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Rajan Menon, A War for the Record Books

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Yes, as TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon points out today, the world was surprised first by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and then by his army’s failure to capture Kyiv and obliterate the government of Volodymyr Zelensky. In truth, though, we Americans probably shouldn’t have been. After all, it shouldn’t have been all that hard to recall a similar American-style scenario — say, the U.S. military’s disastrous attempt to defeat a rebel movement (and North Vietnamese forces) in South Vietnam in the last century or to do something similar in Afghanistan in this one. Either of those might, in retrospect, have been considered American Ukraines. In fact, it almost seems like an unnoticed truth of our moment that the more money a country puts into its military, the less striking the results from its use in the world.

Yes, until Ukraine, the Russian military, funded and upgraded by President Vladimir Putin, was thought to be a winner of a force. Today, pressed to the edge of who knows what and having thrown a private mercenary outfit (the Wagner Group) and tens of thousands of barely trained prison convicts into the front lines of death in Ukraine, it looks unimpressive as hell. Strangely enough, however, despite losses of every sort over the last three-quarters of a century, the world’s best-funded military (by a country mile) is still considered impressive as hell (and I don’t use that word lightly). Explain that as you will.

And by the way, the Russians never took the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, but in the American version of their war — the invasion of Iraq in 2003 — the U.S. military did indeed take Baghdad and little good it did them. Perhaps what we need on this increasingly odd planet of ours is a new assessment of the significance of traditional military power. If only. In that context, let Menon (who has seen the war in Ukraine firsthand) take you through the true strangeness of Vladimir Putin’s attempt to invade and conquer his neighbor. Tom

The War of Surprises in Ukraine

Could There Be One Surprise Too Many?

Some wars acquire names that stick. The Lancaster and York clans fought the War of the Roses from 1455-1485 to claim the British throne. The Hundred Years’ War pitted England against France from 1337-1453. In the Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648, many European countries clashed, while Britain and France waged the Seven Years’ War, 1756-63, across significant parts of the globe. World War I (1914-1918) gained the lofty moniker, “The Great War,” even though World II (1939-1945) would prove far greater in death, destruction, and its grim global reach.  

Of the catchier conflict names, my own favorite -- though the Pig War of 1859 between the U.S. and Great Britain in Canada runs a close second -- is the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748). It was named for Captain Robert Jenkins of the East India Company who, in 1738, told the British House of Commons that his ear, which he displayed for the onlooking parliamentarians, had been severed several years earlier by a Spanish coast guard sloop’s commander. He had boarded the ship off the Cuban coast and committed the outrage using Jenkins’s own cutlass. If ever there were cause for war, that was it! An ear for an ear, so to speak.

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William Hartung, The Pentagon’s Budget from Hell

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Somehow, when it comes to Congress and the mainstream media, the true strangeness of the Pentagon budget always is missing in action. Despite arguments about the small things, just about everyone accepts that the United States must have a monstrous, all-powerful military and a military budget beyond compare (beyond, in fact, all comprehension). And nothing seems to truly dent that sensibility. Somehow, the fact that the Pentagon has been utterly incapable of winning — yes, actually winning! — a war that matters (or even half matters) since World War II never fully seems to penetrate, not even on the 20th anniversary of the disastrous invasion of Iraq, America’s own Ukraine. (Only former president George W. Bush, who launched that invasion, gets it, however subliminally.)

The lesson is all too clear: the more that’s spent on our military and the more potentially destructive it gets, the less it’s actually able to accomplish. Despite all but obliterating North Korea from the air, it couldn’t beat that country’s military (aided by China’s) in the early 1950s; it lost disastrously to distinctly under-armed rebels in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s; and did so again more recently to the half-baked forces of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The response of Congress to such disasters in this century: rewarding the Pentagon with yet more barrels of money.

Think of it this way: in a world where billionaires are running rampant and grabbing ever more wealth, the Pentagon is going to outdo them all and, if nothing changes in the coming years, as TomDispatch regular William Hartung notes today, become the world’s first trillionaire. Imagine that! Something that might once have seemed inconceivable is now almost unstoppable, a future trillion-dollar military budget. And with that in mind, let Pentagon expert Hartung introduce you to that imposing trillionaire-in-the-making that has had just one great success in the twenty-first century: taking Congress captive. Tom

Congress Has Been Captured by the Arms Industry

And We’re Paying the Price (and What a Price It Is!)

On March 13th, the Pentagon rolled out its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2024. The results were -- or at least should have been -- stunning, even by the standards of a department that's used to getting what it wants when it wants it.

The new Pentagon budget would come in at $842 billion. That's the highest level requested since World War II, except for the peak moment of the Afghan and Iraq wars, when the United States had nearly 200,000 troops deployed in those two countries.

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Engelhardt, The End? (Not Yet!)

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: As you’ll see, today’s article is more personal than most of the ones I write. Still, 22 years after I began TomDispatch, I must admit that I’m amazed to still be writing such pieces. But to do so, while supporting the work of a stellar cast of other authors, I eternally need to bother you (and, mind you, I remain amazed at the way so many of you continue to support my modest efforts to make this world a somewhat better place). At this point, in fact, you’re the only way I raise money to keep this site going. That’s why, today (and undoubtedly on all too many days to come), I’m reminding you that a visit to our donation page really does matter. Should you indeed go there and contribute at least $125 ($150 if you live outside the U.S.), you’ll find a wonderful set of books by TD authors, any one of which you can choose to be signed, personalized, and sent your way. And while I’m at it, let me offer special thanks to those of you who have signed on to donate regularly to this site. I can’t tell you what you mean to me! Tom]

Prophecies, Then and Now

My Life at World’s End

Indulge me for a moment. This is how "The Prophecy" in my 1962 high school yearbook began. It was written by some of my classmates in the year we graduated from Friends Seminary in New York City.  

As I wander, I finally run into one of my classmates, now "a skinny old man with bushy white hair, wearing a loose deer skin." And yes, whatever happened (that "great invasion") while I was underground in -- as anyone of that period would have known -- a private nuclear-fallout shelter, is unclear. Still, in the world I find on emerging, all my former classmates, whom I meet one after another in joking fashion, now live in caves. In other words, it had obviously been devastated.

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