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It was an impressive effort: a front-page New York Times story about a “new way of war” with the bylines of six reporters, and two more and a team of researchers cited at the end of the piece. “They have plotted deadly missions from secret bases in the badlands of Somalia. In Afghanistan, they have engaged in combat so intimate that they have emerged soaked in blood that was not their own. On clandestine raids in the dead of the night, their weapons of choice have ranged from customized carbines to primeval tomahawks.” So began the Times investigation of SEAL Team 6, its nonstop missions, its weaponry, its culture, the stresses and strains its “warriors” have experienced in recent years, and even some of the accusations leveled against them. (“Afghan villagers and a British commander accused SEALs of indiscriminately killing men in one hamlet.”)
For all the secrecy surrounding SEAL Team 6, it has been the public face of America’s Special Operations forces and so has garnered massive attention, especially, of course, after some of its members killed Osama bin Laden on a raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011. It even won a starring role in the Oscar-winning Hollywood film Zero Dark Thirty, produced with CIA help, about the tracking down of bin Laden. As a unit, however, SEAL Team 6 is “roughly 300 assault troops, called operators, and 1,500 support personnel”; in other words, more or less a drop in the bucket when it comes to America’s Special Operations forces. And its story, however nonstop and dramatic, is similarly a drop in the bucket when it comes to the flood of special operations actions in these years.
While SEAL Team 6 has received extensive coverage, what could be considered the military story of the twenty-first century, the massive, ongoing expansion of a secret force (functionally the president’s private army) cocooned inside the U.S. military — now at almost 70,000 personnel and growing — has gotten next to none. Keep in mind that such a force is already larger than the active-duty militaries of Australia, Chile, Cuba, Hungary, the Netherlands, Nigeria, and South Africa, among a bevy of other countries. If those 70,000 personnel engaging in operations across the planet — even their most mundane acts enveloped in a blanket of secrecy — have created, as the Times suggests, a new way of war in and out of Washington’s war zones, it has gone largely unreported in the American media.
Thanks to Nick Turse (and Andrew Bacevich), however, TomDispatch has been the exception to this seemingly ironclad rule. Since 2011, when he found special operations units deployed to 120 countries annually, Turse has continued to chart their expanding global role in 2012, 2014, and this year. He has also tried, as today, to assess just how successful this new way of war that melds the soldier and the spy, the counterinsurgent and the guerrilla, the drone assassin and the “man-hunter” has been. Imagine for a moment the resources that the media would apply to such an analogous Russian or Chinese force, if its units covertly trained “friendly” militaries or went into action yearly in at least two-thirds of the countries on the planet. Tom
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.
U.S. Special Ops Forces Deployed in 135 Nations
2015 Proves to Be Record-Breaking Year for the Military’s Secret Military
By Nick Turse
You can find them in dusty, sunbaked badlands, moist tropical forests, and the salty spray of third-world littorals. Standing in judgement, buffeted by the rotor wash of a helicopter or sweltering beneath the relentless desert sun, they instruct, yell, and cajole as skinnier men playact under their watchful eyes. In many places, more than their particular brand of camouflage, better boots, and designer gear sets them apart. Their days are scented by stale sweat and gunpowder; their nights are spent in rustic locales or third-world bars.
These men — and they are mostly men — belong to an exclusive military fraternity that traces its heritage back to the birth of the nation. Typically, they’ve spent the better part of a decade as more conventional soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen before making the cut. They’ve probably been deployed overseas four to 10 times. The officers are generally approaching their mid-thirties; the enlisted men, their late twenties. They’ve had more schooling than most in the military. They’re likely to be married with a couple of kids. And day after day, they carry out shadowy missions over much of the planet: sometimes covert raids, more often hush-hush training exercises from Chad to Uganda, Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, Albania to Romania, Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, Belize to Uruguay. They belong to the Special Operations forces (SOF), America’s most elite troops — Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, among others — and odds are, if you throw a dart at a world map or stop a spinning globe with your index finger and don’t hit water, they’ve been there sometime in 2015.
The Wide World of Special Ops
This year, U.S. Special Operations forces have already deployed to 135 nations, according to Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command (SOCOM). That’s roughly 70% of the countries on the planet. Every day, in fact, America’s most elite troops are carrying out missions in 80 to 90 nations, practicing night raids or sometimes conducting them for real, engaging in sniper training or sometimes actually gunning down enemies from afar. As part of a global engagement strategy of endless hush-hush operations conducted on every continent but Antarctica, they have now eclipsed the number and range of special ops missions undertaken at the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the waning days of the Bush administration, Special Operations forces (SOF) were reportedly deployed in only about 60 nations around the world. By 2010, according to the Washington Post, that number had swelled to 75. Three years later, it had jumped to 134 nations, “slipping” to 133 last year, before reaching a new record of 135 this summer. This 80% increase over the last five years is indicative of SOCOM’s exponential expansion which first shifted into high gear following the 9/11 attacks.
