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 Tom Engelhardt Blog View

Tell me if this sounds familiar: the leadership of a distant nation has its own ideas about whom you should vote for, or who should rule your country, and acts decisively on them, affecting an election. Such interference in the political life of another country must be a reference to… no, I’m not thinking about Vladimir Putin and the American election of 2016, but perhaps the Italian election of 1948, or the Japanese election of 1958, or the Nicaraguan election of 1990 — all ones in which the U.S. had a significant hand and affected the outcome. Or what about an even cruder scenario than just handing over suitcases of cash to those you support or producing “fake news” to influence another country’s voting behavior? How about just overthrowing an already elected democratic government you find distasteful and installing one more to your liking, as in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, or Chile in 1973?

All of the above were, of course, classic American operations in which the CIA, in particular, “hacked” foreign elections (so to speak) or simply wiped out democratically elected governments. In the post-World War II era, this sort of thing was a commonplace. As Joshua Keating of Slate reports, a recent study “found evidence of interference by either the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia in 117 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000, or 11.3% of the 937 competitive national-level elections held during this period. Eighty-one of those interventions were by the U.S. while 36 were by the USSR/Russia.”

While people may still be arguing about what exactly Russia hacked into during the recent U.S. election and which Russians did it, the history of U.S. interference in, or in response to, elections in other countries is at best a fringe story in our world. And yet, here’s the strange thing: given the official shock and outrage in Washington right now over the very idea of the Russians tampering with an American election, you can search the historical record in vain for past public hints of remorse in Washington, no less apologies for overthrowing or even killing foreign leaders or undermining, or simply ditching, elections. And yet you have to wonder what the world might have been like had the U.S. not interfered so relentlessly in electoral politics globally. How might the history of Chile, Guatemala, or Iran been different if the U.S. hadn’t been quite so focused on destroying democracy in each of those countries?

Such thoughts came to my mind because, in today’s piece, Rajan Menon, author of The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention, explores Donald Trump’s possible plans for tearing up (or living with) the Obama administration’s Iranian nuclear deal — and for tearing into or living with Iran itself. After all, if there is one thing the men he’s appointing to his national security team seem to have in common, it’s their obvious Iranophobia. Their sky-high level of animus and anger toward that mid-sized regional power is, or at least should be, striking. It would be inconceivable, had the CIA, in cahoots with Britain’s MI6, on the orders of American President Dwight Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, not taken out the popular elected government of Mohammad Mossadeq in August 1953. They did so in response to its nationalization of the properties of the British oil company we now know as BP. That CIA-engineered military coup, which put an autocratic and oppressive Shah firmly on the Peacock Throne for the next quarter century and consigned democracy to the trash heap of history, led directly to the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolution of 1979, the embassy hostage situation of that year, and all the decades of enmity that followed. The present Iranian situation — now one of the most combustible on the planet, as Menon points out — might as well be stamped “creation of the Great Satan.” But who would know it here? Who cares? Who remembers?

Those who forget history are fated to… well, perhaps be Trumped by it, as we may soon see.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

At the height of the George W. Bush years, a bit of a TomDispatch piece would sometimes be reposted at a right-wing website with a disparaging comment, and I’d suddenly be deluged with abusive emails (many homophobic) that regularly advised me to take my whatever and get out of Dodge. Though I was born in New York City, as was my father (my mother’s hometown was Chicago), the phrase invariably brought to bear was “go back to…” and the only question was where. There were small numbers of correspondents who insisted I should “go back to Russia” or even the Soviet Union (as if that imperial entity hadn’t imploded in 1991), but that rang a tad hollow in early 2003. So often, the country of choice was France (not exactly the worst place on Earth to be sent back to, by the way, if you value your morning croissant). In those days, as you may remember, France (like Germany) had refused to support the Bush administration in its glorious upcoming invasion of Iraq and so French fries in the House of Representatives’ cafeteria had been renamed “freedom fries” and French toast “freedom toast.” At the time, the French were sometimes referred to derisively as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” and the French-German opposition to Iraq labeled (in imitation of Bush’s “axis of evil” for Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) “axis of weasel.”

I still remember how viscerally I reacted to those angry emails urging me to leave this country of mine. In those days, I remember saying privately to friends that, if “nationalist” hadn’t been a curse word here (at the time, we Americans were invariably “patriots” or “superpatriots” and only foreigners were “nationalists” or “ultra-nationalists”), I would have called myself an American nationalist. Given the surprising way that phrase has entered our vocabulary in the age of Trump, I’d have to find another phrase today, but the essence of it was simple enough. This was my country. I had grown up dreaming of serving it. No matter what it did, or how I felt it betrayed me (or my idea of it), I considered it then — and consider it now — my responsibility and I simply couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Thirteen years later, with panicked or disgusted progressives talking about heading for New Zealand or Canada, nothing has changed for me on that score.

TomDispatch remains the way I’ve translated that youthful urge to serve my country into my adult life. I may “serve” in an oppositional fashion, but in my mind at least, service it is. Whatever its faults, problems, or nightmares, I’m no more willing to give my country up to Donald Trump than I was to hand it over to George W. Bush, or in the Vietnam era, to Richard Nixon. This has never seemed like a choice to me, not in the Nixon era, not in the Bush one, and not in the creepy Mar-a-Lago moment we’re now entering. And in this, I don’t think I will find myself alone. In fact, today, I find myself in the good company of TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, who has taken the time to consider our situation and raise a question that must be asked: What country is it that we actually want to live in?

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, TomDispatch Archives 

It’s easy to forget just how scary the “good times” once were. I’m talking about the 1950s, that Edenic, Father-Knows-Best era that Donald Trump now yearns so deeply to bring back in order to “make America great again.” Compared to the apocalyptic fears of those years, present American ones would seem punk indeed, if it weren’t for the way our 24/7 media blow them out of all proportion. I’m thinking, of course, mainly about terror attacks by various “lone wolves” that tend to dominate the news. You know, the disturbed individuals who pick up a butcher knife or assault rifle and head for the nearest mall or club or college campus, or point a deadly vehicle toward a crowd with mayhem and murder in mind. In 2016, in our increasingly securitized world (and language), such individuals have even gained their own official acronym: homegrown violent extremists, or HVEs.

