Category Archives: Reblogged Article

Tomgram: Alfred McCoy, Trumping the Empire

NOTE:  I’m posting this copy of a “Tomgram” article for 2 reasons.  

One, this particular article (I’ve read many others with a similar theme but none as clearly stated) “validates” what I said about Donald Trump as a potential POTUS when he first entered the race for president of the US of A.  What I said then, and have repeated so many times since that it feels this has been going on for years, is this:  Were I an American citizen entitled to vote I’d vote for Donald Trump.  For one reason only.  I see Trump as the perfect architect of the irrecoverable downfall of the American military-industrial corporate empire and attendant hegemonic powers.  I would vote for Trump as the instrument millions of America’s victims of US-based corporate exploitation and USA military oppression have been waiting and praying for since that empire’s military defeat in Vietnam.  My thoughts were never meant as any kind of anti-American people statement but as an anti-hegemon dream fulfillment. 

Two, for the “2020” scenario of US military debacle in the Middle East at the end of this article.  Not only is it quite entertaining, to some of us who “live” our current history in mind and heart, it is a prophecy.   (Sha’Tara) 
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Posted by Alfred McCoy at 4:23pm, July 16, 2017.
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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: In September, Dispatch Books will publish the next in our line-up of explorations of imperial America: Alfred McCoy’s remarkable In the Shadows of the American CenturyKirkus Reviews has praised it as “sobering reading for geopolitics mavens and Risk aficionados alike, offering no likely path beyond decline and fall.” Among the impressive range of comments we’ve gotten on it come two from Pulitzer Prize winners. Novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer, writes that McCoy “persuasively argues for the inevitable decline of the American empire and the rise of China… Let’s hope that Americans will listen to his powerful arguments.” And historian John Dower states that the book “joins the essential short list of scrupulous historical and comparative studies of the United States as an awesome, conflicted, technologically innovative, routinely atrocious, and ultimately hubristic imperial power.” As with all his work since the CIA tried to stifle his classic first book, The Politics of Heroin, back in the early 1970s, McCoy’s is leading-edge stuff and a must-read, so reserve your copy early by clicking here. Tom]

I was 12. It was 1956. I lived in New York City and was a youthful history buff. (I should have kept my collection of American Heritage magazines!) Undoubtedly, I was also some kind of classic nerd. In any case, at some point during the Suez crisis of that year, I can remember going to the U.N. by myself and sitting in the gallery of the General Assembly, where I undoubtedly heard imperial Britain denounced for its attempt to retake the Suez Canal (in league with the French and Israelis). I must admit that it was a moment in my life I had totally forgotten about until historian Alfred McCoy, whose new Dispatch Book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, is due out in September, brought it to mind again. And I certainly hadn’t imagined that Suez might have any applicability to this moment. But almost 16 years after this country’s disastrous “war on terror” was launched and with yet another major Middle Eastern city in rubble, we are undoubtedly witnessing a change in the balance (or imbalance) of power on this unruly planet of ours — and who better to make sense of it than historian McCoy?

Think of him as a modern Edward Gibbon, writing in the twenty-first century on the decline and fall of a great empire. However, unlike Gibbon, who wrote his classic book on Rome centuries after its empire had disappeared from the face of the earth, McCoy has no choice but to deal with American decline contemporaneously — in, that is, the very act of its happening.

I had a canny friend who assured me a couple of decades ago that when European countries finally started saying no to Washington, I’d have a signal that I was on another planet. So we must now be on Mars. I was struck, for instance, by a recent piece in the Guardian describing the G20 summit as “the ‘G1’ versus the ‘G19.’” In other words, it’s increasingly Donald Trump’s Washington against the world, which is the definition of how not to make an empire work. Since imperial decline may, in fact, have been a significant factor in bringing Donald Trump to power, think of him as both its harbinger and — as McCoy so vividly describes today — its architect. Tom

The Demolition of U.S. Global Power 
Donald Trump’s Road to Debacle in the Greater Middle East 
By Alfred W. McCoy

The superhighway to disaster is already being paved.

From Donald Trump’s first days in office, news of the damage to America’s international stature has come hard and fast. As if guided by some malign design, the new president seemed to identify the key pillars that have supported U.S. global power for the past 70 years and set out to topple each of them in turn. By degrading NATO, alienating Asian allies, canceling trade treaties, and slashing critical scientific research, the Trump White House is already in the process of demolishing the delicately balanced architecture that has sustained Washington’s world leadership since the end of World War II.  However unwittingly, Trump is ensuring the accelerated collapse of American global hegemony.

Stunned by his succession of foreign policy blunders, commentators — left and right, domestic and foreign — have raised their voices in a veritable chorus of criticism. A Los Angeles Times editorial typically called him “so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality” that he threatened to “weaken this country’s moral standing in the world” and “imperil the planet” through his “appalling” policy choices. “He’s a sucker who’s shrinking U.S. influence in [Asia] and helping make China great again,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman after surveying the damage to the country’s Asian alliances from the president’s “decision to tear up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal in his first week in office.”

The international press has been no less harsh. Reeling from Trump’s denunciation of South Korea’s free-trade agreement as “horrible” and his bizarre claim that the country had once been “a part of China,” Seoul’s leading newspaper, Chosun Ilboexpressed the “shock, betrayal, and anger many South Koreans have felt.” Assessing his first 100 days in office, Britain’s venerable Observer commented: “Trump’s crudely intimidatory, violent, know-nothing approach to sensitive international issues has encircled the globe from Moscow to the Middle East to Beijing, plunging foes and allies alike into a dark vortex of expanding strategic instability.”

For an American president to virtually walk out of his grand inaugural celebrations into such a hailstorm of criticism is beyond extraordinary. Having more or less exhausted their lexicon of condemnatory rhetoric, the usual crew of commentators is now struggling to understand how an American president could be quite so willfully self-destructive.

Britain’s Suez Crisis

Blitzed by an incessant stream of bizarre tweets and White House conspiracy theories, observers worldwide seem to have concluded that Donald Trump is a president like no other, that the situation he’s creating is without parallel, and that his foreign policy is already a disaster without precedent. After rummaging around in history’s capacious closet for some old suit that might fit him, analysts have failed to find any antecedent or analogue to adequately explain him.

Yet just 60 years ago, a crisis in the ever-volatile Middle East overseen by a bumbling, mistake-prone British leader helped create a great power debacle that offers insight into the Trumpian moment, a glimpse into possible futures, and a sense of the kind of decline that could lie in the imperial future of the United States.

In the early 1950s, Britain’s international position had many parallels with America’s today. After a difficult postwar recovery from the devastation of World War II, that country was enjoying robust employment, lucrative international investments, and the prestige of the pound sterling’s stature as the world’s reserve currency. Thanks to a careful withdrawal from its far-flung, global empire and its close alliance with Washington, London still enjoyed a sense of international influence exceptional for a small island nation of just 50 million people. On balance, Britain seemed poised for many more years of world leadership with all the accompanying economic rewards and perks.

Then came the Suez crisis. After a decade of giving up one colony after another, the accumulated stress of imperial retreat pushed British conservatives into a disastrous military intervention to reclaim Egypt’s Suez Canal.  This, in turn, caused a “deep moral crisis in London” and what one British diplomat would term the “dying convulsion of British imperialism.” In a clear instance of what historians call “micro-militarism” — that is, a bold military strike designed to recover fading imperial influence — Britain joined France and Israel in a misbegotten military invasion of Egypt that transformed slow imperial retreat into a precipitous collapse.

Just as the Panama Canal had once been a shining example for Americans of their nation’s global prowess, so British conservatives treasured the Suez Canal as a vital lifeline that tied their small island to its sprawling empire in Asia and Africa. A few years after the canal’s grand opening in 1869, London did the deal of the century, scooping up Egypt’s shares in it for a bargain basement price of £4 million.  Then, in 1882, Britain consolidated its control over the canal through a military occupation of Egypt, reducing that ancient land to little more than an informal colony.

As late as 1950, in fact, Britain still maintained 80,000 soldiers and a string of military bases astride the canal. The bulk of its oil and gasoline, produced at the enormous Abadan refinery in the Persian Gulf, transited through Suez, fueling its navy, its domestic transportation system, and much of its industry.

After British troops completed a negotiated withdrawal from Suez in 1955, the charismatic nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser asserted Egypt’s neutrality in the Cold War by purchasing Soviet bloc arms, raising eyebrows in Washington. In July 1956, after the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower had in response reneged on its promise to finance construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Upper Nile, Nasser sought alternative financing for this critical infrastructure by nationalizing the Suez Canal.  In doing so, he electrified the Arab world and elevated himself to the top rank of world leaders.

Although British ships still passed freely through the canal and Washington insisted on a diplomatic resolution of the conflict, Britain’s conservative leadership reacted with irrational outrage. Behind a smokescreen of sham diplomacy designed to deceive Washington, their closest ally, the British foreign secretary met secretly with the prime ministers of France and Israel near Paris to work out an elaborately deceptive two-stage invasion of Egypt by 250,000 allied troops, backed by 500 aircraft and 130 warships.  Its aim, of course, was to secure the canal.

