Golly geopolitics! A jack of all tirades is a McMaster of none.
The world, with all its nations, cultures, languages and contested boundaries, can be seen as a complex place. Apparently some people in government feel the need to radically reduce its cumbersome complexity. Donald Trump’s national security advisor, General H.R. McMaster, in a notable tirade on national security delivered to the UK-based think tank, Policy Exchange, has found a particularly effective way of simplifying the concept of geopolitics. Here is how he (mis)uses the term: “Geopolitics are back, and back with a vengeance, after this holiday from history we took in the so-called post-Cold War period.”
In an effort to take into account McMaster’s original thinking, we offer its new 3D definition, which can be summed up in two words:
Most would agree with McMaster’s concept of the Cold War as a form of permanent confrontation between powerful nations and all the skullduggery that such confrontation implies. They might not agree that the skullduggery originates only from the other side, but the conviction that “our side” is virtuous and innocent and only the evil-minded enemy would resort to underhanded tactics appears to be one of the standard features of any respectable cold war.
McMaster’s use of the term “geopolitics” — which, fooled by the “s” at the end, he erroneously takes to be a plural noun — may have been influenced by a 2014 article in Foreign Affairs, which stated: “But Westerners should never have expected old-fashioned geopolitics to go away.” In his desire to simplify, McMaster may have subsequently confused the all-inclusive term geopolitics with the particular idea of “old-fashioned geopolitics.”
Some may find it curious, if not worrying, that a presidential advisor is taking the liberty of both modifying the English language and misrepresenting history. Merriam-Webster gives the following definition of geopolitics: “the study of how geography and economics have an influence on politics and on the relations between nations.” This clearly does not belong to an era in history, or more accurately belongs to every era. Geopolitical Futures, in a thorough review of the current geopolitical landscape in 2017, calls geopolitics “the supposition that all international relationships are based on the interaction between geography and power.”
It’s worth noting that McMaster’s notion of “history” itself diverges from what most people understand by the term. He calls the “post-Cold War period” a “holiday from history.” He apparently expects us to understand that not just geopolitics but history itself is synonymous with the Cold War, which would presumably mean that any period of civilized peace and social harmony — free of direct confrontation between great powers — would be outside history (an idea notoriously put forward by Francis Fukuyama and already hinted at by Orson Welles in The Third Man, who noted that the murder and bloodshed of the Borgias’ Florence produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance, whereas 500 years of brotherly love, peace and democracy in Switzerland produced… the cuckoo clock).
The belief that the lack of confrontation is a holiday reveals the low opinion McMaster has of peace, seen as an ill-advised interruption of the serious business of war. Perhaps this time he was influenced by the Duke of Gloucester, soon to become Richard III:
“Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.”
McMaster’s two transformations of normal vocabulary — geopolitics and history — reveal everything that lies behind a militaristic view of the world. And Richard III begins to read like a prophetic vision of Trump’s presidency. But, anticipating Act V, instead of “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse” we should expect that this time a golf cart will do.
Next week, The Daily Devil’s Dictionary will examine another item of McMaster’s rich vocabulary.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.
In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.
We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money. Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.