If I think back to the nightmares of my own childhood, fears about the depredations of HVEs don’t add up to a hill of beans. As a boy, I well remember the 1950s version of such hysteria and it concerned the obliteration of the city I lived in via a Cold War nuclear confrontation (of the sort that did indeed come close to happening). Like Bert the Turtle, at school we kids all “ducked and covered” in atomic drills. With Conelrad blasting from the radio on my teacher’s desk, I can remember crouching beneath my own, hands pathetically over my head, as if I could truly protect myself from an atomic attack. Outside sirens screamed and the activities of city life came to a halt.

For those of us who grew up then, just under nostalgic memories of the golden Fifties lies a vision of a world in ashes. Of course, we children had only a vague idea of what exactly had happened beneath the mushroom clouds that rose in August 1945 over two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but we knew enough to realize that the message being delivered was not of safety but of ultimate vulnerability. In those moments (and the nuclear nightmares that, at least in my own life, went with them), the country secretly prepared the way for the Sixties, indicating that just below the surface of American triumphalism lay a vision of potentially horrifying defeat.

In our recent history, however, the most dangerous moment of all may have been one of next to no fears, only of expectations for the glories of an all-American world. I’m thinking of the years TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, returns to today, the ones after the Berlin Wall was first breeched and the Soviet Union, that “evil empire” of Cold War fame, simply vanished, leaving behind only… well, us. That was the moment when the political and intellectual elite who had fought the Cold War and the corporate elite, including the warrior corporations of the military-industrial complex who had risen to power and fortune inside it, were suddenly staggered to discover that there seemed to be no one left to oppose them, nothing to stop them from doing their damnedest.

It was quite a moment, as Bacevich recalls, and it led us fearlessly (so to speak) into our present situation, which he aptly labels “the void.” Given where we’ve ended up in the age of Donald Trump, maybe all of us might have been better off tormented by a few more fears and fantasies of destruction, not construction.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: History • Tags: Cold War, TomDispatch Archives 

Don’t think the fad for “draining the swamp” began on the campaign trail with Donald Trump. It didn’t, although the “swamp” to be drained in the days after the 9/11 attacks wasn’t in Washington; it was a global one. Of course, that’s ancient history, more than 15 years old. Who even remembers that moment, though we still live with its fallout — with the hundreds of thousands dead and the millions of refugees, with Islamophobia and ISIS, with President-elect Trump, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, and so much more?

In the never-ending wake of one of the most disastrous wars in American history, the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, it’s hard to imagine any world but the one we have, which makes it easy to forget what the top officials of the Bush administration thought they would accomplish with their “Global War on Terror.” Who remembers now just how quickly and enthusiastically they leapt into the project of draining that global swamp of terror groups (while taking out the Taliban and then “decapitating” the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein)? Their grandiose goal: an American imperium in the Greater Middle East (and later assumedly a global Pax Americana). They were, in other words, geopolitical dreamers of the first order.

Barely a week after 9/11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was already swearing that the global campaign to come would “drain the swamp they live in.” Only a week later, at a NATO meeting, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz insisted that, “while we’ll try to find every snake in the swamp, the essence of the strategy is draining the swamp [itself].” By the following June, in a commencement address at West Point, President George W. Bush would speak proudly of his administration’s desire to drain that swamp of “terror cells” in a staggering “60 or more countries.”

Like Washington for Donald Trump, it proved the most convenient of swamps to imagine draining. For the top officials of the Bush administration launching a global war on terror seemed like the perfect way to change the nature of our world — and, in a sense, they weren’t wrong. As it happened, however, instead of draining swamps with their invasions and occupations, they waded into one. Their war on terror would prove an unending disaster, producing failed or failing states galore and helping to create the perfect atmosphere of chaos and resentment in which Islamic extremist groups, including ISIS, could thrive.

It also changed the nature of the U.S. military in a way that most Americans have yet to come to grips with. Thanks to that permanent war across the Greater Middle East and later Africa, a secretive second military of startling proportions would essentially be fostered inside the existing U.S. military, the still-growing elite forces of Special Operations Command. They were the ones who, at least theoretically, would be the swamp drainers. TomDispatch regular Nick Turse has long been following their development and their increasingly frenetic deployment globally — from, as he reports today, an already impressive 60 countries a year in 2009 to a staggering 138 countries in 2016. Those special operators would train and advise allied armed forces, while launching raids and drone strikes against terrorists across a significant part of the planet (including, of course, taking out Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011). In the process, they would be institutionalized in ever more ways, even as the terror groups they were fighting continued to spread.

Perhaps you could say that they didn’t so much drain the swamp as swamp the drain. Today, as we approach the new era of Donald Trump, Turse offers his latest report on their rise and possible future.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
Thank You, Donald Trump

Know thyself. It was what came to mind in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory and my own puzzling reaction to it. And while that familiar phrase just popped into my head, I had no idea it was so ancient, or Greek, or for that matter a Delphic maxim inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo according to the Greek writer Pausanias (whom I’d never heard of until I read his name in Wikipedia). Think of that as my own triple helix of ignorance extending back to… well, my birth in a very different America 72 years ago.

Anyway, the simple point is that I didn’t know myself half as well as I imagined. And I can thank Donald Trump for reminding me of that essential truth. Of course, we can never know what’s really going on inside the heads of all those other people out there on this curious planet of ours, but ourselves as strangers? I guess if I were inscribing something in the forecourt of my own Delphic temple right now, it might be: Who knows me? (Not me.)

Consider this my little introduction to a mystery I stumbled upon in the early morning hours of our recent election night that hasn’t left my mind since. I simply couldn’t accept that Donald Trump had won. Not him. Not in this country. Not possible. Not in a million years.

Mind you, during the campaign I had written about Trump repeatedly, always leaving open the possibility that, in the disturbed (and disturbing) America of 2016, he could indeed beat Hillary Clinton. That was a conclusion I lost when, in the final few weeks of the campaign, like so many others, I got hooked on the polls and the pundits who went with them. (Doh!)

