The Farce of the US War in Afghanistan

Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies

It has been more than nine years since I resigned in protest over the escalation of the Afghan War from my position as a Political Officer with the US State Department in Afghanistan. It had been my third time to war, along with several years of working in positions effecting war policy in Washington, DC with the Department of Defense (DOD) and the State Department. My resignation in 2009 was not taken lightly by my superiors and my reasons for opposing President Obama’s “surge” in Afghanistan found support amongst both military officers and civilian officials at senior levels in Kabul and Washington.

I was repeatedly asked not to resign and was offered a more senior position within the State Department. Richard Holbrooke, then the President’s appointed representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told me he agreed with 95% of what I had written and asked me to join his staff, while the US ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, told me my analysis was one of the best he had encountered and stated he would write an introduction endorsing my resignation letter if I remained with the US Embassy in Afghanistan for the remainder of my tour. In conversation with the US deputy ambassador to Afghanistan he agreed the war was not just unwinnable, but also corrupt, and stated he would not let his children serve in such a war. Further support for my views was provided by my counterparts who were serving as political officers in the most violent parts of Afghanistan: Kandahar, Helmand, Kunar, Nuristan and Oruzgan Provinces. These men and women made clear their agreement with my assessment and my resignation. The support from the military was equally effusive and genuine, often such support included apologies along the lines of “I’d like to resign too, but I’ve got kids heading to college in a few years…” (the golden handcuffs are an incredibly instrumental and integral aspect of the US Empire’s infrastructure). When I asked Karen DeYoung, the Washington Post correspondent who wrote the front page, above the fold story on my resignation for the Postwhy she wrote such a piece about me, she replied she could not find anyone at the Pentagon, State Department or White House who disagreed with me.

I relate the above not to cheerlead for myself, although the sadness and despondency from witnessing the wars up close and from afar and their cruel constant murder, does, at times, necessitate such crutches for me, but to relay my own personal observation of the great lie of war in action; the ability of the machine of war to propel itself forward even when those most intimate with the war, those most responsible for it and without whose support and effort the war could not continue, carry on the war whilst knowing and living the lie full well.

Nearly almost a decade after my resignation, there are reports of a possible peace deal in the making for Afghanistan. What I recognize, so clearly and sickeningly, just as my mind, and my soul, can recall the bright scarlet red of fresh arterial blood that dulls in contact with dust and cloth, or the clay-like frozen set jaw of a dead young man, whether he have been called an Afghan, American or Iraqi, are the same lies of the war that were so skillfully and effectively utilized by politicians, generals and the media to escalate the war in 2009 now being recirculated to defeat any current attempts for peace.

Sacrifice does not confer sanctity

When President Obama entered office in 2009 less than 30,000 US troops were in Afghanistan. Within a year and a half that number would reach 100,000 US military personnel along with 30,000 NATO soldiers from Europe and over 100,000 private contractors. Since 2001, more than 2400 US service membershave been killed in Afghanistan, nearly 1800 of them since 2009. European armies have had more than 1100 soldiers killed and more than 1700contractors have been killed while performing jobs that in previous wars would have been done by US soldiers. Tens of thousands have been physically wounded while hundreds of thousands suffer from traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), moral injury, depression, substance abuse and other “hidden” wounds of war. These hidden wounds have very real consequences: the US Department of Veterans Affairs reports young men and women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq (a great many of them have served multiple deployments to both wars) have suicide rates six times higherthan their civilian peers, while infantry units, those that have performed the most killing and dying, have been seen to have suicide rates fourteen times higher than young civilian men their own age. In real numbers that means, since 2001, likely more than 9,000 US veterans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq have been lost to suicide after returning home.

The numbers of Afghans who have been killed are truly unknown. The United Nations reporting on civilian casualties, which only began in 2009, reports tens of thousands killed, with nearly each year since 2009 showing an increase in civilian dead and wounded; a monstrous and grievous accomplishment of annual record upon record. UNAMA itself cautions its numbers should be understood to be a minimum or base level due to UNAMA’s methodology. Assessments of the total dead in Afghanistan over the last seventeen years put total dead at more than 100,000 civilians, although most who are familiar with war, including myself, are quick to say that is a conservative or low-end estimate. For example, Jonathan Steele has estimated more than 20,000 Afghans died as a result of the US bombings in the first four months of US military action following 9/11.

At least one million Afghans are internally displaced, while Afghans make up the second largest nationality of the largest refugee population the world has known since World War Two, with millions living in camps in Iran and Pakistan or claiming asylum in Europe. Of course the Afghan War did not begin in 2001, but began more than forty years ago and not with the Soviet Union’s invasion, but with an internal civil war that saw maybe as many 100,000 dead before the Soviets invaded; US support to Afghanistan’s mujaheddin, the grandfathers of the young men we are fighting today in Afghanistan, began six months prior to the Soviet invasion. Over forty years of war have completely devastated the people and land of Afghanistan. As a consequence of the violence, Afghan society is devastated by PTSD and drug use, the countryside has been denuded and deforested, resulting in agricultural troubles and water shortages, and no industry exists, besides the illicit drug trade which despite billions of US dollars spent yields record poppy crops and illicit narcotics exports nearly every year (2018 was an exception due to drought).

