Basmane: A Traditional Section of Izmir, Turkey With Pictures

Basmane (Izmir, Turkey): Historical Smyrna

by Eddie James Girdner

In the nineteenth century, Basmane was a factory area. Basmane Railway Station was built between 1864 and 1866 for the Smyrna Cassaba Railway, which ran from Izmir to Turgutlu. In 1934 it became part of the Turkish State Railway system.

Today, Basmane is a traditional area of small shops, restaurants and hotels along historical Anafartalar Street. In the last few years, the area has changed with the coming of Syrian refugees. Many shops have been taken over by these new immigrants. It is a colourful and interesting area of the city, which is shown in these images.

All pictures were taken with a Leica M6 TTL camera with black and white film.

Basmane Railway Station, the main railway station in Izmir for Turkish State Railways.

A kokorec Vender in Basmane

Selling Nuts

Selling Simits near a historical fountain (Cesme). It is across the street from the Mosque.

One finds the most interesting mix of people in Basmane, it seems.

A very rich shop.

Selling Sweets

Passengers Arrive

Mobile Shop, selling dried okra, tomatoes, egg plant and so on.

Roll Your Own Tobacco for Cigarettes. Giving the Ultranationalist Wolf Salute of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP)

Out For a Stroll. Might be the happiest time of their lives.

A Saturday Afternoon Walk

A Square Near the Mosque

The Street

Street Scene

Waiting for a bite to eat.

For most, its a scramble for a living. Off to make a sale. These are the kind of poor people that America bombs in the Middle East. They are just simple people.

Plenty in the market, if one has the do ray me.

Homeward Bound

Man ain’t nothin but just a hoping machine (Woody Guthrie).

Many residents have come to the city from villages in the east of the country.

Local Restaurant on the Street

Used Clothes market in the Square. There are many Syrian Refugees, thanks to the war caused by the USA in Iraq and later Syria. The hell with democracy. They are just trying to save their lives.

Nothing like a good ear of sweet corn, anywhere in the world.

The Fruit Man Cometh

Night Shot of the Grand Corner Hotel across from the Railway Station.

That’s a little piece of old Basmane (Izmir, Turkey) or Historical Smyrna.

Its a great city.

Its a hell of a city.

 

 

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Losing Wars

Turning Victory Into Defeat

Originally posted at TomDispatch.

Think of it as a reverse miracle. Seventeen years of American war in this century waged by a military considered beyond compare on a planet that, back in 2001, was almost without enemies. How, then, was it possible, month after month, year after year, to turn the promise of eternal victory so repetitiously into the reality of defeat (and spreading terror movements)? As I read retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and historian William Astore’s latest piece on the subject, I must admit that I felt a certain sense of awe. In fact, I wondered whether, historically speaking, this might not be a one-of-a-kind situation.

Had there ever been an imperial power at the ostensible height of its glory that proved quite so incapable of effectively applying its military and political force globally to achieve its aims? At their height, the Roman Empire, China’s various imperial dynasties, and Europe’s colonial powers, however brutally, generally proved quite capable of impressing their wills and desires on those beyond their borders, even on relatively distant parts of the planet (at least for a time). In fact, in the Cold War years – think of Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, or Chile on the first 9/11 (September 11, 1973) – the U.S. proved no less capable, often in similarly brutal ways. And yet, from Afghanistan to Libya, Iraq to Somalia, Syria to Yemen, despite the endless application of U.S. power, the killing of tens of thousands of people (including key figures in various terror movements), the displacement of millions, the rubblization of whole cities, and the creation of a series of partially or fully failed states, nowhere, as TomDispatch regular Astore points out today, has U.S. power succeeded in successfully imposing its will, even as its wars only multiplied.

And here’s another thing I’ve come to wonder about: How did the hearts-and-minds moxie of the leftist national liberation movements of the previous century that decolonized much of the planet get transferred to the extreme Islamist groups of this one? Like the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (the “Vietcong”) and similar groups in the twentieth century, al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, and other terror outfits regularly suffer extreme casualties and yet somehow maintain their grip on the hearts and minds of significant numbers of people in riven, increasingly ruined lands. They can, it seems, even attract random Americans and Europeans into the fold. It’s a strange and unexpected phenomenon, a grim success story that hasn’t been faced in a serious way here.

I suspect that these two puzzles – how the self-acknowledged greatest power of all time failed to deliver and the extremist resistance to it, against all odds, did – may have to be left to future historians to fully unravel. In the meantime, check out Astore’s striking account of how the U.S. military has repeatedly turned promised victory into dismal defeat in these years. No question about it, it’s a tale for the history books. ~ Tom

The U.S. Military’s Lost WarsOverfunded, Overhyped, and Always Over There

By William J. Astore

One of the finest military memoirs of any generation is Defeat Into Victory, British Field Marshal Sir William Slim’s perceptive account of World War II’s torturous Burma campaign, which ended in a resounding victory over Japan. When America’s generals write their memoirs about their never-ending war on terror, they’d do well to choose a different title: Victory Into Defeat. That would certainly be more appropriate than those on already published accounts like Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez’s Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story (2008), or General Stanley McChrystal’s My Share of the Task (2013).

Think about it. America’s Afghan War began in 2001 with what was essentially a punitive raid against the Taliban, part of which was mythologized last year in 12 Strong, a Hollywood film with a cavalry charge that echoed the best of John Wayne. That victory, however, quickly turned first into quagmire and then, despite various “surges” and a seemingly endless series of U.S. commanders (17 so far), into a growing sense of inevitable defeat. Today, a resurgent Taliban exercises increasing influence over the hearts, minds, and territory of the Afghan people. The Trump administration’s response so far has been a mini-surge of several thousand troops, an increase in air and dronestrikes, and an attempt to suppress accurate reports from the Pentagon’s special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction about America’s losing effort there.

