By Funding Foreign Militaries, the U.S. Is Spreading Terrorism

Nothing recruits terrorists like corrupt security forces committing human rights abuses with impunity.

us-military-africom-bases-special-forces-training-drones

The War on Terror is at a stalemate.

Recent, disparate terrorist attacks have shown that far from being “degraded and destroyed,” the Islamic State’s reach is growing. Unwilling to commit large numbers of U.S. boots on the ground, policymakers have instead doubled down on a “small footprint” approach of military aid to foreign governments. But this strategy is failing.

Contrary to what one might expect, U.S. military aid doesn’t produce willing, cooperative, or effective security partners. Instead, it incentivizes bad behavior and drives the sources of terrorism: corruption, violence, and poor governance. Unwittingly, this policy is creating its own enemies.

The logic of military aid — or security assistance, as it is euphemistically referred to — is twofold: U.S. military equipment, training, and support will build strategic relationships with partner nations and then empower them to fight terrorists on our behalf.

This thinking has led to explosive growth of military aid since 2001. According to theSecurity Assistance Monitor, the United States is poised to spend almost $20 billion on foreign military assistance in 2016 alone, through programs scattered between the State Department and the Pentagon.

In practice, this logic is severely flawed. Rather than creating cooperative partners,research shows that military aid produces reverse leverage: The more aid given to a recipient country, the less likely it is to do what we want. For example, Pakistan receives$1.6 billion in U.S. military aid every year, but the Pakistani government still supports extremist groups in Afghanistan and has deep ties to the Haqqani terrorist network.

The reason lies with the incentives that U.S. military aid creates.

Limitless and beyond the view of the public, U.S. military aid is a tap foreign governments don’t want to turn off. The longer they’re “fighting terrorists,” the more “security assistance” they get. There’s no reason for them to actually defeat terrorists, because if they did, the cash would go away. Instead, foreign security partners are incentivized to maintain a form everlasting instability, wherein nobody wins and everybody loses.

Unfortunately, the U.S. taxpayer isn’t the only victim. The crimes committed by U.S.-funded security forces are too many to list, but they include bombing weddings in Yemen, sexually abusing children in Afghanistan, and blowing up tourists in Egypt. Western support of these outrages is seldom lost on the local victims.

The perverse irony is that this type of behavior — underwritten and enabled by the United States — is perpetuating terrorism. Research has shown that nothing recruits terrorists like corrupt security forces committing human rights abuses with impunity.

Kenya illustrates this dynamic well. After the horrific attack at the Westgate Mall in 2013, Kenya responded with aggressive policing tactics, arresting and mistreating thousands of Kenyan Somalis and Muslims. That brutal response, however, helped al-Shabaab by inciting anger across the country.

After last month’s attack in Paris, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called for a more aggressive strategy to counter terrorism. Days later, the State Department finalized a $1.29 billion sale of targeted bombs to Saudi Arabia. It’s hard not to note the irony: Howexactly would extending the coercive arm of oppressive states like Saudi Arabia improve counterterrorism efforts?

After 15 years of letting the military take the lead in fighting terrorism, policymakers need to accept that political problems demand political and diplomatic solutions, which are seldom found on the path of least resistance. But the tools needed — robust diplomacy, accountability mechanisms, democracy support — are starved of funding.

As U.S. military assistance grows every year, support for democracy shrinks. During Obama’s tenure in office, democracy assistance funding has declined by almost 30 percent. And while the Pentagon is slated to receive over $600 billion in funding, the State Department and foreign aid account will be lucky to get $50 billion.

By relying on military aid, the United States is fostering a world of endless war and insecurity. For the United States’ so-called security partners, that’s good for business.


 

Jeremy Ravinsky is a program assistant at the Open Society Foundations, working on issues relating to security assistance and human rights.

The Twin Plagues of ISIS and Ebola

Reprinted from Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) under a Creative Commons License

The Plague

isis-ebola-plague

In his novel The Plague, Albert Camus describes how death comes to an ugly French port in Algeria.

