflict between Athens and the citizens of Melos it whom it sought to pull into its alliance. But the Melians didn’t feel they were gaining ally, rather they fear enslavement – and they chose to die to the last man.
He demonstrated that even Western countries are no longer true believers, unfavorably comparing “the passionate commitment and idealism at some real level” of the UN forces in the Korean war with “the absolute cynicism and disbelief” in today’s “coalitions of the willing.”
But Vlahos kept shaking the ground of the world view of the guests.
“Globalization has not failed, it has reached the end of the line…it is no longer able to fulfill its promises and the elites who have benefited – almost entirely – from globalization are now losing their authority and underlying legitimacy to run the system.”
Vlahos was able to paint a sharp and compelling picture of the social and cultural forces confronting the United States by temporarily abstracting the economic elements, and during the Q&A crushed the notion presented by one guest that an American manufacturing comeback would resolve many issues with one word: “automation,” and noted the prospect of a relatively jobless manufacturing recovery.
Those elements form the background of the rise of anti-establishment parties in Europe and candidates like Donald Trump in the United States, and more than once Vlahos used the word “revolution” as both a likely and a welcome possibility.