In the wake of the election, however, it wasn’t shock based on pollsters’ errors that got to me. It was something else that only slowly dawned on me. Somewhere deep inside, I simply didn’t believe that, of all countries on this planet, the United States could elect a narcissistic, celeb billionaire who was also, in the style of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, a right-wing “populist” and incipient autocrat.

Plenty of irony lurked in that conviction, which outlasted the election and so reality itself. In these years, I’ve written critically of the way just about every American politician but Donald Trump has felt obligated to insist that this is an “exceptional” or “indispensable” nation, “the greatest country” on the planet, not to speak of in history. (And throw in as well the claim of recent presidents and so many others that the U.S. military represents the “greatest fighting force” in that history.) President Obama, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John McCain — it didn’t matter. Every one of them was a dutiful or enthusiastic American exceptionalist. As for Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, she hit the trifecta plus one in a speech she gave to the American Legion’s national convention during the campaign. In it, she referred to the United States as “the greatest country on Earth,” “an exceptional nation,” and “the indispensable nation” that, of course, possessed “the greatest military” ever. (“My friends, we are so lucky to be Americans. It is an extraordinary blessing.”) Only Trump, with his “make America great again,” slogan seemed to admit to something else, something like American decline.

Post-election, here was the shock for me: it turned out that I, too, was an American exceptionalist. I deeply believed that our country was simply too special for The Donald, and so his victory sent me on an unexpected journey back into the world of my childhood and youth, back into the 1950s and early 1960s when (despite the Soviet Union) the U.S. really did stand alone on the planet in so many ways. Of course, in those years, no one had to say such things. All those greatests, exceptionals, and indispensables were then dispensable and the recent political tic of insisting on them so publicly undoubtedly reflects a defensiveness that’s a sign of something slipping.

Obviously, in those bedrock years of American power and strength and wealth and drive and dynamism (and McCarthyism, and segregation, and racism, and smog, and…), the very years that Donald Trump now yearns to bring back, I took in that feeling of American specialness in ways too deep to grasp. Which was why, decades later, when I least expected it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it couldn’t happen here. In actuality, the rise to power of Trumpian figures — Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Vladimir Putin in Russia — has been a dime-a-dozen event elsewhere and now looks to be a global trend. It’s just that I associated such rises with unexceptional, largely tinpot countries or ones truly down on their luck.

So it’s taken me a few hard weeks to come to grips with my own exceptionalist soul and face just how Donald Trump could — indeed did — happen here.

It Can Happen Here

So how did it happen here?

Let’s face it: Donald Trump was no freak of nature. He only arrived on the scene and took the Electoral College (if not the popular vote) because our American world had been prepared for him in so many ways. As I see it, at least five major shifts in American life and politics helped lay the groundwork for the rise of Trumpism:

* The Coming of a 1% Economy and the 1% Politics That Goes With It: A singular reality of this century has been the way inequality became embedded in American life, and how so much money was swept ever upwards into the coffers of 1% profiteers. Meanwhile, a yawning gap grew between the basic salaries of CEOs and those of ordinary workers. In these years, as I’m hardly the first to point out, the country entered a new gilded age. In other words, it was already a Mar-a-Lago moment before The Donald threw his hair into the ring.

Without the arrival of casino capitalism on a massive scale (at which The Donald himself proved something of a bust), Trumpism would have been inconceivable. And if, in its Citizens United decision of 2010, the Supreme Court hadn’t thrown open the political doors quite so welcomingly to that 1% crew, how likely was it that a billionaire celebrity would have run for president or become a favorite among the white working class?

Looked at a certain way, Donald Trump deserves credit for stamping the true face of twenty-first-century American plutocracy on Washington by selecting mainly billionaires and multimillionaires to head the various departments and agencies of his future government. After all, doesn’t it seem reasonable that a 1% economy, a 1% society, and a 1% politics should produce a 1% government? Think of what Trump has so visibly done as American democracy’s version of truth in advertising. And of course, if billionaires hadn’t multiplied like rabbits in this era, he wouldn’t have had the necessary pool of plutocrats to choose from.

Something similar might be said of his choice of so many retired generals and other figures with significant military backgrounds (ranging from West Point graduates to a former Navy SEAL) for key “civilian” positions in his government. Think of that, too, as a truth-in-advertising moment leading directly to the second shift in American society.

* The Coming of Permanent War and an Ever More Militarized State and Society: Can there be any question that, in the 15-plus years since 9/11, what was originally called the “Global War on Terror” has become a permanent war across the Greater Middle East and Africa (with collateral damage from Europe to the Philippines)? In those years, staggering sums of money — beyond what any other country or even collection of countries could imagine spending — has poured into the U.S. military and the arms industry that undergirds it and monopolizes the global trade in weaponry. In the process, Washington became a war capital and the president, as Michelle Obama indicated recently when talking about Trump’s victory with Oprah Winfrey, became, above all, the commander in chief. (“It is important for the health of this nation,” she told Winfrey, “that we support the commander in chief.”) The president’s role in wartime had, of course, always been as commander in chief, but now that’s the position many of us vote for (and even newspapers endorse), and since war is so permanently embedded in the American way of life, Donald Trump is guaranteed to remain that for his full term.

And the role has expanded strikingly in these years, as the White House gained the power to make war in just about any fashion it chose without significant reference to Congress. The president now has his own air force of drone assassins to dispatch more or less anywhere on the planet to take out more or less anyone. At the same time, cocooned inside the U.S. military, an elite, secretive second military, the Special Operations forces, has been expanding its personnel, budget, and operations endlessly and its most secretive element, the Joint Special Operations Command, might even be thought of as the president’s private army.

Meanwhile, the weaponry and advanced technology with which this country has been fighting its never-ending (and remarkably unsuccessful) conflicts abroad — from Predator drones to the Stingray that mimics a cell phone tower and so gets nearby phones to connect to it — began migrating home, as America’s borders and police forces were militarized. The police have been supplied with weaponry and other equipment directly off the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, while veterans from those wars have joined the growing set of SWAT teams, the domestic version of special-ops teams, that are now a must-have for police departments nationwide.

It’s no coincidence that Trump and his generals are eager to pump up a supposedly “depleted” U.S. military with yet more funds or, given the history of these years, that he appointed so many retired generals from our losing wars to key “civilian” positions atop that military and the national security state. As with his billionaires, in a decisive fashion, Trump is stamping the real face of twenty-first-century America on Washington.

