Tag Archives: tom engelhardt

Pepe Escobar looks at the future, as we build a full spectrum confrontation world

Summary:  By now most people see that the world is changing, as the post-WWII era passes away. The only large group remaining blind to this: the American people. Here Pepe Escobar looks at today’s trends and extrapolates them into the future. America is at war, but with whom? Perhaps we’re at war with inevitable trends. At war with the future.

A History of the World, BRIC by BRIC:
Neoliberal Dragons, Eurasian Wet Dreams, and Robocop Fantasies

By Pepe Escobar
Originally published at TomDispatch, 26 April 2012
Reposted with the author’s generous permission.


  1. Introduction by Tom Endlehardt
  2. Our main feature by Pepe Escobar
  3. About the author
  4. For more information

(1) Introduction by Tom Englehardt

Last December, a super-secret RQ-170 Sentinel, part of a far-reaching program of CIA drone surveillance over Iran, went down (or was shot down, or computer-jacked and hacked down) and was recovered intact by the Iranian military.  This week, an Iranian general proudly announced that his country’s experts had accessed the plane’s computer — he offered information he claimed proved it — and were now “reverse-engineering” the drone to create one of their own.

Most or all of his claims have been widely doubted, derided, or simply dismissed in our world, and for all I know his was indeed pure bluster and bluff.  But if so, it still managed to catch an urge that lay behind a couple of hundred years of global history: to adapt the most sophisticated aspects of the West to resist the West.  That urge has been essential to the way our planet has developed. After all, much of the last two centuries might well be headlined in technological, economic, and even political terms, “The History of Reverse-Engineering.”

Starting in the 18th century, whether you were in the Ottoman Empire or China, wherever, in fact, cannon-mounted European ships appeared to break down doors and conquer countries or subject them to an alien will, the issue of reverse-engineering was always close at hand.  For endless decades, the preeminent question, the crucial thing to debate, was just what could be adapted from the Western arsenal of weapons, politics, technology, and ideas, and how it could be melded with local culture, how it could be given Ottoman, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, or [fill in the blank] “characteristics” and made to check or reverse the course of events.  The rise of Japan in the nineteenth century and the more recent spectacular growth of China are, without any doubt, cases of the history of reverse-engineering.

Whatever the successes and failures of that process, the question today — as the U.S. declines, Europe stagnates, and the explosive BRICS countries head for center stage — is perhaps this: Can reverse-engineering really take us any farther, or will it in the end simply take us down?  Isn’t it time for something new in the engineering universe or perhaps for the coming of reverse-reverse-engineering somewhere on this weather-freaky, overtaxed planet of ours?

Continue reading

Memory Failure at the Pentagon, one that has cost us dearly (and will cost more before the end)

Summary:  We are like children, believing that closing our eyes tightly disappears the expense, casualties, and blowback from our war in Afghanistan. All that remains is the exhalation of our killing, our pride in our drones and special ops warriors. Unfortunately this does not as well as we hope. Nick Turse describes a more effective solution.

Wars of Attrition:
Green Zones of the Mind, Guerrillas, and a Technical Knockout in Afghanistan

By Nick Turse
Originally published at TomDispatch, 24 April 2012
Reposted with the author’s generous permission.


  1. Introduction by Tom Endlehardt
  2. Our main feature by Nick Turse
  3. About the author
  4. For more information

(1) Introduction by Tom Englehardt

Call it a mantra, a litany, or a to-don’t list, but the drip, drip, drip of Afghan disaster and the gross-out acts accompanying it have already resulted in one of those classic fill-you-in paragraphs that reporters hang onto for whenever the next little catastrophe rears its ugly head.  Here’s how that list typically went after the Los Angeles Times revealed that troops from the 82nd Airborne had mugged for the camera with the corpses or body parts of Afghan enemies:  “The images also add to a troubling list of cases — including Marines videotaped urinating on Taliban bodies, the burning of Korans, and the massacre of villagers attributed to a lone Army sergeant — that have cast American soldiers in the harshest possible light before the Afghan public.”

That is, of course, only a partial list.  Left out, for instance, was the American “kill team” that hunted Afghan civilians “for sport,” took body parts as trophies, and shot photos of their “kills,” not to speak of the sniper outfit that posed with an SS banner, or the U.S. base named “Combat Outpost Aryan.”  (For Afghans, of course, it’s been so much worse.  After all, what Americans even remember the obliterated wedding parties, eviscerated baby-naming ceremonies, blown away funerals, or even the eight shepherd boys “armed” with sticks recently slaughtered by helicopter, or any of the “thorough investigations” the U.S. military officially launched about which no one ever heard a peep, or the lack of command responsibility for any of this?)

