Spinning Out of Control :: By Matt Ward

Many today believe that the Middle East stands on the very brink of all-out war: that huge regional chaos is just around the corner.

At present, the only real certainty in the Middle East is that nobody actually wants all-out war. Certainly, Donald Trump, coming into a re-election season, would at all costs wish to avoid the quagmire of another Middle Eastern conflict, one that would inevitably drag the United States back into a full military commitment from which it has only just managed to extricate itself.

Iran, despite bellicose rhetoric to the contrary, also does not want any kind of a region-wide confrontation with the United States or, indeed, Israel. Iran knows well that it would not win either of those wars.

Israel, for her part, seems to be more than happy maintaining the status quo, confining military operations to limited and controllable single-strike missions into Syria, Gaza and Lebanon, against a range of non-state proxy groups.

Yet, Israel is also desperate to avoid a region-wide war for one other reason. Israel knows that in the next major war it will be bombarded by many thousands of rockets from the northern, southern and eastern fronts, all at once. Despite Israel’s recent successes in nullifying this rocket threat, in the next significant war, there is every prospect Israel will be completely swamped by the sheer weight of rockets that will be fired at her.

Yet, despite each of these main Middle-East players not wanting war, the Middle East landscape has never looked more like war is coming. Indeed, I would even go so far as to say that the region has never looked more as if it is on the brink of an imminent all-out war in my lifetime.

In every direction one chooses, there are bubbling pressures, each of which is a potential trigger. Only recently, there was the unprecedented attacks on oil refineries in Saudi Arabia. Iran, no doubt indirectly responsible for these attacks, is actively goading the United States into a limited military confrontation that could easily get out of hand and draw in all her regional allies and enemies, quickly spiraling out of control.

Equally, any one of a number of Israeli operations against Iranian hubs of power in Syria, and now in Iraq, could also provide the spark triggering an escalation into major, region-wide war.

Any confrontation or bloodletting in any of these areas will have a ripple effect upon the entire Middle East that could see it descending into chaos. One of the main, and most misunderstood, reasons why the Middle East is more volatile today than it has been in the past is because of the sheer number of proxy wars taking place there right now.

Take, for example, the current war in Yemen, between the Houthis and the Yemeni government. On the surface, it is a simple conflict between two relatively unimportant regional actors. However, this war is in fact a proxy war where Saudi – Iranian rivalry has come to a direct head.

It is on Yemeni battlefields that Saudi Arabia has finally chosen to confront Iran, and neither side at this point looks to be backing down. This war stopped being about merely the Houthis and the Yemen government long ago. Now it is morphing into no less than a confrontation between two competing ideologies, between Sunni and Shia Islam.

Syria is another fine example of this. On the surface, it would appear to be a brutal and bloody internal civil war, essentially between pro and anti-Assad forces. However, like Yemen, this war has become much more than that now. It is the epicenter of a confrontation between major world powers, and every one of them have deeply entrenched interests in Syria that prevent them from backing down or giving an inch.

Indeed, when one spends any serious time considering Syria, the only conclusion one can draw is that it would be truly remarkable if all-out war did not come from here. Interesting, and more than a little frightening, this is just the scenario that Isaiah describes in his Burden of Damascus prophecy. The house of Israel suddenly attacked, from Syria, provoking a reaction that can only be a nuclear retaliation, and thus Damascus, the oldest continually inhabited city on Earth, is reduced overnight into a heap of ruins. This could happen today or it could happen tomorrow.

This volatility in the Middle East is unlikely to change any time soon either because a number of huge power bloc confrontations upholds the current situation. It is these vast power blocs, similar to those that existed in pre-First World War Europe, that are fueling the chaos in the Middle East. Firstly, there is Israel, backed by America, against all her many regional enemies. Currently, these enemies consist of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria. This power struggle is manifesting itself in sporadic violence between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.

However, there are other competing power blocs in the Middle East too. Iran is actively engaged all over the region against Saudi Arabia, mainly through the proxy war both sides are fighting in Yemen, but also in Iraq and elsewhere.

Add to this mix Turkey and their ongoing, burgeoning offensive against the Kurds – and remember that Russia has very fixed commitments now in the Middle East too – and it is not hard to see how things could quickly spiral out of control.

Skeptics, though, would argue that the Middle East has always been this dysfunctional and volatile. However, this time is different. The dynamics of this present-day Middle East are different from any that have come before it, for three main reasons.

China, for the first time ever, is now very much present in the Middle East in a way it has never been before. Russia, that generation-old nemesis of NATO, is resurgent, and its influence over the region cannot be overestimated or overemphasized.

