Chokepoint Politics

Chokepoints are the bottlenecks, the constrained areas through which people, ideas, money, resources must flow through. These chokepoints can be real, such as the Alpine tunnels of Switzerland, or they can be procedural such as the Rules Committee in the House of Representatives, or the convention and primary process. They can also be economic, as in the current global flows of oil and energy consumption rates track very closely to per capita economic growth and wealth levels.

Almost everyone wants to either seize and defend from a chokepoint, or breakthrough and around the chokepoint of their choosing in order to expand more effectively into new territory. Defending from a chokepoint allows the defensive forces to concentrate limited strength against a narrow front and fight from there instead of fighting an adaptive, mobile campaign that requires a higher level of ability, coordination and unity of purpose despite a disunity of activity. Even if a chokepoint can not be permanently defended, a successful defense can be used to buy more time for the status-quo to react (see Thermopolye for the best example).

Chokepoint defenses are not ancient history. The jump into Iraq was an attempt to seize the economic chokepoint of the next twenty years — cheap light sweet crude in order to direct the flows to the US and away from the emerging power of China. Iran is trying to exercise the potential of its power by getting past the nuclear weaponization chokepoints before these passes can be successfully defended by the US. The US is trying to counter this anti-chokepoint Iranian strategy by introducing the idea of a new fissile materials limitation treaty

Chokepoint defense on its own is a very stunning admission of weakness. The British Empire was organized on chokepoint defenses by World War II. Dover, Gibralter, Suez, and Singnapore, were the cornerstones of the defensive posture for the empire — one fell, one was rendered useless for three years as a means of commerce by a fairly small enemy force, and the third was used almost solely to provide support for the second. Only Dover and the new chokepoint of the G-I-UK gap performed anywhere close to their pre-war missions. The Byzantine military doctrine of allowing invaders into the Anatolian plateau and then cutting them off at the passes as they retreated after looting and burning their way through massive amounts of Byzantine wealth and territory was only a slightly weaker defensive doctrine than the British set up.

These chokepoint defensive strategies become prominent as a previously dominant power comes nearer to the end. It allows concentration to be brought to bear against limited probes, and it buys time in the hope that a miracle will occur.

We are seeing that with American politics today. The greatest political chokepoint that has been partisanly fortified has been the judiciary. President Bush’s Yoonamism intrepration of the law of the President as King through his CINC powers in a undeclared, undefined and therefore unwinnable war will be with us through active rulings for twenty to thirty years, and the precedents created will constrain the future by the present’s mistakes, errors, and trade-offs for another fifty to one hundred years.

The Republican Party is fighting chokepoint defenses with state constitutional amendments against gay marriage, and with the English language proposals in the Senate they are fighting against demographics while ignoring the history that all immigrants rather quickly assimilate if one takes a generational time scale.

Yet they are not the only ones fighting chokepoint fights within the American political tradition. The urban machines of Philadelphia and Newark that overwhelmingly elect Democrats are fighting gate-keeper fights. Philadelphia is losing this fight, for the machine was not strong enough to field candidates in all districts. Instead, two reformers, their nearest enemies, were able to win positions of some power merely by showing up. A strong machine is based upon a first principle of being able to mobilize people to show up. The Newark Democratic machine has adapted the Byzantine strategy of letting an opponent all the way with the hope of smashing them on the way out. Even if it works, this is a costly strategy.

American politics and geo-economics are past the point of the previous arrangements, but we have not yet gotten to the point of a new system that works better than fighting over the scraps of growth and redistributions that are still on the table. The past couple of years has been the fermenting of this new challenge, while the nex t half a decade should see where this challenge leads us.

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