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Who even remembers that, back in September 2002, Lawrence Lindsey, then President George W. Bush’s chief economic adviser, offered an upper limit estimate on the cost of a future war in Iraq at $100 billion to $200 billion? He also suggested that the “successful prosecution” of such a war “would be good for the economy.” That December, Mitch Daniels, director of the Office of Management and Budget, contradicted Lindsey, indicating that the real costs of such a war might be only $50 billion to $60 billion. And the top officials of the Bush administration weren’t particularly worried about paying for the occupation that was slated to follow since, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz put it in May 2003 after Baghdad had been taken by the U.S. military, Iraq was floating “on a sea of oil.”

Of course, by that pre-invasion September, President Bush and his top officials had already decided to invade, take out Saddam Hussein, and turn Iraq into a bastion of American power in the oil heartlands of the Middle East. It was just a matter of how and when to make the case to the American people. (As White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card put it that month, “’From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”)

That was a decade and a half ago. Just recently, the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute offered a new estimate of what America’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan will cost the country through fiscal year 2018 and it’s a figure — $5.6 trillion — that should make your head spin. It certainly leaves Lindsey’s and Daniels’s estimates in a ditch somewhere on the road to Baghdad. Put another way, we’re talking at a bare minimum about a cost per American taxpayer since September 12, 2001, of more than $23,000. Good for the economy? Hmmm. And the Costs of War report’s estimate doesn’t even include interest on the borrowing that’s taken place to pay for those wars, which, it suggests, is “projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023.”

Worse yet, these days America’s 16-year-old set of wars only seems to be expanding and is now regularly referred to in the Pentagon and elsewhere as a “generational struggle.” Translation: we’re still going to be at it in 2027, maybe even in 2037, or 2047, pouring down the black hole of war trillions more in taxpayer dollars that might have gone into the American economy and our crumbling infrastructure.

Isn’t this, then, an appropriate moment to offer a small tip of the cap to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of the crew for imagining a world in which such invasions and occupations would lead to the American domination of this planet until the end of time? It’s in this context that TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, considers the favor Donald Trump has done Bush and the rest of his former administration. He’s made them look good at a moment when they should look truly terrible. Ah, Donald, how thoroughly big league of you!

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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Speaking of the situation on the Korean peninsula, he predicted that there would be “the greatest slaughter.” He later requested 34 nuclear weapons for possible use in connection with the Korean situation. He would later claim that he had considered dropping “30 to 50 tactical atomic bombs” and had suggested laying a “belt of radioactive cobalt” with “an active life of between 60 and 120 years” across the northernmost part of Korea. And no, this was not President “Fire and Fury,” nor was it part of the present crisis with “Rocket Man.”

The year was 1950, the Korean War was underway, and the person in question was General Douglas MacArthur who, in terms of pure megalomania and self-regard, was surely the Donald Trump of his moment. As it happened, the general was gunning not just for Koreans but for a Democrat by the name of Harry Truman, a president who would, in the end, act as a commander in chief should. In a move deeply unpopular in its moment, he would dismiss his war commander (whom he dubbed “Mr. Prima Donna”) only to watch MacArthur come home to a 19-mile New York City ticker-tape parade (and 3,000 tons of dropped paper) seen by more than seven million cheering spectators.

The Korean War was subsequently fought to a draw without atomic weapons, belts of cobalt, or anything else that might, in the end, have led to a global nuclear conflagration, in part because a president was able to corral an over-the-top general. Almost three quarters of a century later, the question, when it comes to that same peninsula and those same weapons, is: Who could corral a president with a yen to use them and the “sole authority” to do so? We’re talking here about a man who, in the 2016 election campaign, wondered aloud to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews why in the world, when it came to nuclear weapons, we would be “making them” if we weren’t planning on using them?

At this very moment, Congress is exploring what, if anything, can be done to contain such a president, a man who, as a member of his own party suggested, could set the U.S. “on the path to World War III.” Few in that body, however, offer much hope of reining in presidential powers in the nuclear realm, which means that the only thing standing between an “unstable” commander in chief and a type of weaponry not used since August 1945 might be the U.S. military itself — in other words, a crew trained above all to follow the orders of its commander in chief.

This is the context in which to consider TomDispatch regular Michael Klare’s chilling look at the urge of both President Trump and key figures in the Pentagon to normalize nuclear weapons as a basic war-fighting tool in the American arsenal. Just imagine what it might mean, given The Donald, for such weaponry to be made ever more — it’s a term that should take your breath away — “usable.”