Special Operations Command’s funding, for example, has more than tripled from about $3 billion in 2001 to nearly $10 billion in 2014 “constant dollars,” according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). And this doesn’t include funding from the various service branches, which SOCOM estimates at around another $8 billion annually, or other undisclosed sums that the GAO was unable to track. The average number of Special Operations forces deployed overseas has nearly tripled during these same years, while SOCOM more than doubled its personnel from about 33,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 now.
Each day, according to SOCOM commander General Joseph Votel, approximately 11,000 special operators are deployed or stationed outside the United States with many more on standby, ready to respond in the event of an overseas crisis. “I think a lot of our resources are focused in Iraq and in the Middle East, in Syria for right now. That’s really where our head has been,” Votel told the Aspen Security Forum in July. Still, he insisted his troops were not “doing anything on the ground in Syria” — even if they had carried out a night raid there a couple of months before and it was later revealed that they are involved in a covert campaign of drone strikes in that country.
“I think we are increasing our focus on Eastern Europe at this time,” he added. “At the same time we continue to provide some level of support on South America for Colombia and the other interests that we have down there. And then of course we’re engaged out in the Pacific with a lot of our partners, reassuring them and working those relationships and maintaining our presence out there.”
In reality, the average percentage of Special Operations forces deployed to the Greater Middle East has decreased in recent years. Back in 2006, 85% of special operators were deployed in support of Central Command or CENTCOM, the geographic combatant command (GCC) that oversees operations in the region. By last year, that number had dropped to 69%, according to GAO figures. Over that same span, Northern Command — devoted to homeland defense — held steady at 1%, European Command (EUCOM) doubled its percentage, from 3% to 6%, Pacific Command (PACOM) increased from 7% to 10%, and Southern Command, which overseas Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, inched up from 3% to 4%. The largest increase, however, was in a region conspicuously absent from Votel’s rundown of special ops deployments. In 2006, just 1% of the special operators deployed abroad were sent to Africa Command’s area of operations. Last year, it was 10%.
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A member of the U.S. Special Operations forces guides two soldiers from Cameroon’s 3rd Battalion Intervention Rapid (BIR) during a 2013 training event. (Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Larry W. Carpenter Jr.)
Globetrotting is SOCOM’s stock in trade and, not coincidentally, it’s divided into a collection of planet-girding “sub-unified commands”: the self-explanatorySOCAFRICA; SOCEUR, the European contingent; SOCCENT, the sub-unified command of CENTCOM; SOCKOR, which is devoted strictly to Korea; SOCPAC, which covers the rest of the Asia-Pacific region; SOCSOUTH, which conducts missions in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean; SOCNORTH, which is devoted to “homeland defense”; and the ever-itinerant Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC, a clandestine sub-command (formerly headed by Votel) made up of personnel from each service branch, including SEALs, Air Force special tactics airmen, and the Army’s Delta Force that specializes in tracking and killing suspected terrorists.
The elite of the elite in the special ops community, JSOC takes on covert, clandestine, and low-visibility operations in the hottest of hot spots. Some covert ops that have come to light in recent years include a host of Delta Force missions: among them, an operation in May in which members of the elite force killed an Islamic State commander known as Abu Sayyaf during a night raid in Syria; the 2014 release of long-time Taliban prisoner Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl; the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspect in 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya; and the 2013 abduction of Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda militant, off a street in that same country. Similarly, Navy SEALs have, among other operations, carried out successful hostage rescue missions in Afghanistan and Somalia in 2012; a disastrous one in Yemen in 2014; a 2013 kidnap raid in Somalia that went awry; and — that same year — a failed evacuation mission in South Sudan in which three SEALs were wounded when their aircraft was hit by small arms fire.
SOCOM’s SOF Alphabet Soup
Most deployments have, however, been training missions designed to tutor proxies and forge stronger ties with allies. “Special Operations forces provide individual-level training, unit-level training, and formal classroom training,” explains SOCOM’s Ken McGraw. “Individual training can be in subjects like basic rifle marksmanship, land navigation, airborne operations, and first aid. They provide unit-level training in subjects like small unit tactics, counterterrorism operations and maritime operations. SOF can also provide formal classroom training in subjects like the military decision-making process or staff planning.”