There is a desperate sunk cost argument that haunts all wars that are lost and unworthy. As it is, more often than not, it is those who have not experienced the pain and the destruction of the war who demand more blood and more sacrifice, turn on Fox News or open the Washington Post and this will be apparent. What makes such an argument even more mean and craven is these deaths, ones that need not be lost in vain as it is typically phrased,are forever tied and bound by the lies of the war, making these deaths eternally ignoble and worthless, the dead never to be heroes, despite the exaggerations of eulogies, bordering often on hagiography, but only to be future-less victims of the greed and egos that advance and maintain the war.

Even a losing war makes money

The total financial costs to the US in direct spending on the war in Afghanistan are approaching one trillion dollars. Peak spending of the war reached more than $100 billion a year and currently runs between $40 and $50 billion a year. Total costs of all the wars the US has been sending its young men and women to kill and be killed in since 2001 are said to be $6 trillion, and this is just for the wars, that $6 trillion figure does not include the regular or usual costs of running the military, which is now over $600 billion a year, or the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on veterans, the intelligence agencies, nuclear weapons, the State Department or Homeland Security. This staggering amount may perhaps best be understood by knowing that in interest and debt payments alone the US has spent more than $700 billion on the wars in 17 years (regarding overall national security spending this year the US will spend hundreds of billions of dollars, as it does each year, on debt payments due to past spending on wars, the military, intelligence, veterans, etc.).

If you compare Washington, DC and its suburbs to how they psychically existed prior to 9/11, you will most assuredly note the physical impact the wars and the benefiting military industrial complex has had on the city and its suburbs. The Pentagon is not confined to that five sided building alongside Interstate 395, but rather stretches for miles along the Potomac River; from the Key Bridge in Rosslyn, south through Arlington, and extending past Ronald Reagan National Airport into Alexandria, in office building after office building, are tens and tens of thousands of men and women working for war. Likewise in the suburbs, particularly west along Interstate 66 or north along the Baltimore-Washington Highway, hundreds of buildings exist to serve the war machine. It’s not just the defense industry or the contracting firms, but also the banks, hotels, restaurants, apartment complexes, high rise condominiums and near-million dollar McMansions that have risen to serve and support the Pentagon and its wars.

Within these buildings are hundreds of thousands of men and women, the majority not wearing a uniform but working for a contracting firm or defense corporation, who often make salaries in the high five or six figures. When I did such work in 2008, as a single 35 year old who’s seemingly only qualification was that I had been a captain in the Marines, my salary and benefits came close to $120,000 (when I joined the State Department in 2009 I didn’t take a pay cut), while an entry level position with that same DOD contracting company, the requirements of which were to simply possess a secret level security clearance and to know Microsoft Office, was more than $80,000. As you can see it is very easy to slip into those golden handcuffs…

What this calculates to, and remember aside from national and homeland security the federal government has decreased non-defense discretionary spending in real terms since 2001, is that the Washington, DC metro area is the wealthiest part of the country, and has been for a number of years, beginning after these unending wars and their mass profits began. While you can argue correlation is not causation, the symbiotic nature cannot be denied between the unending nature of the wars and the massive increase in wealth for Washington, DC and its people and organs. Observe the loud protestation by the US Senate towards the idea of the US wars in Afghanistan and Syria ending to get a glimpse of the fear that exists in Washington and within the war machine towards just the idea or concept of peace. If you want to understand why these wars continue and why these lies persist, then you must understand the money that sustains and underlies both the war and its lies.

There have not been “hard won gains” by the US military in Afghanistan

For all these costs, particularly the bloody expenditure of lives, the war remains the same as it was in 2009: neither side can win and neither side will surrender. US proclamations of military success and “hard won gains” are specious and are just one of the ever present lies of war. Reviewing Department of Defense data on the war since 2009 shows the Taliban never weakened in strength at any time. As US and NATO and then Afghan forces increased in number Taliban strength and attacks increased commensurately. Roadside bombs, mortar and rocket attacks, assassinations, etc., by nearly every metric the Taliban gained in strength and capability every year since President Obama’s “surge”. [Recall in 2013 the US military was caught lyingabout its data on the war and subsequently limited the information available about the war, a practice of limiting transparency that has grown to include not just the war in Afghanistan, but all the wars.] At some point if the US had achieved military success over the Taliban the Taliban’s ability to operate on the battlefield should have been impacted and their ability to launch attacks limited, but the true impact of the presence of increased US, NATO and Afghangovernment forces was to add purpose and motivation to a predominately anti-occupation rural Pashtun insurgency.

If one looks at US casualty data, US casualties increased as more US troops arrived, which is what one would expect, as more troops go into combat more will be killed and wounded. However, against the assurances of the military and civilian experts in Washington, DC who promoted the counter insurgency doctrine(whose adherents in many ways, honestly, resemble cult members) casualties never decreased due to battlefield success, casualties only decreased as a result of a decrease in US presence. So, as US troops went into a valley or village they met resistance and took casualties, and that combat and those casualties never stopped, the Taliban and its supporters were never defeated. No area was ever truly pacified, subdued or came over to the side of the US and Afghan government. In a memorable passage of Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars a skeptical President Obama noted this reality and pushed back on his generals and advisors. Wherever US troops arrived in Afghanistan they were met with a resistance that was never fully defeated; quieted possibly for a limited amount of time, but never defeated.

As I visited small and large bases in 2009 US Army officers told me, in both eastern and southern Afghanistan, the only land they held was the land that was covered by their machine guns and mortars, the insurgency controlled the land and the population. In many places it was relayed to me that the Taliban welcomed the presence of US troops, because with the presence of the US troops came millions of dollars in US military and USAID spending, spending that went right into the pockets of the Taliban. This lack of control of the land and population remained true for the duration of US and NATO forces in their positions as an occupation force and remains true for the Afghan government forces, which continue to be nearly in total non-Pashtun and serve as occupation force of outsiders themselves.

