The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
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Former Obama speechwriter, confidant, and deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes had an all-encompassing label for the wonks, experts, think tankers, cable news talking heads, and former or future officials, always ready to spin through Washington’s infamous revolving door, who make up the capital’s “foreign policy community.” He called them “the Blob,” a crew, as... Read More
It’s now more than 17 years later, years in which American commanding generals in Afghanistan repeatedly hailed the U.S. military’s “progress” there and regularly applauded the way we had finally “turned a corner” in the Afghan War -- only to find more Taliban fighters armed with RPGs around that very corner. Finally, in the 18th... Read More
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Abizaid of Arabia
What does President Trump’s recent nomination of retired Army General John Abizaid to become the next U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia signify? Next to nothing -- and arguably quite a lot. Abizaid’s proposed appointment is both a non-event and an opportunity not to be wasted. It means next to nothing in this sense: while once... Read More
The report was devastating -- or would have been, if anyone here had noticed it. "Between 2001 and 2017," it concluded, "U.S. government efforts to stabilize insecure and contested areas in Afghanistan mostly failed." I’m thinking of “Stabilization: Lessons From the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan” put out by the office of the special inspector general... Read More
Confronting “That Part of the World”
My father and I always had a tacit agreement: “We will never speak of That Part of the World.” He’d grown up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Norfolk, Virginia. His own father, a refugee from early-twentieth-century pogroms in what is now Ukraine, had been the president of his local Zionist organization. A liberal in... Read More
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Sixteen Years, But Who’s Counting?
Consider, if you will, these two indisputable facts. First, the United States is today more or less permanently engaged in hostilities in not one faraway place, but at least seven. Second, the vast majority of the American people could not care less. Nor can it be said that we don’t care because we don’t know.... Read More
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When It Comes to the War in the Greater Middle East, Maybe We’re the Bad Guys
I used to command soldiers. Over the years, lots of them actually. In Iraq, Colorado, Afghanistan, and Kansas. And I’m still fixated on a few of them like this one private first class (PFC) in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2011. All of 18, he was short, scrawny, and popular. Nine months after graduating from high school,... Read More
Precision Warfare? Don’t Make Me Laugh
You remember. It was supposed to be twenty-first-century war, American-style: precise beyond imagining; smart bombs; drones capable of taking out a carefully identified and tracked human being just about anywhere on Earth; special operations raids so pinpoint-accurate that they would represent a triumph of modern military science. Everything “networked.” It was to be a glorious... Read More
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Donald Trump’s Road to Debacle in the Greater Middle East
The superhighway to disaster is already being paved. From Donald Trump’s first days in office, news of the damage to America’s international stature has come hard and fast. As if guided by some malign design, the new president seemed to identify the key pillars that have supported U.S. global power for the past 70 years... Read More
The Saudi-American-Iranian-Russian-Qatari-Syrian Conundrum
The Middle East. Could there be a more perilous place on Earth, including North Korea? Not likely. The planet’s two leading nuclear armed powers backing battling proxies amply supplied with conventional weapons; terror groups splitting and spreading; religious-sectarian wars threatening amid a plethora of ongoing armed hostilities stretching from Syria to Iraq to Yemen. And... Read More
The Saudi Regime Is Playing Donald Trump With Potentially Disastrous Consequences
At this point, it’s no great surprise when Donald Trump walks away from past statements in service to some impulse of the moment. Nowhere, however, has such a shift been more extreme or its potential consequences more dangerous than in his sudden love affair with the Saudi royal family. It could in the end destabilize... Read More
Not that anyone in a position of power seems to notice, but there’s a simple rule for American military involvement in the Greater Middle East: once the U.S. gets in, no matter the country, it never truly gets out again. Let’s start with Afghanistan. The U.S. first entered the fray there in 1979 via a... Read More
The Age of Grief
“This is a war against normal life.” So said CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward, describing the situation at this moment in Syria, as well as in other parts of the Middle East. It was one of those remarks that should wake you up to the fact that the regions the United States has, since September 2001,... Read More
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The Irrationality of Iran Vilification
“Everywhere you look, if there is trouble in the region,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters on a mid-April visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, “you find Iran.” I must admit that when I stumbled across that quote it brought up uncomfortable personal memories. East Baghdad, January 25, 2007: my patrol had missed a turn... Read More
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The Short Answer: Fight it!