 

Thanks to an infestation of rats and the fleas they carry, the bubonic plague descends upon the city in the spring and intensifies during the hot summer. After a short period of denial, the residents panic, then sink into despondency and alcoholism. The port is put under quarantine. Undeterred by the apathy of the population and the danger of exposure, a small number of courageous individuals mobilize to fight the epidemic and eventually beat back the invader.

Camus took great care to detail the symptoms of the disease. But for all his medical exactitude, the French writer was not primarily interested in epidemiology. His inspiration was a different kind of infection. The novel is set some time in the 1940s. The plague is Nazism, and those who fight the disease stand in for the heroes of the French Resistance. It is a supremely apt allegory, for did not the Nazis claim that their victims were vermin? Camus surely must have enjoyed reincarnating the German fascists as the lowest of the low: bloodsucking fleas and desperate rats.

The twin plagues of Nazism and bubonic plague, except for some isolated cases, are behind us. But now it seems that a different pair of plagues is in our midst.

Today’s headlines are filled with similar stories of the spread of death and destruction in the Middle East and Africa. American commentators worry that these plagues will burst their borders and somehow spread to these shores. And, as in Camus’s novel, these diseases point to something larger, not the imposition of a new malignant system but the breakdown of the existing order.

In West Africa, the plague is Ebola, a terrifying fever that ends in massive hemorrhaging. The mortality rate, if untreated, is as high as bubonic plague. But at least with the modern version of the Black Death, treatment brings the mortality rate down to 15 percent. Ebola, by contrast, resists treatment. There are no vaccines for this hemorrhagic fever—though there’s promising news out of Canada—and the few treatments that have been used remain highly experimental. Doctors and officials establish quarantines and hope the disease will burn itself out. With airlines shutting down service to the infected region, hampering efforts to deliver medical supplies, the disease continues to rage on.

Ebola has so far claimed around 1,500 lives. This is terrible, of course, but it pales in comparison to how many children succumb to diarrhea in Africa. According to a 2010 report, 2,000 African children die every day of a disease that can be prevented through relatively cheap methods: safe water and hygiene. But diarrhea is not a communicable disease in the same sense as the plague or Ebola. And no one in the United States worries that a summit of African leaders or the repatriation of infected patients will spread an epidemic of diarrhea stateside. Ebola monopolizes the headlines because what grabs attention is fear (along with the usual colonial images of Africans as dirty and irresponsible).

The panic is, of course, more acute in the areas hardest hit by Ebola. Consider the case of Kandeh Kamara, a brave 21-year-old who volunteered to help fight the disease in Sierra Leone. He was promptly drafted to become a “burial boy” responsible for dealing with the corpses of the infected. “In doing their jobs, the burial boys have been cast out of their communities because of fear that they will bring the virus home with them,” writes Adam Nossiter and Ben Solomon in apowerful piece in The New York Times. Talk about thankless tasks. Kandeh Kamara initially received no payment for his work and had to beg for food on the street. He now gets $6 a day and hopes to rent an apartment, though landlords often refuse to lease to the burial boys.

Ebola is bad news, but it hasn’t generated the same kind of fury as that other fast-spreading scourge, namely the Islamic State (IS). The recent beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley has ratcheted up the outrage of U.S. observers.

It’s certainly not the first beheading that IS has done. The group specializes inmeting out barbarous punishments—decapitation, crucifixion, amputations. But just as Ebola’s impact became real for Americans when it infected people “like us”—two U.S. missionaries in Liberia—the United States was prompted to act against IS when it began killing non-Muslims, first the stranded Yazidis and then the abducted journalist.

IS has spread quickly, and so has the panic that has accompanied its territorial acquisition. There have been the inevitable analogies to Nazism. But even those who don’t invoke Hitler are quick to use Manichean language to describe the IS challenge.

“We can see evil through the eye slits of the ski mask worn by Foley’s killer,” writes David Ignatius in a Washington Post commentary entitled The New Battle Against Evil. “But stopping that evil is a harder task.”

The IS killers are a nasty piece of work, and their ideology is thoroughly malign. But I hesitate to use the language of good and evil. Such moralistic terminology presumes that they, the beheaders, are a Satanic force that can only be exorcised with whatever version of holy water our angelic forces dispense—air strikes, boots on the ground, military aid to the Kurdish peshmerga, efforts in the community to dissuade angry young men from taking the next flight to Mosul.

