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William Astore, Big Lies Have Consequences, Too

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Almost 20 years later, the U.S. military high command still didn’t want to leave the country where they had so impressively turned so many “corners” amid so much “progress” for so long. They made it all too clear to President Biden that they wanted to “maintain at least a modest troop presence” in Afghanistan. He nonetheless rejected their advice, ordering a full-scale withdrawal of U.S. forces.  How sad, with success so (eternally) close!  After all, as late as 2017, General John Nicholson, then the commander of American forces there, was still insisting that the U.S. and the Afghan military it supported had finally “turned the corner” and were “on a path to a win.” As Foreign Policy reported at the time, he was the eighth commander to make such a claim, including General Stanley McChrystal in 2010 and General David Petraeus in 2011.  Who knew that there were so many corners to turn in that country — or, for that matter, in similarly invaded Iraq?

It’s true that, almost two decades after President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan, the latest and longest-serving U.S. commander there, General Austin “Scott” Miller, has not taken credit for even one more corner turned.  All he’s claimed (no less improbably) is that U.S. forces will “go out with our heads held high.” In less upbeat times that would simply have been called “defeat.”  Meanwhile, lest you thought there was no hope at all, the CIA continues to search for ways to keep the American war going, whether from neighboring states or by drone from the Persian Gulf. (Yes, the Persian Gulf, nine hours away!)

And consider that just a small summary of war, American-style, in the twenty-first century. In other words, we’re talking about endless failures — with more to come if the Washington-backed Afghan government collapses under the pressure of a rising Taliban — that no one involved would ever imagine taking the slightest responsibility for.

Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore highlights that very reality today, while asking just who in this country will, in the end, be saddled with the blame for all those corners left unturned, not just in Afghanistan but in this century’s never-ending U.S. war on terror across significant parts of the Greater Middle East and Africa. A historian and co-author of Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism, he reminds us today of what can happen when the blame for defeat in war proves to be up for grabs. Tom

America Is Stabbing Itself in the Back

Tough Truths Are Desperately Needed About America’s Lost Wars

Americans may already be lying themselves out of what little remains of their democracy.

The big lie uniting and motivating today’s Republicans is, of course, that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 presidential election.  Other big lies in our recent past include the notion that climate change is nothing but a Chinese hoax, that Russia was responsible for Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat in 2016, and that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was necessary because that country's leader, Saddam Hussein, had something to do with the 9/11 attacks (he didn't!) and possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States, a “slam dunk” truth, according to then-CIA Director George Tenet (it wasn't!).

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Rebecca Gordon, It’s Time to Touch the Third Rail

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As French journalist and novelist Anatole France so aptly wrote in his 1894 novel The Red Lily, “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.” More than a century and a quarter later, that could easily have been written by Mitch McConnell and pals, or just about any Republican president since Ronald Reagan.  Yes, the law couldn’t be more equal for the rich and the poor when it comes to sleeping under bridges, just not, in the America of 2021, when it comes to taxes and wealth.

If you want a slogan for our moment, how about “Inequality Is Us”? After all, in terms of wealth and income, things have been growing ever less equal in recent decades.  In 2017, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell did their best to give away the shop to America’s wealthiest crew, offering them, and the corporations they’re often associated with, tax cuts from heaven, a genuine “windfall” for the 1%. And America’s billionaires responded appropriately by making an almost inconceivable further fortune amid the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As for the U.S. military, it’s now a money-making operation of the first order and I’m not just thinking about the way the Pentagon budget always rises (even when Congress hasn’t been able to fund the most basic American infrastructure), amid almost 20 years of failing wars in distant lands. I mean, just consider a figure like Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who at one point commanded this country’s disastrous military operations in Iraq and then, as the head of U.S. Central Command, oversaw most of our losing wars. In 2016, he “retired” from the military, only to join the board of directors of the weapons maker Raytheon. In the process, he would reportedly rake in somewhere between $800,000 and $1.7 million, thanks to stocks he received from that outfit and two spinoff companies before heading back through that classic military-industrial-congressional revolving door to Washington to work for President Biden.