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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Starting with Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly and film producer Harvey Weinstein, they’ve fallen like so many dominoes in the glare of publicity and grim public testimony from the women (and, in a few cases, men) they mistreated — all those predators, gropers, sexual abusers of Hollywood, TV, the news, magazines, comedy, and politics, including a former president. Their films, their shows, their roles, their books have been cancelled, sent to the trash bin of history. Not so long ago, they were the big dogs, the winners of our world, and now, shown up for how they misused their power and prestige, they’ve been humiliated just as they humiliated others.

Oh wait, actually not all of them. I can think of one who didn’t go down at all. He won. He made himself great again. He got away with it.

In the full knowledge of what that particular big dog had done to women, with at least 10 of his victims coming forward to offer public testimony against him, with a filmed self-confession of what sort of behavior he had considered perfectly permissible for himself as a “star” — with all of that in plain sight practically 24/7 — a near-majority of the American people elected Harvey Weinstein president, or at least the Harvey Weinstein of 2016. That should be sobering indeed.

Pussy-grabber Donald Trump waved all of it aside as so much “locker room talk” and “fake news.” He threatened to sue. He denied everything, instead accusing his political opponent, Hillary Clinton, of aiding and abetting her husband’s sexual predation. And it all worked. The evangelicals voted for him. His “base” went for it. They elected a self-confessed predator president and, exactly a year later, in Alabama, with recent revelations about Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s scandalous behavior toward a 14-year-old girl and other young women, it just may happen again in the very same way based on the very same playbook. Moore has, of course, denied (almost) everything, labeled it all “fake news,” threatened to sue, attacked the “Obama-Clinton Machine’s liberal media lapdogs,” and is even raising money off it. And it’s at least possible that he may still win the special election for the Senate seat of Attorney General Jeff Sessions next month by staying on the same path into the wilderness of sexual predation that Donald Trump pioneered in 2016. (Keep in mind that if a story broke tomorrow that Hillary Clinton had, in her thirties, approached a 14-year-old boy in a similar fashion, evangelicals across the South and that same Republican base would surely be up in arms about it.)

I suppose it’s hardly surprising that we’re on a predatory planet. The question is: What’s to be done about it? On that, TomDispatch’s jock culture correspondent Robert Lipsyte has some thoughts about the men (and this should ring a bell for many of us) who never spoke up when the big dogs barked. It’s certainly a perspective we guys should think about at this moment, given the big barker ensconced in the White House.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Feminism, TomDispatch Archives 
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When it comes to the art of the deal, at least where arms sales are concerned, American presidents, their administrations, and the Pentagon have long been Trumpian in nature. Their role has been to beat the drums (of war) for the major American weapons makers and it’s been a highly profitable and successful activity. In 2015, for instance, the U.S. once again took the top spot in global weapons sales, $40 billion dollars of them, or a staggering 50.2% of the world market. (Russia came in a distant third with $11.2 billion in sales.) The U.S. also topped sales of weaponry to developing nations. In these years, Washington has, in fact, peddled the products of those arms makers to at least 100 countries, a staggering figure if you stop a moment to think about the violence on this planet. Internationally, in other words, the U.S. has always been an open-carry nation.

Donald Trump has, however, changed this process in one obvious way. He’s shoved the president’s role as arms-purveyor-in-chief in everybody’s face. He did so on his initial trip abroad when, in Riyadh, he bragged ceaselessly about ringing up $110 billion dollars in arms sales to the Saudis. Some of those had, in fact, already been brokered by the Obama administration and some weren’t actually “sales” at all, just “letters of intent.” Still, he took the most fulsome of credit and, when it comes to his “achievements,” exaggeration is, of course, the name of his game.

And he’s just done it again on his blustery jaunt through Japan and South Korea. There, using the North Korean threat, he plugged American weaponry mercilessly (so to speak), while claiming potential deals and future American jobs galore. In the presence of Shinzo Abe, for instance, he swore that the Japanese Prime Minister would “shoot [North Korean missiles] out of the sky when he completes the purchase of a lot of military equipment from the United States.” Both the Japanese and the South Korean leaders, seeing a way into his well-armored heart, humored him relentlessly on the subject and on his claims of bringing home jobs to the U.S. (In fact, one of the weapons systems he was plugging, the F-35, would actually be assembled in Japan!)