Turn now to the invasion of Iraq: in May 2003, President George W. Bush cockily announced “Mission Accomplished” from the deck of an aircraft carrier, only to see victory in Baghdad degenerate into insurgency and a quagmire conflict that established conditions for the rise of the Islamic State. Gains in stability during a surge of U.S. forces orchestrated by General David Petraeus in 2007 and hailed in Washington as a fabulous success story proved fragile and reversible. An ignominious U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011 was followed in 2014 by the collapse of that country’s American-trained and armed military in the face of modest numbers of Islamic State militants. A recommitment of U.S. troops and air power brought Stalingrad-style devastation to cities like Mosul and Ramadi, largely reduced to rubble, while up to 1.3 million children were displaced from their homes. All in all, not exactly the face of victory.

Nor, as it happened, was the Obama administration’s Libyan intervention of 2011. “We came, we saw, he died,” boasted a jubilant Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the time. The “he” was Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s autocratic ruler whose reign of terror looked less horrible after that country collapsed into a failed state, while spreading both terror groups and weaponry throughout the region. That, in turn, led to wider and more costly U.S. interventions in Africa, including the infamous loss of four Green Berets to an ISIS franchise in Niger in 2017.

“We don’t win [wars] anymore,” said candidate Donald Trump in 2016 and he wasn’t wrong about that. In fact, that remarkable record of repeatedly turning initially advertised victory into something approximating defeat would be one reason candidate Trump could boast that he knew more about military matters than America’s generals. Yet for all his talk of winning, victories (large or small) have proved no less elusive for him as commander-in-chief. Recall the botched raid in Yemen early in 2017 that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL and many Yemeni innocents, which Trump blamed on his generals. Recall the president’s “beautiful” cruise missile attack against Syria in April of that same year, which resolved nothing. Or recall the way he recently “fired” retired general Jim Mattis (just after he resigned as secretary of defense) supposedly because he couldn’t bring the Afghan War to a victorious close.

The question is: What’s made America’s leaders, civilian and military, quite so proficient when it comes to turning victories into defeats? And what does that tell us about them and their wars?

A Sustained Record of Losing

During World War II, British civilians called the “Yanks” who would form the backbone of the Normandy invasion in June 1944 (the one that contributed to Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender less than a year later) “overpaid, oversexed, and over here.” What can be said of today’s Yanks? Perhaps that they’re overfunded, overhyped, and always over there – “there” being unpromising places like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

Let’s start with always over there. As Nick Turse recently reported forTomDispatch, U.S. forces remain deployed on approximately 800 foreign bases across the globe. (No one knows the exact number, Turse notes, possibly not even the Pentagon.) The cost: somewhere to the north of $100 billion a year simply to sustain that global “footprint.” At the same time, U.S. forces are engaged in an open-ended war on terror in 80 countries, a sprawling commitment that has cost nearly $6 trillion since the 9/11 attacks (as documented by the Costs of War Project at Brown University). This prodigious and prodigal global presence has not been lost on America’s Tweeter-in-Chief, who opined that the country’s military “cannot continue to be the policeman of the world.” Showing his usual sensitivity to others, he noted as well that “we are in countries most people haven’t even heard about. Frankly, it’s ridiculous.”

Yet Trump’s inconsistent calls to downsize Washington’s foreign commitments, including vows to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria and halve the number in Afghanistan, have encountered serious pushback from Washington’s bevy of war hawks like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and his own national security advisor, John Bolton. Contrary to the president’s tweets, U.S. troops in Syria are now destined to remain there for at least months, if not years, according to Bolton. Meanwhile, Trump-promised troop withdrawals from Afghanistan may be delayed considerably in the (lost) cause of keeping the Taliban – clearly winning and having nothing but time – off-balance. What matters most, as retired General David Petraeus argued in 2017, is showing resolve, no matter how disappointing the results. For him, as for so many in the Pentagon high command, it’s perfectly acceptable for Americans to face a “generational struggle” in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) that could, he hinted, persist for as long as America’s ongoing commitment to South Korea – that is, almost 70 years.

Turning to overfunded, the unofficial motto of the Pentagon budgetary process might be “aim high” and in this they have succeeded admirably. For example, President Trump denounced a proposed Pentagon budget of $733 billion for fiscal year 2020 as “crazy” high. Then he demonstrated his art-of-the-deal skills by suggesting a modest cut to $700 billion, only to compromise with his national security chiefs on a new figure: $750 billion. That eternal flood of money into the Pentagon’s coffers – no matter the political party in power – ensures one thing: that no one in that five-sided building needs to think hard about the disastrous direction of U.S. strategy or the grim results of its wars. The only hard thinking is devoted to how to spend the gigabucks pouring in (and keep more coming).

Instead of getting the most bang for the buck, the Pentagon now gets the most bucks for the least bang. To justify them, America’s defense experts are placing their bets not only on their failing generational war on terror, but also on a revived cold war (now uncapitalized) with China and Russia. Such rivals are no longer simply to be “deterred,” to use a commonplace word from the old (capitalized) Cold War; they must now be “overmatched,” a new Pentagon buzzword that translates into unquestionable military superiority (including newly “usable” nuclear weapons) that may well bring the world closer to annihilation.

