In the world today of course we have three major powers: The United States, China and Russia. Despite economic strength the EU is not a serious competitor. Major conflicts exist not least between the West and Russia and in the Middle East. This obvious picture is enriched and complicated through consideration of the involved civilizations.
Civilizations or high cultures are large cultural entities with more nations. They last at least 1500 years. Each have its own distinct character. They develop in parallel, but with a displacement in time. Examples are old Egypt, the Mayas, old China and the Greco-Roman world.
Today we have 2 or perhaps 3 civilizations left. The West in its peak, the Oriental world in a very late stage and perhaps a beginning Russian or East European civilization which culturally is heavily dominated by the West.
The two long surviving civilizations India and China are today to be seen as assimilated culturally by the West. Of course this has happened after long processes of resistance and fight for survival as seen in the Sepoy and Boxer insurrections.
Even though India and China are cultural parts of the West they still have a certain coloring from their primordial character. A coloring with importance for their present development.
The civilization of China has always had historical sense and talent for organization, planning and centralization and respect for authorities. This also is a part of the Westernized modern nation and is a part of the explanation behind its success.
In addition to the character of a former civilization in itself the progress of the countries in these old areas also depends on the compatibility or similarity between the old character and the character of the assimilating West. This too is part of the explanation of the success of Japan and China and the slower progress of India and the Middle East.
THE MIDDLE EAST
There are many conflicts in the Middle East. Only a couple will be directly dealt with here, but the many factors can be subsumed in four main trends:
1) The westernized parts
Much of the Middle East is in fact westernized parts of the Oriental civilization. But as the also westernized old civilizations, India and China, these parts of the Middle East are colored by the old culture.
2) The remnants of the old
Other parts of the Middle Eastern populations are still clinging to or fighting in defense of the old culture. Some of these are terrorists like al-Qaeda, but most of them are just continuing to live as always.
3) Oriental nations transforming
As said in other posts, in the process of westernization the Oriental form of nations, where peoples and religions were living between each other in patchworks of often small areas like ghettos, are transformed into Western type nations with ethnically homogenous larger areas. This transformation involves conflicts and wars with ethnic cleansings as seen in the former Yugoslavia (as originally part of the Ottoman Empire also Oriental), Turkey (Armenia) Iraq and now Syria.
Besides the westernized areas of old civilizations and the remaining old civilizations we also have what has always and by all cilized people been termed "barbarians". The peoples beyond the borders of civilizations. In bearlier times these covered large parts of the Earth. Now they are much reduced, but they still exist. Mostly In parts of Africa and the Middle East and its eastern vicinity.
Toynbee talks about "proletariats" at the margins of civilizations. The "internal proletariat" are the poor and otherwise marginalized people in the societies. As the term is used for more phases in the development of a civilization the "internal proletariat" covers both the traditional working class of mature modernity and the later social welfare receivers, the "losers" as the mob of late modernity calls them. These also include unintegrated refugees and migrants from the third world. In Europe not least the Moslem world.
Toynbee also gives special attention to those of the barbarians who live outside, but in the proximity of civilizations. These become brutalized through the contact. They attack endlessly to plunder and kill out of hatred against civilized peoples. They are hordes of warriors. The classical example is the Germanic peoples fighting against Rome. Toynbee with a less intuitive name calls the hordes the "external proletariat".
This interpretation explains the barbary of groups like Boko Haram, al-Shabab, al-Qaeda, Islamic State (ISIL) and Taliban.
That the internal proletariat is augmented through migrants from the outside world, from both civilized and uncivilized peoples is nothing new. The city of Rome 2 millennia ago was filled with such people. But today in the Western civilization we also have an opposite movement. People from the internal proletariat travel abroad to join the external proletariat.
And these send agents and terrorists to us and use the means of of the Western civilization like the Internet. Indeed an extraordinary collaboration between internal and external proletariats unseen in the history of other civilizations.
Of course today these barbarians fuse with the groups fighting for the survival of the Oriental civilization. And even though the barbaric forces represent non-western trends they can merge with westernized Oriental nations wanting ethnically clean territorial nations.This is what we see in Iraq and Syria where IS is killing and driving out Christians, Yazidis and Shias.
Iran, saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Many politicians in the Unites States regard Iran as a force of evil and as the main sponsor of terrorism. At the same time Saudi Arabia is seen as a close affiliate and ally of America. But these views can be challenged.