We, on the other hand, are good. We would never behead anyone. Those we execute “deserve” their punishment (though the occasional innocent person might inadvertently fall through the cracks). And the civilian casualties from our military offensives, because we are by definition good, are simply mistakes. After all, we don’t publicly celebrate the deaths of Afghan civilians from our drone strikes (45 in 2013 alone) or the deaths of over 400 children in Gaza. But our protestations of innocence are little consolation to the families of the victims.

At what point do mistakes aggregate into something evil? At the very least, do they prevent us from claiming the mantle of good? And, of course, it’s not just the mistakes that are problematic but also the deliberate policies that, for instance, align Washington with dictators and other murderous actors. U.S. disgust with IS may already have prompted intelligence sharing with the regime in Damascus, though the Obama administration has denied such deals.

Camus had some choice words for those who are reluctant to call evil by its name. “Our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences,” he wrote in The Plague. “A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions.”

Humanists perhaps disbelieve in pestilences. “I used to not believe in evil,” confesses Richard Cohen this week in Washington Post column declaring a “return of evil” with ISIS. Once a liberal humanist, Cohen long ago remade himself into a liberal hawk.

I still consider myself a humanist. But my brand of humanism sees pestilence everywhere. Indeed, I tend to see pestilence not only in the acts of individuals but in the structures within which the plague takes root and spreads. And this is where the two plagues intersect, Ebola and IS. They both prosper where the immune system is weak.

When it comes to medical infrastructure, Africa definitely has a compromised immune system. The continent has been hit hard by HIV/AIDS (70 percent of those living with HIV are in Africa), cholera (major outbreaks took place recently in Senegal, Zimbabwe, and Sierra Leone), and malaria (an African child dies every minute from this disease). Ebola has spread rapidly because of critical shortages in medical staff and supplies.

But the deeper reason is environmental: the clear-cutting of forests that have served as a traditional barrier to pathogens. West Africa has one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world, losing nearly a million hectares a year. The forests are Africa’s natural defenses, and Ebola is a sign that these defenses have been fatally weakened. What used to stay in remote villages now spreads quickly to urban areas.

The recent victories of IS in Syria and Iraq, meanwhile, suggest not a breakdown in the environmental system but in the political one. IS is not simply a band of serial killers. They have a distinct ideology and set of political motives. Nor does it matter whether they are operating in a formally dictatorial or democratic environment. IS thrives both where Assad rules with an iron fist and where Saddam is long gone.

The common denominator is chaos. IS has ruthlessly expanded in the grey areas beyond the reach of the rule of law. In Syria, it has prospered in regions that already broke loose from the country during the uprising. In Iraq, it took advantage of a paralyzing conflict between Shi’a and Sunni that left the northern reaches of the country tenuously connected to the central government.

Local governance, whether it’s democratic or authoritarian, serves the same function as the forests of West Africa. Such governance holds society together. When it deteriorates, the very cellular structure breaks down. In Ebola, the cell walls fray and the patient bleeds out. With a virus like IS, the fibers of the social fabric fray and large sections of the country bleed out.

There are, of course, many differences between a pestilence like Ebola and a movement like IS. But they are both the result of systemic breakdown. They are opportunistic infections.

In both cases there are no magic pills. Even if we come up with an antidote to this version of Ebola, as long as we continue to cut down the forests of Africa, more potent versions will continue to appear and spread. And if we attempt to obliterate IS only with bombs or boots on the ground, it will simply pop up somewhere else where the conditions favor such desperate efforts to create a totalitarian order. Instead we should focus on the conditions that give rise to these phenomena—and our role in helping to perpetuate these conditions.

Camus recommended vigilance. Pestilence, he concluded, “bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves and…perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.” The current plagues have certainly been a bane. Whether they also help to enlighten us remains to be seen.


John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

“A Great Leader Doesn’t Just Occupy The Middle Ground”

Here are some tough words about the Obama presidency from Cornell West, who argues persuasively that the fetish for the middle ground in politics often makes for poor leadership.

In the interview Thomas Frank asks West, “What on earth ails the man? Why can’t he fight the Republicans? Why does he need to seek a grand bargain?”

