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Danny Sjursen, Peering Into a Forever-War Crystal Ball

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More than 19 years ago, the U.S. launched the air war that would become the ground invasion and “liberation” of Afghanistan. More than 17 years ago, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared “major combat” over in that country with just 8,000 U.S. troops still stationed there.  Approximately nine years after that, at the end of an Obama-era “surge,” U.S. troop levels would reach around 100,000 (not counting contingents of NATO allies, as well as private contractors, CIA agents, and those involved in the American air war in that country). Today, those troop levels are finally down to 2,500 (plus, of course, those private contractors and that air power, which actually ramped up significantly in the Trump years). That, in other words, is how Donald Trump “ended” the American war in Afghanistan.  Those remaining troops are supposed to be gone by May 1, 2021, but don’t count on it in the Biden era, since our new president (who, as vice president, had indeed been against the Obama-era troop surge) is seemingly committed to keeping some kind of “counterterror” force in that country.

In any case, 19-plus years after Washington put everything it had into Afghanistan except nuclear weapons (something Donald Trump threatened to do at one point), the Taliban is the very opposite of defeated. As the PBS NewsHour described the situation in an on-screen note introducing a recent report on developments there: “The Taliban is stronger in Afghanistan than at any point since 2001, occupying one-fifth of the country with around 60,000 full-time fighters.”

Isn’t it strange when you think about it that, other than some antiwar efforts by veterans of those conflicts, Americans have been so little concerned with nearly two decades of constant military failure across the globe for which we’ve squandered trillions of taxpayer dollars? Worst of all, those “forever wars” show every sign of continuing in the Biden years and possibly beyond, as former Army officer and TomDispatch regular Danny Sjursen, author most recently of Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War, explains so vividly (and painfully) today.  Sjursen, who has in the past been all too accurate in his expectations about American war-making, offers a little crystal-ball look at what all of us might expect in the next four years from the country that just won’t stop fighting and a citizenry that seems as if it could care less. Tom

The Future of War, American-Style

A Bidenesque Tour of America’s Regional and Global Military Adventures

Hard as it is to believe in this time of record pandemic deaths, insurrection, and an unprecedented encore impeachment, Joe Biden is now officially at the helm of the U.S. war machine.  He is, in other words, the fourth president to oversee America’s unending and unsuccessful post-9/11 military campaigns.  In terms of active U.S. combat, that’s only happened once before, in the Philippines, America’s second-longest (if often forgotten) overseas combat campaign. 

Yet that conflict was limited to a single Pacific archipelago. Biden inherits a global war -- and burgeoning new Cold War -- spanning four continents and a military mired in active operations in dozens of countries, combat in some 14 of them, and bombing in at least seven.  That sort of scope has been standard fare for American presidents for almost two decades now.  Still, while this country's post-9/11 war presidents have more in common than their partisan divisions might suggest, distinctions do matter, especially at a time when the White House almost unilaterally drives foreign policy.

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Rebecca Gordon, The Fall of the American Empire?

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Reaction to the newly redesigned TomDispatch website (now readable on any of your most modern gadgets) has been super, and I just wanted to offer my deepest appreciation to all those of you I couldn’t thank personally for the incredible end-of-the-year-beginning-of-the-new-year donations you’ve sent in. It’s you who truly keep this site alive and kicking (as long as I’m alive and kicking) in this ever-stranger world of ours.  One small glitch to show up at the new site is fixed: you can now print up TD pieces without having the URLs for the links appear in them.  Yay!  Again, many, many thanks to all of you for your support. It almost literally means the world to me. Tom]

In 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright first referred to the U.S. as “the indispensable nation.”  That, of course, was seven years after the Soviet Union had collapsed and the Cold War had entered the history books.  As it happened, it was but one of many self-congratulatory things that American presidents, politicians, and officials would in those years say about this country and its global clout.

Still, when you think about this planet’s powers, historically speaking, it’s often true that the breaking point for empire tends to catch us off guard.  No one in Washington in 1991, for instance, expected the Soviet Union, that other eternal “superpower” on Planet Earth, to suddenly implode, even if today we forget the shock of it all.

