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    Central Asia
     Sep 10, 2008
A comedy of areas
By Spengler

After reading Vice President Dick Cheney's spirited defense on September 4 of the brave Georgian nation and the need to free Ukraine against nefarious Russian intentions, I listened to old comedy clips on YouTube until I felt well enough to write. We don't appreciate people until they are gone, and iconic American stand-up comedian, actor and author George Carlin's death in June was an irreparable loss for American foreign policy. If only Carlin were still alive - or even maybe Sam Kinison (another US stand-up comedian and actor) - none of these terrible things would be happening.

The fact is that there won't be any Georgians or Ukrainians in the not-too-distant future. By coincidence, Washington's two favorite beacons of liberty happen to be the two countries with the world's fastest rate of population decline. By mid-century they will have

 

barely half as many inhabitants as they do today, and half of those who remain will be elderly. Hardly men of military age and  women of child-bearing age will remain. Their economies will implode long before the mid-century mark, as soaring retirement costs crush state budgets, and young people emigrate to escape the burden of supporting the elderly.

Four Fastest-Shrinking Countries in the World

Population
(thousands)

2005

2050

% change

Ukraine

46918

25514

-46%

Georgia

4473

2575

-42%

Belarus

9795

5746

-41%

Moldova

3877

2330

-40%

Source: United Nations

Who are these countries, and why are they there? They don't seem to want to be there much longer. The late Kinison's "World Hunger" routine comes to mind:
You want to help world hunger? Stop sending them food. Don't send them another bite, send them U-Hauls. Send them luggage, folks. Send them somebody like me. I'll walk out there. Send a guy that says, "Hey, you know, we just drove 700 miles with your food and we realized there wouldn't BE world hunger if you people would live where the FOOD IS! YOU LIVE IN A DESERT!! UNDERSTAND THAT? YOU LIVE IN A ***** DESERT!! NOTHING GROWS HERE! NOTHING'S GONNA GROW HERE! Come here, you see this? This is sand. Nothing grows in this *****. Here, eat some of. Taste it. You know what it's gonna be 100 years from now? IT'S GONNA BE SAND!! YOU LIVE IN A ***** DESERT! We have deserts in America, we just don't live in them, *****!
Only in the context of over-the-top black humor do Americans ask the obvious question, namely: What are certain countries doing there in the first place? Merely suggesting that some of them might not need to be there made Kinison, who died in a 1992 car crash, the deepest foreign-policy thinker of his generation.

I am trying to imagine what Kinison would say about Georgia and Ukraine. Carlin might have expanded his comedy routine about anorexia and bulimia ("No, Anorexia and Bulima are not countries in Eastern Europe"). After suggesting names for Beverly Hills restaurants catering to eating-disorder victims ("The Empty Plate", "The Fork and Bucket") Carlin drew frantic applause with this: "A rich ***** who doesn't want to eat? ***** her!" What would he have said about countries with the demographic equivalent of anorexia? Presumably, he would say, "***** them!"

Emulating Michael Ledeen, who sometimes channels the late James Jesus Angleton via an Ouija board, I have asked the late Carlin to comment on this from the afterlife. This is what he had to say:

"Did you ever ask why countries should be there in the first place? Is it because they speak a different language? People speak 7,000 different languages. Does that mean we need 7,000 different countries? That's never going to happen. That would give us 7,000 UN missions with diplomatic plates, and no one in New York would ever get a parking spot. Nobody would be able to haul garbage. The mafia would send an army from Bensonhurst to kill them all.

"Most of these countries don't need to be there. The Georgians and Ukrainians don't think they need to be there, because they don't have any ***** babies. Our leaders," Carlin might have continued, "think that Georgia and Ukraine should join NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]. NATO is a military alliance, right? Military - doesn't that involve soldiers? What if we get a country in NATO that doesn't have any people who are able to be soldiers? Suppose they were all paraplegics. Would we still let them into NATO? How about a motorized wheelchair brigade? By 2050, there are only going to be 100,000 guys in Georgia below the age of 35, and if you drafted every ***** one of them who can walk, you'd still have fewer people in the Georgian army than at an NFL game. That's not enough testosterone to support a football franchise, much less an army."

"I've got a better idea," Carlin might have continued. "The Mormons claim that they can pray dead people into heaven after the fact. Why can't we recruit extinct countries into NATO? I mean, if we can invite countries to join NATO that are about to become extinct, why not recruit countries that already are extinct? That really would show the Russians that we're serious! We'll sic the Scythians and Etruscans on their *****!"

