geopol's picture Submitted by geopol on 10/27/2010 19:11 -0500


Webster G. Tarpley


What was the Venetian politicalintelligence method? The classical Venetian predicament is that ofthe weaker power attempting to play off two or more major empires.This was the case when the Venetian power was in its very infancy,and survival depended upon playing off the Langobard Kingdom of Italyagainst the Byzantines. This ploy was later replaced by the attemptto play the Byzantines off against the Carolingian Empire in theWest, an attempt that almost misfired when the army of Charlemagneunder Pippin laid siege to Venice inside its lagoons. That siege,however, was not successful.


In the eleventh century, the Venetianssuccessfully incited the Norman barons operating out of Sicily underRobert Guiscard to attack Byzantium, and then moved in to offer thedesperate Byzantines protection. The price for that protection wasindicated by the famous Golden Bull of 1082, a decree of theByzantine Emperor by which Venice acquired tax customs-free access tothe whole of the eastern empire, where the Greeks themselves had topay a tax of 10 percent on their own transactions. Thus began ahatred for Venice among the Greek population which persists down tothe present day.


In the sixteenth century, Venetianstrategic doctrine was to play the Ottoman Turks against the Spanishand Austrian Hapsburgs, and then to correct any residual strategicimbalance by playing the Hapsburgs off in their turn against theFrench. Sometimes Venice attempted to play the Portuguese rival poweroff against the Dutch. Later this was expanded to include playing theDutch against the English, and the English against the French.


The Venetians also goaded forces out ofthe East to attack Christendom. Venice was the manipulator ofSaracens, Mongols, and Turks, and got along with the slave-tradingfactions in each of these groups about as well as a power like Venicecould get along with anybody. In particular, the Venetians were morewilling to see territory – excepting Venetian territory – beoccupied by the Turks than any other power. Venice was thus the pastmaster of the more exotic permutations of the stolid old Britishdividi et impera, “divide and conquer.”


But the essence of their strategicdoctrine was something more abstruse, something sometimes describedas the “collapse of empires” scenario. Venice parasitized thedecline of much larger states, a decline that Venice itself strove toorganize, sometimes in a long and gradual descending curve, butsometimes in a quick bonanza of looting.


Venice was repeatedly confronted withthe problem posed by a triumphant enemy, at the height of his power,who would be perfectly capable of crushing the Serenissima in shortorder. This enemy had to be manipulated into self-destruction, not inany old way, but in the precise and specific way that served theVenetian interest. Does this sound impossible? What is astounding ishow often it has succeeded. In fact, it is succeeding in a very realsense in the world today.


The most spectacular example ofVenetian manipulation of the dumb giants of this world has gone downin history as the Fourth Crusade. At a tournament in the Champagne in1201, the Duke of Champagne and numerous feudal barons collectivelyvowed to make a fighting pilgrimage to the sepulcher of Our Lord inJerusalem. Here they were to reinforce a French garrison hard-pressedby the Turk Saladin. For many of them, this involved penance forcertain misdeeds, not the least of which was a plot against their ownsovereign liege, the king.


Reaching the Holy Land requiredtransportation, and the French knights sent Geoffrey of Villehardouinto Venice to negotiate a convoy of merchant galleys with anappropriate escort of warships. Geoffrey closed the deal with theDoge Enrico Dandolo, blind and over eighty years old. Dandolo drove ahard bargain: for the convoy with escort to Jerusalem and back, theFrench knights would have to fork over the sum of 85,000 silvermarks, equal to 20,000 kilograms of silver, or about double theyearly income of the King of England or of France at that time.


When 10,000 French knights and infantrygathered on the Lido of Venice in the summer of 1202, it was foundthat the French, after pawning everything down to the family silver,still owed the Venetians 35,000 marks. The cunning Dandolo proposedthat this debt could easily be canceled if the crusaders would jointhe Venetians in subjugating Zara, a Christian city in Dalmatia,across the Adriatic from Venice. To this the knights readily agreed,and the feudal army forced the capitulation of Zara, which had beenin revolt against Venice.


At this point Dandolo made thecrusaders a “geopolitical” proposal, pointing out that theemperor of Byzantium was suspected of being in alliance with theSaracens, and that an advance to the Holy Land would be foolhardyunless this problem were first dealt with. As it happened, theVenetians were supporting a pretender to the Byzantine throne, sincethe current emperor was seeking to deny them their tradingprivileges. The pretender was the young Alexios, who promised theknights that if they helped him gain power, he would join them on thecrusade with an army of 10,000 Greek soldiers.


Thus, from 1203 to 1204, Constantinoplewas besieged by the joint Franco-Venetian expeditionary force, whichfinally succeeded in breaking through the fortifications along theGolden Horn, the bay on the north side of the city.


