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The United States just experienced its largest rainfall event in memory. For the first time in recorded weather history, two category 4 hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, hit in a single season (not yet over). And San Francisco, famed for its chilliness, experienced an unheard of 106 degree day as September began, while a record West Coast heat wave, essentially an unending Irma or Harvey of wildfires, left parts of the region, from Los Angeles to British Columbia, enwreathed in a pall of smoke and ash (without even an El Niño year to blame for it). And did I mention that both states hit by those recent hurricanes have climate-change denying governors? Or that the man now in charge in Washington also denies the reality of climate change (a Chinese hoax!) and has stocked his administration with a remarkable cast of fervent deniers (the latest such appointment being the head of NASA), who have essentially wiped all references to the phenomenon off every imaginable federal website, fired climate-change scientists, and — as a crew regularly backed in their careers by big energy — seem intent on recreating the fossil-fueled America of The Donald’s 1950s childhood.

Fortunately, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare tells us today, the cavalry is riding to the rescue — more or less literally. In a government shutting down anything faintly connected to global warming, only one institution isn’t now run by deniers and that’s the U.S. military. As Klare points out, its high command is still planning for a radically climate-changed planet. Unfortunately, we’re talking about the same institution whose generals have been in a “generational struggle” to win even one of the endless wars they’ve launched or wandered into since 9/11. They belong to an institution, the Pentagon, that has gobbled up almost unimaginable sums of taxpayer dollars, without in those same years even being capable of successfully auditing itself. In other words, our potential saviors, at a moment when the very environment that has for millennia welcomed humanity is up for grabs, might be thought of as the Keystone Cops of the twenty-first century.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Global Warming, TomDispatch Archives 

In 1985, at age 41, I visited Disney World for the first time. I remember the experience for two things: the endless lines so cleverly organized that you never knew how long they truly were and the Hawaiian Luau dinner I attended. Yes, a genuine Hawaiian feast that reminded me of American Chinese food circa 1953 and the unforgettable “entertainment” offered by “native” Hawaiian dancers with spears who smacked their weapons on the ground and rhythmically advanced on the diners glowering fiercely. Whoever those dancers were, they were quite skilled at playing “primitives” from elsewhere, also circa 1953, objects of fear, wonder, and scorn. (Oh yes, and Disney World was the place that first taught me this country had an obesity problem — along with some of the most fattening food on the planet.)

I must admit that my grown-up’s eye view of Walt Disney’s fantasy universe left me a little shocked at the time, but I shouldn’t have been. After all, a decade or so earlier I had absorbed How to Read Donald Duck by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Matellart, an unforgettable exposé of the true nature of Disney-style American “innocence.” It was a document that had emerged from the democratic Chilean revolution of Salvador Allende, just one of the governing experiments of the twentieth century that the U.S. helped do in. (In fact, I still have my copy of that British-produced book from the mid-1970s, which, in its Spanish version, had quite literally been consigned to the flames and later in English was impounded by U.S. Customs. It was a work that no American publisher would put out at the time and so my well-worn copy has become a remarkably valuable collector’s item, as Dorfman points out in today’s post.)

Keep in mind that I had been a typical Disney kid of the 1950s. I read Walt’s comics and raptly watched Walt Disney’s Disneyland on our black-and-white TV. That weekly extravaganza included such gems as “Our Friend the Atom,” a paean of praise to the all-American power source that, only a decade or so earlier, had obliterated two Japanese cities. Above all, though, the show was a living ad for the wonders of — you guessed it — Disneyland, which was partially constructed with money ABC paid to air it. (“Each week, as you enter this timeless land, one of these many worlds will open to you: Frontierland, tall tales and true from the legendary past! Tomorrowland, promise of things to come! Adventureland, the wonder world of nature’s own realm! Fantasyland, the happiest kingdom of them all!”) I can still remember yearning to visit Disneyland and see the guide on its “African” river at Adventureland shoot his pistol directly into the voracious maw of a hippopotamus. Of course, Uncle Walt’s showcase had been built in distant California at a moment when air travel wasn’t the commonplace of today and the farthest west I had ever been was Albany, New York.