When a war goes bad, you can be thousands of miles away and it still stinks like rotting cheese.  Hence, the constant drop in those American polling numbers about whether we should ever have fought the Afghan War.  Yes, war strain will be war strain and boys will be boys, but mistake after mistake, horror after horror, the rise of a historically rare phenomenon — Afghan soldiers and policemen repeatedly turning their guns on their American “allies” — all this adds up to a war effort increasingly on life support (even as the Obama administration negotiates to keep troops in the country through 2024).

Continue reading

Some important articles. Mirrors in which we can see America.

Summary:  Every society has rationality tokens.  Some have many; some few.  In some they are held by people who become leaders of their society; in some they’re held by outcasts.  As a nation evolves, its rationality tokens pass into new hands.  Here we look at America, seeking to find their new holders.

A model American

The disk was made of an undistinguished alloy of common metals, a gray monotone. It looked like a Boston subway token, save for two words inlaid in silver. The words “Rationality Token” flashed against the dull metal background.

{Nathan explained …} “Years ago, a friend of mine noticed an odd thing about meetings with groups of bureaucrats.  Only one bureaucrat in the room would have something rational and intelligent to say about the question under discussion; the rest would answer either with a magician’s verbal handwaving, with statements that were internally inconsistent, or with statements that had no apparent connection to the topic.

“Oddly, for each question, a different bureaucrat gave the rational response. It seemed as though a law of nature prevented more than one bureaucrat from being rational at a time. And you could never predict which bureaucrat could answer a particular question rationally.  My friend developed a theory:  a roomful of bureaucrats shares a single rationality token. Only the one holding the token can act intelligently. The bureaucrats pass the token around secretly during the meeting.”

— from Marc Stiegler’s David’s Sling (1988) — free e-book  here

The bad news

We can easily ignore the rapid decay of the American polity, as it will affect most people only when too late for reform.  The media make this easier by distracting us with accounts of political class’ gibbering and capering, while in the shadows our leaders erase away our civil liberties.  The news media do this because we prefer not to know.  We cover our eyes to avoid seeing what we have become.

The good news

Continue reading

Vietnam Has Left Town. Say Hello to our New Syndrome

Summary:  No nation, no matter how powerful, can long prosper (perhaps not even survive) with a broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop).  Like ours.  The primary symptom: an inability to learn.  We cannot learn from our peers’ to fix our health care system.  We cannot learn from our history to cope with 4GW (eg, foreign insurgencies).  Today Tom Engelhardt explains our attempts to forget lessons of the past, and so we repeat them.

The Afghan Syndrome:
Vietnam Has Left Town. Say Hello to the New Syndrome on the Block.

By Tom Engelhardt
Originally published at TomDispatch, 10 April 2012
Reposted with the author’s generous permission.


  1. The Smog of War
  2. A Titleholder for Pure, Long-Term Futility
  3. A Vietnam Analogy Memorial
  4. About the author
  5. For more information

(1)  The Smog of War

Take off your hat. Taps is playing. Almost four decades late, the Vietnam War and its post-war spawn, the Vietnam Syndrome, are finally heading for their American grave. It may qualify as the longest attempted burial in history. Last words — both eulogies and curses — have been offered too many times to mention, and yet no American administration found the silver bullet that would put that war away for keeps.

Richard Nixon tried to get rid of it while it was still going on by “Vietnamizing” it. Seven years after it ended, Ronald Reagan tried to praise it into the dustbin of history, hailing it as “a noble cause.” Instead, it morphed from a defeat in the imperium into a “syndrome,” an unhealthy aversion to war-making believed to afflict the American people to their core.

A decade later, after the U.S. military smashed Saddam Hussein’s army in Kuwait in the First Gulf War, George H.W. Bush exulted that the country had finally “kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.” As it turned out, despite the organization of massive “victory parades” at home to prove that this hadn’t been Vietnam redux, that war kicked back. Another decade passed and there were H.W.’s son W. and his advisors planning the invasion of Iraq through a haze of Vietnam-constrained obsessions.

