A Climate Disaster Zone, Not a Military Superpower

In recent months, Washington has had a lot to say about China’s ever-expanding air, naval, and missile power. But when Pentagon officials address the topic, they generally speak less about that country’s current capabilities, which remain vastly inferior to those of the U.S., than the world they foresee in the 2030s and 2040s, when Beijing is expected to have acquired far more sophisticated weaponry.

“China has invested heavily in new technologies, with a stated intent to complete the modernization of its forces by 2035 and to field a ‘world-class military’ by 2049,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified in June. The United States, he assured the Senate Armed Services Committee, continues to possess “the best joint fighting force on Earth.” But only by spending countless additional billions of dollars annually, he added, can this country hope to “outpace” China’s projected advances in the decades to come.

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

And (Un)Welcome to It

Admittedly, I hadn’t been there for 46 years, but old friends of mine still live (or at least lived) in the town of Greenville, California, and now… well, it’s more or less gone, though they survived.  The Dixie Fire, one of those devastating West Coast blazes, had already “blackened” 504 square miles of Northern California in what was still essentially the (old) pre-fire season. It would soon become the second-largest wildfire in the state’s history. When it swept through Greenville, much of downtown, along with more than 100 homes, were left in ashes as the 1,000 residents of that Gold Rush-era town fled.

I remember Greenville as a wonderful little place that, all these years later, still brings back fond memories.  I’m now on the other coast, but much of that small, historic community is no longer there. This season, California’s wildfires have already devastated three times the territory burned in the same period in 2020’s record fire season. And that makes a point that couldn’t be more salient to our moment and our future. A heating planet is a danger, not in some distant time, but right now — yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Don’t just ask the inhabitants of Greenville, ask those in the village of Monte Lake, British Columbia, the second town in that Canadian province to be gutted by flames in recent months in a region that normally — or perhaps I should just say once upon a time — was used to neither extreme heat and drought, nor the fires that accompany them.

But No Questions about War Please!

“The thirty-year interregnum of U.S. global hegemony,” writes David Bromwich in the journal Raritan, “has been exposed as a fraud, a decoy, a cheat, [and] a sell.” Today, he continues, “the armies of the cheated are struggling to find the word for something that happened and happened wrong.”

In fact, the armies of the cheated know exactly what happened, even if they haven’t yet settled on precisely the right term to describe the disaster that has befallen this nation.

What happened was this: shortly after the end of the Cold War, virtually the entire American foreign-policy establishment succumbed to a monumentally self-destructive ideological fever.

Call it INS, shorthand for Indispensable Nation Syndrome. Like Covid-19, INS exacts a painful toll of victims. Unlike Covid, we await the vaccine that can prevent its spread. We know that preexisting medical conditions can increase a person’s susceptibility to the coronavirus. The preexisting condition that increases someone’s vulnerability to INS is the worship of power.

Back in 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright not only identified INS, but also captured its essence. Appearing on national TV, she famously declared, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”