One example of many I can give of how the Afghan security forces are seen as outsiders and occupiers in southern and eastern Afghanistan, and other Pashtun parts of the country, is of the seven senior Afghan Army officers in Zabul province only 2 spoke Pashto and could communicate with the near 100% Pashtun population. ANA did not stand for the Afghan National Army, but rather for the Army of the Northern Alliance, the force the Taliban was fighting in 2001 and who the US put into power after overthrowing the Taliban. While it was repeated year after year, authoritatively, to Congress that the ANA was ethnically and regionally representative of Afghanistan’s population the truth is only about 4% of the Afghan national army and police forces were composed of southern Pashtuns – the people from whom the Taliban received the base of their support and the part of Afghanistan were the fighting has been the worst. I know of no evidence that shows the Afghan Army is any more representative of the Pashtun population now as it has been over the last seventeen years.

As US and NATO forces withdrew from the fighting in 2013 and 2014 the Taliban turned their focus on the Afghan security forces. More than 45,000Afghan soldiers and police have been killed since 2014, while last Fall it was reported fighting has intensified so that nearly 60 Afghan soldiers and police are killed each day. These deaths primarily come not against an outside enemy or groups of revolutionary religious fanatics, but mainly against a Taliban that is composed of locally organized and recruited insurgent forces who are fighting against foreign occupation and a corrupt, predatory and non-representative government. That US, European and Afghan troops have died and been wounded in the hundreds of thousands in a civil war has been well understood by the US military and intelligence agencies, even if it has been ignored by the US politicians and media. The same was true of Iraq of course, as well as nearly any of the fourteen countries the US has sent its young men and women to kill and be killed in – the people we are fighting are fighting us because we are occupying their countries and supporting violent, repressive and corrupt governments.

When I was in Kabul members of the US Embassy, located in the center of Kabul, behind ring after ring of checkpoints and concrete walls, were not allowed to cross the street to the USAID compound on the other side of the road because it was not safe enough, we had to walk beneath the street through a tunnel. Now, members of the US Embassy can not even travel via armored vehicles to the airport, just a couple of miles away, but must travel by helicopter, naturally via a privately contracted helicopter force. And this is in Kabul, not in the rural provinces where the Taliban have their base of support.

The only success achieved by the US military since the Obama Surge has been the expansion of the war itself and the accompanying logistical accomplishment of moving so many people, machines and stuff into and out of a mountainous and rural landlocked nation with a demolished infrastructure (a result of the decades of fighting supported or taken part in by the US for nearly all of the four decades of war and, again, instigated by the US before the Soviet Union invaded). The idea of military success and hard won gains has been nothing but craven and homicidal war propaganda trumpeted by US generals and the world’s largest public relations operation, and bleated obediently by politicians and, shamefully, journalists (the Pentagon spends almost $5 billion a year on recruiting, public relations and psychological operations, by comparison the largest public relations company in the world had annual fees for all of its clients of less than $900 million).

The US has not brought progress to Afghanistan

Like a diseased onion, claims the US has brought progress to Afghanistan constitute another layer of the great lie of war. As the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has shown in report after report the more than $130 billion spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan,more than what the US spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War Two in inflation adjusted dollars, has been a huge bust. Billions of dollars in cash have been overtly stolen by Afghan government officials and cronies. In 2012 more than $4.5 billion in cash was taken directly out of the airport in Kabul, while, famously, in 2009, shortly after I resigned from my position in Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s Vice President landed in Dubai with more than $50 million in cash in his luggage-74 US and NATO troops died that month. The claims of millions of school children now attending school, including millions of girls, have been exposed to just be made up numbers. The great majority of schools and healthcare centers that were supposedly built, as much as maybe 80% of them, don’t exist, can’t be found or are empty, while the triumphant claim that life expectancy for Afghans increased by twenty years has shown to be, in the words of the SIGAR director, John Sopko, “baloney”.

Similarly the idea Afghan women are better off now than under the Taliban exists more in public relations statements than it does in reality for many Afghan women. While the lives of women under Taliban rule was horrific, and in some places in Afghanistan, such as parts of Kabul, women have experienced much better lives, the truth is the attitudes and actions towards women of many of the men the US put and kept in power after 2001 were and are not much different than the Taliban. Many of the rules the Taliban enforced against women, such as the requirement to wear a head to toe burqa, had been put in place by the misogynist leaders of the groups the Taliban were fighting in the 1990s, again, the people the US put into power after 2001. Under the Karzai and Ghani administrations women have committed mass numbers of suicides, including through self-immolation, in areas controlled by the Afghan government due to laws put in place by the government, including laws allowing men to legally rape their wives, and by a society were nearly 90% of Afghan women experience domestic violence.

Ultimately it is women who suffer the most in war and all the slogans put forth by the war’s apologists about how much they care about women can not overcome the truth that millions of Afghan women must deal with the consequences, actual or potential, of the hot iron, lead and metal that tears apart the flesh and lives of their children. If the generals, spokespeople and think-tank experts, almost all of whom are funded, directly or indirectly, by the defense industry, were so interested in the welfare of women in Afghanistan they would be working to end the violence that terrorizes, ruins and ends the lives of those women and their children and prohibits any development or progress, including advancements in women’s rights, from occurring.

