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Tom jones essays



In 1964, a book entitled The Invisible Government shocked Americans with its revelations of a growing world of intelligence agencies playing fast and loose around the planet, a secret government lodged inside the one they knew that even the president didn't fully control. Almost half a century later, everything about that "invisible government" has grown vastly larger, more disturbing, and far more visible.

In 2008, when the US National Intelligence Council issued its latest report meant for the administration of newly elected President Barack Obama, it predicted that the planet's "sole superpower" would suffer a modest decline and a soft landing fifteen years hence. In his new book The United States of Fear, Tom Engelhardt makes clear that Americans should don their crash helmets and buckle their seat belts.

The first history of drone warfare, written as it happened.

From the opening missile salvo in the skies over Afghanistan in 2001 to a secret strike in the Philippines early this year, or a future in which drones dogfight off the coast of Africa, Terminator Planet takes you to the front lines of combat, Washington war rooms, and beyond.

In The American Way of War. Engelhardt documents Washington's ongoing commitment to military bases to preserve and extend its empire; reveals damning information about the American reliance on air power, at great cost to civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

For many of us, these are the key pieces of analysis that made sense of our post-9/11 world.
- Naomi Klein

The publication of this splendid collection of dispatches is cause for celebration.
- Andrew Bacevich

America Victorious has been our country's postulate since its birth. Tom Engelhardt, with a burning clarity, recounts the end of this fantasy, from the split atom to Vietnam. It begins at our dawn's early light and ends with the twilight's last gleaming. It is as powerful as a Joe Louis jab to the solar plexus.

At a time when the mainstream media leave out half of what the public needs to know, while at the same time purveying oceans of official nonsense, the public needs an alternative source of news. For years now, Tom Engelhardt's Tomdispatch has been that for me. He is my mainstream. Now he presents a series of brilliant interviews he has done for the site, and they, taken as a whole, themselves form a searching chronicle of our time.
--Jonathan Schell

A satisfyingly virulent, comical, absurd, deeply grieving true portrait of how things work today in the sleek factories of conglomerate book producers. a skillful novel of manners -- of very bad manners"
--Herb Gold, LA Times

In this razor-sharp analysis, TomDispatchcommentator Michael Schwartz turns every mainstream conclusion about Iraq on its head. He shows how U.S. occupation is fueling civil war in Iraq and beyond, and how U.S. officials dismantled the Iraqi state and economy, helping to destroy rather than rebuild the country.

Leading commentators examine the Afghan debacle and its parallels with previous British and Soviet occupations.

Here is the new, hip, high-tech military-industrial complex -- an omnipresent, hidden-in-plain-sight system of systems that penetrates all our lives. Mapping out what should more properly be called the Military - Industrial - Technological - Entertainment - Scientific - Media - Intelligence - Corporate Complex, historian Nick Turse demonstrates just how extensively the Pentagon, through its little-noticed contacts (and contracts) with America's major corporations, has taken hold of the nation.

In a revelatory examination of urban terror, Author Mike Davis charts the car bomb's evolution from obscure agent of mayhem to lethal universality.

In this book, former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega brings her twenty years of experience and passion for justice to what may be the most important case of her career.

In a sense, human history could be seen as an endless tale of the rise and fall of empires. In the last century alone, from the Hapsburgs and Imperial Japan to Great Britain and the Soviet Union, the stage was crowded with such entities heading for the nearest exit. By 1991, with the implosion of the USSR, it seemed as if Earth’s imperial history was more or less over. After all, only one great imperial power was left. The Russians were, by then, a shadow of their former Soviet self (despite their nuclear arsenal) and, though on the rise, the Chinese were, in military terms at least, no more than a growing regional power. Left essentially unchallenged was the United States, the last empire standing. Even though its people rejected the word “imperial” as a descriptive term for their “exceptional” country -- just as, until oh-so-recently. they rejected the word “nationalist” for themselves -- the world’s “sole superpower” was visibly the only game in town.

