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An All-American Nightmare: This Is What Defeat Looks Like

Posted on Nov 9, 2011
Beverly & Pack (CC-BY)

By Tom Engelhardt

(Page 2)

An American Nightmare

When you wake up in a cold sweat, your heart pounding, from a dream that’s turned truly sour, sometimes it’s worth trying to remember it before it evaporates, leaving only a feeling of devastation behind.

So hold Bush’s American Dream in your head for a few moments longer and consider the devastation that followed.  Of Iraq, that multi-trillion-dollar war, what’s left?  An American expeditionary force, still 30,000-odd troops who were supposed to hunker down there forever, are instead packing their gear and heading “over the horizon.”  Those giant American towns—with their massive PXs, fast-food restaurants, gift shops, fire stations, and everything else—are soon to be ghost towns, likely as not looted and stripped by Iraqis.

Multi-billions of taxpayer dollars were, of course, sunk into those American ziggurats.  Now, assumedly, they are goners except for the monster embassy-cum-citadel the Bush administration built in Baghdad for three-quarters of a billion dollars.  It’s to house part of a 17,000-person State Department “mission” to Iraq, including 5,000 armed mercenaries, all of whom are assumedly there to ensure that American folly is not utterly absent from that country even after “withdrawal.”


Square, Site wide

Put any spin you want on that withdrawal, but this still represents a defeat of the first order, humiliation on a scale and in a time frame that would have been unimaginable in the invasion year of 2003.  After all, the U.S. military was ejected from Iraq by… well, whom exactly?

Then, of course, there’s Afghanistan, where the ultimate, inevitable departure has yet to happen, where another trillion-dollar war is still going strong as if there were no holes in American pockets.  The U.S. is still taking casualties, still building up its massive base structure, still training an Afghan security force of perhaps 400,000 men in a county too poor to pay for a tenth of that (which means it’s ours to fund forever and a day).

Washington still has its stimulus program in Kabul.  Its diplomats and military officials shuttle in and out of Afghanistan and Pakistan in search of “reconciliation” with the Taliban, even as CIA drones pound the enemy across the Afghan border and anyone else in the vicinity.  As once upon a time in Iraq, the military and the Pentagon still talk about progress being made, even while Washington’s unease grows about a war that everyone is now officially willing to call “unwinnable.”

In fact, it’s remarkable how consistently things that are officially going so well are actually going so badly.  Just the other day, for instance, despite the fact that the U.S. is training up a storm, Major General Peter Fuller, running the training program for Afghan forces, was dismissed by war commander General John Allen for dissing Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his generals.  He called them “isolated from reality.”

Isolated from reality?  Here’s the U.S. record on the subject: it’s costing Washington (and so the American taxpayer) $11.6 billion this year alone to train those security forces and yet, after years of such training, “not a single Afghan army battalion can operate without assistance from U.S. or allied units.”

You don’t have to be a seer to know that this, too, represents a form of defeat, even if the enemy, as in Iraq, is an underwhelming set of ragtag minority insurgencies.  Still, it’s more or less a given that any American dreams for Afghanistan, like Britain’s and Russia’s before it, will be buried someday in the rubble of a devastated but resistant land, no matter what resources Washington choses to continue to squander on the task.

This, simply put, is part of a larger landscape of imperial defeat.

Cold Sweats at Dawn

Yes, we’ve lost in Iraq and yes, we’re losing in Afghanistan, but if you want a little geopolitical turn of the screw that captures the zeitgeist of the moment, check out one of the first statements of Almazbek Atambayev after his recent election as president of Kyrgyzstan, a country you’ve probably never spent a second thinking about.

Keep in mind that Bushian urge to roll back the Russians to the outskirts of Moscow.  Kyrgyzstan is, of course, one of the former Central Asian SSRs of the Soviet Union, and under cover of the Afghan War, the U.S. moved in, renting out a major air base at Manas airport near Bishtek, the capital.  It became a significant resupply station for the war, but also an American military foothold in the region.

