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Nick Turse: Secret Wars and Black Ops Blowback

7:39 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

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

US soldier helping Burundi soldiers use mortar

The United States wages a worldwide, secret war in over 100 countries.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers in or around New York City: On Friday, January 17th at 7 pm, Nick Turse will be discussing his bestselling book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (just out in paperback), with TomDispatch regular Chase Madar at a favorite independent bookstore of mine -- Brooklyn's Book Court.  For more details, click here. Tom]

These days, when I check out the latest news on Washington’s global war-making, I regularly find at least one story that fits a new category in my mind that I call: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Take last Saturday’s Post report by Craig Whitlock on the stationing of less than two dozen U.S. “military advisers” in war-torn Somalia.  They’ve been there for months, it turns out, and their job is “to advise and coordinate operations with African troops fighting to wrest control of the country from the al-Shabab militia.”  If you leave aside the paramilitarized CIA (which has long had a secret base and prison in that country), those advisers represent the first U.S. military boots on the ground there since the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident of 1993.  As soon as I read the piece, I automatically thought: Given the history of the U.S. in Somalia, including the encouragement of a disastrous 2006 Ethiopian invasion of that country, what could possibly go wrong?

Some days when I read the news, I can’t help but think of the late Chalmers Johnson; on others, the satirical newspaper the Onion comes to mind.  If Washington did it — and by “it,” I mean invade and occupy a country, intervene in a rebellion against an autocrat, intervene in a civil war, launch a drone campaign against a terror outfit, or support and train local forces against some group the U.S. doesn’t like — you already know all you need to know.  Any version of the above has repeatedly translated into one debacle or disaster after another.  In the classic term of CIA tradecraft that Johnson took for the title of a book — a post-9/11 bestseller — send a drone over Yemen with the intent to kill, kick down doors in Afghanistan or Iraq, put U.S. boots back on the ground in Somalia and you’re going to be guaranteed “unintended consequences” and undoubtedly some form of “blowback” as well.  To use a sports analogy, if since 9/11 Washington has been the globe’s cleanup hitter, it not only hasn’t managed to knock a single ball out of the park, it’s struck out enough times to make those watching dizzy, and it’s batting .000.

You would think that someone in the nation’s capital might have drawn a lesson or two from such a record, something simple like: Don’t do it!  But — here’s where the Onion should be able to run riot — there clearly is no learning curve in Washington.  Tactics change, but the ill-conceived, ill-begotten, ill-fated Global War on Terror (GWOT), which long ago outran its own overblown name, continues without end, and without either successes of any lasting sort or serious reconsideration.  In this period, al-Qaeda, a small-scale organization capable of immodest terror acts every couple of years and, despite the fantasies of Homeland and Fox News, without a sleeper cell in the United States, managed, with Washington’s help, to turn itself into a global franchise.  The more the Bush and Obama administrations went after it, the more al-Qaeda wannabe organizations sprang up across the Greater Middle East and north Africa like mushrooms after a soaking rain.

The earliest GWOTsters, all Onion-style satirists, believed that the U.S. was destined to rule the world till Hell froze over.  Their idea of a snappy quip was “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran,” and they loved to refer to the Greater Middle East as “the arc of instability.”  That, mind you, was before they sent in the U.S. military.  Today, 12 years later, that long-gone world looks like an arc of stability, while the U.S. has left the Greater Middle East, from North Africa to Syria, from Yemen to Afghanistan, a roiling catastrophe zone of conflict, refugees, death, and destruction.  As it happened, the Bush administration’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be the only genuine weapons of mass destruction around, loosing, among other things, what could prove to be the great religious war of modern times.

And the lessons drawn?  As TomDispatch regular Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (just out in paperback), suggests in today’s post, the Obama administration has overseen the reorganization of the Global War on Terror as a vast secret operation of unrivaled proportions.  It now oversees a planetary surveillance network of staggering size and reach (itself leading to historic blowback) and the spread of a secret military spawned inside the U.S. military and now undergoing typically mindless expansion on a gargantuan scale. What could possibly go wrong? Tom

The Special Ops Surge
America’s Secret War in 134 Countries
By Nick Turse

They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America.  They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa.  They feel the salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific.  They conduct missions in the oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze of Scandinavia.  All over the planet, the Obama administration is waging a secret war whose full extent has never been fully revealed — until now.

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Rebecca Solnit: The Future Needs Us

7:35 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

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

Marching band in New Orleans

As 2013 closes, Rebecca Solnit looks to the future from New Orleans.

‘Tis the season of tradition and, as it turns out, TomDispatch has one seasonal tradition of its own.  For the last nine — count ‘em: nine! — years, Rebecca Solnit has stepped into the breach (“dear friends!”) and ended the TomDispatch year for us with her usual panache.  In 2006, she was dreaming of 2026; in 2008, she was looking back at the grim aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in lawless New Orleans; in 2010, it was iceberg economies and hope in the shadows (and as I wrote in my introduction that year, with the Bush administration’s approach to war in mind, “As they privatized, I’ve privatized hope, farming it out to Rebecca Solnit, who from her first appearance at TomDispatch has filled the endowed Hope Chair brilliantly”); in 2011, it was the Occupy movement that preoccupied her; and this year, she returns to her most essential métier, the theme with which she changed my view of how the world works when she first arrived at TomDispatch back in May 2003 in the dismal months after the invasion of Iraq began and the antiwar movement collapsed in despair.

As for myself, on this disaster planet in 2013, let me admit to finding hope in a single young man, Edward Snowden, who in his act of disobedience, which was civil but for many here in the U.S. hard to swallow, he truly awoke a world to the dystopian possibilities lurking in the global security state that Washington has been building.  If TomDispatch were Time magazine, he would be my person of the year, a theme I’ll undoubtedly take up in 2014. Tom

The Arc of Justice and the Long Run
Hope, History, and Unpredictability
By Rebecca Solnit

North American cicada nymphs live underground for 17 years before they emerge as adults. Many seeds stay dormant far longer than that before some disturbance makes them germinate. Some trees bear fruit long after the people who have planted them have died, and one Massachusetts pear tree, planted by a Puritan in 1630, is still bearing fruit far sweeter than most of what those fundamentalists brought to this continent. Sometimes cause and effect are centuries apart; sometimes Martin Luther King’s arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice is so long few see its curve; sometimes hope lies not in looking forward but backward to study the line of that arc.

Three years ago at this time, after a young Tunisian set himself on fire to protest injustice, the Arab Spring was on the cusp of erupting. An even younger man, a rapper who went by the name El Général, was on the verge of being arrested for “Rais Lebled” (a tweaked version of the phrase “head of state”), a song that would help launch the revolution in Tunisia.’

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Washington’s Wedding Album From Hell

6:53 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

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

“Bride and Boom!”
We’re Number One… In Obliterating Wedding Parties
By Tom Engelhardt

The headline — “Bride and Boom!” — was spectacular, if you think killing people in distant lands is a blast and a half.  Of course, you have to imagine that smirk line in giant black letters with a monstrous exclamation point covering most of the bottom third of the front page of the Murdoch-owned New York Post.  The reference was to a caravan of vehicles on its way to or from a wedding in Yemen that was eviscerated, evidently by a U.S. drone via one of those “surgical” strikes of which Washington is so proud.  As one report put it, “Scorched vehicles and body parts were left scattered on the road.”

It goes without saying that such a headline could only be applied to assumedly dangerous foreigners — “terror” or “al-Qaeda suspects” — in distant lands whose deaths carry a certain quotient of weirdness and even amusement with them.  Try to imagine the equivalent for the Newtown massacre the day after Adam Lanza broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and began killing children and teachers.  Since even the New York Post wouldn’t do such a thing, let’s posit that the Yemen Post did, that playing off the phrase “head of the class,” their headline was: “Dead of the Class!” (with that same giant exclamation point). It would be sacrilege.  The media would descend.  The tastelessness of Arabs would be denounced all the way up to the White House.  You’d hear about the callousness of foreigners for days.

And were a wedding party to be obliterated on a highway anywhere in America on the way to, say, a rehearsal dinner, whatever the cause, it would be a 24/7 tragedy. Our lives would be filled with news of it. Count on that.

But a bunch of Arabs in a country few in the U.S. had ever heard of before we started sending in the drones?  No such luck, so if you’re a Murdoch tabloid, it’s open season, no consequences guaranteed.  As it happens, “Bride and Boom!” isn’t even an original.  It turns out to be a stock Post headline.  Google it and you’ll find that, since 9/11, the paper has used it at least twice before last week, and never for the good guys: once in 2005, for “the first bomb-making husband and wife,” two Palestinian newlyweds arrested by the Israelis; and once in 2007, for a story about a “bride,” decked out in a “princess-style wedding gown,” with her “groom.” Their car was stopped at a checkpoint in Iraq by our Iraqis, and both of them turned out to be male “terrorists” in a “nutty nuptial party.”  Ba-boom!

As it happened, the article by Andy Soltis accompanying the Post headline last week began quite inaccurately.  “A U.S. drone strike targeting al-Qaeda militants in Yemen,” went the first line, “took out an unlikely target on Thursday — a wedding party heading to the festivities.”

