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    Will the US Wake Up From Its Post-9/11 Nightmare?

    Looking back on it now, the 1990s were an age of innocence for America. The Cold War was over and our leaders promised us a “peace dividend.” There was no TSA — the Transportation Security Administration — to make us take off our shoes at airports (how many bombs have they found in those billions of shoes?). The government could not tap a US phone or read private emails without a warrant from a judge. And the national debt was only $5 trillion, compared with over $28 trillion today.

    We have been told that the criminal attacks of September 11, 2001, “changed everything.” But what really changed everything was the US government’s disastrous response to them. That response was not preordained or inevitable, but the result of decisions and choices made by politicians, bureaucrats and generals who fueled and exploited our fears, unleashed wars of reprehensible vengeance and built a secretive security state, all thinly disguised behind Orwellian myths of American greatness.  

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    Most Americans believe in democracy and many regard the United States as a democratic country. But the US response to 9/11 laid bare the extent to which American leaders are willing to manipulate the public into accepting illegal wars, torture, the Guantanamo gulag and sweeping civil rights abuses — activities that undermine the very meaning of democracy. 

    Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz said in a speech in 2011 that “a democracy can only work if its people are being told the truth.” But America’s leaders exploited the public’s fears in the wake of 9/11 to justify wars that have killed and maimed millions of people who had nothing to do with those crimes. Ferencz compared this to the actions of the German leaders he prosecuted at Nuremberg, who also justified their invasions of other countries as “preemptive first strikes.” 

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    “You cannot run a country as Hitler did, feeding them a pack of lies to frighten them that they’re being threatened, so it’s justified to kill people you don’t even know,” Ferencz continued. “It’s not logical, it’s not decent, it’s not moral, and it’s not helpful. When an unmanned bomber from a secret American airfield fires rockets into a little Pakistani or Afghan village and thereby kills or maims unknown numbers of innocent people, what is the effect of that? Every victim will hate America forever and will be willing to die killing as many Americans as possible. Where there is no court of justice, wild vengeance is the alternative.” 

    “Insurgent Math”

    Even the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, talked about “insurgent math,” conjecturing that, for every innocent person killed, the US created 10 new enemies. Thus, the so-called global war on terror fueled a global explosion of terrorism and armed resistance that will not end unless and until the United States ends the state terrorism that provokes and fuels it. 

    By opportunistically exploiting 9/11 to attack countries that had nothing to do with it, like Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the US vastly expanded the destructive strategy it used in the 1980s to destabilize Afghanistan, which spawned the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the first place. In Libya and Syria, only 10 years after 9/11, US leaders betrayed every American who lost a loved one on September 11 by recruiting and arming al-Qaeda-led militants to overthrow two of the most secular governments in the Middle East, plunging both countries into years of intractable violence and fueling radicalization throughout the region.

    The US response to 9/11 was corrupted by a toxic soup of revenge, imperialist ambitions, war profiteering, systematic brainwashing and sheer stupidity. Lincoln Chafee, the only Republican senator who voted against the war on Iraq, later wrote, “Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment.”

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    But it wasn’t. Very few of the 263 Republicans or the 110 Democrats who voted in 2002 for the US to invade Iraq paid any political price for their complicity in international aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg explicitly called “the supreme international crime.” One of them now sits at the apex of power in the White House. 

    Failure in Afghanistan

    Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s withdrawal and implicit acceptance of the US defeat in Afghanistan could serve as an important step toward ending the violence and chaos their predecessors unleashed after the 9/11 attacks. But the current debate over next year’s military budget makes it clear that our deluded leaders are still dodging the obvious lessons of 20 years of war. 

    Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress with the wisdom and courage to vote against the war resolution in 2001, has introduced a bill to cut US military spending by almost half: $350 billion per year. With the miserable failure in Afghanistan, a war that will end up costing every US taxpayer $20,000, one would think that Representative Lee’s proposal would be eliciting tremendous support. But the White House, the Pentagon and the Armed Services Committees in the House and Senate are instead falling over each other to shovel even more money into the bottomless pit of the military budget.

    Politicians’ votes on questions of war, peace and military spending are the most reliable test of their commitment to progressive values and the well-being of their constituents. You cannot call yourself a progressive or a champion of working people if you vote to appropriate more money for weapons and war than for health care, education, green jobs and fighting poverty.

    These 20 years of war have revealed to Americans and the world that modern weapons and formidable military forces can only accomplish two things: kill and maim people and destroy homes, infrastructure and entire cities. American promises to rebuild bombed-out cities and “remake” countries it has destroyed have proved worthless, as President Biden has acknowledged. 

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    Both Iraq and Afghanistan are turning primarily to China for the help they need to start rebuilding and developing economically from the ruin and devastation left by the US and its allies. America destroys, China builds. The contrast could not be more stark or self-evident. No amount of Western propaganda can hide what the whole world can see. 

    But the different paths chosen by American and Chinese leaders are not predestined. Despite the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the US corporate media, the American public has always been wiser and more committed to cooperative diplomacy than their country’s political and executive class. It has been well-documented that many of the endless crises in US foreign policy could have been avoided if America’s leaders had just listened to the people.

    Weapons and More Weapons

    The perennial handicap that has dogged US diplomacy since World War II is precisely our investment in weapons and military forces, including nuclear weapons that threaten our very existence. It is trite but true to say that, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” 

    Other countries don’t have the option of deploying overwhelming military force to confront international problems, so they have had to be smarter and more nimble in their diplomacy and more prudent and selective in their more limited uses of military force. 

    The rote declarations of US leaders that “all options are on the table” are a euphemism for precisely the “threat or use of force” that the UN Charter explicitly prohibits, and they stymie the US development of expertise in nonviolent forms of conflict resolution. The bumbling and bombast of America’s leaders in international arenas stand in sharp contrast to the skillful diplomacy and clear language we often hear from top Russian, Chinese and Iranian diplomats, even when they are speaking in English, their second or third language.

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    By contrast, US leaders rely on threats, coups, sanctions and war to project power around the world. They promise Americans that these coercive methods will maintain US “leadership” or dominance indefinitely into the future, as if that is America’s rightful place in the world: sitting atop the globe like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. 

    A “new American century” and “Pax Americana” are Orwellian versions of Adolf Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich” but are no more realistic. No empire has lasted forever, and there is historical evidence that even the most successful empires have a lifespan of no more than 250 years, by which time their rulers have enjoyed so much wealth and power that decadence and decline inevitably set in. This describes the United States today.  

    America’s economic dominance is waning. Its once productive economy has been gutted and financialized, and most countries in the world now do more trade with China and/or the European Union than with the United States. Where America’s military once kicked open doors for American capital to “follow the flag” and open up new markets, today’s US war machine is just a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power.    

    Time to Get Serious

    But we are not condemned to passively follow the suicidal path of militarism and hostility. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a down payment on a transition to a more peaceful post-imperial economy — if the American public starts to actively demand peace, diplomacy and disarmament and find ways to make our voices heard. 

    First, we must get serious about demanding cuts in the Pentagon budget. None of our other problems will be solved as long as we keep allowing our leaders to flush the majority of federal discretionary spending down the same military toilet as the $2.26 trillion they wasted on the war in Afghanistan. We must oppose politicians who refuse to cut the Pentagon budget, regardless of which party they belong to and where they stand on other issues.

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    Second, we must not let ourselves or our family members be recruited into the US war machine. Instead, we must challenge our leaders’ absurd claims that the imperial forces deployed across the world to threaten other countries are somehow, by some convoluted logic, defending America. As a translator paraphrased Voltaire, “Whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”  

    Third, we must expose the ugly, destructive reality behind our country’s myths of “defending” US vital interests, humanitarian intervention, the war on terror and the latest absurdity, the ill-defined “rules-based order” — whose rules only apply to others but never to the United States. 

