America's Abdication and the Fate of the World

What exactly happened in Kirkuk? Was it an isolated and temporary deviation? Can the blame be placed solely on an ignorant, inconsistent president? I have lived in the United States. I have traveled the country extensively. Thirteen years ago, retracing the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville, I wrote a book about it. At the time, the country induced in this friendly observer a sense of vertigo. With this background, I have a simpler explanation. Unfortunately, it is also more worrisome. The story begins a very long time ago. And upon hearing it, one will understand that the position of the world’s policeman, the protector of democratic values, or even the loyal ally of those I fault it for abandoning is not quite “natural” for the strange country that is America. I remember the pages that Hegel devoted to the newborn United States in his Lessons on the Philosophy of History. […]

Breach of Trust by Andrew Bacevich

War in the Shadows (of You Know Who)

The news, however defined, always contains a fair amount of pap. Since Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency, however, the trivia quotient in the average American’s daily newsfeed has grown like so many toadstools in a compost heap, overshadowing or crowding out matters of real substance. We’re living in TrumpWorld, folks. Never in the history of journalism have so many reporters, editors, and pundits expended so much energy fixating on one particular target, while other larger prey frolic unmolested within sight. As diversion or entertainment — or as a way to make a buck or win 15 seconds of fame — this development is not without value. Yet the overall impact on our democracy is problematic. It’s as if all the nation’s sportswriters obsessed 24/7 about beating New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. In TrumpWorld, journalistic importance now correlates with relevance to the ongoing saga of Donald J. Trump. To […]

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

Afghanistan and the Implosion of America

As I approach 75, I’m having a commonplace experience for my age. I live with a brain that’s beginning to dump previously secure memories — names, the contents of books I read long ago (or all too recently), events, whatever. If you’re of a certain age yourself, you know the story.

Recently, however, I realized that this experience of loss, like so much else in our world, is more complex than I imagined. What I mean is that such loss also involves gain. It’s turned my mind to, and made me something of an instant expert on, one aspect of twenty-first-century America: the memory hole that’s swallowed up parts of our all-too-recent history. In fact, I’ve been wondering whether aging imperial powers, like old men and women, have a tendency to discard what once had been oh-so-familiar. There’s a difference, though, when it comes to the elites of the aging empire I live in at least. They don’t just dump things relatively randomly as I seem to be doing. Instead, they conveniently obliterate all memory of their country’s — that is, their own — follies and misdeeds.

The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin

A Timeline of Border Fortification

The point was less to actually build “the wall” than to constantly announce the building of the wall. “We started building our wall. I’m so proud of it,” Donald Trump tweeted. “What a thing of beauty.”
In fact, no wall, or certainly not the “big, fat, beautiful” one promised by Trump, is being built. True, miles of some kind of barrier — barbed wire, chain-link and steel-slat fencing, corrugated panels, and, yes, even lengths of what can only be described as concrete wall — have gone up along the U.S.-Mexico border, starting at least as far back as the administration of President William Taft, early in the last century. Trump has claimed repairs and expansions of these barriers as proof that he is fulfilling his signature campaign promise. Plaques have already been bolted onto upgrades in existing fencing, crediting him with work started and funded by previous administrations.

Kill Anything That Moves

Except in the Pentagon’s Report

The U.S. military is finally withdrawing (or not) from its base at al-Tanf. You know, the place that the Syrian government long claimed was a training ground for Islamic State (ISIS) fighters; the land corridor just inside Syria, near both the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, that Russia has called a terrorist hotbed (while floating the idea of jointly administering it with the United States); the location of a camp where hundreds of U.S. Marines joined Special Operations forces last year; an outpost that U.S. officials claimed was the key not only to defeating ISIS, but also, according to General Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, to countering “the malign activities that Iran and their various proxies and surrogates would like to pursue.” You know, that al-Tanf.

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

Honestly, This Could Get a Lot Uglier

Sixty-six million years ago, so the scientists tell us, an asteroid slammed into this planet. Landing on what’s now Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, it gouged out a crater 150 kilometers wide and put so much soot and sulfur into the atmosphere that it created what was essentially a prolonged “nuclear winter.” During that time, among so many other species, large and small, the dinosaurs went down for the count. (Don’t, however, tell that to your local chicken, the closest living relative — it’s now believed — of Tyrannosaurus Rex.)

The Race for What's Left

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of War

There could be no more consequential decision than launching atomic weapons and possibly triggering a nuclear holocaust. President John F. Kennedy faced just such a moment during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and, after envisioning the catastrophic outcome of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange, he came to the conclusion that the atomic powers should impose tough barriers on the precipitous use of such weaponry. Among the measures he and other global leaders adopted were guidelines requiring that senior officials, not just military personnel, have a role in any nuclear-launch decision. That was then, of course, and this is now. And what a now it is! With artificial intelligence, or AI, soon to play an ever-increasing role in military affairs, as in virtually everything else in our lives, the role of humans, even in nuclear decision-making, is likely to be progressively diminished. In fact, in some future AI-saturated world, it could […]

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

In a Crippled World, All the News That’s Fit to Splint

Breaking News! — as NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt often puts it when beginning his evening broadcast. Here, in summary, is my view of the news that’s breaking in the United States on just about any day of the week:
Trump. Trump. Trump. Trump. Trump.
Or rather (in the president’s style):
Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!!!!!!!!

Breach of Trust by Andrew Bacevich

Abizaid of Arabia

What does President Trump’s recent nomination of retired Army General John Abizaid to become the next U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia signify? Next to nothing — and arguably quite a lot.