Yet, significant though these two pivotal factors are, by themselves they are no harbinger of war shortly ahead. What does create that harbinger is the relative decline of the United States, both in a general foreign policy sense, and in its “boots on the ground” influence in the region.

There is a sense in the Middle East that the old rules simply do not apply any longer. There is a belief that what might once have been out of bounds is now very much up for grabs, and that if these state and non-state actors don’t rush in and take what they perceive to be the new spoils, that opportunity may be lost to them forever. All of this reinforced by the obvious desire of the United States to disengage from all Middle Eastern military commitments.

In the past, there were known certainties in the Middle East that everyone counted on, all underpinned by one thing: the unyielding presence of the United States. Now that cannot be taken for granted, and the impact of this on the Middle East has been the removal of the restraint that once curtailed nations like Iran, and also transnational actors, from acting too rashly or foolishly.

Any future war between nation-states in the Middle East will easily spill across borders and quickly draw in a host of other nations. The paradox for America is that even despite Trump’s obvious efforts to disengage from the region, any conflict between any of these nations would see the United States inevitably drawn back in to the region, and a situation that Donald Trump has spent the last four years trying to escape from will repeat itself.

The Middle East, at present, seems to be spinning out of control. When war does finally come, as it will, it is also looking more and more likely that Israel will stand in this war all alone.



Death of a World Order :: By Matt Ward

I often wonder about Job, and his amazing resilience. I wonder how I would react if the calamities that afflicted him came upon me. To accumulate such great wealth, status and comfort and have it all reduced to nothing in such quick fashion, and then have your loved ones taken away from you in such a devastating manner – it must have been truly crushing.

I wouldn’t have the resolve or fortitude of Job; I think few would. Yet today, we are all of us like Job, exactly like him. We stand on the brink right now and almost nobody knows it. Many people today have accumulated great wealth and material comfort; and more than at any other time past, it can all be reduced in short order to nothing. We all take everything for granted, even our precious loved ones. Even they can be taken away from us.

Very soon our world will be filled with men and women just like Job. People who have never known the pain of overwhelming and complete systemic loss. People who will very quickly be plunged into the most extreme circumstances of loss imaginable.

This is because our current global system is already effectively dead. Right now, we await the emergence of a new global order, a one-world system of governance and control. Something serious has gone wrong with our current world order, and it now stands on the verge of total collapse.

This is no mere hyperbole either. There is a feeling, just a sense perhaps, that the masses are finally beginning to realize this, even if only at a subconscious level. There is a deep feeling of unease wherever one chooses to look; it permeates all our societies from the Middle East to Russia, from North America to South America and throughout Western Europe. And with this unease there is a tangible sense of societal failure, of betrayal and even foreboding over what might yet be in the not-too-distant future.

Stable world orders that last for prolonged periods of time are rare things indeed. Our current world order, now about 73 years old, arose from a period of intense convulsion and violence caused by the Second World War. Over a hundred million people died in the process of birthing our current world order. New world orders never arise out of calm, but from the ruin of destruction and chaos.

Maintaining any kind of stable world order for any length of time requires skillful diplomacy and statecraft, as world orders are made and maintained; they do not just suddenly appear. If they are not maintained and managed effectively with creative diplomacy, with functioning national and transnational institutions to hold them up, and creative, effective decision-making at just the right time to avert crisis, global systems eventually break down and fail. This is where we stand today.

Our global system is breaking down and failing right before our eyes. Millions upon millions are still living their lives under the false daily presupposition that the way things are today is the way things will always be in the future, both for themselves and their children. This viewpoint could not be more wrong. Our current global system is fragmenting before our very eyes. Our way of life, that so many take for granted, has already broken up into a thousand little pieces. If you listen closely enough, you can even hear its death knell sounding.

It is no feat of extraordinary prognostication to say such things either. All world orders come to an end eventually. It is an inevitability of all history. Ours will be no different. What is not in any way inevitable though is what comes in the wake of a collapsed world order. There is no guarantee that one world order will move seamlessly, and peacefully, into the next. What is more likely is that there will be another intense period of convulsion and violence before another world order is birthed.

It is becoming increasingly clear that we are even now heading into another period of extreme chaos. It strikes me as being highly unlikely that we will experience a period of peaceful transition into the next world order. In history I can think of few such examples ever occurring.

Everything in our global system is linked and intertwined. And I do mean everything. The financial system, supply chains, transportation, food, oil production, the electrical grid, nuclear power… everything. When one system fails, it all fails; and the crash, if one is to occur in our global system, will not be a slow one as in previous world-system crashes like the Roman Empire that fell over a century or more. Ours will be an epic fast crash.