Still, I do have something to thank Walt for. In the spring of 1980, in exile from his native Chile (then in the hands of its military), Ariel Dorfman walked unannounced into my office at Pantheon Books in New York City. Fortunately, thanks to Disney’s favorite duck, I already knew his work well and so was prepped to become the editor of his first two books in English. Now, another set of decades down the line, he completes the circle of our lives as he looks back by torchlight (so to speak) on his own experiences with Walt Disney and what they mean in the age of Donald Trump.

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

After 19 al-Qaeda militants armed only with box-cutters and knives hijacked four American commercial airliners, the U.S. military moved with remarkable efficiency to rectify the problem. In the years since, in its global war on terror, the Pentagon has ensured that America’s enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere have regularly been able to arm themselves with… well, not to beat around the bush, a remarkable range of U.S. weaponry. The latest such story: a report that in recent fighting around the city of Tal Afar, the Iraqi military recovered a U.S.-produced FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile and launcher from an Islamic State weapons cache. That’s a weapon capable of taking out an M1 Abrams tank. And this is hardly the first time U.S. anti-tank missiles meant either for the Iraqi military or Syrian rebels backed by the CIA have turned up in the hands of ISIS militants. In 2015, that group released photos of its fighters using U.S.-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles.

Of course, when the American-trained, funded, and armed Iraqi army collapsed in the summer of 2014 in the face of relatively small numbers of ISIS fighters, that group took vast stores of U.S. weaponry and vehicles that they’ve used ever since. But that was hardly the end of it. The U.S. soon began retraining and rearming its Iraqi allies to the tune of $1.6 billion for “tens of thousands of assault rifles, hundreds of armored vehicles, hundreds of mortar rounds, nearly 200 sniper rifles, and other gear,” much of which, a government audit found, the Pentagon simply lost track of. The weaponry, you might say, went missing in action. No one knew whose hands much of it ended up in and this wasn’t a new story, either. For example, in 2007 the Government Accountability Office found that “the United States could not account for nearly 30% of the weapons it had distributed in Iraq since 2004 — about 200,000 guns.”

Similar stories could be told about Afghanistan, another country where U.S. weaponry has disappeared in remarkable quantities. (The Taliban, for instance, recently released a video of their fighters sporting weaponry normally used only by U.S. Special Operations personnel.) In short, the Pentagon has been arming itself, its allies, and its enemies in a profligate fashion for years now in its never-ending conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa. As TomDispatch regular and retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore suggests today, since 9/11 the U.S. military has in some sense been fighting itself — and losing. Someday, when historians look back on this bizarre tale, they will have to explain one thing above all: Why, year after year, in the face of obvious and repetitive failure in such conflicts, was no one in Washington capable of imagining another course of action?

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

In the early 1950s, my father ran a gas station on Governors Island, a military base in New York harbor. In those years, it would be my only encounter with the suburbs. And there, for maybe a dime on any Saturday afternoon, I could join the kids from military families at the local movie house for the usual Westerns or war movies preceded by either a Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon space adventure serial. Those films were old even then, but the future still looked remarkably new to me. They were my introduction to space and the wonders of the weaponry to someday be wielded there, including disintegrator pistols, flash rays, and other techno-advances in death and destruction.

Though such serials, if you see them today, couldn’t look campier, they seemed to me then like promises of a future almost beyond imagining. And we, the children of the 1950s, were being promised much, including, for instance, that we would all someday have our own individual jetpacks to travel the skyways of the great spired cities of the future. (Imagine traffic jams in the clouds, as I did then!) And in the 1960s, of course, many of us were prepared to join Captain James T. Kirk on the deck of the starship USS Enterprise and imagine “boldly going where no man has gone before” among the many alien races of the United Federation of Planets and beyond. The crew of that spacecraft, too, wielded or faced a remarkable range of weaponry in the 23rd century, including phasers, lasers, plasma cannons, and even Ferengi energy whips.