Abizaid’s proposed appointment is both a non-event and an opportunity not to be wasted. It means next to nothing in this sense: while once upon a time, American diplomats abroad wielded real clout — Benjamin Franklin and John Quincy Adams offer prominent examples — that time is long past. Should he receive Senate confirmation, Ambassador Abizaid will not actually shape U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia. At most, he will convey policy, while keeping officials back in Washington apprised regarding conditions in the Kingdom. “Conditions” in this context will mean the opinions, attitudes, whims, and mood of one particular individual: Mohammed bin Salman. MBS, as he is known, is the Saudi crown prince and the Kingdom’s de facto absolute ruler. By no means incidentally, he is also that country’s assassin-in-chief as well as the perpetrator of atrocities in a vicious war that he launched in neighboring Yemen in 2015.

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

An Affair to Remember

Face it: it’s been an abusive time, to use a word he likes to wield. In his telling, of course, it’s he or his people who are always the abused ones and they — the “fake news media” — are the abusers. But let’s be honest. You’ve been abused, too, and so have I. All of us have and by that same fake news media. It isn’t complicated, really. Thanks to them, to those cable news talking heads who never stop yammering about him, to the reporters who clamor over his every word or twitch, he’s always there, 24/7. I know that it’s still called covering the news, but it’s a phrase that no longer faintly fits the situation. Yes, a near majority of Americans voted for him as president, but no one voted to make him a living (and living-room) icon, a never-ending presence not just in our world, […]

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

Thoughts on Election Day 2018

Who could forget that moment?  The blue [red] wave — long promised but also doubted — had, however modestly [however massively], hit Washington and [the Democrats had just retaken Congress] [the Republicans had held Congress] [the Democrats had taken the House].  The media, Fox News and the usual right-wing websites aside, hailed the moment. [Fox News and the usual right-wing websites cheered the president on.] Donald Trump’s grip on America had finally been broken [reinforced].  Celebrations were widespread.  Congressional investigations, possibly even impeachment, were only months and a new Congress away [were now a faint memory], and it was then, of course, that the unexpected struck.  It was then that President Trump, citing national security concerns and a crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, began the process whose end point we, of course, already know…

Okay, consider that the dystopian me speaking.  We don’t, of course, really know how our story yet ends, not faintly.  While I was writing this piece, I didn’t even know how Tuesday’s vote would turn out, though by the time you read it, you may.  Given the experience of election 2016, it would take a brave [foolish] soul to make a prediction this time around.

I certainly learned a lesson that November.  During the previous months of campaigning that election season, I never wrote a piece at TomDispatch that didn’t leave open the possibility of Donald Trump winning the presidency.  In the couple of weeks before that fateful November day, however, I got hooked on the polling results and on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website and became convinced that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in.

The Race for What's Left

It’s Not Your Mother’s Cold War

When it comes to relations between Donald Trump’s America, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and Xi Jinping’s China, observers everywhere are starting to talk about a return to an all-too-familiar past. “Now we have a new Cold War,” commented Russia expert Peter Felgenhauer in Moscow after President Trump recently announced plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Trump administration is “launching a new Cold War,” said historian Walter Russell Mead in the Wall Street Journal, following a series of anti-Chinese measures approved by the president in October. And many others are already chiming in. Recent steps by leaders in Washington, Moscow, and Beijing may seem to lend credence to such a “new Cold War” narrative, but in this case history is no guide. Almost two decades into the twenty-first century, what we face is not some mildly updated replica of last century’s Cold War, but a new and […]

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

17 Years of War (and More to Come)

We’re already two years past the crystal anniversary and eight years short of the silver one, or at least we would be, had it been a wedding — and, after a fashion, perhaps it was. On October 7, 2001, George W. Bush launched the invasion — “liberation” was the word often used then — of Afghanistan. It was the start of the second Afghan War of the era, one that, all these years later, still shows no signs of ending. Though few realized it at the time, the American people married war. Permanent, generational, infinite war is now embedded in the American way of life, while just about the only part of the government guaranteed ever more soaring dollars, no matter what it does with them, is the U.S. military. This October 7th marked the 17th anniversary of that first of so many still-spreading conflicts. In league with various Afghan […]

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

A Letter to Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren317 Hart Senate Office BuildingWashington, D.C. Dear Senator Warren: As a constituent, I have noted with interest your suggestion that you will “take a hard look” at running for president in 2020, even as you campaign for reelection to the Senate next month. Forgive me for saying that I interpret that comment to mean “I’m in.” Forgive me, as well, for my presumption in offering this unsolicited — and perhaps unwanted — advice on how to frame your candidacy. You are an exceedingly smart and gifted politician, so I’m confident that you have accurately gauged the obstacles ahead. Preeminent among them is the challenge of persuading citizens beyond the confines of New England, where you are known and respected, to cast their ballot for a Massachusetts liberal who possesses neither executive nor military experience and is a woman to boot. Voters will undoubtedly need reassurance that you have […]

The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy by Mark Urban

The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy

THE PITCH It is high summer in Madrid, 1996. Two men are walking in the Parque del Retiro. It’s a working day so they are wearing office attire, which just raises the temperature still further. The older of the pair is a couple of weeks past his forty-fifth birthday, big, with a boxer’s physique. He is fair-skinned and looks a little out of place among the Spaniards who flit along the paths pushing their kids in strollers or walking hand in hand. The other, maybe a decade younger, maybe more, appears to be Spanish. He’s darker, dressed the way the Madrileños might dress, and outwardly he appears more at home. But at the same time he doesn’t quite look relaxed. The park’s thoroughfares tell the story of the pet projects of Spain’s Bourbon monarchs and statesmen. There is one section created in the formal French style with neat trimmed hedges […]