Byzantium was sacked in an orgy ofviolence and destruction, from which the Venetians brought back asbooty the four bronze horses which generally stand on the Basilica ofSt. Mark, but which are often exhibited in other cities. CountBaudoin of Flanders was place on the throne of a new concoctiontitled the Latin Empire of Constantinople. The doge of Venicereceived a piece of the action in the form of the title Lord of ThreeEighths of the Latin Empire. Venice took over three-eighths ofConstantinople, a permanent Venetian colony with its own battlefleet. Lemnos and Gallipoli came into Venetian hands. Crete wasannexed, and were Naxos and related islands, and the large island ofEuboa, which the Venetians called Negroponte. On the Ionian side, theVenetians appropriated Modon and Koron and several islands up to andincluding Corfu. All Venetian trading privileges in Greece wererestored.


The loot brought back from the sack ofConstantinople was greater than anything Europe would see until theSpanish treasure fleets from the New World several centuries later.Venice had acquired a colonial empire of naval bases, and washegemonic in the eastern Mediterranean. To top it all off, the sultanof Egypt had paid a substantial bribe to Dandolo to keep theCrusaders out of Palestine in the first place.


For the human race, the Fourth Crusadewas an unmitigated tragedy. The hypertrophy of Venetian power in theMediterranean was one of the decisive factors ensuring the laterdefeat of Emperor Federigo II of Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily. TheVenetian puppet “Latin Empire” was overthrown by the Paleologuesin 1261, but by that time Federigo was gone. By 1266-68, Federigo’stwo sons and their Ghibelline supporters were defeated by Charles ofAnjou, and the last representative of the Hohenstaufen dynasty wasbeheaded in the public square of Naples. The triumph of the BlackGuelphs had become irreversible.


A further contributing factor in thistragedy was doubtless the Mongol hordes. At about the time theVenetians were sacking Constantinople, Ghengis Khan ruled over anempire that extended from Korea all the way to Iran, and which wasrapidly advancing to the West. Batu, a nephew of Ghengis, defeatedthe Bulgarians in 1236, captured Kiev in the Ukraine in 1240, andswept into Poland. In Silesia in 1241 the German and Polish feudalarmy, including the Teutonic Knights, was annihilated. Later in thesame year the Mongols defeated the Hungarians. The Mongols did not,for reasons that are not clear, advance further westward, but theMongol Golden Horde that imposed its hegemony over Russia was thebeginning of Russia’s economic and cultural backwardness. For someloosening of the Mongol yoke, the Russians would have to fight thetitanic battle of Kulokovo Field on the Don in 1380.


In these Mongol victories, there wassomething more than mere numerical superiority at work. as onehistorian sums up the case:


The Mongols did not sweep in wildly andsuddenly, like reckless barbarians. No indeed, they advancedaccording to careful plan. At every stage, the Mongol generalsinformed themselves ahead of time about the state of European courts,and learned what feuds and disorders would be advantageous to theirconquests. This valuable knowledge they obtained from Venetianmerchants, men like Marco Polo’s father. It was thus not withoutreason that Polo himself was made welcome at the court of Kublai, andbecame for a time administrator of the Great Khan.


So the great Marco Polo, and theVenetian family from which he came, was responsible for directing thedestruction of Ghengis Khan against Europe. The omnipresent Venetianintelligence was also a factor in the Mongol destruction of the Arabcultural center of Baghdad in 1258.


Friedrich Schiller and WilliamShakespeare both analyze the manipulative methods employed by theVenetian secret intelligence establishment; both considered Venetianintelligence one of their most formidable enemies. Much of Schiller’swriting is dedicated in various ways to fighting the Venice- Genoa-Geneva combination that had held the financial reins of King PhilipII of Spain.


Schiller’s direct treatment of Veniceis a fragment of a novel titled Der Geisterseher (”The GhostSeer”). Its central character is a Sicilian charlatan, expert atbringing the spirits of the departed back into the world for thethrill-seeking nobility at seances. This Sicilian charlatan is afigure for a whole class of operatives, likeCount Cagliostro, the mountebank who claimed to be the reincarnationof the leading Mason of ancient Egypt. Another of this breed wasEmanuel Swedenborg. After Schiller’s time, this category swelledconsiderably with theosophists like Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant,Henry Steel Olcott, and with that archapparitionist Rudolph Steiner,founder of the Anthroposophy movement and the Waldorf schools.


In Schiller’s tale, a young Germanprince in Venice for the grand tour is subjected to a series ofmanipulations by a sinister, masked Armenian, who informs him, beforethe fact, of the death of a close relative hundreds of miles away. Ata gambling den, a young Venetian patrician picks a quarrel with theprince, who fears for his life until he is ushered into one of thechambers of the Council of Ten, where the offending patrician isstrangled before his eyes. He comes into contact with the Sicilianmountebank, and then spends weeks attempting to ascertain theidentity of a mysterious beauty he has seen at church.


