Michael Klare: The coming world of ‘peak oil demand,’ not ‘peak oil’

In a Greater Middle East in which one country after another has been plunged into chaos and possible failed statehood, two rival nations, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have been bedrock exceptions to the rule.  Iran, at the moment, remains so, but the Saudi royals, increasingly unnerved, have been steering their country erratically into the region’s chaos. The kingdom is now led by a decrepit 80-year-old monarch who, in commonplace meetings, has to be fed his lines by teleprompter.  Meanwhile, his 30-year-old son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has gained significant control over both the kingdom’s economic and military decision-making, launched a rash anti-Iranian war in Yemen, heavily dependent on air power.  It is not only Washington-backed but distinctly in the American mode of these last years: brutal yet ineffective, never-ending, a boon to the spread of terror groups, and seeded with potential blowback.

Meanwhile, in a cheap-oil, belt-tightening moment, in an increasingly edgy country, the royals are reining in budgets and undermining the good life they were previously financing for many of their citizens.  The one thing they continue to do is pump oil — their only form of wealth — as if there were no tomorrow, while threatening further price-depressing rises in oil production in the near future.  And that’s hardly been the end of their threats.  While taking on the Iranians (and the Russians), they have also been lashing out at the local opposition, executing a prominent dissident Shiite cleric among others and even baring their teeth at Washington.  They have reportedly threatened the Obama administration with the sell-off of hundreds of billions of dollars in American assets if a bill, now in Congress and aimed at opening the Saudis to American lawsuits over their supposed culpability for the 9/11 attacks, were to pass. (It would, however, be a sell-off that could hurt the Saudis more than anyone.)  Even at the pettiest of levels, on Barack Obama’s recent arrival in Saudi Arabia for a visit with King Salman, they essentially snubbed him, a first for a White House occupant. All in all, a previously sure-footed (if extreme) Sunni regime seems increasingly unsettled; in fact, it has something of the look these days of a person holding a gun to his own head and threatening to pull the trigger. In other words, in a region already aflame, the Saudis seem to be tossing… well, oil onto any fire in sight.

And in a way, it’s little wonder.  The very basis for the existence of the Saudi royals, their staggering oil reserves, is under attack — and not by the Iranians, the Russians, or the Americans, but as TomDispatch energy specialist Michael Klare explains, by something so much larger: the potential ending of the petroleum way of life.  Tom Engelhardt

Debacle at Doha
The collapse of the old oil order
By Michael T. Klare

Sunday, April 17th was the designated moment.  The world’s leading oil producers were expected to bring fresh discipline to the chaotic petroleum market and spark a return to high prices. Meeting in Doha, the glittering capital of petroleum-rich Qatar, the oil ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), along with such key non-OPEC producers as Russia and Mexico, were scheduled to ratify a draft agreement obliging them to freeze their oil output at current levels. In anticipation of such a deal, oil prices had begun to creep inexorably upward, from $30 per barrel in mid-January to $43 on the eve of the gathering. But far from restoring the old oil order, the meeting ended in discord, driving prices down again and revealing deep cracks in the ranks of global energy producers.

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Doha debacle. At the very least, it will perpetuate the low oil prices that have plagued the industry for the past two years, forcing smaller firms into bankruptcy and erasing hundreds of billions of dollars of investments in new production capacity. It may also have obliterated any future prospects for cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC producers in regulating the market. Most of all, however, it demonstrated that the petroleum-fueled world we’ve known these last decades — with oil demand always thrusting ahead of supply, ensuring steady profits for all major producers — is no more.  Replacing it is an anemic, possibly even declining, demand for oil that is likely to force suppliers to fight one another for ever-diminishing market shares.

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Rebecca Gordon: Exhibit one in any future American war crimes trial

Let’s take a moment to think about the ultimate strangeness of our American world.  In recent months, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have offered a range of hair-raising suggestions: as president, one or the other of them might order the U.S. military and the CIA to commit acts that would include the waterboarding of terror suspects (or “a hell of a lot worse”), the killing of the relatives of terrorists, and the carpet bombing of parts of Syria.  All of these would, legally speaking, be war crimes.  This has caused shock among many Americans in quite established quarters who have decried the possibility of such a president, suggesting that the two of them are calling for outright illegal acts, actual “war crimes,” and that the U.S. military and others would be justified in rejecting such orders.  In this context, for instance, CIA Director John Brennan recently made it clear that no Agency operative under his command would ever waterboard a suspect in response to orders of such a nature from a future president.  (“I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I’ve heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure.”)

These acts, in other words, are considered beyond the pale when Donald Trump suggests them, but here’s the strangeness of it all: what The Donald is only mouthing off about, a perfectly real American president (and vice president and secretary of defense, and so on) actually did.  Among other things, under the euphemistic term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” they ordered the CIA to use classic torture practices including waterboarding (which, in blunter times, had been known as “the water torture”).  They also let the U.S. military loose to torture and abuse prisoners in their custody.  They green-lighted the CIA to kidnap terror suspects (who sometimes turned out to be perfectly innocent people) off the streets of cities around the world, as well as from the backlands of the planet, and transported them to the prisons of some of the worst torture regimes or to secret detention centers (“black sites”) the CIA was allowed to set up in compliant countries.  In other words, a perfectly real administration ordered and oversaw perfectly real crimes.  (Its top officials even reportedly had torture techniques demonstrated to them in the White House.)

At the time, the CIA fulfilled its orders to a T and without complaint. A lone CIA officer spoke out publicly in opposition to such a program and was jailed for disclosing classified information to a journalist.  (He would be the only CIA official to go to jail for the Agency’s acts of torture.)  At places like Abu Ghraib, the military similarly carried out its orders without significant complaint or resistance.  The mainstream media generally adopted the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “harsh techniques” in its reporting — no “torture” or “war crimes” for them then.  And back in the post-2001 years, John Brennan, then deputy executive director of the CIA, didn’t offer a peep of protest about what he surely knew was going on in his own agency. In 2014, in fact, as its director he actually defended such torture practices for producing “intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.”  In addition, none of those who ordered or oversaw torture and other criminal behavior (a number of whom would sell their memoirs for millions of dollars) suffered in the slightest for the acts that were performed on their watch and at their behest.

To sum up: when Donald Trump says such things it’s a future nightmare to be called by its rightful name and denounced, as well as rejected and resisted by military and intelligence officials.  When an American president and his top officials actually did such things, however, it was another story entirely. Today, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon catches the nightmarish quality of those years, now largely buried, in the grim case of a single mistreated human being. It should make Americans shudder. She has also just published a new book, American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, that couldn’t be more relevant.  It’s a must-read for a country conveniently without a memory. Tom Engelhardt

The Al-Qaeda leader who wasn’t
The shameful ordeal of Abu Zubaydah
By Rebecca Gordon

The allegations against the man were serious indeed.

