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Aviva Chomsky: What’s at Stake in the Border Debate

By: Tom Engelhardt Monday August 25, 2014 6:25 am
Two children on a pier with water & mountains in the distance

Why are thousands of children from Guatemala and other Central American countries arriving on our borders?

The militarization of the police has been underway since 9/11, but only in the aftermath of the six-shot killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, with photos of streets in a St. Louis suburb that looked like occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, has the fact of it, the shock of it, seemed to hit home widely.  Congressional representatives are now proposing bills to stop the Pentagon from giving the latest in war equipment to local police forces.  The president even interrupted his golfing vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to returnto Washington, in part for “briefings” on the ongoing crisis in Ferguson.  So militarization is finally a major story.

And that’s no small thing.  On the other hand, the news from Ferguson can’t begin to catch the full process of militarization this society has been undergoing or the way America’s distant wars are coming home. We have, at least, a fine book by Radley Balko on how the police have been militarized.  Unfortunately, on the subject of the militarization of the country, there is none.  And yet from armed soldiers in railway stations to the mass surveillance of Americans, from the endless celebration of our “warriors” to the domestic use of drones, this country has been undergoing a significant process of militarization (and, if there were such a word, national securitization).

Perhaps nowhere has this been truer than on America’s borders and on the subject of immigration.  It’s no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The U.S. is in the process of becoming a citadel nation with up-armored, locked-down borders and a Border Patrol operating in a “Constitution-free zone” deep into the country.  The news is regularly filled with discussions of the need to “bolster border security” in ways that would have been unimaginable to previous generations.  In the meantime, the Border Patrol is producing its own set of Ferguson-style killings as, like SWAT teams around the U.S., it adopts an ever more militarized mindset and the weaponry to go with it.  As James Tomsheck, the former head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, put it recently, “It has been suggested by Border Patrol leadership that they are the Marine Corps of the U.S. law enforcement community.  The Border Patrol has a self-identity of a paramilitary border security force and not that of a law enforcement organization.”

It’s in this context that the emotional flare-up over undocumented Central American children crossing the southern border by the thousands took place.  In fact, without the process of militarization, that “debate” — with its discussion of “invasions,” “surges,” “terrorists,” and “tip of the spear” solutions — makes no sense.  Its language was far more appropriate to the invasion and occupation of Iraq than the arrival in this country of desperate kids, fleeing hellish conditions, and often looking for their parents.

Aviva Chomsky is the author of a new history of just how the words “immigration” and “illegal” became wedded — it wasn’t talked about that way not so many decades ago — and how immigrants became demonized in ways that are familiar in American history.  The Los Angeles Times has hailed Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal for adding “smart, new, and provocative scholarship to the immigration debate.” As in her book, so today at TomDispatch, Chomsky puts the most recent version of the immigration “debate” into a larger context, revealing just what we prefer not to see in our increasingly up-armored nation. Tom

America’s Continuing Border Crisis
The Real Story Behind the “Invasion” of the Children
By Aviva Chomsky

Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news.  The media stories have been legion, the words expended many.  And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned.  It couldn’t be stranger — or sadder.

Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news.  Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high.  And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either.  In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children — and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried.  Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants.  The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues.  As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.

As labor journalist David Bacon has shown, the children-at-the-border story was first brought to the attention of the media by anti-immigrant organizations, beginning with the radical right-wing Breitbart News Network in Texas.  Their narrative focused on President Obama’s supposed failure to control the border, his timid gestures aimed at granting temporary legal status to some undocumented youth through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the attempts of Congressional liberals to promote what they called “comprehensive immigration reform,” and of course those children “invading” the U.S.

In fact, there was nothing new about the so-called surge.  Rather, the Breitbart Network turned a long-term issue into a “crisis” for political reasons, and the media, politicians, and organizations on both sides of the political spectrum took the bait.