He begins to frequent a semi-secretfree-thinking club, called the Bucentoro after the golden ship usedby the doge on occasions of state. At least one cardinal is also amember of the Bucentoro. He takes to gambling, loses heavily, andcontracts immense debts. In the meantime, rumors are spread at hisProtestant court that he has become a Catholic, which leads to hisrepudiation by his entire family. At the end of the fragment, hislife has been ruined, and his death is imminent.


Shakespeare’s “Othello, The Moor ofVenice” is a more finished analysis of the same technique. It waswritten and performed shortly after 1603, when the Venetians andGenoese had acquired vast powers in England through the accession oftheir puppet James I to the throne.


Othello is a Moor, hired out to Veniceas a mercenary, and at the apex of his power, having just won avictory over the Turkish fleet attacking Cyprus. He enjoys the fullconfidence of the Senate, and has just married Desdemona, thedaughter of a patrician. Othello, the “erring barbarian,” ishowever something of a dumb giant: his proficiency in the arts of waris unmatched, but his emotional makeup tends decidedly toward thenaive and infantile. He has no real insight into affairs of state, orinto psychology. Above all, he is superstitious and has a propensityfor jealousy.


All of these weaknesses aresystematically exploited by “honest Iago,” a member of Othello’sstaff who is determined to destroy him. Iago is the figure of the officer, an expert in what he calls “doubleknavery” – the art of manipulation. He sets out to destroyOthello using an accurate psychological profile of the Moor, andexploiting above all Othello’s naive willingness to trust his“honest Iago.” Iago’s modus operandi is to:


Make the Moor thank me, love me, andreward me,

For making him egregiously an ass

And practicing upon his peace and quit

Even to madness.


Iago uses his throwaway agent, the dupeRoderigo, for financing and services. He sets up scenes where he consone participant with one story, briefs another participant with adifferent story, brings them together in a controlled environment,and exploits the resulting fireworks for his overall strategy. Hesets up a fight between Roderigo and the drunken Cassio that leads tothe wounding of Montano by Cassio, who is ousted as chief lieutenantby Othello. After this, he manipulates Desdemona’s naive desire tohelp Cassio regain his post into prima facie evidence that Desdemonais an adulteress. Iago is then able to goad Othello all the way tokilling Desdemona and, finally, himself.


At the center of the play areepistemological questions of truth and proof. In Act 3, Iago drivesOthello wild with innuendoes about Desdemona’s alleged adultery,and makes him commit to the murder of Cassio, all without theslightest shred of proof. What Othello then regards as definitiveproof of adultery, sufficient to motivate the murder of Desdemona, isa handkerchief which Iago obtains and plants on Cassio. Thishandkerchief is an object of deep emotional and superstitiousimportance for Othello, as it had been given by his father to hismother. It had been his first love token for Desdemona. When he seesit in the hands of Cassio, he is ready to kill.


Iago is well aware of Othello’sepistemological weakness. When he first obtains the handkerchief, hegloats:


I will in Cassio’s lodging lose thisnapkin,

And let him find it. Trifles light asair

Are to the jealous confirmations strong

As proofs of holy writ; this may dosomething.


Shortly thereafter, Othello demandscertainty that Desdemona is betraying him. What would be definitiveproof, Iago asks?


Would you, the supervisor, grossly gapeupon –

Behold her tupp’d?


This kind of certainty, he says, isimpossible to obtain, but he offers an inductive- deductivesubstitute:


But yet, I say,

If imputation and strong circumstances,

Which lead directly to the door oftruth,

Will give you satisfaction, you mighthave’t.


In the final scene, we can agree withIago’s wife Emilia that Othello is a gull and a dolt, a “murderouscoxcomb … as ignorant as dirt.” But the lesson is that not onlyOthello, but all those who love not wisely but too well, who, “beingwrought” and “perplexed in the extreme,” are potential victimsof .


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by Eternal Student
on Wed, 10/27/2010 – 21:50

This is an excellent overview. I’d only add that the sack of Constantinople was something that the Byzantine empire never recovered from, and arguably contributed significantly to its downfall a couple of centuries later. Thanks for highlighting the importance of Venice, as it is often overlooked in favor of other parts of history.

Login or register to post comments by geopol
on Wed, 10/27/2010 – 22:20

Eternal Student


Where did you perform your extended educational work???





Login or register to post comments by Eternal Student
on Thu, 10/28/2010 – 03:16

Just my own curiousity about things. Various college courses, for starters. But that was a while ago. I like to read and learn. Generally broaden my horizons, continually, as it were.

Unfortunately, book reading seems to have fallen out of fashion. But I don’t see how one can have a view of the big picture without continual learning.

Login or register to post comments by i-dog
on Thu, 10/28/2010 – 03:30

Thanks, Geopol, also for including the Mongol connection (the invaders who took over China and became known as the Ching Dynasty — until they were replaced by the communists). Something else for me to look into, if you haven’t already.

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