AlterNet.org: Tom Engelhardt http://https.alternet.org/authors/tom-engelhardt-0 en Like Ike and the Military Industrial Complex, Military Brass Can't Face the Truth Until They Leave http://https.alternet.org/world/retired-officials-criticize-military <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Military dissent is not an oxymoron.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_158900600-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p dir="ltr">How, I’ve often wondered, can people who have spent their lives working in an institution, particularly in the military or some other part of the national security state, retire and suddenly see that same institution in a different and far more negative light?  Once outside, they become, in essence, critics of their former selves.  I’ve long had a private term for this curious phenomenon: retirement syndrome.</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps the most striking example of (edge-of-)retirement syndrome in modern American history was former five-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower.  As president, he presided over a vast expansion of the national security state and the military, including its nuclear arsenal, while a growing set of weapons makers and other defense-related outfits were embedding themselves in Washington in a big way.  On January 17, 1961, just before he was to end his second term in office and leave public life forever, he gave a “<a href="http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm">farewell address</a>” to the nation warning -- out of the blue -- of a potential loss of American liberties in part because</p><p dir="ltr">“we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.  This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience... In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”</p><p dir="ltr">Few could have said it better, then or now.  In the process, he gave an unforgettable name -- “the military-industrial complex” -- to a growing danger in American life.  The question remained, however: Why exactly had he waited until his criticisms lacked all the force that power can offer?  He was, after all, president and commander-in-chief.  In this, however, he would hardly prove unique.  Take, for example, four-star general George Lee Butler, who from 1991 to 1994 was the last commander of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command and commander in chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, which, as he later <a href="http://fas.org/news/usa/1997/01/msg00014a.htm">explained</a>, “controls all Navy and Air Force nuclear weapons.”  In 1996 at the <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bomb/filmmore/reference/primary/leebutler.html">National Press Club</a> in Washington, two years after he retired, he spoke out forcefully against the very weapons he had so recently overseen, pointing out that, “over the last 27 years of my military career, I was embroiled in every aspect of American nuclear policy making and force structuring, from the highest councils of government to nuclear command centers; from the arms control arena to cramped bomber cockpits and the confines of ballistic missile silos and submarines.” He then called for the “elimination” of such weapons.  Ever since <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1997/01/08/us/former-cold-warrior-has-a-new-mission-nuclear-cuts.html">then</a>, he has been a forceful anti-nuclear advocate, terming such weaponry a “<a href="https://www.wagingpeace.org/general-lee-butler/">scourge</a>” to the planet and an immoral danger to humanity.   </p><p dir="ltr">Then there’s William Perry, who spent decades inside the national security state working on nuclear issues.  As undersecretary of defense for research and engineering under President Jimmy Carter, and secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, he, too, oversaw a major nuclear build-up including, as California Governor Jerry Brown writes in a <a href="http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/07/14/a-stark-nuclear-warning/">recent review</a> of Perry’s new memoir, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0804797129/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">My Journey at the Nuclear Brink</a>, helping “launch the B-2, a strategic nuclear bomber, capable of use in both nuclear and nonnuclear missions; revitalized the aging B-52 with air-launched cruise missiles; put[ting] the Trident submarine program back on track; and [making] an ill-fated attempt to bring the MX ICBM, a ten-warhead missile, into operation.”  Like Butler, Perry has now gone into full-scale anti-nuclear mode, publicly speaking out against the arsenal he had such a hand in building and the sort of devastation that nuclear terrorism, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, or a new Cold War with Russia might lead to.</p><p dir="ltr">In all these years, however, I’ve seen next to nothing written on the various forms retirement syndrome can take or why, since such sentiments must have been long brewing in the retirees, we never hear critiques from within that national security world while such figures are still active.  Today, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore remedies that in “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176174/tomgram%3A_william_astore%2C_why_it%27s_so_hard_for_members_of_the_military_to_speak_out/#more">Military Dissent Is Not an Oxymoron</a>,” exploring what his own professional life tells him about why we hear so little criticism from those in either our military or the rest of the national security state.</p> Thu, 11 Aug 2016 07:52:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1061732 at http://https.alternet.org World World military army retired generals national security homeland security Looking Back on My Life, and a World That is A Disheartening Mess http://https.alternet.org/world/looking-back-my-life-and-world-disheartening-mess <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Looking at my mortality, in a world of constant American war.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-07-24_at_9.48.55_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com">TomDispatch</a>.</p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-14e438f1-1d27-dced-0f2a-849e3c92d25b">I recently dug my mother’s childhood photo album out of the depths of my bedroom closet. When I opened it, I found that the glue she had used as a girl to paste her life in place had given way, and on many pages the photos were now in a jumble.</p><p dir="ltr">My mother was born early in the last century. Today, for most of that ancient collection of photos and memorabilia -- drawings (undoubtedly hers), a Caruthers School of Piano program, a Camp Weewan-Eeta brochure, a Hyde Park High School junior prom “senior ticket,” and photos of unknown boys, girls, and adults -- there’s no one left to tell me who was who or what was what.</p><p dir="ltr">In some of them, I can still recognize my mother’s youthful face, and that of her brother who died so long ago but remains quite recognizable (even so many decades before I knew him). As for the rest -- the girl in what looks like a gym outfit doing a headstand, all those young women lined up on a beach in what must then have been risqué bathing suits, the boy kneeling with his arms outstretched toward my perhaps nine-year-old mother -- they’ve all been swept away by the tides of time.</p><p dir="ltr">And so it goes, of course. For all of us, sooner or later.</p><p dir="ltr">My mother was never much for talking about the past. Intent on becoming a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176025/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_message_in_a_bottle_from_my_mother/">professional caricaturist</a>, she lit out from her hometown, Chicago, for the city of her dreams, New York, and essentially never looked back. For whatever reason, looking back frightened her.</p><p dir="ltr">And in all those years when I might have pressed her for so much more about herself, her family, her youthful years, I was too young to give a damn. Now, I can’t tell you what I’d give to ask those questions and find out what I can never know. Her mother and father, my grandparents who died before I was born, her sister whom I met once at perhaps age six, her friends and neighbors, swains and sidekicks, they’re all now the dust of history in an album that is disintegrating into a pile of black flakes at the slightest touch. Even for me, most of the photos in it are as meaningless (if strangely moving) as ones you’d pick up in an antique store or at a garage sale.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Lost Children on a Destabilizing Planet</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I just had -- I won’t say celebrated -- my 72nd birthday. It was a natural moment to think about both the past that stretches behind me and the truncated future ahead. Recently, in fact, I’ve had the dead on my mind. I’m about to recopy my ancient address book for what undoubtedly will be the last time. (Yes, I’m old enough to prefer all that information on paper, not in the ether.) And of course when I flip through those fading pages, I see, as befits my age, something like a book of the dead and realize that the next iteration will be so much shorter.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s sometimes said of the dead that they’ve “crossed over.” In the context of our present world, I’ve started thinking of them as refugees of a sort -- every one of them uprooted from their lives (as we all will be one day) and sent across some unknown frontier into a truly foreign land. But if our fate is, in the end, to be the ultimate refugees, heading into a place where there will be no resettlement camps, assumedly nothing at all, I wonder, too, about the world after me, the one I’ll leave behind when I finally cross that border.</p><p dir="ltr">I wonder, too -- how could I not with my future life as a “refugee” in mind? -- about the <a href="http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54269#.V4uVvY6nGV6">65 million human beings</a> uprooted from their homes in 2015 alone, largely in places where we Americans have been fighting our wars for this last decade and a half. And it’s hard not to notice how many more have followed in their path this year, <a href="http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/fallujah-in-ruins/">including</a> at least 80,000 of the Sunni inhabitants of Iraq’s recently “liberated” and partially destroyed city of Fallujah. In the process, tens of millions of them have remained internal exiles in their own country (or what is left of it), while tens of millions have officially become refugees by crossing borders into <a href="http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=224">Turkey</a>, <a href="http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=122">Lebanon</a>, or <a href="http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=107">Jordan</a>, by taking to the seas in flimsy, <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/refugee-boat-capsizes-mediterranean-160603102151762.html">overcrowded</a> craft heading for Greece (from Turkey) or Italy (from Libya) moving onward in waves of desperation, hope, and despair, and <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/29/europe/migrant-deaths/">drowning</a> in alarming numbers. At the end of their journeys, they have sometimes <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/05/refugee-crisis-warm-welcome-for-people-bussed-from-budapest">found</a> help and <a href="http://tracks.unhcr.org/2015/12/the-germans-welcoming-refugees-into-their-homes/">succor</a>, but often enough only <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/17/world/europe/attack-in-france-fuels-anti-immigrant-parties-on-europes-right.html">hostility</a> and loathing, as if they were the ones who had committed a crime, done something wrong.</p><p dir="ltr">I think as well about the nearly 10% of Iraqi children, 1.5 million of them in a country gripped by chaos, war, ethnic conflict, insurgency, and terror who, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jun/30/millions-iraq-children-repeatedly-relentlessly-targeted-says-un-united-nations">according to</a> a recent UNICEF report, have had to flee their homes since 2014, or the 20% of Iraqi kids (kids!) who are “at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, and recruitment into armed groups.” I think about <a href="http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54269#.V4uVvY6nGV6">the 51%</a> of all those refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere who were children, many separated from their parents and alone on Planet Earth.</p><p dir="ltr">No child deserves such a fate. Ever. Each uprooted child who has lost his or her parents, and perhaps access to education or any <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/06/war-to-sweatshop-for-child-refugees">childhood at all</a>, represents a crime against the future.</p><p dir="ltr">And I think often enough about our response to all this, the one we’ve practiced for the last 15 years: more bombs, more missiles, more <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176166/tomgram%3A_rebecca_gordon%2C_how_extrajudicial_executions_became_%22war%22_policy_in_washington/">drone strikes</a>, more advisers, more <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176060/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_success,_failure,_and_the_%22finest_warriors_who_ever_went_into_combat%22/">special ops raids</a>, more weapons deals, and with it all <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175854/tomgram:_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/">not success</a> or victory by any imaginable standard, but only the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176094/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_tomorrow%27s_news_today/">further destabilization</a> of increasing regions of the planet, the further spread of terror movements, and the generation of yet more uprooted human beings, lost children, refugees -- ever more, that is, of the terrorized and the terrorists. If this represents the formula from hell, it’s also been a proven one over this last decade and a half. It works, as long as what you mean to do is bring chaos to significant swathes of the planet and force yet more children in ever more unimaginable situations.</p><p dir="ltr">If you live in the United States, it’s easy enough to be shocked (unless, of course, you’re a supporter) when Donald Trump calls for the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2015/12/07/e56266f6-9d2b-11e5-8728-1af6af208198_story.html">banning</a> of Muslims from this country, or Newt Gingrich advocates the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/15/newt-gingrich-muslims-sharia-law-donald-trump%E2%80%A6%20Sharia%20Law">testing</a> of “every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in <a href="http://www.juancole.com/2016/07/should-pences-christian.html">sharia</a> they should be deported,” or various Republican governors <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/federal-judge-rules-indiana-gov-mike-pence-can-t-block-n528826">fight</a> to keep a pitiful few Syrian refugees out of their states. It’s easy enough to tsk-tsk over such sentiments, cite a long tradition of American xenophobia and racism, and so on. In truth, however, most of this (however hair-raising) remains bluster at this point. The real “xenophobic” action has taken place in distant lands where the U.S. Air Force <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176155/tomgram%3A_william_astore,_the_end_of_air_power/">reigns supreme</a>, where a country that once created the Marshall Plan to raise a continent leveled by war can no longer imagine investing in or creating anything but further <a href="http://bigstory.ap.org/article/627a3057be2544d68aa75897e299a162/iraq-routed-ramadi-high-cost-city-destroyed">vistas</a> of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176094/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_tomorrow%27s_news_today/">destruction and destabilization</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The Muslims that Donald Trump wants to ban are, after all, the very ones his country has played such a part in uprooting and setting in motion. And how can <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/11/world/middleeast/us-has-taken-in-less-than-a-fifth-of-pledged-syrian-refugees.html">the few</a> who might ever make it to this country compare to the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/18/refugees-us-china-japan-germany-france-uk-host-9-per-cent">millions</a> who have flooded Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, among other places, further destabilizing the Middle East (which, in case you forgot, remains the oil heartland of the planet)? Where is the Marshall Plan for them or for the rest of a region that the U.S. and its allies are now in the process of dismantling (with the eager assistance of the Islamic State, various extremist outfits, Bashar al-Assad, and quite a crew of others)?</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What Bombs Can’t Build</strong></p><p dir="ltr">We Americans think well of ourselves. From <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2013/09/24/obama-tells-other-world-leaders-i-believe-america-is-exceptional/">our presidents</a> on down, we seldom hesitate to imagine our country as a singularly “exceptional” nation -- and also as an exceptionally generous one. In recent years, however, that generosity has been little in evidence at home or abroad (except where the U.S. military is concerned). Domestically, the country has split between a rising 1% (and their handlers and enablers) and parts of the other 99% who feel themselves on the path to hell. Helped along by Donald Trump’s political circus, this has given the U.S. the look of a land spinning into something like Third World-ism, even though it <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176161/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_where_did_the_american_century_go/">remains</a> the globe’s “sole superpower” and wealthiest country.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, our professed streak of generosity hasn’t extended to our own infrastructure, which -- speaking of worlds swept away by the tides of time -- would have boggled the minds of my parents and other Americans of their era. The idea that the country’s highways, byways, bridges, levees, pipelines, and so on could be <a href="http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/">decaying</a> in significant ways and <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/18/inside-americas-infrastructure-problem">starved for dollars</a> without a response from the political class would have been inconceivable to them. And it does represent a strikingly ungenerous message sent from that class to the children of some future America: you and the world you’ll inhabit aren’t worth our investment.</p><p dir="ltr">In these years -- thank you, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175388/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_osama_dead_and_alive/">Osama bin Laden</a>, ISIS, and endless American politicians, officials, military figures, and terror “experts” -- fear has gripped the body politic over a phenomenon, terrorism, that, while dangerous, represents one of the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176013/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_armed_violence_in_the_homeland/">lesser perils</a> of American life. No matter. There’s a constant drumbeat of discussion about how to keep ourselves “safe” from terrorism in a world in which freelance lunatics with an <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/dallas-police-ambush/dallas-gunman-micah-johnson-used-saiga-ak-74-assault-style-n608311">assault rifle</a> or a <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/france-truck-attack/terror-truck-how-attack-nice-unfolded-n610321">truck</a> can indeed kill startling numbers of people in suicidal acts. The problem is that, in this era, preserving our “safety” always turns out to involve yet more bombs and missiles dropped in distant lands, more troops and special operators sent into action, greater surveillance of ourselves and everyone else. In other words, we’re talking about everything that further militarizes American foreign policy, puts the national security state in command, and assures the continued <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175970/tomgram%3a_engelhardt%2c_is_a_new_political_system_emerging_in_this_country">demobilization</a> of a scared and rattled citizenry, even as, elsewhere, it creates yet more uprooted souls, more children without childhoods, more refugees.</p><p dir="ltr">Our leaders -- and we, too -- have grown accustomed to our particular version of eternal “wartime,” and to wars without end, wars <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/with-a-hint-of-regret-obama-describes-new-kind-of-endless-quasi-war/2016/07/09/b9fdacb2-4624-11e6-bc99-7d269f8719b1_story.html">guaranteed to go on</a> and on as more parts of the planet plunge into hell. In all of this, any sense of American generosity, either of the spirit or of funds, seems to be missing in action. There isn’t the faintest understanding here that if you really don’t want to create generations of terrorists amid a growing population loosed from all the boundaries of normal life, you’d better have a Marshall Plan for the Greater Middle East.</p><p dir="ltr">It should be obvious (but isn’t in our American world) that bombs, whatever they may do, can never build anything. You’d better be ready instead to lend a genuine hand, a major one, in making half-decent lives possible for millions and millions of people now in turmoil. You’d better know that war <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amitai-etzioni/a-semi-permanent-state-of_b_11019720.html">isn’t actually the answer</a> to any of this, that if ISIS is destroyed in a region reduced to rubble and without hope of better, a few years from now that brutal organization could look good in comparison to whatever comes down the pike. You'd better know that peaceful acts -- peace being a word that, even rhetorically, has gone out of style in “wartime” Washington -- are still possible in this world.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Lost to the Future</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Before those tides wash us away, there’s always the urge to ensure that you’ll leave something behind. I fear that I’m already catching glimpses of what that might be, of the world after me, an American world that I would never have wanted to turn over to my own children or grandchildren, or anyone else’s. My country, the United States, is hardly the only one involved in what looks like a growing global debacle of destabilization: a tip of the hat is necessary to the Pakistanis, the Saudis, our European allies, the Brexit British, the Russians, and so many others.</p><p dir="ltr">I have to admit, however, that my own focus -- my <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175951/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_i.f._stone_and_the_urge_to_serve/">sense of duty</a>, you might say -- is to this country. I’ve never liked the all-American words “patriot” and “super-patriot,” which we only apply to ourselves -- or those alternatives, “nationalist” and “ultranationalist,” which we reserve pejoratively for gung-ho foreigners. But if I can’t quite call myself either an American patriot or an American nationalist, I do care, above all, about what this country chooses to be, what it wants to become. I feel some responsibility for that and it pains me to see what’s happening to us, to the country and the people we seem to be preparing to be. We, too, are perhaps beginning to show the strains of the global destabilization now evidently underway and, unnerved, we are undoubtedly continuing to damage the future in ways still hard to assess.</p><p>Perhaps someday, someone will have one of my own childhood photo albums in their hands. The glue will have worn off, the photos will be heading toward the central crease, the pages will be flaking away, and the cast of characters, myself included, will be lost to the past, as so many of those children we had such a hand in uprooting and making into refugees will be lost to the future. At that moment, my fate will be the norm and there will be nothing to mourn about it. The fate of those lost children, if they become the norm, will however be the scandal of the century, and will represent genuine crimes against the future.</p><p><a class="toggle-group toggleOnScroll trigger remember refreshAds gaTrackPageEvent on" data-delay="15" data-toggle-group="story-14337811" href="http://www.salon.com/2016/01/10/in_the_shadow_of_the_iron_curtain_why_isis_is_the_minor_leagues_of_terror_partner/" id="yui_3_18_1_12_1469368000948_699"></a></p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a>.</em> Sun, 24 Jul 2016 06:43:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1060707 at http://https.alternet.org World World tomdispatch America's a Super Power -- But What Does That Mean If the Entire World Is Falling Apart? http://https.alternet.org/world/americas-super-power-what-does-mean-if-entire-world-falling-apart <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> The United States is the default superpower in an ever more recalcitrant world.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_839433.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Vladimir Putin recently manned up and admitted it. The United States remains the planet’s sole superpower, as it has been since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. “America,” the Russian president <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/18/vladimir-putin-donald-trump-striking-america-superpower" target="_blank">said</a>, “is a great power. Today, probably, the only superpower. We accept that.”</p><p>Think of us, in fact, as the default superpower in an ever more recalcitrant world.</p><p>Seventy-five years ago, at the edge of a global conflagration among rival great powers and empires, Henry Luce first suggested that the next century could be ours.  In February 1941, in his magazine <em>LIFE</em>, he wrote a <a href="http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article6139.htm" target="_blank">famous essay</a> entitled “The American Century.”  In it, he proclaimed that if only Americans would think internationally, surge into the world, and accept that they were already at war, the next hundred years would be theirs.  Just over nine months later, the Japanese attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, plunging the country into World War II.  At the time, however, Americans were still riven and confused about how to deal with spreading regional conflicts in Europe and Asia, as well as the rise of fascism and the Nazis.</p><p>That moment was indeed a horrific one, and yet it was also just a heightened version of what had gone before.  For the previous half-millennium, there had seldom been a moment when at least two (and often three or more) European powers had not been in contention, often armed and violent, for domination and for control of significant parts of the planet.  In those many centuries, great powers rose and fell and new ones, including Germany and Japan, came on the scene girded for imperial battle. In the process, a modern global arms race was launched to create ever more advanced and devastating weaponry based on the latest breakthroughs in the science of war.  By August 1945, this had led to the release of an awesome form of primal energy in the first (and thus far only) <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176032/tomgram%3A_susan_southard,_under_the_mushroom_cloud_--_nagasaki_after_nuclear_war/" target="_blank">use of</a> nuclear weapons in wartime. </p><p>In the years that followed, the United States and the Soviet Union grew ever more “super” and took possession of destructive capabilities once left, at least in the human imagination, to the gods: the power to annihilate not just one enemy on one battlefield or one armada on one sea but everything.  In the nearly half-century of the Cold War, the rivalry between them became apocalyptic in nature as their <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_nuclear_weapons_stockpiles_and_nuclear_tests_by_country" target="_blank">nuclear arsenals</a> grew to monstrous proportions.  As a result, with the exception of the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175605/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_%22the_most_dangerous_moment,%22_50_years_later/" target="_blank">Cuban Missile Crisis</a>, they faced off against each other indirectly in “limited” proxy wars that, especially in Korea and Indochina, were of unparalleled technological ferocity.</p><p>Then, in 1991, the Soviet Union imploded and, for the first time in historical memory, there was only one power that mattered.  This was a reality even Henry Luce might have found farfetched.  Previously, the idea of a single power so mighty that it alone loomed over the planet was essentially relegated to fictional fantasies about extraordinary evil.  And yet so it was -- or at least so it seemed, especially to the leadership that took power in Washington in the year 2000 and soon enough were <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/101850/" target="_blank">dreaming</a> of a planetary <em>Pax Americana</em>.</p><p>In a strange way, something similarly unimaginable happened in Europe.  On that continent laid waste by two devastating twentieth-century wars, a single “union” was formed, something that not so long before would have been categorized as a madly utopian project. The idea that centuries of national rivalries and the rabid nationalism that often went with it could somehow be tamed and that former great powers and imperial contenders could be <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/06/25/brexit-stern-rebuke-arrogant-elites" target="_blank">subsumed</a> in a single peaceful organization (even if under the aegis of American global power) would once have seemed like the most absurd of fictions.  And yet so it would be -- or so it seemed, at least until recently.</p><p><strong>A Planetary Brexit?</strong></p><p>We seldom take in the strangeness of what’s happened on this curious planet of ours.  In the years after 1991, we became so inured to the idea of a single superpower globe and a single European economic and political union that both, once utterly inconceivable, came to seem too mundane to spend a lot of time thinking about.  And yet who would have believed that 75 years after Luce urged his country into that American Century, there would, in military terms, be no genuine rivals, no other truly great powers (only regional ones) on Planet Earth?</p><p>So many taken-for-granted things about our world were considered utterly improbable before they happened.  Take China.  I recall well the day in 1972 when, after decades of non-contact and raging hostility, we learned that President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, were in Beijing <a href="http://china.usc.edu/mao-zedong-meets-richard-nixon-february-21-1972" target="_blank">meeting</a> congenially with Communist leader Mao Zedong.  A friend called to tell me the news.  I thought he was joking and it struck me as a ridiculously lame joke at that.</p><p>There’s almost no way now to capture how improbable this seemed at the time -- the leading communist revolutionary on the planet chatting cheerily with the prime representative of anti-communism.  If, however, you had told me then that, in the decades to come, China would undergo a full-scale capitalist revolution and become the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/business/global/16yuan.html" target="_blank">economic powerhouse</a> of the planet, and that this would be done under the leadership of Mao’s still regnant communist party, I would have considered you mad.</p><p>And mind you, that’s just to begin to mention the improbabilities of the present moment.  After all, in what fantasies -- ever -- about a globe with a single dominant power, would anyone have imagined that it might fail so utterly to bring the world to anything approximating heel? If you had told Henry Luce, or me, or anyone else, including the masters of the universe in Washington in 1991, that the only superpower left on Earth, with the <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jan/13/barack-obama/obama-us-spends-more-military-next-8-nations-combi/" target="_blank">best-funded</a>, mightiest, most technologically destructive and advanced military imaginable, would, on September 11, 2001, be goaded by a group <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175388/engelhardt_Osama_dead_and_alive" target="_blank">so modest</a> in size and power as to be barely noticeable into a series of never-ending wars across the Greater Middle East and Africa, we would have found that beyond improbable.</p><p>Who would have believed a movie or novel in which that same power, without national enemies of any significance in any of the regions where the fighting was taking place, would struggle unsuccessfully, year after year, to subdue scattered, lightly armed insurgents (aka “terrorists”) across a disintegrating region?  Who could have imagined that every measure Washington took to assert its might only seemed to blow back (or blow somewhere, anyway)?  Who would have believed that its full-scale invasion of one weak Middle Eastern country, its “<a href="http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/mission%20accomplished%202.jpg" target="_blank">mission accomplished</a>” moment, would in the end prove a trip through “<a href="http://www.arabnews.com/node/223999" target="_blank">the gates of hell</a>”?  Who would have imagined that such an invasion could punch a hole in the oil heartlands of the region that, 13 years later, is still a bleeding wound, now seemingly beyond repair, or that it would set loose a principle of chaos and disintegration that seems to be <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176158/tomgram%3A_patrick_cockburn%2C_an_endless_cycle_of_indecisive_wars/" target="_blank">spreading</a> like a planetary Brexit?</p><p>And what if I told you that, after 15 years of such behavior, the only thing the leaders of that superpower can now imagine doing in the increasingly wrecked lands where they carry on their struggles is yet <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176113/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_done_in_by_the_american_way_of_war/" target="_blank">more of everything</a> that hasn’t worked in all that time?  Meanwhile -- how improbable is this? -- in its “homeland,” there is essentially no one, neither a movement in the streets, nor critical voices in the corridors of power protesting what’s happening or even exploring or suggesting other paths into the future.</p><p>Imagine that, wherever you looked, except in the borderlands of (and waters off) Russia and China, that single superpower was essentially unopposed and yet its ability to apply its unique status effectively in these years has been in eternal free-fall -- even in perfectly peaceable areas to which it was closely allied.  As an example, consider this: the president of that sole superpower flies to London and, in an England that (like much of Europe) hasn’t said no to Washington about anything of genuine significance in decades, strongly urges the British not to exit (or “Brexit”) the European Union (EU).  He backs up his suggestion with a clearly stated <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-obama-idUSKCN0XH2U6" target="_blank">threat</a>.  If they do so, he says, our closest trans-Atlantic partner will find itself at “the back of the queue” when it comes to future trade deals with Washington.</p><p>Remember, we’re talking about a country that has, in these years, seconded the U.S. endlessly.  As David Sanger of the <em>New York Times</em> recently (and delicately) <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/27/world/europe/john-kerry-brexit-european-union.html" target="_blank">put it</a>:</p><blockquote><p>“No country shares Washington’s worldview quite the way Britain does, [American officials] say; it has long been the United States’ most willing security ally, most effective intelligence partner and greatest enthusiast of the free-trade mantras that have been a keystone of America’s internationalist approach. And few nations were as willing to put a thumb as firmly on the scales of European debates in ways that benefit the United States.”</p></blockquote><p>By now, of course, we all know how the populace of our most loyal ally, the other side of that “<a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/business-36626660" target="_blank">special relationship</a>,” reacted -- with anger<strong> </strong>at the president’s intervention and with a vote to exit the European Union not long after.  In its wake, fears are rising of further <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-outers-all-idUSKCN0ZA2LP" target="_blank">Frexits</a> and <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/27/frexit-nexit-or-oexit-who-will-be-next-to-leave-the-eu" target="_blank">Nexits</a> that might crack the EU open and usher in a new era of nationalist feeling in Europe.</p><p><strong>Failed World?</strong></p><p>As goes Britain, so, it seems, goes the world.  Give Washington real credit for much of this.  Those post-9/11 dreams of global domination shared by the top leadership of the Bush administration proved wildly destructive and it’s gotten no better since.  Consider the vast swath of the planet where the devastation is most obvious: the Greater Middle East and North Africa.  Then ask yourself: Are we still in the American Century?  And if not, whose (or what) century are we in? </p><p>If you had told me in 1975, when the Vietnam War finally ended some 34 years after Luce wrote that essay and 28 years before the U.S. invaded Iraq that, in 1979, Washington would <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1984/chalmers_johnson_on_the_cia_and_a_blowback_world" target="_blank">become involved</a> in a decade-long war in Afghanistan, I would have been stunned.  If you had told me in 1975 that, in 2001, it would invade that same country and launch a second Afghan War, still <a href="http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2016/06/16/afghanistan-nicholson-commander-pentagon-report-war/85972056/" target="_blank">underway</a> 15 years later with no end in sight, I wouldn’t have believed you.  A quarter-century of American wars and <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/01/26/the-u-s-was-supposed-to-leave-afghanistan-by-2017-now-it-might-take-decades/" target="_blank">still counting</a> in a country that, in 1975, most Americans might not have been able to locate on a map.  If you had added that, starting in 1990, the U.S. would be involved in three successive wars in Iraq, the third of which is still ongoing, I might have been speechless.  And that’s not to mention interventions of various sorts, also ongoing, in Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Syria -- none, by the way, by any normal standards successful.</p><p>If you were to do a little tabulation of the results of these years of American Century-ism across the Greater Middle East, you would discover a signature kind of chaos.  In the early years of this century, officials of the Bush administration often referred to the region from China’s western border to northern Africa as an “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174796/the_theater_of_the_imperially_absurd" target="_blank">arc of instability</a>.”  That phrase was meant to embody their explanation for letting the U.S. military loose there: to bring order and, of course, democracy to those lands.  And with modest exceptions, it was indeed true that most of the Greater Middle East was then ruled by repressive, autocratic, or regressive regimes of various sorts.  It was, however, still a reasonably orderly region.  Now, it actually is an arc of instability filled with states that are <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176094/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_tomorrow's_news_today/" target="_blank">collapsing</a> left and right, cities and towns that are <a href="http://bigstory.ap.org/article/627a3057be2544d68aa75897e299a162/iraq-routed-ramadi-high-cost-city-destroyed" target="_blank">being leveled</a>, and terror outfits, each worse than the last, that are <a href="http://www.juancole.com/2016/06/overflows-radical-christian.html" target="_blank">spreading</a> in the regional rubble.  Religious and ethnic divisions of every sort are sharpening and conflicts within countries, or what’s left of them, are on the rise.</p><p>Most of the places where the U.S. has let its military and its <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176155/tomgram%3A_william_astore%2C_the_end_of_air_power/" target="_blank">air power</a> loose -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Syria – are now either failed or failing states.  Under the circumstances, it might be reasonable to suggest that the very term “failed state” is outdated, and not just because it places all the blame for what’s happened on the indigenous people of a country.  After all, if the arc of instability is now in any way “united,” it’s mainly thanks to spreading terror groups and perhaps the Islamic State <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/03/asia/bangladesh-isis-al-qaeda/" target="_blank">brand</a>.</p><p>Moreover, in the stunted imagination of present-day Washington, the only policies imaginable in response to all this are <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176147/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich,_america's_sinkhole_wars/" target="_blank">highly militarized</a> and call for more of the same: more <a href="https://theintercept.com/2016/06/22/hillary-clintons-likely-pentagon-chief-already-advocating-for-more-bombing-and-intervention/" target="_blank">air power</a> in the skies over distant battlefields, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obamas-generals-want-more-us-troops-in-iraq/2016/06/21/2beb0100-37e6-11e6-8f7c-d4c723a2becb_story.html" target="_blank">more boots</a> on the ground, more <a href="http://www.defenseone.com/threats/2016/02/back-iraq-us-military-contractors-return-droves/126095/" target="_blank">private contractors</a> and hired guns, more munitions and weaponry (surprising amounts of which have, in these years, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/27/world/middleeast/cia-arms-for-syrian-rebels-supplied-black-market-officials-say.html" target="_blank">ended up</a> in the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-rebels-pentagon-20150925-story.html" target="_blank">hands</a> not of allied forces, but of Washington’s <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/u-s-supplied-equipment-abandoned-by-iraqi-troops-in-ramadi/" target="_blank">enemies</a>), more special operations raids, more drone assassination <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">campaigns</a>, and at home, more surveillance, more powers for the national security state, more... well, you know the story.</p><p>For such a world, a new term is needed.  Perhaps something like <em>failed region</em>.  This, it seems, is one thing that the American Century has come to mean 75 years after Henry Luce urged it into existence.  And perhaps lurking in the undergrowth as well is another phrase, one not quite yet imaginable but thoroughly chilling: failed world.</p><p>With this in mind, imagine what the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia could mean in the long run, or the recent U.S.-NATO <a href="http://www.newsweek.com/nato-send-tanks-eastern-europe-despite-russian-threats-442915" target="_blank">pivot</a> to the Baltics and Eastern Europe.  If huge swaths of the planet have begun to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176158/tomgram%3A_patrick_cockburn%2C_an_endless_cycle_of_indecisive_wars/" target="_blank">disintegrate</a> in an era when the worst the U.S. faced in the way of opponents has been minority insurgencies and terror outfits, or more recently a terror caliphate, consider for a moment what kinds of chaos could come to regions where a potentially hostile power remains.  And by the way, don’t for a second think that, even if the Islamic State is finally defeated, worse can’t emerge from the chaos and rubble of the failed region that it will leave behind.  It can and, odds on, it will.</p><p>All of this gives the very idea of an American Century new meaning.  Can there be any question that this is not the century of Henry Luce, nor the one that American political and military leaders dreamed of when the Soviet Union collapsed?  What comes to mind instead is the sentiment the Roman historian Tacitus put in the mouth of Calgacus, a chieftain in what is now Scotland, speaking of the Roman conquests of his time: “They make a desert and call it peace.”</p><p>Perhaps this is no longer really the American century at all, despite the continuing status of the U.S. as the planet’s sole superpower.  A recent <a href="http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54269#.V3MFNY6nGV5" target="_blank">U.N. report</a> estimates that, in 2015, a record 65 million people were uprooted, mainly in the Greater Middle East. Tens of millions of them crossed borders and became refugees, including staggering numbers of children, many separated from their parents.  So perhaps this really is the century of the lost child.</p><p>What could be sadder?</p> Thu, 14 Jul 2016 09:35:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1059722 at http://https.alternet.org World Culture World brexit super powers world international relations China russia A Commencement Speech for the Doomed in Our Age of American Decline http://https.alternet.org/visions/heres-commencement-speech-about-trump-and-our-age-american-decline <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Win or lose, Donald Trump has cast a shadow across our democracy. The class of 2016 faces a grim, uncertain future</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/grad_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a></em>.</p><p>Graduates of 2016, don’t be fooled by this glorious day.  As you leave campus for the last time, many of you already deeply in debt and with a <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-student-debt-20150906-story.html" target="_blank">lifetime of payments</a> to look forward to, you head into a world that’s anything but sunny.  In fact, through those gates that have done little enough to protect you is the sort of fog bank that results in traffic pile-ups on any highway.</p><p>And if you imagine that I’m here to sweep that fog away and tell you what truly lies behind it, think again.  My only consolation is that, if I can’t adequately explain our American world to you or your path through it, I doubt any other speaker could either.</p><p>Of course, it’s not exactly a fog-lifter to say that, like it or not, you’re about to graduate onto Planet Donald — and I don’t mean, for all but a few of you, a future round of golf at <a href="http://www.maralagoclub.com/" target="_blank">Mar-a-Lago</a>.  Our increasingly unnerved and disturbed world is his circus right now (whether he wins the coming election or not), just as in the Philippines, it’s the circus of new president <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/18/world/asia/rodrigo-duterte-philippines.html" target="_blank">Rodrigo Duterte</a>; in Hungary, of right-wing populist Viktor Orbán; in Austria, of Norbert Hofer, the extremist anti-immigrant presidential candidate who just lost a squeaker by <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/24/world/europe/austria-presidential-election.html" target="_blank">.6%</a> of the vote; in <a href="http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Netanyahu-Liberman-government-showing-signs-of-fascism-Ehud-Barak-says-454557" target="_blank">Israel</a>, of new defense minister Avigdor Lieberman; in Russia, of the autocratic Vladimir Putin; in France, of Marine le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Front party, who has<a href="http://www.newsweek.com/marine-le-pen-leads-french-presidential-poll-30-vote-303066" target="_blank">sometimes led</a> in polls for the next presidential election; and so on.  And if you don’t think that’s a less than pretty political picture of our changing planet, then don’t wait for the rest of this speech, just hustle out those gates.  You’ve got a treat ahead of you.</p><p>For the rest of us lingerers, it says something about where we all are that, once through those gates, you’ll still find yourself in the richest, most powerful country around, the planet’s “sole superpower.”  (USA!  USA!)  It is, however, a superpower distinctly in decline on — and this is a historic first — a planet similarly in decline.</p><p>How Trumpian Is American Authoritarianism?</p><p>In its halcyon days, Washington could overthrow governments, install Shahs or other rulers, do more or less what it wanted across significant parts of the globe and reap rewards, while (as in the case of Iran) not paying any price, blowback-style, for decades, if at all.  That was imperial power in the blaze of the noonday sun.  These days, in case you hadn’t noticed, blowback for our imperial actions seems to arrive as if by high-speed rail (of which by the way, the greatest power on the planet has <a href="http://grist.org/business-technology/the-u-s-is-just-pathetic-on-high-speed-rail/" target="_blank">yet to build</a> a single mile, if you want a quick measure of decline).</p><p>Despite having a more massive, technologically advanced, and <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jan/13/barack-obama/obama-us-spends-more-military-next-8-nations-combi/" target="_blank">better funded</a> military than any other power or even group of powers on the planet, in the last decade and a half of constant war across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, the U.S. has won <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">nothing</a>, <em>nada</em>, zilch.  Its unending wars have, in fact, led nowhere in a world growing more chaotic by the second.  Its militarized “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176147/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich%2C_america's_sinkhole_wars/" target="_blank">milestones</a>,” like the recent drone-killing in Pakistan of the leader of the Taliban, have proven repetitive signposts on what, even in the present fog, is surely the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176094/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_tomorrow's_news_today/" target="_blank">road to hell</a>.</p><p>It’s been relatively easy, if you live here, to notice little enough of all this and — at least until Donald Trump arrived to the stunned fascination of the country (not to speak of the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176135/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_it_can't_happen_here,_can_it/" target="_blank">rest</a> of the planet) — to imagine that we live in a peaceable land with most of its familiar markers still reassuringly in place.  We still have elections, our tripartite form of government (as well as the other accoutrements of a democracy), our reverential view of our Constitution and the rights it endows us with, and so on.  In truth, however, the American world is coming to bear ever less resemblance to the one we still claim as ours, or rather that older America looks increasingly like a hollowed-out shell within which something new and quite different has been gestating.</p><p>After all, can anyone really doubt that representative democracy as it once existed has been eviscerated and is now — consider Congress exhibit A — in a state of advanced paralysis, or that just about every aspect of the <a href="http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/grades/" target="_blank">country’s infrastructure</a>, is slowly fraying or crumbling and that little is being done about it?  Can anyone doubt that the constitutional system — take <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/20/congress-must-not-abdicate-its-duty-to-authorize-or-declare-war" target="_blank">war powers</a> as a prime example or, for that matter, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/may/29/rogue-justice-review-george-bush-september-11" target="_blank">American liberties</a> — has also been fraying?  Can anyone doubt that the country’s classic tripartite form of government, from a Supreme Court missing a member by choice of Congress to a national security state that mocks the law, is ever less checked and balanced and increasingly more than “tri”?</p><p>In the Vietnam era, people first began talking about an “imperial presidency.”  Today, in areas of overwhelming importance, the White House is, if anything, somewhat less imperial, but only because it’s more in <a href="http://www.juancole.com/2016/05/snowden-national-security.html" target="_blank">thrall</a> to the ever-expanding national security state.  Though that unofficial fourth branch of government is seldom seriously considered when the ways in which our American world works are being described and though it has no place in the Constitution, it is increasingly the first branch of government in Washington, the one before which all the others kneel down.</p><p>There has, in this endless election season, been much <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/04/us/politics/donald-trump-constitution-power.html" target="_blank">discussion</a> of Donald Trump’s potential for “authoritarianism” (or incipient “<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/this-is-how-fascism-comes-to-america/2016/05/17/c4e32c58-1c47-11e6-8c7b-6931e66333e7_story.html?version=meter+at+0&amp;module=meter-Links&amp;pgtype=article&amp;contentId=&amp;mediaId=&amp;referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fhistorynewsnetwork.org%2Farticle%2F162956&amp;priority=true&amp;action=click&amp;contentCollection=meter-links-click" target="_blank">fascism</a>,” or worse).  It’s a subject generally treated as if it were some tendency or property unique to the man who<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/donald-trump-rode-escalator-2016-presidential-announcement/story?id=31801433" target="_blank">rode</a> a Trump Tower escalator into the presidential race to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” or perhaps something from the 1930s that he carries in his jacket pocket and that his enthusiastic white working class followers are naturally drawn to and responsible for.</p><p>Few bother to consider the ways in which the foundations of authoritarianism have already been laid in this society — and not by disaffected working class white men either.  Few bother to consider what it means to have a national security state and a massive military machine deeply embedded in our ruling city and our American world.  Few think about the (count ’em!) <a href="https://www.intelligencecareers.gov/icmembers.html" target="_blank">17</a> significant <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176056/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_creating_an_un-intelligence_machine/" target="_blank">intelligence agencies</a> that eat close to <a href="http://fas.org/irp/budget/" target="_blank">$70 billion</a> annually or the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176144/tomgram%3A_william_hartung%2C_how_to_disappear_money%2C_pentagon-style/" target="_blank">trillion dollars</a> or more a year that disappears into our national security world, or what it means for that state within a state, that<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Government-Surveillance-Security-Single-Superpower/dp/1608463656?ie=UTF8&amp;ref_=nosim&amp;tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">shadow government</a>, to become ever more powerful and autonomous in the name of American “safety,” especially from “terrorism” (though terrorism represents the<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176013/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_armed_violence_in_the_homeland/" target="_blank">most microscopic</a> of dangers for most Americans).</p><p>In this long election season, amid all the charges leveled at Donald Trump, where have you seen serious discussion of what it means for the Pentagon’s spy drones to be <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/03/09/pentagon-admits-has-deployed-military-spy-drones-over-us/81474702/" target="_blank">flying</a> missions over the “homeland” or for “intelligence” agencies to be wielding the kind of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">blanket surveillance</a> of everyone’s communications — from foreign leaders to peasants in Afghanistan to American citizens — that, technologically speaking, put the totalitarian regimes of the previous century to shame?  Is there nothing of the authoritarian lurking in all this?  Could that urge really be the property of The Donald and his followers alone?</p><p>Perhaps it would be better to see Donald Trump as a symptom, not the problem itself, to think of him not as the Zika Virus but as the first infectious mosquito to hit the shores of this country. If you need proof that he’s at worst a potential aider and abettor of authoritarianism, just take a look at the rest of our world, where the mosquitoes are many and the virus of right-wing authoritarianism spreading rapidly with the rise of a new nationalism (that often goes hand in hand with anti-immigrant fervor of a Trumpian sort).  He is, in other words, just one particularly bizarre figure in an increasingly crowded room.</p><p>Bursting Bubbles and Melting Ice Caps</p><p>If, as the first <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176133/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_has_the_american_age_of_decline_begun/" target="_blank">openly declinist</a> presidential candidate, it’s The Donald’s job to make America great <em>again</em>, and if, despite its obvious wealth and military strength, the heartlands of the U.S. do look ever more Third World-ish, then consider the rest of the planet.  Is there any place that doesn’t look at least a little, and in a remarkable number of cases, a lot the worse for wear? <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176094/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_tomorrow's_news_today/" target="_blank">Leave aside</a> those parts of the world from Afghanistan to Syria, <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/yemen-then-and-now-the-sad-chronicle-of-a-failed-state" target="_blank">Yemen</a> to <a href="http://fpif.org/four-years-after-gaddafi-libya-is-a-failed-state/" target="_blank">Libya</a>, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176145/tomgram%3A_michael_klare,_the_oil_world_in_chaos/" target="_blank">Nigeria</a> to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/28/world/americas/venezuela-economic-government-collapse.html" target="_blank">Venezuela</a> that increasingly have the look of incipient or completely failed states.  Consider instead that former Cold War enemy, that “<a href="http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/speech-3409" target="_blank">Evil Empire</a>” of a previous incarnation, the once-upon-a-time Soviet Union, now Vladimir Putin’s Russia.</p><p>It has made it to <a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jul/21/military-leaders-name-russia-top-threat-us/?page=all" target="_blank">the top</a> of the American military’s list of enemies.  And yet, despite its rebuilt military and still massive nuclear arsenal, the superpower of yesterday is now a <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2015/05/14/a-russian-crisis-with-no-end-in-sight-thanks-to-low-oil-prices-and-sanctions/#6354720f7be6" target="_blank">rickety</a> <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176145/tomgram%3A_michael_klare,_the_oil_world_in_chaos/" target="_blank">petro-state</a> with a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/22/world/europe/russian-workers-take-aim-at-putin-as-economy-exacts-its-toll.html" target="_blank">restive population</a>, a country that is neither great, nor rising, and may in fact be in genuine trouble.  Yes, it has been aggressive in its borderlands (though largely in response to a sense of, or fear of, being aggressed upon) and yes, it is an authoritarian land, but no longer is it the planet’s second superpower or anything remotely like it.  Its future looks, at best, insecure, at worst bleak indeed.</p><p>Even China, the only obvious rising power on the planet (now that countries like<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/mar/03/brazil-economy-low-oil-prices-inflation" target="_blank">Brazil</a> and <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-01/south-african-gdp-growth-slows-to-0-6-in-fourth-quarter" target="_blank">South Africa</a> are falling by the wayside), that genuine economic powerhouse of the last decade, has seen its economy <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/19/china-economy-grows-at-slowest-pace-in-25-years-latest-gdp-figures-show" target="_blank">slow</a> significantly.  In such a moment, who knows what one burst bubble, <a href="http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21694530-house-prices-are-soaring-big-cities-oversupply-plagues-much" target="_blank">real estate</a> or otherwise, might do there?  An economic meltdown in the People’s Republic, with an expanding middle class that still remains small compared to its peasant masses, and an <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175386/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_are_we_still_on_an_imperial_planet/" target="_blank">unparalleled record</a> of peasant revolts extending back centuries, could prove an ominous event.</p><p>And mind you, graduates of 2016, that’s just to begin a discussion of the stresses on a planet whose ice caps are <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/04/05/its-not-just-antarctica-some-experts-fear-greenland-could-also-melt-faster-than-we-thought/" target="_blank">melting</a>, sea levels <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/03/30/antarctic-loss-could-double-expected-sea-level-rise-by-2100-scientists-say/" target="_blank">rising</a>, waters <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/coral-reef-bleaching-faq-1.3608154" target="_blank">warming</a>, forests <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/11/science/global-warming-cited-as-wildfires-increase-in-fragile-boreal-forest.html" target="_blank">drying</a>,fire seasons <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2015/0803/California-Rocky-Fire-why-it-fits-a-global-trend" target="_blank">expanding</a>, storms <a href="https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/reports/51518-Hurricane-Damage.pdf" target="_blank">intensifying</a>, and temperatures <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/16/april-third-month-in-row-to-break-global-temperature-records" target="_blank">rising</a> (while petro-states, frackers, and giant oil companies keep pumping fossil fuels in ever more inventive ways as if there were — and don’t just think of it as a figure of speech — no tomorrow).  In such a situation, no place, including this country, is too big to fail.  And on such a helter-skelter planet, who will be there to bail out the too-big-to-fail states or anyone else?  Judging by none-too-big-to-fail countries like Libya, Yemen, and Syria that have already essentially collapsed, the answer might be no one.</p><p>Decades ago, in the mid-1970s, in the first book I ever wrote, I labeled our American world “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176141/" target="_blank">beyond our control</a>.”  Little did I know!</p><p>American Magical Realism</p><p>Now, let’s turn to you, graduates of 2016, and while we’re at it, to what we’re still calling an “election.”  I’m talking about the roiling, ever-expanding phenomenon that now fills our TV screens and the “news” more or less 24/7 and for which, whatever he’s done and whomever he’s insulted, Donald Trump cannot all by himself be held to blame.</p><p>There is, to my mind, one question that makes what we call “election 2016” of paramount interest, even if we seldom bother to think about it: What the hell is it?  We still refer to it as an “election,” of course, and on November 4th millions of us will indeed enter voting booths and opt for a candidate.  Still, don’t tell me that, in any normal sense, this is an election, this weird <a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2016-03-18/forget-trump-and-clinton-cable-news-networks-are-winning-the-2016-election" target="_blank">money machine</a> pouring <a href="http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-political-ad-spending-6-billion-dollars-in-2016-20151117-story.html" target="_blank">billions</a> and<a href="https://theintercept.com/2015/05/22/one-group-americans-drool-wall-wall-presidential-campaign-ads-next-year-media-companies/" target="_blank">billions</a> of dollars into the coffers of media barons, this endless, overblown, onrushing event with its “debates” and insults and anger and minute-by-minute polling results and squadrons of talking heads yammering away about nothing in particular, this bizarre stage set for an utterly unfiltered narcissist and reality-show host and casino owner and bankruptee and braggart and liar and fantasist and womanizer and… well, you know the list better than I do.  Yes, it will put someone in the Oval Office next January and fill Congress with the usual set of clashing deadheads, but in any past sense of the word, an election?  I don’t think so.</p><p>Don’t tell me it isn’t something new and different.  Everyone knows it is.  But what, exactly?  I have no idea.  It’s clear enough, however, that our American system is morphing in ways for which we have no names, no adequate descriptive vocabulary.  Perhaps it’s not just that we have no clear bead on what’s going on, but that we prefer not to know.</p><p>Whether Donald Trump wins or not, rest assured that we all have an education ahead of us.  This, after all, is our world now.  You have no choice but to leave these grounds and neither, in a sense, do your parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, the whole lot of us.  Whether we like it or not, we’re all being shoved unceremoniously into an American world that’s changing in unnerving ways on a planet itself in transformation.</p><p>Which brings me to the task ahead of your generation (not mine), as I imagine it.  After all, I’m almost 72 years old.  I’m superannuated.  When something goes wrong on my computer I genuinely believe myself doomed, grieve for the lost days of the typewriter, and then, in despair, call my daughter.  And if I can’t even grasp the basics of the machine I now live on much of the time, how likely is it that I — and my ilk — can grasp the world in which it’s implanted?</p><p>As I see it, you’ve been attending classes, studying, and preparing all these years for just this moment.  Now, it’s your job to step into the fog-bound landscape beyond these gates where the pile-ups are already happening and make sense of it for the rest of us.  Soon, graduates of 2016, you will leave this campus.  The question is: What can you do for yourself and the rest of us then?</p><p>Here’s my thought: to change this world of ours, you first have to name (or rename) it, as any magical realist novelist from Gabriel García Márquez on has long known.  The world is only yours when you’ve given it and its component parts names.</p><p>If there’s one thing that the Occupy Wall Street movement reminded us of, it was this: that the first task in changing our world is to find new words to describe it.  In 2011, that movement arrived at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan calling the masters of our universe “the 1%” and the rest of us “the 99%.”  Simply wielding those two phrases brought to the fore a set of previously half-seen realities — the <a href="https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2016-01-18/62-people-own-same-half-world-reveals-oxfam-davos-report" target="_blank">growing inequality gap</a> in this country and the world — and so briefly electrified the country and changed the conversation.  By relabeling the mental map of our world, those protesters cleared some of the fog away, allowing us to begin to imagine paths through it and so ways to act.</p><p>Right now, we need you to take these last four hard years and everything you know, including what you weren’t taught in any classroom but learned on your own — your experience, for instance, of your education as a financial rip-off — and tell those of us in desperate need of fresh eyes just how our world should be described.</p><p>In order to act, in order to change much of anything, you first need to give that world the names, the labels, it deserves, and they may not be “election” or “democracy” or so many of the other commonplace words of our past and our present moment.  Otherwise, we’ll all continue to spend our time struggling to grasp ghostly shapes in that fog.</p><p>Now, all you graduates, form up your serried ranks, muster the words you’ve taken four years to master, and prepare to march out of those gates and begin to apply them in ways that your elders are incapable of doing.</p><p>Class of 2016, tell us who we are and where we are.</p>  Sat, 11 Jun 2016 08:02:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch 1058158 at http://https.alternet.org Visions Education Election 2016 Visions TOMDISPATCH.COM politics news Banner Weeks for American War Crimes http://https.alternet.org/world/banner-weeks-american-war-crimes <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Even war crimes have their rewards, unjust as they may be.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/2679624526_52da9c42c8_z.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p dir="ltr"><em>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/">TomDispatch</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">If you happen to be a potential American war criminal, you've had a few banner weeks. On May 9th, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter <a href="http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/755725/carter-presents-kissinger-with-dods-distinguished-public-service-award">presented</a> former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger with the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Award, that institution's “highest honorary award for private citizens.” In bestowing it on the 92-year-old who is evidently still consulting for the Pentagon, he offered this praise: “While his contributions are far from complete, we are now beginning to appreciate what his service has provided our country, how it has changed the way we think about strategy, and how he has helped provide greater security for our citizens and people around the world.”</p><p dir="ltr">Certainly people “around the world” will remember the “greater security” offered by the man who, relaying an order from President Richard Nixon for a “massive” secret bombing campaign in Cambodia, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/27/us/kissinger-tapes-describe-crises-war-and-stark-photos-of-abuse.html">used a line</a> that may almost be the definition of a war crime: “Anything that flies on anything that moves.” The <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176066/tomgram%3A_greg_grandin,_waging_endless_war_from_vietnam_to_syria/">result</a>: half a million tons of bombs dropped on that country between 1969 and 1973 and at least 100,000 dead civilians. And that’s just to start down the well-cratered road to the <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/henry-kissinger-hillary-clintons-tutor-in-war-and-peace/">millions</a> of dead he undoubtedly has some responsibility for. Public service indeed.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, speaking of American crimes in the Vietnam era, former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, who ran for president of the U.S. and then became the president of the New School in New York City, was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/world/asia/vietnam-fulbright-university-kerrey.html">just appointed</a> to “lead” Fulbright University Vietnam, the first private American-backed school there. Its opening was <a href="http://ash.harvard.edu/news/president-obama-formally-announces-opening-fulbright-university-vietnam">announced</a> by President Obama on his recent visit to that country. Only one small problem: we already know of some children who won’t be able to apply for admission. I’m thinking of the progeny-who-never-were of the 13 children killed by a team of U.S. SEALs under Kerrey’s command and on his orders in South Vietnam in 1969 (along with a pregnant woman, and an elderly couple whose three grandchildren were stabbed to death by the raiders)—all of whom were reported at the time as dead Vietcong guerillas.</p><p dir="ltr">It seems that if you are a distinguished citizen of the most exceptional country on the planet, even war crimes have their rewards. Consider, for instance, the <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/michaelcalderone/0609/Cheney_inks_book_deal_2_million_plus.html">millions of dollars</a> that were paid for memoirs by top Bush administration officials responsible for creating an American offshore torture regime at CIA “<a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/08/13/the-black-sites">black sites</a>” around the world. Must-reads all! With that in mind, turn to “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176150/tomgram%3A_rebecca_gordon%2C_justice_for_torturers/#more">Crimes of the War on Terror</a>” by Rebecca Gordon, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1510703330/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes</a>, to consider what “justice” for such figures might look like in a different and better world.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a>.</em></p> Thu, 09 Jun 2016 09:14:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1058039 at http://https.alternet.org World News & Politics World henry kissinger war crime Where Will the Next Social Movement Come From? http://https.alternet.org/activism/occupy-wall-street-and-black-lives-matter <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">How Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street can transform the Ivory Tower. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_245685289.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Much of our future is reliably unpredictable, and what more so than the moments when mass movements suddenly break out and sweep across our world? Who expected, for example, that for perhaps the first time in history hundreds of thousands of people would <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176140/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren%2C_the_snapchat_version_of_american_victory/" target="_blank">hit the streets</a> of U.S. cities and towns—and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/410/the_march_that_wasn't_to_be" target="_blank">millions</a> the global streets from London and Barcelona to Sydney and Jakarta—in early 2003 to protest the coming invasion of Iraq, a war, that is, that hadn’t even begun? Or that such a movement would essentially vanish not long after that war was predictably launched?</p><p>Who imagined that, in September 2011, a small group of youthful protesters, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175460/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_wall_street_by_the_book/" target="_blank">settling into</a> Zuccotti Park, an obscure square near Wall Street in downtown Manhattan, would “occupy” it and so the American imagination in such a way that “the 1%” and “the 99%” became part of our everyday language; Wall Street (as it hadn’t been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175453/tomgram%3A_steve_fraser,_the_street_of_torments/" target="_blank">for decades</a>) a reviled site; and “inequality” part of the national conversation rather than just the national reality? Who imagined in the moment before it happened that such a movement, such a moment, would then sweep the country and the world, that streets and squares in American cities and those around the world would be “occupied” and that global inequality would become, and <a href="https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/economy-1" target="_blank">remain</a>, an issue of import?</p><p>Who imagined that a small number of environmentalists running an obscure organization called <a href="http://350.org/?gclid=CjwKEAjwpfC5BRCT1sKW2qzwqE0SJABkKFKRh0vJ4Nkli8peWwl_TIu_f8sqQd-FTKiwGfLpsBFlchoC8t_w_wcB" target="_blank">350.org</a> would help spark a climate-change movement that would spread globally in a startling fashion, mount a <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2013/feb/17/nation/la-na-nn-climate-change-rally-washington-20130217" target="_blank">large demonstration</a> in Washington and others across the planet,<a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/arctic-impacts/Peace-Dove/Arctic-30/" target="_blank">venture into</a> the Arctic and by <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jul/31/portland-bridge-shell-protest-kayaktivists-fennica-reaction" target="_blank">kayak</a> into the waters of the American West, and actually <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/11/06/455048998/obama-rejects-plans-to-build-keystone-xl-pipeline" target="_blank">stop</a> the building of a pipeline slated to carry the carbon-dirtiest of energy sources from <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/12/business/energy-environment/canadas-oil-sands-industry-staggers-after-a-devastating-fire.html" target="_blank">now-ravaged</a> Alberta, Canada, to the American Gulf Coast, and—with a growing <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/09/22/3704205/divestment-movement-50-times-bigger-in-one-year/" target="_blank">divestment movement </a>and other activities—put the fear of god into the most profitable and influential corporations on the planet?</p><p>And who imagined that the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Michael_Brown" target="_blank">shooting</a> of a young black man in a place no one (outside of Missouri) had ever heard of and the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/14/nyregion/eric-garner-police-chokehold-staten-island.html" target="_blank">death-by-choking</a> of another black man on the streets of New York City, events that were, in the annals of American policing, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/31/the-counted-police-killings-2015-young-black-men" target="_blank">hardly</a> out of the ordinary, would propel a protest movement whose name couldn’t sum up its goals better—<a href="http://blacklivesmatter.com/" target="_blank">Black Lives Matter</a>—to national prominence or that this would, in turn, help spark a movement of millennials, discussed today by <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176099/tomgram%3A_aviva_chomsky,_a_newspaper's_crisis_reveals_unreported_worlds/" target="_blank"><em>TomDispatch</em> regular</a> Avi Chomsky, that would sweep college campuses nationwide?</p><p>Is there anything stranger than what in the world, on occasion, gets into us human beings, what suddenly makes us so ornery that we sometimes stand up to overwhelming power in defense of convictions that, until moments before, we didn’t even know would occupy us in such a way? And perhaps nothing is more useful than the unpredictability of such moments, such movements. Otherwise how would they ever catch power off guard?</p> Tue, 24 May 2016 08:19:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch 1057064 at http://https.alternet.org Activism Activism Culture Education social movements social justice black lives matter occupy wall street 350.org Why Can't Washington's Warmongers Admit Failure? They Are on a 15-Year Losing Streak http://https.alternet.org/world/why-cant-washingtons-warmongers-admit-failure-they-are-15-year-losing-streak <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">America is addicted to military invasion despite mounting evidence that it doesn&#039;t work. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/800px-defense.gov_news_photo_050101-a-3978j-030.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/">TomDispatch</a>. </em></p><p>There are the news stories that genuinely surprise you, and then there are the ones that you could write in your sleep before they happen. Let me concoct an example for you:</p><blockquote><p>“Top American and European military leaders are weighing options to step up the fight against the Islamic State in the Mideast, including possibly sending more U.S. forces into Iraq, Syria, and Libya, just as Washington confirmed the second American combat casualty in Iraq in as many months.”</p></blockquote><p>Oh wait, that was actually the lead sentence in a May 3rd <em>Washington Times</em> <a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/may/3/us-mulls-increase-military-mideast-fight-isis/" target="_blank">piece</a> by Carlo Muñoz.  Honestly, though, it could have been written anytime in the last few months by just about anyone paying any attention whatsoever, and it surely will prove reusable in the months to come (with casualty figures altered, of course).  The sad truth is that across the Greater Middle East and expanding parts of Africa, a similar set of lines could be written ahead of time about the use of Special Operations forces, drones, advisers, whatever, as could the sorry results of making such moves in [add the name of your country of choice here].   </p><p>Put another way, in a Washington that seems incapable of doing anything but worshiping at the temple of the U.S. military, global policymaking has become a remarkably mindless military-first process of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176113/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_done_in_by_the_american_way_of_war/" target="_blank">repetition</a>.  It’s as if, as problems built up in your life, you looked in the closet marked “solutions” and the only thing you could ever see was one hulking, over-armed soldier, whom you obsessively let loose, causing yet more damage. </p><p><strong>How Much, How Many, How Often, and How Destructively</strong><strong> </strong></p><p>In Iraq and Syria, it’s been mission creep all the way.  The <a href="http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/04/20/b52-bombers-carry-out-first-airstrikes-against-isis-in-iraq.html" target="_blank">B-52s</a> barely made it to the battle zone for the first time and were almost instantaneously in the air, attacking Islamic State militants.  U.S. firebases are built <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/us-troops-are-getting-closer-to-the-fight-against-the-islamic-state-in-iraq/2016/05/02/8c6f8c68-07d9-11e6-bfed-ef65dff5970d_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_usiraq-630a_1%3Ahomepage%2Fstory" target="_blank">ever closer</a> to the front lines.  The number of special ops forces continues to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/26/world/europe/obama-germany-speech.html" target="_blank">edge up</a>.  American weapons flow in (ending up in god knows whose<a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/09/26/us-backed-rebels-give-arms-al-qaeda-group/72831840/" target="_blank">hands</a>).  American trainers and advisers follow in ever increasing numbers, and those numbers are repeatedly <a href="http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/05/03/q-and-a-when-is-boot-ground-not-boot-ground.html" target="_blank">fiddled with</a> to deemphasize how many of them are actually there.  The <a href="http://www.defenseone.com/threats/2016/02/back-iraq-us-military-contractors-return-droves/126095/" target="_blank">private contractors</a> begin to arrive in numbers never to be counted.  The local forces being trained or <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176093/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_how_to_succeed_at_failing,_pentagon-style/" target="_blank">retrained</a> have their <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/03/29/iraq-armys-mosul-offensive-stalls-face-fierce-fighting-desertions/82372634/" target="_blank">usual problems</a> in <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176055/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich,_vietnamization_2.0/" target="_blank">battle</a>.  American troops and advisers who were <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/10/30/5-times-president-obama-said-there-would-be-no-ground-troops-or-no-combat-mission-in-syria/" target="_blank">never, never</a> going to be “in combat” or “boots on the ground” themselves now have their boots distinctly on the ground in <a href="http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/04/28/dunford-acknowledges-us-troops-in-iraq-conduct-combat-operations.html" target="_blank">combat situations</a>.  The first American casualties are <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-soldier-in-iraq-becomes-the-second-combat-death-in-war-against-islamic-state/2016/03/19/f906b677-4b5e-4840-a77c-64b19d7ef5e8_story.html" target="_blank">dribbling in</a>.  Meanwhile, conditions in tottering Iraq and the former nation of Syria grow ever murkier, more chaotic, and less amenable by the week to any solution American officials might care for.</p><p>And the response to all this in present-day Washington?</p><p>You know perfectly well what the sole imaginable response can be: sending in yet more weapons, boots, air power, <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-usa-syria-idUSKCN0XL0ZE" target="_blank">special ops types</a>, trainers, advisers, private contractors, drones, and funds to increasingly chaotic conflict zones across significant swaths of the planet.  Above all, there can be no serious thought, discussion, or debate about how such a militarized approach to our world might have contributed to, and continues to contribute to, the very problems it was meant to solve. Not in our nation’s capital, anyway.</p><p>The only questions to be argued about are how much, how many, how often, and how destructively.  In other words, the only “antiwar” position imaginable in Washington, where accusations of weakness or wimpishness are a dime a dozen and considered lethal to a political career, is how much less of more we can afford, militarily speaking, or how much more of somewhat less we can settle for when it comes to militarized death and destruction.  Never, of course, is a genuine version of less or a none-at-all option really on that “<a href="http://washington.cbslocal.com/2013/03/20/obama-all-options-are-on-the-table-with-iran/" target="_blank">table</a>” where, it’s said, all policy options are kept.</p><p>Think of this as Washington’s military addiction in action.  We’ve been watching it for<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176094/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_tomorrow's_news_today/" target="_blank">almost 15 years</a> without drawing any of the obvious conclusions.  And lest you imagine that “addiction” is just a figure of speech, it isn’t.  Washington’s attachment -- financial, tactical, and strategic -- to the U.S. military and its supposed solutions to more or less all problems in what used to be called “foreign policy” should by now be categorized as addictive.  Otherwise, how can you explain the last decade and a half in which <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">no military action</a> from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to Libya worked out half-well in the long run (or even, often enough, in the short run), and yet the U.S. military <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/defense/279045-pentagon-says-us-forces-are-helping-fight-al-qaeda-in-yemen" target="_blank">remains</a> the option of first, not last, resort in just about any imaginable situation?  All this in a vast region in which <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176094/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_tomorrow's_news_today/" target="_blank">failed states</a> are piling up, nations are disintegrating, terror insurgencies are spreading, humongous population upheavals are becoming the norm, and there are <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/new-un-report-says-worlds-refugee-crisis-is-worse-than-anyone-expected/2015/06/17/a49c3fc0-14ff-11e5-8457-4b431bf7ed4c_story.html" target="_blank">refugee flows</a> of a sort not seen since significant parts of the planet were destroyed during World War II.</p><p>Either we’re talking addictive behavior or failure is the new success.</p><p>Keep in mind, for instance, that the president who came into office swearing he would end a disastrous war and occupation in Iraq is now overseeing a new war in an even wider region that includes Iraq, a country that is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/29/world/middleeast/with-iraq-mired-in-turmoil-some-call-for-partitioning-the-country.html" target="_blank">no longer</a> quite a country, and Syria, a country that is now officially kaput.  Meanwhile, in the other war he inherited, Barack Obama almost immediately launched a military-backed “surge” of U.S. forces, the only real argument being over whether <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/magazine/how-hillary-clinton-became-a-hawk.html" target="_blank">40,000</a> (or even as many as <a href="http://harpers.org/blog/2016/05/point-of-no-return/" target="_blank">80,000</a>) new U.S. troops would be sent into Afghanistan or, as the “antiwar” president finally decided, a mere 30,000 (which made him an absolute wimp to his opponents).  That was 2009.  Part of that surge involved an<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/02/world/asia/02policy.html" target="_blank">announcement</a> that the withdrawal of American combat forces would begin in 2011.  Seven years later, that withdrawal has once again been <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/01/26/the-u-s-was-supposed-to-leave-afghanistan-by-2017-now-it-might-take-decades/" target="_blank">halted</a> in favor of what the military has taken to privately calling a “<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/01/26/the-u-s-was-supposed-to-leave-afghanistan-by-2017-now-it-might-take-decades/" target="_blank">generational approach</a>”—that is, U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan into at least the 2020s.</p><p>The military term “withdrawal” may, however, still be appropriate even if the troops are staying in place.  After all, as with addicts of any sort, the military ones in Washington can’t go cold turkey without experiencing painful symptoms of withdrawal.  In American political culture, these manifest themselves in charges of “weakness” when it comes to “national security” that could prove devastating in the next election.  That’s why those running for office compete with one another in over-the-top descriptions of what they will do to enemies and terrorists (from acts of <a href="https://theintercept.com/2016/02/09/gop-candidates-compete-over-who-will-commit-most-war-crimes-once-elected/" target="_blank">torture</a> to <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/12/15/cruz-and-trump-s-isis-plans-sound-a-lot-like-war-crimes.html" target="_blank">carpet-bombing</a>) and in even more over-the-top <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/trump-1st-order-business-prez-building-military-article-1.2312826" target="_blank">promises</a> of “<a href="http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/patrick-goodenough/rubio-cruz-gop-debate-rebuild-our-weakened-military-crush-isis" target="_blank">rebuilding</a>” or “strengthening” what’s already the largest, most expensive military on the planet, a force better funded at present than those of at least the next <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jan/13/barack-obama/obama-us-spends-more-military-next-8-nations-combi/" target="_blank">seven</a> nations combined.</p><p>Such promises, the bigger the better, are now a necessity if you happen to be a Republican candidate for president.  The Democrats have a lesser but similar set of options available, which is why even Bernie Sanders <a href="http://feelthebern.org/bernie-sanders-on-military-and-veterans/" target="_blank">only calls</a> for holding the Pentagon budget at its present staggering level or for the<a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2016/02/bernie-sanders-defense-budget-pentagon-219386" target="_blank">most modest</a> of cuts, not for reducing it significantly.  And even when, for instance, the urge to rein in military expenses did sweep Washington as part of an overall urge to cut back government expenses, it only resulted in a half-secret <a href="http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2015/11/18/despite-budget-deal-pentagon-slush-fund-survives" target="_blank">slush fund</a> or “war budget” that kept the goodies flowing in.</p><p>These should all be taken as symptoms of Washington’s military addiction and of what happens when the slightest signs of withdrawal set in.  The U.S. military is visibly the drug of choice in the American political arena and, as is only appropriate for the force that has, since 2002, <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/how-is-american-money-being-spent-on-afghan-security-forces-its-classified/" target="_blank">funded</a>, armed, and propped up the planet’s <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/heroin-use-grows-u-s-poppy-crops-thrive-afghanistan-n388081" target="_blank">largest supplier</a> of opium, once you’re hooked, there’s no shaking it.</p><p><strong>Hawkish Washington</strong></p><p>Recently, in the <em>New York Times Magazine</em>, journalist Mark Landler offered a political portrait <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/magazine/how-hillary-clinton-became-a-hawk.html" target="_blank">entitled</a> “How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk.”  He laid out just how the senator and later secretary of state remade herself as, essentially, a military groupie, fawning over commanders or former commanders ranging from then-General David Petraeus to Fox analyst and retired general Jack Keane; how, that is, she became a figure, even on the present political landscape, notable for her “appetite for military engagement abroad” (and as a consequence, well-defended against Republican charges of “weakness”).</p><p>There’s no reason, however, to pin the war-lover or “last true hawk” label on her alone, not in present-day Washington.  After all, just about everyone there wants a piece of the action.  During their primary season debates, for instance, a number of the Republican candidates<a href="http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2015/09/17/Presidential-candidate-Carly-Fiorina-calls-for-rebuild-of-6th-Fleet/5001442508087/" target="_blank">spoke</a> repeatedly about building up the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, while making that already growing force sound like a set of decrepit barges.</p><p>To offer another example, no presidential candidate these days could afford to reject the White House-run drone assassination program.  To be <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_assassin-in-chief/" target="_blank">assassin-in-chief</a> is now considered as much a part of the presidential job description as commander-in-chief, even though the drone program, like so many other militarized foreign policy operations these days, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obamas-drone-war-is-a-shameful-part-of-his-legacy/2016/05/05/a727eea8-12ea-11e6-8967-7ac733c56f12_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-c%3Ahomepage%2Fstory" target="_blank">shows</a> little sign of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">reining in</a> terrorism despite the number of “bad guys” and terror “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175988" target="_blank">leaders</a>” it kills (along with <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147" target="_blank">significant numbers</a> of <a href="https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/" target="_blank">civilian bystanders</a>).  To take Bernie Sanders as an example—because he’s as close to an antiwar candidate as you’ll find in the present election season -- he recently <a href="http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/jeremy-scahill-clinton-legendary-hawk-sanders-shouldnt-get-pass-role-regime-change?akid=14219.15725.3tJwEd&amp;rd=1&amp;src=newsletter1055792&amp;t=14" target="_blank">put</a> something like his <a href="http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Bernie-Sanders-Says-US-Kill-List-Legal-Backs-Troops-in-Syria-20160426-0017.html" target="_blank">stamp of approval</a> on the White House drone assassination project and the “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html" target="_blank">kill list</a>” that goes with it.</p><p>Mind you, there is simply no compelling evidence that the usual military solutions have worked or are likely to work in any imaginable sense in the present conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  They have clearly, in fact, played a major role in the creation of the present disaster, and yet there is no place at all in our political system for genuinely antiwar figures (as there was in the Vietnam era, when a massive <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176034/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_what_it_means_when_you_kill_people_on_the_other_side_of_the_planet_and_no_one_notices/" target="_blank">antiwar movement</a> created space for such politics).  Antiwar opinions and activities have now been driven to the peripheries of the political system along with a word like, say, “peace,” which you will be hard-pressed to find, even rhetorically, in the language of “wartime” Washington.</p><p><strong>The Look of “Victory”</strong></p><p>If a history were to be written of how the U.S. military became Washington’s drug of choice, it would undoubtedly have to begin in the Cold War era.  It was, however, in the prolonged moment of triumphalism that followed the Soviet Union’s implosion in 1991 that the military gained its present position of unquestioned dominance.</p><p>In those days, people were still speculating about whether the country would reap a “peace dividend” from the end of the Cold War. If there was ever a moment when the diversion of money from the U.S. military and the national security state to domestic concerns might have seemed like a no-brainer, that was it.  After all, except for a couple of rickety “rogue states” like North Korea or Saddam Hussein's Iraq, where exactly were this country’s enemies to be found?  And why should such a muscle-bound military continue to gobble up tax dollars at such a staggering rate in a reasonably peaceable world?</p><p>In the decade or so that followed, however, Washington’s dreams turned out to run in a very different direction -- toward a “war dividend” at a moment when the U.S. had, by more or less universal agreement, become the planet’s “sole superpower.”  The crew who entered the White House with George W. Bush in a deeply contested election in 2000 had already been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175336/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_war_is_a_drug/" target="_blank">mainlining</a> the military drug for years.  To them, this seemed a planet ripe for the taking.  When 9/11 hit, it loosed their dreams of conquest and control, and their <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/101850/" target="_blank">faith</a> in a military that they believed to be unstoppable.  Of course, given the previous century of successful anti-imperial and national independence movements, anyone should have known that, no matter the armaments at hand, resistance was an inescapable reality on Planet Earth.</p><p>Thanks to such predictable resistance, the drug-induced imperial dreamscape of the Busheviks would prove a fantasy of the first order, even if, in that post-9/11 moment, it passed for bedrock (neo)realism.  If you remember, the U.S. was to “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/63903/" target="_blank">take the gloves off</a>” and release a military machine so beyond compare that nothing would be capable of standing in its path.  So the dream went, so the drug spoke.  Don’t forget that the greatest military blunder (and crime) of this century, the invasion of Iraq, wasn’t supposed to be the end of something, but merely its beginning.  With Iraq in hand and garrisoned, Washington was to take down Iran and sweep up what Russian property from the Cold War era still remained in the Middle East.  (Think: Syria.) </p><p>A decade and a half later, those dreams have been shattered, and yet the drug still courses through the bloodstream, the military bands play on, and the march to... well, who knows where... continues.  In a way, of course, we do know where (to the extent that we humans, with our limited sense of the future, can know anything).  In a way, we’ve already been shown a spectacle of what “victory” might look like once the Greater Middle East is finally “liberated” from the Islamic State.</p><p>The descriptions of one widely hailed <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/29/world/middleeast/iraq-ramadi-isis.html" target="_blank">victory</a> over that brutal crew in Iraq—the liberation of the city of Ramadi by a U.S.-trained elite Iraqi <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/12/30/how-isis-actually-lost-ramadi.html" target="_blank">counterterrorism<strong> </strong>force</a> backed by artillery and American air power—are devastating.  