On October 29, 1956, the Israeli army led by the dashing General Moshe Dayan swept across the Sinai Peninsula, destroying Egyptian tanks and bringing his troops to within 10 miles of the canal. Using this fighting as a pretext for an intervention to restore peace, Anglo-French amphibious and airborne forces quickly joined the attack, backed by a devastating bombardment from six aircraft carriers that destroyed the Egyptian air forceincluding over a hundred of its new MiG jet fighters. As Egypt’s military collapsed with some 3,000 of its troops killed and 30,000 captured, Nasser deployed a defense brilliant in its simplicity by scuttling dozens of rusting cargo ships filled with rocks and concrete at the entrance to the Suez Canal.  In this way, he closed Europe’s oil lifeline to the Persian Gulf.

Simultaneously, U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, backed by Washington, imposed a cease-fire after just nine days of war, stopping the Anglo-French attack far short of capturing the entire canal. President Eisenhower’s blunt refusal to back his allies with either oil or money and the threat of condemnation before the U.N. soon forced Britain into a humiliating withdrawal. With its finances collapsing from the invasion’s soaring costs, the British government could not maintain the pound’s official exchange rate, degrading its stature as a global reserve currency.

The author of this extraordinary debacle was Sir Anthony Eden, a problematic prime minister whose career offers some striking parallels with Donald Trump’s. Born into privilege as the son of a landholder, Eden enjoyed a good education at a private school and an elite university. After inheriting a substantial fortune from his father, he entered politics as a conservative, using his political connections to dabble in finance. Chafing under Winston Churchill’s postwar leadership of the Conservative Party, Eden, who styled himself a rebel against hidebound institutions, used incessant infighting and his handsome head of hair to push the great man aside and become prime minister in 1955.

When Nasser nationalized the canal, Eden erupted with egotism, bluster, and outrage. “What’s all this nonsense about isolating Nasser,” Eden berated his foreign affairs minister. “I want him destroyed, can’t you understand? I want him murdered, and if you and the Foreign Office don’t agree, then you’d better come to the cabinet and explain why.” Convinced that Britain was still the globe’s great power, Eden rejected sound advice that he consult fully with Washington, the country’s closest ally. As his bold intervention plunged toward diplomatic disaster, the prime minister became focused on manipulating the British media, in the process confusing favorable domestic coverage with international support.

When Washington demanded a ceasefire as the price of a billion-dollar bailout for a British economy unable to sustain such a costly war, Eden’s bluster quickly crumbled and he denied his troops a certain victory, arousing a storm of protest in Parliament. Humiliated by the forced withdrawal, Eden compensated psychologically by ordering MI-6, Britain’s equivalent of the CIA, to launch its second ill-fated assassination attempt on Nasser. Since its chief local agent was actually a double-agent loyal to Nasser, Egyptian security had, however, already rounded up the British operatives and the weapons delivered for the contract killers proved duds.

Confronted with a barrage of angry questions in Parliament about his collusion with the Israelis, Eden lied repeatedly, swearing that there was no “foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt.” Protesters denounced him as “too stupid to be a prime minister,” opposition members of parliament laughed openly when he appeared before Parliament, and his own foreign affairs minister damned him as “an enraged elephant charging senselessly at… imaginary enemies.”

Just weeks after the last British soldier left Egypt, Eden, discredited and disgraced, was forced to resign after only 21 months in office. Led into this unimaginably misbegotten operation by his delusions of omnipotence, he left the once-mighty British lion a toothless circus animal that would henceforth roll over whenever Washington cracked the whip.

Trump’s Demolition Job

Despite the obvious differences in their economic circumstances, there remain some telling resonances between Britain’s postwar politics and America’s troubles today. Both of these fading global hegemons suffered a slow erosion of economic power in a fast-changing world, producing severe social tensions and stunted political leaders. Britain’s Conservative Party leadership had declined from the skilled diplomacy of Disraeli, Salisbury, and Churchill to Eden’s bluster and blunder.  Similarly, the Republican Party has descended from the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and George H.W. Bush to a field of 17 primary candidates in 2016 who promised to resolve an infinitely complex crisis in the Middle East through a set of incendiary policies that included making desert sands glow from carpet-bombing and forcing terrorists to capitulate through torture. Confronted with daunting international challenges, the voters of both countries supported appealing but unstable leaders whose delusions of omnipotence inclined them to military misadventures.

Like British citizens of the 1950s, most Americans today do not fully grasp the fragility of their status as “the leader of the free world.” Indeed, Washington has been standing astride the globe as a superpower for so long that most of its leaders have almost no understanding of the delicate design of their country’s global power built so carefully by two post-World War II presidents.

Under Democratic President Harry Truman, Congress created the key instruments for Washington’s emerging national security state and its future global dominion by passing the National Security Act of 1947 that established the Air Force, the CIA, and two new executive agencies, the Defense Department and the National Security Council. To rebuild a devastated, war-torn Europe, Washington launched the Marshall Plan and then turned such thinking into a worldwide aid program through the U.S. Agency for International Development meant to embed American power globally and support pro-American elites across the planet. Under Truman as well, U.S. diplomats forged the NATO alliance (which Washington would dominate until the Trump moment), advanced European unity, and signed a parallel string of mutual-defense treaties with key Asian allies along the Pacific littoral, making Washington the first power in two millennia to controlboth “axial ends” of the strategic Eurasian continent.

During the 1950s, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower deployed this national security apparatus to secure Washington’s global dominion with a nuclear triad (bombers, ballistic missiles, and submarines), a chain of military bases that ringed Eurasia, and a staggering number of highly militarized covert operations to assure the ascent of loyal allies worldwide. Above all, he oversaw the integration of the latest in scientific and technological research into the Pentagon’s weapons procurement system through the forging of the famed “military-industrial complex” (against which he would end up warning Americans as he left office in 1961).   All this, in turn, fostered an aura of American power so formidable that Washington could re-order significant parts of the world almost at will, enforcing peace, setting the international agenda, and toppling governments on four continents.

While it’s reasonable to argue that Washington had by then become history’s greatest global power, its hegemony, like that of all the world empires that preceded it, remained surprisingly fragile. Skilled leadership was required to maintain the system’s balance of diplomacy, military power, economic strength, and technological innovation.

By the time President Trump took his oath of office, negative, long-term trends had already started to limit the influence of any American leader on the world stage.  These included a declining share of the global economy, an erosion of U.S. technological primacy, an inability to apply its overwhelming military power in a way that achieved expected policy goals on an ever more recalcitrant planet, and a generation of increasingly independent national leaders, whether in Europe, Asia, or Latin America.

Apart from such adverse trends, Washington’s global power rested on such strategic fundamentals that its leaders might still have managed carefully enough to maintain a reasonable semblance of American hegemony: notably, the NATO alliance and Asian mutual-security treaties at the strategic antipodes of Eurasia, trade treaties that reinforced such alliances, scientific research to sustain its military’s technological edge, and leadership on international issues like climate change.

In just five short months, however, the Trump White House has done a remarkable job of demolishing these very pillars of U.S. global power. During his first overseas trip in May 2017, President Trump chastised stone-faced NATO leaders for failure to pay their “fair share” into the military part of the alliance and refused to affirm its core principle of collective defense. Ignoring the pleas of these close allies, he then forfeited America’s historic diplomatic leadership by announcing Washington’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord with all the drama of a reality television show. After watching his striking repudiation of Washington’s role as world leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told voters in her country that “we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.”

Along the strategic Pacific littoral, Trump cancelled the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact on taking office and gratuitously alienated allies by cutting short a courtesy phone call to Australia’s prime minister and insulting South Korea to the point where its new president won office, in part, on a platform of “say no” to America. When President Moon Jae-in visited Washington in June, determined to heal the breach between the two countries, he was, as the New York Times reported, blindsided by “the harshness of Mr. Trump’s critique of South Korea on trade.”

Just days after Trump dismissed Moon’s suggestion that the two countries engage in actual diplomatic negotiations with Pyongyang, North Korea successfully test-fired a ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching Alaska or possibly Hawaii with a nuclear warhead (though experts believe Pyongyang may still be years away from effectively fitting such a warhead to the missile).  It was an act that made those same negotiations Washington’s only viable option — apart from a second Korean War, which would potentially devastate both the region and the U.S. position as the preeminent international leader.

In other words, after 70 years of global dominion, America’s geopolitical command of the axial ends of Eurasia — the central pillars of its world power seems to be crumbling in a matter of months.

Instead of the diplomacy of presidents past, Trump and his advisers, especially his military men, have reacted to his first modest foreign crises as well as the everyday power questions of empire with outbursts akin to Anthony Eden’s.  Since January, the White House has erupted in sudden displays of raw military power that included a drone blitz of unprecedented intensity in Yemen to destroy what the president called a “network of lawless savages,” the bombardment of a Syrian air base with 59 Tomahawk missiles, and the detonation of the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb on a terrorist refuge in eastern Afghanistan.

While reveling in the use of such weaponry, Trump, by slashing federal funding for critical scientific research, is already demolishing the foundations for the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower’s successors, Republican and Democratic alike, so sedulously maintained for the last half-century. While China is ramping up its scientific research across the board, Trump has proposed what the American Association for Advancement of Science called “deep cuts to numerous research agencies” that will mean the eventual loss of the country’s technological edge. In the emerging field of artificial intelligence that will soon drive space warfare and cyber-warfare, the White House wants to reduce the 2018 budget for this critical research at the National Science Foundation to a paltry $175 million, even as Beijing is launching “a new multi-billion-dollar initiative” linked to building “military robots.”