Make no mistake: after 15 years of losing wars, spreading terror movements, and multiplying failed states across the Greater Middle East, America will fight the next versions of our ongoing wars. Not that we ever really stopped. Sure, Washington traded in George W. Bush’s expansive, almost messianic attitude toward his Global War on Terror for... Read More
Recently, historians Samuel Moyn and Stephen Wertheim wrote an interesting New York Times op-ed on why the last 15 years of failed American wars across the Greater Middle East seem to have taught our military and civilian leadership absolutely nothing. Hence, the recent 59-missile strike against a Syrian airfield -- just the latest act that... Read More
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Onward and Upward with U.S. Central Command
By way of explaining his eight failed marriages, the American bandleader Artie Shaw once remarked, “I am an incurable optimist.” In reality, Artie was an incurable narcissist. Utterly devoid of self-awareness, he never looked back, only forward. So, too, with the incurable optimists who manage present-day American wars. What matters is not past mistakes but... Read More
U.S. Marines are, for the first time, deploying to Syria (with more to come). There’s talk of an “enduring” U.S. military presence in Iraq, while additional U.S. troops are being dispatched to neighboring Kuwait with an eye to the wars in both Iraq and Syria. Yemen has been battered by a veritable blitz of drone... Read More
Let’s face it: since 9/11 everything in our American world has been wildly out of proportion. Understandably enough, at the time that attack was experienced as something other than it was. In the heat of the moment, it would be compared to city-destroying or world-ending Hollywood disaster films (“It was like one of them Godzilla... Read More
The Terror Inside Trump’s White House
What kind of national security policy will the Trump administration pursue globally? On this issue, as on so many others, the incoming president has offered enough contradictory clues, tweets, and comments that the only definitive answer right now is: Who knows? During his presidential campaign he more or less promised a non-interventionist foreign policy, even... Read More
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Neoliberalism, Interventionism, the Resource Curse, and a Fragmenting World
We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are... Read More
Here’s an unavoidable fact: we are now in a Brexit world. We are seeing the first signs of a major fragmentation of this planet that, until recently, the cognoscenti were convinced was globalizing rapidly and headed for unifications of all sorts. If you want a single figure that catches the grim spirit of our moment,... Read More
The U.S. Military Bombs in the Twenty-First Century
Here’s my twenty-first-century rule of thumb about this country: if you have to say it over and over, it probably ain’t so. Which is why I’d think twice every time we’re told how “exceptional” or “indispensable” the United States is. For someone like me who can still remember a moment when Americans assumed that was... Read More
A Civil War Story About the Islamic State Might Spark a Peace Movement
It was half a century ago, but I still remember it vividly. “We have to help South Vietnam,” I explained. “It’s a sovereign nation being invaded by another nation, North Vietnam.” “No, no,” my friend protested. “There’s just one Vietnam, from north to south, divided artificially. It’s a civil war. And we have no business... Read More
Giving Advice to a Presidential Candidate Who Wants to “Do Something”
How can we stop the Islamic State? Imagine yourself shaken awake, rushed off to a strategy meeting with your presidential candidate of choice, and told: “Come up with a plan for me to do something about ISIS!” What would you say? What Hasn't Worked You'd need to start with a persuasive review of what hasn't... Read More
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The Pentagon’s Dangerous “New” Base Plan
Amid the distractions of the holiday season, the New York Times revealed that the Obama administration is considering a Pentagon proposal to create a “new” and “enduring” system of military bases around the Middle East. Though this is being presented as a response to the rise of the Islamic State and other militant groups, there's... Read More
Why the Gulf States, the Kurds, the Turks, the Sunnis, and the Shia Won’t Fight America’s War
In the many strategies proposed to defeat the Islamic State (IS) by presidential candidates, policymakers, and media pundits alike across the American political spectrum, one common element stands out: someone else should really do it. The United States will send in planes, advisers, and special ops guys, but it would be best -- and this... Read More
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The Folly of World War IV
Assume that the hawks get their way -- that the United States does whatever it takes militarily to confront and destroy ISIS. Then what? Answering that question requires taking seriously the outcomes of other recent U.S. interventions in the Greater Middle East. In 1991, when the first President Bush ejected Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait,... Read More
Sometimes I imagine the last 14 years of American war policy in the Greater Middle East as a set of dismal Mad Libs. An example might be: The United States has spent [your choice of multiple billions of dollars] building up [fill in name of Greater Middle Eastern country]’s army and equipping it with [range... Read More
What Could Possibly Go Wrong (October 2015 Edition)
What if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq in 2003? How would things be different in the Middle East today? Was Iraq, in the words of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the "worst foreign policy blunder" in American history? Let's take a big-picture tour of the Middle East and try to answer those questions. But first,... Read More
To this day, it remains difficult to take in the degree to which the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq destabilized the Greater Middle East from the Chinese border to Libya. Certainly, as the recent Republican and Democratic presidential debates suggest, Americans have some sense of what a disaster it was for the Bush administration... Read More
Keep the U.S. Military Out
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy... in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.” The Quartet is a group of four organizations -- two national labor unions, a business group, and a lawyers' association -- whose work helped... Read More