Its military, which already garrisoned much of the planet, was funded at levels no other country or even groups of them combined could touch and had destructive capabilities beyond compare. And yet, with the mightiest military on the planet, the United States would never again win a significant war or conflict. Though its forces would be quite capable of taking the island of Grenada or briefly invading Panama, in the conflicts that mattered -- Korea and Vietnam -- victory would never come into sight. And it only got worse in the twenty-first century as that military fought an endless series of conflicts (under the rubric of “the war on terror”) across the Greater Middle East and Africa. In those years, it left in its wake a series of brutal sectarian struggles, ascendant terror movements, and failed or failing states and yet, despite its stunning destructive power and its modestly armed enemies, it was nowhere victorious. Never perhaps had an empire at its seeming height attempted to control more while winning less. (The power of its economy was, of course, another matter.)

Now, its losing generals -- under the circumstances, there could be no other kind -- are, as TomDispatch regular retired Lieutenant Colonel William Astore points out today, being elevated to positions of power. The man doing so only recently derided their skills, claiming that American generalship had been “reduced to rubble” and was “embarrassing for our country.” At the moment, his chosen generals are preparing themselves to take over key civilian positions in the country’s ever more powerful national security state, now essentially its fourth branch of government.

And let’s add to this one more curious aspect of the coming age of Trump: a phenomenon until now restricted to the military and its distant wars seems about to spread to what’s left of the civilian part of our government. By the look of things, Trump's cabinet is being assembled along eerily familiar lines. Its members are unlikely to have the power to “win” (despite the president-elect’s deification of that concept), but they will indeed have an unprecedented power to destroy.

They seem, in fact, to have been chosen largely for their desire to dismantle whatever agency or department will be in their care or to undermine the major tasks it is to carry out. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, recently picked to head the Energy Department, an agency he previously wanted to eliminate (and whose name he infamously forgot in a televised presidential debate), is typical. See also Scott Pruitt. prospective head of the Environmental Protection Agency; Betsy DeVos. the Department of Education; and Tom Price. Health and Human Services. The question, of course, is: Will the civilian part of our future government, in the end, add another country to the count of failed states the U.S. military has already chalked up?

As our first declinist candidate. Donald Trump seems determined to ensure that the once sole superpower will join that endless human tale of felled empires. He’s already working hard to make certain that its government will be hollowed out or simply dynamited in the coming years, while his covey of retired generals will undoubtedly do their damnedest to create further havoc on planet Earth, as they give new meaning to the latest American "principle" being put in place (see Astore): military control over the military (and much else). Tom

Too Many Generals Spoil the Democracy
Trump’s Push to “Win” with Warriors is a Loss for America
By William J. Astore

America has always had a love affair with its generals. It started at the founding of the republic with George Washington and continued with (among others) Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor. Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. These military men shared something in common: they were winning generals. Washington in the Revolution; Jackson in the War of 1812; Taylor in the Mexican-American War; Grant in the Civil War; and Ike, of course, in World War II. Americans have always loved a hero in uniform -- when he wins.

Yet twenty-first-century America is witnessing a new and revolutionary moment: the elevation of losing generals to the highest offices in the land. Retired Marine Corps General James “Mad Dog” Mattis. known as a tough-talking “warrior-monk,” will soon be the nation’s secretary of defense. He’ll be joined by a real mad dog, retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser. Leading the Department of Homeland Security will be recently retired General John Kelly. another no-nonsense Marine. And even though he wasn’t selected, retired Army General David Petraeus was seriously considered for secretary of state. further proof of Trump’s starry-eyed fascination with the brass of our losing wars. Generals who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to anything but victory -- pyrrhic ones don’t count -- are again being empowered. This time, it’s as “civilian” advisers to Trump, a business tycoon whose military knowledge begins and ends with his invocation of two World War II generals, George S. Patton and Douglas MacArthur, as his all-time favorite military leaders.