Aided and abetted by Islamic State militants igniting or demolishing whole neighborhoods of that city, the look of Ramadi retaken should give us a grim sense of where the region is heading. Here’s how the Associated Press <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraq-routed-is-from-ramadi-at-a-high-cost-a-city-destroyed/2016/05/05/5a613ed6-128a-11e6-a9b5-bf703a5a7191_story.html" target="_blank">recently described</a> the scene, four months after the city fell:</p><blockquote><p>“This is what victory looks like...: in the once thriving Haji Ziad Square, not a single structure still stands. Turning in every direction yields a picture of devastation. A building that housed a pool hall and ice cream shops -- reduced to rubble. A row of money changers and motorcycle repair garages -- obliterated, a giant bomb crater in its place. The square’s Haji Ziad Restaurant, beloved for years by Ramadi residents for its grilled meats—flattened. The restaurant was so popular its owner built a larger, fancier branch across the street three years ago. That, too, is now a pile of concrete and twisted iron rods.</p><p>“The destruction extends to nearly every part of Ramadi, once home to 1 million people and now virtually empty.”</p></blockquote><p>Keep in mind that, with oil prices still deeply depressed, Iraq essentially has no money to rebuild Ramadi or anyplace else. Now imagine, as such “victories” multiply, versions of similar devastation spreading across the region. </p><p>In other words, one likely end result of the thoroughly militarized process that began with the invasion of Iraq (if not of Afghanistan) is already visible: a region shattered and in ruins<strong>,</strong>filled with uprooted and impoverished people.  In such circumstances, it may not even matter if the Islamic State is defeated.  Just imagine what Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and still in the Islamic State's hands, will be like if, someday, the long-promised offensive to liberate it is ever truly launched.  Now, try to imagine that movement itself destroyed, with its “capital,” Raqqa, turned into another set of ruins, and remind me: What exactly is likely to emerge from such a future nightmare?  Nothing, I suspect, that is likely to cheer up anyone in Washington.</p><p>And what should be done about all this?  You already know Washington’s solution—more of the same—and breaking such a cycle of addiction is difficult even under the best of circumstances.  Unfortunately, at the moment there is no force, no movement on the American scene that could open up space for such a possibility.  No matter who is elected president, you already know more or less what American “policy” is going to be.</p><p>But don’t bother to blame the politicians and national security nabobs in Washington for this.  They’re addicts.  They can’t help themselves.  What they need is rehab.  Instead, they continue to run our world.  Be suitably scared for the ruins still to come.</p><p> </p> Thu, 12 May 2016 07:50:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1056381 at http://https.alternet.org World Economy Election 2016 The Right Wing World military foreign policy middle east military invasion iraq libya syri Interesting: Donald Trump Is First Presidential Candidate to Admit America Is in Decline http://https.alternet.org/election-2016/interesting-donald-trump-first-presidential-candidate-admit-america-decline <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Just not in the way you think. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/5440388253_7a8e8c1584_z_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>"<a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/another-instagram-video-trump-mocks-low-energy-bush-n423616" target="_blank">Low-energy Jeb</a>." "<a href="http://observer.com/2016/03/11-hilarious-little-marco-memes-mocking-rubios-florida-loss/" target="_blank">Little Marco</a>." "<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/20/politics/donald-trump-lyin-ted-cruz/" target="_blank">Lyin’ Ted</a>." "<a href="https://newrepublic.com/minutes/132765/donald-trump-come-clinton-nickname-crooked-hillary" target="_blank">Crooked Hillary</a>." Give Donald Trump credit. He has a memorable way with insults. His have a way of etching themselves on the brain. And they’ve <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/04/20/little-marco-lying-ted-crooked-hillary-donald-trumps-winning-strategy-nouns/" target="_blank">garnered</a> media coverage, analysis, and commentary almost beyond imagining. Memorable as they might be, however, they won’t be what last of Trump’s 2016 election run. That’s surely reserved for a single slogan that will sum up his candidacy when it’s all over (no matter how it ends). He <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/transcript-donald-trump-2016-presidential-announcement-article-1.2260117" target="_blank">arrived</a> with it on that Trump Tower escalator in the first moments of his campaign and it now <a href="https://www.donaldjtrump.com/" target="_blank">headlines</a> his website, where it's also emblazoned on an array of products from <a href="http://shop.donaldjtrump.com/product-p/dtc-odtrh-rd.htm" target="_blank">hats</a> to <a href="http://shop.donaldjtrump.com/" target="_blank">t-shirts</a>.</p><p>You already know which line I mean: “Make America Great Again!” With that exclamation point ensuring that you won’t miss the hyperbolic, Trumpian nature of its promise to return the country to its former glory days. In it lies the essence of his campaign, of what he’s promising his followers and Americans generally—and yet, strangely enough, of all his lines, it’s the one most taken for granted, the one that’s been given the least thought and analysis. And that’s a shame, because it represents something new in our American age. The problem, I suspect, is that what first catches the eye is the phrase “Make America Great” and then, of course, the exclamation point, while the single most important word in the slogan, historically speaking, is barely noted: “again.”</p><p>With that “again,” Donald Trump crossed a line in American politics that, until his escalator moment, represented a kind of psychological taboo for politicians of any stripe, of either party, including presidents and potential candidates for that position. He is the first American leader or potential leader of recent times not to feel the need or obligation to insist that the United States, the “sole” superpower of Planet Earth, is an “exceptional” nation, an “indispensable” country, or even in an unqualified sense a “great” one. His claim is the opposite. That, at present, America is anything but exceptional, indispensable, or great, though he alone could make it “great again.” In that claim lies a curiosity that, in a court of law, might be considered an admission of guilt. Yes, it says, if one man is allowed to enter the White House in January 2017, this could be a different country, but—and in this lies the originality of the slogan—it is <em>not</em> great now, and in that admission-that-hasn’t-been-seen-as-an-admission lies something new on the American landscape.</p><p>Donald Trump, in other words, is the first person to run openly and without apology on a platform of American decline. Think about that for a moment. “Make America Great Again!” is indeed an admission in the form of a boast. As he tells his audiences repeatedly, America, the formerly great, is today a punching bag for China, Mexico... well, you know the pitch. You don’t have to agree with him on the specifics. What’s interesting is the overall vision of a country lacking in its former greatness.</p><p>Perhaps a little history of American greatness and presidents (as well as presidential candidates) is in order here.</p><p><strong>“City Upon a Hill”</strong></p><p>Once upon a time, in a distant America, the words “greatest,” “exceptional,” and “indispensable” weren’t even part of the political vocabulary. American presidents didn’t bother to claim any of them for this country, largely because American wealth and global preeminence were so indisputable. We’re talking about the 1950s and early 1960s, the post-World War II and pre-Vietnam “golden” years of American power. Despite a certain hysteria about the supposed dangers of domestic communists, few Americans then doubted the singularly unchallengeable power and greatness of the country. It was such a given, in fact, that it was simply too self-evident for presidents to cite, hail, or praise.</p><p>So if you look, for instance, at the speeches of John F. Kennedy, you won’t find them littered with exceptionals, indispensables, or their equivalents. In a <a href="http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/OYhUZE2Qo0-ogdV7ok900A.aspx" target="_blank">pre-inaugural speech</a> he gave in January 1961 on the kind of government he planned to bring to Washington, for instance, he did cite the birth of a “great republic,” the United States, and quoted Puritan John Winthrop on the desirability of creating a country that would be “a city upon a hill” to the rest of the world, with all of humanity’s eyes upon us. In his <a href="http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/BqXIEM9F4024ntFl7SVAjA.aspx" target="_blank">inaugural address</a> (“Ask not what your country can do for you...”), he invoked a kind of unspoken greatness, saying, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” It was then common to speak of the U.S. with pride as a “free nation” (as opposed to the “enslaved” ones of the communist bloc) rather than an exceptional one. His only use of “great” was to invoke the U.S.-led and Soviet Union-led blocs as “two great and powerful groups of nations.”</p><p>Kennedy could even fall back on a certain <a href="http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Aw3MwwJMf0631R6JLmAprQ.aspx" target="_blank">modesty</a> in describing the U.S. role in the world (that, in those years, from Guatemala to Iran to Cuba, all too often did not carry over into actual policy), saying in one speech, “we must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient—that we are only six percent of the world's population—that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind—that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity—and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.” In that same speech, he typically spoke of America as “a great power”—but not “the greatest power.”</p><p>If you didn’t grow up in that era, you may not grasp that none of this in any way implied a lack of national self-esteem. Quite the opposite, it implied a deep and abiding confidence in the overwhelming power and presence of this country, a confidence so unshakeable that there was no need to speak of it.</p><p>If you want a pop cultural equivalent for this, consider America’s movie heroes of that time, actors like <a href="http://www.movpins.com/big/MV5BMTQ1MjU1MzA1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTY2MDgzNw/still-of-john-wayne-in-el-dorado-%281966%29.jpg" target="_blank">John Wayne</a> and <a href="http://www.lifetimetv.co.uk/sites/default/files/assets/landscape/Gary%20Cooper.jpg?itok=NB_zwOXr" target="_blank">Gary Cooper</a>, whose Westerns and in the case of Wayne, war movies, were iconic. What’s striking when you look back at them from the present moment is this: while neither of those actors was anything but an imposing figure, they were also remarkably ordinary looking. They were in no way over-muscled nor in their films were they over-armed in the modern fashion. It was only in the years after the Vietnam War, when the country had absorbed what felt like a grim defeat, been wracked by oppositional movements, riots, and assassinations, when a general sense of loss had swept over the polity, that the over-muscled hero, the exceptional killing machine, made the scene. (Think: <a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-7Hxqn_JkbYo/VZ6EOlh98uI/AAAAAAAAOOM/4YDWWarWrhY/s1600/328459_rambo-kulomet_image_620x349.jpg" target="_blank">Rambo</a>.)</p><p>Consider this, then, if you want a definition of decline: when you have to state openly (and repeatedly) what previously had been too obvious to say, you’re heading, as the opinion polls always like to phrase it, in the <a href="http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/right_direction_or_wrong_track" target="_blank">wrong direction</a>; in other words, once you have to say it, especially in an overemphatic way, you no longer have it.</p><p><strong>The Reagan Reboot</strong></p><p>That note of defensiveness first crept into the American political lexicon with the unlikeliest of politicians: Ronald Reagan, the man who seemed like the least defensive, most genial guy on the planet. On this subject at least, think of him as Trumpian before the advent of The Donald, or at least as the man who (thanks to his ad writers) invented the political use of the word “again.” It was, after all, employed in 1984 in the seminal ad of his political run for a second term in office. While that bucolic-looking <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morning_in_America" target="_blank">TV commercial</a> was entitled “Prouder, Stronger, Better,” its first line ever so memorably went, “It’s morning <em>again</em> in America.” (“Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?”)</p><p>Think of this as part of a post-Vietnam Reagan reboot, a time when the U.S. in Rambo-esque fashion was quite literally muscling up and over-arming in a major way. Reagan presided over “<a href="http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bal-te.pentagon08jun08-story.html" target="_blank">the biggest peacetime defense build-up in history</a>” against what, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_empire" target="_blank">referencing</a> <em>Star Wars</em>, he <a href="http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/speech-3409" target="_blank">called</a> an “evil empire”—the Soviet Union. In those years, he also worked to rid the country of what was then termed “the Vietnam Syndrome” in part by rebranding that war a “<a href="https://reaganlibrary.archives.gov/archives/reference/8.18.80.html" target="_blank">noble cause</a>.” In a time when loss and decline were much on the American brain, he dismissed them both, even as he set the country on a path toward the present moment of 1 percent dysfunction in a country that <a href="http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/" target="_blank">no longer</a> invests fully in its own infrastructure, whose wages are <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2015/09/02/3697832/epi-wages-productivity/" target="_blank">stagnant</a>, whose poor are a <a href="http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/21-facts-about-the-explosive-growth-of-poverty-in-america-that-will-blow-your-mind" target="_blank">growth industry</a>, whose wealth now flows <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/business/economy/velvet-rope-economy.html" target="_blank">eternally upward</a> in a political environment <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-new-gilded-age-close-to-half-of-all-super-pac-money-comes-from-50-donors/2016/04/15/63dc363c-01b4-11e6-9d36-33d198ea26c5_story.html" target="_blank">awash</a> in the money of the ultra-wealthy, and whose over-armed military continues to pursue a path of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">endless failure</a> in the Greater Middle East.</p><p>Reagan, who spoke directly about American declinist thinking in his time—“Let's reject the nonsense that America is doomed to decline”—was hardly shy about his superlatives when it came to this country. He didn’t hesitate to re-channel classic American rhetoric ranging from Winthop’s “<a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/reagan-farewell/" target="_blank">shining city upon a hill</a>” (perhaps cribbed from Kennedy) in his farewell address to <a href="http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/congress.htm" target="_blank">Lincoln-esque</a> (“the last best hope of man on Earth”) <a href="http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=42945#axzz1tGSvSSIn" target="_blank">invocations</a> like “here in the heartland of America lives the hope of the world” or “in a world wracked by hatred, economic crisis, and political tension, America remains mankind's best hope.”</p><p>And yet, in the 1980s, there were still limits to what needed to be said about America. Surveying the planet, you didn’t yet have to refer to us as the “greatest” country of all or as the planet’s sole truly “exceptional” country. Think of such repeated superlatives of our own moment as defensive markers on the declinist slope. The now commonplace adjective “indispensable” as a stand-in for American greatness globally, for instance, didn’t even arrive until Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright began <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/govt/admin/stories/albright120696.htm" target="_blank">using it</a> in 1996. It only became an indispensable part of the rhetorical arsenal of American politicians, from <a href="http://www.voanews.com/content/obama_tells_air_force_academy_us_is_one_indispensable_country_world_affairs/940158.html" target="_blank">President Obama</a> on down, a <a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/11/06/the-myth-of-the-indispensable-nation/" target="_blank">decade-plus into</a> the 21st century when the country’s eerie dispensability (unless you were a junkie for <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176094/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_tomorrow's_news_today/" target="_blank">failed states</a> and regional chaos) became ever more apparent.</p><p>As for the U.S. being the planet’s “exceptional” nation, a phrase that now seems indelibly in the American grain and that no <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/05/28/remarks-president-united-states-military-academy-commencement-ceremony" target="_blank">president</a> or <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/13/news/la-pn-obama-romney-america-exceptional-20120413" target="_blank">presidential candidate </a>has avoided, it’s surprising how late that entered the presidential lexicon. As John Gans Jr. <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/11/american-exceptionalism-and-the-politics-of-foreign-policy/248779/" target="_blank">wrote</a> in the <em>Atlantic</em> in 2011, “Obama has talked more about American exceptionalism than Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush combined: a search on UC Santa Barbara's exhaustive presidential records library finds that no president from 1981 to today uttered the phrase ‘American exceptionalism’ except Obama. As <em>U.S. News</em>' Robert Schlesinger wrote, ‘American exceptionalism’ is not a traditional part of presidential vocabulary. According to Schlesinger's search of public records, Obama is the only president in 82 years to use the term.”</p><p>And yet in recent years it has become a commonplace of <a href="https://www.tedcruz.org/issues/defend-our-nation/" target="_blank">Republicans</a> and <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/hillary-clinton-i-still-believe-in-american-exceptionalism/" target="_blank">Democrats</a> alike. In other words, as the country has become politically shakier, the rhetoric about its greatness has only escalated in an American version of “the lady doth protest too much.” Such descriptors have become the political equivalent of litmus tests: you couldn’t be president or much of anything else without eternally testifying to your unwavering belief in American greatness.</p><p>This, of course, is the line that Trump crossed in a curiously unnoticed fashion in this election campaign. He did so by initially upping the rhetorical ante, adding that exclamation point (which even Reagan avoided). Yet in the process of being more patriotically correct than thou, he somehow also waded straight into American decline so bluntly that his own audience could hardly miss it (even if his critics did).</p><p>Think of it as an irony, if you wish, but the ultimate American narcissist, in promoting his own rise, has also openly promoted a version of decline and fall to striking numbers of Americans. For his followers, a major political figure has quit with the defensive BS and started saying it the way it is.</p><p>Of course, don’t furl the flag or shut down those offshore accounts or start writing the complete history of American decline quite yet. After all, the United States still looms “lone” on an ever more chaotic planet. Its wealth remains stunning, its economic clout something to behold, its tycoons the envy of the Earth, and its military beyond compare when it comes to how much and how destructively, even if not <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">how successfully</a>. Still, make no mistake about it, Donald Trump is a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/17/magazine/donald-trump-american-preacher.html" target="_blank">harbinger</a>, however bizarre, of a new American century in which this country will indeed no longer be (with a bow to Muhammad Ali) "the Greatest" or, for all but a shrinking crew, exceptional.</p><p>So mark your calendars: 2016 is the official year the U.S. first went public as a declinist power and for that you can thank Donald—or rather Donald!—Trump.</p> Wed, 27 Apr 2016 10:17:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch 1055325 at http://https.alternet.org Election 2016 Election 2016 The Right Wing donald trump election 2016 american decline conservatives Primary 2016 republicans I Watched Election TV for a Week: There's Something Seriously Bizarre Going on, and It's Way Bigger Than Trump http://https.alternet.org/media/i-watched-election-tv-week-theres-something-seriously-bizarre-going-and-its-way-bigger-trump <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A story of obsession, addiction, and news.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-04-17_at_10.48.53_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-ec67c2cb-24b1-8804-483d-095438340e0e"><em>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com">TomDispatch</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Think of the 2016 presidential campaign as the political equivalent of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  It’s loud; there are plenty of abusive special effects; the critics hate it, but the crowds turn out; a media company or three rake in <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2016/04/10/box-office-batman-v-superman-nears-800m-worldwide-jungle-book-and-huntsman-open-overseas/#5451166f619a">the dough</a>; and foreigners can’t get enough of this new vision of the American way of life -- or is it of a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bizarro_World">Bizarro world</a>?</p><p dir="ltr">If you prefer, you could think of Campaign 2016, the never-ending blockbuster, as an affirmation that, whatever the hell this country is, it’s still, like Hollywood, at the top of the heap.  When it comes to gluing eyeballs, it remains the “sole superpower” on Planet Earth.  Think of it, in fact, any way you like, but just notice that the only thing you can’t do is not think about it.</p><p dir="ltr">This came to my mind recently on my daily trip to the gym.  A TV is always on in the anteroom you pass through to reach the men’s locker room.  A couple of weeks ago, I started to jot down what was onscreen.  So let me give you a rundown of one week’s worth of my comings and goings.</p><p dir="ltr">Monday: This proved the oddball news day of my exercise week.  As I arrived, CNN was reporting from a “locked down” Capitol -- shots of people running hither and yon -- and it was still doing so with remarkably similar shots an hour and 40 minutes later when I left.  It turned out that some madman -- and I mean that quite literally since, on an earlier occasion, the same fellow was arrested for shouting that he was “a prophet of God” from the gallery of the House of Representatives -- had <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/03/29/us-capitol-reportedly-on-lockdown-over-suspicious-package.html">pulled out</a> a pellet gun in the Capitol’s visiting area and been shot by the police.  In the new American media world in which 24/7 obsession is the definition of news, that minor story played nonstop for the rest of the day and I caught it <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/gunman-at-u-s-capitol-shot-by-police-taken-into-custody-653801027537">again</a> leading NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (“Gunman at U.S. Capitol Shot by Police”).</p><p dir="ltr">Tuesday, as I walked in, CNN was focused on the <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/29/trump-campaign-manager-corey-lewandowski-charged-with-battery-for-grabbing-reporter-in-florida.html">arrest</a> of Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, for an “assault” on Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields in Jupiter, Florida (the American version of outer space).  As I left, Governor John Kasich on MSNBC was just “weighing in” on -- you guessed it -- Lewandowski’s “alleged battery,” with a Washington Post reporter on deck, ready to offer crucial analysis on the same subject, while a Donald Trump tweet was also under discussion.</p><p dir="ltr">Wednesday as I arrived, MSNBC was reporting that a new Hillary Clinton ad had just blasted -- you guessed it again -- Donald Trump for “xenophobia” and that she was four percentage points behind Bernie Sanders in the latest Wisconsin poll.  On the crawler at the bottom of the screen, Trump’s campaign manager was said to have declared himself “absolutely innocent” of the battery charge.  On my way out, I found correspondent Katy Tur “awaiting” Trump’s arrival at a stop in Wisconsin.  And oh yes, women, I learned, disliked Trump for his “some form of punishment” abortion <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/31/us/politics/donald-trump-abortion.html">comment</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Thursday as I came in, MSNBC was showing a Jimmy Kimmel Live! clip in which Ted Cruz half-jokingly told the nighttime host that, were he to see -- yes, you guessed it yet again! -- The Donald through his rearview mirror in a parking lot as he was backing up, he wasn’t quite sure which pedal he’d hit, the gas or the brake.  On leaving, I wandered past a crew of Washington Post writers discussing -- yep! -- Donald Trump’s first meeting with his foreign policy advisers in Washington.  He was, I was fascinated to learn, “huddling” with them. </p><p dir="ltr">Friday, I arrived just as the CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin was revving up under the logo “America’s Choice 2016.”  “Wisconsin,” Baldwin was saying, “is the next big primary for both Democrats and Republicans, but on the GOP side frontrunner Donald Trump is also focusing his attention on the party’s convention in July and how the delegate process will play out.”  As I left, she was still yakking away, this time over a caption that read: “Backing off pledge could cost Trump delegates.”  On a split screen with her was a Republican National Committee member -- “an expert on GOP nominating processing,” she told us -- discussing the significance of Trump’s recent meeting with Republican Party head Reince Priebus.  (Not much, it turned out.)</p><p dir="ltr">And that was one week’s exercising news for me.  I can’t for a second claim it didn’t keep me in decent shape, but the rest of America?</p><p dir="ltr">Now, let me try to sum up that week in American “news” glimpsed in passing at the gym and then watched as it repeated itself at dinner time and other moments.  Here goes: Donald Trump.  Donald Trump.  Donald Trump.  Ted Cruz.  Donald Trump. Donald Trump.  Donald Trump.  Hillary Clinton.  Donald Trump.  Donald Trump.  Donald Trump.  (Bernie Sanders.)  The previous week, it would, of course, have been Brussels, Brussels, Brussels, Donald Trump, Brussels, Brussels, Brussels, Donald Trump, etc., etc.</p><p dir="ltr">There.  Satisfied?  Now, turn off that TV, put down that screen in your hand, I’ve got something to tell you about the news.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The News Zone</strong></p><p dir="ltr">It goes without saying that I’m not talking about the news as it once was.  Think of it now as a kind of obsessive onscreen activity, sometimes humdrum, remarkably repetitive, yet often riveting.  Think of it mainly as something most of us live with but have yet to come to grips with or really define.  With the ever-present screens in all our lives, no one can help but tune in these days in one way or another to various versions of what we still call “the news.”  In doing so, we largely leave the real world and any sense of balance or perspective behind.  Otherwise a startling percentage of Americans wouldn’t be <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/187655/americans-name-terrorism-no-problem.aspx">convinced</a> that terrorism of the Islamic variety -- yes, terrorism! -- is America’s number one problem; this in a country in which you’re <a href="http://forward.com/opinion/176043/more-killed-by-toddlers-than-terrorists-in-us/">more likely</a> to be killed or wounded by a toddler with a gun than an Islamic terrorist with the same.</p><p dir="ltr">In other words, from Brussels, Brussels, Brussels to Trump, Trump, Trump, this is not in any previously understood sense news at all.  It may actually be the opposite of news.  Believe it or not, there is still a world out there filled with problems that we know so much less about than we should because we’re all immersed in the same Trump soup.</p><p dir="ltr">Here’s what often dominates the news zone these days:</p><p dir="ltr">* The Donald, The Hillary, and the others crisscrossing the country, shouting at and insulting each other, and giving more or less the same speeches (or, in the case of Trump, narcissistic rambles).</p><p dir="ltr">* Blood-curdling accounts of the latest terror attacks in Europe or the U.S.</p><p dir="ltr">* Photogenically weepy or stoic Americans bemoaning the loss of houses, schools, and lives in what the news now regularly refers to as “<a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/news/weather/super-tuesday-22-million-face-extreme-weather-n528666">extreme weather</a>” (without a hint -- 99% of the time -- of why that weather might be increasingly extreme).</p><p dir="ltr">* And let’s not forget those remarkably ever-present American “lone wolf” <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map">killers</a> who take out their fellow citizens with <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/25/us-mass-shootings-risen-sharply-fbi-report">numbing regularity</a> in <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/rescuers-responding-shooting-kansas-business/story?id=37203872">workplaces</a>, <a href="http://www.denverpost.com/theater-shooting-trial/ci_28706029/judge-imposes-12-life-sentences-plus-3-318">movie theaters</a>, <a href="http://www.abc15.com/news/national/report-active-shooter-at-lackland-air-force-base-in-texas">military bases</a>, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/us-school-shooting_us_560d88bde4b0af3706dff6b8">schools</a>, etc.</p><p dir="ltr">All of this and more, of course, becomes the essential adrenalizing fodder of the 24/7 attention machine.  Sometimes, when the story’s just right, its drumbeat lasts nonstop for days, or even weeks (see: <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/san-bernardino-shooting">San Bernadino</a>), with whole corps of “experts” mobilized by the network news and cable outfits to... well, you know... say whatever it is experts say.</p><p dir="ltr">As <a href="http://www.journalism.org/2015/04/29/newspapers-fact-sheet/">newspapers</a> shrink and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decline_of_newspapers#United_States">collapse</a>, as local investigative reporting all but <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/public-editor/margaret-sullivan-new-york-times-public-editor.html">disappears</a>, the above has become the repetitive norm for the paperless world most of us inhabit.  And keep in mind that, in an age of <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/these-journalists-dedicated-their-lives-to-telling-other-peoples-stories/">shrinking reportorial staffs</a>, on TV as well as in print, it’s of obvious economic advantage to pool your resources and focus audience attention on just one (or a few) magnetic events/horrors/nightmares -- stories guaranteed to glue eyeballs.  Some of these stories have become so common in our onscreen lives that, as with a mass killing or “violence” at a Trump rally, a formulaic way of reporting them has fallen comfortably into place, making the all-hands-on-deck moment so much easier to organize and handle.  So, for instance, from the initial shock of a terror attack in Europe or the U.S. (but not, say, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/the-unbearable-grief-of-a-village-that-lost-its-boys-to-a-suicide-bomber/2016/04/07/e7fb2e8a-faa4-11e5-813a-90ab563f0dde_story.html">Iraq</a> or Libya) to the funerals of the victims, from the early parade of counterterrorism “experts” to the last grief counselors, there is now a pattern of coverage that normalizes such events for the news zone.</p><p dir="ltr">The Comb-Over in the Mirror</p><p dir="ltr">So much of this, of course, is about money, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/21/business/media/the-mutual-dependence-of-trump-and-the-news-media.html">ratings</a>, and the coffers of those who own TV networks.  Gluing eyeballs to screens (and ads) is, of course, the real news about the news.</p><p dir="ltr">CBS CEO Leslie Moonves couldn’t have been blunter on how the present system works.  At a Morgan Stanley investors’ conference last month, speaking of the Trump campaign, he <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/online/cbs-ceo-on-trump-campaign-it-may-not-be-good-for-america-but-its-damn-good-for-cbs/">said</a>, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”  And then he <a href="http://fortune.com/2016/03/01/les-moonves-cbs-trump/">added</a>, “The money’s rolling in and this is fun.  I’ve never seen anything like this, and this [is] going to be a very good year for us.  Sorry.  It’s a terrible thing to say.  But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”</p><p dir="ltr">We know, roughly speaking, what Moonves and his ilk make of the frenetic onscreen world their employees present us with -- a world of relative inconsequence that is often, at one and the same moment, horrifying, fascinating, stupefying, shocking, terrifying, enervating, saddening, and even, if you happen to like Donald or Ted or Hillary or Bernie, sometimes uplifting or hopeful.  The question is: What are we to make of it?</p><p dir="ltr">The most obvious thing that can be said is that it leaves us painfully unprepared to face, or grasp, or begin to deal with the actual world as it actually is.  What’s left out?  Well, more or less everything that truly matters much of the time: any large, generally unphotogenic process, for instance, like the crumbling of America’s infrastructure (unless cameras can fortuitously zoom in on a bridge collapsing or a natural gas pipeline in the process of <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/03/09/at-least-9-firefighters-injured-after-building-explodes-in-seattle-neighborhood.html">blowing up</a> in a neighborhood -- all so much more likely in an age in which no imaginable situation lacks its amateur video); poverty (who the hell cares?); the growing inequality gap locally or <a href="https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/economy-1">globally</a> (a no-interest barrier the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/11/business/media/panama-papers-leak-signals-a-shift-in-mainstream-journalism.html">WikiLeaks-style</a> Panama Papers recently managed to break through); almost anything that happens in the places where most of the people on this planet actually live (Asia and Africa); the rise of the national security state and of militarism in an era of permanent war and permanent (in)security in the “homeland”; and don’t even get me started on climate change...</p><p dir="ltr">But why should I go on when you can do this perfectly well yourself?  After all, just about everything that matters much of the time means... well, just about everything that really makes a difference in your life, or national life, or planetary life.  What you can see on your screen right now is plenty of Donald Trump, but what you can’t see when it comes to the United States is, for example, the increasingly undemocratic, unrepresentative, semi-<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176062/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_campaign_2016_as_a_demobilizing_spectacle/">demobilized</a> country with a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176124/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich%2C_presidential_wars/">new</a>, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176120/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_don%27t_blame_it_all_on_donald_trump/">informal constitution</a> and new power centers that he -- or some other candidate -- will head in 2017.  It’s largely MIA.</p><p dir="ltr">The menu of the news, as presently defined, lowers your chance of understanding the world.  It is, however, likely to raise your blood pressure and your fears on a planet in which there is plenty of reason to be afraid, but <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176013/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_armed_violence_in_the_homeland/">seldom</a> of what’s on screen.  In a sense, at its best, what the all-day obsession that’s still called “the news” really provides is the kind of rush that we might normally associate with a drug or an addiction rather than reportage or analysis.</p><p dir="ltr">The news -- no matter your screen of choice -- increasingly does several things:</p><p dir="ltr">* It creates its own heightened, insular world to replace the world we actually live in.</p><p dir="ltr">* At its most effective, it’s like a recurrent floodtide washing over you.</p><p dir="ltr">* It has an obsessional quality, with single stories engulfing everything else, inducing a deeply skewed view of the world, no matter what event or events are being followed.</p><p dir="ltr">Who can doubt that the Internet, social media, email, and the rest of the package are the signature addictive activities of our age?  Anyone who can put away that iPhone without resistance, or not check one last time to see if the email you weren’t expecting has arrived, should join the short line now forming at the exit.  For the rest of us, let’s face it, we’re trapped here.</p><p dir="ltr">The “news” is a key part of this addictive package.  In a sense, in an age of electronic obsession, onscreen news purveyors like Moonves may have little choice but to make it so.  It’s that or, assumedly, watch your cable network or key news programs die a grim financial death.</p><p dir="ltr">And of course Donald Trump, he of the trademark bouffant comb-over -- yes, I’m back to him -- is certainly sui generis and regularly admired for the deft way he plays the news and the media.  He’s less commonly thought of as the creature of the news and the media.  In a sense, though, he’s their ultimate creation of this moment, the top-of-the-line drug on offer so far.  If he’s also the ultimate narcissist without filters, then perhaps what we still call “the news” is itself a new form of narcissism.  When you look in the mirror it holds up, it’s not you or the world that’s reflected.  Just tell me, I’m curious: Whose hairdo do you see?</p><p dir="ltr"> </p><p dir="ltr"><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a></em>.</p> Sun, 17 Apr 2016 07:40:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1054739 at http://https.alternet.org Media Media trump election news Our Scary Political Future is Really Unknown, And It Isn't All Trump's Fault http://https.alternet.org/election-2016/our-scary-political-future-really-unknown-and-it-isnt-all-trumps-fault <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Are we in a new American world? </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-03-27_at_2.58.28_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com">TomDispatch</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-5ad46171-b96e-2d6e-9893-6fd2affdaa35">The other week, feeling sick, I spent a day on my couch with the TV on and was reminded of an odd fact of American life.  More than seven months before Election Day, you can watch the 2016 campaign for the presidency at any moment of your choosing, and that’s been true since at least late last year.  There is essentially never a time when some network or news channel isn’t reporting on, discussing, debating, analyzing, speculating about, or simply drooling over some aspect of the primary campaign, of Hillary, Bernie, Ted, and above all -- a million times above all -- The Donald (from the <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/03/02/a_list_of_violent_incidents_at_donald_trump_rallies_and_events.html">violence</a> at his rallies to the <a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/03/donald-trump-hand-size">size</a> of his <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/new-yorker-cover-about-trumps-hand-size-2016-3">hands</a>).  In case you’re young and think this is more or less the American norm, it isn’t.  Or wasn’t.</p><p dir="ltr">Truly, there is something new under the sun.  Of course, in 1994 with O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco chase (<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/22/us/95-million-watched-the-chase.html">95 million</a> viewers!), the 24/7 media event arrived full blown in American life and something changed when it came to the way we focused on our world and the media focused on us.  But you can be sure of one thing: never in the history of television, or any other form of media, has a single figure garnered the amount of attention -- hour after hour, day after day, week after week -- as Donald Trump.  If he’s the O.J. Simpson of twenty-first-century American politics and his run for the presidency is the eternal white Ford Bronco chase of our moment, then we’re in a truly strange world.</p><p dir="ltr">Or let me put it another way: this is not an election.  I know the word “election” is being used every five seconds and somewhere along the line significant numbers of Americans (particularly, this season, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/03/02/1-milion-more-people-have-voted-in-republican-primaries-than-democratic-ones/">Republicans</a>) continue to enter voting booths or in the case of primary caucuses, school gyms and the like, to choose among various candidates, so it’s all still election-like.  But take my word for it as a 71-year-old guy who’s been watching our politics for decades: this is not an election of the kind the textbooks once taught us was so crucial to American democracy.  If, however, you’re sitting there waiting for me to tell you what it is, take a breath and don’t be too disappointed.  I have no idea, though it’s certainly part bread-and-circuses spectacle, part celebrity obsession, and part <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/21/business/media/the-mutual-dependence-of-trump-and-the-news-media.html?_r=0">media money machine</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Actually, before we go further, let me hedge my bets on the idea that Donald Trump is a twenty-first-century O.J. Simpson.  It’s certainly a reasonable enough comparison, but I’ve begun to wonder about the usefulness of just about any comparison in our present situation.  Even the most nightmarish of them -- Donald Trump is <a href="http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/335394/9-times-donald-trumps-been-compared-to-hitler/">Adolf Hitler</a>, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/donald-trump-isnt-todays-wendell-willkie-hes-todays-benito-mussolini/2015/12/08/77c81b0c-9ddc-11e5-a3c5-c77f2cc5a43c_story.html">Benito Mussolini</a>, or any past <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176114/tomgram%3A_bob_dreyfuss%2C_will_the_donald_rally_the_militias_and_the_right-to-carry_movement/">extreme demagogue</a> of your choice -- may actually prove to be covert gestures of consolation, reassurance, and comfort.  Yes, what’s happening in our world is increasngly extreme and could hardly be weirder, we seem to have the urge to say, but it’s still recognizable.  It’s something we’ve encountered before, something we’ve made sense of in the past and, in the process, overcome.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Round Up the Usual Suspects</strong></p><p dir="ltr">But what if that’s not true?  In some ways, the most frightening, least acceptable thing to say about our American world right now -- even if Donald Trump’s overwhelming presence all but begs us to say it -- is that we’ve entered uncharted territory and, under the circumstances, comparisons might actually impair our ability to come to grips with our new reality.  My own suspicion: Donald Trump is only the most obvious instance of this, the example no one can miss.</p><p dir="ltr">In these first years of the twenty-first century, we may be witnessing a new world being born inside the hollowed-out shell of the American system.  As yet, though we live with this reality every day, we evidently just can’t bear to recognize it for what it might be.  When we survey the landscape, what we tend to focus on is that shell -- the usual elections (in somewhat heightened form), the usual governmental bodies (a little tarnished) with the usual governmental powers (a little diminished or redistributed), including the usual checks and balances (a little out of whack), and the same old Constitution (much praised in its absence), and yes, we know that none of this is working particularly well, or sometimes at all, but it still feels comfortable to view what we have as a reduced, shabbier, and more dysfunctional version of the known.</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps, however, it’s increasingly a version of the unknown.  We say, for instance, that Congress is “paralyzed,” and that little can be done in a country where politics has become so “polarized,” and we wait for something to shake us loose from that “paralysis,” to return us to a Washington closer to what we remember and recognize.  But maybe this is it.  Maybe even if the Republicans somehow <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2016/03/trump-gop-house-majority-jeopardy-221004">lost control</a> of the House of Representatives and the Senate, we would still be in a situation something like what we’re now labeling paralysis.  Maybe in our new American reality, Congress is actually some kind of glorified, well-lobbied, and well-financed version of a peanut gallery.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, I don’t want to deny that much of what is “new” in our world has a long history.  The present yawning <a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/economic-inequality-it-s-far-worse-than-you-think/">inequality gap</a> between the 1% and ordinary Americans first began to widen in the 1970s and -- as Thomas Frank explains so brilliantly in his new book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1627795391/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">Listen, Liberal</a> -- was already a powerful and much-discussed reality in the early 1990s, when Bill Clinton ran for president.  Yes, that gap is now more like an abyss and looks ever more permanently embedded in the American system, but it has a genuine history, as for instance do <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175478/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_1%25_election/">1% elections</a> and the rise and self-organization of the “<a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2015/08/15/sanders-billionaire-class-welcome-hatred/31794755/">billionaire class</a>,” even if no one, until this second, imagined that government of the billionaires, by the billionaires, and for the billionaires might devolve into government of the billionaire, by the billionaire, and for the billionaire -- that is, just one of them.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, much of our shape-shifting world can be written about as a set of comparisons and in terms of historical reference points.  Inequality has a history.  The military-industrial complex and the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176118/tomgram%3A_william_astore%2C_america%27s_post-democratic_military/">all-volunteer military</a>, like the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175507/tom_engelhardt_the_arrival_of_the_warrior_corporation">warrior corporation</a>, weren’t born yesterday; neither was our state of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/">perpetual war</a>, nor the national security state that now looms over Washington, nor its <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/">surveilling urge</a>, the desire to know far too much about the private lives of Americans.  (A little bow of remembrance to FBI Director <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/08/02/fbi-director-hoover-s-dirty-files-excerpt-from-ronald-kessler-s-the-secrets-of-the-fbi.html">J. Edgar Hoover</a> is in order here.)</p><p dir="ltr">And yet, true as all that may be, Washington increasingly seems like a new land, sporting something like a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175970/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_is_a_new_political_system_emerging_in_this_country/">new system</a> in the midst of our much-described polarized and paralyzed politics.  The national security state doesn’t seem faintly paralyzed or polarized to me.  Nor does the Pentagon.  On certain days when I catch the news, I can’t believe how strange and yet humdrum this uncharted new territory is.  Remind me, for instance, where in the Constitution the Founding Fathers wrote about that national security state?  And yet there it is in all its glory, all its powers, an ever more independent force in our nation’s capital.  In what way, for instance, did those men of the revolutionary era prepare the ground for the Pentagon to loose its spy drones from our distant war zones over the United States?  And yet, <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/03/09/pentagon-admits-has-deployed-military-spy-drones-over-us/81474702/">so it has</a>.  And no one even seems disturbed by the development.  The news, barely noticed or noted, was instantly absorbed into what's becoming the new normal.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Graduation Ceremonies in the Imperium</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Let me mention here the almost random piece of news that recently made me wonder just what planet I was actually on.  And I know you won’t believe it, but it had absolutely nothing to do with Donald Trump.</p><p dir="ltr">Given the carnage of America’s wars and conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa, which I’ve been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176113/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_done_in_by_the_american_way_of_war/">following closely</a> these last years, I’m unsure why this particular moment even got to me.  Best guess?  Maybe that, of all the once-obscure places -- from <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/19/world/asia/us-steps-up-airstrikes-against-isis-after-it-gains-territory-in-afghanistan.html">Afghanistan</a> to <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-yemen-strike-idUSKCN0WO37I">Yemen</a> to <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/19/africa/libya-us-airstrike-isis/">Libya</a> -- in which the U.S. has been fighting recently, Somalia, where this particular little slaughter took place, seems to me like the most obscure of all.  Yes, I’ve been half-attending to events there from the 1993 Blackhawk Down moment to the disastrous U.S.-backed <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jan/26/ethiopia-ends-somalia-occupation">Ethiopian invasion</a> of 2006 to the hardly less disastrous invasion of that country by <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-intensifies-its-proxy-fight-against-al-shabab-in-somalia/2011/11/21/gIQAVLyNtN_story.html">Kenyan</a> and other African forces. Still, Somalia?</p><p dir="ltr">Recently, U.S. Reaper drones and manned aircraft launched a set of strikes against what the Pentagon claimed was a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/08/world/africa/us-airstrikes-somalia.html">graduation ceremony</a> for "low-level" foot soldiers in the Somali terror group al-Shabab.  It was proudly announced that more than 150 Somalis had died in this attack.  In a country where, in recent years, U.S. drones and special ops forces had carried out a modest number of <a href="http://time.com/3750378/al-shabaab-adan-garar-killed-drone-strike-u-s-pentagon-confirmed/">strikes</a> against individual al-Shabab leaders, this might be thought of as a distinct escalation of Washington’s endless low-level conflict there (with a <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/03/09/u-s-special-operations-forces-conduct-helicopter-raid-in-somalia/">raid</a> involving U.S. special ops forces following soon after).</p><p dir="ltr">Now, let me try to put this in some personal context.  Since I was a kid, I’ve always liked globes and maps.  I have a reasonable sense of where most countries on this planet are.  Still, Somalia?  I have to stop and give that one some thought to truly locate it on a mental map of eastern Africa.  Most Americans?  Honestly, I doubt they’d have a clue.  So the other day, when this news came out, I stopped a moment to take it in.  If accurate, we killed 150 more or less nobodies (except to those who knew them) and maybe even a <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/08/al-shabaab-us-airstrike-training-camp-somalia-eyewitness">top leader or two</a> in a country most Americans couldn’t locate on a map.</p><p dir="ltr">I mean, don’t you find that just a little odd, no matter how horrible the organization they were preparing to fight for?  150 Somalis?  Blam!</p><p dir="ltr">Remind me: On just what basis was this modest massacre carried out?  After all, the U.S. isn’t at war with Somalia or with al-Shabab.  Of course, Congress no longer plays any real role in decisions about American war making.  It no longer declares war on any group or country we fight.  (Paralysis!)  War is now purely a matter of executive power or, in reality, the collective power of the national security state and the White House.  The essential <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/us/politics/is-the-us-now-at-war-with-the-shabab-not-exactly.html">explanation</a> offered for the Somali strike, for instance, is that the U.S. had a small set of advisers stationed with African Union forces in that country and it was just faintly possible that those guerrilla graduates might soon prepare to attack some of those forces (and hence U.S. military personnel).  It seems that if the U.S. puts advisers in place anywhere on the planet -- and any day of any year they are now in <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176048/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_a_secret_war_in_135_countries/">scores of countries</a> -- that’s excuse enough to validate acts of war based on the “imminent” threat of their attack.</p><p dir="ltr">Or just think of it this way: a new, informal constitution is being written in these years in Washington.  No need for a convention or a new bill of rights.  It’s a constitution focused on the use of power, especially military power, and it’s being written in blood.</p><p dir="ltr">These days, our government (the unparalyzed one) acts regularly on the basis of that informal constitution-in-the-making, committing Somalia-like <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176110/tomgram%3A_mattea_kramer,_the_grief_of_others_and_the_boasts_of_candidates/">acts</a> across <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175787">significant swathes</a> of the planet.  In these years, we’ve been marrying the latest in <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175265/tomgram:_engelhardt,_the_perfect_american_weapon/">wonder technology</a>, our Hellfire-missile-armed drones, to executive power and slaughtering people we don’t much like in majority Muslim countries with a certain alacrity. By now, it’s simply accepted that any commander-in-chief is also our <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_assassin-in-chief/">assassin-in-chief</a>, and that all of this is part of a wartime-that-isn’t-wartime system, spreading the principle of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176094/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_tomorrow%27s_news_today/">chaos and dissolution</a> to whole areas of the planet, leaving failed states and terror movements in its wake.</p><p dir="ltr">When was it, by the way, that “the people” agreed that the president could appoint himself assassin-in-chief, muster his legal beagles to write <a href="http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/04/16843014-justice-department-memo-reveals-legal-case-for-drone-strikes-on-americans">new "law</a>" that covered any future acts of his (including the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/05/obama-kill-list-doj-memo">killing</a> of American citizens), and year after year dispatch what essentially is his own private fleet of killer drones to <a href="https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/">knock off</a> <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147">thousands</a> of <a href="http://www.reprieve.org/uploads/2/6/3/3/26338131/2014_11_24_pub_you_never_die_twice_-_multiple_kills_in_the_us_drone_program.pdf">people</a> across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa?  Weirdly enough, after almost 14 years of this sort of behavior, with ample <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175988/tomgram%3A_andrew_cockburn,_how_assassination_sold_drugs_and_promoted_terrorism/">evidence</a> that such strikes <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/somalia-al-shabab-strike_us_56df3469e4b03a40567a6bcb">don’t suppress</a> the movements Washington loathes (and often only fan the flames of resentment and revenge that <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/">help them spread</a>), neither the current president and his top officials, nor any of the candidates for his office have the slightest intention of ever grounding those drones.</p><p dir="ltr">And when exactly did the people say that, within the country’s vast standing military, which now <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176043/tomgram%3A_david_vine,_our_base_nation/">garrisons</a> much of the planet, a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175547/andrew_bacevich_the_golden_age_of_special_operations">force</a>of nearly 70,000 Special Operations personnel should be birthed, or that it should <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176060/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_success,_failure,_and_the_%22finest_warriors_who_ever_went_into_combat%22/">conduct</a> covert missions globally, essentially accountable only to the president (if him)? And what I find strangest of all is that few in our world find such developments strange at all.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>A Planet in Decline?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In some way, all of this could be said to work.  At the very least, it is a functioning new system-in-the-making that we have yet to truly come to grips with, just as we haven’t come to grips with a national security state that surveils the world in a way that even science fiction writers (no less totalitarian rulers) of a previous era could never have imagined, or the strange version of media overkill that we still call an election.  All of this is by now both old news and mind-bogglingly new.</p><p dir="ltr">Do I understand it? Not for a second.</p><p dir="ltr">This is not war as we knew it, nor government as we once understood it, nor are these elections as we once imagined them, nor is this democracy as it used to be conceived of, nor is this journalism of a kind ever taught in a journalism school. This is the definition of uncharted territory. It’s a genuine American terra incognita and yet in some fashion that unknown landscape is already part of our sense of ourselves and our world. In this “election” season, many remain shocked that a leading candidate for the presidency is a demagogue with a visible authoritarian side and what looks like an autocratic bent. All such labels are pinned on Donald Trump, but the new American system that’s been emerging from its chrysalis in these years already has just those tendencies. So don’t blame it all on Donald Trump. He should be far less of a shock to this country than he continues to be.  After all, a Trumpian world-in-formation has paved the way for him.</p><p dir="ltr">Who knows?  Perhaps what we’re watching is the new iteration of a very old story: a twenty-first-century version of an ancient tale of a great imperial power, perhaps the greatest ever -- the “lone superpower” -- sinking into decline.  It’s a tale humanity has experienced often enough in the course of our long history.  But lest you think once again that there’s nothing new under the sun, the context for all of this, for everything now happening in our world, is so new as to be quite literally outside of thousands of years of human experience.  As the latest <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/21/global-warming-taking-place-at-an-alarming-rate-un-climate-body-warns">heat records</a> indicate, we are, for the first time, on a planet in decline.  And if that isn’t uncharted territory, what is?</p><p dir="ltr"> </p><p dir="ltr"><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a>.</em></p><p> </p> Sun, 27 Mar 2016 11:53:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch 1053392 at http://https.alternet.org Election 2016 Election 2016 World trump election dispatch We’re Never Winning These Wars: America Has Zero to Show For Its Decades of Bloodshed in the Middle East http://https.alternet.org/world/were-never-winning-these-wars-america-has-zero-show-its-decades-bloodshed-middle-east <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Armed conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond hasn&#039;t brought anything close to lasting peace. Quite the opposite.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/us_army_on_partol_in_sadr_city.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <em>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com">TomDispatch</a>.</em><p> </p><p>It may be hard to believe now, but in 1970 the protest song “War,” sung by <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01-2pNCZiNk&amp;spfreload=10" target="_blank">Edwin Starr</a>, hit <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_%28Edwin_Starr_song%29" target="_blank">number one</a> on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That was at the height of the Vietnam antiwar movement and the song, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, became something of a sensation.  Even so many years later, who could forget its famed chorus?  “War, what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing.”  Not me.  And yet heartfelt as the <a href="http://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/edwin_starr/war.html" target="_blank">song</a> was then  — “War, it ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker.  War, it’s got one friend, that’s the undertaker…” — it has little resonance in America today.</p><p>But here’s the strange thing: in a way its authors and singer could hardly have imagined, in a way we still can’t quite absorb, that chorus has proven eerily prophetic — in fact, accurate beyond measure in the most literal possible sense.  War, what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing.  You could think of American war in the twenty-first century as an <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">ongoing experiment</a> in proving just that point.</p><p>Looking back on almost 15 years in which the United States has been engaged in something like permanent war in the Greater Middle East and parts of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/nick_turse_blowback_central" target="_blank">Africa</a>, one thing couldn’t be clearer: the planet’s sole superpower with a military funded and armed like none other and a “defense” budget larger than the <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jan/13/barack-obama/obama-us-spends-more-military-next-8-nations-combi/" target="_blank">next seven countries</a> combined (<a href="http://books.sipri.org/files/FS/SIPRIFS1504.pdf" target="_blank">three times</a> as large as number two spender, China) has managed to accomplish — again, quite literally — absolutely nothing, or perhaps (if a slight rewrite of that classic song were allowed) less than nothing.</p><p>Unless, of course, you consider an expanding series of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176094/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_tomorrow%27s_news_today/" target="_blank">failed states</a>, spreading terror movements, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/08/world/middleeast/isis-ramadi-iraq-retaking.html" target="_blank">wrecked cities</a>, countries hemorrhaging <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911" target="_blank">refugees</a>, and the like as accomplishments.  In these years, no goal of Washington — not a single one — has been accomplished by war.  This has proven true even when, in the first flush of death and destruction, victory or at least success was hailed, as in Afghanistan in 2001 (“You <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/17/world/a-nation-challenged-the-secretary-rumsfeld-pays-call-on-troops-and-afghans.html" target="_blank">helped</a> Afghanistan liberate itself — for a second time,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to U.S. special operations forces), Iraq in 2003 (“<a href="http://media2.s-nbcnews.com/j/msnbc/Components/ArtAndPhoto-Fronts/COVER/080501/g-cvr-080501-mission-10a.grid-6x2.jpg" target="_blank">Mission accomplished</a>“), or Libya in 2011 (“We came, we saw, he died,” Hillary Clinton on the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/clinton-on-qaddafi-we-came-we-saw-he-died/" target="_blank">death</a> of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi).</p><p>Of all forms of American military might in this period, none may have been more destructive or less effective than air power.  U.S. drones, for instance, have killed incessantly in these years, racking up <a href="https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/" target="_blank">thousands</a> of dead Pakistanis, Afghans, Iraqis, Yemenis, Syrians, and others, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147" target="_blank">including</a> top terror <a href="http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-drone-kills-al-qaeda-leader-20150721-story.html" target="_blank">leaders</a> and their lieutenants as well as significant numbers of civilians and even <a href="https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/08/11/more-than-160-children-killed-in-us-strikes/" target="_blank">children</a>, and yet the movements they were <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175988/tomgram%3A_andrew_cockburn,_how_assassination_sold_drugs_and_promoted_terrorism/" target="_blank">sent to destroy</a> from the top down have only <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">proliferated</a>.  In a region in which those on the ground are quite literally <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/death-from-above-how-american-drone-strikes-are-devastating-yemen-20140414" target="_blank">helpless</a> against air power, the U.S. Air Force has been repeatedly loosed, from Afghanistan in 2001 to Syria and Iraq today, without challenge and with utter freedom of the skies.  Yet, other than dead civilians and militants and a great deal of rubble, the long-term results have been remarkably pitiful.</p><p>From all of this no conclusions ever seem to be drawn.  Only last week, the Obama administration and the Pentagon again widened their air war against Islamic State militants (as they had <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/23/world/africa/us-and-allies-said-to-plan-military-action-on-isis-in-libya.html" target="_blank">for weeks</a> been suggesting they would), <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-security-idUSKCN0VS17U" target="_blank">striking</a> a “suspected Islamic State training camp” in Libya and reportedly killing nearly 50 people, including <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/2-kidnapped-serbs-among-those-killed-u-s-strike-isis-n522231" target="_blank">two kidnapped</a> Serbian embassy staff members and possibly “a militant connected to two deadly attacks last year in neighboring Tunisia.”  Again, after almost 15 years of this, we know just where such “successes” lead: to even grimmer, more brutal, more effective terror movements.  And yet, the military approach remains the American approach du jour on any day of the week, any month of the year, in the twenty-first century.</p><p>Put another way, for the country that has, like no other on the planet in these years, unleashed its military again and again thousands of miles from its “homeland” in actions ranging from large-scale invasions and occupations to small-scale raids and drone assassination strikes, absolutely nothing has come up roses.  From China’s Central Asian border to north Africa, the region that Washington officials began referring to as an “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/744/putting_our_foot_down_in_the_arc_of_instability_" target="_blank">arc of instability</a>” soon after 9/11 and that they hoped to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174807/how_permanent_are_those_bases_" target="_blank">garrison</a> and dominate forever has only become more unstable, less amenable to American power, and ever more chaotic.</p><p>By its very nature, war produces chaos, but in other eras, particularly for great powers, it has also meant influence or dominance and created the basis for reshaping or controlling whole regions.  None of this seems in the cards today.  It would be reasonable to conclude, however provisionally, from America’s grand military experiment of this century that, no matter the military strength at your command, war no longer translates into power.  For Washington, war has somehow been decoupled from its once expected results, no matter what weaponry has been brought to bear or what kind of generalship was exercised.</p><p><strong>An Arms Race of One</strong></p><p>Given that, sooner or later, the results of any experiment should be taken into account and actions recalibrated accordingly, here’s what’s curious.  Just listen to the fervent <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/latest-gop-undercard-debate-underway-sc-230407607--election.html" target="_blank">pledges</a> of the presidential candidates in the Republican debates to “<a href="http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/patrick-goodenough/rubio-cruz-gop-debate-rebuild-our-weakened-military-crush-isis" target="_blank">rebuild</a>” the U.S. military and you’ll sense the immense pressure in Washington not to recalibrate anything.  If you want the definition of a Trumpian bad deal, consider that all of them are eager to pour further staggering sums into preparing for future military endeavors not so different from the present ones.  And don’t just blame the Republicans.  Such behavior is now <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/21/opinion/sunday/drone-warfare-precise-effective-imperfect.html" target="_blank">hardwired</a> into Washington’s entire political class.</p><p>The essential failure of air power in these years has yielded the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a plane once expected to cost in the <a href="https://contraryperspective.com/2014/02/18/the-f-35-fighter-program-america-going-down-in-flames/" target="_blank">$200 billion</a> range whose price tag is now estimated at a <a href="http://www.newsweek.com/more-bads-news-f-35-plane-ate-pentagon-378110" target="_blank">trillion dollars</a> or more over the course of its lifetime.  It will, that is, be the <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/16/politics/f-35-jsf-operational-costs/" target="_blank">most expensive</a>weapons system in history.  Air power’s powerlessness to achieve Washington’s ends has also yielded the <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/who-runs-the-pentagon/" target="_blank">newly unveiled</a> Long-Range Strike Bomber for which the Pentagon has already made a down payment to Northrop Grumman of $55 billion. (Add in the usual future cost overruns and that sum is expected to crest the <a href="http://theweek.com/articles/586609/why-americas-new-stealth-bomber-could-cost-over-100-billion" target="_blank">$100 billion mark</a> long before the plane is actually built.)  Or at the level of planetary destruction, consider the three-decade, trillion-dollar upgrading of the U.S. nuclear arsenal now underway and scheduled to include, among other things, smaller, more accurate <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/12/science/as-us-modernizes-nuclear-weapons-smaller-leaves-some-uneasy.html" target="_blank">“smart” nukes</a> — that is, first-use weaponry that might indeed be brought to future battlefields.</p><p>That none of this fits our world of war today should be — but isn’t — obvious, at least in Washington.  In 2016, not only has military action of just about any sort been decoupled from success of just about any sort, but the unbelievably profitable system of weapons production woven into the fabric of the <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indus.php?id=D" target="_blank">capital</a>, the <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/contrib.php?ind=D" target="_blank">political process</a>, and the country has also been detached from the results of war; the worse we do militarily, that is, the more frenetically and expensively we build.</p><p>For the conspiratorial-minded (and I get letters like this regularly at TomDispatch), it’s easy enough to see the growing chaos and collapse in the Greater Middle East as purposeful, as what the military-industrial complex desires; nothing, in other words, succeeds (for weapons makers) like failure.  The more failed states, the more widespread the terror groups, the greater the need to arm ourselves and, as the planet’s <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/26/world/middleeast/us-foreign-arms-deals-increased-nearly-10-billion-in-2014.html" target="_blank">leading arms dealer</a>, others.  This is, however, the thinking of outsiders.  For the weapons makers and the rest of that complex, failure or success may increasingly be beside the point.</p><p>Count on this: were the U.S. now triumphant in an orderly Greater Middle East, the same Republican candidates would still be calling for a build-up of the U.S. military to maintain our victorious stance globally.  If you want proof of this, you need only step into your time machine and travel back a quarter-century to the moment the Soviet Union collapsed.  Thought of a certain way, that should have been the finale for a long history of arms races among competing great powers.  What seemed like the last arms race of all between the two superpowers of the Cold War, the one that brought the planet to the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175605/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_%22the_most_dangerous_moment,%22_50_years_later/" target="_blank">brink of annihilation</a>, had just ended.</p><p>When the Soviet Union imploded and Washington dissolved in a riot of shock and triumphalism, only one imperial force — “the sole superpower” — remained.  And yet, despite a brief flurry of talk about Americans harvesting a “peace dividend” in a world bereft of major enemies, what continued to be harvested were new weapons systems. An arms race of one rolled right along.</p><p>And of course, it goes right on today in an almost unimaginably different world.  A quarter century later, militarily speaking, two other nations might be considered great powers.  One of them, China, is indeed <a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/11/giant-chinese-naval-buildup-occurring-office-naval/" target="_blank">building up</a> its <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/27/world/asia/china-military-presence-djibouti-africa.html" target="_blank">military</a> and acting in <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/16/asia/china-missiles-south-china-sea/" target="_blank">more provocative</a> ways in<a href="http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/12/chinas-military-and-naval-buildup-in-south-china-sea-threatens-the-us.html" target="_blank">nearby seas</a>.  However, not since its disastrous 1979 <a href="http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1879849,00.html" target="_blank">border war</a> with Vietnam has it used its military outside its own borders in a conflict of any kind.</p><p>The Russians are obviously another matter and they alone at this moment seem to be making an imperial success of warfare — translating, that is, war making into power, prestige, and dominance.  In Syria (and possibly also Ukraine), think of that country as experiencing its version of America’s December 2001 Afghanistan or April 2003 Iraq moments, but don’t for a second imagine that it will last.  The Russians in Syria have essentially followed the path Washington pioneered in this century, loosing air power, advisers, and proxy forces on an embattled country.  Their bombing campaign and that of the allied Syrian air force have been doing in spades what air power generally does: blow away stuff on the ground, including <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-missiles-idUSKCN0VO12Y" target="_blank">hospitals, schools</a>, and the like.</p><p>Right now, with the Syrian Army and its Iranian and Lebanese helpers <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/02/06/465407798/backed-by-russia-syrian-troops-advance-in-a-major-battle-for-aleppo" target="_blank">advancing</a> around the city of Aleppo and elsewhere, everything looks relatively sunny for the Russians (as long as your view is an airborne one), but give it a year, or two or three.  Or just ask yourself, what exactly will such “success” translate into, even if a Bashar al-Assad regime regains significant power in a country that, in most senses, has simply ceased to exist?  Its cities, after all, are in varying states of <a href="https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2014/2/15/1392506533016/Homs-014.jpg?w=620&amp;q=85&amp;auto=format&amp;sharp=10&amp;s=a90150baf6ea448e96b37fe7134e088e" target="_blank">destruction</a>, a startling <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/11/report-on-syria-conflict-finds-115-of-population-killed-or-injured" target="_blank">11.5%</a> of its people are estimated to have been killed or injured, and a significant portion of the rest <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/09/syrias-refugee-crisis-in-numbers/" target="_blank">transformed</a> into exiles and refugees (with more being <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35495157" target="_blank">produced</a> all the time).</p><p>Even if the Islamic State and other rebel and insurgent groups, ranging from those backed by the U.S. to those linked to al-Qaeda, can be “defeated,” what is Russia likely to inherit in the Middle East?  What, in far better circumstances, did the U.S. inherit in Afghanistan or Iraq?  What horrendous new movements will be born from such a “victory”?  It’s a nightmare just to think about.</p><p>Keep in mind as well that, unlike the United States, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is no superpower.  Despite its superpower-style nuclear arsenal and its great power-ish military, it’s a rickety energy state <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/12/business/international/russia-shares-ruble-oil.html" target="_blank">shaken by</a> bargain-basement oil prices.  Economically, it doesn’t have the luxury of waste that the U.S. has when it comes to military experimentation.</p><p>Generally speaking, in these last years, war has meant destruction and nothing but destruction.  It’s true that, from the point of view of movements like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the chaos of great power war is a godsend.  Even if such groups never win a victory in the traditional sense (as the Islamic State <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/mosul-isis-gunmen-middle-east-states" target="_blank">has</a>), they can’t lose, no matter how many of their leaders and followers are wiped out.  In the same way, no matter how many immediate successes Washington has in pursuit of its war on terror, it can’t win (and in the end neither, I suspect, can Russia).</p><p><strong>Has War Outlived Its Usefulness?</strong></p><p>Relatively early in the post-9/11 presidency of George W. Bush, it became apparent that his top officials had confused military power with power itself.  They had come to venerate force and its possible uses in a way that only men who had never been to war possibly could.  (Secretary of State Colin Powell was the sole exception to this rule of thumb.)  On the U.S. military, they were <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/101850/" target="_blank">fundamentalists</a> and true believers, convinced that unleashing its uniquely destructive capabilities would open the royal road to control of the Greater Middle East and possibly the planet as well.</p><p>About this — and themselves — they were supremely confident.  As an unnamed “senior adviser” to the president (later identified as Bush confidant Karl Rove) <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/faith-certainty-and-the-presidency-of-george-w-bush.html" target="_blank">told</a> journalist Ron Suskind, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”</p><p>Ever since then, no small thanks to the military-industrial complex, military power has remained the option of choice even when it became clear that it could not produce a minimalist version of what the Bush crew hoped for.  Consider it something of an irony, then, that the U.S. may still be the lone superpower on the planet.  In a period when military power of the first order doesn’t seem to translate into a thing of value, American economic (and cultural) power still does.  The realm of the dollar, not the F-35, still rules the planet.</p><p>So here’s a thought for the songwriters among you: Could it be that war has in the most literal sense outlived its usefulness, at least for the United States?  Could it be that the nature of war — possibly any war, but certainly the highly mechanized, high-tech, top-dollar form that the United States fights — is now all unintended and no intended consequences?  Do we need another Edwin Starr singing a new song about what war isn’t good for, but with the same punch line?</p><p>In fact, give it a try yourself.  Say it with me: Absolutely nothing.</p><p>One more time and really hit that “nothing”: Absolutely nothing!</p><p>Now, could someone in Washington act accordingly?</p><a data-delay="15" data-toggle-group="story-14416064" href="http://www.salon.com/2016/02/28/well_never_win_another_war_america_has_nothing_to_show_for_its_decades_of_bloodshed_in_the_middle_east_partner/" id="yui_3_18_1_12_1456701854915_757"></a>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a>. Sun, 28 Feb 2016 15:27:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1051588 at http://https.alternet.org World World war iraq Afghanistan Imagine the News Headlines If the American Empire Had Trump at the Wheel http://https.alternet.org/world/imagine-news-headlines-if-american-empire-had-trump-wheel <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">“We Destroyed the Cities to Save Them” and other future headlines.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1377041097162-1-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/">TomDispatch</a>. </em></p><p>One of the charms of the future is its powerful element of unpredictability, its ability to ambush us in lovely ways or bite us unexpectedly in the ass. Most of the futures I imagined as a boy have, for instance, come up deeply short, or else I would now be flying my individual <a href="http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/a12393/why-dont-we-have-personal-jetpacks/" target="_blank">jet pack</a> through the spired cityscape of New York and vacationing on the moon. And who, honestly, could have imagined the Internet, no less social media and cyberspace (unless, of course, you had <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/28/william-gibson-neuromancer-cyberpunk-books" target="_blank">read</a> William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer 30 years ago)? Who could have dreamed that a single country’s intelligence outfits would be able to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">listen in on</a> or otherwise intercept and review not just the conversations and messages of its own citizens -- imagine the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century -- but those of just about anyone on the planet, from peasants in the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/08/nsa-boundless-informant-global-datamining" target="_blank">backlands</a> of Pakistan to at least <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/24/nsa-surveillance-world-leaders-calls" target="_blank">35 leaders</a> of major and minor countries around the world?  This is, of course, our dystopian present, based on technological breakthroughs that even sci-fi writers somehow didn’t imagine. </p><p>And who thought that the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street were coming down the pike or, for that matter, a terror caliphate in the heart of the former Middle East or a Donald Trump presidential run that would go from success to success amid free media coverage the likes of which we’ve seldom seen? (Small career tip: don’t become a seer. It’s hell on Earth.)</p><p>All of this might be considered the bad but also the good news about the future.  On an increasingly grim globe that seems to have failure stamped all over it, the surprises embedded in the years to come, the unexpected course changes, inventions, rebellions, and interventions offer, at least until they arrive, grounds for hope.  On the other hand, in that same grim world, there's an aspect of the future that couldn’t be more depressing: the repetitiveness of so much that you might think no one would want to repeat.  I’m talking about the range of tomorrow’s headlines that could be written today and stand a painfully reasonable chance of coming true.</p><p>I’m sure you could produce your own version of such future headlines in a variety of areas, but here are mine when it comes to Washington’s remarkably unwinnable wars, interventions, and conflicts in the Greater Middle East and increasingly <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/nick_turse_blowback_central" target="_blank">Africa</a>.</p><p><strong>What “Victory” Looks Like</strong></p><p>Let’s start with an event that occurred in Iraq as 2015 ended and generated <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/victory-in-ramadi-may-not-yet-not-be-proof-of-strategy-but-it-is-a-milestone/2016/01/01/7915e874-aff5-11e5-9ab0-884d1cc4b33e_story.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> that included “victory,” a word Americans haven’t often seen in the twenty-first century -- except, of course, in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/01/10/donald-trump-asks-a-reno-audience-to-weigh-in-on-ted-cruzs-eligibility/" target="_blank">Trumpian patter</a>.  ("We're going to win so much -- win after win after win -- that you're going to be begging me: 'Please, Mr. President, let us lose once or twice. We can't stand it any more.' And I'm going to say: 'No way. We're going to keep winning. We're never going to lose. We're never, ever going to lose.’")  I’m talking about the “victory” achieved at Ramadi, a city in al-Anbar Province that Islamic State (IS or ISIL) militants seized from the Iraqi army in May 2015.  With the backing of the U.S. Air Force -- there were more than <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ramadi-iraq-airstrikes_us_5682c194e4b014efe0d950e2" target="_blank">600 American air strikes</a> in and around Ramadi in the months leading up to that victory -- and with U.S.-trained and U.S.-financed local special ops units <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/12/30/how-isis-actually-lost-ramadi.html" target="_blank">leading the way</a>, the Iraqi military did indeed largely take back that intricately booby-trapped and mined city from heavily entrenched IS militants in late December. The news was clearly a relief for the Obama administration and those headlines followed.</p><p>And here’s what victory turned out to look like: according to the Iraqi defense minister, at least <a href="https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23111-iraqi-defence-minister-says-80-of-ramadi-destroyed" target="_blank">80%</a> of the city of 400,000 was destroyed.  Rubblized.  Skeletized.  “City” may be what it’s still called, but it’s hardly an accurate description.  According to New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard, who <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/08/world/middleeast/isis-ramadi-iraq-retaking.html" target="_blank">visited</a> Ramadi soon after the “victory,” few inhabitants remained.  Of an Iraqi counterterrorism general there with him, Hubbard wrote:</p><blockquote><p>“In one neighborhood, he stood before a panorama of wreckage so vast that it was unclear where the original buildings had stood. He paused when asked how residents would return to their homes. ‘Homes?’ he said. ‘There are no homes.’”</p></blockquote><p>Hubbard also cited the head of the Anbar provincial council as estimating that “rebuilding the city would require $12 billion.” (Other Iraqi officials put that figure at <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/iraq-officials-face-monumental-task-of-rebuilding-ramadi-1451858593" target="_blank">$10 billion</a>.) That’s money no one has, including an Iraqi government <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/falling-oil-prices-impact-russia-saudi-arabia-iran-iraq-islamic-state/27497423.html" target="_blank">increasingly strapped</a> by plummeting oil prices -- and keep in mind that that’s only a single destroyed community.  The earlier, smaller victories of the Kurds at <a href="http://a.abcnews.com/images/International/abc_kobane_1_js_150203_16x9_992.jpg" target="_blank">Kobane</a> and <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/01/18/the-front-lines" target="_blank">Sinjar</a> in Syria, also backed by devastating U.S. air power, destroyed those towns in a similar fashion, as for instance has Bashar al-Assad’s barrel bombing air force and military in parts of the city of Aleppo and in the now thoroughly devastated city of <a href="https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2014/2/15/1392506533016/Homs-014.jpg?w=620&amp;q=85&amp;auto=format&amp;sharp=10&amp;s=a90150baf6ea448e96b37fe7134e088e" target="_blank">Homs</a> in central Syria.  The Russians have, of course, entered the fray, too, in the American style, bombing and advising.</p><p>Let’s add one more thing before we write our future headlines.  The day after President Obama gave his final <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address" target="_blank">State of the Union</a> address, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter <a href="http://www.theleafchronicle.com/story/news/local/fort-campbell/2016/01/13/live-carter-addresses-soldiers-fort-campbell/78734722/" target="_blank">visited</a> the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/ash-carter-isil-fight-213554" target="_blank">Eighteen hundred</a> of that division’s members are soon to be deployed to Iraq to aid Iraqi military units in their drive to retake parts of their country from the Islamic State.  For those future advisers, Carter <a href="http://www.defense.gov/News/Speeches/Speech-View/Article/642995/remarks-to-the-101st-airborne-division-on-the-counter-isil-campaign-plan" target="_blank">elaborated on the president’s plans</a>, laying out in some detail how he (and presumably Obama) saw the conflict playing out. Favoring the image of the Islamic State as a metastasizing cancer, he said:</p><blockquote><p>“The ISIL parent tumor has two centers -- Raqqa in Syria, and Mosul in Iraq. ISIL has used its control of these cities and nearby territories as a power base from which to derive considerable financial resources, manpower, and ideological outreach. They constitute ISIL’s military, political, economic, and ideological centers of gravity.</p><p>“That’s why our campaign plan’s map has got big arrows pointing at both Mosul and Raqqa. We will begin by collapsing ISIL’s control over both of these cities and then engage in elimination operations through other territories ISIL holds in Iraq and Syria.”</p></blockquote><p>In fact, such a campaign would give “elimination operations” new meaning, since it would clearly involve quite literally eliminating the urban infrastructure of significant parts of the region.  Three cities are, in fact, at present targeted: <a href="http://www.thedailystar.net/world/middle-east/iraqi-army-heads-towards-fallujah-194758" target="_blank">Fallujah</a> (population perhaps 300,000), the other major IS-controlled city in al-Anbar Province, Mosul (the second largest city in Iraq, with a population presently estimated at 1 to 1.5 million), and Raqqa, the Syrian “capital” of the Islamic State, now reportedly stuffed with refugees (population 200,000-plus).  Put them together and you have a 2016 plan for a U.S.-backed set of campaigns in Iraq and Syria based on the same formula as the taking of Ramadi: massive American air power in support of heavily trained and advised Iraqi special ops forces and army units or, in Syria, Kurdish peshmerga outfits and assorted Kurdish and Syrian rebels.  Add in the Islamic State’s urge to turn the urban areas it holds into <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/01/middleeast/iraq-isis-tikrit/" target="_blank">giant bombs</a> and what you have is a plan for the rubblization of yet more cities in the region.</p><p>There has, of course, been much talk about an offensive to retake Mosul since relatively small numbers of Islamic State fighters captured the city from tens of thousands of <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/mosul-isis-gunmen-middle-east-states" target="_blank">fleeing Iraqi troops</a> in June 2014.  There was, for instance, a highly touted <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-mosul-idUSKBN0LN28I20150219" target="_blank">spring offensive</a> against Mosul that was much discussed in early 2015 but never happened, so it’s impossible to be sure that the overstretched, generally <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176093/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_how_to_succeed_at_failing%2C_pentagon-style/" target="_blank">underperforming</a> Iraqi military will even make it to Mosul in 2016 or that there will be any non-American “boots” available to take Raqqa, especially since that city sits well outside any imaginable future Kurdistan. Still, assuming all went “well,” we essentially know what the future holds: Ramadi-style “victories.”</p><p>As a result, the end of the year headline for American/Iraqi/Kurdish/Syrian rebel operations -- adapted from an <a href="http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/2010/02/it-became-necessary-to-destroy-town-to.html" target="_blank">infamous 1968 line</a> by an anonymous American officer in Vietnam after U.S. planes had pummeled the provincial capital of Ben Tre -- would be: “We Destroyed the Cities to Save Them.”</p><p>Based on Ramadi, you could then perhaps offer these "ballpark" (not that any stadiums would be left standing) future estimates for rebuilding: Falluja, $10 billion; Raqqa, $7 billion; Mosul, $20 to $25 billion. Those are obviously fantasy figures, but the point is that “success” against and “victory” over the Islamic State would undoubtedly leave much of the region a modern Carthage. And who would pay for a new Ramadi, or Mosul, or Fallujah, or Raqqa, no less all of them and more?</p><p>Put another way, “victory” would mean that Iraq will have far fewer habitable cities and a far larger number of displaced people whose resettlement will undoubtedly be subject to the ethnic tensions that helped fuel the Islamic State in the first place.  This represents a reasonably predictable future, one that should be obvious enough to anyone who took a half-serious look at the situation.  It certainly should be obvious to Ashton Carter, as well as to American planners at the Pentagon and in the Obama administration.  And yet the planning goes on as if “victory” were a meaningful category under the circumstances.</p><p>And here’s the thing: you can join the Islamic State in blowing up the physical plant of Syria and parts of Iraq and then eject its fighters from the rubble, but you’ll be destroying the means of existence of a vast, increasingly unsettled population.  What you may not be able to do in the process is destroy a movement that began in an <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/11/-sp-isis-the-inside-story" target="_blank">American military prison</a> in Iraq and has always been a set of ideas. You may simply create a legend.</p><p><strong>Unleashing the Special Operators and the Drones</strong></p><p>Now, let’s consider another set of potential future headlines linked to present planning and past experience.  Secretary of Defense Carter claims that the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State is focused on creating “sustainable political stability in the region,” by which he means not just the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, but all of the Greater Middle East.  As he said to the members of the 101st Airborne:</p><blockquote><p>“Next, let me describe the fight outside of Iraq and Syria. As we work to destroy the parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, we must also recognize that ISIL is metastasizing in areas such as North Africa, Afghanistan, and Yemen. The threat posed by ISIL, and groups like it, is continually evolving, changing focus and shifting location. It requires from us, therefore, a flexible and nimble response with a broad reach.”</p></blockquote><p>For this, he clearly plans to let loose American Special Operations forces not just in Syria but elsewhere on assassination missions against key Islamic State figures or those heading their distant franchises.  He’s also intent on sending in the drones across the region in “counter-terror operations and strikes on high-value targets” to “act decisively to prevent ISIL affiliates from becoming as great of a threat as the parent tumor itself.”</p><p>As with the future taking of cities in Iraq and Syria, there is an experiential baseline for such operations across the region.  In his book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805099263/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">Kill Chain</a>, Andrew Cockburn has called this approach to the enemy “the kingpin strategy.”  It was first used in the drug wars in Latin America and Central America in the 1990s and then, after 9/11, adapted to the weaponized drone and special operations forces.  The idea was to dismantle drug cartels or later terror outfits from the top down by taking out their leadership figures.</p><p>In fact, in both the drug wars and the terror wars, as Cockburn <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175988/tomgram%3A_andrew_cockburn,_how_assassination_sold_drugs_and_promoted_terrorism/" target="_blank">shows</a>, the results of this strategy have been repetitiously calamitous.  The drone, for instance, has proven remarkably capable of “eliminating” both the top leadership of terror groups and key “lieutenants” as well as <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/09/14/440215976/journalist-says-the-drone-strike-that-killed-awlaki-did-not-silence-him" target="_blank">other influential figures</a> in those organizations -- with the grimmest results: under the pressure of the drones and those special ops raids, such organizations (like the drug cartels before them) simply replaced their dead leaders with often younger and even more aggressive figures, while attacks rose and the groups themselves, instead of folding up, spread across the Greater Middle East and deep into Africa.  The drones, bringing with them relatively <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147" target="_blank">widespread</a> “collateral damage,” <a href="https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/" target="_blank">including</a> the deaths of significant numbers of <a href="https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/08/11/more-than-160-children-killed-in-us-strikes/" target="_blank">children</a>, have <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/death-from-above-how-american-drone-strikes-are-devastating-yemen-20140414" target="_blank">terrorized</a> the societies over which they cruise and so proved an ideal recruitment poster for those spreading terror groups.</p><p>Hence, first in the Bush era in a seat-of-the-pants way and then in the Obama years in a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_assassin-in-chief/" target="_blank">highly organized fashion</a>, drone assassination campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Somalia killed leadership figures while functionally helping to spread the terror organizations they directed.  They have, that is, been engaged not in a war on terror, but in a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">war for terror</a>.  