    Finally, we must oppose the corrupt power of the arms industry, including US weapons sales to the world’s most repressive regimes, and an unwinnable arms race that risks a potentially world-ending conflict with China and Russia. 

    Our only hope for the future is to abandon the futile quest for hegemony and instead commit to peace, cooperative diplomacy, international law and disarmament. After 20 years of war and militarism that has only left the world a more dangerous place and accelerated America’s decline, we must choose the path of peace.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Is Operation Enduring Freedom Doomed to Endure Forever?

    Those were heady days in the US stock market. I would wake up by 5 am and watch CNBC before the stock market opened for trading at 6:30 am Pacific time. It was no different on the morning of September 11, 2001. Little did I know that catastrophic things were about to happen that would change the world.

    At 8:45 am Eastern time, an American Airlines flight had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Within minutes, CNBC stopped discussing stocks and started covering the incident, which, at that moment, no one knew if it was an anomalous accident or an attack of some kind.

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    Three minutes after 9 am Eastern, as I watched incredulously at the events unfolding, I saw a United Airlines passenger aircraft fly right into the south tower of the twin towers. In under an hour, the south tower collapsed, resulting in a massive cloud of dust and smoke. By now, there was no doubt that America was under attack.

     “We will remember the moment the news came, where we were and what we were doing,” said President George W. Bush in an address to Congress on September 20. Images from that Tuesday morning are still etched in my memory, happening, as it were, just nine days after my second child was born.

    In all, 2,996 people of 78 nationalities lost their lives in four coordinated attacks conducted by al-Qaeda using hijacked commercial, civilian airliners as their weapons, making 9/11 the second-biggest attack on American soil — second only to the genocidal assault on Native Americans committed by the nation’s immigrant settlers.

    Operation Enduring Freedom: America’s War on Terror

    Addressing the nation the following day, Bush called the attacks “more than acts of terror. They were acts of war.” He promised that “the United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy.” The president went on to assure Americans that this “battle will take time and resolve, but make no mistake about it, we will win.”

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    Twenty years later, the US has left Afghanistan and Iraq in a chaotic mess. The question remains: Did the United States win the war on terror the Bush administration launched in 2001? This was a war that has cost more than $6.4 trillion and over 801,000 lives, according to Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

    In October 2001, the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban government that had harbored al-Qaeda. Soon after, al-Qaeda militants had been driven into hiding. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attack and leader of al-Qaeda, was killed 10 years later in a raid conducted by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

    In a shrewd move, Bush had left himself room to take down Iraq and its president, Saddam Hussein, using an overarching definition for the war on terror. In his address to Congress on September 20, Bush also stated: “Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

    True to his words, in 2003, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq under the premise that it possessed weapons of mass destruction. Bush settled his score with Hussein, ensuring he was captured, shamed and subsequently executed in 2006.

    Despite reducing al-Qaeda to nothing and killing bin Laden, despite wrecking Iraq and having its leader executed, it is impossible to say that the US has won the war on terror. All that Washington has managed to do is to trade the Islamic State (IS) group that swept through Syria and Iraq in 2014 for al-Qaeda, giving a new identity to an old enemy. Following the US and NATO pullout from Afghanistan last month, the Taliban, whom America drove out of power in 2001, are back in the saddle. In fact, the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan has been so swift, so precise and so comprehensive that the international community is in a shock, questioning the timing and prudence of the withdrawal of troops.

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    Setting an expectation for how long the war or terror was likely to last, the secretary of defense under the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, remarked in September 2001 that “it is not going to be over in five minutes or five months, it’ll take years.” Rumsfeld, who christened the campaign Operation Enduring Freedom, was prescient, as the war enters its third decade in a never-ending fight against terrorism.

    The Winners and Losers

    Ironically, Operation Enduring Freedom has only resulted in an enduring loss of American freedom, one step at a time. I still remember that I had walked up to the jet bridge and received my wife as she deplaned from a flight in 1991. Another time, when she was traveling to Boston from San Francisco, I was allowed to enter the aircraft and help her get settled with her luggage, along with our 1-year-old. It is inconceivable to be allowed to do such a thing today, and I would not be surprised if readers question the veracity of my personal experience. In many ways, al-Qaeda has succeeded in stripping Americans of the sense of freedom they have always enjoyed.

    More than Americans, the biggest losers in this tragic war are Iraqis and Afghans, particularly the women. Afghan women, who had a brief respite from persecution under the Taliban’s strict Islamic laws and human rights abuses, are back to square one and justifiably terrified of their future under the new regime. The heart-wrenching scenes from Kabul airport of people trying to flee the country tell us about how Afghans view the quality of life under the Taliban and the uncertainty that the future holds. 

    To its east, the delicate balance of peace — if one could characterize the situation between India and Pakistan as peaceful — is likely to be put to the test as violence from Afghanistan spreads. To its north in Tajikistan, there isn’t much love lost between Tajiks and the Taliban. Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, has refused to recognize the Taliban government, and Tajiks have promised to join anti-Taliban militia groups, paving the way for continued unrest and violence in Central Asia.

    If History Could be Rewritten

    In 2001, referring to Islamist terrorists, Bush asked the rhetorical question, “Why do they hate us?” He tried to answer it in a speech to Congress: “They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

    Islamic fundamentalists couldn’t give two hoots about a form of government or a people’s way of life thousands of miles away. The real answer to Bush’s question lies deeply buried in US foreign policy. America’s steadfast support of Israel and its refusal to recognize the state of Palestine is the number one reason for it to become the target of groups like al-Qaeda and IS.

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    America’s ill-conceived response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 during the Cold War led to the creation of al-Qaeda. It was with US funds and support that the anti-Soviet mujahideen fought America’s proxy war with the Soviets. Without US interference, al-Qaeda may never have come into existence.

    During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the US bolstered Saddam Hussein by backing his regime against the Iranians. When Hussein became too ambitious for America’s comfort and invaded Kuwait in 1990, George H.W. Bush engaged Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. The US motive at that time was primarily to protect its oil interests in Kuwait.

    The US created its own nemesis in Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and spent $6 trillion to kill them. In the process, US leaders have reduced Iraq and Afghanistan to shambles and created a new monster in the Islamic State.

    Sadly, history can never be rewritten. The US has proved time and again that its involvement in the Middle East and Muslim world is aimed at advancing its own political interests. The only question that remains is: Can the US adopt a policy that would not aggravate the situation and, over time, deescalate it, without creating yet another Hussein or bin Laden? Without a radically different approach, Operation Enduring Freedom is doomed to endure forever, costing trillions of dollars each decade.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    How 9/11 and the War on Terror Shaped the World

    On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked four planes and launched suicide attacks on iconic symbols of America, first striking the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and then the Pentagon. It would be the deadliest act of terrorism on American soil, claiming nearly 3,000 lives.

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    The attacks not only shocked the world, but the images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center came to define a generation. In a speech on October 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush spoke of “an attack on the heart and soul of the civilized world” and declared “war against all those who seek to export terror, and a war against those governments that support or shelter them.” This was the start of the global war on terror.

    The Story of the 9/11 Attacks and Retaliation

    Osama bin Laden, the Saudi leader of al-Qaeda, inspired the 9/11 attacks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani Islamist terrorist and the nephew of the truck driver convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, masterminded the operation. The 9/11 Commission Report described al-Qaeda as “sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal.” It held that the enemy rallied “broad support in the Arab and Muslim world.” The report concluded that al-Qaeda’s hostility to the US and its values was limitless.

