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Once upon a time, dystopian fiction was left to the novelists: Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Philip K. Dick. And once upon a time, the futuristic dreams of the military were distinctly upbeat. They were of generals leading armies to victory, of air power causing the morale of enemy nations to collapse (with surrender... Read More
Mark Karlin: How much money has gone to the U.S. war on terror and what has been the impact of this expenditure? Tom Engelhardt: The best figure I’ve seen on this comes from the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project at Brown University and it’s a staggering $5.6 trillion, including certain future costs to care... Read More
Six years ago, in late May 2012, I read a New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.” They reported that President Obama was then overseeing a “regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room”... Read More
When I was young, I often imagined myself as an American diplomat. Back in the early 1960s, it seemed like serving my country in such a role would be an honorable, even glorious, path to take. Can you believe that I ever thought such a thing in this twenty-first-century moment when diplomats by the hundreds... Read More
Here’s a recent typical headline about the upcoming talks between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un: “Will Trump’s Ignorance (and Bolton’s Impetuousness) Doom the North Korea Summit?” When it comes to ignorance, there can be little question that the Trump administration is in a league all its own. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo,... Read More
The U.S. Military Takes Us Through the Gates of Hell
[This essay is the introduction to Tom Engelhardt’s new book, A Nation Unmade by War, a Dispatch Book published by Haymarket Books.] As I was putting the finishing touches on my new book, the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute published an estimate of the taxpayer dollars that will have gone into... Read More
It’s already long forgotten here, but the theocratic regime in Iran was really our baby. After all, in 1953, the CIA and British intelligence engineered a coup to replace a democratic government in Iran with the autocratic Shah and so gave Iranians just what they didn’t want (including his creepy secret police, the Savak). In... Read More
Imagine that you paid a special visit to a family you hardly knew halfway around the world and they were so pleased to see you that they spent an estimated $68 million on your welcome, while mounting “festivities” like the one in which you danced with them sword in hand? Yes, you'd probably be thrilled,... Read More
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And a Planet in Ruins
They are the extremists. If you need proof, look no further than the Afghan capital, Kabul, where the latest wave of suicide bombings has proven devastating. Recently, for instance, a fanatic set off his explosives among a group of citizens lining up outside a government office to register to vote in upcoming elections. At least... Read More
It began, of course, with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the second Afghan war of our era. In November 2002, in Yemen, the CIA conducted its first drone assassination strike outside of Afghanistan, killing six al-Qaeda suspects in a car. (More strikes would follow there years later, along with Special Operations raids of... Read More
Almost 17 years after Washington’s war on terror was launched, déjà vu all over again hardly sums up the situation. Still, it’s a place to start. Take a headline from nearly a decade ago -- July 2009, to be exact. By then, the American war in Afghanistan (the second Afghan War of our era) was... Read More
Or Five Lessons in the History of American Defeat
The lessons of history? Who needs them? Certainly not Washington's present cast of characters, a crew in flight from history, the past, or knowledge of more or less any sort. Still, just for the hell of it, let’s take a few moments to think about what some of the lessons of the last years of... Read More
Here's how Colonel Robert Heinl, Jr., began a June 1971 article in Armed Forces Journal bluntly headlined “The Collapse of the Armed Forces”: Consider that grim list and the churning antiwar activism in the Vietnam-era military that Heinl went on to describe as a reminder of why President Richard Nixon, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird,... Read More
The rise and fall of empires has long been a story at the heart of history. Since the Europeans first burst out of their then-marginal region on wooden sailing ships mounted with cannons in the fifteenth century, the planet seldom has had a moment in which several imperial powers weren’t competing for supremacy. In 1945,... Read More
His appointment was a genuine Bolton from the blue (so to speak). After all, everyone knew that former U.N. Ambassador (and Fox News commentator) John Bolton couldn’t be chosen for a major post in the Trump administration. No, not because of his outlandish views on war-making, or his responsibility for helping launch an invasion of... Read More
Someday, it may seem like history’s classic example of imperial overstretch. There was, after all, only one superpower left on this planet after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It was challenged by... well, next to no one. Or rather by a single jihadist, his modest set of followers, and an investment of perhaps $400,000-$500,000.... Read More
Few American exports are more successful globally than things that go boom in the night: Hollywood movies -- especially, of course, superhero films, which regularly garner vast international audiences -- and advanced weaponry of just about every imaginable kind. As TomDispatch regular and Pentagon expert William Hartung points out today, while Donald Trump has been... Read More
There’s been a lot of free-floating fear and horror in the media recently about the appointment as national security adviser of John Bolton, a man who’s been itching for war(s) since the 1990s. His approach to Iran and North Korea in particular (not quite nuke ’em!, but not that much short of it either) isn’t... Read More