From 2012 to 2014, for instance, Special Operations forces carried out 500 Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) missions in as many as 67 countries each year. JCETs are officially devoted to training U.S. forces, but they nonetheless serve as a key facet of SOCOM’s global engagement strategy. The missions “foster key military partnerships with foreign militaries, enhance partner-nations’ capability to provide for their own defense, and build interoperability between U.S. SOF and partner-nation forces,” according to SOCOM’s McGraw.
And JCETs are just a fraction of the story. SOCOM carries out many other multinational overseas training operations. According to data from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), for example, Special Operations forces conducted 75 training exercises in 30 countries in 2014. The numbers were projected to jump to 98 exercises in 34 countries by the end of this year.
“SOCOM places a premium on international partnerships and building their capacity. Today, SOCOM has persistent partnerships with about 60 countries through our Special Operations Forces Liaison Elements and Joint Planning and Advisory Teams,” said SOCOM’s Votel at a conference earlier this year, drawing attention to two of the many types of shadowy Special Ops entities that operate overseas. These SOFLEs and JPATs belong to a mind-bending alphabet soup of special ops entities operating around the globe, a jumble of opaque acronyms and stilted abbreviations masking a secret world of clandestine efforts often conducted in the shadows in impoverished lands ruled by problematic regimes. The proliferation of this bewildering SOCOM shorthand — SOJTFs and CJSOTFs, SOCCEs and SOLEs — mirrors the relentless expansion of the command, with its signature brand of military speak or milspeak proving as indecipherable to most Americans as its missions are secret from them.
Around the world, you can find Special Operations Joint Task Forces (SOJTFs), Combined Joint Special Operations Task Forces (CJSOTFs), and Joint Special Operations Task Forces (JSOTFs), Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs), as well as Special Operations Command and Control Elements (SOCCEs) and Special Operations Liaison Elements (SOLEs). And that list doesn’t even include Special Operations Command Forward (SOC FWD) elements — small teams which, according to the military, “shape and coordinate special operations forces security cooperation and engagement in support of theater special operations command, geographic combatant command, and country team goals and objectives.”
Special Operations Command will not divulge the locations or even a simple count of its SOC FWDs for “security reasons.” When asked how releasing only the number could imperil security, SOCOM’s Ken McGraw was typically opaque. “The information is classified,” he responded. “I am not the classification authority for that information so I do not know the specifics of why the information is classified.” Open source data suggests, however, that they are clustered in favored black ops stomping grounds, including SOC FWD Pakistan, SOC FWD Yemen, and SOC FWD Lebanon, as well as SOC FWD East Africa, SOC FWD Central Africa, and SOC FWD West Africa.
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A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier readies himself to jump out of a C-130J Super Hercules over Hurlburt Field, Fla., March 3, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)
What’s clear is that SOCOM prefers to operate in the shadows while its personnel and missions expand globally to little notice or attention. “The key thing that SOCOM brings to the table is that we are — we think of ourselves — as a global force. We support the geographic combatant commanders, but we are not bound by the artificial boundaries that normally define the regional areas in which they operate. So what we try to do is we try to operate across those boundaries,” SOCOM’s Votel told the Aspen Security Forum.
In one particular blurring of boundaries, Special Operations liaison officers (SOLOs) are embedded in at least 14 key U.S. embassies to assist in advising the special forces of various allied nations. Already operating in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Poland, Peru, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, the SOLO program is poised, according to Votel, to expand to 40 countries by 2019. The command, and especially JSOC, has also forged close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency, among other outfits, through the use of liaison officers and Special Operations Support Teams (SOSTs).
“In today’s environment, our effectiveness is directly tied to our ability to operate with domestic and international partners. We, as a joint force, must continue to institutionalize interoperability, integration, and interdependence between conventional forces and special operations forces through doctrine, training, and operational deployments,” Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee this spring. “From working with indigenous forces and local governments to improve local security, to high-risk counterterrorism operations — SOF are in vital roles performing essential tasks.”
SOCOM will not name the 135 countries in which America’s most elite forces were deployed this year, let alone disclose the nature of those operations. Most were, undoubtedly, training efforts. Documents obtained from the Pentagon via the Freedom of Information Act outlining Joint Combined Exchange Training in 2013 offer an indication of what Special Operations forces do on a daily basis and also what skills are deemed necessary for their real-world missions: combat marksmanship, patrolling, weapons training, small unit tactics, special operations in urban terrain, close quarters combat, advanced marksmanship, sniper employment, long-range shooting, deliberate attack, and heavy weapons employment, in addition to combat casualty care, human rights awareness, land navigation, and mission planning, among others.