Finally, there’s overhyped. Washington leaders of all stripes love to boast of a military that’s “second to none,” of a fighting force that’s the “finest” in history. Recently, Vice President Mike Pence reminded the troops that they are “the best of us.” Indeed you could argue that “support our troops” has become a new American mantra, a national motto as ubiquitous as (and synonymous with) “In God we trust.” But if America’s military truly is the finest fighting force since forever, someone should explain just why it’s failed to produce clear and enduring victories of any significance since World War II.

Despite endless deployments, bottomless funding, and breathless hype, the U.S. military loses – it’s politely called a “stalemate” – with remarkable consistency. America’s privates and lieutenants, the grunts at the bottom, are hardly to blame. The fish, as they say, rots from the head, which in this case means America’s most senior officers. Yet, according to them, often in testimony before Congress, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere, that military is always making progress. Victory, so they claim, is invariably around the next corner, which they’re constantly turning or getting ready to turn.

America’s post-9/11 crop of generals like Mattis, H.R. McMasterJohn Kelly, and especially Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus have been much celebrated here in the mainstream media. And in their dress uniforms shimmering with colorful ribbons, badges, and medals, they certainly looked the part of victors.

Indeed, when three of them were still in Donald Trump’s administration, thepro-war mainstream media unabashedly saluted them as the “adults in the room,” allegedly curbing the worst of the president’s mad impulses. Yet consider the withering critique of veteran reporter William Arkin who recently resigned from NBC News to protest the media’s reflexive support of America’s wars and the warriors who have overseen them. “I find it disheartening,” he wrote, “that we do not report the failures of the generals and national security leaders. I find it shocking that we essentially condone continued American bumbling in the Middle East and now Africa through our ho-hum reporting.” NBC News, he concluded in his letter of resignation, has been “emulating the national security state itself – busy and profitable. No wars won but the ball is kept in play.”

Arkin couldn’t be more on target. Moreover, self-styled triumphalist warriors and a cheeringly complicit media are hardly the ideal tools with which to fix a tottering republic, one allegedly founded on the principle of rule by informed citizens, not the national security state.

Can America Turn Defeat Into Victory?

Like Field Marshal Slim and his coalition army in Burma, America must find a way to turn defeat into victory. Here’s the rub: Slim and his forgotten army knew that they were fighting a war of survival against a ruthless Japanese enemy. Under his results-oriented leadership, his forces proved willing to make the sacrifices necessary for victory. In the U.S. case, however, no such sacrifices would matter as there’s no way to win thoroughly misbegotten wars by finding the right general or defining a new strategy or throwing more money at the Pentagon. The only way to win such wars is by ending them and, at some gut level, candidate Trump seemed to recognize this. On occasion as president, he has indeed questioned both the high cost and disastrous results of those wars, but so far he has been more interventionist than isolationist, greatly expanding air and drone strikes across the Greater Middle East as well as committing, at the urging of “his” generals, more troops to Afghanistan and Syria.

Endless war for any purpose other than the literal preservation of the republic isn’t a measure of fortitude or toughness or foresight; however, it is the path to national suicide. And the “war on terror” has proven to be the very definition of endless war.

A quick recap: what started in 2001 as a punitive raid and blossomed into endless war against the Taliban and later other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan shows no sign of abating; a war to rid Saddam Hussein of (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction cratered in 2003 when none were found, the Iraqis did not greet their “liberators” with flowers, and no preparations had been made to stabilize an increasingly ethnically riven country after a massively destructive invasion; a shortsighted operation to overthrow a bothersome dictator in Libya in 2011 led to the spread of death, destruction, and weaponry throughout the region; efforts in Syria to train“moderate” Islamic forces to counter extremists and overthrow the country’s autocratic ruler Bashar al-Assad only aggravated a preexisting civil war. These and similar interventions are already lost causes. There is no way for better leaders, cleverer tactics, or booming defense budgets to win them today.

In the future, the surest way to turn defeat into victory would be to avoid such needless wars. On the other hand, a surefire way to defeat is to persist in them out of fear, greed, opportunism, careerism, or similar motives. These are lessons America’s gung-ho defense experts have little incentive to absorb, let alone act upon – and because they won’t, we must.

A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and professor of history, William Astore is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 William J. Astore

About Trump on Syria

Why Trump Doesn’t Always Get It Wrong on the Middle East

Must one talk of Donald Trump? One must and not just because of the power of his position as US president, but because the nature of his foreign policy is misunderstood.

I was answering questions about the future of the Middle East at a meeting of Independent subscribers on Tuesday evening when there was a predictable question about the impact of Trump on the region.

I had the impression, perhaps unfairly, that the person who made this very reasonable and important query was expecting a reply that would be a blend of denunciation and derision.

This is usually the automatic reaction to all Trump foreign policy initiatives by the media across the world as soon as they read his latest tweet. It does not matter if the subject is Canada or Afghanistan, the reaction is one of instant condemnation and often this response is more than justified – but not always.

The exceptions are important but Trump does not get credit for them because of the knee-jerk hostility which rules out any possibility that Trump may be right and his vast array of critics wrong.

North Korea, Russia and Syria are good examples of the positive side of Trump foreign policy, however unorthodox its expression.

He may not have got as far as he wanted through talks with Kim Jong-un, but war in the Korean peninsula is certainly less likely than it was in pre-Trump times. Any contact between Trump and Vladimir Putin is portrayed by most news outlets as a hideous act of betrayal of the west. But Russia has a nuclear arsenal capable of blowing up the world several times over, so it is surely unwise to refuse to talk to, and treat as a pariah, the Russian leader who could press the nuclear button?

Trump’s sudden decision in December to pull US troops out of Syria was condemned by everybody from the most liberal Democrats to the most belligerent Republicans. They all jumped on to their moral high horses, but none proffered an alternative policy and happily pretended that the status quo was sustainable – though it is not.