* The Rise of the National Security State: In these years, a similar process has been underway in relation to the national security state. Vast sums of money have flowed into the country’s 17 intelligence outfits (and their secret black budgets), into the Department of Homeland Security, and the like. (Before 9/11, Americans might have associated that word “homeland” with Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, but never with this country.) In these years, new agencies were launched and elaborate headquarters and other complexes built for parts of that state within a state to the tune of billions of dollars. At the same time, it was “privatized,” its doors thrown open to the contract employees of a parade of warrior corporations. And, of course, the National Security Agency created a global surveillance apparatus so all-encompassing that it left the fantasies of the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century in the dust.

As the national security state rose in Washington amid an enveloping shroud of secrecy (and the fierce hounding or prosecution of any whistleblower), it became the de facto fourth branch of government. Under the circumstances, don’t think of it as a happenstance that the 2016 election might have been settled 11 days early thanks to FBI Director James Comey’s intervention in the race, which represented a historical first for the national security state. Argue as you will over how crucial Comey’s interference was to the final vote tallies, it certainly caught the mood of the new era that had been birthed in Washington long before Donald Trump’s victory. Nor should you consider it a happenstance that possibly the closest military figure to the new commander in chief is his national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency until forced out by the Obama administration. No matter the arguments Trump may have with the CIA or other agencies, they will be crucial to his rule (once brought to heel by his appointees).

Those billionaires, generals, and national security chieftains had already been deeply embedded in our American world before Trump made his run. They will now be part and parcel of his world going forward. The fourth shift in the landscape is ongoing, not yet fully institutionalized, and harder to pin down.

* The Coming of the One-Party State: Thanks to the political developments of these years, and a man with obvious autocratic tendencies entering the Oval Office, it’s possible to begin to imagine an American version of a one-party state emerging from the shell of our former democratic system. After all, the Republicans already control the House of Representatives (in more or less perpetuity, thanks to gerrymandering), the Senate, the White House, and assumedly in the years to come the Supreme Court. They also control a record 33 out of 50 governorships, have tied a record by taking 68 out of the 98 state legislative chambers, and have broken another by gaining control of 33 out of 50 full legislatures. In addition, as the North Carolina legislature has recently shown, the urge among state Republicans to give themselves new, extra-democratic, extra-legal powers (as well as a longer term Republican drive to restrict the ballot in various ways, claiming nonexistent voter fraud) should be considered a sign of the direction in which we could be headed in a future embattled Trumpist country.

In addition, for years the Democratic Party saw its various traditional bases of support weaken, wither, or in the recent election simply opt for a candidate competing for the party’s nomination who wasn’t even a Democrat. Until the recent election loss, however, it was at least a large, functioning political bureaucracy. Today, no one knows quite what it is. It’s clear, however, that one of America’s two dominant political parties is in a state of disarray and remarkable weakness. Meanwhile, the other, the Republican Party, assumedly the future base for that Trumpian one-party state, is in its own disheveled condition, a party of apparatchiks and ideologues in Washington and embattled factions in the provinces.

In many ways, the incipient collapse of the two-party system in a flood of 1% money cleared the path for Trump’s victory. Unlike the previous three shifts in American life, however, this one is hardly in place yet. Instead, the sense of party chaos and weakness so crucial to the rise of Donald Trump still holds, and the same sense of chaos might be said to apply to the fifth shift I want to mention.

* The Coming of the New Media Moment: Among the things that prepared the way for Trump, who could leave out the crumbling of the classic newspaper/TV world of news? In these years, it lost much of its traditional advertising base, was bypassed by social media, and the TV part of it found itself in an endless hunt for eyeballs to glue, normally via 24/7 “news” events, eternally blown out of proportion but easy to cover in a nonstop way by shrinking news staffs. As an alternative, there was the search for anything or anyone (preferably of the celebrity variety) that the public couldn’t help staring at, including a celebrity-turned-politician-turned-provocateur with the world’s canniest sense of what the media so desperately needed: him. It may have seemed that Trump inaugurated our new media moment by becoming the first meister-elect of tweet and the shout-out master of that universe, but in reality he merely grasped the nature of our new, chaotic media moment and ran with it.

Unexceptional Billionaires and Dispensable Generals

Let’s add a final point to the other five: Donald Trump will inherit a country that has been hollowed out by the new realities that made him a success and allowed him to sweep to what, to many experts, looked like an improbable victory. He will inherit a country that is ever less special, a nation that, as Trump himself has pointed out, has an increasingly third-worldish transportation system (not a single mile of high-speed rail and airports that have seen better days), an infrastructure that has been drastically debased, and an everyday economy that offers lesser jobs to ever more of his countrymen. It will be an America whose destructive power only grows but whose ability to translate that into anything approaching victory eternally recedes.

With its unexceptional billionaires, its dispensable generals, its less than great national security officials, its dreary politicians, and its media moguls in search of the passing buck, it’s likely to be a combustible country in ways that will seem increasingly familiar to so many elsewhere on this planet, and increasingly strange to the young Tom Engelhardt who still lives inside me.

It’s this America that will tumble into the debatably small but none-too-gentle hands of Donald Trump on January 20th.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, TomDispatch Archives 
The Future According to Trump

Can you doubt that we’re in a dystopian age, even if we’re still four weeks from Donald Trump entering the Oval Office? Never in our lifetimes have we experienced such vivid previews of what unfettered capitalism is likely to mean in an ever more unequal country, now that its version of 1% politics has elevated to the pinnacle of power a bizarre billionaire and his “basket of deplorables.” I’m referring, of course, not to his followers but to his picks for the highest posts in the land. These include a series of generals ready to lead us into a new set of crusades and a crew of billionaires and multimillionaires prepared to make America theirs again.

It’s already a stunningly depressing moment — and it hasn’t even begun. At the very least, it calls upon the rest of us to rise to the occasion. That means mustering a dystopian imagination that matches the era to come.

I have no doubt that you’re as capable as I am of creating bleak scenarios for the future of this country (not to speak of the planet). But just to get the ball rolling on the eve of the holidays, let me offer you a couple of my own dystopian fantasies, focused on the potential actions of President Donald Trump.