When Donald Trump enters the Oval Office, awaiting him will not only be his own private air assassination corps (those CIA drones that take out terror suspects globally from a White House “kill list ”), but his own private and remarkably secret military. Ever since John F. Kennedy first made the Green Berets into figures of military glamour, there’s always been something alluring to presidents about the U.S. military’s elite special ops forces.

Still, that was then, this is now. In the twenty-first century, the Special Operations Command, which oversees those elite forces cocooned within the regular military, has gained ever more power to act in ever more independent and secretive ways. In those same years, the country’s elite troops, including those Green Berets, the Navy SEALs, and the Army’s Delta Force, have grown to staggering proportions, while ever more money has poured into their coffers. There are now an estimated 70,000 of them -- a crew larger than the actual armies of some reasonably sizeable countries -- and from trainers to raiders, advisers to hunter-killers, they now operate yearly in an overwhelming majority of the nations on this planet. Moreover, they generally do so in remarkable secrecy and (as once might have been said of the CIA) their most secretive part, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), responsible for the killing of Osama bin Laden, is in essence the president’s private army.

In these last years, President Obama, who gained a reputation for being chary of war, has nonetheless taken on with evident relish both those special ops forces and the drone assassins, while embracing what Washington Post columnist David Ignatius recently termed the role of “covert commander in chief.” Now, in these last weeks of his presidency, his administration has given JSOC new powers to “track, plan, and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe” and to do so “outside conventional conflict zones” and via “a new multiagency intelligence and action force.” As a result, whatever this new task force may do, it won’t, as in the past, have to deal with regional military commands and their commanders at all. Its only responsibility will be to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and assumedly the White House; even within the military, that is, it will gain a new patina of secrecy and power (while evidently poaching on territory that once was considered the CIA’s alone, no small thing at a moment when President-elect Trump is not exactly enamored with that agency).

One of the strangest aspects of the growth of America’s special ops forces and their global missions is how little attention those special operators get in the media (unless they want the publicity). The very growth of an enormous secret military, a remarkable development in our American world and a particularly ominous one for the Trumpian years to come, is seldom discussed (no less debated). And all of this, the firepower now available to a president and the potential ability of a commander in chief to wage a global campaign of assassination and make war just about anywhere on Earth, personally and privately, will now be inherited by a man to whom such powers are likely to have real appeal.

In this context, I admit to a certain pride that, thanks to Nick Turse, the exception to the above has been TomDispatch. In these years, due to Turse’s work at this website, you could follow, up close and personal, the growing power and operational abilities of America’s special operations forces. This was especially true, as with his piece today, of how they have moved, big time. onto a continent that may indeed, in the military's own phrase. be tomorrow’s battlefield and yet that we hear next to nothing about. Tom

Commandos Without Borders
America’s Elite Troops Partner with African Forces But Pursue U.S. Aims
By Nick Turse

Al-Qaeda doesn’t care about borders. Neither does the Islamic State or Boko Haram. Brigadier General Donald Bolduc thinks the same way.

“[T]errorists, criminals, and non-state actors aren’t bound by arbitrary borders,” the commander of Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) told an interviewer early this fall. “That said, everything we do is not organized around recognizing traditional borders. In fact, our whole command philosophy is about enabling cross-border solutions, implementing multi-national, collective actions and empowering African partner nations to work across borders to solve problems using a regional approach.”

A SOCAFRICA planning document obtained by TomDispatch offers a window onto the scope of these “multi-national, collective actions” carried out by America’s most elite troops in Africa. The declassified but heavily redacted secret report, covering the years 2012-2017 and acquired via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), details nearly 20 programs and activities -- from training exercises to security cooperation engagements -- utilized by SOCAFRICA across the continent. This wide array of low-profile missions, in addition to named operations and quasi-wars, attests to the growing influence and sprawling nature of U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) in Africa.

The Trump administration-in-formation is a stew of generals. billionaires. and multimillionaires -- and as in the case of retired Marine General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, the likely new secretary of defense, even the military men seem to have made more than a few bucks in these last years. In retirement, Mattis, for instance, joined the board of military-industrial giant General Dynamics as one of 13 “independent directors,” reportedly amassing at least $900,000 in company stock and another $600,000 in cold cash.