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By ardee, November 11, 2011 at 3:50 am Link to this comment

Aarky, November 10 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Englehardt’s articles are too long and he tends to blather, but there are good points.

Oh yeah, all those words, Aarky, I don’t blame you for your wandering attention span. As an avid reader of TomDispatch I do not blame you for your opinion, I blame our educational system.

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By david tarbuck, November 11, 2011 at 2:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Capitalist Epoch is over the hill and with time passing the decline becomes more intense. 

How soon will it end? This depends on China’s priorities.

“Communist” China has over the last 40 years used the greedy stupidity of the USA and oher has-been Western Imperialists to build itselt into the world’s number one economic powerhouse and number two (and gaining) military power. 

During this time as they accumulate more and more “capitalist” wealth, the adjective “communist” has become less realistic; so the relevant question is:

Will they continue on the “capitalist road” and if so for how long? Will they become bankers to the world, replacing the gangsters of Wallc st, The citie, the Bourse &c. as world’s master swindklers? Or will they be a force for social progress by pulling the plug (of financial support) to the above mentioned fraudsters. 

If the former, we the worldwide 99% are in for a prolonged struggle with a brutal regime with no respect for basichuman rights, replacing one with at least a show of respecting those rights, albeit not in an economic sense.

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By Aarky, November 10, 2011 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Englehardt’s articles are too long and he tends to blather, but there are good points. I don’t think there are statutes of Limitations on War crimes so, I can alway hope that at least 20 people from the Bush period will utimately be prosecuted. The military has programs called “lessons learned” but they have not attempted to create any lessons, so they will still stumble and bumble and attempt to stay in Afghanistan for years to come, even after being told they are no longer wanted in Iraq. The Afghans just recently refused to sign that agreement to allow a stay until 2024. Too many collateral deaths by a very callous, cavalier US.

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By Night-Gaunt, November 10, 2011 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment

Diana we haven’t gone through the Roman Republic falling yet then it converted to a full empire both inside and out. That will come first then the Empire could last for 20 years or 200 years before it falls after irrevocably altering the world some more with its depredations.

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By Lockweed, November 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you.  It came to me after I had already posted the question.  But thanks.

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By FRTothus, November 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm Link to this comment


OWS = Occupy Wall Street.

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By Marian Griffith, November 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

—-It takes quite some hiding from news (main stream or otherwise) to not have picked up that OWS is the acronym for the ‘Occupy WallStreet’ movement. I trust you are aware of that particular event?

I am personally fond of Douglas Adams’ (of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame) verion “Humans never stop babbling, because if they do they might start to think, and they generally can not handle that”

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By Diana, November 10, 2011 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We are the ROMAN EMPIRE and we shall die from within. 
Look around and see the decay.  The TV and garbage
entertainment arena keeps the natives happily
entertained and ignorant.  Another sporting event - who
cares what’s happening in this country or elsewhere.


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By lockweed, November 10, 2011 at 12:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Could anyone tell me what OWS means.  Why can’t journalists use proper english
so you don’t have to guess what they’re writing?

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By FRTothus, November 10, 2011 at 11:23 am Link to this comment

The US arms manufacturers made out like bandits, the Bill of Rights was decimated, the National debt was increased and social services and the last vestiges of the New Deal were all but destroyed, and those nations who might seek some independence from imperial hegemony were shown what happens to those of their number who attempt to determine their own futures… depends upon which criteria “loss” is determined, it seems to me.  Just as with Vietnam, the mythology maintains that the US “lost” that one too, but the right people got rich, the right corporations increased their wealth and power, Vietnam was poisoned and re-colonized… If Vietnam won, then the words “win” and lose” have lost all meaning.

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By BR549, November 10, 2011 at 9:24 am Link to this comment

Actually, this is what treason looks like. Traitors don’t always have to have traces
of gunpowder on them.

