Tag: Tom Engelhardt

Burn Baby, Burn.

A rather depressing essay from Tom Englehardt.

The world is getting hotter. That’s a fact!

And no amount of stuffing one’s head under the pillow is going to change that fact.

We must take note of all the many articles and stories about the warming of the planet. Because we need to change the way we are responding. Not from climate change but to climate crisis.

I’m republishing a recent essay from Tom Engelhardt, with his permission, because he articulates perfectly where we are heading.

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Suicide Watch on Planet Earth

As the Flames Began to Rise, the Arsonists Appeared
By Tom Engelhardt, April 25th, 2019

As Notre Dame burned, as the flames leapt from its roof of ancient timbers, many of us watched in grim horror. Hour after hour, on screen after screen, channel after channel, you could see that 850-year-old cathedral, a visiting spot for 13 million people annually, being gutted, its roof timbers flaring into the evening sky, its steeple collapsing in a ball of fire. It was dramatic and deeply disturbing — and, of course, unwilling to be left out of any headline-making event, President Trump promptly tweeted his advice to the French authorities: “Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!” No matter that water from such planes would probably have taken the cathedral’s towers down and endangered lives as well — “the equivalent,” according to a French fire chief, “of dropping three tons of concrete at 250 kilometers per hour [on] the ancient monument.”

Still, who could doubt that watching such a monument to the human endeavor being transformed into a shell of its former self was a reminder that everything human is mortal; that, whether in a single lifetime or 850 years, even the most ancient of our artifacts, like those in Iraq and Syria recently, will sooner or later be scourged by the equivalent of (or even quite literally by) fire and sword; that nothing truly lasts, even the most seemingly permanent of things like, until now, Notre Dame?

That cathedral in flames, unlike so much else in our moment (including you-know-who in his every waking moment), deserved the front-and-center media attention it got. Historically speaking, it was a burning event of the first order. Still, it’s strange that the most unnerving, deeply terrifying burning underway today, not of that ancient place of worship that lived with humanity for so many tumultuous centuries but of the planet itself, remains largely in the background.

When the cathedral in which Napoleon briefly crowned himself emperor seemed likely to collapse, it was certifiably an event of headline importance. When, however, the cathedral (if you care to think of it that way) in which humanity has been nurtured all these tens of thousands of years, on which we spread, developed, and became what we are today — I mean, of course, the planet itself — is in danger of an unprecedented sort from fires we continue to set, that’s hardly news at all. It’s largely relegated to the back pages of our attention, lost any day of the week to headlines about a disturbed, suicidal young woman obsessed with the Columbine school massacre or an attorney general obsessed with protecting the president.

And let’s not kid ourselves, this planet of ours is beginning to burn — and not just last week or month either. It’s been smoldering for decades now. Last summer, for instance, amid global heat records (Ouargla, Algeria, 124 degrees Fahrenheit; Hong Kong, over 91 degrees Fahrenheit for 16 straight days; Nawabsha, Pakistan, 122 degrees Fahrenheit; Oslo, Norway, over 86 degrees Fahrenheit for 16 consecutive days; Los Angeles, 108 degrees Fahrenheit), wildfires raged inside the Arctic Circle. This March, in case you hadn’t noticed — and why would you, since it’s gotten so little attention? — the temperature in Alaska was, on average, 20 degrees (yes, that is not a misprint) above normal and typical ice roads between villages and towns across parts of that state were melting and collapsing with deaths ensuing.

Meanwhile, in the Antarctic, ice is melting at a rate startling to scientists. If the process accelerates, global sea levels could rise far faster than expected, beginning to drown coastal cities like Miami, New York, and Shanghai more quickly than previously imagined. Meanwhile, globally, the wildfire season is lengthening. Fearsome fires are on the rise, as are droughts, and that’s just to begin to paint a picture of a heating planet and its ever more extreme weather systems and storms, of (if you care to think of it that way) a Whole Earth version of Notre Dame.

The Arsonists Arrive

As was true with Notre Dame, when it comes to the planet, there were fire alarms before an actual blaze was fully noted. Take, for example, the advisory panel of scientists reporting to President Lyndon Johnson on the phenomenon of global warming back in 1965. They would, in fact, predict with remarkable accuracy how our world was going to change for the worse by this twenty-first-century moment. (And Johnson, in turn, would bring the subject up officially for perhaps the first time in a Special Message to Congress on February 5, 1965, 54 years before Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal proposal.) As that panel wrote at the time, “Through his worldwide industrial civilization, Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment. Within a few generations he is burning the fossil fuels that slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years…” In other words, the alarm was first sounded more than half a century ago.

When it comes to climate change, however, as the smoke began to appear and, in our own moment, the first flames began to leap — after all, the last four years have been the hottest on record and, despite the growth of ever less expensive alternative energy sources, carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are still rising, not falling — no firemen arrived (just children). There were essentially no adults to put out the blaze. Yes, there was the Paris climate accord but it was largely an agreement in principle without enforcement power of any genuine sort.