Soltis can, however, be forgiven his ignorance.  In this country, no one bothers to count up wedding parties wiped out by U.S. air power.  If they did, Soltis would have known that the accurate line, given the history of U.S. war-making since December 2001 when the first party of Afghan wedding revelers was wiped out (only two women surviving), would have been: “A U.S. drone… took out a likely target.” Read the rest of this entry →

Dahr Jamail: The Climate Change Scorecard

7:43 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

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

Since a nuclear weapon went off over Hiroshima, we have been living with visions of global catastrophe, apocalyptic end times, and extinction that were once the sole property of religion.  Since August 6, 1945, it has been possible for us to imagine how human beings, not God, could put an end to our lives on this planet.  Conceptually speaking, that may be the single most striking development of our age and, to this day, it remains both terrifying and hard to take in.  Nonetheless, the apocalyptic possibilities lurking in our scientific-military development stirred popular culture over the decades to a riot of world-ending possibilities.

In more recent decades, a second world-ending (or at least world-as-we-know-it ending) possibility has crept into human consciousness.  Until relatively recently, our burning of fossil fuels and spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere represented such a slow-motion approach to end times that we didn’t even notice what was happening.  Only in the 1970s did the idea of global warming or climate change begin to penetrate the scientific community, as in the 1990s it edged its way into the rest of our world, and slowly into popular culture, too.

Still, despite ever more powerful weather disruptions — what the news now likes to call “extreme weather” events, including monster typhoons, hurricanes, and winter storms, wildfires, heat waves, droughts, and global temperature records — disaster has still seemed far enough off.  Despite a drumbeat of news about startling environmental changes — massive ice melts in Arctic waters, glaciers shrinking worldwide, the Greenland ice shield beginning to melt, as well as the growing acidification of ocean waters — none of this, not even Superstorm Sandy smashing into that iconic global capital, New York, and drowning part of its subway system, has broken through as a climate change 9/11.  Not in the United States anyway.

We’ve gone, that is, from no motion to slow motion to a kind of denial of motion.  And yet in the scientific community, where people continue to study the effects of global warming, the tone is changing.  It is, you might say, growing more apocalyptic.  Just in recent weeks, a report from the National Academy of Scientists suggested that “hard-to-predict sudden changes” in the environment due to the effects of climate change might drive the planet to a “tipping point.”  Beyond that, “major and rapid changes [could] occur” — and these might be devastating, including that “wild card,” the sudden melting of parts of the vast Antarctic ice shelf, driving sea levels far higher.

At the same time, the renowned climate scientist James Hansen and 17 colleagues published a hair-raising report in the journal PLoS.  They suggest that the accepted target of keeping global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius is a fool’s errand.  If global temperatures come anywhere near that level — the rise so far has been less than one degree since the industrial revolution began — it will already be too late, they claim, to avoid disastrous consequences.

Consider this the background “temperature” for Dahr Jamail’s latest piece for TomDispatch, an exploration of what climate scientists just beyond the mainstream are thinking about how climate change will affect life on this planet.  What, in other words, is the worst that we could possibly face in the decades to come?  The answer: a nightmare scenario.  So buckle your seat belt.  There’s a tumultuous ride ahead. Tom

Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice?
Scientists Consider Extinction 
By Dahr Jamail

I grew up planning for my future, wondering which college I would attend, what to study, and later on, where to work, which articles to write, what my next book might be, how to pay a mortgage, and which mountaineering trip I might like to take next.

Now, I wonder about the future of our planet. During a recent visit with my eight-year-old niece and 10- and 12-year-old nephews, I stopped myself from asking them what they wanted to do when they grew up, or any of the future-oriented questions I used to ask myself. I did so because the reality of their generation may be that questions like where they will work could be replaced by: Where will they get their fresh water? What food will be available? And what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?

The reason, of course, is climate change — and just how bad it might be came home to me in the summer of 2010.  I was climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State, taking the same route I had used in a 1994 ascent.  Instead of experiencing the metal tips of the crampons attached to my boots crunching into the ice of a glacier, I was aware that, at high altitudes, they were still scraping against exposed volcanic rock. In the pre-dawn night, sparks shot from my steps.
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Tomgram: Todd Gitlin, Climate Change as a Business Model

7:52 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

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

When a crossroads doesn’t lie in the woods or the fields but in our minds, we seldom know it’s there or that we’ve made the choice to take one path and not the other until it’s long past.  Sometimes, the best you can do is look for the tiniest clues as to where we’re really heading.  When it comes to climate change, you can pile up the nightmares — Super-Typhoon Haiyan, possibly the strongest such storm ever to hit land (with the usual prominent caveats about how we can never quite know whether an individual event of this sort was global-warming-induced or not); Australia, which only recently elected a climate-change denialist as prime minister and is experiencing its hottest year on record; the rest of the planet, which is living through the seventh warmest year on record; and so on.

And yet, every now and then, set against the overwhelming, you can sense change in the tiniest of things. Here, for instance, may be a little sign when it comes to global warming: on November 1st, the New York Times featured a piece prominently placed on its front page about how climate change might affect global food production (badly). The story was based on a leaked draft of an upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The piece wasn’t itself particularly striking, but given that paper’s treatment of climate change over the years, its placement was. Just over two weeks later, after the devastation of parts of the Philippines and with a U.N. climate meeting underway in Poland that normally might hardly have been noticed, it front-paged a far more striking report whose title caught the mood of the moment: “Growing Clamor About Inequities of Climate Change.”  Recorded was the growing anger and frustration particularly of island nations that had, in greenhouse gas terms, contributed little to climate change and were feeling the brunt of it anyway.  Like many other mainstream publications, theTimes hasn’t exactly been stellar in the placement and attention it’s given to what almost certainly is the single most important issue of our era. So consider this a (rising) sea change, an indication that, for the paper of record, global warming has just jumped somewhere nearer the front of the line.

And here’s another little surprise and possible sign of changing times.  In case no one noticed, Red State America (RSA), the land of climate deniers, has in recent years been hit hard by record droughtsheatwildfiresfloods, and storms, by what our news likes to call “extreme weather” (with little or no reference to climate change).  So how has that everyday reality been absorbed, if at all? The British Guardian recently reported new polling research by a Stanford social psychologist, who has long been taking the American pulse on the subject, indicating that the inhabitants of RSA — we’re talking about Texas and Oklahoma, among other states — now overwhelmingly believe climate change is a reality, and that a significant majority of them want the government to work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Two stories placed strikingly in a major paper and one passing poll.  Not exactly a typhoon of evidence, but sometimes you take your straws in the wind where you find them.  In the meantime, young activists (and older ones, too) are trying to take the typhoon by the horns and, with a growing campaign to pressure universities and colleges to divest from the giant energy companies, to change the mood and calculations of our moment.  Let TomDispatch regular Todd Gitlin tell the rest of the story — and stay tuned because, whatever may be happening now, there will be crossroads ahead, choices to be made on a planet that’s guaranteed to be in increasing turmoil for the rest of our lives. Tom

How to Reverse a Slow-Motion Apocalypse 
Why the Divestment Movement Against Big Energy Matters 
By Todd Gitlin

Apocalyptic climate change is upon us.  For shorthand, let’s call it a slow-motion apocalypse to distinguish it from an intergalactic attack out of the blue or a suddenly surging Genesis-style flood.

Slow-motion, however, is not no-motion. In fits and starts, speeding up and slowing down, turning risks into clumps of extreme fact, one catastrophe after another — even if there can be no 100% certitude about the origin of each one — the planetary future careens toward the unlivable. That future is, it seems, arriving ahead of schedule, though erratically enough that most people — in the lucky, prosperous countries at any rate — can still imagine the planet conducting something close to business as usual.

To those who pay attention, of course, the recent bursts of extreme weather are not “remote “or “abstract,” nor matters to be deferred until later in the century while we worry about more immediate problems. The coming dystopian landscape is all too real and it is already right here for many millions. (Think: the Philippines, the Maldives Islands, drowned New Orleans, the New York City subways, Far Rockaway, the Jersey Shore, the parched Southwest, the parched and then flooded Midwest and other food belts, the Western forests that these days are regularly engulfed in “record” flames, and so on.)  A child born in the United States this year stands a reasonable chance of living into the next century when everything, from available arable land and food resources to life on our disappearing seacoasts, will have changed, changed utterly.

A movement to forestall such menaces must convince many more millions outside Bangladesh or the Pacific islands that what’s “out there” is not remote in time or geographically far away, but remarkably close at hand, already lapping at many shores — and then to mobilize those millions to leverage our strengths and exploit the weaknesses of the institutions arrayed against us that benefit from destruction and have a stake in our weakness.

There is a poetic fitness to human history at this juncture.  Eons ago, various forms of life became defunct.  A civilization then evolved to extract the remains of that defunct life from the earth and turn it into energy. As a result, it’s now we who are challenged to avoid making our own style of existence defunct.

Is it not uncanny that we have come face-to-face with the consequences of a way of life based on burning up the remnants of previous broken-down orders of life?  It’s a misnomer to call those remains — coal, oil, and gas — “fossil fuels.”  They are not actually made up of fossils at all.  Still, there’s an eerie justice in the inaccuracy, since here we are, converting the residue of earlier breakdowns into another possible breakdown.  The question is: will we become the next fossils?

Subsidizing Big Energy

The institutions of our ruling world have a powerful stake in the mad momentum of climate change — the energy system that’s producing it and the political stasis that sustains and guarantees it — so powerful as to seem unbreakable.  Don’t count on them to avert the coming crisis.  They can’t.  In some sense, they are the crisis.

Corporations and governments promote the burning of fossil fuels, which means the dumping of its waste product, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere where, in record amounts, it heats the planet.  This is not an oversight; it is a business model.

Governments collude with global warming, in part by bankrolling the giant fossil fuel companies (FFCs). As a recent report written by Shelagh Whitley for the Overseas Development Institute puts it,

“Producers of oil, gas, and coal received more than $500 billion in government subsidies around the world in 2011… If their aim is to avoid dangerous climate change, governments are shooting themselves in both feet.  They are subsidizing the very activities that are pushing the world towards dangerous climate change, and creating barriers to investment in low-carbon development and subsidy incentives that encourage investment in carbon-intensive energy.”