West replies:

“I think Obama, his modus operandi going all the way back to when he was head of the [Harvard] Law Review, first editor of the Law Review and didn’t have a piece in the Law Review. He was chosen because he always occupied the middle ground. He doesn’t realize that a great leader, a statesperson, doesn’t just occupy middle ground. They occupy higher ground or the moral ground or even sometimes the holy ground. But the middle ground is not the place to go if you’re going to show courage and vision. And I think that’s his modus operandi. He always moves to the middle ground. It turned out that historically, this was not a moment for a middle-ground politician. We needed a high-ground statesperson and it’s clear now he’s not the one.”

West also says:

“He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. And that’s a very sad moment in the history of the nation because we are—we’re an empire in decline. Our culture is in increasing decay. Our school systems are in deep trouble. Our political system is dysfunctional. Our leaders are more and more bought off with legalized bribery and normalized corruption in Congress and too much of our civil life. You would think that we needed somebody—a Lincoln-like figure who could revive some democratic spirit and democratic possibility.”

Read the full interview here:

Cornel West: “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency”

Israel and Palestine, an Animated Introduction

Good, historically accurate introduction to the Israel/Palestine conflict, in the form of a short (6+ minute) video, from Jewish Voice for Peace.


 

More Resources:

Additional Primers:

Click here to read JVP Advisory Board member Aurora Levins Morales’ article “Latinos, Israel and Palestine: Understanding Anti-Semitism.”

Click here to download ICAHD”s primer, “Counter-Rhetoric: Challenging conventional wisdom & reframing the conflict” by Jeff Halper, Jimmy Johnson, and Emily Schaeffer.

Click here to download MERIP’s primer, “Palestine, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict” by Joel Beinin and Lisa Hajjar.

Click here to read Phyllis Bennis’s primer, “Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.”

Click here to download Gush Shalom (Israeli Peace Bloc’s) “Truth Against Truth.”

 

Requiem for the American Century

Reprinted from TomDispatch.com with permission of the author

Turning 70, Paragraph by Paragraph

By Tom Engelhardt

First Paragraphs on Turning 70 in the American Century That Was

* Seventy-three years ago, on February 17, 1941, as a second devastating global war approached, Henry Luce, the publisher of Time and Life magazines, called on his countrymen to “create the first great American Century.”  Luce died in 1967 at age 69.  Life, the pictorial magazine no home would have been without in my 1950s childhood, ceased to exist as a weekly in 1972 and as a monthly in 2000; Time, which launched his career as a media mogul, is still wobbling on, a shadow of its former self.  No one today could claim that this is Time’s century, or the American Century, or perhaps anyone else’s.  Even the greatest empires now seem to have shortened lifespans.  The Soviet Century, after all, barely lasted seven decades.  Of course, only the rarest among us live to be 100, which means that at 70, like Time, I’m undoubtedly beginning to wobble, too.

* The other day I sat down with an old friend, a law professor who started telling me about his students.  What he said aged me instantly.  They’re so young, he pointed out, that their parents didn’t even come of age during the Vietnam War.  For them, he added, that war is what World War I was to us.  He might as well have mentioned the Mongol conquests or the War of the Roses.  We’re talking about the white-haired guys riding in the open cars in Veteran’s Day parades when I was a boy.  And now, it seems, I’m them.

* In March 1976, accompanied by two friends, my wife and I got married at City Hall in San Francisco, and then adjourned to a Chinese restaurant for a dim sum lunch.  If, while I was settling our bill of perhaps $30, you had told me that, almost half a century in the future, marriage would be an annual $40 billion dollar business, that official couplings would be preceded by elaborate bachelor and bachelorette parties, and that there would be such a thing as destination weddings, I would have assumed you were clueless about the future.  On that score at least, the nature of the world to come was self-evident and elaborate weddings of any sort weren’t going to be part of it.

* From the time I was 20 until I was 65, I was always 40 years old.  Now, I feel my age.  Still, my life at 70 is a luxury.  Across the planet, from Afghanistan to Central America, and in the poverty zones of this country, young people regularly stare death in the face at an age when, so many decades ago, I was wondering whether my life would ever begin.  That’s a crime against humanity.  So consider me lucky (and privileged) to be seven decades in and only now thinking about my death.