Oh yes, and there's one other requirement for admission to the Trump administration: your basic civilian appointee must be ready to demolish the system he or she is to head. Betsy DeVos, the president-elect's pick for education secretary, wants to take apart public education; Tom Price, the future secretary of health and human services, is eager to dismantle Obamacare and Medicare; Scott Pruitt, the proposed new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, seems to want to tear that agency limb from limb; and the announced new "labor" secretary (and you really do have to put that in scare quotes), fast food CEO Andy Puzder, is against raising the minimum wage and thinks the automation of the workplace is a total plus, since machines can't take vacations or arrive late.

Let's face it, the most extreme government of our lifetime is going to be a demolition derby. Think of it as the Reagan administration of the 1980s on steroids -- and keep in mind that Donald Trump will be the president of a far more fragile country than the one Ronald Reagan and his cronies presided over. Things could begin to fall apart fast for ordinary Americans. For instance, the new Republican Congress is expected to swiftly pass a promised “repeal and delay ” version of the obliteration of Obamacare, officially wiping that program off the books and yet postponing its departure and the arrival of whatever is to replace it until after the 2018 elections. In the interim, however, the result is likely to be a “zombie” health care marketplace from which insurance companies are expected to begin to jump ship, potentially leaving significant numbers of those 20 million Americans who got medical coverage for the first time via Obamacare with nothing. And after EPA chief Pruitt has helped let Donald Trump’s “energy revolution ” of extreme fossil fuel exploitation loose to do its damnedest and, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare makes clear today, America’s skies are once again veritable smog-fests, there will be plenty more health needs on whatever’s left of the horizon.

Donald Trump, as Politico points out. is already at war with labor, and prospectively with those “failing government schools ,” and the American safety net, and the environment, not to mention the planet -- and that's before we even get to actual war, which will be overseen by a crew of Islamo - and Irano-phobes. If, as Klare points out today, Trump himself has a serious case of nostalgia for the America of his youth (and mine), with its untrammeled growth and its fossil-fueled wonders, don't think that nostalgia doesn't reign in military affairs, too. In that case, however, it wouldn’t be for the oily vistas of the mid-twentieth century, but perhaps for the age of the Crusades. Tom

Drowning the World in Oil
Trump’s Carbon-Obsessed Energy Policy and the Planetary Nightmare to Come
By Michael T. Klare

Scroll through Donald Trump’s campaign promises or listen to his speeches and you could easily conclude that his energy policy consists of little more than a wish list drawn up by the major fossil fuel companies: lift environmental restrictions on oil and natural gas extraction, build the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, open more federal lands to drilling, withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan, revive the coal mining industry, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. In fact, many of his proposals have simply been lifted straight from the talking points of top energy industry officials and their lavishly financed allies in Congress.

If, however, you take a closer look at this morass of pro-carbon proposals, an obvious, if as yet unnoted, contradiction quickly becomes apparent. Were all Trump’s policies to be enacted -- and the appointment of the climate-change denier and industry-friendly attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests the attempt will be made -- not all segments of the energy industry will flourish. Instead, many fossil fuel companies will be annihilated, thanks to the rock-bottom fuel prices produced by a colossal oversupply of oil, coal, and natural gas.

Indeed, stop thinking of Trump’s energy policy as primarily aimed at helping the fossil fuel companies (although some will surely benefit ). Think of it instead as a nostalgic compulsion aimed at restoring a long-vanished America in which coal plants, steel mills, and gas-guzzling automobiles were the designated indicators of progress, while concern over pollution -- let alone climate change -- was yet to be an issue.

“Did China ask us if it was OK to. build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!” tweeted President-Elect Donald Trump after shattering nearly 40 years of U.S.-China diplomatic protocol by having a telephone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

The call -- the first official contact between a U.S. president or president-elect and Taipei since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in the late 1970s -- was prime Trump. So was the tweet, a no-nonsense response to typical Chinese military provocations.