Those we have put and kept in power in Afghanistan constitute a brutal kleptocracy

Besides the Pentagon and the defense companies, and al-Qaeda and ISIS, the only other people who have benefited from the wars since 2001 have been the corrupt leaders we have put and kept in power in places like Afghanistan.Every Afghan election has been thoroughly fraudulent and riddled with vote rigging and ballot theft on a mass scale. The last presidential election in 2014 was so crooked that an extra-constitutional position of co-president was created to prevent a civil war erupting amongst the Afghan constituencies that support the government, while in the most recent parliamentary elections, more than three months ago now, the “irregularities” were so blatant results still have not been released.

I personally witnessed the 2009 Afghan presidential election. Tens of thousands of US and NATO troops were rushed to Afghanistan prior to the election to ensure a “free and fair” contest. In the late spring and summer prior to those elections hundreds of them died and thousands more were wounded, many of them permanently. How many thousands of Afghans died we will never know. The Pashtun people in southern and eastern Afghanistan, just as the Sunni Iraqis did in 2004 (another electoral charade I was present for) boycotted the election, although US officials would say they did not vote because of “security concerns”. I ended up that day at an Afghan Army base where an unauthorized polling location had been opened at the last minute, just one of many “irregularities” that day. The boxes were stuffed by obedient soldiers. My report of this back to the Embassy in Kabul was disregarded because this was not an official voting location so such ballot stuffing did not count – the logic that supports many of the lies of the war would be impossible to make up if such logic and its realizations did not actually exist. Later that day I would overhear, through my translator, the Afghan brigade commander for the province telephone a subordinate and order his soldiers to conduct the same ballot stuffing. The vote theft was brazen, and the dead numbered in the thousands, and the same has occurred for every election and every year of our occupation in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile the Afghan government and military have been the key figures in the Afghan drug trade, not just the Taliban. Indeed much of the fighting over the last many years in places like Helmand Province can be attributed to a battle for control over the vast tracts of poppy fields. The drug trade is not confined to low or local levels of the military and the police, but has extended and continues to extend to the most senior men in government, and this has been evident throughout the duration of our occupation of Afghanistan. When I was in Afghanistan the biggest drug baron in southern Afghanistan was President Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai (AWK), the biggest in eastern Afghanistan was the governor of Nangahar Province, Gul Agha Sherzai, in the north various warlords the US worked with ran the drug trade including the Governor of Balkh Province Atta Mohammad Noor, and in Kabul, Mohammed Qasim “Marshall” Fahim, for whom the Afghan military officers training academy is now named and who was the Afghan Vice President, was famous for using Afghan military aircraft to transport drugs out of Afghanistan. Sherzai, now the Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs, and Noor still control their drug fiefdoms, while AWK and Fahim are dead but have been replaced by drug syndicates within the Afghan government. The detailing of the criminality and gangsterism of the Afghan Government is endless, maybe best described by the General Rashid Dostum, President Ghani’s vice president, who is accused of massive war crimes in the years following 9/11 and who was forced to flee Afghanistan in 2017 after kidnapping and raping a political opponent.

Sherzai serves as a good case study for the insanity of the US war in Afghanistan. In the early 1990s Sherzai ruled as a warlord/governor in Kandahar. His barbaric rule can be counted as one of the defining factors in the rise of the Taliban after 1994 (the Taliban received a great deal of popular support as an antidote to the murder, rape and banditry of the warlords). In 2001, after the US ousted the Taliban, the US put Sherzai back in power in Kandahar – the very man who’s brutality helped create the Taliban we placed back in power. Sherzai’s rule was again murderous, and was now supplemented by American soldiers and money. Sarah Chayes, the former NPR correspondent, gives a heartbreaking detailing of Sherzai’s rule in her masterful The Punishment of Virtue. Sherzai would follow on his rule in Kandahar with time in Kabul as the Minister of Housing and Minister of Public Works before becoming governor of economically important Nangahar Province on the Pakistan border. Nangahar, along with Kandahar, had traditionally been a large source of poppy production for the narcotics trade. At this time, when I met him, Sherzai’s corruption and use of torture and violence, as well as his keeping of dancing boys, young slaves used for sexual pleasure and dominance, was well known by the US government. This however was shrugged off in Kabul and Washington with cavalier and smug excuses that war is a dirty business. Sherzai, who was invited and attended Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 as an official guest, cultivated a romanticized following among officials within the State Department and US Embassy who adoringly and reverentially viewed him as a Tony Soprano like figure – he was the very embodiment of the Dark Side Dick Cheney had advocating embracing.

Sherzai, who resided in the former Summer Palace of the Afghan Kings in Jalalabad, was indeed charming and gracious, I met him twice, but he knew full well the manipulation and control he had over the US government. There was a poppy eradication program in place in 2009, one of many programs that have constituted the nearly $10 billion spent on drug eradication efforts in Afghanistan (the cost has been more than just financial, one of my friends, a fellow company commander in the Marine Corps, Michael Weston, was killed in Afghanistan while posted there as a DEA agent). This program in particular offered $10 million in cash to governors who succeeded in eradicating a certain level of poppy crop. Sherzai through his family and due to his lingering power in Kandahar had significant poppy field holdings and drug trade involvement in southern Afghanistan. Now with the backing of the Afghan and US governments and the DEA Sherzai was able to muscle his competition in eastern Afghanistan. Those who wanted to cooperate with him in their poppy production and drug trafficking could survive, those who did not want to pay him had their fields eradicated. Utilizing Afghan and US resources Sherzai could co-opt or destroy his competition and was rewarded for doing so with $10 million courtesy of US taxpayers (I am quite certain this happened multiple years).

