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David Vine, Biden Builds Back Worse (When It Comes to China)

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Just a small reminder that signed, personalized copies of William deBuys’s remarkable new book, The Trail to Kanjiroba: Rediscovering Earth in an Age of Loss, are still available at the TomDispatch donation page for contributions of at least $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.A.). Of it, Dahr Jamail, someone TD readers will remember well, has said, “Written in the spirit of Mathiessen’s Snow Leopard, The Trail to Kanjiroba is a pilgrimage into the unknown of the inner realms. DeBuys’s heartfelt, raw, poetically written personal peregrination is a true service to life on an increasingly disrupted planet.” At the very least, make sure to get yourself a copy! Tom]

Let me make my own position on China all too clear. I’m distinctly “soft” on that country. I always have been. After all, it represents a remarkable civilization, one I studied in graduate school. Among my greatest regrets is never having visited there, never having made it to the Great Wall or any of its other memorable historical landmarks. China has indeed “risen” from the nightmare of the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries to become one of the two great powers on this planet, which is, I think, a remarkable accomplishment. Yes, of course, there are aspects of its governance that are deplorable (but it’s in good company there). Still, at this potentially calamitous moment on Planet Earth, working with, not preparing for war against, China should be the order of the day.

Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority in a country where being soft on China is one of the worst insults around. Early in the 2020 election campaign, for instance, Joe Biden criticized Donald Trump for just that. He “rolled over for the Chinese” on Covid-19, claimed one Biden campaign ad. And, of course, the then-president returned the favor, tweeting, “China wants Sleepy Joe sooo badly… Joe is an easy mark, their DREAM CANDIDATE!”

As it happens, both were quite wrong about the other. Trump, of course, whacked the Chinese (and American consumers, as well) with those tariffs of his, which Sleepy Joe has adamantly kept in place since entering the Oval Office. Meanwhile, as with Washington’s new AUKUS pact in Asia that will provide Australia with nuclear-powered subs or the new CIA spy center that’s to focus on China alone, the Biden foreign-policy team has been hot to trot when it’s come to creating a new Cold War in Asia. As it turns out, both administrations stationed U.S. Marines and a special-operations unit on the island of Taiwan for the first time (without even notifying Congress) and both have sold that island’s government copious new weapons systems.

Both have been similarly intent on creating anti-Chinese alliances in the region, but the Biden administration has been doing all this far more coherently, as TomDispatch regular David Vine, author most recently of the all-too-aptly titled The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State, suggests today. Of course, for a land that spends more on its military-industrial complex than the Chinese could ever imagine, more than at least the next 11 countries combined (and hasn’t won a war of significance, including in Afghanistan, since 1945), an enemy remains sadly necessary. Despite the fact that the Chinese have, as Vine indicates, done remarkably little of an aggressive nature in the world in recent years, congressional majorities of Democrats and Republicans would never agree to fund the Pentagon at levels now almost beyond imagining without just such a foe.

Meanwhile, both countries continue to make war on the planet in an unprecedented manner in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and so on we go. Let Vine, an expert on this country as a war and garrison state, fill you in. Tom

Do You Want a New Cold War?

The AUKUS Alliance Takes the World to the Brink

Before it's too late, we need to ask ourselves a crucial question: Do we really -- I mean truly -- want a new Cold War with China?

Because that's just where the Biden administration is clearly taking us. If you need proof, check out last month's announcement of an "AUKUS" (Australia, United Kingdom, U.S.) military alliance in Asia. Believe me, it's far scarier (and more racist) than the nuclear-powered submarine deal and the French diplomatic kerfuffle that dominated the media coverage of it. By focusing on the dramatically angry French reaction to losing their own agreement to sell non-nuclear subs to Australia, most of the media missed a much bigger story: that the U.S. government and its allies have all but formally declared a new Cold War by launching a coordinated military buildup in East Asia unmistakably aimed at China.

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William deBuys, A Long Walk into an Imperiled Future

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Today, that superb writer and naturalist William deBuys returns to TomDispatch with a piece that offers a sense of his new book, The Trail to Kanjiroba: Rediscovering Earth in an Age of Loss. As Bill McKibben, a man whose word I would always take, writes, “Bill deBuys is one of the planet’s great observers, and this may be his masterwork — a story of an exploration of Nepal, but also of the present and future of this planet. Caring for that world, and all that’s in it, is necessary, painful, and as he makes clear, exquisitely beautiful work.” Just out, that book is at the top of my own reading list and I hope it will be on yours, too. Should you want a signed, personalized copy in return for a donation of at least $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.A.), just visit our donation page and offer us the necessary support — the kind that allows me to regularly publish pieces like deBuys’s on a planet that desperately needs more of them. And, of course, my deep thanks go to so many of you across this country and the world who, after all these years, keep giving to this site! It simply couldn’t mean more to me. Tom]

Yes, unbelievably enough, her vote seems to control the direction that American politics is going to take in this era.  I’m thinking about Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democratic senator who, like that king of coal, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, has essentially held President Biden’s Build Back Better Act for ransom over these last weeks. Only recently, the New York Times reported that Sinema, representing a state that’s been clobbered by climate change, is deep in a megadrought unprecedented in its history, losing its water supplies, and regularly setting heat records, would like to see $100 billion in climate-change funding cut from that very bill. Brilliant! That should help solve Arizona’s problems fast!

