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American Wars Are off the Charts Under Donald Trump

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence greet military personnel during a visit to the Pentagon, July 20, 2017. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

American Wars Are off the Charts Under Donald Trump

He’s failed to deliver his promised withdrawals from Afghanistan and Syria, vetoed an order to get out of Yemen, and expanded the U.S. bombing of Somalia, all while eyeing Iran.

Here’s a statement it might be hard to disagree with: American war is off the charts. Still, I’d like to explain — but I’m nervous about doing so. I know perfectly well that the next word I plan to write will send most of you tumbling elsewhere in a universe in which “news” is the latest grotesque mass shooting; the craziest tweet from you-know-who; celebrities marching into court over college-admissions scandals; or even a boy, missing for years, who suddenly turns up only to morph into a 23-year-old impostor with a criminal record.

How can America’s wars in distant lands compete with that? Which is why I just can’t bring myself to write the next word. So promise me that, after you read it, you’ll hang in there for just a minute and give me a chance to explain.

Okay, here goes: Somalia.

A country in the horn of Africa, it once glued American eyeballs, but that was so last century, right? I mean, there was that bestselling book and that hit Hollywood movie directed by Ridley Scott (Blade RunnerAlien!) about the disaster early in Bill Clinton’s presidency that came to be known as Black Hawk Down (aka the battle of Mogadishu).

In the age of Donald Trump, wasn’t that a million presidencies ago? Honestly, can you even tell me anymore what in the world it was all about? I couldn’t have, not without looking it up again. A warlord, starvation, U.S. intervention, 18 dead American soldiers (and hundreds of dead Somalis, but that hardly mattered) in a country that was shattering.

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Living on a Quagmire Planet: This Could Get a Lot Uglier

Living on a Quagmire Planet: This Could Get a Lot Uglier

Sixty-six million years ago, so the scientists tell us, an asteroid slammed into this planet. Landing on what’s now Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, it gouged out a crater 150 kilometers wide and put so much soot and sulfur into the atmosphere that it created what was essentially a prolonged “nuclear winter.” During that time, among so many other species, large and small, the dinosaurs went down for the count. (Don’t, however, tell that to your local chicken, the closest living relative — it’s now believed — of Tyrannosaurus Rex.)

It took approximately 66 million years for humanity to evolve from lowly surviving mammals and, over the course of a recent century or two, teach itself how to replicate the remarkable destructive power of that long-gone asteroid in two different ways: via nuclear power and the burning of fossil fuels. And if that isn’t an accomplishment for the species that likes to bill itself as the most intelligent ever to inhabit this planet, what is?

Talking about accomplishments: as humanity has armed itself ever more lethally, it has also transformed itself into the local equivalent of so many asteroids. Think, for instance, of that moment in the spring of 2003 when George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and crew launched the invasion of Iraq with dreams of setting up a Pax Americana across the Greater Middle East and beyond. By the time U.S. troops entered Baghdad, the burning and looting of the Iraqi capital had already begun, leaving the National Museum of Iraq trashed (gone were the tablets on which Hammurabi first had a code of laws inscribed) and the National Library of Baghdad, with its tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts, in flames. (No such “asteroid” had hit that city since 1258, when Mongol warriors sacked it, destroying its many libraries and reputedly leaving the Tigris River running “black with ink” and red with blood.)

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How the last superpower was unchained

How the last superpower was unchained

Tomgram: Making Sense of America’s Empire of Chaos

Tomgram: Making Sense of America’s Empire of Chaos

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Every week Truthout chooses a book, a “progressive pick,” to highlight (and sell). This coming week, it’s my new book, A Nation Unmade by War. As part of the process, I did an interview about the book’s themes with Truthout’s Mark Karlin who was kind enough to let me post it here on this Memorial Day weekend for TomDispatch readers. So check it out, then go to their book club and buy a copy, if the mood strikes you, or should you want a signed, personalized copy of the book, donate $100 to this website ($125 if you live outside the U.S.) and it’s yours. Check out our donation page for the details, but first read my thoughts below. Tom]

A Truthout Progressive Pick Interview with Tom Engelhardt

Mark Karlin: How much money has gone to the U.S. war on terror and what has been the impact of this expenditure?

Tom Engelhardt: The best figure I’ve seen on this comes from the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project at Brown University and it’s a staggering $5.6 trillion, including certain future costs to care for this country’s war vets. President Trump himself, with his usual sense of accuracy, has inflated that number even more, regularly speaking of $7 trillion being lost somewhere in our never-ending wars in the Greater Middle East. One of these days, he’s going to turn out to be right.

As for the impact of such an expenditure in the regions where these wars continue to be fought, largely nonstop, since they were launched against a tiny group of jihadis just after September 11, 2001, it would certainly include: the spread of terror outfits across the Middle East, parts of Asia, and Africa; the creation — in a region previously autocratic but relatively calm —

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A Tale of American Hubris: Or Five Lessons in the History of American Defeat

A Tale of American HubrisOr Five Lessons in the History of American Defeat

The lessons of history? Who needs them? Certainly not Washington’s present cast of characters, a crew in flight from history, the past, or knowledge of more or less any sort. Still, just for the hell of it, let’s take a few moments to think about what some of the lessons of the last years of the previous century and the first years of this one might be for the world’s most exceptional and indispensable nation, the planet’s sole superpower, the globe’s only sheriff. Those were, of course, commonplace descriptions from the pre-Trump era and yet, in the age of MAGA, already as moldy and cold as the dust in some pharaonic tomb.

Let’s start this way: you could think of the post-Cold War era, the years after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, as the moment of America’s first opioid crisis. The country’s politicians and would-be politicians were, then, taking street drugs (K-Street and military-industrial-complex ones, to be exact) and having remarkable visions of a planet available for the taking, as well as the keeping, forever and ever, amen.

On a globe without another superpower — pre-Putin Russia was a shattered, impoverished shell of the former Soviet Union, while China was still entering the capitalist world, Communist party in tow — history’s ultimate opportunity had obviously presented itself. And about to ascend to the holodeck of the USS America (beam me up, Dick Cheney!) were history’s ultimate opportunists, the men (and woman) who would, in January 2001, occupy the top posts in the administration of President George W. Bush.  That, of course, included Cheney who, after overseeing a wide-ranging search for the best candidate for vice president, had appointed himself to the job. As a group, they couldn’t have been more ready for America’s ultimate moment in the sun.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Disappointments of War in a World of Unintended Consequences

Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Disappointments of War in a World of Unintended Consequences

And No Kidding, That’s the Literal Truth When It Comes to War, American-Style 

It may be hard to believe now, but in 1970 the protest song “War,” sung by Edwin Starr, hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That was at the height of the Vietnam antiwar movement and the song, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, became something of a sensation.  Even so many years later, who could forget its famed chorus?  “War, what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing.”  Not me.  And yet heartfelt as the song was then  — “War, it ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker.  War, it’s got one friend, that’s the undertaker…” — it has little resonance in America today.

But here’s the strange thing: in a way its authors and singer could hardly have imagined, in a way we still can’t quite absorb, that chorus has proven eerily prophetic — in fact, accurate beyond measure in the most literal possible sense.  War, what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing.  You could think of American war in the twenty-first century as an ongoing experiment in proving just that point.

Looking back on almost 15 years in which the United States has been engaged in something like permanent war in the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, one thing couldn’t be clearer: the planet’s sole superpower with a military funded and armed like none other and a “defense” budget larger than the next seven countries combined (three times as large as number two spender, China) has managed to accomplish — again, quite literally — absolutely nothing, or perhaps (if a slight rewrite of that classic song were allowed) less than nothing.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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