    The report went on to say that the enemy aimed “to rid the world of religious and political pluralism, the plebiscite, and equal rights for women,” and observed that it made no distinction between military and civilian targets. The goal going forward was “to attack terrorists and prevent their ranks from swelling while at the same time protecting [the US] against future attacks.”

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    To prosecute the war on terror, the US built a worldwide coalition: 136 countries offered military assistance, and 46 multilateral organizations declared support. Washington began by launching a financial war on terror, freezing assets and disrupting fundraising pipelines. In the first 100 days, the Bush administration set aside $20 billion for homeland security.

    On October 7, 2001, the US inaugurated the war on terror with Operation Enduring Freedom. An international coalition that included Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the UK and other countries, with the help of the Northern Alliance comprising various mujahedeen militias, overthrew the Taliban, which was sheltering al-Qaeda fighters, and took over Afghanistan.

    The war on terror that began in Afghanistan soon took on a global focus. In 2003, the Bush administration invaded Iraq despite the lack of a UN mandate. Washington made the argument that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, represented a threat to world peace, and harbored and succored al-Qaeda and other Islamic jihadists. None of this proved to be true. Hussein’s regime fell as speedily as Mullah Omar’s Taliban.

    Victory, however, was short-lived. Soon, insurgency returned. In Afghanistan, suicide attacks quintupled from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006. Globally, the war on terror saw a “stunning” rise in jihadist activity, with just over 32,000 fighters split among 13 Islamist groups in 2001 burgeoning to 100,000 across 44 outfits in 2015. Terrorist attacks went up from an estimated 1,880 in 2001 to 14,806 in 2015, claiming 38,422 lives that year alone — a 397% increase on 2001.

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    Boosted by the US invasion of Iraq, al-Qaeda spawned affiliates across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, a decentralized structure that remained intact even after the US assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011 dealt al-Qaeda a severe blow. One of its Iraqi offshoots morphed into what became the Islamic State (IS) group following the withdrawal of most US from Iraq under President Barack Obama in 2011.

    After declaring a caliphate in 2014, IS launched a global terrorist campaign that, within a year, conducted and inspired over 140 attacks in 29 countries beyond Syria and Iraq, according to one estimate. Islamic State acolytes went on to claim nearly 30,000 lives across the Middle East, Europe, the United States, Asia and Africa, controlling vast amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria, before suffering defeat by internationally-backed local forces in 2019.

    In Afghanistan, despite the war’s estimated trillion-dollar price tag, on August 15 the Taliban have taken control of the capital Kabul amid a chaotic US withdrawal, raising fears of al-Qaeda’s comeback. Last year, the Global Terrorism Index concluded that deaths from terrorism were still double the number recorded in 2001, with Afghanistan claiming a disproportionately large share of over 40% in 2019.

    Why Do 9/11 and the War on Terror Matter?

    While the failures and successes of the war on terror will remain subject to heated debate for years to come, what remains uncontested is the fact that the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing war on terror have forged the world we live in today.

    First, they have caused tremendous loss of blood and treasure. Brown University’s Costs of War project places an $8-trillion price tag on the US war on terror. It estimates that about 900,000 people “were killed as a direct result of war, whether by bombs, bullets or fire,” a number that does not include indirect deaths “caused by way of disease, displacement and loss of access to food or clean drinking water.”

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    Second, numerous countries, including liberal democracies such as the US and the UK, have eroded their own civil liberties and democratic institutions with the avowed goal of improving security. Boarding airplanes or entering public buildings now invariably involves elaborate security checks. Mass surveillance has become par for the course. The US continues to keep alleged terror suspects in indefinite detention without trial in Guantanamo Bay.

    Third, many analysts argue that the attacks and the response have coarsened the US. After World War II, Americans drew a line in the sand against torture. They put Germans and Japanese on trial for war crimes that included waterboarding. In the post-9/11 world, torture became part of the American toolkit. Airstrikes and drone strikes have caused high collateral casualties, killing a disputed number of innocents and losing the battle for the hearts and minds of local populations.

    These strikes raise significant issues of legality and the changing nature of warfare. There is a question as to the standing of “counterterrorism” operations in international and national law. However, such issues have garnered relatively little public attention. 

    Fourth, the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing war on terror have coincided with the spectacular rise of China. On December 11, 2001, the Middle Kingdom joined the World Trade Organization, which enabled the Chinese economy to grow at a speed and scale unprecedented in history. Analysts believe that distraction with the war on terror hindered the US response to the revolution occurring in global international relations and power dynamics. 

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    Under Barack Obama, the US initiated an explicit pivot to Asia policy that sought to shift focus from the war on terror and manage the rise of China. Under Donald Trump, Washington unleashed a trade war on Beijing and concluded a peace deal with the Taliban. Joe Biden has believed that, since the early days of the war on terror, US priorities have been too skewed toward terrorism and that Afghanistan is a secondary strategic issue, leading to a decision to withdraw troops to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

    Biden has argued that the US has degraded al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and eliminated bin Laden. Despite worrying echoes of George W. Bush declaring the “mission accomplished” in Iraq in 2003, from now on, Biden wants the US to remain “narrowly focused on counterterrorism — not counterinsurgency or nation building.”

    While the terrorist threat still consumes US resources, Washington is now shifting its strategic attention and resources to China, Russia and Iran. The Biden administration has deemed these three authoritarian powers to be the biggest challenge for the postwar liberal and democratic order. The 20-year war on terror seems to be over — at least for now.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    After Afghanistan, How Probable Is Peace?

    As the world speculates about the future of Afghanistan, some key figures in the West — with a vested interest in how things evolve militarily — are today claiming to show the clairvoyance that has consistently failed them in the past. Many have criticized President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from the battlefield. Even more have complained about how it was managed.

    Republicans feel duty-bound to denounce a policy that only Lynn Cheney objected to when the Republican President Donald Trump promoted it. One “highly decorated British Army officer” complained that “6,500 people died, including 3,000 deaths at Twin Towers, and we didn’t achieve a single thing.” Special Operations Staff Sergeant Trevor Coult went further, claiming that Biden “is a danger while he is president.”

    Numerous Democrats attached to the military-industrial funding machine have objected to the very idea of abandoning the costly struggle. Representative Jim Langevin, of Rhode Island, penned an op-ed in Foreign Policy portraying the decision as a betrayal of a moral commitment to “our Afghan allies of 20 years” and “to our military service members and their families … who gave the ultimate sacrifice.” And, of course, he couldn’t forget “the women and girls of Afghanistan who are now experiencing a devastating new reality.”

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    He seemed less concerned when for 20 years the majority of Afghan women and girls experienced another form of devastating reality: receiving bombs delivered by surgical drones, seeing their doors kicked in by well-armed soldiers, listening to drones buzzing overhead and wondering where they might strike, failing to understand which local warlord in the pay of the CIA might protect them or aggress them, or simply watching unutterable chaos unfold day after day.

    AFP reports on the opinion General Mark Milley expressed in an interview with Fox News: Now that the US troops are no longer there to enforce the law and maintain order, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff predicts further chaos, worse than ever before. After questioning the ability of the Taliban, even before they have formed a government, “to consolidate power and establish effective governance,” Milley offers his assessment of what’s to come. “I think there’s at least a very good probability of a broader civil war,” he asserts.

    Making certain his audience will understand the degree of fear his warnings should inspire, he adds that it “will then in turn lead to conditions that could, in fact, lead to a reconstitution of Al-Qaeda or a growth of ISIS or other … terrorist groups.”