There is already an enormous literature — practically a library — of writings on our unique president-elect’s potential conflicts of interests. He does, after all, own, or lease his name to, various towers, elite golf courses, clubs, hotels, condos, residences, and who knows what else in at least 18 to 20 countries. That name of his, invariably in impressive gold lettering, soars to striking heights in foreign skies across the planet. These days, in fact, the Trump brand and its conflicts are hard to escape, from Bali, the Philippines, and Dubai to Scotland, India, and the very heart of Manhattan Island. There, in my own hometown, at a cost to local taxpayers like me of more than a million bucks a day, the police are protecting him big time, while the Secret Service and the military add their heft to the growing armed camp in mid-Manhattan. They are, of course, defending the Trump Tower — the very one in which, in June 2015, to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” he rode that escalator directly into the presidential campaign, promising to build a “great wall,” lock out all Mexican “rapists,” and “make America great again.”

That tower on busy Fifth Avenue is now fronted by dump trucks filled with sand (“to help protect the Republican presidential nominee from potentially explosive attacks”) and, with the safety of the president and his family in mind, the Secret Service is reportedly considering renting out a couple of floors of the building at a cost to the American taxpayer of $3 million annually, which would, of course, go directly into the coffers of a Trump company. (Hey, no conflict of interest there and don’t even mention the word “kleptocracy”!) All of this will undoubtedly ensure that New York’s most Trump-worthy building, aka the White House North, will be kept reasonably safe from intruders, attackers, suicide bombers, and the like. But much of the imperial Trump brand around the world may not be quite so lucky. Elsewhere, guards will generally be private hires, not government employees, and the money available for any security plans will, as a result, be far more modest.

With rare exceptions, the attention of the media has focused on only one aspect of Donald Trump’s conflict-of-interest issues (and they are rampant), not to speak of his urge to duck what he might do about them, or dodge and weave to avoid a promised news conference to discuss them and the role of his children in his presidency and his businesses. The emphasis has generally been on the kinds of problems that would arise from a businessman with a branded name coming to power and profiting from, or making decisions based on the money to be made off of, his presidency. Media reports have generally zeroed in, for instance, on how foreign leaders and others might affect national policy by essentially promising to enrich Trump or his children. They report on diplomats who feel obliged to stay at his new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue just down the street from the White House; or foreign heads of state reaching out to him via his business partners in their lands; or Trump brand deals that are now going through in various countries thanks to his election victory.

The focus is almost invariably on how to cope with a president who, for at least the next four years, could stand to profit in mind-boggling ways from his various acts in office (or simply from the position he holds, even if he does nothing). And make no mistake, that issue might indeed edge Trump’s presidency into the truly dodgy, not to say paradigm breaking, when it comes to the history of the White House. But don’t call that dystopian.

What few people (the Secret Service aside) are thinking about is the ways in which conflicts of interest could consume the new president by threatening not to enrich, but impoverish him (and his children). Head down that path and believe me you’re instantly in dystopian territory.

Here’s a scenario for you:

It’s April 1, 2017. Donald J. Trump has been in office for less than two and a half months when a nattily dressed “businessman” manages to enter Trump Towers Istanbul, which soars into the skyline of the Turkish capital with the name of the new American president impressively done up in gold letters atop one of its towers. Once in the lobby, that man, a messenger from the Islamic State who made it through the complex’s private security screening with a suicide vest strapped to his body, blows himself up, killing a doorman, a security screener, and a number of residents, while wounding a dozen others.

Of course, I’ve never been to Trump Towers Istanbul, so I don’t really know what security measures are in place there in the heart of that already explosive capital, but given the Trump projects scattered around the world, feel free to pick your own branded building, resort, or hotel. And that initial explosion would just be a start. Don’t forget that it only cost Osama bin Laden a reported $400,000 to stage the 9/11 attacks and lure the Bush administration into a set of trillion-dollar failed wars that would help spread terror movements across the Greater Middle East and Africa. So don’t for a second imagine that the leadership of ISIS (or similar groups) won’t see the advantages of sending such messengers on the cheap to get under the oh-so-thin-skin of the new American president and embroil him in god knows what.

Imagine this as well: it’s 2018. China and the U.S. are at loggerheads across the Taiwan strait, pressures and emotions are rising again in northern Africa, where continuing American military assaults in Libya and Somalia have only increased the pre-Trumpian chaos, as well as in the heartlands of the Middle East where, despite massive American bombing campaigns, ISIS, once again a guerilla group without territory, is causing chaos. In addition, in Afghanistan, 17 years after America’s second Afghan War began, the U.S.-backed government in Kabul is tottering in the face of new Taliban, ISIS, and al-Qaeda offensives. Massive waves of immigrants from all these unsettled lands continue to endanger an angry Europe, and everywhere anti-Americanism is on the rise, not in a generalized sense, but focused in fury on the American president and his much-beloved brand.

Imagine as well for a moment growing demonstrations, protests, and the like, all aimed at various towers, clubs, resorts, and condominiums in the Trump stable. And consider just what a combination of threatened terror attacks and roiling demonstrations, as well as increasing anger over the Trump name across the Islamic world and elsewhere, might mean to the profitability of the president’s brand. Now, think about the Trump towers in Pune, India, or the 75-story tower in Mumbai, or the “six-star” luxury resort in Bali, or the tower going up in Manila’s Century City (each a high-end Trump-labeled project expected to come online in the near future and all, except Pune, at past sites of devastating terror bombings). What will their owners do if prospective buyers, fearing for their comfort, health, or even lives, begin to flee? What happens when the hotels can’t keep their rooms filled, the condominiums lose their bidders, and the Trump brand suddenly begins to empty out?

There is, of course, no guarantee that such a thing will happen, but if you stop to consider the possibility, it’s not hard to imagine. Next, take into account what you already know about Donald Trump, a man inordinately proud of his brand and hypersensitive beyond belief. Now, try to imagine — and in Trumpian terms we’re talking about a truly dystopian world here — what American foreign policy might look like if, amid the fears of resort-goers, golfers, business types, and the like, that brand began to tank internationally, if raising those giant gold letters over any city immediately ensured either mind-boggling problems or staggering security costs (and, at a minimum, a life of TSA-style lines for consumers).