Of course a half-trillion dollars in subsidies doesn’t just happen.  It cannot be said too often: the FFCs thrive by conniving with governments.  They finance politicians to do their bidding.  Seven of the ten largest companies in the world are FFCs, as are four of the ten most profitable (just outnumbering three Chinese banks, which presumably have their own major FFC connections).  These behemoths have phenomenal clout when they lobby for fossil-fuel-friendly development and against remedial policies like a carbon tax.  And if this were not enough, they flood the world with fraudulent claims that climate change is not happening, or is not dangerous, or that its dimensions and human causes are controversial among scientists whose profession it is to study the climate.

The Cascade

Fossilized corporations do their thing while frozen governments produce (or opt out of) hapless and toothless international agreements. By default, initiative must arise elsewhere — in places where reason and passion have some purchase as well as a tradition, places where new power may be created and deployed.  This counterpower is, in fact, developing.

Given the might and recalcitrance of the usual culpable and complicit institutions, it falls to people’s initiatives and to other kinds of institutions to take up the slack.  This means universities, churches, and other investment pools, now increasingly under pressure from mushrooming campaigns to divest funds from FFCs; and popular movements against coal, oil, fracking, and other dangerous projects — in particular, at the moment, movements in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere to stop tar sands pipelines.

Those in the growing divestment movement suffer no illusions that universities themselves wield the magnitude of power you find in investment banks or, of course, the FFCs themselves.  They are simply seeking leverage where they can.  The sums of capital held by universities, in particular, are small on the scale of things.  Harvard, the educational institution with the largest endowment (some $32.7 billion at last count), reports that only 3% of its direct holdings are in the top 200 energy outfits.  (The amount of its money held indirectly and opaquely, through private capital pools, and so also possibly invested in FFCs, is unclear.)  Though millions of dollars are at stake, that’s a drop in the bucket for Harvard, whose holdings amount, in turn, to nowhere near a drop in the total market capitalization of those energy giants.

Set against a landscape in which people have lost faith in the principle sectors of power, however, universities still have a certain legitimacy that grants them the potential for leverage. Divestment will make news precisely because such movements are unusual: universities biting the hands of the dogs that feed them, so to speak.

We won’t know how much influence that legitimacy can bring about until the attempts are made.  What we do know, from historical precedent, is that such efforts, even when they start on a small scale, tend to inspire more of the same.  As Robert Kinloch Massie argues in his fine book on South African sanctions, Loosing the Bonds, divestment campaigns such as those over apartheid and Big Tobacco (phased out by Harvard in 1990) worked by creating a cascade effect.

With climate change, the stigmatization of the FFCs is already spreading from universities and churches to city and state pension funds.  Eventually, if it works, the cascade changes the atmosphere around private and public investment decisions.  Then those decisions themselves begin to change and such changes become part of a new market calculation for investors and politicians alike.

That’s why it matters so much that some 400 divestment campaigns are currently underway at American colleges and universities. Cascades of influence can move institutions, often in surprising ways.  Every time a divestment demand is put forward, the conversation changes in elite board rooms where investment decisions are made.  Children of FFC executives go home for Christmas and their nagging questions make their parents’ business-as-usual lives less comfortable.  (This dynamic, though seldom credited, undoubtedly played some role in ending the Vietnam War.)

At Harvard, my alma mater, a fierce campaign by courageous and strategic-minded students has spun off a parallel campaign by alumni.  They are being asked to withhold contributions to the university and to donate to an escrow fund until Harvard divests from its direct holdings in FFCs and undertakes to divest from its indirect holdings as well.

Is this sort of demand just a gesture of moral purity?  Not necessarily.  Indeed, there may well be an economic payoff for morally motivated divestment and reinvestment.  My fellow alumnus Bevis Longstreth, a former commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, makes a strong case that the policies of the FFCs are shortsighted and risky.  (During the year 2012 alone, the top 200 sank $674 billion into acquiring and developing new energy reserves and working out ways to exploit them.)  Significant parts of the capital they are now investing will likely be “wasted,” since in a climate-change world, large portions of those reserves will have to stay in the ground.

Looked at in the long term, the FFCs may not turn out to be such smart investments after all. Indeed, in the boilerplate language of financial prospectuses, past results are no guarantee of future results; and there are already investment models showing that non-FFC funds deliver better proceeds.

These efforts and arguments have yet to convince Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust that climate change is one of those “extraordinarily rare circumstances” when divestment is justified.  Instead, she proposes “engagement” with the boards of the energy companies, as if sweet reason by itself stood a chance of outtalking sweet crude oil.  She touts Harvard’s teaching and research on climate issues, while neglecting the way those corporations fund disinformation meant to blunt the effect of that teaching and research.  Having declared that the issue is not “political,” she defends Harvard’s investments in the chief funders of propaganda against climate science.  Some rejection of politics!  Meanwhile, for saying no to divestment, President Faust wins the applause of an Alabama coal company front group.

Still, Divest Harvard is undeterred. By conducting referenda, organizing panels and rallies, gathering signatures, and activating alumni, it and like-minded groups are in the process of changing elite conversations about wealth and moral responsibility in the midst of a slow-motion apocalypse.  They are helping ensure that previously unthinkable conversations become thinkable.

Something similar is taking place on many other campuses.  At the same time, writers in influential conservative publications have already begun taking this movement seriously, and the first signs of a changing state of mind are evident.  A report out of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, for example, recently warned against the risks of “stranded assets” (all those fossil fuels already bought and paid for by the FFCs that will never make it out of the ground). The Economist has begun to doubt that oil is such a great investment. The Financial Times heralds the spread of divestment efforts to city governments.

Hinges Open Doors

Transforming the world is something like winning a war.  If the objective is to eliminate a condition like hunger, mass violence, or racial domination, then the institutions and systems of power that produce, defend, and sustain this condition have to be dislodged and defeated.  For that, most people have to stop experiencing the condition — and the enemy that makes it possible — as abstractions “out there.”

A movement isn’t called that for nothing.  It has to move people.  It needs lovers, and friends, and allies.  It has to generate a cascade of feeling — moral feeling.  The movement’s passion has to become a general passion.  And that passion must be focused: the concern that people feel about some large condition “out there” has to find traction closer to home.

Vis-à-vis the slow-motion apocalypse of climate change, there’s plenty of bad news daily and it’s hitting ever closer home, even if you live in the parching Southwest or the burning West, not the Philippines or the Maldive Islands.  Until recently, however, it sometimes felt as if the climate movement was spinning its wheels, gaining no traction.  But the extraordinary work of Bill McKibben and his collaborators at 350.org, and the movements against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and its Canadian equivalent, the Northern Gateway pipeline, have changed the climate-change climate.

Now, the divestment movement, too, becomes a junction point where action in the here-and-now, on local ground, gains momentum toward a grander transformation. These movements are the hinges on which the door to a livable future swings.

Todd Gitlin, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, the chair of the PhD program in communications, and the author of The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left; The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage; and Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.

[Note: Thanks go to the sociologist Gay Seidman, elected as an anti-apartheid candidate to Harvard’s Board of Overseers in 1986, and to Eric Chivian, M.D., who got me thinking about the concept of a slow-motion apocalypse.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.

Copyright 2013 Todd Gitlin

Tomgram: Todd Miller, The Border-Industrial Complex Goes Abroad

7:44 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

<p><a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175774/tomgram%3A_todd_miller%2C_the_border-industrial_complex_goes_abroad/”>This</a> article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click <a href=”http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&id=1e41682ade”>here</a>.</p>