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Good probability:

    A dire likelihood to be ardently wished for by anyone associated with the military-industrial complex or dependent on it for current or future employment

    Contextual note

    Military officers, including generals, may hide the truth about reality on the ground. As the Afghanistan Papers revealed, that happened consistently for over two decades. But even when painting a rosy picture of success or an assessment of troop performance, a soldier’s choice of language leaves some room for the truth. That is why most governments usually prefer that the military not engage too directly with the media.

    General Milley made clear what he means when he described the chaos to come as “at least a very good probability.” Both of his chosen expressions — “at least” and “very good” — reveal less about reality on the ground and more about how he hopes to see the situation evolve, calling for preparedness and possibly new operations. He wants Fox’s audience to understand that this is only a pause in the mission of the US to help other nations achieve the serenity of the global superpower that will always be a model for the rest of the world and lead by its example.

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    A totally neutral and objective observer who happened to be equally convinced of the likelihood of a civil war in Afghanistan would have formulated it differently, most likely asserting something along the lines that “a strong possibility of a broader civil war cannot be discounted.” Proverbial wisdom tells us that “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but the authorities of a nation defined by its military clout tend to improve on that by suggesting that “where there’s a will, there’s a way of framing it in such a manner as to convince people of the way we have decided must be followed.”

    General Milley is no warmonger. No reasonable person would compare him to the legendary Curtis Lemay who summed up his philosophy about conflict — in this case with Russia during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis — with these words: “We should go in and wipe ’em out today.”

    Fortunately, no senior officer in the military would be tempted to think or act that way now. In contrast with the Cold War mentality, one of the lessons of all recent wars is that the US military is less motivated by the idea of winning wars than simply instilling the idea in the average American taxpayer’s mind that the nation needs a powerful, well-funded, technologically advanced military establishment to comfort the belief in American exceptionalism.

    In his interview with Fox News, General Milley shows no inclination to criticize Biden’s decision. He defends the way the withdrawal was conducted, laying all the blame on the Afghan government and its troops while claiming that everything was conducted according to plan. He cites the “corruption in the government” and its lack of legitimacy, “a fundamental issue that stretches back 20 years.”

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    Concerning the collapse of the army and the police force, he makes a truly interesting remark: “We created and developed forces that looked like Western forces,” adding significantly that “maybe those forces were not designed appropriately for the type mission.” 

    General Milley follows up that last observation with what almost sounds like a resolution for action in the future: “That was something that needs to be looked at.” Many commentators have remarked that at the core of the 20-year fiasco lay a persistent form of cultural ignorance. By referring to this question as “something that needs to be looked at,” Milley appears to be placing it on some unequivocally remote back burner. In military parlance, “what needs to be looked at” is what will never be looked at unless someone at the highest level of authority suddenly wakes up to acknowledge the necessity.

    Historical Note 

    In short, an episode of history has just come to an end. In the coming weeks and months, reflection on it will be mired in wild speculation about what might have been done differently, accompanied by accusations of irresponsibility and failure of accountability. And if recent history is any guide, accountability will be successfully evaded, if only because holding one identifiable person accountable opens the floodgate to calling into question the entire system of which they were a part.

    In 2009, voters for Barack Obama expected to see some form of accountability for nearly everyone in the Bush administration, guilty of multiple sins that included war crimes, the criminal transfer of wealth to the 1% and the gutting of the middle-class economy. There were zero prosecutions and instead a message about looking forward rather than backward and letting bygones be bygones.   

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    There are many lessons to be learned from the debacle in Afghanistan and a need for accountability that extends backward to the Bush administration. But none of the lessons can compete with the only essential idea the leaders and actors of the military-industrial complex will continue to put forward in the months to come: that we must be ready to repeat the patterns of the past and respond to the inevitable emergence of the equivalent of al-Qaeda again. We must be afraid of the next wave of terrorism, and we must be ready to respond. The logic of 2021 is the same as the logic of 2001 — and will undoubtedly lead to similar scenarios.

    And why should the logic be different? Military budgets have never been higher, and every new Congress is ready to raise the stakes. Many of us who grew up during the Vietnam War assumed that, once it was over, nothing like that 10-year nightmare could ever occur again. Instead, we have just sat through the equivalent of a Hollywood remake that lasted twice as long.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Welcome to Our Extreme World

    Admittedly, I hadn’t been there for 46 years, but old friends of mine still live (or at least lived) in the town of Greenville, California, and now, well, it’s more or less gone, though they survived. The Dixie Fire, one of those devastating West Coast blazes, had already “blackened” 504 square miles of Northern California in what was still essentially the (old) pre-fire season. It would soon become the second-largest wildfire in the state’s history. When it swept through Greenville, much of downtown, along with more than 100 homes, was left in ashes as the 1,000 residents of that Gold Rush-era town fled.

    I remember Greenville as a wonderful little place that, all these years later, still brings back fond memories. I’m now on the other coast, but much of that small, historic community is no longer there. This season, California’s wildfires have already devastated three times the territory burned in the same period in 2020’s record fire season. And that makes a point that couldn’t be more salient to our moment and our future.

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    A heating planet is a danger, not in some distant time, but right now — yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Don’t just ask the inhabitants of Greenville, ask those in the village of Monte Lake, British Columbia, the second town in that Canadian province to be gutted by flames in recent months in a region that normally — or perhaps I should just say once upon a time — was used to neither extreme heat and drought, nor the fires that accompany them.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re no longer just reading about the climate crisis; we’re living it in a startling fashion. At least for this old guy, that’s now a fact — not just of life but of all our lives — that simply couldn’t be more extreme and I don’t even need the latest harrowing report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to tell me so.

    Whether you’ve been sweating and swearing under the latest heat dome; fleeing fires somewhere in the West; broiling in a Siberia that’s releasing startling amounts of heat-producing methane into the atmosphere; being swept away by floodwaters in Germany; sweltering in an unprecedented heat-and-fire season in Greece (where even the suburbs Athens were being evacuated); baking in Turkey or on the island of Sardinia in a “disaster without precedent”; neck-deep in water in a Chinese subway car; or, after “extreme rains,” wading through the subway systems of New York City or London, you — all of us — are in a new world and we better damn well get used to it. 

    Embed from Getty Images

    Floods, megadrought, the fiercest of forest fires, unprecedented storms — you name it and it seems to be happening not in 2100 or even 2031, but now. A recent study suggests that, in 2020 (not 2040 or 2080), more than a quarter of Americans had suffered in some fashion from the effects of extreme heat, already the greatest weather-based killer of Americans and, given this blazing summer, 2021 is only likely to be worse.

    By the way, don’t imagine that it’s just us humans who are suffering. Consider, for instance, the estimated billion or more — yes, 1 billion — mussels, barnacles and other small sea creatures that were estimated to have died off the coast of Vancouver, Canada, during the unprecedented heatwave there earlier in the summer.

    A few weeks ago, watching the setting sun, an eerie blaze of orange-red in a hazy sky here on the East Coast was an unsettling experience once I realized what I was actually seeing: a haze of smoke from the megadrought-stricken West’s disastrous early fire season. It had blown thousands of miles east for the second year in a row, managing to turn the air of New York and Philadelphia into danger zones.

    In a way, right now it hardly matters where you look on this planet of ours. Take Greenland, where a “massive melting event,” occurring after the temperature there hit double the normal this summer, made enough ice vanish “in a single day last week to cover the whole of Florida in two inches of water.” But there was also that record brush fire torching more than 62 square miles of Hawaii’s Big Island. And while you’re at it, you can skip prime houseboat-vacation season at Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border, since that huge reservoir is now three-quarters empty (and, among Western reservoirs, anything but alone).