From Joint Special Operations Task Force-Juniper Shield, which operates in Africa’s Trans-Sahara region, and Special Operations Command and Control Element-Horn of Africa, to Army Special Operations Forces Liaison Element-Korea and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula, the global growth of SOF missions has been breathtaking. SEALs or Green Berets, Delta Force operators or Air Commandos, they are constantly taking on what Votel likes to call the “nation’s most complex, demanding, and high-risk challenges.”
These forces carry out operations almost entirely unknown to the American taxpayers who fund them, operations conducted far from the scrutiny of the media or meaningful outside oversight of any kind. Everyday, in around 80 or more countries that Special Operations Command will not name, they undertake missions the command refuses to talk about. They exist in a secret world of obtuse acronyms and shadowy efforts, of mystery missions kept secret from the American public, not to mention most of the citizens of the 135 nations where they’ve been deployed this year.
This summer, when Votel commented that more special ops troops are deployed to more locations and are conducting more operations than at the height of the Afghan and Iraq wars, he drew attention to two conflicts in which those forces played major roles that have notturned outwell for the United States. Consider that symbolic of what the bulking up of his command has meant in these years.
“Ultimately, the best indicator of our success will be the success of the [geographic combatant commands],” says the special ops chief, but with U.S. setbacks in Africa Command’s area of operations from Mali and Nigeria to Burkina Faso and Cameroon; in Central Command’s bailiwick from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen and Syria; in the PACOM region vis–vis China; and perhaps even in the EUCOM area of operations due to Russia, it’s far from clear what successes can be attributed to the ever-expanding secret operations of America’s secret military. The special ops commander seems resigned to the very real limitations of what his secretive but much-ballyhooed, highly-trained, well-funded, heavily-armed operators can do.
“We can buy space, we can buy time,” says Votel, stressing that SOCOM can “play a very, very key role” in countering “violent extremism,” but only up to a point — and that point seems to fall strikingly short of anything resembling victory or even significant foreign policy success. “Ultimately, you know, problems like we see in Iraq and Syria,” he says, “aren’t going to be resolved by us.”
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. A 2014 Izzy Award and American Book Awardwinner for his book Kill Anything That Moves, he has reported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa and his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Intercept, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His latest book is Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2015 Nick Turse
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.
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Thursday, September 24, 2015
Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Secret War in 135 Countries It was an impressive effort: a front-page New York Times story about a “new way of war” with the bylines of six reporters, and two more and a team of researchers cited at the end of the piece. “They have plotted deadly missions from secret bases in the badlands of Somalia. In Afghanistan, they have engaged in combat so intimate that they have emerged soaked in blood that was not their own…”
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Tomgram: Krushnic and King, The Corporate Nuclear Complex Imagine for a moment a genuine absurdity: somewhere in the United States, the highly profitable operations of a set of corporations were based on the possibility that sooner or later your neighborhood would be destroyed and you and all your neighbors annihilated. And not just you and your neighbors, but others and their neighbors across the planet.
Monday, September 21, 2015 (2 comments)
Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Flying the Unfriendly Skies of America It was August 2002. My partner Jan Adams and I were just beginning our annual pilgrimage to Massachusetts to visit my father and stepmother. At the check-in line at San Francisco International Airport, we handed over our driver’s licenses and waited for the airline ticket agent to find our flight and reservation. Suddenly, she got a funny look on her face. “There’s something wrong with the computer,” she said.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Tomgram: John Feffer, The Star Trek Fallacy The “prime directive,” designed to govern the conduct of Kirk and his crew on their episodic journey, required non-interference in the workings of alien civilizations. The Vietnam War, which raged through the years of its initial run, was then demonstrating to more and more Americans the folly of trying to re-engineer a society distant both geographically and culturally.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Alfred McCoy, Maintaining American Supremacy in the Twenty-First Century From TomDispatch this morning: A sweeping, provocative, and original look at whether the U.S. can maintain itself as the planet’s “sole superpower” in this century.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Tomgram: David Vine, Our Base Nation Early in this century, former CIA consultant and scholar Chalmers Johnson broke the silence around America’s “empire of bases.” And yet, in an era in which such bases, still being built, have played a crucial role in our various wars, conflicts, bombing and drone assassination campaigns, and other interventions in the Greater Middle East and elsewhere, they remain a barely acknowledged aspect of American life.