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By SarcastiCanuck, November 10, 2011 at 8:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Beautifully honest work Tom.Your humility is impressive and I wish more of your alleged elites possesed it.Reality is not contrived by the powerful,it is exactly the way we see it.I’d say that most of the 99% ‘s in Zuchotti park are stark realists.Great job sir…

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By caped amigo, November 10, 2011 at 8:33 am Link to this comment

What passion. What insight. Tom Engelhardt’s words energize me. In fact, this blog
has rekindled my soul and spirit for an America I lost some years ago. At a time
when the Huffington Post (which still has merit, but…) is moving towards tabloid
status, it is truthdig that is meaningful. My truthdig transfusion has revived me.

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By balkas, November 10, 2011 at 7:34 am Link to this comment

alas bush’ dream is the same one as that of about 98% of americans. and
every dream achieved causes a nightmare for s’mone else.

i do not assume that u.s ‘elite’ did not ‘know’ why it waged an aggression
against pashtuns.
ok? let’s put it this way, the ‘elite’ wld not tell us for decades, if ever, why
it invaded afgh’n.
thus we have to guess and perhaps for an eternity. so, whatever our
guess, it is still a guess and not a fact.

my own guess is that u.s had ‘brilliantly’ succeeded in afgh’n; i.e., much
went as the ‘elite’ expected and wanted: puppetization of afgh’n was
achieved. there is now more hatred/warfare between the three main
ethnics than before u.s invasion; bases were built, some americans
enriched selves; americans get a piece of afgh’n, etc.

how about losses of meat for wars in iraq and afgh’n and more poverty for
some americans? yes, how about it? have u not heard cheney’s
‘explanation’ for those losses and have u not heard deafening silence
about those losses from congress, judiciary; in short the ‘elite’? tnx

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By balkas, November 10, 2011 at 7:01 am Link to this comment

let’s not forget that there is on this planet still at least 4 bn ‘indians’ that
if they expect to live in ten-room mansions, have yachts, 3 or 4 cars in
garage, fuel to heat the monster houses, they are sadly mistaken.

there is no more room in the inn for all us; possibly 90%  of us MUST BE
sacrificed to the altar of personal supremacism [nazism, saddism,
fascism, brutal competition, cults] and sybaritic way of living.
and wmd, military bases, nato is there to ensure that some people will
be sacrificed. u guess which continentals wld evanesce first!! tnx
bozhidar balkas vancouver

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By balkas, November 10, 2011 at 6:39 am Link to this comment

all u.s wars [and for this matter all wars by others] had ONE CAUSE:
robbing others of their land and everything that is in it or on it; while
its people may or may not be wanted.

locus classicus for such a dogma is israel and serbia. americans always
want [save in palestina and u.s] the peoples whose lands they conquer
or in which they impose their puppets.
provided, of course, the conquerees accept personal supremacism
and/or americanism; subsuming waging wars for
poverty/druggery/drudgery, subservience of majority of people to
american ‘ideals’, maintaining or increasing exploitation, waging more
wars, etc.

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By mrfish, November 10, 2011 at 12:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

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By tom nenni, November 9, 2011 at 9:55 pm Link to this comment

I agree with the suggestion that Tom E in his article states that the military spending will continue on, regardless of the need or the ability to pay for it. The late Chalmers Johnson said that even in decline there is no shut off valve in the empire. It will continue to borrow and spend until we can’t borrow enough or steal enough from the taxpayers to pay for it. As Prof. Johnson said it will be over when the empire can no longer pay the contractors and the troops. What will that be like for everyone else we can only wonder and hope for the best. Rest in peace Chalmers.

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By Morpheus, November 9, 2011 at 9:40 pm Link to this comment

Talk is cheap, we have a democracy to rebuild. If we want a better future, we better get our heads out of our behinds!

Don’t be Afraid!

The Revolution has started -
Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( )


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By GerOge, November 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm Link to this comment

“In their place, the Obama administration is stocked with dreamless managers who inherited an expanded imperial presidency, an American-garrisoned globe, and an emptying treasury.”

I don’t let them off so easy.  My memory goes back to the Clinton administration and its ‘successful’ push for more deregulation of financial markets.  That was also eight years of militarism (under the banner of interventionism), complete with expanding military budgets for ‘fighting fires’ at ‘hot spots’ around the globe.  Eight years under a democratic administration that most people thought was hot shit.