* Donald Rumsfeld said he was “if not the number two, very close to the number two person” in al-Qaeda.

* The Central Intelligence Agency informed Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that he “served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant. In that capacity, he has managed a network of training camps… He also acted as al-Qaeda’s coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications.”

* CIA Director Michael Hayden would tell the press in 2008 that 25% of all the information his agency had gathered about al-Qaeda from human sources “originated” with one other detainee and him.

* George W. Bush would use his case to justify the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program,” claiming that “he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained” and that “he helped smuggle al-Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan” so they would not be captured by U.S. military forces.

None of it was true.

And even if it had been true, what the CIA did to Abu Zubaydah — with the knowledge and approval of the highest government officials — is a prime example of the kind of still-unpunished crimes that officials like Dick Cheney, George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld committed in the so-called Global War on Terror.

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Pratap Chatterjee: Inside the devastation of America’s drone wars

In our part of the world, it’s not often that potential “collateral damage” speaks, but it happened last week.  A Pakistani tribal leader, Malik Jalal, flew to England to plead in a newspaper piece he wrote and in media interviews to be taken off the Obama White House’s “kill list.”  (“I am in England this week because I decided that if Westerners wanted to kill me without bothering to come to speak with me first, perhaps I should come to speak to them instead.”)  Jalal, who lives in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, is a local leader and part of a peace committee sanctioned by the Pakistani government that is trying to tamp down the violence in the region.  He believes that he’s been targeted for assassination by Washington.  (Four drone missiles, he claims, have just missed him or his car.)  His family, he says, is traumatized by the drones.  “I don’t want to end up a ‘Bugsplat’ — the ugly word that is used for what remains of a human being after being blown up by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone,” he writes. “More importantly, I don’t want my family to become victims, or even to live with the droning engines overhead, knowing that at any moment they could be vaporized.” 

Normally, what “they” do to us, or our European counterparts (think: Brussels, Paris, or San Bernardino), preoccupies us 24/7.  What we do to “them” — and them turns out to be far more than groups of terrorists — seldom touches our world at all.  As TomDispatch readers know, this website has paid careful attention to the almost 300 wedding celebrants killed by U.S. air power between late 2001 and the end of 2013 — eight wedding parties eviscerated in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen).  These are deaths that, unlike the 14 Americans murdered in San Bernardino, the 32 Belgians and others killed in Brussels, and the 130 French and others slaughtered in Paris, have caused not even a ripple here (though imagine for a second the reaction if even a single wedding, no less eight of them and hundreds of revelers, had been wiped out by a terror attack in the U.S. in these years).

Any sense of sadness or regret for Washington’s actions, when it comes to the many killed, wounded, or traumatized in its never-ending, implacable, and remarkably unsuccessful war on terror, is notable mainly for its absence from our world.  So it’s an extraordinary moment when any Americans — no less a group that has been deeply involved in prosecuting the drone war on terror — publicly expresses empathy for the “collateral damage” inflicted in that ongoing conflict.  That’s why TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee brings genuine news today from the heart of America’s drone wars, from those who should best be able to assess the grim reality of just what Washington has been doing in our name. Tom Engelhardt

Drone whistleblowers step out of the shadows
In Washington’s drone wars, collateral damage comes home
By Pratap Chatterjee

In a trio of recent action-packed movies, good guys watch terrorists mingling with innocent women and children via real-time video feeds from halfway across the world. A clock ticks and we, the audience, are let in on the secret that mayhem is going to break loose. After much agonized soul-searching about possible collateral damage, the good guys call in a missile strike from a U.S. drone to try to save the day by taking out a set of terrorists.

Such is the premise of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky, Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill, and Rick Rosenthal’s Drones. In reality, in Washington’s drone wars neither the “good guys” nor the helpless, endangered villagers under those robotic aircraft actually survive the not-so secret drone war that the Obama administration has been waging relentlessly across the Greater Middle East — not, at least, without some kind of collateral damage.  In addition to those they kill, Washington’s drones turn out to wound (in ways both physical and psychological) their own operators and the populations who live under their constant surveillance. They leave behind very real victims with all-too-real damage, often in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder on opposite sides of the globe.

Sometimes I am so sad that my heart wants to explode,” an Afghan man says, speaking directly into the camera. “When your body is intact, your mind is different. You are content. But the moment you are wounded, your soul gets damaged. When your leg is torn off and your gait slows, it also burdens your spirit.” The speaker is an unnamed victim of a February 2010 drone strike in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, but he could just as easily be an Iraqi, a Pakistani, a Somali, or a Yemeni. He appears in National Bird, a haunting new documentary film by Sonia Kennebeck about the unexpected and largely unrecorded devastation Washington’s drone wars leave in their wake.  In it, the audience hears directly from both drone personnel and their victims.

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Karen Greenberg: No justice at Gitmo

With only nine months to go, in the fashion of modern presidents, Barack Obama is already planning his post-presidential library, museum, and foundation complex.  Such institutions only seem to grow more opulent and imperial as the years and administrations pass.  Obama’s will reportedly leave the $300 million raised for George W. Bush’s version of the same in the dust.  The aim is to create at least an $800 million and possibly billion-dollar institution.  With his post-Oval Office future already in view and his presidency nearly history, his “legacy” has clearly been on his mind of late. And when it comes to foreign policy, he definitely has some accomplishments to brag about.  The two most obvious are the Iran nuclear deal and the opening to Cuba.  In their own ways, both could prove game changers, breaking with venomous relations that lasted, in the case of Iran, for more than three and a half decades, and in the case of Cuba, for more than half a century.

You can already imagine the exhibits celebrating them at the Barack Obama Presidential Center to be built on the south side of Chicago.  But it’s hard not to wonder how that institution will handle the three major foreign policy promises the new president made in the distant days of 2008-2009.  After all, he was, in part, swept into the presidency on a blunt promise to end George W. Bush’s catastrophic war in Iraq.  (“So when I am Commander-in-Chief, I will set a new goal on Day One: I will end this war.”)  Nine years later, he’s once again taken this country into the Big Muddy of an Iraq War, either the third or fourth of them in the last five presidencies (depending on whether you count the Reagan administration support for Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran in the 1980s).  At this moment, having just dispatched B-52s, the classic Vietnam-era carpet-bombing plane of choice (Ted Cruz must be thrilled!) to Qatar as part of that war effort, and being on a mission-creep path ever deeper into what can only be called the Iraq quagmire, we’re likely to be talking about a future museum exhibit from hell.

But it won’t begin to match the special exhibit that will someday undoubtedly explore the president’s heartfelt promise to work to severely curtail the American and global nuclear arsenals and put the planet on a path to — a word that had never previously hovered anywhere near the Oval Office — nuclear abolition.  The president’s disarmament ambitions were, in fact, significantly responsible for his 2009 Nobel Prize, an honor that almost uniquely preceded any accomplishments.  Now, the same man is presiding over a planned three-decade, trillion-dollar renovation and modernization of that same arsenal, including the development of an initial generation of “smart” nukes, potentially first-use weapons.  It’s certainly been a unique path for our first outright anti-nuclear president to take and deserves a special place of (dis)honor at the future Obama center.