Thursday, September 10, 2015 (1 comments)
Tomgram: Nick Turse, Nothing Succeeds Like Failure Since 9/11, in fact, the continent has increasingly been viewed by the Pentagon as a place of problems to be remedied by military means. And year after year, as terror groups have multiplied, proxies have foundered, and allies have disappointed, the U.S. has doubled down again and again, with America’s most elite troops — U.S. Special Operations forces — leading the way.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015 (2 comments)
Exceptional Pain Dispensed by the Indispensable Nation Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Tomgram: Laura Gottesdiener, The King Is Dead! Laura Gottesdiener, who has been traveling fossil-fuel ravaged America from the fracking fields of the West to the coal industry’s mountain-top removal in West Virginia, offers a powerful look at what’s left behind when Big Energy is done.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Tomgram: David Bromwich, The Neoconservative Empire Returns Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu, and a bevy of congressional Republicans as well as Republican presidential candidates, go after President Obama and play what he calls “the long game on Iran.” They are, that is, not just looking toward shooting down the agreement now, but making sure that the next president will feel tremendous pressure to do so and to take on Iran militarily in 2017.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Tomgram: Noam Chomsky, Rogue States and Nuclear Dangers Noam Chomsky’s major essay on the Iranian nuclear deal and the drumbeat of opposition to it. He makes sense of and offers a striking sense of perspective on the various over-the-top charges offered by those out to sink the deal, including that Iran is the “gravest threat” to world peace, the “greatest supporter” of terrorism on the planet, and “fueling instability” across the Greater Middle East.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015 (1 comments)
Tomgram: William Astore, Time to Hold Military Boots to the Fire Air Force Academy instructor William Astore. He considers just what America’s future commanders are being taught in the country’s three elite military academies and wonders what a crew that has taken no responsibility for years of disaster in conflict after conflict has to offer anyone and why they are generally held in such high regard in this country.
Monday, August 17, 2015 (1 comments)
Tomgram: William deBuys, Entering the Mega-Drought Era in AmericaTomDispatch regular William deBuys offers an eye-opening look at bone-dry, blazing California and ways in which that state is leading us all into a grim future. Today’s droughts, bad as they are, will be put in the shade by the predicted mega-droughts of tomorrow, and the problem of water in the American West is only going to deepen — or do I mean grow shallower?
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Tomgram: Michael Klare, Big Oil in Retreat In his latest fascinating dispatch, Klare takes us through the ins and outs of an oil industry that suddenly looks to be on the ropes. “Most of us are used to following the ups and downs of the Dow Jones Industrial Average as a shorthand gauge for the state of the world economy. However, following the ups and downs of the price of Brent crude may, in the end, tell us far more about world affairs on our endangered planet.”
Tuesday, August 11, 2015 (2 comments)
Tomgram: Engelhardt, What It Means When You Kill People On the Other Side of the Planet and No One Notices This is the story of how the antiwar movement of one era brought what I call “the spectacle of slaughter” into American neighborhoods and backyards, and how, in the twenty-first century, the deaths of hundreds of thousands, the killing of children, the knocking off of wedding parties has barely caused a ripple in American consciousness. Think of this as memoir with a purpose.
Thursday, August 6, 2015
Tomgram: Susan Southard, Under the Mushroom Cloud — Nagasaki after Nuclear WarSouthard follows five teenagers, who survived the second use of a nuclear weapon, from the moment a B-29 appeared over the city to the first devastating moments after the blast. It’s an unforgettable account of one city’s destruction and a reminder of the dangers our world, filled with nuclear weapons so much more powerful than the one that obliterated Nagasaki, still faces.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015 (5 comments)
Tomgram: Christian Appy, America’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 Years Later Historian Appy tells a remarkable and vivid tale of how the leaders of the only country to use atomic weapons against human beings crafted a narrative of, in essence, atomic “mercy” killings of a life-saving nature and how that narrative remained engraved in our collective consciousness (as in the wildly successfully bestseller and movie Unbroken) from August 1945 to the present moment.
Monday, August 3, 2015
Karen J. Greenberg, The Mass Killer and the National Security StateTomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, explains just what it means to the future funding of the national security state amid a panic over ISIS “lone wolves” and mass shootings — and why it’s likely to result in more taxpayer money going into ever more intrusive efforts to monitor Americans instead of into caring for those in our society who are young and disturbed.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Subhankar Banerjee, Fire at World’s End Subhankar Banerjee lives on the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington and has recently found himself on the front lines of the present wildfire season in a drought-gripped West. In his latest piece, he takes us into perhaps the single place least likely to be ablaze in America and oh yes, if you haven’t already guessed, it’s on fire.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, Washington and Tehran Come in From the ColdPeter Van Buren says to stop fretting about the details. What’s in the actual accord matters little; what does matter is that a kind of Cold War in the Middle East has just potentially ended, the balance of power in the region may have shifted, and the world could be a very different place — and none of that is in the nuclear document itself.