 

Patrick Cockburn: How to Ensure a Thriving Caliphate

By: Tom Engelhardt Thursday August 21, 2014 8:40 am

Think of the new “caliphate” of the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s gift to the world (with a helping hand from the Saudis and other financiers of extremism in the Persian Gulf).  How strange that they get so little credit for its rise, for the fact that the outlines of the Middle East, as set up by Europe’s colonial powers in the wake of World War I, are being swept aside in a tide of blood.

Had George and Dick not decided on their “cakewalk” in Iraq, had they not raised the specter of nuclear destruction and claimed that Saddam Hussein’s regime was somehow linked to al-Qaeda and so to the 9/11 attacks, had they not sent tens of thousands of American troops into a burning, looted Baghdad (“stuff happens”), disbanded the Iraqi army, built military bases all over that country, and generally indulged their geopolitical fantasies about dominating the oil heartlands of the planet for eternity, ISIS would have been an unlikely possibility, no matter the ethnic and religious tensions in the region.  They essentially launched the drive that broke state power there and created the kind of vacuum that a movement like ISIS was so horrifically well suited to fill.

All in all, it’s a remarkable accomplishment to look back on.  In September 2001, when George and Dick launched their “Global War on Terror” to wipe out — so they then claimed — “terrorist networks” in up to 60 countries, or as they preferred to put it, “drain the swamp,” there were scattered bands of jihadis globally, while al-Qaeda had a couple of camps in Afghanistan and a sprinkling of supporters elsewhere.  Today, in the wake of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and an air power intervention in Libya, after years of drone (and non-drone) bombing campaigns across the Greater Middle East, jihadist groups are thriving in Yemen and Pakistan, spreading through Africa (along with the U.S. military), and ISIS has taken significant parts of Iraq and Syria right up to the Lebanese border for its own bailiwick and is still expanding murderously, despite a renewed American bombing campaign that may only strengthen that movement in the long run.

Has anyone covered this nightmare better than the world’s least embedded reporter, Patrick Cockburn of the British Independent?  Not for my money.  He’s had the canniest, clearest-eyed view of developments in the region for years now.  As it happens, when he publishes a new book on the Middle East (the last time was 2008), he makes one of his rare appearances at TomDispatch. This month, his latest must-read work, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, is out. Today, this website has an excerpt from its first chapter on why the war on terror was such a failure (and why, if Washington was insistent on invading someplace, it probably should have chosen Saudi Arabia).  It includes a special introductory section written just for TomDispatch. Thanks go to his publisher, OR BooksTom

Why Washington’s War on Terror Failed 
The Underrated Saudi Connection 
By Patrick Cockburn

[This essay is excerpted from the first chapter of Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprisingwith special thanks to his publisher, OR Books.  The first section is a new introduction written for TomDispatch.]

There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.

But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a “moderate” Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis.  It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day. Soon the new caliphate may stretch from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and the only force that can possibly stop this from happening is the Syrian army.

William Astore: The Bomber Will Always Get Funded — and Used

By: Tom Engelhardt Tuesday August 19, 2014 6:34 am
An air force bomber refueling

Bombing Iraq? Get used to it.

Bombing Iraq, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore indicates today, has become an American pastime.  (These days, you can’t be president without sending in the bombers and drones.)  So let’s try to get our heads around the latest U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq against the forces of the new “caliphate.”  It’s a campaign that President Obama has already indicated is likely to go on for months and may soon enough spread south to the Baghdad area.  It looks like Washington has finally created the perfect machine for the weapons industry.

Think of it this way: first Washington provides the Iraqi military with training and massive infusions of military equipment to the tune of $25 billion.  Next that military, faced with its first serious opposition, the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), numbering in the thousands against security forces in the hundreds of thousands, collapses.  In June, two full divisions, 30,000 Iraqi troops, flee the city of Mosul, abandoning their posts in the face of the advance of ISIS fighters.  In all, four divisions of the country’s 14-division army disintegrate throughout the north.  Left behind is a massive trove of U.S.-supplied weaponry, including 1,500 Humvees, 52 U.S.-made M198 howitzers, tankstrucks, rifles, and ammunition.