The US is a bit player in Syria where the Kurdish-led forces it backs have largely defeated Isis. “Oh no they haven’t,” shouts the Washington foreign policy establishment, but Isis used to rule eight million people in a powerful state stretching from the outskirts of Baghdad to the Mediterranean. It now controls only part of a single small town, Hajin, in the depths of eastern Syria. The jihadis are never going to run up the white flag, but if this is not defeat it is something very close to it.

Other US objectives in Syria, such as curtailing Iranian influence and weakening Bashar al-Assad, are not attainable and are simply an excuse for continuing a war of extraordinary ferocity and destructiveness. The Washington establishment, which is itself a child of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, seems quite happy to contemplate this and denounces Trump for breaking the logjam.

What is needed is for the US, as it withdraws, to keep Turkey from launching an onslaught against the Syrian Kurds, and this can only be done – if it is to be done at all – by allowing the Kurds to do a deal with Damascus and for Syrian troops to return to the Syrian-Turkish border.

It may not turn out that way, but Trump’s approach is more realistic than those who dismiss it as dangerous idiocy. For all his verbal belligerency, Trump is a genuine isolationist who has yet to start a war anywhere. It is an achievement not to be underrated.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)

Afghanistan

Afghanistan and the Implosion of America

Originally posted at TomDispatch.

As I approach 75, I’m having a commonplace experience for my age. I live with a brain that’s beginning to dump previously secure memories – names, the contents of books I read long ago (or all too recently), events, whatever. If you’re of a certain age yourself, you know the story.

Recently, however, I realized that this experience of loss, like so much else in our world, is more complex than I imagined. What I mean is that such loss also involves gain. It’s turned my mind to, and made me something of an instant expert on, one aspect of twenty-first-century America: the memory hole that’s swallowed up parts of our all-too-recent history. In fact, I’ve been wondering whether aging imperial powers, like old men and women, have a tendency to discard what once had been oh-so-familiar. There’s a difference, though, when it comes to the elites of the aging empire I live in at least. They don’t just dump things relatively randomly as I seem to be doing. Instead, they conveniently obliterate all memory of their country’s – that is, their own – follies and misdeeds.

Let me give you an example. But you need to bear with me here because I’m about to jump into the disordered mind of a man who, though two years younger than me, has what might be called – given present-day controversies – a borderline personality.  I’m thinking of President Donald Trump, or rather of a particular moment in his chaotic recent mental life. As the New Year dawned, he chaired what now passes for a “cabinet meeting.” That mainly means an event in which those present grovel before, fawn over, and outrageously praise him in front of the cameras. Otherwise, Trump, a man who doesn’t seem to know the meaning of advice or of a meeting, held a 95-minute presidential ramble through the brambles in front of a Game of Thrones-style “[Iran] Sanctions Are Coming” poster of… well, him. The media typically ate it up, even while critiquing the president’s understanding of that HBO TV series. And so it goes in the Washington of 2019.

Excuse me if I seem to be wandering off subject (another attribute of the aging mind), but I’m about to plunge into history and our president is neither a historian, nor particularly coherent. Read any transcript of his and not only does he flip from subject to subject, sentence by sentence, but even – no small trick – within sentences. In other words, he presents a translation problem. Fortunately, he’s surrounded by a bevy of translators (still called “reporters” or “pundits”) and, unlike the translators in the president’s meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, we have their notes.

So here, as a start, is a much-quoted passage of his on this country’s never-ending Afghan War from that cabinet meeting, which reporters and pundits jumped on with alacrity and criticized him roundly for:

“We’re going to do something that’s right. We are talking to the Taliban. We’re talking to a lot of different people. But here’s the thing – because mentioned India: India is there. Russia is there. Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia. So you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there; they should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting.

“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt. They went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot [of] these places you’re reading about now are no longer a part of Russia because of Afghanistan.”

As I said, Donald Trump is no historian. So it’s true that the Red Army didn’t move into Afghanistan in 1979 thanks to a terrorist presence in Russia. And yes, every stray pen or talking head in Washington seemed to skewer the president for his ignorance of that reality, including the Atlantic’s eminent neocon pundit David Frum who basically claimed that the president was simply pushing the latest dish of pasta Putinesca our way. (“It’s amazing enough that any U.S. president would retrospectively endorse the Soviet invasion. What’s even more amazing is that he would do so using the very same falsehoods originally invoked by the Soviets themselves: ‘terrorists’ and ‘bandit elements.’ It has been an important ideological project of the Putin regime to rehabilitate and justify the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan…”)

While critics like Frum did begrudgingly admit that the Soviet fiasco in Afghanistan might have had just a teensy-weensy something or other to do with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, less than two years after the Red Army limped home, the president, they insisted, basically got that wrong, too. The Soviet Union bankrupted by Afghanistan? Not in your dreams, buddy, or as the Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake wrote in a piece headlined “Trump’s Bizarre History Lesson on the Soviet Union, Russia, and Afghanistan”:

“The overlap between the fall of the Soviet Union and its foray into Afghanistan is obvious. The USSR invaded in 1979 and left a decade later, in 1989. The superpower dissolved shortly thereafter in 1991. But correlation is not causation… It was perhapsamong the many reasons the USSR collapsed. But it was not the reason.”

And then, of course, came the next presidential tweet, and everyone – except me – moved on with alacrity. I was left alone, still dredging through my memories of that ancient conflict, which, these days, no one but the president would even think of bringing up in the context of the ongoing U.S. war in Afghanistan. And yet here’s the curious thing when it comes to an aging empire that prefers not to remember the history of its folly: Donald Trump was right that Russia’s Afghan misadventure is a remarkably logical place to start when considering the present American debacle in that same country.