Don’t for a second doubt that, under such circumstances, American foreign and military policy would end up being focused on saving the Trump brand, which, in turn, would be a nightmare to behold. Speaking of past controversies over presidential appointments — okay, I know we weren’t, but humor me here — in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower had his own Rex Tillerson-style moment and picked Charles Wilson, the CEO of industrial giant General Motors, to be his secretary of defense. At his confirmation hearings, Wilson infamously offered this formula for success, “I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” If the State Department and the military were indeed tasked with digging out the Trump brand, you would need to turn that comment upside down and inside out: “I thought what was bad for the Trump brand was bad for America, and vice versa.”

Indeed, if the Trump brand starts to go belly up, knowing what we do about the president-elect, we would be almost certain to see a foreign policy increasingly devoted to saving his brand and under those circumstances — in the words of former State Department official Peter Van Buren — what could possibly go wrong?

Now, that is dystopian territory.

Assassin-in-Chief

Let me add another dystopian fantasy to what obviously could be an endless string of them. For a moment, let’s think about the topic of presidential assassinations. By that I don’t mean assassinated presidents like Lincoln, McKinley, or Kennedy. What I have in mind is the modern presidential urge to assassinate others.

Since at least Dwight Eisenhower, American presidents have been in the camp of the assassins. With Eisenhower, it was the CIA’s plot against Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba; with John Kennedy (and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy), it was Cuba’s Fidel Castro; with Richard Nixon (and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), it was the killing of Chilean President Salvador Allende in a U.S.-backed military coup , which was also the first 9/11 attack (September 11, 1973).

In 1976, in the wake of Watergate, President Gerald Ford would outlaw political assassination by executive order, a ban reaffirmed by subsequent presidents (although Ronald Reagan did direct U.S. Air Force planes to bomb Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi’s home). As this new century began, however, the sexiest high-tech killer around, the appropriately named Predator drone, would be armed with Hellfire missiles and sent into action in the war on terror, creating the possibility of presidential assassinations on a scale never before imagined. Its subsequent missions threatened to create a Terminator version of our world.

At the behest of two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, a fleet of such robotic assassins would enter historically unique terrain as global hunter-killers outside official American war zones. They and their successors, Reaper drones (as in the Grim Reaper), would be dispatched on mass assassination sprees that have yet to end and that were largely organized in the White House itself based on a regularly updated, presidentially approved “kill list.”

In this way, the president, his aides, and his advisers became judge, jury, and executioner for “terror suspects” (though often enough any man, woman, or child who happened to be in the vicinity) halfway around the world. As I wrote back in 2012, in the process, the commander-in-chief became a permanent assassin-in-chief. Now, presidents were tasked with overseeing the elimination of hundreds of people in other lands with a sense of “legality” granted them in secret memos by the lawyers of their own Justice Department. Talk about dystopian! George Orwell would have been awed.

So when it comes to assassinations, we were already on dark terrain before Donald Trump ever thought about running for president. But give the man his due. Little noticed by anyone, he may already be developing the potential for a new style of presidential assassination — not in distant lands but right here at home. Start with his remarkable tweeting skills and the staggering 17.2 million followers of whatever he tweets, including numerous members of what’s politely referred to as the alt-right. And believe me, that’s one hell of an audience to stir up, something The Donald has shown that he can do with alacrity.

In a sense, you could already think of him as a kind of Twitter hit man. Certainly, his power to lash out in 140 characters is no small thing. Recently, for instance, he suddenly tweeted a criticism of arms-maker Lockheed-Martin for producing the most expensive weapons system in history, the F-35 fighter jet. (“The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military [and other] purchases after January 20th.”) The company’s stock value promptly took a $4 billion hit — which, I must admit, I found amusing, not dystopian.

He also seems to have been irritated by a Chicago Tribune column that focused on Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s criticisms of his comments on international trade and China, where that company does significant business. Muilenburg suggested, mildly enough, that he “back off from the 2016 anti-trade rhetoric and perceived threats to punish other countries with higher tariffs or fees.” In response, The Donald promptly took out after the company, calling for the cancellation of a Boeing contract for a new high-tech version of Air Force One, the president’s plane. (“Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”) That company’s stock similarly took a hit.

But giant military-industrial corporations can, of course, defend themselves. So no pity there. When it comes to regular citizens, however, it’s another matter. Take Chuck Jones, president of an Indiana United Steelworkers local. He disputed Trump on how many jobs the president-elect had recently saved at Carrier Corporation. Significantly less, he insisted (quite accurately), than Trump claimed. That clearly bruised the president-elect’s giant but remarkably fragile ego. Before he knew what hit him, Jones found himself the object of a typical Trumpian twitter barrage. (“Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!”) The next thing he knew, abusive and threatening calls were pouring in — things like “we’re coming for you” or, as Jones explained it, “Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids. We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

A year ago, an 18-year-old college student had a similar experience after getting up at a campaign event and telling Trump that he was no “friend to women.” The candidate promptly went on the Twitter attack, labelling her “arrogant,” and the next thing she knew, as the Washington Post described it, “her phone began ringing with callers leaving threatening messages that were often sexual in nature. Her Facebook and email inboxes filled with similar messages. As her addresses circulated on social media and her photo flashed on the news, she fled home to hide.”

On this basis, it’s not hard to make a prediction. One of these days in Trump’s presidency, he will strike out by tweet at a private citizen (“Sad!”) who got under his skin. In response, some unhinged member of what might be thought of as his future alt-drone force will pick up a gun (of which so many more will be so much closer at hand in the NRA-ascendant age of Trump). Then, in the fashion of the fellow who decided to “self-investigate” the pizza shop in Washington that — thank you, “fake news” — was supposed to be the center of a Hillary Clinton child-sex-slave ring, he will go self-investigate in person and armed. In “Pizzagate,” the fellow, now under arrest, fired his assault rifle harmlessly in that restaurant, whose owner had already received more than his share of abusive phone messages and death threats. It’s easy enough to imagine, however, quite another result of such an event. In that case, Donald Trump will have given assassination by drone a new meaning. And should that happen, what will be the consequences of the first presidential Twitter “hit” job in our history?