Monday, July 27, 2015
Eduardo Galeano, The Previous Sole Superpower The 13 passages take you, in Galeano-esque fashion, from the Opium Wars to Darwin’s finches. It’s great stuff from a man to whom history regularly whispered its secrets and it’s excerpted from his late-in-life masterpiece, his history of humanity in 366 episodes, Mirrors.
Thursday, July 23, 2015 (4 comments)
Tomgram: Pepe Escobar, The Pivot to Eurasia n the rest of this remarkable piece, Escobar explores the latest news when it comes to China’s and Russia’s attempts to stitch together a new set of forces on the Eurasia continent, a plan in which Iran will be a key crossroads and node. He offers an eye-opening new way of looking at where our planet is headed and why Washington won’t be the country leading it there. Make sure to give this piece your full attention!
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Tomgram: Engelhardt, A Message in a Bottle from My Mother [This article] explores the last instance of American war mobilization and implicitly why the U.S. has failed to win another significant war without it — and does so in the context of my memories, my life, and my mother (copiously illustrated with photos and memorabilia of mine from her life). I hope you find this one both heartfelt and out of the ordinary. Tom
Thursday, July 16, 2015 (1 comments)
Tomgram: Max Blumenthal, The Next Gaza War A gripping anatomy of the nightmarish ongoing conflict in Gaza, and why Israelis are so bent on a fourth round of hostilities in Gaza.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015 (1 comments)
Tomgram: Tim Weiner, The Nixon Legacy It turns out we never got rid of Richard Nixon. Weiner’s book should convince anyone that he created the blueprint for the present national security state. What was, for instance, one president’s mania for bugging and recording his world in the twentieth century has become, in the twenty-first century, the NSA’s mania for bugging and recording the whole planet.
Monday, July 13, 2015 (1 comments)
Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, No Lone Rangers in Drone Warfare In reality, there’s nothing ‘lone’ about drone warfare. Think of the structure for carrying out Washington’s drone killing program as a multidimensional pyramid populated with hundreds of personnel and so complex that just about no one involved really grasps the full picture.
Thursday, July 9, 2015
Tomgram: Ellen Cantarow, Paradise Lost — or Found? In the Finger Lakes, an area of New York State you may never have heard of, Cantarow offers a glimpse of the small-scale, local ways in which Americans are standing up to Big Energy corporations. She describes how they are doing their inventive best to seize the day and ensure that our children and grandchildren remain on a planet capable of supporting them. This is inspiring stuff. Don’t miss it! Tom
Tuesday, July 7, 2015 (2 comments)
Tomgram: Greg Grandin, How Endless War Helps Old Dixie Stay New In this remarkable anatomy of how the Confederate flag went to war — after the Civil War — Grandin explores its uses from the late 19th century through World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and into the wars of our present century.
Saturday, July 4, 2015
Tomgram: Engelhardt, What Happened to War? In my latest post, I start with the strange inability of Washington to translate America’s staggering military power into effective and successful policy. Consider this an American decline piece with a twist. The question I ask is: What if the U.S. is indeed declining, but unlike in the past 500 years of the rise and fall of empires, no rivals are rising to challenge it?
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Michael Klare, The Coming of Cold War 2.0 In a world that, from Washington’s point of view, is only getting darker, Nixon-era enemies are also returning to the fray, and so Washington’s new, twenty-first century “enemies list” is the focus of TomDispatch regular Michael Klare’s latest offering. As the 2016 election campaign ramps up, get ready to hear far more about the grave, even existential threats posed by two oldies but goodies: Russia and China.
Monday, June 29, 2015
William Astore, “Hi, I’m Uncle Sam and I’m a War-oholic” Endless war-making, whether on countries, terror groups, or social problems, has become an American trait. We seem to regularly launch wars of every sort and then never quite make our way out of them. Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore suggests that, were the U.S. an individual, we would immediately recognize what such behavior was — addiction — and act accordingly.
Thursday, June 25, 2015 (1 comments)
Peter Van Buren, What If There Is No Plan B for Iraq? In recent White House “debates” over a disastrously deteriorating situation in Iraq, President Obama’s top military officials were dragging their feet on the question of what more the U.S. should do. Clearly, they weren’t ready to swallow the idea of more U.S. casualties in a spreading conflict leading nowhere fast.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Tomgram: Nomi Prins, Jeb! The Money! Dynasty! Based on her book, All the Presidents’ Bankers, former Wall Street exec Nomi Prins is now producing a series of pieces for TomDispatch on presidential dynasties-in-the-making and their financial underpinnings.
