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William Astore, The Cold War, Rebooted and Rebranded

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When it comes to future conflicts or present-day war games, they have all the advantages and we have none! Or as Eric Edelman, a former undersecretary of defense for policy, told CNN recently, “Russia and China are playing a home game, we are playing an away game.” And mind you, we’re talking about a home game that could stretch from the Baltic Sea and the Arctic regions of Eurasia to the South China Sea. Those two “near-peer rivals” (as the U.S. military has taken to calling them) seem to have all the luck.  I mean, count on one thing: imagined future flare points for conflict — “a fictional global crisis erupting on multiple fronts” in those war games — won’t be in the Caribbean, off New York City, or near the Baja Peninsula.  As a result, the U.S. will have to be fully prepared, at staggering expense, to deploy and support forces thousands of miles away for the future conflicts the Pentagon is now imagining.

Fortunately, that military is, it seems, planning ahead for just such a future.  As CNN’s Barbara Starr recently reported, this summer it’s going to engage in highly classified computer war games with two near-peer enemies with fictional names. No one, however, should doubt for a second that they will be China and Russia. This will happen just as the next Pentagon budget is being set in place and, in a recent exercise gaming out a future conflict against such adversaries, an anonymous Defense Department official confirmed to Starr that “we found the Blue Team, the U.S. and allies, kept losing.”

Uh-oh!  And expect similar results again this summer — especially since, if the U.S. military budget, already larger than that of the next 10 countries combined, is to grow even bigger, it will obviously be helpful for that military to look needy.  As Dave DeCamp of the invaluable Antiwar.com wrote recently, “The results of the war games could have an impact on troop numbers around the world and could be a factor in making decisions on military budgets.”

In this way, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore reports today, that military, after almost 20 years conducting a disastrously unsuccessful war on terror across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, is heading back to the future. It seems increasingly intent on returning to a Cold-War world its commanders remember oh-so-well from an era that, though almost 30 years gone, may now seem strangely consoling to a military that has been at sea (even when on land) for so long. Tom

Back to the Future at the Pentagon

Why 2021 Looks So Much Like 1981 — And Why That Should Scare Us

The future isn’t what it used to be. As a teenager in the 1970s, I watched a lot of TV science fiction shows, notably Space: 1999 and UFO, that imagined a near future of major moon bases and alien attacks on Earth. Movies of that era like Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey envisioned colossal spaceships and space stations featuring international crews on mind-blowing missions to Jupiter and beyond. Who’d have thought that, 20 years after Kubrick’s alternate reality of 2001, we humans would effectively be marooned on a warming “sixth extinction” planet with no moon bases and, to the best of my knowledge, no alien attacks either.

Sure, there’s been progress of a sort in the heavens. Elon Musk's Space X may keep going down in flames, but the Chinese now have their very own moon rocks. As the old-timey, unmanned Voyager probe continues to glide beyond our solar system, Mars is a subject for research by new probes hailing from the United Arab Emirates, China, and the U.S. Meanwhile, the International Space Station continues conducting research in low-earth orbit.

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Nan Levinson, The Military as an Extremist Culture?

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January 6th will long be remembered for bringing a version of age-of-Trump extremism into the open in a startling fashion. Since the Civil War, the overthrow of the government hasn’t been on the agenda — not at least until that recent January day. Among the insurrectionists who busted into the Capitol building intent on harm (“Hang Mike Pence!“), a striking number were military veterans, as TomDispatch regular Nan Levinson, author of War Is Not a Game: the New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built, reminds us today.

As she explains, even the military top command was taken aback by that reality. But thought of in a different way, extremism has been part of an increasingly militarized American landscape for years now, just in a fashion we don’t normally categorize as “extreme.”  Take, for example, the way the Pentagon has funneled supplies, from mine-resistant vehicles to sniper rifles, helicopters to night-vision goggles, into police departments across the country. That’s been billions of dollars worth of equipment (sometimes directly off the battlefields of this country’s “forever wars”). In the process, the Pentagon has helped transform local police departments into increasingly militarized and extreme crews.