Perhaps Sinema and Manchin are just holding the line as best they can until you-know-who announces his presidential bid for 2024. He’ll then ensure that, for at least another four desperate years of ultimate madness (if American democracy even survives), the fossil-fuel industry will continue to run wild on a planet that, these days, seems to stand every chance of going down. In such a world, who wouldn’t want a tad of hope, which is what TomDispatch regular William deBuys, author most recently of The Trail to Kanjiroba: Rediscovering Earth in an Age of Loss, offers today on a planet increasingly desperate for just that.  But be prepared, you might have to take a long walk. Tom

Climate Change Viewed from the Attic of the World

A Himalayan Journey Toward Hope

Thirteen thousand feet high on the far side of the Himalaya mountains, we have entered the past and the future at the same time. We are a medical expedition and also a pilgrimage, consisting of doctors, nurses, Buddhist clerics, supernumeraries like me, and a large staff of guides, muleteers, and camp tenders. We are bound for the isolated villages of Upper Dolpo, a remote region of northwestern Nepal, land of the snow leopard -- both the actual animal and The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen’s nonfiction classic. We are traveling the same trails Matthiessen walked in 1973.

As a medical mission, our purpose is to provide primary health care to people who rarely, if ever, see a clinician. As pilgrims, our purposes are as varied as our individual identities. Mine is to make peace with the anger and grief that have dogged me since finishing a pair of books, one on climate change, the other on extinction. They left me heartsick. My delight in the beauty of the world had been joined to sorrow at its destruction, and the two emotions were like cellmates who refused to get along. Their ceaseless argument soured the taste of life. I hoped that a long walk -- about 150 miles in this case -- might cure the resultant moral ache. (The story of that walk provides the backbone of my new book, The Trail to Kanjiroba: Rediscovering Earth in an Age of Loss.)

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Rebecca Gordon, The Curse of Cassandra

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I’ve never suggested this in any of these little introductions I’ve been writing for 19 years now, but it might make sense to read TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon’s piece first today and think of this as my afterword. As it happens, she writes movingly about Barbara Lee as the Cassandra of our time. Alone among members of Congress in the days after the 9/11 attacks, Lee grasped what the future held and voted against the initial congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force. She couldn’t, of course, have been more on target in her fears about what it would mean to let the Bush administration do its damnedest on this planet of ours. (And of course, in true Cassandra-style, no one who mattered paid the slightest attention to her.)

Gordon’s piece left me thinking that, from the beginning, when it came to this country’s disastrous forever wars that Lee was intuitively trying to stop, this website proved impressively on target, too, not because any of us had Cassandra’s gift of future sight but because the grim path ahead was (or should have been) so obvious.  Take Chalmers Johnson, writing as January 2003 began, months before the Bush administration’s March invasion of Iraq (“Mission accomplished!“), about what was going to happen — what had, in fact, been fated to happen since the first moments after the 9/11 attacks. As he put it, then, “Ever since the first American war against Iraq, the ‘Gulf War’ of 1991, the people in the White House and the Pentagon who planned and executed it have wanted to go back and finish what they started.”

Or for that matter consider what I wrote in December 2002 about the future of the war in Afghanistan, already a year old, when I brought up a classic Vietnam-era image: “The word to watch for in the American press is ‘quagmire.’ When you see that and Afghanistan appearing in the same articles, you’ll know we know we’re in trouble.” In fact, that word never really appeared, but Afghanistan did indeed become a classic all-American quagmire for — as we all now know — 20 years.

And I could repeat such passages from TomDispatch authors, year after year from then on. Yet, however on-the-mark this website may have been, sadly it was never mainstream, never influential enough. Had it, like Barbara Lee, been attended to, perhaps there might have been no “forever” in our forever wars. But no such luck. Cassandras can, I suppose, take pride in what they’ve seen of the future, but to tell you the truth, being one is, in the end, a remarkably depressing occupation.

With that in mind, if you’ve insisted on dealing with this as an introduction, not an afterword, then, whatever you do, don’t miss Rebecca Gordon’s piece. Tom

Seeing the Future

When No One Believes You

For decades, I kept a poster on my wall that I'd saved from the year I turned 16. In its upper left-hand corner was a black-and-white photo of a white man in a grey suit. Before him spread a cobblestone plaza. All you could see were the man and the stones. Its caption read, “He stood up alone and something happened.”

It was 1968. “He” was Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy. As that campaign slogan suggested, his strong second-place showing in the Maine primary was proof that opposition to the Vietnam War had finally become a viable platform for a Democratic candidate for president. I volunteered in McCarthy’s campaign office that year. My memory of my duties is now vague, but they mainly involved alphabetizing and filing index cards containing information about the senator's supporters. (Remember, this was the age before there was a computer in every pocket, let alone social media and micro-targeting.)

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