Two Empires Trapped in Afghanistan

Let me mention one thing no one’s likely to emphasize these days when it comes to the Russian decision to enter that Afghan quagmire in 1979. At the highest levels of the Carter and then the Reagan administrations, top American officials were working assiduously to embroil the Soviets in Afghanistan and would then invest staggering sums in a CIA campaign to fund Islamic extremist guerrillas to keep them there. Not that anyone in Washington is likely to play this up in 2019, but the U.S. began aiding those Mujahidin guerrillas not after the Red Army moved in to support a pro-Soviet regime in Kabul, but six months before.

Here’s how President Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, would describe the situation almost two decades later:

“According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the mujahidin began during 1980, that’s to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan. But the reality, kept secret until now, is completely different: on 3 July 1979 President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And on the same day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained that in my opinion this aid would lead to a Soviet military intervention.”

Asked if he had any regrets, Brzezinski responded:

“Regret what? The secret operation was an excellent idea. It drew the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.’”

Think about that largely missing bit of history for a moment. Top U.S. officials wanted to give the Soviet Union a version of their own disastrous Vietnam experience and so invested billions of dollars and much effort in that proxy war – and it worked. The Soviet leadership continued to pour money into their military misadventure in Afghanistan when their country was already going bankrupt and the society they had built was beginning to collapse around them. They were indeed suffering from what General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev came to call “the bleeding wound.” And if that isn’t the language of disaster (or bankruptcy or, perhaps more accurately, implosion), what is? Yes, Afghanistan, that “graveyard of empires,” wasn’t the only thing that took their world down, but the way their much-vaunted army finally limped home a decade later was certainly a significant factor in its collapse.

Now, let me tax your memory (and especially elite Washington’s) just a bit more. Think again about the history that led up to the American war President Trump was fretting about in that cabinet meeting. Under the circumstances, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Brzezinski and his successors were just a tad too successful – or, to put it another way, that they lured not one but two empires into their trap; the second being, of course, the American one.

After all, in that 10-year Afghan proxy war (1979-1989), they laid the foundations for the creation by a rich young Saudi named Osama bin Laden of a resistance outfit of Arab fighters. You know, “al-Qaeda,” or “the base.” They also funded other extremist Islamic figures and groups like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or the Haqqani network that would, more than a decade after the Soviets straggled home, go to war against… well, us. And through their investment in that brutal quagmire, they also helped lay the foundations for the destruction and destitution of significant parts of Afghanistan, and so for the brutal civil war that followed in the early 1990s amid the ruins. Out of that, of course, came another group whose name might still ring a bell or two: the Taliban.

In other words, Brzezinski & Co. laid the foundations for what would become a nearly 30-year American quagmire war (with a decade off between its two parts) in a land that, in 1979, few Americans other than a bunch of hippies had ever heard of. Here, then, is a small hint for the president: you might consider starting to refer to Afghanistan – and I assure you this would be historically accurate (even if you were roundly criticized for it by the Washington punditariat) – as America’s “bleeding wound.”

No matter how many years it goes on, one thing seems probable: like the Red Army, the U.S. military will finally limp out of that country in defeat and will also, in some way, bring that defeat home with them. It may not be what finally bankrupts or implodes the great(er) and far wealthier imperial power of the Cold War era, but as with Russia it will surely lend a helping hand.

There’s No Success Like Failure in Washington

In a country in which implosive elements are already being mixed into its politics, President Trump had his finger on something when he brought up the Russian war in Afghanistan. However historically and syntactically mixed up he might have been, his brain was still far more on target than those of most of the wise men and women of the present Washington establishment.

Take David Frum. Who today thinks much about his role in the history of American folly? As a speechwriter for George W. Bush, however, he was memorably ordered to produce “in a sentence or two our best case for going after Iraq.” In other words, he was to make a case for the invasion of that country in the president’s 2002 State of the Union address. At that time, with America’s superpower enemy, the Soviet Union, long gone and the U.S. seemingly unopposed on planet Earth, he somehow found three weak countries – Iraq, Iran, and North Korea – to turn into a World War II-style “axis of evil.” In doing so, he produced this memorable passage for the president:

“States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”

Mission accomplished! No matter that neither Iraq, nor the other two countries were anywhere near having nukes.

Donald Trump has often been accused of megalomania as if that were a unique trait of his, but that’s because we’ve blotted out Washington’s other megalomaniacs of this century. I’m thinking of the neocon officials of the Bush administration with their urge to turn this planet into an American possession and their disastrous invasion of Iraq. Because of that sense of amnesia, David Frum, Mr. Axis of Evil, like the rest of his neocon companions has, a decade and a half later, risen again in Washington. Like him, many of them are now critics of the Trump administration, while others, like National Security Advisor John Bolton, are ascendant in that very administration.

In the end, when it comes to history and memory, it all seems to prove one thing: if you want to ensure your success in twenty-first-century Washington, there’s no way you can be too wrong. (The key figures in that city these days are evidently only familiar with the first of those two famed lines in Bob Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero”: “She knows there’s no success like failure/And that failure’s no success at all.”)

You now have 60 seconds (and the clock’s already ticking) to answer a question: Who, in or out of the administration, critic, pundit, or official, was against the invasion of Iraq once upon a time? I think you know the answer to that one. If you were against the single most disastrous, megalomanic foreign policy act of this century, there’s no place for you in present-day Washington, not in the administration, either party in Congress, or even in memory. You are not worth listening to, writing about, thinking about, or remembering in any way. You are the anti-Frum and have been deposited in the proverbial dustbin of history along with all those other embarrassing memories like… to mention just one more… the myriad elections in other countries that the U.S. interfered with before we were shocked (shocked!) to discover that some country might have meddled with one of ours.