Don’t forget, of course, that, thanks to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Trump will also have all those CIA drones to use as he wishes to knock off whomever he chooses in distant lands. But as a potential Twitter assassin, rousing his alt-drones to the attack, he would achieve quite another kind of American first.

A Message for Planet Earth

And that’s just to edge my way into the future universe of Donald Trump, which is, of course, about to become all our universes. I suspect that his will turn out to be the screw-you presidency of all time. And believe me, that will prove to be dystopian beyond compare — or do I mean beyond despair?

Take the most dystopian issue of all: climate change. In recent weeks, Trump has mumbled sweet nothings to the assembled New York Times staff, swearing that he’s keeping an “open mind” when it comes to the link between humanity and a warming planet. He’s also sweet-talked Al Gore right in the heart of Trump Tower. (“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect,” said Gore afterward. “It was a sincere search for areas of common ground… I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued.”) Whatever else Donald Trump may be, he is, first and foremost, a salesman, which means he knows how to sell anything and charm just about anyone, when needed, and reality be damned.

If, however, you want to gauge his actual feelings on the subject, those outer borough sentiments of his youthful years when he evidently grew up feeling one-down to New York’s elite, then pay no attention to what he’s saying and take a look at what he’s doing. On climate change, it’s screw-you devastating all the way and visible payback to the many greens, liberals, and those simply worried about the fate of the Earth for their grandchildren who didn’t vote for or support him.

The Guardian recently did a rundown on his choices for both his transition team and key posts in his administration having anything to do with energy or the warming of the planet. It found climate deniers and so-called skeptics everywhere. In fact, “at least nine senior members” of his transition team, reported Oliver Milman of that paper, “deny basic scientific understanding that the planet is warming due to the burning of carbon and other human activity.”

Combine this with the president-elect’s urge to release American fossil fuels in a way no one previously has and you have a message that couldn’t be clearer or more devastating for the future of a livable planet. Think of it as so dystopian, so potentially post-apocalyptic, that it makes 1984 look like a nursery tale.

The message couldn’t be clearer. If I had to put it in just five words, they would be:

Trump to Earth: Drop Dead.

And oh yes, happy holidays!

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, TomDispatch Archives 

In a sense, human history could be seen as an endless tale of the rise and fall of empires. In the last century alone, from the Hapsburgs and Imperial Japan to Great Britain and the Soviet Union, the stage was crowded with such entities heading for the nearest exit. By 1991, with the implosion of the USSR, it seemed as if Earth’s imperial history was more or less over. After all, only one great imperial power was left. The Russians were, by then, a shadow of their former Soviet self (despite their nuclear arsenal) and, though on the rise, the Chinese were, in military terms at least, no more than a growing regional power. Left essentially unchallenged was the United States, the last empire standing. Even though its people rejected the word “imperial” as a descriptive term for their “exceptional” country — just as, until oh-so-recently, they rejected the word “nationalist” for themselves — the world’s “sole superpower” was visibly the only game in town.

Its military, which already garrisoned much of the planet, was funded at levels no other country or even groups of them combined could touch and had destructive capabilities beyond compare. And yet, with the mightiest military on the planet, the United States would never again win a significant war or conflict. Though its forces would be quite capable of taking the island of Grenada or briefly invading Panama, in the conflicts that mattered — Korea and Vietnam — victory would never come into sight. And it only got worse in the twenty-first century as that military fought an endless series of conflicts (under the rubric of “the war on terror”) across the Greater Middle East and Africa. In those years, it left in its wake a series of brutal sectarian struggles, ascendant terror movements, and failed or failing states and yet, despite its stunning destructive power and its modestly armed enemies, it was nowhere victorious. Never perhaps had an empire at its seeming height attempted to control more while winning less. (The power of its economy was, of course, another matter.)

Now, its losing generals — under the circumstances, there could be no other kind — are, as TomDispatch regular retired Lieutenant Colonel William Astore points out today, being elevated to positions of power. The man doing so only recently derided their skills, claiming that American generalship had been “reduced to rubble” and was “embarrassing for our country.” At the moment, his chosen generals are preparing themselves to take over key civilian positions in the country’s ever more powerful national security state, now essentially its fourth branch of government.

And let’s add to this one more curious aspect of the coming age of Trump: a phenomenon until now restricted to the military and its distant wars seems about to spread to what’s left of the civilian part of our government. By the look of things, Trump’s cabinet is being assembled along eerily familiar lines. Its members are unlikely to have the power to “win” (despite the president-elect’s deification of that concept), but they will indeed have an unprecedented power to destroy.

They seem, in fact, to have been chosen largely for their desire to dismantle whatever agency or department will be in their care or to undermine the major tasks it is to carry out. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, recently picked to head the Energy Department, an agency he previously wanted to eliminate (and whose name he infamously forgot in a televised presidential debate), is typical. See also Scott Pruitt, prospective head of the Environmental Protection Agency; Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education; and Tom Price, Health and Human Services. The question, of course, is: Will the civilian part of our future government, in the end, add another country to the count of failed states the U.S. military has already chalked up?

As our first declinist candidate, Donald Trump seems determined to ensure that the once sole superpower will join that endless human tale of felled empires. He’s already working hard to make certain that its government will be hollowed out or simply dynamited in the coming years, while his covey of retired generals will undoubtedly do their damnedest to create further havoc on planet Earth, as they give new meaning to the latest American “principle” being put in place (see Astore): military control over the military (and much else).

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

When Donald Trump enters the Oval Office, awaiting him will not only be his own private air assassination corps (those CIA drones that take out terror suspects globally from a White House “kill list”), but his own private and remarkably secret military. Ever since John F. Kennedy first made the Green Berets into figures of military glamour, there’s always been something alluring to presidents about the U.S. military’s elite special ops forces.

