Thursday, April 18, 2013 10:57 AM
From right-wing think tanks to Homeland
Security to the “drone lobby,” a lot’s riding on the constant threat of global terrorism. Here’s how it all started.
This article originally
appeared at TomDispatch.
The communist enemy, with the “world’s
fourth largest military,” has been trundlingmissiles around and threatening the United States
with nuclear obliteration. Guam, Hawaii, Washington: all, it claims, are targetable. The coverage in
the media has been hair-raising. The U.S. is rushing an untested missile defense system to Guam,
deploying missile-interceptor ships off the South Korean coast, sending “nuclear capable” B-2 Stealth bombers thousands of
miles on mock bombing runs, pressuring China, and conducting large-scale war games with its South Korean ally.
Only one small problem: there is as yet little evidence that the enemy with a few nuclear weapons
facing off (rhetorically at least) against an American arsenal of 4,650 of them has the ability to miniaturize and mount even one on a missile, no
less deliver it accurately, nor does it have a missile capable of reaching
Hawaii or Washington, and I wouldn't count on Guam either.
It also happens to be a desperate country, one possibly without enough fuel to fly a modern air force, whose
people, on average, are inches shorter than their southern neighbors thanks to
decades of intermittent famine and malnutrition, and who are ruled by a bizarre
three-generational family cult. If that other communist, Karl Marx, hadn’t once
famously written that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce,”
we would have had to invent the phrase for this very moment.
In the previous century, there were two devastating
global wars, which left significant parts of the planet in ruins. There was
also a "cold war" between two superpowers locked in a system of mutual
assured destruction (aptly acronymed as MAD) whose nuclear arsenals were
capable of destroying the planet many times over. Had you woken up any morning
in the years between December
7, 1941, and December 26, 1991, and been told that the leading
international candidate for America's Public Enemy Number One was Kim Jong-un’s
ramshackle, comic-opera regime in North Korea, you might have gotten down on
your hands and knees and sent thanks to pagan gods.
The same would be true for the other candidates for that
number one position since September 11, 2001: the original al-Qaeda (largely
decimated), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula located in poverty-stricken areas
of poverty-stricken Yemen, the Taliban in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, unnamed
jihadis scattered across poverty-stricken areas of North Africa, or
Iran, another rickety regional power run by not particularly adept theocrats.
All these years, we’ve been launching wars and pursuing a
“global war on terror." We’ve poured money into national security as if
there were no tomorrow. From our police to our borders, we’ve up-armored everywhere. We constantly
hear about “threats” to us and to the “homeland.” And yet, when you knock on
the door marked “Enemy,” there’s seldom anyone home.
Few in this country have found this
striking. Few seem to notice any disjuncture between the enemy-ridden,
threatening, and deeply dangerous world we have been preparing ourselves for
(and fighting in) this last decade-plus and the world as it actually is, even
those who lived through significant parts of the last anxiety-producing, bloody
You know that feeling when you wake up and realize you’ve
had the same recurrent nightmare yet again? Sometimes, there’s an equivalent in
waking life, and here’s mine: every now and then, as I read about the next move
in the spreading war on terror, the next drone assassination, the next
ratcheting up of the surveillance game, the next expansion of the secrecy that
envelops our government, the next set of expensive actions taken to guard us --
all of this justified by the enormous threats and dangers that we face -- I
think to myself: Where’s the enemy? And then I wonder: Just what kind of a
dream is this that we’re dreaming?
A Door Marked “Enemy” and No One Home
Let’s admit it: enemies can have their uses. And let’s
admit as well that it’s in the interest of some in our country that we be seen
as surrounded by constant and imminent dangers on an enemy-filled planet. Let’s
also admit that the world is and always will be a dangerous place in all sorts
Still, in American terms, the bloodlettings, the
devastations of this new century and the last years of the previous one have
been remarkably minimal or distant; some of the worst, as in the multi-country
war over the Congo with its more than five million dead have passed us by entirely;
some, even when we launched them, have essentially been imperial frontier
conflicts, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, or interventions of little cost (to us)
as in Libya, or frontier patrolling operations as in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia,
and Northern Africa. (It was no mistake that, when Washington
launched its special operations raid on Abbottabad,
get Osama bin Laden, it was given the code name “Geronimo” and the message from the SEAL team
recording his death was “Geronimo-E KIA” or “enemy killed in action.”)
And let’s admit as well that, in the wake of those wars
and operations, Americans now have more enemies, more angry, embittered people
who would like to do us harm than on September 10, 2001. Let’s accept that
somewhere out there are people who, as George W. Bush once liked to say, “hate us" and what we stand for. (I
leave just what we actually stand for to you, for the moment.)
So let’s consider those enemies briefly. Is there a major
state, for instance, that falls into this category, like any of the great
warring imperial European powers from the sixteenth century on, or Nazi Germany
and Imperial Japan in World War II, or the Soviet Union
of the Cold War era? Of course not.
There was admittedly a period when, in order to pump up
what we faced in the world, analogies to World War II and the Cold War were
rife. There was, for instance, George W. Bush’s famed rhetorical construct, the Axis of
Evil (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea), patterned by his
speechwriter on the German-Italian-Japanese “axis” of World War II. It was, of
course, a joke construct, if reality was your yardstick. Iraq and Iran were then enemies. (Only in
the wake of the U.S.
invasion and occupation of Iraq
have they become friends and allies.) And North Korea had nothing whatsoever
to do with either of them. Similarly, the American occupation of Iraq was once regularly compared to the
U.S. occupations of Germany and Japan, just as Saddam Hussein had long been presented as a modern Hitler.
In addition, al-Qaeda-style Islamists were regularly
referred to as Islamofascists, while certain military and neocon types
with a desire to turn the war on terror into a successor to the Cold War took
to calling it “the long war,” or even “World War IV.” But all of this was so wildly out of whack
that it simply faded away.
As for who’s behind that door marked “Enemy,” if you
opened it, what would you find? As a start, scattered hundreds or, as the years have
gone by, thousands of jihadis, mostly in the poorest backlands of the
planet and with little ability to do anything to the United States. Next, there were a
few minority insurgencies, including the Taliban and allied forces in Afghanistan and separate Sunni and Shia ones in Iraq. There
also have been tiny numbers of wannabe
Islamic terrorists in the U.S.
(once you take away the string of FBI
sting operations that have regularly turned hopeless slackers and lost
teenagers into the most dangerous of fantasy Muslim plotters). And then, of
course, there are those two relatively hapless regional powers, Iran and North Korea, whose bark far exceeds
their potential bite.
The Wizard of Oz on 9/11
in other words, is probably in less danger from external enemies than at any
moment in the last century. There is no other imperial power on the planet
capable of, or desirous of, taking on American power directly, including China. It’s
true that, on September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers with box cutters produced a
remarkable, apocalyptic, and devastating TV show in which almost 3,000 people died. When those giant towers in
downtown New York
collapsed, it certainly had the look of nuclear disaster (and in those first days, the
media was filled was nuclear-style references), but it wasn’t actually an
The enemy was still nearly nonexistent. The act cost
bin Laden only an estimated $400,000-$500,000, though it would lead to a series
of trillion-dollar wars. It was a nightmarish event that had a
malign Wizard of Oz quality to it: a tiny man producing giant
effects. It in no way endangered the state. In fact, it would actually
strengthen many of its powers. It put a hit on the economy, but a passing one.
It was a spectacular and spectacularly gruesome act of terror by a small,
murderous organization then capable of mounting a major operation somewhere on
Earth only once every couple of years. It was meant to spread fear, but nothing
When the towers came down and you could suddenly see to
the horizon, it was still, in historical terms, remarkably enemy-less. And yet
9/11 was experienced here as a Pearl Harbor
moment -- a sneak attack by a terrifying enemy meant to disable the country.
The next day, newspaper headlines were filled with variations on “A Pearl Harbor of the Twenty-First Century.”
If it was a repeat of December 7, 1941, however, it lacked an imperial Japan or
any other state to declare war on, although one of the weakest partial states
on the planet, the Taliban's Afghanistan, would end up filling the bill
adequately enough for Americans.
To put this in perspective, consider two obvious major
dangers in U.S.
life: suicide by gun and death by car. In 2010, more than 19,000 Americans killed themselves using guns. (In the same
year, there were “only” 11,000 homicides nationwide.) In 2011, 32,000 Americans
died in traffic accidents (the lowest figure in 60 years, though it was again on the rise in the first six months of 2012). In other
words, Americans accept without blinking the equivalent yearly of more than six
9/11s in suicides-by-gun and more than 10 when it comes to vehicular deaths.
Similarly, had the underwear bomber, to take one post-9/11 example of
terrorism, succeeded in downing Flight 253 and murdering its 290 passengers, it would have
been a horrific act of terror; but he and his compatriots would have had to
bring down 65 planes to reach the annual level of weaponized suicides and more
than 110 planes for vehicular deaths.
And yet no one has declared war on either the car or the
gun (or the companies that make them or the people who sell them). No one has
built a massive, nearly trillion-dollar car-and-gun-security-complex to deal
with them. In the case of guns, quite the opposite is true, as the post-Newtown
debate over gun control has made all too clear. On both scores, Americans have
decided to live with perfectly real dangers and the staggering carnage that
accompanies them, constraining them on occasion or sometimes not at all.
Despite the carnage of 9/11, terrorism has been a small-scale American danger in the years since, worse than
shark attacks, but not much else. Like a wizard, however, what Osama bin Laden
and his suicide bombers did that day was create an instant sense of an enemy so
big, so powerful, that Americans found “war” a reasonable response; big enough
for those who wanted an international police action against al-Qaeda to be
laughed out of the room; big enough to launch an invasion of revenge against
Iraq, a country unrelated to al-Qaeda; big enough, in fact, to essentially
declare war on the world. It took next to no time for top administration
officials to begin talking about targeting 60
countries, and as journalist Ron Suskind has reported, within six days of the attack, the CIA had
topped that figure, presenting President Bush with a “Worldwide Attack Matrix,”
a plan that targeted terrorists in 80 countries.