Aside from Star Trek-like “communicators” (think smartphones), the actual future, the one most of us are living in at the moment, has been something of a letdown by comparison. Its grim wonders include: thousand-year rain storms instead of jet-pack traffic jams, and one not particularly spired city that recently went almost completely underwater without any of the charm of Atlantis. But don’t think that somewhere out there people who, in their own youth, were influenced by Buck Rogers, Captain Kirk, and undoubtedly the Star Wars movies haven’t been trying to do something about this. Take historian Alfred McCoy’s word for it, they have — and they’ve had techno-weapons, including space-based ones, endlessly on their minds. At least since the 1960s, the Pentagon has, in fact, been pouring taxpayer dollars into the planning and testing of Buck Rogers-style techno-weapons and the possibility of bringing space war and all its “wonders” to planet Earth.

We’re talking about the same outfit that successfully developed robotic killers, the global assassins that now patrol the skies of the Greater Middle East daily, killing terrorists, insurgents, and plenty of civilians in the bargain (and so acting as a brilliant recruiting tool for just those insurgencies and terror groups). In his new book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, just published this week, McCoy takes us on a grim and gripping tour of the present state of the Pentagon’s wonder weaponry and its plans for a future that will take us far beyond today’s one-way drone wars into a world in which the United States may look ever less like Buck Rogers or Captain Kirk and ever more like some of those malign aliens they confronted.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

In some closet, I still have toy soldiers from my 1950s childhood. They played a crucial role in an all-American world of good guys and bad guys I learned about, in part, from the westerns and war movies my father took me to at local movie theaters. I can still remember playing out those long-lost stories out with a motley assortment of bluecoats, redcoats, GIs (of the green plastic variety), and Indians on the floor of my remarkably empty room in the era before childhood had been truly discovered as a marketplace of significance. I didn’t even have blocks to build battlefields, so I used my books, which, in two facing rows, became cliffs on either side of a narrow defile. The treacherous Indians would peer over The Pony Express or Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia, commanding the heights of the valley of death below into which the cavalry would have to ride. Preparing their ambush, they would “lie” on top of books or “crouch” behind them, fingering — in my imagination, of course — bows, tomahawks, or guns.

Into that grim valley, the bluecoats (and because I had too few of them, the GIs and redcoats from other wars entirely) would ride. Well, actually most of them weren’t mounted because I was short a reasonable troop of cavalry or even a full contingent of foot soldiers. Choosing the order of the cast of characters for that “ride” and so who was to be handed over to destruction lent individual character and value to each treasured good guy. Yet, if the initial ambush was to be satisfying, death had to be faced, which meant choosing the most lackluster of those figures — casualties of previous battles with chipped paint, broken limbs, or busted-off rifles — to fall in the first cascade of arrows. The crucial question was when to stop the killing of the bluecoats and begin the destined slaughter of the Indians with which all such stories in that bygone era had to end. A satisfying cutoff point was needed, especially given a countervailing temptation — to go all the way, to wipe out every last bluecoat. Sometimes it was powerful enough that I found myself almost siding with the Indians, which hinted at something novel hidden away in this traditional storytelling process. It also hinted at a moment, still years away in my life, when in the midst of a grim, never-ending war in Vietnam, that American war story of my childhood, the very definition of who was a good guy and a bad guy, would be turned on its head. Yet, in all those “battles” on the floor of my room, I never gave in to that temptation and brought myself to test out what another kind of story would truly feel like.

Amid the carnage, as arrows rained down, a few Indians would begin to fall. There was no particular order, no special precedence in the roll call of death, since bad guys were, by their nature, essentially indistinguishable, the only exception being “the chief.” He held a silver-bladed tomahawk, and miraculously in those days, his arm actually pivoted at the shoulder. As the sole Indian with a distinguishing trait, he was invariably the last to die.