Barring surprising developments in the coming months, however, no exhibit is likely to be more striking or convoluted than the one that will have to be dedicated to the “closing” of Guantánamo, the notorious offshore, Bush-era prison camp.  After all, as TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, author of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, a striking soon-to-be-published anatomy of post-9/11 national security state mania, points out today, the closing of Guantánamo within a year represented one of the president’s first promises on entering the Oval Office.  Unless somehow he succeeds in shutting Gitmo down over fierce Republican congressional opposition in these final months, it could prove the pièce de résistance of his future museum. Tom Engelhardt

Still in the Bush embrace
What really stands in the way of closing Guantánamo
By Karen J. Greenberg

Can you believe it?  We’re in the last year of the presidency of the man who, on his first day in the Oval Office, swore that he would close Guantánamo, and yet it and everything it represents remains part of our all-American world. So many years later, you can still read news reports on the ongoing nightmares of that grim prison, ranging from detention without charge to hunger strikes and force feeding. Its name still echoes through the halls of Congress in bitter debate over what should or shouldn’t be done with it. It remains a global symbol of the worst America has to offer.

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Rory Fanning: Talking to the young in a world that will never truly be ‘postwar’

The third time around, the Pentagon evidently wants to do it right — truly right — this time.  What other explanation could there be for dispatching 12 generals to Iraq (one for every 416 American troops estimated to be on the ground in that country, according to Nancy Youssef of the Daily Beast).  And keep in mind that those 12 don’t include the generals and admirals overseeing the air war, naval support, or other aspects of the campaign against the Islamic State from elsewhere in the Middle East or back in the U.S., nor do they include generals from allied forces like those of Australia and Great Britain also in Iraq.  Youssef offers a “conservative” count of 21 “flag officers,” including allies, now in that country to oversee the war there. Among other things, they are undoubtedly responsible for ensuring the success of the major goal proclaimed by both Washington and Baghdad for 2016: an offensive to retake the country’s second largest city, Mosul. Only weeks ago, it got off to a rousing start when the Iraqi army recaptured a few obscure villages on the road to that city.  Soon after, however, the offensive reportedly ground to a dispiriting halt when parts of the American-retrained and rearmed Iraqi Army (which had collapsed in June 2014 in the face of far smaller numbers of far more determined Islamic State militants) began to crumble again, amid mass desertions.

In the meantime, in both Iraq and Syria, U.S. operations seem to be on an inexorable mission-creep upward, with ever more new troops and special ops types heading for those countries in a generally under-the-radar manner, assumedly with the objective of someday justifying the number of generals awaiting them there. Somewhere in a top-heavy Pentagon, there surely must be an office of déjà vu all over again, mustn’t there?  (And talking about déjà vu, last week the U.S. launched yet another air strike in Somalia, supposedly knocking off yet another leader of al-Shabab, the indigenous terror movement. If you could win a war by repeatedly knocking off the leaders of such movements, the U.S. would by now be the greatest victor in the history of warfare.)

Meanwhile in Afghanistan… but do I really have to tell you about the ground taken by the resurgent Taliban in the last year, the arrival of ISIS in that country, the halting (yet again) of withdrawal plans for U.S. forces almost 15 years into the second American war there, or other tales from the crypt of this country’s never-ending wars?  I think not.  Even if you haven’t read the latest news, you can guess, can’t you?

And this, of course, is exactly the repetitive world of war (and failure) into which the young, especially in America’s poorest high schools, are being recruited, even if they don’t know it, via JROTC.  It’s a Pentagon-funded program that promises to pave the way for your future college education, give meaning to your life, and send you to exotic lands, while ensuring that the country’s all-volunteer military never lacks for new troops to dispatch to old (verging on ancient) conflicts. As Ann Jones has written, “It should be no secret that the United States has the biggest, most efficiently organized, most effective system for recruiting child soldiers in the world. With uncharacteristic modesty, however, the Pentagon doesn’t call it that. Its term is ‘youth development program.’” So let’s offer thanks for small favors when someone — in this case, ex-Army Ranger and TomDispatch regular Rory Fanning (author of Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America) — feels the urge to do something about that massive, militarized propaganda effort in our schools.  In my book, Fanning is the equivalent of any 12 of our generals and we need more like him both in those schools and in our country. Tom Engelhardt   

The wars in our schools
An ex-Army Ranger finds a new mission
By Rory Fanning

Early each New Year’s Day I head for Lake Michigan with a handful of friends. We look for a quiet stretch of what, only six months earlier, was warm Chicago beach. Then we trudge through knee-deep snow in bathing suits and boots, fighting wind gusts and hangovers. Sooner or later, we arrive where the snowpack meets the shore and boot through a thick crust of lake ice, yelling and swearing as we dive into near-freezing water.

It took me a while to begin to understand why I do this every year, or for that matter why for the last decade since I left the military I’ve continued to inflict other types of pain on myself with such unnerving regularity. Most days, for instance, I lift weights at the gym to the point of crippling exhaustion. On summer nights, I sometimes swim out alone as far as I can through mats of hairy algae into the black water of Lake Michigan in search of what I can only describe as a feeling of falling.

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Andrew Bacevich: Presidential wars

It was a large banner and its message was clear.  It read: “Mission Accomplished,” and no, I don’t mean the classic “mission accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln under which, on May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush proudly proclaimed (to the derision of critics ever since) that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”  I’m actually referring to a September 1982 banner with those same two words (and an added “farewell” below them) displayed on a landing craft picking up the last Marines sent ashore in Beirut, Lebanon, to be, as President Ronald Reagan put it when they arrived the previous August, “what Marines have been for more than 200 years — peace-makers.”  Of course, when Bush co-piloted an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto the deck of the Abraham Lincoln and made his now-classic statement, major combat had barely begun in Iraq (and it has yet to end) — nor was it peace that came to Beirut in September 1982: infamously, the following year 241 Marines would die there in a single day, thanks to a suicide bomber.

“Not for the last time,” writes Andrew Bacevich in his monumental new work, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, “the claim proved to be illusory.”  Indeed, one of the grim and eerie wonders of his book is the way in which just about every wrongheaded thing Washington did in that region in the 14-plus years since 9/11 had its surprising precursor in the two decades of American war there before the World Trade Center towers came down.  U.S. military trainers and advisers, for example, failed (as they later would in Iraq and Afghanistan) to successfully build armies, starting with the Lebanese one; Bush’s “preventive war” had its predecessor in a Reagan directive called (ominously enough given what was to come) “combating terrorism”; Washington’s obsessive belief of recent years that problems in the region could be solved by what Andrew Cockburn has called the “kingpin strategy” — the urge to dismantle terror organizations by taking out their leadership via drones or special operations raids — had its precursor in “decapitation” operations against Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid with similar resulting mayhem.  The belief that “an additional increment of combat power might turn around a failing endeavor” — call it a “surge,” if you will — had its Iraq and Afghan pretrial run in Somalia in 1993.  And above all, of course, there was Washington’s unquenchable post-1980 urge to intervene, military first, in a decisive way throughout the region, which, as Bacevich writes, only “produced conditions conducive to further violence and further disorder,” and if that isn’t the repetitive history of America’s failed post-2001 wars in a nutshell, what is?