Think of those neocons, the ones who have yet again made it into positions of power or influence and respect in Washington, as the gang who helped pave the way for Donald Trump to become president. Think of them as the imploders. Think of them as our domestic bleeding wound and (when it comes to taking down the system) the truest pasta Putinesca around.

What Might Have Been?

And now that I’ve left you with a completely bad taste in your mouth, let me bring up another small forgotten memory, one that might qualify – in an alternate universe of memories at least – as utopian, rather than dystopian. I’m thinking about “the peace dividend.” You don’t remember it? Well, that’s not surprising. But after the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991 (something official Washington hadn’t faintly expected and initially greeted in a kind of stunned silence), it briefly seemed as if the great-power struggles that had preoccupied history since perhaps the fifteenth century were finally over. The U.S. was the lone superpower left on planet Earth. Enemies were beyond scarce. A judgment of some sort had been rendered and, for a brief moment, even in Washington, people began talking about that most miraculous of things: a peace dividend.

The staggering sums that had gone into the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state in the Cold War years were visibly no longer necessary. So it was time to bring it all – billions and billions of dollars that had long been invested in the militarization of our American world – home. There was, after all, nothing left to build up military power against and so that money could now be put into what wouldn’t for another decade be called “the homeland.”

In fact, though modest cuts were made in U.S. forces and military spending in those years, they would prove to be anything but a dividend and would soon enough simply evaporate in the face of the military-industrial complex and, of course, that “axis of evil.”

In the years that followed, the very idea of a peace dividend, even the phrase itself, would simply vanish. Still, just for a moment, in a country whose infrastructure is now crumbling, whose teachers are underpaid, whose health care system is under siege, it was possible to dream about a world in which the bleeding wounds of the planet might begin to be staunched. Imagine that and think about what the future might have been.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch.comand is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlandsseries) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 Tom Engelhardt

Reality of NATO

Trump Derangement Syndrome and the NATO Fetish of the Progressive Left

We’ve got NATO on our mind today because we learned this morning that the mere suggestion this obsolete relic of the Cold War should be abandoned tends to trigger an absolutely virulent outburst of Trump Derangement Syndrome in the mainstream media.

As it happened we were appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to promote our new book called, PEAK TRUMP: The Undrainable Swamp and the Fantasy of MAGA.

So long as we were talking about the folly of Trump-O-Nomics and the Donald’s rookie mistake in embracing an egregious stock market bubble that is destined to crash and a failing, geriatric business cycle that at age 115 months has “recession ahead” written all over its forehead, our host, Mika Brzezinski, was happy to nod approvingly.

But when we veered off into approval of the Donald’s efforts to rein in the Empire and make peace with the Russkies, it was an altogether different matter. We no more than launched the thought of it than Mika was sputtering in disbelief – as if we had committed a grotesque sacrilege in public:

STOCKMAN: Beyond that – beyond that, trump tried to do the right thick with America first. He’s been stymied at every turn of the road. He was right. They wouldn’t let him do it. He was right. NATO is obsolete. We should get rid of it. Everybody went after him for he’s trying to do the right thing in Korea and yet they keep coming after him on the basis of the status quo, which has been wrong for last 60 years. So on the one hand, his economic policy is a failure. On the other hand, his effort to rein in the empires I call it and get to something we can afford is being stymied. And then he’s filled the swamp with $100 billion more for the Pentagon that is doesn’t need. That’s the deep end of the swamp.”

BRZEZINSKI: “David, David, hold on a second, hold on, hold on. You did a lot.”

STOCKMAN: “Yes.”

BRZEZINSKI: “I just want to like hone in on one – are you saying we should pull out of NATO?” [crosstalk]

STOCKMAN: “Sure. NATO is obsolete.”

BRZEZINSKI: “What?”

STOCKMAN: “NATO is obsolete. It was only set up to stop the Soviet Union and 50,000 tanks on the Warsaw front. That ended 25 years ago. We don’t need NATO. Europe can take care of itself. Russia’s a pint-sized economy, 7 percent of size of U.S. economy. NATO, US GDP combined is $36 trillion, Russia’s $1.5 trillion. You think the Europeans can’t handle it? Germany spends 1 percent only of GDP on defense. If they really thought that the Russians were heading through the Brandenburg Gate, they would be providing for their own defense. They’re not pacifists.

So if you wonder why we insist that a fiscal calamity is barreling down the pike – just consider the implications of this exchange. MSNBC is ground zero for the so-called progressive Left. Yet it has become so deranged by the Donald and convinced that he was elected not because the electorate rejected its threadbare agenda, but because Putin and the Russkies threw the election to him, that it has become a full-fledged champion of the War Party.

As we have explained elsewhere, the cost of Empire is now nearing $1 trillion per year when you count foreign aid and security assistance, homeland security, the $200 billion Veterans budget and debt service on past wars. Add that to $2.5 trillion of entitlements that neither party will touch and what will soon by $1 trillion per year of interest expense and you have nothing less than a Fiscal Doomsday machine.

That is, spending that will be pushing 25-30% of GDP and a revenue base that amounts to less than 17% of GDP. Literally, the nation’s fiscal accounts are being drawn and quartered by the dual menace of the Welfare State and Warfare State.