ISIS militants, who seem remarkably capable of operating such equipment without an American trainer or adviser in sight, then turn some of that weaponry (as well as weapons captured from the Syrian military) on U.S.-backed forces, including, in the north, Kurdish pesh merga militias.  (They have evidently even brought tanks into play near the Turkish border.)  To save its Kurdish allies from disaster, the Obama administration then sends in the U.S. Air Force (both fighter-bombers and Predator drones) in close support of the beleaguered Kurdish forces.  Doing what air power seems most capable of, the planes begin destroying the armored vehicles and artillery pieces ISIS has brought to bear in Kurdish areas.  In other words, U.S. air power is called in to take out U.S. military equipment (and anyone manning it).

To complete the circle, both the Iraqis defending Baghdad and the Kurds now desperately need new weaponry, and Washington is already starting to supply it in the north and soon undoubtedly in the south as well.  Can there be any question that this is a win-win situation for the American arms industry and the military-industrial complex?  It gives new meaning to American bombing campaigns that, since 1991, have proven to be disastrous regional destabilizers.  Think of this as an innovative profit center for American industry and a jobs-creation exercise of the first order: we provide the weapons, we destroy them, then we provide more.

Given what William Astore calls the American “cult” of bombing and its remarkable futility in policy terms, this is a significant development.  And don’t for a second think that it’s a one-of-a-kind situation. After all, Washington has put at least $50 billion in weaponry and training into Afghanistan’s security forces. So the future is bright. Tom

The American Cult of Bombing
Why You Should Expect More Bombs to be Dropped Everywhere
By William J. Astore

When you do something again and again, placing great faith in it, investing enormous amounts of money in it, only to see indifferent or even negative results, you wouldn’t be entirely surprised if a neutral observer questioned your sanity or asked you if you were part of some cult.  Yet few Americans question the sanity or cult-like behavior of American presidents as they continue to seek solutions to complex issues by bombing Iraq (as well as numerous other countries across the globe).

Poor Iraq. From Operation Desert Shield/Storm under George H.W. Bush to enforcing no-fly zones under Bill Clinton to Operation Iraqi Freedom under George W. Bush to the latest “humanitarian” bombing under Barack Obama, the one constant is American bombs bursting in Iraqi desert air.  Yet despite this bombing — or rather in part because of it — Iraq is a devastated and destabilized country, slowly falling apart at seams that have been unraveling under almost a quarter-century of steady, at times relentless, pounding.  “Shock and awe,” anyone?

Eduardo Galeano: A Lost and Found History of Lives and Dreams (Some Broken)

By: Tom Engelhardt Monday August 18, 2014 6:18 am
Cover of Mirrors

Excerpts selected by Tom Engelhardt

Who isn’t a fan of something — or someone? So consider this my fan’s note. To my mind, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano is among the greats of our time. His writing has “it” — that indefinable quality you can’t describe but know as soon as you read it. He’s created a style that combines the best of journalism, history, and fiction and a form for his books that, as far as I know, has no name but involves short bursts of almost lyrical reportage, often about events long past. As it turns out, he also carries “it” with him. I was his English-language book editor years ago and can testify to that, even though on meeting him you might not initially think so.  He has nothing of the showboat about him. In person, he’s almost self-effacing and yet somehow he brings out in others the urge to tell stories as they’ve never told them before.

Call it charisma if you want (though I still remember a professor of mine pointing out, in reference to Chinese leader Mao Zedong, that what’s charisma to one is zilch to another).  Explain it as you will, from Memory of Fire, his three-volume history of the Americas, to his recent Children of the Days, a kind of prayer book for our time, he’s never stopped telling us our own stories in ways we haven’t heard them before.

At some point in Galeano’s life as a collector of stories, history decided to trust him and spilled its secrets to him. In 2009, he returned the favor by writing one of the great books of this century, Mirrors, a history of humanity in 366 episodes, from our first myths to late last night. Thanks to his publisher, Nation Books, and his devoted literary agent, Susan Bergholz, I’ve chosen 12 of my own favorites from that work for your summer pleasure. Think of this post as a Galeano-esque mini-history of our last century of turmoil through a kaleidoscope of “characters,” human and inanimate — and then get your hands on Mirrors and read the whole thing for yourself. Tom

Century of Disaster
Riddles, Lies, and Lives — from Fidel Castro and Muhammad Ali to Albert Einstein and Barbie
By Eduardo Galeano

[The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s history of humanity, Mirrors (Nation Books).]