A Future Debacle in the Greater Middle East

With a president who shares Sir Anthony Eden’s penchant for bravura, self-delusion, and impulsiveness, the U.S. seems primed for a twenty-first-century Suez of its own, a debacle in the Greater Middle East (or possibly elsewhere). From the disastrous expedition that ancient Athens sent to Sicily in 413 BCE to Britain’s invasion of Suez in 1956, embattled empires throughout the ages have often suffered an arrogance that drives them to plunge ever deeper into military misadventures until defeat becomes debacle, a misuse of armed force known technically among historians as micro-militarism. With the hubris that has marked empires over the millennia, the Trump administration is, for instance, now committed to extending indefinitely Washington’s failing war of pacification in Afghanistan with a new mini-surge of U.S. troops (and air power) in that classic “graveyard of empires.

So irrational, so unpredictable is such micro-militarism that even the most fanciful of scenarios can be outpaced by actual events, as was true at Suez. With the U.S. military stretched thin from North Africa to South Korea, with no lasting successes in its post-9/11 wars, and with tensions rising from the Persian Gulf and Syria to the South China Sea and the Koreas, the possibilities for a disastrous military crisis abroad seem almost unending. So let me pick just one possible scenario for a future Trumpian military misadventure in the Greater Middle East.  (I’m sure you’ll think of other candidates immediately.)

It’s the late spring of 2020, the start of the traditional Afghan fighting season, and a U.S. garrison in the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan is unexpectedly overrun by an ad hoc alliance of Taliban and Islamic State guerrillas. While U.S. aircraft are grounded in a blinding sand storm, the militants summarily execute their American captives, filming the gruesome event for immediate upload on the Internet. Speaking to an international television audience, President Trump thunders against “disgusting Muslim murderers” and swears he will “make the desert sands run red with their blood.” In fulfillment of that promise, an angry American theater commander sends B-1 bombers and F-35 fighters to demolish whole neighborhoods of Kandahar believed to be under Taliban control. In an aerial coup de grâce, AC-130-U “Spooky” gunships then rake the rubble with devastating cannon fire. The civilian casualties are beyond counting.

Soon, mullahs are preaching jihad from mosques across Afghanistan and far beyond. Afghan Army units, long trained by American forces to turn the tide of the war, begin to desert en masse. In isolated posts across the country, clusters of Afghan soldiers open fire on their American advisers in what are termed “insider” or “green-on-blue” attacks. Meanwhile, Taliban fighters launch a series of assaults on scattered U.S. garrisons elsewhere in the country, suddenly sending American casualties soaring. In scenes reminiscent of Saigon in 1975, U.S. helicopters rescue American soldiers and civilians from rooftops not just in Kandahar, but in several other provincial capitals and even Kabul.

Meanwhile, angry over the massive civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the anti-Muslim diatribes tweeted almost daily from the Oval Office, and years of depressed energy prices, OPEC’s leaders impose a harsh new oil embargo aimed at the United States and its allies. With refineries running dry in Europe and Asia, the world economy trembling at the brink of recession, and gas prices soaring, Washington flails about for a solution. The first call is to NATO, but the alliance is near collapse after four years of President Trump’s erratic behavior. Even the British, alienated by his inattention to their concerns, rebuff his appeals for support.

Facing an uncertain reelection in November 2020, the Trump White House makes its move, sending Marines and Special Operations forces to seize oil ports in the Persian Gulf. Flying from the Fifth Fleet’s base in Bahrain, Navy Seals and Army Rangers occupy the Ras Tanura refinery in Saudi Arabia, the ninth largest in the world; Kuwait’s main oil port at Shuaiba; and Iraq’s at Um Qasr.

Simultaneously, the light carrier USS Iwo Jima steams south at the head of a task force that launches helicopters carrying 6,000 Special Operations forces tasked with seizing the al-Ruwais refinery in Abu Dhabi, the world’s fourth largest, and the megaport at Jebel Ali in Dubai, a 20-square-mile complex so massive that the Americans can only occupy its oil facilities. When Teheran vehemently protests the U.S. escalation in the Persian Gulf and hints at retaliation, Defense Secretary James Mattis, reviving a plan from his days as CENTCOM commander, orders preemptive Tomahawk missile strikes on Iran’s flagship oil refinery at Abadan.

From its first hours, the operation goes badly wrong. The troops seem lost inside the unmapped mazes of pipes that honeycomb the oil ports.  Meanwhile, refinery staff prove stubbornly uncooperative, sensing that the occupation will be short-lived and disastrous. On day three, Iranian Revolutionary Guard commandos, who have been training for this moment since the breakdown of the 2015 nuclear accord with the U.S., storm ashore at the Kuwaiti and Emirate refineries with remote-controlled charges. Unable to use their superior firepower in such a volatile environment, American troops are reduced to firing futile bursts at the departing speed boats as oil storage tanks and gas pipes explode spectacularly.

Three days later, as the USS Gerald Ford approaches an Iranian island, more than 100 speedboats suddenly appear, swarming the carrier in a practiced pattern of high-speed crisscrosses. Every time lethal bursts from the carrier’s MK-38 chain guns rip through the lead boats, others emerge from the flames coming closer and closer. Concealed by clouds of smoke, one finally reaches an undefended spot beneath the conning tower near enough for a Revolutionary guardsman to attach a magnetic charge to the hull with a fateful click. There is a deafening roar and a gaping hole erupts at the waterline of the first aircraft carrier to be crippled in battle since World War II.  As things go from bad to worse, the Pentagon is finally forced to accept that a debacle is underway and withdraws its capital ships from the Persian Gulf.

As black clouds billow skyward from the Gulf’s oil ports and diplomats rise at the U.N. to bitterly denounce American actions, commentators worldwide reach back to the 1956 debacle that marked the end of imperial Britain to brand this “America’s Suez.” The empire has been trumped.

Alfred W. McCoy, a TomDispatch regular, is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of the now-classic book The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, which probed the conjuncture of illicit narcotics and covert operations over 50 years, and the forthcoming In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power, out in September from Dispatch Books.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Alfred W. McCoy

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The Problem with Freedom, by George Monbiot

Comment to this “reblog” article:

We, as a word species, possess some great buzz-words we love to use as much as possible.  They are “feel good” words that are so deeply traditional that they require no thinking at all…none.  That they are a Pandora’s box of confused meaninglessness doesn’t enter our mind in the least.  These are feelings and conversation boosters prescribed by our Matrix to explain everything that evidence, observation and common sense would have the nerve to tell us, isn’t so.  Enter the fix-it words: love, family, nation, God, democracy, motherhood, freedom.  Claim to be in league with any of the above, or on a mission to uphold these concepts, and shut up, or crush, all opposition.  Great words, until you set them down, one at a time, and start examining them, their meaning; your relationship to any one of them.  Of course we’re not supposed to ever do that.  If we did, it would indicate that we actually doubt these great concepts, we’re not sure that they are truly absolute in value.  “Do Not Enter” says the Matrix sign.  Believe, don’t think. 

But what if you do think about them?  As George Monbiot points out here, what is the real meaning of freedom?  Well, it depends who is talking about it.

The Problem With Freedom – monbiot.com


The Problem With Freedom

Posted: 07 Apr 2017 01:05 AM PDT

Freedom is used as the excuse for ripping down public protections on behalf of the very rich.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 5th April 2017

Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.

When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought and expression, for example, without harming other people. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.

When corporations free themselves from trade unions, they curtail the freedoms of their workers. When the very rich free themselves from tax, other people suffer through failing public services. When financiers are free to design exotic financial instruments, the rest of us pay for the crises they cause.

Above all, billionaires and the organisations they run demand freedom from something they call “red tape”. What they mean by red tape is public protection. An article in the Telegraph last week was headlined “Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free from the shackles of Brussels”. Yes, we are choking, but not on red tape. We are choking because the government flouts European rules on air quality. The resulting air pollution frees thousands of souls from their bodies.

Ripping down such public protections means freedom for billionaires and corporations from the constraints of democracy. This is what Brexit – and Trump – are all about. The freedom we were promised is the freedom of the very rich to exploit us.

To be fair to the Telegraph, which is running a campaign to deregulate the entire economy once Britain has left the EU, it is, unusually, almost explicit about who the beneficiaries are. It explains that “the ultimate goal of this whole process should be to … to set the wealth creators free.” (Wealth creators is the code it uses for the very rich). Among the potential prizes it lists are changes to the banana grading system, allowing strongly curved bananas to be categorised as Class 1, a return to incandescent lightbulbs and the freedom to kill great crested newts.

I suspect that the Barclay brothers, the billionaires who own the Telegraph, couldn’t give a monkey’s about bananas. But as their business empire incorporates hotels, shipping, car sales, home shopping and deliveries, they might be intensely interested in the European working time directive and other aspects of employment law, tax directives, environmental impact assessments, the consumer rights directive, maritime safety laws and a host of similar public protections.

If the government agrees to the Telegraph’s proposed “bonfire of red tape”, we would win bent bananas and newt-squashing prerogatives. On the other hand, we could lose our rights to fair employment, an enduring living world, clean air, clean water, public safety, consumer protection, functioning public services and the other distinguishing features of civilisation. Tough choice, isn’t it?