Alas, Carlin is not as funny on the Ouija board as he was alive, but that was the best I could obtain.

It's also the case that by 2050, there will be fewer than 100,000 Georgian women of child-bearing years (between the ages of 18 and 35). The number of potential mothers who speak Georgian will have fallen so far that Georgian will be in danger of extinction as a cradle-tongue later in the century. Ukraine presently has a population of 46 million, which will fall to about 25 million by 2050. But only 2.4 million of that 25 million will consist of women of child-bearing age.

Carlin's humor had a deep premise: the ridiculous things we do stem from our refusal to take life as it comes. "Why do all these people need help?" he once said of self-help books. "Life is not that complicated. You get up, you go to work, you eat three meals, you take one good [vulgar term for bowel movement], you go back to bed. What's the ***** mystery? ... Why would anyone need to be motivated by someone else? If you lack motivation, a seminar isn't going to help you. What you really need is to get smashed in the head thirty or forty times with a golf club. That will ***** motivate you. Or else it will at least get you moving around the room, locate your socks, get the day rolling."

Carlin was the closest thing stand-up comedy had to Goethe's Mephistopheles, who told Faust that he should listen to the race of devils who have been chewing on this tough biscuit for millennia: from the cradle to the grave, no one has ever been able to digest this lump of sourdough called life. Everyone isn't going to make it, Carlin tells us, and those who don't can go ***** themselves - desert countries where there isn't any food and former Soviet republics where there aren't any babies, for example.

Not everyone is going to make it. That should be America's mantra. America was settled by people who didn't think that Europe was going to make it, and decided that the better part of valor was to bail out and start something new. Georgia and Ukraine are not going to make it. They are past the point of no return. Nothing will save them. They do not like life well enough to perpetuate it. ***** them.

America's obsession with a happy ending for all - otherwise known as Wilsonian idealism - is the ultimate source of the problem. The Georgian crisis began, as everyone knows - but nobody in Washington will say - with the Bill Clinton administration's decision to bomb Serbia in defense of Albanian Muslims in the Serbian province of Kosovo. It was made inevitable in February 2008, when the Kosovo Muslims declared independence from Serbia, with American support. Russia, Serbia's ally, warned at the time that it could not allow a sovereign nation to be dismembered without a penalty. Specifically, Russia warned that Kosovo set a precedent for breakaway provinces of other countries, such as the Georgian province of South Ossetia.

Why did America throw its influence behind the gangsters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and provoke the present crisis with Russia? Senator Joe Biden blurted it out in an op-ed for the Financial Times of London on January 2, 2007: "The people of Kosovo - already the most pro-American in the Islamic world - will provide a much-needed example of a successful US-Muslim partnership. Stability in southeast Europe would be a welcome bit of good news and offer hope in a season of tremendous foreign policy challenges."

A "successful US-Muslim partnership" was the centerpiece of American policy in the Balkans. Why? Because America has not come to grips with the prospect that the Muslim world may not make it, either. One can blame naivete, or Saudi influence, or any number of factors, but the fundamental weakness of American policy lies in the inability of Americans to conceive of unhappy endings for some important stories. That is what has turned America's foreign policy into a George Carlin routine.

Over the long term, Russia's own survival is at risk, as I have argued elsewhere (Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess and Russia's hudna with the Muslim world). Whether Russia survives or not, it still will be a power in 2050 when the Ukraine and Georgia will exist only as obscure PhD topics in linguistics.

To say that Russia is brutal is a pleonasm, for Russia is not so much a noun as a gerund: what is Russian, is the result of Russification, a brutal business by definition. I hope that Russia will become a liberal democracy resembling the United States and that it will dispense with men like Vladimir Putin in the future. For it to become a liberal democracy, however, first it must survive, and most Russians today believe that they must be led by hard men to survive. This is not only unpleasant, but tragic.

To influence Russia for the better would take subtlety, skill, as well as good faith; sadly, America has displayed none of these.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess
(Aug 19,'08)

Russia's hudna with the Muslim world
(Feb 21,'07)

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2. Hindu gods spike Chinese dragon

3. Azerbaijan at crosswinds of a new cold war

4. US shrinks from arming Georgia

5. China still on-side with Russia

6. Militancy dogs Pakistan's new president

7. China's Paralympic possibilities

8. What Sondhi really wants for Thailand

9. The assets of penultimate fools

10. McCain stars in 'Back to the Future 08'

11. Triangulating an Asian conflict

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Sep 8, 2008)

 
 



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