These scenes from my childhood — and with minor variations I suspect, from so many childhoods of that era — came to mind when I read the latest piece by TomDispatch regular and Army Major Danny Sjursen, author of Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge, on our never-ending wars in the Greater Middle East. He raises a much-needed twenty-first-century question that still couldn’t be more awkward: Who, on the all-too-real, still-spreading American battlefields of our world, are the good guys and who are the bad guys of our time? And then, of course, there’s that other question: What story, if any, about the wars of our moment will future American children, no longer undoubtedly on the floors of their rooms but in as yet unknown entertainment environments, play?

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
In America’s Wars, Failure Is the New Success

It was bloody and brutal, a true generational struggle, but give them credit. In the end, they won when so many lost.

James Comey was axed. Sean Spicer went down in a heap of ashes. Anthony Scaramucci crashed and burned instantaneously. Reince Priebus hung on for dear life but was finally canned. Seven months in, Steve Bannon got the old heave-ho and soon after, his minion, Sebastian Gorka, was unceremoniously shoved out the White House door. In a downpour of potential conflicts of interest and scandal, Carl Icahn bowed out. Gary Cohn has reportedly been at the edge of resignation. And so it goes in the Trump administration.

Except for the generals. Think of them as the last men standing. They did it. They took the high ground in Washington and held it with remarkable panache. Three of them: National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General John Mattis, and former head of the Department of Homeland Security, now White House Chief of Staff, retired Marine General John Kelly stand alone, except for President Trump’s own family members, at the pinnacle of power in Washington.

Those three generals from America’s losing wars are now triumphant. One of them is the ultimate gatekeeper when it comes to who sees the president. All three influence his thoughts and speeches. They are the “civilians” who control the military and American war policy. They, and they alone, have made the president go against his deepest urges, as he admitted in his address to the nation on the war in Afghanistan. (“My original instinct was to pull out and historically I like following my instincts.”) They’ve convinced him to release the military (and the CIA) from significant oversight on how they pursue their wars across the Greater Middle East, Africa, and now the Philippines. They even convinced him to surround their future actions in a penumbra of secrecy.

Their wars, the ones that began almost 16 years ago and just keep morphing and spreading (along with a proliferating assortment of terror groups), are now theirs alone to fight and… well, we’ll get to that. But first let’s step back a moment and think about what’s happened since January.

The Winningest President and the Losingest Generals

The most surprising winner of our era and possibly — to put ourselves fully in the Trumpian spirit — of any era since the first protozoan stalked the Earth entered the Oval Office on January 20th and promptly surrounded himself with a set of generals from America’s failed wars of the post-9/11 era. In other words, the man who repeatedly promised that in his presidency Americans would win to the point of tedium — “We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning, you’re going to come to me and go ‘Please, please, we can’t win anymore’” — promptly chose to elevate the losingest guys in town. If reports are to be believed, he evidently did this because of his military school background, his longstanding crush on General George Patton of World War II fame (or at least the movie version of him), and despite having actively avoided military service himself in the Vietnam years, his weak spot for four stars with tough monikers like “Mad Dog.”

During the election campaign, though a general of his choice led the chants to “lock her up,” Trump himself was surprisingly clear-eyed when it came to the nature of American generalship in the twenty-first century. As he put it, “Under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton the generals have been reduced to rubble, reduced to a point where it is embarrassing for our country.” On coming to power, however, he reached into that rubble to choose his guys. In the years before he ran, he had been no less clear-eyed on the war he just extended in Afghanistan. Of that conflict, he typically tweeted in 2013, “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!”

