The Tragic Illusion of Geopolitical Control

For centuries colonial powers stomped around the globe, crushing indigenous resistance, enslaving their people and stealing their resources. It was called “The Great Game” by the likes of Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, the Dutch and many others competing for control, influence, and wealth. In the end, their illusion of geopolitical control collapsed like the myth it always was.

Then came the rise of the United States, blessed by an entire continent chock full of natural resources, there for the taking after slaughtering any Indians who resisted their quest for almost unimaginable wealth.

That was not enough, though, and we jumped into the new version of The Great Game. Our politicians said we had to “exert spheres of influence” encompassing entire hemispheres of the planet we considered “ours.”

To quiet the populace, we were told terrible enemies were threatening our very existence — and the existence of the great democracy we claim to hold superior over all other systems of governance on the planet. This is despite a former president with a penchant for praising dictators, who thinks democracy means “my way or the highway.”

Now, it’s no longer huge galleons bristling with cannons that project the illusion of power. No, it’s nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines, jets, and intercontinental ballistic missiles with enough nuclear warheads to burn the planet to a cinder.
But like the “superpowers” of the past, this supposed geopolitical control is equally illusional. What’s not an illusion is the impact it has on our own people.

Thousands of miles away from us one country, Russia, decided to invade another country, Ukraine. Nothing new there, as Europe has been embroiled in wars basically forever. But thanks to that far-away conflict and the disruption in the far-away grain market, suddenly the nice Montana lady who sells farm eggs says she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to keep her chickens because the price of grain to feed them has skyrocketed.

Mind you, this is Montana, where every day mile-long trains haul our “golden waves of grain” to the coast for export. Those same trains do not bring Ukrainian or Russian grain into Montana on their return trip. In fact, it’s doubtful we’ve ever seen a single kernel of Russian or Ukrainian wheat.

Likewise, the latest imbroglio in the tar pit of the Middle East sees Israel and the tiny enclave of Palestinians embroiled in a brutal war that has so far taken its terrible toll on civilian, not military, lives. But lo and behold, suddenly the price of gas in the Big Sky State is through the roof – despite the fact that neither Israel nor Palestine is supplying the world, let alone Montana, with oil.

Yet Montanans wait patiently at railroad crossings while more mile-long trains of black tanker cars export oil to the coast. Exporting, not importing. The cost to produce the oil from here has not changed because two tiny and far-away countries have once again gone to war over their religious differences. But it’s our citizens who suffer from being gouged at the pump due to “concern over a wider conflict” in a part of the globe that has seen those conflicts for thousands of years.

Geopolitical control by any one nation or cluster of nations, including ours, is a tragic illusion. Tragic because of the useless waste of dwindling resources necessary to “project power.” Tragic because of the impact on our own people who have exactly nothing to do with the conflicts around the globe. And terribly tragic for the planet itself, which we not only don’t control, we can’t even manage to keep healthy and livable for future generations.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.