    It almost doesn’t matter which recent report you cite. When it comes to what the scientists are finding, it’s invariably worse than you (or often even they) had previously imagined. It’s true, for instance, of the Amazon rainforest, one of the great carbon sinks on the planet. Parts of it are now starting to release carbon into the atmosphere, as a study in the journal Nature reported recently, partially thanks to climate change and partially to more direct forms of human intervention.

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    It’s no less true of the Siberian permafrost in a region where, for the first time above the Arctic Circle, the temperature in one town reached more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a summer day in 2020. And yes, when Siberia heats up in such a fashion, methane (a far more powerful heat-trapping gas than CO2) is released into the atmosphere from that region’s melting permafrost wetlands, which had previously sealed it in. And recently, that’s not even the real news. What about the possibility, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that what’s being released now is actually a potential “methane bomb” not from that permafrost itself, but from thawing rock formations within it?

    In fact, when it comes to the climate crisis, as a recent study in the journal Bioscience found, “some 16 out of 31 tracked planetary vital signs, including greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat content, and ice mass, set worrying new records.” Similarly, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide “have all set new year-to-date records for atmospheric concentrations in both 2020 and 2021.”

    Mind you, just in case you hadn’t noticed, the last seven years have been the warmest in recorded history. And speaking of climate-change-style records in this era, last year, 22 natural disasters hit this country, including hurricanes, fires and floods, each causing more than $1 billion in damage, another instant record with — the safest prediction around — many more to come.

    “It Looked Like an Atomic Bomb”

    Lest you think that all of this represents an anomaly of some sort, simply a bad year or two on a planet that historically has gone from heat to ice and back again, think twice. A recent report published in Nature Climate Change, for instance, suggests that heat waves that could put the recent ones in the US West and British Columbia to shame are a certainty and especially likely for “highly populated regions in North America, Europe, and China.” (Keep in mind that, a few years ago, there was already a study suggesting that the North China plain with its 400 million inhabitants could essentially become uninhabitable by the end of this century due to heatwaves too powerful for human beings to survive.) Or as another recent study suggested, reports The Guardian, “heatwaves that smash previous records … would become two to seven times more likely in the next three decades and three to 21 times more likely from 2051-2080, unless carbon emissions are immediately slashed.”

    It turns out that, even to describe the new world we already live in, we may need a new vocabulary. I mean, honestly, until the West Coast broiled and burned from Los Angeles to British Columbia this summer, had you ever heard of, no less used, the phrase “heat dome” before? I hadn’t, I can tell you that.

    And by the way, there’s no question that climate change in its ever more evident forms has finally made the mainstream news in a major way. It’s no longer left to 350.org or Greta Thunberg and the Sunrise Movement to highlight what’s happening to us on this planet. It’s taken years, but in 2021 it’s finally become genuine news, even if not always with the truly fierce emphasis it deserves.

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    The New York Times, to give you an example, typically had a recent piece of reportage (not an op-ed) by Shawn Hubler headlined, “Is This the End of Summer as We’ve Known It?” Hubler wrote: “The season Americans thought we understood — of playtime and ease, of a sun we could trust, air we could breathe and a natural world that was, at worst, indifferent — has become something else, something ominous and immense. This is the summer we saw climate change merge from the abstract to the now, the summer we realized that every summer from now on will be more like this than any quaint memory of past summers.” And the new IPCC report on how fast things are indeed proceeding was front-page and front-screen news everywhere, as well it should have been, given the research it was summing up.

    My point here couldn’t be simpler: In heat and weather terms, our world is not just going to become extreme in 20 years or 50 years or as this century ends. It’s officially extreme right now. And here’s the sad thing: I have no doubt that, no matter what I write in this piece, no matter how up to date I am at this moment, by the time it appears it will already be missing key climate stories and revelations. Within months, it could look like ancient history.

    Welcome, then, to our very own not-so-slow-motion apocalypse. A friend of mine recently commented to me that, for most of the first 30 years of his life, he always expected the world to go nuclear. That was, of course, at the height of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. And then, like so many others, he stopped ducking and covering. How could he have known that, in those very years, the world was indeed beginning to get nuked, or rather carbon-dioxided, methaned, greenhouse-gassed, even if in a slow-motion fashion? As it happens, this time there’s going to be no pretense for any of us of truly ducking and covering. 

    It’s true, of course, that ducking and covering was a fantasy of the Cold War era. After all, no matter where you might have ducked and covered then — even the Air Force’s command center dug into the heart of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado — you probably wouldn’t have been safe from a full-scale nuclear conflict between the two superpowers of that moment, or at least not from the world it would have left behind, a disaster barely avoided in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. (Today, we know that, thanks to the possibility of “nuclear winter,” even a regional nuclear conflict — say, between India and Pakistan — could kill billions of us, by starvation if nothing else.)

    In that context, I wasn’t surprised when a homeowner, facing his house, his possessions, and his car burned to a crisp in Oregon’s devastating Bootleg Fire, described the carnage this way: “It looked like an atomic bomb.”

    And, of course, so much worse is yet to come. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a planet on which the Amazon rainforest has already turned into a carbon emitter or one in which the Gulf Stream collapses in a way that’s likely to deprive various parts of the planet of key rainfall necessary to grow crops for billions of people, while rising sea levels disastrously on the East Coast of the United States. And that just begins to enumerate the dangers involved, including the bizarre possibility that much of Europe might be plunged into a — hold your hats (and earmuffs) for this one — new ice age!

    World War III

    If this were indeed the beginning of a world war (instead of a world warm), you know perfectly well that the United States like so many other nations would, in the style of World War II, instantly mobilize resources to fight it (or as a group of leading climate scientists put it recently, we would “go big on climate” now). And yet in this country (as in too many others), so little has indeed been mobilized.

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    Worse yet, here one of the two major parties, only recently in control of the White House, supported the further exploitation of fossil fuels (and so the mass creation of greenhouse gases) big time, as well as further exploration for yet more of them. Many congressional Republicans are still in the equivalent of a state of staggering (not to say, stark raving mad) denial of what’s underway. They are ready to pay nothing and raise no money to shut down the production of greenhouse gases, no less create the genuinely green planet run on alternative energy sources that would actually rein in what’s happening.

    And criminal as that may have been, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and crew were just aiding and abetting those that, years ago, I called “the biggest criminal enterprise in history.” I was speaking of the executives of major fossil-fuel companies who, as I said then, were and remain the true “terrarists” (and no, that’s not a misspelling) of history. After all, their goal in hijacking all our lives isn’t simply to destroy buildings like the World Trade Center, but to take down Earth (Terra) as we’ve known it. And don’t leave out the leaders of countries like China still so disastrously intent on, for instance, producing yet more coal-fired power. Those CEOs and their enablers have been remarkably intent on quite literally committing terracide and, sadly enough, in that — as has been made oh-so-clear in this disastrous summer — they’ve already been remarkably successful.

    Companies like ExxonMobil knew long before most of the rest of us the sort of damage and chaos their products would someday cause and couldn’t have given less of a damn as long as the mega-profits continued to flow in. (They would, in fact, invest some of those profits in funding organizations that were promoting climate-change denial.) Worse yet, as revealing comments by a senior Exxon lobbyist recently made clear, they’re still at it, working hard to undermine US President Joe Biden’s relatively modest green-energy plans in any way they can.

    Thought about a certain way, even those of us who didn’t live in Greenville, California, are already in World War III. Many of us just don’t seem to know it yet. So, welcome to my (and your) extreme world, not next month or next year or next decade or next century, but right now. It’s a world of disaster worth mobilizing over if, that is, you care about the lives of all of us and particularly of the generations to come. 

