Or How I Learned Not to Love Big Brother

In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Washington pursued its elusive enemies across the landscapes of Asia and Africa, thanks in part to a massive expansion of its intelligence infrastructure, particularly of the emerging technologies for digital surveillance, agile drones, and biometric identification. In 2010, almost a decade into this secret war with its voracious appetite for information, the Washington Post reported that the national security state had swelled into a “fourth branch” of the federal government — with 854,000 vetted officials, 263 security organizations, and over 3,000 intelligence units, issuing 50,000 special reports every year. Though stunning, these statistics only skimmed the visible surface of what had become history’s largest and most lethal clandestine apparatus. According to classified documents that Edward Snowden leaked in 2013, the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies alone had 107,035 employees and a combined “black budget” of $52.6 billion, the equivalent of 10% percent of […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

High Crimes and Demeanors in the Age of Trump

Let me try to get this straight: from the moment the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 until recently just about every politician and mainstream pundit in America assured us that we were the planet’s indispensable nation, the only truly exceptional one on this small orb of ours. We were the sole superpower, Earth’s hyperpower, its designated global sheriff, the architect of our planetary future.  After five centuries of great power rivalries, in the wake of a two-superpower world that, amid the threat of nuclear annihilation, seemed to last forever and a day (even if it didn’t quite make it 50 years), the United States was the ultimate survivor, the victor of victors, the last of the last.  It stood triumphantly at the end of history.  In a lottery that had lasted since Europe’s wooden ships first broke out of a periphery of Eurasia and began to colonize much of the […]

Kill Anything That Moves

A Rare Pentagon “Success” Story

Winning! It’s the White House watchword when it comes to the U.S. armed forces. “We will give our military the tools you need to prevent war and, if required, to fight war and only do one thing — you know what that is? Win! Win!” President Donald Trump exclaimed earlier this year while standing aboard the new aircraft carrier U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford. Since World War II, however, neither preventing nor winning wars have been among America’s strong suits.  The nation has instead been embroiled in serial conflicts and interventions in which victories have been remarkably scarce, a trend that has only accelerated in the post-9/11 era. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Somalia to the Philippines, Libya to Yemen, military investments — in lives and tax dollars — have been costly and enduring victories essentially nonexistent.  But Amadou Sanogo is something of a rare all-American military success story, even if he […]

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

The Post-Cold-War Consensus Collapses

Like it or not, the president of the United States embodies America itself. The individual inhabiting the White House has become the preeminent symbol of who we are and what we represent as a nation and a people. In a fundamental sense, he is us. It was not always so. Millard Fillmore, the 13th president (1850-1853), presided over but did not personify the American republic.  He was merely the federal chief executive.  Contemporary observers did not refer to his term in office as the Age of Fillmore.  With occasional exceptions, Abraham Lincoln in particular, much the same could be said of Fillmore’s successors.  They brought to office low expectations, which they rarely exceeded.  So when Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) or William Howard Taft (1909-1913) left the White House, there was no rush to immortalize them by erecting gaudy shrines — now known as “presidential libraries” — to the glory of […]

War Is Not Over When It's Over by Ann Jones

Medicare for All in One State

You may have noticed that quite a few of the formerly united states of America have been choosing to go their own way. My own state, Massachusetts, now blooms with sanctuary cities sworn to protect residents from federal intrusion.  Its attorney general, Maura Healey, was among the first to raise the legal challenge to President Trump’s Muslim bans. She also sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education for abandoning rules meant to protect students from exploitation by private for-profit schools. (Think Trump University, for instance.) Even my state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, announced well before the presidential election that he wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump. It’s been like the Boston Tea Party all over again, with citizens and public officials refusing to abide by the edicts of their supposedly lawful rulers.  And Massachusetts is not alone. Hawaii, Washington State, New York, Minnesota, and Oregon all joined the […]