Strangely enough, however, the president didn’t bring up an issue he raises regularly when it comes to weapons sales in the United States (at least, sales to white people, not Muslims, with an urge to kill): mental health. Isn’t it curious that, as he peddles some of the more destructive weaponry imaginable across Asia and the Middle East, he never brings that up? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular and expert on American arms sales William Hartung raises the issue today in an adaptation of a piece he wrote for Sleepwalking to Armageddon: The Threat of Nuclear Annihilation, a book just published by the New Press. You might say that he considers the most mentally unnerving aspect of American arms sales: the way, since the 1950s, the nuclear lobby has sold planet-destroying weaponry of every sort to presidents, the Pentagon, and Congress. And if that doesn’t represent a disturbing mental health record of the first order, what does?

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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As you read today’s piece by historian and TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, author most recently of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, think of Afghanistan as the gateway drug for three Washington administrations. Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush and his top officials had launched their invasion of that country and soon knocked off the Taliban (rather than simply going after Osama bin Laden and his followers). That “victory,” however ephemeral, acted as the policy equivalent of a drug high for the president and his crew of geopolitical dreamers who promptly turned their attention to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and nailing down the rest of the oil heartlands of the planet. (And you know just how well that went in mission-accomplished terms.) In 2009-2010, Afghanistan (“the right war”) would prove the gateway drug for Barack Obama as he surged in 30,000 troops, along with mini-surges of contractors, CIA agents, Special Forces soldiers, and others. Before he was done, from Libya to Iraq, the Afghan War would be the least of his problems. And finally, of course, there’s Donald Trump, who, in the years leading up to his election victory, spoke or tweeted as if he might take a different approach to Afghanistan, but then surrounded himself with three generals from America’s losing wars and once again decided to do the usual Afghan thing. Now, he, too, is hooked and, from Niger to Somalia and beyond, the results are already coming in.

Though seldom thought of that way (except perhaps by McCoy), Afghanistan is not just the longest war in American history but possibly the longest opium war in anyone’s history. And sixteen years later, here’s one thing we can take for granted about what’s likely to happen: in the end, it never goes well. If we know less than we should about how badly it’s going right now, part of that can be explained by the policies of those most deeply hooked on the war. When things go badly for them, they turn off the information spigot, as in 2015 when the American command in Afghanistan cut off all public release of material on “U.S.-taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip, and sustain the Afghan National Security Forces.” That was, of course, at the point when almost $65 billion had already been poured into training and equipping those forces and they were failing nationwide. Since then, we know that Afghan police and military casualties have soared, desertions have risen, “ghost soldiers” fill many units (with their commanders and others skimming off their salaries), and the Taliban has gained control of ever more of the country. In response, the U.S. command there has again “classified and restricted once-public information regarding the state of Afghan security forces, including ‘casualties, personnel strength, attrition, capability assessments, and operational readiness of equipment.’”

And so it goes in America’s drug war in South Asia. Someday, the high will truly wear off and then who knows where we’ll be. In the meantime, read McCoy and think about what this repetitive version of war making means so many years later.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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Back in May 2013, a word came to mind that I wanted to see in all our vocabularies. It wasn’t the ever-present “terrorist” but “terrarist” and I meant it to describe people intent on destroying the planetary environment that had welcomed and nurtured so many species, including our own, for so long; in other words, human beings willing to commit “terracide.” I had in mind the CEOs of the biggest energy companies, the ones whose scientists understood global warming perfectly well decades ago and who still were ready to put their corporate money into supporting climate denialism. At the time I wrote:

“If the oil execs aren’t terrarists, then who is? And if that doesn’t make the big energy companies criminal enterprises, then how would you define that term? To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn’t that the ultimate crime? Isn’t that terracide?”

Of course, that was in the good old days before Donald Trump and his cronies filled a whole administration to the tipping point with so-called climate skeptics and outright climate-change denialists. And this continues to happen, even as one report or study after another confirms that humanity and its fossil fuels are heating the planet at a remarkable rate and filling its atmosphere with carbon dioxide at a record pace. In the end, Trump and his crew may prove to be the biggest collection of criminals — in terms of harm to this world — ever. And it should be considered a historical irony (of sorts) that, on this issue, the Republicans, once the American party of the environment, are with them all the way.