As it happened, the effects of such actions from 1980 on were felt not just in the Greater Middle East and Africa, but in the United States, too.  There, as Bacevich writes today, war became a blank-check activity for a White House no longer either checked (in any sense) or balanced by Congress.  Think of it as another sad tale of a surge (or do I mean a decapitation?) that went wrong. Tom Engelhardt

Writing a blank check on war for the president
How the United States became a prisoner of war and Congress went MIA
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Let’s face it: in times of war, the Constitution tends to take a beating. With the safety or survival of the nation said to be at risk, the basic law of the land — otherwise considered sacrosanct — becomes nonbinding, subject to being waived at the whim of government authorities who are impatient, scared, panicky, or just plain pissed off.

The examples are legion.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln arbitrarily suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ignored court orders that took issue with his authority to do so. After U.S. entry into World War I, the administration of Woodrow Wilson mounted a comprehensive effort to crush dissent, shutting down anti-war publications in complete disregard of the First Amendment. Amid the hysteria triggered by Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consigning to concentration camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them native-born citizens. Asked in 1944 to review this gross violation of due process, the Supreme Court endorsed the government’s action by a 6-3 vote. 

More often than not, the passing of the emergency induces second thoughts and even remorse. The further into the past a particular war recedes, the more dubious the wartime arguments for violating the Constitution appear. Americans thereby take comfort in the “lessons learned” that will presumably prohibit any future recurrence of such folly.

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Dilip Hiro: Flashpoint for the planet

Once upon a time, if a war was going to destroy your world, it had to take place in your world. The soldiers had to land, the planes had to fly overhead, the ships had to be off the coast. No longer. Nuclear war changed that equation forever and not just because nuclear weapons could be delivered from a great distance by missile. To use a term that has become commonplace in our world when discussing commerce, the prospect of nuclear conflict has globalized war and it’s a nightmare of the first order.

In the post-Cold War world, Exhibit A in that process would certainly be the unnerving potential for a nuclear war to break out between India and Pakistan. As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro, author most recently of The Age of Aspiration: Money, Power, and Conflict in Globalizing India, makes clear today, there is no place on the planet where a nuclear war is more imaginable. After all, those two South Asian countries have been to war with each other or on the verge of it again and again since they were split apart in 1947.

Of course, a major nuclear war between them would result in an unimaginable catastrophe in South Asia itself, with casualties estimated at up to 20 million dead from bomb blasts, fire, and the effects of radiation on the human body. And that, unfortunately, would only be the beginning. As Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon wrote in Scientific American back in 2009, when the Indian and Pakistani arsenals were significantly smaller than they are today, any major nuclear conflagration in the region could hardly be confined to South Asia. The smoke and particulates thrown into the atmosphere from those weapons would undoubtedly bring on some version of a global “nuclear winter,” whose effects could last for at least 10 years, causing crop shortfalls and failures across the planet. The cooling and diminished sunlight (along with a loss of rainfall) would shorten growing seasons in planetary breadbaskets and produce “killing frosts in summer,” triggering declines in crop yields across the planet. Robock and Toon estimate that “around one billion people worldwide who now live on marginal food supplies would be directly threatened with starvation by a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.”

To say the least, it’s a daunting prospect at the very moment when the Obama White House has just ended the president’s final Nuclear Security Summit with fears rising that Pakistan’s new generation of small, front-line tactical nuclear weapons are “highly vulnerable to theft or misuse.” Hiro, an expert on the South Asian region, suggests just why a nuclear war is all too conceivable there and would be a catastrophe for us all. Tom Engelhardt

The most dangerous place on Earth
A nuclear Armageddon in the making in South Asia
By Dilip Hiro

Undoubtedly, for nearly two decades, the most dangerous place on Earth has been the Indian-Pakistani border in Kashmir. It’s possible that a small spark from artillery and rocket exchanges across that border might — given the known military doctrines of the two nuclear-armed neighbors — lead inexorably to an all-out nuclear conflagration.  In that case the result would be catastrophic. Besides causing the deaths of millions of Indians and Pakistanis, such a war might bring on “nuclear winter” on a planetary scale, leading to levels of suffering and death that would be beyond our comprehension.

Alarmingly, the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has now entered a spine-chilling phase. That danger stems from Islamabad’s decision to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear arms at its forward operating military bases along its entire frontier with India to deter possible aggression by tank-led invading forces. Most ominously, the decision to fire such a nuclear-armed missile with a range of 35 to 60 miles is to rest with local commanders. This is a perilous departure from the universal practice of investing such authority in the highest official of the nation. Such a situation has no parallel in the Washington-Moscow nuclear arms race of the Cold War era.

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Cantarow and Levy: Could nuclear disaster come to America?

On March 11, 2011, following a massive earthquake and a devastating tsunami, the cores of three of the reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant melted down with horrific results.  Radioactive cesium, with a half-life of 30 years, contaminated almost 12,000 square miles of the country, an area about the size of the state of Connecticut. The government considered 12.5 square miles around the plant so poisoned that its population was evacuated and it was declared a permanent “exclusion” zone. (At Chernobyl in Ukraine, three decades after the other great nuclear disaster of our era, a 1,000 square mile exclusion zone is still in place.)  One hundred and twenty thousand evacuees, some from areas outside the exclusion zone, have still not gone home and some undoubtedly never will, despite a vast decontamination program run by the government.  (Sixteen to twenty-two million bags of contaminated soil and debris will someday be buried in a vast landfill near the plant, but it may take decades to get them there and that’s only the beginning of the problems to come.)  And let’s not forget that, according to a report from the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, the ocean waters around Fukushima received “the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed.”

To this day, five years later, eerie photos continue to emerge from now eternally deserted towns miles from the plant, thanks to what’s called “dark tourism.”  But bad as the Fukushima nuclear disaster was, it might have been so much worse.  Japan’s then-prime minister, Naoto Kan, has only recently admitted that he was so worried by the unraveling catastrophe and the swirl of misinformation around it that he almost ordered the evacuation of Tokyo, the capital, and all other areas within 160 miles of the plant.  The country, he said, “came within a ‘paper-thin margin’ of a nuclear disaster requiring the evacuation of 50 million people.”