    *[This article was originally published by TomDispatch.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    US and South Korea Renew Commitment to Promoting Democracy

    The summit in May between Joe Biden and Moon Jae-in delivered numerous positive outcomes that advanced the United States and South Korea as a future-oriented alliance. The two allies redoubled their cooperation in areas that are becoming more and more crucial globally, including emerging tech, climate change and space policy.

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    The expanded multidimensional collaboration marked meaningful progress in the transition of the US–South Korea relationship from that of a traditional military alliance to a more versatile, modernized partnership. But perhaps even more noteworthy was the joint commitment to strengthening regional governance and championing human rights, especially women’s rights. 

    Making a Statement

    To begin with, the Biden and Moon administrations reinforced their common vision of promoting regional governance centered on liberal values in the Indo-Pacific. Broad-brush commitments from the 2019 joint statement by the US and the Republic of Korea (ROK) — such as encouraging regional digital transparency and advancing openness, sovereignty and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific — solidified into more explicit terms during the recent meeting in Washington.

    Embed from Getty Images

    For instance, both sides agreed to oppose all activities that undermine, destabilize and threaten the rules-based order; uphold freedom of navigation and stability in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait; support open and inclusive regional multilateralism, including the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad); and build clean 5G and 6G telecommunications networks. The allies also established the KORUS Global Vaccine Partnership, a tangible step toward strengthening regional leadership and governance through public health and vaccine distribution.

    For Washington, getting South Korea to acknowledge and emphasize the importance of liberal norms in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, as well as demonstrate mutual support for the Quad, was a welcome change. Out of fear of damaging strategic ties with China, its largest trading partner and an important broker of regional diplomacy with North Korea, leaders in Seoul have largely avoided publicly siding with the US on China-related issues.

    South Korea’s traditional wariness is based on experience. In 2016, after Seoul deployed the THAAD missile defense system, which China perceives as a vehicle for US strategic surveillance of Chinese interests, Beijing imposed informal economic boycotts against South Korea and cut off bilateral defense talks. Against this backdrop, the Biden-Moon statement from the summit, which contains language that can be viewed as contrary to Chinese interests (such as supporting the Quad and upholding liberal norms around disputed East Asian seas), signaled that Seoul is growing more confident in standing up for its own values and supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific, regardless of Beijing’s preferences and despite the possibility of retaliation. 

    Human Rights

    In addition to regional governance, human rights marked another issue where Washington and Seoul renewed commitment at the summit. The joint statement comprised several pledges that soundly reflected the alliance’s devotion to human rights. This included expanded financial aid for Northern Triangle countries, commitment to aiding North Korean citizens, support for the ongoing democratic movement in Myanmar, and standing for justice against racism and hate crimes targeting Asian Americans. But particularly eye-catching was the alliance’s unusually strong emphasis on empowering women and enhancing gender equality.  

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    The Biden-Moon statement acknowledged “women’s full participation” as the key to resilient democracy and presented several important commitments for women’s empowerment. The two presidents mentioned exchanging best practices to reduce the gender wage gap, empowering women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and combating abuses against women, including domestic violence and cyber-exploitation.

    When it comes to workplace equality, both allies stand well below the average for member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on issues like gender wage gap disparity and female leadership (or the glass ceiling phenomenon), with South Korea ranking last. Tied to this is gender disparity in STEM, which limits greater labor diversification and which has also been a concern for both the United States and South Korea. Violence against women is a challenge both societies face.

    These are all vital areas of improvement for both countries to elevate their state of gender equality and overall democracy. The specific mention of these issues in the joint statement is encouraging for women’s rights advocates. 

    Falling Short

    Despite this promising turn, shared awareness of gender equality issues does not mean much if not put into action. Inconsistent progress on this front has been a problem for both allies. Women’s empowerment was a key goal at the summit in 2015 between Barack Obama and Park Geun-hye. But while the US remained committed to these shared objectives, South Korea fell short. While things have improved in South Korea, with its gender equality ranking rising from 118 to 102 under Moon, the US saw a backslide under former President Donald Trump, going from 45th to 53rd place globally, according to the World Economic Forum.

    Embed from Getty Images

    However, under the Biden administration, which prioritizes gender equality, the US will likely make significant progress in the future. Promoting gender equality is an indispensable element of the universal human rights agenda. As two sophisticated democracies championing human rights, both the US and South Korea are responsible for making enduring efforts to empower women. Under any administration ruled by whichever political coalitions, the value of women’s rights should not be undermined. 

    On top of striving to tackle gender inequality at home, the US and South Korea should lay out more concrete bilateral initiatives and build a high-level communication channel to discuss progress regularly and hold each other accountable for tangible progress toward their commitments. Gender inequality remains a longstanding obstacle to regional growth in Asia. At the regional level, the US–ROK alliance could revisit and expand on its pledges from the 2020 East Asia Summit regarding women’s economic empowerment and participation in security and peacekeeping issues.

    After all, the Biden and Moon administrations’ renewed cooperation on regional governance in the Indo-Pacific and gender equality established a good framework for the US–ROK alliance to expand its influence and spread democratic values throughout Asia. Both sides should make sure to diligently implement the commitments going forward.

    *[Fair Observer is a media partner of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Will the Taliban End Up Under the Influence?

    Yahoo News Senior Editor Mike Bebernes asks the big question on everyone’s mind after the American debacle in Afghanistan: “Does the U.S. have any real leverage over the Taliban?” After summarizing the immediate political background of the topic, he compares the speculative answers of a variety of pundits.

    Bebernes distinguishes between what he calls optimists, who “say the U.S. has enormous leverage to hold the Taliban to their commitments,” and the pessimists, who apparently believe that the interests of the two countries have so little in common that it isn’t worth bothering about the concerns of such savage people. In other words, as Donnie Brasco would say, “Forget about it!”

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    The optimists typically cite the weakness of the Afghan economy and the problems the Taliban will face without US cooperation. Others think that a common concern with fanatical terrorist groups may create an opportunity for mutual understanding. Bebernes suggests that the Taliban government is likely to “seek support in combating its own terror threat from groups like [the Islamic State in Khorasan Province], which some experts believe will create another point of leverage for the U.S.”

    One of the pessimists appears to believe that, as in the Cold War, there may become what General Turgidson in “Dr. Strangelove” would have called a “leverage gap” between the US and Russia or China. “Other world powers could undercut America’s leverage.”

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Leverage:

    The measure of the power of a state with imperial ambitions over the life and death of populations beyond its borders

    Contextual Note

    The trauma Americans experienced after Saigon, nearly half a century ago, and Kabul today has provoked what might be called the first “leverage crisis” in US history. For more than two centuries, the United States has carved out, largely unimpeded, its areas of influence in various parts of the world. Areas of influence eventually evolved into “spheres of influence.”

    Embed from Getty Images

    Following World War II, American strategists realized they could conquer, economically if not politically, the great sphere itself, the earthly globe. The globalization of what was originally the US version of Europe’s capitalist economy, along with a reinforced ideology thanks to thinkers from the University of Chicago, led every strategist within Washington’s Beltway to assume that the globe itself could become America’s hegemonic domain.

    Exercising geopolitical and economic hegemony required two things: physical presence — provided essentially by multinational firms and American military bases — and a toolbox of influence, which could take the form alternatively of overt and covert military action or economic sanctions. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US State Department has wielded those tools with a sense of ever-increasing impunity as it proceeded to intimidate both its allies and nations that refused to acknowledge their tributary status with regard to US influence. For the past four decades, the US has relied on either warfare — invasion, occupation and bombing campaigns, unlimited in time and scope — or increasingly severe economic sanctions to reaffirm what was officially formulated as influence, but exercised with a spirit of hegemonic control.

