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Dilip Hiro, Who’s Rising and Falling on Planet Earth?

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Here’s the strange thing: these days, you would think that China was “rising” to potentially top great-power status out of nowhere, out of nothing (unlike the United States). Historically speaking, however, America is the great-power newcomer on this planet.  China has had a long history as an empire, the greatest one of its time during certain dynastic reigns, though in those days a great power couldn’t yet garrison much of the planet with 800 military bases. However, between 1405 and 1433 — long before Columbus “discovered” America — the third Ming emperor did send Admiral Zheng He and an enormous fleet, laden with goods, on seven voyages that took him as far as the Persian Gulf and the east coast of Africa to “increase trade and secure tribute”!

Isn’t it time today to stop saying that China is rising as if out of the blue? It is, if anything, rising again, hardly surprising given its size, natural wealth, and power. Even though Americans, especially those inside the Beltway in Washington, might prefer not to see it that way, what’s happening on our planet right now, in imperial terms, is less an aberration than the norm of history.

Still, it’s true that this isn’t an everyday moment. The “rise” of China might be nothing new, but the rise of what’s come to be called the “climate emergency” is new indeed. So it’s a little strange that Joe Biden continues to swear China won’t become “the leading country in the world” during his presidency, while the Annual Threat Assessment issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), as the New York Times recently reported, has just put “China’s push for ‘global power’ first on the list of threats” in 2021. Really? In this, of course, it follows the Trump administration. As ODNI’s previous director put it, China “poses the greatest threat to America today and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom worldwide since World War II.”

This is indeed a crisis moment in history in which you might think that the greatest powers on the planet would feel impelled to rise together in genuine cooperation. Despite John Kerry’s recent visit to China, however, it looks like no such luck. In that context, check out TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro on who’s really rising and falling right now in economic, technological, and infrastructural terms. Tom

Biden’s Anti-China Ambitions

A Reality Check

Like his immediate predecessor, Joe Biden is committed to a distinctly anti-China global strategy and has sworn that China will not "become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world... on my watch." In the topsy-turvy universe created by the Covid-19 pandemic, it was, however, Jamie Dimon, the CEO and chairman of JP Morgan Chase, a banking giant with assets of $3.4 trillion, who spoke truth to Biden on the subject.

While predicting an immediate boom in the U.S. economy "that could easily run into 2023," Dimon had grimmer news on the future as well. “China’s leaders believe that America is in decline,” he wrote in his annual letter to the company's shareholders. While the U.S. had faced tough times in the past, he added, today “the Chinese see an America that is losing ground in technology, infrastructure, and education -- a nation torn and crippled by politics, as well as racial and income inequality -- and a country unable to coordinate government policies (fiscal, monetary, industrial, regulatory) in any coherent way to accomplish national goals.” He was forthright enough to say, “Unfortunately, recently, there is a lot of truth to this.”

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Steiner, Riazi, and Freeman, A Message from the Saudi Lobby

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Some things just never seem to end. What came to mind was the way in which, during administration after administration, the Saudis and other foreign powers have poured money into Washington to ensure that their governments and their desires will be supported, that they will be sold arms in a major way, and… well, you know the story. In fact, over the years, you’ve read it at TomDispatch.

Here, for instance, is a paragraph I wrote in an introduction to a piece by Ben Freeman that appeared at TomDispatch two and a half years ago. Check it out and then consider today’s piece or, more aptly, in a phrase from my youth that still couldn’t be more on target, “read it and weep.” In some strange sense, given the roles of both Washington and Riyadh in these years, tears should indeed be in order. Now, here’s that passage:

“There are some distinctly un-American deep pockets out there on our planet that are also pouring money into this country’s politics in order to get their own direct lines buzzing to Washington. In fact, speaking about the Middle East, as TomDispatch’s Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, points out today, right at the top of that list are the royals of Saudi Arabia.  That includes, of course, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now the power behind the throne in that country. He’s wooed President Trump with the promise of massive future Saudi arms deals and, earlier this year, reportedly bragged that he had the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a key adviser on the Middle East, ‘in his pocket.’ And what a pocket that’s proven to be! Given the disastrous Saudi war in Yemen that the prince launched in 2015 and that Washington has supported ever since, believe me, that’s no small thing. Today, Freeman offers an unprecedented look at just how a set of foreign Sheldon Adelsons have opened their deep, oil-rich pockets and put American politicians of all sorts in them. It’s a story that needs to be told.”

That was written in October 2018.  Today, as Brian Steiner, Leila Riazi, and Ben Freeman report (and as they will chronicle in far greater detail in a soon-to-be-released study of the Saudi lobby by the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative, where they all work), the tactics of the Saudi royals, when it comes to retaining influence in this country under increasingly difficult circumstances, have changed in striking (and ingenious) ways, but the money just keeps pouring in. Tom

How to Make a Gulf Monarchy All-American

The Saudi Lobby Moves from K Street to Main Street

Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., was on the hot seat. In early March 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world, oil prices collapsed and a price war broke out between Saudi Arabia and Russia, leaving American oil and gas companies feeling the pain. As oil prices plummeted, Republican senators from oil-producing states turned their ire directly on Saudi Arabia. Forget that civil war in Yemen -- what about fossil-fuel profits here at home?

To address their concerns, Ambassador Bandar Al-Saud agreed to speak with a group of them in a March 18th conference call -- and found herself instantly in the firing line, as senator after senator berated her for the Kingdom’s role in slashing global oil prices. “Texas is mad,” Senator Ted Cruz bluntly stated. As the ambassador tried to respond, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan retorted, “With all due respect, I don't want to hear any talking points from you until you hear from all [of us], I think there's 11 or 12 on the call.”

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Andrea Mazzarino, At War with Covid-19

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In this century, the U.S. military has fought a seemingly endless series of disastrous wars in distant lands, so endless that they’ve commonly come to be known as “forever wars.” Given our all-volunteer armed forces, the only military responsibility of so many American civilians in these last two decades of conflict has been to endlessly thank and celebrate the troops (all too vaguely) for “their service” (all too vaguely put).

While those failed conflicts slowly crept home in any number of guises — from the militarization of the police to Donald Trump’s presidency to the January 6th attack on the Capitol, that eternal (if always passing) appreciation of “the troops” has never ended. It hardly matters that so many of the actual troops returned to their bases and communities here with endless war-induced problems of their own.  Given all this, military spouse and TomDispatch regular Andrea Mazzarino, co-founder of the invaluable Costs of War Project and co-author of War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, describes a strangely fitting development. The military that’s spread such havoc globally in these years is evidently beginning to do so in a pandemic fashion as well, since a striking number of its troops, especially its younger ones, are simply refusing to be vaccinated for Covid-19.

Wouldn’t it be close to the ultimate irony if, in the pandemic moment, Americans found themselves thanking an infectious military for passing on that virus?  Think about that as you read Mazzarino’s thoughts on the subject from a position all too up close and personal. Tom

Making Sense of a Viral Military

A Military Spouse’s Perspective on the Pentagon’s Flawed Response to the Pandemic

Herd immunity? Don't count on it. Not if that "herd" is the U.S. military.

According to news reports, at least a third of active-duty military personnel or those in the National Guard have opted out of getting the coronavirus vaccine. That figure, by the way, doesn't even include American troops stationed around the world, many of whom have yet to be offered the chance to be vaccinated. As a Navy spouse whose husband has moved to five separate U.S. duty stations in the decade we've been together, one thing is hard for me to imagine: an administration pledging to do everything it can to beat this pandemic has stopped short of using its executive powers to ensure that our 2.3 million armed forces members are all vaccinated.

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