* Recently, I had the urge to tell my son something about my mother, who died before he was born.  From my closet, I retrieved an attaché case of my father’s in which I keep various family mementos.  Rummaging around in one of its pockets, I stumbled upon two letters my mother wrote him while he was at war.  (We’re talking about World War II, that ancient conflict of the history books.)  Almost four decades after her death, all I had to do was see my mother’s handwriting on the envelope — “Major C. L. Engelhardt, 1st Air Commando Force, A.P.O. 433, Postmaster, New York 17, N.Y.” — to experience such an upwelling of emotion I could barely contain my tears.  So many years later, her handwriting and my father’s remain etched into my consciousness.  I don’t doubt I could recognize them amid any other set of scribblings on Earth.  What fingerprints were to law enforcement then, handwriting was to family memories.  And that started me wondering: years from now, in an electronic world in which no one is likely to think about picking up a pen to write anyone else, what will those “fingerprints” be?

* There are so many futures and so few of them happen.  On the night of October 22, 1962, a college freshman, I listened to John F. Kennedy address the American people and tell us that the Russians were building “a series of offensive missile sites” on the island of Cuba and that “the purposes of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.”  In other words, the president of the United States was telling us that we might be at the edge of the sort of world-ending, monster-mutating nuclear war that, from Godzillato Them, had run riot in the popular culture (and the nightmares) of my childhood.  At that moment, I looked directly into the future — and there was none.  We were, I believed, toast.  My family, my friends, all of us, from Hudson Bay, Canada, to Lima, Peru, as the president put it.  Yet here I am 52 years later.  As with so many futures we imagine, somehow it didn’t happen and so many years after I’m still wondering when I’ll be toast.

* If, on that same night, you had returned from the future to tell me (or other Americans) that, nearly half a century hence, the Soviet Union would barely be a memory, that there would be no other great power challenging the United States for supremacy, and that its only serious enemies would be scattered bands of Islamic extremists, largely in countries no American of that era had even heard of, my sense of wonder would have been indescribable.  And I don’t doubt that the godlier among us would have fallen to their knees and given thanks for our deliverance.  It would have gone without saying that, in such a future, the U.S. stood triumphant, the American Century guaranteed to stretch into endless centuries to come.

* If, on September 10, 2001, I had peered into the future (as I undoubtedly did not), whatever world I might have imagined would surely not have included: the 9/11 attacks; or those towerscollapsing apocalyptically; or that “generational” struggle launched almost instantly by the Bush administration that some neocons wanted to call “World War IV” (the Cold War being World War III), aka the Global War on Terror; or a “kill list” and drone assassination campaign run proudly out of the White House that would kill thousands in the tribal backlands of the planet; or the pouring of funds into the national security state at levels that would put the Cold War to shame; or thepromotion of torture as a necessary part of the American way of life; or the creation of an offshore prison system where anything went; or the launching of a global kidnapping campaign; or our second Afghan War, this time lasting at least 13 years; or a full-scale invasion, garrisoning, and occupation of Iraq lasting eight years; or the utterly improbable possibility that, from all of this, Washington would win nothing whatsoever. Nor, on that September day, still an editor in book publishing, barely online, and reading almost everything on the page, could I have imagined that, at age 70, I would be running a website called TomDispatch, 24/7, driven by the terrible news that would, before that day, have amazed me.

* Once upon a time, if you saw someone talking to himself or herself while walking down the street, you knew you were in the presence of mental illness.  Now, you know that you’re catching a snippet of a mobile or smartphone conversation by someone connected eternally to everyone he or she knows and everything happening online every minute of the day.  Not so long ago, this was material for some far-fetched sci-fi novel, not for life.

* If, on September 10, 2001, you had told me that the very way we are connected to each other electronically would encourage the evolution of an American surveillance state of breathtaking proportions and a corporate surveillance sphere of similar proportions, that both would have dreams of collecting, storing, and using the electronic communications of everybody on the planet, and that, in such a brief space of time, both would come remarkably close to succeeding, I wouldn’t have believed you.  Nor would I have been able to absorb the fact that, in doing so, the U.S. national security state would outpace the “bad guys” of the totalitarian regimes of the previous century in the ambitiousness of its surveillance dreams.  I would have thought such a development conceptually inconceivable for this country.  And in that, touchingly, I would still be reflecting something of the America I grew up believing in.

