How Henry Kissinger Helped Create Our “Proliferated” World

The only person Henry Kissinger flattered more than President Richard Nixon was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. In the early 1970s, the Shah, sitting atop an enormous reserve of increasingly expensive oil and a key figure in Nixon and Kissinger’s move into the Middle East, wanted to be dealt with as a serious person. He expected his country to be treated with the same respect Washington showed other key Cold War allies like West Germany and Great Britain. As Nixon’s national security adviser and, after 1973, secretary of state, Kissinger’s job was to pump up the Shah, to make him feel like he truly was the “king of kings.” Reading the diplomatic record, it’s hard not to imagine his weariness as he prepared for his sessions with the Shah, considering just what gestures and words would be needed to make it clear that his majesty truly mattered to […]

(But Not the Civil War)

The Pentagon just can’t let go. In the wake of the Charleston Massacre, Amazon and Walmart have announced that they will no longer sell Confederate flag merchandise. Ebay says it will stop offering Confederate items for electronic auction. Mississippi's Republican speaker of the house calls his state flag, which includes the Stars and Bars in the top left corner, “a point of offense that needs to be removed.” Even Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, agrees that a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in his state's capitol building belongs in a museum. Yet the Department of Defense says it isn’t even “reviewing” the possibility of a ban on the flag, deciding instead to leave any such move to the various service branches, while military bases named after Confederate officers will remain so. One factor in this decision: the South provides more than 40% of all military recruits, many of […]

What the Modern World Owes Slavery (It’s More Than Back Wages)

Many in the United States were outraged by the remarks of conservative evangelical preacher Pat Robertson, who blamed Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake on Haitians for selling their souls to Satan. Bodies were still being pulled from the rubble — as many as 300,000 died — when Robertson went on TV and gave his viewing audience a little history lesson: the Haitians had been "under the heel of the French" but they "got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.'" A supremely callous example of right-wing idiocy? Absolutely. Yet in his own kooky way, Robertson was also onto something. Haitians did, in fact, swear a pact with the devil for their freedom. Only Beelzebub arrived smelling not of sulfur, but of Parisian cologne.  Haitian […]

Melville Knew Them, We Still Live With Them

A captain ready to drive himself and all around him to ruin in the hunt for a white whale. It’s a well-known story, and over the years, mad Ahab in Herman Melville’s most famous novel, Moby-Dick, has been used as an exemplar of unhinged American power, most recently of George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. But what’s really frightening isn't our Ahabs, the hawks who periodically want to bomb some poor country, be it Vietnam or Afghanistan, back to the Stone Age.  The respectable types are the true “terror of our age,” as Noam Chomsky called them collectively nearly 50 years ago.  The really scary characters are our soberest politicians, scholars, journalists, professionals, and managers, men and women (though mostly men) who imagine themselves as morally serious, and then enable the wars, devastate the planet, and rationalize the atrocities.  They are a type that has been with us for […]

How a Washington Global Torture Gulag Was Turned Into the Only Gulag-Free Zone on Earth

The map tells the story.  To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago. Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set.  It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either. All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret […]

The Tea Party’s Guide to American Exceptionalism (It Is All About Race)

Americans, it’s been said, learn geography when they go to war.  Now, it seems, many get their history when they go to a Tea Party rally or tune in to Glenn Beck. History is a “battlefield of ideas,” as Beck recently put it, while looking professorial in front of a blackboard filled with his trademark circled names connected by multidirectional arrows, his hands covered with chalk dust.  In this struggle, movement historians like Beck go all in, advancing a comprehensive interpretation of American history meant to provide analytical clarity to believers and potential converts alike.  As paranoid as it may be, this history is neither radical nor revisionist, since the Tea Party activists and their fellow travelers pluck at some of the major chords of American nationalism. It’s easy to dismiss the iconography of the movement: the wigs and knee breeches, the founding-father fetishism, the coiled snakes, and, yes, the […]

From Detroit to the Amazon

The empire ends with a pull out. Not, as many supposed a few years ago, from Iraq. There, as well as in Afghanistan, we are mulishly staying the course, come what may, trapped in the biggest of all the “too-big-to-fail” boondoggles. But from Detroit. Of course, the real evacuation of the Motor City began decades ago, when Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler started to move more and more of their operations out of the downtown area to harder to unionize rural areas and suburbs, and, finally, overseas. Even as the economy boomed in the 1950s and 1960s, 50 Detroit residents were already packing up and leaving their city every day. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Detroit could count tens of thousands of empty lots and over 15,000 abandoned homes. Stunning Beaux Arts and modernist buildings were left deserted to return to nature, their floors and roofs […]

What Will the Obama Doctrine Be Like?

Google "neglect," "Washington," and "Latin America," and you will be led to thousands of hand-wringing calls from politicians and pundits for Washington to "pay more attention" to the region. True, Richard Nixon once said that "people don’t give one shit" about the place. And his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger quipped that Latin America is a "dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica." But Kissinger also made that same joke about Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand — and, of the three countries, only the latter didn’t suffer widespread political murder as a result of his policies, a high price to pay for such a reportedly inconsequential place. Latin America, in fact, has been indispensable in the evolution of U.S. diplomacy. The region is often referred to as America’s "backyard," but a better metaphor might be Washington’s "strategic reserve," the place where ascendant foreign-policy coalitions regroup and redraw the outlines of […]

Death Squads, Disappearances, and Torture -- from Latin America to Iraq

The world is made up, as Captain Segura in Graham Greene’s 1958 novel Our Man in Havana put it, of two classes: the torturable and the untorturable. "There are people," Segura explained, "who expect to be tortured and others who would be outraged by the idea." Then — so Greene thought — Catholics, particularly Latin American Catholics, were more torturable than Protestants. Now, of course, Muslims hold that distinction, victims of a globalized network of offshore and outsourced imprisonment coordinated by Washington and knitted together by secret flights, concentration camps, and black-site detention centers. The CIA’s deployment of Orwellian "Special Removal Units" to kidnap terror suspects in Europe, Canada, the Middle East, and elsewhere and the whisking of these "ghost prisoners" off to Third World countries to be tortured goes, today, by the term "extraordinary rendition," a hauntingly apt phrase. "To render" means not just to hand over, but to […]

Will the Democrats Blow It Again as They Did in 1986?

A Republican Party on the ropes, bloodied by a mid-second-term scandal; a resurrected Democratic opposition, sure it can capitalize on public outrage to prove that it is still, in the American heart of hearts, the majority party. But before House Democrats start divvying up committee assignments and convening special investigations, they should consider that they’ve been here before, and things didn’t turn out exactly the way they hoped. It was twenty years ago this November 3rd — exactly one day after the Democrats regained control of the Senate after six years in the minority — that the Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa reported on the Reagan administration’s secret, high-tech missile sale to Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, which violated an arms embargo against that country and contradicted President Ronald Reagan’s personal pledge never to deal with governments that sponsored terrorism. Democrats couldn’t believe their luck. After years of banging their heads on Reagan’s popularity […]