To make the claim that we are supporting the guys in the white hats in Afghanistan even more criminally ludicrous, the Afghan security forces, be it the army, the police, or the intelligence services consistently torture prisonersas a matter of routine practice in addition to being themselves involved in the drug trade. This has, unsurprisingly, received not very much attention from the US Congress and press. What has received attention, but for which little has been done, except for the US issuing actual and de facto waivers to the government of Afghanistan and its security forces for the Leahy Amendmentand Child Soldiers Prevention Act, has been the widespread keeping of child sex slaves by Afghan military and police officers. Some US military personnel, so disgusted by the overt keeping of child sex slaves, took matters into their own hands, only to be relieved of command and forced out of the military. For US generals and the Congress, Afghan military and police officers keeping child sex slaves is entirely worth the end purposes of “The Good War”, whatever end purposes those may be. As Vonnegut said: So it goes…

Afghanistan as a necessary safe haven for another 9/11 is a myth

The most fervent argument against peace, the one that has carried forth the US war in Afghanistan from its start in 2001, has been that a military presence, and the requisite massive land war, is necessary to prevent another 9/11. How quick are the facts of 9/11 and al-Qaeda forgotten and how easily jettisoned is critical thought when this argument is offered and accepted.

First, none of the hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks were Afghans, nor was anyone involved in the planning or logistics. More so the attacks were led and planned primarily in Pakistan and Germany. Training and planning did occur in camps in Afghanistan, but Khaled Sheik Mohammad (KSM), the mastermind of the attacks, was based in Pakistan and that is where he did the majority of his planning and training, while the leadership of the hijackers lived and planned in Hamburg, Germany in what was known as the “kitchen of the September 11 operation”. KSM was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, the same town as the Pakistani military headquarters (Osama bin Laden was of course killed in Abbottabad, the same town as the Pakistani military academy). The man responsible for the logistics of the 9/11 operation never left Germanyuntil a few days before the attacks. Additional planning and preparations took place in MalaysiaSpain and possibly Dubai. Of course, the most important “safe havens” for the hijackers were the US flight schools and martial arts gyms they attended while in the US. It’s important to remember that some of the attackers were in the US for more than 18 months before the 9/11 attacks and that it seems all of the attackers spent more time in the US than they did in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Not that it matters much where the attackers planned and trained as planning and training for these types of attacks requires nothing more than an apartment, hotel room or basement. Understanding these attacks and what actually goes into them exposes the idea of the necessity of safe havens as nothing more than a necessary myth to propagate the global war on terror or as the Pentagon likes to call it: The Long War (which along with the Greater Middle East also now includes Russia and China in US war plans). None of the arguments for war in Afghanistan to prevent another 9/11 speak of the well defined role of Saudi Arabia, and possibly Dubai, in financing and facilitating the attacks. Without the Saudi involvement in particular the attacks would have been impossible.

Those who utilize 9/11 to fear monger in an attempt to silence critics of the war or proponents of peace brazenly neglect the failure the wars have been. On and after 9/11 al-Qaeda was between 200 and 400 people strong worldwide. [For reading on the strained relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda in 2001 I strongly recommend Felix Kuehn and Alex Strick van Linschoten’s An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan]] Over the last seventeen years al-Qaeda and its successor, ISIS, has grown to number in the tens of thousands with branches and affiliates across the globe. Today the US is in combat operations in fourteen countries while conducting counter-terrorism operations in sixty-five countries to ostensibly defeat al-Qaeda and ISIS. Bombing that kills, maims and make homeless tens of thousands each year from US aircraft and drones is daily in not just Afghanistan and Iraq, but in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Countries across the Middle East and Africa, most especially Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, have been torn apart by civil wars and fighting that have at least some, if not all, of their genesis in US military and CIA activities since 2001. At times al-Qaeda, ISIS and their allies have controlled and commanded large swathes of land, including major cities, threatened to overthrow governments in nations both aligned and unaligned to the US, and committed mass-scale atrocities and genocide. How can any person with any degree of intellectual honesty look at the US strategy and operations against al-Qaeda and “terrorismover the last decade and a half and argue that more of the same is what is required?

Peace has been possible in Afghanistan

What has been said repeatedly since 2001 regarding the Taliban is that they have been uninterested in peace talks or negotiations. This is untrue.

Yes, there are some elements of the Taliban which have been against peace talks and negotiation, but there have been many members and parts of the Taliban that have been interested in talking. However, this goes against the profit benefits of an unending war, as well as the political need for President Obama to be not just a war time president but a victorious war time president, something the George W. Bush and the Republicans could not claim (see Bob Woodward’s Obama Wars and refer to Hillary Clinton and her hawkish role as Secretary of State, as a necessary part of her pre-campaign for president, pushing for war in not just Afghanistan, but in Libya as well).

In the immediate aftermath of the US invasion major figures and parts of the Taliban sought to surrender. They were rebuffed as it was victory that was being sought by the US and their Afghan warlord allies, not reconciliation and peace. In the years following 2001, members of the Taliban who sought to surrender and reconcile were instead hunted down and killed. Those who were not killed were forced across the border into Pakistan or Iran. Anand Gopal’s reporting on this is excellent and necessary for understanding how the Afghan War came to be unending post-2001.