Monday, June 22, 2015 (2 comments)
Armed Violence in the Homeland In the rest of the piece, I offer a kind of tabulation of the overwhelming annual carnage-by-weapon in America that, most of the time, is remarkably little attended to and that no national security state promotes as “the greatest threat” of our time. It’s a piece meant to put violence in our American world in some kind of perspective. I hope you’ll find it provocative!
Thursday, June 18, 2015 (1 comments)
Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The Theology of American National Security Today, a brilliant piece by TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich on the repetitive madness that is Washington’s Iraq policy. A full-scale look at the consensus thinking (or national security “theology”) that rules the nation’s capital and how it has led us repeatedly down the rabbit hole in Iraq (and elsewhere). What the Obama Administration have blinded themselves to and where this leads in an Alice-in-Wonderland world
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Tomgram: Naomi Oreskes, Why Climate Deniers Are Their Own Worst Nightmares From prominent historian of science Naomi Oreskes (profiled in the New York Times science section this morning) and co-author of the already-classic book Merchants of Doubt, a truly important piece: a devastating dissection of climate denial, the deniers, and their attack on climate scientists.
Monday, June 15, 2015 (1 comments)
Tomgram: David Vine, “The Truth About Diego Garcia, And 50 Years of Fictions About a U.S. Military Base” While the grim saga of Diego Garcia frequently reads like fiction, it has proven all too real for the people involved. It’s the story of a U.S. military base built on a series of real-life fictions told by U.S. and British officials over more than half a century.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Tomgram: Jen Marlowe, “They Demolish and We Rebuild” Nasser Nawaj’ah held Laith’s hand as, beside me, they walked down the dirt and pebble path of Old Susya. Nasser is 33 years old, his son six. Nasser’s jaw was set and every few moments he glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was approaching. Until Laith piped up with his question, the only sounds were our footsteps and the wind, against which Nasser was wearing a wool hat and a pleated brown jacket.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015 (1 comments)
Tomgram: Gottesdiener and Garcia, How to Dismantle This CountrySomething is rotten in the state of Michigan. One city neglected to inform its residents that its water supply was laced with cancerous chemicals. Another dissolved its public school district and replaced it with a charter school system, only to witness the for-profit management company it hired flee the scene after determining it couldn’t turn a profit.
Monday, June 8, 2015 (4 comments)
Tomgram: Alfred McCoy. Washington’s Great Game and Why It’s Failing For even the greatest of empires, geography is often destiny. You wouldn’t know it in Washington, though. America’s political, national security, and foreign policy elites continue to ignore the basics of geopolitics that have shaped the fate of world empires for the past 500 years.
Thursday, June 4, 2015
Tomgram: Nick Turse, My Very Own Veteran’s Day PIBOR, South Sudan — “I’ve never been a soldier,” I say to the wide-eyed, lanky-limbed veteran sitting across from me. “Tell me about military life. What’s it like?” He looks up as if the answer can be found in the blazing blue sky above, shoots me a sheepish grin, and then fixes his gaze on his feet. I let the silence wash over us and wait. He looks embarrassed. Perhaps it’s for me.
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Tomgram: Engelhardt, Going for Broke in Ponzi Scheme America It couldn’t be a sunnier, more beautiful day to exit your lives — or enter them — depending on how you care to look at it. After all, here you are four years later in your graduation togs with your parents looking on, waiting to celebrate. The question is: Celebrate what exactly?
Monday, June 1, 2015
Barbara Myers: The Unknown Whistleblower The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December.
Thursday, May 28, 2015 (2 comments)
Michael Klare: Superpower in Distress Take a look around the world and it’s hard not to conclude that the United States is a superpower in decline. Whether in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, aspiring powers are flexing their muscles, ignoring Washington’s dictates, or actively combating them.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
John Feffer: Why the World is Becoming Un-Sweden Imagine an alternative universe in which the two major Cold War superpowers evolved into the United Soviet Socialist States. The conjoined entity, linked perhaps by a new Bering Straits land bridge, combines the optimal features of capitalism and collectivism. From Siberia to Sioux City, we’d all be living in one giant Sweden.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Dahr Jamail: The Navy’s Great Alaskan “War” I lived in Anchorage for 10 years and spent much of that time climbing in and on the spine of the state, the Alaska Range. Three times I stood atop the mountain the Athabaskans call Denali, “the great one.” During that decade, I mountaineered for more than half a year on that magnificent state’s highest peaks.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Engelhardt: Tomorrow’s News Today It’s commonplace to speak of “the fog of war,” of what can’t be known in the midst of battle, of the inability of both generals and foot soldiers to foresee developments once fighting is underway. And yet that fog is nothing compared to the murky nature of the future itself, which, you might say, is the fog of human life.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Nick Turse: One Boy, One Rifle, and One Morning in Malakal President Obama couldn’t have been more eloquent. Addressing the Clinton Global Initiative, for instance, he said: “When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery.”