Stalin

He learned to write in the language of Georgia, his homeland, but in the seminary the monks made him speak Russian.

Years later in Moscow, his south Caucasus accent still gave him away.

So he decided to become more Russian than the Russians. Was not Napoleon, who hailed from Corsica, more French than the French? And was not Catherine the Great, who was German, more Russian than the Russians?

The Georgian, Iosif Dzhugashvili, chose a Russian name. He called himself Stalin, which means “steel.”

The man of steel expected his son to be made of steel too: from childhood, Stalin’s son Yakov was tempered in fire and ice and shaped by hammer blows.

It did not work. He was his mother’s child. At the age of 19, Yakov wanted no more of it, could bear no more.

He pulled the trigger.

The gunshot did not kill him.

He awoke in the hospital. At the foot of the bed, his father commented:

You can’t even get that right.

The Ages of Josephine

At nine years old, she works cleaning houses in St. Louis on the banks of the Mississippi.

Matthew Harwood: One Nation Under SWAT

By: Tom Engelhardt Thursday August 14, 2014 6:38 am

Think of it as a different kind of blowback.  Even when you fight wars in countries thousands of miles distant, they still have an eerie way of making the long trip home.

MRAP Armored vehicle in Afghanistan desert

The same armored vehicles of war in Afghanistan now patrol our cities streets.

Take the latest news from Bergen County, New Jersey, one of the richest counties in the country.  Its sheriff’s department is getting two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs — 15 tons of protective equipment — for a song from the Pentagon.  And there’s nothing special in that.  The Pentagon has handed out 600 of them for nothing since 2013, with plenty more to come.  They’re surplus equipment, mostly from our recent wars, and perhaps they will indeed prove handy for a sheriff fretting about insurgent IEDs (roadside bombs) in New Jersey or elsewhere in the country.  When it comes to the up-armoring and militarization of America’s police forces, this is completely run-of-the-mill stuff.

The only thing newsworthy in the Bergen story is that someone complained.  To be exact, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan spoke up in opposition to the transfer of the equipment.  “I think,” she said, “we have lost our way if you start talking about military vehicles on the streets of Bergen County.”  And she bluntly criticized the decision to accept the MRAPs as the “absolute wrong thing to do in Bergen County to try to militarize our county.”  Her chief of staff offered a similar comment: “They are combat vehicles. Why do we need a combat vehicle on the streets of Bergen County?”

Sheriff Michael Saudino, on the other hand, insists that the MRAPs aren’t “combat vehicles” at all.  Forget the fact that they were developed for and used in combat situations.  He suggests instead that one good reason for having them — other than the fact that they are free (except for postage, gas, and upkeep) — is essentially to keep up with the Joneses.  As he pointed out, the Bergen County police already have two MRAPs, and his department has none and, hey, self-respect matters!  (“Should our SWAT guys be any less protected than the county guys?” he asked in a debate with Donovan.)

striking recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union indicates that, as in Bergen County, policing is being militarized nationwide in all sorts of unsettling ways.  It is, more precisely, being SWATified (a word that doesn’t yet exist, but certainly should).  Matthew Harwood, senior writer and editor for the ACLU, as well as TomDispatch regular, offers a graphic look at just where policing in America is heading. Welcome to Kabul, USA. Tom

To Terrify and Occupy 
How the Excessive Militarization of the Police is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents 
By Matthew Harwood

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders.  They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic.  He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

Sandy Tolan: Going Wild in the Gaza War

By: Tom Engelhardt Tuesday August 12, 2014 6:33 am

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Gaza solidarity rally at the White House

The United States & Israel had many chances for peace.