Yet with respect to the latter, the last time we checked the old Soviet Union slithered off the pages of history 28 years ago. Shortly thereafter the 50,000 Red Army tanks, which had been arrayed menacingly (and unbeknownst to the CIA, largely without spare fuel) behind the Iron Curtain, were mostly melted down for scrap by the destitute statelets of the Warsaw Pact (Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania etc.) and 14 ex-Soviet Republics (like Belarus, Moldova, Tajikistan, Ukraine, etc.)

What was left of the Soviet Empire was the rump state of Russia – shorn of much of its industrial base and with an aging population of just 140 million compared to the 425 million souls who had been incarcerated in Stalin’s dystopia.

So, yes, there was every reason to declare “mission accomplished” and disband NATO because the much exaggerated conventional military threat of the Soviet Union had literally vanished from the face of the earth. At that point, NATO was, in fact, pointless.

Post-Soviet states: 1. Armenia 2. Azerbaijan 3. Belarus 4. Estonia 5. Georgia 6.Kazakhstan 7. Kyrgyzstan 8. Latvia 9. Lithuania 10. Moldova 11. Russia 12. Tajikistan 13. Turkmenistan 14. Ukraine 15. Uzbekistan

So when President George Bush the Elder, who was no wimpy Yale pacifist, promised Gorbachev in 1989 that in return for his acquiescence to the reunification of Germany that NATO would no move ” a single inch to the east”, he wasn’t exactly selling the “free world” (as they called it) down the drain.

In fact, as the above map unfolded, the 77-Years War that had incepted in August 1914 was finally over. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations which germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into the second world war and cold war which followed inexorably thereupon.

To wit, upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped-out during that span. The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam.

So finally the time had come for Washington to lead the world into a golden age of peace, disarmament and prosperous commerce among the nations.

Yet there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac after the 77 Years War ended. The great general and president, Dwight Eisenhower, had called it the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address.

But that memorable phrase had been abbreviated by his speechwriters, who deleted the word “congressional” in a gesture of comity to the legislative branch. So restore Ike’s deleted reference to the legislative pork barrels and Sunday afternoon warriors of Capitol Hill and toss in the legions of beltway busybodies that constituted the civilian branches of the cold war armada (CIA, State, AID, NED etc.) and the circle would have been complete.

It constituted the most awesome machine of warfare and imperial hegemony since the Roman legions bestrode most of the civilized world.

In a word, the real threat to world peace circa 1991 was that Pax Americanawould not go away quietly into the good night.

In fact, during the past 27 years Imperial Washington has lost all memory that peace was ever possible at the end of the cold war. Today it is as feckless, misguided and bloodthirsty as were Berlin, Paris, St. Petersburg, Vienna and London in August 1914.

Needless to say, there is no peace on earth today for reasons mainly rooted in Imperial Washington – not Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, Tehran, Damascus, Mosul or Raqqah. The former has become a global menace owing to what didn’t happen in 1991.

What needed to happen back in 1991 was for Bush the Elder to declare “mission accomplished” and slash the Pentagon budget from $600 billion to $250 billion.

So doing he should have demobilized the military-industrial complex by putting a moratorium on all new weapons development, procurement and export sales; dissolved NATO and dismantled the far-flung network of US military bases; slashed the US standing armed forces from 1.5 million to a few hundred thousand; and organized and led a world disarmament and peace campaign, as did his Republican predecessors during the 1920s.

Unfortunately, George H.W. Bush was not a man of peace, vision or even mediocre intelligence. He was the malleable tool of the War Party, and it was he who single-handedly blew the peace when he plunged America into a petty argument between the impetuous dictator of Iraq and the greedy Emir of Kuwait that was none of our business.

By contrast, even though liberal historians have reviled Warren G. Harding as some kind of dumbkopf politician, he well understood that the Great War had been for naught, and that to insure it never happened again the nations of the world needed to rid themselves of their huge navies and standing armies.

To that end, he achieved the largest global disarmament agreement ever made during the Washington Naval conference of 1921, which halted the construction of new battleships for more than a decade.

And while he was at it, President Harding also pardoned Eugene Debs. He thereby gave witness to the truth that the intrepid socialist candidate for president and vehement antiwar protester, who Wilson had thrown in prison for exercising his first amendment right to speak against US entry into a pointless European war, had been right all along.

In short, Warren G. Harding knew the war was over, and the folly of Wilson’s 1917 plunge into Europe’s bloodbath should not be repeated at all hazards.

The Unforgiveable Sins 0f George H.W. Bush

Not George H.W. Bush. The man should never be forgiven for enabling the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Gates and their neocon pack of jackals to come to power – even if he did denounce them in his bumbling old age.

Even more to the point, by opting not for peace but for war and oil in the Persian Gulf in 1991 he opened the gates to an unnecessary confrontation with Islam. In turn, that nurtured the rise of jihadist terrorism that would not haunt the world today – save for forces unleashed by George H.W. Bush’s petulant quarrel with Saddam Hussein.

We will address more fully on another occasion the 45-year-old error that holds the Persian Gulf is an American Lake and that energy security requires it be patrolled by the Fifth Fleet. As history proves, the real answer to high oil prices everywhere and always is high oil prices and the wonders they work to rebalance the global energy market.

But first it is well to remember that there was no plausible threat anywhere on the planet to the safety and security of the citizens of Springfield MA, Lincoln NE or Spokane WA when the cold war ended.

But rather than dismantling the NATO machinery, virtually the opposite happened. NATO has been expanded to 29 countries including such powers as Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and now the statelet of Montenegro that has a military half the size of the police force of Philadelphia.

