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Hijacking the American Plane of State

Posted on Apr 3, 2014

Photo by josemanuelerre (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

Russia may not even quite be a regional powerhouse.  Its economy is shaky and, unlike the Soviet Union, it is now largely an oil and gas state and, worse yet, its energy reserves are expected to be in decline in future decades.

A Planet for the Taking

So, no, Virginia, Flight 370 was not commandeered by aliens and Vladimir Putin is not Joseph Stalin’s younger brother.  The U.S. is not in a new Cold War, its troops do not stand in any danger of going toe-to-toe with Russian invaders, and a two-superpower world is dead and buried, but so, it seems, is a one superpower world.  History is a powerful tool, but sometimes when lost stories and old scripts dominate the headlines, it’s worth asking whether, behind the scrim of the familiar and the empty, there might not lurk an unnerving world, a new age that no one cares to focus on.

As with a magician, sometimes you have to look where he isn’t pointing to catch sight of reality.  With that in mind, I’d like to nominate British journalist Patrick Cockburn for a prize.  In the midst of the recent headlines, in the most important article no one noticed, he pointed out something genuinely unnerving about our world.


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Yes, we’re all aware that the U.S. invasion of Iraq didn’t exactly work out as planned and that Afghanistan has been a nearly 13-year disaster, even though the U.S. faced the most ragtag of minority insurgencies in both places.  What, however, about the monumental struggle that used to be called the Global War on Terror?  After all, we got Osama bin Laden.  It took a while, but SEAL Team 6 shot him down in his hideout in Pakistan.  And for years, thanks to the CIA’s drone assassination campaigns in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, Yemen, and Somalia (as well as a full scale hunter-killer operation in Iraq while we were still occupying that country), we’ve been told that endless key al-Qaeda “lieutenants” have been sent to their deaths and that al-Qaeda in Afghanistan has been reduced to 50-100 members.

Yet Cockburn concludes: “Twelve years after the ‘war on terror’ was launched it has visibly failed and al-Qaeda-type jihadis, once confined to a few camps in Afghanistan, today rule whole provinces in the heart of the Middle East.”  Look across that region today and from Pakistan to Libya, you see the rise, not the fall, of jihadis of every type.  In Syria and parts of Iraq, groups that have associated themselves with al-Qaeda now have a controlling military presence in territories the size of, as Cockburn points out, Great Britain.  He calls al-Qaeda’s recent rise as the jihadi brand name of choice and the failure of the U.S. campaign against it “perhaps the most extraordinary development of the 21st century.”  And that, unlike the claims we’ve been hearing at the top of the news for weeks now, might not be an exaggeration.

Looked at another way, despite what had just happened to the Pentagon and those towers in New York, on September 12, 2001, the globe’s “sole superpower” had remarkably few enemies.  Small numbers of jihadis scattered mostly in the backlands of the planet and centered in an impoverished, decimated country—Afghanistan—with the most retro regime on Earth.  There were, in addition, three rickety “rogue states” (North Korea, Iraq, and Iran) singled out for enemy status but incapable of harming the U.S., and that was that.

The world, as Dick Cheney & Co. took for granted, looked ready to be dominated by the only (angry) hyperpower left after centuries of imperial rivalry.  The U.S. military, its technological capability unrivaled by any state or possible grouping of states, was to be let loose to bring the Greater Middle East to heel in a decisive way.  Between that regular military and para-militarizing intelligence agencies, the planet was to be scoured of enemies, the “swamp drained” in up to 60 countries.  The result would be a Pax Americana in the Middle East, and perhaps even globally, into the distant future.  It was to be legendary.  And no method—not torture, abuse, kidnapping, the creation of “black sites,” detention without charges, assassination, the creation of secret law, or surveillance on a previously unimaginable scale—was to be left out of the toolkit used to birth this new all-American planet.  The “gloves” were to be taken off in a big way.

Thirteen years later, those plans, those dreams are down the drain.  The Greater Middle East is in chaos.  The U.S. seems incapable of intervening in a meaningful way just about anywhere on Earth despite the fact that its military remains unchallenged on a global level.  It’s little short of mind-blowing.  And it couldn’t have been more unexpected for those in power in Washington and perhaps for Americans generally.  This is perhaps why, despite changing American attitudes on interventions and future involvement abroad, it’s been so hard to take in, so little focused upon here—even in the bogus, politicized discussions of American “strength” and “weakness” which circle around the latest Russian events, as they had previously around the crises in Iran and Syria.

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