The carnage in the Gaza Strip has been horrendous: more than 1,900 dead, mainly civilians; its sole power plant destroyed (and so electricity and water denied and a sewage disaster looming); 30,000 to 40,000 homes and buildings damaged or destroyed; hundreds of thousands of residents put to flight with nowhere to go; and numerous U.N. schools or facilities housing some of those refugees hit by Israeli firepower. And then there was the evident targeting by the Israelis of the Gazan economy itself: 175 major factories taken out, according to the New York Times, in a place that already had an estimated unemployment rate of 47%.

The last weeks represent the latest episode in a grim, unbalanced tale of the destructive urges of both the Israeli government and Hamas, in a situation in which the most fundamental thing has been the desire to punish civilians.  Worse yet, indiscriminate assaults on civilian populations create the basis for more of the same — fiercer support in Israel for governments committed to ever worse actions and ever more recruits for Hamas or successor organizations potentially far worse and more fundamentalist), and of course more children traumatized and primed for future acts of terror and revenge.

Think of it as the Middle Eastern equivalent of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which means it hardly even qualifies as a prediction to say that Israel’s violent and punishing acts against the civilian population of Gaza will settle nothing whatsoever. In fact, for the Israelis, as Sandy Tolan suggests today, the Gazan War of 2014 may prove a defeat, both in the arena of global opinion (U.S. polls show that young Americans are ever more sympathetic to the Palestinians and disapproving of Israeli actions) and in relation to Hamas itself. History indicates that air strikes and other attacks meant to break the “will” of a populace, and so of a movement’s hold on it, generally only create more support.

These have been the days of the whirlwind in Gaza and in Israel, but don’t stop there. If you want a hair-raising experience, put these events in a larger regional context.

Following 9/11, the Bush administration and its neocon supporters dubbed the area that stretched from North Africa to Central Asia “the Greater Middle East” and referred to that vast expanse as “the arc of instability.” At the time, despite their largely Muslim populations, the nations of that sprawling region had relatively little in common; nor, on the whole, was it particularly unstable, even if the roiling Israeli-Palestinian situation already sat at its heart.

Ruled largely by strongmen and autocrats, those nations remained in a grim post-Cold War state of stasis. Three American interventions — in Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), and Libya (2011) — blew holes through the region, sparking bitter inter-ethnic and religious conflict, as well as an Arab Spring (largely suppressed by now), while transforming most of the Greater Middle East into a genuine arc of instability. Today, what’s happening there qualifies as the perfect maelstrom, as yet more states and groups, insurgent, extremist, or otherwise, are drawn into its maw of destruction.

To start on the eastern reaches of the Greater Middle East, Pakistan is now a destabilized democracy with a fierce set of fundamentalist insurgencies operating within and from its territory; Afghanistan is an almost 13-year nation-building disaster where the Taliban is resurgent and, in the latest “insider attack” at its top military academy, an Afghan soldier considered an American “ally” managed to kill a U.S. major general sent to the country to help “stand up” its security forces. Iraq is a tripartite disaster area in which another American-trained and -equipped army stood down rather than up and in which an extreme al-Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State (IS) is at the moment ascendant. It has routed Iraqi and Syrian forces, and most recently, the supposedly fierce Kurdish pesh merga militia in northern Iraq, while endangering the Kurdish capital and possibly seizing the country’s largest dam. Turkish and Syrian Kurdish insurgents are being drawn into the fight in Iraq, as once again is the U.S.

Syria itself is no longer a country at all, but a warring set of extremist outfits facing what’s left of the patrimony (and military) of the al-Assad family.  In Lebanon last week, regular army units found themselves battling IS extremists and their captured American tanks for the control of a border town. In Egypt, the military is back in power atop a disintegrating economy.  In Libya, the chaos following the U.S./NATO intervention that led to the fall of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi never ended.  Recently, factional militias fighting in Tripoli, the capital, managed to destroy its international airport, while diplomatic missions, including the U.S. one, were withdrawn in haste, and now the Egyptians are threatening an intervention of their own.  Meanwhile, reverberations from the chaos in Libya have been spreading across North Africa and heading south.  Only Iran (eternally under threat from the U.S. and Israel), Saudi Arabia (which helped bankroll the rise of the IS), and the Gulf States seem to have remained — thus far — relatively aloof from the chaos.