Keep that in mind as you read today’s report from Alison Rose Levy and Ellen Cantarow, who has in recent years covered citizen resistance to the desires of Big Energy for TomDispatch.  Since the United States used nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, nuclear power has always had a fearsome aspect.  In the 1950s, the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower began promoting “the peaceful atom” in an attempt to take some of the sting out of atomic power’s bad rep.  (As part of that project, Eisenhower helped then-ally the Shah of Iran set up a “peaceful” nuclear program, the starting point for Washington’s more modern nuclear conflicts with that country.)  Unfortunately, as we’ve been reminded, from Three Mile Island to Chernobyl to Fukushima, there is ultimately a side to nuclear power that couldn’t be less “peaceful,” even in a peacetime setting.  As you think about the Indian Point nuclear power plant, the subject of today’s post, and its long history of problems and crises that only seem to be compounding, keep in mind how close Tokyo came to utter catastrophe and then think about the vast New York metropolitan area and what any of us would be able to do other than shelter in place if disaster were someday to strike up the Hudson River. Tom Engelhardt

A Fukushima on the Hudson?
The growing dangers of Indian Point
By Ellen Cantarow and Alison Rose Levy

It was a beautiful spring day and, in the control room of the nuclear reactor, the workers decided to deactivate the security system for a systems test. As they started to do so, however, the floor of the reactor began to tremble. Suddenly, its 1,200-ton cover blasted flames into the air. Tons of radioactive radium and graphite shot 1,000 meters into the sky and began drifting to the ground for miles around the nuclear plant. The first firemen to the rescue brought tons of water that would prove useless when it came to dousing the fires. The workers wore no protective clothing and eight of them would die that night — dozens more in the months to follow.

It was April 26, 1986, and this was just the start of the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the worst nuclear accident of its kind in history. Chernobyl is ranked as a “level 7 event,” the maximum danger classification on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.  It would spew out more radioactivity than 100 Hiroshima bombs. Of the 350,000 workers involved in cleanup operations, according to the World Health Organization, 240,000 would be exposed to the highest levels of radiation in a 30-mile zone around the plant. It is uncertain exactly how many cancer deaths have resulted since. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s estimate of the expected death toll from Chernobyl was 4,000. A 2006 Greenpeace report challenged that figure, suggesting that 16,000 people had already died due to the accident and predicting another 140,000 deaths in Ukraine and Belarus still to come. A significant increase in thyroid cancers in children, a very rare disease for them, has been charted in the region — nearly 7,000 cases by 2005 in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.

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Thomas Frank: The inequality sweepstakes

Reading Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, I was reminded of the snapshot that Oxfam offered us early this year: 62 billionaires now have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the global population, while the richest 1% own more than the other 99% combined. And in case you’re wondering in which direction inequality is trending on Planet Earth, note that in 2010, it took 388 of the super-rich to equal the holdings of that bottom 50%. At this rate in the inequality sweepstakes, by 2030, just the top 10 billionaires might do the trick. Let me just add that, as Frank makes clear in his brilliant new work, Donald Trump doesn’t have to win the presidency for billionaires to stand triumphant on the American part of our planet. Hillary Clinton will do just fine, thank you.

Listen, Liberal is, in a sense, a history of how, from the Clintonesque 1990s on, the Democratic Party managed to ditch the working class (hello, Donald Trump!) and its New Deal tradition, throw its support behind a rising “professional” and technocratic class, and go gaga over Wall Street and those billionaires to come. In the process, its leaders fell in love with Goldman Sachs and every miserable trade pact that hit town, led the way in deregulating the financial system, and helped launch what Frank terms “the greatest wave of insider looting ever seen”; the party, that is, went Silicon Valley and left Flint, Michigan, to the Republicans.  Only a few years after Bill Clinton vacated the Oval Office the financial system he and his team had played such a role in deregulating had to be rescued, lock, stock, and barrel from ultimate collapse. Quite a record all in all. Put another way, as Frank makes clear, in these years the Democrats (with obvious exceptions) became a more or less traditional Republican party. And if the Democrats are now the party of inequality, then what in the world are the Republicans? Don’t even get me started on the cliff that crew walked off of.

In the following post, adapted from his new book, Frank does a typically brainy thing. Since we’ve all heard for years about how the Democrats have been stopped from truly pursuing their political program by Republican experts in political paralysis, he turns to a rare set of places where, in fact, the Republicans were incapable of getting in the way and… well, let him tell the story. Tom Engelhardt

The blue state model
How the Democrats created a “liberalism of the rich”
By Thomas Frank

[This piece has been adapted from Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (Metropolitan Books).]

When you press Democrats on their uninspiring deeds — their lousy free trade deals, for example, or their flaccid response to Wall Street misbehavior — when you press them on any of these things, they automatically reply that this is the best anyone could have done. After all, they had to deal with those awful Republicans, and those awful Republicans wouldn’t let the really good stuff get through. They filibustered in the Senate. They gerrymandered the congressional districts. And besides, change takes a long time. Surely you don’t think the tepid-to-lukewarm things Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done in Washington really represent the fiery Democratic soul.

So let’s go to a place that does. Let’s choose a locale where Democratic rule is virtually unopposed, a place where Republican obstruction and sabotage can’t taint the experiment.

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Tanya Golash-Boza: How many presidents does it take to deport 11 million people?

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was never birthed; it was always birthered. The man who, as his wife told a Vanity Fair reporter back in 1990, had a book of Hitler’s speeches in a cabinet by his bedside, has an unerring eye for how to wield anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments for his own benefit. Back in 2011, while considering a presidential run, he birthed his first version of the birther controversy, the claim that Barack Obama was born not in Hawaii but Kenya and so was the ultimate Muslim outsider (and an illegitimate president). It was his equivalent of dipping a toe in the political waters and testing the temperature before diving in — and he still credits that ludicrous claim with burnishing his reputation. (“I don’t think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing,” he said in 2013.) This time around, if Donald Trump has proven anything, it’s that he knows exactly what he’s doing and just what impact the symbols he calls up — from that Obama birth certificate to Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio — are likely to have. It’s clear enough that he’s been a student of the trade of demagogue, that he has a natural flair for it, and that when he births a new symbol, it tends to be potent.

None more so than the Wall (which should by now be capitalized). You know just what wall I mean without my writing another word. There’s only been one wall on the planet since his campaign began and, classically enough for our moment, it arrived by escalator. It came full blown, wrapped in a Trumpian ribbon, all 2,000 miles of it strung along the Mexican border of his mind, complete from day one with “rapists,” and the news that “they” were taking our jobs in return for “drugs” and “crime.”