In fact, across significant parts of the planet, those who appeared weren’t firefighters at all, but fire feeders who will likely prove to be the ultimate arsonists of human history. In a way, it’s been an extraordinary performance. Leaders who vied for, or actually gained, power not only refused to recognize the existence of climate change but were quite literally eager to aid and abet the phenomenon. This is true, for instance, of the new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who came to power prepared to turn the already endangered carbon sink of the Amazon rain forest into a playground for corporate and agricultural destroyers. It is similarly true in Europe, where right-wing populist movements have begun to successfully oppose gestures toward dealing with climate change, gaining both attention and votes in the process. In Poland, for instance, just such a party led by President Andrzej Duda has come to power and the promotion of coal production has become the order of the day.

And none of that compared to developments in the richest, most powerful country of all, the one that historically has put more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere than any other. On taking office, Donald Trump appointed more climate-change deniers to his cabinet than might have previously seemed possible and swore fealty to “American energy dominance,” while working to kneecap the development of alternative energy systems.  He and his men tried to open new areas to oil and gas drilling, while in every way imaginable striving to remove what limits there had been on Big Energy, so that it could release its carbon emissions into the atmosphere unimpeded. And as the planetary cathedral began to burn, the president set the mood for the moment (at least for his vaunted “base”) by tweeting such things as “It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!” or, on alternative energy, “You would be doing wind, windmills, and if it doesn’t if it doesn’t blow you can forget about television for that night… Darling, I want to watch television. I’m sorry, the wind isn’t blowing.”

Among those who will someday be considered the greatest criminals in history, don’t forget the Big Energy CEOs who, knowing the truth about climate change from their own hired scientists, did everything they could to increase global doubts by funding climate-denying groups, while continuing to be among the most profitable companies around. They even hedged their bets by, among other things, investing in alternative energy and using it to more effectively drill for oil and natural gas.

Meanwhile, of course, the planet that had proven such a comfortable home for humanity was visibly going down. No, climate change won’t actually destroy the Earth itself, just the conditions under which humanity (and so many other species) thrived on it. Sooner or later, if the global temperature is indeed allowed to rise a catastrophic seven degrees Fahrenheit or four degrees Celsius, as an environmental impact statement from the Trump administration suggested it would by 2100, parts of the planet could become uninhabitable, hundreds of millions of human beings could be set in desperate motion, and the weather could intensify in ways that might be nearly unbearable for human habitation. Just read David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth, if you doubt me.

This isn’t even contestable information anymore and yet it’s perfectly possible that Donald Trump could be elected to a second term in 2020. It’s perfectly possible that more right-wing populist movements could sweep into power in Europe. It’s perfectly possible that Vladimir Putin’s version of great powerdom — a sagging Russian petro-state — could continue on its present globally warming path well into the future.

Understand this: Trump, Bolsonaro, Duda, Putin, and the others are just part of human history. Sooner or later, they will be gone. Climate change, however, is not part of human history (whatever it may do to civilization as we know it). Its effects could, in human terms, last for almost unimaginable periods of time. It operates on a different time scale entirely, which means that, unlike the tragedies and nightmares of human history, it is not just a passing matter.

Of course, the planet will survive, as will some life forms (as would be true even if humanity were to succumb to that other possible path to an apocalypse, a nuclear holocaust resulting in “nuclear winter”).  But that should be considered small consolation indeed.

Putting the Planet on a Suicide Watch

Consider global warming a story for the ages, one that should put Notre Dame’s near-destruction after almost nine centuries in grim perspective. And yet the planetary version of burning, which should be humanity’s crisis of all crises, has been met with a general lack of media attention, reflecting a lack of just about every other kind of attention in our world (except by those outraged children who know that they are going to inherit a degraded world and are increasingly making their displeasure about it felt).

To take just one example of that lack of obvious attention, the response of the mega-wealthy to the burning of Notre Dame was an almost instantaneous burst of giving. The euro equivalent of nearly a billion dollars was raised more or less overnight from the wealthiest of French families and other .01%ers. Remind me of the equivalent for climate change as the planet’s spire threatens to come down?

As for arsonists like Donald Trump and the matter of collusion, there’s not even a question mark on the subject. In the United States, such collusion with the destroyers of human life on Planet Earth is written all over their actions. It’s beyond evident in the appointment of former oil and gas lobbyists and fellow travelers to positions of power. Will there, however, be the equivalent of a Mueller investigation? Will the president be howling “witch hunt” again? Not a chance. When it comes to Donald Trump and climate change, there will be neither a Mueller Report, nor the need for a classic Barr defense. And yet collusion — hell, yeah! The evidence is beyond overwhelming.

We are, of course, talking about nothing short of the ultimate crime, but on any given day of our lives, you’d hardly notice that it was underway. Even for an old man like me, it’s a terrifying thing to watch humanity make a decision, however inchoate, to essentially commit suicide. In effect, there is now a suicide watch on Planet Earth. Let’s hope the kids can make a difference.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch.com and is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands,Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 Tom Engelhardt

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Tom and I are of the same age, give or take a year or two, and I have long been worried about the state of things. Part of me thinks that I won’t live long enough to experience the worst of this climate crisis and that my grandchild will have to sort it out. But then another part of me thinks that this is accelerating and we are already experiencing weather and climate that is strange and …..