In sum, the vast region the Bush people so blithely called the arc of instability seems to be heading for utter chaos or a mega-conflict, while the predicted “cakewalk” of American forces into Iraq managed, in barely a moment in historical time, to essentially obliterate the regional borders set up by the European colonial powers after World War I. In other words, a world is being unified in turmoil and extremism, as thousands die and millions are uprooted from their homes, and all of this now surrounds the volatile, still destabilizing center that is the Palestinian/Israeli nightmare. There, as Sandy Tolan, a TomDispatch regular and the author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, points out, both Tel Aviv and Washington have, in recent years, ignored every chance to take a less violent path and so encouraged the arrival of the maelstrom. Tom

Blown Chances in Gaza 
Israel and the U.S. Miss Many Chances to Avoid War 
By Sandy Tolan

Alongside the toll of death and broken lives, perhaps the saddest reality of the latest Gaza war, like the Gaza wars before it, is how easy it would have been to avoid. For the last eight years, Israel and the U.S. had repeated opportunities to opt for a diplomatic solution in Gaza. Each time, they have chosen war, with devastating consequences for the families of Gaza.

Nick Turse: Christmas in July and the Collapse of America’s Great African Experiment

By: Tom Engelhardt Monday August 11, 2014 6:29 am

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

US Army Soldiers on a tarmac in South Sudan

Sudan tells the disastrous story of US intervention in Africa.

On return from his recent reporting trip to Africa, Nick Turse told me the following tale, which catches something of the nature of our battered world.  At a hotel bar in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, he attended an informal briefing with a representative of a major nongovernmental organization (NGO).  At one point, the briefer commented that just one more crisis might sink the whole aid operation.  He thought she was referring to South Sudan, whose bottomless set of problems include unending civil war, no good prospects for peace, impending famine, poor governance, and a lack of the sort of infrastructure that could make a dent in such a famine.  Nick responded accordingly, only to be corrected.  She didn’t just mean South Sudan, she said, but the entire global NGO system.  Given the chaos of the present moment across the Greater Middle East and elsewhere, global aid operations were, she insisted, on the brink. They were all, she told him, just one catastrophe away from the entire system collapsing.

I have to admit that as I watch the civilian carnage in Gaza; catastrophically devolving Iraq; the nightmare of Syria; the chaotic situation in Libya where, thanks to militia fighting, the capital’s international airport is now in ruins; the grim events surrounding Ukraine, which seem to be leading to an eerie, almost inconceivable revival of the Cold War ethos; not to speak of the situation in Afghanistan, where bad only becomes worse in the midst of an election from hell and the revival of the Taliban, I have a similar eerie feeling: just one more thing might tip this planet into… well, what?

And then, of course, I read Nick Turse’s second report from Africa, up-close-and-personal from South Sudan.  It’s another place the U.S. chose as one of its special (un-)nation building projects and has seen it go to hell in a hand basket on a continent parts of which seem to be destabilizing as we watch.  Now, I find myself wondering whether just one more disaster, one political or military catastrophe, might push us all over the edge of… well, who knows what?  Tom

As a Man-Made Famine Looms, Christmas Comes Early to South Sudan
The Limits of America’s African Experiment in Nation Building
By Nick Turse

[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]

Juba, South Sudan — The soft glow of the dancing white lights is a dead giveaway.  It’s Christmas in July at the U.S. Embassy compound.  Behind high walls topped with fierce-looking metal impediments meant to discourage climbers, there’s a party under way.

Close your eyes and you could be at a stateside summer barbeque or an office holiday party.  Even with them open, the local realities of dirt roads and dirty water, civil war, mass graves, and nightly shoot-to-kill curfews seem foreign. These walls, it turns out, are even higher than they look.