In the final years of the Bush presidency and in the first year or two of Obama’s presidency the Taliban made overtures to peace and negotiations. Middle Eastern and Central and South Asian media reported the Taliban interest in talks, but these reports were rarely, if ever, picked up by Western media. The Taliban suggested negotiations via social media, including Facebook posts, and Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, in his annual Eid messages would include comments about beginning a process of talks to lead to peace and reconciliation, these overtures, accompanied with the demand for foreign forces to leave, an understandable call by an insurgency, continued even after the US escalation of the war in 2009. None of this was even acknowledged, let alone considered, by the US government. In 2016 the New York Times, whose editorial page has been a continual supporter of the war over the last seventeen years until just this month, reported that in 2007 and 2008 Norwegian negotiators had been meeting directly with Mullah Omar (until this reporting it had been believed Mullah Omar had never met with any Westerner) and that a framework for peace was being advanced. This opportunity was scuttled in 2009 by the Obama Administration’s escalation of the war, an escalation that was justified by President Obama because according to him and the US government the Taliban were not interested in peace. Sherard Cowper-Coles, Britain’s ambassador and special representative to Afghanistan from 2007 to 2010, whom I met in Richard Holbrooke’s suite at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City in 2009 and who praised me for my resignation letter, described the main impediment to negotiations during his many year tenure in Afghanistan as the American military and the “reality of the American Republic”. Cowper-Coles, after leaving Afghanistan, experiencedan appalling sense of sadness and tragedy and, above all, the sense that otherwise intelligent people were living one big, bright shining lie.

During my time in Afghanistan I first hand saw a willingness to negotiate by elements of the Taliban. While in Nangahar Province in the spring of 2009 we were approached by representatives of Hezbi Islami Gulbuddin, one of three principal blocks of the Taliban (the Taliban is not monolithic and is composed of dozens if not hundreds of locally organized insurgencies that fall under the umbrella of larger, regional insurgencies whose leadership is based in Pakistan, which are then included under the overall broader designation that we call the Taliban). My instruction from the Embassy was clear: disregard, we do not negotiate or are involved with reconciliation. Reconciliation, according to the US government, was only to be conducted by the Afghan Government, a government that only existed and remained in power due to the backing of the US and NATO: so, because of this backing from the world’s lone superpower, it was a government that was never going to willingly negotiate on its own, why would it? – again the logic that sustains the lies of the war is brilliant in its speciousness. On multiple occasions interlocutors from the insurgency were rebuffed and when US army commanders asked about how the war ends without negotiation they received no answer.

Later in my time in Afghanistan I moved to the southern province of Zabul. Here too I met with Taliban interlocutors, and more than likely some Taliban themselves. My instructions were the same: do nothing. Throughout the war the US has insisted on three preconditions for the Taliban prior to talks: 1. Lay down their weapons, 2. Renounce links to al-Qaeda, and 3. Embrace the Afghan Constitution. Renouncing their links to al-Qaeda the Taliban have done, in one form or another, since 2001. Just as the Taliban put out feelers for talks in the Middle Eastern and Central/South Asian press that were never acknowledged by the US government, so has their renunciation of ties to al-Qaeda been ignored. The remaining two preconditions, if followed by the Taliban, would, in effect, have meant their surrender. As I was told several times in Zabul when discussing with interlocutors, and again maybe the Taliban themselves, and has been repeated to me by men in the US with ties to the Taliban: “we are tired of fighting, my father fought and now my sons are fighting; I do not want my grandsons to fight, but we are not going to surrender”. Couple this with the fact that it was not until eleven years after the US invasion that Taliban were allowed safe passage to negotiate (meaning that if they identified themselves they would find their vehicle the target of a drone and its Hellfire missiles – and even in the last few years they have been consistently targeted) and it is clear that US protestations for a willingness and a desire for peace may well have been the grandest and bloodiest lie of them all.

Peace. Cut through all the lies, and there it is right in front of you.

It is true that there are hundreds of thousands of well paid men and women in the US because of this war, many of whom can now afford beach homes and BMWs, and, yes, it is true there are hundreds of politicians who subsist on the unholy campaign contributions that come from the war machine. Aside from these mercenary beneficiaries can someone point to any thing worthwhile from these wars?

What should be apparent to observers of the war in Afghanistan is that the willingness for peace from the US and its allies has not existed. The reasons are multiple: there is too much money being made; the political advantages of a victory presidency are too great; the vainglorious egos of the generals and those in think tanks, backed financially by the defense industry, are too strong; there may be a great deal of money in minerals to be made in Afghanistan; while the yearly record amounts of drugs grown and exported are enriching the Afghan government and security forces, as well as local, regional and international banks; and if you are the corrupt, decadent Afghan government, with the US as your benefactor, why seek peace? What should also be clear, and damning, is how quickly and easily the recent peace talks have moved forward. With seemingly minimal effort over the span of a few meetings a framework for peace appears possible. All that, tragically, seems to have been required was the willingness of the US government to talk.

What a waste

The saddest epilogue to this essay and to this war is that none of this was necessary. It has all has been a waste.

Blood, flesh, bone, sinew, organs…ground up and thrown, as if by some spectral ghastly hand and shovel, into a furnace of oblivion and nothingness. EB Sledge, a US Marine who fought in the 20th Century’s Good War, wrote about his experiences as an infantryman amidst all the killing and dying. In With the Old Breed, over and over again, haunted by the dead and the loss of their futures, Sledge summarizes what he saw with the words: what a waste.

Yes, what a waste indeed.

Matthew Hoh is a member of the advisory boards of Expose Facts, Veterans For Peace and World Beyond War. In 2009 he resigned his position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of the Afghan War by the Obama Administration. He previously had been in Iraq with a State Department team and with the U.S. Marines. He is a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy. Reprinted from CounterPunch with the author’s permission.

