We Meant Well

Five Ways the Newest Story in Iraq and Syria is... That There Is No New Story

One of the most popular apps these days is Snapchat. It allows the sender to set a timer for any photo dispatched via the app, so that a few seconds after the recipient opens the message, the photo is automatically deleted. The evidence of what you did at that party last night is seen and then disappears. POOF! I hope you’ll forgive me if I suggest that the Iraq-Syria War against the Islamic State (ISIS) is being conveyed to us via Snapchat. Important things happen, they appear in front of us, and then… POOF!… they’re gone. No one seems to remember them. Who cares that they’ve happened at all, when there’s a new snap already arriving for your attention? As with most of what flows through the real Snapchat, what’s of some interest at first makes no difference in the long run. Just because we now have terrifyingly short memories […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

And The Ruins Still to Come

There are the news stories that genuinely surprise you, and then there are the ones that you could write in your sleep before they happen. Let me concoct an example for you: “Top American and European military leaders are weighing options to step up the fight against the Islamic State in the Mideast, including possibly sending more U.S. forces into Iraq, Syria, and Libya, just as Washington confirmed the second American combat casualty in Iraq in as many months.” Oh wait, that was actually the lead sentence in a May 3rd Washington Times piece by Carlo Muñoz.  Honestly, though, it could have been written anytime in the last few months by just about anyone paying any attention whatsoever, and it surely will prove reusable in the months to come (with casualty figures altered, of course).  The sad truth is that across the Greater Middle East and expanding parts of Africa, […]

Who Rules the World by Noam Chomsky

Masters of Mankind (Part 2)

[This piece, the second of two parts, is excerpted from Noam Chomsky’s new book, Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books). Part 1 can be found by clicking here.] In brief, the Global War on Terror sledgehammer strategy has spread jihadi terror from a tiny corner of Afghanistan to much of the world, from Africa through the Levant and South Asia to Southeast Asia. It has also incited attacks in Europe and the United States. The invasion of Iraq made a substantial contribution to this process, much as intelligence agencies had predicted. Terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank estimate that the Iraq War “generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by […]

Who Rules the World by Noam Chomsky

Masters of Mankind (Part 1)

[This piece, the first of two parts, is excerpted from Noam Chomsky’s new book, Who Rules the World? Part 2 will be posted on Tuesday morning.] When we ask “Who rules the world?” we commonly adopt the standard convention that the actors in world affairs are states, primarily the great powers, and we consider their decisions and the relations among them. That is not wrong. But we would do well to keep in mind that this level of abstraction can also be highly misleading. States of course have complex internal structures, and the choices and decisions of the political leadership are heavily influenced by internal concentrations of power, while the general population is often marginalized. That is true even for the more democratic societies, and obviously for others. We cannot gain a realistic understanding of who rules the world while ignoring the “masters of mankind,” as Adam Smith called them: […]

Kill Anything That Moves

What Trumps the Horrors of a Hellscape? The Donald!

LEER, South Sudan — I’m sitting in the dark, sweating. The blinding white sun has long since set, but it’s still in the high 90s, which is a relief since it was above 110 earlier. Slumped in a blue plastic chair, I’m thinking back on the day, trying to process everything I saw, the people I spoke with: the woman whose home was burned down, the woman whose teenage daughter was shot and killed, the woman with 10 mouths to feed and no money, the glassy-eyed soldier with the AK-47. Then there were the scorched ruins: the wrecked houses, the traditional wattle-and-daub tukuls without roofs, the spectral footprints of homes set aflame by armed raiders who swept through in successive waves, the remnants of a town that has ceased to exist. And, of course, there were the human remains: a field of scattered skulls and femurs and ribs and pelvises […]

The Race for What's Left

The Collapse of the Old Oil Order

Sunday, April 17th was the designated moment.  The world’s leading oil producers were expected to bring fresh discipline to the chaotic petroleum market and spark a return to high prices. Meeting in Doha, the glittering capital of petroleum-rich Qatar, the oil ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), along with such key non-OPEC producers as Russia and Mexico, were scheduled to ratify a draft agreement obliging them to freeze their oil output at current levels. In anticipation of such a deal, oil prices had begun to creep inexorably upward, from $30 per barrel in mid-January to $43 on the eve of the gathering. But far from restoring the old oil order, the meeting ended in discord, driving prices down again and revealing deep cracks in the ranks of global energy producers. It is hard to overstate the significance of the Doha debacle. At the very least, it […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

He’s a Sign of American Decline (Just Not in the Way You Think)

“Low-energy Jeb.” “Little Marco.” “Lyin’ Ted.” “Crooked Hillary.” Give Donald Trump credit. He has a memorable way with insults. His have a way of etching themselves on the brain. And they’ve garnered media coverage, analysis, and commentary almost beyond imagining.  Memorable as they might be, however, they won’t be what last of Trump’s 2016 election run.  That’s surely reserved for a single slogan that will sum up his candidacy when it’s all over (no matter how it ends). He arrived with it on that Trump Tower escalator in the first moments of his campaign and it now headlines his website, where it’s also emblazoned on an array of products from hats to t-shirts. You already know which line I mean: “Make America Great Again!” With that exclamation point ensuring that you won’t miss the hyperbolic, Trumpian nature of its promise to return the country to its former glory days. In […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

(And If You Believe That, You’ll Believe Anything)

Think of the 2016 presidential campaign as the political equivalent of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  It’s loud; there are plenty of abusive special effects; the critics hate it, but the crowds turn out; a media company or three rake in the dough; and foreigners can’t get enough of this new vision of the American way of life — or is it of a Bizarro world? If you prefer, you could think of Campaign 2016, the never-ending blockbuster, as an affirmation that, whatever the hell this country is, it’s still, like Hollywood, at the top of the heap.  When it comes to gluing eyeballs, it remains the “sole superpower” on Planet Earth.  Think of it, in fact, any way you like, but just notice that the only thing you can’t do is not think about it. This came to my mind recently on my daily trip to the gym.  […]

America's War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich

How the United States Became a Prisoner of War and Congress Went MIA

Let’s face it: in times of war, the Constitution tends to take a beating. With the safety or survival of the nation said to be at risk, the basic law of the land — otherwise considered sacrosanct — becomes nonbinding, subject to being waived at the whim of government authorities who are impatient, scared, panicky, or just plain pissed off. The examples are legion.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln arbitrarily suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ignored court orders that took issue with his authority to do so. After U.S. entry into World War I, the administration of Woodrow Wilson mounted a comprehensive effort to crush dissent, shutting down anti-war publications in complete disregard of the First Amendment. Amid the hysteria triggered by Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consigning to concentration camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them native-born citizens. Asked in 1944 to […]

Listen, Liberal by Thomas Frank

How the Democrats Created a "Liberalism of the Rich"

[This piece has been adapted from Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (Metropolitan Books).] When you press Democrats on their uninspiring deeds — their lousy free trade deals, for example, or their flaccid response to Wall Street misbehavior — when you press them on any of these things, they automatically reply that this is the best anyone could have done. After all, they had to deal with those awful Republicans, and those awful Republicans wouldn’t let the really good stuff get through. They filibustered in the Senate. They gerrymandered the congressional districts. And besides, change takes a long time. Surely you don’t think the tepid-to-lukewarm things Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done in Washington really represent the fiery Democratic soul. So let’s go to a place that does. Let’s choose a locale where Democratic rule is virtually unopposed, a […]