Out by the swimming pool and the well-stocked bar, every table is packed with people.  Slightly bleary-eyed men and sun-kissed women wear Santa hats and decorations in their hair.  One festive fellow is dressed as Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation complete with a white sweater, black dickey, and bright white loafers.  Another is straddling an inflatable killer whale that he’s borrowed from the collection of playthings around the pool and is using as improvised chair while he stuffs his face from an all-American smorgasbord.  We’re all eating well tonight.  Mac and cheese, barbequed ribs, beef tenderloin, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and for desert, peach cobbler.  The drinks are flowing, too: wine and whisky and fine Tusker beer.

Yuletide songs drift out into the sultry night in this, the capital of the world’s newest nation.  “Simply having a wonderful Christmastime,” croons Paul McCartney.

Just 15 minutes away, near the airport in an area known as Tongping, things aren’t quite so wonderful.  There’s no fried chicken, no ribs, no peach cobbler.  At Juba’s United Nations camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), they’re eating sorghum and a crude porridge made from a powdered blend of corn and soy beans provided by the United Nations’ World Food Program.  Children at the camp call it “the yellow food.”  “It’s no good,” one of them tells me, with a quick head shake for emphasis.

Noam Chomsky: Why National Security Has Nothing to Do With Security

By: Tom Engelhardt Tuesday August 5, 2014 6:32 am

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

The crew of the Enola Gay poses in front of their bomber.

A national security history from the Hiroshima bombing to today.

Think of it as the true end of the beginning.  Last week, Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, the final member of the 12-man crew of the Enola Gay, the plane (named after its pilot’s supportive mother) that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died at age 93.   When that first A-bomb left its bomb bay at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, and began its descent toward its target, the Aioli (“Live Together”) Bridge, it was inscribed with a series of American messages, some obscene, including “Greetings to the Emperor from the men of the Indianapolis.” (That ship had delivered to the Pacific island of Tinian parts of the very bomb that would turn Hiroshima into an inferno of smoke and fire — “that awful cloud,” Paul Tibbetts, Jr., the Enola Gay’s pilot, would call it — and afterward was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine with the loss of hundreds of sailors.)

The bomb, dubbed Little Boy, that had gestated in the belly of the Enola Gay represented not only the near endpoint of a bitter global war of almost unimaginable destruction, but the birthing of something new.  The way for its use had been paved by an evolution in warfare: the increasing targeting of civilian populations from the air (something that can be seen again today in the carnage of Gaza).  The history of that grim development extends from German airship bombings of London (1915) by way of Guernica (1937), Shanghai (1937), and Coventry (1940), to the fire bombings of Dresden (1945) and Tokyo (1945) in the last year of World War II.  It even had an evolutionary history in the human imagination, where for decades writers (among others) had dreamed of the unparalleled release of previously unknown forms of energy for military purposes.

On August 7, 1945, a previous age was ending and a new one was dawning.  In the nuclear era, city-busting weapons would be a dime a dozen and would spread from the superpowers to many other countries, including Great Britain, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.  Targeted by the planet’s major nuclear arsenals would be the civilian inhabitants not just of single cities but of scores and scores of cities, even of the planet itself.  On August 6th, 70 years ago, the possibility of the apocalypse passed out of the hands of God or the gods and into human hands, which meant a new kind of history had begun whose endpoint is unknowable, though we do know that even a “modest” exchange of nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan would not only devastate South Asia, but thanks to the phenomenon of nuclear winter also cause widespread famine on a planetary scale.

In other words, 70 years later, the apocalypse is us.  Yet in the United States, the only nuclear bomb you’re likely to read about is Iran’s (even though that country possesses no such weapon).  For a serious discussion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, those more than 4,800 increasingly ill-kept weapons that could incinerate several Earth-sized planets, you need to look not to the country’s major newspapers or news programs but to comic John Oliver — or TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky. Tom

How Many Minutes to Midnight?
Hiroshima Day 2014
By Noam Chomsky

If some extraterrestrial species were compiling a history of Homo sapiens, they might well break their calendar into two eras: BNW (before nuclear weapons) and NWE (the nuclear weapons era).  The latter era, of course, opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but — so the evidence suggests — not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.