In the same way, it might prove all too easy to miss the moment when this indispensable nation of ours becomes an all-too-dispensable one.  In fact, if on January 6, 2020, someone had whispered in your ear an accurate description of how this country, still then considered the wealthiest, most powerful, one-of-a-kind superpower ever, would mishandle the arrival of the coronavirus (and become a pandemic empire, catching the worst case of Covid-19 on the planet), you wouldn’t have believed it, would you?  And a year and almost 400,000 dead Americans later, you might still not have believed that Tony Gonzales, a Texas Republican congressman and former military man, would be trying to barricade the doors to the chamber of the House of Representatives as Trumpian rioters, some armed, some sporting Confederate flags, grew ever closer, while thinking: “Wow, wouldn’t this be something. I fight in Iraq and Afghanistan just to be killed in the House of Representatives.”

At this point, there’s no way of knowing for sure if we Americans are now experiencing firsthand our increasing dispensability, but take a breath and let TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon whisper some thoughts on where the former “lone superpower” of this planet might be heading in 2021. Tom

The Rubble of Empire

Doctrines of Disaster and Dreams of Security as the Biden Years Begin

How can you tell when your empire is crumbling? Some signs are actually visible from my own front window here in San Francisco.

Directly across the street, I can see a collection of tarps and poles (along with one of my own garbage cans) that were used to construct a makeshift home on the sidewalk. Beside that edifice stands a wooden cross decorated with a string of white Christmas lights and a red ribbon -- a memorial to the woman who built that structure and died inside it earlier this week. We don’t know -- and probably never will -- what killed her: the pandemic raging across California? A heart attack? An overdose of heroin or fentanyl?

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Liz Theoharis, Why Martin Luther King Day Should Matter

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Only one thing truly hurt him at a gut level, and it wasn’t the endangerment of his vice president in a Capitol attacked by a rabid mob sporting the Confederate flag, MAGA hats, and anti-Semitic T-shirts.  Nor, believe it or not, was it even the threat of being the first president in American history to be impeached twice; nor having Deutsche Bank (which kept him afloat for years) and other major corporate entities suddenly sever ties with him; nor even having one of his major financial supporters, Sheldon Adelson, die on him. For Donald Trump, the biggest blow of last week was reportedly the Professional Golfers’ Association, or P.G.A., announcement that it was taking its 2022 championship match away from the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.  In other words, the man who had visited golf courses more than 300 times during his presidency had suddenly become the golf equivalent of an undocumented immigrant and, according to those close to him, that truly “gutted” him.

As to what gutted so many other Americans in the last year, ranging from evictions to job loss, racism to death by Covid-19, this president could clearly have cared less and the eternally richer billionaires of this country didn’t seem to give much of a damn either; nor, in fact, did his wife Melania who, in what may have been her final message from the White House, vaguely bemoaned violence on Capitol Hill only after she had fiercely bemoaned her own treatment by unnamed critics (“salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks, and false and misleading accusations on me”).

As it happens, with just days left in Trump’s presidency, the self-proclaimed richest, most awesome superpower on planet Earth is now a basket case of the first order and a symbol around the globe of what not to do in a pandemic.  As even the Washington “swamp” deserts Donald Trump, Joe Biden and crew face a hell on Earth of a kind that TomDispatch regular Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and author of Always With Us?: What Jesus Really Said About the Poor, lays out vividly on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Tom

The Earth Does Not Belong to Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s True Legacy

2020 will go down as the deadliest year in American history, significantly due to the devastation delivered by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, count in nearly two trillion dollars in damage from climate events (many caused by, or heightened by, intensifying global warming), a surge of incidents of police violence inflicted on Black and Native peoples, and millions more Americans joining the ranks of the poor even as small numbers of billionaires soared ever further into the financial heavens. And it's already obvious that 2021 is likely to prove another harrowing year.

In the first weeks of January alone, Covid-19 deaths have risen to unprecedented levels; record turnout elected Georgia’s first Black and Jewish Senators in a runoff where race-baiting, red-baiting, and voter suppression were still alive and well; and a racist, white nationalist mob swarmed the Capitol emboldened by the president, as well as senators, representatives, and other officials, in an attempt to subvert and possibly take down our democratic system. The January 6th attack on that building was by no means a singular event (in a country where local officials have in recent years been similarly threatened). It did, however, highlight dramatically the growing menace of illiberal and anti-democratic forces building in power. And one thing is guaranteed: its impact will hit the poor and people of color most strikingly. Social media and news reports suggest that, with an emboldened white supremacist movement on the rise, more such attacks are being planned.

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