It’s in this context that TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon considers what the true third rails of American politics are. Watch out, if you’re a politician, you don’t want to touch either of them! Tom

Social Security Versus National Security

Whose Entitlement Really Makes Us Safer?

These days my conversations with friends about the new administration go something like this:

“Biden’s doing better than I thought he would.”

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Nick Turse, The Skeletons in My Virtual Closets

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Just a reminder that signed, personalized copies of Songlands, the third and final novel in John Feffer’s Splinterlands trilogy on the fate of this planet, are still available. To receive one, you’ll have to contribute at least $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.A.) to this website. Feffer, a remarkable weekly columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus, is of course a TomDispatch regular.  Just check out his most recent piece if you want to get a feeling for him and the remarkable trilogy he wrote.  Personally, I think it’s a must-read in an era when white nationalism, Trumpism, a pandemic, and global warming have created a swirl of truly dystopian feelings.  Feffer was distinctly ahead of his time.  So, go to the TD donation page and do your damnedest. Note as well that I’ll be on the road this weekend, so the next TomDispatch piece will appear Tuesday. Tom]

In this century, Memorial Day, a civic holiday, has gained an almost religious tinge.  That last Monday in May is meant, of course, to honor the dead of this country’s wars and has a history that goes back to the period after the Civil War when, thanks to the bloodshed of that conflict, America’s first national cemeteries were created. A century and a half later, the president regularly goes to Arlington National Cemetery and places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Donald Trump did so, maskless in the midst of a pandemic nightmare, in 2020 and Joe Biden did so in 2021, the day after the anniversary of his son Beau’s death. (Beau served a year as a National Guardsman in war-torn Iraq.)

Addressing “our fallen heroes” and their families, who “live forever in our hearts — forever proud, forever honorable, forever American,” President Biden hailed the American war dead as “the sentinels of liberty, defenders of the downtrodden, liberators of nations.” He then added, “And still today, Americans stand watch around the world, often at their great personal peril… They did not only die at Gettysburg or in Flanders Field or on the beaches of Normandy, but in the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts of Iraq in the last 20 years.” Later, he offered another quite explicit list of where those “fallen heroes” actually fell: “The Americans of Lexington and Concord, of New Orleans, Gettysburg, the Argonne, Iwo Jima and Normandy, Korea and Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.”

But when you think about it, the all-American conflicts that followed World War II’s D-Day (Normandy) haven’t exactly been the tales of liberty, heroism, and glory that Biden hailed.  Instead, they’ve been interventions from hell that, Vietnam aside, the American people largely neither supported nor protested, but paid remarkably little attention to.

Almost all of them were, in one fashion or another, failed wars that left startling numbers of innocent civilians dead, squandered trillions of taxpayer dollars needed at home, unsettled significant parts of the planet, and in this century helped spread terror outfits across the Greater Middle East and Africa. In short, they were wars that, in terms of democracy, liberty, and justice, were horrors of the first order and nothing faintly to be proud of.

Today, TomDispatch regular, historian, and war correspondent Nick Turse, author of a riveting account of one of those American wars from hell, Kill Anything That Moves, considers a subject we don’t often think about — the way such wars and other conflicts around the world are now producing what he all too accurately calls “war porn” in our overly electronic moment.  As I read his piece, I couldn’t help thinking that, given a Pentagon budget that never goes anything but up and wars that never go anything but down, Memorial Day (like those endless flyovers of sports events by the U.S. Air Force) has, in my lifetime, become a kind of war porn all its own. Tom

A Wide World of War Porn

How I Accidentally Amassed an Encyclopedia of Atrocities

Recently, I wanted to show my wife a picture, so I opened the photos app on my phone and promptly panicked when I saw what was there. 

It’s not what you think.

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