The interconnectivity of our global system ensures it. The interconnected nature of our world, which enables worldwide business and trade, which in turn generates such huge profits, has not made our world system strong; it has made it incredibly fragile and brittle. If just one element in the complex system fails, all other systems crash too.

Consider this realistic feedback-loop crash. Think about our dependence on oil. When oil prices rise, so does everything else, simply because all things are connected to oil in some way. So, oil prices rise, slowly at first but then very quickly. Food prices then rise in step with the oil-price rises. The high price of oil begins to drive many businesses into bankruptcy, which leads in turn to a failure in the financial system leading to a collapse in belief in the monetary system. This then leads into societal revolt which ultimately collapses governments.

But even that scenario, bad as it is, would not be the end of the matter. It would get even worse from there. Oil prices, which caused this hypothetical fast crash through high prices, would then experience a price crash because demand would fall to zero. All drilling would then stop, and new exploration projects would end, meaning that in likewise fashion all other connected businesses and industries would stop, and the worldwide economy would crash again. A double whammy.

It would be a domino crash, with one system bringing down the next, and the next, and so on until all that is left is chaos. And this is just one example of many. It could happen in a thousand different ways. What is important is that it will certainly happen.

But are there any indications of this happening today, or even soon? Well, the short answer is yes, there are. There are very real parallels between where our global civilization is today and those of the past, especially to the global system that existed in the mid-nineteenth century during the Concert of Europe period.

This period saw the most sustained efforts up until that time at building and maintaining a truly global world order, until the modern day. From 1815 until the outbreak of the First World War a little under a hundred years later, this period saw the first real multinational effort to define international relationships through global law and order, and attempted to set basic norms for international conduct between countries. It was the precursor to our own current United Nations-led world system.

And it failed catastrophically in 1914 with the outbreak of the “war to end all wars.” The crucial lesson for our generation today lies in the way this world system failed, not in the fact that it did so. The Concert of Europe’s increasing failure and demise had become apparent long before it actually came crashing down but, crucially, world leaders and decision makers failed to recognize that simple fact. This meant that the decline was managed poorly, and that led directly to the calamity and carnage of the First World War.

And this is exactly what we are seeing today. We are witness to an ever-growing distrust both within nations and especially between them. Civil war is even openly discussed in the United States today as a potentially realistic outcome of the entrenched partisanship of a current US political system that has divided US society.

There is chaos and bloodshed everywhere one chooses to look. In the Middle East, there is no end in sight to the undeclared war between Israel and her blood-sworn enemies Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran is resurgent and increasingly bellicose. Syria is still in the grips of a civil war and is now a ruined land, and Iraq is as unstable today as it has ever been in its history.

In Turkey, Recep Erdogan has transformed a once pro-West country into an increasingly Islamized one, and an increasingly anti-Israel one too. Asia is riven by tension, as China seeks to reassert itself globally as the world leader that will usurp the United States’ place over the coming decade. This strain can be seen daily in the ongoing tensions in the South China Seas.

Russia’s actions in the Ukraine have clearly signposted Vladimir Putin’s global ambitions, as has his increasingly vice-like grip on Syria and the wider Middle-East region.

Europe is reeling from one crisis to another – mass migration that is reshaping the very fabric of the continent, the chaos and uncertainty being caused by Brexit and a clearly dysfunctional UK government, and one episode of terrorism after another.

And what guarantees the rapidly approaching demise of this world order? What makes it a certainty is that America’s traditional dominance in international affairs is rapidly coming to an end, and it is leaving a huge vacuum in its wake. Into that vacuum, a flood of rogue transnational terrorist groups, rogue nation states and wannabe global superpowers have come, all now fighting for the crumbs falling from the US table, positioning themselves to be the ones that will take over when US power really does start to wane.

The United States’ traditional global power and influence is starting to diffuse, which is why we are seeing the power and the influence of the United States being constantly challenged now like never before. This is because these other groups – transnational non-state actors, rogue regimes and wannabe global superpowers like China – are seeking to determine how much will the United States really have to maintain, and uphold, the current order. And their conclusion is: not much.

Crucially, none of the current world leaders or decision-makers today seem to recognize these simple facts. This is likely because the consequences of this actually happening are too awful for many of them to seriously contemplate.

But it will, and all we are waiting for is the crisis that will start the freefall. At this point, after watching for so long, I believe today more strongly than ever that the trigger will be the imminent rapture of the Church.

But the really pertinent question now is: exactly who or what will come forward to take over and run the world when it emerges from the coming chaos?

The antichrist will.  Keep looking up.