As if to hammer the point home, the Sunday Telegraph interviewed Nick Varney, the chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, in an article claiming that the “red tape burden” was too heavy for listed companies. He described some of the public protections companies have to observe as “bloody baggage”. The article failed to connect these remarks to his company’s own bloody baggage, caused by its unilateral decision to cut red tape. As a result of overriding the safety mechanism on one of its rides at Alton Towers, which was operating, against the guidelines, during high winds, 16 people were injured, including two young women who had their legs amputated. That’s why we need public protections of the kind the Telegraph wants to destroy.

The same ethos, with the same justification, pervades the Trump administration. The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is seeking to annul the rules protecting rivers from pollution, workers from exposure to pesticides and everyone from climate breakdown. It’s not as if the agency was over-zealous before: one of the reasons for the mass poisoning in Flint, Michigan was its catastrophic failure to protect people from the contamination of drinking water by lead: a failure that now afflicts 18 million Americans.

As well as trying to dismantle the government’s climate change programme, Trump is waging war on even the most obscure forms of protection. For example, he intends to defund the tiny US Chemical Safety Board, which investigates lethal incidents at chemical plants. Discovering what happened and why would be an impediment to freedom.

On neither side of the Atlantic are these efforts unopposed. Trump’s assault on public protections has already provoked dozens of lawsuits. The European Council has told the UK government that if it wants to trade with the EU on favourable terms after Brexit, companies here cannot cut their costs by dumping them on the rest of society.

This drives the leading Brexiters berserk. As a result of the Pollution Paradox (the dirtiest corporations have to spend the most money on politics, so the political system comes to be owned by them), politicians like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have an incentive to champion the freedom of irresponsible companies. But it also puts them in a bind. Their primary argument for deregulation is that it makes businesses more competitive. If it means those businesses can’t trade with the EU, the case falls apart.

They will try to light the bonfire anyway, as this is a question of power and culture as well as money. You don’t need to listen for long to the very rich to realise that many see themselves as the “independents” Friedrich Hayek celebrated in The Constitution of Liberty, or as John Galt, who led a millionaires’ strike against the government in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. Like Hayek, they regard freedom from democracy as an absolute right, regardless of the costs this may inflict on others, or even on themselves.

When we confront a system of propaganda, our first task is to decode it. This begins by interrogating its sacred value. Whenever we hear the word freedom, we should ask ourselves, “freedom for whom, at whose expense?”.

http://www.monbiot.com

The Dance of Death – article by Chris Hedges – from “Truthdig”

My short intro to the article, “The Dance of Death”

Have we entered into another “millennium madness” when the powers that be have destroyed society and we are about to plunge headlong into the terror that immediately precedes and follows the inadmissible truth: that society has lost it’s raison d’être and needs to destroy itself in order to begin again with a new modus operandi?  As the article below describes vividly, have we entered into the spirit of Thanatos, the death instinct of a global civilization?

If that is the case, what does one do, here and now? If society is going to commit suicide and nothing can stop it, is there any point in struggling against the elites’ madness which can only give them more time to enjoy their immoral pursuits purchased through every sort of illegal shenanigan and millions of deaths?

What would a truly wise person do, knowing this is indeed the case; having admitted that global society is in exponential decline and once again dancing the dance of death?

{Posting the entire article here to save you having to jump through the “link hoops” of web surfing…}

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The Dance of Death | Truthdig

“…Sigmund Freud wrote that societies, along with individuals, are driven by two primary instincts. One is the instinct for life, Eros, the quest to love, nurture, protect and preserve. The second is the death instinct. The death instinct, called Thanatos by post-Freudians, is driven by fear, hatred and violence. It seeks the dissolution of all living things, including our own beings. One of these two forces, Freud wrote, is always ascendant. Societies in decline enthusiastically embrace the death instinct, as Freud observed in “Civilization and Its Discontents,” written on the eve of the rise of European fascism and World War II. …”


Chris Hedges

The Dance of Death  (Chris Hedges)

Posted on Mar 12, 2017

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build. They seek to destroy. They are agents of death. They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism. Wars and military “virtues” are celebrated. Intelligence, empathy and the common good are banished. Culture is degraded to patriotic kitsch. Education is designed only to instill technical proficiency to serve the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism. Historical amnesia shuts us off from the past, the present and the future. Those branded as unproductive or redundant are discarded and left to struggle in poverty or locked away in cages. State repression is indiscriminate and brutal. And, presiding over the tawdry Grand Guignol is a deranged ringmaster tweeting absurdities from the White House.

The graveyard of world empires—Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian—followed the same trajectory of moral and physical collapse. Those who rule at the end of empire are psychopaths, imbeciles, narcissists and deviants, the equivalents of the depraved Roman emperors Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Commodus. The ecosystem that sustains the empire is degraded and exhausted. Economic growth, concentrated in the hands of corrupt elites, is dependent on a crippling debt peonage imposed on the population. The bloated ruling class of oligarchs, priests, courtiers, mandarins, eunuchs, professional warriors, financial speculators and corporate managers sucks the marrow out of society.

The elites’ myopic response to the looming collapse of the natural world and the civilization is to make subservient populations work harder for less, squander capital in grandiose projects such as pyramids, palaces, border walls and fracking, and wage war. President Trump’s decision to increase military spending by $54 billion and take the needed funds out of the flesh of domestic programs typifies the behavior of terminally ill civilizations. When the Roman Empire fell, it was trying to sustain an army of half a million soldiers that had become a parasitic drain on state resources.

The complex bureaucratic mechanisms that are created by all civilizations ultimately doom them. The difference now, as Joseph Tainter points out in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” is that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

Civilizations in decline, despite the palpable signs of decay around them, remain fixated on restoring their “greatness.” Their illusions condemn them. They cannot see that the forces that gave rise to modern civilization, namely technology, industrial violence and fossil fuels, are the same forces that are extinguishing it. Their leaders are trained only to serve the system, slavishly worshipping the old gods long after these gods begin to demand millions of sacrificial victims.

“Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create even more dangerous messes,” Ronald Wright writes in “A Short History of Progress.” “Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism.”

The Trump appointees—Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Rick Perry, Alex Acosta and others—do not advocate innovation or reform. They are Pavlovian dogs that salivate before piles of money. They are hard-wired to steal from the poor and loot federal budgets. Their single-minded obsession with personal enrichment drives them to dismantle any institution or abolish any law or regulation that gets in the way of their greed. Capitalism, Karl Marx wrote, is “a machine for demolishing limits.” There is no internal sense of proportion or scale. Once all external impediments are lifted, global capitalism ruthlessly commodifies human beings and the natural world to extract profit until exhaustion or collapse. And when the last moments of a civilization arrive, the degenerate edifices of power appear to crumble overnight.

Sigmund Freud wrote that societies, along with individuals, are driven by two primary instincts. One is the instinct for life, Eros, the quest to love, nurture, protect and preserve. The second is the death instinct. The death instinct, called Thanatos by post-Freudians, is driven by fear, hatred and violence. It seeks the dissolution of all living things, including our own beings. One of these two forces, Freud wrote, is always ascendant. Societies in decline enthusiastically embrace the death instinct, as Freud observed in “Civilization and Its Discontents,” written on the eve of the rise of European fascism and World War II.

“It is in sadism, where the death instinct twists the erotic aim in its own sense and yet at the same time fully satisfies the erotic urge, that we succeed in obtaining the clearest insight into its nature and its relation to Eros,” Freud wrote. “But even where it emerges without any sexual purpose, in the blindest fury of destructiveness, we cannot fail to recognize that the satisfaction of the instinct is accompanied by an extraordinary high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, owing to its presenting the ego with a fulfillment of the latter’s old wishes for omnipotence.”

The lust for death, as Freud understood, is not, at first, morbid. It is exciting and seductive. I saw this in the wars I covered. A god-like power and adrenaline-driven fury, even euphoria, sweep over armed units and ethnic or religious groups given the license to destroy anything and anyone around them. Ernst Juenger captured this “monstrous desire for annihilation” in his World War I memoir, “Storm of Steel.”

(Page 2)

A population alienated and beset by despair and hopelessness finds empowerment and pleasure in an orgy of annihilation that soon morphs into self-annihilation. It has no interest in nurturing a world that has betrayed it and thwarted its dreams. It seeks to eradicate this world and replace it with a mythical landscape. It turns against institutions, as well as ethnic and religious groups, that are scapegoated for its misery. It plunders diminishing natural resources with abandon. It is seduced by the fantastic promises of demagogues and the magical solutions characteristic of the Christian right or what anthropologists call “crisis cults.”

Norman Cohn, in “The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements,” draws a link between that turbulent period and our own. Millennial movements are a peculiar, collective psychological response to profound societal despair. They recur throughout human history. We are not immune.

“These movements have varied in tone from the most violent aggressiveness to the mildest pacifism and in aim from the most ethereal spirituality to the most earth-bound materialism; there is no counting the possible ways of imagining the Millennium and the route to it,” Cohen wrote. “But similarities can present themselves as well as differences; and the more carefully one compares the outbreaks of militant social chiliasm during the later Middle Ages with modern totalitarian movements the more remarkable the similarities appear. The old symbols and the old slogans have indeed disappeared, to be replaced by new ones; but the structure of the basic phantasies seems to have changed scarcely at all.”