On the other hand, the careers of his three chosen generals are inextricably linked to America’s losing wars. Then-Colonel H.R. McMaster gained his reputation in 2005 by leading the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment into the Iraqi city of Tal Afar and “liberating” it from Sunni insurgents, while essentially inaugurating the counterinsurgency tactics that would become the heart and soul of General David Petraeus’s 2007 “surge” in Iraq.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

If you happen to be a dystopian novelist, as TomDispatch regular John Feffer is, then you’re in business these days. Back in 2015, when Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency was just heating up and Feffer was writing Splinterlands, his vivid look back from the year 2050 at our shattered planet, he named the massive storm that would devastate Washington in 2022 “Hurricane Donald” — and you can’t be more predictively on the mark or dystopian than that. Now, in August 2017, armed bands of neo-Nazis and white supremacists are in our streets and we have a president whose deepest desire seems to be to support them (because they support him). Meanwhile, the generals from our losing wars are manning the ramparts of an embattled administration (and being treated by the mainstream media as the “adults in the room”) and an unpredictable man-child is in the White House. In other words, the material is clearly going to be there for Feffer — in his ordinary life a thoughtful columnist at Foreign Policy in Focus — to devote the rest of his time to dystopian fiction.

And that’s without even mentioning America’s dystopian Asian wars of the past, present, and possibly future. They undoubtedly deserve their own grim set of novels, starting with the bloody and brutal American conquest of the Philippines. Included would also have to be the Pacific War against Japan that ended when a new weapon of unimaginable power obliterated two Japanese cities and significant parts of their populations, leaving humanity to face the possibility of its own future obliteration (and you can’t get more dystopian than that); the Vietnam War that left millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians (and 58,000 Americans) dead; a quarter century of Afghan Wars (the second of them now the longest in American history); and last but hardly least, the Korean War, which began in June 1950 and halted in 1953, after millions of Koreans (and 36,000 Americans) had died. By the estimate of the then-head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, 20% of the North’s population died in those years under a rain of 635,000 tons of bombs and 32,557 tons of napalm (more than was used against the Japanese in World War II), while the North was burned to a crisp without atomic weapons.

In a strange sense, that conflict became America’s first permanent war since no peace treaty was ever agreed to — though all American wars now seem to be permanent. Of course, with Donald Trump’s recent impromptu comment that North Korean threats “will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before,” an obvious nuclear reference made on the eve of the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, a future Korean inferno is once again on many minds here and elsewhere, John Feffer’s included. And yet he suggests that, if only American officialdom could rid itself of its own dystopian turn of mind when it comes to North Korea, there might be a perfectly peaceable and reasonable way forward. If only indeed…

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
High Crimes and Demeanors in the Age of Trump

Let me try to get this straight: from the moment the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 until recently just about every politician and mainstream pundit in America assured us that we were the planet’s indispensable nation, the only truly exceptional one on this small orb of ours.

We were the sole superpower, Earth’s hyperpower, its designated global sheriff, the architect of our planetary future. After five centuries of great power rivalries, in the wake of a two-superpower world that, amid the threat of nuclear annihilation, seemed to last forever and a day (even if it didn’t quite make it 50 years), the United States was the ultimate survivor, the victor of victors, the last of the last. It stood triumphantly at the end of history. In a lottery that had lasted since Europe’s wooden ships first broke out of a periphery of Eurasia and began to colonize much of the planet, the United States was the chosen one, the country that would leave every imperial world-maker from the Romans to the British in its shadow.

Who could doubt that this was now our world in a coming American century beyond compare?

And then, of course, came the attacks of 9/11. A mere $400,000 and 19 suicidal hijackers (mostly Saudis) armed with box cutters and organized from Afghanistan, a country plunged into an Islamic version of the Middle Ages, had challenged the greatest power of all time. In the process, they would bring down iconic structures in what would soon be known to Americans as “the homeland,” while killing almost 3,000 innocent civilians, acts so shocking that they really did change the world.