<p>As with the rest of our homeland security state, when it comes to border security, reality checks aren&rsquo;t often in the cards.&nbsp; The money just pours into a world of remarkable secrecy and unaccountability.&nbsp; Last week, however, the Government Accountability Office&nbsp;<a href=”http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/11/tsa-behavior-profiling-not-effective-gao-report-finds/”>released</a>&nbsp;a report about a Transportation Security Administration decision to spend $200 million a year on a &ldquo;behavioral screening program&rdquo; involving 3,000 &ldquo;behavior detection officers&rdquo; at 176 airports.&nbsp; The GAO concluded that, $1 billion later, it worked &ldquo;probably no better than chance.&rdquo;&nbsp; Put another way, 3,000 specially trained TSA agents could rely on their expensive profiling techniques to pick twitchy passengers out of screening lines as likely terrorists, or they could look at you and flip a coin.&nbsp;</p>
<p>The lesson here: nothing, not even a program without meaningful content that costs an arm and a leg, will stop our national security officials from constantly up-armoring this country and so making it more secure from one of the&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175402/engelhardt_100%25_doctrine”>least pressing dangers</a>&nbsp;Americans face: terrorism.&nbsp; That endless securitization process is transparent in a way that, until the&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.theguardian.com/world/the-nsa-files”>Snowden revelations</a>, nothing much else about our security state was.&nbsp; Any alarming incident, any nut who tries to&nbsp;<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Reid”>light his shoes</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umar_Farouk_Abdulmutallab”>stashes a bomb</a>&nbsp;in his underwear or enters an airport and&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/suspect-charged-with-murder-in-lax-shooting/2013/11/02/20946d66-43fe-11e3-8b74-d89d714ca4dd_story_1.html”>blows away</a>&nbsp;a TSA agent, and you promptly get the next set of&nbsp;<a href=”http://thehill.com/blogs/transportation-report/tsa/189252-union-calls-for-armed-tsa-agents-after-shooting”>calls</a>&nbsp;for more: more weaponry, more surveillance, more guards, more draconian regulations, more security technology, more high-tech walls, more billions of dollars going to one &ldquo;complex&rdquo; or another, and more of what passes in twenty-first-century America for safety.&nbsp; Much of this — like that TSA profiling program or our vast set of&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175771/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_a_surveillance_state_scorecard/”>global eavesdropping operations</a>&nbsp;– has a kind of coin-flipping quality to it.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Still, it should never be claimed that this mania for what we insist on calling &ldquo;security&rdquo; provides no security for anyone.&nbsp; After all, it guarantees the safety of those officially guarding us.&nbsp; They always know that some small set of maniacs or other will make sure the funding never stops, their jobs will remain secure, and the military-industrial-complex, homeland-security complex, and border-security complex will continue to thrive in a country that&rsquo;s been looking a little on the peaked side of late.&nbsp; In this context,&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/todd_miller_surveillance_surge”>TomDispatch regular</a>&nbsp;Todd Miller, who covers our borderlands for this site, offers us the latest news about how to keep border security rolling in dough.&nbsp; The formula is simple enough, if nonetheless startling: stop thinking of our borders as just those strips of land running between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada. Turning borderlands into Border World is the obvious way to create a cash cow.&nbsp;<em>Tom</em></p>
<blockquote>
<p><strong>Border Patrol International&nbsp;</strong><br /><strong>&ldquo;The American Homeland Is the Planet&rdquo;&nbsp;</strong><br />By&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/toddmiller”>Todd Miller</a></p>
<p>It isn&rsquo;t exactly the towering 20-foot wall that runs like a scar through significant parts of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. Imagine instead the sort of metal police barricades you see at protests. These are unevenly lined up like so many crooked teeth on the Dominican Republic&rsquo;s side of the river that acts as its border with Haiti. Like dazed versions of U.S. Border Patrol agents, the armed Dominican border guards sit at their assigned posts, staring at the opposite shore.&nbsp; There, on Haitian territory, children splash in the water and women wash clothes on rocks.</p>
<p>One of those CESFRONT (Specialized Border Security Corps) guards, carrying an assault rifle, is walking six young Haitian men back to the main base in Dajabon, which is painted desert camouflage as if it were in a Middle Eastern war zone.</p>
<p>If the scene looks like a five-and-dime version of what happens on the U.S. southern border, that&rsquo;s because it is. The enforcement model the Dominican Republic uses to police its boundary with Haiti is an import from the United States.</p>
<div></div>
<p>CESFRONT itself is, in fact, an outgrowth of a U.S. effort to promote &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; abroad as part of its Global War on Terror.&nbsp; So U.S. Consul-General Michael Schimmel told a group from the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic in the Dominican Republic back in 2008, according to an internal report written by the law students along with the Dominican immigrant solidarity organization Solidaridad Fronteriza. The U.S. military, he added, was training the Dominican border patrol in &ldquo;professionalism.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Schimmel was explaining an overlooked manifestation of U.S. imperial policy in the post-9/11 era. &nbsp;Militarized borders are becoming ever more common throughout the world, especially in areas of U.S. influence.</p>
<p>CESFRONT&rsquo;s Dajabon commander is Colonel Juan de Jesus Cruz, a stout, Napoleonic figure with a booming voice. Watching the colonel interact with those detained Haitian teenagers was my first brush with how Washington&rsquo;s &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; abroad policy plays out on the ground. The CESFRONT base in Dajabon is located near the Massacre River that divides the two countries.&nbsp; Its name is a grim reminder of a time in 1937 when Dominican forces slaughtered an estimated 20,000 Haitians in what has been <a href=”http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/10/01/162092252/remembering-to-never-forget-dominican-republics-parsley-massacre”>called</a> the &ldquo;twentieth century&rsquo;s least-remembered act of genocide.&rdquo; That act ensured the imposition of a 227-mile boundary between the two countries that share the same island.</p>
<p>As rain falls and the sky growls, Cruz points to the drenched young Haitians and says a single word, &ldquo;<em>ilegales</em>,&rdquo; his index finger hovering in the air. &nbsp;The word &ldquo;illegals&rdquo; doesn&rsquo;t settle well with one of the teenagers, who glares at the colonel and replies defiantly, &ldquo;We have come because of hunger.&rdquo;</p>
<p>His claim is corroborated by every <a href=”http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTPOVERTY/EXTPA/0,,contentMDK:20207590~menuPK:435735~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:430367~isCURL:Y~isCURL:Y,00.html”>report</a> about conditions in Haiti, but the colonel responds, &ldquo;You have resources there,&rdquo; with the spirit of a man who relishes a debate.</p>
<p>The teenager, who will undoubtedly soon be expelled from the Dominican Republic like so many other Haitians (including, these days, people of Haitian descent <a href=”http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-kurlansky-haiti-dominican-republic-citizensh-20131110,0,5489523.story#axzz2kgwDTmLx”>born</a> in the country), gives the colonel a withering look.&nbsp; He&rsquo;s clearly boiling inside. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s hunger in Haiti. There&rsquo;s poverty in Haiti. There is no way the colonel could not see that,&rdquo; he tells Cruz. &ldquo;You are right on the border.&rdquo;</p>
<p>This tense, uneasy, and commonplace interaction is one of countless numbers of similar moments spanning continents from Latin America and Africa to the Middle East and Asia. On one side, a man in a uniform with a gun and the authority to detain, deport, or sometimes even kill; on the other, people with the most fundamental of unmet needs and without the proper documentation to cross an international boundary. Such people, uprooted, in flight, in pain, in desperate straits, are today ever more commonly dismissed, if they&rsquo;re lucky, as the equivalent of criminals, or if they aren&rsquo;t so lucky, labeled &ldquo;terrorists&rdquo; and treated accordingly.</p>
<p>In a seminal <a href=”http://www.globaldetentionproject.org/fileadmin/publications/Flynn_LASA.pdf”>article</a> &ldquo;Where&rsquo;s the U.S. Border?,&rdquo; Michael Flynn, founder of the Global Detention Project, described the expansion of U.S. &ldquo;border enforcement&rdquo; to the planet in the context of the Global War on Terror as essentially a new way of defining national sovereignty.&nbsp; &ldquo;U.S. border control efforts,&rdquo; he argued, &ldquo;have undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in recent years as the United States has attempted to implement practices aimed at stopping migrants long before they reach U.S. shores.&rdquo;</p>
<p>In this way, borders are, in a sense, being both built up and torn down.&nbsp; Just as with the drones that, from Pakistan to Somalia, the White House <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175551/engelhardt_assassin_in_chief”>sends</a> across national boundaries to execute those it has identified as our enemies, so with border patrolling: definitions of U.S. national &ldquo;sovereignty,&rdquo; including where our own borders end and where our version of &ldquo;national&rdquo; defense stretches are becoming ever more malleable.&nbsp; As Flynn wrote, although &ldquo;the U.S. border has been hardened in a number of ways — most dramatically by building actual walls — it is misleading to think that the country&rsquo;s efforts stop there. Rather the U.S. border in an age dominated by a global war on terrorism and the effects of economic globalization has become a flexible point of contention.&rdquo;</p>
<p>In other words, &ldquo;hard&rdquo; as actual U.S. borders are becoming, what might be called our global, or perhaps even virtual, borders are growing ever more pliable and ever more expansive — extending not only to places like the Dominican Republic, but to the edges of our vast military-surveillance grid, into cyberspace, and via spinning satellites and other spying systems, into space itself.</p>
<p>Back in 2004, a single <a href=”http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf”>sentence</a> in the 9/11 commission report caught this changing mood succinctly: &ldquo;9/11 has taught us that terrorism against American interests &lsquo;over there&rsquo; should be regarded just as we regard terrorism against Americans &lsquo;over here.&rsquo; In this same sense the American homeland is the planet.&rdquo;</p>
<p><strong>New World Border</strong></p>
<p>Washington&rsquo;s response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake provides one example of how quickly a mobile U.S. border and associated fears of massive immigration or unrest can be brought into play.</p>
<p>In the first days after that disaster, a U.S. Air Force cargo plane circled parts of the island for five hours repeatedly <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/us/19refugee.html?_r=0″>broadcasting</a> in Creole the prerecorded voice of Raymond Joseph, Haiti&rsquo;s ambassador to the United States.</p>
<p>&ldquo;Listen, don&rsquo;t rush [to the United States] on boats to leave the country,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If you do that, we&rsquo;ll all have even worse problems. Because I&rsquo;ll be honest with you: if you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that&rsquo;s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.&rdquo;</p>
<p>That disembodied voice from the heavens was addressing Haitians still stunned in the wake of an earthquake that had killed up to 316,000 people and left an additional one million homeless. State Department Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/01/19/haiti.broadcast.warning/”>explained</a> the daily flights to CNN this way: &ldquo;We are sending public service messages&hellip; to save lives.&rdquo; Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quickly dispatched 16 Coast Guard cutters to patrol Haitian waters, blocking people from leaving their devastated island. DHS authorities also cleared space in a 600-bed immigration detention center in Miami, and at the <a href=”http://www.otherworldsarepossible.org/business-disaster-wheres-haiti-bound-money-going”>for-profit</a> Guantanamo Bay Migrations Operation Center (run by the GEO Group) at the infamous U.S. base in Cuba.</p>
<p>In other words, the U.S. border is no longer static and &ldquo;homeland security&rdquo; no longer stays in the homeland: it&rsquo;s mobile, it&rsquo;s rapid, and it’s international.</p>
<p>Maybe this is why, last March, when I asked the young salesmen from <a href=”http://www.l-3com.com/”>L-3 Communications</a>, a surveillance technology company, at the <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/”>Border Security Expo</a> in Phoenix if they were worried about the sequester — Congress&rsquo;s across-the-board budget cuts that have taken dollars away from the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security — one of them simply shrugged. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s the international market,&rdquo; he said as if this were almost too obvious to mention.</p>
<p>He was standing in front of a black globular glass eye of a camera they were peddling to security types.&nbsp; It was draped with desert camouflage, as if we were out in the Arizona borderlands, while all around us you could feel the energy, the synergy, of an emerging border-industrial complex.&nbsp; Everywhere you looked government officials, Border Patrol types, and the representatives of private industry were meeting and dealing in front of hundreds of booths under the high ceilings of the convention center.</p>