What’s remarkable is how little the disjuncture between
the scope and scale of the global war that was almost instantly launched and
the actual enemy at hand was ever noted here. You could certainly make a
reasonable argument that, in these years, Washington has largely fought no one -- and
lost. Everywhere it went, it created enemies who had, previously, hardly
existed and the process is ongoing. Had you been able to time-travel back to the Cold
War era to inform Americans that, in the future, our major enemies would be in
Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Libya, and so on, they would surely have
thought you mad (or lucky indeed).
Creating an Enemy-Industrial Complex
Without an enemy of commensurate size and threat, so much
that was done in Washington
in these years might have been unattainable. The vast national security building and spending spree -- stretching from the Virginia
suburbs of Washington, where the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
erected its new $1.8 billion headquarters, to Bluffdale, Utah, where the
National Security Agency is still constructing a $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center for storing
the world’s intercepted communications -- would have been unlikely.
Without the fear of an enemy capable of doing anything,
money at ever escalating levels would never have poured into homeland security,
or the Pentagon, or a growing complex of crony corporations associated with our
weaponized safety. The exponential growth of the national security complex, as
well as of the powers of the executive branch when it comes to
national security matters, would have far been less likely.
Without 9/11 and the perpetual “wartime” that followed,
along with the heavily promoted threat of terrorists ready to strike and
potentially capable of wielding biological, chemical, or even nuclear weapons,
we would have no Department of Homeland Security nor the lucrative mini-homeland-security complex that surrounds it; the
17-outfit U.S. Intelligence Community with its massive $75 billion official budget would have been far less impressive;
our endless drone wars and the “drone lobby” that goes with them might never have
developed; and the U.S. military would not have an ever growing secret military, the Joint Special Operations Command,
gestating inside it -- effectively the president’s private army, air force, and
navy -- and already conducting largely secret operations across much of the
For all of this to happen, there had to be an
enemy-industrial complex as well, a network of crucial figures and institutions
ready to pump up the threat we faced and convince Americans that we were in a
world so dangerous that rights, liberty, and privacy were small things to
sacrifice for American safety. In short, any number of interests from Bush
administration figures eager to “sweep it all up” and do whatever they wanted in the world
to weapons makers, lobbyists, surveillance outfits, think tanks, military intellectuals, assorted pundits... well, the whole
national and homeland security racket and its various hangers-on had an
interest in beefing up the enemy. For them, it was important in the post-9/11
era that threats would never again lack a capital “T” or a hefty dollar sign.
And don’t forget a media that was ready to pound the
drums of war and emphasize what dangerous enemies lurked in our world with
remarkably few second thoughts. Post-9/11, major media outlets were generally
prepared to take the enemy-industrial complex’s word for it and play every new
terrorist incident as if it were potentially the end of the world. Increasingly
as the years went on, jobs, livelihoods, an expanding world of “security”
depended on the continuance of all this, depended, in short, on the injection
of regular doses of fear into the body politic.
That was the “favor” Osama bin Laden did for Washington’s national
security apparatus and the Bush administration on that fateful September
morning. He engraved an argument in the American brain that would live on
indelibly for years, possibly decades, calling for eternal vigilance at any
cost and on a previously unknown scale. As the Project for the New American
Century (PNAC), that neocon think-tank-cum-shadow-government, so fatefully put
it in "Rebuilding America's Defenses" a year before the 9/11 attacks:
“Further, the process of transformation [of the military], even if it brings
revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and
catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor.”
So when the new Pearl Harbor
arrived out of the blue, with many PNAC members (from Vice President Dick
Cheney on down) already in office, they naturally saw their chance. They
created an al-Qaeda on steroids and launched their “global war” to establish a Pax
Americana, in the Middle East and then perhaps globally. They were aware
that they lacked opponents of the stature of those of the previous century and,
in their documents, they made it clear that they were planning to
ensure no future great-power-style enemy or bloc of enemy-like nations would
For this, they needed an American public anxious,
frightened, and ready to pay. It was, in other words, in their interest to
manipulate us. And if that were all there were to it, our world would be a
grim, but simple enough place. As it happens, it’s not. Ruling elites, no
matter what power they have, don’t work that way. Before they manipulate us,
they almost invariably manipulate themselves.
I was convinced of this years ago by a friend who had
spent a lot of time reading early Cold War documents from the National Security
Council -- from, that is, a small group of powerful governmental figures
writing to and for each other in the utmost secrecy. As he told me then and
wrote in Washington’s China, the smart book he did on the
early U.S. response to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China,
what struck him in the documents was the crudely anti-communist language those
men used in private with each other. It was the sort of anti-communism you
might otherwise have assumed Washington’s
ruling elite would only have wielded to manipulate ordinary Americans with
fears of Communist subversion, the “enemy within,” and Soviet plans to take
over the world. (In fact, they and others like them would use just such
language to inject fear into the body politic in those early Cold War years,
that era of McCarthyism.)
They were indeed manipulative men, but before they
influenced other Americans they assumedly underwent something like a process of
collective auto-hypnotism in which they convinced one another of the dangers
they needed the American people to believe in. There is evidence that a similar
process took place in the aftermath of 9/11. From the flustered look on George
W. Bush’s face as his plane took him not toward but away from Washington on September 11, 2001, to the image of
Dick Cheney, in those early months, being chauffeured around Washington in an armored motorcade with
a “gas mask and a biochemical survival suit" in the backseat, you could
sense that the enemy loomed large and omnipresent for them. They were, that is,
genuinely scared, even if they were also ready to make use of that fear for
their own ends.
Or consider the issue of Saddam Hussein’s supposed
weapons of mass destruction, that excuse for the invasion of Iraq. Critics
of the invasion are generally quick to point out how that bogus issue was used
by the top officials of the Bush administration to gain public support for a
course that they had already chosen. After all, Cheney and his men cherry-picked the evidence to make their case, even formed their own secret intel outfit to give them what they
needed, and ignored facts at hand that brought their version of events into question.
They publicly claimed in an orchestrated way that Saddam had active nuclear and WMD
programs. They spoke in the most open ways of potential mushroom clouds from (nonexistent) Iraqi nuclear weapons
rising over American cities, or of those same cities being sprayed
with (nonexistent) chemical or biological weapons from (nonexistent) Iraqi
drones. They certainly had to know that some of this information was useful but
bogus. Still, they had clearly also convinced themselves that, on taking Iraq, they
would indeed find some Iraqi WMD to justify their claims.
In his soon-to-be-published book, Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill cites the conservative
journalist Rowan Scarborough on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s growing
post-invasion irritation over the search for Iraqi WMD sites. “Each morning,”
wrote Scarborough, “the crisis action team had
to report that another location was a bust. Rumsfeld grew angrier and angrier.
One officer quoted him as saying, ‘They must be there!’ At one briefing, he
picked up the briefing slides and tossed them back at the briefers.”
In other words, those top officials hustling us into
their global war and their long-desired invasion of Iraq had also hustled themselves
into the same world with a similar set of fears. This may seem odd, but given
the workings of the human mind, its ability to comfortably hold potentially
contradictory thoughts most of the time without disturbing itself greatly, it’s
A similar phenomenon undoubtedly took place in the larger
national security establishment where self-interest combined easily enough with
fear. After all, in the post-9/11 era, they were promising us one thing:
something close to 100% “safety” when it came to one small danger in our world
-- terrorism. The fear that the next underwear bomber might get through surely
had the American public -- but also the American security state -- in its
grips. After all, who loses the most if another shoe bomber strikes, another
ambassador goes down, another 9/11 actually happens? Whose job, whose
world, will be at stake then?
They may indeed be a crew of Machiavellis, but they are
also acolytes in the cult of terror and global war. They live in the Cathedral
of the Enemy. They were the first believers and they will undoubtedly be the
last ones as well. They are invested in the importance of the enemy. It’s their
religion. They are, after all, the enemy-industrial complex and if we are in
their grip, so are they.
The comic strip character Pogo once famously declared: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
How true. We just don’t know it yet.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the
and author of
The United States of Fear
as well as a history of the
The End of Victory Culture
, runs the Nation Institute's
His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is
Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare,
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check
out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy
Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt
Image by ISAF Media,
licensed under Creative
Monday, February 04, 2013 12:54 PM
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.
For more than half a
century, Noam Chomsky has been a relentless voice for justice, democracy, and
universal human rights. Having revolutionized modern linguistics in the 1950s,
Chomsky turned his attention to the Vietnam War in the following decade, and has
since authored dozens of books on activism, propaganda, and American foreign
and domestic policy. Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT
Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, where he has worked and taught since
1955. His latest book, Occupy, appeared
in May 2012. Chomsky was a named an Utne Visionary in 1995.
[This piece is adapted from “Uprisings,” a
chapter in Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New
Challenges to U.S. Empire, Noam Chomsky’s new interview book with David Barsamian (with thanks to
the publisher, Metropolitan Books). The questions are Barsamian’s, the answers
Does the United States
still have the same level of control over the energy resources of theMiddle East as it once had?
The major energy-producing countries are
still firmly under the control of the Western-backed dictatorships. So,
actually, the progress made by the Arab Spring is limited, but it’s not
insignificant. The Western-controlled dictatorial system is eroding. In fact,
it’s been eroding for some time. So, for example, if you go back 50 years, the
energy resources -- the main concern of U.S. planners -- have been mostly
nationalized. There are constantly attempts to reverse that, but they have not
Take the U.S.
invasion of Iraq,
for example. To everyone except a dedicated ideologue, it was pretty obvious
that we invaded Iraq not because of our love of democracy but because it’s
maybe the second- or third-largest source of oil in the world, and is right in
the middle of the major energy-producing region. You’re not supposed to say
this. It’s considered a conspiracy theory.
