Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

How the Invasion of Iraq Came Home

If you want to know where President Donald Trump came from, if you want to trace the long winding road (or escalator) that brought him to the Oval Office, don’t look to reality TV or Twitter or even the rise of the alt-right. Look someplace far more improbable: Iraq. Donald Trump may have been born in New York City.  He may have grown to manhood amid his hometown’s real estate wars.  He may have gone no further than Atlantic City, New Jersey, to casino-ize the world and create those magical golden letters that would become the essence of his brand.  He may have made an even more magical leap to television without leaving home, turning “You’re fired!” into a household phrase.  Still, his presidency is another matter entirely.  It’s an immigrant.  It arrived, fully radicalized, with its bouffant over-comb and eternal tan, from Iraq. Despite his denials that he was […]

The Race for What's Left

Rebuilding a Last-Century Military to Fight Last-Century Wars

If you are an American male of a certain age — Donald Trump’s age, to be exact — you are likely to have vivid memories of Victory at Sea, the Emmy award-winning NBC documentary series about the U.S. Navy in World War II that aired from October 1952 to May 1953. One of the first extended documentaries of its type, Victory at Sea traced the Navy’s triumphal journey from the humiliation of Pearl Harbor to the great victories at Midway and Leyte Gulf in the Pacific and finally to Japan’s surrender aboard the USS Missouri. Drawing on archival footage (all in black and white, of course) and featuring a majestic sound track composed by Richard Rogers of Broadway musical fame, the series enjoyed immense popularity. For many young people of that time, it was the most compelling, graphic imagery available about the epic war our fathers, uncles, and classmates’ dads […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

How the U.S. Invaded, Occupied, and Remade Itself

It’s been epic! A cast of thousands! (Hundreds? Tens?) A spectacular production that, five weeks after opening on every screen of any sort in America (and possibly the world), shows no sign of ending. What a hit it’s been! It’s driving people back to newspapers (online, if not in print) and ensuring that our everyday companions, the 24/7 cable news shows, never lack for “breaking news” or audiences. It’s a smash in both the Hollywood and car accident sense of the term, a phenomenon the likes of which we’ve simply never experienced. Think of Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the cameras rolled. It’s proved, in every way, to be a giant leak. A faucet. A spigot. An absolute flood of non-news, quarter-news, half-news, crazed news, fake news, and over-the-top actual news. And you know exactly what — and whom — I’m talking about.  No need to explain.  I mean, you […]

Breach of Trust by Andrew Bacevich

David Brooks on Making America Great Again

Apart from being a police officer, firefighter, or soldier engaged in one of this nation’s endless wars, writing a column for a major American newspaper has got to be one of the toughest and most unforgiving jobs there is.  The pay may be decent (at least if your gig is with one of the major papers in New York or Washington), but the pressures to perform on cue are undoubtedly relentless. Anyone who has ever tried cramming a coherent and ostensibly insightful argument into a mere 750 words knows what I’m talking about.  Writing op-eds does not perhaps qualify as high art.  Yet, like tying flies or knitting sweaters, it requires no small amount of skill.  Performing the trick week in and week out without too obviously recycling the same ideas over and over again — or at least while disguising repetitions and concealing inconsistencies — requires notable gifts. David […]

The Race for What's Left

Donald Trump Is Giving the Phrase “Multipolar World” New Meaning

If there’s a single consistent aspect to Donald Trump’s strategic vision, it’s this: U.S. foreign policy should always be governed by the simple principle of “America First,” with this country’s vital interests placed above those of all others.  “We will always put America’s interests first,” he declared in his victory speech in the early hours of November 9th.  “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first,” he insisted in his Inaugural Address on January 20th.  Since then, however, everything he’s done in the international arena has, intentionally or not, placed America’s interests behind those of its arch-rivals, China and Russia. So to be accurate, his guiding policy formula should really be relabeled America Third. Given 19 months of bravado public rhetoric, there was no way to imagine a Trumpian presidency that would favor America’s leading competitors. Throughout the campaign, he castigated China for its “predatory” […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