When you look at the expansion of those terror outfits, including the growing numbers of “franchises” of the Islamic State, it should be obvious that, from special ops missions to drone assassinations, from full-scale invasions to the destruction of cities, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">14-plus years</a> of varied American strategies and military tactics have repetitively contributed to one horror after another, sucking much of the region into the vortex.</p><p>What’s striking when you listen to Secretary of Defense Carter is that, obvious as this may be, none of it seems to truly penetrate in Washington.  Otherwise how do you explain the lack of any serious recalibration of American actions, the only debate being between those in the Obama administration, including the president, who favor a version of mission creep and their Republican critics who favor doing more in a bigger way?  In other words, in 2016 we’re clearly going to witness further rounds of the utterly familiar with -- somehow -- the expectation that something different will happen.  Since that’s not likely, for the next set of future headlines just reach into the familiar past, substituting, when necessary, the future terror kingpin’s name: “<a href="http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/aqap-announces-death-of-sharia-official-in-us-drone-strike.php" target="_blank">AQAP [al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula] announces death of</a> [fill in name] in U.S. drone strike,” “<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/21/middleeast/isis-no2-believed-killed/" target="_blank">U.S.: ISIS no. 2 killed</a> in U.S. drone strike in Iraq,” “<a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/05/16/us-conducts-raid-on-isis-in-syria-kills-top-official.html" target="_blank">Army elite Delta Force kills</a> top ISIS official, [fill in name], in daring Syria raid,” “<a href="http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-drone-kills-al-qaeda-leader-20150721-story.html" target="_blank">Pentagon says senior al-Qaeda leader killed</a> in drone strike,” and so on more or less ad infinitum.</p><p><strong>The Arc of Instability</strong></p><p>Recently, with Ashton Carter’s strategy for “stability” on my mind, I caught a phrase in a news report that I hadn't heard for quite a while.  A journalist, perhaps on NPR, was discussing the recent al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/al-qaeda-affiliate-claims-ouagadougou-attack-monitor-group-234351040.html" target="_blank">terror attack</a> on a hotel in Burkina Faso, a previously relatively stable country in West Africa, where <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/28-dead-in-terror-attack-as-troops-retake-hotel-in-burkina-faso/" target="_blank">at least 30 died</a>, mainly foreigners.  He spoke of a spreading “arc of instability” in the region.</p><p>Back in the early years of the century, officials of the Bush administration and supportive neocons regularly used that phrase to describe the Greater Middle East, from Pakistan to North Africa. Strangely enough, it disappeared in the post-Iraqi invasion years and remained largely absent in the Obama years as the disastrous Libyan intervention, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_assassin-in-chief/" target="_blank">presidentially orchestrated</a> drone assassination campaigns, and other actions helped further transform the Greater Middle East into a genuine "arc of instability."</p><p>Today, in a way that would have been unimaginable back in 2002-2003, the region is filled with failing or failed states from Afghanistan and Syria to Libya, Yemen, and Mali.  While Iraq may not quite be a failed state, it is no longer exactly a country either, but something like a <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/22/kurdish-independence-closer-than-ever-says-massoud-barzani" target="_blank">tripartite</a> entity.  And so it goes, and so it evidently will go if the U.S., as in 2015, drops another <a href="http://blogs.cfr.org/zenko/2016/01/07/how-many-bombs-did-the-united-states-drop-in-2015/" target="_blank">23,000 bombs</a> and thousands of additional munitions on the region -- or far more, as seems likely under the mission-creep pressure of the war with the Islamic State.</p><p>We can’t, of course, know just what countries will fail next.  However, it’s safe to assume that, as long as the Obama strategy -- and the Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or Marco Rubio one that may follow -- involves more (or much more) of the same, more (or much more) of the same is likely to happen.  As a result, similar predictable headlines will appear, as countries dissolve in various ways and the Islamic State, groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or newly founded terror outfits gain footholds amid the chaos.  In that case, you only have to look into the recent past for headlines-to-come and adapt them slightly: “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/19/world/asia/afghanistan-ash-carter.html" target="_blank">ISIS Is Building ‘Little Nests’ in</a> [name of country here], U.S. Defense Secretary Warns,” “<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/21/politics/isis-gaining-ground-in-yemen/" target="_blank">ISIS Is Gaining Ground in</a> [name of country here], Competing with al-Qaeda,” “<a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-gained-strength-in-libya-by-co-opting-local-jihadists-1424217492" target="_blank">Islamic State Gained Strength in</a> [name of country] by Co-opting Local Jihadists,“ and so on.</p><p>Amid the grimly predictable, there are, of course, many unknowns. Above all, we have no idea what it means at this point in history to turn a region, city by city, country by country, into something like a vast failed state and then continue to bomb the rubble.  How do we begin to imagine what could emerge from the ruins of such a failed region in such a world, from an arc of instability far vaster than anything we have contemplated since World War II?  I wouldn’t want to predict the headlines that could someday emerge from that situation, but whatever surprises are in store for us, the mere prospect of such a future should make your blood run cold.</p><p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a>.</em></p> Mon, 25 Jan 2016 09:17:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1049529 at http://https.alternet.org World World iraq war obama bush world america America Has Grown Cowardly: ISIS is No Threat to Our Existence Whatsoever http://https.alternet.org/world/america-has-grown-cowardly-isis-no-threat-our-existence-whatsoever <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">ISIL is no joke, but its potential for destruction pales in comparison to the danger once posed by the Soviet Union.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_214665796-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <em>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/">TomDispatch</a>. </em><p>It’s time to panic!</p><p>As 2015 ended, this country was certifiably terror-stricken. It had the Islamic State (IS) on the brain. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/16/nyregion/police-say-a-threat-made-to-new-york-schools-is-not-credible.html?" target="_blank">Hoax terror threats</a> or terror imbroglios shut down school systems from <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/facing-the-same-threat-schools-in-los-angeles-and-new-york-take-different-tacks/2015/12/15/9368a0d0-a367-11e5-9c4e-be37f66848bb_story.html" target="_blank">Los Angeles</a> to <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/12/20/nashua-new-hampshire-schools-closed-monday-after-threat-violence.html" target="_blank">New Hampshire</a>, <a href="http://kval.com/news/nation-world/threats-shut-down-2-indiana-school-districts" target="_blank">Indiana</a> to a <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2015/12/17/furor-over-arabic-assignment-leads-virginia-school-district-to-close-friday/" target="_blank">rural county</a> in Virginia. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, citing terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, <a href="http://keranews.org/post/fort-worth-dallas-symphonies-cancel-european-tours-others-dont" target="_blank">cancelled</a> a prospective tour of Europe thanks to terror fears, issuing a statement that “orchestra management believes there is an elevated risk to the safety of musicians and their families, guest artists, DSO personnel, and travelling patrons.” By year’s end, the Justice Department had charged an ”unprecedented” <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/at-least-60-people-charged-with-terrorism-linked-crimes-this-year--a-record/2015/12/25/0aa8acda-ab42-11e5-8058-480b572b4aae_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_isiscases-410pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory" target="_blank">60 people</a> with terrorism-related crimes (often linked to social media exchanges).</p><p>While just north of the border Canada’s new government and its <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/12/10/459234205/welcome-to-canada-first-syrian-refugees-begin-to-arrive" target="_blank">citizens</a> were <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/11/world/canada-welcomes-syrian-refugees/" target="_blank">embracing</a> the first of 25,000 Syrian refugees in an atmosphere of near celebration, citizens and government officials in the lower 48 were <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/26/us/thriving-in-texas-amid-appeals-to-reject-syrian-refugees.html" target="_blank">squabbling</a> and panicking about the few who had made it here. (“Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner, compared Syrian refugees to rattlesnakes, posting on Facebook images of snakes and refugees and asking, ‘Can you tell me which of these rattlers won’t bite you?’”)</p><p>In the two <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/16/us/politics/transcript-main-republican-presidential-debate.html" target="_blank">presidential</a> <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/12/19/3rd-democratic-debate-transcript-annotated-who-said-what-and-what-it-meant/" target="_blank">debates</a> that ended the year, focusing in whole or part on “national security,” the only global subject worthy of discussion was — you guessed it — the Islamic State and secondarily immigration and related issues. Media panelists didn’t ask a single question in either debate about China or Russia (other than on the IS-related issue of who<a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/12/16/republican-debate-follow-up/" target="_blank">might shoot down</a> Russian planes over Syria) or about the relative success of the French right-wing, anti-Islamist National Front Party and its presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen (even though her American analog, <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/why-the-demagogues-are-winning/article27722680/" target="_blank">Donald Trump</a>, was on stage in one debate and a significant subject of the other). And that just begins a long list of national security issues that no one felt it worth bringing up, including the fact that in Paris 195 countries had agreed on a potentially <a href="http://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/COP21-is-jubilation-warranted/" target="_blank">path-breaking</a> climate change deal.</p><p>As the Dallas Symphony Orchestra signaled, “Paris” now means only one thing in this country: the bloody terror attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theater and related assaults. In fact, if you were following the “news” here as 2015 ended, you might be forgiven for thinking that we Americans lived in a land beset by, and under siege from, Islamic terror and the Islamic State. The latest polls indicate that striking numbers of Americans now <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/11/us/politics/fear-of-terrorism-lifts-donald-trump-in-new-york-times-cbs-poll.html" target="_blank">view</a> the threat of terrorism as the country’s number one danger, <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/12/10/religion-news-service-poll-terrorism-shootings-muslims/77101070/" target="_blank">see it</a> as a (if not the) critical issue facing us, <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/nbc-wsj-poll-terror-fears-reshape-2016-landscape-n479831" target="_blank">believe</a>that it and national security should be the government’s top priorities, and are convinced that the terrorists are at present “<a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/264291-poll-most-say-the-terrorists-are-winning" target="_blank">winning</a>.”</p><p>You would never know that, if you left out what might be called self-inflicted pain like death by vehicle (<a href="http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/accidental-injury.htm" target="_blank">more than 33,000 deaths annually</a>), suicide by gun (<a href="http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm" target="_blank">more than 21,000</a> annually) or total gun deaths (<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/17/guns-are-now-killing-as-many-people-as-cars-in-the-u-s/" target="_blank">30,000</a> <a href="https://medium.com/@mathowie/33-636-gun-deaths-visualized-5b7d7740357f#.52xogx6mo" target="_blank">annually</a>), and fatal drug overdoses (<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/dec/19/fatal-drug-overdoses-hit-record-high-in-us-government-figures-show" target="_blank">more than 47,000</a> annually), this is undoubtedly one of the safest countries on the planet. Over these years, the American dead from Islamic terror outfits or the “lone wolves” they inspire have added up to the <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/oct/05/viral-image/fact-checking-comparison-gun-deaths-and-terrorism-/" target="_blank">most modest</a> of figures, even if you include that single great day of horror, September 11, 2001. Include deaths from non-Islamic right-wing acts of terror (including, for instance, Dylann Roof’s <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charleston_church_shooting" target="_blank">murders</a> in a black church in Charleston), a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/25/us/tally-of-attacks-in-us-challenges-perceptions-of-top-terror-threat.html" target="_blank">slightly more impressive</a> figure in recent years, and you still have next to nothing. Even if you add in relatively commonplace <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/02/us/03mass-shootings-timeline.html" target="_blank">mass shootings</a>, from school campuses to malls to workplaces, that are not defined as “terror,” and accept the broadest possible definition of such shootings (a minimum of <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/12/03/458321777/a-tally-of-mass-shootings-in-the-u-s" target="_blank">four killed or injured</a>), you would still have the sort of danger that couldn’t be more modest compared to death by vehicle, suicide, or drugs — phenomena that obsess few Americans.</p><p><strong>The Islamic State in Perspective</strong></p><p>Still, as 2016 begins, terror remains the 800-pound gorilla (in reality, a marmoset) in the American room and just about the only national security issue that truly matters. So why shouldn’t I join the crowd? Who wants to be left in the lurch?  But first, I think it makes sense to put the Islamic State in perspective.</p><p>Yes, it’s a brutal, extreme religious-cum-political outfit, the sort of movement that probably could only arise on a shattered landscape in a shattered region filled with desperate souls looking for any explanation for, or solution to, nightmarish lives. There can be no question that it’s had remarkable success. Its self-proclaimed “caliphate” now controls territory the size of (to choose a common comparison) <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-rise-of-isis-terror-group-now-controls-an-area-the-size-of-britain-expert-claims-9710198.html" target="_blank">Great Britain</a> with a population of perhaps a few million people. Since there are seldom reporters on the scene (for obvious reasons of health and well-being), we have no idea whether IS has 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, or 50,000 fighters and potential suicide bombers under arms. We do know that those arms (despite a couple of<a href="http://www.juancole.com/2015/12/obama-is-the-media-hyping-the-threat-from-daesh-isil.html" target="_blank">captured tanks</a>) are generally light and the bombs largely of the homemade variety.</p><p>The Islamic State has shown quite a knack for generating a <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-19/why-u-s-efforts-to-cut-off-islamic-state-s-funds-have-failed" target="_blank">stream of revenue</a> from black market oil sales, <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/multiple-kidnappings-for-ransom-funding-isis-source-says/" target="_blank">ransoms</a> from kidnappings, the <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/06/140626-isis-insurgents-syria-iraq-looting-antiquities-archaeology/" target="_blank">ransacking</a> of the region’s archeological heritage, and wealthy Sunnis elsewhere in the region. In addition, it’s been skilled at promoting its “brand” in other parts of the Greater Middle East and Africa, from <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/19/world/asia/afghanistan-ash-carter.html" target="_blank">Afghanistan</a>to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/02/world/africa/jihadists-deepen-collaboration-in-north-africa.html" target="_blank">Libya</a>, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/15/world/middleeast/islamic-state-gains-strength-in-yemen-rivaling-al-qaeda.html" target="_blank">Yemen</a> to <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31862992" target="_blank">Nigeria</a>, where local populations are also facing shattered landscapes, failed states, oppressive governments, and desperation. Finally, thanks to the talents of its social media militants, it’s shown a facility for attracting disaffected (and sometimes whacked-out) young Muslims from Europe and even the United States, as well as for inspiring “lone wolves” to acts meant to unnerve its enemies in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere.</p><p>So give credit where it’s due. Compared to a few training camps in Afghanistan — the al-Qaeda model before 2001 (and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/30/us/politics/as-us-focuses-on-isis-and-the-taliban-al-qaeda-re-emerges.html" target="_blank">again recently</a>) — this is no small thing. But the Islamic State should also be put in some perspective.  It’s not Nazi Germany. It’s not the Soviet Union. It’s not an existential threat to the United States.  It’s a distinctly self-limited movement, probably only capable of expanding its reach if even more of the region is laid to waste (as is, for instance, <a href="http://www.democracynow.org/2015/12/18/ceasefire_in_yemen_faces_collapse_as" target="_blank">happening</a> in Yemen right now, thanks in large part to a U.S.-backed Saudi war on the Iranian-inclined Houthi rebels).</p><p>IS is so deeply sectarian that it can never gain the support of a single Shia, Christian, Alawite, or Yazidi.  Its practices, religious and political, are too extreme for many of the Sunnis it might want to appeal to.  It is also an embattled movement.  It has already <a href="http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/1.691816" target="_blank">lost</a> some of the lands it captured to <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-alliance-idUSKBN0U90DE20151226" target="_blank">U.S.-backed Kurds</a> in both Syria and Iraq and to the U.S.-backed, U.S.-equipped, and U.S.-trained Iraqi Army as well as Shiite militias.  Its extremity has clearly alienated some of the Sunnis under its control.  It’s unlikely to take seven decades, as in the case of the Soviet Union, to implode and disappear.</p><p>On the other hand, if the Islamic State, at least in its present form, is crushed or driven into some corner and the region is “liberated,” one thing is guaranteed — as images of the rubble and landscapes of skeletal buildings left behind at the “victorious” battle sites of <a href="http://a.abcnews.com/images/International/abc_kobane_1_js_150203_16x9_992.jpg" target="_blank">Kobane</a>, <a href="http://d.ibtimes.co.uk/en/full/1469955/inside-sinjar.jpg" target="_blank">Sinjar</a>, <a href="https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2014/2/15/1392506533016/Homs-014.jpg?w=620&amp;q=85&amp;auto=format&amp;sharp=10&amp;s=a90150baf6ea448e96b37fe7134e088e" target="_blank">Homs</a>, and <a href="http://media3.s-nbcnews.com/j/newscms/2015_53/1355196/ss-151228-iraqi-forces-ramadi-victory-yh-07_003c545e8638e5875d2cb4c977d97a8f.nbcnews-fp-1200-800.jpg" target="_blank">Ramadi</a> will tell you.  Combine the massively bomb-laden, booby-trapped urban areas under Islamic State control, <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/iraqi-commander-progress-held-ramadi-35970660" target="_blank">American air power</a> (or, in parts of Syria, the barrel-bombing air force of the government of Bashar al-Assad and now the firepower of Russia), and fierce urban combat, and what may be left in the moment of “victory” could be a region in utter ruins.  One expert <a href="http://www.syriadeeply.org/articles/2015/06/7440/syria-recover-decades-experts-view-cost-war-country/" target="_blank">suggests</a> that it may take decades and cost $200 billion — three times Syria’s prewar gross domestic product — to rebuild that country, bringing to mind the famed line from Tacitus: “They make a desert and call it peace.”</p><p>And just remind me, who’s going to help with the reconstruction of that shattered land?  Donald Trump?  Don’t count on it.  And don’t for a second believe that from such devastated worlds nothing worse than the Islamic State can arise.</p><p>While we may be talking about a terror machine, IS represents a far more modest and embattled one than its social media propaganda would indicate.  Its ability to threaten the U.S. bears little relation to the bogeyman version of it that at present occupies the American imagination.  The sole advantage the Islamic State has when it comes to this country is that it turns out to be so easy to spook us.</p><p><strong>“A Republic of Insects and Grass”</strong></p><p>Still, don’t for a second think that terror isn’t on the American agenda.  You really want terror?  Let me tell you about terror.  And I’m not talking about 14 dead (San Bernardino) or 130 dead (Paris).  What about up to <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/06/hiroshima-atomic-bomb-a-simple-toll-of-a-bell-signals-the-moment-80000-died" target="_blank">140,000</a> dead?  (The toll from Hiroshima.)  What about 285 million dead?  (The official estimate of the dead, had the U.S. military’s Single Integrated Operational Plan, or SIOP, of 1960 been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1680/" target="_blank">carried out</a>via more than 3,200 nuclear weapons delivered to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities — and that didn’t include casualty figures from whatever the Soviet Union might have been able to launch in response.)</p><p>Or what about — to move from past slaughters and projected slaughters to future ones — a billion dead?  Despite the recent <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/indias-modi-makes-a-surprise-pit-stop-in-pakistan-creates-diplomatic-buzz/2015/12/25/5c0b5d40-ec44-4edb-b8a9-6b56c8189511_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_indiapakistan-1019am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory" target="_blank">surprise visit</a> of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart, that remains a perfectly “reasonable” possibility, were a nuclear war ever to develop in South Asia.  India and Pakistan, after all, face each other across a heavily armed and fortified 1,800 mile border, having fought three major wars since 1947.  Small armed incidents are <a href="http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-02/attack-indian-air-base-near-pakistan-border-kills-six/7064346" target="_blank">commonplace</a>.  Imagine that — to take just one <a href="http://qz.com/541502/a-nuclear-war-between-india-and-pakistan-is-a-very-real-possibility/" target="_blank">possible scenario</a> — extreme elements in the Pakistani military (or other extremist elements) got their hands on some part of that country’s ever-expanding nuclear arsenal, now believed to be at about <a href="http://www.ploughshares.org/world-nuclear-stockpile-report?gclid=Cj0KEQiA-4i0BRCaudDcrrnDi6kBEiQAZSh5fw_Gv9BRDFaNVbaK5YJnnY0rcx-HzqXUojTmu3VC7kQaAmf08P8HAQ" target="_blank">130</a>weapons, and loosed one or more of them on India, starting a nuclear exchange over issues that no one else on Earth gives a damn about.</p><p>Imagine that, in the course of the war that followed, each side released “only” 50 Hiroshima-sized weapons on the other’s cities and industrial areas (“<a href="http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/pdf/RobockToonSciAmJan2010.pdf" target="_blank">0.4%</a> of the world’s more than 25,000 warheads”).  One <a href="http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/pdf/RobockToonSciAmJan2010.pdf" target="_blank">study</a> suggests that, along with the 20 million or so inhabitants of South Asia who would die in such an exchange, this “modest” local nuclear conflagration would send enough smoke and particulates into the stratosphere to cause a planetary “nuclear winter” lasting perhaps a decade.  The ensuing failure of agricultural systems globally could, according to experts, lead a <a href="http://www.psr.org/nuclear-weapons/nuclear-famine-report.pdf" target="_blank">billion or more</a> people to starve to death.  (And once you’re talking about a crisis of that magnitude, one humanity has never experienced, god knows what other systems might fail at the same time.)</p><p>I hope by now you’re feeling a little shudder of fear or at least anxiety.  Perhaps not, though, since we’re remarkably well protected from thinking about the deeper terrors of our planet.  And mind you, if you’re talking terror, that South Asian war is penny ante compared to the sort of event that would be <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175605/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_%22the_most_dangerous_moment,%22_50_years_later/" target="_blank">associated</a> with the thousands of nuclear weapons in <a href="http://www.ploughshares.org/world-nuclear-stockpile-report?gclid=Cj0KEQiAno60BRDt89rAh7qt-4wBEiQASes2tZGc4gRPPipyEeALa2tDKn2K4cmv7SrJNaKDfjq5_mMaAkvQ8P8HAQ" target="_blank">the arsenals</a>of the United States and Russia.  Since the Cold War ended, they have more or less been hidden in plain sight.  Call it an irony of sorts, then, that nuclear weapons have loomed large on the American landscape in these years, just not the ones that could truly harm us.  Instead, Americans have largely focused in the usual semi-hysterical fashion on a nuclear weapon — the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176038/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_rogue_states_and_nuclear_dangers/" target="_blank">Iranian bomb</a> — that never existed, while Russian and American arsenals undoubtedly capable of destroying more than one Earth-sized planet have remained in place, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175933/tomgram%3A_james_carroll,_the_pentagon_as_president_obama's_great_white_whale/" target="_blank">heavily funded</a> and largely unnoted.</p><p>When you look at what might be posssible under unknown future conditions, there is no reason to stop with mere millions or even a billion dead human beings.  A major nuclear exchange, it is believed, could lead to the shredding of the planetary environment and a literal liquidation of humanity: the wiping out, that is, of ourselves and the turning of this country into, in the phrase of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175824/tomgram%3A_in_memoriam%3A_jonathan_schell_%281943-2014%29/" target="_blank">Jonathan Schell</a>, “a republic of insects and grass.”  As he explained so famously in his international bestseller of 1982, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0804737029/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">The Fate of the Earth</a>, this became a genuine possibility in the post-Hiroshima decades and it remains so today, though given scant attention in a world in which tensions between the U.S. and Russia have been on the rise.</p><p><strong>Apocalypses, Fast or Slow-Mo</strong></p><p>It’s not that we don’t live on an increasingly terrifying planet.  We do.  It’s that terror fears, at least in our American world, are regularly displaced onto relatively minor threats.</p><p>If you want to be scared, consider this unlikelihood: in the course of just a few centuries, humanity has stumbled upon two uniquely different ways of unleashing energy — the burning of fossil fuels and the splitting of the atom — that have made the sort of apocalypse that was once the property of the gods into a human possession.  The splitting of the atom and its application to war was, of course, a conscious scientific discovery.  Its apocalyptic possibilities were grasped almost immediately by some of its own creators, including physicist Robert Oppenheimer who played a key role in the Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb during World War II.  As he witnessed its awesome power in its initial test in the New Mexican desert, this line from the Bhagavad Gita came to his mind: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”</p><p>The destroyer of worlds indeed — or at least, potentially, of the one world that matters to humanity.</p><p>The other method of wrecking the planet was developed without the intent to destroy: the discovery that coal, oil, and later natural gas could motor economies.  It was not known until the final decades of the last century that the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of such forms of energy could heat the planet in startling ways and undermine the very processes that promoted life as we had always experienced it.  It’s worth adding, however, that the executives of the giant oil companies <a href="http://insideclimatenews.org/content/Exxon-The-Road-Not-Taken" target="_blank">knew</a> a <a href="http://insideclimatenews.org/news/22122015/exxon-mobil-oil-industry-peers-knew-about-climate-change-dangers-1970s-american-petroleum-institute-api-shell-chevron-texaco" target="_blank">great deal</a> about the dangers their products posed to Earth way before most of the rest of us did, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/02/business/media/columbia-disputes-exxon-mobil-on-climate-risk-articles.html" target="_blank">suppressed</a> that information for a surprisingly long time, and then <a href="http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2096055,00.html" target="_blank">invested</a> <a href="http://www.exxonsecrets.org/maps.php" target="_blank">prodigious</a> <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network" target="_blank">sums</a> in <a href="http://graphics.latimes.com/oil-operations/#nt=outfit" target="_blank">promoting</a> the public denial of those very dangers.  (In the process, they left the Republican Party <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/oct/05/the-republican-party-stands-alone-in-climate-denial" target="_blank">wrapped</a> in a straightjacket of climate change denial unique on the planet.)  Someday, this will undoubtedly be seen as one of the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175703/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_biggest_criminal_enterprise_in_history/" target="_blank">great crimes</a> of history, unless of course there are no historians left to write about it.</p><p>In other words, if enough fossil fuels continue to be burned in the many decades to come, another kind of potential extinction event can be imagined, a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175775/" target="_blank">slow-motion apocalypse</a> of extreme weather — melting, burning, flooding, sea-level rise, storming, and who knows what else.</p><p>And if humanity has already managed to discover two such paths of utter destruction, what else, at present unimagined, might someday come into focus?</p><p>In this context, think of the Islamic State as the minor leagues of terror, though at the moment you wouldn’t know it.  If we are all now the children of the holocaust — of, that is, our own possible extinction — and if this is the inheritance we are to leave to our own children and grandchildren, perhaps it’s understandable that it feels better to fear the Islamic State.  Its evil is so specific, so “other,” so utterly alien and strangely distant.  It’s almost comforting to focus on its depredations, ignoring, of course, the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/11/-sp-isis-the-inside-story" target="_blank">grotesquely</a> <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175888/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_escalation_follies/" target="_blank">large hand</a> our country had in its creation and in the more <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">general spread</a> of terror movements across the Greater Middle East.</p><p>It’s so much more comfortable to fear extreme Islamist movements than to take in two apocalyptic terrors that are clearly part of our own patrimony — and, to make matters harder, one of which is likely to unfold over a time period that’s hard to grasp, and the other under as yet difficult to imagine political circumstances.</p><p>It’s clear that neither of these true terrors of our planet and our age has to happen (or at least, in the case of climate change, come to full fruition).  To ensure that, however, we and our children and grandchildren would have to decide that the fate of our Earth was indeed at stake and act accordingly.  We would have to <a href="http://350.org/" target="_blank">change</a> the world.</p>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a>. Sun, 10 Jan 2016 14:51:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch 1048729 at http://https.alternet.org World World Isis middle east war If We Want to Escape Catastrophe, Climate Talks Can Only Be the Beginning http://https.alternet.org/environment/if-we-want-escape-catastrophe-climate-talks-can-only-be-beginning <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">America and China may not have much of a planet left to rule. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-01-04_at_10.48.10_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <em>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/">TomDispatch</a>. </em><p> </p><p>For six centuries or more, history was, above all, the story of the great game of empires. From the time the first wooden ships mounted with cannons left Europe’s shores, they began to compete for global power and control. Three, four, even five empires, rising and falling, on an increasingly commandeered and colonized planet. The story, as usually told, is a tale of concentration and of destruction until, in the wake of the second great bloodletting of the twentieth century, there were just two imperial powers left standing: the United States and the Soviet Union. Where the other empires, European and Japanese, had been, little remained but the dead, rubble, refugees, and scenes that today would be associated only with a place like Syria.</p><p>The result was the ultimate imperial stand-off that we called the Cold War. The two great empires still in existence duked it out for supremacy on “the peripheries” of the planet and “in the shadows.” Because the conflicts being fought were distant indeed, at least from Washington, and because (despite threats) both powers refrained from using nuclear weapons, these were termed “<a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=G5l8AgAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PA36&amp;dq=%22limited+war%22+maxwell+taylor&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=79GOVfDiPIugyQSP1aHQDg&amp;ved=0CDYQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&amp;q=%22limited%20war%22%20maxwell%20taylor&amp;f=false" target="_blank">limited wars</a>.” They did not, however, seem limited to the Koreans or Vietnamese whose homes and lives were <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175639/tomgram%3A_jonathan_schell,_seeing_the_reality_of_the_vietnam_war,_50_years_late/" target="_blank">swept up</a> in them, resulting as they did in more rubble, more refugees, and the deaths of millions.</p><p>Those two rivals, one a giant, land-based, contiguous imperial entity and the other a distinctly non-traditional <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176043/tomgram%3A_david_vine,_our_base_nation/" target="_blank">empire of military bases</a>, were so enormous and so unlike previous “great powers” — they were, after all, capable of what had once been left to the gods, quite literally destroying every habitable spot on the planet — that they were given a new moniker. They were “superpowers.”</p><p>And then, of course, that six-century process of rivalry and consolidation was over and there was only one: the “sole superpower.” That was 1991 when the Soviet Union suddenly imploded. At age 71, it disappeared from the face of the Earth, and history, at least as some then imagined it, was briefly <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/09/its-still-not-the-end-of-history-francis-fukuyama/379394/" target="_blank">said</a> to be over.</p><p><strong>The Shatter Effect</strong></p><p>There was another story lurking beneath the tale of imperial concentration, and it was a tale of imperial fragmentation. It began, perhaps, with the American Revolution and the armed establishment of a new country free of its British king and colonial overlord. In the twentieth century, the movement to “decolonize” the planet gained remarkable strength. From the Dutch East Indies to French Indochina, the British Raj to European colonies across Africa and the Middle East, “independence” was in the air. Liberation movements were launched or strengthened, guerrillas took up arms, and insurgencies spread across what came to be called the Third World. Imperial power collapsed or ceded control, often after bloody struggles and, for a while, the results looked glorious indeed: the coming of freedom and national independence to nation after nation (even if many of those newly liberated peoples found themselves under the thumbs of autocrats, dictators, or repressive communist regimes).</p><p>That this was a tale of global fragmentation was not, at first, particularly apparent. It should be by now. After all, those insurgent armies, the tactics of guerrilla warfare, and the urge for “liberation” are today the property not of left-wing national liberation movements but of Islamic terror outfits. Think of them as the armed grandchildren of decolonization and who wouldn’t agree that theirs is a story of the fragmentation of whole regions. It seems, in fact, that they can only thrive in places that have, in some fashion, already been shattered and are failed states, or are on the verge of becoming so. (All of this, naturally, comes with a distinct helping hand from the planet’s last empire).</p><p>That their global brand is fragmentation should be evident enough now that, in Paris, Libya, Yemen, and other places yet to be named, they’re exporting that product in a big way. In a long-distance fashion, they may, for instance, be helping to turn Europe into a set of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176067/tomgram%3A_john_feffer,_on_the_verge_of_the_great_unraveling/" target="_blank">splinterlands</a>, aborting the last great attempt at an epic tale of concentration, the turning of the European Union into a United States of Europe.</p><p>When it comes to fragmentation, the last empire and the first terror caliphate have much in common and may in some sense even be <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176071/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_the_national_security_state's_incestuous_relationship_with_the_islamic_state/" target="_blank">in league</a> with each other. In the twenty-first century, both have proven to be machines for the fracturing of the Greater Middle East and increasingly <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/" target="_blank">Africa</a>. And let’s never forget that, <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/11/30/huge-error-former-us-military-chief-admits-iraq-invasion-spawned-isis" target="_blank">without</a> the last empire, the first caliphate of terror would <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/11/-sp-isis-the-inside-story" target="_blank">never</a> have been born.</p><p>Both have extended their power to shake whole societies by wielding advanced technology in forward-looking ways. Two American administrations have employed remote-controlled drones to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175988/tomgram%3A_andrew_cockburn,_how_assassination_sold_drugs_and_promoted_terrorism/" target="_blank">target</a> terror leaders and their followers across the Greater Middle East and Africa, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147" target="_blank">causing</a> much “<a href="https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/08/11/more-than-160-children-killed-in-us-strikes/" target="_blank">collateral damage</a>” and creating a sense of constant <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/death-from-above-how-american-drone-strikes-are-devastating-yemen-20140414" target="_blank">fear and terror</a> among those in the backlands of the planet whom drone pilots refer to as potential “<a href="http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/10/not_a_bug_splat_artists_confront" target="_blank">bugsplat</a>.” In its robotic <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175978/tomgram%3A_gregoire_chamayou,_hunting_humans_by_remote_control/" target="_blank">manhunting</a> efforts Washington continues to engage in a war on terror that functionally <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">promotes</a> both terror and terror outfits.</p><p>The Islamic State has similarly used remote-controlled technology — in their case, social media in its various forms — to promote terror and stoke fear in distant lands. And of course they have their own low-tech version of Washington’s drones: their suicide bombers and suicidal killers who can be directed at distant individual targets and are engines for collateral damage. In other words, while the U.S. is focused on remote-controlled counterinsurgency, the Islamic State has been promoting a remarkably effective version of remote-controlled insurgency. In tandem, the effect of the two has been devastating.</p><p><strong>Planet of the Imperial Apocalypse</strong></p><p>Between those epic tales of concentration and fragmentation lies history as we’ve known it in these last centuries. But it turns out that, unsuspected until relatively recently, a third tale lurked behind the other two, one not yet fully written that could prove to be the actual end of history. Everything else — the rise and fall of empires, the power to suppress and the urge to revolt, dictatorship and democracy — remains the normal stuff of history. Prospectively, this is the deal-breaker.</p><p>It promises a concentration of power of a sort never before imagined and fragmentation of a similarly inconceivable kind. At this moment when the leaders of just about all the nations on Earth have been in Paris working out a deal to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and slow the heating of the planet, what else could I be speaking of than Emperor Weather? Think of his future realm, should it ever come to be, as the planet of the imperial apocalypse.</p><p>In the last imperial age, the two superpowers made “end times” a human possession for the first time in history. The U.S. and then the USSR took the super power of the atom and built <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/nudb/datab19.asp" target="_blank">nuclear arsenals</a> capable of destroying the planet several times over. (These days, even a relatively modest exchange of such weapons between India and Pakistan might <a href="http://www.psr.org/nuclear-weapons/nuclear-famine-report.pdf" target="_blank">plunge</a> the world into a version of nuclear winter in which a billion people might die of hunger.) And yet while an <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175605/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_%22the_most_dangerous_moment,%22_50_years_later/" target="_blank">instant apocalypse</a> loomed, a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175811/tomgram%3A_ira_chernus,_what_ever_happened_to_plain_old_apocalypse/" target="_blank">slow-motion</a> version of the same, also human-made, was approaching, unrecognized by anyone. That is, of course, what the Paris Summit is all about: what the exploitation of fossil fuels has been doing to this planet.</p><p>Keep in mind that since the industrial revolution we’ve already warmed the Earth by about <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34763036" target="_blank">1 degree Celsius</a>. Climate scientists have generally suggested that, if temperatures rise above <a href="https://www.climateinteractive.org/tools/scoreboard/" target="_blank">2 degrees Celsius</a>, a potentially devastating set of changes could occur in our environment. Some climate scientists, however, <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-point-of-no-return-climate-change-nightmares-are-already-here-20150805" target="_blank">believe</a> that even a 2-degree rise would prove devastating to human life. In either case, even if the Paris pledges from 183 nations to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions are agreed upon and carried out, they would only limit the <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/11/30/457364450/10-things-to-know-about-the-u-n-climate-talks-in-paris" target="_blank">rise</a> in global temperatures to between an estimated 2.7 and 3.7 degrees Celsius. If no agreement is reached or little of it is actually carried out, the rise could be in the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/02/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-paris-climate-summit-and-un-talks" target="_blank">5-degree range</a>, which would be devastating. Over the coming decades, this could indeed give Emperor Weather his global realm.</p>Of course, his air power — his bombers, jets, and drones — would be <a href="http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/super-typhoons-to-increase-in-strength-with-climate-change-researchers-find-20150529-ghcbfs.html" target="_blank">superstorms</a>; his invading armies would be <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150212-megadrought-southwest-water-climate-environment/" target="_blank">mega-droughts</a> and mega-floods; and his navy, with the total or partial melting of the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/27/world/greenland-is-melting-away.html" target="_blank">Greenland</a> and <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/05/15/this-antarctic-ice-shelf-could-collapse-by-2020-nasa-says/" target="_blank">Antarctic</a> ice sheets, would be the rising seas of the planet, which would rob humanity of its coastlines and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/us-cities-sea-level-threats_561d338fe4b0c5a1ce60a45c" target="_blank">many</a> of its <a href="http://www.fastcoexist.com/3052265/visualizing/see-how-much-of-miami-new-orleans-and-new-york-will-be-underwater-because-of-cli" target="_blank">great cities</a>. His forces would occupy not just one or two countries in the Greater Middle East or elsewhere, but the entire planet, lock, stock, and barrel.<p>Emperor Weather’s imperial realms would be global on an awe-inspiring scale and the assaults of his forces would fragment the present planet in ways that could make much of it, in human terms, look like Syria. Moreover, given <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jan/16/greenhouse-gases-remain-air" target="_blank">how long</a> it takes greenhouse gases to leave the atmosphere, his global rule would be guaranteed to last an inhumanly long period of time unchallenged.</p><p><a href="http://www.thespectrum.com/story/life/2015/12/01/uns-weather-agency-will-hottest-year-record/76596298/" target="_blank">Heat</a> (think <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/27/us-australia-climatechange-idUSKBN0L02P820150127" target="_blank">burning Australia</a> today, only far worse) would be the coin of the realm. While humanity will undoubtedly survive in some fashion, whether human civilization as we now know it can similarly survive on a planet that is no longer the welcoming home that it has been these last thousands of years we have no way of knowing.</p><p>Keep in mind, though, that like history itself, this is a story we are still writing — even though Emperor Weather couldn’t care less about writing, history, or us. If he truly comes to power, history will certainly end in some sense. There will be no hope of democracy under his rule because he won’t care a whit about what we think or do or say, nor of revolt — that staple of our history — because (to adapt something Bill McKibben has <a href="http://grist.org/climate-energy/mckibben-to-obama-we-cant-negotiate-over-the-physics-of-climate-change/" target="_blank">long pointed out</a>) you can’t revolt against physics.</p><p>This story is not yet engraved in… well, if not stone, then melting ice. Sooner or later, it may indeed be a tale unfolding in environmental feedback loops that can no longer be stopped or altered. But for the moment, it seems, humanity still has the chance to write its own history in a fashion that would allow for a perhaps less welcoming but still reasonably palatable world for our children and grandchildren to live in. And be glad of that.</p><p>For that to happen, however, successful negotiations in Paris can only be the start of something far more sweeping when it comes to the forms of energy we use and how we live on this planet. Fortunately, experiments are <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/01/science/beyond-paris-climate-change-talks.html?_r=0" target="_blank">underway</a> in the world of alternative energy, <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/11/30/457900449/bill-gates-and-other-billionaires-pledge-to-take-on-climate-change" target="_blank">funding</a> is beginning to appear, and a global environmental movement is <a href="http://350.org/photos-from-the-global-climate-march-that-give-us-hope/" target="_blank">expanding</a> and could someday, on a planet growing ever less comfortable, put the heat on governments globally before Emperor Weather can turn up the heat on history.</p>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a>. Mon, 04 Jan 2016 07:46:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1048360 at http://https.alternet.org Environment Environment climate change global warming China Fear in Our Apocalyptic Age http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/fear-our-apocalyptic-age <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">How to sort out a world of fear is the question and the conundrum for 2016 and beyond.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_31691326-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>Fear? Tell me about it. Unfortunately, I’m so old that I’m not sure I really remember what I felt when, along with millions of other schoolchildren of the 1950s, I <a href="http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/duck-and-cover-drill.jpg">ducked and covered</a> like <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKqXu-5jw60">Bert the Turtle</a>, huddling under my desk while sirens howled outside the classroom window. We were, of course, being prepared to protect ourselves from the nuclear obliteration of New York City. But let me tell you, I do remember those desks and they did not exactly instill a sense of confidence in a child.</p><p>Don’t by the way think that, from personal fallout shelters to fashion tips for the apocalypse, adults weren’t subjected to similar visions of “safety” so hollow as to inspire fear. A government-sponsored civil defense manual of that moment, <em>How to Survive an Atomic Bomb</em>, was typical enough in suggesting that men, in danger of being “caught outdoors in a sudden attack,” should wear wide-brimmed fedoras, which would give them “at least some protection from the ‘heat flash’” of a nuclear explosion. For women, as Paul Boyer pointed out in <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0807844802/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">By the Bomb’s Early Light</a></em>, his classic book on post-Hiroshima nuclear fallout in American society, “stockings and long-sleeved dresses” were de rigueur for a nuclear event.</p><p>No kidding. That really was the prosaic 1950s version of the end of everything. I can hardly believe I lived through such an era of half-expressed, yet genuinely horrific fears, no less that from my school years into adulthood I had recurring nightmares filled with mushroom clouds and post-apocalyptic nuclear landscapes, or that I <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176032/tomgram%3A_susan_southard,_under_the_mushroom_cloud_--_nagasaki_after_nuclear_war/">plunged</a> with relish into the era's pulp science fiction filled with survivor colonies and <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0060892994/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">mutants galore</a>. In the style of parenting of that moment, most children, I suspect, were left on their own to struggle with the prospective obliteration of all life on planet Earth. I still remember how shocking and yet eerily familiar it seemed when, on October 22, 1962, President John Kennedy <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W50RNAbmy3M">addressed</a> the American people, essentially informing us that we might be at the edge of oblivion in what came to be known as the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175605/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_%22the_most_dangerous_moment,%22_50_years_later/">Cuban Missile Crisis</a>. For many of us -- I was then just starting college -- it seemed as if the secular equivalent of prophesy was finally coming true and that we would all momentarily be toast.</p><p>In those years, I can’t remember a single conversation with my parents about the nuclear drills at school (even though they obviously heard the same sirens), or for that matter about nuclear war. (My best friend, then and now, assures me that his experience was no different.) We lived, my parents and I, in silence through the early years of what might be called the first age of the apocalypse, that moment when the power to destroy all life had fallen from the hands of the gods into distinctly human ones. We still live in <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175811/tomgram%3A_ira_chernus,_what_ever_happened_to_plain_old_apocalypse/">such an age</a>.</p><p><a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176053/tomgram%3A_frida_berrigan,_a_mother_thinks_the_unthinkable/"><em>TomDispatch</em> regular</a> Frida Berrigan, far younger than I, had <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175966/tomgram%3A_frida_berrigan,_witness_to_war,_american-style">quite a different</a> childhood, as well as parents who couldn’t have answered her nuclear questions more bluntly or graphically, as she explains in “<a href="#more">Kids’ Questions on a Lockdown Planet</a>.” The results, it seems, were no less scary or unnerving than the silence that lay at the heart of what, in my life, could truly be called the “nuclear” family.</p><p>I took <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1666/">my own path</a> to Hiroshima and into parenthood as well, and so into the eternally knotty problem of how to talk (or not talk) to your children about the primal fears of our distinctly apocalyptic age. Up to a certain moment, your kids have a kind of blind faith in your ability to know, a faith that -- as I experienced many times and Berrigan describes today -- can tie you in knots of authoritative lunacy on subjects about which you know next to nothing or about which you are at least as unnerved as they are. How to sort out such a world, whether for your own children, yourself, or the rest of us is, of course, the question and the conundrum for 2016 and beyond.</p> Tue, 22 Dec 2015 06:59:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1047773 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics apoacalypse fear Why TV News Has Gotten So Awful http://https.alternet.org/media/tv-news-has-gotten-so-awful <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Donald Trump, mass shootings with an Islamic terrorist flavor, and the rise of the &#039;spectaculection.&#039;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_28297726.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>Sometimes what matters most takes up every inch of space in the room and somehow we still don’t see it. That’s how I feel about our present media moment.</p><p>Let me put it this way: I’m a creature of habit, and one of those habits has long been watching NBC Nightly News, previously with anchor Brian Williams and now with Lester Holt.  It’s my way of getting some sense of what an <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2004/06/08/i-where-americans-go-for-news/" target="_blank">aging cohort</a> of American news viewers (like me) learns daily about the world -- what stories are considered important and not, and in what order, and how presented.</p><p>Here’s one thing it’s hard not to notice: the line-up of stories that we used to call the “news” seems increasingly like a thing of the past. Remarkably often these days, the “news” is a single hyped-up story -- most recently, the San Bernardino shootings -- reported frenetically and yet formulaically, often in near-apocalyptic fashion. Clearly, such an approach is meant to glue eyeballs in a situation in which viewers are eternally restless and there are so many other screens available. This single story approach is both relentless and remarkably repetitious because a lot of the time next to nothing new is known about the supposedly unfolding event (which is nonetheless presented as if our lives depended upon it). To fall back on the anchor of Avon, it often enough seems like a tale told by a collective idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.</p><p>What this form of news certainly does is suck all the air out of the newsroom. On some days, when one of these 24/7 events is running wild, you could be excused, at the end of half an hour of “national news,” for thinking that nothing other than the event at screen center had happened anywhere on Earth. And I mean nothing. Not even the weather, generally such a favored subject of the nightly news because it offers disaster in its most picturesquely chaotic and yet expectable form.</p><p>Above all, the 24/7, all-hands-on-deck news story obliterates context, or rather becomes the only context of the moment. To offer the most obvious recent example: in the days in which the San Bernardino shootings ate the screen, most Americans would not have noticed that the fate of the planet was being seriously discussed and negotiated in Paris by representatives of just about every country.  There was next to nothing but those shootings available -- the exploration of the backgrounds of the two killers, their marriage, their <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/san-bernardino-suspects-had-scary-arsenal-of-weapons/" target="_blank">arsenal</a> of weaponry, a<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/female-san-bernardino-shooter-pledged-support-isis-sources/story?id=35579983" target="_blank">pledge</a> of allegiance by the wife to ISIS, the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2015/12/04/msnbcs-terrible-live-tour-of-the-san-bernardino-attackers-apartment/" target="_blank">contents</a> of their house, what relatives and friends in Pakistan <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/tashfeen-malik-studied-at-conservative-religious-school-in-pakistan-1449512518" target="_blank">had to say</a>, their <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/12/08/bank-records-show-28500-deposit-to-syed-farooks-account-two-weeks-before-shooting-source-says.html" target="_blank">bank account</a>, heart-rending tales of those killed, testimony from survivors, and on and on.  Even more than a week after the event, it was still the lead story on NBC Nightly News evening after evening.  ("San Bernardino Shooters<a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/san-bernardino-shooters-discussed-jihad-in-2013-before-engagement-583166531802" target="_blank">Discussed</a> Jihad in 2013 Before Engagement," "FBI Divers <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/fbi-divers-search-lake-near-san-bernardino-massacre-for-clues-583905859508" target="_blank">Search Lake</a> Near San Bernardino Massacre for Clues.")  Viewers might be pardoned for thinking that Islamic terrorism was indeed an apocalyptic threat for most Americans rather than the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176071/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_the_national_security_state's_incestuous_relationship_with_the_islamic_state/#more" target="_blank">distinctly minor</a> one it is.</p><p><strong>Sucking the Air Out of the Newsroom</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/12/03/458321777/a-tally-of-mass-shootings-in-the-u-s" target="_blank">Mass shootings</a>, a particularly <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/02/us/03mass-shootings-timeline.html" target="_blank">American phenomenon</a>, seem like the perfect story for our news moment.  They are guaranteed to eat any screen and recur so regularly, with uniquely gruesome twists, that covering them has become formulaic.  They are the equivalent of no-brainers: disturbed (or disturbing) shooters, horrified victims, blood and guts, grim hospital scenes, the testimony of victims, the rites around the dead, and in the case of San Bernardino the added attraction (or repulsion) of Islamic terrorism.</p><p>Put another way, what passes for the news is often enough closer to a horror movie in which, just around the next corner, another nightmare is readying itself to leap out and scare you to death.  Maybe it’s not what you really want to see, but once it starts, you can’t take your eyes off it.  And that’s the point.</p><p>Unfortunately, none of this is actually a horror movie.  When these all-too-real events loom so much larger than life and without context, they seem to trigger panic, fear, even hysteria, and a profound sense of endangerment in many Americans; they create, that is, a vision of how the world works and of its dangers that bears little relationship to the place we actually live.</p><p>Someday someone will surely figure out how to create a panic, fear, and hysteria, or PFH, index (in a world where nothing should be without its acronym) to measure the effects of this phenomenon.  One way to gauge it in the meantime is via opinion polls.  In the week after the San Bernardino coverage, for instance, the number of Americans who expressed satisfaction with the way things are going in this country took a “rare” seven percentage point nosedive, according to a <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/187610/terror-attacks-satisfaction-falls-month-low.aspx" target="_blank">Gallup poll</a>.  Similarly, a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/11/us/politics/fear-of-terrorism-lifts-donald-trump-in-new-york-times-cbs-poll.html" target="_blank">New York Times/CBS News poll</a>found that, in the wake of those shootings, 19% of Americans now believed that “the threat of terrorism [is] the top issue facing the country.”  Only 4% had a month earlier.</p><p>Another obvious measure, at least when it comes to mass shootings, is gun sales.  After San Bernardino and the usual apocalyptic coverage, Americans <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/us/in-wake-of-shootings-a-familiar-call-to-arms-drives-latest-jump-in-weapon-sales.html" target="_blank">once again</a> flocked to gun stores to arm themselves. Sales of firearms soared (as did the <a href="https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/12/07/smith-wesson-soars-eight-year-high-gun-control-talk/twMhDEREsuLXTIwxuZbCFO/story.html" target="_blank">stock prices</a> of gun makers).</p><p>Consider the irony of this.  Despite the millions of Americans now “<a href="http://crimeresearch.org/2015/07/new-study-over-12-8-concealed-handgun-permits-last-year-saw-by-far-the-largest-increase-ever-in-the-number-of-permits/" target="_blank">carrying</a>” and the many millions more with guns <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/03/05/america-has-more-guns-in-fewer-hands-than-ever-before%E2%80%8B/" target="_blank">in their homes</a>, I doubt that an armed citizen has made any difference in any <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/10/03/do-civilians-with-guns-ever-stop-mass-shootings/" target="_blank">major</a> mass shooting incident.  Instead, what all those weapons stored in homes ensure is further death and tragedy-to-come, as any grasp of the true dangers of American life would suggest: new <a href="http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine-features/guns-and-suicide-the-hidden-toll/" target="_blank">suicides</a>, new <a href="http://www.vpc.org/press/more-than-1600-women-murdered-by-men-in-one-year-new-study-finds/" target="_blank">wife and girlfriend killings</a>, new <a href="http://forward.com/opinion/176043/more-killed-by-toddlers-than-terrorists-in-us/" target="_blank">toddler shootings</a>, and of course more weaponry potentially available for new mass shootings.</p><p>For all of this, the media now bears a certain unacknowledged responsibility.  Above all, single-event news throws our American world -- and particularly its dangers -- out of whack, while playing into irrational fears and prejudices.  It helps create <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-muslim-attacks-20151208-story.html" target="_blank">news of its own</a> in an increasingly unbalanced country.  What it doesn’t offer is perspective.</p><p>Now, it’s true that such 24/7 screen experiences are hardly a new phenomenon.  I remember well, for instance, the day that President Kennedy was assassinated.  I was a college student, sitting in a hole-in-the-wall burger joint when someone stuck his head in the door and said, “The president’s been shot.”  And I can remember us all later gathered in disbelief around a television set in the basement of our dorm -- there were so many fewer screens then -- to watch that 24/7 version of the news.  But the occasions on which such things happened were so rare as to be unforgettable.</p><p>Though different people might date the onset of our present in-your-face era of news differently, it first made it onto my radar screen with the bizarre spectacle of the 1994 O.J. Simpson <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/10/justice/five-things-oj-simpson-chase/" target="_blank">“low-speed” car chase</a>.  It proved that, with the right elements -- in this case, a black former Hall of Fame football star and movie actor accused of killing his white wife -- you could glue eyes to any kind of onscreen inanity, including cars creeping along a highway for an hour.  You could even draw viewers to “the news” from <a href="http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/22450990/happy-anniversary-oj-simpsons-bronco-chase" target="_blank">major televised sports events</a>.  It would prove a potentially winning formula for the onrushing world of cable news.</p><p>In purely practical terms, it’s easy enough to see why the O.J. paradigm has become such a winner and why just about every few weeks now we seem to experience the equivalent of a Kennedy-assassination-style news experience.  After all, it’s no secret that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/public-editor/margaret-sullivan-new-york-times-public-editor.html" target="_blank">staffs</a> in the news<a href="http://www.journalism.org/2015/12/03/newspapers-and-wire-services-a-strained-link-from-washington-to-local-communities/" target="_blank">world</a>, whether for television or newspapers, have been <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mcclatchy-foreign-bureaus_5617cbf9e4b0082030a20b20" target="_blank">shrinking</a>.  Watch NBC Nightly Newsand sooner or later you’ll be struck by the way, night after night, the remarkably able <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Engel" target="_blank">Richard Engel</a>, the show’s “chief foreign correspondent,” feels like almost the only foreign correspondent in town, whatever town happens to be in the news anywhere on Earth. </p><p>Obviously, if you can focus most of your resources 24/7 on a single story, especially one like a mass shooting where the formula for reporting it is already well tested, it’s going to be far cheaper and more efficient to cover, and when it comes to garnering eyeballs, it’s proven to “work.”  It produces ratings.  And in that (dare I say it) context, the difficulty of keeping an audience in a world of endless screens, sensations, and sensationalism is clearly a major factor in turning the news into a machine for cranking out instant horror movies.</p><p>It’s so understandable, even sensible, after a fashion.  That it also helps create a world of imbalance and delusion, and that those delusions help disorder our world in new ways, seems beside the point.  There’s no need for the media to take responsibility for any of this.  It’s not part of the job or a subject that’s considered in much need of discussion by... well, the media.</p><p><strong>Media Trumpery</strong></p><p>And let’s not forget another crucial element of this in-your-face media environment: America’s evolving <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175478/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_1%25_election/" target="_blank">1% elections</a> and the news landscape that now dominates them.  Once upon a time, presidential elections started with the first primaries in the early spring of an election year, revved up with summer party conventions, and went into high gear in the fall, ending on November 4th, Election Day. </p><p>Now, media speculation about possible candidates for the next presidential election starts just before that November 4th; that is, four years early.  The first “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/21/us/koch-seminar-is-early-proving-ground-for-gop-hopefuls.html" target="_blank">primaries</a>,” actually <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/us/politics/gop-race-starts-in-lavish-haunts-of-rich-donors.html" target="_blank">tryouts</a>before clustered groups of billionaires, take place early in the year before the election.  The first “debates” are launched as <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Party_presidential_debates,_2016" target="_blank">that summer</a> ends and the first primaries take place just after the actual election year begins.  In the intense two-year-plus, money-raising, money-squandering 2016 race to the White House (and other federal offices) as much as <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/230318-the-5-billion-campaign" target="_blank">$5 billion</a> in ads (up from <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/08/19/432759311/2016-campaign-tv-ad-spending" target="_blank">$3.8 billion</a> in 2012) are expected to flicker across TV screens, as incredible sums pour into TV stations and networks.</p><p>Election 2016 is already an eye-popping spectacle.  No wonder, then, that television news, profiting so from the expanding election season, would anoint it as a new kind of 24/7 entertainment event.  In recent years, this decision has led to a profusion of long-before-the-first-primary “debates,” increasingly organized by TV news departments as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/at-gop-debate-candidates-play-offense/2015/10/28/fa055882-7da2-11e5-afce-2afd1d3eb896_story.html" target="_blank">political food fights</a>.  Similarly, coverage of candidates touring the country has increased as they are goaded to offer ever more incendiary “positions” for the news cycle.  In fact, the most recent debates, particularly the Republican ones, have garnered record audiences, <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2015/08/07/media/gop-debate-fox-news-ratings/" target="_blank">larger</a> than any recent World Series game or National Basketball League final.  Think of it as the O.J. phenomenon triumphant. And at least one network nabob, Les Moonves of CBS News, is openly <a href="https://theintercept.com/2015/12/10/cbs-chief-cheers-trump-go-donald-keep-getting-out-there/" target="_blank">cheering</a> it all on.  “The more they spend, the better it is for us and: Go Donald! Keep getting out there!” he said in a call to investors. </p><p>Turn on MSNBC or Fox News or CNN these days and, even when nothing much is happening, you can sometimes watch election “coverage” hour after mind-bending hour.  This is, of course, the perfect atmosphere for an entertaining demagogue with endless surprises up his sleeve.  Not surprisingly, the focus these days has ceaselessly been on Donald Trump -- what he says and who denounces him and which experts <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/25/nyregion/a-definitive-debunking-of-donald-trumps-9-11-claims.html" target="_blank">debunk</a> his latest claim and what part of the Republican demographic remains supportive of him when it comes to <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/donald-trump-shocking-reality-deportation-plan" target="_blank">deporting</a> Mexicans or <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2015/11/20/3724432/trump-muslim-database/" target="_blank">creating</a> a registry for American Muslims, or <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/260574-trump-absolutely-no-choice-but-to-close-mosques" target="_blank">shutting down</a>mosques, or simply <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/07/politics/donald-trump-muslim-ban-immigration/" target="_blank">banning</a> non-citizen Muslims from the U.S. </p><p>Each Trump provocation, the reactions to it (which only stoke it further), and the discovery that he’s either lost <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/11/us/politics/fear-of-terrorism-lifts-donald-trump-in-new-york-times-cbs-poll.html" target="_blank">no ground</a> or gained some among potential Republican primary voters represent another tiny news cycle in our brave new media world and is <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/its-not-chaos-its-trumps-campaign-strategy/2015/12/09/9005a5be-9d68-11e5-8728-1af6af208198_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_trumpmethod-750pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory" target="_blank">analyzed</a> as such.  There can be no denying that the Donald has a remarkably canny sense of how to up the ante and glue cameras to himself, but far more of the focus of this moment should be on the media, rather than him alone.  He is, in a sense, the creature of the new 24/7 media environment, the permanent campaign trail, and the reinvention of the news cycle as a fear machine.  He is the spawn of what could be termed our new "spectaculection."  He couldn’t exist without it.</p><p>He is the natural-born product of a media landscape in which a single gruesome act of Islamic State-inspired terrorism and workplace rage can become the wallpaper for our American world.  It’s an environment in which the threat, including Trump himself, is king, in which prosperity and ratings (for the TV news) mean fear for Americans.  In its own way, the mainstream media, like the police and the populace, are arming themselves to the teeth.  Donald Trump only makes sense in such a context.  His is the extremism of our new media world, which represents the true trumpery of our moment.</p><p>The winners of the latest version of the news and election cycle won’t be the American people or the electoral system or a deeper knowledge of how our world works.  Those winners will, however, include Washington’s national security state, which has bet its future on American fear, and the Islamic State, for which this media environment is the royal road to a completely irrational, even cockamamie “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176071/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state's_incestuous_relationship_with_the_islamic_state/" target="_blank">clash of civilizations</a>.”</p><p>In other words, the news is the news, and it couldn’t be worse.</p> Tue, 15 Dec 2015 11:21:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1047383 at http://https.alternet.org Media Media News & Politics network news Donald Trump. media television mass shooting How Climate Change Is Wreaking Havoc on the American Empire http://https.alternet.org/environment/how-climate-change-wreaking-havoc-american-empire <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Environmental changes are splintering the power structure.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_153806906.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p dir="ltr"><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">For six centuries or more, history was, above all, the story of the great game of empires. From the time the first wooden ships mounted with cannons left Europe’s shores, they began to compete for global power and control.  Three, four, even five empires, rising and falling, on an increasingly commandeered and colonized planet. The story, as usually told, is a tale of concentration and of destruction until, in the wake of the second great bloodletting of the twentieth century, there were just two imperial powers left standing: the United States and the Soviet Union. Where the other empires, European and Japanese, had been, little remained but the dead, rubble, refugees, and scenes that today would be associated only with a place like Syria.</p><p dir="ltr">The result was the ultimate imperial stand-off that we called the Cold War. The two great empires still in existence duked it out for supremacy on “the peripheries” of the planet and “in the shadows.” Because the conflicts being fought were distant indeed, at least from Washington, and because (despite threats) both powers refrained from using nuclear weapons, these were termed “<a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=G5l8AgAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PA36&amp;dq=%22limited+war%22+maxwell+taylor&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=79GOVfDiPIugyQSP1aHQDg&amp;ved=0CDYQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&amp;q=%22limited%20war%22%20maxwell%20taylor&amp;f=false">limited wars</a>.” They did not, however, seem limited to the Koreans or Vietnamese whose homes and lives were <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175639/tomgram%3A_jonathan_schell,_seeing_the_reality_of_the_vietnam_war,_50_years_late/">swept up</a> in them, resulting as they did in more rubble, more refugees, and the deaths of millions.</p><p dir="ltr">Those two rivals, one a giant, land-based, contiguous imperial entity and the other a distinctly non-traditional <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176043/tomgram%3A_david_vine,_our_base_nation/">empire of military bases</a>, were so enormous and so unlike previous “great powers” -- they were, after all, capable of what had once been left to the gods, quite literally destroying every habitable spot on the planet -- that they were given a new moniker. They were “superpowers.”</p><p dir="ltr">And then, of course, that six-century process of rivalry and consolidation was over and there was only one: the “sole superpower.” That was 1991 when the Soviet Union suddenly imploded. At age 71, it disappeared from the face of the Earth, and history, at least as some then imagined it, was briefly <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/09/its-still-not-the-end-of-history-francis-fukuyama/379394/">said</a> to be over.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The Shatter Effect</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There was another story lurking beneath the tale of imperial concentration, and it was a tale of imperial fragmentation. It began, perhaps, with the American Revolution and the armed establishment of a new country free of its British king and colonial overlord. In the twentieth century, the movement to “decolonize” the planet gained remarkable strength. From the Dutch East Indies to French Indochina, the British Raj to European colonies across Africa and the Middle East, “independence” was in the air. Liberation movements were launched or strengthened, guerrillas took up arms, and insurgencies spread across what came to be called the Third World. Imperial power collapsed or ceded control, often after bloody struggles and, for a while, the results looked glorious indeed: the coming of freedom and national independence to nation after nation (even if many of those newly liberated peoples found themselves under the thumbs of autocrats, dictators, or repressive communist regimes).</p><p dir="ltr">That this was a tale of global fragmentation was not, at first, particularly apparent. It should be by now. After all, those insurgent armies, the tactics of guerrilla warfare, and the urge for “liberation” are today the property not of left-wing national liberation movements but of Islamic terror outfits. Think of them as the armed grandchildren of decolonization and who wouldn’t agree that theirs is a story of the fragmentation of whole regions. It seems, in fact, that they can only thrive in places that have, in some fashion, already been shattered and are failed states, or are on the verge of becoming so. (All of this, naturally, comes with a distinct helping hand from the planet’s last empire).</p><p dir="ltr">That their global brand is fragmentation should be evident enough now that, in Paris, Libya, Yemen, and other places yet to be named, they’re exporting that product in a big way. In a long-distance fashion, they may, for instance, be helping to turn Europe into a set of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176067/tomgram%3A_john_feffer,_on_the_verge_of_the_great_unraveling/">splinterlands</a>, aborting the last great attempt at an epic tale of concentration, the turning of the European Union into a United States of Europe.</p><p dir="ltr">When it comes to fragmentation, the last empire and the first terror caliphate have much in common and may in some sense even be <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176071/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_the_national_security_state%27s_incestuous_relationship_with_the_islamic_state/">in league</a> with each other. In the twenty-first century, both have proven to be machines for the fracturing of the Greater Middle East and increasingly <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/">Africa</a>. And let’s never forget that, <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/11/30/huge-error-former-us-military-chief-admits-iraq-invasion-spawned-isis">without</a> the last empire, the first caliphate of terror would <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/11/-sp-isis-the-inside-story">never</a> have been born.</p><p dir="ltr">Both have extended their power to shake whole societies by wielding advanced technology in forward-looking ways. Two American administrations have employed remote-controlled drones to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175988/tomgram%3A_andrew_cockburn,_how_assassination_sold_drugs_and_promoted_terrorism/">target</a> terror leaders and their followers across the Greater Middle East and Africa, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147">causing</a> much “<a href="https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/08/11/more-than-160-children-killed-in-us-strikes/">collateral damage</a>” and creating a sense of constant <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/death-from-above-how-american-drone-strikes-are-devastating-yemen-20140414">fear and terror</a> among those in the backlands of the planet whom drone pilots refer to as potential “<a href="http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/10/not_a_bug_splat_artists_confront">bugsplat</a>.” In its robotic <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175978/tomgram%3A_gregoire_chamayou,_hunting_humans_by_remote_control/">manhunting</a> efforts Washington continues to engage in a war on terror that functionally <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/">promotes</a> both terror and terror outfits.</p><p dir="ltr">The Islamic State has similarly used remote-controlled technology -- in their case, social media in its various forms -- to promote terror and stoke fear in distant lands. And of course they have their own low-tech version of Washington’s drones: their suicide bombers and suicidal killers who can be directed at distant individual targets and are engines for collateral damage. In other words, while the U.S. is focused on remote-controlled counterinsurgency, the Islamic State has been promoting a remarkably effective version of remote-controlled insurgency. In tandem, the effect of the two has been devastating.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Planet of the Imperial Apocalypse</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Between those epic tales of concentration and fragmentation lies history as we’ve known it in these last centuries. But it turns out that, unsuspected until relatively recently, a third tale lurked behind the other two, one not yet fully written that could prove to be the actual end of history. Everything else -- the rise and fall of empires, the power to suppress and the urge to revolt, dictatorship and democracy -- remains the normal stuff of history. Prospectively, this is the deal-breaker.</p><p dir="ltr">It promises a concentration of power of a sort never before imagined and fragmentation of a similarly inconceivable kind. At this moment when the leaders of just about all the nations on Earth have been in Paris working out a deal to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and slow the heating of the planet, what else could I be speaking of than Emperor Weather? Think of his future realm, should it ever come to be, as the planet of the imperial apocalypse.</p><p dir="ltr">In the last imperial age, the two superpowers made “end times” a human possession for the first time in history. The U.S. and then the USSR took the super power of the atom and built <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/nudb/datab19.asp">nuclear arsenals</a> capable of destroying the planet several times over. (These days, even a relatively modest exchange of such weapons between India and Pakistan might <a href="http://www.psr.org/nuclear-weapons/nuclear-famine-report.pdf">plunge</a> the world into a version of nuclear winter in which a billion people might die of hunger.) And yet while an <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175605/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_%22the_most_dangerous_moment,%22_50_years_later/">instant apocalypse</a> loomed, a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175811/tomgram%3A_ira_chernus,_what_ever_happened_to_plain_old_apocalypse/">slow-motion</a> version of the same, also human-made, was approaching, unrecognized by anyone. That is, of course, what the Paris Summit is all about: what the exploitation of fossil fuels has been doing to this planet.</p><p dir="ltr">Keep in mind that since the industrial revolution we’ve already warmed the Earth by about <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34763036">1 degree Celsius</a>. Climate scientists have generally suggested that, if temperatures rise above <a href="https://www.climateinteractive.org/tools/scoreboard/">2 degrees Celsius</a>, a potentially devastating set of changes could occur in our environment. Some climate scientists, however, <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-point-of-no-return-climate-change-nightmares-are-already-here-20150805">believe</a> that even a 2-degree rise would prove devastating to human life. In either case, even if the Paris pledges from 183 nations to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions are agreed upon and carried out, they would only limit the <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/11/30/457364450/10-things-to-know-about-the-u-n-climate-talks-in-paris">rise</a> in global temperatures to between an estimated 2.7 and 3.7 degrees Celsius. If no agreement is reached or little of it is actually carried out, the rise could be in the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/02/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-paris-climate-summit-and-un-talks">5-degree range</a>, which would be devastating. Over the coming decades, this could indeed give Emperor Weather his global realm.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, his air power -- his bombers, jets, and drones -- would be <a href="http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/super-typhoons-to-increase-in-strength-with-climate-change-researchers-find-20150529-ghcbfs.html">superstorms</a>; his invading armies would be <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150212-megadrought-southwest-water-climate-environment/">mega-droughts</a> and mega-floods; and his navy, with the total or partial melting of the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/27/world/greenland-is-melting-away.html">Greenland</a> and <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/05/15/this-antarctic-ice-shelf-could-collapse-by-2020-nasa-says/">Antarctic</a> ice sheets, would be the rising seas of the planet, which would rob humanity of its coastlines and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/us-cities-sea-level-threats_561d338fe4b0c5a1ce60a45c">many</a> of its <a href="http://www.fastcoexist.com/3052265/visualizing/see-how-much-of-miami-new-orleans-and-new-york-will-be-underwater-because-of-cli">great cities</a>. His forces would occupy not just one or two countries in the Greater Middle East or elsewhere, but the entire planet, lock, stock, and barrel.</p><p dir="ltr">Emperor Weather’s imperial realms would be global on an awe-inspiring scale and the assaults of his forces would fragment the present planet in ways that could make much of it, in human terms, look like Syria. Moreover, given <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jan/16/greenhouse-gases-remain-air">how long</a> it takes greenhouse gases to leave the atmosphere, his global rule would be guaranteed to last an inhumanly long period of time unchallenged.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.thespectrum.com/story/life/2015/12/01/uns-weather-agency-will-hottest-year-record/76596298/">Heat</a> (think <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/27/us-australia-climatechange-idUSKBN0L02P820150127">burning Australia</a> today, only far worse) would be the coin of the realm. While humanity will undoubtedly survive in some fashion, whether human civilization as we now know it can similarly survive on a planet that is no longer the welcoming home that it has been these last thousands of years we have no way of knowing.</p><p dir="ltr">Keep in mind, though, that like history itself, this is a story we are still writing -- even though Emperor Weather couldn't care less about writing, history, or us. If he truly comes to power, history will certainly end in some sense. There will be no hope of democracy under his rule because he won’t care a whit about what we think or do or say, nor of revolt -- that staple of our history -- because (to adapt something Bill McKibben has <a href="http://grist.org/climate-energy/mckibben-to-obama-we-cant-negotiate-over-the-physics-of-climate-change/">long pointed out</a>) you can’t revolt against physics.</p><p dir="ltr">This story is not yet engraved in... well, if not stone, then melting ice. Sooner or later, it may indeed be a tale unfolding in environmental feedback loops that can no longer be stopped or altered. But for the moment, it seems, humanity still has the chance to write its own history in a fashion that would allow for a perhaps less welcoming but still reasonably palatable world for our children and grandchildren to live in. And be glad of that.</p><p dir="ltr">For that to happen, however, successful negotiations in Paris can only be the start of something far more sweeping when it comes to the forms of energy we use and how we live on this planet. Fortunately, experiments are <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/01/science/beyond-paris-climate-change-talks.html?_r=0">underway</a> in the world of alternative energy, <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/11/30/457900449/bill-gates-and-other-billionaires-pledge-to-take-on-climate-change">funding</a> is beginning to appear, and a global environmental movement is <a href="http://350.org/photos-from-the-global-climate-march-that-give-us-hope/">expanding</a> and could someday, on a planet growing ever less comfortable, put the heat on governments globally before Emperor Weather can turn up the heat on history.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Follow TomDispatch on <a href="https://twitter.com/TomDispatch">Twitter</a> and join us on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch">Facebook</a>. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608464636/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa</a>, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463656/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20">Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt</p><p dir="ltr">© 2015 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.<br />View this story online at: <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176077/">http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176077/</a></p>  Sun, 06 Dec 2015 09:32:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch 1046868 at http://https.alternet.org Environment Environment war climate change A Post-Paris “Clash of Civilizations”? It’s the Islamic State’s Dream and Marco Rubio Agrees http://https.alternet.org/world/post-paris-clash-civilizations-its-islamic-states-dream-and-marco-rubio-agrees <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The leaders of terror groups have grasped the dynamics of our world and what provokes us into our own barbarous acts.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/drone.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>Honestly, I don’t know whether to rant or weep, neither of which are usual impulses for me.  In the wake of the slaughter in Paris, I have the urge to write one of two sentences here: Paris changed everything; Paris changes nothing.  Each is, in its own way, undoubtedly true.  And here’s a third sentence I know to be true: This can’t end well.</p><p>Other than my hometown, New York, Paris is perhaps the city where I’ve felt most at ease.  I’ve never been to Baghdad (where Paris-style Islamic State terror events are <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33901796" target="_blank">relatively commonplace</a>); or Beirut, where they <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/16/world/middleeast/beirut-lebanon-attacks-paris.html" target="_blank">just began</a>; or Syria’s ravaged Aleppo (thank you, Bashar al-Assad of <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/07/bombs-kill-dozens-syria-aleppo-150713131000494.html" target="_blank">barrel-bomb</a> terror fame); or Mumbai (which experienced an <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Mumbai_attacks" target="_blank">early version</a> of such a terror attack); or Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, now <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/12/saudi-airstrikes-yemen-world-heritage_n_7569086.html" target="_blank">partly destroyed</a> by the U.S.-backed Saudi air force; or Kabul, where Taliban attacks on <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/world/asia/afghanistan-restaurant-attack.html" target="_blank">restaurants</a> have become the norm; or Turkey’s capital, Ankara, where Islamic State suicide bombers recently <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/10/turkey-suicide-bomb-killed-in-ankara" target="_blank">killed</a> 97 demonstrators at a peace rally.  But I have spent time in Paris.  And so, as with my own burning, acrid city on September 11, 2001, I find myself particularly repulsed by the barbaric acts of civilian slaughter carried out by <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/world/europe/paris-terrorist-attacks.html" target="_blank">three</a> well-trained, well-organized, well-armed suicide teams evidently organized as a first strike force from the hell of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.</p><p>The Paris attacks should not, however, be seen primarily as acts of revenge from a distinctly twisted crew, even though one of the murderers <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/International/paris-massacre-survivors-recall-ocean-blood/story?id=35206803" target="_blank">reportedly shouted</a>, “You killed our brothers in Syria and now we are here.”  Instead, they were clearly acts of calculated provocation meant to reshape our world in grim ways.  Worse yet, their effectiveness was pre-guaranteed because, as has been true since 9/11, the leaders of such terror groups, starting with <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175388/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_osama_dead_and_alive/" target="_blank">Osama bin Laden</a>, have grasped the dynamics of our world, of what makes us tick and especially what provokes us into our own barbarous acts, so much better than our leaders, our militaries, or our national security states have understood them (or, for that matter, themselves).</p><p>Here in a nutshell is what bin Laden grasped before 9/11: with modest millions of dollars and a relatively small number of followers, he and his movement couldn’t hope to create the world of their fervid dreams.  If, however, he could lure the planet’s “sole superpower” into stepping into his universe, military first, it would change everything and so do his work for him.  And indeed (see: invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq), an operation mounted for an <a href="http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report_Exec.htm" target="_blank">estimated</a> $400,000 to $500,000, using 19 dedicated (mostly Saudi) followers armed only with paper cutters, did just that.</p><p>And it’s never stopped since because, just as bin Laden dreamed, Washington helped loose al-Qaeda and its successor outfits from the constraints of a more organized, controlled world.  In these last 14 years of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">failed wars</a> and conflicts of every sort, American military power, aided and abetted by the Saudis, the British, the French, and other countries on a case-by-case basis, essentially fractured the Greater Middle East.  It helped create five failed states (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen), worlds in which terror groups could thrive and in the chaos of which they could attract ever more recruits.</p><p><strong>Wiping Out the Gray Zones</strong></p><p>Think of the Islamic State and various al-Qaeda crews as having developed (to steal a term from commentator John Feffer) "<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176067/tomgram%3A_john_feffer%2C_on_the_verge_of_the_great_unraveling/" target="_blank">splinterlands</a>" strategies.  To continue to grow, they need the U.S. and its allies to lend them an eternally destructive hand to further smash the worlds around them.  So in response to the Paris attacks, French President Francois Hollande’s <a href="http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/hollande-we-are-going-to-lead-a-war-it-will-be-pitiless/article/2576337" target="_blank">statement</a> that “we will lead a war which will be pitiless” was just what the terror doctor ordered, as was the growing pressure in Washington for a “<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/15/us-france-shooting-military-idUSKCN0T31HY20151115#RcuTHdZRCEl3MOqq.97" target="_blank">big military response</a>” to Paris.  The first French reprisal air strikes against IS’s Syrian “capital,” <a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/syrian-activists-claim-stadium-museum-6838577" target="_blank">Raqqa</a>, were indeed <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/paris-terror-attacks/france-launches-massive-airrtrike-isis-syria-n463876" target="_blank">launched</a> within two days. </p><p>All of this is like manna from heaven for the Islamic State, the more “pitiless” the better.  After all, that group’s goal, as they <a href="http://media.clarionproject.org/files/islamic-state/islamic-state-dabiq-magazine-issue-7-from-hypocrisy-to-apostasy.pdf" target="_blank">write</a> in their magazine and online, is “the extinction of the gray zone” in our world.  In other words, they <a href="http://www.alternet.org/world/how-western-militarists-are-playing-hands-isis" target="_blank">seek</a> the sharpening of distinctions everywhere, which means the opening of abysses where complexity and interaction once existed.  Their dream is to live in a black-and-white world of utter religious and political clarity (and calamity), while engaging in what American pundits like to term a “<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/isis-versus-the-west-a-clash-of-civilizations-commentary/2015/02/23/c222e024-bb88-11e4-9dfb-03366e719af8_story.html" target="_blank">clash</a><strong></strong>of <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/clash-civilizations-isnt" target="_blank">civilizations</a>.”  And -- what a joy for the Islamic State! -- Republican presidential candidates are already responding to the Paris attacks, as Marco Rubio did, by <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/14/republican-candidates-ted-cruz-mike-huckabee-paris-terror-attacks" target="_blank">calling for</a> just such “a civilizational conflict with radical Islam.” As he put it, “This is not a grievance-based conflict. This is a clash of civilizations... And either they win, or we win.”  