A package deal, that wall arrived full grown on June 16, 2015, when Donald Trump and his present wife, Melania, descended by escalator from the heavens of Trump Tower in New York to announce his presidential bid to the planet. And that wall — the idea, that is, of purifying our American world of “them” by keeping undocumented immigrants out and getting rid of those already here — was from that moment at the heart of everything he did. As he said that day, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

And they were worth marking. Anyone who has watched his rallies since knows that those words have become the call-and-response chorus at the heart of Trumpismo, our new nativist celebrity religion. That the wall (no less the idea that Mexico will cover the cost of building it) is a fantasy isn’t beside the point, it’s the point itself. What would you expect but a fantasy version of future American life from the presidential candidate nominated by The Apprentice, whose closest adviser is, by his own admission, himself. In such a world, the wish, however malign, is truly the father of reality and the world a fantasy object.

Unfortunately, such fantasies have real consequences, which is why TomDispatch asked Tanya Golash-Boza, author of Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor, and Global Capitalism, to explore both the walling in and deportation dreams (or nightmares) of Trump and his rival Ted Cruz and what exactly to make of them. Tom Engelhardt

Day of the demagogue
Trumpian deportation fantasies and American realities
By Tanya Golash-Boza

In 2006, when I first began researching deportations, George W. Bush was president and quietly building a deportation machine in the Department of Homeland Security. Outside of small activist circles, few Americans knew that deportations had been rising since 1996 due to legislation signed by President Bill Clinton. Nor could anyone then have imagined that the next President would be a Democrat, the son of a Kenyan immigrant, and would make Bush look like a piker when it came to record-high deportations. Nor, for that matter, would anyone have dreamed that deportation would become a — possibly the — signature issue of the 2016 presidential campaign.

And yet, all of this and more has come to pass in a blistering season of demagoguery, nativism, and outright racism. As again would have been unimaginable a mere decade ago, Republican front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have both promised to deport every last one of the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States, the whole lot of them, while as a bonus banning Muslims from the country. Trump gave his particular proposals a special twist by labeling Mexicans coming across the border as “rapists,” and immigrants more generally as “snakes.”

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Adam Hochschild: A corporation goes to war

So much that matters in our world and on our planet happens in and remains in the shadows.  This website is dedicated to shining at least a small light into some of those shadows.  Commenting recently on the failure of the U.S. war on terror as well as the war against the Islamic State, Andrew Bacevich wrote: “To label [such a] problem ‘terrorism’ is to privilege convenience over understanding. It’s like calling big-time college football a ‘sport.’  Doing so entails leaving out all the grimy, money-soaked activity that occurs off the gridiron.”  In fact, much of the activity that truly shapes our world happens off that “gridiron” and out of sight.  And what you don’t see (or see reported), you often can’t imagine either.

Sometimes history helps.  Today’s dispatch is an example.  It is adapted from Adam Hochschild’s new book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, a dramatic account of the thousands of Americans who volunteered to fight the war against fascism before it was faintly fashionable and the correspondents who covered them.  It’s a vivid tale of some very well known people like Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, and George Orwell who saw the socialist-led Spanish Republic’s defeat firsthand, but also of quite ordinary Americans who had the urge to stop a terrible force before it could storm the world.  (Unfortunately, in that they failed.)  It also offers an unforgettable picture of a past America under stress and possibly of the last moment before the arrival of Bernie Sanders when “socialism” was not a curse word in this country.

In researching the book, Hochschild came across one of those crucial figures working in the shadows — an unforgettable oilman with a Trumpian personality whose acts in support of Spanish general Francisco Franco and then Adolf Hitler helped ensure that fascism would come to power in Spain and, in the end, that the globe would be bathed in blood.  Somehow, his role was missed by the hundreds of journalists covering the war.  As you read this piece, ask yourself who and what is no one noticing at this very second as our world spins so madly on. Tom Engelhardt

The oilman who loved dictators
Or how Texaco supported fascism
By Adam Hochschild

[This piece has been adapted from Adam Hochschild’s new book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.]

“Merchants have no country,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1814. “The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.” The former president was ruing the way New England traders and shipowners, fearing the loss of lucrative transatlantic commerce, failed to rally to their country in the War of 1812.

Today, with the places from which “merchants” draw their gains spread across the planet, corporations are even less likely to feel loyalty to any country in particular. Some of them have found it profitable to reincorporate in tax havens overseas. Giant multinationals, sometimes with annual earnings greater than the combined total gross national products of several dozen of the world’s poorer countries, are often more powerful than national governments, while their CEOs wield the kind of political clout many prime ministers and presidents only dream of.

No corporations have been more aggressive in forging their own foreign policies than the big oil companies. With operations spanning the world, they — and not the governments who weakly try to tax or regulate them — largely decide whom they do business with and how. In its quest for oil in the anarchic Niger Delta, according to journalist Steve Coll, ExxonMobil, for example, gave boats to the Nigerian navy, and recruited and supplied part of the country’s army, while local police sported the company’s red flying horse logo on their uniforms. Jane Mayer’s new book, Dark Money, on how the brothers and oil magnates Charles and David Koch spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the Republican Party and America’s democratic politics, offers a vivid account of the way their father Fred launched the energy business they would inherit.  It was a classic case of not letting “attachments” stand in the way of gain.  Fred happily set up oil installations for Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin before the United States recognized the Soviet Union in 1933, and then helped Adolf Hitler build one of Nazi Germany’s largest oil refineries that would later supply fuel to its air force, the Luftwaffe.

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Gregory Foster: A case for demilitarizing the military

General Lloyd Austin, the outgoing head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), recently testified before Congress, suggesting that Washington needed to up its troop levels in Iraq and Syria.  Meanwhile, in his own congressional testimony, still-to-be-confirmed incoming CENTCOM chief General Joseph Votel, formerly head of U.S. Special Operations Command, seconded that recommendation and said he would reevaluate the American stance across the Greater Middle East with an eye, as the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman put it, to launching “a more aggressive fight against the Islamic State.”  In this light, both generals called for reviving a dismally failed $500 million program to train “moderate” Syrian rebels to support the U.S. fight against the Islamic State (IS).  They both swear, of course, that they’ll do it differently this time, and what could possibly go wrong? 

Meanwhile, General David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), pressed by Senator John McCain in congressional testimony, called on the U.S. to “do more” to deal with IS supporters in Libya.  And lo and behold, the New York Times reported that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter had only recently presented an AFRICOM and Joint Special Operations Command plan to the president’s “top national security advisers.”  They were evidently “surprised” to discover that it involved potentially wide-ranging air strikes against 30 to 40 IS targets across that country.  Meanwhile, in Afghanistan — U.S. Special Operations units and regular troops having recently been rushed once again into embattled Helmand Province in the heartland of that country’s opium poppy trade General Austen and others are calling for a reconsideration of future American drawdowns and possibly the dispatch of more troops to that country.

Do you sense a trend here?  In the war against the Islamic State, the Obama administration and the Pentagon have been engaged in the drip, drip, drip of what, in classic Vietnam terms, might be called “mission creep.”  They have been upping American troop levels a few hundred at a time in Iraq and Syria, along with air power, and loosing Special Operations forces in combat-like operations in both countries.  Now, it looks like top military commanders are calling for mission speed-up across the region.  (In Libya, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, it already seems to have begun.)