States was seriously defeated in Iraq by Iraqi
nationalism -- mostly by nonviolent resistance. The United States could kill the
insurgents, but they couldn’t deal with half a million people demonstrating in
the streets. Step by step, Iraq
was able to dismantle the controls put in place by the occupying forces. By
November 2007, it was becoming pretty clear that it was going to be very hard
to reach U.S.
goals. And at that point, interestingly, those goals were explicitly stated. So
in November 2007 the Bush II administration came out with an official
declaration about what any future arrangement with Iraq would have to be. It had two
major requirements: one, that the United States
must be free to carry out combat operations from its military bases, which it
will retain; and two, “encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq,
especially American investments.” In January 2008, Bush made this clear in one
of his signing statements. A couple of months later, in the face of Iraqi
resistance, the United
States had to give that up. Control of Iraq is now
disappearing before their eyes.
Iraq was an attempt to reinstitute by force something
like the old system of control, but it was beaten back. In general, I think, U.S. policies
remain constant, going back to the Second World War. But the capacity to
implement them is declining.
Declining because of economic weakness?
Partly because the world is just becoming
more diverse. It has more diverse power centers. At the end of the Second World
War, the United States
was absolutely at the peak of its power. It had half the world’s wealth and
every one of its competitors was seriously damaged or destroyed. It had a
position of unimaginable security and developed plans to essentially run the
world -- not unrealistically at the time.
This was called “Grand Area” planning?
Yes. Right after the Second World War,
George Kennan, head of the U.S. State Department policy planning staff, and
others sketched out the details, and then they were implemented. What’s
happening now in the Middle East and North Africa, to an extent, and in South America substantially goes all the way back to the
late 1940s. The first major successful resistance to U.S. hegemony was in 1949. That’s
when an event took place, which, interestingly, is called “the loss of China.” It’s a
very interesting phrase, never challenged. There was a lot of discussion about
who is responsible for the loss of China. It became a huge domestic
issue. But it’s a very interesting phrase. You can only lose something if you
own it. It was just taken for granted: we possess China
-- and if they move toward independence, we’ve lost China. Later came concerns about
“the loss of Latin America,” “the loss of the Middle East,”
“the loss of” certain countries, all based on the premise that we own the world
and anything that weakens our control is a loss to us and we wonder how to
if you read, say, foreign policy journals or, in a farcical form, listen to the
Republican debates, they’re asking, “How do we prevent further losses?”
On the other hand, the capacity to preserve
control has sharply declined. By 1970, the world was already what was called
tripolar economically, with a U.S.-based North American industrial center, a
German-based European center, roughly comparable in size, and a Japan-based East
Asian center, which was then the most dynamic growth region in the world. Since
then, the global economic order has become much more diverse. So it’s harder to
carry out our policies, but the underlying principles have not changed much.
Take the Clinton doctrine. The Clinton
doctrine was that the United
States is entitled to resort to unilateral
force to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and
strategic resources.” That goes beyond anything that George W. Bush said. But
it was quiet and it wasn’t arrogant and abrasive, so it didn’t cause much of an
uproar. The belief in that entitlement continues right to the present. It’s
also part of the intellectual culture.
Right after the assassination of Osama bin
Laden, amid all the cheers and applause, there were a few critical comments
questioning the legality of the act. Centuries ago, there used to be something
called presumption of innocence. If you apprehend a suspect, he’s a suspect
until proven guilty. He should be brought to trial. It’s a core part of
American law. You can trace it back to Magna Carta. So there were a couple of
voices saying maybe we shouldn’t throw out the whole basis of Anglo-American
law. That led to a lot of very angry and infuriated reactions, but the most
interesting ones were, as usual, on the left liberal end of the spectrum.
Matthew Yglesias, a well-known and highly respected left liberal commentator,
wrote an article in which he ridiculed these views. He said they’re “amazingly
naive,” silly. Then he expressed the reason. He said that “one of the main
functions of the international institutional order is precisely to legitimate
the use of deadly military force by western powers.” Of course, he didn’t mean Norway. He
meant the United States.
So the principle on which the international system is based is that the United States
is entitled to use force at will. To talk about the United States violating
international law or something like that is amazingly naive, completely silly.
Incidentally, I was the target of those remarks, and I’m happy to confess my
guilt. I do think that Magna Carta and international law are worth paying some
I merely mention that to illustrate that in
the intellectual culture, even at what’s called the left liberal end of the
political spectrum, the core principles haven’t changed very much. But the
capacity to implement them has been sharply reduced. That’s why you get all
this talk about American decline. Take a look at the year-end issue of Foreign
Affairs, the main
establishment journal. Its big front-page cover asks, in bold face, “Is America
Over?” It’s a standard complaint of those who believe they should have
everything. If you believe you should have everything and anything gets away
from you, it’s a tragedy, the world is collapsing. So is America over? A
long time ago we “lost” China,
we’ve lost Southeast Asia, we’ve lost South America.
Maybe we’ll lose the Middle East and North
African countries. Is America
over? It’s a kind of paranoia, but it’s the paranoia of the superrich and the
superpowerful. If you don’t have everything, it’s a disaster.
The New York
Times describes the “defining policy quandary of the Arab Spring: how to square
contradictory American impulses that include support for democratic change, a
desire for stability, and wariness of Islamists who have become a potent
political force.” The Times identifies three U.S.
goals. What do you make of them?
Two of them are accurate. The United States
is in favor of stability. But you have to remember what stability means.
Stability means conformity to U.S.
orders. So, for example, one of the charges against Iran,
the big foreign policy threat, is that it is destabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan. How? By trying to
expand its influence into neighboring countries. On the other hand, we
“stabilize” countries when we invade them and destroy them.
I’ve occasionally quoted one of my favorite
illustrations of this, which is from a well-known, very good liberal foreign
policy analyst, James Chace, a former editor of Foreign Affairs. Writing about the overthrow of the
Salvador Allende regime and the imposition of the dictatorship of Augusto
Pinochet in 1973, he said that we had to “destabilize” Chile in the
interests of “stability.” That’s not perceived to be a contradiction -- and it
isn’t. We had to destroy the parliamentary system in order to gain stability,
meaning that they do what we say. So yes, we are in favor of stability in this
Concern about political Islam is just like
concern about any independent development. Anything that’s independent you have
to have concern about because it might undermine you. In fact, it’s a little
ironic, because traditionally the United States
have by and large strongly supported radical Islamic fundamentalism, not
political Islam, as a force to block secular nationalism, the real concern. So,
for example, Saudi Arabia
is the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world, a radical Islamic state.
It has a missionary zeal, is spreading radical Islam to Pakistan,
funding terror. But it’s the bastion of U.S. and British policy. They’ve
consistently supported it against the threat of secular nationalism from Gamal
Abdel Nasser’s Egypt and Abd
al-Karim Qasim’s Iraq,
among many others. But they don’t like political Islam because it might become
The first of the three points, our yearning
for democracy, that’s about on the level of Joseph Stalin talking about the
Russian commitment to freedom, democracy, and liberty for the world. It’s the
kind of statement you laugh about when you hear it from commissars or Iranian
clerics, but you nod politely and maybe even with awe when you hear it from
their Western counterparts.
If you look at the record, the yearning for
democracy is a bad joke. That’s even recognized by leading scholars, though
they don’t put it this way. One of the major scholars on so-called democracy
promotion is Thomas Carothers, who is pretty conservative and highly regarded
-- a neo-Reaganite, not a flaming liberal. He worked in Reagan’s State
Department and has several books reviewing the course of democracy promotion,
which he takes very seriously. He says, yes, this is a deep-seated American
ideal, but it has a funny history. The history is that every U.S.
administration is “schizophrenic.” They support democracy only if it conforms
to certain strategic and economic interests. He describes this as a strange
pathology, as if the United
States needed psychiatric treatment or
something. Of course, there’s another interpretation, but one that can’t come
to mind if you’re a well-educated, properly behaved intellectual.
Within several months of the toppling of [President Hosni] Mubarak in Egypt, he was
in the dock facing criminal charges and prosecution. It’s inconceivable that U.S. leaders will ever be held to account for
their crimes in Iraq
or beyond. Is that going to change anytime soon?
That’s basically the Yglesias principle:
the very foundation of the international order is that the United States
has the right to use violence at will. So how can you charge anybody?
And no one else has that right.
Of course not. Well, maybe our clients do.
If Israel invades Lebanon and
kills a thousand people and destroys half the country, okay, that’s all right.
It’s interesting. Barack Obama was a senator before he was president. He didn’t
do much as a senator, but he did a couple of things, including one he was
particularly proud of. In fact, if you looked at his website before the
primaries, he highlighted the fact that, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon
in 2006, he cosponsored a Senate resolution demanding that the United States do
nothing to impede Israel’s military actions until they had achieved their
objectives and censuring Iran and Syria because they were supporting resistance
to Israel’s destruction of southern Lebanon, incidentally, for the fifth time
in 25 years. So they inherit the right. Other clients do, too.
But the rights really reside in Washington. That’s what
it means to own the world. It’s like the air you breathe. You can’t question
it. The main founder of contemporary IR [international relations] theory, Hans
Morgenthau, was really quite a decent person, one of the very few political
scientists and international affairs specialists to criticize the Vietnam War
on moral, not tactical, grounds. Very rare. He wrote a book called The Purpose
of American Politics. You already know what’s coming. Other countries don’t have purposes. The
purpose of America,
on the other hand, is “transcendent”: to bring freedom and justice to the rest
of the world. But he’s a good scholar, like Carothers. So he went through the
record. He said, when you study the record, it looks as if the United States
hasn’t lived up to its transcendent purpose. But then he says, to criticize our
transcendent purpose “is to fall into the error of atheism, which denies the
validity of religion on similar grounds” -- which is a good comparison. It’s a
deeply entrenched religious belief. It’s so deep that it’s going to be hard to
disentangle it. And if anyone questions that, it leads to near hysteria and
often to charges of anti-Americanism or “hating America” -- interesting concepts
that don’t exist in democratic societies, only in totalitarian societies and
here, where they’re just taken for granted.
Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of
Linguistics and Philosophy. A
, he is the author
of numerous best-selling political works, including recently
Hopes and Prospects
Making the Future. This piece
is adapted from the chapter “Uprisings” in his newest book (with interviewer
David Barsamian), Power Systems:
Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S.
Empire (The American
Empire Project, Metropolitan Books).
Excerpted from Power Systems:
Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S.
Empire,published this month by Metropolitan Books,
an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright (c) 2013 by Noam Chomsky
and David Barsamian. All rights reserved.
Image of Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square demanding a free Palestine by Gigi Ibrahim, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 08, 2011 4:03 PM
America has become a cruel country. There are clear examples of this, which Jonathan Schell points to in an article for The Nation. Cheering for execution numbers, as happened in a recent Republican presidential campaign debate; celebrations in the streets following the killing of Osama bin Laden; the Bush administration’s torture, followed by the “brazenness” of both Bush and Cheney, who “publicly embraced their wrongdoing” on recent tours for their memoirs; Obama’s unwillingness to impose legal accountability on any in the Bush administration; and our country’s criminal justice system, including its use of the death penalty and solitary confinement. And though cruelty cannot be legislated, it “can be manifested in legislation,” Schell argues, pointing to a number of cuts “on the right-wing agenda.” Of that long list he writes, “It appears that no one is so unfortunate that he or she is exempt from spending cuts, while at the same time no one is so fortunate as to be ineligible for a tax cut.”
“Cruelty is a close cousin to injustice, yet it is different,” Schell writes:
Injustice and its opposite, justice—perhaps the most commonly used standards for judging the health of the body politic—are political criteria par excellence, and apply above all to systems and their institutions. Cruelty and its opposites, kindness, compassion and decency, are more personal. They are apolitical qualities that nevertheless have political consequences. A country’s sense of decency stands outside and above its politics, checking and setting limits on abuses. An unjust society must reform its laws and institutions. A cruel society must reform itself.
Schell’s piece taken along side a post at utne.com today from Tom Engelhardt on the sad reality of what’s become of George W. Bush’s American Dream, paint a picture of a country that has lost its way. And while both pieces find cause for hope—the protesting of Troy Davis’ killing in the former and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the latter—it’s hard to see past the similar descriptions in both of a country so enamored with its own brute strength that it’s created a monster out of it. “Bush’s American Dream,” Engelhardt writes, “was a kind of apotheosis of this country’s global power as well as its crowning catastrophe, thanks to a crew of mad visionaries who mistook military might for global strength and acted accordingly.” While Shell describes the U.S. as “a country that seems to know of no remedy for social ills but punishment.”
Source: The Nation, TomDispatch
Image by Robert Couse-Baker, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 08, 2011 11:12 AM
This post originally appeared at
How about a moment of silence for the passing of the American Dream? M.R.I.C. (May it rest in carnage.)
No, I’m not talking about the old dream of opportunity that involved homeownership, a better job than your parents had, a decent pension, and all the rest of the package that’s so yesterday, so underwater, so OWS. I’m talking about a far more recent dream, a truly audacious one that’s similarly gone with the wind.
I’m talking about George W. Bush’s American Dream. If people here remember the invasion of Iraq -- and most Americans would undoubtedly prefer to forget it -- what’s recalled is kited intelligence, Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent nuclear arsenal, dumb and even dumber decisions, a bloody civil war, dead Americans, crony corporations, a trillion or more taxpayer dollars flushed down the toilet... well, you know the story. What few care to remember was that original dream -- call it The Dream -- and boy, was it a beaut!
An American Dream
It went something like this: Back in early 2003, the top officials of the Bush administration had no doubt that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, drained by years of war, no-fly zones, and sanctions, would be a pushover; that the U.S. military, which they idolized and romanticized, would waltz to Baghdad. (The word one of their supporters used in the Washington Post for the onrushing invasion was a “cakewalk.”) Nor did they doubt that those troops would be greeted as liberators, even saviors, by throngs of adoring, previously suppressed Shiites strewing flowersin their path. (No kidding, no exaggeration.)
How easy it would be then to install a “democratic” government in Baghdad -- which meant their autocratic candidate Ahmad Chalabi -- set up four or five strategically situated military mega-bases, exceedingly well-armed American small towns already on the drawing boards before the invasion began, and so dominate the oil heartlands of the planet in ways even the Brits, at the height of their empire, wouldn't have dreamed possible. (Yes, the neocons were then bragging that we would outdo the Roman and British empires rolled into one!)
As there would be no real resistance, the American invasion force could begin withdrawing as early as the fall of 2003, leaving perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 troops, the U.S. Air Force, and various spooks and private contractors behind to garrison a grateful country ad infinitum (on what was then called “the South Korean model”). Iraq's state-run economy would be privatized and its oil resources thrown open to giant global energy companies, especially American ones, which would rebuild the industry and begin pumping millions of barrels of that country's vast reserves, thus undermining the OPEC cartel's control over the oil market.
And mind you, it would hardly cost a cent. Well, at its unlikely worst, maybe $100 billion to $200 billion, but as Iraq, in the phraseof then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, “floats on a sea of oil,” most of it could undoubtedly be covered, in the end, by the Iraqis themselves.
Now, doesn’t going down memory lane just take your breath away? And yet, Iraq was a bare beginning for Bush's dreamers, who clearly felt like so many proverbial kids in a candy shop (even if they acted like bulls in a china shop). Syria, caught in a strategic pincer between Israel and American Iraq, would naturally bow down; the Iranians, caught similarly between American Iraq and American Afghanistan, would go down big time, too -- or simply be taken down Iraqi-style, and who would complain? (As the neocon quip of the moment went: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”)
And that wasn’t all. Bush’s top officials had been fervent Cold Warriors in the days before the U.S. became “the sole superpower,” and they saw the new Russia stepping into those old Soviet boots. Having taken down the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, they were already building a network of bases there, too. (Let a thousand Korean models bloom!) Next on the agenda would be rolling the Russians right out of their “near abroad,” the former Soviet Socialist Republics, now independent states, of Central Asia.
What glory! Thanks to the unparalleled power of the U.S. military, Washington would control the Greater Middle East from the Mediterranean to the Chinese border and would be beholden to no one when victory came. Great powers, phooey! They were talking about a Pax Americana on which the sun could never set. Meanwhile, there were so many other handy perks: the White House would be loosedfrom its constitutional bounds via a “unitary executive” and, success breeding success, a Pax Republicana would be established in the U.S. for eons to come (with the Democratic -- or as they said sneeringly, the “Democrat” -- Party playing the role of Iran and going down in a similar fashion).
An American Nightmare
When you wake up in a cold sweat, your heart pounding, from a dream that’s turned truly sour, sometimes it’s worth trying to remember it before it evaporates, leaving only a feeling of devastation behind.
So hold Bush’s American Dream in your head for a few moments longer and consider the devastation that followed. Of Iraq, that multi-trillion-dollar war, what’s left? An American expeditionary force, still 30,000-odd troops who were supposed to hunker down there forever, are instead packing their gear and heading “over the horizon.” Those giant American towns -- with their massive PXs, fast-food restaurants, gift shops, fire stations, and everything else -- are soon to be ghost towns, likely as not looted and stripped by Iraqis.
Multi-billions of taxpayer dollars were, of course, sunk into those American ziggurats. Now, assumedly, they are goners except for the monster embassy-cum-citadel the Bush administration built in Baghdad for three-quarters of a billion dollars. It’s to house part of a 17,000-person State Department “mission” to Iraq, including 5,000 armed mercenaries, all of whom are assumedly there to ensure that American folly is not utterly absent from that country even after “withdrawal.”
Put any spin you want on that withdrawal, but this still represents a defeat of the first order, humiliation on a scale and in a time frame that would have been unimaginable in the invasion year of 2003. After all, the U.S. military was ejected from Iraq by... well, whom exactly?
Then, of course, there’s Afghanistan, where the ultimate, inevitable departure has yet to happen, where another trillion-dollar war is still going strong as if there were no holes in American pockets. The U.S. is still taking casualties, still building up its massive base structure, still training an Afghan security force of perhaps 400,000 men in a county too poor to pay for a tenth of that (which means it’s ours to fund forever and a day).
Washington still has its stimulus program in Kabul. Its diplomats and military officials shuttle in and out of Afghanistan and Pakistan in search of “reconciliation” with the Taliban, even as CIA drones pound the enemy across the Afghan border and anyone else in the vicinity. As once upon a time in Iraq, the military and the Pentagon still talk about progress being made, even while Washington’s unease grows about a war that everyone is now officially willing to call “unwinnable.”
In fact, it’s remarkable how consistently things that are officially going so well are actually going so badly. Just the other day, for instance, despite the fact that the U.S. is training up a storm, Major General Peter Fuller, running the training program for Afghan forces, was dismissed by war commander General John Allen for dissing Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his generals. He called them “isolated from reality.”
Isolated from reality? Here’s the U.S. record on the subject: it’s costing Washington (and so the American taxpayer) $11.6 billion this year alone to train those security forces and yet, after years of such training, “not a single Afghan army battalion can operate without assistance from U.S. or allied units.”
You don’t have to be a seer to know that this, too, represents a form of defeat, even if the enemy, as in Iraq, is an underwhelming set of ragtag minority insurgencies. Still, it’s more or less a given that any American dreams for Afghanistan, like Britain’s and Russia’s before it, will be buried someday in the rubble of a devastated but resistant land, no matter what resources Washington choses to continue to squander on the task.
This, simply put, is part of a larger landscape of imperial defeat.