The Saudi version of Islam, Wahhabism, was from the beginning an anti-civilization movement of the same type as present days IS. Today official Wahhabism is considerably moderated through the union with the Saudi kingdom, but still this form of Islam has a clear resentment against all civilization including Islamic civilization and 1000 years of Islamic intellect. The graves of Moslem saints are not just destroyed in IS territory, but also in Saudi Arabia. Influential elements in this country and also other countries in the Arab Peninsula support al-Qaeda and even IS.
So in many ways Saudi Arabia can be regarded as more distant from civilization than Iran, where this close affiliation with anti-culturalism is not seen. Therefore Iran is in fact culturally closer to civilization and the West than Saudi Arabia. Politically as well Iran is much more democratic and modern.
These points do of course not mean that the alliance with Saudi Arabia should be ended. In many respects this country has a valuable stabilizing influence in the region. But Iran could assume a similar role if allowed.
As said, many still cling to the idea that Iran is a major sponsor of terrorism in the world. This may have been so but presently the worst terrorism comes from Sunni groups which are certainly not allies of Iran, such as IS and al-Qaeda. These groups receive their support from persons on the Arab Peninsula (and the internal Western proletariats).
The new agreement between the 5+1 and Iran is good news indeed. It may reduce tension between countries that do not need to be very far from each other. And Iran can be a valuable ally against IS, which is a bigger threat than Hezbollah.
The problems in Yemen have many aspects. They are not yet ethnic cleansing, but could become this as the result of the exaggerated spread of the Iranian backed Houthi militias and the interventions from Saudi Arabia and its allies. This development is of course aided by the presence of elements of al-Qaeda (barbarians and Oriental remnants)and IS (barbarians). So there are good reasons to press all parties to restraint and peace talks. Here too collaboration with Iran would be an advantage.
RUSSIA AND ITS BORDER
Russia is a special case. Perhaps a partly choked beginning civilization culturally under heavy domination from the Western predecessor. For some the idea of a Russian civilization may sound speculatory, but also if we more generally speak of a certain Russian culture, many of the following points are still relevant.
Many in the West wonder why so many Russians support Putin and why there is so much hatred In Russia against the United States. Most blame the monopoly of the state media and their propaganda. This is part of the explanation, but probably not all. It could also be the reaction from a beginning new different culture or civilization in a very early - thus different from ours - stage against a dominating civilization in a very much later stage. Much like the beginning Oriental world reacted against domination from the much older Greco-Roman world 2000 yeas ago. In both cases we see a "Maccabean hatred" against the West.
But It can be quite misleading to talk about this potential new civilization as "Russian". "Slavonic" could be a slightly better term, but civilizations are not ethnic phenomena. The Oriental civilization was both Greek, Persian and Arabic. Our Western civilization was from the start both Romanic, Celtic, Slavonic, Germanic and even Hungarian. Rather, a certain landscape, which expands over time, houses the civilization. The West in its beginning filled western and central Europe. Also religions can be diverse within civilizations. Politically the diversities within civilizations are even bigger. People belonging to one and the same civilization can disagree unto wars. The complexities of what is enclosed in a civilization are also evident in the following discussion of the border between Russia and the West.
When we search for a definition of the line between spheres of interest, not least in Ukraine, we can look at this from different criteria.
After WW 1 to try to define a border of Russia Curzon made a line between West and East Slavonic language users. A first approximation to a border between Russia and the West would be to use a corresponding language border, this time between Russian and Ukrainian.
One problem with the language border is that not all Russian speakers are politically pro-Russian.
Russia got her very own cultural identity as a fusion between Byzantine Orthodox Christianity and internal trends. Since Peter the Great a policy of Westernization was attempted, a policy which culminated in the adoption of the very Western ideology of Communism. But this policy never succeeded in eradicating the Russian identity. Many in both people and the leadership were very Russian. Only in small areas in the far west under the Austro - Hungarian empire, western Ukraine, we saw a deeper cultural Westernization.
Today after the breakup of the USSR and the revolution in Ukraine we have the question: where is the true border between Russia and the West?
Using a cultural border between he West and Russia is also problematic. Areas can be outside Russias borders, but still be part of the same culture. Parts of the countries just west of Russia could also be part of the same Civilization or culture. Here this culture could in fact also be galvanizing politically anti-Russian sentiments. This could be the case in the Baltic states and in fact also in western Ukraine!