If you want an example of what this means in practice, take Donald Trump’s secretary of the interior, former Montana Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke. In June, he addressed the American Petroleum Institute’s board of directors at Washington’s Trump International Hotel (on the very day his department announced plans to get rid of an Obama era regulation on payments for drilling and mining on federal land) and he also chartered a plane owned by oil and gas execs at a cost of $12,000 to American taxpayers for a domestic trip that would have cost $300 commercially; meanwhile, he’s been doing everything in his power to open up America’s protected areas to energy exploitation, shrink the boundaries of such areas, slash the Park Service budget meant to protect them, and even make them more expensive for ordinary Americans to visit. And if you think that’s a mouthful of a run-on sentence, it only begins to hint at where this administration is heading with its energy fantasies about how this planet should operate. As TomDispatch regular Subhankar Banerjee, an expert on Alaska’s Arctic lands and seas, points out today, no previously protected spot is likely to be spared such attention. In this context, think of the Trump White House as the Exxon Valdez of administrations and a group of terrarists all rolled into one.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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Who can keep up with the madness of our never-ending Trumpian media moment? Each day is a lesson in the bizarre, in ever-wilder comments, accusations, charges, and claims of every sort from or against The Donald and crew. Each day spotlights subjects you hardly knew were subjects until they burst onto cable news and individual screens nationwide. Did an American president really call the country’s justice system “a joke and a laughingstock” (in the context of the possible sending of terrorist Sayfullo Saipov to Guantanamo) during a televised cabinet meeting? And that very afternoon, did his White House press secretary flatly deny he had ever said such a thing? Is a “seething” Donald Trump truly angry at his son-in-law Jared Kushner for his advice on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation? Did Paul Manafort really use (launder?) $1.3 million, assumedly from Russian oligarchs, on clothes? Is special counsel Mueller about to be fired by the president? Had you ever even heard of the Diversity Visa Lottery program before Donald Trump pinned its existence on the Senate minority leader — “a Chuck Schumer beauty” — even though it was actually signed into law by President George H.W. Bush? Did the White House chief of staff, who adamantly refuses to apologize for an erroneous accusation against a Democratic congresswoman, actually call for “compromise” when it came to the years leading up to the Civil War?

I mean, in your wildest dreams could you make this stuff up? And worse yet, in the maelstrom of claims, tweets, wild statements, strange bits of information, and god knows what else, it would be so easy for what truly matters in our world to get lost in the shuffle. For instance, amid all Donald Trump’s bluster and tweets, it’s not hard to forget who he really is: our first elected billionaire president. (Nelson Rockefeller undoubtedly came closest, historically speaking, but he was only vice president and was in any case appointed, not elected.) Trump should be seen as the living, breathing result of an inequality gap that first began to widen almost four decades ago in the era of President Ronald Reagan and reached cataclysmic proportions in this century. It was, of course, the Supreme Court which, in 2010, released all the money that has flowed so steadily upwards into the political system big time with its Citizens United decision and so paved the way for the truly wealthy to organize and fund a genuine 1% politics in which a billionaire could finally become the people’s candidate.

It’s easy in the chaos of the moment — every moment these days — to forget that Donald Trump appointed the wealthiest cabinet in our history by a country mile and so prepared the way for the further promotion of a system in which the benefits of… well, you name it… will flow ever upwards ever more rapidly. Amid all the chaos and “fake news” of our moment, something profound is happening and, under the circumstances, it’s easy enough to ignore. However chaotically, we’re witnessing the creation of a new American system of injustice, a true government of the plutocrats. Fortunately, we still have TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins, author of All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power, to remind us of this reality, as today when she focuses on Secretary of the Wealthy… oops, I mean Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Donald Trump, TomDispatch Archives 
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Seventeen days after the Twin Towers fell in an apocalyptic mushroom cloud of smoke and ash, Congress passed with a single dissenting vote an “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” or AUMF, stating:

“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.”

Sixteen years later, in the wake of four American military deaths at the hands of an ISIS-affiliated terror group in the lawless borderlands of Niger and Mali, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They were there to assure the senators that, as the Washington Postreported, “there was no need for a new war authorization to replace the one passed immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

It didn’t matter that, so many years later, the U.S. was embroiled in wars and conflicts of every sort from the Philippines to Syria, Yemen to Niger, often involving groups that had nothing to do with either al-Qaeda or the attacks of 9/11. As Micah Zenko recently commented, it’s “depressing how frequently senators and Mattis say ‘the enemy’ to describe dozens of distinct groups in 19 countries.” For the leading officials of the Trump administration, however, Congress did its bit more than a decade and a half ago and anything else, as the secretary of defense testified, “could only signal to our enemies and our friends that we are backing away from this fight.” The repeal of that now-ancient AUMF, he added, would “create significant opportunities for our enemies to seize the initiative.”