These movements, Cohen wrote, offered “a coherent social myth which was capable of taking entire possession of those who believed in it. It explained their suffering, it promised them recompense, it held their anxieties at bay, it gave them an illusion of security—even while it drove them, held together by a common enthusiasm, on a quest which was always vain and often suicidal.

“So it came about that multitudes of people acted out with fierce energy a shared phantasy which though delusional yet brought them such intense emotional relief that they could live only through it and were perfectly willing to die for it. It is a phenomenon which was to recur many times between the eleventh century and the sixteenth century, now in one area, now in another, and which, despite the obvious differences in cultural context and in scale, is not irrelevant to the growth of totalitarian movements, with their messianic leaders, their millennial mirages and their demon-scapegoats, in the present century.”

The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.

 

Tomgram: Ira Chernus, Now Who’s The Enemy?

I think this article is on point, and it’s a great read.  It only takes a few minutes and suddenly one gets a better, if not less confusing, perspective on the politics of Washington, particularly under president Trump.

The question that came to my mind as I read through the following is, “Should the people of the “West” so-called, be legitimately afraid of Islam and Muslim people, or are the “world leaders” of Washington perpetrating a massive scam on American people so they can fleece them, not only of their money and property, but of their democracy, their freedom, their very soul as a people living in 21st Century earth?”

The second question is, “If we cannot clearly identify “the enemy” then do we really have an enemy at all, or is it that the real enemy of the country is ensconced in, ruling from, the White House?”

As you read through, consider this quote from Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn: “we will do whatever it takes to win… If you are victorious, the people will judge whatever means you used to have been appropriate.”

Tomgram: Ira Chernus, Now Who’s The Enemy?

Posted by Ira Chernus at 4:08pm, February 5, 2017.
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Let’s face it: since 9/11 everything in our American world has been wildly out of proportion.  Understandably enough, at the time that attack was experienced as something other than it was.  In the heat of the moment, it would be compared to city-destroying or world-ending Hollywood disaster films (“It was like one of them Godzilla movies”), instantly dubbed “the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century,” or simply “A New Day of Infamy,” and experienced by many as nothing short of an apocalyptic event inflicted on this country, the equivalent of a nuclear attack — as NBC’s Tom Brokaw said that day, “like a nuclear winter in lower Manhattan,” or as the Topeka Capital-Journal headlined it in a reference to a 1983 TV movie about nuclear Armageddon, “The Day After.”  It was, of course, none of this.  No imposing imperial challenger had struck the United States without warning, as Japan did on December 7, 1941, in what was essentially a declaration of war.  It was anything but the nuclear strike for which the country had been mentally preparing since August 6, 1945 — as, in the years after World War II, American newspapers regularly drew futuristic concentric circles of destruction around American cities and magazines offered visions of our country as a vaporized wasteland.  And yet the remains of the World Trade Center were regularly referred to as “Ground Zero,” a term previously reserved for the spot where an atomic explosion had occurred. The 9/11 attacks were, in fact, mounted by the most modest of groups at an estimated cost of only $400,000 to $500,000 and committed by 19 hijackers using our own “weapons” (commercial airliners) against us.

However, the response from a Bush administration eager to strike in the Greater Middle East, especially against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, was to act as if the country had indeed been hit by nuclear weapons and as if we were now at war with a new Nazi Germany or Soviet Union. In the process, Bush officials took that first natural urge to go apocalyptic, to see our country as endangered at an existential level, and ran with it.  As a result, from September 12, 2001, on, the confusion, the inability to see things as they actually were, would never end.  The Bush administration, of course, promptly launched its own “global war on terror.” (GWOT was the acronym.)  Its officials then made that “global” quite real by insisting that they were planning to fight terrorism in a mind-boggling 60 or more countries around the planet.

Fifteen disastrous years later, having engaged in wars, occupations, or conflicts in at least seven countries in the Greater Middle East, having left failed or failing states littered in our path and spurred the spread of terror groups throughout that region and beyond, we now find ourselves in the age of Trump, and if it isn’t obvious to you that everything remains dangerously out of whack, it should be. Consider the set of former military men and associated figures the new president has appointed to run the national security state.  As TomDispatch regular and professor of religious studies Ira Chernus points out today, they uniformly believe — shades of GWOT — that our country is in a literal “world war” at this very second, and they seem to believe as well that its fate and the planet’s are at stake, even if none of them can quite decide whom it is we’re actually fighting. This struggle against, well, whomever, is so apocalyptic that, in their opinion, our very “Judeo-Christian” civilization is at stake. (Hence the recent Muslim ban, even if not quite called that.)  On all of this, Chernus offers their own grim, whacked-out words as proof.

Who could deny that, by now, many Americans have lost the ability to see the world as it is, put much of anything in perspective, or sort out genuine threats from fantasy constructs?  As a result, we’re led by delusional officials overseen, as if in some terrible Hollywood flick about the declining Roman Empire, by a mad, driven leader (who may be quite capable, in a matter of months, of turning the whole world against us).  If you don’t believe me, just plunge into Chernus today and into a fantasy war and an apocalyptic fate that supposedly awaits us if we don’t fight to the death against… well…

Perspective, context, proportion? Sorry, we don’t grok you, Earthling. Tom

Field of Fright 
The Terror Inside Trump’s White House
By Ira Chernus

What kind of national security policy will the Trump administration pursue globally? On this issue, as on so many others, the incoming president has offered enough contradictory clues, tweets, and comments that the only definitive answer right now is: Who knows?

During his presidential campaign he more or less promised a non-interventionist foreign policy, even as he offered hints that his might be anything but.  There was, of course, ISIS to destroy and he swore he would “bomb the shit out of them.” He would, he suggested, even consider using nuclear weapons in the Middle East.  And as Dr. Seuss might have said, that was not all, oh no, that was not all.  He has often warned of the dangers of a vague but fearsome “radical Islam” and insisted that “terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the Earth, a mission we will carry out.”  (And he’s already ordered his first special ops raid in Yemen, resulting in one dead American and evidently many dead civilians.)

And when it comes to enemies to smite, he’s hardly willing to stop there, not when, as he told CNN, “I think Islam hates us.” He then refused to confine that hatred to “radical Islam,” given that, on the subject of the adherents of that religion, “it’s very hard to define, it’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.”

And when it comes to enemies, why stop with Islam?  Though President Trump has garnered endless headlines for touting a possible rapprochement with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, he also suggested during the election campaign that he would be tougher on the Russian president than Hillary Clinton, might have “a horrible relationship” with him, and might even consider using nukes in Europe, presumably against the Russians. His apparent eagerness to ramp up the American nuclear arsenal in a major way certainly presents another kind of challenge to Russia.

And then, of course, there’s China.  After all, in addition to his own belligerent comments on that country, his prospective secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, have both recently suggested that the U.S. should prevent China from accessing artificial islands that country has created and fortified in the South China Sea — which would be an obvious American act of war.

In sum, don’t take the promise of non-intervention too seriously from a man intent, above all else, on pouring money into the further “rebuilding” of a “depleted” U.S. military.  Just who might be the focus of future Trumpian interventions is, at best, foggy, since his vision of The Enemy — ISIS aside — remains an ever-moving target.

Suppose, though, we judge the new president not by his own statements alone, but by the company he keeps — in this case, those he chooses to advise him on national security. Do that and a strange picture emerges.  On one thing all of Trump’s major national security appointees seem crystal clear.  We are, each one of them insists, in nothing less than a world war in which non-intervention simply isn’t an option. And in that they are hardly kowtowing to the president.  Each of them took such a position before anyone knew that there would be a Donald Trump administration.

There’s only one small catch: none of them can quite agree on just whom we’re fighting in this twenty-first-century global war of ours.  So let’s take a look at this crew, one by one, and see what their records might tell us about intervention, Trump-style.

Michael Flynn’s Field of Fright

The most influential military voice should be that of retired Lieutenant General and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (though his position is already evidently weakening).  He will lead the National Security Council (NSC), which historian David Rothkopf calls the “brain” and “nerve center” of the White House.  Flynn laid out his views in detail in the 2014 book he co-authored with neocon Michael Ledeen, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies (a volume that Trump, notorious for not reading books, “highly recommended”). To call Flynn’s views frightening would be an understatement.

America, Flynn flatly asserts, is “in a world war” and it could well be a “hundred-year war.” Worse yet, “if we lose this war, [we would live] in a totalitarian state… a Russian KGB or Nazi SS-like state.” So “we will do whatever it takes to win… If you are victorious, the people will judge whatever means you used to have been appropriate.”

But whom exactly must we defeat? It turns out, according to him, that we face an extraordinary network of enemies “that extends from North Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.”  And that’s not all, not by a long shot.  There’s “also al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS, and countless other terrorist groups.” And don’t forget “the merging of narcotics traffickers, organized criminals, and terrorists.” (Flynn has claimed that “Mexican drug cartels” actually post signs at the U.S.-Mexican border — in Arabic, no less — marking “lanes of entry” for Islamic terrorists.)

Now, that’s quite a list! Still, “radical Islam” seems to be America’s number one enemy on most pages of the book and Flynn puts the spotlight of fear squarely on one nation-state: “Iran is the linchpin of the alliance, its centerpiece.”