    The debacle in Afghanistan reveals a deeper trouble at the core of strategic decision-making in Washington. The new emphasis on the concept of leverage can be read as an admission that the toolbox to manage a sphere of influence has lost much of its efficacy. For decades, the idea of applying and reinforcing influence dominated Washington’s strategic thinking. It is now being replaced by the much more fragile idea of exercising leverage. Both the State Department and the media pundits appear puzzled about what that might mean.

    The concept of leverage comes from the field of mechanics. It describes the function of a lever. “Levers convert a small force applied over a long distance to a large force applied over a small distance.” Twenty years of yet another futile, expensive and demonstrably stupid war appears to have taught Washington that it no longer has the control over distance that it formerly believed it had. Its wasteful actions have also diminished its force.

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    Making leverage work in mechanics requires some careful analysis, preparation and effective execution. These are efforts the strategists, planners and decision-makers, convinced of the indomitable force of their influence, have consistently failed to carry out in a competent way. Could it be too late for them to learn the art of leverage? Or is the very fact that they are now obliged to think in terms of leverage rather than influence so humiliating an experience that they will fail to engage?

    This may be the occasion for US President Joe Biden to leverage the vaunted “power of our example” rather than the “example of our power” that he so regularly mentions in his speeches. That would require some real geopolitical creativity. And does he really believe that the US could live up to that standard? Few commentators have remarked that Biden, true to his own tradition, plagiarized that line from Evan Augustine Peterson III, J.D., who originally used it in 2005 to condemn the Iraq war that Biden had so forcefully promoted as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    Historical Note

    In 1823, President James Monroe promulgated the Monroe Doctrine that continues to this day to dominate US relations with the entire American continent. It became a permanent feature of the mindset of US strategists, who without a trace of tragic irony routinely consider Latin America in its entirety, right down to the Tierra del Fuego, as Washington’s “backyard.” Peter Hakim, a senior fellow of the Inter-American Dialogue, in a Foreign Affairs in 2007 article with the title, “Is Washington Losing Latin America?” dared to express the feelings not only of the US political class, but also those of the USA’s neighbors. “Perhaps what most troubles Latin Americans is the sense that Washington just does not take the region seriously and still considers it to be its own backyard,” he wrote.

    In 1823, Latin America’s population consisted of three broad socio-cultural and ethnic components: indigenous people who occupied most of the mountainous interior; descendants of Iberian Europeans (Spanish and Portuguese) who, following their 15th and 16th-century conquests, dominated the political and economic structures; and imported African slaves (primarily in Brazil). All three were as distant from the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture of the US as anyone could imagine. These were the populations President Monroe wanted to “protect” from hostile action by European powers. 

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    Through its own expansion justified in the name of “manifest destiny,” the US had demonstrated how it would deal with indigenous Americans. Primarily through genocidal warfare. It demonstrated its attitude toward Africans, deemed useful purely for economic exploitation as slaves. As for the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking populations who created the culture that prevailed across all the coastal regions of Latin America, they belonged at best to the category of second-class Europeans. The fact that the majority were mestizos (mixed-race) defined them irrevocably as third-class. At least they could thank their hybrid status for being spared the fate of the true indigenous, who could at any moment, even in recent times, be subjected to genocidal treatment.

    In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt refined the Monroe Doctrine by adding the Roosevelt Corollary. It “stated that in cases of flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American country, the United States could intervene in that country’s internal affairs.” If during the 19th the Monroe Doctrine functioned mainly as a barrier to European incursion, by the beginning of the 20th century, the US had come to understand the value for its burgeoning capitalist economy of controlling what came to become a continental sphere of influence. Controlling meant having the power to organize the economy of the countries under its influence.

    Following the Second World War and the collapse of nearly all the vestiges of European colonization, the US discovered that the entire globe could potentially become its sphere of influence. Some have called the period of the Cold War the Pax Americana, simply because the standoff with the Soviet Union never became a hot war between the two massively armed superpowers. But throughout the period there were proxy wars, clandestine operations and regime change campaigns galore that meant the heat was never really turned down.

    What a comedown it must be today to have to debate how to exercise leverage.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    When Truth No Longer Matters

    An effective communicator with a questionable past builds a successful campaign as an outsider disinterested in everyday, run-of-the-mill politics. He smartly taps into the fears and anxieties of voters and projects himself as the only person who can fix the supposedly broken system.

    Despite warnings from ex-associates and journalists regarding his sociopathic behavior, he decries the media and political opponents as unpatriotic. Policy wonks and veterans in his party are sidelined to create a personality cult unmoored from any ideology. Social media is used daily for dog-whistle rhetoric to promote the cultural supremacy of his ilk.

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    By blaming all the socio-economic ills on outsiders, previous administrations and “others,” he builds a narrative of victimhood. His devoted followers start living in an alternate universe. Once in power, he uses his bully’s pulpit to undermine all democratic institutions.

    Riding Out the Storm

    You would be forgiven for thinking that this was about Donald Trump. But this is the story of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. The similarities end there, however. While the United States managed to pull back from the brink after the Capitol Hill insurrection of January 6, Indian democracy is in a dangerous downward spiral.

    To understand these divergent trajectories of the oldest and the largest democracies in the world, it is instructive to examine the key differences between Trump’s and Modi’s personalities, the maturity of democratic institutions in the United States and India, and the histories of these two republics.

    In the US, Trump’s effort to subvert democratic institutions has been well documented, with commentators still writing about how close the country had come to a constitutional crisis in his final days in office. Trump tried his best to manipulate all the American institutions, but there was rarely any method to his madness. Unlike Modi, he was more interested in vanity than power.

    On a given day, he could draw lines on a map for petty reasons and undermine the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association or brazenly call the officials in Georgia and ask them to “find” enough votes in Trump’s favor to reverse the election result in the state. As much as Trump and his partner-in-crime, Attorney General William Barr, tried, they could not corrode the integrity of the system beyond a certain point.

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    Despite Trump’s vilification, the media stayed strong and kept hammering home the truth. While Trump tried to use the judiciary to run down the clock on several grave constitutional issues, scores of judges, including several appointed by the president, stood up to him when it mattered the most. The legislature impeached but failed to convict him twice. However, when push came to shove, it certified the votes and declared Joe Biden as the legitimate winner of the 2020 election.

    Barring a few minor missteps, the FBI withstood a concerted pressure campaign from Trump and his allies. The Federal Reserve, the Federal Election Commission, the intelligence agencies, vast bureaucracies and diplomats around the world kept their heads down and rode out the storm. With more than two centuries of experience, most American institutions have learned the importance of guarding their turf.

    Taming the Bureaucracy

    In India, on the other hand, while running his home state of Gujarat before becoming prime minister, Modi had perfected the art of taming the bureaucracy to his will, manipulating or marginalizing the media and polarizing the electorate for his narrow purposes. While he did deliver on a few key infrastructure promises, he also carefully crafted a larger-than-life persona around himself. As soon as he became prime minister, he stopped interacting with the media.

    Well before facing reelection in 2019, he enacted an anonymous political funding system and used it to build a formidable social media propaganda machine to fabricate an alternate universe for his voters. Behind the scenes, he methodically started dismantling the democratic checks and balances. While Trump’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might not have been intent on destroying American institutions, Modi proved to be more like McConnell than Trump — someone playing the long power game.

    While previous governments of opposing parties were often guilty of undermining democracy, the brazenness and the cold, calculating manner in which Modi has approached it are astonishing. By using obscure parliamentary maneuvers, the prime minister has repeatedly sidelined or manipulated the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, to pass laws that have long-term and far-reaching social consequences.

