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Authors: Tom Engelhardt

American Way of War

BOOK: American Way of War
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Table of Contents
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Praise for
The American Way of War
“They may have Blackwater/Xe, Halliburton, aircraft carrier battle groups, deadly drones by the score and the world’s largest military budget, but we have Tom Engelhardt—and a more powerful truth-seeking missile has seldom been invented. Longtime fans like me will be happy to see some of his most memorable pieces reprinted here, although woven together in a way that makes them still stronger; for anyone not yet familiar with his work, this is your chance to meet one of the most forceful analysts alive of our country’s dangerous, costly addiction to all things military.”
—Adam Hochschild, author of
Bury the Chains
and
King Leopold’s Ghost
 
“Tom Engelhardt is the I. F. Stone of the post-9/11 age—seeing what others miss, calling attention to contradictions that others willfully ignore, insisting that Americans examine in full precisely those things that make us most uncomfortable.”
—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of
Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War
 
“Tom Engelhardt is among our most trenchant critics of American perpetual war. Like I. F. Stone in the 1960s, he has an uncanny ability to ferret out and see clearly the ugly truths hidden in government reports and statistics. No cynic, he always measures the sordid reality against a bright vision of an America that lives up to its highest ideals.”
—Juan R. Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan
 
“There are a lot of ways to describe Tom Engelhardt’s astonishing service to this country’s conscience and imagination: you could portray him as our generation’s Orwell, standing aside from all conventional framings to see afresh our dilemmas and blind spots, as the diligent little boy sending in regular dispatches on the nakedness of the emperor and his empire, as a bodhisattva dedicated to saving all beings through compassion and awareness, but analogies don’t really describe the mix of clear and sometimes hilarious writing, deep insight, superb information, empathy, and outrage that has been the core of Tom’s TomDispatches for almost a decade, or the extraordinary contribution they’ve made to the American dialogue. Check out this bundle of some of the best from that time span.”
—Rebecca Solnit, author of
Hope in the Dark
and
A Paradise Built in Hell
For Chalmers Johnson, the most astute observer of the American way of war I know. He broke the ground and made the difference.
INTRODUCTION
Is America Hooked on War?
“War is peace” was one of the memorable slogans on the facade of the Ministry of Truth, or Minitrue in “Newspeak,” the language invented by George Orwell in 1948 for his dystopian novel
1984
. Some sixty years later, a quarter century after Orwell’s imagined future bit the dust, the phrase is, in a number of ways, eerily applicable to the United States.
On September 10, 2009, for instance, a
New York Times
front-page story by Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger was headlined “Obama Is Facing Doubts in Party on Afghanistan, Troop Buildup at Issue.” It offered a modern version of journalistic Newspeak.
“Doubts,” of course, imply dissent, and in fact just the week before there had been a major break in Washington’s ranks, though not among Democrats. The conservative columnist George Will wrote a piece offering blunt advice to the Obama administration, summed up in its headline: “Time to Get Out of Afghanistan.” In our age of political and audience fragmentation and polarization, think of this as the Afghan version of Vietnam’s Walter Cronkite moment.
The
Times
report on those Democratic doubts, on the other hand, represented a more typical Washington moment. Ignored, for instance, was Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold’s call for the president to develop an Afghan withdrawal timetable. The focus of the piece was instead a
planned speech by Michigan senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He was, Schmitt and Sanger reported, hoping to push back against well-placed leaks (in the
Times
, among other places) indicating that war commander General Stanley McChrystal was urging the president to commit fifteen thousand to forty-five thousand more American troops to the Afghan War.
Here, according to the two reporters, was the gist of Levin’s message about what everyone agreed was a “deteriorating” U.S. position: “[H]e was against sending more American combat troops to Afghanistan until the United States speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces.”
Think of this as the line in the sand within the Democratic Party. Both positions could be summed up with the same word: More.
The essence of this “debate” came down to: More of them versus more of us (and keep in mind that more of “them”—an expanded training program for the Afghan National Army—actually meant more of “us” in the form of extra trainers and advisers). In other words, however contentious the disputes in Washington, however dismally the public viewed the war, however much the president’s war coalition might threaten to crack open, the only choices were between more and more.
In such a situation, no alternatives are likely to get a real hearing. Few alternative policy proposals even exist because alternatives that don’t fit with “more” have ceased to be part of Washington’s war culture. No serious thought, effort, or investment goes into them. Clearly referring to Will’s column, one of the unnamed “senior officials” who swarm through our major newspapers made the administration’s position clear, saying sardonically, according to the
Washington Post
, “I don’t anticipate that the briefing books for the [administration] principals on these debates over the next weeks and months will be filled with submissions from opinion columnists.… I do anticipate they will be filled with vigorous discussion…of how successful we’ve been to date.”
 
State of War
Because the United States does not look like a militarized country, it’s hard for Americans to grasp that Washington is a war capital, that the
United States is a war state, that it garrisons much of the planet, and that the norm for us is to be at war somewhere (usually, in fact, many places) at any moment. Similarly, we’ve become used to the idea that, when various forms of force (or threats of force) don’t work, our response, as in Afghanistan, is to recalibrate and apply some alternate version of the same under a new or rebranded name—the hot one now being “counterinsurgency,” or COIN—in a marginally different manner. When it comes to war, as well as preparations for war, more is now generally the order of the day.
This wasn’t always the case. The early Republic that the most hawkish conservatives love to cite was a land whose leaders looked with suspicion on the very idea of a standing army. They would have viewed our hundreds of global garrisons, our vast network of spies, agents, Special Forces teams, surveillance operatives, interrogators, rent-a-guns, and mercenary corporations—as well as our staggering Pentagon budget and the constant future-war gaming and planning that accompanies it—with genuine horror.
The question is: What kind of country do we actually live in when the so-called U.S. Intelligence Community lists seventeen intelligence services ranging from Air Force Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency to the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency? What could “intelligence” mean once spread over seventeen sizeable, bureaucratic, often competing outfits with a cumulative 2009 budget estimated at more than $55 billion (a startling percentage of which is controlled by the Pentagon)? What exactly is so intelligent about all that? And why does no one think it even mildly strange or in any way out of the ordinary?
What does it mean when the most military-obsessed administration in our history, which, year after year, submitted ever more bloated Pentagon budgets to Congress, is succeeded by one headed by a president who ran, at least partially, on an antiwar platform, and who then submitted an even larger Pentagon budget? What does this tell you about Washington and about the viability of nonmilitarized alternatives to the path George W. Bush took? What does it mean when the new administration, surveying nearly eight years and two wars’ worth of disasters, decides to expand the U.S. Armed Forces rather than shrink the U.S. global mission?
What kind of a world do we inhabit when, at a time of mass unemployment, the American taxpayer is financing the building of a three-story, exceedingly permanent-looking $17 million troop barracks at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan? This, in turn, is part of a taxpayer-funded $220 million upgrade of the base that includes new “water treatment plants, headquarters buildings, fuel farms, and power generating plants.” And what about the U.S. air base built at Balad, north of Baghdad, that has fifteen bus routes, two fire stations, two water treatment plants, two sewage treatment plants, two power plants, a water bottling plant, and the requisite set of fast-food outlets, PXes, and so on, as well as air traffic levels sometimes compared to those at Chicago’s O’Hare International?
What kind of world are we living in when a plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq involves the removal of more than 1.5 million pieces of equipment? Or in which the possibility of withdrawal leads the Pentagon to issue nearly billion-dollar contracts (new ones!) to increase the number of private security contractors in that country?
BOOK: American Way of War
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