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William Astore, War Is Strictly Business in Twenty-First Century America

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Here’s the strange thing: almost 20 years into a series of chaotic, staggeringly expensive, failing wars across significant parts of the planet, the U.S. military — “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known” (George W. Bush), aka “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known” (Barack Obama) — continues to eat taxpayer dollars as if they were nothing at all. According to the Costs of War Project, the U.S. has sunk almost $2.3 trillion dollars into the failed Afghan War from which it’s now retreating and a minimum of $6.4 trillion into all the major conflicts of the Global War on Terror (not even counting future costs caring for the war’s vets). And all of this happened in years in which little indeed went into American domestic infrastructure.  And yet, even as it leaves Afghanistan, the Biden administration is actually upping the already stratospheric Pentagon budget, and Republicans in Congress, who normally fight spending a cent on anyone other than corporations and billionaires, are urging the president to spend even more. Worse yet, the American public generally seems remarkably satisfied with such spending.  Somehow, what the U.S. military machine has done over all these years just never seems to sink in here.

The latest polling figures show that only 14% of Americans saw this country’s “defense” efforts (as they’re always called, despite those “forever wars” in distant lands) as too much and would like to see military spending lowered.  Half of all Americans consider the U.S. defense posture “just right” and 35% would like more of the same (up from 25% last year). In January, a Gallup poll indicated that 74% of Americans were “very or somewhat satisfied with the nation’s military strength and preparedness” and, in that context, the military always has a sky-high positive image in polling here — and it only rose in pandemic year 2020.

It’s as if Americans were simply not living in the world that the U.S. military was operating in and, in a sense, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore, who runs the Bracing Views blog, suggests today, they may not be.  That military and the “industrial complex” that goes with it may, in fact, represent another universe entirely, one that Americans look at from afar as if it were all happening to someone else — as, in a sense (ask the Afghans, Iraqis, or Somalis), it is. Tom

Endless War Is A Feature of Our National Programming

On Pulling the Plug on the War Machine

Why don’t America’s wars ever end?

I know, I know: President Joe Biden has announced that our combat troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 9/11 of this year, marking the 20th anniversary of the colossal failure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to defend America.

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Alfred McCoy, How Washington Lost the Ultimate Drug War

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Shouldn’t we be amazed? After all, for almost 20 years, the U.S. military has been supporting, equipping, training, and building up the Afghan military to the tune of more than $70 billion. The result: a corrupt mess of a force likely to prove incapable of successfully defending the U.S.-backed Afghan state from the Taliban once our troops are gone — that is, by this September 11th.

I mean, what were the odds? All too high, I’m afraid, given the U.S. military’s record in Afghanistan and elsewhere in these years. (Think about the collapse of the American-trained and armed Iraqi military in the face of ISIS in 2014.) In fact, for those of you who are old enough, a few Vietnam War-era bells should already be ringing as well, given the fate of the South Vietnamese military, supported in a similar fashion, once the U.S. pulled out of that conflict.

Recently, three New York Times reporters interviewed Afghan officials and military and police figures across the country and concluded that Washington had

“produced a troubled set of forces that are woefully unprepared for facing the Taliban, or any other threat, on their own… Afghan units are rife with corruption, have lost track of the weapons once showered on them by the Pentagon, and in many areas are under constant attack… Prospects for improvement are slim, given slumping recruitment, high casualty rates and a Taliban insurgency that is savvy, experienced and well equipped — including with weapons originally provided to the Afghan government by the United States.”

Consider that also a verdict on the crew that America’s taxpayers have invested in so staggeringly in these years. I’m thinking about the Pentagon. In a set of conflicts that used to go under the title of “the war on terror,” but now are generally just called our “forever wars,” that military has essentially won nothing and, in return, continues to get ever more taxpayer dollars (just in case you think that only the Afghan military is corrupt).