<p>On the internationalization of border security, he wasn&rsquo;t exaggerating. At least 14 other countries ranging from Israel to Russia were present, their representatives browsing products ranging from miniature drones to Glock handguns. And behind the bustle of that event lay estimates that the global market for homeland security and emergency management will <a href=”http://www.siptrunkingreport.com/news/2013/08/09/7336900.htm”>reach</a> $544 billion annually by 2018. &ldquo;The threat of cross-border terrorism, cyber-crime, piracy, drug trade, human trafficking, internal dissent, separatist movements has been a driving factor for the homeland security market,&rdquo; the market research company MarketsandMarkets <a href=”http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/homeland-security-emergency-management-market-575.html”>reported</a>, based on a study of high-profit security markets in North America, Europe, and Asia.</p>
<p>This booming business thrives off the creation of new border patrols globally. The Dominican Republic&rsquo;s CESFRONT, for instance, did not exist before 2006. That year, according to <em>Dominican Today</em>, a group of &ldquo;U.S. experts&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.dominicantoday.com/dr/local/2006/8/7/16173/US-team-reveals-weaknesses-at-the-Dominican-Haiti-border”>reported</a> that there were &ldquo;a series of weaknesses that will lead to all kinds of illicit activities&rdquo; on the Haitian-Dominican border. The U.S. team recommended that &ldquo;there should be helicopters deployed in the region and [that] there be a creation of a Border Guard.&rdquo; A month after their report appeared, that country, by Dominican presidential decree, had its own border patrol.</p>
<p>By 2009, the new force had already received training, funding, and resources from a number of U.S. agencies, <a href=”https://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10SANTODOMINGO5_a.html”>including</a> the Border Patrol itself. Somehow, it seems that what the U.S. consulate calls &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; between the Dominican Republic and the hemisphere&rsquo;s poorest country has become an integral part of a terror-obsessed world.</p>
<p>When I met with Colonel Orlando Jerez, a CESFRONT commander, in the border guard agency&rsquo;s headquarters in the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, I noticed that on his desk he had a U.S. Border Patrol model car, a replica of the one that agency <a href=”http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/27/while-battling-drug-cartels-border-agency-spent-84/?page=all”>sponsored</a> on the NASCAR circuit from 2006 to 2008 in an attempt to recruit new agents. Along the side of the shiny box that held it was this mission statement: &ldquo;We are the guardians of the nation&rsquo;s borders, we are America&rsquo;s frontlines.&rdquo;</p>
<p>When I asked Jerez whether CESFRONT had a relationship with our Border Patrol, he replied without a second&rsquo;s hesitation, &ldquo;Of course, they have an office in the U.S. embassy.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Jerez is not alone. Washington&rsquo;s global boundary-building, its promotion of those strong borders, and its urge to preempt &ldquo;terrorism against American interests &lsquo;over there,&rsquo;&rdquo; as the 9/11 commission report put it, are spreading fast. For example, the Central American Regional Security Initiative, a $496 million U.S. counter-drug plan launched in 2008, identifies <a href=”http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rls/fs/2012/183455.htm”>&ldquo;border security deficiencies&rdquo;</a> among Central American countries as a key problem to be dealt with ASAP. So the U.S. Border Patrol has gone to Guatemala and Honduras to help train new units of border guards.</p>
<p>As in Central America, border patrolling&rsquo;s most vibrant markets are in places that Washington sees as far too chaotic, yet where its economic and political interests reside. For six years now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has sent its agents, <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cbpphotos/sets/72157627531647935/”>clad</a> in brown jumpsuits, to Iraq&rsquo;s borderlands to assist that government in the creation of a force to police its &ldquo;porous&rdquo; borders (where chaos has indeed been endemic since the 2003 U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of the country). U.S. boundary-building efforts began there in 2004 with an operation labeled <a href=”http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-08-14-iraq-border_x.htm”>&ldquo;Phantom Linebacker&rdquo;</a> in which 15,000 border guards were trained to patrol in — as the name of the operation indicates — the spirit of American football.</p>
<p>In 2012, agent Adrian Long <a href=”http://nemo.cbp.gov/opa/frontline/frontline_spring12.pdf”>told</a> <em>Frontline</em>, the CBP’s in-house magazine, that his agency trains Iraqis &ldquo;in Border Patrol techniques like cutting sign, doing drags, setting up checkpoints and patrols.&rdquo; Long was repeating the same lingo so often heard on the U.S.-Mexican border, where agents &ldquo;cut sign&rdquo; to track people by their trail marks and do &ldquo;drags&rdquo; to smooth out dirt roads so they can more easily see the footprints of any &ldquo;border intruders.&rdquo; In Afghanistan, Border Patrol agents are similarly training forces to police that country&rsquo;s 3,436 miles of frontiers. In 2012, during one training session, an Afghan policeman even turned his gun on two CBP agents in an &ldquo;insider attack,&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.examiner.com/article/green-on-blue-murder-afghanistan-war-claims-two-us-cbp-agents-lives”>killing</a> them and seriously injuring a third.</p>
<p>Around soccer&rsquo;s World Cup, which South Africa hosted in 2010, CBP assisted that government in creating a Customs and Border Control Unit tasked with &ldquo;securing South Africa&rsquo;s borders while facilitating the movement of goods and people,&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/newsroom/publications/frontline_magazine/frontline_sum10_print.ctt/frontline.pdf”>according</a> to CBP&rsquo;s Africa and Middle East branch country manager for South Africa Tasha Reid Hippolyte. South Africa has even brought its <a href=”http://www.irinnews.org/report/89262/south-africa-troops-reinforcing-a-porous-and-dangerous-border”>military special forces</a> into the border patrolling process. Near the Zimbabwean border, its militarized guards were using a triple barrier of razor wire and electric fencing that can be set to offer shocks ranging from mild to deadly in their efforts to stop border crossers. Such equipment had not been used in that country since the apartheid-era.</p>
<p>In many cases, the U.S. is also training border forces in the use of sophisticated surveillance systems, drones, and the construction of fences and barriers of various kinds, largely in attempts to clamp down on the movement of people between poorer and richer countries.&nbsp; More than 15,000 foreign participants in more than 100 countries have <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2007/jun_jul/extend_america.xml”>taken part</a> in CBP training sessions since October 2002. It is little wonder, then, that an L-3 Communications sales rep would shrug off the constraints of a shrinking domestic national security budget.</p>
<p>Meanwhile, U.S. borders are functionally being stretched in all sorts of complex ways, even across the waters.&nbsp; As Michael Schmidt <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/world/europe/us-security-has-beachhead-at-foreign-airports.html”>wrote </a>in the <em>New York Times</em> in 2012, for example, &ldquo;An ocean away from the United States, travelers flying out of the international airport here on the west coast of Ireland are confronting one of the newest lines of defense in the war on terrorism: the United States border.&rdquo; There, at Shannon International Airport, Department of Homeland Security officials set up the equivalent of a prescreening border checkpoint for air travelers.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Whether it is in your airports or, as in Haiti&rsquo;s case, in the international waters around your country, the U.S. border is on its way to scrutinize you, to make sure that you are not a threat to the &ldquo;homeland.&rdquo; If you don&rsquo;t meet Washington&rsquo;s criteria for whatever reason, you will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, from entering the United States, or even in many cases from travelling anywhere at all.</p>
<p>CBP attach&eacute;s are now detailed to U.S. embassies in Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa, Italy, and Canada, among many other countries. According to an agency publication, <em>Customs and Border Protection Today</em>, they have been <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2004/May/other/cbpAttaches.xml”>tasked</a> with the mission of keeping &ldquo;terrorists and their weapons from our shores,&rdquo; as well as providing technical assistance, &ldquo;fostering secure trade practices, and strengthening border authority principles.&rdquo; The anonymous writer then typically, if floridly, describes &ldquo;our country&rsquo;s border&rdquo; as &ldquo;the armor of the body politic; it protects the systems and infrastructures that function within. Knives pierce armor and can jeopardize the body — so we sheath them; keep them at bay; and demand accountability from those who use them.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p>
<p>As CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2004/May/other/cbpAttaches.xml”>put it</a> in 2004, the U.S. is &ldquo;extending our zone of security, where we can do so, beyond our physical borders — so that American borders are the last line of defense, not the first line of defense.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Perhaps this is why few here batted an eye when, in 2012, Assistant Secretary of International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the Department of Homeland Security Alan Bersin flatly <a href=”http://www.examiner.com/article/dhs-official-our-southern-border-is-now-with-guatemala”>declared</a>, “The Guatemalan border with Chiapas is now our southern border.”</p>
<p><strong>On the Edge of Empire</strong></p>
<p>As dusk falls and the rainstorm ends, I walk along the river&rsquo;s edge where those Dominican border patrol agents are still sitting, staring into Haiti. Considering that U.S. forces occupied the Dominican Republic and Haiti numerous times in the previous century, it&rsquo;s easy to imagine why Washington&rsquo;s border chieftains consider this sad, impoverished spot part of our &ldquo;backyard.&rdquo; Not far from where I&rsquo;m walking is the Codevi industrial free trade zone that straddles the border.&nbsp; There, Haitian workers churn out jeans mainly for Levi Strauss and the North American market, <a href=”http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2010/10/16/haitis_garment_industry_hanging_by_a_thread.html”>earning</a> less than three dollars a day.</p>
<p>I approach one of the CESFRONT guards in his desert camouflage uniform. &nbsp;He&rsquo;s sitting with his assault rifle between his legs. He looks beyond bored — no surprise since being suspicious of people who happen to be on the other side of a border can be deadly tedious work.</p>
<p>Diaz, as his name patch identifies him, tells me that his shift, which runs from 6 p.m. to midnight, is normally eventless because Haitians rarely cross here. When I explain where I&rsquo;m from, he wants to know what the U.S.-Mexico border looks like. I tell him about the fencing, the sensors, the cameras, and the agents everywhere you look. I ask if he has ever met agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.</p>
<p>&nbsp;&ldquo;Of course!&rdquo; he says in Spanish, &ldquo;there have been training sessions.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Then I ask if terrorists are crossing this border, which is the reason the U.S. consulate in Santo Domingo gives for supporting the creation of CESFRONT.</p>
<p>Diaz looks at me as if I&rsquo;m nuts before offering an emphatic &ldquo;No!&rdquo;</p>
<p>No surprise there either.&nbsp; CESFRONT, like similar outfits proliferating globally, isn&rsquo;t really about terrorism. It&rsquo;s all about Haiti, one of the poorest countries on the planet. It is a response to fears of the mass movement of desperate, often hungry, people in the U.S. sphere of dominance. It is the manifestation of a new vision of global geopolitics in which human beings in need are to be corralled, their free movement criminalized, and their labor exploited.</p>
<p>With this in mind, the experimental border control technologies being tested along the U.S.-Mexican boundary line and the border-industrial complex that has <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/”>grown up</a> around it are heading abroad in a major way.&nbsp; If Congress finally passes a new multi-billion dollar border-policing package, its effects will be felt not only along U.S. borders, but also at the edges of its empire.</p>
<p><em>Todd Miller, a <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/todd_miller_creating_a_military-industrial-immigration_complex”>TomDispatch regular</a>, has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog &ldquo;</em><a href=”http://nacla.org/blog/border-wars”><em>Border Wars</em></a><em>,&rdquo; among other places. His first book, </em><a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/0872866319/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20″>Border Patrol Nation</a>,<em> will be published in spring 2014 for the Open Media Series of City Lights Books.</em></p>
<p><em>Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch”>Facebook</a> or <a href=”http://tomdispatch.tumblr.com/”>Tumblr</a>. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones&rsquo;s </em><a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463710/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20″>They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America&rsquo;s Wars — The Untold Story</a><em>.</em></p>
<p>Copyright 2013 Todd Miller</p>
</blockquote>