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The State of the Empire

Veni, Vidi, Tweeti (I Came, I Saw, I Tweeted)

Originally posted at TomDispatch.

What dreamers they were! They imagined a kind of global power that would leave even Rome at its Augustan height in the shade. They imagined a world made for one, a planet that could be swallowed by a single great power. No, not just great, but beyond anything ever seen before – one that would build (as itsNational Security Strategy put it in 2002) a military “beyond challenge.” Let’s be clear on that: no future power, or even bloc of powers, would ever be allowed to challenge it again.

And, in retrospect, can you completely blame them? I mean, it seemed so obvious then that we – the United States of America – were the best and the last. We had, after all, outclassed and outlasted every imperial power since the beginning of time. Even that other menacing superpower of the Cold War era, the Soviet Union, the “Evil Empire” that refused to stand down for almost half a century, had gone up in a puff of smoke.

Imagine that moment so many years later and consider the crew of neoconservatives who, under the aegis of George W. Bush, the son of the man who had “won” the Cold War, came to power in January 2001. Not surprisingly, on viewing the planet, they could see nothing – not a single damn thing – in their way. There was a desperately weakened and impoverished Russia (still with its nuclear arsenal more or less intact) that, as far as they were concerned, had been mollycoddled by President Bill Clinton’s administration. There was a Communist-gone-capitalist China focused on its own growth and little else. And there were a set of other potential enemies, “rogue powers” as they were dubbed, so pathetic that not one of them could, under any circumstances, be called “great.”

In 2002, in fact, three of them – Iraq, Iran, and North Korea – had to be cobbled together into an “axis of evil” to create a faintly adequate enemy, a minimalist excuse for the Bush administration to act preemptively. It couldn’t have been more obvious then that all three of them would go down before the unprecedented military and economic power of us (even if, as it happened, two of them didn’t).

It was as clear as glass that the world – the whole shebang – was there for the taking. And it couldn’t have been headier, even after a tiny Islamist terror outfit hijacked four American jets and took out New York’s World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. As President Bush would put it in an address at West Point in 2002, “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.” In other words, jihadists aside, it was all over. From now on, there would be an arms race of one and it was obvious who that one would be. The National Security Strategy of that year put the same thought this way: “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” Again, anywhere on the planet ever.

Look at more or less any document from the period and you’ll sense that they weren’t shy about touting the unprecedented greatness of a future global Pax Americana. Take, for instance, columnist Charles Krauthammer who, in February 2001, six months before the terror attacks of September 11th, wrote a piece swooning over the new Bush administration’s “unilateralism” to come and the “Bush Doctrine” which would go with it. In the process, he gave that administration a green light to put the pathetic Russians in their nuclear place and summed the situation up this way: “America is no mere international citizen. It is the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome. Accordingly, America is in a position to reshape norms, alter expectations, and create new realities. How? By unapologetic and implacable demonstrations of will.”

“How Did USA’s Oil Get Under Iraq’s Sand?”

And soon enough after September 11th, those unapologetic, implacable demonstrations of will did, in fact, begin – first in Afghanistan and then, a year and a half later, in Iraq. Goaded by Osama bin Laden, the new Rome went into action.

Of course, in 2019 we have the benefit of hindsight, which Charles Krauthammer, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and the rest of that crew didn’t have as they applied their Roman-style vision of an imperial America to the actual world. It should be added, however, that the millions of people who hit the streets globally to protest the coming invasion of Iraq in the winter of 2003 – “How did USA’s oil get under Iraq’s sand?” said a typical protest sign (which Donald Trump would have understood in his own way) – had a far better sense of the world than did their American rulers-to-be. Like the Soviets before them, in fact, they would grievously confuse military power with power on this planet.

More than 17 years later, the U.S. military remains stuck in Afghanistan, bedeviled in Iraq, and floundering across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa on a planet with a resurgent Russia, and an impressively rising China. One-third of the former axis of evil, Iran, is, remarkably enough, still in Washington’s gunsights, while another third (North Korea) sits uncomfortably in a presidential bear hug. It’s no exaggeration to say that none of the dreams of a new Rome were ever faintly fulfilled. In fact, if you want to think about what’s been truly exceptional in these years, it might be this: never in history has such a great power, at its height, seemed quite so incapable of effectively applying force, military or otherwise, to achieve its imperial ends or bring its targets to heel.

And yet, wrong as they may have been on such subjects, don’t sell Krauthammer and the rest of that neocon crew short. They were, in their own way, also prophets, at least domestically speaking. After all, Rome, like the United States, had been an imperial republic. That republic was replaced, as its empire grew, by autocratic rule, first by the self-anointed emperor Augustus and then by his successors. Arguably, 18 years after Krauthammer wrote that column, the American republic might be heading down the same path. After all, so many years later, the neocons, triumphantly risen yet again in Washington (both in the administration and as its critics), finally have their Caesar.

Hail, Donald J. Trump, we who are about to read your latest tweet salute you!

A Rogue State of One

Let’s note some other passing parallels between the new Rome and the old one. As a start, it’s certainly accurate to say that our new American Caesar has much gall (divided into at least three parts). Admittedly, he’s no Augustus, the first of a line of emperors, but more likely a Nero, fiddling while, in his case, the world quite literally burns. Still, he could certainly say of campaign 2016 and what followed: Veni, Vidi, Tweeti (I came, I saw, I tweeted). And don’t forget the classic line that might someday be applied to his presidency, “Et tu, Mueller?” – or depending on who turns on him, you can fill in your name of choice.