How Shi’ite Iran can be the “linchpin” in what turns out to be a worldwide insurgency of the Sunni Islamic State (aka ISIS) is something of a mystery.  Perhaps it’s not any single version of Islam that threatens us, but the religion in all its many forms, or so Flynn seems to have decided after he published his book. In this spirit, in February 2016 he infamously tweeted “Fear of Islam is RATIONAL” as an endorsement of a video that indicted and vilified that religion of 1.6 billion people. And to this day he evidently remains unsure whether “radical Islam” — or maybe even Islam as a whole — is a religion or a political ideology that we must fight to the death.

In our present world, all of this highlights another glaring contradiction: Why would Vladimir Putin’s Russia, for so long fiercely resisting Muslim insurgencies within its own borders and now fighting in Syria, ally with global radical Islam? In his book, Flynn offers this facile (and farfetched) explanation meant to clarify everything that otherwise makes no sense whatsoever: all the forces arrayed against us around the world are “united in their hatred of the democratic West and their conviction that dictatorship is superior.”

Anti-democratic ideology, if you’ll excuse the choice of words, trumps all. Our enemies are waging war “against the entire Western enterprise.” In response, in his book Flynn ups the ante on the religious nature of our global war, calling on all Americans to “accept what we were founded upon, a Judeo-Christian ideology built on a moral set of rules and ties… The West, and especially America, is far more civilized, far more ethical and moral, than the system our main enemies want to impose on us.”

As it happens, though, Flynn seems to have come to a somewhat different conclusion since his book was published.  “We can’t do what we want to do unless we work with Russia, period,” he’s told the New York Times. “What we both have is a common enemy… radical Islam.” The Russians, it turns out, may be part of that Christian… well, why not use the word… crusade against Islam.  And among other things, Russia might even be able to help “get Iran to back out of the proxy wars they are involved in.” (One of which, however, is against ISIS, a reality Flynn simply ducks.)

Of course, Russia has not significantly changed its policies in this period. It’s Flynn, at a moment when geopolitical strategy trumps (that word again!) ideology, who has apparently changed his tune on just who our enemy is.

“I would want this enemy to be clearly defined by this president,” Flynn said when talking about President Obama. Now that Donald Trump is president, Flynn’s the one who has to do the defining, and what he’s got on his hands is a long list of enemies, some of whom are visibly at each other’s throats, a list evidently open to radical revision at any moment.

All we can say for sure is that Michael Flynn doesn’t like Islam and wants us to be afraid, very afraid, as we wage that “world war” of his. When he chose a title for his book he seems to have forgotten one letter. It should have been The Field of Fright. And his present job title deserves a slight alteration as well: national insecurity adviser.

An Uncertain (In)Security Team

On the national insecurity team Flynn heads, everyone seems to share a single conviction: that we are indeed already in a global war, which we just might lose. But each of them has his or her own favorites among Flynn’s vast array of proffered enemies.

Take his top assistant at the NSC, K.T. McFarland.  For her, the enemy is neither a nation nor a political unit, but a vaguely defined “apocalyptic death cult… the most virulent and lethal in history” called “radical Islam.”  She adds, “If we do not destroy the scourge of radical Islam, it will ultimately destroy Western civilization… and the values we hold dear.” For her, it’s an old story: civilization against the savages.

There’s no way to know whether McFarland will have real influence on decision-making in the Oval Office, but her view of the enemy has been voiced in much the same language by someone who already does have such influence, white nationalist Steve Bannon, whom the president has just given a seat on the National Security Council.  (He reportedly even had a major hand in writing the new president’s Inaugural Address.)  Trump’s senior counselor and key adviser on long-term foreign policy strategy offered rare insight into his national insecurity views in a talk he gave at, of all places, the Vatican.

We’re in “a war that’s already global,” Bannon declared, “an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism.” However, we also face an equally dangerous threat: “an immense secularization of the West,” which “converges” with “radical Islam” in a way he didn’t bother to explain. He did, however, make it very clear that the fight against the “new barbarity” of “radical Islam” is a “crisis of our faith,” a struggle to save the very ideals of “the Judeo-Christian West … a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind.”

New CIA Director Mike Pompeo seems to agree wholeheartedly with Bannon that we’re in a global religious war, “the kind of struggle this country has not faced since its great wars.” Part of the key to survival, as he sees it, is for “more politicians of faith to infuse the government with their beliefs and get the nation back on track, instead of bowing to secularism.” In this battle of churches and mosques, he also claims that the line has been drawn between “those who accept modernity and those who are barbarians,” by which he means “the Islamic east.” In such a grandiose tangle, who exactly is who among our enemies remains up for grabs. All Pompeo seems to knows for sure is that  “evil is all around us.”

Retired General and Secretary of Defense James Mattis admits forthrightly just how confusing this all is, but he, too, insists that we have to “take a firm, strategic stance in defense of our values.” And who exactly is threatening those values? “Political Islam?” he asked an audience rhetorically. On that subject, he answered himself this way: “We need to have the discussion.”  After all, he went on, “If we won’t even ask the question, how do we even recognize which is our side in a fight?”

Several years ago, however, when Barack Obama asked him to spell out his top priorities as CENTCOM commander in the Greater Middle East, Mattis was crystal clear. He bluntly replied that he had three priorities: “Number one: Iran. Number two: Iran. Number three: Iran.” Moreover, in his confirmation hearings, he suddenly proclaimed Russia a “principal threat… an adversary in key areas.”

Still another view comes from retired General and Secretary of Homeland Security James Kelly. He, too, is sure that “our country today is in a life-and-death struggle against an evil enemy” that exists “around the globe.” But for him that evil enemy is, above all, the drug cartels and the undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.  They pose the true “existential” threat to the United States.

Everyone on Trump’s national insecurity team seems to agree on one thing: the United States is in a global war to the death, which we could lose, bringing some quite literal version of apocalyptic ruin down on our nation. Yet there is no consensus on whom or what exactly we are fighting.

Flynn, presumably the key voice on the national insecurity team, offers a vast and shifting array of enemies milling around pugnaciously on Trumpworld’s field of fright. The others each highlight and emphasize one or more groups, movements, or nations in that utterly confused crew of potential adversaries.

We Need an Enemy, Any Enemy

This could, of course, lead to bruising disagreements and a struggle for control over the president’s foreign and military policies.  It’s more likely, though, that Trump and his team don’t see these differences as crucial, as long as they all agree that the threat of destruction really is at our doorstep, whoever the designated deliverer of our apocalyptic fate may be. Starting out with such a terrifying assumption about how our present world works as their unquestioned premise, they then can play fill-in-the-blank, naming a new enemy as often as they wish.

For the last near-century, after all, Americans have been filling in that blank fairly regularly, starting with the Nazis and fascists of World War II, then the Soviet Union and other members of the “communist bloc” (until, like China and Yugoslavia, they weren’t), then Vietnamese, Cubans, Grenadians, Panamanians, so-called narco-terrorists, al-Qaeda (of course!), and more recently ISIS, among others. Trump reminds us of this history when he says things like: “In the twentieth century, the United States defeated Fascism, Nazism, and Communism. We will defeat Radical Islamic Terrorism, just as we have defeated every threat we have faced in every age before.”

The field of fright that Trump and his team are bringing to the White House is, by now, an extreme version of a familiar feature of American life. The specter of apocalypse (in the modern American meaning of the word), the idea that we face some enemy dedicated above all else to destroying us utterly and totally, is buried so deep in our political discourse that we rarely take the time to think about it.

One question: Why is such an apocalyptic approach — even when, as at present, so ludicrously confused and unsupported by basic facts, not to say confusing to its own proponents — convincing for so many Americans?

One answer seems clear enough: it’s hard to rally the public behind interventions and wars explicitly aimed at expanding American power and control (which is why the top officials of the Bush administration worked so hard to locate fantasy weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and bogusly link him to the 9/11 attacks before invading his country in 2003). Americans have assured pollsters for years that they don’t want to be the cops of the world. So, as successful leaders since President Franklin Roosevelt have recognized, any wars or steps toward war must be clothed in the word defense, and if you can add a sense of apocalyptic menace to the package, all the better.

Defense is little short of a sacred term in the American lexicon (right down to the “Defense” Department, once upon a time known far more accurately as the War Department).  It bestows an aura of moral justification on even the most violent and aggressive acts.  As long as the public is convinced that we must defend ourselves at all costs against an enemy that threatens our very world, anything is possible.

Trump and his national insecurity team are blessed with an added benefit in this process: the coming of all-news, all-the-time media, which has a tendency to inflate even the relatively modest (if bloody) acts of “lone wolf” terrorists until they seem to engulf our lives, 24/7, threatening everything we hold dear. Images of terror that might once have been glimpsed for a few minutes on the nightly news are now featured, as with the San Bernardino or the Pulse night club killings, for days, even weeks, at a time.

Certainly, when so many news consumers in the world’s most powerful nation accept such fearsome imagery, and their own supposed vulnerability to it, as reality itself (as pollsters tell us so many Americans indeed do), they do so in part because it makes whatever violence our government inflicts on others seem “regrettable, but necessary” and therefore moral; it absolves us, that is, of responsibility.

In part, too, such collective apocalyptic anxiety gives Americans a perverse common bond in a world in which — as the recent presidential campaign showed — it’s increasingly hard to find a common denominator that defines American identity for all of us. The closest we can come is a shared determination to defend our nation against those who would destroy it. In 2017, if we didn’t have such enemies, would we have any shared idea of what it means to be an American? Since we’ve been sharing that sense of identity for three-quarters of a century now, it’s become, for most of us, a matter of unquestioned habit, offering the peculiar comfort that familiarity typically brings.