Jeb Bush similarly <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/paris-2016-candidates-response/416046/" target="_blank">responded</a>: “This is an organized effort to destroy Western civilization and we need to lead in this regard.”  The answer, of course, is “<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/15/paris-attacks-republican-response-isis-military-intervention" target="_blank">war</a>.”  Various Republican candidates are also now <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/16/obama-attacks-republican-calls-priority-christian-refugees-from-syria" target="_blank">calling for</a> only accepting Syrian Christians as refugees here.  You can't be more black and white than that. </p><a name="more" id="more"></a><p>In the European context and with the destruction of those “gray zones” in mind, the Paris attacks should also be considered the Islamic State’s first foray into the politics of the 2017 French presidential campaign.  Think of those mass killings as a wholehearted endorsement of the extremist candidate Marine le Pen, whose <a href="http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/11/13/marine-le-pen-tops-another-french-presidency-poll/" target="_blank">poll numbers</a> were already on the rise even before the attacks, and her anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant National Front Party.  She is now, in effect, IS's chosen candidate, the one most likely to go after gray zones.  In the process, of course, pressure on France’s large, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/world/europe/french-mayor-who-once-defended-journalists-now-denounces-immigrants.html" target="_blank">increasingly isolated</a> Muslim population will only increase.</p><p>Such attacks are guaranteed to put wind in the already billowing sails of far right-wing parties all across Europe.  It should, for instance, have come as no surprise that, in the wake of the Paris attacks, Konrad Szymanski, the European affairs minister for Poland’s new far-right government, almost <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/poland-plans-to-backtrack-on-migrant-commitment-following-attacks-in-paris-a6734521.html" target="_blank">instantly declared</a> his country unlikely to abide by recently negotiated European Union (EU) quotas on accepting refugees from the Greater Middle East.  And we’re only going to see <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/17/opinion/paris-and-europes-anti-refugee-backlash.html" target="_blank">more of this</a> in the post-Paris world.  With the assistance of IS and other jihadist groups, the elimination of such gray areas in Europe could, in the end, help crack the EU open, while pushing France’s Muslims into an <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/17/world/europe/after-paris-attacks-a-darker-mood-toward-islam-emerges-in-france.html" target="_blank">even worse</a> situation, which would, of course, mean more potential recruits for groups like the Islamic State.</p><p>In other words, from IS's point of view, the Paris attacks and other acts like them represent a potential horn of plenty.  Sadly, it’s not the only organization that will reap such benefits -- and I’m not just referring to other jihadist outfits either.  Such acts are, after a fashion, similarly useful in the Western world.  Think of it as a kind of unspoken bargain between two “civilizations” from hell.</p><p>Take the United States, a place where, in the years since 9/11, the <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/oct/05/viral-image/fact-checking-comparison-gun-deaths-and-terrorism-/" target="_blank">danger</a> of being attacked by an Islamic terrorist could be slotted in somewhere between being “shot” by <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/27/a-dog-shoots-a-person-almost-every-year-in-america/" target="_blank">your dog</a> and being shot by a <a href="http://forward.com/opinion/176043/more-killed-by-toddlers-than-terrorists-in-us/" target="_blank">toddler</a> who has found a loaded, unlocked gun in your <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/13/toddler-shoots-and-kills-one-year-old-boy-in-cleveland-ohio" target="_blank">house</a>, <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/12/30/woman-shot-with-own-gun/21062089/" target="_blank">purse,</a> or <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article7921461.html" target="_blank">car</a>.  Among the many perils of American life from <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year" target="_blank">car crashes</a> to suicide, <a href="http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/10/cdc-shares-mass-of-data-on-e-coli-and-salmonella-in-beef/#.VkvANXsSWHk" target="_blank">E. coli illnesses</a> to floods, injuries from <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/06/us/politics/human-cost-rises-as-old-bridges-dams-and-roads-go-unrepaired.html" target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure</a> to mass killings by <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/25/us/25shooters.html" target="_blank">non-Islamic lone wolves</a>, Islamic terrorism remains at the bottom of the barrel in the company of other frightening but rare events like <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/u-s-led-world-shark-attacks-deaths-decreased-2014-article-1.2114006" target="_blank">shark attacks</a>. Yet the American national security state has essentially been built and funded to protect you from that danger alone.</p><p>Put another way, the officials of that security state have bet the farm on the preeminence of the terrorist “threat,” which has, not so surprisingly, left them eerily reliant on the Islamic State and other such organizations for the perpetuation of their way of life, their career opportunities, their growing powers, and their relative freedom to infringe on basic rights, as well as for that comfortably all-embracing blanket of secrecy that envelops their activities.  Note that, as with so many developments in our world which have caught them by <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">surprise</a>, the officials who run our <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">vast surveillance network</a> and its <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176056/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_creating_an_un-intelligence_machine/" target="_blank">staggering ranks</a> of intelligence operatives and analysts seemingly <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/paris-attacks-show-u-s--surveillance-of-islamic-state-may-be--going-dark-203103709.html" target="_blank">hadn’t a clue</a> about the IS plot against Paris (even though intelligence officials in at least one <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/ap-newsbreak-iraq-warned-of-attacks-before-paris-assault/2015/11/15/1ca1481c-8bc5-11e5-934c-a369c80822c2_story.html" target="_blank">other country</a> evidently did).  Nonetheless, whether they see actual threats coming or not, they need Paris-style alarms and nightmares, just as they need local “plots,” even ones <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/terror-factory-fbi-trevor-aaronson-book" target="_blank">semi-engineered</a> by FBI informers or created online by <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/ohio-man-charged-with-soliciting-people-to-murder-military-personnel/2015/11/12/8dbc0ab6-8975-11e5-be39-0034bb576eee_story.html" target="_blank">lone idiots</a>, not lone wolves. Otherwise, why would the media keep prattling on about terrorism or presidential candidates keep humming the terror tune, and how, then, would public <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/nyregion/day-after-paris-attacks-familiar-fear-grips-a-wary-new-york.html" target="_blank">panic levels</a> remain reasonably high on the subject when so many other dangers are more pressing in American life?</p><p>The relationship between that ever-more powerful <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463656/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">shadow government</a> in Washington and the Islamic terrorists of our planet is both mutually reinforcing and unnervingly incestuous.  Both, of course, emerge as winners when the gray zones begin to disappear.  When Paris is hit, after all, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. instantly increase their “alert levels”; the <a href="https://theintercept.com/2015/11/18/nyt-editorial-slams-disgraceful-cia-exploitation-of-paris-attacks-but-submissive-media-role-is-key/" target="_blank">CIA</a> director <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/17/us/after-paris-attacks-cia-director-rekindles-debate-over-surveillance.html" target="_blank">pushes back hard</a> against "hand-wringing over intrusive government spying" and the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/opinion/mass-surveillance-isnt-the-answer-to-fighting-terrorism.html" target="_blank">minimalist restrictions</a> on electronic surveillance put in place in recent years; the FBI <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/nyregion/day-after-paris-attacks-familiar-fear-grips-a-wary-new-york.html" target="_blank">heightens</a> “its surveillance of Americans under investigation for apparent ties to the Islamic State”; and, among other things, more police patrols are <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/11/13/police-increase-patrols-in-u-s-cities-after-paris-attacks/" target="_blank">sent out</a> in <a href="http://www.inforum.com/news/3882672-ny-other-us-cities-increase-security-following-paris-attacks" target="_blank">major cities</a>, while local law enforcement “vigilance” <a href="http://www.niagara-gazette.com/news/local_news/local-police-agencies-on-heightened-alert-after-paris-attacks/article_f2ba90fd-dea4-56fa-b641-3980b9b11c9d.html" target="_blank">rises</a> even in places like Niagara Falls, New York.  In Los Angeles, post-Paris, extra patrols were typically sent “to ‘critical sites’ and [the city’s police department was] monitoring the ongoing situation, even though it said there were no known threats.”</p><p>The lack of obvious threats is, of course, beside the point when American “safety” is at stake!  In the meantime, the road toward a more locked-down, secretive, governmentally intrusive, less democratic world is being well paved.</p><p><strong>A Dance of Death</strong></p><p>Think of this as a kind of global <em>danse macabre</em> in which ISIS attacks -- eight committed guys, some possibly trained in combat in Syria or Iraq, with AK-47s, suicide vests, and rental cars -- spread death, chaos, panic, and alarm in our world at next to no cost at all.  In response, Washington and its allies engage in a big-budget version of the same, including intensified air campaigns which will, of course, end up taking out <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176069/tomgram%3A_laura_gottesdiener%2C_the_angel_of_death/" target="_blank">civilian targets</a> and infrastructure.</p><p>Think of what the U.S. military does when it heads out to destroy those gray zones as the Kobane or Sinjar Strategy.  Kobane was a largely Kurdish town on the Turkish border that IS militants <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Koban%C3%AE" target="_blank">besieged</a> and partially took in 2014.  They were driven back early this year by the same combination of forces that recently <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/14/world/middleeast/sinjar-iraq-islamic-state.html" target="_blank">retook</a> the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq: Kurdish fighters and American warplanes.  By the time both were retaken, American bombs and Islamic State IEDs and booby-trapped houses had insured that those towns would be largely uninhabitable wrecks, littered with corpses and the <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3068937/Flying-apocalypse-Astonishing-drone-footage-reveals-sheer-scale-destruction-Syrian-town-Kobane-stormed-ISIS-pounded-months-coalition-air-strikes.html" target="_blank">skeletons of buildings</a>.</p><p>Similarly, plans by the U.S. to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/13/us/politics/us-steps-up-its-attacks-on-isis-controlled-oil-fields-in-syria.html" target="_blank">intensify</a> the bombing of those Syrian oilfields under the control of the Islamic state (to cut into its supply of funds) reflect a strategy that, whatever its immediate successes, is guaranteed to further wreck the infrastructure of the region.  This will help ensure that, no matter what happens to the Islamic State, “Syria” or any state structure like it will be no more.  Such acts of destruction, largely from the air, have been taking place across the Greater Middle East since 2001.  From Libya to Syria, Iraq to Yemen, the Sinjar Strategy has demonstrably <a href="https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2015/11/14/paris-attacks-andrew-bacevich-war-west-cannot-win/UVlV0AsL8ddnE8L5gJaTXO/story.html" target="_blank">done little</a> to bring success to the U.S. and its allies in their various wars.  It has, however, helped create a zone of failed and increasingly fragile states.  It has left uprooted populations leading skeletal lives in haunted lands that are also hunting grounds for extremists of every sort. Consider this the dream world of Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as the perfect breeding ground for yet more extreme nightmares of our age. A dance of death indeed.</p><p>As it happens, I’ve barely ranted and not yet wept.  If anything, on reaching the end of this piece, I find myself depressed.  The future shouldn’t be so easy to see or so repetitively predictable.  And it’s a terrible thing to know that, as the gray zones of our planet continue to disappear and wrecked worlds spread, the tempo of that dance of mutual death and destruction stands every chance of speeding up as the "music" only grows louder.</p><p> </p> Thu, 19 Nov 2015 08:16:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1046021 at http://https.alternet.org World News & Politics World Isis syria terrorism al qaeda Why the US Is Eternally Caught Off Guard in the Middle East http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/why-us-eternally-caught-guard-middle-east <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The national security state and the military seem to have created an un-intelligence system.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/official_centcom_seal-edited.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p><strong>1,500.</strong></p><p>That figure stunned me. I found it in the 12th paragraph of a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/24/world/military-analyst-again-raises-red-flags-on-progress-in-iraq.html" target="_blank">front-page</a> <em>New York Times</em> story about “senior commanders” at U.S. Central Command (<a href="http://www.centcom.mil/" target="_blank">CENTCOM</a>) playing fast and loose with intelligence reports to give their air war against ISIS an unjustified sheen of success: “CENTCOM’s mammoth intelligence operation, with some 1,500 civilian, military, and contract analysts, is housed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, in a bay front building that has the look of a sterile government facility posing as a Spanish hacienda.”</p><p>Think about that.  CENTCOM, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified_Combatant_Command" target="_blank">one of six</a> U.S. military commands that divide the planet up like a pie, has at least 1,500 intelligence analysts (military, civilian, and private contractors) all to itself.  Let me repeat that: 1,500 of them.  CENTCOM is essentially the country’s war command, responsible for most of the Greater Middle East, that expanse of now-chaotic territory filled with strife-torn and failing states that runs from Pakistan’s border to Egypt.  That’s no small task and about it there is much to be known.  Still, that figure should act like a flash of lightning, illuminating for a second an otherwise dark and stormy landscape.</p><p>And mind you, that’s just the analysts, not the full CENTCOM intelligence roster for which we have no figure at all.  In other words, even if that 1,500 represents a full count of the command’s intelligence analysts, not just the ones at its Tampa headquarters but in the field at places like its enormous operation at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Udeid_Air_Base" target="_blank">al-Udeid Air Base</a> in Qatar, CENTCOM still has almost half as many of them as military personnel on the ground in Iraq (<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/09/politics/u-s-considering-1000-additional-troops-in-iraq/" target="_blank">3,500</a> at latest count).  Now, try to imagine what those 1,500 analysts are doing, even for a command deep in a “quagmire” in Syria and Iraq, as President Obama recently dubbed it (though he was admittedly <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/03/us-mideast-crisis-syria-airstrikes-idUSKCN0RW0W220151003" target="_blank">speaking about</a> the Russians), as well as what looks like a failing war, 14 years later, in Afghanistan, and another in Yemen led by the Saudis but backed by Washington.  Even given all of that, what in the world could they possibly be “analyzing”?  Who at CENTCOM, in the Defense Intelligence Agency, or elsewhere has the time to attend to the reports and data flows that must be generated by 1,500 analysts?</p><p>Of course, in the gargantuan beast that is the American military and intelligence universe, streams of raw intelligence beyond compare are undoubtedly flooding into CENTCOM’s headquarters, possibly overwhelming even 1,500 analysts.  There’s “human intelligence,” or HUMINT, from sources and agents on the ground; there’s imagery and satellite intelligence, or GEOINT, by the bushelful.  Given the size and scope of American global surveillance activities, there must be untold tons of signals intelligence, or SIGINT; and with all those drones flying over battlefields and prospective battlefields across the Greater Middle East, there’s undoubtedly a river of full motion video, or FMV, flowing into CENTCOM headquarters and various command posts; and don’t forget the information being shared with the command by allied intelligence services, including those of the “<a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/an-exclusive-club-the-five-countries-that-dont-spy-on-each-other/" target="_blank">five eyes</a>“ nations, and various Middle Eastern countries; and of course, some of the command’s analysts must be handling humdrum, everyday open-source material, or OSINT, as well -- local radio and TV broadcasts, the press, the Internet, scholarly journals, and god knows what else.</p><p>And while you’re thinking about all this, keep in mind that those 1,500 analysts feed into, and assumedly draw on, an intelligence system of a size surely unmatched even by the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century.  Think of it: the U.S. Intelligence Community has -- count ‘em -- <a href="https://www.intelligencecareers.gov/icmembers.html" target="_blank">17</a> agencies and outfits, eating close to <a href="http://fas.org/irp/budget/" target="_blank">$70 billion</a> annually, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/black-budget-summary-details-us-spy-networks-successes-failures-and-objectives/2013/08/29/7e57bb78-10ab-11e3-8cdd-bcdc09410972_story.html" target="_blank">more than $500 billion</a> between 2001 and 2013.  And if that doesn’t stagger you, think about the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/nsa-leak-contractors_n_3418876.html?1370919691" target="_blank">500,000 private contractors</a> hooked into the system in one way or another, the <a href="http://www.salon.com/2013/06/11/500000_contractors_can_access_nsa_data_hoards/" target="_blank">1.4 million people</a> (34% of them private contractors) with access to “top secret” information, and the 5.1 million -- <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2014/03/24/5-1-million-americans-have-security-clearances-thats-more-than-the-entire-population-of-norway/" target="_blank">larger than</a> Norway’s population -- with access to “confidential and secret” information.</p><p>Remember as well that, in these years, a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">global surveillance state</a> of Orwellian proportions has been ramped up.  It <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/08/nsa-boundless-informant-global-datamining" target="_blank">gathers</a> billions of emails and cell phone calls from the backlands of the planet; has kept tabs on at least <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/24/nsa-surveillance-world-leaders-calls" target="_blank">35 leaders</a> of other countries and the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/nov/28/us-embassy-cables-spying-un" target="_blank">secretary general</a> of the U.N. by <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/news/2013/09/02/revealed-nsa-hacked-email-phones-latin-american-presidents" target="_blank">hacking</a> email accounts, <a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/merkel-calls-obama-over-suspicions-us-tapped-her-mobile-phone-a-929642.html" target="_blank">tapping</a> cell phones, and so on; keeps a careful eye and ear on its own citizens, including <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/world-of-spycraft-intelligence-agencies-spied-in-online-games" target="_blank">video gamers</a>; and even, it seems, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2014/01/04/the-nsa-refuses-to-deny-spying-on-members-of-congress/" target="_blank">spies on Congress</a>.  (After all, whom can you trust?)</p><p>In other words, if that 1,500 figure bowls you over, keep in mind that it just stands in for a far larger system that puts to shame, in size and <a href="http://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/" target="_blank">yottabytes</a> of information collected, the wildest dreams of past science fiction writers.  In these years, a mammoth, even <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">labyrinthine</a>, bureaucratic “intelligence” structure has been constructed that is drowning in “information” -- and on its own, it seems, the military has been ramping up a smaller but similarly scaled set of intelligence structures.</p><p><strong>Surprised, Caught Off Guard, and Left Scrambling</strong></p><p>The question remains: If data almost beyond imagining flows into CENTCOM, what are those 1,500 analysts actually doing?  How are they passing their time?  What exactly do they produce and does it really qualify as “intelligence,” no less prove useful?  Of course, we out here have limited access to the intelligence produced by CENTCOM, unless stories like the one about top commanders fudging assessments on the air war against the Islamic State break into the media.  So you might assume that there’s no way of measuring the effectiveness of the command’s intelligence operations.  But you would be wrong.  It is, in fact, possible to produce a rough gauge of its effectiveness.  Let’s call it the <em>TomDispatch</em> Surprise Measurement System, or TSMS. Think of it as a practical, news-based guide to the questions: What did they know and when did they know it?</p><p>Let me offer a few examples chosen almost at random from recent events in CENTCOM’s domain.  Take the seizure at the end of September by a few hundred Taliban fighters of the northern provincial Afghan capital of Kunduz, the first city the Taliban has controlled, however briefly, since it was ejected from that same town in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/world/asia/us-base-seen-as-monument-to-futility-as-afghans-watch-kunduz-fall.html" target="_blank">2002</a>.  In the process, the Taliban fighters reportedly scattered up to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/world/asia/taliban-fighters-enter-city-of-kunduz-in-northern-afghanistan.html" target="_blank">7,000 members</a> of the Afghan security forces that the U.S. has been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175907/tomgram%3A_william_astore,_america%27s_hollow_foreign_legions" target="_blank">training</a>, funding, and arming for years.</p><p>For anyone <a href="http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/taliban-capture-of-kunduz-is-no-surprise-1.1594318" target="_blank">following news reports</a> closely, the Taliban had for months been tightening its control over rural areas around Kunduz and testing the city’s defenses.  Nonetheless, this May, based assumedly on the best intelligence analyses available from CENTCOM, the top U.S. commander in the country, Army General John Campbell, offered <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/world/a-taliban-prize-won-in-a-few-hours-after-years-of-strategy.html" target="_blank">this predictive comment</a>: “If you take a look very closely at some of the things in Kunduz and up in [neighboring] Badakhshan [Province], [the Taliban] will attack some very small checkpoints... They will go out and hit a little bit and then they kind of go to ground... so they’re not gaining territory for the most part.’”</p><p>As late as August 13th, at a <a href="http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/613684/department-of-defense-press-briefing-with-brigadier-general-wilson-shoffner-dep" target="_blank">press briefing</a>, an ABC News reporter asked Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, the U.S. deputy chief of staff for communications in Afghanistan: “There has been a significant increase in Taliban activity in northern Afghanistan, particularly around Kunduz.  What is behind that?  Are the Afghan troops in that part of Afghanistan at risk of falling to the Taliban?”</p><p>Shoffner responded, in part, this way: “So, again, I think there's been a lot of generalization when it comes to reports on the north.  Kunduz is -- is not now, and has not been in danger of being overrun by the Taliban, and so -- with that, it's kind of a general perspective in the north, that's sort of how we see it.”</p><p>That General Cambell at least remained of a similar mindset even as Kunduz fell is obvious enough since, as <em>New York Times</em> reporter Matthew Rosenberg <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/world/us-struggles-for-way-to-help-afghans-regain-territory-it-thought-was-secure.html" target="_blank">reported</a>, he was out of the country at the time. As Goldstein put it:</p><blockquote><p>“Mostly, though, American and Afghan officials appeared to be genuinely surprised at the speedy fall of Kunduz, which took place when Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of coalition forces, was in Germany for a defense conference... Though the Taliban have been making gains in the hinterlands around Kunduz for months, American military planners have for years insisted that Afghan forces were capable of holding onto the country’s major cities.</p><p>“‘This wasn’t supposed to happen,’ said a senior American military officer who served in Afghanistan, speaking on the condition of anonymity. ‘The Afghans are fighting, so it’s not like we’re looking at them giving up or collapsing right now. They’re just not fighting very well.’”</p></blockquote><p>It’s generally agreed that the American high command was “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/world/us-struggles-for-way-to-help-afghans-regain-territory-it-thought-was-secure.html" target="_blank">caught off guard</a>” by the capture of Kunduz and particularly shocked by the Afghan military’s inability to fight effectively.  And who would have predicted such a thing of an American-trained army in the region, given that the American-backed, -trained, and -equipped Iraqi Army on the other side of the Greater Middle East had a similar experience in June 2014 in <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/mosul-isis-gunmen-middle-east-states" target="_blank">Mosul</a> and other cities of northern Iraq when relatively small numbers of Islamic State militants <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175907/tomgram%3A_william_astore,_america%27s_hollow_foreign_legions/" target="_blank">routed</a> its troops?</p><p>At that time, U.S. military leaders and top administration officials <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-us-underestimated-the-rise-of-the-islamic-state-ability-of-iraqi-army/2014/09/28/9417ab26-4737-11e4-891d-713f052086a0_story.html" target="_blank">right up</a><strong></strong>to President Obama were, as the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/iraqi-drama-catches-u-s-off-guard-1402529874" target="_blank">reported</a>, “caught off guard by the swift collapse of Iraqi security forces” and the successes of the Islamic State in northern Iraq.  Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt of the <em>Times</em> <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/30/world/middleeast/obama-fault-is-shared-in-misjudging-of-isis-threat.html" target="_blank">wrote</a> in retrospect, “Intelligence agencies were caught off guard by the speed of the extremists’... advance across northern Iraq.” And don’t forget that, despite that CENTCOM intelligence machine, something similar happened in May 2015 when, as <em>Washington Post</em> columnist David Ignatius put it, U.S. officials and American intelligence were “<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-need-for-old-fashioned-spying-on-the-islamic-state/2015/05/28/22db7660-0567-11e5-a428-c984eb077d4e_story.html" target="_blank">blindsided again</a>” by a very similar collapse of Iraqi forces in the <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/05/23/iraq-isil/27803095/" target="_blank">city of Ramadi</a> in al-Anbar Province.</p><p>Or let’s take another example where those 1,500 analysts must have been hard at work: the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/world/middleeast/pentagon-program-islamic-state-syria.html" target="_blank">failed $500 million</a> Pentagon program to train “moderate” Syrians into a force that could fight the Islamic State.  In the Pentagon version of the elephant that gave birth to a mouse, that vast effort of vetting, training, and arming finally produced Division 30, a single <a href="http://bigstory.ap.org/article/59dc4dd4d7534b658ae8883cc9ca9159/attack-syrian-rebels-raises-questions-about-training" target="_blank">54-man unit</a> of armed moderates, who were inserted into Syria near the forces of the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Nusra Front.  That group promptly <a href="http://www.voanews.com/content/monitor-nusra-front-attacks-us-backed-rebel-group-in-syria/2888206.html" target="_blank">kidnapped</a> two of its leaders and then attacked the unit.  The result was a disaster as the U.S.-trained fighters fled or were killed.  Soon thereafter, the American general overseeing the war against the Islamic State <a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/09/16/general-only-4-or-5-us-trained-syrian-fighters-operating-against-isis" target="_blank">testified</a> before Congress that only “four or five” armed combatants from the U.S. force remained in the field.</p><p>Here again is how the <em>New York Times</em> <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/01/world/middleeast/nusra-front-attacks-us-backed-syrian-rebel-group.html" target="_blank">reported</a> the response to this incident:</p><blockquote><p>“In Washington, several current and former senior administration officials acknowledged that the attack and the abductions by the Nusra Front took American officials by surprise and amounted to a significant intelligence failure.  While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.</p><p>“‘This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,’ said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.”</p></blockquote><p>Now, if accurate, this is wild stuff.  After all, how anyone, commander or intelligence analyst, could imagine that the al-Nusra Front, classified as an enemy force in Washington and some of whose militants had been <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article24781180.html" target="_blank">targeted</a> by U.S. air power, would have welcomed U.S.-backed troops with open arms is the mystery of all mysteries.  One small footnote to this: McClatchy News later <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article32206167.html" target="_blank">reported</a> that the al-Nusra Front had been poised to attack the unit because it had tipped off in advance by Turkish intelligence, something CENTCOM’s intelligence operatives evidently knew nothing about.</p><p>In the wake of that little disaster and again, assumedly, with CENTCOM’s full stock of intelligence and analysis on hand, the military inserted the next unit of 74 trained moderates into Syria and was shocked (shocked!) when its members, chastened perhaps by the fate of Division 30, promptly <a href="http://www.voanews.com/content/united-states-trained-syrian-rebels-gave-equipment-qaida-affiliate/2980561.html" target="_blank">handed over</a> at least a quarter of their U.S.-supplied equipment, including trucks, ammunition, and rifles, to the al-Nusra Front in return for “safe passage.” Al-Nusra militants soon were posting photos of the weapons online and tweeting proudly about them.  CENTCOM officials initially denied that any of this had happened (and were clearly in the dark about it) before reversing course and reluctantly admitting that it was so. (“‘If accurate, the report of NSF [New Syrian Forces] members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guidelines,’ U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said.”) </p><p>To turn to even more recent events in CENTCOM’s bailiwick, American officials were reportedly similarly stunned as September ended when Russia reached a surprise agreement with U.S. ally Iraq on an anti-ISIS intelligence-sharing arrangement that would also include Syria and Iran.  Washington was once again “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/opinion/putin-and-obama-have-profound-differences-on-syria.html" target="_blank">caught off guard</a>” and, in the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/28/world/middleeast/iraq-agrees-to-share-intelligence-on-isis-with-russia-syria-and-iran.html" target="_blank">words of</a> Michael Gordon of the <em>Times</em>, “left... scrambling,” even though its officials had known “that a group of Russian military officers were in Baghdad.”</p><p>Similarly, the Russian build-up of weaponry, planes, and personnel in Syria initially "surprised" and -- yes -- caught the Obama administration “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/16/world/middleeast/white-house-split-on-opening-talks-with-putin.html" target="_blank">off guard</a>.” Again, despite those 1,500 CENTCOM analysts and the rest of the vast U.S. intelligence community, American officials, according to every news report available, were "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/despite-early-signs-of-russian-buildup-in-syria-us-officials-caught-flat-footed/2015/10/09/5e5388e4-6e09-11e5-aa5b-f78a98956699_story.html" target="_blank">caught flat-footed</a>" and, of course, "<a href="http://time.com/4056632/syria-russia-air-war/" target="_blank">by surprise</a>” (again, right up to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/02/opinion/russias-dangerous-escalation-in-syria.html" target="_blank">the president</a>) when the Russians <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/vladimir-putin-syria-obama-214284#ixzz3ndmRMWvN" target="_blank">began</a> their full-scale bombing campaign in Syria against various al-Qaeda-allied outfits and CIA-backed opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  They were even caught off guard and taken aback by the way the Russians delivered the news that their bombing campaign was about to start: a three-star Russian general <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/putin-seeks-parliaments-approval-for-use-of-force-outside-russia-1443600142" target="_blank">arrived</a> at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to offer an hour’s notice.  (Congressional lawmakers are now <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/08/us-mideast-crisis-intelligence-exclusive-idUSKCN0S20CZ20151008" target="_blank">considering</a> “the extent to which the spy community overlooked or misjudged critical warning signs” about the Russian intervention in Syria.)</p><p><strong>The Fog Machine of American Intelligence</strong></p><p>You get the point.  Whatever the efforts of that expansive corps of intelligence analysts (and the vast intelligence edifice behind it), when anything happens in the Greater Middle East, you can essentially assume that the official American reaction, military and political, will be “surprise” and that policymakers will be left “scrambling” in a quagmire of ignorance to rescue American policy from the unexpected.  In other words, somehow, with what passes for the best, or at least most extensive and expensive intelligence operation on the planet, with all those satellites and drones and surveillance sweeps and sources, with crowds of analysts, hordes of private contractors, and tens of billions of dollars, with, in short, “intelligence” galore, American officials in the area of their wars are evidently going to continue to find themselves eternally caught “off guard.”</p><p>The phrase “the fog of war” stands in for the inability of commanders to truly grasp what’s happening in the chaos that is any battlefield.  Perhaps it’s time to introduce a companion phrase: the fog of intelligence.  It hardly matters whether those 1,500 CENTCOM analysts (and all those at other commands or at the 17 major intelligence outfits) produce superlative “intelligence” that then descends into the fog of leadership, or whether any bureaucratic conglomeration of “analysts,” drowning in secret information and the protocols that go with it, is going to add up to a giant fog machine.</p><p>It’s difficult enough, of course, to peer into the future, to imagine what’s coming, especially in distant, alien lands.  Cobble that basic problem together with an overwhelming data stream and groupthink, then fit it all inside the constrained mindsets of Washington and the Pentagon, and you have a formula for producing the fog of intelligence and so for seldom being “on guard” when it comes to much of anything.</p><p>My own suspicion: you could get rid of most of the 17 agencies and outfits in the U.S. Intelligence Community and dump just about all the secret and classified information that is the heart and soul of the national security state.  Then you could let a small group of independently minded analysts and critics loose on open-source material, and you would be far more likely to get intelligent, actionable, inventive analyses of our global situation, our wars, and our beleaguered path into the future.</p><p>The evidence, after all, is largely in.  In these years, for what now must be approaching three-quarters of a trillion dollars, the national security state and the military seem to have created an un-intelligence system.  Welcome to the fog of everything.</p><p>[<strong>Note:</strong> Nick Turse was my co-conspirator on this piece and I thank him for all his help.]</p> Thu, 15 Oct 2015 06:52:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1044118 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics centcom U.S. Central Command military middle east intelligence 3 Reasons America Is Totally Paranoid Despite Being the Only Superpower on Earth http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/3-reasons-america-totally-paranoid-despite-being-only-superpower-earth <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Boogiemen lurk around every corner, as do high crimes and dark conspiracies.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/american_flag_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>Given the cluttered landscape of the last 14 years, can you even faintly remember the moment when the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended in a stunned silence of shock and triumph in Washington, Eastern Europe was freed, Germany unified, and the Soviet Union vanished from the face of the Earth? At that epochal moment, six centuries of imperial rivalries ended. Only one mighty power was left.</p><p>There hadn’t been a moment like it in historical memory: a single “hyperpower” with a military force beyond compare looming over a planet without rivals. Under the circumstances, what couldn’t Washington hope for? The eternal domination of the Middle East and all that oil? A planetary <em>Pax Americana</em> for generations to come? Why not? After all, <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/time/2001/03/05/doctrine.html" target="_blank">not even</a> the Romans and the British at the height of their empires had experienced a world quite like this one.</p><p>Now, leap a quarter of a century to the present and note the rising tide of paranoia in this country and the litany of predictions of doom and disaster. Consider the extremity of fear and gloom in the party of Ronald “<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morning_in_America" target="_blank">It’s Morning Again in America</a>” Reagan in what are called “<a href="http://time.com/4037239/second-republican-debate-transcript-cnn/" target="_blank">debates</a>” among its presidential candidates, and it’s hard not to imagine that we aren't at the precipice of the decline and fall of just about everything. The American Century? So much sawdust on the floor of history.</p><p>If, however, you look at the country that its top politicians can now hardly mention without defensively wielding the words “exceptional” or “indispensable,” the truly exceptional thing is this: as a great power, the United States still stands alone on planet Earth and Americans can exhibit all the paranoia they want in remarkable safety and security.</p><p>Here, then, are three exceptional facts of our moment.</p><p><strong>Exceptional Fact #1: Failure Is Success, or the U.S. Remains the Sole Superpower</strong></p><p>If you were to isolate the single most striking, if little discussed, aspect of American foreign policy in the first 15 years of this century, it might be that Washington’s inability to apply its power successfully just about anywhere confirms that very power; in other words, failure is a marker of success. Let me explain.</p><p>In the post-9/11 years, American power in various highly militarized forms has been let loose repeatedly across a vast swath of the planet from the Chinese border to deep in Africa -- and nowhere in those 14 years, despite dreams of glory and global dominion, has the U.S. succeeded in any of its strategic goals.  That should qualify as exceptional in itself.  After all, what are the odds that, in all that time, nothing should turn out as planned or positively by Washington’s standards?  It could not win its war in Afghanistan; nor its two wars, one ongoing, in Iraq; nor has it had success in its present one in Syria; it failed to cow Iran; its intervention in Libya proved catastrophic; its various special ops and drone campaigns in Yemen have led to chaos in that country; and so, as novelist Kurt Vonnegut used to say, it goes.</p><p>Though there was much talk in the early years of this century of “nation building” abroad, American power has been able to build nothing.  Its effect everywhere has been purely disintegrative (unless you count the creation of a terror “caliphate” in parts of collapsed Syria and Iraq as a non-disintegrative act).  Under the pressure of American power, there have been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">no victories</a>, nor even in any traditional sense successes, while whole countries have collapsed, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/174892/tomgram%3A_michael_schwartz,_the_iraqi_brain_drain" target="_blank">populations</a> have been <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/07/unhcr-syrian-refugees-4-million-150709033023489.html" target="_blank">uprooted</a>, and peoples put <a href="http://www.politico.eu/article/george-w-bush-refugees-middle-east-us-indifference/" target="_blank">into flight</a> by the millions.  No matter how you measure it, American power has, in other words, been a tempest of failure.</p><p>Where, then, does success lie?  The answer: despite 15 years bouncing from one militaristic disaster to another, can there be any question that, signs of decline or not, the United States remains the uncontested sole superpower of planet Earth?  Consider that a testimony to the wealth and strength of the country.  In many ways -- certainly, in military terms (despite the hue and cry at the recent Republican debates) -- there is no power that could or would contest it.</p><p>If you <a href="http://www.defenseone.com/politics/2015/06/putin-bad-gop-candidates-agree/115528/" target="_blank">listen to</a> the Republicans, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, now seems to stand in almost alone for the former Soviet Union.  He and his country are, so Republicans, neocons, and t<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/09/russia-is-biggest-threat-to-american-national-security-says-us-air-force-chief" target="_blank">op military figures</a> agree, hands down the country’s greatest enemy, a genuine “<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/07/09/russia-is-greatest-threat-to-the-u-s-says-joint-chiefs-chairman-nominee-gen-joseph-dunford/" target="_blank">existential threat</a>” to the U.S.  But looked at in a clear-eyed fashion, this monstrous (yet strangely familiar) enemy is in many ways a house of cards.  Or put another way, Putin as a leader has managed to do a remarkable amount (much of it grim indeed, from Ukraine to Syria) with remarkably little.  To compare him, no less his country, to the former Soviet Union in its heyday is, however, simply a bad joke (except perhaps when it comes to its still <a href="http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat" target="_blank">superpower-sized</a> nuclear arsenal).  He is, in fact, the head of a rickety, embattled energy state at a time when the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176035/tomgram%3A_michael_klare,_big_oil_in_retreat/" target="_blank">price of oil</a> seems to be headed for the sub-basement.</p><p>As for China, always assumed to be the coming superpower of the later twenty-first century, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175386/tom_engelhardt_China_as_number_one" target="_blank">don’t count on it</a>.  As <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/10/china-stock-market-crash-world-problem-struggling-economy-small-invesots" target="_blank">recent</a> economic <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/sep/13/china-partial-privatisations-economy-cools" target="_blank">events</a> there have reminded us, it’s a country on the edge.  Despite more than four “<a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1994/07/25/to-get-rich-is-glorious" target="_blank">to get rich is glorious</a>” decades and remarkable economic growth, it remains a relatively poor land whose leadership doesn’t know what might happen if, as in any capitalist economy, bubbles were to burst, things went south, and the economy began to tank.  Yes, its military budget, though still modest by Pentagon standards, is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/05/world/asia/chinas-military-budget-increasing-10-for-2015-official-says.html" target="_blank">rising</a> and it’s growing <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/chinas-dangerous-game/380789/" target="_blank">increasingly aggressive</a> in the neighborhood, but its leaders still show no sign of wanting to garrison the planet or become a true military competitor to the U.S. in anything but the most local terms.</p><p>And China aside, a quarter-century after the Soviet Union imploded, there are still no other potential rivals anywhere on Earth, just strapped regional powers of various sorts and, of course, a set of interlinked extremist terror outfits, constantly morphing and growing under the pressure of U.S. bombing runs, special ops raids, and drone assassination campaigns.</p><p>No question about it, if you’re a big fan of Washington’s exceptional superpowerdom, the news isn’t exactly cheery.  Nothing works the way it did, say, in Iran in 1953 when the CIA-instigated a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government and put its own man on the “Peacock Throne.”  There, it took 26 years for blowback to occur and the Shah to flee.  In 2015, it seems to take only 26 days or maybe 26 minutes.</p><p>Still, the good news is that, however crippled U.S. power may be in practice, like the cheese of nursery rhyme fame, it still stands alone.  How exceptional is that?</p><p><strong>Exceptional Fact #2: Americans Are Actually Safe and Secure</strong></p><p>Think of exceptional fact two as the don’t-believe-your-ears one.  In the post-9/11 era, a national security and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">global surveillance state</a> of historic proportions has been built and funded on one proposition: that without its <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">17 intelligence agencies</a>, the Homeland Security Department, and the military, as well as a spreading penumbra of secrecy and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175570/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_complex_and_you/" target="_blank">classification</a> (that is, its ability not to let citizens know much of anything about what’s being done in their name), the American people would be in almost unimaginable danger from a single phenomenon, “terrorism” (with the adjective “Muslim” or “Islamic” implied if not tacked on). </p><p>With its talk over the years of sleeper cells, lone wolves, and plots to kill Americans, this message has been a constant of our world.  As the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/16/they-thought-it-was-a-bomb-ahmed-mohamed-texas-9th-grader-arrested-after-bringing-a-home-built-clock-to-school/" target="_blank">handcuffing and arrest</a> of a ninth grader in Irving, Texas, for bringing a clock he cobbled together to school shows, it’s now in the American bloodstream.  It’s also provided the largely unquestioned rationale for the growth of secretive agencies of every sort, for the careers of a vast range of top officials, for the extraordinary powers granted to what is increasingly a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463656/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">secretive state</a> within a state (as the U.S. military now has a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176048/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_a_secret_war_in_135_countries/" target="_blank">secret military</a> of ever expanding proportions in its midst).  Were it to be put in doubt, that state and much else might be put in doubt, too. A great deal depends on news of and alarms about endless possible terror plots, which often turn out to have been promoted or instigated by <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/fbi-terrorist-informants" target="_blank">FBI informants</a>.</p><p>The message manifests itself in a kind of hysteria over possible future plots, claims (largely <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/claim-on-attacks-thwarted-by-nsa-spreads-despite-lack-of-evidence" target="_blank">unsubstantiated</a> or <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2013/12/23/obama-cant-point-to-a-single-time-the-nsa-call-records-program-prevented-a-terrorist-attack/" target="_blank">untrue</a>) of past ones that were broken up by agencies of the national security state, and endless stories about how the Islamic State is using the Internet to rouse individuals in this country to commit mayhem here.</p><p>And yet -- exceptional fact two -- despite 9/11, the record clearly indicates that Americans are in next to no danger.  If you’re living in Baghdad, the possibility of terror attacks couldn’t be more real or horrific.  If you’re living in Irving, Texas, Toledo, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or even New York City, they are close to nil.  A country bounded by two oceans and friendly neighbors remains a formula for security, with no credit whatsoever to the national security state.  In few places on the planet is anyone likelier to be safer when it comes to Islamic terror attacks than this one.  It is, of course, quite true that the U.S. has helped spread insecurity and fear in significant areas of the world.  It is also true that even Europe is no longer untouched by that insecurity and by violence.  In this way, too, it could be said that the United States stands alone (not that you would know it living inside the American <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175904/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_inside_the_american_terrordome" target="_blank">terrordome</a>).</p><p>Let me, then, offer anyone reading this a practical guarantee.  You will <em>not</em> be killed in the continental United States by an Islamic terrorist or someone in sympathy with the Islamic State -- or rather your chances of that happening are infinitesimally small.  The odds of almost anything else disastrous happening to you, no matter how obscure, is at least as great, and in almost every case staggeringly greater, including being <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/americans-are-as-likely-to-be-killed-by-their-own-furniture-as-by-terrorism/258156/" target="_blank">crushed</a> beneath falling furniture, <a href="http://forward.com/opinion/176043/more-killed-by-toddlers-than-terrorists-in-us/" target="_blank">shot</a> by a tot who has found a stray loaded weapon, murdered in a <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/08/united-states-world-mass-shooters" target="_blank">mass killing incident</a> (not by a terrorist), struck by <a href="http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/03/youre-55-times-likely-killed-police-officer-terrorist.html" target="_blank">lightning</a> (or done in by <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/09/15/reports-6-dead-after-flooding-hits-utah/72291640/" target="_blank">weather events</a> of almost any sort), knocked off by food poisoning, or killed in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year" target="_blank">your own car</a>.</p><p>As has always been true -- the British burning of Washington in 1814, Pearl Harbor in 1941, and 9/11 being the exceptions -- the United States has been a remarkably protected place (except, of course, when it came to internal strife of various sorts).  That sense of invulnerability explains why the 9/11 attacks had an impact beyond compare, and why it was so easy to build a vast structure meant to oversee the “homeland” in all sorts of historically intrusive ways.</p><p>The other side of this -- consider it exceptional fact two-and-a-half -- is that, at this point, American taxpayers have invested <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175545" target="_blank">trillions</a> of dollars in what can only be called a scam.</p><p><strong>Exceptional Fact #3: A Culture of Victimhood Is Developing Among the Inhabitants of the Planet’s Sole Superpower</strong></p><p>Given exceptional facts one and two, what could be more exceptional than significant numbers of Americans living in a fear-based culture of victimhood laced with paranoia and extremism that seems to have captured one of the two major political parties?</p><p>In it, Americans are always at the mercy of the evil doers everywhere, including those distinctly in our midst with mayhem in mind.  Our <a href="http://video.foxnews.com/v/4404797373001/dr-ben-carson-sounds-off-on-americas-weak-military-power/?#sp=show-clips" target="_blank">military</a> is an <a href="http://www.stripes.com/fiorina-steps-ahead-of-gop-pack-with-specific-military-goals-1.368656" target="_blank">underfinanced wreck</a>, our Navy practically a set of dinghies, a Muslim is even in the White House, a malign climate-change movement is eager to destroy capitalism as we know it, women’s bodies are enough of a danger to shut the government down, immigrants are potential <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/the-isis-crossing-the-border-claims-look-little-worse" target="_blank">terrorists</a> or <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/totally-accurate-trump-defends-calling-mexican-immigrants-rapists" target="_blank">rapists</a>, and so on and so forth through a litany of strangely woven fantasies and factoids.</p><p>This mood was <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/09/18/man-trump-rally-calls-obama-muslim-not-even-american/72385658/" target="_blank">highlighted</a> in the media recently after a man at a Donald Trump rally in New Hampshire in the wake of the second Republican debate rose in a question period and said, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one -- you know he’s not even an American. But anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”  Media coverage generally focused on the presidential or “birther” part of the man’s statement, ignoring those fantasy “training camps” for terrorists assumedly here in the USA.  Largely ignored as well were the two other audience members <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/gop-primaries/254142-trump-declines-to-dispute-supporters-birther-remarks" target="_blank">called on</a> by Trump who were no less bizarre.  The first, a man, said, “I applaud the gentleman who stood and said Obama is a Muslim born abroad and about the military camps, everyone knows that.” (“Right,” Trump responded and moved on.)</p><p>The second, a woman, according to the <em>Hill</em>, “told him that there is a ‘new holocaust’ in New Hampshire and that people are being loaded into boxcars and beheaded by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ‘I just wanted you to know that.’”</p><p>Consider it a small, off-center measure of the sense of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/26/us/refugee-crisis-in-syria-raises-fears-in-south-carolina.html" target="_blank">fear</a>, persecution, and fantasy now embedded in what’s often referred to as the Republican “base.”  Such paranoia is, of course, nothing new in this country, particularly in moments of economic stress.  Still, given the years of fear mongering since 9/11 and the building up of a right-wing media universe that’s both echo chamber and megaphone, this is dangerous stuff.  And we’re not talking about just a weird set of fringe lunatics here.  After all, as the <em>Washington Post</em> <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/09/19/donald-trump-is-now-reaping-what-he-has-sown/" target="_blank">reported</a> recently, “54 percent of Trump supporters and some 43 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim.”</p><p>In this context, while the U.S. military pursues its failing wars, interventions, and raids abroad, while the national security state develops ever more mechanisms for snooping, surveilling, and controlling populaces at home (as in the recent essentially unprecedented security lockdowns of major American cities “for” the Pope), many of the country’s citizens are increasingly living inside a fact-challenged fantasy of a country, a victimized superpower.  Boogiemen lurk around every corner, as do high crimes and dark conspiracies, and any sense of responsibility for what the U.S. has done in the world in these last years is missing in action.</p><p>In the meantime, we live on an increasingly disturbed planet in which the basics of <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/todays-drought-in-the-west-is-nothing-compared-to-what-may-be-coming/2015/02/12/0041646a-b2d9-11e4-854b-a38d13486ba1_story.html" target="_blank">drought</a>, <a href="http://www.weather.com/science/environment/news/wildfire-seasons-nearly-20-percent-longer" target="_blank">fire</a> and <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/05/26/devastating-floods-texas-just-latest-example-global-weather-extremes" target="_blank">flood</a>, <a href="http://www.latimes.com/science/environment/la-sci-0513-antarctic-ice-sheet-20140513-story.html" target="_blank">melting</a> and freezing, are gaining new meaning, in which power seems not to be expressing or displaying itself in the normal, reasonably predictable ways. The sun may be setting, albeit slowly indeed, on American imperial power, but perhaps it is also setting on imperial power as we’ve known it. And if so, that would truly be exceptional.</p> Tue, 29 Sep 2015 08:25:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1043207 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics imperialism exceptionalism paranoia 4 Responses to Military Failure in Washington http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/4-responses-military-failure-washington <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Disappointing results have become the new norm across the Greater Middle East and Africa, which breeds frustration in Washington. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_237997351.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Let’s take a moment to consider failure and its options in Washington. The U.S. has been warring with the Islamic State (IS) for more than a year now. The centerpiece of that war has been an ongoing campaign of bombings and air strikes in Syria and Iraq, <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/06/politics/obama-isis-pentagon/">thousands</a> upon thousands of them. The military <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/07/29/air-campaign-kills-15000-isis-militants-pentagon-iraq-syria/30750327/">claims</a> that these have resulted in death tolls high enough to stagger any movement. In Iraq, the Obama administration has also launched a major effort, involving at least <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/06/10/pentagon-recommends-sending-additional-400-us-troops-to-iraq/">3,400</a> military personnel, to retrain the American-created Iraqi army that essentially <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/mosul-isis-gunmen-middle-east-states">collapsed</a> in June 2014. Impending offensives to retake key IS-held cities are <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the-battle-to-retake-ramadi-is-going-nowhere/2015/09/03/8e4d4792-4dac-11e5-80c2-106ea7fb80d4_story.html">regularly announced</a>. In addition, in Syria there is an ongoing <a href="http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0712-mcmanus-syria-training-20150712-column.html">$500 million</a> Pentagon effort to find and train a force of “moderate” Syrian rebels to battle IS militants. Despite such efforts, reports now suggest that the Islamic State is at least <a href="http://bigstory.ap.org/article/990c86ba77604586a8a9e1bf5396cec1/despite-bombing-islamic-state-no-weaker-year-ago?utm_source=Sailthru&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=New%20Campaign&amp;utm_term=*Situation%20Report">as strong</a> now as it was when the U.S. intervened in August 2014. If anything, from <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/r-islamic-state-takes-five-syrian-villages-near-turkish-border-monitor-2015-8">Turkish border areas</a> to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/28/world/middleeast/iraq-isis-suicide-attack-ramadi.html">al-Anbar Province</a> in Iraq, it has <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/21/middleeast/isis-syria-iraq/">expanded</a> its holdings. Only recently, its fighters even began to <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-fighters-push-deeper-into-syrian-capital-damascus/">move into</a> the suburbs of Damascus, the Syrian capital.</p><p>In an era when there has been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/">failure aplenty</a> for the U.S. military, disappointing results like these have become the new norm across the Greater Middle East and Africa, which undoubtedly breeds frustration in Washington. There have been at least four types of responses to such failures. The first -- a more-of-the-same approach -- has involved simply stumbling along in Washington's fog of ignorance when it comes to strange peoples in far off lands. In recent weeks, for instance, an <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176037/tomgram%3A_william_astore%2C_time_to_hold_military_boots_to_the_fire/">agreement</a> was reached with Turkey to allow U.S. planes access to two key Turkish air bases to attack the Islamic State, while the government of President Recep Erdogan pledged to join the struggle as well. In reality, however, what the Obama administration evidently <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/turkey-duped-the-us-and-isis-reaps-rewards-10478720.html">green-lighted</a> were Turkish air strikes not against IS militants but their own Kurdish rebels with whom they had a fragile truce and who are linked to just about the <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/01/us-kurds-turkey-idUSKCN0Q632X20150801">only effective force</a> the U.S. has found to fight IS, Syrian Kurds. In other words, an additional element of chaos was introduced to the region.</p><p>As one wag <a href="http://warincontext.org/2015/07/26/turkey-launches-massive-attack-against-isiss-most-effective-opponent-the-pkk/">put it</a>, by attacking the Kurds, the Turks provided the Islamic State with something it previously lacked: an air force. To add insult to injury: <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article32206167.html">according to</a> McClatchy, Turkish intelligence <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article32206167.html">tipped off</a> the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front that the U.S. was about to insert in Syria a tiny group of 54 “moderate” Syrians the Pentagon had vetted from <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/ash-carter-syrian-rebel-training-119812">7,000 applicants</a> and spent a <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/price-for-syrian-rebels-4-million-each-119858">fortune</a> training. Al-Nusra's fighters essentially wiped the unit out on the spot. Talk about a cornucopia of failure!</p><p>The Obama administration’s frustration over its inability to even dent the Islamic State has led to another version of more-of-the-same. It has now <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-launches-secret-drone-campaign-to-hunt-islamic-state-leaders-in-syria/2015/09/01/723b3e04-5033-11e5-933e-7d06c647a395_story.html">loosed</a> drones from the CIA and U.S. special operations command in an assassination campaign against the IS leadership, the latest version of what Andrew Cockburn has <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175988/tomgram%3A_andrew_cockburn,_how_assassination_sold_drugs_and_promoted_terrorism/">dubbed</a> “the kingpin strategy.” Elsewhere this approach has tended to strengthen, not weaken, extremist movements and make them even more brutal.</p><p>As for the second response to failure, call it the “more-plus” approach or finding something spectacularly dumb to do. The most recent example: former surge general, CIA director, and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/04/us/petraeus-plea-deal-over-giving-classified-data-to-lover.html">state secrets sharer</a> David Petraeus, a man with a certain following in Washington, has been privately <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176042/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_nothing_succeeds_like_failure/and%2520somehow%2520luring%2520the%2520%25E2%2580%259Cmoderates%25E2%2580%259D%2520among%2520them%2520into%2520an%2520alliance%2520against%2520the%2520Islamic%2520State">urging</a> the administration that vetted 7,000 Syrians and could hardly find a “moderate” among them to cleave off and <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/02/david-petraeus-bright-idea-give-terrorists-weapons-to-beat-isis">arm</a> supposedly “moderate” elements in the al-Nusra Front to fight IS. This proposal instantly joins the ranks of Washington’s <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175908/tomgram:_peter_van_buren,_seven_bad_endings_to_the_new_war_in_the_middle_east/">what-could-possibly-go-wrong</a> schemes.</p><p>And here's a third response to failure, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/world/middleeast/pentagon-investigates-allegations-of-skewed-intelligence-reports-on-isis.html?ref=politics">reported</a> just a couple of weeks ago: military officials moved to staunch the bad news from Syria in the simplest way possible. They evidently altered their intelligence assessments or pressured “terror analysts” under them to do the same in order to provide “a more optimistic account of progress” in the war against IS. The Pentagon’s inspector general is now investigating this possible <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/08/26/spies-obama-s-brass-pressured-us-to-downplay-isis-threat.html">good-news scam</a> by officials of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the air campaign against the Islamic State. Consider this the equivalent of Senator George Aiken’s <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rory-oconnor/declaring-victory-going-h_b_248745.html">supposed suggestion</a> during the Vietnam War that the U.S. should simply declare victory and go home. In this case, however, you establish success in the easiest way possible and then stick around to pursue responses one and two.</p><p>A fourth response, as Nick Turse suggests today (“<a href="#more">Problem Partners, Ugly Outcomes</a>”) in his remarkable continuing <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175981/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_the_u.s._military%27s_battlefield_of_tomorrow/">coverage</a> of the U.S. military’s “pivot” to Africa, is simply to embrace failure wholeheartedly. Counterintuitive as it might seem, this approach couldn’t be more sensible from the Pentagon's point of view. After all, in our present American world, military failures only ensure that, as things worsen eternally, the U.S. military will be called on ever more, not less, which means more, not less, of everything for you-know-who.</p> Thu, 10 Sep 2015 07:25:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1042188 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics military Isis islamic state failure The Nightmare Since 9/11 — 14 Years of War, Torture and Kidnappings http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/911-torture-wars-and-kidnappings <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Over a decade later, we&#039;ve learned nothing and gotten infinitely more barbaric.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_99057281-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>Fourteen years later and do you even believe it? Did we actually live it? Are we still living it? And how improbable is that?</p><p>Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">repeated defeats</a>, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175904/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_inside_the_american_terrordome" target="_blank">culture of fear</a> in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175570/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_complex_and_you/" target="_blank">classification</a> of every document in sight, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175526/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_joining_the_whistleblowers%27_club/" target="_blank">fierce prosecution</a> of whistleblowers, and a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175789/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_ripley%27s_believe_it_or_not_national_security_state" target="_blank">faith-based</a> urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175970/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_is_a_new_political_system_emerging_in_this_country/" target="_blank">demobilization</a> of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175507/tom_engelhardt_remotely_piloted_war" target="_blank">warrior corporation</a>, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/nsa-leak-contractors_n_3418876.html?1370919691" target="_blank">NSA</a>, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175780/tomgram%3A_pratap_chatterjee,_the_jason_bourne_strategy/" target="_blank">CIA</a>, and too many <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jul/30/revealed-private-firms-at-heart-of-us-drone-warfare" target="_blank">other parts</a> of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2014/04/03/why-the-iraq-war-has-produced-more-ptsd-than-the-conflict-in-afghanistan/" target="_blank">PTSD</a>, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175881/tomgram%3A_matthew_harwood,_one_nation_under_swat/" target="_blank">militarization</a> of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/13/half-us-mexico-border-patrolled-drone" target="_blank">drones</a> and <a href="http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/blog/bs-md-stingray-cases-20150828-story.html" target="_blank">stingrays</a> to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">global surveillance system</a> whose reach -- from <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/24/nsa-surveillance-world-leaders-calls" target="_blank">foreign leaders</a> to tribal groups in the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/08/nsa-boundless-informant-global-datamining" target="_blank">backlands</a> of the planet -- would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s <a href="http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/" target="_blank">infrastructure</a> and still <a href="http://www.seattletimes.com/life/travel/popular-elsewhere-high-speed-rail-remains-elusive-in-the-u-s/" target="_blank">not a single mile</a> of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.</p><p>Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1620971356/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">small number</a> of supporters, <a href="http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report_Exec.htm" target="_blank">$400,000-$500,000</a>, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order. Think of it as <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175388/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_osama_dead_and_alive/" target="_blank">wizardry</a> from the theater of darkness. In the process, you did “change everything” or at least enough of everything to matter. Or rather, you goaded us into doing what you had neither the resources nor the ability to do. So let’s give credit where it’s due. Psychologically speaking, the 9/11 attacks represented precision targeting of a kind American leaders would only dream of in the years to follow. I have no idea how, but you clearly understood us so much better than we understood you or, for that matter, ourselves. You knew just which buttons of ours to push so that we would essentially carry out the rest of your plan for you. While you sat back and waited in Abbottabad, we followed the blueprints for your dreams and desires as if you had planned it and, in the process, made the world a significantly different (and significantly grimmer) place.</p><p>Fourteen years later, we don’t even grasp what we did.</p><p>Fourteen years later, the improbability of it all still staggers the imagination, starting with those <a href="http://911anniversary.nydailynews.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/landscape/rubble25.jpg" target="_blank">vast shards</a> of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, the real-world equivalent of the <a href="http://www.originalprop.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/planet-of-the-apes-statue-of-liberty-blu-ray-disc-screencap-hd-1080p-05.jpg" target="_blank">Statue of Liberty</a> sticking out of the sand in the original <em>Planet of the Apes</em>.  With lower Manhattan still burning and the air acrid with destruction, they seemed like evidence of a culture that had undergone its own apocalyptic moment and come out the other side unrecognizably transformed.  To believe the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/118775/tom_engelhardt_9/11_in_a_movie-made_world" target="_blank">coverage</a> of the time, Americans had experienced Pearl Harbor <em>and</em> Hiroshima combined.  We were planet Earth's ultimate victims and downtown New York was “Ground Zero,” a phrase previously reserved for places where nuclear explosions had occurred.  We were instantly the world’s greatest victim <em>and</em> greatest survivor, and it was taken for granted that the world’s most fulfilling sense of revenge would be ours.  9/11 came to be seen as an assault on everything innocent and good and triumphant about us, the ultimate they-hate-our-freedoms moment and, Osama, it worked. You spooked this country into 14 years of giving any dumb or horrifying act or idea or law or intrusion into our lives or curtailment of our rights a get-out-of-jail-free pass. You loosed not just your dogs of war, but ours, which was exactly what you needed to bring chaos to the Muslim world.    </p><p>Fourteen years later, let me remind you of just how totally improbable 9/11 was and how ragingly clueless we all were on that day. George W. Bush (and cohorts) couldn’t even take it in when, on August 6, 2001, the president was given a daily intelligence briefing <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/04/10/august6.memo/" target="_blank">titled</a> “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” The <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/01/13/the-al-qaeda-switchboard" target="_blank">NSA</a>, the <a href="http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/23/information-could-have-stopped-911-299148.html" target="_blank">CIA</a>, and the FBI, which had many of the pieces of the bin Laden puzzle in their hands, still couldn’t imagine it. And believe me, even when it was happening, I could hardly grasp it.  I was doing exercises in my bedroom with the TV going when I first heard the news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center and saw the initial shots of a smoking tower. And I remember my immediate thought: just like the B-25 that <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-25_Empire_State_Building_crash" target="_blank">almost took out</a> the Empire State Building back in 1945. Terrorists bringing down the World Trade Center? Please. Al-Qaeda? You must be kidding. Later, when two planes had struck in New York and another had taken out part of the Pentagon, and it was obvious that it wasn’t an accident, I had an even more ludicrous thought.  It occurred to me that the unexpected vulnerability of Americans living in a land largely protected from the chaos so much of the world experiences might open us up to the pain of others in a new way. Dream on. All it opened us up to was bringing pain to others.</p><p>Fourteen years later, don’t you still find it improbable that George W. Bush and company used those murderous acts and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_September_11_attacks" target="_blank">nearly 3,000</a> resulting deaths as an excuse to try to make the world theirs?  It took them no time at all to decide to launch a “Global War on Terror” in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1547561.stm" target="_blank">up to 60 countries</a>.  It took them next to no time to begin dreaming of the establishment of a future <em>Pax Americana</em> in the Middle East, followed by the sort of global imperium that had previously been conjured up only by cackling bad guys in James Bond films.  Don’t you find it strange, looking back, just how quickly 9/11 set their brains aflame?  Don’t you find it curious that the Bush administration’s top officials were quite so <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/101850/" target="_blank">infatuated</a> by the U.S. military?  Doesn’t it still strike you as odd that they had such blind faith in that military's supposedly limitless powers to do essentially anything and be “the greatest force <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/22/washington/w23policytext.html?pagewanted=all" target="_blank">for human liberation</a> the world has ever known”? Don’t you still find it eerie that, amid the wreckage of the Pentagon, the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/plans-for-iraq-attack-began-on-9-11/" target="_blank">initial orders</a> our secretary of defense gave his aides were to come up with plans for striking Iraq, even though he was already convinced that al-Qaeda had launched the attack? ("'Go massive,' an aide’s notes quote him as saying. 'Sweep it all up. Things related and not.'")  Don’t you think “and not” sums up the era to come?  Don’t you find it curious that, in the rubble of those towers, plans not just to pay Osama bin Laden back, but to turn Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/18/opinion/18KRUG.html" target="_blank">Iran</a> -- “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran” -- into American protectorates were already being imagined?</p><p>Fourteen years later, how probable was it that the country then universally considered the planet’s “sole superpower,” openly challenged only by tiny numbers of jihadist extremists, with a military better funded than the next <a href="http://mic.com/articles/79673/america-spends-more-on-military-than-the-other-top-10-countries-combined" target="_blank">10</a> to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/07/everything-chuck-hagel-needs-to-know-about-the-defense-budget-in-charts/" target="_blank">13</a> forces combined (most of whom were allies anyway), and whose technological skills were, as they say, to die for would win <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">no wars</a>, defeat no enemies, and successfully complete no occupations?  What were the odds?  If, on September 12, 2001, someone had given you half-reasonable odds on a U.S. military winning streak in the Greater Middle East, don’t tell me you wouldn’t have slapped some money on the table.</p><p>Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the U.S. military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century, despite having officially <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/world/middleeast/last-convoy-of-american-troops-leaves-iraq.html" target="_blank">left</a> one of those countries in 2011 (only to <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/08/07/statement-president" target="_blank">head back again</a> in the late summer of 2014) and having endlessly announced the conclusion of its operations in the other (only to ratchet them <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/27/us-afghanistan-helmand-idUSKCN0QW1CO20150827" target="_blank">up again</a>)?</p><p>Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175962/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_ten_commandments_for_a_better_american_world/" target="_blank">helped</a> lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in parts of fractured Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/world/middleeast/islamic-state-sprouting-limbs-beyond-mideast.html" target="_blank">franchised</a>” itself out from <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/isis-rises-in-libya" target="_blank">Libya</a> to <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/12/middleeast/isis-boko-haram/" target="_blank">Nigeria</a> to <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-33322208" target="_blank">Afghanistan</a>? If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted such a possibility, who wouldn’t have thought you mad?</p><p>Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the U.S. has gone into the business of robotic assassination big time; that (despite Watergate-era <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2002/LAW/11/04/us.assassination.policy/" target="_blank">legal prohibitions</a> on such acts), we are now the Terminators of Planet Earth, not its <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Connor" target="_blank">John Connors</a>; that the president is openly and proudly an <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_assassin-in-chief/" target="_blank">assassin-in-chief</a> with his own global “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html" target="_blank">kill list</a>”; that we have endlessly targeted the backlands of the planet with our (Grim) Reaper and Predator (thank you <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100403/?ref_=nv_sr_3" target="_blank">Hollywood</a>!) drones armed with Hellfire missiles; and that Washington has regularly knocked off <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147" target="_blank">women</a> and <a href="https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/08/11/more-than-160-children-killed-in-us-strikes/" target="_blank">children</a> while searching for militant leaders and their <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/the-case-against-drone-strikes-on-people-who-only-act-like-terrorists/278744/" target="_blank">generic followers</a>?  And don’t you find it odd that all of this has been done in the name of wiping out the terrorists and their movements, despite the fact that wherever our drones strike, those movements seem to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">gain</a> in strength and power?</p><p>Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that our “war on terror” has so regularly devolved into a war of and for terror; that our methods, including the targeted killings of numerous <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176022/tomgram%3A_pratap_chatterjee,_no_lone_rangers_in_drone_warfare/" target="_blank">leaders</a> and “lieutenants” of militant groups have <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175988/tomgram%3A_andrew_cockburn,_how_assassination_sold_drugs_and_promoted_terrorism/" target="_blank">visibly promoted</a>, not blunted, the spread of Islamic extremism; and that, despite this, Washington has generally not recalibrated its actions in any meaningful way?</p><p>Fourteen years later, isn’t it possible to think of 9/11 as a mass grave into which significant aspects of American life as we knew it have been shoveled?  Of course, the changes that came, especially those reinforcing the most oppressive aspects of state power, didn’t arrive out of the blue like those hijacked planes.  Who, after all, could dismiss the size and power of the national security state and the military-industrial complex before those 19 men with box cutters arrived on the scene?  Who could deny that, packed into the Patriot Act (passed largely <a href="https://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2009/03/02/congress-had-no-time-to-read-the-usa-patriot-act/" target="_blank">unread</a> by Congress in October 2001) was a <a href="https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2011/10/ten-years-later-look-three-scariest-provisions-usa-patriot-act" target="_blank">wish list</a> of pre-9/11 <a href="https://www.aclu.org/surveillance-under-usa-patriot-act" target="_blank">law enforcement</a> and right-wing hobbyhorses?  Who could deny that the top officials of the Bush administration and their neocon supporters had <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175336/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_war_is_a_drug/" target="_blank">long been thinking</a> about how to leverage “U.S. military supremacy” into a <em>Pax Americana</em>-style new world order or that they had been dreaming of “a new Pearl Harbor” which might speed up the process?  It was, however, only thanks to Osama bin Laden, that they -- and we -- were shuttled into the most improbable of all centuries, the twenty-first.</p><p>Fourteen years later, the 9/11 attacks and the thousands of innocents killed represent international criminality and immorality of the first order.  On that, Americans are clear, but -- most improbable of all -- no one in Washington has yet taken the slightest responsibility for blowing a hole through the Middle East, loosing mayhem across significant swathes of the planet, or helping release the forces that would create the first true terrorist state of modern history; nor has anyone in any official capacity taken responsibility for creating the conditions that led to the deaths of <a href="http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/human/civilians" target="_blank">hundreds of thousands</a>, possibly a <a href="http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30164-report-shows-us-invasion-occupation-of-iraq-left-1-million-dead" target="_blank">million or more</a> people, turned <a href="http://warincontext.org/2015/09/02/the-worlds-failure-in-syria/" target="_blank">many</a> in the Greater Middle East into internal or external <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174892/michael_schwartz_the_iraqi_brain_drain" target="_blank">refugees</a>, destroyed nations, and brought unbelievable pain to countless human beings.  In these years, no act -- not of torture, nor murder, nor the illegal offshore imprisonment of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175630/tomgram:_peter_van_buren,_torture_superpower/" target="_blank">innocent people</a>, nor death delivered from the air or the ground, nor the slaughter of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175787/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_washington%27s_wedding_album_from_hell/" target="_blank">wedding parties</a>, nor the killing of children -- has blunted the sense among Americans that we live in an “<a href="http://eaglerising.com/15660/marco-rubio-liberals-may-not-believe-know-america-exceptional/" target="_blank">exceptional</a>” and “<a href="http://www.voanews.com/content/obama_tells_air_force_academy_us_is_one_indispensable_country_world_affairs/940158.html" target="_blank">indispensable</a>” country of staggering goodness and innocence.</p><p>Fourteen years later, how improbable is that?</p> Tue, 08 Sep 2015 07:03:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1042063 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics Civil Liberties News & Politics World september 11 9/11 attacks My Mom Was Something: Reflections on Her Art and How the World Has Changed http://https.alternet.org/culture/my-mom-was-something-reflections-her-art-and-how-world-has-changed <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">This story is about a bottle, a message, time, war, my mom, and me.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/coupleposing_smallredo.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Almost three quarters of a century ago, my mother placed a message in a bottle and tossed it out beyond the waves. It bobbed along through tides, storms, and squalls until just recently, almost four decades after her death, it washed ashore at my feet. I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. Still, what happened, even stripped of the metaphors, does astonish me. So here, on the day after my 71st birthday, is a little story about a bottle, a message, time, war (American-style), my mom, and me.</p><p>Recently, based on a Google search, a woman emailed me at the website I run, <em><a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/" target="_blank">TomDispatch</a></em>, about a 1942 sketch by Irma Selz that she had purchased at an estate sale in Seattle. Did it, she wanted to know, have any value?</p><p>Now, Irma Selz was my mother and I answered that, to the best of my knowledge, the drawing she had purchased didn’t have much monetary value, but that in her moment in New York City -- we’re talking the 1940s -- my mom <em>was</em> a figure. She was known in the gossip columns of the time as “New York’s girl caricaturist.” Professionally, she kept her maiden name, Selz, not the most common gesture in that long-gone era and a world of cartoonists and illustrators that was stunningly male.</p><p>From the 1930s through the 1940s, she drew theatrical caricatures for just about every paper in town: the <em>Herald Tribune</em>, the <em>New York Times</em>, the <em>Journal-American</em>,<em>PM</em>, the <em>Daily News</em>, the <em>Brooklyn Eagle</em>, not to speak of King Features Syndicate. She did regular “profile” illustrations for the <em>New Yorker</em> and her work appeared in magazines like <em>Cue</em>, <em>Glamour</em>, <em>Town &amp; Country</em>, and the <em>American Mercury</em>. In the 1950s, she drew political caricatures for the <em>New York Post</em> when it was a liberal rag, not a Murdoch-owned right-wing one.</p><p>Faces were her thing; in truth, her obsession. By the time I made it to the breakfast table most mornings, she would have taken pencil or pen to the photos of newsmakers on the front page of the <em>New York Times</em> and retouched the faces. In restaurants, other diners would remind her of stock characters -- butlers, maids, vamps, detectives -- in the Broadway plays she had once drawn professionally. Extracting a pen from her purse, she would promptly begin sketching those faces on the tablecloth (and in those days, restaurants you took kids to didn’t have paper tablecloths and plenty of crayons). I remember this, of course, not for the remarkable mini-caricatures that resulted, but for the embarrassment it caused the young Tom Engelhardt. Today, I would give my right arm to possess those sketches-on-cloth. In her old age, walking on the beach, my mother would pick up stones, see in their discolorations and indentations the same set of faces, and ink them in, leaving me all these years later with boxes of fading stone butlers.</p><p>She lived in a hard-drinking, hard-smoking world of cartoonists, publicists, journalists, and theatrical types (which is why when “Mad Men” first appeared on TV and no character ever seemed to lack a drink or cigarette, it felt so familiar to me).  I can still remember the parties at our house, the liquor consumed, and at perhaps the age of seven or eight, having <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/16/arts/irwin-hasen-comic-book-artist-and-dondi-illustrator-dies-at-96.html" target="_blank">Irwin Hasen</a>, the creator of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dondi" target="_blank"><em>Dondi</em>,</a> a now-largely-forgotten comic strip about a World War II-era Italian orphan, sit by my bedside just before lights-out.  There, he drew his character for me on tracing paper, while a party revved up downstairs.  This was just the way life was for me.  It was, as far as I knew, how everyone grew up.  And so my mother’s occupation and her preoccupations weren’t something I spent much time thinking about.</p><p>I would arrive home, schoolbag in hand, and find her at her easel -- where else did mothers stay? -- sketching under the skylight that was a unique attribute of the New York apartment we rented all those years.  As a result, to my eternal regret I doubt that, even as an adult, I ever asked her anything about her world or how she got there, or why she left her birth city of Chicago and came to New York, or what drove her, or how she ever became who and what she was. As I’m afraid is often true with parents, it’s only after their deaths, only after the answers are long gone, that the questions begin to pile up.</p><p>She was clearly driven to draw from her earliest years.  I still have her childhood souvenir album, including what must be her first professionally published cartoon.  She was 16 and it was part of an April 1924 strip called “Harold Teen” in the <em>Chicago Daily Tribune</em>,<em></em>evidently about a young flapper and her boyfriend.  Its central panel displayed possible hairdos (“bobs”) for the flapper, including “the mop,” “the pineapple bob,” and the “Buster Brown bob.”  A little note under it says, “from sketches by Irma Madelon Selz.”  (“Madelon” was not the way her middle name was spelled, but it was the spelling she always loved.)  She would later go on to do theatrical sketches and cartoons for the <em>Tribune</em> before heading for New York.</p><p>I still have her accounts book, too, and it’s sad to see what she got paid, freelance job by freelance job, in the war years and beyond by major publications.  This helps explain why, in what for so many Americans were the Golden Fifties -- a period when my father was sometimes unemployed -- the arguments after I was officially “asleep” (but of course listening closely) were so fierce, even violent, over the bills, the debts, and how to pay for what “Tommy” needed.  But other than such memories and the random things my mother told me, I know so much less than I would like to about her.</p><p><strong>“A Lady Drew It for Me”</strong></p><p>As I turn 71 -- two years older than my mother when she died -- I can’t tell you how moved I was to have a small vestige of her life from the wartime moments before my birth wash ashore.  What my correspondent had bought in that estate sale -- she later sent me a photo of it -- was a quick portrait my mother did of a young man in uniform evidently being trained at the U.S. Coast Guard Machine School on Ellis Island (then <a href="http://www.nps.gov/elis/learn/historyculture/places_post_peak.htm" target="_blank">occupied</a> by that service).  On it, my mother had written, “Stage Door Canteen” and signed it, as she did all her work, “Selz.”  It was April 1942, the month of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataan_Death_March" target="_blank">Bataan Death March</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doolittle_Raid" target="_blank">Doolittle’s Raid</a> on Tokyo.  And perhaps that Coast Guardsman was soon to head <a href="http://www.uscg.mil/history/ww2index.asp" target="_blank">to war</a>.  He signed my mother’s sketch “To Jean with all my love, Les” and sent it to his sweetheart or wife.</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="382"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="382" typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://www.alternet.org/files/styles/large/public/story_images/stagedoorcanteen_large.jpg" /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --><div class="field field-name-field-caption field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">”Les" sketched by my mother at the Stage Door Canteen on April 20, 1942.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-image-source field-type-text field-label-inline clearfix"><div class="field-label">Photo Credit: </div><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Tom Engelhardt</div></div></div> </div><p>Later that April night in the midst of a great global war, Les wrote a letter to Jean in distant Seattle -- the framed sketch from that estate sale contained the letter -- filled with longing, homesickness, and desire. (“Well, I see it is time for the ferry, so I will have to close and dream about you, and can I dream.  Oh boy.”)  And here’s how he briefly described the encounter with my mother: “Well, I said I would send you a picture.  Well, here it is.  I was up to the Stage Door Canteen, a place for servicemen and a lady drew it for me.”</p><p>That institution, run by the American Theater Wing, <a href="http://www.stagedoorcanteen.co.uk/ww2-history.html" target="_blank">first opened</a> in the basement of a Broadway theater in New York City in March 1942.  It was a cafeteria, dance hall, and nightclub all rolled into one, where servicemen could eat, listen to bands, and relax -- for free -- and be served or entertained by theatrical types, including celebrities of the era.  It was a hit and similar canteens would soon open in other U.S. cities (and finally in Paris and London as well).  It was just one of so many ways in which home-front Americans from every walk of life tried to support the war effort. In that sense, World War II in the United States was distinctly a people’s war and experienced as such.</p><p>My father, who volunteered for the military right after Pearl Harbor, at age 35, became a major in the Army Air Corps.  (There was no separate U.S. Air Force in those years.)  In 1943, he went overseas as operations officer for the First Air Commandos in Burma.  In <em>Terry and the Pirates</em>, a popular comic strip -- cartoonists of every sort “mobilized” for the war -- his unit’s co-commander, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Cochran" target="_blank">Phil Cochran</a>, became the character “<a href="https://images.asc.ohio-state.edu/is/image/cartoonimages/2/2bf02dff-a644-4389-83b2-371e11f6ce50.jpg/?size=450,450&amp;fmt=png&amp;layer=1&amp;src=cartoonimages/watermarks/cgra/watermark.gif&amp;rotate=-60&amp;opac=40&amp;sizeN=1,1" target="_blank">Flip Corkin</a>.”  Strip creator Milton Caniff even put my father jokingly into a May 1944 strip using his nickname, “Englewillie,” and in 1967 gave him the original artwork.  It was inscribed: “For Major ENGLEWILLIE himself... with a nostalgic backward nod toward the Big Adventure.”</p><p>My mother did her part. I’m sure it never occurred to her to do otherwise. It was the time of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosie_the_Riveter" target="_blank">Rosie the Riveter</a> and so Irma the Caricaturist lent a hand. </p><p>Here’s a description from her publisher -- she wrote and illustrated children’s books years later -- about her role at the Stage Door Canteen.  “During the war, she was chairman of the Artist’s Committee of the American Theatre Wing.  She helped plan the murals, which decorate the Stage Door Canteen and the Merchant Seaman’s Canteen.  Miss Selz remembers setting up her easel and turning out caricatures of servicemen.  Some nights she did well over a hundred of these skillful, quick line drawings and many servicemen still treasure their ‘portraits’ by Selz.”</p><p>Imagine then that, on the April night when she drew Les, that “lady” might also have sketched another 100 or more soldiers and sailors, mementos to be sent home to family or sweethearts.  These were, of course, portraits of men on their way to war.  Some of those sketched were undoubtedly killed.  Many of the drawings must be long gone, but a few perhaps still cherished and others heading for estate sales as the last of the World War II generation, that mobilized citizenry of wartime America, finally dies off.</p><p>From photos I have, it’s clear that my mom also sketched various servicemen and celebrities on the set of <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036384/" target="_blank"><em>The Stage Door Canteen</em></a>, the 1943 home-front propaganda flick Hollywood made about the institution.  (If you watch it, you can glimpse a mural of hers at the moment Katharine Hepburn suddenly makes a cameo appearance.)  In those years, my mother also seems to have regularly volunteered to draw people eager to support the war effort by buying war bonds.  Here, for instance, is the text from a Bonwit Teller department store ad of November 16, 1944, announcing such an upcoming event: “Irma Selz, well-known newspaper caricaturist of stage and screen stars, will do a caricature of those who purchase a $500 War Bond or more.”<br /><br />While my father was overseas, she also mobilized in the most personal of ways.  Every month, she sent him a little hand-made album of her own making (“Willie’s Scrap-Book, The Magazine for Smart Young Commandos”).  Each of them was a remarkably intricate mix of news, theatrical gossip, movie ads, pop quizzes, cheesecake, and cartoons, as well as often elaborate caricatures and sketches she did especially for him.  In the “March 1944 Annual Easter Issue,” she included a photo of herself sketching under the label “The Working Class.”</p><p>I still have four of those “scrap-books.”  To my mind, they are small classics of mobilized wartime effort at the most personal level imaginable.  One, for instance, included -- since she was pregnant at the time -- a double-page spread she illustrated of the future “me.”  The first page was labeled “My daughter” and showed a little blond girl in a t-shirt and slacks with a baseball bat over her shoulder.  (My mother had indeed broken her nose playing catcher in a youthful softball game.)  The other is labeled “Your daughter” and shows a pink-cheeked blond girl with a giant pink bow in her curly hair, a frilly pink dress, and pink ballet slippers.</p><p>Inside one of those little magazines, there was even a tiny slip-out booklet on tracing paper labeled “A Pocket Guild to SELZ.”  (“For use of military personnel only.  Prepared by Special Service Division, Eastern Representative, Special Project 9, Washington, D.C.”)  It began: “If you start worrying about what goes with Selz, here is your reference and pocket guide for any time of the day or night.”  Each tiny page was a quick sketch, the first showing her unhappily asleep (“9. A.M.”), dreaming of enemy planes, one of which, in the second sketch (“10 A.M.”), goes down in flames as she smiles in her sleep.  The micro-booklet ended with a sketch of her drawing a sailor at the Merchant Seaman’s Club and then, in front of the door of the Stage Door Canteen, heading for home (“11:30 P.M.”).  “And so to bed” is the last line.</p><p>I know that my father wrote back fervently, since I have a letter my mother sent him that begins: “Now to answer your three letters I received yest[erday]. No. 284, 285 &amp; 289, written Apr. 26, 27, and 29th.  It was such a relief to read a letter saying you’d had a pile of mail from me, at last, &amp; also that the 1st of the Scrap-Books finally reached you, &amp; better yet, that you enjoyed it.”</p><p>For both of them, World War II was their moment of volunteerism.  From 1946 on, I doubt my parents ever again volunteered for anything.</p><p><strong>People-less Wars</strong></p><p>Here’s the strange thing: the wars never ended, but the voluntarism did.  Think of it this way: there were two forces of note on the home front in World War II, an early version of what, in future years, would become the national security state and the American people.  The militarized state that produced a global triumph in 1945 emerged from that war emboldened and empowered.  From that moment to the present -- whether you’re talking about the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">intelligence services</a>, private contractors, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175945/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_a_shadow_war_in_150_countries/" target="_blank">special operations forces</a>, or the Department of Homeland Security and the homeland-industrial complex that grew up around it post-9/11 -- it's been good times all the way.</p><p>In those seven decades, the national security state <a href="http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/" target="_blank">never stopped expanding</a>, its power on the rise, its budgets ever larger, and democratic oversight weakening by the decade.  In that same period, the American people, demobilized after World War II, never truly mobilized again despite the endless wars to come.  The only exceptions might be in the Vietnam years and again in the brief period before the 2003 invasion of Iraq when <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/17/international/middleeast/17ASSE.html" target="_blank">massive numbers</a> of Americans did <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/414/signage_of_the_times" target="_blank">mobilize</a>, going voluntarily into opposition to yet one more conflict in a distant land.</p><p>And yet if its “victory weapon” <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176018/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_what_happened_to_war/" target="_blank">robbed the planet</a> of the ability to fight World War III and emerge intact, war and military action seemed never to cease on “the peripheries.”  It was there, in the Cold War years, that the U.S. confronted the Soviet Union or insurgencies and independence movements of many sorts in covert as well as open war.  (Korea, Tibet, the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Libya, to name just the obvious ones.)  After the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, the wars, conflicts, and military actions only seemed to increase -- Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, Iraq (and Iraq again and yet again), Afghanistan (again), Pakistan, Libya (again), Yemen, and so on.  And that doesn’t even cover covert semi-war operations against Nicaragua in the 1980s and Iran <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/07/07/preparing-the-battlefield?currentPage=all" target="_blank">since 1979</a>, to name just two countries.</p><p>In the wake of World War II, wartime -- whether as a “cold war” or a “war on terror” -- became the only time in Washington.  And yet, as the American military and the CIA were loosed in a bevy of ways, there was ever less for Americans to do and just about nothing for American civilians to volunteer for (except, of course, in the post-9/11 years, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175912/tomgram%3A_rory_fanning,_why_do_we_keep_thanking_the_troops/" target="_blank">ritualistic thanking</a> of the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175423/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich,_playing_ball_with_the_pentagon/" target="_blank">troops</a>).  After Vietnam, there <a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/72085.html" target="_blank">wouldn’t even be</a> a citizens’ army that it was your duty to serve in.</p><p>In those decades, war, ever more “covert” and “elite,” became the property of the national security state, not Congress or the American people.  It would be <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/how-private-contractors-have-created-shadow-nsa/" target="_blank">privatized</a>, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175507/tom_engelhardt_remotely_piloted_war" target="_blank">corporatized</a>, and turned over to the experts.  (Make what you will of the fact that, without an element of popular voluntarism and left to those experts, the country would <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175114/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_what_the_u.s._military_can%27t_do" target="_blank">never win</a> another significant war, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">suffering instead</a> one stalemate or defeat after another.)</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="366" width="480"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="366" width="480" typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://www.alternet.org/files/styles/large/public/story_images/armysketch_smallredo.jpg" /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --><div class="field field-name-field-caption field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">My mother draws a soldier on the set of the movie The Stage Door Canteen.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-image-source field-type-text field-label-inline clearfix"><div class="field-label">Photo Credit: </div><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Tom Engelhardt</div></div></div> </div><p>In other words, when it comes to war, American-style, the 73 years since Irma Selz sketched that jaunty young Coast Guardsman at the Stage Door Canteen might as well be a millennium.  Naturally enough, I’m nostalgic when it comes to my mother’s life.  There is, however, no reason to be nostalgic about the war she and my father mobilized for.  It was cataclysmic beyond imagining.  It destroyed significant parts of the planet.  It involved cruelty on all sides and on an industrial scale -- from genocide to the mass firebombing of cities -- that was and undoubtedly will remain unmatched in history.  Given the war’s final weapon that took out <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1666/" target="_blank">Hiroshima</a> and Nagasaki, such a war could never be fought again, not at least without destroying humanity and a habitable planet.<br /><br />Nonetheless, something was lost when that war effort evaporated, when war became the property of the imperial state. </p><p>My mother died in 1977, my father on Pearl Harbor Day 1983.  They and their urge to volunteer <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175970/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_is_a_new_political_system_emerging_in_this_country/" target="_blank">no longer have a<strong></strong>place</a> in the world of 2015.  When I try to imagine Irma Selz today, in the context of America’s new wartime and its endless wars, conflicts, raids, and air assassination campaigns, I think of her drawing drones (or their operators) or having to visit a Special Operations version of a Stage Door Canteen so secret that no normal American could even know it existed.  I imagine her sketching soldiers in units so “elite” that they probably wouldn’t even be allowed to send their portraits home to lovers or wives.</p><p>In these decades, we’ve gone from an American version of people’s war and national mobilization to people-less wars and a demobilized populace.  War has remained a constant, but we have not and in our new 1% democracy, that’s a loss.  Given that, I want to offer one small cheer, however belatedly, for Irma the Caricaturist.  She mattered and she’s missed.</p><p><em><strong>Note:</strong>I’d also like to offer a final salute to <a href="http://obits.nj.com/obituaries/trenton/obituary.aspx?pid=173394494" target="_blank">Henry Drewry</a>, one of the last of the World War II generation in my life and one of the great ones. He died on November 21, 2014. </em></p> Tue, 21 Jul 2015 07:48:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1039664 at http://https.alternet.org Culture Culture tom engelhardt irma selz In U.S., Domestic Terror, Cop Killings and Violent Gun Deaths with Suicides, Dwarf Anything "Jihadis" Have Produced http://https.alternet.org/us-domestic-terror-cop-killings-and-violent-gun-deaths-suicides-dwarf-anything-jihadis-have-produced <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The Real (Armed) Dangers of American Life.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/gggssf.jpeg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p dir="ltr">Consider this paragraph a holding action on the subject of getting blown away in America.  While I write this dispatch, I’m waiting patiently for the next set of dispiriting killings in this country. And I have faith. Before I’m done, some angry -- or simply mentally disturbed -- and well-armed American “lone wolf” (or lone wolves) will gun down someone (or a number of people) somewhere and possibly himself (or themselves) as well. Count on that. It’ll be my last paragraph.  Think of it as, in a grim way, something to look forward to as you read this piece on American armed mayhem. </p><p dir="ltr">National security officials and politicians have been pounding home the message that the “<a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/06/02/fear-mongers-always-scariest-time-ever/">greatest threat</a>” to Americans is an extreme and brutal jihadist movement thousands of miles away and the videos and social media messages its followers produce that make it seem close at hand.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the dangers of armed life in these United States, a quick survey of national insecurity in a country armed to the teeth.</p><p dir="ltr">I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that, in the first half of 2015, there’s been a plethora of incidents to draw on.  There’s the killer still on the loose in northern Colorado who <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/05/us/task-force-formed-to-investigate-northern-colorado-shootings.html">shot at</a> people in cars or out biking or walking late at night.  There’s the suspected <a href="http://www.people.com/article/police-identify-all-7-victims-suspected-connecticut-serial-killer">serial killer</a> who <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/11/us/connecticut-serial-killer-case/">dumped</a> seven bodies behind a strip mall in New Britain, Connecticut, and may now be in jail on unrelated charges. There’s the ongoing trial of <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/01/aurora-shooting-defendant-thought-hed-be-killed/28323791/">James Holmes</a> who blew away 12 moviegoers and wounded 70 in a multiplex in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012.  There was the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Tyrone_shooting">mass killing</a> of seven people in February in the tiny town of Tyrone, Missouri, by Joseph Aldridge, an armed recluse who then killed himself.  And don’t forget <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/crimewatch/four-people-found-dead-in-east-tulsa-home-police-say/article_9c246e78-57b2-5d84-8257-5a5d23e37a14.html">Sudheer Khamitkar</a>, who shot to death his wife and two young sons and then himself in Tulsa in April, or <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/murder-suicide-eyed-deaths-five-arizona-home-n358576">Christopher Carrillo</a>, who murdered four of his family members and then turned his gun on himself in a Tucson home in May.  And <a href="http://shootingtracker.com/wiki/Mass_Shootings_in_2015">many others</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In such a list, there should be a special place for a phenomenon that, though largely untabulated, has been gaining attention in recent years as ever more Americans “carry” in <a href="http://gunwars.news21.com/2014/across-the-nation-guns-can-be-carried-into-more-public-places/">ever more places</a>.  This means ever more loose guns lying around.  I’m talking about the mayhem committed by toddlers (or perhaps they should be thought of as American <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/toddlers-are-shooting-each-other-we-don-t-need-guns-in-schools-20150602">lone wolf cubs</a>).  Toddler shootings range from the two year old who killed his mother in a Walmart in Idaho with the gun she was <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/12/30/woman-shot-with-own-gun/21062089/">packing in her purse</a> as 2014 ended to the three year old who <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/02/01/new-mexico-toddler-shoots-pregnant-mother-father-police-say/">discovered a gun</a> in a purse in an Albuquerque motel room in February and wounded his father and pregnant mother with a single shot.  Such a list for this year would have to include the Florida two year old who <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article7921461.html">found</a> his father’s gun in the family car and killed himself with it in January, the three year old who <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/13/toddler-shoots-and-kills-one-year-old-boy-in-cleveland-ohio">picked up</a> an unattended gun and killed a one year old in a Cleveland home in April, the Virginia two year old who <a href="http://www.wsls.com/story/29153521/police-say-va-toddler-accidentally-shoots-self-with-handgun">found a gun</a> on top of a dresser and killed himself in late May, and the four year old who, at about the same time in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, <a href="http://www.kdlt.com/news/local-news/man-killed-in-accidental-target-shooting-incident/33256654">picked up a shotgun</a> at a target shooting range and killed his 22-year-old uncle.  Toddler killings have been commonplace enough in these pistol-packin’ years that they now <a href="http://forward.com/opinion/176043/more-killed-by-toddlers-than-terrorists-in-us/">significantly outpace</a> terror killings in the U.S.</p><p dir="ltr">The Big Leagues of Violence</p><p dir="ltr">While we’re at it (before we get to the really big stuff), there is the crew I think of as American-style suicide killers.  They lack a political or religious ideology like the suicide bombers of the Middle East, but they are on missions for which killing yourself as well as others is the imagined end.  Think of them as informal American jihadis, in touch with no ISIS social media types, watching no inflammatory terror videos, but all riled up anyway, often deeply disturbed, armed, and on suicide missions in the American homeland.</p><p dir="ltr">I’m referring to a remarkably commonplace kind of killing that, as far as I know, no one has taken the time to record or count up: men who kill their girlfriends or wives (and sometimes others in the vicinity) and then take their own lives.  Here’s an almost random list of just some of the reported cases I stumbled across for 2015: In January, in the appropriately named Nutley, New Jersey, a 38-year-old man <a href="http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2015/01/corrections_officer_shot_girlfriend_in_apparent_mu.html">shot</a> his 37-year-old girlfriend and then killed himself; in January, in Lincoln, Nebraska, a 49-year-old man <a href="http://www.waff.com/story/27861853/man-girlfriend-dead-in-lincoln-co-murder-suicide">shot</a> his 44-year-old girlfriend, called the police to report the killing, and then killed himself; also in January, a 29-year-old man <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/man-shoots-girlfriend-times-square-hotel-cops-article-1.2087748">shot</a> his 27-year-old pregnant girlfriend six or seven times in a hotel for the homeless in New York City’s Times Square before taking his own life; in February, in Wading River, New York, a 44-year-old man <a href="http://7online.com/news/cops-man-kills-girlfriend-her-daughter-then-self-in-li-murder-suicide/519645/">shot</a> and killed his 43-year-old girlfriend and her 17-year-old daughter before taking his own life; in March, in Chicago, a 23-year-old man <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-man-woman-dead-in-apparent-murdersuicide-shooting-on-south-side-20150309-story.html">shot</a> and killed his 24-year-old girlfriend, then himself in the mouth, committing suicide; in April, a 48-year-old Fort Worth man, who had a winning $500 lottery ticket and refused to share the spoils with his 46-year-old girlfriend, <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cops-man-shot-girlfriend-himself-after-winning-lottery-ticket/">shot</a> her and then himself after they argued, then called the police to report the crime before dying; in April, in Cleveland, a 48-year-old man <a href="http://www.wkyc.com/story/news/local/cleveland/2015/04/21/three-dead-in-memphis-ave-shooting/26112041/">shot</a> and killed his 19-year-old girlfriend and then repeated the act two doors down, murdering his 47-year-old ex-wife, before turning his gun on himself; also in April in Montgomery, Alabama, a man <a href="http://www.al.com/news/montgomery/index.ssf/2015/04/man_woman_found_fatally_shot_i.html">shot</a> and killed his girlfriend, subsequently killing himself; similarly in April, a 35-year-old doctor <a href="http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/breaking/Girlfriend-Found-Dead-Doctor-Murder-Suicide-Navek-Givens-147219745.html">shot</a> and killed his 39-year-old girlfriend in Fayetteville, North Carolina, followed by a 32-year-old doctor in New Jersey, and then, when police approached him, committed suicide; in May, in San Diego, a 52-year-old man <a href="http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Man-Killed-Girlfriend-Her-Mom-in-Warner-Springs-Murder-Suicide-302517411.html">shot</a> his 28-year-old girlfriend and her 63-year-old mother to death before committing suicide.  As June began, in Cleveland, a 30-year-old man <a href="http://fox8.com/2015/06/01/police-man-shoots-ex-girlfriend-her-grandparents-before-taking-own-life/">shot</a> and killed his 24-year-old ex-girlfriend and her grandfather, badly injuring her grandmother, then killed himself.  And so it goes, and mind you, this is just a starter list for such acts, which seem remarkably commonplace.</p><p dir="ltr">Moving on to bigger things, one kind of killing has been much in the news of late: police shootings.  The figures the FBI has traditionally compiled on them have proven to be way too low, so others have entered the fray.  The Washington Post, for instance, recently began compiling a database of “every fatal shooting by police” in the U.S. in 2015 (deaths <a href="http://foxct.com/2015/03/16/branford-man-dies-after-police-use-taser-on-him/">by Taser</a> not included). Their figure so far: <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/fatal-police-shootings-in-2015-approaching-400-nationwide/2015/05/30/d322256a-058e-11e5-a428-c984eb077d4e_story.html?hpid=z1">at least 385</a> for the first five months of 2015 or approximately <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/01/police-commit-1-in-13-gun-deaths-in-the-u-s/">one of every 13</a> non-suicide gun deaths so far this year.</p><p dir="ltr">“About half the victims,” the Post reports, “were white, half minority. But the demographics shifted sharply among the unarmed victims, two-thirds of whom were black or Hispanic. Overall, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred.”  A <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/01/black-americans-killed-by-police-analysis">Guardian study</a> adds this detail: “Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people.”</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/04/police-killed-people-fbi-data-justifiable-homicides">According to</a> the Guardian, a recent Bureau of Justice report found that over the last eight years an average of 928 Americans have died annually at the hands of the police.  (FBI figures: only 383.)  In other words in those years, there were 7,427 police homicides, the equivalent of more than two 9/11s.  Compared to other developed countries, these figures are staggering. There were, for instance, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/09/the-counted-police-killings-us-vs-other-countries">more fatal police shootings</a> in the United States in the month of March 2015 (97) than Australia had between 1992 and 2011 (94).  Similarly, there have been almost three times as many police shootings in California alone in 2015 (72) as Canada experiences annually (25).</p><p dir="ltr">And when it comes to armed dangers in a country in which there are estimated to be between 270 and 310 million guns or, on average, <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/04/a-minority-of-americans-own-guns-but-just-how-many-is-unclear/">nearly one firearm</a> for every man, woman, and child, we haven’t even made it to the major leagues of death yet.  Take, for instance, suicide by gun.  In the last year for which we have figures, 2013, there were <a href="http://www.ichv.org/gun-facts/suicide-and-gun-violence/">21,175</a> such <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm">deaths</a> and they seem to be rising.  Deaths by firearm in this country totaled <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/injury.htm">33,636</a> in that year and seem to be rising as well.</p><p dir="ltr">And just for the heck of it, maybe we should throw in one other kind of weapon (even if it generally lacks the intentionality of firearms): cars, trucks, and other vehicles.  Many traffic deaths could certainly qualify as assaults, however unintentional, with a deadly weapon.  In 2013, there were <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year">32,719</a> such deaths, essentially equaling death by gun in America.</p><p dir="ltr">In all, then, we’re talking about approximately 66,000 death-dealing assaults with weapons or vehicles in this country yearly.</p><p dir="ltr">Armed Dangers and Meal Tickets</p><p dir="ltr">Now, let’s leave those annual fields of carnage behind and turn to the “greatest threat” of our moment -- or so the officials of the national security state would have you believe.  You know what that is, of course: the Islamic State with its sophisticated propaganda skills that, according to official Washington, regularly <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/13/world/middleeast/isis-is-winning-message-war-us-concludes.html">run circles</a> around whatever this country and its allies can muster in response.  Despite the nearly <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175655/tomgram%3A_kramer_and_hellman,_the_washington_creation_that_ate_your_lunch/">trillion dollars</a> a year that goes into national security and the elaborate <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/">surveillance</a> and monitoring systems that have been put in place, we remain strangely defenseless against its wiles.  Using social media, its facilitators threaten to obliterate distance, reach across oceans, and rile up displaced, marginalized, and often slightly unhinged young American Muslims, and -- at least so the story goes -- prepare the groundwork for unparalleled mayhem in “the homeland.”</p><p dir="ltr">With that dire scenario in mind, here is 2015 in Islamic State terrorism in the U.S. in terms of death and destruction: In May, evidently affected by ISIS’s social media presence, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/us/elton-simpson-eluded-us-inquiry-before-texas-shootout.html">Elton Simpson</a> and Nadir Soofi, two young American Muslims from Phoenix who were roommates, <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/04/us/garland-mohammed-drawing-contest-shooting/">set out</a> to attack a cartoon exhibit and contest in Garland, Texas, devoted to the Prophet Muhammad and organized by Islamophobe <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/todd-green-phd/pamela-geller-and-the-pro_b_7218446.html">Pam Geller</a>.  Armed with assault rifles and wearing body armor, they managed to wound an unarmed security guard in the ankle before they were killed by an off-duty traffic officer, also working security at the event.</p><p dir="ltr">Similarly, this month a 26-year-old black Muslim, Usaamah Rahim, was reportedly involved in an ISIS-inspired plot in Boston to somehow <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/boston-terror-suspect-usaamah-rahim-plotted-behead-pam-geller-sources">behead Geller</a>.  He then supposedly abandoned that plan, deciding instead to behead some local “<a href="http://www.wbur.org/2015/06/03/usaama-rahim-roslindale-attack-details-david-wright">boys in blue</a>.”  Approached on the street for questioning by Boston police and FBI agents in plain clothes, he pulled out a “military-style knife,” they claimed, threatened them, and was shot to death.  (Some aspects of their account have been <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/06/10/major-questions-remain-unanswered-killing-alleged-boston-isis-beheading-plotter/">questioned</a>.)  And that’s it, folks.  The greatest threat on the planet has, so far this year, managed to inspire three marginal young men to get themselves killed.  When it comes to the dangers in American life, put that in the context of tens of thousands of annual deaths by firearm, or even of the toddler killings.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite all <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamescarafano/2015/06/10/islamist-plots-are-on-the-rise-should-our-concern-be-rising-as-well/">the talk</a> of possible jihadist plots, this is the evidence we have of the threat to the “homeland” which the Islamic State represents at the moment and into which so much money and preventive activity flows (to the exclusion of so much else).  It is, we are told, a “new threat,” utterly unlike the normal dangers of our American world.  In fact, such violence, rare as it may be, shouldn’t seem aberrational at all.  It really should strike us as more of the same -- even if the names of the perpetrators sometimes have a different ring to them: men, often young, with access to weapons, in some cases mentally unstable, and with a grudge, intent on striking out.  They should remind us of those American men who so regularly kill their girlfriends and then themselves or of many of the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-santa-barbara-isla-vista-rampage-investigation-20150219-story.html">mass killers</a> of <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/25/us-mass-shootings-risen-sharply-fbi-report">recent years</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet this is the lone danger that is constantly played up as the one worthy of both fear and investment.  Of course, jihadist terror is perfectly real and if Americans lived in Syria or Iraq or Libya it would be a horrifying problem.  But whatever the present skills of ISIS’s propagandists, such violence has, since 9/11, proven more dangerous than <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/06/14/two-teenagers-injured-shark-attack-north-carolina-beach/71227268/">shark attacks</a>, but not much else in American life.  And when law enforcement agencies are surveyed, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/opinion/the-other-terror-threat.html?ref=international">according to</a> Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, they, too, see the dangers of Islamist terrorism as modest indeed in this country, particularly in comparison to the homegrown far right-wing version of the same.</p><p dir="ltr">It matters that we are still protected by two oceans and that the Islamic jihadist heartlands are distant indeed.  But let’s be honest: the threat of Islamic terrorism here is also a meal ticket for the national security state.  (Hence <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/terror-factory-fbi-trevor-aaronson-book">all those plots</a> that turn out to be essentially instigated, funded, often essentially organized by FBI <a href="http://www.terrordocumentary.org/">informers</a> and then “cracked” by the FBI.)  It’s one major way that the officials of that state-within-a-state ensure support and funding, endow themselves with special privileges, including never having to appear in <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175833/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_knowledge_is_crime/">court</a> for potential criminal acts, and entrench their anti-democratic <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175970/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_is_a_new_political_system_emerging_in_this_country/">methods</a> and the blanket of secrecy that goes with them ever more deeply in American life.</p><p dir="ltr">As for the real armed dangers in our world, nobody’s likely to put much money into protecting you from them and, despite those 66,000 deaths a year, somehow the world continues to spin and the end is not nigh.</p><p dir="ltr">By the way, you do have one thing coming to you, don’t you?  I promised you a last paragraph.  So here goes.</p><p>In the week-plus since I first began writing this piece, there was indeed one Islamic State-"inspired" attack in the United States.  A twenty-one year old man <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/17/us/new-york-isis-investigation/">lunged</a> at an FBI agent searching his home in Staten Island, New York, with "a large kitchen knife."  He was reputed to be part of another of those ISIS-inspired terror "<a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/queens-college-student-accused-of-plotting-terror-attack-in-nyc/">plots</a>" that seem unlikely to ever be successfully carried out.  There was also a mass killing.  A twenty-one-year-old <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/us/on-facebook-dylann-roof-charleston-suspect-wears-symbols-of-white-supremacy.html">white racist</a> walked into a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/us/charleston-church-shooting.html">opened fire</a> in what, if he had been Muslim, would have been called a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/us/charleston-shooting-terrorism-or-hate-crime.html">terror attack</a>, killing nine, including the church's pastor who was also a state senator.  As Reuters <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/18/us-usa-shooting-south-carolina-idUSKBN0OY06A20150618">reported</a>, the massacre "recalled the 1963 bombing of an African-American church in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four girls and galvanized the civil rights movement of the 1960s."  There was as well at least one more grim toddler shooting.  A Cincinnati three year old <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/3-year-old-ohio-boy-kills-self-with-gun-found-in-moms-purse/">found</a> his mother’s gun in her purse, shot himself in the chest, and died.  There was also at least one more fellow on a suicide mission: a Vermont man sought by the police in the killing of his ex-girlfriend engaged in a high-speed car chase before crashing and <a href="http://www.wmur.com/news/police-vermont-man-sought-in-exgirlfriends-death-kills-self-after-chase/33521950">committing</a> suicide by gun.  There were a number of police homicides, including: a man on probation in a Hacienda Inn in <a href="http://www.kcra.com/news/local-news/news-sierra/officers-police-shoot-kill-man-at-tahoe-hacienda-inn/33590860">South Lake Tahoe</a>; a 28-year-old man in a high-speed car chase in <a href="http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2015/06/14/stockton-police-shoot-and-kill-man/">Stockton</a>, California; a 28-year-old man, unarmed but "behaving erratically," in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/11/ryan-bolinger-des-moines-police_n_7560874.html">Des Moines</a>, Iowa; a man who stabbed a policeman trying to arrest him in <a href="http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Police-Involved-Shooting-Stabbing-Brighton-Beach-New-York-Coney-Island-308215221.html">Brighton Beach</a>, New York; and a man <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/13/louisville-police-defend-shooting-african-man/71198208/">tentatively identified</a> as African in Louisville, Kentucky, accused of violently threatening the police with a flag pole (with the usual conflicting stories from police and eyewitnesses about what actually happened).  And in the smorgasbord that is America’s cavalcade of violence, we shouldn’t leave out the off-duty Neptune, New Jersey, police sergeant who <a href="http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Police-Officer-Involved-Shooting-Jersey-Shore-Woman-Injured-Philip--307671101.html">chased</a> his ex-wife in his car, caught up with her, and shot her to death in front of their seven-year-old daughter before threatening to kill himself and being arrested by the police; or the Iowa City mall security guard, evidently fired from his job earlier that day, who went home, got a weapon, returned, and <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/mall-security-guard-harassed-woman-murder-friends-article-1.2258362">killed</a> a 20-year-old female employee of the mall’s children’s museum whom he had previously been harassing.  He fled, but was arrested by the police soon after.  Meanwhile, a <a href="http://www.bostonherald.com/news_opinion/national/2015/06/relatives_man_tied_to_dallas_shooting_was_mentally_unstable">mentally disturbed</a> young man with a grudge against the police bought an armored van on eBay ("<a href="http://www.wfaa.com/story/news/local/dallas-county/2015/06/13/how-the-dallas-police-attack-suspect-got-an-armored-van/71204062/">touted as</a> a 'Zombie apocalypse assault vehicle' with 'gun ports' capable of 'drive-by mow-downs' and full armor and bulletproof windows 'just in case someone might try to take this bad boy from you'").  He then built pipe bombs, armed himself with an assault rifle and shotgun, drove to Police Headquarters in Dallas, and launched a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/13/us/dallas-police-shooting.html">full-scale attack</a> on the place.  Miraculously, he managed to kill no one, despite also crashing his van into several police cars, and was finally killed by a police sniper.  And last but hardly least, some gunfire hit closer to home.  Three young men in Brooklyn, New York, were <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/06/10/gowanus-houses-shooting/">shot and wounded</a> in a housing-project playground complex (named after a neighborhood 13 year old who had been <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1994/09/29/nyregion/police-youths-and-toy-guns-1-hurt-1-dead.html">killed</a> by a policeman in 1994).  Someone I know gives classes in that complex.  The shooter remains on the loose.</p> Sun, 21 Jun 2015 10:43:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1038152 at http://https.alternet.org gun violence America Is a Ponzi Scheme: A Commencement Speech for the Scammed http://https.alternet.org/america-ponzi-scheme-commencement-speech-scammed <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">If you&#039;re graduating from a liberal arts college, you&#039;ve been taken for a ride. Start getting used to it.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/graduation.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>It couldn’t be a sunnier, more beautiful day to exit your lives — or enter them — depending on how you care to look at it. After all, here you are four years later in your graduation togs with your parents looking on, waiting to celebrate. The question is: Celebrate what exactly?</p><p>In possibly the last graduation speech of 2015, I know I should begin by praising your grit, your essential character, your determination to get this far. But today, it’s money, not character, that’s on my mind. For so many of you, I suspect, your education has been a classic scam and you’re not even attending a “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175897/tomgram:_taylor_and_appel,_the_subprime_education_scandal/" target="_blank">for profit</a>” college — an institution of higher learning, that is, officially set up to take you for a ride.</p><p>Maybe this is the moment, then, to begin your actual education by looking back and asking yourself what you should really have learned on this campus and what you should expect in the scams — I mean, years — to come. Many of you — those whose parents didn’t have money — undoubtedly entered these stately grounds four years ago in relatively straitened circumstances.  In an America in which corporate profits <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/business/economy/corporate-profits-grow-ever-larger-as-slice-of-economy-as-wages-slide.html" target="_blank">have risen</a> impressively, it’s been <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/kerryadolan/2015/03/02/inside-the-2015-forbes-billionaires-list-facts-and-figures/" target="_blank">springtime</a> for billionaires, but when it comes to ordinary Americans, wages have been <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/09/for-most-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/" target="_blank">relatively stagnant</a>, jobs (the good ones, anyway) generally <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/books/review/rise-of-the-robots-and-shadow-work.html" target="_blank">in flight</a>, and times not exactly of the best.  Here was a figure that recently caught my eye, speaking of the world you’re about to step into: in 2014, the average CEO <a href="http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/ceo-to-worker-pay-rises-to-a-ratio-of-373-to-one-afl-cio-finds/19312-ceo-to-worker-pay-rises-to-a-ratio-of-373-to-one-afl-cio-finds" target="_blank">received</a> 373 times the compensation of the average worker.  Three and a half decades ago, that number was a significant but not awe-inspiring <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/05/13/top-ceos-now-make-373-times-the-average-rank-and-file-worker/" target="_blank">42 times</a>.</p><p>Still, you probably arrived here eager and not yet in debt. Today, we know that the class that preceded you was the <a href="http://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2014/05/class_of_2014_graduates_are_most_indebted_ever_report_says.html" target="_blank">most indebted</a> in the history of higher education, and you’ll surely break that “record.” And no wonder, with college tuitions still rising wildly (up <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/11/08/credit-dotcom-tuition/18417721/" target="_blank">1,120%</a> since 1978).  Judging by last year’s numbers, about <a href="http://finance.yahoo.com/news/congrats-class-2014-being-most-195600118.html" target="_blank">70%</a> of you had to take out loans simply to make it through here, to educate yourself.  That figure was a more modest 45% two decades ago.  On average, you will have rung up least $33,000 in debt and for some of you the numbers will be much higher.  That, by the way, is more than double what it was those same two decades ago.</p><p>We have some sense of how this kind of debt plays out in the years to come and the news isn’t good. Those of you with major school debts will be <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/174317/student-debt-linked-worse-health-less-wealth.aspx" target="_blank">weighed down</a> in all sorts of ways. You’ll find yourselves using your credit cards more than graduates without such debt.  You’ll be <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/05/13/3437571/student-debt-housing/" target="_blank">less likely</a> to buy a home in the future.  A few decades from now, you’ll have accumulated significantly <a href="http://www.demos.org/what-cost-how-student-debt-reduces-lifetime-wealth" target="_blank">less wealth</a> than your unindebted peers. In other words, a striking percentage of you will leave this campus in the kind of financial hole that — given the job market of 2015 — you may have a problem making your way out of.</p><p>For those who took a foreign language in your college years, in translation you’ve paid stunning sums you didn’t have to leave yourself, like any foreclosed property, underwater. Worse yet, for those of you who dream of being future doctors, lawyers, financial wizards, architects, or English professors (if there are any of those anymore), that’s only the beginning. You’ll still have to pay exorbitantly for years of graduate school or professional training, which means ever more debt to come.</p><p>Does this really sound like an education to you or does it sound more like a Ponzi scheme, like you’ve been scammed?</p><p>Do I understand how all this works?  No.  I’m no expert on the subject.  What anyone should be able to see, however, is that the promise of higher education has, in this century, sunk low indeed and that what your generation has been learning how to endure while still in school is a form of peonage.  I’d binge drink, too, under the circumstances!</p><p>Nobody feels good when they’ve been scammed, but at least you’re not alone on this great campus in needing to reassess what higher education means.  Many of your teachers turned out to be untenured part-timers, getting <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/opinion/long-odds-in-the-game-of-life.html" target="_blank">pitiful salaries</a>.  They, too, were being scammed.  And even some of their esteemed tenured colleagues (as I know from friends of mine) are remarkably deep in the Ponzi pits.  It turns out that, as government money flowing onto campus has dried up, the pressure on some of those eminent professors, particularly in graduate programs, to essentially raise their own salaries has only been rising — a very highbrow version of peonage.  They increasingly need patrons, which generally means “friendly” corporations.  Talk about a scam!</p><p><strong>Demobilizing You</strong></p><p>Many of you undoubtedly think that your education is now over and it’s time to enter the “real world.”  I have news for you: you’ve been in that world for the last four years, hence the debt you’re dragging around behind you.  So, on a day when the sun’s in your eyes and it couldn’t be more apparent that the world’s not what you’ve been told it was, maybe you should apply the principles of the scam artist to the world you’re about to enter.  Unless you do so, you’ll simply be scammed again in the next phase of your life.</p><p>Like the rest of us, presidents and politicians of every stripe have regularly told you that you belong to the one “<a href="http://www.voanews.com/content/obama_tells_air_force_academy_us_is_one_indispensable_country_world_affairs/940158.html" target="_blank">indispensible</a>” nation on the planet, a country “<a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/09/24/obama-america-exceptionalism-putin-un/2861129/" target="_blank">exceptional</a>” in every way.  As a college-educated American, you’ve similarly been assured of how important you’ll be to that exceptional land.</p><p>Get over it.  You’re going to find yourself living in an ever greyer, grimmer country — if you don’t believe me, check out the government’s unwillingness to <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/236038-congress-scrambling-to-protect-highway-funds" target="_blank">fund</a> essential <a href="http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/" target="_blank">infrastructure</a>maintenance — to which you will be remarkably irrelevant.  And if the political elite, the plutocratic class, and the national security state have anything to do with it, in the future you’ll become ever more so.  In other words, you are to be relegated to the sidelines of what now passes for American life.</p><p>Behind this reality, there’s a history.  Since the Vietnam era, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175507/tom_engelhardt_remotely_piloted_war" target="_blank">urge</a> to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175970/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_is_a_new_political_system_emerging_in_this_country/" target="_blank">demobilize</a> Americans, to put them out to pasture, to stop them from interfering in the running of “their” country has only grown stronger.  When it comes to the military, for instance, the draft was sent to the trash bin of history in 1973 and most Americans were long ago demobilized by the arrival of an “all volunteer” force.  So, today, you have no obligation whatsoever to be part of that military, to serve in what is no longer, in the traditional sense, a citizen’s army.</p><p>If that military isn’t really yours, the wars it’s been fighting since the dawn of the twenty-first century haven’t been your wars either, nor — despite the responsibility the Constitution reserves to Congress for declaring war — have they been that body’s.  Congress still has to pony up sums so extravagant for what’s charmingly called “defense” that the military budgets of the next <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/04/20/u-s-military-still-spending-45-911-much-next-7-top-spending-countries-combined/" target="_blank">seven countries combined</a> don’t equal them.  It has, however, little genuine say about what wars are fought. Even when, as with the Islamic State, it is offered the modest opportunity to pass a <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-war-against-isis-will-go-undeclared/390618/" target="_blank">new authorization</a> for a war already long underway, its representatives, like most Americans, now prefer to remain on the sidelines.  In the meantime, the White House runs its own <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/" target="_blank">drone assassination campaigns</a> via the CIA without anyone else’s say-so, while <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-us-boots-are-already-on-the-ground-in-iraq-and-syria/2014/09/16/4fd35ace-3de5-11e4-b0ea-8141703bbf6f_story.html" target="_blank">secretive paramilitaries</a> and a secret military — the Special Operations forces — cocooned inside the larger military and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175945/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_a_shadow_war_in_150_countries/" target="_blank">growing like mad</a> have changed the face of American war and it’s none of your business.</p><p>Your role in all this is modest indeed: to pay as little attention as you want, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175912/tomgram%3A_rory_fanning,_why_do_we_keep_thanking_the_troops/" target="_blank">endlessly thank</a>the troops for their “service” when you run across them at airports or elsewhere, and leave it at that.  Of course, given the sums, verging on a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175545" target="_blank">trillion dollars</a> a year, that “we” now put into the U.S. military and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">related</a> national security outfits, and given our <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">endless</a> wars, conflicts, raids, and secret operations, that military does at least provide some job opportunities, though it has its own version of job flight — to so-called private contractors (once known as “mercenaries”).</p><p>And if you think it’s only the military from which you’ve been demobilized, think again.  In these last years, so much of what the American government does has been swallowed up in a<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175570/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_complex_and_you/" target="_blank">blanket</a> of heavily enforced secrecy and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175500/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_in_washington,_fear_the_silence,_not_the_noise/" target="_blank">fierce prosecutions</a> of whistleblowers.  An<a href="http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/" target="_blank">expanding</a> national security state, accountable neither to you nor to the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175833/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_knowledge_is_crime/" target="_blank">legal system</a>, has proven eager indeed to surveil your life, but not be seen by you.  In growing realms, that is, what once would have been called “the people’s business” is no longer your business.</p><p>Your role, such as it is, is to get out of the way of the real players.  As with the military, so with that national security state: Americans are to thank its officials and operatives for their service and otherwise, for their own “safety,” remain blissfully ignorant of whatever “their” government does, unless that government chooses to tell them about it.</p><p><strong>The Corruption Sweepstakes</strong></p><p>It hardly needs to be said that this isn’t the normal definition of a working democracy or, for that matter, of citizenship.  Other than casting a vote every now and then, you are to know next to nothing about what your government does in your name.  And speaking of that vote, you’re being sidelined there, too, and buried in an avalanche of money.  Admittedly, in the media campaign season that now goes on non-stop from one election to the next, sooner or later you can still enter a polling place, if you <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/11/10/voter-turnout-in-2014-was-the-lowest-since-wwii/" target="_blank">care to</a>, and cast your ballot.  Otherwise step aside.  These days, the first primary season or “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/21/us/koch-seminar-is-early-proving-ground-for-gop-hopefuls.html" target="_blank">Koch primary</a>” is no longer for voters at all.  Instead, prospective candidates audition for the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/us/politics/gop-race-starts-in-lavish-haunts-of-rich-donors.html" target="_blank">blessings</a> and cash of plutocrats.</p><p>Just how the vast sums of money flooding into American politics do their dirty work may not matter that much.  Specific contributions from the .01%, enacting their version of trickle-down politics, may not even elect specific candidates.  What matters most is the deluge itself.  These days in the American political system, money quite literally talks (especially on TV).  Via ads, it screams.  In the 2016 election season in which an unprecedented <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/fundraising/240896-fec-chief-we-cant-stop-2016-election-abuse" target="_blank">$10 billion</a>is expected to be spent and just about every candidate will need his or her “<a href="http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-04-26/how-record-spending-will-affect-2016-election" target="_blank">sugar daddies</a>,” the politicians will begin to resemble you; that is, they will find themselves dragging around previously unheard of debts to various plutocrats, industries, and deep pockets of every sort for the rest of their careers.</p><p>Take just two recent examples of the new politics of money.  As the New York Times<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/10/us/billionaire-lifts-marco-rubio-politically-and-personally.html" target="_blank">reported</a> recently, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been supported by a single billionaire auto dealer, Norman Braman, for his entire political career.  Braman hired him as a lawyer, hired his wife as a consultant to a family foundation, financed his legislative agenda, helped cover his salary at a local college, helped him right his personal finances and deal with his debt load, and is now about to put millions of dollars into his presidential campaign.  Rubio, as the article indicates, has returned the favor.  Though no one would write such a thing, this makes the senator quite literally a “kept” candidate.  Other plutocrats like the Koch brothers and their network of investors, reputedly ready to drop <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/02/koch-retreat-donors-249-million-2016" target="_blank">almost a billion dollars</a> into the 2016 campaign, have been more profligate in spreading around their support and favors.</p><p>Now, jump across the political aisle and consider Hillary Clinton.  As the Washington Post<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/hillary-clinton-was-paid-millions-by-tech-industry-for-speeches/2015/05/18/f149d598-fd86-11e4-805c-c3f407e5a9e9_story.html" target="_blank">reported</a> recently, she received a payment from eBay of $315,000 for a 20-minute talk at a “summit” that tech company sponsored on women in the workplace.  Over the last 16 months, in fact, she and her husband have raked in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/16/us/politics/clintons-reportedly-earned-30-million-in-the-last-16-months.html" target="_blank">more than $25 million</a> for such talks.  Hillary’s speeches pulled in $3.2 million from the tech sector alone, which she’s now pursuing for more direct contributions to her presidential campaign.  “Less than two months [after the eBay summit],” the Post added, “Clinton was feted at the San Francisco Bay-area home of eBay chief executive John Donahoe and his wife, Eileen, for one of the first fundraisers supporting Clinton’s newly announced presidential campaign.”</p><p>Say no more, right?  I mean, it’s obvious that no one pays such sums for words (of all things!), not without ulterior motives.  No deal has to have been made.  No direct or even indirect exchange of promises is necessary.  On the face of it, there is a word for such fees, as for Rubio’s relationship with Braman, as for the investor primaries of the new election season, as for so much else that involves “dark money” and goes to the heart of the present political process.  It’s just not a word normally used about our politicians or our system, not by polite pundits and journalists.  If we were in Kabul or Baghdad, not Washington or Los Angeles, we would know just what that word was and we wouldn’t hesitate to use it:<a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/05/18/infernal-corruption-washingtons-elite-media/" target="_blank">corruption</a>.</p><p><strong>The Un-Kept Americans</strong></p><p>We are, it seems, enmeshed in a new <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176002/tomgram%3A_john_feffer%2C_why_the_world_is_becoming_the_un-sweden/" target="_blank">hybrid system</a>, which fits the Constitution, the classic tripartite separation of powers, and the idea of democracy increasingly poorly. We have neither an adequate name for it, nor an adequate language to describe it. I’m talking here about the “real world” in which, at least in the old-fashioned American sense, you will no longer be a “citizen” of a functioning “democracy.”</p><p>As that system, awash in plutocratic contributions to politics and taxpayer contributions to the military-industrial-homeland-security complex, morphs into something else, so will you, whether you realize it or not.  Though never thought of as such, your debt is part of the same system.  A society that programmatically trains its young into debt and calls that “higher education” is as corrupt as a wealthy country that won’t rebuild its own infrastructure.  Talk about the hollowing out of America: you are it.  No matter how substantial you may be in private, you are being impersonally emptied in what passes for the real world.</p><p>If Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton are kept politicians, then you are un-kept Americans.  You are the ones that no one felt it worth giving money to, only taking money from.</p><p>Being on the sidelines, it turns out, is an expensive affair.  The question is: What are you going to do so that you aren’t there, and in debt, forever?</p><p>Of course, there’s a simple answer to this question.  Think of it as the Rubio Solution.  You could each try to find your own billionaire.  But given the numbers involved and what you don’t have to offer in return, that seems an unlikely option.  Or, if you don’t want the version of higher education you experienced to morph into the rest of your lives, you — your generation, that is — could decide to stop thanking others for their “service” and leave those sidelines.</p><p>They’re counting on you not to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175951/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_i.f._stone_and_the_urge_to_serve/" target="_blank">serve</a>.  They assume that you’ll just stay where you are and take it, while they fleece the rest of us.  If instead you were to start thinking about how to head for the actual playing fields of America, I guarantee one thing: you’d screw them up royally.</p><p>As you form into your processional now to exit this campus, let me just add: don’t underestimate the surprises the future has in store for all of us.  The people who sidelined you aren’t half as good at what they do as they think they are.  In so many ways, in fact, they’re a crew of bumblers.  They have no more purchase on what the future holds than you do.</p><p>You’ve proved in these years that you can get by despite lousy odds.  You’ve lived a life to which no one (other than perhaps your hard-pressed parents) has made a contribution.  You’re readier than you imagine to take our future into your hands and make something of it.  You’re ready to become actual citizens of a future democracy.  Go for broke!</p><p> </p> Fri, 05 Jun 2015 08:03:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1037396 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics college 9 Types of News Headlines That Reveal the Madness of Our Times http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/9-types-news-headlines-reveal-madness-our-times <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">There’s a certain repetition factor in our increasingly bizarro American world that lends predictability to that future.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_116802622.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>It’s commonplace to speak of “the fog of war,” of what can’t be known in the midst of battle, of the inability of both generals and foot soldiers to foresee developments once fighting is underway. And yet that fog is nothing compared to the murky nature of the future itself, which, you might say, is the fog of human life. As Tomorrowlands at world fairs remind us, despite a human penchant for peering ahead and predicting what our lives will be like, we’re regularly surprised when the future arrives.</p><p>Remind me who, even among opponents and critics of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, ever imagined that the decision to take out Saddam Hussein’s regime and occupy the country would lead to a terror caliphate in significant parts of Iraq and Syria that would conquer social media and spread like wildfire. And yet, don’t think that the future is completely unpredictable either.</p><p>In fact, there’s a certain repetition factor in our increasingly bizarro American world that lends predictability to that future. In case you hadn't noticed, a range of U.S. military, intelligence, and national security measures that never have the effects imagined in Washington are nonetheless treasured there. As a result, they are applied again and again, usually with remarkably similar results.</p><p>The upside of this is that it offers all of us the chance to be seers (or Cassandras). So, with an emphasis on the U.S. national security state and its follies, here are my top nine American repeat headlines, each a surefire news story guaranteed to appear sometime, possibly many times, between June 2015 and the unknown future. </p><p><em>1. U.S. air power obliterates wedding party</em>: Put this one in the future month and year of your choice, add in a country somewhere in the Greater Middle East or Africa. The possibilities are many, but the end result will be the same. Dead wedding revelers are a repetitious certainty.  If you wait, the corpses of brides and grooms (or, as the New York Post <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/files/imagecache/top-of-content-main/nypost-630_0.jpg" target="_blank">put it</a>, “Bride and Boom!”) will come. Over the years, according to the tabulations of TomDispatch, U.S. planes and drones have knocked off <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175787/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_washington%27s_wedding_album_from_hell/" target="_blank">at least eight wedding parties</a> in three countries in the Greater Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen) and <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3725760.stm" target="_blank">possibly more</a>, with perhaps 250 revelers among the casualties.  </p><p>And here’s a drone headline variant you’re guaranteed to see many times in the years to come: “U.S. drone kills top <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/23/world/adam-gadahn-al-qaeda/" target="_blank">al-Qaeda</a>/<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/14/world/middleeast/isis-iraq.html" target="_blank">ISIS</a>/<a href="http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-air-strike-al-qaeda-yemen-20150414-story.html" target="_blank">al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula</a>/[terror group of your choice] leader” -- with the obvious follow-up headlines <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175988/tomgram%3A_andrew_cockburn,_how_assassination_sold_drugs_and_promoted_terrorism/" target="_blank">vividly illustrated</a> in Andrew Cockburn’s new book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805099263/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins</a>: not the weakening but the further strengthening and spread of such organizations.  And yet the White House is stuck on its <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/" target="_blank">drone assassination campaigns</a> and the effectiveness of U.S. air power in suppressing terror outfits.  In other words, air and drone campaigns of this sort will remain powerful tools not in a war on terror, but in one <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">that creates</a> terror with predictable headlines assured.</p><p><em>2. Latest revelation indicates that FBI [NSA, CIA] surveillance of Americans far worse than imagined</em>: Talk about no-brainers. Stories of this sort appear regularly and, despite a recent<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/appeals-court-rules-nsa-record-collection-violates-patriot-act/2015/05/07/c4fabfb8-f4bf-11e4-bcc4-e8141e5eb0c9_story.html" target="_blank">court ruling</a> that the NSA’s mass collection of the phone metadata of Americans is illegal, there’s every reason to feel confident that this will not change. Most recently, for instance, an informant-filled FBI program to spy on, surveil, and infiltrate the anti-Keystone XL Pipeline movement <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/12/revealed-fbi-spied-keystone-xl-opponents" target="_blank">made the news</a> (as well as the fact that, in acting as it did, the Bureau had “breached its own internal rules”). In other words, the FBI generally acted as the agency has done since the days of J. Edgar Hoover when it comes to protest in this country. </p><p>Beneath such reports lies a deeper reality: the American national security state, which has undergone an era of <a href="http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/" target="_blank">unprecedented expansion</a>, is now remarkably unconstrained by any kind of serious oversight, the rule of law, or limits of almost any sort.  It should be clear by now that the urge for <a href="http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/05/11/if-youre-not-outraged-about-the-nsa-surveillance-heres-why-you-should-be/" target="_blank">ever more latitude and power</a> has become part of its institutional DNA.  It has already created a global surveillance system of a kind <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">never before</a> seen or imagined, not even by the totalitarian regimes of the last century.  Its end goal is clearly to have access to everyone on the planet, Americans included, and every imaginable form of communication now in use.  There was to be a sole exception to this blanket system of surveillance: the official denizens of the national security state itself.  No one was to have the capacity to look at them.  This helps explain why its top officials were so <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175863/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_america%27s_real_foreign_policy/" target="_blank">viscerally outraged</a> by Edward Snowden and his revelations.  When someone surveilled them as they did others, they felt violated and deeply offended.</p><p>When you set up a system that is so unconstrained, of course, you also encourage its opposite: the urge to reveal.  Hence headline three. </p><p><em>3. FBI [NSA, CIA, DIA, or acronym of your choice] whistleblower charged by administration under the Espionage Act for revealing to reporter [any activity of any sort from within the national security state]</em>: Amid the many potential crimes committed by those in the national security state in this period (including torture, kidnapping, illegal imprisonment, illegal surveillance, and assassination), the record of the Bush and Obama administrations is clear.  In the twenty-first century, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175833/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_knowledge_is_crime/" target="_blank">only one act</a> is a crime in official Washington: revealing directly or indirectly to the American people what their government is doing in their name and without their knowledge.  In the single-minded pursuit and prosecution of this single “crime,” the Obama administration has <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/27/business/media/white-house-uses-espionage-act-to-pursue-leak-cases-media-equation.html" target="_blank">set a record</a> for the use of the <a href="https://www.propublica.org/special/sealing-loose-lips-charting-obamas-crackdown-on-national-security-leaks" target="_blank">Espionage Act</a>.  The tossing of Chelsea Manning behind bars for <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/bradley-manning-sentenced-35-years-leaking-secrets/story?id=20021288" target="_blank">35 years</a>; the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/bolivian-presidents-plane-forced-to-land-in-austria-in-hunt-for-snowden/2013/07/03/c281c2f4-e3eb-11e2-a11e-c2ea876a8f30_story.html" target="_blank">hounding</a> of Edward Snowden; the<a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/05/12/stephen-kim-ex-state-department-official-leak-case-released-prison/" target="_blank">jailing</a> of Stephen Kim; the attempt to jail CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling for at least 19 years (the judge “<a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/05/13/governments-crackdown-leaks-faces-new-challenges/" target="_blank">only</a>” gave him three and a half); the jailing of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175500/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_in_washington,_fear_the_silence,_not_the_noise/" target="_blank">John Kiriakou</a>, the sole CIA agent charged in the Agency’s torture scandal (for revealing the name of an agent involved in it to a newspaper reporter), all indicate one thing: that maintaining the aura of secrecy surrounding our “<a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463656/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">shadow government</a>” is considered of paramount importance to its officials.  Their desire to spy on and somehow control the rest of us comes with an urge to protect themselves from exposure.  As it happens, no matter what kinds of clampdowns are instituted, the creation of such a system of secrecy invites and in its own perverse way encourages revelation as well.  This, in turn, ensures that no matter what the national security state may threaten to do to whistleblowers, disclosures will follow, making such future headlines predictable. </p><p><em>4. Contending militias and Islamic extremist groups fight for control in shattered [fill in name of country somewhere in the Greater Middle East or Africa] after a U.S. intervention [drone assassination campaign, series of secret raids, or set of military-style activities of your choice]</em>: Look at <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/03/30/261455/libyan-militias-conundrum-fight.html" target="_blank">Libya</a> and<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/saudi-led-coalition-strike-air-base-north-of-aden-witnesses/article23830567/" target="_blank">Yemen</a> today, look at the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175895/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_great_concentration_or_the_great_fragmentation/" target="_blank">fragmentation</a> of Iraq, as well as the partial fragmentation of Pakistan and even Afghanistan.  American interventions of the twenty-first century seem to carry with them a virus that infects the nation-state and threatens it from within.  These days, it’s also clear that, whether you look at Democrats or Republicans, some version of the war-hawk party in Washington is going to reign supreme for the foreseeable future.  Despite the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">dismal record</a> of Washington's military-first policies, such power-projection will undoubtedly remain the order of the day in significant parts of the world.  As a result, you can expect American interventions of all sorts (even if not full-scale invasions).  That means further regional fragmentation, which, in turn, means similar headlines in the future as central governments weaken or crumble and warring militias and terror outfits fight it out in the ruins of the state. </p><p><em>5. [King, emir, prime minister, autocrat, leader] of [name of U.S. ally or proxy state] snubs [rejects, angrily disputes, denounces, ignores] U.S. presidential summit meeting [joint news conference, other event]</em>: This headline is obviously patterned on recent news: the announcement that Saudi King Salman, who was to attend a White House summit of the Gulf states at Camp David, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/11/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-king-wont-attend-camp-david-meeting.html" target="_blank">would not be coming</a>.  This led to a spate of "<a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/white-house/what-king-salman-s-snub-means-for-barack-obama-20150511" target="_blank">snub"</a> <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/11/opinions/alterman-saudi-king-cancels/" target="_blank">headlines</a>, along with accounts of Saudi anger at Obama administration attempts to broker a nuclear peace deal with Iran that would free that country’s economy of sanctions and so potentially allow it to flex its muscles further in the Middle East. </p><p>Behind that story lies a far bigger one: the growing inability of the last superpower to apply its might effectively in region after region.  Historically, the proxies and dependents of great powers -- take Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam in the early 1960s -- have often been nationalists and found their dependency rankling.  But private gripes and public slaps are two very different things.  In our moment, Washington's proxies and allies are visibly restless and increasingly less polite and the Obama administration seems strangely toothless in response.  Former President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan may have led the way on this, but it’s a phenomenon that’s clearly spreading.  (Check out, for instance, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jun/24/al-jazeera-journalists-sisi-egypt-denied-celemency" target="_blank">General Sisi</a> of Egypt or<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/23/politics/netanyahu-obama-snub-sours-relations/" target="_blank">Prime Minister Netanyahu</a> of Israel.)  Even Washington’s closest European allies seem to be growing restless.  In a recent gesture that (Charles de Gaulle aside) has no companion in post-World War II history, England, Germany, and Italy <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/18/business/france-germany-and-italy-join-asian-infrastructure-investment-bank.html" target="_blank">agreed</a> to become founding members of a new Chinese-led Asian regional investment bank.  They did so over the public and private objections of the Obama administration and despite Washington’s attempts to apply pressure on the subject.  They were <a href="http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/03/week-2-major-american-allies-ignored-u-s-pleas-joined-chinas-alternative-bank.html" target="_blank">joined</a> by other close U.S. allies in Asia.  Given Washington’s difficulty making its power mean something in recent years, it’s not hard to predict more <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/16/world/americas/latin-america-and-us-split-in-drug-fight.html" target="_blank">snubs</a> and slaps from proxies and allies alike.  Fortunately, Washington has one new ally it might be able to count on: Cuba.    </p><p><em>6. Twenty-two-year-old [18-year-old, age of your choice] Arab-American [Somali-American, African-American or Caucasian-American convert to Islam] arrested for planning to bomb [drone attack, shoot up] the Mall of America [Congress, the Empire State Building, other landmark, transportation system, synagogue, church, or commercial location] by the FBI thanks to a Bureau informer</em>: This is yet another no-brainer of a future headline or rather set of headlines.  So far, <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=2&amp;ved=0CCoQFjAB&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com%2Fworld%2F2014%2Fjul%2F21%2Fgovernment-agents-directly-involved-us-terror-plots-report&amp;ei=p8pTVejCFM-fyATQi4CYCg&amp;usg=AFQjCNFQaibSlCQ9N19aeqHMbLwMCOMg9w&amp;sig2=u25cnz0WhsRcWp6HMQko1Q&amp;bvm=bv.93112503,d.aWw" target="_blank">just about every</a> high-profile terror “plot” reported (and broken up) in this country has involved an FBI informer or informers and most of them have been significantly funded, inspired, or even organized by that agency right down to the fake weaponry the “terrorists” used.  Most of the “plotters” involved <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/fbi-terrorist-sting-targets" target="_blank">turned out to be</a> needy and confused losers, sometimes simply <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/opinion/sunday/terrorist-plots-helped-along-by-the-fbi.html" target="_blank">hapless</a>, big-mouthed drifters, who were essentially incapable, whatever their thinking, of developing and carrying out an organized terror attack on their own.  There are only a few exceptions, including the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Times_Square_car_bombing_attempt" target="_blank">Times Square car bombing</a> of 2010 (foiled by two street vendors). </p><p>What the FBI has operated in these years is about as close as you can get to an ongoing terrorism sting-cum-scam operation.  Though Bureau officials undoubtedly don’t think of it so crudely, it could be considered an effective part of a bureaucratic fundraising exercise.  Keep in mind that the massive expansion of the national security state has largely been justified by the fear of one thing: terrorism.  In terms of actual casualties in the U.S. since 9/11, terrorism has not been a significant danger and yet the national security state as presently constituted makes no sense without an overwhelming public and congressional fear of terrorism.  So evidence of regular terror “plots” is useful indeed.  Publicity about them, which runs rampant whenever one of them is “foiled” by the Bureau, generates fear, not to say hysteria here, as well as a sense of the efficiency and accomplishment of the FBI.  All of this ensures that, in an era highlighted by belt-tightening in Washington, the funds will continue to flow.  As a result, you can count on a future in which FBI-inspired/-organized/-encouraged Islamic terrorism is a repeated fact of life in “the homeland.”  (If you want to get an up-close-and-personal look at just how the FBI works with its informers in the business of entrapping of “terrorists,” check out the upcoming documentary film <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jan/28/sundance-2015-review-terror-is-entrapment-always-this-boring" target="_blank">(T)error</a> when it becomes available.)</p><p><em>7. American lone wolf terrorist, inspired by ISIS [al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, terror group of your choice] videos [tweets, Facebook pleas, <a href="http://time.com/3859965/isis-baghdadi-message-recruits/" target="_blank">recordings</a>], guns down two [none, three, six, other number of] Americans at school [church, political gathering, mall, Islamophobic event, or your pick] before being killed [wounded, captured]</em>: Lone wolf terrorism is nothing new.  Think of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_McVeigh" target="_blank">Timothy McVeigh</a>.  But the Muslim extremist version of the lone wolf terrorist -- and yes, Virginia, there clearly are some in this country unbalanced enough to be stirred to grim action by the videos or tweets of various terror groups -- is the new kid on the block.  So far, however, among the jostling crowds of American lone mass murderers who <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map" target="_blank">strike regularly</a> across the country in schools, colleges, movie theaters, religious venues, workplaces, and other spots, Islamic lone wolves seem to have been a particularly ineffective crew.  And yet, as with those FBI-inspired terror plots, the Islamic-American lone wolf turns out to be a perfect vehicle for creating hysteria and so the officials of the national security state <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/11/politics/nsa-cyber-terror-isis-recruitment/" target="_blank">wallow in</a> high-octane statements about such dangers, which theoretically envelop us.  In financial terms, the lone wolf is to the national security state what the Koch Brothers are to Republican presidential candidates, which means that you can count on terrifying headlines galore into the distant future.</p><p><em>8. Toddler kills mother [father, brother, sister] in [<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/12/31/the-inside-story-of-how-an-idaho-toddler-shot-his-mom-at-wal-mart/" target="_blank">Idaho</a>, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/13/toddler-shoots-and-kills-one-year-old-boy-in-cleveland-ohio" target="_blank">Cleveland</a>, <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article8901572.html" target="_blank">Albuquerque</a>, or state or city of your choice] with family gun</em>: Fill in the future blanks as you will, this is a story fated to happen again and again.  <a href="http://forward.com/opinion/176043/more-killed-by-toddlers-than-terrorists-in-us/" target="_blank">Statistically</a>, death-by-toddler is a greater danger to Americans living in “the homeland” than death by terrorist, but of course it raises funds for no one.  No set of agencies broadcasts hysterical claims about such killings; no set of agencies lives off of or is funded by the threat of them, though they are bound to be on the rise.  The math is simple enough.  In the U.S., ever more powerful guns are available, while “concealed carrying” is now legal in <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/crime/2013/07/11/illinois_concealed_carry_carrying_guns_in_public_is_legal_in_all_50_states.html" target="_blank">all 50</a> states and the places in which you can carry are<a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/news/investigations/armed-out-about-evolving-public-carry-laws-expand-gun-rights-n184296" target="_blank">expanding</a>.  <a href="http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2015/apr/15/jeb-bush/which-state-most-gun-permits/" target="_blank">Well over 1.3 million</a> people have the right to carry a concealed weapon in Florida alone, and a single lobbying group in favor of such developments, the National Rifle Association, is so powerful that most politicians don’t dare take it on.  Add it all up and it’s obvious that more weapons will be carelessly left within the reach of toddlers who will pick them up, pull the trigger, and kill or wound others who are literally and figuratively close to them, a searing life (and death) experience.  So the future headlines are predictable.</p><p><em>9. President claims Americans are ‘exceptional’ and the U.S. is ‘indispensible’ to the world</em>:Lest you think this one is a joke headline, here’s what USA Today <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/09/24/obama-america-exceptionalism-putin-un/2861129/" target="_blank">put up</a> in September 2013: "Obama tells the world: America is exceptional"; and here’s <a href="http://www.voanews.com/content/obama_tells_air_force_academy_us_is_one_indispensable_country_world_affairs/940158.html" target="_blank">Voice of America</a> in 2012: "Obama: U.S. 'the one indispensible nation in world affairs.'" In fact, it’s unlikely a president could survive politically these days without repetitiously citing the “exceptional” and “indispensable” nature of this country.  Recently, even when apologizing for a CIA drone strike in Pakistan that took out American and Italian hostages of al-Qaeda, the president<a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/04/23/statement-president-deaths-warren-weinstein-and-giovanni-lo-porto" target="_blank">insisted</a> that we were still “exceptional” on planet Earth -- for admitting our mistakes, if nothing else.  On this sort of thing, the Republicans running for president and that party’s war hawks in Congress <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/against-the-grain/marco-rubio-questions-obama-s-faith-in-american-exceptionalism-20150224" target="_blank">double down</a> when it comes to heaping praise on us, making the president’s exceptionalist comments seem almost recessive by comparison.  In fact, this is a relatively new phenomenon in American politics.  It only took off in the post-9/11 era and, as with anything emphasized too much and repeated too often, it betrays not strength and confidence but creeping doubt about the nature of our country.  Once upon a time, Americans didn’t have to say such things because they seemed obvious.  No longer.  So await these inane headlines in the future and the repetitive litany of over-the-top self-praise that goes with them, and consider them a way to take the pulse of an increasingly anxious nation at sea with itself.</p><p>And mind you, this is just to scratch the surface of what’s predictable in the American future.  I’m sure you could come up with nine similarly themed headlines in no time at all.  It turns out that the key to such future stories is the lack of a learning curve in Washington, more or less a necessity if the national security state plans to continue to gain power and shed the idea that it is accountable to other Americans for anything it does.  If it were capable of learning from its actions, it might not survive its own failures.</p> Wed, 20 May 2015 13:39:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1036647 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics Media News & Politics headlines news Madness The U.S. Killing Machine Doesn't like Body Counts; It Prefers Denial http://https.alternet.org/uskilling-machine-doesnt-body-counts-it-prefers-denial <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The fact that the US government stopped counting in public didn’t stop the body count from happening.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/drone_9.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>In the twenty-first-century world of drone warfare, one question with two aspects reigns supreme: Who counts?</p><p>In Washington, the answers are the same: We don’t count and they don’t count.</p><p>The Obama administration has adamantly refused to count. Not a body. In fact, for a long time, American officials associated with Washington’s drone assassination campaigns and “<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/25/us-drone-program-secrecy-scrutiny-signature-strikes" target="_blank">signature strikes</a>” in the backlands of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen claimed that there were <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/12/world/asia/12drones.html" target="_blank">no bodies to count</a>, that the CIA’s drones were so carefully handled and so “precise” that they <a href="http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/04/11/secret-us-documents-show-brennans-no-civilian-drone-deaths-claim-was-false/" target="_blank">never produced</a> an unmeant corpse -- not a <a href="http://droneswatch.org/2013/01/20/list-of-children-killed-by-drone-strikes-in-pakistan-and-yemen/" target="_blank">child</a>, not a parent, not a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175787/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_washington%27s_wedding_album_from_hell/" target="_blank">wedding party</a>. Nada.</p><p>When it came to “collateral damage,” there was no need to count because there was nothing to tote up or, at worst, such civilian casualties <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/07/drones-obama-single-digit-civilian-deaths" target="_blank">were</a> “in the single digits.”  That this was balderdash, that often when those drones unleashed their Hellfire missiles they were unsure who exactly was being targeted, that civilians were dying in relatively countable numbers -- and that others were indeed counting them -- mattered little, at least in this country until recently. Drone war was, after all, innovative and, as presented by two administrations, quite miraculous. In 2009, CIA Director Leon Panetta <a href="http://www.wired.com/2009/05/cia-chief-drones-only-game-in-town-for-stopping-al-qaeda/" target="_blank">called it</a> “the only game in town” when it came to al-Qaeda.  And what a game it was.  It needed no math, no metrics.  As the Vietnam War had proved, counting was for losers -- other than the usual media reports that so many “militants” had died in a strike or that some al-Qaeda “lieutenant” or “leader” had <a href="http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-air-strike-al-qaeda-yemen-20150414-story.html" target="_blank">gone down</a>for the count.</p><p>That era ended on April 23rd when President Obama entered the White House briefing room and <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/04/23/statement-president-deaths-warren-weinstein-and-giovanni-lo-porto" target="_blank">apologized</a> for the deaths of American aid worker Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto, two Western hostages of al-Qaeda.  They had, the president confessed, been obliterated in a strike against a terrorist compound in Pakistan, though in his comments he managed <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/29/cias-torture-experts-now-use-their-skills-in-secret-drones-program" target="_blank">not to mention</a> the word “drone,” describing what happened vaguely as a “U.S. counterterrorism operation.”  In other words, it turned out that the administration was capable of counting -- at least to two.</p><p>And that brings us to the other meaning of “Who counts?”  If you are an innocent American or Western civilian and a drone takes you out, you count.  If you are an innocent Pakistani, Afghan, or Yemeni, you don’t.  You didn’t count before the drone killed you and you don’t count as a corpse either.  For you, no one apologizes, no one <a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2015/04/23/us-intends-to-pay-families-of-hostages-killed-by-drone" target="_blank">pays</a> your relatives compensation for your unjust death, no one even acknowledges that you existed.  This is modern American drone reality and the question of who counts and whom, if anyone, to count is part of the contested legacy of Washington’s never-ending war on terror.</p><p><strong>A Brief History of the Body Count</strong></p><p>Once upon a time, of course, enemy deaths were a badge of honor in war, but the American “body count,” which would become infamous in the Vietnam era, had always been a product of frustration, not pride.  It originated in the early 1950s, in the “meat-grinder” days of the Korean War, after the fighting had bogged down in a grim stalemate and signs of victory were hard to come by.  It reappeared relatively early in the Vietnam War years as American officials began searching for “metrics” that would somehow express victory in a country where taking territory in the traditional fashion meant little.  As time went on, the brutality of that war increased, and the promised “light at the end of the tunnel” glowed ever more dimly, the metrics of victory only grew, and the pressure to produce that body count, which could be announced daily by U.S. press spokesmen to increasingly dubious journalists in Saigon did, too.  Soon enough, those reporters began referring to the daily announcements of those figures as the “<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_O%27Clock_Follies" target="_blank">Five O’Clock Follies</a>.”</p><p>On the ground, the pressure within the military to produce impressive body counts for those “Follies” resulted in what GIs called the “Mere Gook Rule.” (“If it’s dead and it’s Vietnamese, it’s VC [Viet Cong].”)  And soon enough anything counted as a body.  As William Calley, Jr., of My Lai massacre fame, testified, “At that time, everything went into a body count -- VC, buffalo, pigs, cows.  Something we did, you put it on your body count, sir... As long as it was high, that was all they wanted.”</p><p>When, however, victory proved illusory, that body count came to appear to ever more Americans on the home front like grim slaughter and a metric from hell.  As a sign of success, increasingly detached from reality yet producing reality, it became a death-dealing Catch-22.   As those bodies piled up and in the terminology of the times a "credibility gap" yawned between the metrics and reality, the body count became a symbol not just of a war of frustration, but of defeat itself. It came, especially after the news of the My Lai massacre finally broke in the U.S., to look both false and barbaric. Whose bodies were those anyway?</p><p>In the post-Vietnam era, not surprisingly, Washington would treat anything associated with the disaster that had been Vietnam as if it were radioactive.  So when, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration’s top officials began planning their twenty-first-century wars in a state of exhilarated anticipation, they had no intention of reliving anything that reeked of Vietnam.  There would be no body bags <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/27/world/americas/27iht-photos.1.20479953.html" target="_blank">coming home</a> in the glare of media attention, no body counts in the battle zones.  They were ready to play an opposites game when it came to Vietnam. General Tommy Franks, who directed the Afghan invasion and then the one in Iraq, caught the mood perfectly in 2003 when he <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/NEWS-ANALYSIS-How-many-Iraqis-died-We-may-2650855.php" target="_blank">said</a>, “We don’t do body counts.”</p><p>There would be no more “Five O’clock Follies,” not in wars in which victory was assured for “the greatest force for freedom in the history of the world” and “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known” (as presidents <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175337/" target="_blank">took to calling</a> the U.S. military).  And that remains official military policy today.  Only recently, for instance, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby <a href="http://www.defense.gov/Transcripts/Transcript.aspx?TranscriptID=5561" target="_blank">responded</a> to a journalist’s question about how many Islamic State fighters and civilians U.S. air power had recently killed in Washington’s latest war in Iraq this way: “First of all, we don't have the ability to -- to count every nose that we shwack [sic]. Number two, that's not the goal. That's not the goal... And we're not getting into an issue of body counts. And that's why I don't have that number handy. I wouldn't -- I wouldn't have asked my staff to give me that number before I came out here. It's simply not a relevant figure.”</p><p>From 2003 to 2015, official policy on the body count has not reflected reality.  The U.S. military has, in fact, continued to count bodies.  For one thing, it kept and <a href="http://www.defense.gov/Releases/Release.aspx?ReleaseID=17214" target="_blank">reported</a> the numbers on <a href="http://icasualties.org/" target="_blank">America’s war dead</a>, bodies that truly counted, though no one would have called the tallies a body count.  For another, from beginning to end, the military has been secretly counting the dead on the other side as well, perhaps to privately convince themselves, Vietnam-style, that they were indeed winning in wars where a twenty-first-century version of the credibility gap appeared all too quickly and never left the scene.  As David Axe has<a href="http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/01/22/dont-believe-the-u-s-military-when-it-says-it-doesnt-keep-body-counts/" target="_blank">written</a>, the military “proudly boasts of the totals in official documents that it never intends for public circulation.”  He added, “The disconnect over wartime body counts reflects a yawning gap between the military’s public face and its private culture.”</p><p><strong>To Count or Not to Count, That Is the Question</strong></p><p>But here was the oddest thing: whatever the military might have been counting, the fact that it stopped counting in public didn’t stop the body count from happening.  It turned out that there were others on this planet no less capable of counting dead bodies.  In the end, the cast of characters producing the public metrics of this era simply changed and with it the purpose of the count.  The newcomers had, you might say, different answers to both parts of the question: Who counts?</p><p>Over the last century, as “collateral damage” -- the deaths of civilians, rather than combatants -- has become ever more the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/20715/" target="_blank">essence</a> of war, the importance of who is dying and in what numbers has only increased.  When the U.S. military began refusing to make its body count part of a public celebration of its successes, civil society stepped in with a very different impulse: to shame, blame, and hold the military’s feet to the fire by revealing the deeper carnage of war itself and what it does to society, not just to the warriors.</p><p>While the previous counters had pretended that all bodies belonged to enemies, the new counters tried to make “collateral damage” the central issue of war.  No matter what the researchers who have done such counts may say, most of them are, by their nature, critiques of war, American-style, and included in them were no longer just the bodies, civilian and military, found on the battlefield, but every body that could somehow be linked to a conflict or its fallout, its side effects, its afteraffects.</p><p>Think of this as a new numerology of defeat or disaster or slaughter or shame.  In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, distinctly non-military outfits took up this counting or estimating process.  In 2004 and 2006, the Lancet, a British medical journal, published<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancet_surveys_of_Iraq_War_casualties#Iraq_Body_Count_project_compared_to_Lancet_studies" target="_blank">studies</a> based on scientific surveys of “excess Iraqi deaths” since the American invasion of 2003 and, in the first case, came up with an estimated 98,000 of them and in the second with 655,000 (a <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_politics/6495753.stm" target="_blank">much-criticized</a> <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/10/18/new_study_estimates_half_a_million_casualties_from_iraq_war_but_how_reliable.html" target="_blank">figure</a>); such studies by medical and other researchers have never stopped.  More recent counts of such deaths have ranged from <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/10/18/new_study_estimates_half_a_million_casualties_from_iraq_war_but_how_reliable.html" target="_blank">500,000</a> in 2013 to <a href="http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30164-report-shows-us-invasion-occupation-of-iraq-left-1-million-dead" target="_blank">one million</a>or 5% of the Iraqi population this year.</p><p>The most famous enumeration of civilian casualties in Iraq, however, comes from the constantly upgraded tally -- based on published media reports, hospital and morgue records, and the like -- of <a href="https://www.iraqbodycount.org/" target="_blank">Iraq Body Count</a>, the independent website that bills itself as “the public record of violent deaths following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.”  At this moment, its most up-to-date top estimate for civilian deaths since that invasion is 156,000 (211,000, including the deaths of combatants).  And these figures are considered by the site and others as distinctly conservative, no more than what can be known about a subject of which much is, by necessity, unknown.</p><p>In Afghanistan, there has been less tallying, but the U.N. Mission there has kept a <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/aug/10/afghanistan-civilian-casualties-statistics" target="_blank">count</a> of civilian casualties from the ongoing war and estimates the cumulative figure, since 2001, at<a href="http://costsofwar.org/article/afghan-civilians" target="_blank">21,000</a> (though again, that is undoubtedly a conservative figure).  However, when it comes to the American drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, in particular, where the Obama administration has adamantly resisted the idea of significant civilian casualties, the civilian counters have been there under the most <a href="http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/theres-not-enough-data-on-civilian-drone-casualties/" target="_blank">impressively</a> difficult circumstances, sometimes with representatives on the ground in distant parts of Pakistan and elsewhere.  In a world in which drone operators refer to the victims of their strikes as “<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/09/world/asia/pakistan-drones-not-a-bug-splat/" target="_blank">bug splat</a>” and top administration officials prefer to obliterate those “bugs” a second time by denying that their deaths even occurred, the attempt to give them back their names, ages, and sexes, to remind the world of what was most human about the dead of our new wars, should be considered a heroic task.</p><p>The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in particular, has done careful as well as dogged work <a href="http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/" target="_blank">tabulating drone casualties</a> in Pakistan and Yemen, including counts and estimates of all those killed by drones, of civilians killed by drones, and of children killed by drones.  It even has a project, “<a href="http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/namingthedead/?lang=en" target="_blank">Naming the Dead</a>,” that attempts to reattach names and other basic personal information -- sometimes even photos -- to the previously nameless dead (721 of them so far).  