The 25/8 News Cycle Is Already Rolling, But the Looting of America Hasn’t Really Begun

It started in June 2015 with that Trump Tower escalator ride into the presidential race to the tune of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” (“But there’s a warnin’ sign on the road ahead, there’s a lot of people sayin’ we’d be better off dead, don’t feel like Satan, but I am to them…”) In a sense the rockin’ has never stopped and by now the world, free or not, has been rocked indeed.  No one, from Beijing to Mexico City, Baghdad to Berlin, London to Washington could question that. Who today remembers that, in those initial moments of his campaign, Donald Trump was already focused on the size of his first (partially hired) crowd?  (“This is beyond anybody’s expectations.  There’s been no crowd like this…”)  And he’s been consistently himself ever since — less a strong man than a bizarrely high-strung one.  In the process, while becoming president, […]

Bill Clinton: The American Presidents Series: The 42nd President, 1993-2001 by Michael Tomasky

The American Presidents Series: The 42nd President, 1993-2001

It was the summer after Bill Clinton finished first grade. Roger Clinton, the man Bill grew up calling “Daddy” even though he was not Bill’s biological father, had grown tired of Hope, Arkansas, and its comparative lack of amusements, so he moved the family to Hot Springs—a town much more up his hooch-hitting, hard-living alley. Roger bought a farm, and one Sunday, Bill was out playing with his cousin Karla when the farm’s one mean ram began to charge at them. Karla, older and faster, got away. Bill tripped over a rock. As he tells the story in his autobiography, My Life: Soon he caught me and knocked my legs out from under me. Before I could get up he butted me in the head. Then I was stunned and hurt and couldn’t get up. So he backed up, got a good head start, and rammed me again as hard […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

The Collective "Wisdom" of the U.S. Intelligence Community

They call themselves the U.S. “Intelligence Community,” or the IC. If you include the office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which in 2005 began as a crew of 12 people, including its director, and by 2008 had already grown to a staff of 1,750, there are 17 members (adding up to an alphabet soup of acronyms including the CIA, the NSA, and the DIA). The IC spends something like $70 billion of your taxpayer dollars annually, mostly in secret, hires staggering numbers of private contractors from various warrior corporations to lend a hand, sucks up communications of every sort across the planet, runs a drone air force, monitors satellites galore, builds its agencies multi-billion-dollar headquarters and storage facilities, and does all of this, ostensibly, to provide the president and the rest of the government with the best information imaginable on what’s happening in the world and what dangers […]

The Race for What's Left

Four Looming Flashpoints Facing President Trump

Within months of taking office, President Donald Trump is likely to face one or more major international crises, possibly entailing a risk of nuclear escalation. Not since the end of the Cold War has a new chief executive been confronted with as many potential flashpoints involving such a risk of explosive conflict. This proliferation of crises has been brewing for some time, but the situation appears especially ominous now given Trump’s pledge to bring American military force swiftly to bear on any threats of foreign transgression. With so much at risk, it’s none too soon to go on a permanent escalation watch, monitoring the major global hotspots for any sign of imminent flare-ups, hoping that early warnings (and the outcry that goes with them) might help avert catastrophe. Looking at the world today, four areas appear to pose an especially high risk of sudden crisis and conflict: North Korea, the […]

Breach of Trust by Andrew Bacevich

History After “the End of History”

The fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 abruptly ended one historical era and inaugurated another. So, too, did the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election. What are we to make of the interval between those two watershed moments? Answering that question is essential to understanding how Donald Trump became president and where his ascendency leaves us. Hardly had this period commenced before observers fell into the habit of referring to it as the “post-Cold War” era. Now that it’s over, a more descriptive name might be in order.  My suggestion: America’s Age of Great Expectations.  Forgive and Forget The end of the Cold War caught the United States completely by surprise.  During the 1980s, even with Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin, few in Washington questioned the prevailing conviction that the Soviet-American rivalry was and would remain a defining feature of international politics more or less in perpetuity. […]