As the American war in Afghanistan winds down, perhaps the only question is: Who’s been on what drugs all these years? It’s a subject that TomDispatch regular and author of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power Alfred McCoy takes up in his always striking fashion today. In fact, he offers us a unique look at the Afghan War as, in so many senses and at so many levels, both a drug and a drugged war. In the process, he gives the very word “withdrawal” new meaning. In his treatment of America’s disastrous Afghan War, he also offers a hint of the striking analysis to come in his new imperial history of the world, his latest Dispatch book due out this fall, To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. Tom

The True Meaning of the Afghan “Withdrawal”

Will the Nightmare of Saigon’s Fall Return in Kabul?

Many of us have had a recurring nightmare. You know the one. In a fog between sleeping and waking, you're trying desperately to escape from something awful, some looming threat, but you feel paralyzed. Then, with great relief, you suddenly wake up, covered in sweat. The next night, or the next week, though, that same dream returns.

For politicians of Joe Biden’s generation that recurring nightmare was Saigon, 1975. Communist tanks ripping through the streets as friendly forces flee. Thousands of terrified Vietnamese allies pounding at the U.S. Embassy’s gates. Helicopters plucking Americans and Vietnamese from rooftops and disgorging them on Navy ships. Sailors on those ships, now filled with refugees, shoving those million-dollar helicopters into the sea. The greatest power on Earth sent into the most dismal of defeats.

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Karen Greenberg, The Guantánamo Conundrum

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It seemed obvious enough to me in 2006.  When you included the CIA’s “black sites” around the globe (where prisoners from the war on terror were being kept and regularly tortured), American military prisons like the shocking Abu Ghraib in Iraq, which had just then been emptied, and the huge military prison camps named Bucca and Cropper, which remained in use, as well as military prisons in Afghanistan, and the already infamous detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the United States had, by my calculation then, at least 15,000 prisoners, most “being held… most beyond the eyes of any system of justice, beyond the reach of any judges or juries.” In other words, as I put it at the time, the Bush administration had established its very own offshore “Bermuda triangle of injustice” beyond the reach of any conception of American law.  It was, put bluntly, an all-American mini-gulag, filled with grotesque acts, whose offshore “crown jewel” was, of course, Guantánamo.

As I wrote then,

“Whatever the discussion may be, whatever issues may seem to be gripping Washington or the nation, whatever you’re watching on TV or reading in the papers, elsewhere the continual constructing, enlarging, expanding, entrenching of a new global system of imprisonment, which bears no relation to any system of imprisonment Americans have previously imagined, continues non-stop, unchecked and unbalanced by Congress or the courts, unaffected by the Republic, but very distinctly under the flag ‘for which it stands.'”

Six years later, in 2012, Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, who had by then produced a grim and striking book on the first days of that prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, arrived at TomDispatch. She soon began writing on American global torture practices and how, for instance, the “thou shalt nots” that Barack Obama had entered the Oval Office with, including thou shalt not keep Guantánamo open, had sadly become thou shalts.  Still, if you had asked either of us then whether, almost a decade later, that crown jewel in Cuba would still be open, we both would have doubted it.  And yet here we are in May 2021, in the early months of the fourth administration since its establishment, and open it is.  With that in mind, it seemed all too obvious and appropriate, as President Biden begins to deal with this country’s never-ending war on terror, to call on Greenberg to consider the subject of the prison from hell’s closure once again and hope that it doesn’t outlive us all. Tom

Can Guantánamo Ever Be Shut Down?

Dealing with the Forever Prison of America’s Forever Wars

The Guantánamo conundrum never seems to end.

Twelve years ago, I had other expectations. I envisioned a writing project that I had no doubt would be part of my future: an account of Guantánamo’s last 100 days. I expected to narrate in reverse, the episodes in a book I had just published, The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days, about -- well, the title makes it all too obvious -- the initial days at that grim offshore prison. They began on January 11, 2002, as the first hooded prisoners of the American war on terror were ushered off a plane at that American military base on the island of Cuba.

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