In other words, both Mattis and Tillerson were telling the senators that, when it came to Congress’s constitutional duty to declare war, they should go home, get a good night’s sleep, and leave the well-AUMFed experts of the U.S. military to deal with the situation as brilliantly as they have for the last decade and a half. However, as TomDispatch regular Army Major Danny Sjursen, author of Ghost Riders of Baghdad, points out today, in their advice the two Trump officials are actually well behind the times. When it came to Congress’s war powers, those senators had long ago gone home.

If you need evidence of this, you only have to consider Senator Lindsey Graham’s comment, typical of those of his congressional colleagues, in the wake of the deaths in Niger. “I didn’t know there were 1,000 troops in Niger,” he said. He meant, of course, American forces, adding that Congress simply doesn’t “know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing.” (If he had been reading TomDispatch when it came to the U.S. military in Africa, he would, of course, have known.) And consider that he’s a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Assumedly, Graham and the other senators didn’t know, for instance, that the 8,400 U.S. military personnel supposedly left in Afghanistan at the end of the Obama administration were actually 11,000-12,000 in number or that, in recent months-long fighting in the Philippine city of Marawi, taken by ISIS-affiliated guerillas, U.S. Special Operations advisers and American drones had played quiet but important roles. And on Afghanistan, thanks to new Trump-era military policies, the senators are soon likely to know even less. I could go on, but you get the idea. As Sjursen makes clear today, for the U.S. it’s now presidential wars to the end of time.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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I’m 73, which means that saying goodbye for the last time is increasingly a part of my life. Today, with the deepest regret, I’m bidding a final farewell at TomDispatch to one of the more remarkable writers I’ve known, Eduardo Galeano. I initially got involved with him in the early 1980s. I was a young editor at Pantheon Books and, on some strange impulse, decided to publish Genesis, the first volume of his Memory of Fire trilogy, based on no more than a few sample passages translated by the remarkable Cedric Belfrage. Call it intuition when it came to a book that had already been rejected by a number of U.S. publishers. (Admittedly, at the time I proudly thought of myself as the “editor of last resort” in New York publishing.) That modest decision launched me on the print journey of a lifetime.

This was back in the days many of you won’t remember when a book was translated and edited, often over long distances, without benefit of the Internet or email. Belfrage had been exiled to Mexico during the McCarthy years, so he and I worked together in the old-fashioned way: by mail. (I wouldn’t meet him until years later: a little grey-haired gent with a cane who — I was still young enough to be staggered by the thought — had covered Hollywood for the British press in the silent film era.) It took forever to produce Genesis, though the process had a certain beauty to it. That first volume came out to modest attention and reviews, but its life and influence and that of the whole Memory of Fire trilogy would continue to grow in a way that only books could in those years and perhaps even in these. Eduardo was the most dramatic and beautiful of writers and he caught history — the history of these continents and of so many of the half-forgotten figures who struggled for what truly mattered — in a unique fashion, often in little passages of hardly a page or more. (I can still remember reading some of the more wonderful of them to my children as they were growing up.) I once wrote of him, “You somehow take our embattled world and tell its many stories in ways no one else can.” How true.

It took me years to meet Eduardo, since I travel nowhere, though he voyaged endlessly. (A friend of his once told him, “If it’s true what they say about the road being made by walking, you must be the commissioner of public works.”) Never have I met a man of more charisma who seemed less aware of it. Being with him was an experience because people regularly approached him to tell stories about their lives that were… well, there’s only one word for it: Galeano-esque. I saw it happen.