In the context of this relentless and pointless NATO expansion to the very borders of the shrunken Russian state, Washington not only sponsored and funded the overthrow of Ukraine’s constitutionally elected government in February 2014. But once it had unleashed a devastating civil war, it relentlessly blocked the obvious alternative to the bloodshed that has claimed 10,000 civilian and military casualties.

That is, it’s partition of its population among the Russian speaking provinces in the Donbas and Crimea and Ukrainians in the west. After all, partition was accomplished peacefully in the artificial state of Czechoslovakia and at the insistence of NATO bombers in the short-lived nation of Yugoslavia.

Had not the Donald been stopped cold by the hail of hysteria which emanated from the War Party and their dutiful stenographers in the main stream media, the next step after his historic meeting with Putin in Helsinki would have been to take up where George H.W. Bush faltered in 1991.

That is, on the dismantlement and interment of NATO and the reopening of Europe to peaceful commerce among all the nation’s that had been artificially separated by the now long departed Iron Curtain.

The fact is, Washington doesn’t need its budget-busting $720 billion defense budget to defend Europe from Russia, nor should it be endlessly haranguing those nations to waste more of their own money on defense than they already are.

That’s because there is absolutely no reason to believe that Russia wants to attack Germany or any other country in Europe. Indeed, the very idea is just plain madness.

As shown by the table below, the NATO-28 (excluding the US) are now actually spending $250 billion per year on defense (2017). That’s 4X Russia’s entire military budget of $61 billion.

Likewise, the GDP of Russia is but $1.5 trillion compared to $18 trillion for the NATO-28. So is Cool Hand Vlad so completely foolish and reckless as to think that he could invade and occupy territories that have an economy 13X bigger than that of Russia?

Actually, it’s far more ludicrous than that. The rump of Russia today is a giant hydrocarbon province attached to some wheat fields, timber lands and mineral deposits – all dependent upon an aging work force afflicted with an undue fondness for Vodka etc.

What that means is that Russia must export its commodities big time or die. In fact, during 2017 Russian exports totaled $357 billion or 26% of its GDP. And 55% of that went to Europe!

Moreover, when you breakdown Russian exports it is plain to see that the industrial maw of Europe is the port of first call for its vast tonnages of exported commodities. These included $173 billion of oil and gas and $60 billion of iron, steel, aluminum, precious metals, forest products, fertilizers, grains and copper, among others.

Finally, the table on defense spending by country below speaks for itself as to the purported Russian threat. If the German government really feared that Russian tanks would be soon rolling through the Brandenburg Gates, it would have more than 20 operational tanks, and it would spend far more than $40.6 billion or 1.2% of GDP to defend itself.

And the same is even more true of the former Warsaw pact countries that are located cheek-by-jowl on Russia’s border. Yet Romania spends the tiny sum of $2.8 billion or 1.2% of GDP on its military.

Likewise, the figure for Hungary, which learned all about Soviet-style invasions in 1956, spends only $1.2 billion or barely 1.0% of GDP. And besides that, its intrepid leader, Viktor Orban, doesn’t even support NATO’s ridiculous sanctions on Putin’s cronies and allies.

And as for the allegedly threatened Baltic states, their combined defense budgets are less than $1.5 billion, representing a minuscule 1.7% of combined GDP; and Bulgaria, fast upon the Russian Lake called the Black Sea, spends only $660 million or 1.4% of its GDP.

In short, European policy action on the defense spending front trumps all the hot air that wafts from NATO’s spanking new Brussels headquarters. Their governments and parliaments positively do not think they are threatened by the Russian Bear because they aren’t.

What would help a lot, therefore, is for the Great Disrupter to forget about his unfortunate infatuation with the idea that bigger is always better, and do what no other American politician in thrall to the Warfare State has been unable to do since 1991 when the Soviet Union vanished.

That is, declare “mission accomplished” with respect to NATO and disband it forthwith.

You could call it a Mercy Killing. Indeed, a couple more NATO summits at which they are browbeat to waste ever more money on defense, and the Europeans themselves may well start begging for exactly that.

Then again, could you imagine how loudly the progressive left would be screaming if the Donald even entertained the thought deep beneath his bedraggled Orange Comb-Over?

David Stockman was a two-term Congressman from Michigan. He was also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. After leaving the White House, Stockman had a 20-year career on Wall Street. He’s the author of three books, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution FailedThe Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America andTRUMPED! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin… And How to Bring It Back. He also is founder of David Stockman’s Contra Corner and David Stockman’s Bubble Finance Trader.

R

Running Its Own Country

January 23, 2019

Wouldn’t it be nice if the US Government would just run its own country, instead of causing unending problems and chaos by overthrowing the governments of other countries?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the US Government would do something for its own people, other than the corporate Moghuls?

One could make a list of all the countries where the US is involved in “regime change” at this time.  And it can’t even open up its own Government.

The US has had a long tradition of causing problems for people around the world. Maybe most Americans would not be aware of that if they had not lived in other countries.

There are many things about the world that most Americans are not aware of. They ought to get out and travel more.

They would probably never vote for those clowns again.

Just a humble observation.

 

 

 

 

Our Real Rulers

Just in case anyone was unaware of it: Under the global corporatist system today, our real rulers have now gathered in Davos to plan our future. Forget about politicians. They will be told what to do.

Exactly as Karl Marx predicted over a century and a half ago, if anyone cares to make the observation.

So enjoy the system as more and more of the world’s wealth goes to the three dozen moguls who own more than half of the world’s population, some four billion people.

It was easy for the British to create mass poverty in India under a colonialist system. It takes real talent to turn the USA into a third-world failed state. But corporate capitalism has done it.

Just as well own up to it, America!