Cold Sweats at Dawn
Yes, we’ve lost in Iraq and yes, we’re losing in Afghanistan, but if you want a little geopolitical turn of the screw that captures the zeitgeist of the moment, check out one of the first statements of Almazbek Atambayev after his recent election as president of Kyrgyzstan, a country you’ve probably never spent a second thinking about.
Keep in mind that Bushian urge to roll back the Russians to the outskirts of Moscow. Kyrgyzstan is, of course, one of the former Central Asian SSRs of the Soviet Union, and under cover of the Afghan War, the U.S. moved in, renting out a major air base at Manas airport near Bishtek, the capital. It became a significant resupply station for the war, but also an American military foothold in the region.
Now Atambayev has announced that the U.S. will have to leave Manas when its lease is up in 2014. The last time a Kyrgyz president made such a threat, he was trying to extort an extra $40 million in rent from the globe’s richest power. This time, though, Atambayev has evidently weighed regional realities, taken a good hard look at his resurgent neighbor and the waning influence of Washington, and placed his bet -- on the Russians. Consider it a telling little gauge of who is now being rolled back where.
Isolated from reality? How about the Obama administration and its generals? Of course, Washington officials prefer not to take all this in. They’re willing to opt for isolation over reality. They prefer to talk about withdrawing troops from Iraq, but only to bolster the already powerful American garrisons throughout the Persian Gulf and so free the region, as our secretary of state put it, “from outside interference” by alien Iran. (Why, one wonders, is it even called the Persian Gulf, instead of the American Gulf?)
They prefer to talk about strengthening U.S. power and bolstering its bases in the Pacific so as to save Asia from... America’s largest creditor, the Chinese. They prefer to suggest that the U.S. will be a greater, not a lesser, power in the years to come. They prefer to “reassure allies” and talk big -- or big enough anyway.
Not too big, of course, not now that those American dreamers -- or mad visionaries, if you prefer -- are off making up to $150,000 a pop giving inspirational speeches and raking in millions for churning out their memoirs. In their place, the Obama administration is stocked with dreamless managers who inherited an expanded imperial presidency, an American-garrisoned globe, and an emptying treasury. And they then chose, on each score, to play a recognizable version of the same game, though without the soaring confidence, deep faith in armed American exceptionalism or the military solutions that went with it (which they nonetheless continue to pursue doggedly), or even the vision of global energy flows that animated their predecessors. In a rapidly changing situation, they have proven incapable of asking any questions that would take them beyond what might be called the usual tactics (drones vs. counterinsurgency, say).
In this way, Washington, though visibly diminished, remains an airless and eerily familiar place. No one there could afford to ask, for instance, what a Middle East, being transformed before our eyes, might be like without its American shadow, without the bases and fleets and drones and all the operatives that go with them.
As a result, they simply keep on keeping on, especially with Bush’s global war on terror and with the protection in financial tough times of the Pentagon (and so of the militarization of this country).
Think of it all as a form of armed denial that, in the end, is likely to drive the U.S. down. It would be salutary for the denizens of Washington to begin to mouth the word “defeat.” It’s not yet, of course, a permissible part of the American vocabulary, though the more decorous “decline” -- “the relative decline of the United States as an international force” -- has crept ever more comfortably into our lives since mid-decade. When it comes to decline, for instance, ordinary Americans are voting with the opinion poll version of their feet. In one recent poll, 69% of them declared the U.S. to be in that state. (How they might answer a question about American defeat we don’t know.)
If you are a critic of Washington, “defeat” is increasingly becoming an acceptable word, as long as you attach it to a specific war or event. But defeat outright? The full-scale thing? Not yet.
You can, of course, say many times over that the U.S. remains, as it does, an immensely wealthy and powerful country; that it has the wherewithal to right itself and deal with the disasters of these last years, which it also undoubtedly does. But take a glance at Washington, Wall Street, and the coming 2012 elections, and tell me with a straight face that that will happen. Not likely.
If you go on a march with the folks from Occupy Wall Street, you’ll hear the young chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” It’s infectious. But here’s another chant, hardly less appropriate, if distinctly grimmer: “This is what defeat looks like!” Admittedly, it’s not as rhythmic, but it’s something that the spreading Occupy Wall Street movement, and the un- and underemployed, and those whose houses are foreclosed or “underwater,” and the millions of kids getting a subprime education and graduating, on average, more than $25,000 in hock, and the increasing numbers of poor are coming to feel in their bones, even if they haven’t put a name to it yet.
And events in the Greater Middle East played no small role in that. Think of it this way: if de-industrialization and financialization have, over the last decades, hollowed out the United States, so has the American way of war. It’s the usually ignored third part of the triad. When our wars finally fully come home, there’s no telling what the scope of this imperial defeat will prove to be like.
Bush’s American Dream was a kind of apotheosis of this country’s global power as well as its crowning catastrophe, thanks to a crew of mad visionaries who mistook military might for global strength and acted accordingly. What they and their neocon allies had was the magic formula for turning the slow landing of a declining but still immensely powerful imperial state into a self-inflicted rout, even if who the victors are is less than clear.
Despite our panoply of bases around the world, despite an arsenal of weaponry beyond anything ever seen (and with more on its way), despite a national security budget the size of the Ritz, it’s not too early to start etching something appropriately sepulchral onto the gravestone that will someday stand over the pretensions of the leaders of this country when they thought that they might truly rule the world.
I know my own nominee. Back in 2002, journalist Ron Suskind had a meeting with a “senior advisor” to George W. Bush and what that advisor told him seems appropriate for any such gravestone or future memorial to American defeat:
"The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality... That's not the way the world really works anymore… We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'''
We’re now, it seems, in a new era in which reality is making us. Many Americans -- witness the Occupy Wall Street movement -- are attempting to adjust, to imagine other ways of living in the world. Defeat has a bad rep, but sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.
Still, reality is a bear, so if you just woke up in a cold sweat, feel free to call it a nightmare.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of
The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s
as well as
The End of Victory Culture
, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book,
The United States of Fear
(Haymarket Books), is being published this month.
Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt
Image by Tony the Misfit, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 23, 2011 10:22 AM
This article was originally published at
Now that Washington has at least six wars cooking (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and more generally, the global war on terror), Americans find themselves in a new world of war. If, however, you haven't joined the all-volunteer military, any of our 17 intelligence outfits, the Pentagon, the weapons companies and hire-a-gun corporations associated with it, or some other part of the National Security Complex, America’s distant wars go on largely without you (at least until the bills come due).
War has a way of turning almost anything upside down, including language. But with lost jobs, foreclosed homes, crumbling infrastructure, and weird weather, who even notices? This undoubtedly means that you’re using a set of antediluvian war words or definitions from your father’s day. It’s time to catch up.
So here’s the latest word in war words: what’s in, what’s out, what’s inside out. What follows are nine common terms associated with our present wars that probably don’t mean what you think they mean. Since you live in a twenty-first-century war state, you might consider making them your own.
Like defeat, it’s a “loaded” word and rather than define it, Americans should simply avoid it.
In his last press conference before retirement, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked whether the U.S. was “winning in Afghanistan.” He replied, “I have learned a few things in four and a half years, and one of them is to try and stay away from loaded words like ‘winning’ and ‘losing.’ What I will say is that I believe we are being successful in implementing the president's strategy, and I believe that our military operations are being successful in denying the Taliban control of populated areas, degrading their capabilities, and improving the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces.”
In 2005, George W. Bush, whom Gates also served, used the word “victory” 15times in a single speech (“National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”). Keep in mind, though, that our previous president learned about war in the movie theaters of his childhood where the Marines always advanced and Americans actually won. Think of his victory obsession as the equivalent of a mid-twentieth-century hangover.
In 2011, despite the complaints of a few leftover neocons dreaming of past glory, you can search Washington high and low for “victory.” You won’t find it. It’s the verbal equivalent of a Yeti. Being “successful in implementing the president’s strategy,” what more could you ask? Keeping the enemy on his “back foot”: hey, at $10 billiona month, if that isn’t “success,” tell me what is?
Admittedly, the assassination of Osama bin Laden was treated as if it were VJ Day ending World War II, but actually win a war? Don’t make Secretary of Defense Gates laugh!
Maybe, if everything comes up roses, in some year soon we’ll be celebrating DE (Degrade the Enemy) Day.
Any super-evil pipsqueak on whose back you can raise at least
a year for the National Security Complex.
“I actually consider al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with Al-Awlaki as a leader within that organization probably the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland.” So said Michael Leiter, presidential adviser and the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, last February, months before Osama bin Laden was killed (and Leiter himself resigned). Since bin Laden’s death, Leiter’s assessment has been heartily seconded in word and deed in Washington. For example, New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti recently wrote: “Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen is believed by the C.I.A. to pose the greatest immediate threat to the United States, more so than even Qaeda’s senior leadership believed to be hiding in Pakistan.”
Now, here’s the odd thing. Once upon a time, statements like these might have been tantamount to announcements of victory: That’s all they’ve got left?
Of course, once upon a time, if you asked an American who was the most dangerous man on the planet, you might have been told Adolf Hitler, or Joseph Stalin, or Mao Zedong. These days, don’t think enemy at all; think comic-book-style arch-villain Lex Luthor or Doctor Doom -- anyone, in fact, capable of standing in for globe-encompassing Evil.
Right now, post-bin-Laden, America’s super-villain of choice is Anwar al-Awlaki, an enemy with seemingly near superhuman powers to disturb Washington, but no army, no state, and no significant finances. The U.S.-born “radical cleric” lives as a semi-fugitive in Yemen, a poverty-stricken land of which, until recently, few Americans had heard. Al-Awlaki is considered at least partially responsible for two high-profile plots against the U.S.: the underwear bomber and package bombs sent by plane to Chicago synagogues. Both failed dismally, even though neither Superman nor the Fantastic Four rushed to the rescue.