* In my youth, I lived in the future.  Riveted by the space operas of Isaac Asimov, among others, I grew up as a space nerd, dreaming of American glory and the colonization of distant planetary systems.  At the same time, without any sense of contradiction, I inhabited future American worlds of wholesale destruction dotted with survivalist colonies in post-apocalyptic landscapes littered with mutants of every sort.

* I‘m no neuroscientist, but I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that we, as a species, are hardwired for prediction.  Preparing eternally for whatever danger might be just around the corner seems like such a useful trait, the sort of thing that keeps a species on its toes (once it has them).  As far as I can tell, the brain just can’t help itself.  The only problem is that we’re terrible at it.  The famed fog of war is nothing compared to the fog of the future or, as I’ve often said, I’d be regularly riding myjetpack in traffic through the spired city of New York, as I was promised in my childhood.  Our urge to predict the future is unsurpassed.  Our ability to see it as it will be: next to nil.

Middle Paragraphs for a Missing American Century

* It’s been almost 13 years since the 9/11 attacks and there’s still no learning curve in Washington.  Just about every step of the way in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s only gotten worse.  Yet from that history, from repeated military interventions, surges, and Hail Marys in each of those countries, Washington has learned…?  Yep, you guessed it: that, in a crisis, it’s up to us to plunge in again, as in Iraq today where the Obama administration is sending back troopsdrones, and helicopters, plotting to support certain government figures, deep-six others, and somehow fragment various Sunni insurgent and extremist groups.  And don’t forget the endless advice administration officials have on offer, the bureaucratic assessments of the situation they continue to generate, and theweaponry they are eager to dispatch to a thoroughly destabilized land — even as they rush to “broker” a destabilizing Afghan election, a situation in which the long-term results once again aren’t likely to be positive for Washington.  Consider this curious conundrum: the future is largely a mystery, except when it comes to Washington’s actions and their predictably dismal outcomes.

* Doesn’t it amaze you how little Washington gets it?  Fierce as the internal disagreements in that capital city may be, seldom has a ruling group collectively been quite so incapable of putting itself in the shoes of anyone else or so tone deaf when it comes to the effects of its own acts.  Take Germany where, starting with Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, the public response to reports of massive American surveillance of the communications of ordinary Germans and their leaderswasn’t exactly greeted with enthusiasm.  Now it turns out that the NSA wasn’t the only U.S. “intelligence” agency at work in that country.  The CIA and possibly other agencies were recruiting spies inside German intelligence and its defense ministry.  Polls show that public opinion there has been turning against the U.S. in striking ways, but Washington just can’t take it in.  A little noted truth of this level of spying and surveillance is: it’s addictive.  Washington can’t imagine not doing it, no matter the damage.  If you keep an eye on this situation, you’ll see how the U.S. national security system has become a self-inflicted-wound machine.

* Here’s a question for our American moment: Why, in its foreign policy, can’t the Obama administration get a break?  You’d think that, just by pure, dumb luck, there would be a few small victories somewhere for the greatest power on the planet, but no such thing.  So for the post-American Century news jockeys among you, here’s a tip: to follow the waning fortunes of that century in real time, just keep an eye on Secretary of State John Kerry’s endless travels.  He’s the Jonah of the Obama administration.  Wherever he goes, disaster, large or small, trails behind him, even when, as in Afghanistan recently, his intervention is initially billed as some sort of modest triumph.  Consider him the waning American Century personified.

* Think of the drone as a barometer of the American Century in decline.  It’s the latest “perfect weapon” to arrive on the global scene with five-star reviews and promises of victory.  Like the A-bomb before it, by the time its claims proved false advertising, it was already lodged deeply in our world and replicating.  The drone is the John Kerry of advanced weaponry.  Everywhere it goes, it brings a kind of robotic precision to killing, the problem being that its distant human trigger fingers rely on the usual improbable information about what’s actually on the ground to be killed.  This means that the innocent are dying along with all those proclaimed “militants,” “high-value targets,” and al-Qaeda(-ish) leaders and “lieutenants.”  Wherever the drone goes, it has been the equivalent of a recruiting poster for Islamic militants and terror groups.  It brings instability and disaster in its wake.  It constantly kills bad guys — and constantly creates more of them.  And even as thenegative reports about it come in, an addicted Washington can’t stop using it.