And keep in mind, watching campaign 2016, that however militaristic the solutions of the Pentagon and our generals, they are regularly put in the shade by civilians, especially the Republican candidates for president, who can barely restrain their eagerness to let mission leap loose.   As Donald Trump put it in the last Republican debate, calling for up to 30,000 U.S. boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq, “I would listen to the generals.”  That might now be the refrain all American politicians are obliged to sing.  Similarly, John Kasich called for a new “shock and awe” campaign in the Middle East to “wipe them out.”  And that’s the way it’s been in debate season — including proposals to put boots on the ground big time from Libya and possibly even the Sinai peninsula to Afghanistan, bomb the region back to the stone age, and torture terror suspects in a fashion that would have embarrassed Stone Age peoples. 

Put another way, almost 15 years after America’s global war on terror was launched, we face a deeply embedded (and remarkably unsuccessful) American version of militarism and, as Gregory Foster writes today, a massive crisis in civil-military relations that is seldom recognized, no less discussed or debated.  TomDispatch hopes to rectify that with a monumental post from a man who knows something about the realities of both the U.S. military and changing civilian relations to it.  Gregory Foster, who teaches at National Defense University and is a decorated Vietnam veteran, suggests that it’s time we finally ask: Whatever happened to old-fashioned civilian control over the U.S. military?  Implicitly, he also asks a second question: These days, who controls the civilians? Tom Engelhardt

Pentagon excess has fueled a civil-military crisis
How civilian control of the military has become a fantasy
By Gregory D. Foster

Item: Two U.S. Navy patrol boats, with 10 sailors aboard, “stray” into Iranian territorial waters, and are apprehended and held by Iranian revolutionary guards, precipitating a 24-hour international incident involving negotiations at the highest levels of government to secure their release. The Pentagon offers conflicting reports on why this happened: navigational error, mechanical breakdown, fuel depletion — but not intelligence-gathering, intentional provocation, or hormonally induced hot-dogging.

Item: The Pentagon, according to a Reuters exposé, has been consciously and systematically engaged in thwarting White House efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and release cleared detainees. Pentagon officials have repeatedly refused to provide basic documentation to foreign governments willing to take those detainees and have made it increasingly difficult for foreign delegations to visit Guantanamo to assess them. Ninety-one of the 779 detainees held there over the years remain, 34 of whom have been cleared for release.

Item: The Pentagon elects not to reduce General David Petraeus in rank, thereby ensuring that he receives full, four-star retirement pay, after previously being sentenced on misdemeanor charges to two years’ probation and a $100,000 fine for illegally passing highly classified material (a criminal offense) to his mistress (adultery, ordinarily punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice) and lying to FBI officials (a criminal offense). Meanwhile, Private Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning continues to serve a 35-year prison sentence, having been reduced to the Army’s lowest rank and given a dishonorable discharge for providing classified documents to WikiLeaks that included incriminating on-board videos of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed up to 18 civilians, including two Reuters journalists, and wounded two children, and of a 2009 massacre in Afghanistan in which a B-1 bomber killed as many as 147 civilians, reportedly including some 93 children.

What do these episodes have in common? In their own way, they’re all symptomatic of an enduring crisis in civil-military relations that afflicts the United States.

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Michael Klare: A take-no-prisoners world of oil

It’s evident that we’re still on a planet where oil rules. The question increasingly is: What exactly does it rule over? After all, every barrel of oil that’s burned contributes to a fast-approaching future in which the weather grows hotter and more extreme, droughts and wildfires spread, sea levels rise precipitously, ice continues to melt away in the globe’s coldest reaches, and… well, you know that story well enough by now. In the meantime, Planet Earth has a glut of oil on hand and that, it turns out, doesn’t mean — not for the major oil companies nor even for the major oil states — that the good times are getting ready to roll.

Of all the powers struggling with that oil glut and the plunging energy prices that have gone with it, none may be more worth watching than Saudi Arabia. While exporting its own extremists and its extreme brand of Islam from Afghanistan to Syria, and lending a decades-long hand to the destabilization of the Greater Middle East, that kingdom has itself been a paragon of stability. Nothing, however, lasts forever, and so keeping an eye on the Saudis is a must. That’s especially so since the latest version of the royal family has also made what might be called the American mistake (with the backing of the Obama administration, no less) and for the first time plunged the Saudi military directly into a typically unwinnable if brutal war in neighboring Yemen. Combine the destabilizing and blowback effects of wars that won’t end, including the Syrian one, and of oil prices that refuse to rise significantly and, despite the kingdom’s copious money reserves, you have a formula for potential domestic unrest. Already the royals are cutting their domestic subsidies to their own population, pulling billions of dollars in aid out of Lebanon, and exploring a possible $10 billion bank loan.

As TomDispatch’s invaluable energy expert Michael Klare suggests today, when oil prices began plummeting in 2015, the Saudis launched an “oil war of attrition,” imagining that others would be devastated by it (as OPEC partners Nigeria and Venezuela already have been) but that the royals themselves would emerge triumphant.  Should the unimaginable happen, however, and should the kingdom itself begin to come unglued in a Greater Middle East that is increasingly the definition of chaos — watch out. Tom Engelhardt

Energy wars of attrition
The irony of oil abundance
By Michael T. Klare

Three and a half years ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) triggered headlines around the world by predicting that the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia to become the world’s leading oil producer by 2020 and, together with Canada, would become a net exporter of oil around 2030. Overnight, a new strain of American energy triumphalism appeared and experts began speaking of “Saudi America,” a reinvigorated U.S.A. animated by copious streams of oil and natural gas, much of it obtained through the then-pioneering technique of hydro-fracking. “This is a real energy revolution,” the Wall Street Journal crowed in an editorial heralding the IEA pronouncement.

The most immediate effect of this “revolution,” its boosters proclaimed, would be to banish any likelihood of a “peak” in world oil production and subsequent petroleum scarcity.  The peak oil theorists, who flourished in the early years of the twenty-first century, warned that global output was likely to reach its maximum attainable level in the near future, possibly as early as 2012, and then commence an irreversible decline as the major reserves of energy were tapped dry. The proponents of this outlook did not, however, foresee the coming of hydro-fracking and the exploitation of previously inaccessible reserves of oil and natural gas in underground shale formations.

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Andrew Bacevich: Donald Trump and the remaking of America

As a child of the 1980s, certain touchstones, figures, and moments are seared into my brain: Pac-Man and Michael Jackson, the personal computer, Yuppies, crack hysteria, AIDs, the Challenger disaster, and in the waning days of the decade, the fall of the Berlin Wall. Two newsmakers also stand out in my mind. From my local area, there was Mafioso John Gotti, the “Teflon Don,” who always seemed to be mugging for the camera and beating the rap. On the national front, there was Ronald Reagan, the “Teflon president,” who slipped and slid (and maybe slept) through one scandal after another: the Iran-Contra Affair, influence-peddling at the Department of Housing and Urban Development , the Ill Wind Pentagon fraud scandal, Sewergate at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Inslaw Affair, and so on.