Yet even then, a fervor for world-organizing triumphalism only took firmer hold in Washington. The top officials of President George W. Bush’s administration almost instantly saw the 9/11 attacks as their very own “Pearl Harbor,” the twenty-first-century equivalent of the moment that had launched the U.S. on the path to post-World War II superpowerdom. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld instantly told his aides in the rubble of the Pentagon, “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” And indeed they would do just that, seizing the moment with alacrity and promptly launching the “Global War on Terror” — aka, among the cognoscenti, World War IV (the third, in their minds, having been the Cold War).

No simple “police action” against the modest al-Qaeda organization and Osama bin Laden would do (and those who suggested something so pathetically humble were to be laughed out of the room). At that moment, their newly launched “war” was to be aimed at no less than 60 countries. The world was to be swept clean of “terror” and the tool for doing so and for imposing Washington’s version of a world order on much of the planet would be the U.S. military, a force like none ever seen before. It was, President Bush would claim, “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known.” It was, as both he and Barack Obama affirmed, as became gospel on both sides of the aisle in Washington (until Donald Trump arrived in the presidential race of 2016), “the finest fighting force” in history. It was so unquestionably powerful that no enemy could conceivably stand in its path. It would “liberate” not just Afghanistan, but Iraq, a country in the Middle Eastern oil heartlands that had nothing to do with either al-Qaeda or Islamic terror but had a ruler despised in Washington.

And that, mind you, would only be the beginning. Syria and Iran would undoubtedly follow and soon enough the Greater Middle East would be brought under the aegis of a Pax Americana. Meanwhile, globally, no country or even bloc of countries would be capable of rising to challenge the United States into the imaginable future. As Bush put it in a speech at West Point in 2002, “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.” In that year, the U.S. National Security Strategy similarly called for the country to “build and maintain” its military power “beyond challenge.”

What a soaring dream it all was! In response to the destruction of part of the Pentagon and those towers in New York City, a small group of top officials in Washington, long waiting for just such an opportunity, were determined to impose their version of order and democracy, military-first, on significant parts of the planet and no one would be capable of resisting. Not for long anyway.

Almost 16 years later, you know how that dream of domination turned out, but to Washington’s power players at the time it all seemed so obvious. Except for a few retrograde Muslim rebels, it was clearly no one else’s planet but ours to organize as we wished. The Soviet Union was already an instant historical memory, its empire scattered to the winds, and Russia itself largely immiserated. The Chinese had a capitalist economy of no small means (even if run by a Communist Party), but as a military force, as a great power, they were anything but impressive. And if you looked at the rest of the world, there were no other potential great powers, no less superpowers, on any imaginable horizon.

Given the history of the Global War on Terror and of the stunning inability of the U.S. military to impose Washington’s will, no less its planetary dreams, on more or less anyone, it took an awful long time for such thinking to begin to die. And before it did, the political class, in a fervor of defensive exaggeration, began insisting in a mantra-like way on the “indispensability” and “exceptionality” of… well, us. It was as if the sense of decline most Americans had started feeling in their bones wasn’t happening. Of course, the constant invocation of the country’s singular specialness should itself have signaled just how wrong things were, because when you’re truly indispensable and exceptional you don’t need to repeatedly say so (or even say it at all).

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

Ever since 2001, when President George W. Bush launched an endless “global war” not on al-Qaeda but on a phenomenon, or perhaps simply a feeling (“terror”) and those who could potentially induce it, America’s all-too-real conflicts have become, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon writes today, ever more metaphorical. In a sense, they have come to seem so distant from our shores and lives (unless you happen to be a member of the country’s all-volunteer military or a family member of such a volunteer) as to be little short of fantastical — or nonexistent. Who here even notices when, as in recent weeks, American military personnel again hit the ground in Yemen, or the Pentagon considers loosing its drones on jihadists in the Philippines, or U.S. raids occur in Somalia, or civilians in significant numbers continue to die in a Syrian city under American air strikes? The answer is essentially no one.

