The Failure of High-Tech Policing

Everyone remembers Ferguson. The small municipality in Missouri, located ten miles northwest of St. Louis, with a mostly black population of about twenty-one thousand, was the setting of a shocking police killing in 2014 that captured the nation’s attention.1 The city’s population, however, also represented a much broader trend—the culmination of a cycle of white flight that had been playing out all over the country for decades. In the 1950s and ’60s, as blacks moved in massive numbers from the South to large northern cities like St. Louis, white families fled those cities for the suburbs. By the 1980s, some blacks had accumulated enough wealth to move to the suburbs, too, and when they did many whites fled again to exurban communities even farther out. This trend created intensely segregated and often impoverished suburbs2—which Ferguson perfectly exemplified: between 1980 and 2010, Ferguson’s white population decreased from 85 to 29 percent […]

The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin

Bound at the Border, or How to Make Border Porn

On February 15th, Donald Trump declared a state of national emergency in order to fund his “great, great” border wall without having to go through Congress. There is, of course, no emergency, despite the rape fantasy that the president has regularly tried to pass off as public policy. In speech after speech, including his declaration of that emergency, he has told the same story: the United States needs a border wall to prevent sex traffickers from driving women into the country, bound with duct tape. “Women are tied up,” he typically says. “They’re bound. Duct tape put around their faces, around their mouths. In many cases they can’t even breathe.” It’s a scenario he’s only continued to elaborate over time. “They have tape over their mouths, electrical tape, usually blue tape, as they call it. It’s powerful stuff. Not good. And they have three, four, five of them in vans, […]

The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin

From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

Poetry was the language of the frontier, and the historian Frederick Jackson Turner was among its greatest laureates. “The United States lies like a huge page in the history of society,” he wrote in 1893. “Line by line as we read this continental page from West to East we find the record of social evolution.”1 Expansion across the continent, Turner said, made Europeans into something new, into a people both coarse and curious, self-disciplined and spontaneous, practical and inventive, filled with a “restless, nervous energy” and lifted by “that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom.” Turner’s scholarly career spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during the height of Jim Crow and the consolidation of anti-miscegenation and nativist exclusion laws, with the KKK resurgent. Mexican workers were being lynched in Texas, and the U.S. military was engaged in deadly counterinsurgencies in the Caribbean and Pacific. But what became known as Turner’s Frontier Thesis—which argued that the expansion of settlement across a frontier of “free land” created a uniquely American form of political equality, a vibrant, forward-looking individualism—placed a wager on the future.

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

Or How to Solve the Border and China Problems in One Swell Foop

Call me crazy, if you want, but I think I see how to do it! We have two intractable issues, one intractable president, and an intractable world, but what if it weren’t so? What if those two intractable problems could be swept off the table by a single gesture from that same intractable man? As a start, consider the problem of President Trump’s embattled “great, great wall,” the one to be built across 1,000 (or is it 2,000?) miles of our southern border, the one that so obsesses him, filling every other hour of his tweet-storming day, the one that a recalcitrant Mexican government refused to pay for, that Congress wouldn’t pony up the money for, and that striking percentages of Americans don’t want to fund either. As for turning it into a national emergency, that’s only going to line the pockets of law firms, not build the “big, fat, […]

How Climate Change Could End Washington’s Global Dominion

Once upon a time in America, we could all argue about whether or not U.S. global power was declining. Now, most observers have little doubt that the end is just a matter of timing and circumstance. Ten years ago, I predicted that, by 2025, it would be all over for American power, a then-controversial comment that’s commonplace today. Under President Donald Trump, the once “indispensable nation” that won World War II and built a new world order has become dispensable indeed. The decline and fall of American global power is, of course, nothing special in the great sweep of history. After all, in the 4,000 years since humanity’s first empire formed in the Fertile Crescent, at least 200 empires have risen, collided with other imperial powers, and in time collapsed. In the past century alone, two dozen modern imperial states have fallen and the world has managed just fine in […]

The Race for What's Left

It’s Already Under Way

In his highly acclaimed 2017 book, Destined for War, Harvard professor Graham Allison assessed the likelihood that the United States and China would one day find themselves at war. Comparing the U.S.-Chinese relationship to great-power rivalries all the way back to the Peloponnesian War of the fifth century BC, he concluded that the future risk of a conflagration was substantial. Like much current analysis of U.S.-Chinese relations, however, he missed a crucial point: for all intents and purposes, the United States and China are already at war with one another. Even if their present slow-burn conflict may not produce the immediate devastation of a conventional hot war, its long-term consequences could prove no less dire.

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.