One day, it might also be said that, in a country in which executive power has become ever more imperial (as has the power of the Senate’s majority leader), blowback from imperial acts abroad has had a significant, if largely hidden, hand in crippling the American republic, as was once true of Rome. In fact, it seems clear enough that the first republican institution to go was the citizen’s army. In the wake of the Vietnam War, the draft was thrown out and replaced by an “all-volunteer” force, one which would, as it came to fight on ever more distant battlefields, morph into a home-grown version of an imperial police force or foreign legion. With it went the staggering sums that, in this century, would be invested – if that’s even the word for it – in what’s still called “defense,” as well as in a vast empire of bases abroad and the national security state, a rising locus of power at home. And then, of course, there were the never-ending wars across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa that went with all of that. Meanwhile, so much else, domestically speaking, was put on the equivalent of austerity rations. And all of that, in turn, helped provoke the crisis that brought Donald Trump to power and might, in the end, even sink the American system as we’ve known it.

The Donald’s victory in the 2016 election was always a sign of a deep disturbance at the heart of an increasingly unequal and unfair system of wealth and power. But it was those trillions of dollars – The Donald claimsseven trillion of them – that the neocons began sinking into America’s “infinite” wars, which cost Americans big time in ways they hardly tracked or noticed. Those trillions didn’t go into shoring up American infrastructure or health care or education or job-training programs or anything else that might have mattered to most people here, even as untold tax dollars – one estimate: $15,000 per middle-class family per year – went into the pockets of the rich. And some of those dollars, in turn, poured back into the American political system (with a helping hand from the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens Uniteddecision) and, in the end, helped put the first billionaire in the Oval Office. By the 2020 election campaign, we may achieve another all-American first: two or even three of the candidates could be billionaires.

All of this not only gave Americans a visibly unhinged president – think of him, in axis-of-evil terms, as a rogue state of one – but an increasingly unhinged country. You can feel so much of this in President Trump’s confused and confusing attempts to both end American wars and ratchet them up, 17-and-a-half – he always claims “almost 19” – years after the invasion of Afghanistan. You can feel it in his gut-level urge to attack the “deep state” and yet fund it beyond its wildest dreams. You can feel it in his attempts to create a corps of “my generals” and then fire them all. You can feel the unhinged nature of events in a world in which, after so many years of war, America’s enemies still seem to have the formula for staying afloat, no matter what Washington does. The Taliban in Afghanistan is on the rise; al-Shabaab in Somalia, is still going strong; the Houthis in Yemen remain functional in a sea of horror and starvation; ISIS, now without its caliphate, has from Syria to the PhilippinesAfrica to Afghanistan, become a distinctly global brand; al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula thrives, while terror groups more generally continue to spread.

You can feel it in the president’s confused and confusing explanations for his urges to withdraw American troops in days or four months or whenever from Syria and do the same or maybe not exactly in Afghanistan. (As he said in his State of the Union address, American troops would both withdraw and “focus” on “counterterrorism” in that country.) You can feel it in the way, after so many years of visible failure, the neocons are once again riding high in Washington, ascendant both in his administration and as critics of its global and military policies.

These days, who even remembers that classic early Cold War question – who lost China? – that rattled American domestic politics for years, or later, the similar one about Vietnam? Still, if Donald Trump ever truly does withdraw American forces from Afghanistan (undoubtedly leaving this country’s allies in a Vietnam-style ditch), count on foreign policy establishmentarians in Washington and pundits around the country to ask an updated version of the same question: Did Donald Trump lose Afghanistan?

But no matter what happens, don’t make the mistake of blaming him. It’s true that he tweeted endlessly while the world burned, but he won’t be the one who “lost” Afghanistan. It was “lost” in the grisly dreams of the neocons as the century began and it’s never truly been found again.

Of course, we no more know what’s going to happen in the years ahead than the neocons did in 2001. If history has taught us anything, it’s that prediction is the diciest of human predilections. Still, think of this piece as an obituary of sorts. You know, the kind major newspapers write about those still living and then continually update until death finally occurs.

Think of it not as an obituary for a single loopy president, a man who, with his “great, great wall,” has indeed been an opiate of the masses (for his famed base, at least) in the midst of an opioid crisis hitting them hard. Yes, Donald J. Trump, reality TV star and bankruptee, he of the golden letters, was elevated to a strange version of power by a troubled republic showing signs of wear and tear. It was a republic feeling the pressure of all that money flowing into only half-noticed distant wars and into the pockets of billionaires and corporate entities in a way that turned the very idea of democracy into a bad joke.

Someday, if people ask the obvious question – not who lost Afghanistan, but who lost America? – keep all those failed imperial wars and the national security state that went with them in mind when you try to answer. Cumulatively, they had a far more disruptive role than is now imagined in toppling the dominos that sent us all careening on a path to nowhere here at home. And keep in mind that, whatever Donald Trump does, the Caesarian die was cast early in this century as the neocons crossed their own Rubicon.

Hail, Caesar, we who are about to die salute you!

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).

[Note: A bow of thanks to Jonathan Cobb whose sharp thoughts are an invaluable resource for me – and another to the late, great Chalmers Johnson who was already writing about such subjects as this century began! Tom]

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

A Serious Fascist

Trump Already Endorsed Political Violence. In El Paso, a Red Hat Showed He Was Listening.

BBC cameraman ‘violently pushed and shoved’ during Trump rally

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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