Similarly, we live in a political system that, in the last two decades, has been unable to imagine funding the building (or simply rebuilding) of American infrastructure. On the other hand, when it comes to those distant, never-ending wars of ours and, above all, to the Pentagon budget, consider the bipartisan way taxpayer dollars have continued to flow. Under the circumstances, shouldn’t that have been considered remarkably extreme, rather than, as was the case, simply the definition of everyday life in Washington?

So, while you explore extremism in (and out of) uniform with Nan Levinson, think about just how much more extreme this country of ours has become in this century.  (Hey, just consider the election of one Donald J. Trump… No, on second thought, let’s not go there again.) Tom

The Far Right in Uniform

How Extreme Is the U.S. Military?

It was around noon and I was texting a friend about who-knows-what when I added, almost as an afterthought: "tho they seem to be invading the Capitol at the mo." I wasn't faintly as blasé as that may sound on January 6th, especially when it became ever clearer who "they" were and what they were doing. Five people would die due to that assault on the Capitol building, including a police officer, and two more would commit suicide in the wake of the event. One hundred forty police would be wounded (lost eye, heart attack, cracked ribs, smashed spinal disks, concussions) and the collateral damage would be hard even to tote up.

I'm not particularly sentimental about anyone-can-grow-up-to-be-president and all that -- in 2017, anyone did -- but damn! This was democracy under actual, not rhetorical, attack.

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Liz Theoharis, An American Spiritual Death Spiral?

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First, he said that it would be a “tough” deadline to keep; then, that it would be “hard to meet.” He’s evidently considering moving it to at least November, even if he can’t quite “picture” relocating it to 2022. We’re talking, of course, about President Joe Biden and the May 1st date the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban for the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan.  (Note, by the way, that only the troops are ever discussed, not American air power, some of which may not even be stationed in Afghanistan.) More strikingly, as the New York Times reported recently, “some military commanders and administration officials” are using a Trump-era intelligence assessment to fight against any such withdrawal at all. They are suggesting that, should the U.S. do so, the Taliban could triumph “within two or three years” (and, of course, al-Qaeda and ISIS might then return to that country and the next thing you knew, it would be 9/11/2023).

So, this country’s longest war of this century — scheduled to start its 20th year in September — just can’t be put to bed.  Everyone who’s anyone knows that the most powerful military on the planet simply can’t lose such a war, even if it’s been clear for years that it’s already lost it.  No matter that the Pentagon and the military high command are focusing much of their attention these days on future cold-war options with those “near-peer threats” China and Russia. They still can’t admit defeat and simply go home.  After all, what about the nearly billion dollars in contracts the Pentagon’s already issued to companies for work in Afghanistan well beyond that May 1st withdrawal date, in some cases even into 2022? (Keep in mind that, if those troops withdrew, those companies could sue!)  And by the way, what’s the withdrawal date for the more than 6,000 contractors still in that country who are U.S. citizens?

All of the above is, of course, just part of the ongoing landscape of this country’s twenty-first century “forever wars.” Today, TomDispatch regular and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign Liz Theoharis surveys an even larger American landscape of war and terror, while considering what Martin Luther King, Jr., might make of our eternally fevered country so many years after he gave a sermon on the American war of his moment, the one that never seemed to end in Vietnam. Tom

“The Greatest Purveyor of Violence in the World”

Living in a Country Haunted by Death

Fifty-four years ago, standing at the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his now-famous “Beyond Vietnam” sermon. For the first time in public, he expressed in vehement terms his opposition to the American war in Vietnam. He saw clearly that a foreign policy defined by aggression hurt the poor and dispossessed across the planet. But it did more than that. It also drained this country of its moral vitality and the financial resources needed to fight poverty at home. On that early spring day, exactly one year before his assassination in 1968, Dr. King warned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death," a statement that should ring some bells in April 2021.

In his sermon, Dr. King openly wrestled with a thorny problem: how to advance nonviolent struggle among a generation of Black youth whose government had delivered little but pain and empty promises. He told the parishioners of Riverside Church that his years of work, both in the South and the North, had opened his eyes to why, as a practitioner of nonviolence, he had to speak out against violence everywhere -- not just in the U.S. -- if he expected people to take him at his word. As he explained that day:

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