Of course, if China’s president Xi Jinping was a social media blowhard, he could have easily tweeted back: “Did America ask us if it was OK to. maintain a massive military complex of more than 100 bases in nearby Japan. I don't think so!”

Or the Chinese leader could have tweeted: “Did America ask us if it was OK to. rent space at the massive U-Tapao military complex in nearby Thailand. I don't think so!”

Or Xi could have tweeted: “Did America ask us if it was OK to. use portions of the military complexes at Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Air Base, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in the nearby Philippines. I don't think so!”

China’s president might have tweeted: “Did America ask us if it was OK to. deploy troops to a military complex near Darwin, Australia. I don't think so!”

Xi could have even tweeted “Did America ask us if it was OK to. maintain four major Army facilities in nearby South Korea at Daegu and Yongsan as well as Camps Red Cloud and Humphreys; not to mention air bases at Osan and Kunsan and a naval facility at Chinhae? I don't think so!”

Had he enough characters to spare, Xi might have mentioned U.S. access to key facilities in Singapore or its other Pacific military strongholds like Hawaii. Guam. and Saipan. He could even have mentioned the “massive” U.S. military presence in Asia -- the U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Army Pacific, U.S. Pacific Air Force, U.S. Marine Forces Pacific, U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific, and U.S. Forces Korea as well as the U.S. Eighth Army (also in Korea) -- for which there are no Chinese analogs operating in or around the Americas.

Even if Xi Jinping were to counter Trump’s twitter storm with gale-force tweets of his own, it’s fair to assume that the president-elect wouldn’t be swayed. American leaders don’t view U.S. power projection through the lens of those on the receiving end. Meanwhile, the American public remains mostly ignorant of the ways in which the U.S. garrisons the globe and rings its rivals with military bases.

Today, Tim Shorrock, a long-time Asia expert, seeks to do his part in obliterating this obliviousness with his inaugural TomDispatch article. The author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing , he delves into how the election of Donald Trump will affect President Obama’s famed “Asian pivot” by teasing apart the tangled history of U.S. foreign policy in that region, and analyzing what it all means for the longstanding U.S. military footprint in Japan and South Korea. Nick Turse

Cops of the Pacific?
The U.S. Military’s Role in Asia in the Age of Trump
By Tim Shorrock

Despite the attention being given to America’s roiling wars and conflicts in the Greater Middle East, crucial decisions about the global role of U.S. military power may be made in a region where, as yet, there are no hot wars: Asia. Donald Trump will arrive in the Oval Office in January at a moment when Pentagon preparations for a future U.S.-Japan-South Korean triangular military alliance, long in the planning stages, may have reached a crucial make-or-break moment. Whether those plans go forward and how the president-elect responds to them could help shape our world in crucial ways into the distant future.

You won't see segments about it on the nightly news or read about it on the front page of America’s newspapers, but the Pentagon is fighting a new shadow war in Africa, helping to destabilize whole countries and preparing the ground for future blowback. Behind closed doors, U.S. officers now claim that "Africa is the battlefield of tomorrow, today." In Tomorrow's Battlefield, award-winning journalist and bestselling author Nick Turse exposes the shocking true story of the U.S. military’s spreading secret wars in Africa.

In 1964, a book entitled The Invisible Government shocked Americans with its revelations of a growing world of intelligence agencies playing fast and loose around the planet, a secret government lodged inside the one they knew that even the president didn't fully control. Almost half a century later, everything about that "invisible government" has grown vastly larger, more disturbing, and far more visible.

At 73, having spent years focusing on the civilian toll from Washington’s Afghan War, Ann Jones embedded on an American forward operating base to experience what that war was like for the U.S. troops in the field. The next year, she began following grievously wounded American soldiers from the moment they came off the battlefield all the way back home. Her journey proved to be nothing short of an odyssey. Despite all the talk in this country about our “wounded warriors,” no other book gives us a more powerful sense of the genuine cost of war to Americans.

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