As an Evil One, al-Awlaki is a voodoo enemy, a YouTube warrior (“the bin Laden of the Internet”) with little but his wits and whatever superpowers he can muster to help him. He was reputedly responsible for helping to poison the mind of Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan before he blew away 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas. There’s no question of one thing: he’s gotten inside Washington’s war-on-terror head in a big way. As a result, the Obama administration is significantly intensifying its war against him and the ragtag crew of tribesmen he hangs out with who go by the name of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
It used to mean secret war, a war “in the shadows” and so beyond the public’s gaze. Now, it means a conflict in the full glare of publicity that everybody knows about, but no one can do anything about. Think: in the news, but off the books.
Go figure: today, our “covert” wars are front-page news. The top-secret operation to assassinate Osama bin Laden garnered an unprecedented 69% of the U.S. media “newshole” the week after it happened, and 90% of cable TV coverage. And America’s most secretive covert warriors, elite SEAL Team 6, caused “SEAL-mania” to break out nationwide.
Moreover, no minor drone strike in the “covert” CIA-run air war in the Pakistani tribal borderlands goes unreported. In fact, as with Yemen today, future plans for the launching or intensification of Pakistani-style covert wars are now openly discussed, debated, and praised in Washington, as well as widely reported on. At one point, CIA Director Leon Panetta even bragged that, when it came to al-Qaeda, the Agency’s covert air war in Pakistan was “the only game in town.”
Think of covert war today as the equivalent of a heat-seeking missile aimed directly at that mainstream media newshole. The “shadows” that once covered whole operations now only cover accountability for them.
In the American way of war, military bases built on foreign soil are the equivalent of heroin. The Pentagon can’t help building them and can’t live without them, but “permanent bases” don’t exist, not for Americans. Never.
That’s simple enough, but let me be absolutely clear anyway: Americans may have at least 865 bases around the world (not including those in war zones), but we have no desire to occupy other countries. And wherever we garrison (and where aren’t we garrisoning?), we don’t want to stay, not permanently anyway.
In the grand scheme of things, for a planet more than four billion years old, our 90 bases in Japan, a mere 60-odd years in existence, or our 227 bases in Germany, some also around for 60-odd years, or those in Korea, 50-odd years, count as little. Moreover, we have it on good word that permanent bases are un-American. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said as much in 2003 when the first of the Pentagon's planned Iraqi mega-bases were already on the drawing boards. Hillary Clinton said so again just the other day, about Afghanistan, and an anonymous American official added for clarification: "There are U.S. troops in various countries for some considerable lengths of time which are not there permanently." Korea anyone? So get it straight, Americans don’t want permanent bases. Period.
And that’s amazing when you think about it, since globally Americans are constantly building and upgrading military bases. The Pentagon is hooked. In Afghanistan, it’s gone totally wild -- more than 400 of them and still building! Not only that, Washington is now deep into negotiations with the Afghan government to transform some of them into “joint bases” and stay on them if not until hell freezes over, then at least until Afghan soldiers can be whipped into an American-style army. Latest best guesstimate for that? 2017without even getting close.
Fortunately, we plan to turn those many bases we built to the tune of billions of dollars, including the gigantic establishments at Bagram and Kandahar, over to the Afghans and just hang around, possibly “for decades,” as -- and the word couldn’t be more delicate or thoughtful -- “tenants.”
And by the way, accompanying the recent reports that the CIA is preparing to lend the U.S. military a major covert hand, drone-style, in its Yemen campaign, was news that the Agency is building a base of its own on a rushed schedule in an unnamed Persian Gulf country. Just one base. But don’t expect that to be the end of it. After all, that’s like eating one potato chip.
We’re going, we’re going... Just not quite yet and stop pushing!
If our bases are shots of heroin, then for the U.S. military leaving anyplace represents a form of “withdrawal,” which means the shakes. Like drugs, it’s just so darn easy to go in that Washington keeps doing it again and again. Getting out’s the bear. Who can blame them, if they don’t want to leave?
In Iraq, for instance, Washington has been in the grips of withdrawal fever since 2008 when the Bush administration agreed that all U.S. troops would leave by the end of this year. You can still hear those combat boots dragging in the sand. At this point, top administration and military officials are almost begging the Iraqis to let us remain on a few of our monster bases, like the ill-named Camp Victory or Balad Air Base, which in its heyday had air traffic that reputedly rivaledChicago’s O’Hare International Airport. But here’s the thing: even if the U.S. military officially departs, lock, stock, and (gun) barrel, Washington’s still not really planning on leaving.
In recent years, the U.S. has built near-billion-dollar “embassies” that are actually citadels-cum-regional-command-posts in the Greater Middle East. Just last week, four former U.S. ambassadors to Iraq made a plea to Congress to pony up the $5.2 billion requested by the Obama administration so that that the State Department can turn its Baghdad embassy into a massive militarized mission with 5,100 hire-a-guns and a small mercenary air force.
In sum, “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” is not a song that Washington likes to sing.
Drone War (see also Covert War):
A permanent air campaign using missile-armed pilotless planes that banishes both withdrawal and victory to the slagheap of history.
Is it even a “war” if only one side ever appears in person and only one side ever suffers damage? America’s drones are often flown from thousands of miles away by “pilots” who, on leaving their U.S. bases after a work shift “in” a war zone, see signs warning them to drive carefully because this may be “the most dangerous part of your day.” This is something new in the history of warfare.
Drones are the covert weaponry of choice in our covert wars, which means, of course, that the military just can’t wait to usher chosen reporters into its secret labs and experimental testing grounds to reveal dazzling visions of future destruction.
To make sense of drones, we probably have to stop thinking about “war” and start envisaging other models -- for example, that of the executioner who carries out a death sentence on another human being at no danger to himself. If a pilotless drone is actually an executioner’s weapon, a modern airborne version of the guillotine, the hangman’s noose, or the electric chair, the death sentence it carries with it is not decreed by a judge and certainly not by a jury of peers.
It’s assembled by intelligence agents based on fragmentary (and often self-interested) evidence, organized by targeteers, and given the thumbs-up sign by military or CIA lawyers. All of them are scores, hundreds, thousands of miles away from their victims, people they don’t know, and may not faintly understand or share a culture with. In addition, the capital offenses are often not established, still to be carried out, never to be carried out, or nonexistent. The fact that drones, despite their “precision” weaponry, regularly take out innocent civilians as well as prospective or actual terrorists reminds us that, if this is our model, Washington is a drunken executioner.
In a sense, Bush’s global war on terror called drones up from the depths of its unconscious to fulfill its most basic urges: to be endless and to reach anywhere on Earth with an Old Testament-style sense of vengeance. The drone makes mincemeat of victory (which involves an endpoint), withdrawal (for which you have to be there in the first place), and national sovereignty (see below).
Something inherent in the nature of war-torn Iraqis and Afghans from which only Americans, in and out of uniform, can save them.
Don’t be distracted by the $6.6 billion that, in the form of shrink-wrapped $100 bills, the Bush administration loaded onto C-130 transport planes, flew to liberated Iraq in 2003 for “reconstruction” purposes, and somehow mislaid. The U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction did recently suggest that it might prove to be "the largest theft of funds in national history"; on the other hand, maybe it was just misplaced... forever.
Iraq’s parliamentary speaker now claims that up to $18.7 billion in Iraqi oil funds have gone missing-in-action, but Iraqis, as you know, are corrupt and unreliable. So pay no attention. Anyway, not to worry, it wasn’t our money. All those crisp Benjamins came from Iraqi oil revenues that just happened to be held in U.S. banks. And in war zones, what can you do? Sometimes bad things happen to good $100 bills!
In any case, corruption is endemic to the societies of the Greater Middle East, which lack the institutional foundations of democratic societies. Not surprisingly then, in impoverished, narcotized Afghanistan, it’s run wild. Fortunately, Washington has fought nobly against its ravages for years. Time and again, top American officials have cajoled, threatened, even browbeat Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his compatriots to get them to crack down on corrupt practices and hold honest elections to build support for the American-backed government in Kabul.
Here’s the funny thing though: a report on Afghan reconstruction recently released by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority staff suggests that the military and foreign “developmental” funds that have poured into the country, and which account for 97% of its gross domestic product, have played a major role in encouraging corruption. To find a peacetime equivalent, imagine firemen rushing to a blaze only to pour gasoline on it and then lash out at the building’s dwellers as arsonists.
1. Something Americans cherish and wouldn’t let any other country violate; 2. Something foreigners irrationally cling to, a sign of unreliability or mental instability.
Here’s the twenty-first-century credo of the American war state. Please memorize it: The world is our oyster. We shall not weep. We may missile [bomb, assassinate, night raid, invade] whom we please, when we please, where we please. This is to be called “American safety.”
Those elsewhere, with a misplaced reverence for their own safety or security, or an overblown sense of pride and self-worth, who put themselves in harm’s way -- watch out. After all, in a phrase: Sovereignty ‘R’ Us.
Note: As we still live on a one-way imperial planet, don’t try reversing any of the above, not even as a thought experiment. Don’t imagine Iranian drones hunting terrorists over Southern California or Pakistani special operations forces launching night raids on small midwestern towns. Not if you know what’s good for you.
A totally malleable concept that is purely in the eye of the beholder.
Which is undoubtedly why the Obama administration recently decided not to return to Congress for approval of its Libyan intervention as required by the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The administration instead issued a report essentially declaring Libya not to be a “war” at all, and so not to fall under the provisions of that resolution. As that report explained: "U.S. operations [in Libya] do not involve  sustained fighting or  active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve  the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties, or a serious threat thereof, or  any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors."
This, of course, opens up the possibility of quite a new and sunny American future on planet Earth, one in which it will no longer be wildly utopian to imagine war becoming extinct. After all, the Obama administration is already moving to intensify and expand its [fill in the blank] in Yemen, which will meet all of the above criteria, as its [fill in the blank] in the Pakistani tribal borderlands already does. Someday, Washington could be making America safe all over the globe in what would, miraculously, be a thoroughly war-less world.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book isThe American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).
