Kill Anything That Moves

Secret U.S. Military Documents Reveal a Constellation of American Military Bases Across That Continent

General Thomas Waldhauser sounded a little uneasy.  “I would just say, they are on the ground.  They are trying to influence the action,” commented the chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) at a Pentagon press briefing in March, when asked about Russian military personnel operating in North Africa.  “We watch what they do with great concern.” And Russians aren’t the only foreigners on Waldhauser’s mind.  He’s also wary of a Chinese “military base” being built not far from Camp Lemonnier, a large U.S. facility in the tiny, sun-blasted nation of Djibouti.  “They’ve never had an overseas base, and we’ve never had a base of… a peer competitor as close as this one happens to be,” he said.  “There are some very significant… operational security concerns.” At that press conference, Waldhauser mentioned still another base, an American one exposed by the Washington Post last October in an article titled, “U.S. has […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

Or Why Trump’s Wars Should Seem So Familiar

MOAB sounds more like an incestuous, war-torn biblical kingdom than the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, aka “the mother of all bombs.”  Still, give Donald Trump credit.  Only the really, really big bombs, whether North Korean nukes or those 21,600 pounds of MOAB, truly get his attention.  He wasn’t even involved in the decision to drop the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal for the first time in war, but his beloved generals — “we have the best military people on Earth” — already know the man they work for, and the bigger, flashier, more explosive, and winninger, the better. It was undoubtedly the awesome look of that first MOAB going off in grainy black and white on Fox News, rather than in Afghanistan, that appealed to the president.  Just as he was visibly thrilled by all those picturesque Tomahawk cruise missiles, the equivalent of nearly three MOABS, whooshing […]

The Race for What's Left

Inaction Equals Annihilation

Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10th, Stephen O’Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan — as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.”  Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.” Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O’Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, […]

This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class by Elizabeth Warren

The Battle to Save America's Middle Class

“I’ll get the popcorn.” I yelled up the stairs to let Bruce know I was coming. I also had the beer and my laptop. He had the television on, with the second season of Ballers lined up. Our son had hooked us on it the year before, and we’d been saving the shows until tonight—Election Night. It was November 8, 2016. The polls were about to close in Massachusetts, and we were about to start our Election Night ritual: clicking back and forth between news reports and binge-watching something really fun on television. I had my laptop so I could check on the local races, and my phone so, assuming the night went well, I could make some congratulatory calls. Yeah, until I won my Senate race in 2012 I’d have guessed that a senator would watch election returns like a pro: a big group of people in a war […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

A Nation Made by War and a Citizenry Unmade By It

On successive days recently, I saw two museum shows that caught something of a lost American world and seemed eerily relevant in the Age of Trump.  The first, “Hippie Modernism,” an exploration of the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s (heavy on psychedelic posters), was appropriately enough at the Berkeley Art Museum.  To my surprise, it also included a few artifacts from a movement crucial to my own not-especially-countercultural version of those years: the vast antiwar protests that took to the streets in the mid-1960s, shook the country, and never really went away until the last American combat troops were finally withdrawn from Vietnam in 1973.  Included was a poster of the American flag, upside down, its stripes redrawn as red rifles, its stars as blue fighter planes, and another showing an American soldier, a rifle casually slung over his shoulder.  Its caption still seems relevant as our never-ending wars […]

A Political Movement’s Violent Pursuit of “Enemies”

In 2016, something extraordinary happened in the politics of diverse countries around the world. With surprising speed and simultaneity, a new generation of populist leaders emerged from the margins of nominally democratic nations to win power.  In doing so, they gave voice, often in virulent fashion, to public concerns about the social costs of globalization. Even in societies as disparate as the affluent United States and the impoverished Philippines, similarly violent strains of populist rhetoric carried two unlikely candidates from the political margins to the presidency. On opposite sides of the Pacific, these outsider campaigns were framed by lurid calls for violence and even murder. As his insurgent crusade gained momentum, billionaire Donald Trump moved beyond his repeated promises to fight Islamic terror with torture and brutal bombing by also advocating the murder of women and children. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their […]

Breach of Trust by Andrew Bacevich

Onward and Upward with U.S. Central Command

By way of explaining his eight failed marriages, the American bandleader Artie Shaw once remarked,  “I am an incurable optimist.” In reality, Artie was an incurable narcissist. Utterly devoid of self-awareness, he never looked back, only forward. So, too, with the incurable optimists who manage present-day American wars.  What matters is not past mistakes but future opportunities.  This describes the view of General Joseph Votel, current head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).  Since its creation in 1983, CENTCOM has emerged as the ne plus ultra of the Pentagon’s several regional commands, the place where the action is always hot and heavy.  Votel is the latest in a long train of four-star generals to preside over that action. The title of this essay (exclamation point included) captures in a single phrase the “strategic approach” that Votel has devised for CENTCOM.  That approach, according to the command’s website, is “proactive in nature […]

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 […]