At this point, beyond upping the ante against ISIS, no one can predict just what force, set of groups, nation or nations, or even religion the Trump administration might choose as the next great “threat to national security.” However, as long as the government, the media, and so much of the public agree that staving off doom is America’s preeminent mission, the administration will have something close to a blank check to do whatever it likes. When it comes to “defending” the nation, what other choice is there?

Ira Chernus, a TomDispatch regular, is professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of the online MythicAmerica: Essays.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Ira Chernus

Ah well, why not some Fred Reed?

Now don’t go quoting and saying that Sha’Tara indorses (the dictionary claims that’s a variant, but I think it’s an indoor form of endorsement) Fred Reed.  I just think that he’s sometimes a Good Read.  But I do think the following is pretty accurate.  Enjoy, and please, don’t go posting it as if it came from me. It does not, did not, will not.  I just copied and pasted.  Last and final disclaimer.  Ok I did add a couple of comments.  It’s what I do, comment.  I think my entire life is a comment… or a series of comments.   

Also, and for good measure, this was written in 2010, which is like saying, Oh boy, ancient history already!  You think so?  You could write the same article today, about today’s situation wherever in the world and come up with the same conclusions and reactions. Even the tapeworm-brained senator Lindsey Graham is still at it, in fact even worse.  Now he wants the ethics committee done away with.  Well, I’m sure he’s got a good reason, if a tapeworm brain could reason, which it cannot since, as Fred remarks, a tapeworm doesn’t have a brain. Also note that Israel’s “Bibi Nut-and-Yahoo” is also still at it, and much, much worse than in 2010.  His bad everything days are coming closer and closer together.  

Back when in prehistory, my history teacher would say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  If I were in his class today, I’d venture a correction: “Uh, Mr. Andres?  Shouldn’t it be, ‘The more things change, the worse they get’?”  Predictably he’d give me “the look” and I’d be telling myself why can’t I just shut up, just shut the hell up?  

Brain as an App-start using it-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Let’s Attack Iran!     by Fred Reed

Senator Graham has the brains of a tapeworm, making him eminently qualified for the senate. Tapeworms, I note, do not have brains. It is characteristic of warlike innocents, to include the Pentagon, to believe that if you destroy navies and air forces, you win wars. This worked well in Vietnam, you will recall, and as soon as we destroy the Taliban’s navy, Afghanistan will be a cakewalk.  Oh good. I see that Senator Lindsey Graham wants to attack Iran. The US, he says, should “sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard.”

Now, I understand that practicality and realism are alien concepts in American politics, to be approached with trepidation, but maybe, just once, we should think before sticking our private parts into a wood-chipper. Just once. I do not propose consistent rationality, forethought, or intelligent behavior. I profoundly respect my country’s traditions.

However, folk wisdom from West Virginia: Before you say, “I can whip any man in the bar!” it is well to scout the bar.

Some will find the thought of American martial incapacity outrageous. Can’t beat Iran? Buncha towel monkeys? Among grrr-bowwow-woof patriots, there exists a heady delusion of American potency, that the US has “the greatest military power the world has ever seen.” Ah. And when did it last win a war? In Afghanistan, for ten years the gloriousest military ever known, the expensivist, and whoosh-bangiest, hasn’t managed to defeat a bunch of pissed-off illiterates with AKs and RPGs.  Note that the United States cannot defeat Iran militarily, short of using nuclear weapons. It is easy to start a war. Finishing one is harder. I could punch out Mike Tyson. Things thereafter might not go as well as hoped.

At this point Lindsey of Persia will doubtless allude to the wonders of air power, of “precision-guided weapons,” of smart bombs that presumably read Kant on the way down. Those pitiable Iranians would have no hope of stopping our mighty bombers. True.

Implicit in this Thomistic fantasy (Clancy, I mean, not Aquinas) is that Iran wouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t dare fight back without a navy, etc. Lindsey had better be very sure that Iran couldn’t block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation. Enough of the world’s petroleum comes from the Gulf that the price would rise drastically if the Straits were blocked. Some economies would simply stop.

How many supertankers going up in flames would be tolerated before operators of tankers refused to risk it?

The Air Force, to include Naval Air, may be confident that it can destroy all of Iran’s missiles. The Air Force always believes that air power can do anything and everything – make coffee, win at marbles, everything. After all, don’t its airplanes say “Vrooom!” and “Swoosh!”? Don’t cockpits have lots of portentous buttons and spiffy little screens? Unfortunately the Air Force is regularly wrong. Iran recently began serial production of the Nasr 1, an anti-ship cruise missile. Tankers are thin-skinned and highly flammable. The Nasr 1 can be fired from the back of a truck. Trucks by their nature are mobile. They are easy to hide.

In fact the entire military is regularly wrong about the ease and duration of its adventures. For example, it had no idea that Viet Nam would turn into an endless war ending in defeat (if that makes sense). Iraq notoriously was going to be a walk in the park. That the war on Afghanistan would last ten years with a distinct possibility of defeat…this never occurred to the soldiers.

It is barely conceivable that the Five-Sided Wind Box could do what Field Marshal Graham thinks it could do. The unexpected is always a possibility. But, the stakes being what they would be in Hormuz, hoo-boy….

Another possibility is that Israel will attack Iran, as it has threatened. I would like to think that even Bibi Nut-and-Yahoo has better sense but, if the US can produce gibbering wingnuts, why not Israel? The practical effects of an Israeli attack would be indistinguishable from those of an American attack: America would have to solve the problem. Which it probably couldn’t. Israel can bomb Iran’s nuclear codpieces, but it can’t defeat Iran. And if the Strait were blocked after an Israeli attack, the entire globe would holler, “Israel did it!” which would be true.

The distance from “Israel did it” to “The Jews did it,” though logically great, is emotionally short. People think in collective terms. Remember that after some Saudis dropped the Towers, the alleged war on terror morphed almost instantly into intense hostility for Moslems. It doesn’t make sense, but what has that got to do with anything?

Congress doesn’t support Israel because it likes Israel, but from political expediency. If the wind blows the other way, so will Congress. Gasoline at twelve dollars is a lot of wind in a commuting country.I know a lot of Jews, who are all over the place politically and intellectually. They have in common a complete lack of resemblance to the scheming, hand-rubbing, heh-heh-heh Jews of Neo-nazi imagination. Few sacrifice Christian children (a temptation strongest, I can attest, among Christian parents). But…people think collectively.

Things worsen for America, yet we really don’t know where the country is going or how it will react. The last domestic catastrophe was the Great Depression, when America was a very different place. How bad can things get, economically, politically, internationally? How does a pampered population incapable of planting a garden respond to genuinely hard times? “It can’t happen here,” one hears. What can’t? I suspect that all sorts of things could happen, given sufficiently hard times.

The United States is today an edgy, unhappy country, sliding toward poverty, increasingly dictatorial, inchoately angry, hostile to blacks, the French, Mexicans, Moslems and, creepingly, the Chinese.  (Jews, perhaps to their surprise, don’t make the enemies list.) Americans don’t do cosmopolitan. The federal pressure for diversity exists because otherwise no one would associate with anyone else. The Persian Gulf is one of few places that plausibly might wreck the industrial world. There would have to be someone to blame. And Israel can’t survive without American support.

Maybe I’m crazy. But if I were an Israeli, I’d find a nice café on Diesengoff and enjoy a double cappuccino, watch the girls, and keep my bombs in my pocket. Let somebody else take the fall.

{OK, so he forgot to include the Russians in the list of hostiles but then in 2010 they were relatively quiet, watching the latest Pentagon production in wide screen: “Our Troops Conquer Afghanistan” – a sequel to “Our Troops Conquer Iraq” which was a late sequel to “Our Troops Conquer Grenada” which was a sequel to “Our Troops Conquer Vietnam” which was a sequel to “Our Troops Conquer Korea” … OK, so it’s a bit redundant but as long as the sheeple keep watching and paying, just keep the reels spinning, and keep ’em coming. My comment here}

November 9, 2010

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest book is Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit his blog.

Copyright © 2010 Fred Reed

The Best of Fred Reed

What’s Wrong with Today’s Earthians?

I wrote the following article in response to this one:

Over 4,000 Migrants Have Drowned In The Mediterranean This Year

Which can be read at:  https://talesfromtheloublog.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/over-4000-migrants-have-drowned-in-the-mediterranean-this-year/

Although my article is a response, it isn’t addressing the migrant article per se, but the nature of people in today’s world.  (Re-copied from “Tales from the Conspiratorium”)

What’s Wrong with Today’s Earthians?

Posted by Sha’Tara on November 29, 2016

The following can be considered a harsh response to the refugee plight touched upon in the original article but I’m not apologizing for it.  The following point desperately needs to be made.  

Of course my heart goes out to these refugees, and I feel my own frustration, and anger. But deep down, as a student of history I’m reminded of those incredibly brave Russians who stuck it out in Stalingrad against the German onslaught and heroically held on against all odds, suffering unimaginable horrors throughout an unusually harsh winter.  They didn’t run.  So many didn’t run, they stood up to their would be conquerors and fought back by every means the human mind can conjure up.  They died in horrible conditions, of famine, of typhus, or frost bite, of untreated wounds.  They died by the thousands defending their homes and their honor as human beings.  How many people remember these people were offered a chance to escape, to withdraw deep into the wilds of Siberia?  They chose to stand and fight, men, women and children… mostly women and children! 