Obama and Co are either wholeheartedly on-board with the destructive bipartisan agenda that has been successfully prosecuted for at least the last 30 years of bipartisan politics OR they are held hostage somehow by the folks behind the emerald screen.  I get slightly ill every time I read some ‘dreamless managers’ rationalization or other attempt at removing democrats from outright culpability.  Yes, the neocons would have loved to be the Evil Empire.  But stop defending the Lesser Evil.  We could yet recognize the real danger and turn this around, but not with folks who otherwise see quite clearly running around with this self-inflicted blindness about ‘one of our own’ (in quotes because it is demonstrably false).

“What they and their neocon allies had was the magic formula for turning the slow landing of a declining but still immensely powerful imperial state into a self-inflicted rout, even if who the victors are is less than clear.”

It feels good to think this because it allows you to focus your derision on one Political Party.  This sounds right-ish as long as you ignore the bipartisan nature of the pursuit of a very successful strategy toward the objective of an American Decline.

A successful strategy for an American Decline pursued long-term by important figures in both major parties?  Why would they do that?

It makes no sense until you consider that both major parties have been bought and paid for (for quite some time now) by financial entities that outgrew american borders.  We thought it was a game of Risk.  Globalization turned it into a game of Small World (

From the makers of the board game:

“players rush to expand their empires - often at the expense of weaker neighbors. Yet they must also know when to push their own over-extended civilization into decline and ride a new one to victory!”

There is a name for what is now happening.  It is ‘Disaster Capitalism’ and it is running amok.  The damage it has done is far from over.  But that is nothing to what it will do if we continue to fail to recognize how it has corrupted and usurped our democracy.

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By Night-Gaunt, November 9, 2011 at 5:45 pm Link to this comment

I would modify that great Bertrand Russel quote by saying, “Most people would sooner be enslaved and taken care of than be free; in fact many of them are!”

But what we are seeing is the fall of a republic just like the Romans did and Germany. Went from freedoms to empire. Now the Germans acted too fast and had a poor leader did them in in a mere 12 years. The Romans lasted quite a bit longer. It is unknown how long our country would last if the 1% and their fanatical Dominionist bretheren got their way here. We may soon see it happen here.

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By flaco, November 9, 2011 at 5:43 pm Link to this comment

Awareness might make us stronger. Thanx

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By ardee, November 9, 2011 at 5:04 pm Link to this comment

The reasons for invading Iraq were several; the vast profit in war for Bushs’ contributors, the creation of Cheney’s so-called “unitary executive” that would ensure an eight year term for perhaps our very worst modern President, the suspension of our bill of rights with the creation of the fear generated after 9/11 thus making the job of managing and manipulating the American people that much easier.

Even now, ten years and trillions later, so many deaths later, so much wrack and ruin, all laid at Bush’s door, there are yet large numbers of people who will not face the truth. I am a fan of baseball, and thus watched the series between St.Louis and Texas, my ex wife was born in Houston and thus we rooted for opposite sides ( the usual case thus the ex prefix).

The one moment in a rather interesting and exciting world series was when Shrubya threw out the first pitch ( to Nolan Ryan). That he botched that as he has botched pretty much everything is not the point here, the rousing ovation he got from those Texas fans is the point. Some folks just refuse to learn I guess, a real problem as we watch our nation sink into third world status.

“Most people would sooner die than think; in fact they do so.” Bertrand Russell

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By LT, November 9, 2011 at 3:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The MIC doesn’t feel defeated as long as they can keep the money and
positions of power in tact. They will turn on the citizens of this country if
that is ever seriously threatened - faster than you can say “drone”.

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By BT, November 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My question:

Will we ever learn the name of the person who fired off
that famous, famous line about us “in the reality-based

This person ought to be as famous as deep throat if you
ask me.

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By gerard, November 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm Link to this comment

Entirely lucid.  Sic transit gloria.

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