Something else stands out from those years, a commercial that always seemed to be playing on TV, perhaps even between stories about the two Teflon newsmakers. It began with a team of horses charging through the night pulling a carriage. As the coach comes to a stop, a clone of Henry VIII steps forth, his eyes wide, his mouth open, awed by the utter 1980s opulence arrayed before him. “You’re the king, you’re the king of the castle,” sings a woman with a cruise-ship-quality voice. “Trump Castle, hotel and casino, and baby, baby, do we know how to treat a king!” What follows is a barrage of a montage: a tux-clad maître d’, Vegas-style showgirls, a cork popping from a bottle of champagne. And then Henry’s back. “Now this is a castle!” he booms, his arms lifted to the sky as the camera pans to take in the gaudy “elegance” of Donald Trump’s Atlantic City pleasure palace.

For decades, that commercial, or at least the horrible jingle sung by Trump’s sequin-clad chanteuse, never quite left my brain. Still, who could have imagined that the man who sired that ad would emerge as a “serious” presidential candidate of the party of the Teflon president and prove to be, at least to this moment, more resilient, more Teflonesque, no matter what he says or does, than Dutch Reagan and John Gotti combined? What started as a joke has become a disaster-in-the-making and the wink offered by a tiara-wearing cocktail waitress at that ad’s end has taken on a new resonance for me.

Trump’s Castle was rebranded out of existence in the 1990s and The Donald’s Atlantic City empire — the Trump Taj Mahal (now owned by activist investor Carl Icahn), Trump Plaza, and the Trump Marina (the old Castle) — crumbled. But Trump himself has somehow emerged stronger than ever. The man who sought to lure all aspiring monarchs to A.C. (“welcome to a kingdom where everybody’s treated like a king”) has whipped up a heady mix of xenophobia, political bromides, and so-light-it-floats policy proposals into a movement. Call it Trumpism, or maybe even Trumpismo. And should he ride this populist wave of fear and loathing to the Republican nomination for president, the American political system will never be the same — so says TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich whose monumental new book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, is due out this April. If the Teflon doesn’t wear thin soon, you might want to start preparing yourself for this once-improbable candidate to become, as Bacevich suggests, America’s very own Juan Perón, though he might prefer to be called the king of the castle. Nick Turse

Don’t cry for me, America
What Trumpism means for democracy
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Whether or not Donald Trump ultimately succeeds in winning the White House, historians are likely to rank him as the most consequential presidential candidate of at least the past half-century. He has already transformed the tone and temper of American political life. If he becomes the Republican nominee, he will demolish its structural underpinnings as well. Should he prevail in November, his election will alter its very fabric in ways likely to prove irreversible. Whether Trump ever delivers on his promise to “Make America Great Again,” he is already transforming American democratic practice.

Trump takes obvious delight in thumbing his nose at the political establishment and flouting its norms. Yet to classify him as an anti-establishment figure is to miss his true significance. He is to American politics what Martin Shkreli is to Big Pharma. Each represents in exaggerated form the distilled essence of a much larger and more disturbing reality. Each embodies the smirking cynicism that has become one of the defining characteristics of our age. Each in his own way is a sign of the times.

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Alfred McCoy: Washington’s twenty-first-century opium wars

In October 2001, the U.S. launched its invasion of Afghanistan largely through proxy Afghan fighters with the help of Special Operations forces, American air power, and CIA dollars.  The results were swift and stunning. The Taliban was whipped, a new government headed by Hamid Karzai soon installed in Kabul, and the country declared “liberated.”

More than 14 years later, how’d it go? What’s “liberated” Afghanistan like and, if you were making a list, what would be the accomplishments of Washington all these years later?  Hmm… at this very moment, according to the latest reports, the Taliban control more territory than at any moment since December 2001.  Meanwhile, the Afghan security forces that the U.S. built up and funded to the tune of more than $65 billion are experiencing “unsustainable” casualties, their ranks evidently filled with “ghost” soldiers and policemen — up to 40% in some places — whose salaries, often paid by the U.S., are being pocketed by their commanders and other officials.  In 2015, according to the U.N., Afghan civilian casualties were, for the seventh year in a row, at record levels.  Add to all this the fact that American soldiers, their “combat mission” officially concluded in 2014, are now being sent by the hundreds back into the fray (along with the U.S. Air Force) to support hard-pressed Afghan troops in a situation which seems to be fast “deteriorating.”

Oh, and economically speaking, how did the “reconstruction” of the country work out, given that Washington pumped more money (in real dollars) into Afghanistan in these years than it did into the rebuilding of Western Europe after World War II?  Leaving aside the pit of official corruption into which many of those dollars disappeared, the country is today hemorrhaging desperate young people who can’t find jobs or make a living and now constitute what may be the second largest contingent of refugees heading for Europe.

As for that list of Washington’s accomplishments, it might be accurate to say that only one thing was “liberated” in Afghanistan over the last 14-plus years and that was, as TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy points out today, the opium poppy.  It might also be said that, with the opium trade now fully embedded in both the operations of the Afghan government and of the Taliban, Washington’s single and singular accomplishment in all its years there has been to oversee the country’s transformation into the planet’s number one narco-state.  McCoy, who began his career in the Vietnam War era by writing The Politics of Heroin, a now-classic book on the CIA and the heroin trade (that the Agency tried to suppress) and who has written on the subject of drugs and Afghanistan before for this site, now offers a truly monumental look at opium and the U.S. from the moment this country’s first Afghan War began in 1979 to late last night. Tom Engelhardt

How a pink flower defeated the world’s sole superpower
America’s opium war in Afghanistan
By Alfred W. McCoy

After fighting the longest war in its history, the United States stands at the brink of defeat in Afghanistan. How can this be possible? How could the world’s sole superpower have battled continuously for 15 years, deploying 100,000 of its finest troops, sacrificing the lives of 2,200 of those soldiers, spending more than a trillion dollars on its military operations, lavishing a record hundred billion more on “nation-building” and “reconstruction,” helping raise, fund, equip, and train an army of 350,000 Afghan allies, and still not be able to pacify one of the world’s most impoverished nations? So dismal is the prospect for stability in Afghanistan in 2016 that the Obama White House has recently cancelled a planned further withdrawal of its forces and will leave an estimated 10,000 troops in the country indefinitely.

Were you to cut through the Gordian knot of complexity that is the Afghan War, you would find that in the American failure there lies the greatest policy paradox of the century: Washington’s massive military juggernaut has been stopped dead in its steel tracks by a pink flower, the opium poppy.

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