[Note: My special thanks go to three websites without which I simply couldn’t write pieces like this or cover the areas that interest me most: Antiwar.com, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, and Paul Woodward’s the War in Context. All are invaluable to me. In addition, two daily services I couldn’t do without are Today’s Terrorism News, which comes out of New York University’s Center for Law and Security (and to which you can subscribe by clicking here), and the Af/Pak Channel Daily Brief, which comes out of the New America Foundation (and to which you can subscribe by clicking here). Both represent monumental effort and are appreciated.]
Image by thomashaugen, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 11:01 AM
Sulaimani, Northern Iraq, April 9, 2011
Today, almost eight years after George Bush delivered his “Mission Accomplished” speech, angry citizens protested in Sulaimani. This follows a protest the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that. Today is the 52nd consecutive day of anti-government protests in this city 150 miles northeast of Baghdad and 40 miles west of the Iranian border. The protests have often turned violent: a grenade and gunfire killed one person and injured more than a dozen others in late February. To date, at least eight people have been killed.
These incidents occur against a backdrop of protests-becoming-riots-becoming-revolts across the Middle East. Here in the Kurdish Region of Iraq, we have had nothing like the high drama in Egypt or the low deeds in Libya, but political violence has increased. This is especially worrisome for a region that prides itself on being the safest block in a very bad neighborhood.
These are the kinds of stories that make even well-intentioned Americans want to wash their hands of Iraq. If the Kurdish region, the friendly corner, “the model of democracy for Iraq,” is roiling with sometimes violent anti-government protests, what can we do?
The security situation is the most common argument I hear against Americans working in Iraq. The second argument is subtler, but possibly more dangerous in the long run. It boils down to this: “Contributing to the reconstruction of Iraq is tantamount to endorsing George Bush’s invasion.”
I respond that to not support the redemption of Iraq because of an aversion to George W. Bush is as immoral as the invasion that crystallized that aversion.
This is not an apology for the men who led us into war eight years ago. This is an argument that we should stop thinking about those men and get to work repairing the aftermath of their folly. The current needs and aspirations of 30 million human beings in Iraq should outweigh the American public’s dislike of a few past-tense politicians.
In the summer of 2009, I came to Sulaimani, a city of one million in the semi-autonomous Kurdish Region of Iraq. I took a teaching position at The American University of Iraq – Sulaimani. Here, educators, staff, administrators and, most importantly, 500 students work to build the only American university in Iraq and, in so doing, help to rebuild Iraq.
Americans—precious few—come to Iraq to find many things: adventure, altruism, money, souls. For many, the dreaded Liberal Guilt Syndrome plays a role. Whatever my reasons for coming to Iraq, the students rapidly became my reason for staying.
Ali is one of these students. Sectarian violence drove his family out of their native Baghdad. Ali studied briefly at the American University of Beirut, but chose to leave what is arguably the best school in the Middle East for our untested start-up because he “wanted to come home.” (According to the United Nations High Council for Refugees, almost 2 million Iraqis live outside the country as refugees. Very few have Ali’s courage.)
Sham is a bright student who asks questions in a soft, high-pitched voice. She does not cover her hair, as do many of my female students, but she is generally quiet. However, when she is handed an exam or a basketball, she roars.
Karwan is a published poet and an aspiring politician. When I first met him, he would try to use every English word he knew, often in the same sentence. Eighteen months later, he conveys complex ideas and delicate nuance in English and dreams of building an Iraq with politics based on issues, not ethnicities.
Between lesson plans and endless cups of tea, I stay in contact with family and friends back home. Over scratchy Skype calls and in hurried e-mails, they express concern for my safety. They also express surprise, if not outright disdain, at my decision to work in Iraq. No one is quite cynical enough to say it, but the message between the lines is, “How can you work to support Iraqi reconstruction when that might mean Bush was right to invade?” Sometimes, the question is even more visceral: “How can you work to support Iraqi reconstruction when that might mean we were right to invade?”
If people of good faith avoid helping Iraq to rebuild itself because of an aversion to past leaders and their ideologies, we allow ourselves to be buffaloed once more. Say the invasion was morally wrong and technically clumsy; making a further mess of the reconstruction will not change that fact. Two wrongs do not make anything right. The invasion cannot be undone, but we can still contribute to the reconstruction. I encourage Americans of all political stripes to think about what they can do for Iraq now.
Violent protests and the continued presence of terrorists in Iraq eight years after the U.S.-led invasion indicate that America alone cannot stabilize Iraq. While we cannot stabilize Iraq, we can help the Iraqis who can: young, idealistic Iraqis like the students Ali, Sham and Karwan.
The question is, “Who is more important?” Ali and his fellow returnees are more important than Donald Rumsfeld and his few “dead-enders.” Sham and her questions are more important than Dick Cheney and his non-answers on Fox News. Karwan and his ambitions are more important than George W. Bush and his premature declaration of “Mission Accomplished.”
Karwan is a freshman in college, and Karwan is the mission.
Geoffrey Gresk blogs at www.Iraq2point0.com.
San Saravan contributed to this article.
Image by United States Forces - Iraq, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 18, 2010 2:11 PM
Every week we share links to stories, articles, and other interesting things we’ve come across online for you to enjoy over the weekend. It’s the utne.com crockpot; we add the ingredients for a great online meal.
Want to get away? Far away? Feel like disappearing for a time, even if only vicariously? Hermitary is a one-stop resource for your inner hermit. One of the most consistently wondrous sites on the internet.
You can also escape by checking out issue three of Porter Fox’s travel mag Nowhere.
Ernie Button takes cool photos of breakfast cereal. His project is called Cerealism, and Cheerios and Lucky Charms have never looked so beautiful.
Over at The Oxford American, Kevin Brockmeier presents his personal selection of Ten Great Novels of the Apocalypse. Is there anything one might conclude from Brockmeier’s list? Yes: the end of the world is not likely to be pleasant.
Europeans were thrilled when we elected Barack Obama. Now they’re just confused.
Jen Jackson considers her well-kept trailer home in Moab, Utah, a “27-foot bit of silver-plated paradise”—but it’s made her an outlaw.
If government spending is a pie, the military is very, very hungry.
, is it possible that the new TSA security procedures are a bigger deal online than they are in real life?
analyzes George W. Bush’s official portrait, concluding that W’s break from tradition suggests that “he wants to present himself is as a faux President.”
As the U.S. ends its combat mission in Iraq, it builds up its construction projects in the region. Nick Turse, writing for Guernica, explains why President Obama’s “end of our combat mission” announcement could be another “mission accomplished” moment.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009 10:43 AM
If you weren't completely satisfied by watching former president George W. Bush leave Washington D.C. in a helicopter yesterday, check out this retrospective of Bush images by award-winning photojournalist Christopher Morris. You may recognize the first image in the slideshow, “The Three Amigos,” which appeared on the cover of our July-August 2007 issue. The images will also be exhibited through February 16th at 28 Jay Street in Brooklyn.
(Photo courtesy Christopher Morris /VII)
Wednesday, January 14, 2009 4:12 PM
Barack Obama is on the cover of January’s Columbia Journalism Review—but this hardly distinguishes the magazine from the others on the rack. The distinguishing feature is that Barack Obama appears something just short of sinister as he smirks and stares at you through a side-glancing eye. It’s almost as if the magazine’s art department peered inside the mind of a conservative talk show host and painted the Obama they found there.
The editorial inside calls on Obama to “turn the lights back on in the White House” and presents a laundry lists of actions he could take to decisively reject and reverse the excessive secrecy of his predecessor.
Here’s a taste:
* "In his first budget, restore, as Congress intended, the Office of Government Information Services to the National Archives and Records Administration, and remove it from the Justice Department, where conflicts of interest on transparency abound."
* "Get a handle on 'pseudo-secrecy'—the wholesale marking of documents with secret-ish labels outside of the official classification system—by reducing its use, establishing a system for appeals of such labels, and forbidding their use in Freedom of Information Act decisions."
* "Revise outsourcing contracts to ensure that records generated by private companies doing government business will be treated like any agency-generated document."
The magazine's pages are peppered with points on a “Sunshine Timeline” that begins with a set of laws on public court proceedings and records passed by Henry III in 1267 and stumbles through the centuries grabbing at events as it finds them:
1766: Sweden adopts the first freedom of information law.
1935: The creation of the Federal Register, “the first comprehensive accounting of U.S. executive-branch rules and regulations.”
1953: “The American Society of Newspapers commissions a survey of all the laws (local, state, and federal) that could be used to gain access to government records—and concludes that the situation is bleak.”
1966: The Freedom of Information Act passes. “Without the votes to sustain the veto, and with Bill Moyers, his press secretary, urging him on, LBJ signs the bill.”
Thursday, November 13, 2008 12:37 PM
After 9/11 we heard a lot about the death of irony, but after an initial period of mourning, humor prevailed and even thrived in the troubled early aughts.
But with the departure of the president who gave political satire its all-time easiest target, and the arrival of an unflappable and extremely popular president-elect, will practitioners of political satire run out of fodder?
Of course not. The Daily Show’s ascendancy coincided with Bush’s increasingly disastrous presidency, but Jon Stewart & Co. won’t suddenly be irrelevant just because Bush is. “Assuming the Daily Show can only be funny under someone like George W. Bush gives far too much credit to the outgoing President and is obscenely insulting to the writers of the Daily Show,” writes Matt Tobey on Comedy Central’s blog. “As if there wasn't plenty of failed Bush-based humor from shittier sources than the Daily Show.”
