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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

Dec 10, 2023

On this episode of Unsupervised Learning Razib discusses war and diplomacy from 9/11 to 10/7 with Mark Safranski. Safranski is a long-time military affairs and foreign policy commentator who ran the popular weblog Zenpundit beginning in 2003. They survey how the 21st century, from the 9/11 attacks down to the Hamas atrocity against Israelis on 10/7, has seen a transformation of war and diplomacy by other means. From an age of flip phones as a luxury item in the early 2000’s to ubiquitous smartphones in the 2020’s, Safranksi and Razib explore how even still in 2023, Russia and Ukraine are engaging in the most significant set-piece battles since War War II, recapitulating some of the worst aspects of stagnant trench warfare more than a century on.

Safranski then explains the theories promoted by military scholars about how warfare has, and should, change in the technological era, particularly William Lind’s ideas of fourth and fifth-generation warfare. He also argues that drone technology in various forms has been around since World War I, though it was perfected in the past twenty years. Considering America’s technological advancements over the 21st century, Safranski alarmingly explains that the gap between us and our nearest competitor, China, is rapidly closing (with the US losing every government-sponsored war game against China in the years around 2020). He believes that the unipolar moment of the late 1990’s is truly ending, and elaborates on the decay that has overtaken some branches of the US military, in particular, what had been the world’s dominant blue-water navy, which is literally rusting away.

They conclude the conversation by reflecting on the changing role of the blogosphere in influencing military and foreign policy thinkers, and how the decade after 9/11 saw a fertile cross-pollination between online discourse and the brain trusts of the military-industrial complex. Finally, Razib asks Safranski if the neoconservative movement is making a comeback in the wake of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, and what has surprised him about American reactions to 10/7.