I’ve featured his work many times at this site, always with the deepest pleasure. This, I suspect, is the last time for both of us. The passages below are from his final, touching volume published by Nation Books, Hunter of Stories. And so, let me take this opportunity, one last time, to say goodbye, Eduardo, and thank you for everything, especially for the worlds you captured forever in words.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: TomDispatch Archives 
Niger, 9/11, and Apocalyptic Humiliation
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Honestly, if there’s an afterlife, then the soul of Osama bin Laden, whose body was consigned to the waves by the U.S. Navy back in 2011, must be swimming happily with the dolphins and sharks. At the cost of the sort of spare change that Donald Trump recently offered aides and former campaign officials for their legal troubles in the Russia investigation (on which he’s unlikely to deliver) — a mere $400,000 to $500,000 — bin Laden managed to launch the American war on terror. He did so with little but a clever game plan, a few fanatical followers, and a remarkably intuitive sense of how this country works.

He had those 19 mostly Saudi hijackers, a scattering of supporters elsewhere in the world, and the “training camps” in Afghanistan, but his was a ragged and understaffed movement. And keep in mind that his sworn enemy was the country that then prided itself on being the last superpower, the final winner of the imperial sweepstakes that had gone on for five centuries until, in 1991, the Soviet Union imploded.

The question was: With such limited resources, what kind of self-destructive behavior could he goad a triumphalist Washington into? The key would be what might be called apocalyptic humiliation.

Looking back, 16 years later, it’s extraordinary how September 11, 2001, would set the pattern for everything that followed. Each further goading act, from Afghanistan to Libya, San Bernardino to Orlando, Iraq to Niger, each further humiliation would trigger yet more of the same behavior in Washington. After all, so many people and institutions — above all, the U.S. military and the rest of the national security state — came to have a vested interest in Osama bin Laden’s version of our world.

Apocalyptic Humiliation

Grim as the 9/11 attacks were, with nearly 3,000 dead civilians, they would be but the start of bin Laden’s “success,” which has, in truth, never ended. The phrase of that moment — that 9/11 had “changed everything” — proved far more devastatingly accurate than we Americans imagined at the time. Among other things, it transformed the country in essential ways.

After all, Osama bin Laden managed to involve the United States in 16 years of fruitless wars, most now “generational” conflicts with no end in sight, which would only encourage the creation and spread of terror groups, the disintegration of order across significant parts of the planet, and the displacement of whole populations in staggering numbers. At the same time, he helped turn twenty-first-century Washington into a war machine of the first order that ate the rest of the government for lunch. He gave the national security state the means — the excuse, if you will — to rise to a kind of power, prominence, and funding that might otherwise have been inconceivable. In the process — undoubtedly fulfilling his wildest dreams — he helped speed up the decline of the very country that, since the Cold War ended, had been plugging itself as the greatest ever.

In other words, he may truly be the (malign) genius of our age. He created a terrorist version of call and response that still rules Donald Trump’s Washington in which the rubblized generals of America’s rubblized wars on an increasingly rubblized planet now reign supreme. In other words, The Donald, Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were Osama bin Laden’s grim gift to the rest of us. Thanks to him, literally trillions of taxpayer dollars would go down the tubes in remarkably pointless wars and “reconstruction” scams abroad that now threaten to feed on each other to something like the end of (American) time.

Of course, he had a little luck in the process. As a start, no one, not even the 9/11 plotters themselves, could have imagined that those towers in Manhattan would collapse before the already omnipresent cameras of the age in a way that would create such classically apocalyptic imagery. As scholar Paul Boyer once argued, in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Americans never stopped dreaming of a nuclear attack on this country. Our pop culture was filled with such imagery, such nightmares. On that September day, many Americans suddenly felt as if something like it had finally happened. It wasn’t happenstance that, within 24 hours, the area of downtown Manhattan where the shards of those towers lay would be dubbed “Ground Zero,” a term previously reserved for the spot where a nuclear explosion had taken place, or that Tom Brokaw, anchoring NBC’s non-stop news coverage, would claim that it was “like a nuclear winter in lower Manhattan.”

The sense of being sneak-attacked on an apocalyptic scale — hence the “new Pearl Harbor” and “Day of Infamy” headlines — proved overwhelming as the scenes of those towers falling in a near mushroom cloud of smoke and ash were endlessly replayed. Of course, no such apocalyptic attack had occurred. The weapons at hand weren’t even bombs or missiles, but our own airplanes filled with passengers. And yes, it was a horror, but not the horror Americans generally took it for. And yet, 16 years later, it’s still impossible to put 9/11 in any kind of reasonable context or perspective in this country, even after we’ve helped to rubblize major cities across the Middle East — most recently the Syrian city of Raqqa — and so aided in creating landscapes far more apocalyptic looking than 9/11 ever was.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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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