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer

Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire

How should the United States act in the world? Americans cannot decide. For more than a century we have debated with ourselves. We can’t even agree on the question. Put one way: Should we defend our freedom, or turn inward and ignore growing threats? Put differently: Should we charge violently into faraway lands, or allow others to work out their own destinies? Our enthusiasm for foreign intervention seems to ebb and flow like the tides, or swing back and forth like a pendulum. At some moments we are aflame with righteous anger. Confident in our power, we launch wars and depose governments. Then, chastened, we retreat—until the cycle begins again. America’s interventionist urge, however, is not truly cyclical. When we love the idea of intervening abroad and then hate it, we are not changing our minds. Both instincts coexist within us. Americans are imperialists and also isolationists. We want to […]

Kill Anything That Moves

U.S. Special Operations Forces Deploy to 138 Nations, 70% of the World’s Countries

They could be found on the outskirts of Sirte, Libya, supporting local militia fighters, and in Mukalla, Yemen, backing troops from the United Arab Emirates.  At Saakow, a remote outpost in southern Somalia, they assisted local commandos in killing several members of the terror group al-Shabab.  Around the cities of Jarabulus and Al-Rai in northern Syria, they partnered with both Turkish soldiers and Syrian militias, while also embedding with Kurdish YPG fighters and the Syrian Democratic Forces.  Across the border in Iraq, still others joined the fight to liberate the city of Mosul.  And in Afghanistan, they assisted indigenous forces in various missions, just as they have every year since 2001. For America, 2016 may have been the year of the commando.  In one conflict zone after another across the northern tier of Africa and the Greater Middle East, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) waged their particular brand of low-profile warfare.  […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

Thank You, Donald Trump

Know thyself. It was what came to mind in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory and my own puzzling reaction to it. And while that familiar phrase just popped into my head, I had no idea it was so ancient, or Greek, or for that matter a Delphic maxim inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo according to the Greek writer Pausanias (whom I’d never heard of until I read his name in Wikipedia). Think of that as my own triple helix of ignorance extending back to… well, my birth in a very different America 72 years ago. Anyway, the simple point is that I didn’t know myself half as well as I imagined.  And I can thank Donald Trump for reminding me of that essential truth.  Of course, we can never know what’s really going on inside the heads of all those other people out there on […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

The Future According to Trump

Can you doubt that we’re in a dystopian age, even if we’re still four weeks from Donald Trump entering the Oval Office? Never in our lifetimes have we experienced such vivid previews of what unfettered capitalism is likely to mean in an ever more unequal country, now that its version of 1% politics has elevated to the pinnacle of power a bizarre billionaire and his “basket of deplorables.” I’m referring, of course, not to his followers but to his picks for the highest posts in the land. These include a series of generals ready to lead us into a new set of crusades and a crew of billionaires and multimillionaires prepared to make America theirs again. It’s already a stunningly depressing moment — and it hasn’t even begun. At the very least, it calls upon the rest of us to rise to the occasion. That means mustering a dystopian imagination […]

Kill Anything That Moves

America’s Elite Troops Partner with African Forces But Pursue U.S. Aims

Al-Qaeda doesn’t care about borders. Neither does the Islamic State or Boko Haram. Brigadier General Donald Bolduc thinks the same way. “[T]errorists, criminals, and non-state actors aren’t bound by arbitrary borders,” the commander of Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) told an interviewer early this fall.  “That said, everything we do is not organized around recognizing traditional borders. In fact, our whole command philosophy is about enabling cross-border solutions, implementing multi-national, collective actions and empowering African partner nations to work across borders to solve problems using a regional approach.” A SOCAFRICA planning document obtained by TomDispatch offers a window onto the scope of these “multi-national, collective actions” carried out by America’s most elite troops in Africa. The declassified but heavily redacted secret report, covering the years 2012-2017 and acquired via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), details nearly 20 programs and activities — from training exercises to security cooperation engagements — […]