Continue reading

Peter Van Buren explains “What We Lost in Iraq and Washington in 2009-2012”

Summary:  Today we have an account of one man’s experience doing the right thing in the New America.  He dared to tell us the truth about the Iraq War.  We repaid him with illegal punishments and a broken career (the whistleblower laws, like all laws today, were meaningless) — pour l’encouragement d’les autres. I have nothing to add other than: please read this, read his book — and remember this when you’re deciding if to get involved in the election.

“History is made at night. Character is what you are in the dark.”
— Lord John Whorfin in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984 film)

Today we have for your enlightenment “Left Behind – What We Lost in Iraq and Washington, 2009-2012” by Peter Van Buren, originally published at TomDispatch on 8 April 2012 — Reposted with the author’s generous permission.


  1. Introduction by Tom Englehardt: Peter Van Buren Joins The Whistleblowers’ Club
  2. Today’s essay by Peter Van Buren
  3. About the author
  4. Glenn Greenwald’s articles about the New America
  5. For more information: posts about the Iraq War

(1)  Introduction by Tom Engelhardt

Peter Van Buren Joins The Whistleblowers’ Club

Peter Van Buren’s journey to publication — and so to whistleblower status — was among the more improbable odysseys of our times.

In 2009-2010, he was a State Department official on a godforsaken forward operating base south of Baghdad, his mind boggled by what he was seeing of the grim farce of American “reconstruction” in Iraq. He was then sending emails home to his wife in the States that would, sooner or later, become part of his Iraq manuscript, and at night wandering the Web trying to learn more about the country and situation he had been plunged into. He stumbled upon TomDispatch and noticed that authors writing for the site sometimes produced books that TD then highlighted.

In 2010, back in the States with a rough manuscript in hand, knowing no one in publishing, not even realizing I was a book editor, he sent an email to the TomDispatch mail box that began: “I am a Foreign Service Officer just returned from a year in the field in Iraq (PRT leader) and I have a completed book draft. Would you be willing to read it as a possible title to publish, for a prepublication comment, and/or for a later excerpt on your site?”

… Normally I would simply have nixed Van Buren’s requests, but something stopped me, maybe the fact that he had recently returned from service in Iraq. I asked him to write a description of his book and himself, and passed it on to Steve Fraser, my partner at our co-publishing venture at Metropolitan Books, the American Empire Project. A few days later Steve told me that I needed to read Van Buren’s manuscript; he was a natural and it was the real McCoy.

Luck turned Steve into his editor and Van Buren into a published author and so dispatched him into the strange, embattled world of Obama-era governmental whistleblowers. As a group, they are just about the only people inside the National Security Complex who get in trouble for their acts. In our era, the illegal surveillers, the torturers, the kidnappers, those who launch and pursue undeclared and aggressive wars, and those who squander taxpayer dollars all run free. Later, if they were important enough, they write their memoirs for millions of dollars, peddle their speeches for hundreds of thousands more, and live the good life.

The only figures in the Complex regularly pursued as troublemakers and possible criminals turn out to be guilty of a single all-American crime: telling the citizenry what they should know about the operations of, and often enough the crimes of, the government they elected. Peter Van Buren did so with his book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. Now he’s a criminal and I the one who aided and abetted his “crime.”

(2)  Today’s reading

Left behind – What We Lost in Iraq and Washington, 2009-2012
By Peter Van Buren

People ask the question in various ways, sometimes hesitantly, often via a long digression, but my answer is always the same: no regrets.

Continue reading

The Obama Doctrine: we will attack and destroy all non-nuclear rivals

Summary:  Obama announced a new grand strategy for America, and we didn’t notice (being in a deep stupor).  It’s a logical evolution of our increasingly aggressive strategy since 9-11.  It’s almost certain to end badly for us.  Today Tom Engelhardt explains the path our leaders have put us on.  Listen and you can hear the rapids in the distance.


Today’s guest post:  “War as the President’s Private Preserve – Obama Breaks New Ground When It Comes to War With Iran
By Tom Engelhardt, originally published at TomDispatch, March 2012 — Reposted with the author’s generous permission.


  1. The Obama Doctrine
  2. The Power of Precedents
  3. War and the Presidential “I”
  4. About the author
  5. For more information

(1)  The Obama Doctrine

When I was young, the Philadelphia Bulletin ran cartoon ads that usually featured a man in trouble — dangling by  his fingers, say, from an outdoor clock.  There would always be people  all around him, but far too engrossed in the daily paper to notice.  The  tagline was: “In Philadelphia, nearly everybody reads the Bulletin.”