Fifteen years ago last week, the U.S. invasion of Iraq began. It was to be beyond glorious. It was to signal the start of an unprecedented new era in which a single imperial superpower, left alone on the planet, would organize more or less everything to its own taste for the first time in history... Read More
When Russia moved into the Ukraine and seized Crimea in 2014, it got more than its share of (bad) media coverage in the United States, as it did when it intervened in Syria the next year. So just imagine what kind of coverage Vladimir Putin’s favorite nation would be getting if, almost 17 years after... Read More
I’ve long been struck by one strange aspect of the most recent part of the American Century: just how demobilized this country has been in the midst of distant wars that have morphed and spread for almost 17 years. I was born in July 1944 into a fully mobilized country fighting World War II in... Read More
Here’s a thoroughly humdrum figure from the post-9/11 world: this February an estimated 1,294 people were killed in Iraq and another 266 wounded, including ISIS militants, numerous civilians, Iraqi security forces, Kurds, and Turks. Few of them died in major combat, just low-level incidents, suicide bombings, and bodies found in mass graves. And keep in... Read More
What company gets the most money from the U.S. government? The answer: the weapons maker Lockheed Martin. As the Washington Post recently reported, of its $51 billion in sales in 2017, Lockheed took in $35.2 billion from the government, or close to what the Trump administration is proposing for the 2019 State Department budget. And... Read More
Despite the dystopian fantasies about nuclear terror and destruction that hit popular culture in the Cold War era and those “duck and cover” drills kids like me experienced in school in the 1950s, the American people were generally sheltered from a full sense of the toll of a nuclear cataclysm. Consider, for instance, the U.S.... Read More
Recently, the Pentagon’s top Asia official, Randall Schriver, told senators that the Afghan war would cost this country’s taxpayers $45 billion in 2018, including $5 billion for the Afghan security forces, $13 billion for U.S. forces in that country, and $780 million in economic aid. How the other $26 billion would be spent is unclear... Read More
When it comes to America’s wars, more than 16 years later our generals are victorious. Not, of course, in the distant lands where those conflicts grind on unendingly, but in the one place that matters: Washington, D.C. Could there be a more striking sign of that than the elevation of three of those generals to... Read More
A Trip Down Memory Lane, Pentagon-Style
If you’re in the mood, would you consider taking a walk with me and, while we’re at it, thinking a little about America’s wars? Nothing particularly ambitious, mind you, just -- if you’re up for it -- a stroll to the corner. Now, admittedly, there’s a small catch here. Where exactly is that corner? I... Read More
Think of President Trump and his administration as a den of thieves. There is, of course, the obvious thievery: what they will in the end, as with the recently passed tax “reform” bill, steal from ordinary citizens and offer as never-ending presents to the already staggeringly wealthy, among them the president himself (possible savings up... Read More
Donald Trump has, it seems, finally offered his plan for dealing with the opioid crisis in America. He did so during his State of the Union address to Congress, filled with Republican applause (none louder than The Donald’s), introducing the country to an Albuquerque policeman who had decided to adopt the future baby -- now... Read More
He took a remarkable star turn at Davos -- and, no, I don’t mean President Trump. I was thinking about Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017, when he claimed the title of globalist-in-chief in a highly praised speech to the world’s assembled CEOs and plutocrats. He was then promoting a “community of shared future for... Read More
The groundwork is already laid for America’s next war(s) in the Middle East and, in the process, one of the last relatively undamaged areas of Syria (at least before the Turkish military began to pound it with air strikes and artillery, then moving in tanks) is about to be added to the rubble of the... Read More
If I were to pick a single decision by an American president and his team in this century as our own August 1914, I would choose the invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003. Of course, in that era of the “sole superpower,” there were no other great powers (as in the World War... Read More
I recently read Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. No book -- that antiquated object that displays writing on pages of paper -- has gotten news attention quite like it in a long time. Of course, that’s what happens when only one person truly matters anymore -- and you know just... Read More
At the Circus with Donald Trump
Recently, a memory of my son as a small boy came back to me. He was, in those days, terrified of clowns. Something about their strange, mask-like, painted faces unnerved him utterly, chilled him to the bone. To the rest of us, they were comic, but to him -- or so I came to imagine... Read More
Honestly, how many times in your life have you ever run across a headline like this: “Top general says he would resist ‘illegal’ nuke order from Trump”? That was Air Force General John Hyten, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, the present commander of American nuclear forces, speaking at a conference in Canada last November.... Read More
In 1956, in an interview with journalist Anna Louise Strong, Chinese leader Mao Zedong famously said of American imperialism: “In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a paper tiger.” It wasn’t the first time he had used the image. Ten years earlier he had... Read More