Still, that was then, this is now. In the twenty-first century, the Special Operations Command, which oversees those elite forces cocooned within the regular military, has gained ever more power to act in ever more independent and secretive ways. In those same years, the country’s elite troops, including those Green Berets, the Navy SEALs, and the Army’s Delta Force, have grown to staggering proportions, while ever more money has poured into their coffers. There are now an estimated 70,000 of them — a crew larger than the actual armies of some reasonably sizeable countries — and from trainers to raiders, advisers to hunter-killers, they now operate yearly in an overwhelming majority of the nations on this planet. Moreover, they generally do so in remarkable secrecy and (as once might have been said of the CIA) their most secretive part, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), responsible for the killing of Osama bin Laden, is in essence the president’s private army.

In these last years, President Obama, who gained a reputation for being chary of war, has nonetheless taken on with evident relish both those special ops forces and the drone assassins, while embracing what Washington Post columnist David Ignatius recently termed the role of “covert commander in chief.” Now, in these last weeks of his presidency, his administration has given JSOC new powers to “track, plan, and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe” and to do so “outside conventional conflict zones” and via “a new multiagency intelligence and action force.” As a result, whatever this new task force may do, it won’t, as in the past, have to deal with regional military commands and their commanders at all. Its only responsibility will be to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and assumedly the White House; even within the military, that is, it will gain a new patina of secrecy and power (while evidently poaching on territory that once was considered the CIA’s alone, no small thing at a moment when President-elect Trump is not exactly enamored with that agency).

One of the strangest aspects of the growth of America’s special ops forces and their global missions is how little attention those special operators get in the media (unless they want the publicity). The very growth of an enormous secret military, a remarkable development in our American world and a particularly ominous one for the Trumpian years to come, is seldom discussed (no less debated). And all of this, the firepower now available to a president and the potential ability of a commander in chief to wage a global campaign of assassination and make war just about anywhere on Earth, personally and privately, will now be inherited by a man to whom such powers are likely to have real appeal.

In this context, I admit to a certain pride that, thanks to Nick Turse, the exception to the above has been TomDispatch. In these years, due to Turse’s work at this website, you could follow, up close and personal, the growing power and operational abilities of America’s special operations forces. This was especially true, as with his piece today, of how they have moved, big time, onto a continent that may indeed, in the military’s own phrase, be tomorrow’s battlefield and yet that we hear next to nothing about.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

The Trump administration-in-formation is a stew of generals, billionaires, and multimillionaires — and as in the case of retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the likely new secretary of defense, even the military men seem to have made more than a few bucks in these last years. In retirement, Mattis, for instance, joined the board of military-industrial giant General Dynamics as one of 13 “independent directors,” reportedly amassing at least $900,000 in company stock and another $600,000 in cold cash.

Oh yes, and there’s one other requirement for admission to the Trump administration: your basic civilian appointee must be ready to demolish the system he or she is to head. Betsy DeVos, the president-elect’s pick for education secretary, wants to take apart public education; Tom Price, the future secretary of health and human services, is eager to dismantle Obamacare and Medicare; Scott Pruitt, the proposed new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, seems to want to tear that agency limb from limb; and the announced new “labor” secretary (and you really do have to put that in scare quotes), fast food CEO Andy Puzder, is against raising the minimum wage and thinks the automation of the workplace is a total plus, since machines can’t take vacations or arrive late.

Let’s face it, the most extreme government of our lifetime is going to be a demolition derby. Think of it as the Reagan administration of the 1980s on steroids — and keep in mind that Donald Trump will be the president of a far more fragile country than the one Ronald Reagan and his cronies presided over. Things could begin to fall apart fast for ordinary Americans. For instance, the new Republican Congress is expected to swiftly pass a promised “repeal and delay” version of the obliteration of Obamacare, officially wiping that program off the books and yet postponing its departure and the arrival of whatever is to replace it until after the 2018 elections. In the interim, however, the result is likely to be a “zombie” health care marketplace from which insurance companies are expected to begin to jump ship, potentially leaving significant numbers of those 20 million Americans who got medical coverage for the first time via Obamacare with nothing. And after EPA chief Pruitt has helped let Donald Trump’s “energy revolution” of extreme fossil fuel exploitation loose to do its damnedest and, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare makes clear today, America’s skies are once again veritable smog-fests, there will be plenty more health needs on whatever’s left of the horizon.

Donald Trump, as Politico points out, is already at war with labor, and prospectively with those “failing government schools,” and the American safety net, and the environment, not to mention the planet and that’s before we even get to actual war, which will be overseen by a crew of Islamo- and Irano-phobes. If, as Klare points out today, Trump himself has a serious case of nostalgia for the America of his youth (and mine), with its untrammeled growth and its fossil-fueled wonders, don’t think that nostalgia doesn’t reign in military affairs, too. In that case, however, it wouldn’t be for the oily vistas of the mid-twentieth century, but perhaps for the age of the Crusades.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Donald Trump, TomDispatch Archives 

What is it about America and its twenty-first-century wars? They spread continually — there are now seven of them; they never end; and yet, if you happen to live in the United States, most of the time it would be easy enough to believe that, except for the struggle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, there were no conflicts underway. Take the Afghan War, for an example. Now 15 years old and heating up again as the Taliban takes more territory and U.S. operations there grow, it was missing in action in the 2016 election campaign. Neither presidential candidate debated or discussed that war, despite the close to 10,000 U.S. troops (and more private contractors) still based there, the fact that U.S. air power has again been unleashed in that country, and the way those in the Pentagon are talking about it as a conflict that will extend well into the 2020s. It makes no difference. Here, it’s simply the war that time forgot. Similar things might be said, even if on a lesser scale, about expanding American operations in Somalia and ongoing ones in Libya. Nor is the intensity of the air war in Syria or Iraq much emphasized or grasped by the American public.

And then, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author of American Nuremberg, makes clear today, there’s the war that couldn’t be forgotten because, in essence, just about no one here noticed it in the first place. I’m speaking of the U.S.-backed Saudi war aimed significantly at the civilian population of desperately impoverished Yemen. It’s a conflict in which the actual American stake couldn’t be foggier and yet the Obama administration has supported it in just about every way imaginable, and it will soon be inherited by Trump and his national security crew. It could hardly be grimmer, more devastating, or more gruesome, and yet most of the time, from an American point of view, it might as well not be happening. There is evidently no good moment to bring up the subject of where American bombs are falling on our planet, so why not now?

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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