The Long War Journal (a militarized exception to the rule when it comes to the counters of this era) has also kept a record of what it could dig up about drone deaths in<a href="http://www.longwarjournal.org/pakistan-strikes" target="_blank">Pakistan</a> and <a href="http://www.longwarjournal.org/yemen-strikes" target="_blank">Yemen</a>, as has the <a href="http://securitydata.newamerica.net/drones/pakistan/analysis.html" target="_blank">New America Foundation</a> on Pakistan.  In 2012 the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic studied the three sources of such counts and issued a <a href="http://web.law.columbia.edu/human-rights-institute/counterterrorism/drone-strikes/counting-drone-strike-deaths" target="_blank">report</a> of its own.</p><p>Among the more fascinating reports, the human-rights group Reprieve recently considered claims to drone “precision” and surgical accuracy by doing <a href="http://www.reprieve.org/uploads/2/6/3/3/26338131/2014_11_24_pub_you_never_die_twice_-_multiple_kills_in_the_us_drone_program.pdf" target="_blank">its own analysis</a> of the available data.  It concluded that, in trying to target and assassinate 41 enemy figures in Pakistan and Yemen over the years, Washington’s drones had managed to kill 1,147 people without even killing all the figures actually targeted.  (As Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147" target="_blank">wrote</a>, “The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur. Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.”)</p><p>In other words, when it came to counting, civil society rode to the rescue, though the impact of the figures produced has remained limited indeed in this country.  In some ways, the only body count of any sort that has made an impression here in recent years has been sniper Chris Kyle’s <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/09/us/chris-kyle-american-sniper/" target="_blank">160</a> confirmed Iraqi “kills” that played such a part in the publicity for the blockbuster movie American Sniper.</p><p><strong>Exceptional Killers</strong></p><p>In his public apology for deaths that were clearly embarrassing to him, President Obama managed to fall back on a trope that has become ever more politically commonplace in these years.  Even in the context of a situation in which two innocent hostages had been killed, he congratulated himself and all Americans for the exceptional nature of this country. “It is a cruel and bitter truth,” he said, “that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes -- sometimes deadly mistakes -- can occur.  But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”</p><p>Whatever our missteps, in other words, we Americans are exceptional killers in a world of ordinary ones.  This attitude has infused Obama’s global assassination program and the White House “kill list” that goes with it and that the president has personally overseen.  <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/" target="_blank">Pride</a>in his killing agenda was evident in the decision to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html" target="_blank">leak</a> news of that list to the New York Times back in May 2012.  And this version of American exceptionalism fits well with the exceptionalism of the drone itself -- even if it is a weapon guaranteed to become less exceptional as it spreads to more countries (in part through recently green-lighted <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-cracks-open-door-to-the-export-of-armed-drones-to-allied-nations/2015/02/17/c5595988-b6b2-11e4-9423-f3d0a1ec335c_story.html" target="_blank">U.S. drone sales</a> to allies).</p><p>On the rarest of occasions, Obama admitted in that White House briefing room, drone strikes even kill exceptional people (like us) who need to be attended to presidentially, whose deaths deserve apologies, whose lives are to be highlighted in special media accounts, and whose value is such that recompense is due to their families.  In most of the places the drone goes, however, those it kills by mistake are, by definition, unexceptional.  They deserve neither notice nor apology nor recompense.  They count for nothing.</p><p>One thing makes the drone a unique weapon in the world of the uncounted dead on a planet where killing otherwise seems like a dime-a-dozen activity: its pilot, its “crew,” those who trigger the launch of its missiles are hundreds, even thousands of miles away from danger.  Though we speak loosely about drone “warfare,” the way that machine functions bears little relation to war as it was once defined.  Conceptually, the drone represents a one-way street of destruction.  Because in its version of “warfare” only one side can be hurt, its “signature” is slaughter, not war, no matter how carefully it may be used.  It is an executioner’s weapon.</p><p>In part because of that, it’s also a blowback weapon.  Though it may surprise Americans, those to be slaughtered, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175978/tomgram%3A_gregoire_chamayou,_hunting_humans_by_remote_control/" target="_blank">the hunted</a>, don’t take to the constant buzz of drones in their skies in a kindly fashion.  They reportedly exhibit the symptoms of <a href="http://www.yementimes.com/en/1812/report/4279/Drone-stricken-families-hit-by-PTSD.htm" target="_blank">PTSD</a>; they are resentful; they grasp the unfairness and injustice that lies behind the machine and its form of “warfare” and are unimpressed with the exceptionalism of the Americans using it.  As a result, drones across the Greater Middle East have been the equivalent of <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/death-from-above-how-american-drone-strikes-are-devastating-yemen-20140414" target="_blank">recruitment posters</a> for those who want revenge and so for extremist outfits everywhere.</p><p>Drones should be weapons of shame and yet, despite the recent round of criticism here in the wake of the hostage killings, their use is still <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/26/us/politics/deep-support-in-washington-for-cias-drone-missions.html" target="_blank">widely supported</a> in Washington and <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/05/01/ap-story-points-drone-poll-moronic/" target="_blank">among the public</a>.  The justification for their use, whatever “legal” <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/24/obama-drone-memo-secret-law-transparency" target="_blank">white papers</a> the Obama administration has produced as cover, is simple enough: power.  We send them across sovereign boundaries as we wish in search of those we want to kill because we can, because we are us.</p><p>So all praise to the few in our world who think it worth the bother to count those who count for nothing to us. They do matter</p> Sun, 03 May 2015 17:36:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1035799 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics Drone war A Letter of Apology to My Grandson: 'It’s Not the World I Wanted to Leave You' http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/letter-apology-my-grandson-its-not-world-i-wanted-leave-you <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Our world is a far more screwed up, degraded place.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1364281963322-4-0_292.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>Dear Grandson,</p><p>Consider my address book -- and yes, the simple fact that I have one already tells you a good deal about me. All the names, street addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers that matter to me are still on paper, not in a computer or on an iPhone, and it’s not complicated to know what that means: I’m an old guy getting older. Going on 71, though I can hardly believe it. And that little book shows all the signs of where I’m headed. It wasn’t true a few years ago, but if I start flipping through the pages now, I can’t help but notice that the dead, with their addresses and phone numbers still beside them, are creeping up on the living, and that my little address book looks increasingly like a mausoleum.</p><p>Age has been on my mind of late, especially when I spend time with you.  This year, my father, your great-grandfather, who died in 1983, would have been 109 years old.  And somehow, I find that moving. I feel him a part of me in ways I wouldn’t have allowed myself to admit in my youth, and so think of myself as more than a century old.  Strangely, this leaves me with a modest, very personal sense of hope. Through my children (and perhaps you, too), someday long after I’m gone, I can imagine myself older still.  Don’t misunderstand me: I haven’t a spiritual bone in my body, but I do think that, in some fashion, we continue to live inside each other and so carry each other onward.</p><p>As happens with someone of my age, the future seems to be foreshortening and yet it remains the remarkable mystery it’s always been.  We can’t help ourselves: we dream about, wonder about, and predict what the future might hold in store for us.  It's an urge that, I suspect, is hardwired into us.  Yet, curiously enough, we’re regularly wrong in the futures we dream up. Every now and then, though, you peer ahead and see something that proves -- thanks to your perceptiveness or pure dumb luck (there’s no way to know which) -- eerily on target.</p><p><strong>The Future Foreseen</strong></p><p>Back in 2001, before I even imagined a grandson in my life, I had one of those moments (and wish I hadn’t).  It was sometime just after the 9/11 attacks when, nationwide, Americans were still engaged in endless rites in which we repeatedly elevated ourselves to the status of the foremost victims on the planet, the only ones that mattered.  In those months, you might say, we made ourselves into Earth’s indispensible or exceptional victims.</p><p>In that extended moment of national mourning (combined with fear bordering on hysteria), the Bush administration geared up to launch its revenge-fueled global wars, while money started <a href="http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/" target="_blank">pouring into</a> the national security state in a historically unprecedented way.  It was a time when the previously un-American word “homeland” was being attached to what would become a <a href="http://www.dhs.gov/" target="_blank">second defense department</a>, secrecy was descending like a blanket on the government, torture was <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-558812/Dick-Cheney-Condoleezza-Rice-authorised-waterboarding-torture-Al-Qaeda-prisoners.html" target="_blank">morphing into</a> the enhancement of the week in the White House, assassination was about to become a focus (later an obsession) of the executive branch -- and surveillance?  Don’t even get me started on the massively redundant domestic and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">global surveillance state</a> that would soon be built on <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/01/us/01nsa.html" target="_blank">outright illegalities</a> and <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-foreign-intelligence-surveillance-court/2013/06/07/4700b382-cfec-11e2-8845-d970ccb04497_graphic.html?Post+generic=%3Ftid%3Dsm_twitter_washingtonpost" target="_blank">rubber-stamp legalities</a> of every sort.</p><p>In October 2001, I had no way of grasping most of that, but it didn't matter.  I peered into the future and just <em>knew</em> -- and what I knew chilled me to the bone.  I had mobilized decades earlier as part of the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era, which was in its own way a terrible time, but when I looked at where our country seemed to be heading, as the president <a href="http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/gwbush911groundzerobullhorn.htm" target="_blank">promised</a> to <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/juicy_bits/2004/03/could_we_have_prevented_911.html" target="_blank">kick some ass</a> globally and American bombs began to fall on Afghanistan, I had no doubt that this was going to be the worst era of my life.</p><p>I wasn’t, of course, thinking about you that October and November.  You were then minus 11 years old, so to speak.  I was, however, thinking about your mother and your uncle, my children.  I was thinking about the world that I and my cohorts and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and George Tenet and Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of that crew were going to leave them.</p><p>In a quiet way I had done good work -- so I felt -- since demobilizing (like <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175970/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_is_a_new_political_system_emerging_in_this_country/" target="_blank">so many Americans</a>) from the Vietnam era.  In my spare time as a non-academic, I had written a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/155849586X/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">very personal history</a> of the Cold War of which I was proud.  I had been a book editor for two publishing houses, specializing in bringing into the world works by what I used to call “voices from elsewhere” (even when they came from here), including, to name just two, Chalmers Johnson’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805075593/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank"><em>Blowback</em></a> and Eduardo Galeano’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393317730/nationbooks08" target="_blank"><em>Memory of Fire</em></a> trilogy.</p><p>But when I somehow stumbled into the future in all its grim horror, more of that work didn’t seem like an adequate response to what was coming.  I had no sense that I could do much, but I felt an urge that seemed uncomplicated: not to hand your mother and uncle such a degraded country, planet, new century without lifting a finger in opposition, without at least trying.  I felt the need to mobilize myself in a new way for the future I’d seen.</p><p>At that point, however, my knack, such as it was, for previewing the years to come failed me and I had no sense of what to do until <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/" target="_blank"><em>TomDispatch</em></a> more or less smacked me in the face.  (But that’s a story for another day.)  This April, more than 13 years after I first began sending missives to the no-name listserv that turned into <em>TomDispatch</em>, it’s clear that, in my own idiosyncratic way, I did manage to mobilize myself to do what I was capable of.  Unfortunately, I’d have to add that, all this time later, our world is a far more screwed up, degraded place.</p><p><strong>A Fragmenting Reality</strong></p><p>Stretch anything far enough and it’ll begin to tear, fragment, break apart.  That, I suspect, may be a reasonable summary of what’s been happening in our twenty-first-century world.  Under stress, things are beginning to crack open.  Here in the U.S., people sometimes speak about being in a Second Gilded Age, a new era of plutocracy, while our politics, increasingly the arena of billionaires, seem to second that possibility.  Looked at another way, however, “our” Second Gilded Age is really a global phenomenon in the sense that ever fewer people own ever more.  By 2016, it is <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/19/global-wealth-oxfam-inequality-davos-economic-summit-switzerland" target="_blank">estimated</a> that 1% of the people on this planet will control more than 50% of global wealth and own more than the other 99% combined.  In 2013, the 85 richest people had <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/20/oxfam-85-richest-people-half-of-the-world" target="_blank">as much wealth</a> as the poorest 3.5 billion, while in certain regions inequality seems to be <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/102048998" target="_blank">on the rise</a>. (Whether <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-04-30/chinas-income-inequality-gap-widens-beyond-u-dot-s-dot-levels" target="_blank">China</a> and India are <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2014/08/global_income_inequality_it_may_not_be_falling_after_all.html" target="_blank">major exceptions</a> to this is an open question.)  Dark money is rampant not just here, but globally.</p><p>Though you don’t know it yet, you’re already living in an increasingly <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/14/upshot/wall-street-bonuses-vs-total-earnings-of-full-time-minimum-wage-workers.html" target="_blank">lopsided</a> world whose stresses only seem to be multiplying.  Among other things, there is the literal <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175895/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_great_concentration_or_the_great_fragmentation/" target="_blank">fragmentation</a> going on -- the collapse of social order, of long established national units, even potentially of whole groupings of states.  Astonishingly enough, from Ukraine to Greece, Spain to France, that mood of fragmentation even seems to be reaching into Europe.  Across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/" target="_blank">Africa</a>, fragmentation has, of course, been the story of our moment, with nations collapsing, wars endemic, extremism of every sort on the rise, and whole populations uprooted, in exile, under almost inconceivable pressures -- and for much of this, I’m sad to say, our country bears a painful responsibility. </p><p>In these years, I wrote repeatedly (not to say repetitiously) on the subject; about, that is, a group of mad American visionaries who had dreams of establishing a <em>Pax Americana</em> in the Greater Middle East by force of arms and then lording it over the world for generations to come.  In the name of freedom and democracy and with a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/101850/" target="_blank">fundamentalist belief</a> in the transformational power of the U.S. military, they blithely invaded Iraq and blew a hole in the heart of the Middle East, from which the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175888/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_escalation_follies/" target="_blank">fallout</a> is now horrifically apparent in the Islamic State and its “caliphate.”</p><p>And then, of course, there was our country’s endless string of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">failed wars</a>, interventions, raids, assassination campaigns, and the like; there was, in short, the “global war on terror” that George W. Bush launched to scourge the planet of “terrorists,” to (as they then liked to say) “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/2018/on_iraqifying_the_quagmire" target="_blank">drain the swamp</a>” in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0743271106/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">80 countries</a>.  It was a “war” that, with all its <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175888/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_escalation_follies/" target="_blank">excesses</a>, quickly morphed into a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">recruiting poster</a> for the spread of extremist outfits.  By now, it has become so institutionalized that it wouldn’t surprise me if, in your adulthood, Washington were still pursuing it no less relentlessly or unsuccessfully.</p><p>In the process, the president became first a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175979/best_of_tomdispatch%3A_karen_greenberg,_barbarism_lite/" target="_blank">torturer-in-chief</a> and then an <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/" target="_blank">assassin-in-chief</a> and, I’m sorry to tell you, few here even blinked.  It’s been a nightmare of -- to haul out some words you’re not likely to learn for a while -- hubris and madness, profits and horrors, inflated dreams of glory and the return, as if from an <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_India_Company" target="_blank">earlier century</a>, of the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175507/tom_engelhardt_the_arrival_of_the_warrior_corporation" target="_blank">warrior corporation</a> and for-profit warfare on a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/15/world/middleeast/blackwaters-legacy-goes-beyond-public-view.html" target="_blank">staggering scale</a>.</p><p>All of this happened in a country that still bills itself as the wealthiest and most powerful on the planet (though that power and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/18/business/international/at-global-economic-gathering-concerns-that-us-is-ceding-its-leadership-role.html" target="_blank">wealth</a> have proven ever harder to apply effectively) and all of it happened, despite obvious and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175483/tomgram%3A_rebecca_solnit,_occupy_your_heart" target="_blank">honorable exceptions</a>, without much opposition.  If this is a Second Gilded Age -- .01% of Americans, 16,000 families, control <a href="http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21631129-it-001-who-are-really-getting-ahead-america-forget-1" target="_blank">11%</a> of all wealth (as they last did in 1916) and <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/nov/13/us-wealth-inequality-top-01-worth-as-much-as-the-bottom-90" target="_blank">22%</a> of all household wealth (up from 7% three decades ago) -- it is also, in the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175976/tomgram%3A_steve_fraser,_mongrel_firebugs_and_men_of_property/" target="_blank">words</a> of historian Steve Fraser, an “<a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0316185434/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">age of acquiescence</a>.”</p><p>This has been true for the return of plutocracy, as well as for the growth of a national security state that has, like those billionaire plutocrats, gained power as the American people lost it.  If that state within a state has a motto, it might be this singularly undemocratic one: Americans are safest and most secure when they are most ignorant of what their government is doing.  In other words, in twenty-first-century America, “we the people” (a phrase that I hope lasts into your time) are only to know what their government does in their name <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175500/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_in_washington,_fear_the_silence,_not_the_noise/" target="_blank">to the degree</a> that the government cares to reveal it.</p><p>That <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463656/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">shadow government</a> could never have gained such power if it hadn’t been for the trauma of 9/11, the shock of experiencing for one day a kind of violence and destruction that was common enough elsewhere on the planet, and the threat posed by a single phenomenon we call “terrorism.”  The Islamic extremist groups that come under that rubric do indeed represent a threat to actual human beings from Syria to Pakistan, Somalia to Libya, but they represent next to <a href="http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/04/11/have-seen-enemies-and-they-weak/Cho9J5Bf9jxIkHKIZvnVTJ/story.html?event=event25" target="_blank">no threat</a> to what’s now called the American “homeland.”</p><p>Of course, some whacked-out guy could always pick up a gun and, inspired by a <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/21/us/al-shabaab-calls-for-mall-attacks/" target="_blank">bizarre</a> propaganda <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/22/world/meast/isis-threatens-west/" target="_blank">video</a>, in the name of one extreme organization or another, kill some people here.  But mass killings by those with no ideological animus are already, like <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/1-year-old-fatally-shot-another-child-n340351" target="_blank">death</a>-by-<a href="http://blogs.forward.com/jj-goldberg/176043/more-killed-by-toddlers-than-terrorists-in-us/" target="_blank">toddler</a>, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map" target="_blank">commonplace</a> in this <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/23/world/canada-isis-role/" target="_blank">country</a>, and no one thinks to organize trillion dollar “security” systems to prevent them.</p><p>That the fear of this one modest danger transformed the national security state into a remarkable center of power, profits, and impunity with hardly a peep from "we the people" has been a kind of bleak miracle of our times.  What were we thinking when we let them spend something like a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175655/tomgram%3A_kramer_and_hellman,_the_washington_creation_that_ate_your_lunch/" target="_blank">trillion dollars</a> a year on what was called “national security” in order to leave us in a world that may have little security at all?  What did we have in mind when we let them fund their <a href="https://medium.com/war-is-boring/darpa-s-vision-of-future-war-swarms-of-missiles-and-drones-247493c1e4c2" target="_blank">blue-skies thinking</a> on the weaponry of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175195/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_the_forty-year_drone_war_/" target="_blank">2047</a>, instead of on the schools, energy sources, or infrastructure of that same year? I could pile up such questions endlessly, but if what we ceded to them is still of interest to you 20 or 30 or 40 years from now, and you have the luxury of looking back on our times, on the origins of your troubles, I’m sure you’ll find a clearer view of all this in the histories of your moment.</p><p>I have no way of imagining what the United States will be like in your adulthood and yet I can sense that this country is changing in unsettling ways.  It’s being transformed into something that your great-grandfather would have found unrecognizably un-American.  If we can’t yet speak of “fragmentation” here, phrases like “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/13/opinion/it-takes-a-party.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fpaul-krugman" target="_blank">political polarization</a>” and “gridlock” are already part and parcel of our new billionaire way of life.  What exactly all this is leading to, I’m not sure, but it <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175970/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_is_a_new_political_system_emerging_in_this_country/" target="_blank">doesn’t look</a> either familiar or good to me.  It certainly doesn’t look like the American world I’d want to turn over to you.</p><p><strong>America on the Couch</strong></p><p>You haven’t set foot in school, barely know how to use one of those ubiquitous silver scooters, and can still embrace the magical thinking of childhood -- of announcing, for instance, that you’re “hiding,” even in plain sight, and then assuming that you can’t be seen.  So I know that it’s a little early to bring up the seemingly unhinged nature of the affairs of grown-ups.</p><p>Still, if this country of mine, and someday yours, could be put on the couch, I suspect it would, in layman’s terms, be diagnosed as “disturbed” (on an increasingly disturbed planet).  Worst of all, we can evidently no longer see what actually threatens us most, which isn’t a bunch of jihadis, but what we are doing to our ourselves and our world.</p><p>Put another way, if we’re not significantly threatened by what we’ve dumped all our money and energy into, that hardly means there are no threats to American life.  In fact, I haven’t even mentioned what worries me most when I think about your future: the increasing stress under which life <a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/drought/ci_27520946/scientists-predict-megadroughts-will-hit-west-last-decades" target="_blank">here</a> and <a href="http://www.newsweek.com/climate-change-helped-create-conditions-war-syria-study-suggests-311199" target="_blank">elsewhere</a> is being placed by the exploitation and burning of fossil fuels.</p><p>In any case, I had the urge to put all this “on the record,” though I have no way of knowing whether that record has any permanence, whether in the world of 2047 you’ll even be able to access what I’ve written.  In other words, I have no idea whether you’ll ever read this.  I do fear, however, that if you do, it will be from a more fragmented, unhinged, stressed-out version of the planet we’re both on today, and I’m aware that our responsibility was to provide you and all other children with what you minimally deserve -- a decent place to grow up.</p><p>For that record, then, I want to say that, despite my own best (if modest) efforts, I feel I owe you an apology.  In ways I find hard to express, I’m sorry for what is and what may be.  It’s not the country I imagined for you.  It’s not the world I wanted to leave you.  It’s not what you deserve.</p><p>Nonetheless, I still have hopes for you and your moment.  As a wonderful writer of my time <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/3273/the_best_of_tomdispatch_rebecca_solnit" target="_blank">once pointed out</a>, the darkness of the future is a kind of blessing.  It always leaves open the possibility that, against the madness of the moment, the genuine decency, the lovability I see in you, that anyone can see in just about any child, has a shot-in-the-dark chance of making a difference on our planet. </p><p>And more specifically, however much this may be an “age of acquiescence” when it comes to wealth and war, it hasn’t proved so on the subject that matters most: climate change.  Against the forces of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175703/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_biggest_criminal_enterprise_in_history/" target="_blank">genuine criminality</a> and wealth, despite a tenacious <a href="http://www.merchantsofdoubt.org/" target="_blank">denial of reality</a> funded by companies that have profited in historic ways from fossil fuels, a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175902/tomgram%3A_todd_gitlin,_as_the_globe_warms,_so_does_the_climate_movement/" target="_blank">movement</a> has been forming in this country and globally to save humanity from <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/09/upshot/if-we-dig-out-all-our-fossil-fuels-heres-how-hot-we-can-expect-it-to-get.html" target="_blank">scouring itself</a> off the planet.  From <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175468/bill_mckibben_puncturing_the_pipeline" target="_blank">pipelines</a> to <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/04/18/growing-fossil-fuel-divestment-protests-hit-colleges-nationwide" target="_blank">divestment</a>, its strength has been rising at the very moment when the price of alternative energy systems is <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175982/tomgram%3A_michael_klare%2C_is_the_age_of_renewable_energy_already_upon_us/" target="_blank">falling rapidly</a>.  It’s a combination that offers at least a modicum of hope against the worst pressures to fragment and, in the end, simply destroy this planet as a welcoming place for you and your children and their children.</p><p>So let me just end this way: someday in the distant future, I hope you’ll read this letter and that, given the ingenuity of our species, given the grit to resist madness, given whatever surprises the future holds, you’ll smile indulgently at my worst fears.  You’ll assure me -- or at least whatever trace of me is left in you -- that I had a typically human inability to imagine the unpredictable future, and that in the end things never measured up to my worst fears.  I hope, despite what we didn’t do, that you have the opportunity for a life of wonders, the kind that everyone on this planet deserves.</p><p>Your loving grandpa,</p><p>Tom</p> Thu, 23 Apr 2015 07:57:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1035272 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics tom engelhardt barack obama america future 5 Powerful Shifts Transforming the Future of American Society into Something Unrecognizable and Frightening http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/5-powerful-shifts-transforming-america-society-unrecognizable-and-frightening <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/944139a312b5df15b187fcb78ebd2a3898e3fd1e.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.</p><p>And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.</p><p>Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of "we the people."</p><p>Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.</p><p><strong>1. 1% Elections</strong></p><p>Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests.  (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dana-milbank-no-freshness-in-our-2016-presidential-contest/2015/01/16/f7c4c310-9d8c-11e4-96cc-e858eba91ced_story.html" target="_blank">28 of the last 36</a> years.)</p><p>Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/10/upshot/hillary-clinton-is-more-vulnerable-in-2016-than-you-think.html" target="_blank">recent piece</a> Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper.  A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election.  He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present.  Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.”  It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future.  (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)</p><p>Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.</p><p>The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/21/us/koch-seminar-is-early-proving-ground-for-gop-hopefuls.html" target="_blank">billionaires</a>, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice.  So the early primaries -- this year mainly a Republican affair -- are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/us/politics/gop-race-starts-in-lavish-haunts-of-rich-donors.html" target="_blank">widely reported</a>. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a <a href="http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/peter-fenn/2015/02/12/jeb-bush-and-hillary-clinton-2016-fundraising-is-out-of-control" target="_blank">kitty of $500 million</a> heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/02/koch-retreat-donors-249-million-2016" target="_blank">almost $1 billion</a> into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)</p><p>Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 <em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._FEC#Opinions_of_the_Court" target="_blank">Citizens United</a></em> decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/06/2012-presidential-election-cost_n_2254138.html" target="_blank">$2 billion election</a>; campaign 2016 is <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/230318-the-5-billion-campaign" target="_blank">expected to hit</a> the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.  By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.</p><p>In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/01/politics/4-billion-expensive-election/" target="_blank">almost $4 billion</a>, a record despite the number of small donors <a href="http://ivn.us/2014/12/01/political-donors-spent-enough-money-last-election-to-rebuild-detroit-twice/" target="_blank">continuing to drop</a>. It also represented the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/11/10/voter-turnout-in-2014-was-the-lowest-since-wwii/" target="_blank">lowest midterm voter</a> turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below -- and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of <a href="https://www.aclu.org/maps/battle-protect-ballot-voter-suppression-measures-passed-2013" target="_blank">voter suppression laws</a> visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/16/richer-and-poorer" target="_blank">weight of inequality</a> bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.</p><p><strong>2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)</strong></p><p>In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/11/opinion/frank-bruni-hillary-clinton-the-email-controversy-and-the-2016-presidential-race.html" target="_blank">Clintons of yore</a> in wink-wink, you-know-how-<em>they</em>-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc.  Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.</p><p>However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted.  An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications.  If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought.  But it didn’t happen in some third-world state.  It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which -- even if it <a href="http://mediamatters.org/blog/2015/03/11/two-names-the-press-omits-from-email-coverage-c/202847" target="_blank">wasn’t</a> the first time such a thing had ever occurred -- should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.</p><p>Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175507/tom_engelhardt_remotely_piloted_war" target="_blank">warrior corporation</a> only occurred after 9/11.  Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country.  Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization.  The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175036/pratap_chatterjee_inheriting_halliburton_s_army" target="_blank">doing KP</a> and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including <a href="http://www.thenation.com/blog/197057/afghanistan-war-still-raging-time-its-being-waged-contractors" target="_blank">training</a> the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting.  Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/12/outsourcing-torture_n_6317236.html" target="_blank">torture</a>, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/29/world/la-fg-drones-civilians-20111230" target="_blank">drone strikes</a>, and -- to the tune of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/nsa-leak-contractors_n_3418876.html?1370919691" target="_blank">hundreds of thousands</a> of contract employees like Edward Snowden -- intelligence gathering and spying.  You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.</p><p>All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0544341414/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank"><em>Pay Any Price</em></a>, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy.  And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.</p><p>Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.</p><p><strong>3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency</strong></p><p>On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall.  In 2014, Americans <a href="http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/HTML%20Reports/confidence-in-institutions-trends-in-americans-attitudes-toward-government-media-and-business0310-2333.aspx" target="_blank">expressing</a> a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%.  (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.)  The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%.  All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.</p><p>It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of delegitimizing itself.  Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/13/us/congress-shows-a-lack-of-enthusiasm-for-giving-obama-war-powers-to-fight-isis.html" target="_blank">desultory fashion</a> an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.</p><p>What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “<a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/12/01/do-nothing-congress-was-way-more-productive-than-the-current-one" target="_blank">do-nothing</a>” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing?  Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing.  They are proving capable of acting effectively to delegitimize the presidency as well.  House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president's Iranian nuclear negotiations and the <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2015/03/09/text-of-gop-senators-letter-to-irans-leaders-on-nuclear-talks/" target="_blank">letter</a> signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this.  They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.</p><p>The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/13/world/middleeast/ayatollah-ali-khamenei-criticizes-republicans-letter-on-iran-nuclear-talks.html" target="_blank">proclaimed</a> it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“<a href="http://newsbusters.org/blogs/curtis-houck/2015/03/12/nbc-touts-petition-alleging-gop-senators-committed-treason-and" target="_blank">treason!</a>”) or, as Jon Stewart <a href="http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/ial564/under-miner" target="_blank">did</a> on “The Daily Show,” as part of a <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/11/opinions/stanley-congress-iran-letter/" target="_blank">repetitive</a> tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy.  It is, in fact, neither.  It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/13/us/politics/struggling-in-congress-republicans-unite-on-foreign-policy.html" target="_blank">take on</a> and potentially take out the presidency.</p><p>In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state.  The Republican Party -- its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats -- seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security.  As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state.  A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting <a href="http://www2.gwu.edu/%7Ensarchiv/news/20090121/index.htm" target="_blank">sunshine and transparency</a> in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like.  While it has launched an <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175500/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_in_washington,_fear_the_silence,_not_the_noise/" target="_blank">unprecedented campaign</a> against whistleblowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.” </p><p><strong>4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government</strong></p><p>One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight.  Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment.  But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon -- the creation of a <em>de facto</em> fourth branch of government -- gets remarkably little attention.  In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own.  Its <a href="http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/" target="_blank">growth</a> has been phenomenal.  Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians.  The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace. </p><p>Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">17 major agencies</a> and outfits is staggering.  Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">to shame</a>.  That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175833/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_knowledge_is_crime/" target="_blank">accountability</a> in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor.  As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.</p><p>New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state.  In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the <em>Intercept</em> that the CIA has spent years trying to <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/03/10/ispy-cia-campaign-steal-apples-secrets/" target="_blank">break the encryption</a> on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China).  Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/cia-gave-justice-department-secret-phone-scanning-technology-1426009924" target="_blank">reported</a> that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones.  Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that "mimics a cellphone tower." This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to "the homeland," is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175834/tomgram%3A_todd_miller,_the_creation_of_a_border_security_state/" target="_blank">its borders</a> to its <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175881/tomgram%3A_matthew_harwood,_one_nation_under_swat/" target="_blank">police forces</a>.  And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/series/the-snowden-files" target="_blank">June 2013</a> when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.</p><p>News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives.  Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-plans-major-reorganization-and-a-focus-on-digital-espionage/2015/03/06/87e94a1e-c2aa-11e4-9ec2-b418f57a4a99_story.html" target="_blank">announced</a> a major reorganization of the CIA meant to <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/03/06/spies-now-cia-director-announces-major-restructuring/" target="_blank">break down</a> the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage.  At about the same time, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/17/world/middleeast/us-intensifies-effort-to-blunt-isis-message.html" target="_blank">according to</a> the <em>New York Times</em>, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”</p><p>This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure.  And keep in mind that, in a structure that has <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175526/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_joining_the_whistleblowers%27_club/" target="_blank">fought hard</a> to keep what it's doing <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/16/whistleblowers-double-standard-obama-david-petraeus-chelsea-manning" target="_blank">cloaked</a> in secrecy, there is <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/14/congress-wont-protect-us-from-the-surveillance-state-theyll-enhance-it" target="_blank">so much more</a> that we don’t know.  Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).</p><p><strong>5. The Demobilization of the American People</strong></p><p>In <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0316185434/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank"><em>The Age of Acquiescence</em></a>, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them.  In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?</p><p>After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes.  Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.</p><p>The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military.  It was initially a response to the <a href="https://msuweb.montclair.edu/%7Efurrg/Vietnam/heinl.html" target="_blank">disruptive and rebellious</a> draftees of the Vietnam-era.  In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs.  Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175904/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_inside_the_american_terrordome" target="_blank">transformed</a> into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.</p><p>Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least <a href="http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Tea_Party" target="_blank">partially funded</a> by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.</p><p><strong>The Birth of a New System</strong></p><p>Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of -- to use Fraser’s word -- “acquiescence.”  Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be.  In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.</p><p>While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design.  Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion.  In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention.  Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.</p><p>Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.</p><p>[<strong>Note:</strong> My special thanks go to my friend John Cobb, who talked me through this one.  Doing it would have been inconceivable without him.  Tom]</p> Fri, 20 Mar 2015 08:21:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1033555 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics 1 percent privatization government elections 10 Things America Must Do to Stop Ruining the World http://https.alternet.org/world/10-things-america-must-do-stop-ruining-world <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">My letter to an unknown American patriot. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_97629527.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>Dear American Patriot,</p><p>I wish I knew your name. I’ve been thinking about you, about all of us actually and our country, and meaning to write for a while to explain myself.  Let me start this way: you should feel free to call me an American nationalist.  It may sound ugly as hell, but it’s one way I do think of myself. True, we Americans usually reserve the more kindly word “patriot” for ourselves and use “nationalist” to diss other people who exhibit special feeling for their country.  In the extreme, it’s “superpatriot” for us and “ultranationalist” for them.</p><p>In any case, here’s how my particular form of nationalism manifests itself. I feel a responsibility for the acts of this country that I don’t feel for those of other states or groups.  When, for instance, a wedding party blows up thanks to a Taliban roadside bomb, or the Islamic State cuts some poor captive’s head off, or Bashar al-Assad’s air force drops barrel bombs on civilians, or the Russians jail a political activist, or some other group or state commits some similar set of crimes, I’m not surprised.  Human barbarity, as well as the arbitrary cruelty of state power, are unending facts of history. They should be opposed, but am I shocked? No.</p><p>Still -- and I accept the irrationality of this -- when my country wipes out wedding parties in other lands or organizes torture regimes and offshore prison systems where anything goes, or tries to jail yet another whistleblower, when it acts cruelly, arbitrarily, or barbarically, I feel shock and wonder why more Americans don’t have the same reaction.</p><p>Don’t misunderstand me.  I don’t blame myself for the commission of such acts, but as an American, I do feel a special responsibility to do something about them, or at least to speak out against them -- as it should be the responsibility of others in their localities to deal with their particular sets of barbarians.</p><p>So think of my last 12 years running <em><a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/" target="_blank">TomDispatch.com</a></em> as my own modest war on terror -- American terror.  We don’t, of course, like to think of ourselves as barbaric, and terror is, almost by definition, a set of un-American acts that others are eager to commit against us.  “They” want to take us out in our <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/02/22/mall-of-america-tightens-security-terror-threat/23839301/" target="_blank">malls</a> and backyards.  We would never commit such acts, not knowingly, not with malice aforethought.  It matters little here that, from <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175787/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_washington%27s_wedding_album_from_hell/" target="_blank">wedding parties</a>to <a href="http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/08/01/get-the-data-the-return-of-double-tap-drone-strikes/" target="_blank">funerals</a>, <a href="http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/namingthedead/hidden-even-in-death-just-two-women-killed-by-drones-are-identified/?lang=en" target="_blank">women</a> to <a href="http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/08/11/more-than-160-children-killed-in-us-strikes/" target="_blank">children</a>, we have, in fact, continued to take “them” out in their backyards quite regularly.</p><p>Most Americans would admit that this country makes mistakes. Despite our best efforts, we do sometimes produce what we like to call “collateral damage” as we go after the evildoers, but a terror regime? Not us. Never.</p><p>And this is part of the reason I’m writing you. I keep wondering how, in these years, it’s been possible to hold onto such fictions so successfully. I wonder why, at least some of the time, you aren’t jumping out of your skin over what we do, rather than what they’ve done or might prospectively do to us.</p><p>Let’s start with an uncomfortable fact of our world that few here care to mention: in one way or another, Washington has been complicit in the creation or strengthening of just about every extreme terror outfit across the Greater Middle East. If we weren’t their parents, in crucial cases we were at least their midwives or foster parents.</p><p>Start in the 1980s with the urge of President Ronald Reagan and his fundamentalist Catholic spymaster, CIA Director William Casey, to <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805081372/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">make allies</a> of fundamentalist Islamic movements at a time when their extreme (and extremist) piety seemed attractively anticommunist.  In that decade, in Afghanistan in particular, Reagan and Casey <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175578/best_of_tomdispatch%3A_chalmers_johnson,_the_cia_and_a_blowback_world/" target="_blank">put money</a>, arms, and training where their hearts and mouths were and promoted the most extreme Islamists who were ready to give the Soviet Union a bloody nose, a Vietnam in reverse.</p><p>To accomplish this, Washington also allied itself with an extreme religious state, Saudi Arabia, as well as Pakistan’s less than savory intelligence service.  The result was major support for men -- President Reagan hailed them as “freedom fighters” and <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=W69rBkP3W7QC&amp;pg=PA119&amp;lpg=PA119&amp;dq=reagan,+afghan,+%22these+gentlemen+are+the+moral+equivalents+of+america%27s+founding+fathers%22&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=Yc7MmywgXL&amp;sig=GvAbK7RfJcn2nbAuC4n3zHjEjb8&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=Vn3sVO2IBaXksASC14GYDg&amp;ved=0CE4Q6AEwCA#v=onepage&amp;q=reagan%2C%20afghan%2C%20%22these%20gentlemen%20are%20the%20moral%20equivalents%20of%20america%27s%20founding%20fathers%22&amp;f=false" target="_blank">said</a> of a visiting group of them in 1985, “These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of America's founding fathers" -- some of whom are now <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175010/anand_gopal_making_sense_of_the_taliban" target="_blank">fighting us</a> in Afghanistan, and indirectly for what came to be known as al-Qaeda, an organization which emerged from the American-Saudi hothouse of the Afghan War.  The rest, as they say, is history. </p><p>Similarly, American fingerprints are <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175888/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_escalation_follies/" target="_blank">all over</a> the new Islamic State (IS) or “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.  Its predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, came into existence in the chaos and civil strife that followed the American invasion and occupation of that country, after Saddam Hussein’s military had been <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/05/23/sprj.nitop.army.dissolve/" target="_blank">disbanded</a> and hundreds of thousands of trained Sunni personnel tossed out onto the streets of Iraq’s cities.  Much of the leadership of the Islamic State <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/11/-sp-isis-the-inside-story" target="_blank">met</a>, grew close, and <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/23/isis-used-a-u-s-prison-as-boot-camp.html" target="_blank">trained</a> potential recruits at Camp Bucca, an American military prison in Iraq.  Without the acts of the Bush administration, IS would, in fact, have been inconceivable.  In the same fashion, the U.S. (and NATO) intervention in Libya in 2011, including a <a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2011-10-31/nato-libya-campaign/51010770/1" target="_blank">seven-month</a>bombing campaign, helped create the conditions for the growth of extreme militias in parts of that country, as the U.S. drone assassination campaign in Yemen has visibly strengthened al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.</p><p>In other words, each of the terror organizations we categorize as the unimaginably barbaric Other has a curiously intimate, if generally unexplored, relationship with us.  In addition, in these years, it’s been clear (at least to those living in the Greater Middle East) that such groups had no monopoly on barbarity.  Washington’s extreme acts were legion in the region, ranging from its CIA torture chambers (although we called them “<a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/08/13/the-black-sites" target="_blank">black sites</a>”) to <a href="http://www.antiwar.com/news/?articleid=8560" target="_blank">Abu Ghraib</a>, from <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/7789/the_cia_s_la_dolce_vita_war_on_terror" target="_blank">global kidnappings</a> to images of a U.S. helicopter <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rXPrfnU3G0" target="_blank">gunning down</a> civilians in the streets of Baghdad.  There were also a range of well-publicized vengeful acts of war, including videos of U.S. troops laughing while <a href="http://news.antiwar.com/2012/01/11/video-us-marines-laugh-urinate-on-slain-afghans/" target="_blank">urinating</a> on enemy corpses, <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-afghan-photos-20120418-story.html#page=1" target="_blank">trophy photos</a> of body parts taken by American soldiers as souvenirs, photos of a 12-member “<a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-kill-team-images-us-army-apologizes-for-horrific-photos-from-afghanistan-a-752310.html" target="_blank">kill team</a>” that hunted Afghans “<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/nov/11/kill-team-calvin-gibbs-convicted" target="_blank">for sport</a>,” and a striking “lone wolf” nighttime terror <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military-july-dec13-bales_08-23/" target="_blank">rampage</a> by an American staff sergeant in Afghanistan who killed 16 villagers, mainly women and children. And that’s just for starters.</p><p>Then there’s one matter that <em>TomDispatch</em> has been alone here in focusing on. By my count, American airpower has <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175787/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_washington%27s_wedding_album_from_hell/" target="_blank">blown away</a> parts or all of at least eight <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174954/engelhardt_the_wedding_crashers" target="_blank">wedding parties</a> in three countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen), killing at least several hundred revelers over the years, without the slightest shock or upset in the U.S.</p><p>That’s one reason I’m writing you: the lack of reaction here. Can you imagine what would happen if the planes and drones from another country had wiped out eight weddings here in perhaps a dozen years?</p><p>On a larger scale, Washington’s invasions, occupations, interventions, bombings, and raids since 9/11 have resulted in a rising tide of <a href="https://www.iraqbodycount.org/" target="_blank">civilian deaths</a> and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174892/michael_schwartz_the_iraqi_brain_drain" target="_blank">exiles</a> in a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175895/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_great_concentration_or_the_great_fragmentation/" target="_blank">fragmenting</a> region.  All of this, including those drone assassination campaigns in the backlands of the planet, adds up to a panorama of barbarism and terror that we seldom acknowledge as such.  Of course, the terror outfits we love to hate also love to hate us and have often leapt to embrace the extremity of our acts, including adopting both the <a href="http://static3.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.2116289.1424033102!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_970/article-coptic16n-6-web.jpg" target="_blank">orange jumpsuits</a> of Guantánamo and the CIA’s <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/captives-held-by-islamic-state-were-waterboarded/2014/08/28/2b4e1962-2ec9-11e4-9b98-848790384093_story.html" target="_blank">waterboarding</a> for their own symbolic purposes.</p><p>Perhaps above all, Americans don’t imagine drones, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175507/tom_engelhardt_the_arrival_of_the_warrior_corporation" target="_blank">sexiest</a>high-tech weapons around, as purveyors of terror.  Yet our grimly named Predators and Reapers armed with “Hellfire” missiles, their pilots safe from harm thousands of miles away, buzz daily over the Pakistani tribal backlands and rural Yemen<a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/death-from-above-how-american-drone-strikes-are-devastating-yemen-20140414" target="_blank">spreading terror</a> below. That this is so should be indisputable, at least based on accounts from the ground.</p><p>In fact, Washington’s drone assassins might fit into a category we normally only apply to Them: “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175952/tomgram%3A_matthew_harwood,_the_fear_of_lone-wolf_terrorism_rises/" target="_blank">lone wolf</a>” terrorists searching for targets to blow away.  In our case, it’s people who have what Washington identifies as behavioral “traits” associated with terror suspects. They are eliminated in “<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/the-case-against-drone-strikes-on-people-who-only-act-like-terrorists/278744/" target="_blank">signature strikes</a>.” So here’s my question to you: Why is it that Americans generally don’t grasp the impact of such a new form of warfare in the Islamic world, especially when, at the movies (as in the <em>Terminator</em> films), we usually root against the machines and for the humans scurrying underfoot?  The word American drone operators use to label their dead victims -- “<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/09/world/asia/pakistan-drones-not-a-bug-splat/" target="_blank">bugsplat</a>” -- reveals much.  The term <a href="http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&amp;objectid=3199469" target="_blank">goes back</a> at least to the non-drone shock-and-awe air attacks that began the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and reflects a disturbing sense of God-like, all-seeing power over the “insects” below.</p><p>Of course, part of the reason so little of this sinks in here is that all such acts, no matter how extreme, have been folded into a single comforting framework.  You know the one I mean: the need for the national security state to keep Americans “safe” from terror. I think you’d agree that, by now, this is a sacrosanct principle of the post-9/11 era that's helped expand the national security state to a size unimaginable even in the Cold War years when this country had another imperial enemy.</p><p>Safety and security are much abused terms in our American world.  The attacks of 9/11 created what might be thought of as a <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/24/terrorism-poses-no-existential-threat-to-america" target="_blank">national version</a> of PTSD from which we’ve never recovered, and yet the dangers of Islamic terrorism, while perfectly real, are relatively minor.  Leave aside the truly threatening things in American life and take instead an obscure example of what I mean.  Even the <a href="http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/guns/toddlers-killed-more-americans-terrorists-did-year" target="_blank">most modest</a> research suggests that <a href="http://blogs.forward.com/jj-goldberg/176043/more-killed-by-toddlers-than-terrorists-in-us/" target="_blank">toddlers</a> who find guns may kill or wound more Americans in a typical year than terrorists do.  And yet the media deals with death-by-toddler as an oddity story, not a national crisis, whether the result is the death of a mother in a <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/12/31/the-inside-story-of-how-an-idaho-toddler-shot-his-mom-at-wal-mart/" target="_blank">Wal-Mart in Idaho</a> or the wounding of a father and mother in an<a href="http://www.standard.net/Police-Fire/2015/02/01/Toddler-wounds-both-parents-with-1-shot-from-handgun" target="_blank">Albuquerque motel</a>.  Nor does the government regularly hype the dangers of “lone wolf” toddlers.  And despite such killings, the legality of “carrying” <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/09/politics/btn-guns-in-america/" target="_blank">guns</a> (for “safety” -- of course! -- from unspecified non-toddler bad guys) is barely questioned in this country as the practice spreads rapidly both in <a href="http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-12-31/news/fl-gun-sales-20121230_1_weapons-gun-restrictions-gun-sales" target="_blank">numbers</a> and in the kinds of places to which such weapons can be brought.</p><p>And don’t even waste your time thinking about the more than <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year" target="_blank">30,000 deaths</a> by vehicle each year.  Americans coexist with such spectacular levels of carnage without significant complaint so that car culture can continue in the usual fashion.  Yet let some distant terror group issue an absurd threat by video -- most recently, al-Shabab in Somalia <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/02/23/al-shabaab-reportedly-calls-for-attack-on-mall-america-in-new-video/" target="_blank">warning</a> of an attack on the Mall of America in Minnesota -- and the media alarm bells go off; the government issues warnings; the head of the Department of Homeland Security (<a href="http://time.com/3717785/jeh-johnson-homeland-security-funding/" target="_blank">worrying about</a> his budget tied up in Congress) takes to TV to warn shoppers to be “<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/22/politics/jeh-johnson-mall-of-america/index.html" target="_blank">particularly careful</a>”; and pundits debate just how serious this danger may be.  Forget that the only thing al-Shabab can hope for is that a disturbed doofus living somewhere in Minnesota might pick up one of the guns floating so freely around this society and head for that mall to do his damnedest.</p><p>And in the constant panic over our safety in situations where very little danger actually exists, our own barbarity, seen as a series of defensive acts to ensure our security, disappears in a sea of alarm. </p><p>So how to respond? I doubt you agree with me this far, so my response probably carries little weight with you. Nonetheless, let me offer it, with a caveat of sorts. Despite what you might imagine, I’m neither a pacifist, nor do I believe in a perfect world.  And no, I wouldn’t disband the U.S. military.  It’s clear enough that a strong, defensive-minded military is a necessity on this planet.</p><p>After 13 years, though, it should be obvious that this country’s military-first policies throughout the Greater Middle East and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/nick_turse_blowback_central" target="_blank">widening areas</a> of Africa have been a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">disastrous bust</a>. I have no doubt that a far less barbaric, less extreme, less militaristic foreign policy would, in purely pragmatic terms, also be a more effective one on every imaginable score -- unless, of course, your value system happens to center on the continued building up of the national security state and the reinforcement of <em>its</em> “security” or of the military-industrial complex and<em>its</em> “security.” In that case, the necessity for our barbarity as well as theirs becomes clearer in a flash.</p><p>Otherwise, despite much that we’ve heard in this new century, my suspicion is that what's right and moral is also what's practical and realistic.  In that light, let me offer, with commentary, my version of the Ten Commandments for a better American world (and a better world generally). Admittedly, in this day and age, it could easily be the Twenty or Thirty Commandments, but being classically minded, let me just stick with 10.</p><p><strong>1. Thou shalt not torture:</strong> Torture of every horrific sort in these years seems to have been<a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/cia-torture-report/senate-report-finds-cia-interrogation-tactics-were-ineffective-n264621" target="_blank">remarkably ineffective</a> in producing useful information for the state.  Even if it were proved<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/opinion/sunday/did-the-torture-report-give-the-cia-a-bum-rap.html" target="_blank">effective</a> in breaking up al-Qaeda plots, however, it would still have been both a desperately illegal (if <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/31/us/holder-rules-out-prosecutions-in-cia-interrogations.html" target="_blank">unpunished</a>) act and a foreign policy disaster of the first order.</p><p><strong>2. Thou shalt not send drones to assassinate anyone, American or not:</strong> The ongoing U.S. drone <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">assassination campaigns</a>, while killing individual terrorists, have driven significant numbers of people in the backlands of the planet into the arms of terror outfits and so only increased their size and appeal. Without a doubt, such drone strikes represent a global war of, not on, terror. In the process, they have turned the president into our <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/" target="_blank">assassin-in-chief</a> and us into an assassin nation.</p><p><strong>3. Thou shalt not invade another country:</strong> D'oh!</p><p><strong>4. Thou shalt not occupy another country:</strong> By the way, how did that work out the last two times the U.S. tried it?</p><p><strong>5. Thou shalt not upgrade thy nuclear arsenal:</strong> The U.S. has now committed itself to a<a href="http://thediplomat.com/2014/01/us-to-spend-1-trillion-on-nukes/" target="_blank">trillion-dollar</a>, decades-long upgrade of its vast arsenal.  If any significant portion of it were ever used, it would end human life as we know it on this planet and so should be considered a singular prospective crime against humanity. After years in which the only American nuclear focus was on a country -- Iran -- with no nuclear weapons, that this has happened <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175933/tomgram%3A_james_carroll,_the_pentagon_as_president_obama%27s_great_white_whale/" target="_blank">without serious debate</a> or discussion is in itself criminal.</p><p><strong>6.</strong> <strong>Thou shalt not intercept the communications of thy citizens or others all over the world or pursue the elaboration of a global surveillance state based on criminal acts</strong>: There seems to be <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/02/19/great-sim-heist/" target="_blank">no place</a> the NSA has been unwilling to break into in order to surveil the planet.  For <a href="http://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/" target="_blank">unimaginable reams</a> of information that have seemingly been of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">next to no</a> actual use, the NSA and the national security state have essentially outlawed privacy and cracked open various amendments to the Constitution.  No information is worth such a price.</p><p><strong>7. Thou shalt not be free of punishment for crimes of state:</strong> In these years of genuine criminality, official Washington has become a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175833/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_knowledge_is_crime/" target="_blank">crime-free zone</a>.  No matter the seriousness of the act, none -- not one committed in the name of the state in the post-9/11 era, no matter how heinous -- has been brought into a courtroom.</p><p><strong>8. Thou shalt not use a massive system of secret classification to deprive Americans of all real knowledge of acts of state:</strong> In 2011, the U.S. classified <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175570/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_complex_and_you/" target="_blank">92 million documents</a> and the shroud of secrecy over the business of the “people’s” government has only grown worse in the years since.  Increasingly, for our own “safety” we are only supposed to know what the government prefers us to know.  This represents, of course, a crime against democracy.</p><p><strong>9. Thou shalt not act punitively toward those who want to let Americans in on what the national security state is doing in their name:</strong> The <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/02/18/destroyed-by-the-espionage-act/" target="_blank">fierce</a> and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175500/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_in_washington,_fear_the_silence,_not_the_noise/" target="_blank">draconian</a> campaign the Obama administration has launched against leakers and whistleblowers is unprecedented in our history.  It is a growing <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175856/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_rip,_the_bill_of_rights/" target="_blank">challenge</a> to freedom of the press and to the citizen’s right to know.</p><p><strong>10. Thou shalt not infringe on the rights of the citizenry to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness:</strong> Need I even explain?</p><p>If you want to boil these commandments down to a single injunction, it might simply be: Don’t do it! Or in a moment when nothing Washington does isn’t, it seems, done again: Stop and think before acting!</p><p>Of course, there’s no way to know what a national security policy based on these 10 commandments might really be like, not when Washington is so thoroughly invested in repeating its failed acts.  It’s now <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175908/tomgram:_peter_van_buren,_seven_bad_endings_to_the_new_war_in_the_middle_east/" target="_blank">deep into</a> Iraq War 3.0, intent on <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/21/us-afghanistan-usa-idUSKBN0LP02D20150221" target="_blank">further slowing</a> the “withdrawal” from Afghanistan, and pursuing the usual drone assassination strategies, as from South Asia to Iraq, Yemen, and Libya things only worsen and jihadist organizations<a href="http://www.lobelog.com/rise-of-terror-groups-demands-hard-look-at-us-policy/" target="_blank">grow stronger</a>.</p><p>Yet campaign 2016 is already shaping up as a contest among candidates who represent more of the same, much more of the same, and even more than that of the same. One of them has tellingly <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/opinion/sunday/maureen-dowd-jeb-bushs-brainless-trust.html" target="_blank">brought back</a> as his advisers much of the cast of characters who planned the invasion and occupation of Iraq.</p><p>Even if the above commandments weren’t to add up to a more practical, safer, and more secure foreign (and domestic) policy, I would still be convinced that this was a better, saner way to go. As Americans demonstrate regularly when it comes to just about anything but terrorism, life is a danger zone and living with some level of insecurity is the human condition.  Making our safety and security ultimate values is a grotesque mistake. It essentially ensures a future state that bears no relation whatsoever to a democratic polity or to the values this country has championed.  Much that Americans once professed to cherish, from liberties to privacy, has already been lost along the way.</p><p>In your heart, you must know much of this, however you process it. I hope, under the circumstances, you’ll give some thought to what that word “patriot” should really mean in this country right now.</p><p>Yours sincerely,</p><p>Tom Engelhardt<br />TomDispatch.com </p><p>P.S. In my own war on terror, I’ve recently been thinking that a few “thou shalts” are in order. To give you an example: Thou shalt honor the heroes of our American world -- and no, I’m not talking about the U.S. military! I mean people like journalist <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0544341414/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">James Risen</a>, who barely avoided jail for doing his job as a reporter and has now <a href="http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/why-a-reporters-epic-rant-on-twitter-gets-no-argument-here/" target="_blank">dedicated his life</a> to “fighting to undo damage done to press freedom in the United States by Barack Obama and Eric Holder,” or activist <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/02/20/front-page-rule" target="_blank">Kathy Kelly</a> who is at present in a federal prison in Kentucky for having<a href="http://www.democracynow.org/2014/12/29/peace_activist_kathy_kelly_heads_to" target="_blank">protested</a> American drone strikes at an Air Force base in Missouri.</p><p> </p> Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:34:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1032608 at http://https.alternet.org World Civil Liberties World nationalism america war on terror whistleblowers Police Armed With Machine Guns in My Hometown - What Next? http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/police-armed-machine-guns-my-hometown-what-next <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Machine guns, MRAPs, surveillance, drones: we, the people, are ever less in control of anything.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/438bb03f8a52f687462aa202b41b5dcd1a9923bb_1.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>I never fail to be amazed -- and that’s undoubtedly my failing.  I mean, if you retain a capacity for wonder you can still be awed by a sunset, but should you really be shocked that the sun is once again sinking in the West? Maybe not.</p><p>The occasion for such reflections: machine guns in my hometown. To be specific, several weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced the formation of a new 350-officer Special Response Group (SRG). Keep in mind that New York City already has a police force of more than <a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/09/28/nine_terrifying_facts_about_americas_biggest_police_force/" target="_blank">34,000</a> -- bigger, that is, than the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_number_of_military_and_paramilitary_personnel" target="_blank">active militaries</a> of Austria, Bulgaria, Chad, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kenya, Laos, Switzerland, or Zimbabwe -- as well as its own “navy,” including <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/nyregion/drone-submarines-add-eyes-for-nyc-harbor-police.html" target="_blank">six submersible drones</a>.  Just another drop in an ocean of blue, the SRG will nonetheless be a squad for our times, trained in what Bratton <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/01/29/bratton-unveils-plans-for-new-anti-terror-police-unit/" target="_blank">referred to</a> as “advanced disorder control and counterterror.”  It will also, he <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/30/nyregion/nypd-plans-initiatives-to-fight-terrorism-and-improve-community-relations.html" target="_blank">announced</a>, be <a href="http://gothamist.com/2015/01/29/nypd_machine_guns.php" target="_blank">equipped with</a> “extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns -- unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.” And here’s where he created a little controversy in my hometown.  The squad would, Bratton added, be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”</p><p>Now, that was an embarrassment in liberal New York.  By mixing the recent <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/14/nyregion/in-new-york-thousands-march-in-continuing-protests-over-garner-case.html" target="_blank">demonstrations</a> over the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others into the same sentence with the assault on <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Mumbai_attacks" target="_blank">Mumbai</a> and the <em>Charlie Hebdo</em> affair in France, he seemed to be equating civil protest in the Big Apple with acts of terrorism.  Perhaps you won’t be surprised then that the very next day the police department started <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/01/30/nypd-says-wont-carry-machine-guns-protests/" target="_blank">walking back</a> the <a href="http://gothamist.com/2015/01/30/well_just_use_handguns.php" target="_blank">idea</a> that the unit would be toting its machine guns not just to possible terror incidents but to local protests.  A day later, Bratton himself walked his comments back even <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/nyregion/bratton-says-terrorism-and-protests-will-be-handled-by-separate-police-units.html" target="_blank">further</a>. (“I may have in my remarks or in your interpretation of my remarks confused you or confused the issue.”)  Now, it seems there will be two separate units, the SRG for counterterror patrols and a different, assumedly machine-gun-less crew for protests.</p><p>Here was what, like the sun going down in the West, shouldn’t have shocked me but did: no one thought there was any need to walk back the arming of the New York Police Department with machine guns for whatever reasons.  The retention of such weaponry should, of course, have been the last thing to shock any American in 2015.  After all, the up-armoring and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175881/tomgram%3A_matthew_harwood,_one_nation_under_swat/" target="_blank">militarization</a> of the police has been an ongoing phenomenon since 9/11, even if it only received real media attention after the police, <a href="http://cdn5.freedomoutpost.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/ferguson-police.jpg" target="_blank">looking like</a><strong></strong>an army of occupation, rolled onto the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in response to protests over the killing of Michael Brown.<a name="more" id="more"></a></p><p>In fact, the Pentagon (and the Department of Homeland Security) had already shunted <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-police-demilitarize-20140816-story.html#page=1" target="_blank">$5.1 billion</a> worth of military equipment, much of it directly from the country’s distant battlefields -- assault rifles, land-mine detectors, grenade launchers, and <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/police-departments-struggle-return-pentagon-military-surplus-gear" target="_blank">94,000</a> of those machine guns -- to local police departments around the country.  Take, for example, the various tank-like, heavily armored vehicles that have now become commonplace for police departments to possess.  (Ferguson, for instance, had a “<a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/101920548" target="_blank">Bearcat</a>,” widely featured in coverage of protests there.)</p><p>Since 2013, the Pentagon has <a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/09/09/pentagon-will-rethink-giving-mraps-bayonets-to-police-official-says" target="_blank">transferred</a> for free more than 600 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, worth at least half a million dollars each and previously used in U.S. war zones, to various “qualified law enforcement agencies.” Police departments in rural areas like <a href="http://rt.com/usa/165100-mrap-pentagon-police-force/" target="_blank">Walsh County</a>, North Dakota (pop. 11,000) now have their own MRAPs, as does the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/18/ohio-state-university-armored-truck_n_3949750.html" target="_blank">campus police department</a> at Ohio State University.  It hardly matters that these monster vehicles have few uses in a country where neither ambushes nor roadside bombs are a part of everyday life.</p><p>Post-Ferguson, a few scattered departments have actually moved to turn these useless vehicles <a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-courts/ci_26427806/san-jose-amid-militarization-furor-sjpd-jettisons-hulking" target="_blank">back in</a>.  It's clear, however, that <a href="http://www.newsweek.com/how-americas-police-became-army-1033-program-264537" target="_blank">police forces</a> “kitted out with Marine-issue camouflage and military-grade body armor, toting short-barreled assault rifles, and rolling around in armored vehicles” -- that is, almost indistinguishable from soldiers -- are now the future of American policing and there’s no walking that back.  Since Ferguson, President Obama has <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/dec/01/obama-white-house-summit-ferguson" target="_blank">essentially refused</a> to do so and Congress certainly won’t.  Despite a small uproar over the pile of military equipment being transferred to the police, there is <a href="http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/obama-acts-on-police-oversight/article/2556798" target="_blank">no indication</a> that the flow will be staunched.</p><p>When it comes to all this militarized equipment, as the president has <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-obama-ferguson-policing-20141201-story.html" target="_blank">emphasized</a> (and the task force he appointed to look into these matters will undoubtedly reemphasize), “reform” is mainly going to be focused on “better training” in how to use it.  In other words, reform will prove to be a code word for further militarization.  And don’t count on anyone returning those 94,000 machine guns either in a country that seems to be in some <a href="http://dailycaller.com/2014/11/04/gun-ownership-by-the-numbers/" target="_blank">kind</a> of domestic<strong></strong><a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/14/news/la-ol-feinstein-assault-weapons-ban-good-start-20130314" target="_blank">arms race</a> and in which <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jan/01/idaho-walmart-shooting-fatal-combination-children-guns" target="_blank">toddlers</a> now <a href="http://blogs.forward.com/jj-goldberg/176043/more-killed-by-toddlers-than-terrorists-in-us/" target="_blank">regularly</a> find their parents’ <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/12/31/the-inside-story-of-how-an-idaho-toddler-shot-his-mom-at-wal-mart/" target="_blank">loaded guns</a> and <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/toddler-wounds-both-parents-1-shot-handgun-112549546.html" target="_blank">wound or kill them</a>.</p><p><strong>How the National Security State Outlasted Its Critics</strong></p><p>Not so long ago, that 9/11 “changed everything” seemed like the hyperbolic cliché of a past era.  From the present moment, however, it looks ever more like a sober description of what actually happened. Congratulations, that is, are due to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175388/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_osama_dead_and_alive/" target="_blank">Osama bin Laden</a>.  Even dead and <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/may/02/bin-laden-body-buried-sea" target="_blank">buried at sea</a>, he deserves some credit.  He proved to be midwife to the exceedingly violent birth of a new American world.  Today, 13 years after the attacks he launched, an exceptionally healthy, well-armed teenage America is growing fast.  Under the banner of Fear and Terror that bin Laden inspired, this country has been transformed in myriad ways, even if we only half notice because we’re part of it.  And it isn’t a world much interested in walking anything back. </p><p>Consider the National Security Agency.  In June 2013, it was faced with the beginning of a devastating rollout of a <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/the-nsa-files" target="_blank">trove</a> of top-secret documents exposing its inner workings.  Thanks to Edward Snowden, Americans (and Germans and Brazilians and Mexicans and Afghans) came to know that the agency had, in the post-9/11 years, set up a surveillance state <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">for the ages</a>, one for which the phrase Orwellian might be distinctly inadequate.  The NSA was listening in on or intercepting the communications of <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/24/nsa-surveillance-world-leaders-calls" target="_blank">35</a> <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/04/germany-inquiry-nsa-tapping-angela-merkel-phone" target="_blank">chancellors</a>, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/24/brazil-president-un-speech-nsa-surveillance" target="_blank">presidents</a>, and other world leaders, the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/world/no-morsel-too-minuscule-for-all-consuming-nsa.html?pagewanted=all" target="_blank">secretary-general</a> of the U.N., the offices of the European Union, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/brazil-tv-to-release-nsa-documents-that-show-us-spied-on-petrobras/2013/09/08/8c4cdaf6-18d0-11e3-a628-7e6dde8f889d_story.html" target="_blank">foreign corporations</a>, peasants in the <a href="http://time.com/109853/wikileaks-afghanistan-under-nsa-surveillance/" target="_blank">backlands</a> of the planet, and oh yes, American citizens galore (and that’s just to start down a far longer list).  All of this effort has -- from the point of view of “intelligence” -- been remarkably expensive but (as far as anyone can tell) relatively useless.  Few terrorists have been <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/12/23/obama-cant-point-to-a-single-time-the-nsa-call-records-program-prevented-a-terrorist-attack/" target="_blank">found</a>, next to no plots broken up, and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">little useful</a>, actionable intelligence provided to the government, despite the <a href="http://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/" target="_blank">yottabytes</a> of data collected.  The whole effort should have been written off as a bust and scaled back radically.  The agency’s methods arguably <a href="https://www.aclu.org/national-security/aclu-files-lawsuit-challenging-constitutionality-nsa-phone-spying-program" target="_blank">violated</a> the Constitution, made a mockery of the idea of privacy, and tore up sovereignties of every sort.  Instead, that global surveillance system remains embedded in our world and growing, its actions sanctified.</p><p>Clearly, in the new post-9/11 American rulebook, no one was to have the right to keep a secret -- except the national security state itself, which was <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175570/engelhardt_that_makes_no_sense" target="_blank">madly classifying</a> anything in sight, while the Obama Justice Department went after anyone who leaked anything about it or blew a whistle on it with a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175526/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_joining_the_whistleblowers%27_club/" target="_blank">fierceness</a> never before experienced in our history.  Hence, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175863/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_america%27s_real_foreign_policy/" target="_blank">towering anger</a> of top NSA officials (and their <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/12/17/ex-cia-director-snowden-should-be-hanged-if-convicted-for-treason/" target="_blank">retired colleagues</a>) at Edward Snowden when he exposed their “privacy” to scrutiny, too.</p><p>If ever there was a system in need of “reform,” this was it.  And yet the NSA has successfully outlasted the long Snowden moment without a single thing being walked back, not even the most shocking revelation for Americans: that the agency was gathering and storing their bulk phone “metadata.”  A year ago, a presidential advisory board on privacy concluded that the bulk data collection was “illegal and unproductive” and recommended changes.  <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/01/29/one-year-major-report-nsa-still-collecting-bulk-domestic-data-still-clueless-much-good-surveillance/" target="_blank">None</a> have yet taken place.  “Reform” efforts on the NSA <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/senate-fails-to-advance-legislation-on-nsa-reform/2014/11/18/a72eb7fc-6f70-11e4-8808-afaa1e3a33ef_story.html" target="_blank">collapsed</a> in <a href="https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20141203/16192629321/congress-quietly-decides-to-delete-key-nsa-reform-cromnibus-agreement.shtml" target="_blank">Congress</a> even before the Republicans took the Senate.  As with the police, so the president has announced minor “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/world/president-tweaks-the-rules-on-data-collection.html" target="_blank">tweaks</a>” to the system of data collection and it’s marching right on.</p><p>Similarly, the CIA outlasted Senator Dianne Feinstein.  After years of effort, a truncated, redacted version of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Torture Report that she oversaw was <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175934/tomgram%3A_rebecca_gordon,_the_torture_wars/" target="_blank">finally released</a>, filled with American horrors and barbarities.  The result, as with Snowden’s revelations, was <em>nada</em>.  For torture, no one at the CIA is to be held responsible or accountable; nor did the CIA <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-finds-no-wrongdoing-in-search-of-computers-used-by-senate-investigators/2015/01/14/df049b6e-9c08-11e4-96cc-e858eba91ced_story.html" target="_blank">pay any price</a> for <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/tech/cia-admits-it-improperly-hacking-senate-computers-20140731" target="_blank">hacking into</a> the computer systems of the committee’s staff or turning on the woman once known as the senator from the national security state.  The whole process seemed to signal that congressional <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/01/04/the-nsa-refuses-to-deny-spying-on-members-of-congress/" target="_blank">oversight</a> of the U.S. intelligence community was now more fiction than fact.</p><p>Admittedly, when President Obama came into office, in what may be the single exception to the rule of the era, he walked back one crucial set of Bush administration policies, <a href="http://www.newsweek.com/obamas-order-ends-bush-era-interrogation-tactics-77965" target="_blank">ending torture</a> and closing the “black sites” at which much of it occurred.  Since then, however, the CIA has <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175780/tomgram%3A_pratap_chatterjee,_the_jason_bourne_strategy/" target="_blank">expanded</a>, while its power, like the national security state within which it is lodged, has only grown.</p><p>The process of expanding that <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463656/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">shadow government</a> and freeing it from supervision has, in fact, been unending.  Only last week, for instance, the Obama administration announced that the 17 intelligence outfits that make up the <a href="http://www.intelligence.gov/mission/member-agencies.html" target="_blank">U.S. Intelligence Community</a> were about to get a new baby.  Amid a thicket of outfits now devoted to cyberintelligence, including “cyber-operations centers” at the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the National Security Agency, the new <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/white-house-to-create-national-center-to-counter-cyberspace-intrusions/2015/02/09/a312201e-afd0-11e4-827f-93f454140e2b_story.html" target="_blank">Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center</a>, which will be housed in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, will “analyze cyberthreats and coordinate strategy to counter them.”  It will assumedly be the civilian equivalent of the military’s 2009 creation, the <a href="http://www.stratcom.mil/factsheets/2/Cyber_Command/" target="_blank">U.S. Cyber Command</a>.  And keep in mind that all this is happening in the country that is responsible for <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/world/middleeast/obama-ordered-wave-of-cyberattacks-against-iran.html" target="_blank">launching</a> the planet’s first cyberwar.</p><p>Or consider another growth industry: drones and their progeny.  They are spinning off into domestic air space at a startling rate and can now be <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175947/tomgram%3A_miller_and_schivone,_bringing_the_battlefield_to_the_border/" target="_blank">found</a> from <a href="http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/14/border-security-expands-use-of-drones/" target="_blank">America’s borderlands</a> to <a href="http://www.wcvb.com/news/drone-sighted-by-pilot-landing-at-logan-airport-in-boston/31030600" target="_blank">thousands of feet</a> up in the skies above commercial jetliners to the White House grounds (reportedly thanks to the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/us/white-house-drone.html" target="_blank">recreational activities</a> of a drunken employee of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency).  Abroad, Washington’s drones have been this country's true “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175952/tomgram%3A_matthew_harwood%2C_the_fear_of_lone-wolf_terrorism_rises/" target="_blank">lone wolf</a>” hunters, inflicting <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/death-from-above-how-american-drone-strikes-are-devastating-yemen-20140414" target="_blank">terror</a> from the skies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya in 2011, and most recently Syria.  In five of those seven countries they have been at it for years, in the case of Pakistan flying <a href="http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/" target="_blank">hundreds</a> of strikes in its tribal borderlands.</p><p>Washington’s grimly named Predator and Reaper drones have been hunting their prey in the backlands of the planet 24 hours a day for more than a decade now.  <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/23/obama-drone-program-anniversary_n_4654825.html" target="_blank">Thousands</a> of people have been wiped out, including women, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147" target="_blank">children</a>, and <a href="http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/21/turning_a_wedding_into_a_funeral" target="_blank">wedding parties</a>, as well as numerous significant and insignificant figures in terror outfits of every sort.  And yet in not one of those countries has the situation improved in any significant way in terms of U.S. policy goals.  In most of them it has grown worse and the drones have been a factor in such developments, alienating whole populations on the ground below.  This has been <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/opinion/17exum.html" target="_blank">obvious for years</a> to counterinsurgency experts.  But a reconsideration of these drone wars is beyond the pale in Washington.  Drone assassination is now a sacrosanct act of the American state, part of a “global” war 13 years old and ongoing.  No one in any position of power, now or in the immediate future, is going to consider flying them back.</p><p>The CIA has sometimes been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174824/%20chalmers_johnson_agency_of_rogue" target="_blank">called</a> the president’s private army.  Today, it's running most (but not all) of Washington’s drone campaigns and so those robotic lone wolves could be considered the president’s private air force.  In the process, the twenty-first-century White House has been officially and proudly turned into an <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/engelhardt_assassin_in_chief" target="_blank">assassin’s lair</a> and don’t expect that to change in 2016 or 2020 either.</p><p><strong>Permanent War and the Permanent Election Campaign</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">Similar points</a> could be made about the 13-year-old “global war” the Bush administration launched and the specific wars, raids, conflicts, invasions, and occupations that have been carried out under its aegis.  President Obama has been fighting Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0 for six months, claiming that Congressional post-9/11 authorizations allow him to do so.  Now, he wants a three-year extension on something he claims he doesn't need and has delivered a text to Congress filled with enough <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/12/opinion/obama-still-believes-in-unlimited-war-isis.html" target="_blank">loopholes</a> to send an army (and air force) through -- and not just in Iraq and Syria either.  Not getting this authorization wouldn’t, however, significantly affect the administration’s plans in the Middle East.  So much for the "power" of Congress to declare war.  That body is nonetheless evidently going to spend months holding hearings and “debating” a new authorization, even as fighting goes on without it, based on informal agreements <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/martin-dempsey-aumf-115161.html?hp=b1_c2" target="_blank">pounded out</a> by the White House and the Pentagon.  (Alice would have found Wonderland sane by comparison.)</p><p>In this way, the White House has in our time become a war-making and assassination-producing machine.  