Washington’s conflicts in those distant lands couldn’t be more real and yet here in the United States they have largely been replaced by a single fantasy bogeyman: Islamic terrorism. It matters little that the actual danger to Americans at the hands of such terrorists is vanishingly small. Fear of them (and the need to feel “safe” from them) has filled American screens and minds for years, helping fund our national security state at levels that might once have staggered the imagination and prepared the way for the election of a truly strange, even fantastical president.

Think of it this way: as Washington has engaged in a set of disastrous spreading conflicts across the Greater Middle East, the population of this country has been gripped by the strangest of war fevers — a demobilizing set of militarized fantasies largely focused on our own potential destruction that have distorted how we look at our world in dangerous and crippling ways. Rebecca Gordon, who has been writing about America’s “forever wars” and the fantasies that accompany them for some time now, considers what happens when war and metaphor become one, when militarized fantasies invade and occupy everyday life.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

You may have sensed it for a while. A significant group of American voters certainly did, since they elected a declinist president in 2016. Still, here’s the news of the month: the Pentagon has finally acknowledged it, too, as the title of a report from the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute makes clear: At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World. The “study team” at that institute which focused on global risk and the U.S. military doesn’t actually use the phrase “American decline,” but their stand-in, a “post-primacy world,” will do. They offer a vision of a planet where the unique power of the United States, that once-upon-a-time “lone superpower,” that architect of the post-Cold-War global order, is slipping fast.

And believe me, if you listen to those researchers, the future couldn’t be more perilous. Unfortunately, to grasp their assessment of the global situation, you have to run a gauntlet of daunting Pentagonese (in effect, a pidgin version of English). Still, from the weaponization of planetary “hyper-connectivity” to the rejectionism of jihadists to the maneuvering of would-be great and not-so-great powers — you know the lineup: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea — it’s a landscape of increasing “risk” that they believe the U.S. high command should wrap its head around fast.

You might not imagine that there could be dark humor in such a grim subject, but in that you would be wrong. The study team’s recommendations are so unexpectedly expectable — from a military that’s carried out the disastrous war on terror — that they should bring a sardonic smile of recognition to anyone’s face. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that the study’s authors don’t expect that never-ending war to end anytime soon. In fact, they refer to this moment and the years to come ominously as the era of “Persistent Conflict 2.0.” And yet, to confront such a world, they firmly believe that what’s needed is… well, more. You know, just what the U.S. military and the national security state have been demanding from America’s politicians since 9/11 (and what Donald Trump has sworn to deliver): more of everything. More funding, more surveillance capabilities, and an expanded, upgraded military ready to take advantage of every new risk on the block, a force that must self-evidently be granted “maximum freedom of action” or what’s the point of giving it more of everything?

Here’s the crucial paragraph in their study:

“While as a rule, U.S. leaders of both political parties have consistently committed to the maintenance of U.S. military superiority over all potential state rivals, the post-primacy reality demands a wider and more flexible military force that can generate ad­vantage and options across the broadest possible range of military demands. To U.S. political leadership, maintenance of military advantage preserves maximum freedom of action… Finally, it allows U.S. decision-makers the opportunity to dictate or hold significant sway over outcomes in international disputes in the shadow of significant U.S. military capability and the implied promise of unac­ceptable consequences in the event that capability is unleashed.”

And here’s a question that this crew of researchers miraculously don’t seem to have thought to ask: How has “more” worked out so far in the twenty-first century when it comes to the U.S. military’s “freedom” to act on an increasingly post-primacy planet? Hmm… you might want to check in with Afghans or Iraqis or Yemenis or Libyans or Syrians or, more recently, Filipinos, many living in the rubble of our wars, about just how “more” from the U.S. military has worked out for them. Or you might want to consider the findings of another study altogether, one TomDispatch’s Nick Turse considers today. It’s a study of what “success” looks like when you fund the U.S. military fulsomely and give it the maximum freedom to do just what it pleases.

(Republished 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