Last Paragraphs on Turning 70 (a Requiem for the American Century)

* The true legacy of the foreshortened American Century, those years when Washington as top dog actually organized much of the world, may prove apocalyptic.  Nuclear weapons ushered that century in with the news that humanity could now annihilate itself.  Global warming is ushering it out with the news that nature may instead be the weapon of choice.  In 1990, when the Soviet system collapsed and disappeared, along with its sclerotic state-run economy, capitalism and liberal democracy were hailed in a triumphalist fashion and the moment proclaimed “the end of history.”  In the 1990s, that seemed like a flattering description.  Now, with 1% elections, an unmitigated drive for profits amid growing inequality, and constant global temperature records, the end of history might turn out to have a grimmer meaning.

* Global warming (like nuclear war and nuclear winter) is history’s deal-breaker.  Otherwise, the worst humanity can do, it’s done in some fashion before.  Empires rise and fall.  They always have.  People are desperately oppressed.  It’s an old story.  Humans bravely protest the conditions of their lives.  Rebellions and revolutions follow and the unexpected or disappointing is often the result.  You know the tale.  Hope and despair, the worst and the best — it’s us.  But global warming, the potential destruction of the habitat that’s made everything possible for us, that’s something new under the sun.  Yes, it’s happened before, thanks to natural causes ranging from vast volcanic eruptions to plummeting asteroids, but there’s something unique about us torpedoing our own environment.  This, above all, looks to be the event the American Century has overseen and that thedrive for fossil-fuel profits has made a reality.  Don’t fool yourself, though; we’re not destroying the planet.  Give it 10 million years and it’ll regenerate just fine.  But us?  Honestly, who knows what we can pull out of a hat on this score.

* Let me put my cards on the table.  I’m the guy who started two of his book titles with the phrases “the end of” and “the last days of,” so think of me as apocalyptic by nature.  I don’t believe in God or gods, or for that matter an afterlife.  In all these years, I’ve never discovered a spiritual bone in my body.  Still, I do care in some way that I can’t begin to understand what happens to us after I’m dead, what in particular happens to my children and my grandson, and his children and theirs, too.  Go figure.

* My father’s closest friend, the last person of his generation who knew him intimately, died recently at 99.  To my regret, I was no longer in touch.  It nonetheless felt like an archive closing.  The fog of the past now envelops much of his life.  There is nobody left to tell me what I don’t know about all those years before my birth.  Not a soul.  And yet I can at least recognize some of the people in his old photos and tell stories about them.  My mother’s childhood album is another matter.  Her brother aside, there’s no one I recognize, not a single soul, or a single story I can tell.  It’s all fog.  We don’t like to think of ourselves that way; we don’t like to imagine that we, in the present, will disappear into that fog with all our stories, all our experiences, all our memories.

* Here’s a question that, in a globally warming world, comes to mind: Are we a failed experiment?  I know I’m not the first to ask, and to answer I’d have to be capable of peering into a future that I can’t see.  So all I can say on turning 70 is: Who wouldn’t want to stick around and find out?

* Here’s the upbeat takeaway from this requiem for a foreshortened American Century: history is undoubtedly filled with seers, Cassandras, and gurus of every sort exactly because the future is such a mystery to us.  Mystery, however, means surprise, which is an eternal part of every tomorrow.  And surprise means, even under the worst conditions, a kind of hope.  Who knows just what July 20, 2015, or 2025, or 2035 will usher on stage?  And who knows when I won’t be there to find out.  Not I.

* By the way, I have the urge to offer you five predictions about the world of 2050, but what’s the point? I’d just have to advise you to ignore them all.


Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, to be published in September, is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

NBC Pulls Its Best Journalist from Gaza Just as Israel Invades

Reprinted from Foreign Policy in Focus under a Creative Commons License

ayman-Mohyeldin-gaza-NBC

News of the long-anticipated ground attack on Gaza has just broken. Israeli troopshave invaded northern Gaza, vowing to protect Israelis and destroy Hamas—regardless of the human costs to Palestinian civilians. El Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital, the only rehab center in Gaza, has been destroyed by Israeli bombs. Four more small children were killed by an airstrike in eastern Gaza City. Israeli tanks are on the move into the Strip.

And now, with the war threatening to spin out of control, the U.S. public has lost one of its most trustworthy reporters in the embattled Gaza Strip. Citing transparently disingenuous “security concerns,” NBC has decided to remove Ayman Mohyeldin—who has been reporting from Gaza for years—from his post and ordered him to leave Gaza immediately.

Mohyeldin’s coverage has been even-handed, careful, and comprehensive. His coverage of one of the most recent of the many horror stories of the current war against Gaza was a model for what journalism should look like.

On July 16, carefully targeted Israeli strikes killed four little boys on the Gaza beach. Cousins from the Bakr family, and inseparable, the boys were 9-year-old Ismael, 10-year-olds Ahed and Zakaria, and 11-year-old Mohamed. They were playing on the beach, in front of the Gaza hotel where most foreign journalists are staying.

Ayman Mohyeldin had been playing soccer with the boys just a few minutes before the attack. He live-tweeted the horror in real time, clearly shaken to the core himself. “Moutaz Bakr, 1 of the boys who survived #Israeli shelling, was shaking w a broken arm, blood shot eyes, says he saw 3 of his friends killed,” he tweeted. Across social media platforms and in his work for NBC and other international outlets, Mohyeldin kept the coverage at the human level, and brought the reality of the war home to perhaps more people in the United States than any other single journalist.

Mohyeldin was experienced in reporting from the region during some of its most difficult periods. At Al Jazeera English, his reporting of the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza—which resulted in the killing of more than 1,400 Palestinians—was widely praised. So was his coverage of the Tahrir Square events in Cairo’s Arab Spring.

And now his powerful coverage of this latest Israeli assault on Gaza has led to a new reward. Barely a day after his report from the beach in Gaza, Mohyeldin was summarily pulled from his position and ordered by NBC executives to leave Gaza immediately. Glenn Greenwald cited NBC sources who said the NBC brass claimed they had “security concerns” because of Israel’s imminent ground invasion—but the next day sent correspondent Richard Engel, who had just arrived in Tel Aviv, to Gaza to replace Mohyeldin.

Mohyeldin’s coverage was powerfully crafted to show the human cost of conflict. “The terrible human toll from the nine-day Gaza conflict was laid bare Wednesday when four Palestinian boys from the same family were killed as they played football on a beach,” his report began. “Three other children were wounded—one of them critically—in the attack, which appeared to be from Israeli naval shelling near the port area of Gaza City. There were scenes of anguish at the nearby al-Shifa hospital as the parents of the victims learned of the attack. ‘My son! My son!’ cried the mother of one of the boys.”His reports, unlike so many in the mainstream press, included the names and ages of the victims, and an interview with one of the wounded cousins who had survived.

He told the world what he saw. NBC’s rival networks, including CNN and others, cited and republished Mohyeldin’s reports. The story went viral—with all the shaken details of murdered children, grieving parents, and shredded families that so often get lost in mainstream telling.

That, apparently, was unacceptable to Mohyeldin’s superiors. The notion that “security” had anything to do with NBC’s decision was nonsense—when they replaced Mohyeldin with Engel, any remote possibility that they were concerned about the security of one but not the other was beyond laughable.

This is a political move, whether initiated by frightened NBC executives on their own or demanded directly by powerful pro-Israel advertisers or other power-brokers. And it threatens to undermine the significant gains that have already been made in changing the U.S. discourse on Israel-Palestine in recent years.

The coverage is already different—Israel was unable to keep the international press out of Gaza during this most recent assault. The ground invasion now underway is going to make that coverage much more difficult. We’re going to need people like Ayman Mohyeldin more than ever.

Tweet #ShameonNBC to join the protest.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

« Previous Page

Bitnami