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Mandy Smithberger, More Money for the Pentagon in the Pandemic Moment?

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Strange, isn’t it, what doesn’t sink in. Take this number: $6.4 trillion. There’s a figure you might think should cause a genuine stir (especially since each of those was a taxpayer dollar). In fact, that was what, in November 2019, Neta Crawford of Brown University’s invaluable Costs of War Project calculated that this country had spent on or committed to its post-9/11 wars across significant parts of the planet (and future care for U.S. military personnel damaged by them). By all rights, that number should have stunned this country. It should have caused an uproar. It should have resulted in major policy changes in Washington.

Just imagine that, in the years before Covid-19 hit, when American infrastructure was already going down — “infrastructure week” would become a (bad) joke of the Trump era — the American taxpayer was “investing” $6.4 trillion (a figure you can’t repeat too often) in a series of disastrous wars. They would be responsible for the deaths of thousands of American military personnel and hundreds of thousands of civilians in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. They would uproot millions more and help unsettle the planet. Yet, explain it as you will, they simply couldn’t be (and still can’t be) ended. If that isn’t the record from hell, what is?

Today, Crawford’s figure would, of course, have to be updated as we await Joe Biden’s decisions on future American war-making from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond. And yet, strangely enough, as TomDispatch regular and Pentagon expert Mandy Smithberger reports, Washington, in a remarkably bipartisan fashion, continues to fund the Pentagon at levels that should astound us all. This at a moment when questions remain about whether the Biden administration can pass a $1.9 trillion bill to offer relief to Americans overwhelmed by the disaster of Covid-19.  Imagine what those $6.4 trillion dollars could have done, if invested in this country, in us, instead of in those disastrous wars. Tom

The Pentagon, First, Last, and Always

Focusing on the Wrong Threats, including a New Cold War with China, Is the Last Thing We Can Afford Now

This country is in a crisis of the first order. More than half a million of us have died thanks to Covid-19. Food insecurity is on the rise, with nearly 24 million Americans going hungry, including 12 million children. Unemployment claims filed since the pandemic began have now reached 93 million. Given the level of damage to the less wealthy parts of this society, it’s little wonder that most Americans chose pandemic recovery (including the quick distribution of vaccines) as their top priority issue.

Keep in mind that our democracy is suffering as well. After all, former president Donald Trump incited an insurrection when he wasn't able to win at the polls, an assault on the Capitol in which military veterans were overrepresented among those committed to reversing the election results (and endangering legislators as well). If you want a mood-of-the-moment fact, consider this: even after Joe Biden’s election, QAnon followers continued to insist that Trump could still be inaugurated to his second term in office. Addressing economic and political instability at home will take significant resources and focus, including calling to account those who so grossly mishandled the country's pandemic response and stoked the big lie of questioning the legitimacy of Biden’s election victory.

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Andrea Mazzarino, Living Up Close and Personal with Our Endless Wars

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If you don’t think that the January 6th attack on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters armed with everything from baseball bats to guns wasn’t as much of a sign of how America’s wars are coming home as the way the Pentagon has armed police forces with weaponry directly off those distant battlefields, think again. After all, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, the two “militia” groups that evidently did the most planning prior to leading the charge on the Capitol aimed at murdering America’s elected representatives and halting the presidential vote count, are evidently filled with veterans of this country’s forever wars (or at least of the military that has never stopped fighting them).

In fact, as the New York Times reported recently, more than one-third of the members of those two groups known to have been at the Capitol were once in that military (unlike less than a fifth of the rioters generally). Even before that assault, such militias had evidently been thinking rather specifically about bringing war home. Within a week of Joe Biden’s November 3rd electoral victory, the Oath Keepers, for instance, were already setting up training sessions for “urban warfare” and stationing members near Washington, D.C., prepared to act on President Trump’s orders.

