A century ago, Freud’s double nephew, Edward Bernays, pioneered the field of public relations. He realized that the Average Joe is irrational and subject to a ‘herd instinct‘—which could be controlled by what he called ‘crowd psychology’.
At around the same time, a British geographer, Sir Halford Mackinder, having realized that the Eurasian landmass, linked to Africa, was the world’s most valuable real estate, dubbed it the World Island with Russia as its Heartland. He designated Britain and Japan as Offshore Islands and the Western Hemisphere and Australia as Outlying Islands. In The Heartland Theory, he declared that “He who controls Eastern Europe will control the Heartland, Whoever rules the Heartland, will rule the World Island, and whoever rules the World Island, will rule the world.”
The ‘long twentieth century’ can be seen as a successful Bernaysian campaign by the United States to prove Mackinder wrong by following Bernay’s recipe. If these efforts are ultimately defeated, the twenty-first century will be Mackinder’s Revenge.
Political observers view Europe as a fractious place, whose last series of wars stemmed roughly from the conflict between left and right. Currently, however, theoretical categories may be uniting against ‘outsiders’, as the left-leaning daily Liberation recently posited. It claims that France’s various ‘lefts’ are non-plussed by evidence that prominent Yellow Vesters Facebook pages signal approval of Marine le Pen’s National Front (now known under the less bellicose designation ‘National Rally’). “Libé” says one such leader confessed to having been mistaken, due to his previous apolitical stance, now realizing that all politicians lie.
What if this realization resulted in a drop in support for the far right party, the paper asks? Many people voted for Le Pen out of frustration or solitude; what if they now realize that behind all the xenophobia and identity issues, its still about social conditions, pitting those who can get to the end of the month against those who can’t, whatever their skin color or religious affiliations. According to Libé, early entries in the Cahiers des Doleances (the record of grievances inspired by a feature of the French revolution) would appear to confirm this reading of the Yellow Vest uprising. Finally, in a typical French need to claim exceptionalism, “What if this were the first European rebellion that doesn’t put Muslim immigration at the top of its list of complaints?”
Actually, the situation in Europe today almost defies analysis, most ironically the East-West fracture that continues a centuries-long tradition starting from the Ottoman occupation of the east which was thought to have been broken with the fall of the Berlin Wall: the East remains ‘behind’ when it comes to human rights. But that is only the tip of the iceberg: while the twentieth century revolved around the right-left standoff, the twenty-first ushered in that between the world’s ‘absolute’ minority, i.e., the Caucasian race, and the majority ‘honey-colored’ world. Liberation’s attempt to gloss over the latter in favor of the former is at best an admission of the white failure to get its house in order: it does not change the racial equation, which is where the Bernays-Mackinder standoff comes in.
Since the end of World War II, which marked the second time the United States came to the rescue of a fractious Europe, the country of Lincoln has seen itself as ‘the indispensable nation’, determined to ensure that in future, the world would follow the rules it felt entitled to establish. Confronted with high-polling Communist and Socialist parties, however, it allowed Europe to create a welfare state, while steadfastly emulating it. And when American workers gradually became aware of Europe’s social democracy, it engineered the 2008 economic crisis that appeared to justify austerity.
Meanwhile, to the east of Europe, Russia survived Yeltsin’s obedience to US diktats, rubber-stamping an unknown leader with a reputation in high places for probity and ‘getting things done’. Vladimir Putin hoped that the US would recognize Russia’s need to rescue the social-democratic baby from the Communist bathwater, and move toward a more cooperative relationship. It took him seven years to realize that this was not to be, and when he made public his disappointment, in 2007, the deep state set in motion the ‘Wolfowitz Doctrine’ drafted in 1992 to ensure that no nation would be permitted to challenge US world hegemony: Russia was designated at best, as a challenge, at worst a full-fledged enemy, with most obedient media opting for the flexible ‘adversary’.
After seven years of NATO steadily advancing to the edge of Russia’s Western border, in 2016, President Putin supported the campaign of a man totally unqualified to be the American president except for one crucial fact: preferring ‘deals’ to war, he told Americans that getting along with Russia would be a good thing. (He followed this up by treating China’s authoritarian leader to chocolate cake at Mar-al-Lago and in his second year met with North Korea’s dictator in an effort to denuclearize the peninsula. (Preventing that from happening thus far has been Pompeo’s insistence that ‘Kim go first’ before the US ditches economic sanctions and removes its troops from South Korea, allowing the country formally separated since the armistice of 1953 to finally be reunited.)
Trump’s offers of friendship to designated enemies were bitterly resented by just about everyone who was anyone in Washington, despite the elementary social studies mantra that countries should cooperate rather than make war, and as junior partner, Europe was not entitled to disagree. It took another two years, with Trump building a case against America’s continued ‘defense’ of Europe vis a vis Russia, for is leaders to realize that in fact, they had no reason to fear their gigantic neighbor. Even in the time of the Czars, its unique size made Russia seem like a threat, although it was actually invaded from both east and west. In modern times, images of Russian men shooting their calves out while kneeling probably contributed more to that image than the Red Army Choir did to burnish that of a great cultural tradition. For many decades, coca-cola rated supreme on the old continent.
I saw the fizzy drink take over wine-loving France, and by the time Paris had been doted with African and Middle Eastern eateries, American principles had become entrenched, thanks to the systematic use of Bernays’ media techniques. When, starting in 2015, the poor of those areas ravaged by American wars began to seek better lives in Mackinder’s World Island peninsula, Europeans were ill-prepared to welcome dark-skinned people, who added insult to injury by following a different version of ‘the book’. Some however noticed Vladimir Putin’s very different treatment of Russia’s Muslim neighbors: as part of the Soviet Union, the ‘Stans’ as they are known, had benefitted from socialist-mandated education and health care (even if they were expected to learn Russian). The US drew Moscow into Afghanistan as part of an effort to weaken the Soviet economy, and Muslim Chechnya was encouraged to assert its independence in a war that dragged on for nine years, until Vladimir Putin brought it to a close, rebuilding Grozny as a modern capital, while France introduced high speed rail in its former North African colonies.
By the middle of 2018, Trump’s anti-European attitude had enabled Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, its twin movers and shakers, to declare that it was time to get out from under American stewardship: US-mandated sanctions against Russia were hurting Europe’s economy, and increasingly, its people were rebelling against US-backed rule from Brussels. (Half-hearted attempts in the late eighties to move the European project toward federalism, led in France by former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, went nowhere, since even the most ardent backers of community could not imagine thirty-plus languages turning into a ‘melting pot’. Lacking a political dimension, the nascent European Union continued to be led from across the Atlantic, as illustrated in a note about an nth Italian government that crossed my desk in Carter’s State Department lamenting: “To think we used to run that place…”.
That harbinger of the mantra that ‘the world is a dangerous place and America is the indispensable nation, ensured that Europe would continue under American tutelage. Finally, Donald Trump whispered to its leaders that they could go it alone. (Just as Mikhail Gorbachev signaled to Erich Honecker in a last ‘fraternal kiss’ that he would not oppose East Germany’s reunification with the capitalist German Federal Republic, leading, a few months later, to the fall of the Berlin Wall…)
It took another thirty years for Mackinder to supplant Bernays and Europe to finally recognize that as part of the World Island, it needs no protection from an Outlying Island. Literally, as I write this, France 24 announces that Emanuel Macron will hold an international economic discussion event at Versailles Palace, similar to those held for years by Vladimir Putin in the former Czar’s palace in St. Petersburg.
Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist that has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years, exlusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.