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    In addition to passing questionable constitutional amendments to enact his anonymous political funding scheme, the Right to Information Act (the equivalent of the American Freedom of Information Act) was amended so that those ensuring public access to non-classified government records lost their independence. As a consequence, it became increasingly difficult to shed light on the government’s opaque decision-making.

    The enormous war chest built through anonymous political donations, the government’s sizable advertising budget and the threat of central investigative agencies were used to browbeat most of the media outlets into submission. A top Election Commission official who took a stand against Modi’s incendiary rhetoric in the run-up to his reelection was reassigned to the Asian Development Bank, headquartered in the Philippines.

    The Reserve Bank of India, in charge of the country’s monetary policy, has been repeatedly coerced into taking unsound policy decisions and covering up for the government’s fiscal and economic policy failures. Policymaking powers of at least two states, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi, have been curtailed through potentially unconstitutional means, disturbing India’s federal structure. The military has been repeatedly co-opted for Modi’s photo-ops to promote phony nationalism. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has been a mute spectator, keeping on hold the hearing of cases related to some of the most pressing constitutional issues.

    As the unfolding global Pegasus spyware scandal indicates, Modi has probably compromised the judiciary’s independence as well. By allegedly hacking the phones of everyone from political rivals, constitutional authorities, judges, their staffers to activists, journalists and even his own ministers and friends in the private sector, Modi seems to have established an Orwellian surveillance-coercion state in which it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to challenge the power of his executive branch.

    Opposite Paths

    Why have India and the US embarked on such opposite paths? One reason is the difference between the two leading men themselves. A devoted foot soldier of right-wing Hindu majoritarian ideology, Modi rose through the political ranks and served more than two terms at the helm of the state of Gujarat before running for the highest office in the land. He had carefully studied all levers of executive and bureaucratic power and, along with his deputy, Amit Shah, had already gained notoriety as one of the country’s most ruthless politicians.

    While both ran their campaigns as outsiders, Trump’s understanding of the government machinery was limited. As former National Security Adviser John Bolton recently pointed out, Trump is incapable of staging a coup because he lacks the attention span required for it. With no discernible political acumen, Trump was incapable of looking beyond the next news cycle or his narrow self-interest.

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    The American system dodging the Trump bullet and the Indian system crumbling under Modi also reflect the wide gulf in their socio-cultural values. By insisting on universal adult suffrage from its inception, the founding fathers of the Republic of India expressed tremendous faith in the citizenry and future leaders despite a severe resource crunch, a moribund economy and near-total absence of infrastructure for health, education or even basic transportation.

    While giving every adult the right to vote is hailed as a quintessentially Indian revolution, and rightly so, it has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has dismantled the centuries-old feudal social structures and slowly empowered historically oppressed castes. On the other, limited institutional capacity and lack of appreciation for their independence among voters have made the Indian system susceptible to demagoguery in the short run. This will change as India becomes more prosperous and internalizes the benefits of decentralizing power, but that brings into sharp relief Modi’s betrayal of his mandate.

    Fledgling Democracy

    At 75, India is still a fledgling democracy. It has already gone through one emergency under former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, when all institutions, state and national elections, and fundamental rights were suspended amid near-total media censorship. While the Supreme Court took corrective action after the emergency, widespread poverty and, until recently, low levels of literacy have hampered rapid institutional capacity building in India. Corruption is endemic to all branches of government, making them easy targets for manipulation.

    In its short history as a republic, the socialist economic model adopted by India’s pre-1990 governments has also created a new feudal system in the form of political patronage. With the government tightly controlling the economy, politicians became the new overlords picking winners and losers. As the initial euphoria and idealism following independence faded, criminals came to dominate politics. Corruption became the mainstay of political life.

    While these might be birth pangs of any new republic — and might find parallels in the early decades of the existence of the United States — complacency and arrogance of the Indian National Congress (INC), India’s GOP, has fueled the rise of Modi.

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    In the 1970s and 1980s, a 21-month-long national emergency, followed by legislative action favoring minorities to protect the INC’s own vote banks, had led to resentment among the Hindu majority. Instead of correcting some of these historic wrongs to move the discourse to a liberal center, Modi has swung it to the extreme right. He has not taken any overt steps that resemble the emergency that Indira Gandhi declared in 1975. Instead, he has chosen covert means to slowly and deliberately dismantle the Indian system of governance.

    More importantly, while Gandhi’s methods were largely populist, Modi has added toxic majoritarianism to it, making this movement more dangerous, with potentially longer-lasting consequences. For someone who claims that he developed his political consciousness during the emergency, Modi’s assault on the liberal system that enabled his rise from humble beginnings is truly ironic.

    A leader who promised to decentralize power and dismantle India’s new feudal system of political patronage now presides over one of the most centralized decision-making structures. When the framers of the Indian Constitution chose universal adult suffrage, they also expected elected leaders to nurture democratic institutions until they can stand on their own feet. Modi’s betrayal of that mandate, more so than Gandhi’s, will affect India for a generation, if not longer.

    Dark Phase

    Lastly, while the American system was built on an ethos of “don’t tread on me” and a desire to keep government out of people’s lives, historical factors like entrenched feudalism and extreme cultural diversity made India choose a cradle-to-the-grave approach to governance with a strong central executive.  

    Americans instinctively question authority and are suspicious of the government, whereas Indians, by and large, have tremendous faith in the government as a source of good and are still coming out of the shadows of colonialism. American society values individual liberty, privacy and agency, while Indians gravitate toward collectivism and fatalism.

    Perhaps the most telling indicator of this difference was the fact that Trump’s approval rating never crossed 45% while Modi commands favor among 60% to 70% of Indians despite his mismanagement of the pandemic, a series of foreign policy failures and the economic destruction under his watch.

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    Indian democracy is going through a dark phase, and all eyes are on the Indian Supreme Court to see if it will push back against Modi’s draconian executive branch. Even if the courts start asserting their independence again, India will pay a steeper price than the US did under Trump before it becomes a healthy democracy again. For the sake of their own democratic future, one can only hope that Indians start questioning their government more, hold it accountable and insist on securing privacy and liberty.

    While fast, centralized decision-making might seem seductive in the short run, India will reap long-term benefits if it can turn its latent admiration of developed Western countries into a deeper appreciation for the checks and balances that enable their stability. Against all odds, India has stared down some of the toughest challenges so far. With some more patience, if it can focus on building institutional capacity and spreading awareness about their importance through rapid upgrades in the quality of education, it will live up to its potential of becoming a liberal, democratic counterweight to China.

    Meanwhile, supporters of republican values in the United States will do well to learn from the goings on in India and count their blessings, or institutions, that helped the union survive Trump. In early August, as members of the House committee investigating the failed insurrection of January 6 heard gut-wrenching testimonies from Capitol Police, some of their Republican colleagues held press conferences blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the tragic events.

    As the January 6 commission has reconvened and subpoenaed scores of records from the government and private phone companies, Trump and his congressional supporters are back at it again, claiming executive privilege and threatening private companies with consequences if they cooperate with the commission to prevent it from shedding light on the truth.

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    The GOP leadership is keen on winning back both the houses of Congress in 2022 and knows the damage this fact-finding mission will do to electoral prospects. Some pushback or false equivalence is par for the course in this political game. However, the brazenness of the lies and fealty to Donald Trump more than six months after his ignominious While House exit is mind-boggling. Without condoning the messy last days of the US war in Afghanistan, they can take a leaf out of President Biden’s book to square with Americans about the systemic risk Trumpism poses to the system.

    As national attention shifts from the Afghanistan war to other domestic and foreign policies, insisting on the truth by supporting the January 6 investigation, even at the cost of losing one election cycle, would be a small price to pay for the conservatives to preserve the republic.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More