In the same period, terror groups and membership in them have <a href="http://www.lobelog.com/rise-of-terror-groups-demands-hard-look-at-us-policy/" target="_blank">leapt</a> across the Greater Middle East and Africa; no terror organization has been destroyed (though the original al-Qaeda, a modest enough outfit to begin with, has been weakened); most have expanded; the Islamic State, the first mini-terror state in history, has taken over significant parts of Iraq and Syria and is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/world/middleeast/islamic-state-sprouting-limbs-beyond-mideast.html" target="_blank">expanding elsewhere</a>; Libya is a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/13/world/middleeast/al-qaeda-yemen-military.html" target="_blank">chaos</a> of competing militias, some of an <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-in-libya-fears-militants-are-about-to-follow-up-their-brutal-successes-in-iraq-and-syria-by-expanding-into-the-unstable-north-african-country-10031391.html" target="_blank">extreme</a> Islamic nature; Yemen is believed to be in a <a href="http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-13/yemen-collapsing-before-our-eye-says-un-chief/6090250" target="_blank">state of collapse</a> with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/13/world/middleeast/al-qaeda-yemen-military.html" target="_blank">on the rise</a>; Afghanistan remains a war disaster area; Pakistan is significantly destabilized; and so on.  And yet, as the president’s authorization request indicates, there is no walking any of this back.</p><p>In the meantime, on the domestic front in this “too big to fail” century, the country that eternally sallies forth under the banner of democracy has been working on a new political system which, as yet, has no name.  Here’s what we do know about our latest version of “democracy”: in a period when plenty of American citizens weren’t too small to fail, the inequality gap has grown to <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph" target="_blank">yawning proportions</a>.  On the principle that what goes up must come down, some part of the vast infusion of money flowing to the .01% or even the .001% has, with a <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._FEC" target="_blank">helping hand</a> from the Supreme Court, been raining down on the electoral system.</p><p>In the same way that the national security state was funded to the tune of almost a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175545" target="_blank">trillion dollars</a> a year and war became perpetual, the new political system, focused on TV advertising, has created a perpetual campaign season.  (It is now estimated that the 2016 presidential campaign alone could cost <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/230318-the-5-billion-campaign" target="_blank">$5 billion</a>, essentially doubling the $2.6 billion spent in 2012.)  And here’s the most recent news from that round-the-clock campaign, whose <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/jeb-bushs-war-chest-far-outpacing-field-of-gop-contenders/2015/02/13/1fd3c076-b2f1-11e4-886b-c22184f27c35_story.html?hpid=z1" target="_blank">focus</a> is increasingly on <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/11/us/politics/emerging-clinton-team-shows-signs-of-disquiet.html" target="_blank">donors</a>, not voters: the Koch brothers and their allied donor networks have pledged <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/koch-backed-network-aims-to-spend-nearly-1-billion-on-2016-elections/2015/01/26/77a44654-a513-11e4-a06b-9df2002b86a0_story.html" target="_blank">nearly one billion dollars</a> for election season 2016 (more than double the amount they contributed in 2012).  And they already have pledges for <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/02/koch-retreat-donors-249-million-2016" target="_blank">$249 million</a>, which suggests that they may even exceed their present guesstimate.</p><p>Despite <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/09/29/ruth-bader-ginsburg/" target="_blank">comments</a> from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg about her personal desire to roll back the Supreme Court’s <em>Citizens United</em> decision that opened the floodgates of money, it’s clear that this court won’t be walking its election-financing positions back anytime soon.  In donor terms, think of what that court did as the equivalent of the Pentagon putting all those machine guns and MRAPs in the hands of the police.</p><p>And keep in mind that, as the U.S. changes, the world does, too.  Consider it a form of reverse blowback, as from drones to surveillance to <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/02/10/nsa-iran-developing-sophisticated-cyber-attacks-learning-attacks/" target="_blank">cyberwar</a>, Washington helps lay the groundwork for a new more extreme century in which, from sovereignty to privacy, boundaries are there to be broken, new kinds of <a href="http://time.com/3691337/pentagon-budget/" target="_blank">weaponry</a> to be tested out in the real world, and new kinds of conflicts to be launched.</p><p>In sum, we, the people, are ever less in control of anything.  The police are increasingly not “ours,” nor are the NSA and its colleague outfits “our” intelligence agencies, nor are the wars we are fighting “our” wars, nor the elections in which we vote “our” elections.  This is a country walking back nothing as it heads into a heavily militarized future.  In the process, an everyday American world is being brought into existence that, by past standards, will seem extreme indeed.  In other words, in the years to come an ever-less recognizable American way of life will quite expectably be setting in the West.  Don’t be shocked.</p> Tue, 17 Feb 2015 07:30:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1032014 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics Activism Civil Liberties News & Politics police militarization new york bill bratton MRAP drone police Why There Is No Massive Antiwar Movement in America http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/why-there-no-massive-antiwar-movement-america <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In the last six decades, the American national security state has freed itself of us and of Congress. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_199995386.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <blockquote><p><em>Well, it’s one, two, three, look at that amputee,<br />At least it’s below the knee,<br />Could have been worse, you see.<br />Well, it’s true your kids look at you differently,<br />But you came in an ambulance instead of a hearse,<br />That’s the phrase of the trade,<br />It could have been worse.</em></p><p>— <em>First verse of Vietnam-era lyric written by U.S. Air Force medic Bob Boardman, sung to the tune of Country Joe McDonald’s </em><em>"I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag")</em></p></blockquote><p>There was the old American lefty paper, the <em>Guardian</em>, and the <em>Village Voice, </em>which beat the Sixties into the world, and its later imitators like the <em>Boston Phoenix</em>. There was <em>Liberation News Service</em>, the <em>Rat</em> in New York, the <em>Great Speckled Bird</em> in Atlanta, the <em>Old Mole</em> in Boston, the distinctly psychedelic <em>Chicago Seed</em>, <em>Leviathan</em>, <em>Viet-Report</em>, and the <em>L.A. Free Press</em>, as well as that Texas paper whose name I long ago forgot that was partial to armadillo cartoons. And they existed, in the 1960s and early 1970s, amid a jostling crowd of hundreds of “underground” newspapers -- all quite aboveground but the word sounded so romantic in that political moment. There were G.I. antiwar papers by the score and high school rags by the hundreds in an “alternate” universe of opposition that somehow made the rounds by mail or got passed on hand-to-hand in a now almost unimaginable world of interpersonal social networking that preceded the Internet by decades. And then, of course, there was <em>I.F. Stone’s Weekly</em> (1953-1971): one dedicated journalist, 19 years, every word his own (except, of course, for the endless foolishness he mined from the reams of official documentation produced in Washington, Vietnam, and elsewhere).</p><p>I can remember the arrival of that newsletter, though I no longer know whether I subscribed myself or simply shared someone else’s copy. In a time when being young was supposed to be glorious, Stone was old -- my parents’ age -- but still we waited on his words. It helped to have someone from a previous generation confirm in nuts and bolts ways that the issue that swept so many of us away, the Vietnam War, was indeed an American atrocity.</p><p><strong>The Call to Service</strong></p><p>They say you can’t go home again, but recently, almost 44 years after I saw my last issue of the <em>Weekly</em> -- Stone was 64 when he closed up shop; I was 27 -- I found the <a href="http://www.unzmag.net/Pub/IFStonesWeekly/" target="_blank">full archive of them</a>, all 19 years, online, and began reading him all over again. It brought back a dizzying time in which we felt “liberated” from so much that we had been brought up to believe and -- though we wouldn’t have understood it that way then -- angered and forlorn by the loss as well. That included the John Wayne version of America in which, at the end of any war film, as the Marine Corps Hymn welled up, American troops advanced to a justified victory that would make the world a better place. It also included a far kinder-hearted but allied vision of a country, a government, that was truly ours, and to which we owed -- and one dreamed of offering -- some form of service.  That was deeply engrained in us, which was why when, in his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy so famously <a href="http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jfkinaugural.htm" target="_blank">called on us</a> to serve, the response was so powerful. (“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”) Soon after, my future wife went into the Peace Corps like tens of thousands of other young Americans, while I dreamed, as I had from childhood, of becoming a diplomat in order to represent our country abroad.</p><p>And that sense of service to country ran so deep that when the first oppositional movements of the era arose, particularly the Civil Rights Movement, the impulse to serve was essential to them, as it clearly was to I.F. Stone. The discovery that under your country’s shining veneer lay a series of nightmares might have changed how that sense of obligation was applied, but it didn’t change the impulse. Not at all.</p>In his writing, Stone was calm, civil, thoughtful, fact-based, and still presented an American world that looked shockingly unlike the one you could read about in what wasn’t yet called “the mainstream media” or could see on the nightly network news. (Your TV still had only 13 channels, without a zapper in sight.) A researcher par excellence, Stone, like the rest of us, lacked the ability to see into the future, which meant that some of his fears (“World War III”) as well as his dreams never came true.  But on the American present of that time, he was remarkably on target. Rereading some of his work so many decades later set me thinking about the similarities and differences between that moment of eternal war in Indochina and the present endless war on terror.<p>Among the eeriest things about reading Stone’s Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia coverage, 14 years into the next century, is how resonantly familiar so much of what he wrote still seems, how 21st-century it all is. It turns out that the national security state hasn’t just been<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175950/tomgram%3A_william_astore%2C_groundhog_day_in_the_war_on_terror/" target="_blank">repeating</a> things they’ve done <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">unsuccessfully</a> for the last 13 years, but for the last 60. Let me offer just a few examples from his newsletter.  I think you’ll get the idea.</p><p>* With last June’s <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/mosul-isis-gunmen-middle-east-states" target="_blank">collapse</a> of the American-<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175907/tomgram%3A_william_astore,_america%27s_hollow_foreign_legions/" target="_blank">trained</a> and -armed Iraqi army and recent revelations about its <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/01/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-soldiers-idUSKCN0JF2RZ20141201" target="_blank">50,000</a> “ghost soldiers” in mind, here’s Stone on the Laotian army in January 1961: “It is the highest paid army in Asia and variously estimated (the canny Laotians have never let us know the exact numbers, perhaps lest we check on how much the military payroll is diverted into the pockets of a few leaders) at from 23,000 to 30,000. Yet it has never been able to stand up against handfuls of guerrillas and even a few determined battalions like those mustered by Captain Kong Le.”</p><p>* On ISIS’s offensive in Iraq last year, or the 9/11 attacks, or just about any other development you want to mention in our wars since then, our gargantuan bureaucracy of <a href="http://www.intelligence.gov/mission/member-agencies.html" target="_blank">17</a> expanding intelligence outfits has repeatedly been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">caught short</a>, so consider Stone’s comments on the Tet Offensive of February 1968.  At a time when America’s top commander in Vietnam had repeatedly assured Americans that the Vietnamese enemy was losing, the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (the “Vietcong”) launched attacks on just about every major town and city in South Vietnam, including the U.S. Embassy in Saigon: “We still don’t know what hit us.  The debris is not all in Saigon and Hue.  The world’s biggest intelligence apparatus was caught by surprise.”</p><p>* On our <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_assassin-in-chief/" target="_blank">drone assassination</a> and other <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175368/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_top_guns_no_more" target="_blank">air campaigns</a> as a global war not on, but <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">for</a> -- i.e., to recruit -- terrorists, including our <a href="http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/02/01/Airstrikes-hit-76-ISIS-targets-in-Iraq-and-Syria.html" target="_blank">present bombing campaigns</a> in Iraq and Syria, here’s Stone in February 1968: “When the bodies are really counted, it will be seen that one of the major casualties was our delusion about victory by air power: all that boom-boom did not keep the enemy from showing up at <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lang_Vei" target="_blank">Langvei</a> with tanks... The whole country is slowly being burnt down to ‘save it.’  To apply scorched-earth tactics to one’s own country is heroic; to apply it to a country one claims to be saving is brutal and cowardly... It is we who rally the people to the other side.” And here he is again in May 1970: “Nowhere has air power, however overwhelming and unchallenged, been able to win a war.”</p><p><strong>Demobilizing Americans</strong></p><p>And so it goes reading Stone today.  But if much in the American way of war remains dismally familiar some five decades later, one thing of major significance has changed, something you can see regularly in <em>I.F. Stone’s Weekly</em> but not in our present world. Thirteen years after our set of disastrous wars started, where is the massive antiwar movement, including an army in near revolt and a Congress with significant critics in significant positions?  </p><p>Think of it this way: in 1968, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was J. William Fulbright, a man who came to oppose U.S. policy in Vietnam and wrote a book about this country titled <a href="http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/fulbright.html" target="_blank"><em>The Arrogance of Power</em></a> (a phrase no senator who hoped to stay in Washington in 2015 would apply to the U.S.). The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee today: John McCain. ‘Nuff said.</p><p>In the last six decades, the American national security state has succeeded strikingly at only one thing (other than turning itself into a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">growth industry</a>): it freed itself of us and of Congress. In the years following the Vietnam War, the American people were effectively demobilized, shorn of that sense of service to country, while war was privatized and the citizen soldier replaced by an “all-volunteer” force and a host of paid contractors working for <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175507/tom_engelhardt_remotely_piloted_war" target="_blank">warrior corporations</a>.  Post-9/11, the citizenry was urged to pay <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175423/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich,_playing_ball_with_the_pentagon/" target="_blank">as much attention</a> as possible to “our troops,” or “warriors,” and next to none to the wars they were fighting.  Today, the official role of a national security state, bigger and more powerful than in the Vietnam era, is to make Americans “safe” from terror.  In a world of war-making that has <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/29/world/us-suddenly-goes-quiet-on-effort-to-bolster-afghan-forces.html" target="_blank">disappeared</a> into the shadows and a Washington in which just about all information is now <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175570/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_complex_and_you/" target="_blank">classified</a> and shrouded in secrecy, the only way to be “safe” and “secure” as a citizen is, by definition, to be ignorant, to know as little as possible about what “our” government is doing in our name.  This helps explain why, in the Obama years, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175833/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_knowledge_is_crime/" target="_blank">only crime</a> in official Washington is <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/jurors-tell-judge-they-cant-agree-in-cia-leak-trial-of-jeffrey-sterling/2015/01/26/db819f78-a57c-11e4-a7c2-03d37af98440_story.html" target="_blank">leaking</a> or <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175500/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_in_washington,_fear_the_silence,_not_the_noise/" target="_blank">whistleblowing</a>; that is, letting the public in on something that we, the people, aren’t supposed to know about the workings of “our” government.</p><p>In 1973, President Richard Nixon ended the draft, a move meant to bring a <a href="https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/Vietnam/heinl.html" target="_blank">rebellious citizen’s army</a> under control.  Since then, in a host of ways, our leaders have managed to sideline the citizenry, replacing the urge to serve with a sense of cynicism about government (which has morphed into many things, including, on the right, the Tea Party movement). As a result, those leaders have been freed from us and from just about all congressional oversight and so have been able to do what they damn well pleased.  In practice, this has meant doing the same dumb, brutal, militarized things over and over again.  From the repetitive stupidity of 21st-century American foreign -- that is, war -- policy, you might draw the conclusion (though they won’t) that the citizenry, even in revolt, has something crucial to teach the state.</p><p><strong>Serving the Country in Opposition</strong></p><p>Nonetheless, this demobilization of us should be seen for what it is: a remarkable achievement.  It means that you have to be of a certain age (call me “I.F. Pebble”) even to remember what that urge to serve felt like, especially once it went into opposition on a massive scale. I.F. Stone was an early model for just that.  In those years, I was, too, and there was nothing special about me.  Untold numbers of Americans like me, military and civilian, engaged in such acts and thought of them as service to country.  Though they obviously didn’t fit the normal definition of American “patriotism,” they came from the same place.</p><p>In April 1968, not so many months after the Tet Offensive, I went with two close friends to a rally on Boston Common organized by an anti-draft group called the Resistance. There, the three of us turned in our draft cards.  I went in jacket and tie because I wanted to make the point that we weren’t hippy radicals. We were serious Americans turning our backs on a war from hell being pursued by a country transforming itself before our eyes into our worst nightmare.</p><p>Even all these years later, I can still remember the remarkable sense of exhilaration, even freedom, involved and also the fear.  (In those years, being a relatively meek and law-abiding guy, I often found myself beyond my comfort zone, and so a little -- or more than a little -- scared.)  Similarly, the next year, a gutsy young woman who was a co-worker and I -- I had, by then, dropped out of graduate school and was working at an “underground” movement print shop -- drove two unnerved and unnerving Green Beret deserters to Canada.  Admittedly, when they began pretend-machine-gunning the countryside we were passing through, I was unsettled, and when they pulled out dope (no drugs had been the agreed-upon rule on a trip in which we were to cross the Canadian border), I was ready to be anywhere else but in that car.  Still, whatever my anxieties, I had no doubt about why I was doing what I was doing, or about the importance of helping American soldiers who no longer wanted to take part in a terrible war.</p><p>Finally, in 1971, an Air Force medic named Bob Boardman, angered by the stream of American war wounded coming home, snuck me into his medical unit at Travis Air Force Base in northern California.  There, though without any experience as a reporter, I “interviewed” a bunch of wigged-out, angry guys with stumps for arms or legs, who were “antiwar” in all sorts of complex, unexpected, and outraged ways.  It couldn’t have been grimmer or more searing or more moving, and I went home, wrote up a three-part series on what I had seen and heard, and sold it to Pacific News Service, a small antiwar outfit in San Francisco (where I would subsequently go to work).</p><p>None of this would have been most Americans’ idea of service, even then. But it was mine. I felt that my government had betrayed me, and that it was my duty as a citizen to do whatever I could to change its ways (as, in fact, I still do). And so, in some upside-down, inside-out way, I maintained a connection to and a perverse faith in that government, or our ability to force change on it, as the Civil Rights Movement had done.</p><p>That, I suspect, is what’s gone missing in much of our American world and just bringing back the draft, often suggested as one answer to our war-making problems, would be no ultimate solution. It would undoubtedly change the make-up of the U.S. military somewhat.  However, what’s missing in action isn’t the draft, but a faith in the idea of service to country, the essence of what once would have been defined as patriotism. At an even more basic level, what may be gone is the very idea of the active citizen, not to speak of the democracy that went with such a conception of citizenship, as opposed to our present <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/koch-backed-network-aims-to-spend-nearly-1-billion-on-2016-elections/2015/01/26/77a44654-a513-11e4-a06b-9df2002b86a0_story.html" target="_blank">bizarro world</a> of multi-billion-dollar <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175478/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_1%25_election/" target="_blank">1% elections</a>.</p><p>If, so many years into the disastrous war on terror, the Afghan War that never ends, and most recently Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0, there is no significant antiwar movement in this country, you can thank the only fit of brilliance the national security state has displayed.  It successfully drummed us out of service.  The sole task it left to Americans, 40 years after the Vietnam War ended, was the ludicrous one of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175912/tomgram%3A_rory_fanning,_why_do_we_keep_thanking_the_troops/" target="_blank">repeatedly thanking</a> the troops for <em>their </em>service, something that would have been inconceivable in the 1950s or 1960s because you would, in essence, have been thanking yourself.</p><p><strong>Missing in Action</strong></p><p>Here are I.F. Stone’s last words from the penultimate paragraph of the final issue of his newsletter:</p><blockquote><p>“No one could have been happier than I have been with the<em> Weekly</em>. To give a little comfort to the oppressed, to write the truth exactly as I saw it, to make no compromises other than those of quality imposed by my own inadequacies, to be free to follow no master other than my own compulsions, to live up to my idealized image of what a true newspaperman should be, and still be able to make a living for my family -- what more could a man ask?”</p></blockquote><p>Here is the last verse that medic wrote in 1971 for his angry song (the first of which led off this piece):</p><blockquote><p><em>But it’s seven, eight, nine,<br />Well, he finally died,<br />Tried to keep him alive,<br />but he lost the will to survive.<br />The agony that his life would have been,<br />Well, you say to yourself as you load up the hearse,<br />At least, it’s over this way, it could have been worse</em>.</p></blockquote><p>And here are a few words the extremely solemn 23-year-old Tom Engelhardt wrote to the dean of his school on rejecting a National Defense Fellowship grant to study China in April 1968. (The “General Hershey” I refer to was the director of the Selective Service System which had issued a memo, printed in 1967 by the SDS publication <em>New Left Notes</em>, on “channeling” American manpower where it could best help the state achieve its ends.):</p><blockquote><p>“On the morning of April 3, at the Boston Common, I turned in my draft card.  I felt this to be a reply to three different types of 'channeling' which I saw as affecting my own life.  First of all, it was a reply to General Hershey’s statement that manpower channeling ‘is the American or indirect way of achieving what is done by direction in foreign countries where choice is not permitted.’  I disassociated myself from the draft system, which was flagrantly attempting to make me live a life without freedom...</p><p>“Finally, I entered into resistance against an American government which was, with the help of the men provided by the draft, attempting the most serious type of ‘channeling’ outside our own country.  This is especially obvious in Vietnam where it denies the people of South Vietnam the opportunity to consider viable alternatives to their present government.  Moreover, as that attempt at ‘channeling’ (or, as it is called, ‘Winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people’) met opposition, the American government, through its armed forces, committed acts of such unbelievable horror as to be unbearable to a thinking person.”</p></blockquote><p>Stone’s sign-off, that medic’s song, and my letter all are documents from a time when Americans could be in opposition to, while also feeling in service to, their country. In other words, they are documents from a lost world. I suspect they would have little meaning to the young people of the present moment.</p><p>Can there be any question that today’s young are a v<a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/sharing/2009-04-13-millenial_N.htm" target="_blank">volunteering crew</a>, often gripped by the urge to help, to make this world a better place? Can you doubt as well that they are quite capable of rising to resist what’s increasingly grim in that terrible world, as the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175483/tomgram%3A_rebecca_solnit,_occupy_your_heart" target="_blank">Occupy moment</a> showed in 2011? Nor, I suspect, is the desire for a government that they could serve gone utterly, as indicated by the movement that formed around Barack Obama in his race for the presidency (and that he and his team essentially demobilized on entering the Oval Office).</p><p>What’s missing is any sense of connection to the government, any sense that it’s “ours” or that we the people matter. In its place -- and you can thank successive administrations for this -- is the deepest sort of pessimism and cynicism about a national security state and war-making machine beyond our control. And why protest what you can’t change?</p> Wed, 04 Feb 2015 06:10:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch 1031353 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics Activism News & Politics draft vietnam war military iraq war antiwar movement mobilization if stone tom englehardt Why There Is No Massive Antiwar Movement in America http://https.alternet.org/environment/why-there-no-massive-antiwar-movement-america <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What’s missing is any sense of connection to the government, or that we the people matter.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_199995386-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><strong><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></strong></p><blockquote><p>Well, it’s one, two, three, look at that amputee,<br />At least it’s below the knee,<br />Could have been worse, you see.<br />Well, it’s true your kids look at you differently,<br />But you came in an ambulance instead of a hearse,<br />That’s the phrase of the trade,<br />It could have been worse.</p><p>-- <em>First verse of a Vietnam-era song written by U.S. Air Force medic Bob Boardman off Country Joe McDonald’s </em><em>"I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag"</em></p></blockquote><p>There was the old American lefty paper, the <em>Guardian</em>, and the <em>Village Voice, </em>which beat the Sixties into the world, and its later imitators like the <em>Boston Phoenix</em>. There was <em>Liberation News Service</em>, the <em>Rat</em> in New York, the <em>Great Speckled Bird</em> in Atlanta, the <em>Old Mole</em> in Boston, the distinctly psychedelic <em>Chicago Seed</em>, <em>Leviathan</em>, <em>Viet-Report</em>, and the <em>L.A. Free Press</em>, as well as that Texas paper whose name I long ago forgot that was partial to armadillo cartoons. And they existed, in the 1960s and early 1970s, amid a jostling crowd of hundreds of “underground” newspapers -- all quite aboveground but the word sounded so romantic in that political moment.  There were G.I. antiwar papers by the score and high school rags by the hundreds in an “alternate” universe of opposition that somehow made the rounds by mail or got passed on hand-to-hand in a now almost unimaginable world of interpersonal social networking that preceded the Internet by decades. And then, of course, there was <em>I.F. Stone’s Weekly</em> (1953-1971): one dedicated journalist, 19 years, every word his own (except, of course, for the endless foolishness he mined from the reams of official documentation produced in Washington, Vietnam, and elsewhere).</p><p>I can remember the arrival of that newsletter, though I no longer know whether I subscribed myself or simply shared someone else’s copy. In a time when being young was supposed to be glorious, Stone was old -- my parents’ age -- but still we waited on his words. It helped to have someone from a previous generation confirm in nuts and bolts ways that the issue that swept so many of us away, the Vietnam War, was indeed an American atrocity.</p><p><strong>The Call to Service</strong></p><p>They say you can’t go home again, but recently, almost 44 years after I saw my last issue of the<em>Weekly</em> -- Stone was 64 when he closed up shop; I was 27 -- I found the <a href="http://www.unzmag.net/Pub/IFStonesWeekly/" target="_blank">full archive of them</a>, all 19 years, online, and began reading him all over again. It brought back a dizzying time in which we felt “liberated” from so much that we had been brought up to believe and -- though we wouldn’t have understood it that way then -- angered and forlorn by the loss as well. That included the John Wayne version of America in which, at the end of any war film, as the Marine Corps Hymn welled up, American troops advanced to a justified victory that would make the world a better place. It also included a far kinder-hearted but allied vision of a country, a government, that was truly ours, and to which we owed -- and one dreamed of offering -- some form of service.  That was deeply engrained in us, which was why when, in his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy so famously <a href="http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jfkinaugural.htm" target="_blank">called on us</a> to serve, the response was so powerful. (“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”) Soon after, my future wife went into the Peace Corps like tens of thousands of other young Americans, while I dreamed, as I had from childhood, of becoming a diplomat in order to represent our country abroad.</p><p>And that sense of service to country ran so deep that when the first oppositional movements of the era arose, particularly the Civil Rights Movement, the impulse to serve was essential to them, as it clearly was to I.F. Stone. The discovery that under your country’s shining veneer lay a series of nightmares might have changed how that sense of obligation was applied, but it didn’t change the impulse. Not at all.</p><p>In his writing, Stone was calm, civil, thoughtful, fact-based, and still presented an American world that looked shockingly unlike the one you could read about in what wasn’t yet called “the mainstream media” or could see on the nightly network news. (Your TV still had only 13 channels, without a zapper in sight.) A researcher par excellence, Stone, like the rest of us, lacked the ability to see into the future, which meant that some of his fears (“World War III”) as well as his dreams never came true.  But on the American present of that time, he was remarkably on target. Rereading some of his work so many decades later set me thinking about the similarities and differences between that moment of eternal war in Indochina and the present endless war on terror.</p><p>Among the eeriest things about reading Stone’s Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia coverage, 14 years into the next century, is how resonantly familiar so much of what he wrote still seems, how twenty-first-century it all is.  It turns out that the national security state hasn’t just been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175950/tomgram%3A_william_astore%2C_groundhog_day_in_the_war_on_terror/" target="_blank">repeating</a> things they’ve done <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">unsuccessfully</a> for the last 13 years, but for the last 60.  Let me offer just a few examples from his newsletter.  I think you’ll get the idea.</p><p>* With last June’s <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/mosul-isis-gunmen-middle-east-states" target="_blank">collapse</a> of the American-<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175907/tomgram%3A_william_astore,_america%27s_hollow_foreign_legions/" target="_blank">trained</a> and -armed Iraqi army and recent revelations about its <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/01/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-soldiers-idUSKCN0JF2RZ20141201" target="_blank">50,000</a> “ghost soldiers” in mind, here’s Stone on the Laotian army in January 1961: “It is the highest paid army in Asia and variously estimated (the canny Laotians have never let us know the exact numbers, perhaps lest we check on how much the military payroll is diverted into the pockets of a few leaders) at from 23,000 to 30,000.  Yet it has never been able to stand up against handfuls of guerrillas and even a few determined battalions like those mustered by Captain Kong Le.”</p><p>* On ISIS’s offensive in Iraq last year, or the 9/11 attacks, or just about any other development you want to mention in our wars since then, our gargantuan bureaucracy of <a href="http://www.intelligence.gov/mission/member-agencies.html" target="_blank">17</a> expanding intelligence outfits has repeatedly been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">caught short</a>, so consider Stone’s comments on the Tet Offensive of February 1968.  At a time when America’s top commander in Vietnam had repeatedly assured Americans that the Vietnamese enemy was losing, the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (the “Vietcong”) launched attacks on just about every major town and city in South Vietnam, including the U.S. Embassy in Saigon: “We still don’t know what hit us.  The debris is not all in Saigon and Hue.  The world’s biggest intelligence apparatus was caught by surprise.”</p><p>* On our <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_assassin-in-chief/" target="_blank">drone assassination</a> and other <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175368/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_top_guns_no_more" target="_blank">air campaigns</a> as a global war not on, but <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">for</a> -- i.e., to recruit -- terrorists, including our <a href="http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/02/01/Airstrikes-hit-76-ISIS-targets-in-Iraq-and-Syria.html" target="_blank">present bombing campaigns</a> in Iraq and Syria, here’s Stone in February 1968: “When the bodies are really counted, it will be seen that one of the major casualties was our delusion about victory by air power: all that boom-boom did not keep the enemy from showing up at <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lang_Vei" target="_blank">Langvei</a> with tanks... The whole country is slowly being burnt down to ‘save it.’  To apply scorched-earth tactics to one’s own country is heroic; to apply it to a country one claims to be saving is brutal and cowardly... It is we who rally the people to the other side.” And here he is again in May 1970: “Nowhere has air power, however overwhelming and unchallenged, been able to win a war.”</p><p><strong>Demobilizing Americans</strong></p><p>And so it goes reading Stone today.  But if much in the American way of war remains dismally familiar some five decades later, one thing of major significance has changed, something you can see regularly in <em>I.F. Stone’s Weekly</em> but not in our present world.  Thirteen years after our set of disastrous wars started, where is the massive antiwar movement, including an army in near revolt and a Congress with significant critics in significant positions?  </p><p>Think of it this way: in 1968, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was J. William Fulbright, a man who came to oppose U.S. policy in Vietnam and wrote a book about this country titled <a href="http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/%7Ehst306/documents/fulbright.html" target="_blank"><em>The Arrogance of Power</em></a> (a phrase no senator who hoped to stay in Washington in 2015 would apply to the U.S.).  The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee today: John McCain.  ‘Nuff said.</p><p>In the last six decades, the American national security state has succeeded strikingly at only one thing (other than turning itself into a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">growth industry</a>): it freed itself of us and of Congress.  In the years following the Vietnam War, the American people were effectively demobilized, shorn of that sense of service to country, while war was privatized and the citizen soldier replaced by an “all-volunteer” force and a host of paid contractors working for <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175507/tom_engelhardt_remotely_piloted_war" target="_blank">warrior corporations</a>.  Post-9/11, the citizenry was urged to pay <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175423/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich,_playing_ball_with_the_pentagon/" target="_blank">as much attention</a> as possible to “our troops,” or “warriors,” and next to none to the wars they were fighting.  Today, the official role of a national security state, bigger and more powerful than in the Vietnam era, is to make Americans “safe” from terror.  In a world of war-making that has <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/29/world/us-suddenly-goes-quiet-on-effort-to-bolster-afghan-forces.html" target="_blank">disappeared</a> into the shadows and a Washington in which just about all information is now <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175570/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_complex_and_you/" target="_blank">classified</a> and shrouded in secrecy, the only way to be “safe” and “secure” as a citizen is, by definition, to be ignorant, to know as little as possible about what “our” government is doing in our name.  This helps explain why, in the Obama years, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175833/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_knowledge_is_crime/" target="_blank">only crime</a> in official Washington is <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/jurors-tell-judge-they-cant-agree-in-cia-leak-trial-of-jeffrey-sterling/2015/01/26/db819f78-a57c-11e4-a7c2-03d37af98440_story.html" target="_blank">leaking</a> or<strong></strong><a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175500/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_in_washington,_fear_the_silence,_not_the_noise/" target="_blank">whistleblowing</a>; that is, letting the public in on something that we, the people, aren’t supposed to know about the workings of “our” government.</p><p>In 1973, President Richard Nixon ended the draft, a move meant to bring a <a href="https://msuweb.montclair.edu/%7Efurrg/Vietnam/heinl.html" target="_blank">rebellious citizen’s army</a> under control.  Since then, in a host of ways, our leaders have managed to sideline the citizenry, replacing the urge to serve with a sense of cynicism about government (which has morphed into many things, including, on the right, the Tea Party movement).  As a result, those leaders have been freed from us and from just about all congressional oversight and so have been able to do what they damn well pleased.  In practice, this has meant doing the same dumb, brutal, militarized things over and over again.  From the repetitive stupidity of twenty-first-century American foreign -- that is, war -- policy, you might draw the conclusion (though they won’t) that the citizenry, even in revolt, has something crucial to teach the state.</p><p><strong>Serving the Country in Opposition</strong></p><p>Nonetheless, this demobilization of us should be seen for what it is: a remarkable achievement.  It means that you have to be of a certain age (call me “I.F. Pebble”) even to remember what that urge to serve felt like, especially once it went into opposition on a massive scale. I.F. Stone was an early model for just that.  In those years, I was, too, and there was nothing special about me.  Untold numbers of Americans like me, military and civilian, engaged in such acts and thought of them as service to country.  Though they obviously didn’t fit the normal definition of American “patriotism,” they came from the same place.</p><p>In April 1968, not so many months after the Tet Offensive, I went with two close friends to a rally on Boston Common organized by an anti-draft group called the Resistance.  There, the three of us turned in our draft cards.  I went in jacket and tie because I wanted to make the point that we weren’t hippy radicals.  We were serious Americans turning our backs on a war from hell being pursued by a country transforming itself before our eyes into our worst nightmare.</p><p>Even all these years later, I can still remember the remarkable sense of exhilaration, even freedom, involved and also the fear.  (In those years, being a relatively meek and law-abiding guy, I often found myself beyond my comfort zone, and so a little -- or more than a little -- scared.)  Similarly, the next year, a gutsy young woman who was a co-worker and I -- I had, by then, dropped out of graduate school and was working at an “underground” movement print shop -- drove two unnerved and unnerving Green Beret deserters to Canada.  Admittedly, when they began pretend-machine-gunning the countryside we were passing through, I was unsettled, and when they pulled out dope (no drugs had been the agreed-upon rule on a trip in which we were to cross the Canadian border), I was ready to be anywhere else but in that car.  Still, whatever my anxieties, I had no doubt about why I was doing what I was doing, or about the importance of helping American soldiers who no longer wanted to take part in a terrible war.</p><p>Finally, in 1971, an Air Force medic named Bob Boardman, angered by the stream of American war wounded coming home, snuck me into his medical unit at Travis Air Force Base in northern California.  There, though without any experience as a reporter, I “interviewed” a bunch of wigged-out, angry guys with stumps for arms or legs, who were “antiwar” in all sorts of complex, unexpected, and outraged ways.  It couldn’t have been grimmer or more searing or more moving, and I went home, wrote up a three-part series on what I had seen and heard, and sold it to Pacific News Service, a small antiwar outfit in San Francisco (where I would subsequently go to work).</p><p>None of this would have been most Americans’ idea of service, even then.  But it was mine.  I felt that my government had betrayed me, and that it was my duty as a citizen to do whatever I could to change its ways (as, in fact, I still do).  And so, in some upside-down, inside-out way, I maintained a connection to and a perverse faith in that government, or our ability to force change on it, as the Civil Rights Movement had done.</p><p>That, I suspect, is what’s gone missing in much of our American world and just bringing back the draft, often suggested as one answer to our war-making problems, would be no ultimate solution.  It would undoubtedly change the make-up of the U.S. military somewhat.  However, what’s missing in action isn’t the draft, but a faith in the idea of service to country, the essence of what once would have been defined as patriotism.  At an even more basic level, what may be gone is the very idea of the active citizen, not to speak of the democracy that went with such a conception of citizenship, as opposed to our present <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/koch-backed-network-aims-to-spend-nearly-1-billion-on-2016-elections/2015/01/26/77a44654-a513-11e4-a06b-9df2002b86a0_story.html" target="_blank">bizarro world</a> of multi-billion-dollar <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175478/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_1%25_election/" target="_blank">1% elections</a>.</p><p>If, so many years into the disastrous war on terror, the Afghan War that never ends, and most recently Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0, there is no significant antiwar movement in this country, you can thank the only fit of brilliance the national security state has displayed.  It successfully drummed us out of service.  The sole task it left to Americans, 40 years after the Vietnam War ended, was the ludicrous one of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175912/tomgram%3A_rory_fanning,_why_do_we_keep_thanking_the_troops/" target="_blank">repeatedly thanking</a> the troops for <em>their</em> service, something that would have been inconceivable in the 1950s or 1960s because you would, in essence, have been thanking yourself.</p><p><strong>Missing in Action</strong></p><p>Here are I.F. Stone’s last words from the penultimate paragraph of the final issue of his newsletter:</p><blockquote><p>“No one could have been happier than I have been with the<em>Weekly</em>.  To give a little comfort to the oppressed, to write the truth exactly as I saw it, to make no compromises other than those of quality imposed by my own inadequacies, to be free to follow no master other than my own compulsions, to live up to my idealized image of what a true newspaperman should be, and still be able to make a living for my family -- what more could a man ask?”</p></blockquote><p>Here is the last verse that medic wrote in 1971 for his angry song (the first of which led off this piece):</p><blockquote><p>But it’s seven, eight, nine,<br />Well, he finally died,<br />Tried to keep him alive,<br />but he lost the will to survive.<br />The agony that his life would have been,<br />Well, you say to yourself as you load up the hearse,<br />At least, it’s over this way, it could have been worse.</p></blockquote><p>And here are a few words the extremely solemn 23-year-old Tom Engelhardt wrote to the dean of his school on rejecting a National Defense Fellowship grant to study China in April 1968.  (The “General Hershey” I refer to was the director of the Selective Service System which had issued a memo, printed in 1967 by the SDS publication <em>New Left Notes</em>, on “channeling” American manpower where it could best help the state achieve its ends.):</p><blockquote><p>“On the morning of April 3, at the Boston Common, I turned in my draft card.  I felt this to be a reply to three different types of 'channeling' which I saw as affecting my own life.  First of all, it was a reply to General Hershey’s statement that manpower channeling ‘is the American or indirect way of achieving what is done by direction in foreign countries where choice is not permitted.’  I disassociated myself from the draft system, which was flagrantly attempting to make me live a life without freedom...</p><p>“Finally, I entered into resistance against an American government which was, with the help of the men provided by the draft, attempting the most serious type of ‘channeling’ outside our own country.  This is especially obvious in Vietnam where it denies the people of South Vietnam the opportunity to consider viable alternatives to their present government.  Moreover, as that attempt at ‘channeling’ (or, as it is called, ‘Winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people’) met opposition, the American government, through its armed forces, committed acts of such unbelievable horror as to be unbearable to a thinking person.”</p></blockquote><p>Stone’s sign-off, that medic’s song, and my letter all are documents from a time when Americans could be in opposition to, while also feeling in service to, their country.  In other words, they are documents from a lost world and so would, I suspect, have little meaning to the young of the present moment.  Can there be any question that today’s young are a <a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/sharing/2009-04-13-millenial_N.htm" target="_blank">volunteering crew</a>, often gripped by the urge to help, to make this world of ours a better place?  Can you doubt as well that they are quite capable of rising to resist what’s increasingly grim in that terrible world, as the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175483/tomgram%3A_rebecca_solnit,_occupy_your_heart" target="_blank">Occupy moment</a> showed in 2011? Nor, I suspect, is the desire for a government that they could serve gone utterly, as indicated by the movement that formed around Barack Obama in his race for the presidency (and that he and his team essentially demobilized on entering the Oval Office).</p><p>What’s missing is any sense of connection to the government, any sense that it’s “ours” or that we the people matter.  In its place -- and you can thank successive administrations for this -- is the deepest sort of pessimism and cynicism about a national security state and war-making machine beyond our control.  And why protest what you can’t change?</p><p>[<strong>Note:</strong> Ron Unz of the <a href="http://www.unz.com/" target="_blank"><em>Unz Review</em></a> is archiving and posting a range of old publications, including all issues of <em>I.F. Stone’s Weekly</em>. This is indeed a remarkable service to the rest of us. To view the <em>Weekly</em>, <a href="http://www.unzmag.net/Pub/IFStonesWeekly/" target="_blank">click here</a>. I.F. Stone’s family has also set up a website dedicated to the man and his work. To visit it, <a href="http://www.ifstone.org/weekly_searchable.php" target="_blank">click here</a>.]</p> Tue, 03 Feb 2015 08:46:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1031316 at http://https.alternet.org Environment Environment antiwar movement protests protesters (Over)Bearing Arms in America: Gun Madness Is Spreading Rapidly Nationwide http://https.alternet.org/civil-liberties/overbearing-arms-america-gun-madness-spreading-rapidly-nationwide <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In twenty-first-century America, the “right to bear arms” has been extended in every direction.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_180291962.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>One of the grimmer small events of recent American life occurred just as 2014 was ending.  A mother had her two-year old toddler perched in a shopping cart at an Idaho Wal-Mart.  He reached into her purse, specially made for carrying a concealed firearm (and a Christmas gift from her husband), found his mother’s pistol in it, pulled it out, and shot and killed her.  And she wasn’t the only victim of a child who came upon a loaded weapon.  Between 2007 and 2011, at least 62 children 14 or younger died in similarly nightmarish accidents with loaded weapons.</p><p>Nor was this specific incident an anomaly.  In fact, if you are an American, you are statistically in less danger of dying from a terrorist attack in this country than from a toddler shooting you. And by the way, you’re 2,059 times more likely to die by your own hand with a weapon of your choosing than in a terrorist attack anywhere on Earth.  You’re also more than nine times as likely to be killed by a police officer as by a terrorist.</p><p>And remind me, how many American taxpayer dollars have gone into “security” from terrorism and how many into security from weaponry?  You know the answer to that.  In fact, guns of just about every variety seem to circulate ever more freely in this country as the populace up-armors itself in yet more ways.  Think of it as a kind of arms race.  Emboldened by the National Rifle Association (NRA), Americans are ever more weaponized.  There were an estimated 300-310 million guns in the U.S. in 2009 (a figure that has undoubtedly risen), and up to four million Americans now own assault rifles -- one popular weapon of choice, by the way, for mass killers.  In the meantime, the percentage of Americans who favor a ban on handguns (25%) has fallen to an all-time low.</p><p>As for “carrying,” it’s now legal in every state in America and allowed in ever more situations as well.  In the last year, for instance, Idaho, where that mother died, became the seventh state to green-light the carrying of concealed guns on college campuses.  To put all this in perspective, less than two decades ago, fewer than a million concealed weapons were being legally carried in the U.S.; now, more than one million people are permitted to carry such weapons in Florida alone.  In twenty-first-century America, the “right to bear arms” has been extended in every direction, while there has also been a “sharp rise” in mass killings.</p><p>Meanwhile -- since what’s an arms race without a second party? -- the police, mainlining into the Pentagon, have been up-armoring at a staggering pace.  It’s no longer an oddity for American police officers to be armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers as if in a foreign war zone or to arrive on the scene with a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle previously used in our distant wars.  And by the way, while much anger has been displayed, by the police in particular, over the recent murders of two patrolmen in Brooklyn by a disturbed man carrying a Taurus semiautomatic handgun, that anger seems not to extend to his ability to arm himself or to the pawnshop filled with weaponry that originally sold the gun (but not to him).</p><p>One mistake you shouldn’t make, however, is to imagine that Americans consider the right to bear arms universal.  Just consider, for example, the CIA’s “signature drone strikes” in Pakistan and elsewhere.  Over the last two presidencies, the Agency has gained the “right” to drone-kill young men of military age bearing arms -- in societies where arms-bearing, as here, is the norm -- about whom nothing specific is known except that they seem to be in the wrong place at the right time.  The NRA, curiously enough, has chosen not to defend them.</p><p>If, to a visitor from Mars or even (as Ann Jones points out in “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175941/tomgram%3A_ann_jones%2C_answering_for_america/#more">Is This Country Crazy?</a>”) Europe, all this might seem like the definition of madness, it's also increasingly the definition of a way of life in this country.  What was once the “tool” of law enforcement types, the military, and hunters is now the equivalent of an iPhone, a talisman of connection and social order.  It’s something that just about anyone can put in a pocket, a purse, or simply strap on in the full light of day in a land where all of us, even toddlers, seem to be heading for the O.K. Corral.  Jones, author of <em>They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- The Untold Story</em>, has seen her share of carnage and experienced her share of stress.  Today, however, she considers another kind of stress, the pressure to explain to others a country whose citizens don’t even notice how inexplicable they are becoming.</p> Sun, 11 Jan 2015 11:24:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1030098 at http://https.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties World gun control nra concealed carry How a Visitor From 1963 Would Look at Our Insecure World in 2015 http://https.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/how-visitor-1963-would-look-our-insecure-world-2015 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The dangers are growing. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/438bb03f8a52f687462aa202b41b5dcd1a9923bb_1.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p>As 2015 begins, let’s take a trip down memory lane.  Imagine that it’s January 1963.  For the last three years, the United States has unsuccessfully faced off against a small island in the Caribbean, where a revolutionary named Fidel Castro seized power from a corrupt but U.S.-friendly regime run by Fulgensio Batista.  In the global power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union in which much of the planet has chosen sides, Cuba, only 90 miles from the American mainland, finds itself in the eye of the storm.  Having lost Washington’s backing, it has, however, gained the support of distant Moscow, the other nuclear-armed superpower on the planet.</p><p>In October 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower instituted an <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_embargo_against_Cuba" target="_blank">embargo</a> on U.S. trade with the island that would, two years later, be strengthened and <a href="http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=58824" target="_blank">made permanent</a> by John F. Kennedy.  On entering the Oval Office, Kennedy also inherited a cockamamie CIA scheme to use Cuban exiles to overthrow Castro.  That led, in April 1961, to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in which, despite major Agency support, the exiles were crushed (after which the CIA would hatch various <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_attempts_on_Fidel_Castro" target="_blank">mad plots</a> to assassinate the new Cuban leader).  What followed in October 1962 was “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175605/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_%22the_most_dangerous_moment,%22_50_years_later/" target="_blank">the most dangerous moment in human history</a>” -- the Cuban missile crisis -- a brief period when many Americans, my 18-year-old self included, genuinely thought we might soon be nuclear toast. </p><p>Now, imagine yourself in January 1963, alive and chastened by a world in which you could be obliterated at any moment.  Imagine as well that someone from our time suddenly invited you into the American future some 52 Januaries hence, when you would, miracle of miracles, still be alive and the planet still more or less in one piece.  Imagine, as a start, being told that the embargo against, and Washington’s hostility toward, Cuba never ended.  That 52 futile years later, with Cuba now run by Fidel’s “younger” brother, 83-year-old Raul, the <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/12/17/371405620/the-u-s-and-cuba-a-brief-history-of-a-tortured-relationship" target="_blank">11th</a> American president to deal with the “crisis” has finally decided to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/world/americas/us-cuba-relations.html" target="_blank">restore</a> diplomatic relations, <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2014/12/17/news/cuba-sanctions/" target="_blank">ease</a> trade restrictions, and encourage American visitors to the island.</p><p>Imagine being told as well that in Congress, more than half a century later, a possible majority of representatives remained nostalgic for a policy that spent 52 years not working.  Imagine that members of the upcoming 2015 Senate were already swearing they <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/102276964#." target="_blank">wouldn’t hand over</a> a plug nickel to the president or the State Department to establish a diplomatic mission in Havana or confirm an ambassador or ease the embargo or take any other steps to change the situation, and were denouncing the president -- who, by the way, is a black man named Barack Obama -- as a <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/international/227467-gop-senators-slam-obamas-cuba-moves" target="_blank">weakling</a> and an “<a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2014/12/marco-rubio-says-cuba-talks-are-absurd-113639.html" target="_blank">appeaser-in-chief</a>” for making such a move.</p><p>Perhaps that American visitor from 1963 would already feel as if his or her mind were being scrambled like a morning egg and yet we’re only beginning.  After all, our visitor would have to be told that the Soviet Union, that hostile, nuclear-armed communist superpower and partner of Washington in the potential obliteration of the planet, no longer exists; that it unexpectedly imploded in 1991, leaving its Eastern European empire largely free to integrate into the rest of Europe.</p><p>One caveat would, however, need to be added to that blockbuster piece of historical news.  Lest our visitor imagine that everything has changed beyond all recognition, it would be important to point out that in 2015 the U.S. still confronts an implacably hostile, nuclear-armed communist state.  Not the USSR, of course, nor even that other communist behemoth, China.  (Its Communist Party took the “capitalist road” in the late 1970s and never looked back as that country rose to become the globe’s <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30483762" target="_blank">largest economy</a>!)</p><p>Here’s a hint: it fought the U.S. to a draw in a bitter war more than six decades ago and has just been <a href="http://time.com/3642161/sony-hack-north-korea-the-interview-fbi/" target="_blank">accused</a> of launching a devastating strike against the United States.  Admittedly, it wasn’t aimed at Washington but at Hollywood.  That country -- or <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/12/24/no-north-korea-didn-t-hack-sony.html" target="_blank">some group</a> claiming to be <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/12/31/sony-hackers-threaten-u-s-news-media-organization/" target="_blank">working</a> in its interests -- broke into a major movie studio, Sony (oh yes, a Japanese company is now a significant force in Hollywood!), and released <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/dec/10/sony-hack-eamils-angelina-jolie-scott-rudin-amy-pascal-david-fincher" target="_blank">gossip</a> about its inner workings as well as the nasty things actors, producers, and corporate executives had to say about one another.  It might (or <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/01/01/north-koreasony-story-shows-eager-u-s-media-still-regurgitate-government-claims/" target="_blank">might not</a>), that is, have launched the planet’s first cyber-gossip bomb.</p><p>And yes, you would have to tell our visitor from 1963 that this hostile communist power, North Korea, is also an oppressive, beleaguered, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/23/north-korea-by-night-satellite-images-shed-new-light-on-the-secretive-state" target="_blank">lights-out</a> state and in no way a serious enemy, not in a world in which the U.S. remains the “last superpower.”</p><p>You would, of course, have to add that, 52 years later, Vietnam, another implacable communist enemy with whom President Kennedy was escalating a low-level conflict in 1963, is now a <a href="http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/amid-south-china-sea-tensions-vietnam-seeks-closer-ties-with-us/" target="_blank">de facto U.S. ally</a> -- and no, not because it lost its war with us.  That war, once considered the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/05/29/these-are-americas-9-longest-foreign-wars/" target="_blank">longest</a> in U.S. history, would at its height see more than 500,000 American combat troops dispatched to South Vietnam and, in 1973, end in an unexpectedly bitter defeat for Washington from which America never quite seemed to recover. </p><p><strong>2015 and Baying for More</strong></p><p>Still, with communism a has-been force and capitalism triumphant everywhere, enemies have been just a tad scarce in the twenty-first century.  Other than the North Koreans, there is the fundamentalist regime of Iran, which ran its Batista, the Shah, out in 1979, and with which, in the 35 years since, the U.S. has never come to terms -- though Barack Obama <a href="http://www.voanews.com/content/obama-iran-nuclear-deal-possible-necessary-for-greater-diplomacy/2577260.html" target="_blank">still might</a> -- without ever quite going to war either.  And of course there would be another phenomenon of our moment completely unknown to an American of 1963: Islamic extremism, aka jihadism, along with the rise of terrorist organizations and, in 2014, the establishment of the first <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175888/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_escalation_follies/" target="_blank">mini-terror state</a> in the heart of the Middle East.  And oh yes, there was that tiny crew that went by the name of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175388/tom_engelhardt_osama_bin_laden%27s_american_legacy" target="_blank">al-Qaeda</a>, 19 of whose box-cutter-wielding militants hijacked four planes on September 11, 2001, and destroyed two soaring towers (not yet built in 1963) in downtown New York City and part of the Pentagon.  In the process, they killed themselves and thousands of civilians, put <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/118775/9_11_an_explosion_out_of_the_towering_inferno_" target="_blank">apocalyptic-looking</a> scenes of destruction on American television screens, and successfully created a sense of a looming, communist-style planetary enemy, when just about no one was there. </p><p>Their acts gave a new administration of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/101850/engelhardt_the_force_is_not_with_them" target="_blank">right-wing fundamentalists</a> in Washington the opportunity to fulfill its <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175336/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_war_is_a_drug/" target="_blank">wildest dreams</a> of planetary domination by launching, only days later, what was grandiloquently <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/2293/john_brown_why_world_war_IV" target="_blank">called</a> the Global War on Terror (or the Long War, or World War IV), a superpower <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1781/" target="_blank">crusade</a> against, initially, almost no one.  Its opening salvo would let loose an “all-volunteer” military (no more draft Army as in 1963) universally believed to be uniquely powerful.  It would, they were sure, wipe out al-Qaeda, settle scores with various enemies in the Greater Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and leave the U.S. triumphant in a way no great power had been in history.  In response to a few thousand scattered al-Qaeda members, a <em>Pax Americana</em> would be created on a global scale that would last generations, if not forever and a day.</p><p>Washington's enemies of that moment would have been so unimpressive to Americans of 1963 that, on learning of the future that awaited them, they might well have dropped to their knees and thanked God for the deliverance of the United States of America.  In describing all this to that visitor from another America, you would, however, have to add that the Global War on Terror, in which giant ambitions met the most modest of opponents any great power had faced in hundreds of years, didn’t work out so well.  You would have to point out that the U.S. military, allied intelligence outfits, and a set of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175507/tom_engelhardt_remotely_piloted_war" target="_blank">warrior corporations</a> (almost unknown in 1963) mobilized to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175036/pratap_chatterjee_inheriting_halliburton_s_army" target="_blank">go to war</a> with them struck out big time in a way almost impossible to fathom; that, from September 2001 to January 2015, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">no war</a>, invasion, occupation, intervention, conflict, or set of operations, no matter how under-armed or insignificant the forces being taken on, succeeded in any lasting or meaningful way.  It was as if Hank Aaron had come to the plate for a more than a decade without ever doing anything but striking out.</p><p>For our by now goggle-eyed visitor, you would have to add that, other than invading the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada against no opposition in 1983 and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175937/tomgram%3A_greg_grandin%2C_how_the_iraq_war_began_in_panama/" target="_blank">Panama</a> against next to no opposition in 1989, the mightiest power on the planet hasn’t won a war or conflict since World War II.  And after explaining all this, the strangest task would still lie ahead.</p><p>Our American beamed in from 1963, who hadn’t even experienced defeat in Vietnam yet, would have to be filled in on the two wars of choice Washington launched with such enthusiasm and confidence in 2001 and 2003 and could never again get out of. I’m talking, of course, about Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries that would barely have registered on an American radar screen 52 years ago, and yet would prove unparalleled quagmires (a Vietnam-era term our observer wouldn’t have yet run across).  We would need to explain how the "lone superpower" of the twenty-first century would transform each of them into competitors for the “<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/05/29/these-are-americas-9-longest-foreign-wars/" target="_blank">longest American war</a>” ever.</p><p>Washington’s Iraq War began in 1991, the year the Soviet Union would disappear, and in one form or another essentially never ended.  It has involved the building of major war-making coalitions, invasions, a full-scale occupation, air wars of various sorts, and god knows what else. As 2015 begins, the U.S. is in its third round of war in Iraq, having committed itself to a new and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175888/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_escalation_follies/" target="_blank">escalating</a> conflict in that country (and Syria), and in all that time it has won nothing at all.  It would be important to remind our visitor from the past that Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 on the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/14/opinion/14obama.html" target="_blank">promise</a> of getting the U.S. out of Iraq and actually <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/obama-we-leave-iraq-with-heads-held-high/" target="_blank">managed</a> to do so for three years before plunging the country back in yet again.</p><p>The first American war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, was a CIA <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1984/" target="_blank">Cold War operation</a> that began in 1979 just after the Soviets invaded the country and was meant as payback for Vietnam.  And yes, to confuse that visitor even more, in its first Afghan War, the U.S. actually supported the crew who became al-Qaeda and would later attack New York and Washington to ensure the launching of the second Afghan War, the one in which the U.S. invaded and occupied the country.  That war has been going on ever since.  Despite much talk about winding it down or even <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/28/us-nato-formally-end-war-afghanistan-kabul-ceremony" target="_blank">ending</a> the mission there 13 years later, the commitment has been <a href="http://www.army-technology.com/news/newsobama-extends-us-combat-mission-in-afghanistan-through-2015-4448263" target="_blank">renewed</a> for 2015 and <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/30/us-troops-afghanistan-2024-obama-bilateral-security-agreement" target="_blank">beyond</a>.</p><p>In both countries, the enemies of choice proved to be lightly armed minority insurgencies.  In both, an initial, <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/us-plagued-doubts-exits-afghan-war-022512863.html" target="_blank">almost ecstatic</a> sense of triumph following an invasion slowly morphed into a fear of impending defeat.  To add just a fillip to all this, in 2015 a Republican majority in the Senate as well as in the House -- and don’t forget to explain that we’re no longer talking about Eisenhower Republicans here -- will be <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/11/05/republican-hawks-already-have-a-war-plan-for-isis-ukraine-and-obama.html" target="_blank">baying</a> for more.</p><p><strong>The National Security State as a Self-Perpetuating Machine</strong></p><p>So far, America’s future, looked at from more than half a century ago, has been little short of phantasmagoric.  To sum up: in an almost enemy-less world in which the American economic system was triumphant and the U.S. possessed by far the strongest military on the planet, nothing seems to have gone as planned or faintly right.  And yet, you wouldn’t want to leave that observer from 1963 with the wrong impression.  However much the national security state may have seemed like an amalgam of the Three Stooges on a global stage, not everything worked out badly. </p><p>In fact, in these years the national security state triumphed in the nation’s capital in a way that the U.S. military and allied intelligence outfits were incapable of doing anywhere else on Earth.  Fifty-three years after the world might have ended, on a planet lacking a Soviet-like power -- though the U.S. was by now involved in “<a href="http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/11/22/cold-war-20-not-likely-win-us" target="_blank">Cold War 2.0</a>” in eastern Ukraine on the border of the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/opinion/paul-krugman-putins-bubble-bursts.html" target="_blank">rump energy state</a> the Soviet Union left behind -- the worlds of national security and surveillance had grown to a size that beggared their own enormous selves in the Cold War era.  They had been engorged by <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175545/kramer_war_pay" target="_blank">literally trillions</a> of taxpayer dollars.  A new domestic version of the Pentagon called the Department of Homeland Security had been set up in 2002.  An “intelligence community” made up of <a href="http://www.intelligence.gov/mission/member-agencies.html" target="_blank">17</a> major agencies and outfits, bolstered by <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/nsa-leak-contractors_n_3418876.html?1370919691" target="_blank">hundreds of thousands</a> of private security contractors, had expanded endlessly and in the process created a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">global surveillance state</a> that went beyond the wildest imaginings of the totalitarian powers of the twentieth century. </p><p>In the process, the national security state enveloped itself in a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175570/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_complex_and_you/" target="_blank">penumbra of secrecy</a> that left the American people theoretically “safe” and remarkably ignorant of what was being done in their name.  Its officials increasingly existed in a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175936/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_national_security_state_%22works,%22_even_if_nothing_it_does_works/" target="_blank">crime-free zone</a>, beyond the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175833/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_knowledge_is_crime/" target="_blank">reach</a> of accountability, the law, courts, or jail.  Homeland security and intelligence complexes grew up around the national security state in the way that the military-industrial complex had once grown up around the Pentagon and similarly engorged themselves.  In these years, Washington filled with newly constructed <a href="http://blogs.reuters.com/gregg-easterbrook/2011/01/20/undisciplined-spending-in-the-name-of-defense/" target="_blank">billion-dollar</a> intelligence headquarters and <a href="http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/" target="_blank">building complexes</a> dedicated to secret work -- and that only begins to tell the tale of how twenty-first-century “security” triumphed.</p><p>This vast investment of American treasure has been used to construct an edifice dedicated in a passionate way to dealing with a single danger to Americans, one that would have been unknown in 1963: Islamic terrorism.  Despite the several thousand Americans who died on September 11, 2001, the dangers of terrorism rate <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175402/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_100%25_doctrine_in_washington/" target="_blank">above shark attacks</a> but not much else in American life.  Even more remarkably, the national security state has been built on a foundation of almost total failure.  Think of failure, in fact, as the spark that repeatedly sets the further expansion of its apparatus in motion, funds it, and allows it to thrive.</p><p>It works something like this: start with the fact that, on September 10, 2001, global jihadism was a microscopic movement on this planet.  Since 9/11, under the pressure of American military power, it has exploded geographically, while the number of jihadist organizations has multiplied, and the number of people joining such groups has regularly and repeatedly <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/30/foreign-jihadist-iraq-syria-unprecedented-un-isis" target="_blank">increased</a>, a growth rate that seems to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/nick_turse_blowback_central" target="_blank">correlate</a> with the efforts of Washington to destroy terrorism and its infrastructure.  In other words, the Global War on Terror has been and remains a global war for the production of terror.  And terror groups know it.</p><p>It was Osama bin Laden’s greatest insight and is now a commonplace that drawing Washington into military action against you increases your credibility in the world that matters to you and so makes recruiting easier.  At the same time, American actions, from invasions to drone strikes, and their “collateral damage,” create pools of people desperate for revenge.  If you want to thrive and grow, in other words, you need the U.S. as an enemy.</p><p>Via taunting acts like the beheading videos of the Islamic State, the new “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, such movements bait Washington into action.  And each new terrorist crew, each “<a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-alarm-sounds-in-u-s-over-lone-wolf-attacks-1414366036" target="_blank">lone wolf</a>” terrorist undiscovered until too late by a state structure that has cost Americans trillions of dollars, each plot <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/12/23/obama-cant-point-to-a-single-time-the-nsa-call-records-program-prevented-a-terrorist-attack/" target="_blank">not foiled</a>, each failure, works to bolster both terrorist outfits and the national security state itself.  This has, in other words, proved to be a deeply symbiotic and mutually profitable relationship.</p><p>From the point of view of the national security state, each failure, each little disaster, acts as another <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175325/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_united_states_of_fear/" target="_blank">shot of fear</a> in the American body politic, and the response to failure is predictable: never less of what doesn’t work, but more.  More money, more bodies hired, more <a href="http://www.stripes.com/news/cyber-command-trying-to-get-running-start-add-staff-1.318612" target="_blank">new outfits</a> formed, more elaborate defenses, more offensive weaponry.  Each failure with its accompanying jolt of fear (and often <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175904/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_inside_the_american_terrordome" target="_blank">hysteria</a>) predictably results in further funding for the national security state to develop newer, even more elaborate versions of what it’s been doing these last 13 years.  Failure, in other words, is the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">key to success</a>.</p><p>In this sense, think of Washington’s national security structure as a self-perpetuating machine that works like a dream, since those who oversee its continued expansion are never penalized for its inability to accomplish any of its goals.  On the contrary, they are invariably promoted, honored, and assured of a golden-parachute-style retirement or -- far more likely -- a golden journey through one of Washington’s revolving doors onto some corporate board or into some cushy post in one complex or another where they can essentially lobby their former colleagues for private warrior corporations, rent-a-gun outfits, weapons makers, and the like.  And there is nothing either in Washington or in American life that seems likely to change any of this in the near future. </p><p><strong>An Inheritance From Hell</strong></p><p>In the meantime, a “war on terror” mentality slowly seeps into the rest of society as the warriors, weapons, and gadgetry come home from our distant battle zones.  That’s especially obvious when it comes to the police nationwide.  It can be seen in the expanding numbers of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175881/tomgram%3A_matthew_harwood,_one_nation_under_swat/" target="_blank">SWAT teams</a> filled with <a href="http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/how-police-are-turning-military" target="_blank">special ops vets</a>, the piles of <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/11/24/spoils-war-sheriffs-police-nationwide-getting-armored-vehicles-left-over-from/" target="_blank">Pentagon weaponry</a> from those wars being <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/07/militarization-local-police-america" target="_blank">transferred</a> to local police forces at home, and the way they are taking on the <a href="http://ivn.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/ferguson-police.jpg?4c6324" target="_blank">look</a> of forces of occupation in an alien land, operating increasingly with a mentality of “<a href="http://www.commondreams.org/news/2014/12/21/nypd-union-vows-wartime-policing-questions-have-we-learned-nothing" target="_blank">wartime policing</a>.”  Since the events of Ferguson, all of this has finally become far more evident to Americans (as it would, with some explanation, to our visitor from 1963).  It was no anomaly, for example, that Justice Department investigators found a banner hanging in a Cleveland police station that identified the place sardonically as a “forward operating base,” a term the military uses, as the <em>New York Times</em> <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/us/family-of-boy-killed-by-cleveland-officer-to-pursue-criminal-case.html" target="_blank">put it</a>, “for heavily guarded wartime outposts inside insurgent-held territory.” </p><p>In the wake of Ferguson, the “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/us/politics/obama-to-toughen-standards-on-police-use-of-military-gear.html" target="_blank">reforms</a>” being proposed -- essentially better training in the more effective use of the new battlefield-style gear the police are acquiring -- will only militarize them further.  This same mentality, with its accompanying gadgetry, has been moving heavily <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175647/todd_miller_locking_down_the_borders" target="_blank">into</a> America’s <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/todd_miller_surveillance_surge" target="_blank">border areas</a> and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/08/education/military-style-technology-finds-way-into-school-district-safety-measures.html" target="_blank">into schools</a> and other institutions as well, including an enormous increase in <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175822/tomgram%3A_crump_and_harwood,_the_net_closes_around_us/" target="_blank">surveillance systems</a> geared to streets, public places, and even the home.    </p><p>In the meantime, while a national security state mentality has been infiltrating American society, the planners of that state have been rewriting the global rules of the road for years when it comes to torture, kidnapping, drone assassination campaigns, global surveillance, national sovereignty, the launching of cyberwars, and the like -- none of which will, in the end, contribute to American security, and all of which has already made the planet a less secure, more chaotic, more <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175895/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_great_concentration_or_the_great_fragmentation/" target="_blank">fragmented</a> place.  In these last years, in other words, in its search for “security,” the U.S. has actually become a force for destabilization -- that is, insecurity -- across significant swaths of the planet.</p><p>Perhaps one of these days, Americans will decide to consider more seriously what “security,” as presently defined by the powers that be in Washington, even means in our world.  There can, as a start, be no question that the national security state does offer genuine security of a very specific sort: to its own officials and employees.  Nothing they do, no matter how dumb, immoral, or downright criminal, ever seems to stand in the way of their own upward mobility within its structure.</p><p>As an example -- and it’s only one in an era filled with them -- not a single CIA official was dismissed, demoted, or even reprimanded in response to the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175934/tomgram%3A_rebecca_gordon%2C_the_torture_wars/" target="_blank">recent release</a> of the redacted executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s <a href="http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/study2014/sscistudy1.pdf" target="_blank">torture report</a>.  It hardly mattered that the report included actual criminal behavior (even by the degraded “enhanced interrogation” standards <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1494/engelhardt_george_orwell" target="_blank">green-lighted</a> by the Bush administration) and the grimmest kinds of abuse of prisoners, some <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/13/us/politics/amid-details-on-torture-data-on-26-held-in-error-.html" target="_blank">quite innocent</a> of anything.  In an America in which, economically speaking, security has not exactly been the gold standard of the twenty-first century, it is hard to imagine any group that is more secure.</p><p>As for the rest of us, insecurity will surely be the story of our lives for the rest of the twenty-first century (as it was, of course, in 1963).  After all, on August 6, 1945, when we consciously entered the age of the apocalyptic possibility at Hiroshima, we had no way of knowing that we had already done so perhaps 200 years earlier as the industrial revolution, based on the burning of fossil fuels, took off.  Nor almost 20 years later, did that American of 1963 know this.  By 1979, however, the science adviser for the president of the United States was well <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=MOxu8Wa0EukC&amp;pg=PA309&amp;lpg=PA309&amp;dq=jimmy+carter%27s+science+adviser,+global+warming,+frank+press&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=AcWRtAh8Us&amp;sig=BI01Zj9_LAuAWfp84JhkYavixps&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=q_KlVIz0NcidNtvXg6AM&amp;ved=0CCoQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&amp;q=jimmy%20carter%27s%20science%20adviser%2C%20global%20warming%2C%20frank%20press&amp;f=false" target="_blank">aware</a> of global warming.  When Jimmy Carter <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/carter-crisis/" target="_blank">gave</a> his infamous “malaise” speech promoting a massive commitment to alternative energy research (and got laughed out of the White House), he already knew that climate change -- not yet called that -- was a reality that needed to be dealt with. </p><p>Now, the rest of us know, or at least <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175938/tomgram%3A_rebecca_solnit%2C_challenging_the_divine_right_of_big_energy/" target="_blank">should know</a>, and so -- with what is likely to be the <a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/hottest-year-ever-5-places-where-2014-temps-really-cooked/" target="_blank">hottest year</a> on record just ended -- would be obliged to offer our visitor from 1963 a graphic account of the coming dangers of a globally warming world.  There has always been a certain sense of insecurity to any human life, but until 1945 not to all human life.  And yet we now know with something approaching certainty that, even if another nuclear weapon never goes off (and across the planet nuclear powers are <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175933/tomgram%3A_james_carroll%2C_the_pentagon_as_president_obama%27s_great_white_whale/" target="_blank">upgrading</a> their arsenals), chaos, acidifying oceans, melting ice formations, rising seas, flooding coastal areas, mass migrations of desperate people, food production problems, devastating droughts, and monster storms are all in a future that will be the definition of human-caused insecurity -- not that the national security state gives much of a damn.</p><p>Admittedly, since <a href="http://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/star/IceSymposium.php" target="_blank">at least 2001</a>, the Pentagon and the U.S. Intelligence Community have been engaged in <a href="http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/report-climate-change-threatens-national-security-119245248/?no-ist" target="_blank">blue-skies thinking</a> about how to <a href="http://motherboard.vice.com/read/how-to-win-wars-in-a-warmer-world" target="_blank">give good war</a> in a globally warming world.  The national security state as a whole, however, has been set up at a cost of trillions of dollars (and <a href="http://time.com/3651697/afghanistan-war-cost/" target="_blank">allowed</a> to spend <a href="http://costsofwar.org/article/economic-cost-summary" target="_blank">trillions more</a>) to deal with only one kind of insecurity -- terrorism and the ever-larger line up of enemies that go with it.  Such groups do, of course, represent a genuine danger, but not of an existential kind.  Thought about another way, the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175703/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_biggest_criminal_enterprise_in_history/" target="_blank">true terrorists</a> on our planet may be the people running the Big Energy corporations and about them the national security state could care less.  They are more than free to ply their trade, pull <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/11/13/1179251/iea-report-fossil-fuel-boom-is-a-climate-disaster-in-the-making/" target="_blank">any level</a> of fossil fuel reserves from the ground, and generally pursue mega-profits while preparing the way for global destruction, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/oil-subsidies-renewable-energy-tax-breaks" target="_blank">aided</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/18/east-coast-oil-exploration-_n_5599674.html" target="_blank">abetted</a> by Washington.</p><p>Try now to imagine yourself in the shoes of that visitor from 1963 absorbing such a future, bizarre almost beyond imagining: all those trillions of dollars going into a system that essentially promotes the one danger it was set up to eradicate or at least bring under control.  In the meantime, the part of the state dedicated to national security conveniently looking the other way when it comes to the leading candidate for giving insecurity a new meaning in a future that is almost upon us.  Official Washington has, that is, invented a system so dumb, so extreme, so fundamentalist, and so deeply entrenched in our world that changing it will surely prove a stunningly difficult task.</p><p>Welcome to the new world of American insecurity and to the nightmarish inheritance we are preparing for our children and grandchildren.</p> Tue, 06 Jan 2015 07:33:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1029826 at http://https.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics cuba north korea communism war on terror global warming cold war security The Shocking Revelations in the Senate Drone Report Coming Out 5 Years from Now http://https.alternet.org/shocking-revelations-senate-drone-report-coming-out-5-years-now <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Let&#039;s travel forward in time when we get a Senate report on the drone program. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/drone.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>It was December 6, 2019, three years into a sagging Clinton presidency and a bitterly divided Congress. That day, the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s long fought-over, much-delayed, heavily redacted report on the secret CIA drone wars and other American air campaigns in the 18-year-long war on terror was finally released. That day, committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) took to the Senate floor, amid the warnings of his Republican colleagues that its release might “inflame” America’s enemies leading to violence across the Greater Middle East, and said:</p><blockquote><p>“Over the past couple of weeks, I have gone through a great deal of introspection about whether to delay the release of this report to a later time. We are clearly in a period of turmoil and instability in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, that's going to continue for the foreseeable future, whether this report is released or not. There may never be the 'right' time to release it. The instability we see today will not be resolved in months or years. But this report is too important to shelve indefinitely. The simple fact is that the drone and air campaigns we have launched and pursued these last 18 years have proven to be a stain on our values and on our history.”</p></blockquote><p>Though it was a Friday afternoon, normally a dead zone for media attention, the response was instant and stunning. As had happened five years earlier with the committee’s similarly fought-over report on torture, it became a 24/7 media event. The “revelations” from the report poured out to a stunned nation. There were the CIA’s own figures on the hundreds of children in the backlands of Pakistan and Yemen killed by drone strikes against “terrorists” and “militants.” There were the “double-tap strikes” in which drones returned after initial attacks to go after rescuers of those buried in rubble or to take out the funerals of those previously slain. There were the CIA’s own statistics on the stunning numbers of unknown villagers killed for every significant and known figure targeted and finally taken out (1,147 dead in Pakistan for 41 men specifically targeted). There were the unexpected internal Agency discussions of the imprecision of the robotic weapons always publicly hailed as “surgically precise” (and also of the weakness of much of the intelligence that led them to their targets). There was the joking and commonplace use of dehumanizing language (“bug splat” for those killed) by the teams directing the drones. There were the “signature strikes,” or the targeting of groups of young men of military age about whom nothing specifically was known, and of course there was the raging argument that ensued in the media over the “effectiveness” of it all (including various emails from CIA officials admitting that drone campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen had proven to be mechanisms not so much for destroying terrorists as for creating new ones).</p><p>There were the new tidbits of information on the workings of the president’s “kill list” and the convening of “terror Tuesday” briefings to target specific individuals around the world. There were the insider discussions of ongoing decisions to target American citizens abroad for assassination by drone without due process of law and the revealing emails in which participants up to presidential advisers discussed how exactly to craft the exculpatory “legal” documents for those acts at the Department of Justice.</p><p>Above all, to an unsuspecting nation, there was the shocking revelation that American air power had, in the course of those years, destroyed in whole or in part at least nine wedding parties, including brides, grooms, family members, and revelers, involving the deaths of hundreds of wedding goers in at least three countries of the Greater Middle East. This revelation shocked the nation, resulting in headlines ranging from the <em>Washington Post</em>’s sober “Wedding Tally Revealed” to the <em>New York Post</em>’s “Bride and Boom!”</p><p>But while all of that created headlines, the main debate was over the “effectiveness” of the White House’s and CIA’s drone campaigns. As Senator Wyden insisted that day in his speech:</p><blockquote><p>“If you read the many case studies in the executive summary of our report, it will be unmistakable not only how ineffective American air power has been over these years, but how, for every ‘bad guy’ taken out, the air strikes were, in the end, a mechanism for the mass creation of terrorists and a continuing, powerful recruitment tool for jihadist and al-Qaeda-linked organizations across the Greater Middle East and Africa. If you doubt me, just count the jihadis in our world on September 10, 2001, and today in the areas of Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia where our major drone campaigns have taken place, as well, of course, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then tell me with a straight face that they ‘worked.’”</p></blockquote><p>As with the 2014 torture report, so the responses of those deeply implicated in the drone assassination campaigns and the loosing of American air power more generally in the backlands of the planet put on display the full strength of the American national security state. It was no surprise, of course, when CIA Director David Petraeus (on his second tour of duty at the Agency) held the usual Langley, Virginia, news conference—an unknown event until then-Director John Brennan first held one in December 2014 to dispute the Senate torture report. There, as the <em>New York Times</em> described it, Petraeus criticized the latest report for being “‘flawed,’ ‘partisan,’ and ‘frustrating,’ and pointed out numerous disagreements that he had with its damning conclusions about the CIA’s drone program.”</p><p>The real brunt of the attack, however, came from prominent former CIA officials, including former directors George Tenet (“You know, the image that’s been portrayed is we sat around the campfire and said, ‘Oh boy, now we get to assassinate people.’ We don’t assassinate people. Let me say that again to you, we don’t assassinate people. O.K.?”); Mike Hayden (“If the world had acted as American air power has done in these years, many people who shouldn’t have gotten married wouldn’t have gotten married and the world would be a saner place for marriage.”); and Brennan himself (“Whatever your views are on our drone program, our nation and in particular this agency did a lot of things right during a difficult time to keep this country strong and secure and you should be thanking them, not undermining them.”). Hayden, Brennan, and national security, intelligence, and Pentagon officials also blanketed the news and the Sunday morning talk shows. Former CIA Director of Public Affairs Bill Harlow, who had set up the website <a href="http://ciasavedlives.com" target="_blank">ciasavedlives.com</a> to defend the patriotic honor of the Agency at the time of the release of the Senate torture report, repeated the process five years later with the website <a href="http://dontdronethecia.com" target="_blank">dontdronethecia.com</a>.