It happened wherever the war raged.  It happened in Greece, in Italy, basically throughout Europe as it happened throughout the spread of Japanese terror troups, as it had happened in Spain during the Spanish civil war which the Fascists and Nazis won only because of overwhelming force garnered from arms and support received (as in the case of IS and other terror groups now in the Middle East) from the American military industrial complex.  (And let’s not forget it was the same American MIC that had armed the Japanese also.)

My own parents in the French Resistance during WWII didn’t attempt to flee to England though they lived on the coast with a very narrow channel between them and freedom, and they were fisher folk with access to boats, they could have easily done it.  No, they held their ground and they fought back.  For every German that was killed, the Germans retaliated by killing anywhere from ten to a hundred hostages.  Still, they persevered.  That’s how people were “made” in those pre-boomer, pre-entitlement years.

 Isn’t that what you would do if groups of nut jobs invaded your country and began to systematically spread terror among your own people, perhaps even taking your daughters, lovers, wives as sex slaves, burning your homes, forcing your sons into their madness as suicide bombers, torturing and killing your neighbours?  Tell me that you wouldn’t fight back, even if it meant using broken shards of glass, throwing rocks or ripping their faces off with your bare hands!  I certainly know I would, tooth and nail, as there always comes that time when a certain kind of vile violence can only be countered with same because THERE IS NO LONGER A CHOICE.  Either you oppose them, you become like them or you are sheep for the shearing and slaughter, political footballs and hostages to self-serving psychopaths.  

Excuse me, but is the word, “freedom” just another politically correct term now? 

What’s wrong with these people that they can’t stand and fight for themselves but can only think of running to hopefully save their own skins?  I don’t get this.  Has the human race so quickly become dis-empowered, turned into cattle, as were the Jews in Nazi Germany, meekly and silently walking to their slavery and death in concentration camps without making any attempt to help themselves?  When you know you are going to die regardless, why whimper into it?  That’s just not normal, nor natural!  What’s wrong with these people that they can only rely on power groups for their survival? Don’t they have a life, that innate rage to live free?  Are they drugged? 

It isn’t just Syrians.  Look how few people are standing boldly against the DAPL predators and their government armed and legitimized supporters when the entire nation of free individuals should be standing with them, either at Standing Rock or in front of every capitol,  every corporate HQ’s and every bank that funds the “Damn All Pipe Lines” monstrosity.

There is a connection throughout these current events clearly showing that people in general have become mindless cowards, thralls on their way to abysmal slavery to State and Banksterism.  There is no more stand and fight, only run for your life or hunker down and wait for the storms to pass in the hope that they won’t affect you.  Is that THE sign that humanity knows it’s doomed already and has no heart left, sees no point in fighting back against oppression and oppressors everywhere?

Perhaps T.S. Eliot said it best in his poem, The Hollow Men, “This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper.” 

 

Unlucky Number – article by George Monbiot

While those of us with a social conscience are agonizing over the DAPL (Damn All Pipe Lines – my words for the acronym) protests, there are much bigger issues facing this planet.  Issues that leave those of us who actually do look at man’s effects upon this planet wishing quite seriously that we were not here to see or experience them.  I think that as a ruling species given an entire planet to “do our thing” upon, we’ve quite completely painted ourselves into the proverbial corner and no way out.

Mr. Monbiot warns that his article could be depressing.  I suppose it is but I like to look at the truly big picture when considering solutions to the woes of man and his world.  We can no longer be satisfied in looking at solutions to our own problems because such solutions will not have any effect on the overall situation.  In fact if some local problem is resolved, let’s say the DAPL project is abandoned, many locals will feel the job is done, go home and resume life where they left off.  You can’t blame them of course but that won’t solve anything overall.  Overall there is a systematic break down.  Our “old” civilization is no longer sustainable and failing, socially, morally, economically.  It’s a combination of too much having been taken; too high expectations from too many.  Our exponential growth has smashed its face into a cement wall called the finite.  We didn’t need “Dollar” Trump to build that wall, it comes with every finite physical world and it’s up to those who would rule that world to recognize in time that there are built-in limits to growth.  Well folks, “we” chose, crassly and by some belief in entitlement not to acknowledge this number one law governing all life in a material universe.  We have been extremely foolish and we are about to experience the real consequences of that foolishness.

———————————————————-
Here is the George Monbiot article, copied from an email

Unlucky Number

Posted: 28 Nov 2016 04:34 AM PST

We face (at least) 13 major crises, some of which are immediate. It’s time for some hard thinking about how we confront them.

By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website, 25 November 2016

Please don’t read this unless you are feeling strong. This is a list of 13 major crises that, I believe, confront us. There may be more. Please feel free to add to it or to knock it down. I’m sorry to say that it’s not happy reading.

  1. The next occupant of the White House will be a man who appears to possess no capacity for restraint, balance or empathy, but a bottomless capacity for revenge and vindictiveness. He has been granted a clean sweep of power, with both houses and the Supreme Court in his pocket. He is surrounding himself with people whose judgement and knowledge of the world are, to say the least, limited. He will take charge of the world’s biggest nuclear and conventional arsenals and the most extensive surveillance and security apparatus any state has ever developed.

  1. In making strategic military decisions, he has a free hand, with the capacity to act even without the nominal constraint of Congress. His national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, is a dangerous extremist.

  1. Trump’s team is partly composed of professional lobbyists hired by fossil fuel, tobacco, chemical and finance companies and assorted billionaires. Their primary political effort is to avoid regulation and taxation. These people – or rather the interests they represent – are now in charge. Aside from the implications for the living world, public health, public finance and financial stability, this is a vindication of the political model pioneered by the tobacco companies in the 1960s. It demonstrates that if you spend enough money setting up think tanks, academic posts and fake grassroots movements, and work with the corporate media to give them a platform, you can buy all the politics you need. Democracy becomes a dead letter. Political alternatives are shut down.

  2. Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, Britain’s attempts to disentangle itself from the European Union are confronted with a level of complexity that may be insuperable. Moreover, there may be no answer to the political fix in which the government finds itself. This is as follows: a. Either it agrees to the free movement of people in exchange for access to the single market, in which case the pro-Brexit camp will have gained nothing except massive embarrassment or b. the EU slams the shutters down. Not only is it likely to reject the terms the government proposes; but it might also try to impose an exit bill of around €50 billion for the costs incurred by our withdrawal. This would be politically impossible for the government to pay, leading to a non-negotiated rupture and the hardest imaginable Brexit.

  1. The Italian banking crisis looks big. What impact this might have on the survival of the Eurozone is anyone’s guess.

  1. Whether it is also sufficient to trigger another global financial crisis is again hard to judge. If such a thing were to occur, governments would not be able to mount a rescue plan of the kind they used in 2007/8. The coffers are empty.

  1. Automation will destroy jobs on an unprecedented scale, and because the penetration of information technology into every part of the economy is not a passing phase but an escalating trend, it is hard to see how this employment will be replaced. No government or major political party anywhere shows any sign of comprehending the scale of this issue.

  1. The Jean PingMarine Le Pen has a moderate to fair chance of becoming the French president in May. Whether this would be sufficient to trigger the collapse of the European Union is another unknown. If this is not the sufficient crisis, there are several others lining up (especially the growing nationalist movements across central and Eastern Europe in particular, but to a lesser extent almost everywhere) that could catalyse a chain reaction. I believe that when this begins, it will happen with a speed that will take almost everyone by surprise. From one month to the next, the European Union could cease to exist.

  1. If Le Pen wins, the permanent members of the UN Security Council will be represented by the following people: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Theresa May and Marine Le Pen. It would be a stretch to call that reassuring.

  1. National climate change programmes bear no connection to the commitments governments made at Paris. Even if these programmes are fully implemented (they won’t be), they set us on a climate change trajectory way beyond that envisaged by the agreement. And this is before we know what Trump will do.

  1. One of the many impacts of climate breakdown – aside from such minor matters as the inundation of cities, the loss of food production and curtailment of water supplies – will be the mass movement of people, to an extent that dwarfs current migration. The humanitarian, political and military implications are off the scale.

  1. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss we have 60 years of harvests left.

  1. The extinction crisis appears, if anything, to be accelerating.

Enough already? Sorry, no. One of the peculiarities of this complex, multiheaded crisis is that there appears to be no “other side” onto which we might emerge. It is hard to imagine a realistic scenario in which governments lose the capacity for total surveillance and drone strikes; in which billionaires forget how to manipulate public opinion; in which a broken European Union reconvenes; in which climate breakdown unhappens, species return from extinction and the soil comes back to the land. These are not momentary crises, but appear to presage permanent collapse.

So the key question is not how we weather them but how – if this is possible – we avert them. Can it be done? If so what would it take?

I write this not to depress you, though I know it will have that effect, but to concentrate our minds on the scale of the task.

(Since writing this article, I have thought of three others: the debt crisis emerging in both China and the West; the global pensions crisis and antibiotic resistance. Just in case there wasn’t enough to worry about…)

http://www.monbiot.com