How Henry Kissinger Helped Create Our “Proliferated” World
The only person Henry Kissinger flattered more than President Richard Nixon was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. In the early 1970s, the Shah, sitting atop an enormous reserve of increasingly expensive oil and a key figure in Nixon and Kissinger’s move into the Middle East, wanted to be dealt with as a serious... Read More
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U.S.-Iranian Relations Emerge from a 30-Year Cold War
Don't sweat the details of the July nuclear accord between the United States and Iran. What matters is that the calculus of power in the Middle East just changed in significant ways. Washington and Tehran announced their nuclear agreement on July 14th and yes, some of the details are still classified. Of course the Obama... Read More
Poverty, Drugs, Afghanistan, Iraq, Terror, or How to Make War on Everything
War on drugs. War on poverty. War in Afghanistan. War in Iraq. War on terror. The biggest mistake in American policy, foreign and domestic, is looking at everything as war. When a war mentality takes over, it chooses the weapons and tactics for you. It limits the terms of debate before you even begin. It... Read More
The Everyday Politics of Confinement in Palestine
The SUV slows as it approaches a military kiosk at a break in a dull gray wall. Inside, Ramzi Aburedwan, a Palestinian musician, prepares his documents for the Israeli soldier standing guard. On the other side of this West Bank military checkpoint lies the young man’s destination, the ancient Palestinian town of Sebastia. Fellow musicians... Read More
Here’s a punchline the Obama administration could affix to the Middle East right now: With allies like these, who needs enemies? If you happen to be in that administration, that region must seem like an increasingly phantasmagorical place. America’s closest allies, Israel and the Saudis, have been expressing something close to loathing for President Obama... Read More
Think of it as the American half-century in the Middle East: from August 17, 1953, when a CIA oil coup brought down democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed the Shah as Washington’s man in Tehran, to May 1, 2003, when George W. Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast... Read More
Twelve Years Later, We Know the Winner in Iraq: Iran
The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you'd expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the... Read More
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From Carter to the Islamic State, 35 Years of Building Bases and Sowing Disaster
With the launch of a new U.S.-led war in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State (IS), the United States has engaged in aggressive military action in at least 13 countries in the Greater Middle East since 1980. In that time, every American president has invaded, occupied, bombed, or gone to war in at least... Read More
A Session on the Imperial Couch
[What follows is a transcript of a therapy session between the American Empire and a psychiatrist whose name we at TomDispatch have agreed not to disclose. Normally, even in an age in which privacy means ever less to anyone, we wouldn’t consider publishing such a private encounter, but the probative news value of the exchange... Read More
Their Videos and Ours, Their “Caliphate” and Ours
Whatever your politics, you’re not likely to feel great about America right now. After all, there’s Ferguson (the whole world was watching!), an increasingly unpopular president, a Congress whoseapproval ratings make the president look like a rock star, rising poverty, weakening wages, and a growing inequality gap just to start what could be a long... Read More
When it comes to pure ineptness, it’s been quite a performance -- and I’m sure you’ve already guessed that I’m referring to our secretary of state’s recent jaunt to the Middle East. You remember the old quip about jokes and timing. (It’s all in the...) In this case, John Kerry turned the first stop on... Read More
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Three Ways the Youth Rebellions Are Still Shaping the Middle East
Three and a half years ago, the world was riveted by the massive crowds of youths mobilizing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand an end to Egypt’s dreary police state. We stared in horror as, at one point, the Interior Ministry mobilized camel drivers to attack the demonstrators. We watched transfixed as the protests spread... Read More
Obama’s Washington Is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Region
Put in context, the simultaneous raids in Libya and Somalia last month, targeting an alleged al-Qaeda fugitive and an alleged kingpin of the al-Shabab Islamist movement, were less a sign of America’s awesome might than two minor exceptions that proved an emerging rule: namely, that the power, prestige, and influence of the United States in... Read More
When Barack Obama took office, the sky was the limit in the Greater Middle East. After all, it seemed the U.S. had hit rock bottom. President Bush had set the region aflame with a raging debacle in Iraq, a sputtering conflict in Afghanistan, and a low-level drone war in Pakistan. The outgoing president was wildly... Read More
John Kerry is a Figure of His Times (and That's Not a Good Thing)
In the 1960s, John Kerry was distinctly a man of his times. Kennedy-esque, he went from Yale to Vietnam to fight in a lost war. When popular sentiments on that war shifted, he became one of the more poignant voices raised in protest by antiwar veterans. Now, skip past his time as a congressman, lieutenant... Read More
Among the curious spectacles of our moment, the strangeness of the Obama presidency hasn’t gotten its full due. After decades in which “the imperial presidency” was increasingly in the spotlight, after two terms of George W. Bush in which a literal cult of executive power -- or to use the term of that moment, “the... Read More
The Greater Middle East’s Greatest Rebuff to Uncle Sam
What if the sole superpower on the planet makes its will known -- repeatedly -- and finds that no one is listening? Barely a decade ago, that would have seemed like a conundrum from some fantasy Earth in an alternate dimension. Now, it is increasingly a plain description of political life on our globe, especially... Read More
PastClassics
What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?
Are elite university admissions based on meritocracy and diversity as claimed?