Thursday, May 14, 2015
William Astore: America’s Mutant Military It’s 1990. I’m a young captain in the U.S. Air Force. I’ve just witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, something I never thought I’d see, short of a third world war. Right now I’m witnessing the slow death of the Soviet Union, without the accompanying nuclear Armageddon so many feared. Still, I’m slightly nervous as my military gears up for an unexpected new campaign, Operation Desert Shield/Storm…
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Ann Jones: Citizen’s Revolt in Afghanistan I went to Kabul, Afghanistan, in March to see old friends. By chance, I arrived the day after a woman had been beaten to death and burned by a mob of young men. The world would soon come to know her name: Farkhunda
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Nomi Prins: Hillary, Bill, and the Big Six Banks The past, especially the political past, doesn’t just provide clues to the present. In the realm of the presidency and Wall Street, it provides an ongoing pathway for political-financial relationships and policies that remain a threat to the American economy going forward.
Tuesday, May 5, 2015 (1 comments)
Michael Gould-Wartofsky, The New Age of Counterinsurgency Policing Last week, as Baltimore braced for renewed protests over the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) prepared for battle. With state-of-the-art surveillance of local teenagers’ Twitter feeds, law enforcement had learned that a group of high school students was planning to march on the Mondawmin Mall.
Monday, May 4, 2015
Engelhardt: Counting Bodies, Then and Now In the twenty-first-century world of drone warfare, one question with two aspects reigns supreme: Who counts? In Washington, the answers are the same: We don’t count and they don’t count.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Sandy Tolan: The One-State Conundrum The SUV slows as it approaches a military kiosk at a break in a dull gray wall. Inside, Ramzi Aburedwan, a Palestinian musician, prepares his documents for the Israeli soldier standing guard. On the other side of this West Bank military checkpoint lies the young man’s destination, the ancient Palestinian town of Sebastia.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Andrew Cockburn: How Assassination Sold Drugs and Promoted Terrorism As the war on terror nears its 14th anniversary — a war we seem to be losing, given jihadist advances in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen — the U.S. sticks stolidly to its strategy of “high-value targeting,” our preferred euphemism for assassination. Secretary of State John Kerry has proudly cited the elimination of “fifty percent” of the Islamic State’s “top commanders” as a recent indication of progress.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Christian Appy: From the Fall of Saigon to Our Fallen Empire If our wars in the Greater Middle East ever end, it’s a pretty safe bet that they will end badly — and it won’t be the first time. The “fall of Saigon” in 1975 was the quintessential bitter end to a war. Oddly enough, however, we’ve since found ways to reimagine that denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Engelhardt: The Future Foreseen (and Not) Dear Grandson, Consider my address book — and yes, the simple fact that I have one already tells you a good deal about me. All the names, street addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers that matter to me are still on paper, not in a computer or on an iPhone, and it’s not complicated to know what that means: I’m an old guy getting older.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Nick Turse: AFRICOM Behaving Badly Six people lay lifeless in the filthy brown water. It was 5:09 a.m. when their Toyota Land Cruiser plunged off a bridge in the West African country of Mali. For about two seconds, the SUV sailed through the air, pirouetting 180 degrees as it plunged 70 feet, crashing into the Niger River.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Laura Gottesdiener: Another Round of Detroit Refugees? Unlike so many industrial innovations, the revolving door was not developed in Detroit. It took its first spin in Philadelphia in 1888, the brainchild of Theophilus Van Kannel, the soon-to-be founder of the Van Kannel Revolving Door Company. Its purpose was twofold: to better insulate buildings from the cold and to allow greater numbers of people easier entry at any given time.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Michael Klare: Is the Age of Renewable Energy Already Upon Us? Don’t hold your breath, but future historians may look back on 2015 as the year that the renewable energy ascendancy began, the moment when the world started to move decisively away from its reliance on fossil fuels. Those fuels — oil, natural gas, and coal — will, of course, continue to dominate the energy landscape for years to come, adding billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon to the atmosphere.
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