Meanwhile, the South Park boys pulled an all-nighter after the election to complete their extremely timely Wednesday broadcast, in which overzealous acolytes of Barack Obama see his victory as license to riot drunkenly in the streets, and Obama’s campaign team shows its true colors as an upscale band of jewel thieves a la Ocean’s Eleven.
These comedy institutions are bellwethers of the general categories into which Obama Humor will fall, at least for now: Poking fun at the extreme fervor of Obama’s supporters, and pointing up the absurd paranoia of Obama’s opposition (much like the New Yorker did all those months ago.)
The reliable Onion covers those satirical bases and more, with headlines like “International Con Man Barack Obama Leaves U.S. With $85 Million In Campaign Fundraising” and “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job”.
There’s also the hilarious animated video below, from Get Your War On creator David Rees, making the rounds. (Consider it a sequel to the New Yorker cover.)
And when Obama inevitably falls short of the astronomical expectations set for him, satirists will pounce. The Daily Show’s John Hodgman told Politico, “As much as the show is fake news, its soul is very sincere, borne of a desire that everyone shares, that we don’t want to be lied to. If there is a whiff of insincerity [Obama] will be taken to task.”
Thursday, November 06, 2008 12:02 PM
Americans have been warned not to expect too much from Obama’s election too soon, but that doesn’t mean people can’t speculate. The Union of Concerned Scientists believes we’ll see an aggressive approach to climate change policy once Obama takes over, and 3QuarksDaily provides a nice summary of what the federal and state elections mean for science.
Obama and the next Congress are positioned to enact a comprehensive “Green Deal,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, that could modernize our energy infrastructure while stimulating the economy. Already, Obama plans to send delegates to December’s UN climate meeting in Poland, and Cosmos wonders whether Obama can break the deadlock gripping those talks.
One question still remains: Will these actions be enough to forestall the effects of the dangerous environmental regulations (or deregulations) that the New York Times blog speculates the Bush administration is pushing through during its last days in office?
Image by Ralph Alswang, licensed by Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008 10:52 AM
In the midst of Tuesday’s transformative election, it’s easy to forget that Barack Obama won’t actually be president for another three months. In that time, a lot could happen, much of it at the whim of a person whose name we don’t hear much these days: George W. Bush.
The transition is already in effect. In a phone call to Obama last night the 43rd president effused, “What an awesome night for you... I called to congratulate you and your good bride.” (Good bride? Weird.) He also promised a smooth transition for his successor, inviting Obama and his family “to visit the White House soon, at their convenience.”
On the eve of Election Day, Democracy Now! gained some insight into Bush’s mood from White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, who shrugged off the world’s dislike for her boss, likening the presidency to high school: “Everybody would like to be popular. You can all remember that back in high school. Everyone really wanted to be popular, and some of us just weren’t. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have principles and values that you stay true to.”
Um... okay, Dana. So Bush is the social pariah who sat by himself in the cafeteria, and got back at us preppies, jocks, and pretty girls by invading Iraq and curtailing our civil liberties? In reality, most of Bush’s decisions seemed driven precisely by political expediency rather than some internal, principled compass; he was too concerned about being popular with his base and his advisers.
With relatively little at stake politically, now is a probable time for Bush to advance his most controversial agendas, like the brazenly unconstitutional move to assign U.S. troops to U.S. soil or last-minute changes to environmental regulations. On Monday the New York Times summarized Bush’s “parting gifts” and predicted “those we fear are yet to come” before January in the realms of civil liberties, environmental protection, and abortion rights.
While we deserve a celebratory grace period in the wake of Obama’s victory and a hopeful honeymoon after he’s inaugurated, we must be especially vigilant in the last days of Bush’s presidency. The end is in sight, but it’s not here yet.
Thursday, September 25, 2008 10:33 AM
The country’s recent financial crisis has left Americans panicked and angry. My prevailing thought whenever I hear the ever-climbing tab of the bailout—after a colorful expletive or two, of course—is always “Where is that money going to come from? And where is it going?”
The likely answer to the first question is unfortunate: the taxpayers, of course. The Republicans, who hate taxes and government regulation, have ensured an unprecedented magnitude of each by woefully mismanaging the country’s economy.
The answer to the second question is trickier. And it may remain vague, as Kagro X points out at Daily Kos. For the Bush administration, oversight and transparency are like kryptonite, and the president has become notorious for, as Kagro X puts it, “threatening to use his veto crayon to force Congress to pass bills exactly as he wants them, accepting no changes.”
Bush only has four months left in office, but Kagro X is worried the president will still find a way to misappropriate $700 billion. “When you're talking about a guy who 'lost' $9 billion in cash in Iraq, you kind of have to wonder whether he's even going to use the money for its intended purposes.”
That we are bailing out private institutions with public funds is deplorable enough. But Kagro X believes the situation will only be worsened if we hand over the money while Bush is still in office.
If there were any justice in the world, the price for the bailout would be Bush and Cheney's resignation. No, it won't happen, but it should. Instead, almost no matter what approach is ultimately adopted, we'll be throwing (at least) $700 billion into the hole with nothing but crossed fingers to guide us through. The best oversight regimen in the world doesn't help you with people who don't think they have to answer subpoenas.
There is hope: “Thankfully, Congressional Democrats (and some Republicans, too) have for the most part balked at the notion that the bailout should come in the form of a blank check.” Let’s hope that Congress refuses the president this sort of absolute economic power during these final dark days of his presidency.
Image by Tracy O, licensed by Creative Commons.
Monday, September 01, 2008 6:00 PM
The Republican National Convention lumbered to a start Monday with a business-only agenda, a Hurricane Gustav damper, raucous demonstrations, and fresh family drama from Sarah Palin.
St. Paul’s Xcel center was none-too-densely populated, but the delegates who showed up for the quorum wore their happy faces. If some folks were disappointed that Bush & Cheney were tending to Gustav and weren’t going to speak as planned, party leaders probably heaved a sigh of relief. (If only the RNC was held in 2005, maybe New Orleans would have gotten their attention. Three years later, things are much more attuned to looming natural disaster tragedy: The convention even opened with an appeal for everyone to donate to those affected by Gustav via text message, a tack the Obama team scooped by minutes via a text message appeal of their own.)
And the business about Palin's pregnant, 17-year-old, unmarried daughter was not going to get delegates down. In fact, these party loyalists saw nothing but the bright side:
“As a grandmother, I can tell you the governor is excited,” said Texas delegate Kathie Whitford-Freeman. “The most exciting thing in this world is to be called granny.”
As for the protests, things got rowdy and messy. Utne.com’s Bennett Gordon and Chelsey Perkins has some great video dispatches from the frontlines, as does the UpTake. For some of the finest coverage of the weekend’s preemptive raids and Monday’s ongoing shenanigans, check out the Minnesota Independent.
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Republican National Convention, click here.
Friday, July 25, 2008 4:30 PM
With its complex moral dilemmas and dystopian vision, The Dark Knight is an unlikely summer blockbuster and unquestionably dour as a superhero movie—but it’s still performing ridiculously well at the box office and with critics.
Some of the commentary is inevitably political, framing the film as an overt 9/11 allegory. Andrew Klavan takes things a step further in the Wall Street Journal, making a favorable comparison between the latest iteration of Batman and the Bush administration’s absolutist approaches to geopolitics, applauding the Caped Crusader for demonstrating the same decisive, nuance-free heroism that Bush supposedly does.
What Klavan seems to be missing is that The Dark Knight portrays Batman as a deeply conflicted and flawed antihero; the film excels at illustrating the moral ambiguities inherent in fighting crime or governing a populace.
On his blog, Andrew Sullivan provides an articulate rebuttal to Klavan, ultimately focusing on the failures of Bush’s cowboy swagger, use of torture, and with-us-or-against-us version of diplomacy. Sullivan concludes that those who can’t or won’t do nuance are missing the point—perhaps deliberately.
Image adapted from a photo by Yosi:), licensed by Creative Commons.
Saturday, June 07, 2008 4:10 PM
It’s easy to look at the disaster in Iraq, hang your head, and curse Dick Cheney’s soul. Indeed sometimes, especially at lefty fests like this weekend’s National Conference for Media Reform, it seems like all our troubles can be traced back to Dick and his underling George. Blood and Oil, a documentary based on Michael T. Klare’s 2004 book of the same name, makes a strong case for looking beyond Bush & Co. to the roots of the United States’ geopolitical oil mongering. Along the way, it takes aim at some sacred idols of the left, namely Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter.
In 1945, as Roosevelt saw the United States’ self-sufficiency in oil production slipping away, he set out to meet with Saudi Arabia’s king, striking a deal that has survived all administrations since: U.S. protection of the Saudi royal family for proprietary oil development rights. From there, Klare, the defense correspondent for the Nation, traces the evolution of U.S. oil policy through various presidents, reserving a special place for Jimmy Carter, who he says laid the foundation for the doctrine sanctioning the use of military force to protect America’s strategic oil interests in the Middle East. Reagan beefed up that doctrine, and, producer Scott Morris noted in a question-and-answer session after the film, Cheney “blew the policy out of the water.” But it didn’t come out of nowhere, and that’s a valuable lesson as we prepare to write the obituary of the Bush administration and look toward the policies of the next president.
For more on the National Conference for Media Reform, click here.
Thursday, January 17, 2008 4:05 PM
President Bush just returned from a weeklong tour of the Middle East, which included his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories since becoming president. For such an important visit—one that Bush hopes might establish his legacy as a diplomatic peacemaker—a mere press release just wouldn’t do. So the White House tried something new, in the form of what looks to be a blog, aptly titled “Trip Notes from the Middle East.” But don’t get too excited: The Trip Notes, written by various White House staffers over the course of the visit, are anything but substantial. Posts from Bush’s January 8-16 visit include descriptions of the weather, lodging conditions, how the staff kept busy on the airplane, and the array of animals on King Abdullah’s ranch. But cheers to the White House for attempting to embrace modern technology.
(Thanks, Columbia Journalism Review.)
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