Those ads came to mind recently when President Obama commented  forcefully on war, American-style, in ways that were remarkably  radical.  Although he was trying to ward off a threatened Israeli  preemptive air strike against Iran, his comments should have shocked  Americans — but just about nobody noticed.

I don’t mean, of course, that nobody noticed the president’s  statements.  Quite the contrary: they were headlined, chewed over in the  press and by pundits.  Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich attacked them.  Fox News highlighted their restraint.  (“Obama calls for containing Iran, says ‘too much loose talk of war.’”)  The Huffington Post highlighted the support for Israel they represented. (“Obama Defends Policies  Toward Israel, Fends Off Partisan Critiques.”)  Israeli Prime Minister  Netanyahu pushed back against them in a potentially deadly U.S.-Israeli  dance that might bring new chaos to the Middle East.  But somehow, amid  all the headlines, commentary, and analysis, few seemed to notice just  what had really changed in our world.

The president had offered a new definition of “aggression” against  this country and a new war doctrine to go with it.  He would, he  insisted, take the U.S. to war not to stop another nation from attacking  us or even threatening to do so, but simply to stop it from building a  nuclear weapon — and he would act even if that country were incapable  of targeting the United States.  That should have been news.

Consider the most startling of his statements: just before the  arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, the  president gave a 45-minute Oval Office interview to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.  A prominent pro-Israeli writer, Goldberg had  produced an article in the September issue of that magazine headlined “The Point of No Return.”  In it, based on interviews with “roughly 40 current and past Israeli  decision makers about a military strike,” he had given an Israeli air  attack on Iran a 50% chance of happening by this July.  From the recent  interview, here are Obama’s key lines:

Continue reading

The end nears for our expedition to Afghanistan. Time to reflect on what went wrong.

Summary:  After writing over 100 posts since September 2003 about our war in Afghanistan, I faced the grim task of writing about its ugly end.  Fortunately, here are two articles that do it better than I could.  They deserve your attention, as we walk away from a project for which we borrowed so much money and spilled so much blood — probably in vain (as so many said when we began).  What have we learned from this experience?


  1. Powerful article about the cost of not knowing the terrain on which you fight
  2. Feature article: Blown Away – How the U.S. Fanned the Flames in Afghanistan
  3. About the authors
  4. Other articles sounding the death knoll for our war in Afghanistan
  5. For more information

(1)  About knowing the terrain

One cannot hope to win in fourth generation warfare without understanding the human terrain. As explained by Ralph Peters in “The Human Terrain of Urban Operations“ (Parameters, Spring 2000).  After a decade we remain ignorant, like a heavily armed but blind soldier — a horrific testamony to our military’s incapacity to adapt to the 21st century.  For details see “The causes of the protests in Afghanistan“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 26 February 2011.

(2)  Today’s feature article

The first of many post-mortums about the end of the expedition to Afghanistan:  “Blown Away – How the U.S. Fanned the Flames in Afghanistan“, by Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse, TomDispatch, 29 February 2012.  Reposted on the FM website with their generous permission.


Is it all over but the (anti-American) shouting — and the killing?  Are the exits finally coming into view?

Sometimes, in a moment, the fog lifts, the clouds shift, and you can  finally see the landscape ahead with startling clarity.  In Afghanistan,  Washington may be reaching that moment in a state of panic, horror, and  confusion.  Even as an anxious U.S. commander withdrew American and NATO advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul last  weekend — approximately 300, military spokesman James Williams tells  TomDispatch — the ability of American soldiers to remain on giant  fortified bases eating pizza and fried chicken into the distant future  is not in doubt.

No set of Taliban guerrillas, suicide bombers, or armed Afghan  “allies” turning their guns on their American “brothers” can alter that  — not as long as Washington is ready to bring the necessary supplies  into semi-blockaded Afghanistan at staggering cost.   But sometimes that’s the least of the matter, not the essence of it.   So if you’re in a mood to mark your calendars, late February 2012 may be  the moment when the end game for America’s second Afghan War, launched  in October 2001, was initially glimpsed.

Amid the reportage about the recent explosion of Afghan anger over  the torching of Korans in a burn pit at Bagram Air Base, there was a  tiny news item that caught the spirit of the moment.  As anti-American  protests (and the deaths of protestors) mounted across Afghanistan, the  German military made a sudden decision to immediately abandon a 50-man outpost in the north of the country.

Continue reading