And lest you imagine that those distant wars are now ending, think again.  When it comes to Iraq, for instance, the Pentagon is already discussing sending yet more U.S. troops to the Middle East, supposedly to support the “training” of Iraqi forces to protect against the return of ISIS. Similarly, in Afghanistan, the pressure on President Biden not to pull the last U.S. military personnel out (as President Trump had agreed) on May 1st is only growing.  For a special perspective on just how war, American-style, is indeed coming home within the military itself, consider the experiences of the co-founder of the invaluable Costs of War Project, military spouse, and TomDispatch regular Andrea Mazzarino. Tom

America Goes to War

Perspectives on the Storming of the Capitol from a Military Spouse

“Are you okay?” asked a friend and military spouse in the voicemail she left me on the afternoon the mob of Trump supporters breached the Capitol so violently. At home with a new baby, her Navy reservist husband stationed in Germany, the thoughts running through her head that day would prove remarkably similar to mine. As she said when we spoke, “It’s as if the U.S. has become a war zone.”

Do a Google search and you’ll find very little suggesting that the January 6th attack on the Capitol in any way resembled a war. A notable exception: a Washington Post op-ed by former Missouri secretary of state and Afghanistan combat veteran Jason Kander. He saw that day's violence for the combat it was and urged congressional representatives and others who bore the brunt of those "armed insurrectionists" to seek help (as, to his regret, he hadn't done after his tours of duty in combat zones).

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Michael Klare, Heating the Planet Through a New Cold War

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It began with fire. It ended with ice. In between, there were the storms and floods. And the extremity of it all should have caught anyone’s attention.

First, of course, there was that burning season that set staggering records across California four million acres incinerated, double the previous high — Oregon, and Washington.  Those devastating burns spread as far east as Colorado at a moment when the Southwest may well have entered a climate-change-induced “megadrought.”

Then, of course, there was that Atlantic hurricane season: a record fifth-straight above-normal season with 30 named storms stretching across two alphabets, 12 of which “landed” with often devastating effect in this country.  Let’s not forget those floods either, one of which set a record in Michigan.

And finally, of course, as 2021 began, the stunning winter storms with record cold and ice that essentially turned Texas into a failed state. Millions of Texans were left without power or running water in freezing temperatures evidently caused at least in part because the Arctic is rapidly overheating, pushing frigid air southward in winter. Of course, the governor of Texas promptly went on Fox News to assure those iced-in millions that it was all the fault of alternative energy systems. (It wasn’t, not faintly.)

And keep in mind that such climate extremity is becoming the norm. After all, the last seven years have been the hottest in recorded history and 2020 tied for the warmest of them all.

Such records (a word that, when it comes to climate change, has to be used again and again) should be daunting enough to make one thing obvious, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author of All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, points out today: the two greatest greenhouse gas emitters on planet Earth, the United States and China, desperately need to collaborate to bring climate change under control. It’s so self-evident it should hardly need to be said and yet, eerily enough, as Klare has been reporting, the U.S. and China seem ever more locked into a new, increasingly militarized, cold-war-style relationship, one that the Biden administration seems by no means prepared to avert. Under the circumstances, that’s the definition of a catastrophe. Tom

Biden, Climate Change, and China

A New Cold War = A Scalding Planet

Slowing the pace of climate change and getting “tough” on China, especially over its human-rights abuses and unfair trade practices, are among the top priorities President Biden has announced for his new administration. Evidently, he believes that he can tame a rising China with harsh pressure tactics, while still gaining its cooperation in areas of concern to Washington. As he wrote in Foreign Affairs during the presidential election campaign, “The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change.” If, however, our new president truly believes that he can build an international coalition to gang up on China and secure Beijing’s cooperation on climate change, he's seriously deluded. Indeed, though he could succeed in provoking a new cold war, he won't prevent the planet from heating up unbearably in the process.  

Biden is certainly aware of the dangers of global warming. In that same Foreign Affairs article, he labeled it nothing short of an “existential threat,” one that imperils the survival of human civilization. Acknowledging the importance of relying on scientific expertise (unlike our previous president who repeatedly invented his own version of scientific reality), Biden affirmed the conclusion of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels or there will be hell to pay. He then pledged to “rejoin the Paris climate agreement on day one of a Biden administration,” which he indeed did, and to “make massive, urgent investments at home that put the United States on track to have a clean energy economy with net-zero [greenhouse gas] emissions by 2050” -- the target set by the IPCC.

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