Cultural trends in the Baltic states and the Balkans could in fact be part of a new civilization or culture. The music by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt could sound either like Western Modernism or like a Medieval stage of a starting civilization or perhaps a mixture.
Obviously countries like these should not be part of Russia because they share cultural elements.
A third way of drawing a border is to look for political support. Who supports Russia and who don't? This may seem the best way, but political support is often transient.
Probably the Russian support for the insurgents in eastern Ukraine was an error: 1) It removes pro-Russian voters from Ukraine and 2) It creates negative feelings towards the Russians in the rest of Ukraine, including Russian-speakers.
Ukraine joining the West politically can both lead to further eastward westernization and to renewed opposition against this process. The last tendency can gain momentum from economic reforms bringing hardship.
In conclusion it is everything but simple to define the soheres of interest. Besides the Curzon-style language border we have two others: A cultural and a political. And a historically based sphere of interest of Russia must also be taken into consideration.
All this shows that simple all or none solutions for Ukraine do not exist. The whole country can neither be Western nor Russian dominated. There is no alternative to a continuation of the present peace process.
And it would be recommendable to find another term for this civilization or culture than "Russian". Perhaps "Eastern European" would do.
Interpreting Russia as an expression of a new civilization shows that the sentiments and policies here can not simply be seen as a sign of an anti-democratic system. This would be looking at it from a single and purely Western dimension of freedom vs suppression. This is certainly not wrong, but too simple. Other additional dimensions are needed to grasp the phenomenon in its full complexity. Especially the cultural differences between civilizations and their different phases are important.
And using the dimension good vs evil to characterize the USA vs Russia is not just a simplification. It is deliberate cold war thinking.
The political decline in the rich parts of the world is spreading. Even in one of the last bastions of political stability and maturity Germany, there are worrying signs. Even here populist parties like the AFD are growing. And from old big parties we hear mob-like language use humiliating Greece. And also people trying to understand the feelings in Russia are ridiculed as "Russland-Versteher".
Of course such declining behavior affects foreign politics. This is much worse when the decline affects the politicians in the United States. Here too we see the decline. As said in other posts this is the case both in the behavior of opposition politicians and in presidential / governmental politics. Both use extra-constitutional means. As governments are often schooled by realty, the most irresponsible policies tend to come from oppositions. Hence a president will have to use means like decrees to rule. But also generally presidents in the last decades have abused their administrative means.
In the present time the roles of the two parties are also asymmetrical for other reasons than the fact that one party has a president and the other is in opposition. Presently the often mentioned political decline mostly affects the Republicans. Tea Party people and other right wing populists play a large role in the party.
We see this in the sabotage of much of what the president and the government do, no matter if this sabotage hurts the whole country, like in fiscal policies. And even worse in the interference in foreign policies, like the recent visit to Congress by Netanyahu.
Right now our civilization is in the phase of warring states. A phase which normally ends in all countries being conquered and ruled by one winning power, like the Roman empire and in old China the Qin and Han empires. History shows that a serious player in the fight for hegemony can only afford a high level of internal conflict IF the other powers are weak. This was the case for the Romans. The Hellenistic countries and Carthage after -200 were too week to be any threat. Therefore the Roman republic could be torn apart in internal conflicts and civil wars and still expand all around the Mediterranean.
In old China before the First Emperor the situation was the opposite. Here the big powers were all strong. Therefore the winning state Qin had to have a strong unified leadership without tolerance of opposition.
Now in the West the situation is somewhere between these scenarios. The United States is quite dominating, but not as much as Rome was. Today the competing powers China and Russia are not to be discarded. Therefore the obstructionism from the Right is undermining not just the Republican party, but also efficient government internally and externally and thus also undermining US power.
Competing powers might see a USA weakened be internal conflicts as an advantage, but this would still be dangerous for them and the whole World as the USA has immense and dominating power and influence. Shifting unpredictable foreign policies from a very strong power can be in nobody's interest.
In this connection it is a major problem that certain US politicians - partly strengthened by isolationism - have views on the world that were shaped in the past and have not been updated. Iran does not continue to be an enemy because it in a revolutionary heated state in 1979 occupied the American embassy. And Russia does not continue to be the main danger and ideological opponent for the USA because it once was.
We saw the the result of a similar misunderstanding in the misguided invasion of Iraq after the attack on the World Trade Center.
In sum the political decline in the United States primarily showing itself in the form of right wing populists is a major threat for the Republicans, for the all-dominating status of the USA and for the stability in the world.