Michael Klare: A Climate Change-Fueled Revolution?

7:15 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

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

Family standing in Typhoon Haiyan rubble

Can revolution save us from climate change apocalypse?

There’s a crossroads moment in our recent history that comes back to me whenever I think of our warming planet.  (2013 is shaping up to be the seventh warmest year since records began to be kept in 1850.  The 10 warmest years have all occured since 1998.)  In the six months from July 1979 to January 1980, as Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency was winding down, he urged two approaches to global energy on Americans.  One was dismissed out of hand, the other taken up with alacrity — and our world is incommensurately the worse for it.  Here’s a description I wrote back in May that is worth quoting again:

On July 15, 1979, at a time when gas lines, sometimes blocks long, were a disturbing fixture of American life, President Jimmy Carter spoke directly to the American people on television for 32 minutes, calling for a concerted effort to end the country’s oil dependence on the Middle East.  ‘To give us energy security,’ he announced, ‘I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation’s history to develop America’s own alternative sources of fuel — from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun…’

It’s true that, with the science of climate change then in its infancy, Carter wouldn’t have known about the possibility of an overheating world, and his vision of ‘alternative energy’ wasn’t exactly a fossil-fuel-free one.  Even then — shades of today or possibly tomorrow — he was talking about having ‘more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias.’  Still, it was a remarkably forward-looking speech.

Had we invested massively in alternative energy R&D back then, who knows where we might be today?  Instead, the media dubbed it the ‘malaise speech,’ though the president never actually used that word, speaking instead of an American ‘crisis of confidence.’  While the initial public reaction seemed positive, it didn’t last long.  In the end, the president’s energy proposals were essentially laughed out of the room and ignored for decades.

Carter would, however, make his mark on U.S. energy policy, just not quite in the way he had imagined.  Six months later, on January 23, 1980, in his last State of the Union Address, he would proclaim what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine: ‘Let our position be absolutely clear,’ he said. ‘An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.’

No one would laugh him out of the room for that.  Instead, the Pentagon would fatefully begin organizing itself to protect U.S. (and oil) interests in the Persian Gulf on a new scale and America’s oil wars would follow soon enough.  Not long after that address, it would start building up a Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf that would in the end become U.S. Central Command.  More than three decades later, ironies abound: thanks in part to those oil wars, whole swaths of the energy-rich Middle East are in crisis, if not chaos, while the big energy companies have put time and money into a staggeringly fossil-fuel version of Carter’s ‘alternative’ North America.  They’ve focused on shale oil, and on shale gas as well, and with new production methods, they are reputedly on the brink of turning the United States into a ‘new Saudi Arabia.’

Could there have been a sadder choice in recent history? If, in 1979, the U.S. had invested in a big way in solar, wind, tidal power, and who knows what else, imagine where we might be today. Imagine a world not facing a future in which storms like Super-Typhoon Haiyan, which recently leveled part of the Philippines, its winds devastating, its storm surge killing staggering numbers, threaten to become the norm for our children and grandchildren.

So oil wars, yes! — which meant transforming the Greater Middle East into a region of chaos, instability, and death.  An oil-ravaged planet, yes indeed! — which meant potentially transforming a future version of Earth into a planet of chaos, instability, and death!  A green energy revolution, not on your life! — not while the giant energy corporations have so much invested in underground reserves of fossil fuels and such gigantic profits to make, not while so many governments are deeply intertwined with those energy giants or are themselves essentially giant energy companies.  No wonder TomDispatch regular Michael Klare suggests that it falls into our hands to ensure that a green energy revolution arrives ahead of a human-created, fossil-fueled apocalypse. Tom

Surviving Climate Change
Is a Green Energy Revolution on the Global Agenda?
By Michael T. Klare

A week after the most powerful “super typhoon” ever recorded pummeled the Philippines, killing thousands in a single province, and three weeks after the northern Chinese city of Harbin suffered a devastating “airpocalypse,” suffocating the city with coal-plant pollution, government leaders beware! Although individual events like these cannot be attributed with absolute certainty to increased fossil fuel use and climate change, they are the type of disasters that, scientists tell us, will become a pervasive part of life on a planet being transformed by the massive consumption of carbon-based fuels.  If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble.  In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.

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Tom Engelhardt: A Surveillance State Scorecard

8:07 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

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

NSA Logo

Tom Engelhardt analyzes weeks of NSA revelations.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: As many of you know, I recently went out to Santa Fe for an event organized by the Lannan Foundation.  There, I introduced a talk by, and then had an on-stage conversation with, Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, which we recently featured at this site. I’ve called him our “first blowback reporter.” He’s also that rare creature, a superb extemporaneous speaker. It occurred to me that TD readers might enjoy seeing the evening and getting a little glimpse into Scahill’s world. Click here for my introduction and his talk. Click here for my onstage interview with him in which, among other things, he discusses his new media project with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. Tom]

Mistaking Omniscience for Omnipotence
In a World Without Privacy, There Are No Exemptions for Our Spies
By Tom Engelhardt

Given how similar they sound and how easy it is to imagine one leading to the other, confusing omniscience (having total knowledge) with omnipotence (having total power) is easy enough.  It’s a reasonable supposition that, before the Snowden revelations hit, America’s spymasters had made just that mistake. If the drip-drip-drip of Snowden’s mother of all leaks — which began in May and clearly won’t stop for months to come — has taught us anything, however, it should be this: omniscience is not omnipotence. At least on the global political scene today, they may bear remarkably little relation to each other. In fact, at the moment Washington seems to be operating in a world in which the more you know about the secret lives of others, the less powerful you turn out to be.

Let’s begin by positing this:  There’s never been anything quite like it.  The slow-tease pulling back of the National Security Agency curtain to reveal the skeletal surveillance structure embedded in our planet (what cheekbones!) has been an epochal event.  It’s minimally the political spectacle of 2013, and maybe 2014, too. It’s made a mockery of the 24/7 news cycle and the urge of the media to leave the last big deal for the next big deal as quickly as possible.

It’s visibly changed attitudes around the world toward the U.S. — strikingly for the worse, even if this hasn’t fully sunk in here yet.  Domestically, the inability to put the issue to sleep or tuck it away somewhere or even outlast it has left the Obama administration, Congress, and the intelligence community increasingly at one another’s throats.  And somewhere in a system made for leaks, there are young techies inside a surveillance machine so viscerally appalling, so like the worst sci-fi scenarios they read while growing up, that — no matter the penalties — one of them, two of them, many of them are likely to become the next Edward Snowden(s).

So where to start, almost half a year into an unfolding crisis of surveillance that shows no signs of ending?  If you think of this as a scorecard, then the place to begin is, of course, with the line-up, which means starting with omniscience.  After all, that’s the NSA’s genuine success story — and what kid doesn’t enjoy hearing about the (not so) little engine that could?