Here’s a cheery note for you: the last mass killing of 2017 took place moments before midnight on New Year’s Eve. A 16-year-old New Jersey boy picked up a semi-automatic rifle, “lawfully acquired” by a member of his family, and killed his father, mother, sister, and a family friend. In doing so, he helped ensure... Read More
If you want to know something about life in America these days, consider how New York Times columnist David Leonhardt began his first piece of the year, “7 Wishes for 2018”: "Well, at least it’s not 2017 anymore. I expect that future historians will look back on it as one of the darker non-war years... Read More
76 Countries Are Now Involved in Washington’s War on Terror
He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest American garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country. More than 16 years after an American invasion “liberated” Afghanistan,... Read More
In a Washington politically riven in ways not seen since the pre-Civil War era, take hope. Despite everything you’ve read, bipartisanship is not dead. On one issue, congressional Democrats and Republicans, as well as Donald Trump, all speak with a single resounding voice, with, in fact, unmatched unanimity and fervor as they stretch hands across... Read More
Ambassadors of the traditional kind? Who needs them? Diplomats? What a waste! The State Department? Why bother? Its budget is to be slashed and its senior officials are leaving in droves ever since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office. Under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, hiring is frozen, which means those officials are generally not... Read More
It's been going on for so many years -- Predators cruising, looking for their prey. Some attention has since been paid to the phenomenon and to the devastating effect their actions have had on their victims, but it hasn’t really mattered. The predation has only spread. Oh, before I go any further, let me clear... Read More
By the time you read this, the latest brouhaha will undoubtedly be history -- or do I mean “fake history”? -- and largely forgotten. It will have been replaced by an explosion of media coverage about some other nightmarish set of presidential tweets or comments. After all, it’s a pattern. I’m referring to President Trump’s... Read More
Few Americans ever took in the vastness of the prison outsourcing system the administration of George W. Bush set up from Afghanistan to Iraq, Thailand to Poland, the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. In those years, I began referring to that global network of prisons as our... Read More
Consider the latest news from America's war zones, still spreading across the Greater Middle East and Africa. The U.S. military is now reportedly building up its troop strength (mostly Special Operations forces) in Somalia. Their number has already doubled, reaching 500, while U.S. airstrikes are increasing against al-Shabab, the well-entrenched Islamist terror outfit in that... Read More
Who even remembers that, back in September 2002, Lawrence Lindsey, then President George W. Bush’s chief economic adviser, offered an upper limit estimate on the cost of a future war in Iraq at $100 billion to $200 billion? He also suggested that the “successful prosecution” of such a war “would be good for the economy.”... Read More
Speaking of the situation on the Korean peninsula, he predicted that there would be “the greatest slaughter.” He later requested 34 nuclear weapons for possible use in connection with the Korean situation. He would later claim that he had considered dropping “30 to 50 tactical atomic bombs” and had suggested laying a “belt of radioactive... Read More
When it comes to the art of the deal, at least where arms sales are concerned, American presidents, their administrations, and the Pentagon have long been Trumpian in nature. Their role has been to beat the drums (of war) for the major American weapons makers and it’s been a highly profitable and successful activity. In... Read More
As you read today’s piece by historian and TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, author most recently of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, think of Afghanistan as the gateway drug for three Washington administrations. Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush and his top officials... Read More
Seventeen days after the Twin Towers fell in an apocalyptic mushroom cloud of smoke and ash, Congress passed with a single dissenting vote an “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” or AUMF, stating: Sixteen years later, in the wake of four American military deaths at the hands of an ISIS-affiliated terror group in the lawless... Read More
Tom Engelhardt
About Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Tomdispatch.com website, a project of The Nation Institute where he is a Fellow. He is the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, and of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing, as well as a collection of his Tomdispatch interviews, Mission Unaccomplished. Each spring he is a Teaching Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tomdispatch.com is the sideline that ate his life. Before that he worked as an editor at Pacific News Service in the early 1970s, and, these last three decades, as an editor in book publishing. For 15 years, he was Senior Editor at Pantheon Books where he edited and published award-winning works ranging from Art Spiegelman's Maus and John Dower's War Without Mercy to Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy. He is now Consulting Editor at Metropolitan Books, as well as co-founder and co-editor of Metropolitan's The American Empire Project. Many of the authors whose books he has edited and published over the years now write for Tomdispatch.com. He is married to Nancy J. Garrity, a therapist, and has two children, Maggie and Will.

His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.


Personal Classics
Eight Exceptional(ly Dumb) American Achievements of the Twenty-First Century
How the Security State’s Mania for Secrecy Will Create You
Delusional Thinking in the Age of the Single Superpower