</p><p>Former CIA Director Leon Panetta repeated his classic statement of 2009, insisting to a range of media interviewers that the drone campaign was not just “effective,” but still “the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership.” Former President Barack Obama did an interview with NBC News from his new presidential library, still under construction in Chicago, saying in part, “We assassinated some folks, but those who did so were American patriots working in a time of great stress and fear. Assassination may have been necessary and understandable in the moment, but it is not who we are.” And 78-year-old former Vice President Dick Cheney, who appeared on Fox News from his Wyoming ranch, insisted that the new Senate report, like the old one, was a “gob of unpatriotic hooey.” President Hillary Clinton, interviewed by <em>BuzzFeed</em>, said of the report, "One of the things that sets us apart from other countries is that when we make mistakes, we admit them." She did not, however, go on to admit that the still ongoing drone program or even the wedding air strikes were “mistakes.”</p><p>On December 11, as everyone knows, the mass junior high school shootings in Wisconsin occurred and media attention quite understandably shifted there, 24/7. On December 13, Reuters reported that a drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, which was “suspected” of killing seven “militants,” including possibly an al-Qaeda sub-commander—local residents reported that two children and a 70-year-old elder had been among the dead—was the thousandth drone strike in the CIA’s secret wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.</p><p><strong>Running a Criminal Enterprise in Washington</strong></p><p>It’s not 2019, of course. We don’t know whether Hillary Clinton will be elected president or Ron Wyden reelected to the Senate, no less whether he’ll become the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a body once again controlled by Democrats, or whether there will ever be a torture-report-style investigation of the “secret” drone assassination campaigns the White House, the CIA, and the U.S. military have been running across the backlands of the planet.</p><p>Still, count me among the surprised if, in 2019, some part or parts of the U.S. national security state and the White House aren’t still running drone campaigns that cross national borders with impunity, kill whomever those in Washington choose in “terror Tuesday” meetings or target in “signature strikes,” take out American citizens if it pleases the White House to do so, and generally continue to run what has proven to be a global war for (not ‘on’) terror.</p><p>When it comes to all of this “secret” but remarkably well-publicized behavior, as with the CIA’s torture program, the United States has been making up the future rules of the road for the rest of the world. It has created a gold standard for assassination and torture by green-lighting “rectal rehydration” (a euphemism for anal rape) and other grim acts. In the process, it has cooked up self-serving explanations and justifications for actions that would outrage official Washington and the public generally if any other country committed them.</p><p>This piece, of course, is not really about the future, but the past and what we should already know about it. What’s most remarkable about the Senate torture report is that—except for the odd, grim detail like “rectal rehydration”—we should never have needed it. Black sites, torture techniques, the abusing of innocents—the essential information about the nightmarish Bermuda Triangle of injustice the Bush administration set up after 9/11 has been publicly available, in many instances for years.</p><p>Those “2019” revelations about drone assassination campaigns and other grim aspects of the loosing of American air power in the Greater Middle East have been on the public record for years, too. In truth, we shouldn’t be in any doubt about much of what’s billed as “secret” in our American world. And the lessons to be drawn from those secret acts should be obvious enough without spending another $40 million and studying yet more millions of classified documents for years.</p><p>Here are three conclusions that should now be obvious enough when it comes to Washington’s never-ending war on terror and the growth of the national security state.</p><p><strong>1. Whatever grim actions are the focus of debate at the moment, take it for granted that they don’t “work” because nothing connected to the war on terror has worked</strong>: The coverage of the Senate torture report has been focused on arguments over whether those “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or EITs, “worked” in the years after 9/11 (as in 2019, the coverage would undoubtedly focus on whether drone assassination campaigns had worked). The executive summary of the Senate report has already offered numerous cases where information gained through torture practices did not produce actionable intelligence or stop terror plots or save lives, though misinformation from them might have helped embolden the Bush administration in its invasion of Iraq.</p><p>Bush administration officials, former CIA directors, and the intelligence “community” in general have vociferously insisted on the opposite. Six former top CIA officials, including three former directors, publicly claimed that those torture techniques “saved thousands of lives.” The truth, however, is that we shouldn’t even be having a serious discussion of this issue. We know the answer. We knew it long before the redacted executive summary of the Senate report was released. Torture didn’t work, because 13 years of the war on terror has offered a simple enough lesson: nothing worked.</p><p>You name it and it failed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about invasions, occupations, interventions, small conflicts, raids, bombing runs, secret operations, offshore “black sites,” or god knows what else—none of it came close to succeeding by even the most minimal standards set in Washington. In this period, many grim things were done and most of them blew back, creating more enemies, new Islamic extremist movements, and even a jihadist mini-state in the heart of the Middle East that, fittingly enough, was essentially founded at Camp Bucca, an American military prison in Iraq. Let me repeat that: If Washington did it any time in the last 13 years, whatever it was, it didn’t work. Period.</p><p><strong>2. In national security and war terms, only one thing has “worked” in these years and that’s the national security state itself</strong>: Every blunder, every disaster, every extreme act that proved a horror in the world also perversely strengthened the national security state. In other words, the crew that couldn’t shoot straight could do no wrong when it came to their own agencies and careers.</p><p>No matter how poorly or badly or stupidly or immorally or criminally agents, operatives, war fighters, private contractors, and high officials acted or what they ordered done, each disaster in this period was like a dose of further career enhancement, like manna from heaven, for a structure that ate taxpayer dollars for lunch and grew in unprecedented ways, despite a world that lacked all significant enemies. In these years, the national security state entrenched itself and its methods in Washington for the long run. The Department of Homeland Security expanded; the 17 interlocked intelligence agencies that made up the U.S. intelligence community exploded; the Pentagon grew endlessly; the corporate “complexes” that surrounded and meshed with an increasingly privatized national security apparatus had a field day. And the various officials who oversaw every botched operation and sally into the world, including the torture regime the Bush administration created, were almost to a man promoted, as well as honored in various ways and, in retirement, found themselves further honored and enriched. The single lesson from all of this for any official was: Whatever you do, however rash, extreme, or dumb beyond imagining, whatever you don’t accomplish, whomever you hurt, you are enriching the national security state—and that’s a good thing.</p><p><strong>3. Nothing Washington did could ever qualify as a “war crime” or even a straightforward crime because, in national security terms, our wartime capital has become a crime-free zone:</strong>Again, this is an obvious fact of our era. There can be no accountability (hence all the promotions) and especially no criminal accountability inside the national security state. While the rest of us are still in legal America, its officials are in what I’ve long called “post-legal” America and in that state, neither torture (to the point of death), nor kidnapping and assassination, nor destroying evidence of criminal activity, perjury, or the setting up of an extralegal prison system are crimes. The only possible crime in national security Washington is whistleblowing. On this, too, the evidence is in and the results speak for themselves. The post-9/11 moment has proven to be an eternal “get out of jail free card” for the officials of two administrations and the national security state.</p><p>Unfortunately, the obvious points, the simple conclusions that might be drawn from the last 13 years go unnoticed in a Washington where nothing, it seems, can be learned. As a result, for all the sound and fury of this torture moment, the national security state will only grow stronger, more organized, more aggressively ready to defend itself, while ridding itself of the last vestiges of democratic oversight and control.</p><p>There is only one winner in the war on terror and it’s the national security state itself. So let’s be clear, despite its supporters who regularly hail the "patriotism" of such officials, and despite an increasingly grim world filled with bad guys, they are not the good guys and they are running what, by any normal standards, should be considered a criminal enterprise.</p><p>See you in 2019.</p><p>[<strong>Note on weddings:</strong> On the issue of wedding parties obliterated by American air power, a subject <em>TomDispatch</em> has been covering for years, I had counted news reports on seven of them by the time an eighth, a Yemeni wedding party, was blown away in December 2013. Since then, a correspondent has pointed out to me a report that a ninth wedding party, the second in Iraq, may have been hit by U.S. air power on October 8, 2004, in the city of Fallujah, with the groom dying and the bride wounded.]</p> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:15:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1028928 at http://https.alternet.org drone attack bombing war on terror What If the Russians and Chinese Were Mired in Our Conflicts With Afghanistan and Iraq? http://https.alternet.org/world/what-if-russians-and-chinese-were-mired-our-conflicts-afghanistan-and-iraq <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Imagine what the war hawks would be spouting in Congress.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_14045344-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a>.</em></p><p>Let’s play a game, the kind that makes no sense on this single-superpower planet of ours. For a moment, do your best to suspend disbelief and imagine that there’s another superpower, great power, or even regional power somewhere that, between 2001 and 2003, launched two major wars in the Greater Middle East. We’re talking about full-scale invasions, long-term occupations, and nation-building programs, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.</p><p>In both countries, that power quickly succeeded in its stated objective of “regime change,” only to find itself mired in deadly conflicts with modestly armed minority insurgencies that it simply couldn’t win. In each country, to the tune of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/13/world/middleeast/american-intelligence-officials-said-iraqi-military-had-been-in-decline.html" target="_blank">billions</a> and <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/wp/2014/03/20/u-s-might-be-paying-ghost-workers-in-afghanistan-security-forces/" target="_blank">billions</a> of dollars, it built up a humongous army and allied “security” forces, <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/much-of-60b-from-us-to-rebuild-iraq-wasted-special-auditors-final-report-to-congress-shows/" target="_blank">poured money</a> into “reconstruction” projects (most of which proved disasters of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175583/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_imperial_reconstruction_and_its_discontents/" target="_blank">corruption</a> and <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/afghanistans-multimillion-highway-to-nowhere-7922542.html" target="_blank">incompetence</a>), and spent <a href="http://costsofwar.org/article/economic-cost-summary" target="_blank">trillions</a> of dollars of national treasure.</p><p>Having imagined that, ask yourself: How well did all of that turn out for this other power?  In Afghanistan, a recent news story highlights something of what was accomplished.  Though that country took slot <a href="http://www.transparency.org/cpi2013/results" target="_blank">175</a> out of 177 on Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, though its security forces continue to suffer <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/03/afghan-army-deaths_n_5925548.html" target="_blank">grievous casualties</a>, and though parts of the country are <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/world/asia/taliban-making-military-gains-in-afghanistan.html" target="_blank">falling</a> to a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/23/world/hours-drive-outside-kabul-taliban-reign.html" target="_blank">strengthening</a> Taliban insurgency, it has for some years proudly held a firm grip on one record: Afghanistan is the leading narco-state on planet Earth.</p><p>In 2013, it upped its opium poppy cultivation by <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/13/world/asia/afghan-elections-cited-as-factor-in-record-levels-of-opium-production.html" target="_blank">36%</a>, its opium production by <a href="http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/2013/November/afghanistan-opium-crop-cultivation-rises-a-record-36-per-cent-opium-production-up-49-per-cent.html" target="_blank">almost 50%</a>, and drug profits soared. Preliminary figures for this year, recently <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/12/afghan-opium-crop-record-high-united-nations" target="_blank">released</a> by the U.N., indicate that opium cultivation has risen by another 7% and opium production by 17%, both to historic highs, as Afghanistan itself has <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/world/asia/that-other-big-afghan-crisis-the-growing-army-of-addicts.html" target="_blank">become</a> “one of the world’s most addicted societies.”</p><p>Meanwhile, where there once was Iraq (171st on that index of kleptocracies), there is now a Shiite government in Baghdad defended by a <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/mosul-isis-gunmen-middle-east-states" target="_blank">collapsed army</a> and <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/for-iraqs-sunnis-sectarian-militias-pose-an-extra-threat/2014/10/24/ed53540e-5b75-11e4-b812-38518ae74c67_story.html" target="_blank">sectarian militias</a>, a de facto Kurdish state to the north, and, in the third of the country in-between, a newly proclaimed “caliphate” run by a terror movement so <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/01/world/meast/syria-bodies-crucifixions/" target="_blank">brutal</a> it’s establishing records for pure bloodiness.  It’s headed by men whose <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/04/how-an-american-prison-helped-ignite-the-islamic-state/" target="_blank">West Point</a> was a military prison run by that same great power and its bloodthirstiness is <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/19/-sp-islamic-state-oil-empire-iraq-isis" target="_blank">funded in part</a> by captured oil fields and refineries.</p><p>In other words, after 13 years of doing its damnedest, on one side of the Greater Middle East this power has somehow overseen the rise of the dominant narco-state on the planet with monopoly control over <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30017898" target="_blank">80%</a>-<a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/afghanistan-pakistan/opium-brides/why-eradication-wont-solve-afghanistans-poppy-problem/" target="_blank">90%</a> of the global opium supply and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/16/world/asia/afghanistan-opium-production-increases-for-3rd-year.html" target="_blank">75%</a> of the heroin. On the other side of the region, it’s been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175888/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_escalation_follies/" target="_blank">complicit</a> in the creation of the first terrorist mini-oil state in history, a post-al-Qaeda triumph of extreme jihadism.</p><p><strong>A Fraudulent Election and a Collapsed Army</strong></p><p>Though I have no doubt that the fantasy of relocating Washington’s deeds to Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, or any other capital crumbled paragraphs ago, take a moment for one more experiment.  If this had been the work of any other power we thought less well of than we do of ourselves, imagine the blazing headlines right now.  Conjure up -- and it shouldn’t be hard -- what the usual war hawks would be spouting in Congress, what the usual suspects on the Sunday morning talk shows might be saying, and what stories cable news networks from CNN to Fox would be carrying.</p><p>You know perfectly well that the denunciations of such global behavior would be blistering, that the assorted pundits and talking heads would be excoriating, that the fear and hysteria over that heroin and those terrorists crossing our border would be somewhere in the stratosphere.  You would hear words like “evil” and “barbaric.”  It would be implied, or stated outright, that this avalanche of disaster was no happenstance but planned by that same grim power with its hand on the trigger these last 13 years, in part to harm the interests of the United States.  We would never hear the end of it.</p><p>Instead, the recent reports about Afghanistan’s bumper crop of opium poppies slipped by in the media like a ship on a dark ocean.  No blame was laid, no responsibility mentioned.  There were neither blazing headlines, nor angry jeremiads, nor blistering comments -- none of the things that would have been commonplace if the Russians, the Chinese, or the Iranians had been responsible.</p><p>Just about no one in the mainstream excoriates or blames Washington for the 13 years leading up to this.  In fact, to the extent that Washington is blamed at all for the rise of the Islamic State, the focus has been on the Obama administration’s decision not to <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/is-the-violence-in-iraq-obamas-fault/" target="_blank">stay longer</a> in Iraq in 2011 and do <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/theoval/2014/10/02/obama-leon-panetta-iraq-robert-gates-hillary-clinton-books/16600303/" target="_blank">even more</a> of the same.  (Hence, President Obama's <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/22/us/politics/in-secret-obama-extends-us-role-in-afghan-combat.html" target="_blank">recent decision</a> to extend the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan through at least 2015.)</p><p>All in all, we’ve experienced a remarkable performance here when it comes to not connecting the dots or feeling the need to assign responsibility or accountability for what’s happened in these years.  In some fashion, we Americans continue to see ourselves, as we have since 9/11, as victims, not destabilizers, of the world we inhabit.</p><p>To add to this spectacle, the Obama administration spent endless weeks <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/08/world/asia/kerry-visits-afghanistan-to-urge-election-deal.html" target="_blank">helping</a> engineer a fraudulent Afghan presidential election -- <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/13/world/asia/afghan-elections-cited-as-factor-in-record-levels-of-opium-production.html" target="_blank">funded</a> in part by the opium trade -- into a new, <a href="http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-chayes-afghanistan-elections-20140923-story.html" target="_blank">extra-constitutional</a> form of government.  The actual vote count in that election is now, by mutual agreement of the two presidential candidates, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/world/asia/afghan-presidential-election.html" target="_blank">never to be revealed</a>.  All of this took place, in part, simply to have an Afghan president in place who could ink a new bilateral security agreement that would leave U.S. troops and bases there for a<strong></strong><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/30/us-troops-afghanistan-2024-obama-bilateral-security-agreement" target="_blank">further decade</a>.  If another country had meddled with an election in this fashion, can you imagine the headlines and commentary?  While reported here, all of this again passed by without significant comment.</p><p>When it comes to a path “forward” in Iraq, it’s been ever deeper into <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175920/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren%2C_iraq_and_the_battle_of_the_potomac/" target="_blank">Iraq War 3.0</a>.  Since a limited, “humanitarian” bombing campaign <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/08/world/middleeast/obama-weighs-military-strikes-to-aid-trapped-iraqis-officials-say.html" target="_blank">began</a> in August, the Obama administration and the Pentagon have been on the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175918/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_building_an_escalation_machine/" target="_blank">up escalator</a>: more air strikes, more advisers, more weaponry, more money.</p><p>Two and a half weeks ago, the president <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/08/world/middleeast/us-to-send-1500-more-troops-to-iraq.html" target="_blank">doubled</a> the corps of American advisers (plus assorted other U.S. personnel) there to 3,000-plus.  Last week, the news came in that they were being <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/16/us-forces-already-advising-iraqi-troops-western-anbar-province" target="_blank">hustled</a> into the country faster than expected -- specifically into dangerous, war-torn al-Anbar Province -- to retrain the American-created, now thoroughly sectarian Iraqi army, reportedly in a state of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/world/middleeast/graft-hobbles-iraqs-military-in-fighting-isis.html" target="_blank">remarkable disarray</a>.</p><p>In the meantime, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, the Pentagon, and the White House continue to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175918/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_building_an_escalation_machine/" target="_blank">struggle</a> over whether American boots can be put on the ground in a combat capacity, and if so, how many and in what roles in a “war” that essentially may have <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/10/is-obama-s-new-war-against-isis-illegal.html" target="_blank">no legal basis</a> in the American system of government. (Shades of Afghanistan!)  Of course, much of this internecine struggle in Washington is likely to be obviated the first time U.S. advisers are attacked in Anbar Province or elsewhere and boots end up hitting the ground fast, weapons firing.</p><p><strong>Vietnamizing Iraq, Iraqicizing Vietnam</strong></p><p>In the meantime, think about what we would have said if the Russians had acted as Washington did in Afghanistan, or if the Chinese had pursued an Iraq-like path in a country of their choosing for the third time with the same army, the same “unified” government, the same drones and weaponry, and in key cases, the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/us/retired-general-is-picked-to-lead-effort-vs-isis.html" target="_blank">same personnel</a>!  (Or, if you want to make the task easier for yourself, just check out U.S. commentary these last months on Ukraine.)</p><p>For those of a certain age, the escalatory path the Obama administration has set us on in Iraq has a certain resonance and so, not surprisingly, at the edges of our world, familiar words like “quagmire” are <a href="http://www.mtexpress.com/opinion/editorials/avoid-a-quagmire-in-the-middle-east/article_79929e3a-6b79-11e4-b3b5-e74c38633501.html" target="_blank">again rising</a>.  And who could deny that there’s something eerily familiar about it all?  Keep in mind that it took less than three years for the Kennedy administration to transition from the first several hundred American advisers it sent to Vietnam to work with the South Vietnamese Army in 1961 to <a href="http://olive-drab.com/od_history_vietnam_advisors.php" target="_blank">16,000</a> armed “advisers” in November 1963 when the president was assassinated.</p><p>The Obama administration seems to be in the grips of a similar escalatory fever and on a somewhat similar schedule, even if ahead of the Vietnam timetable when it comes to loosing air power over Iraq and Syria.  However, the comparison is, in a sense, unfair to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. After all, they were in the dark; they didn’t have a “Vietnam” to refer to.</p><p>For a more accurate equivalent, you would have to conjure up a Vietnam scenario that couldn’t have happened.  You would have to imagine that, in May 1975, at the time of the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayaguez_incident" target="_blank">Mayaguez Incident</a> (in which the Cambodians seized an American ship), just two weeks after the South Vietnamese capital Saigon fell, or perhaps even more appropriately in terms of the dual chronologies of the two wars, in December 1978 when the Vietnamese <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-29106034" target="_blank">invaded</a> Cambodia, President Gerald Ford had decided to send thousands of American troops back into Vietnam.</p><p>Inconceivable as that was then, only such an absurd scenario could catch the true eeriness of the escalatory path of our third Iraq war.</p><p><strong>Four More Years!  Four More Years!</strong></p><p>Try to imagine the reaction here, if the Russians were suddenly to send their military back into conflict-ridden Afghanistan to refight the lost war of the 1980s more effectively, bringing old Red Army commanders <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/us/retired-general-is-picked-to-lead-effort-vs-isis.html" target="_blank">out of retirement</a> to do so.</p><p>As it happens, the present war in Iraq and <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/17/isis-war-cia-arming-rebels-syria" target="_blank">Syria</a> is so unnervingly <em>déjà vu</em> all over again that an equivalency of any sort is next to impossible to conjure up.  However, since in the American imagination terrorism has taken over the bogeyman-like role that Communism once filled, the new Islamic State might in one sense at least be considered the equivalent of the North Vietnamese (and the rebel National Liberation Front, or Vietcong, in South Vietnam).  There is, for instance, some similarity in the inflamed fantasies Washington has attached to each: in the way both were conjured up here as larger-than-life phenomena capable of spreading across the globe.  (Look up “<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domino_theory" target="_blank">domino theory</a>” on the meaning of a Communist victory in South Vietnam if you doubt me.)</p><p>There is also at least some equivalency in the inability of American leaders and commanders to bring the nature, or <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/11/17/isis-and-viet-cong-just-how-many-islamic-state-fighters-are-there" target="_blank">even the numbers</a>, of the enemy into sharp focus.  Only recently, for instance, General Dempsey, who has played a <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/general-dempsey-to-the-rescue-112154.html#.VG9kjIdAKHl" target="_blank">crucial role</a> in the launching of this latest war, <a href="http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/11/15/mideast-crisis-iraq-refinery-idINKCN0IZ0DA20141115" target="_blank">rushed off</a> on just the sort of “surprise visit” to Baghdad that American officials <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/11/17/isis-and-viet-cong-just-how-many-islamic-state-fighters-are-there" target="_blank">often made</a> to Saigon to proclaim “progress” or “light at the end of the tunnel” in the Vietnam War.  He met with American Marines at the massive U.S. embassy in that city and offered an assessment that seemed to capture some of Washington’s confusions about the nature of its newest war.</p><p>Keep in mind that, at the moment the war was launched, the Islamic State was being portrayed here as a monster movement engorging itself on the region, one that potentially <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/defense/chuck-hagel-the-u-s-isn-t-trying-to-contain-isis-it-s-trying-to-destroy-it-20140903" target="_blank">imperiled</a> just about every American interest on the planet.  In Baghdad, Dempsey suddenly insisted that the monster was faltering, that the momentum of battle in Iraq was “starting to turn.”  He then labeled the militants of the Islamic State as "a bunch of midgets running around with a really radical ideology" and concluded that, despite the nature of those formerly giant, now-puny fellows and the changing momentum of the war, it might nonetheless take “years” to win.  On his return to Washington he became <a href="http://www.military.com/daily-news/2014/11/19/top-us-military-officer-predicts-isis-war-will-last-up-to-4-year.html" target="_blank">more specific</a>, claiming that the war could last up to four years and adding, “This is my third shot at Iraq, and that's probably a poor choice of words." Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers recently offered a similar four-year estimate, but <a href="http://www.politico.com/morningdefense/1114/morningdefense16175.html" target="_blank">tagged</a> an “or more” onto it. (Four more years! Four more years! Or more! Or more!)</p><p>Despite their sudden access to crystal balls some 11-and-a-half years after the initial invasion of Iraq, such estimates should be taken with a grain of salt.  They reveal less a serious assessment of the Islamic State than just how shaky America’s top leadership, civilian and military, has become about what the U.S. is capable of achieving in the wake of an era of dismal failure in the Greater Middle East.</p><p>In reality, unlike North Vietnam in 1963, the Islamic “State” is a wildly sectarian rebel movement that sits atop what is at best a shaky proto-state (despite recent laughable <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/isis-mint-own-currency-out-gold-silver-copper-n248416" target="_blank">news reports</a> about claims that it will soon mint gold or silver coins).  It is not popular across the region.  Its growth is bound to be limited both by its extreme ideology and its Sunni sectarianism.  It faces enemies galore.  While its skill in puffing itself up -- in Wizard of Oz fashion -- to monstrous size and baiting the U.S. into further involvement may be striking, it is neither a goliath nor a “midget.”</p><p>General Dempsey can’t know how long (or short) its lifespan in the region may be.  One thing we do know, however: as long as the global giant, the United States, continues to escalate its fight against the Islamic State, it gains a <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/iraq-war-on-terror/rise-of-isis/what-a-pledge-of-allegiance-to-isis-means/" target="_blank">credibility</a> and increasing <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/22/world/asia/isis-pakistan-militants-taliban-jihad.html" target="_blank">popularity</a> in the world of jihadism that it would never otherwise garner.  As historian Stephen Kinzer <a href="http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/11/14/sending-troops-fight-isis-will-end-failure/IyXDw5u4oqrpU5MsSPCJxI/story.html" target="_blank">wrote recently</a> of the movement’s followers, “To face the mighty United States on Middle Eastern soil, and if possible to kill an American or die at American hands, is their dream. We are giving them a chance to realize it. Through its impressive mastery of social media, the Islamic State is already using our escalation as a recruiting tool.”</p><p><strong>Awaiting Iraq War 4.0</strong></p><p>Given all this, it should amaze us how seldom the dismal results of America’s actions in the Greater Middle East are mentioned in this country.  Think of it this way: Washington entered Iraq War 3.0 with a military that, for 13 years, had proven itself <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/" target="_blank">incapable</a> of making its way to victory.  It entered the latest battle with an air force that, from the “shock and awe” <a href="http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/usa1203/4.htm" target="_blank">moment</a> it <a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2003/12/12/us-hundreds-civilian-deaths-iraq-were-preventable" target="_blank">launched</a> 50 “decapitation” strikes against Saddam Hussein and his top officials and killed none of them but dozens of ordinary Iraqis, has brought none of its engagements to what might be called a positive conclusion.  It entered battle with an interlocking set of 17 intelligence agencies that have eaten the <a href="http://fas.org/irp/budget/" target="_blank">better part</a> of a trillion taxpayer dollars in these years and yet, in an area where the U.S. has fought three wars, still manages to be <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175901/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/" target="_blank">surprised</a> by just about <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/11/13/washington-is-officially-clueless-about-the-isis-war.html?via=ios" target="_blank">any development</a>, an area that, in the words of an anonymous American official, remains a “<a href="http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-intel-20141117-story.html#page=1" target="_blank">black hole</a>” of information.  It has entered battle with leaders who, under the strain of fast-moving events, make essentially the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/22/us/politics/in-secret-obama-extends-us-role-in-afghan-combat.html" target="_blank">same decision</a> again and again to ever worse results.</p><p>In the end, the American national security machinery seems incapable of dealing with the single thing it was built to destroy in the 9/11 period: Islamic terrorism.  Instead its troops, special ops forces, drones, and intelligence operatives have destabilized and inflamed country after country, while turning a minor phenomenon on the planet into, as <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/19/world/europe/deaths-linked-to-terrorism-are-up-60-percent-study-finds.html" target="_blank">recent figures indicate</a>, an increasing force for turmoil across the Greater Middle East and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/nick_turse_blowback_central" target="_blank">Africa</a>.</p><p>Given the history of this last period, even if the Islamic State were to collapse tomorrow under American pressure, there would likely be worse to come.  It might not look like that movement or anything else we’ve experienced thus far, but it will predictably shock American officials yet again.  Whatever it may be, rest assured that there’s a solution for it brewing in Washington and you already know what it is.  Call it Iraq War 4.0.</p><p>To put the present escalating disaster in the region in perspective, a final analogy to Vietnam might be in order.  If, in 1975, you had suggested to Americans that, almost four decades later, the U.S. and Vietnam would be <a href="http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/amid-south-china-sea-tensions-vietnam-seeks-closer-ties-with-us/" target="_blank">de facto allies</a> in a new Asia, no one would have believed you, and yet such is <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/270307/the-us-is-about-to-sell-weapons-to-vietnam-thats-bad-news-for-china" target="_blank">the case</a> today.</p><p>The Vietnamese decisively won their war against Washington, though much of their country was <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175639/tomgram%3A_jonathan_schell,_seeing_the_reality_of_the_vietnam_war,_50_years_late/" target="_blank">destroyed</a> and millions died in the process.  In the U.S., the bitterness and sense of defeat took years to recede.  It’s worth remembering that the first president to launch a war in Iraq in 1990 was <a href="http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=19351" target="_blank">convinced</a> that the singularly tonic effect of "victory" there was to “kick the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”  Now, all of official Washington seems to have a post-modern, twenty-first-century version of the same syndrome.</p><p>In the meantime, the world changed in few of the ways anyone expected. Communism did not sweep the Third World and has since disappeared except in Vietnam, now a U.S. ally, tiny Cuba, Laos, and that wreck of a country, North Korea, as well as the world’s leading state on the “capitalist road,” China.  In other words, none of the inflamed fears of that era panned out.</p><p>Whatever the bloody horror, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175895/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_the_great_concentration_or_the_great_fragmentation/" target="_blank">fragmentation</a>, and chaos in the Middle East today, 40 years from now the fears and fantasies that led Washington into such repetitively destructive behavior will look no less foolish than the domino theory does today.  If only, in a final thought experiment, we could simply skip those decades and instantly look back upon the present nightmare from the clearer light of a future day, perhaps the next predictable escalatory steps might be avoided.  But don't hold your breath, not with Washington chanting "Four more years!," "Four more years!"</p><p><em>[Note: A deep bow to Nick Turse for help on this piece. His thought experiments sparked my imagination. —Tom</em>]</p> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 07:49:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1027638 at http://https.alternet.org World Media World Afghanistan iraq russia China media wars America Is More Terrifying Than Orwell’s Fiction http://https.alternet.org/civil-liberties/america-more-terrifying-orwells-fiction-0 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Not even the author of &quot;1984&quot; could have envisioned a world dominated by a single superpower. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_94364473.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <em>The following is an excerpt from Tom Engelhardt's new book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Government-Surveillance-Security-Single-Superpower/dp/1608463656/ref=la_B001JP2OJK_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1416267939&amp;sr=1-1">Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World</a> (Haymarket Books, 2014).</em> In an increasingly phantasmagorical world, here’s my present fantasy of choice: someone from <a href="http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/06/general-keith-alexander-cyberwar/all/" target="_blank">General Keith Alexander’s</a> outfit, the National Security Agency, tracks down H.G. Wells’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1453767525/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">time machine</a> in the attic of an old house in London.  Britain’s <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/01/nsa-paid-gchq-spying-edward-snowden" target="_blank">subservient</a> Government Communications Headquarters, its version of the NSA, is paid off and the contraption is flown to Fort Meade, Maryland, where it’s put back in working order.  Alexander then revs it up and heads not into the future like Wells to see how our world ends, but into the past to offer a warning to Americans about what’s to come.<p>He arrives in Washington on October 23, 1962, in the middle of the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175605/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_%22the_most_dangerous_moment,%22_50_years_later/" target="_blank">Cuban Missile Crisis</a>, a day after President Kennedy has addressed the American people on national television to <a href="http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jfkcubanmissilecrisis.html" target="_blank">tell them</a> that this planet might not be theirs — or anyone else’s — for long.  (“We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth, but neither will we shrink from the risk at any time it must be faced.”)  Greeted with amazement by the Washington elite, Alexander, too, goes on television and informs the same public that, in 2013, the major enemy of the United States will no longer be the Soviet Union, but an outfit called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and that the headquarters of our country’s preeminent foe will be found somewhere in the <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/04/politics/us-embassies-close" target="_blank">rural backlands</a> of… Yemen.</p><p>Yes, Yemen, a place most Americans, then and now, would be challenged to find on a world map.  I guarantee you one thing: had such an announcement actually been made that day, most Americans would undoubtedly have dropped to their knees and thanked God for His blessings on the American nation.  Though even then a nonbeliever, I would undoubtedly have been among them.  After all, the 18-year-old Tom Engelhardt, on hearing Kennedy’s address, genuinely feared that he and the few pathetic dreams of a future he had been able to conjure up were toast.</p><p>Had Alexander added that, in the face of AQAP and similar minor jihadist enemies scattered in the backlands of parts of the planet, the U.S. had <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">built up</a> its military, intelligence, and surveillance powers beyond anything ever conceived of in the Cold War or possibly in the history of the planet, Americans of that time would undoubtedly have considered him delusional and committed him to an asylum.</p><p>Such, however, is our world more than two decades after Eastern Europe was liberated, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War definitively ended, and the Soviet Union disappeared.</p><p><strong>Why Orwell Was Wrong</strong></p><p>Now, let me mention another fantasy connected to the two-superpower Cold War era: George Orwell’s 1948 vision of the world of 1984 (or thereabouts, since the inhabitants of his novel of that title were unsure just what year they were living in).  When the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/the-nsa-files" target="_blank">revelations</a> of NSA contractor Edward Snowden began to hit the news and we suddenly found ourselves knee-deep in stories about <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/08/nsa-prism-server-collection-facebook-google" target="_blank">Prism</a>, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/31/nsa-top-secret-program-online-data" target="_blank">XKeyscore</a>, and other Big Brother-ish programs that make up the massive global surveillance network the National Security Agency has been building, I had a brilliant idea — reread <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0452262933/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20" target="_blank">1984</a>.</p><p>At a moment when Americans were growing uncomfortably aware of the way their government was staring at them and storing what they had previously imagined as their private data, consider my soaring sense of my own originality a delusion of my later life.  It lasted only until I read an <a href="http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/aug/15/nsa-they-know-much-more-you-think/" target="_blank">essay</a> by NSA expert James Bamford in which he mentioned that, “[w]ithin days of Snowden’s documents appearing in the Guardian and the Washington Post…, bookstores reported a sudden spike in the sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984. On Amazon.com, the book made the ‘Movers &amp; Shakers’ list and skyrocketed 6,021 percent in a single day.”</p><p>Nonetheless, amid a jostling crowd of worried Americans, I did keep reading that novel and found it at least as touching, disturbing, and riveting as I had when I first came across it sometime before Kennedy went on TV in 1962.  Even today, it’s hard not to marvel at the vision of a man living at the beginning of the television age who sensed how a whole society could be viewed, tracked, controlled, and surveiled.</p><p>But for all his foresight, Orwell had no more power to peer into the future than the rest of us.  So it’s no fault of his that, almost three decades after his year of choice, more than six decades after his death, the shape of our world has played havoc with his vision.  Like so many others in his time and after, he couldn’t imagine the disappearance of the Soviet Union or at least of Soviet-like totalitarian states.  More than anything else, he couldn’t imagine one fact of our world that, in 1948, wasn’t in the human playbook.</p><p>In 1984, Orwell imagined a future from what he knew of the Soviet and American (as well as Nazi, Japanese, and British) imperial systems.  In imagining three equally powerful, equally baleful superpowers — Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia — balanced for an eternity in an unwinnable global struggle, he conjured up a logical extension of what had been developing on this planet for hundreds of years.  His future was a version of the world humanity had lived with since the first European power mounted cannons on a wooden ship and set sail, like so many Mongols of the sea, to assault and conquer foreign realms, coastlines first.</p><p>From that moment on, the imperial powers of this planet — super, great, prospectively great, and near great — came in contending or warring pairs, if not triplets or quadruplets.  Portugal, Spain, and Holland; England, France, and Imperial Russia; the United States, Germany, Japan, and Italy (as well as Great Britain and France), and after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union.  Five centuries in which one thing had never occurred, the thing that even George Orwell, with his prodigious political imagination, couldn’t conceive of, the thing that makes 1984 a dated work and his future a past that never was: a one-superpower world.  To give birth to such a creature on such a planet — as indeed occurred in 1991 — was to be at the end of history, at least as it had long been known.</p><p><strong>The Decade of the Stunned Superpower</strong></p><p>Only in Hollywood fantasies about evil super-enemies was “world domination” by a single power imaginable.  No wonder that, more than two decades into our one-superpower present, we still find it hard to take in this new reality and what it means.</p><p>At least two aspects of such a world seem, however, to be coming into focus.  The evidence of the last decades suggests that the ability of even the greatest of imperial powers to shape global events may always have been somewhat exaggerated.  The reason: power itself may never have been as centrally located in imperial or national entities as was once imagined.  Certainly, with all rivals removed, the frustration of Washington at its inability to control events in the Greater Middle East and elsewhere could hardly be more evident.  Still, Washington has proven incapable of grasping the idea that there might be forms of power, and so of resistance to American desires, not embodied in competitive states.</p><p>Evidence also seems to indicate that the leaders of a superpower, when not countered by another major power, when lacking an arms race to run or territory and influence to contest, may be particularly susceptible to the growth of delusional thinking, and in particular to fantasies of omnipotence.</p><p>Though Great Britain far outstripped any competitor or potential enemy at the height of its imperial glory, as did the United States at the height of the Cold War (the Soviet Union was always a junior superpower), there were at least rivals around to keep the leading power “honest” in its thinking.  From December 1991, when the Soviet Union declared itself no more, there were none and, despite the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175386/engelhardt_china_as_as_number_1" target="_blank">dubious assumption</a> by many in Washington that a rising China will someday be a major competitor, there remain none.  Even if economic power has become more “multipolar,” no actual state contests the American role on the planet in a serious way.</p><p>Just as still water is a breeding ground for mosquitos, so single-superpowerdom seems to be a breeding ground for delusion.  This is a phenomenon about which we have to be cautious, since we know little enough about it and are, of course, in its midst.  But so far, there seem to have been three stages to the development of whatever delusional process is underway.</p><p>Stage one stretched from <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissolution_of_the_Soviet_Union" target="_blank">December 1991</a> through September 10, 2001.  Think of it as the decade of the stunned superpower.  After all, the collapse of the Soviet Union went <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/21/world/director-admits-cia-fell-short-in-predicting-the-soviet-collapse.html" target="_blank">unpredicted</a> in Washington and when it happened, the George H. W. Bush administration seemed almost incapable of taking it in.  In the years that followed, there was the equivalent of a stunned silence in the corridors of power.</p><p>After a brief flurry of debate about a post-Cold War “<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_dividend" target="_blank">peace dividend</a>,” that subject dropped into the void, while, for example, U.S. nuclear forces, lacking their major enemy of the previous several decades, remained more or less in place, strategically disoriented but ready for action.  In those years, Washington launched modest and halting discussions of the dangers of “rogue states” (think “<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axis_of_evil" target="_blank">Axis of Evil</a>” in the post-9/11 era), but the U.S. military had a hard time finding a suitable enemy other than its former ally in the Persian Gulf, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.  Its ventures into the world of war in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia were modest and not exactly greeted with rounds of patriotic fervor at home.  Even the brief glow of popularity the elder Bush gained from his 1990-1991 war against Saddam evaporated so quickly that, by the time he geared up for his reelection campaign barely a year later, it was gone.</p><p>In the shadows, however, a government-to-be <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175336/engelhardt_the_urge_to_surge" target="_blank">was forming</a> under the guise of a think tank.  It was filled with figures like future Vice President Dick Cheney, future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, future Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, future U.N. Ambassador John Bolten, and future ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, all of whom firmly believed that the United States, with its staggering military advantage and lack of enemies, now had an unparalleled opportunity to control and reorganize the planet.  In January 2001, they came to power under the presidency of George W. Bush, anxious for the opportunity to turn the U.S. into the kind of <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/time/2001/03/05/doctrine.html" target="_blank">global dominator</a> that would put the British and even Roman empires to shame.</p><p><strong>Pax Americana Dreams</strong></p><p>Stage two in the march into single-superpower delusion began on September 11, 2001, only five hours after hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon.  It was then that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, already convinced that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks, nonetheless began dreaming about completing the First Gulf War by taking out Saddam Hussein.  Of Iraq, he <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/09/04/september11/main520830.shtml" target="_blank">instructed an aide</a> to “go massive… Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”</p><p>And go massive he and his colleagues did, beginning the process that led to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, itself considered only a precursor to transforming the Greater Middle East into an American protectorate.  From the fertile soil of 9/11 — itself something of a phantasmagoric event in which Osama bin Laden and his relatively feeble organization spent a piddling <a href="http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report_Exec.htm" target="_blank">$400,000-$500,000</a> to create the look of an apocalyptic moment — sprang full-blown a sense of American global omnipotence.</p><p>It had taken a decade to mature.  Now, within days of the toppling of those towers in lower Manhattan, the Bush administration was <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/118775/engelhardt_9/11_in_a_movie-made_world" target="_blank">already talking about</a> launching a “war on terror,” soon to become the “Global War on Terror” (no exaggeration intended).  The CIA would label it no less grandiosly a “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175649/" target="_blank">Worldwide Attack Matrix</a>.”  And none of them were kidding.  Finding “terror” groups of various sorts in up to 80 countries, they were planning, in the phrase of the moment, to “<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1357781/US-asks-Nato-for-help-in-draining-the-swamp-of-global-terrorism.html" target="_blank">drain the swamp</a>” – everywhere.</p><p>In the early Bush years, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/101850/bush_s_faith_and_the_..." target="_blank">dreams of domination</a> bred like rabbits in the hothouse of single-superpower Washington.  Such grandiose thinking quickly invaded administration and Pentagon <a href="http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2320.htm" target="_blank">planning documents</a> as the Bush administration prepared to prevent potentially oppositional powers or blocs of powers from arising in the foreseeable future.  No one, as its top officials and their neocon supporters saw it, could stand in the way of their planetary Pax Americana.</p><p>Nor, as they invaded Afghanistan, did they have any doubt that they would soon take down Iraq.  It was all going to be so easy.  Such an invasion, as one supporter wrote in theWashington Post, would be a “cakewalk.”  By the time American troops entered Iraq, the Pentagon already had plans on the drawing board to build a series of permanent bases — they preferred to call them “enduring camps” — and <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/59774/engelhardt_can_you_say_permanent_bases" target="_blank">garrison</a> that assumedly grateful country at the center of the planet’s oil lands for generations to come.</p><p>Nobody in Washington was thinking about the possibility that an American invasion might create chaos in Iraq and surrounding lands, sparking a set of Sunni-Shiite religious wars across the region.  They assumed that Iran and Syria would be forced to bend their national knees to American power or that we would simply impose submission on them.  (As a neoconservative <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/18/opinion/things-to-come.html" target="_blank">quip</a> of the moment had it, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”)  And that, of course would only be the beginning.  Soon enough, no one would challenge American power. Nowhere. Never.</p><p>Such soaring dreams of — quite literally — world domination met no significant opposition in mainstream Washington.  After all, how could they fail?  Who on Earth could possibly oppose them or the U.S. military?  The answer seemed too obvious to need to be stated — not until, at least, their all-conquering armies bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and the greatest power on the planet faced the possibility of defeat at the hands of… well, whom?</p><p><strong>The Dark Matter of Global Power</strong></p><p>Until things went sour in Iraq, theirs would be a vision of the Goliath tale in which David (or various ragtag Sunni, Shiite, and Pashtun versions of the same) didn’t even have a walk-on role.  All other Goliaths were gone and the thought that a set of minor Davids might pose problems for the planet’s giant was beyond imagining, despite what the previous century’s history of decolonization and resistance might have taught them.  Above all, the idea that, at this juncture in history, power might not be located overwhelmingly and decisively in the most obvious place — in, that is, “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known,” as American presidents of this era <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175337/tomgram%3A_william_astore,_we%27re_number_one_%28in_self-promotion%29/" target="_blank">came to call it</a> – seemed illogical in the extreme.</p><p>Who in the Washington of that moment could have imagined that other kinds of power might, like so much dark matter in the universe, be mysteriously distributed elsewhere on the planet?  Such was their sense of American omnipotence, such was the level of delusional thinking inside the Washington bubble.</p><p>Despite two <a href="http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2013/03/warcosts" target="_blank">treasury-draining</a> disasters in <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/29/nation/la-na-0329-war-costs-20130329" target="_blank">Afghanistan</a> and <a href="http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2008-03-09/opinions/36903374_1_cost-iraq-world-war-ii" target="_blank">Iraq</a> that should have been sobering when it came to the hidden sources of global power, especially the power to resist American wishes, such thinking showed only minimal signs of diminishing even as the Bush administration pulled back from the Iraq War, and a few years later, after a set of misbegotten “<a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175176/" target="_blank">surges</a>,” the Obama administration decided to do the same in Afghanistan.</p><p>Instead, Washington entered stage three of delusional life in a single-superpower world.  Its main symptom: the belief in the possibility of controlling the planet not just through staggering military might but also through informational and surveillance omniscience and omnipotence.  In these years, the urge to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/world/middleeast/obama-ordered-wave-of-cyberattacks-against-iran.html" target="_blank">declare</a> a global war on communications, <a href="http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/06/general-keith-alexander-cyberwar/all/" target="_blank">create</a> a force <a href="http://www.stratcom.mil/factsheets/Cyber_Command/" target="_blank">capable</a> of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175607/karen_greenberg_digital_9/11" target="_blank">launching wars</a> in cyberspace, and storm the e-beaches of the Internet and the global information system proved overwhelming.  The idea was to make it impossible for anyone to write, say, or do anything to which Washington might not be privy.</p><p>For most Americans, the Edward Snowden revelations would pull back the curtain on the way the National Security Agency, in particular, has been building a global network for surveillance of a kind never before imagined, not even by the totalitarian regimes of the previous century.  From <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/06/05/nsas-verizon-spying-order-specifically-targeted-americans-not-foreigners/" target="_blank">domestic phone calls</a> to <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/what-we-still-dont-know-about-the-nsa-secret-internet-tapping" target="_blank">international emails</a>, from the bugging of <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/25/us-usa-security-nsa-un-idUSBRE97O0DD20130825" target="_blank">U.N. headquarters</a> and <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/eu-confronts-washington-over-reports-spies-european-allies-144947531.html" target="_blank">the European Union</a> to <a href="http://americablog.com/2013/08/nsa-bugged-un-eu-80-embassies.html?utm_source=feedburner&amp;utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Americablog+%28AMERICAblog+News%29" target="_blank">80 embassies</a> around the world, from <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/black-budget-summary-details-us-spy-networks-successes-failures-and-objectives/2013/08/29/7e57bb78-10ab-11e3-8cdd-bcdc09410972_story.html" target="_blank">enemies</a> to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/top-secret-us-intelligence-files-show-new-levels-of-distrust-of-pakistan/2013/09/02/e19d03c2-11bf-11e3-b630-36617ca6640f_story.html?hpid=z1" target="_blank">frenemies</a> to <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/30/nsa-leaks-us-bugging-european-allies" target="_blank">allies</a>, the system by 2013 was already remarkably all-encompassing.  It had, in fact, the same aura of grandiosity about it, of overblown self-regard, that went with the launching of the Global War on Terror — the feeling that if Washington did it or built it, they would come.</p><p>I’m 69 years old and, in technological terms, I’ve barely emerged from the twentieth century.  In a conversation with NSA Director Keith Alexander, known somewhat derisively in the trade as “<a href="http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/06/general-keith-alexander-cyberwar/all/" target="_blank">Alexander the Geek</a>,” I have no doubt that I’d be lost.  In truth, I can barely grasp the difference between what the NSA’s Prism and XKeyscore programs do.  So call me technologically senseless, but I can still recognize a deeper senselessness when I see it.  And I can see that Washington is building something conceptually quite monstrous that will change our country for the worse, and the world as well, and is — perhaps worst of all — essentially nonsensical.</p><p>So let me offer those in Washington a guarantee: I have no idea what the equivalents of the Afghan and Iraq wars will be in the surveillance world, but continue to build such a global system, ignoring the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/02/world/europe/france-and-germany-piqued-over-spying-scandal.html" target="_blank">anger of allies</a> and enemies alike, and “they” indeed will come.  Such delusional grandiosity, such dreams of omnipotence and omniscience cannot help but generate resistance and blowback in a perfectly real world that, whatever Washington thinks, maintains a grasp on perfectly real power, even without another imperial state on any horizon.</p><p><strong>2014</strong></p><p>Today, almost 12 years after 9/11, the U.S. position in the world seems even more singular.  Militarily speaking, the Global War on Terror continues, however <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/03/25/obama-scraps-global-war-terror-overseas-contingency-operation/" target="_blank">namelessly</a>, in the Obama era in places as distant as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  The U.S. military remains heavily deployed in the Greater Middle East, though it has <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/world/middleeast/last-convoy-of-american-troops-leaves-iraq.html" target="_blank">pulled out</a> of Iraq and is drawing down in Afghanistan.  In recent years, U.S. power has, in an exceedingly public manner, been “pivoting” to Asia, where the <a href="http://killerapps.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/08/20/surrounded_how_the_us_is_encircling_china_with_military_bases" target="_blank">building of new bases</a>, as well as the deployment of new troops and <a href="http://www.theolympian.com/2013/08/02/2652693/us-deploying-jets-around-asia.html" target="_blank">weaponry</a>, to “<a href="http://antiwar.com/blog/2013/08/22/the-us-is-encircling-china-with-military-bases/" target="_blank">contain</a>” that imagined future superpower China has been proceeding apace.</p><p>At the same time, the U.S. military has been ever-so-quietly pivoting to Africa where, as TomDispatch’s Nick Turse <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175567/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_america%27s_shadow_wars_in_africa_" target="_blank">reports</a>, its presence is <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175574/nick_turse_debates_africom" target="_blank">spreading</a> continent-wide.  American military bases still dot the planet in remarkable profusion, numbering perhaps <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175338/nick_turse_the_pentagon's_planet_of_bases" target="_blank">1,000</a> at a moment when no other nation on Earth has more than a handful outside its territory.</p><p>The reach of Washington’s surveillance and intelligence networks is <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175713/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">unique</a> in the history of the planet.  The ability of its drone air fleet to <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/engelhardt_assassin_in_chief" target="_blank">assassinate</a> enemies almost anywhere is unparalleled.  Europe and Japan remain so deeply integrated into the American global system as to be essentially a part of its power-projection capabilities.</p><p>This should be the dream formula for a world dominator and yet no one can look at Planet Earth today and not see that the single superpower, while capable of creating instability and chaos, is limited indeed in its ability to control developments.  Its president can’t even form a “coalition of the willing” to launch a limited series of missile attacks on the military facilities of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.  From Latin America to the Greater Middle East, the American system is visibly weakening, while at home, inequality and poverty are on the rise, infrastructure crumbles, and national politics is in a state of permanent “gridlock.”</p><p>Such a world should be fantastical enough for the wildest sort of dystopian fiction, for perhaps a novel titled 2014.  What, after all, are we to make of a planet with a single superpower that lacks genuine enemies of any significance and that, to all appearances, has nonetheless been fighting a permanent global war with… well, itself — and appears to be losing?</p><p>Excerpted with permission from: <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Government-Surveillance-Security-Single-Superpower/dp/1608463656/ref=la_B001JP2OJK_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1416267939&amp;sr=1-1">Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World</a> (Haymarket Books, 2014).</em></p> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 08:16:00 -0800 Tom Engelhardt, Haymarket Books 1027232 at http://https.alternet.org Civil Liberties Books Civil Liberties george orwell big brother 1984 nsa surveillance spying 'We've Created a Generation of People Who Hate America:' Filmmaker Laura Poitras on Our Surveillance State http://https.alternet.org/civil-liberties/weve-created-generation-people-who-hate-america-filmmaker-laura-poitras-our <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Back to that Hong Kong hotel room with Snowden.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_127585253_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a>.</em></p><p>Here’s a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! stat from our new age of national security. How many Americans have security clearances? The <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/03/24/5-1-million-americans-have-security-clearances-thats-more-than-the-entire-population-of-norway/">answer</a>: 5.1 million, a figure that reflects the explosive growth of the national security state in the post-9/11 era. Imagine the kind of system needed just to vet that many people for access to our secret world (to the tune of billions of dollars). We’re talking here <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population">about</a> the total population of Norway and significantly more people than you can find in Costa Rica, Ireland, or New Zealand. And yet it’s only about 1.6% of the American population, while on ever more matters, the unvetted 98.4% of us are meant to be left in the dark.</p><p class="p1">For our own safety, of course. That goes without saying.</p><p class="p1">All of this offers a new definition of democracy in which we, the people, are to know only what the national security state cares to tell us.  Under this system, ignorance is the necessary, legally enforced prerequisite for feeling protected.  In this sense, it is telling that the <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175833/tomgram%253A_engelhardt,_knowledge_is_crime/">only crime</a> for which those inside the national security state can be held accountable in post-9/11 Washington is not potential <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/james-clappers-least-untruthful-statement-to-the-senate/2013/06/11/e50677a8-d2d8-11e2-a73e-826d299ff459_blog.html">perjury</a> before Congress, or the <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/jose-rodriguez-and-the-ninety-two-tapes">destruction</a> of evidence of a crime, or <a href="http://www.wired.com/2011/06/cia-exhales-99-out-of-101-torture-cases-dropped/">torture</a>, or <a href="http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/reports/globalizing-torture-cia-secret-detention-and-extraordinary-rendition">kidnapping</a>, or <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175551/tomgram%253A_engelhardt,_assassin-in-chief/">assassination</a>, or the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/31/obama-justice-department-immunity-bush-cia-torturer">deaths</a> of prisoners in an extralegal prison system, but <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175500/tomgram%253A_peter_van_buren,_in_washington,_fear_the_silence,_not_the_noise/">whistleblowing</a>; that is, telling the American people something about what their government is actually doing.  And that crime, and only that crime, has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and beyond) with a vigor <a href="http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/jan/10/jake-tapper/cnns-tapper-obama-has-used-espionage-act-more-all-/">unmatched</a> in American history.  To offer a single example, the only American to go to jail for the CIA’s Bush-era torture program was John Kiriakou, a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175591/">CIA whistleblower</a> who revealed the name of an agent involved in the program to a reporter.</p><p class="p1">In these years, as power drained from Congress, an increasingly imperial White House has launched various wars (<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/oct/15/white-house-war-powers-resolution-iraq">redefined</a> by its lawyers as anything but), as well as a global assassination campaign in which the White House has its own “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html">kill list</a>” and the president himself decides on global hits.  Then, without regard for national sovereignty or the fact that someone is an American citizen (and upon the secret invocation of <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175872/tomgram%253A_peter_van_buren,_undue_process_in_washington/">legal mumbo-jumbo</a>), the drones are sent off to do the necessary killing.</p><p class="p1">And yet that doesn’t mean that we, the people, know nothing.  Against increasing odds, there has been some fine reporting in the mainstream media by the likes of <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/10/13/american-government-tried-kill-james-risens-last-book/">James Risen</a> and <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-infiltrates-links-to-yahoo-google-data-centers-worldwide-snowden-documents-say/2013/10/30/e51d661e-4166-11e3-8b74-d89d714ca4dd_story.html">Barton Gellman</a> on the security state’s <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175398/engelhardt_welcome_to">post-legal activities</a> and above all, despite the Obama administration’s <a href="http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/jan/10/jake-tapper/cnns-tapper-obama-has-used-espionage-act-more-all-/">regular use</a> of the World War I era Espionage Act, whistleblowers have stepped forward from within the government to offer us sometimes staggering amounts of information about the system that has been set up in our name but without our knowledge.</p><p class="p1">Among them, one young man, whose name is now known worldwide, stands out.  In June of last year, thanks to journalist <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175843/tomgram%253A_glenn_greenwald,_how_i_met_edward_snowden/">Glenn Greenwald</a> and <a href="http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/watch-short-convinced-edward-snowden-740255">filmmaker</a> Laura Poitras, Edward Snowden, a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/us/how-edward-j-snowden-orchestrated-a-blockbuster-story.html">contractor</a> for the NSA and previously the CIA, stepped into our lives from a hotel room in Hong Kong.  With a treasure trove of documents that are <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/10/10/core-secrets/">still being released</a>, he changed the way just about all of us view our world.  He has been <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-charges-snowden-with-espionage/2013/06/21/507497d8-dab1-11e2-a016-92547bf094cc_story.html">charged</a> under the Espionage Act.  If indeed he was a “spy,” then the spying he did was <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175733/engelhardt_I_only_regret">for us</a>, for the American people and for the world.  What he revealed to a stunned planet was a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175713/tomgram%253A_engelhardt,_you_are_our_secret/">global surveillance state</a> whose reach and ambitions were unique, a system based on a single premise: that privacy was no more and that no one was, in theory (and to a remarkable extent in practice), unsurveillable.</p><p class="p1">Its builders imagined only one exemption: themselves.  This was undoubtedly at least part of the reason why, when Snowden let us peek in on them, they reacted with such over-the-top venom.  Whatever they felt at a policy level, it’s clear that they also felt violated, something that, as far as we can tell, left them with no empathy whatsoever for the rest of us.  One thing that Snowden proved, however, was that the system they built was ready-made for blowback.</p><p class="p1">Sixteen months after his NSA documents began to be released by the Guardian and the Washington Post, I think it may be possible to speak of the Snowden Era.  And now, a remarkable new film, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/oct/11/citizenfour-review-snowden-vindicated-poitras-nsa-journalism">Citizenfour</a>, which had its premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 10th and will open in select theaters nationwide on October 24th, offers us a window into just how it all happened.  It is already being <a href="http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/race/feinberg-forecast-as-new-york-739976">mentioned</a> as a possible Oscar winner.</p><p class="p1">Director Laura Poitras, like reporter Glenn Greenwald, is now known almost as widely as Snowden himself, for helping facilitate his entry into the world.  Her new film, the last in a trilogy she’s completed (the <a href="http://www.praxisfilms.org/films/">previous two</a> being My Country, My Country on the Iraq War and The Oath on Guantanamo), takes you back to June 2013 and locks you in that Hong Kong hotel room with Snowden, Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, and Poitras herself for eight days that changed the world.  It’s a riveting, surprisingly unclaustrophic, and unforgettable experience.</p><p class="p1">Before that moment, we were quite literally in the dark.  After it, we have a better sense, at least, of the nature of the darkness that envelops us. Having seen her film in a packed house at the New York Film Festival, I sat down with Poitras in a tiny conference room at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City to discuss just how our world has changed and her part in it.</p><p class="p1">Tom Engelhardt: Could you start by laying out briefly what you think we've learned from Edward Snowden about how our world really works?</p><p class="p1">Laura Poitras: The most striking thing Snowden has revealed is the depth of what the NSA and the Five Eyes countries [Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, and the U.S.] are doing, their hunger for all data, for total bulk dragnet surveillance where they try to collect all communications and do it all sorts of different ways. Their ethos is "collect it all." I worked on a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/23/us/politics/nsa-report-outlined-goals-for-more-power.html">story with Jim Risen</a> of the New York Times about a document -- a four-year plan for signals intelligence -- in which they describe the era as being "the golden age of signals intelligence."  For them, that’s what the Internet is: the basis for a golden age to spy on everyone.</p><p class="p1">This focus on bulk, dragnet, suspicionless surveillance of the planet is certainly what’s most staggering.  There were many programs that did that.  In addition, you have both the NSA and the GCHQ [British intelligence] doing things like targeting engineers at telecoms.  There was an <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/03/20/inside-nsa-secret-efforts-hunt-hack-system-administrators/">article published</a> at The Intercept that cited an NSA document Snowden provided, part of which was titled "I Hunt Sysadmins" [systems administrators].  They try to find the custodians of information, the people who are the gateway to customer data, and target them.  So there's this passive collection of everything, and then things that they can't get that way, they go after in other ways.</p><p class="p1"> I think one of the most shocking things is how little our elected officials knew about what the NSA was doing.  Congress is learning from the reporting and that's staggering.  Snowden and [former NSA employee] William Binney, who's also in the film as a whistleblower from a different generation, are technical people who understand the dangers.  We laypeople may have some understanding of these technologies, but they really grasp the dangers of how they can be used.  One of the most frightening things, I think, is the capacity for retroactive searching, so you can go back in time and trace who someone is in contact with and where they've been.  Certainly, when it comes to my profession as a journalist, that allows the government to trace what you're reporting, who you're talking to, and where you've been.  So no matter whether or not I have a commitment to protect my sources, the government may still have information that might allow them to identify whom I'm talking to.</p><p class="p1">TE: To ask the same question another way, what would the world be like without Edward Snowden?  After all, it seems to me that, in some sense, we are now in the Snowden era.</p><p class="p1">LP: I agree that Snowden has presented us with choices on how we want to move forward into the future.  We're at a crossroads and we still don't quite know which path we're going to take.  Without Snowden, just about everyone would still be in the dark about the amount of information the government is collecting. I think that Snowden has changed consciousness about the dangers of surveillance.  We see lawyers who take their phones out of meetings now.  People are starting to understand that the devices we carry with us reveal our location, who we're talking to, and all kinds of other information.  So you have a genuine shift of consciousness post the Snowden revelations.</p><p class="p1">TE: There's clearly been no evidence of a shift in governmental consciousness, though.</p><p class="p1">LP: Those who are experts in the fields of surveillance, privacy, and technology say that there need to be two tracks: a policy track and a technology track.  The technology track is encryption.  It works and if you want privacy, then you should use it.  We’ve already seen shifts happening in some of the big companies -- Google, Apple -- that now understand how vulnerable their customer data is, and that if it’s vulnerable, then their business is, too, and so you see a beefing up of encryption technologies.  At the same time, no programs have been dismantled at the governmental level, despite international pressure.</p><p class="p1">TE: In Citizenfour, we spend what must be an hour essentially locked in a room in a Hong Kong hotel with Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Ewan MacAskill, and you, and it’s riveting.  Snowden is almost preternaturally prepossessing and self-possessed.  I think of a novelist whose dream character just walks into his or her head.  It must have been like that with you and Snowden.  But what if he’d been a graying guy with the same documents and far less intelligent things to say about them?  In other words, how exactly did who he was make your movie and remake our world?</p><p class="p1">LP: Those are two questions.  One is: What was my initial experience?  The other: How do I think it impacted the movie?  We've been editing it and showing it to small groups, and I had no doubt that he's articulate and genuine on screen.  But to see him in a full room [at the New York Film Festival premiere on the night of October 10th], I'm like, wow!  He really commands the screen! And I experienced the film in a new way with a packed house.</p><p class="p1">TE: But how did you experience him the first time yourself?  I mean you didn't know who you were going to meet, right?</p><p class="p1">LP: So I was <a href="http://www.wired.com/2014/10/snowdens-first-emails-to-poitras/">in correspondence</a> with an anonymous source for about five months and in the process of developing a dialogue you build ideas, of course, about who that person might be.  My idea was that he was in his late forties, early fifties.  I figured he must be Internet generation because he was super tech-savvy, but I thought that, given the level of access and information he was able to discuss, he had to be older.  And so my first experience was that I had to do a reboot of my expectations.  Like fantastic, great, he's young and charismatic and I was like wow, this is so disorienting, I have to reboot.  In retrospect, I can see that it's really powerful that somebody so smart, so young, and with so much to lose risked so much.</p><p class="p1">He was so at peace with the choice he had made and knowing that the consequences could mean the end of his life and that this was still the right decision.  He believed in it, and whatever the consequences, he was willing to accept them.  To meet somebody who has made those kinds of decisions is extraordinary.  And to be able to document that and also how Glenn [Greenwald] stepped in and pushed for this reporting to happen in an aggressive way changed the narrative. Because Glenn and I come at it from an outsider’s perspective, the narrative unfolded in a way that nobody quite knew how to respond to.  That’s why I think the government was initially on its heels.  You know, it's not everyday that a whistleblower is actually willing to be identified.</p><p class="p1">TE: My guess is that Snowden has given us the feeling that we now grasp the nature of the global surveillance state that is watching us, but I always think to myself, well, he was just one guy coming out of one of <a href="http://www.intelligence.gov/mission/member-agencies.html">17 interlocked intelligence outfits</a>. Given the remarkable way your film ends -- the punch line, you might say -- with another source or sources coming forward from somewhere inside that world to reveal, among other things, information about the enormous watchlist that you yourself are on, I’m curious: What do you think is still to be known?  I suspect that if whistleblowers were to emerge from the top five or six agencies, the CIA, the DIA, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and so on, with similar documentation to Snowden’s, we would simply be staggered by the system that's been created in our name.</p><p class="p1">LP: I can't speculate on what we don't know, but I think you're right in terms of the scale and scope of things and the need for that information to be made public. I mean, just consider the CIA and its effort to suppress the Senate’s review of its torture program. Take in the fact that we live in a country that a) legalized torture and b) where no one was ever held to account for it, and now the government's internal look at what happened is being suppressed by the CIA.  That's a frightening landscape to be in.</p><p class="p1">In terms of sources coming forward, I really reject this idea of talking about one, two, three sources.  There are many sources that have informed the reporting we've done and I think that Americans owe them a debt of gratitude for taking the risk they do.  From a personal perspective, because I’m on a watchlist and went through years of trying to find out why, of having the government refuse to confirm or deny the very existence of such a list, it’s so meaningful to have its existence brought into the open so that the public knows there is a watchlist, and so that the courts can now address the legality of it.  I mean, the person who revealed this has done a huge public service and I’m personally thankful.</p><p class="p1">TE: You’re referring to the unknown leaker who's mentioned visually and elliptically at the end of your movie and who revealed that the major watchlist you're on has more than 1.2 million names on it.  In that context, what's it like to travel as Laura Poitras today?  How do you embody the new national security state?</p><p class="p1">LP: In 2012, I was ready to edit and I chose to leave the U.S. because I didn't feel I could protect my source footage when I crossed the U.S. border.  The decision was based on six years of being stopped and questioned every time I returned to the United States.  And I just did the math and realized that the risks were too high to edit in the U.S., so I started working in Berlin in 2012.  And then, in January 2013, I got the first email from Snowden.</p><p class="p1">TE: So you were protecting...</p><p class="p1">LP: ...other footage.  I had been filming with NSA whistleblower William Binney, with Julian Assange, with Jacob Appelbaum of the Tor Project, people who have also been targeted by the U.S., and I felt that this material I had was not safe.  I was put on a watchlist in 2006.  I was detained and questioned at the border returning to the U.S. probably around 40 times.  If I counted domestic stops and every time I was stopped at European transit points, you're probably getting closer to 80 to 100 times. It became a regular thing, being asked where I’d been and who I’d met with. I found myself caught up in a system you can't ever seem to get out of, this Kafkaesque watchlist that the U.S. doesn't even acknowledge.</p><p class="p1">TE: Were you stopped this time coming in?</p><p class="p1">LP: I was not. The detentions stopped in 2012 after a pretty extraordinary incident.</p><p class="p1">I was coming back in through Newark Airport and I was stopped.  I took out my notebook because I always take notes on what time I'm stopped and who the agents are and stuff like that.  This time, they threatened to handcuff me for taking notes.  They said, "Put the pen down!" They claimed my pen could be a weapon and hurt someone. </p><p class="p1">"Put the pen down! The pen is dangerous!" And I'm like, you're not... you've got to be crazy. Several people yelled at me every time I moved my pen down to take notes as if it were a knife. After that, I decided this has gotten crazy, I'd better do something and I called Glenn. He <a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/04/08/u_s_filmmaker_repeatedly_detained_at_border/">wrote a piece</a> about my experiences. In response to his article, they actually backed off.</p><p class="p1">TE:  Snowden has told us a lot about the global surveillance structure that's been built.  We know a lot less about what they are doing with all this information.  I'm struck at how poorly they've been able to use such information in, for example, their war on terror.  I mean, they always seem to be a step behind in the Middle East -- not just behind events but behind what I think someone using purely open source information could tell them.  This I find startling.  What sense do you have of what they're doing with the reams, the yottabytes, of data they're pulling in?</p><p class="p1">LP: Snowden and many other people, including Bill Binney, have said that this mentality -- of trying to suck up everything they can -- has left them drowning in information and so they miss what would be considered more obvious leads.  In the end, the system they’ve created doesn't lead to what they describe as their goal, which is security, because they have too much information to process.</p><p class="p1">I don't quite know how to fully understand it.  I think about this a lot because I made a film about <a href="http://www.praxisfilms.org/films/my-country-my-country">the Iraq War</a> and one about <a href="http://www.praxisfilms.org/films/the-oath">Guantanamo</a>.  From my perspective, in response to the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. took a small, very radical group of terrorists and engaged in activities that have created two generations of anti-American sentiment motivated by things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.  Instead of figuring out a way to respond to a small group of people, we've created generations of people who are really angry and hate us.  And then I think, if the goal is security, how do these two things align, because there are more people who hate the United States right now, more people intent on doing us harm?  So either the goal that they proclaim is not the goal or they're just unable to come to terms with the fact that we've made huge mistakes in how we've responded.</p><p class="p1">TE: I'm struck by the fact that failure has, in its own way, been a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175901/tomgram%253A_engelhardt%252C_entering_the_intelligence_labyrinth/">launching pad for success</a>.  I mean, the building of an unparallelled intelligence apparatus and the greatest explosion of intelligence gathering in history came out of the 9/11 failure.  Nobody was held accountable, nobody was punished, nobody was demoted or anything, and every similar failure, including the one on the White House lawn recently, simply leads to the bolstering of the system.</p><p class="p1">LP: So how do you understand that?</p><p class="p1">TE: I don't think that these are people who are thinking: we need to fail to succeed. I'm not conspiratorial in that way, but I do think that, strangely, failure has built the system and I find that odd. More than that I don't know.</p><p class="p1">LP: I don't disagree. The fact that the CIA knew that two of the 9/11 hijackers were entering the United States and didn't notify the FBI and that nobody lost their job is shocking.  Instead, we occupied Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.  I mean, how did those choices get made?</p> Sun, 19 Oct 2014 11:54:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch 1023803 at http://https.alternet.org Civil Liberties Activism Civil Liberties Edward Snowden spying poitras nsa Don't Look Now: Virtually the Entire Middle East Is Destabilized by Warring Factions http://https.alternet.org/world/dont-look-now-virtually-entire-middle-east-destabilized-warring-factions <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">With its latest onslaught in Gaza, Israel may again be emboldening an enemy while creating worldwide sympathy for the Palestinians.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/3a005c85cc301362e46c3634124d3ec348cfd534.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com <a href="http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&amp;id=1e41682ade">here</a>.</em></p><p>The carnage in the Gaza Strip has been horrendous: more than <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/08/10/palestinians-gaza-talks-israel/13856975/" target="_blank">1,900 dead</a>, mainly civilians; its sole power plant destroyed (and so electricity and water denied and a sewage disaster looming); 30,000 to <a href="http://www.juancole.com/2014/08/billion-destroyed-damaged.html" target="_blank">40,000</a> homes and buildings damaged or destroyed; hundreds of thousands of residents put to flight with nowhere to go; and numerous <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/04/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-conflict.html" target="_blank">U.N. schools</a> or facilities housing some of those refugees hit by Israeli firepower. And then there was the evident targeting by the Israelis of the Gazan economy itself: <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/07/world/middleeast/after-conflict-gaza-industry-lies-in-ashes.html" target="_blank">175 major factories</a> taken out, according to the <em>New York Times</em>, in a place that already had an estimated unemployment rate of 47%.</p><p>The last weeks represent the latest episode in a grim, unbalanced tale of the destructive urges of both the Israeli government and Hamas, in a situation in which the most fundamental thing has been the desire to punish civilians.  Worse yet, indiscriminate assaults on civilian populations create the basis for more of the same -- fiercer support in Israel for governments committed to ever worse actions and ever more recruits for Hamas or successor organizations <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/27/us-mideast-gaza-usa-hamas-idUSKBN0FW01F20140727" target="_blank">potentially far worse</a> and more fundamentalist), and of course more children traumatized and primed for future acts of terror and revenge.</p><p>Think of it as the Middle Eastern equivalent of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which means it hardly even qualifies as a prediction to say that Israel’s violent and punishing acts against the civilian population of Gaza will settle nothing whatsoever. In fact, for the Israelis, as Sandy Tolan suggests today, the Gazan War of 2014 may prove a defeat, both in the arena of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/07/world/middleeast/israeli-premier-voices-regret-for-civilian-casualties-but-blames-hamas.html" target="_blank">global opinion</a> (U.S. polls show that young Americans are <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/07/29/young-americans-take-a-dim-view-of-israels-actions/" target="_blank">ever more sympathetic</a> to the Palestinians and disapproving of Israeli actions) and in relation to Hamas itself. History indicates that air strikes and other attacks meant to break the “will” of a populace, and so of a movement’s hold on it, generally only create more support.</p><p>These have been the days of the whirlwind in Gaza and in Israel, but don’t stop there. If you want a hair-raising experience, put these events in a larger regional context.</p><p>Following 9/11, the Bush administration and its neocon supporters dubbed the area that stretched from North Africa to Central Asia “the Greater Middle East” and referred to that vast expanse as “the arc of instability.” At the time, despite their largely Muslim populations, the nations of that sprawling region had relatively little in common; nor, on the whole, was it particularly unstable, even if the roiling Israeli-Palestinian situation already sat at its heart.</p><p>Ruled largely by strongmen and autocrats, those nations remained in a grim post-Cold War state of stasis. Three American interventions -- in Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), and Libya (2011) -- blew holes through the region, sparking bitter inter-ethnic and religious conflict, as well as an Arab Spring (largely suppressed by now), while transforming most of the Greater Middle East into a genuine arc of instability. Today, what's happening there qualifies as the perfect maelstrom, as yet more states and groups, insurgent, extremist, or otherwise, are drawn into its maw of destruction.</p><p>To start on the eastern reaches of the Greater Middle East, Pakistan is now a destabilized democracy with a fierce set of fundamentalist insurgencies operating within and from its territory; Afghanistan is an almost 13-year nation-building disaster where the Taliban is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/world/asia/taliban-making-military-gains-in-afghanistan.html" target="_blank">resurgent</a> and, in the latest “insider attack” at its top military academy, an Afghan soldier considered an American “ally” managed to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/06/world/asia/afghanistan-attack.html" target="_blank">kill</a> a U.S. major general sent to the country to help “<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-general-killed-in-afghanistan-was-key-figure-in-training-effort/2014/08/05/d25cc80a-1cc4-11e4-ae54-0cfe1f974f8a_story.html" target="_blank">stand up</a>” its security forces. Iraq is a tripartite disaster area in which another American-trained and -equipped army <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/mosul-isis-gunmen-middle-east-states" target="_blank">stood down</a> rather than up and in which an extreme al-Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State (IS) is at the moment <a href="http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n16/patrick-cockburn/isis-consolidates" target="_blank">ascendant</a>. It has routed Iraqi and Syrian forces, and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/08/world/middleeast/isis-forces-in-iraq.html" target="_blank">most recently</a>, the supposedly fierce Kurdish pesh merga militia in northern Iraq, while endangering the Kurdish capital and possibly seizing the country’s largest dam. Turkish and Syrian Kurdish insurgents are being <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/08/06/235509/kurds-from-turkey-syria-enter.html" target="_blank">drawn into</a> the fight in Iraq, as once again is <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/us-airstrikes-target-islamic-state-militants-in-northern-iraq/2014/08/08/a7a659d8-1efd-11e4-ae54-0cfe1f974f8a_story.html?hpid=z1" target="_blank">the U.S</a>.</p><p>Syria itself is no longer a country at all, but a warring set of extremist outfits facing what’s left of the patrimony (and military) of the al-Assad family.  In Lebanon last week, regular army units found themselves <a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2014/08/07/lebanese-free-7-soldiers-held-by-syria-militants" target="_blank">battling</a> IS extremists and their captured American tanks for the control of a border town. In Egypt, the military is <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175852/tomgram%3A_dilip_hiro,_behind_the_coup_in_egypt/" target="_blank">back in power</a> atop a disintegrating economy.  In Libya, the chaos following the U.S./NATO intervention that led to the fall of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi never ended.  Recently, factional militias fighting in Tripoli, the capital, managed to <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/20/libyan-militas-battle-tripoli-hundreds-families-flee-fight" target="_blank">destroy</a> its international airport, while diplomatic missions, <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/27/u-s-diplomats-and-marines-close-embassy-and-flee-libya-fighting.html" target="_blank">including</a> the U.S. one, were withdrawn in haste, and now the Egyptians are <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/04/egypt-consider-military-action-libya-amr-moussa" target="_blank">threatening</a> an intervention of their own.  Meanwhile, reverberations from the chaos in Libya have been <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/nick_turse_blowback_central" target="_blank">spreading across</a> North Africa and heading south.  Only Iran (eternally under threat from the U.S. and Israel), Saudi Arabia (which helped <a href="http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n16/patrick-cockburn/isis-consolidates" target="_blank">bankroll</a> the rise of the IS), and the Gulf States seem to have remained -- thus far -- relatively aloof from the chaos.</p><p>In sum, the vast region the Bush people so blithely called the arc of instability seems to be heading for utter chaos or a mega-conflict, while the predicted “cakewalk” of American forces into Iraq managed, in barely a moment in historical time, to essentially obliterate the regional borders set up by the European colonial powers after World War I. In other words, a world is being unified in turmoil and extremism, as thousands die and millions are uprooted from their homes, and all of this now surrounds the volatile, still destabilizing center that is the Palestinian/Israeli nightmare. There, as Sandy Tolan, a <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175444/tomgram%3A_sandy_tolan,_the_occupation_that_time_forgot/" target="_blank">TomDispatch regular</a> and the author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1596913436/ref=nosim/?tag=nationbooks08-20" target="_blank"><em>The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East</em></a><em>,</em> points out, both Tel Aviv and Washington have, in recent years, ignored every chance to take a less violent path and so encouraged the arrival of the maelstrom.</p><p> </p> Thu, 14 Aug 2014 07:35:00 -0700 Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch 1015474 at http://https.alternet.org World News & Politics World Israel gaza palestinians middle east