Omniscience

Conceptually speaking, we’ve never seen anything like the National Security Agency’s urge to surveill, eavesdrop on, spy on, monitor, record, and save every communication of any sort on the planet — to keep track of humanity, all of humanity, from its major leaders to obscure figures in the backlands of the planet.  And the fact is that, within the scope of what might be technologically feasible in our era, they seem not to have missed an opportunity.

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Tomgram: Bob Dreyfuss, American Death Spiral in the Middle East

8:39 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

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

When Barack Obama took office, the sky was the limit in the Greater Middle East.  After all, it seemed the U.S. had hit rock bottom.  President Bush had set the region aflame with a raging debacle in Iraq, a sputtering conflict in Afghanistan, and a low-level drone war in Pakistan.  The outgoing president was wildly unpopular in the region and it was hard to imagine just what the new administration could do to make the situation worse.

For all his foreign policy faults, Bush had even left his successor with an ace in the hole.  Obama had campaigned on ending the Iraq War and Bush was kind enough to negotiate the terms for him before he left office.  All the new president had to do was sit back and reap the rewards.

Almost five years later, the administration surely wishes it had a time machine to take America back to the Bush days when Iraq was convulsed by a civil war, the war in Afghanistan was largely forgotten, Egypt and Tunisia were under the thumbs of American-backed tyrants, and Syria and Libya were controlled by detested but stable dictators.

What seemed at the time to be a blood-soaked hell must look more like the halcyon days to the Obama administration, whose national security team now seems content to limp through the remainder of the president’s second term with fingers crossed, hoping desperately that they won’t stumble, bumble, stagger, slide, or inadvertently leap into yet another foreign policy fiasco in the region.  Today, as Bob Dreyfuss indicates, the administration finds itself adrift in the Greater Middle East, chastened by a series of its own foreign policy flubs, stumbles, and mini-disasters, as well as by governments that seem increasingly beyond its power or ability to control, coerce, or cajole.  The only country in the region that seems to bear much resemblance to its pre-Obama self is Iraq, where violence has reached its highest level in half a decade and suicide and car bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and death threats are creeping ever closer to Bush-era levels.

Today, TomDispatch regular and Nation magazine stalwart Bob Dreyfuss wades knee deep in the Big Muddy in the Middle East to offer a vivid portrait of an Obama administration in remarkable disarray. Nick Turse

A Field Guide to Losing Friends, Influencing No One, and Alienating the Middle East 
Obama’s Washington Is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Region
By Bob Dreyfuss

Put in context, the simultaneous raids in Libya and Somalia last month, targeting an alleged al-Qaeda fugitive and an alleged kingpin of the al-Shabab Islamist movement, were less a sign of America’s awesome might than two minor exceptions that proved an emerging rule: namely, that the power, prestige, and influence of the United States in the broader Middle East and its ability to shape events there is in a death spiral.

Twelve years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and a decade after the misguided invasion of Iraq — both designed to consolidate and expand America’s regional clout by removing adversaries — Washington’s actual standing in country after country, including its chief allies in the region, has never been weaker. Though President Obama can order raids virtually anywhere using Special Operations forces, and though he can strike willy-nilly in targeted killing actions by calling in the Predator and Reaper drones, he has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the Middle East. Not only does no one there respect the United States, but no one really fears it, either — and increasingly, no one pays it any mind at all.

There are plenty of reasons why America’s previously unchallenged hegemony in the Middle East is in free fall. The disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq generated anti-American fervor in the streets and in the elites. America’s economic crisis since 2008 has convinced many that the United States no longer has the wherewithal to sustain an imperial presence. The Arab Spring, for all its ups and downs, has challenged the status quo everywhere, leading to enormous uncertainty while empowering political forces unwilling to march in lockstep with Washington. In addition, oil-consuming nations like China and India have become more engaged with their suppliers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. The result: throughout the region, things are fast becoming unglued for the United States.

Its two closest allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are sullenly hostile, routinely ignore Obama’s advice, and openly oppose American policies. Iraq and Afghanistan, one formerly occupied and one about to be evacuated, are led, respectively, by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an inflexible sectarian Shiite closely tied to Iran, and President Hamid Karzai, a corrupt, mercurial leader who periodically threatens to join the Taliban. In Egypt, three successive regimes — those of President Hosni Mubarak, Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the chieftains of the July 2013 military coup — have insouciantly flouted U.S. wishes.

Turkey, ostensibly a NATO ally but led by a quirky Islamist, is miffed over Obama’s back-and-forth policy in Syria and has shocked the U.S. by deciding to buy a non-NATO-compatible missile defense system from China. Libya, Somalia, and Yemen have little or no government at all. They have essentially devolved into a mosaic of armed gangs, many implacably opposed to the United States.

This downward spiral has hardly escaped attention. In a recent address to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, Chas Freeman, the former American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, described it in some detail. “We have lost intellectual command and practical control of the many situations unfolding there,” said Freeman, whose nomination by Obama in 2009 to serve as head of the National Intelligence Council was shot down by the Israel Lobby. “We must acknowledge the reality that we no longer have or can expect to have the clout we once did in the region.”

In an editorial on October 29th, the New York Times ruefully concluded: “It is not every day that America finds itself facing open rebellion from its allies, yet that is what is happening with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel.” And in a front-page story on the administration’s internal deliberations, the Times’s Mark Landler reported that, over the summer, the White House had decided to scale back its role in the Middle East because many objectives “lie outside [its] reach,” and henceforth would adopt a “more modest strategy” in the region.

Perhaps the most profound irony embedded in Washington’s current predicament is this: Iran, for decades the supposed epicenter of anti-Americanism in the region, is the country where the United States has perhaps its last opportunity to salvage its position. If Washington and Tehran can negotiate a détente — and it’s a big if, given the domestic political power of hawks in both countries — that accord might go a long way toward stabilizing Washington’s regional credibility.

Debacle in Syria

Let’s begin our survey of America’s Greater Middle Eastern fecklessness with Exhibit A: Syria. It is there, where a movement to oust President Bashar al-Assad devolved into a civil war, that the United States has demonstrated its utter inability to guide events. Back in the summer of 2011 — at the very dawn of the conflict — Obama demanded that Assad step down.  There was only one problem: short of an Iraq-style invasion of Syria, he had no power to make that happen. Assad promptly called his bluff, escalated the conflict, and rallied support from Russia and Iran. Obama’s clarion call for his resignation only made things worse by convincing Syrian rebels that the United States would come to their aid.

A year later, Obama drew a “red line” in the sand, suggesting that any use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces would precipitate a U.S. military response. Again Assad ignored him, and many hundreds of civilians were gassed to death in multiple uses of the dreaded weapons.

The crowning catastrophe of Obama’s Syria policy came when he threatened a devastating strike on Assad’s military facilities using Tomahawk cruise missiles and other weaponry. Instead of finding himself leading a George W. Bush-style “coalition of the willing” with domestic support, Obama watched as allies scattered, including the usually reliable British and the Arab League. At home, political support was nearly nil and evaporated from there. Polls showed Americans overwhelmingly opposed to a war with or attack on Syria.

When, in desperation, the president appealed to Congress for a resolution to authorize the use of military force against that country, the White House found (to its surprise) that Congress, which normally rubber-stamps such proposals, would have none of it. Paralyzed, reluctant to choose between backing down and striking Syria by presidential fiat, Obama was rescued in humiliating fashion by a proposal from Syria’s chief ally, Russia, to dismantle and destroy that country’s chemical weapons arsenal.

Adding insult to injury, as Secretary of State John Kerry scrambles to organize a long-postponed peace conference in Geneva aimed at reaching a political settlement of the civil war, he is faced with a sad paradox: while the Syrian government has agreed to attend the Geneva meeting, also sponsored by Russia, America’s allies, the anti-Assad rebels, have flatly refused to go.

Laughingstock in Egypt

Don’t think for a second that Washington’s ineffectiveness stops with the ongoing Syrian fiasco.

Next door, in a country whose government was installed by the United States after the 2003 invasion, the Obama administration notoriously failed to convince the Iraqis to allow even a small contingent of American troops to remain there past 2011. Since then, that country has moved ever more firmly into Iran’s orbit and has virtually broken with Washington over Syria.

Since the start of the civil war in Syria, Shiite-led Iraq has joined Shiite Iran in supporting Assad, whose ruling minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiism. There have been widespread reports that pro-Assad Iraqi Shiite militias are traveling to Syria, presumably with the support or at least acquiescence of the government. Ignoring Washington’s entreaties, it has also allowed Iran to conduct a virtual Berlin Airlift-style aerial resupply effort for Syria’s armed forces through Iraqi air space. Last month, in an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York during the United Nations General Assembly session, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari undiplomatically warned Obama that his government stands against the U.S. decision — taken in a secret presidential finding in April and only made public last summer — to provide arms to Syria’s rebels. (“We oppose providing military assistance to any [Syrian] rebel groups.”)

Meanwhile, Washington is also flailing in its policy toward Egypt, where the Obama administration has been singularly hapless.  In a rare feat, it has managed to anger and alienate every conceivable faction in that politically divided country. In July, when Egypt’s military ousted President Mohammad Morsi and violently clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Obama administration made itself look ridiculous to Egyptians (and to the rest of the Middle East) by refusing to call what happened a coup d’état, since under U.S. law that would have meant suspending aid to the Egyptian military.

As it happened, however, American aid figured little in the calculations of Egypt’s new military leaders. The reason was simple enough: Saudi Arabia and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, bitter opponents of the Morsi government, applauded the coup and poured at least $12 billion in cash into the country’s near-empty coffers.  In the end, making no one happy, the administration tried to split the difference: Obama declared that he would suspend the delivery of some big-ticket military items like Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon missiles, M1-A1 tank parts, and F-16 fighter planes, but let other aid to the military continue, including counterterrorism assistance and the sale of border security items. Such a split decision only served to underscore the administration’s lack of leverage in Cairo. Meanwhile, there are reports that Egypt’s new rulers may turn to Russia for arms in open defiance of a horrified Washington’s wishes.

Saudi and Israeli Punching Bag

The most surprising defection from the pro-American coalition in the Middle East is, however, Saudi Arabia. In part, that kingdom’s erratic behavior may result from a growing awareness among its ultraconservative, kleptocratic princelings that they face an increasingly uncertain future. Christopher Davidson’s new book, After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies, outlines the many pressures building on the country.

One significant cause of instability, claims Davidson, is the “existence of substantial Western military bases on the Arabian Peninsula, [which are considered] an affront to Islam and to national sovereignty.” For decades, such an American military presence in the region provided a security blanket for the Saudi royals, making the country a virtual U.S. protectorate. Now, amid the turmoil that has followed the war in Iraq, the Arab Spring, and the rise of an assertive Iran, Saudi Arabia isn’t sure which way to turn, or whether the United States is friend or foe.

Since 2003, the Saudi rulers have found themselves increasingly unhappy with American policy. Riyadh, the area’s chief Sunni power, was apoplectic when the United States toppled Iraq’s Sunni leader Saddam Hussein and allowed Iran to vastly increase its influence in Baghdad. In 2011, the Saudi royal family blamed Washington for not doing more to prevent the collapse of the conservative and pro-Saudi Mubarak government in Egypt.

Now, the Saudis are on the verge of a complete break over Washington’s policies toward Syria and Iran. As the chief backers of the rebels in Syria, they were dismayed when Obama chose not to bomb military sites around Damascus. Because it views Iran through the lens of a regional Sunni-Shiite struggle for dominance, it is no less dismayed by the possible emergence of a U.S.-Iran accord from renewed negotiations over that country’s nuclear program.

To express its pique, its foreign minister abruptly canceled his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, shocking U.N. members. Then, adding insult to injury, Saudi Arabia turned down a prestigious seat on the Security Council, a post for which it had long campaigned. “Upset at President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran and Syria,” reported Reuters, “members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years.”

That news service quoted Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as saying that his country was on the verge of a “major shift” in its relations with the U.S. Former head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal lambasted America’s Syria policy this way: “The current charade of international control over Bashar’s chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. [It is] designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down [from military strikes], but also to help Assad to butcher his people.”

This is shocking stuff from America’s second most reliable ally in the region. As for reliable ally number one, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visibly decided to be anything but a cooperative partner in the region, making Obama’s job more difficult at every turn. Since 2009, he has gleefully defied the American president, starting with his refusal to impose a freeze on illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank when specifically asked to do so by the president at the start of his first term. Meanwhile, most of the world has spent the past half-decade on tenterhooks over the possibility that his country might actually launch a much-threatened military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Since Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran and indicated his interest in reorienting policy to make a deal with the Western powers over its nuclear program, Israeli statements have become ever more shrill. In a September speech to the U.N. General Assembly, for instance, Netanyahu rolled out extreme rhetoric, claiming that Israel is “challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction.” This despite the fact that Iran possesses no nuclear weapons, has enriched not an ounce of uranium to weapons-grade level, and has probably not mastered the technology to manufacture a bomb. According to American intelligence reports, it has not yet even militarized its nuclear research.

Netanyahu’s speech was so full of hyperbole that observers concluded Israel was isolating itself from the rest of the world. “He was so anxious to make everything look as negative as possible he actually pushed the limits of credibility,” said Gary Sick, a former senior official in the Carter administration and an Iran expert. “He did himself harm by his exaggerations.”

Iran: Obama’s Ironic Beacon of Hope

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are fearful that the Middle Eastern balance of power could be tipped against them if the United States and Iran are able to strike a deal. Seeking to throw the proverbial monkey wrench into the talks between Iran, the U.S., and the P5+1 powers (the permanent members of the U.N. security Council plus Germany), Israel has put forward a series of demands that go far beyond anything Iran would accept, or that the other countries would go along with. Before supporting the removal of international economic sanctions against Iran, Israel wants that country to suspend all enrichment of uranium, shut down its nuclear facilities, not be allowed any centrifuges to enrich uranium, abandon the heavy-water plant it is constructing to produce plutonium, permanently close its fortified underground installation at Fordo, and ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country.

In contrast, it’s widely believed that the United States is ready to allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium, maintain some of its existing facilities, and retain a partial stockpile of enriched uranium for fuel under stricter and more intrusive inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Ironically, a U.S.-Iran détente is the one thing that could slow down or reverse the death spiral of American influence in the region. Iran, for instance, could be helpful in convincing President Assad of Syria to leave office in 2014, in advance of elections there, if radical Sunni Islamic organizations, including allies of al-Qaeda, are suppressed. Enormously influential in Afghanistan, Iran could also help stabilize that country after the departure of U.S. combat forces in 2014. And it could be enlisted to work alongside the United States and regional powers to stabilize Iraq.

More broadly, a U.S.-Iran entente might lead to a gradual de-escalation of the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, including its huge naval forces, bases, and other facilities in Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. It’s even conceivable that Iran could be persuaded to join other regional and global powers in seeking a just and lasting negotiated deal between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States and Iran have a number of common interests, including opposing al-Qaeda-style terrorism and cracking down on drug smuggling.

Of course, such a deal will be exceedingly difficult to nail down, if for no other reason than that the hardliners in both countries are determined to prevent it.

Right now, imagine the Obama administration as one of those vaudeville acts that keep a dozen plates spinning atop vibrating poles.  At just this moment in the Middle East, those “plates” are tipping in every direction. There’s still time to prevent them all from crashing to the ground, but it would take a masterful effort from the White House — and it’s far from clear that anyone there is up to the task.

Bob Dreyfuss is an independent investigative journalist based in Cape May, New Jersey, specializing in politics and national security. He is a contributing editor at the Nation, and his blog appears daily at TheNation.com. In the past, he has written extensively for Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, the American Prospect, the New Republic, and many other magazines. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Bob Dreyfuss

Bill McKibben: Can Obama Ever Stand Up to the Oil Industry?

5:04 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

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

Oil and Honey cover

Bill McKibben’s latest book

Recently, “good” news about energy has been gushing out of North America, where a cheering crowd of pundits, energy experts, and government officials has been plugging the U.S. as the “Saudi Arabia” of the twenty-first century. You know, all that fracking and those luscious deposits of oil shale and gas shale just waiting to be pounded into shape to fill global gas tanks for an energy-rich future. And then, of course, just to the north there are those fabulous Canadian tar sands deposits whose extraction is reportedly turning parts of Alberta into an environmental desert. And that isn’t all.

From the melting Arctic, where the Russians and others are staking out energy claims, to the southernmost tip of South America, the dream of new energy wealth is being pursued with a fervor and avidity that is hard to take in. In distant Patagonia, an Argentinean government not previously known for its friendliness to foreign investment has just buddied up with Chevron to drill “around the clock in pursuit of a vast shale oil reservoir that might be the world’s next great oil field.” Huzzah and olé!

And can you even blame the Argentinean president for her choice? After all, who wants to be the country left out of the global rush for new energy wealth? Who wants to consider the common good of the planet, when your country’s finances may be at stake? (As with the Keystone XL pipeline protest movement here, so in Argentina, there actually are environmentalists and others who are thinking of the common good, but they’re up against the state, the police, and Chevron — no small thing.) All of this would, of course, be a wondrous story — a planet filled with energy reserves beyond anyone’s wildest dreams — were it not for the fact that such fossil fuel wealth, such good news, is also the nightmarish bad news of our lives, of perhaps the lifetime of humanity.

There is an obvious disconnect between what is widely known about climate change and the recent rush to extract “tough energy” from difficult environments; between the fires — and potential “mega-fire” — burning wildly across parts of overheated Australia and its newly elected government run by a conservative prime minister, essentially a climate denier, intent on getting rid of that country’s carbon tax. There is a disconnect between hailing the U.S. as the new Saudi Arabia and the recent report of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning that fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground — or else. There is a disconnect between what our president says about climate change and the basic energy policies of his administration. There is a disconnect between what the burning of fossil fuels will do to our environment and the urge of just about every country on this planet to exploit whatever energy reserves are potentially available to it, no matter how “dirty,” no matter how environmentally destructive to extract.

Somewhere in that disconnect, the remarkable Bill McKibben, whose new book, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, is at the top of my personal reading list, has burrowed in and helped to create a global climate change movement. In this country, it’s significantly focused on the Keystone XL pipeline slated, if built, to bring tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.  For the last several years at TomDispatch, McKibben has kept us abreast of the most recent developments in that movement. Here is his latest report from the tar sands front. Tom

X-Ray of a Flagging Presidency
Will Obama Block the Keystone Pipeline or Just Keep Bending?
By Bill McKibben

As the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline has worn on — and it’s now well over two years old — it’s illuminated the Obama presidency like no other issue. It offers the president not just a choice of policies, but a choice of friends, worldviews, styles. It’s become an X-ray for a flagging presidency. The stakes are sky-high, and not just for Obama. I’m writing these words from Pittsburgh, amid 7,000 enthusiastic and committed young people gathering to fight global warming, and my guess is that his choice will do much to determine how they see politics in this country.

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