I don’t know!

The disaster of empire?

The view of Alfred McCoy

Despite Tom Engelhardt giving me permission years ago to republish his essays I rarely go down that path. Not because many of his essays aren’t deeply interesting but because he doesn’t to the best of my knowledge write about dogs!

However, a recent TomDispatch was sufficiently concerning that I am republishing it for you.

It’s quite a long article.

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Tomgram: Alfred McCoy, Grandmasters of the Universe

Posted by Alfred McCoyat, December 2, 2018.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

Whether you realize it or not, we are in a new age of imperial geopolitics on a grand — and potentially disastrous — scale. TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, author of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, lays out devastatingly just what that is likely to mean in the age of Donald Trump. And once you’ve read his piece on a century-plus of geopolitical thinkers who helped reorganize this planet in genuinely discordant ways, perhaps you’ll feel it’s time for us to imagine a new kind of geopolitics, one that finally addresses the disaster of empire and the ways in which such geopolitical thinking now intersects with another kind of disaster: climate change. For catastrophic as the previous versions of geopolitics may have been, just wait until such imperial and national follies, including the drive of China and India to build new coal plants galore, meet global warming.  By this century’s end, that phenomenon may leave significant parts of the planet facing six nightmarish crises at once, ranging from mega-droughts and mega-fires to rising sea levels and catastrophic flooding. Or what about the possibility that intense heat waves (sparked in part by the massive burning of coal) will, later in this century, make the north China plain, now the most heavily populated part of that country, uninhabitable and do the same for parts of northern India and South Asia? Or what about the recent estimate in a congressionally mandated report on climate change (carefully released by the Trump administration on Black Friday in an attempt to bury it) that this country will also be deeply affected, as, for instance, wildfires of the kind that just devastated parts of California will triple, and the U.S. economy will be downsized by 10% or more by 2100?

We are now on a planet guaranteed, barring a miracle of coordinated human action, to find itself in a set of geo-ruins of an unprecedented sort by 2100, ruins that will remain so on a time scale anything but historical or in any way human. With that in mind, consider McCoy’s account of the “architects of imperial disaster” who got us to just this spot and to an American president whose goal in life is to do everything humanly possible to pump more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Tom

Trump’s Trade Czar, The Latest Architect of Imperial Disaster
Five Academics Who Unleashed the “Demon” of Geopolitical Power
By Alfred W. McCoy

As Washington’s leadership fades more quickly than anyone could have imagined and a new global order struggles to take shape, a generation of leaders has crowded onto the world stage with their own bold geopolitical visions for winning international influence. Xi Xinping has launched his trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative” to dominate Eurasia and thereby the world beyond. To recover the Soviet Union’s lost influence, Vladimir Putin seeks to shatter the Western alliance with cyberwar, while threatening to dominate a nationalizing, fragmenting Eastern Europe through raw military power. The Trump White House, in turn, is wielding tariffs as weapons to try to beat recalcitrant allies back into line and cripple the planet’s rising power, China. However bizarrely different these approaches may seem, they all share one strikingly similar feature: a reliance on the concept of “geopolitics” to guide their bids for global power.

Over the past century, countless scholars, columnists, and commentators have employed the term “geopolitics” (or the study of global control) to lend gravitas to their arguments. Few, though, have grasped the true significance of this elusive concept. However else the term might be used, geopolitics is essentially a methodology for the management (or mismanagement) of empire. Unlike conventional nations whose peoples are, in normal times, readily and efficiently mobilized for self-defense, empires, thanks to their global reach, are a surprisingly fragile form of government. They seem to yearn for strategic visionaries who can merge land, peoples, and resources into a sustainable global system.

The practice of geopolitics, even if once conducted from horseback, is as old as empire itself, dating back some 4,000 years. Until the dawn of the twentieth century, it was the conquerors themselves — from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte — whose geopolitical visions guided the relentless expansion of their imperial domains. The ancient Greek historian Plutarch tried to capture (or perhaps exaggerate) the enormity of Caesar’s conquest of Gaul — a territory that comprises all of modern France and Belgium — by enumerating the nine years of war that “took by storm more than eight hundred cities, subdued three hundred tribes, and fought pitched battles… with three million men, of whom he slew one million… and took as many more prisoners.”

In his own account, however, Caesar reduced all of this to its geopolitical essentials. “All Gaul is divided into three parts,” he wrote in that famous first sentence of his Gallic Wars. “Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because… they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valor, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily battles.” When those formidable Helvetii marched out of their Alpine cantons to occupy Gallic lowlands in 58 BC, Caesar deployed geopolitics to defeat them — seizing strategic terrain, controlling their grain supplies, and manipulating rival tribes. Instead of enslaving the vanquished Helvetii as other Roman generals might have, Caesar, mindful of the empire’s geopolitical balance, returned them to their homelands with generous provisions, lest the German “barbarians” cross the Rhine and destabilize Gaul’s natural frontier.

In more modern times, imperial expansion has been guided by professional scholars who have made the formal study of geopolitics a hybrid field of some significance. Its intellectual lineage is actually remarkably straightforward. At the end of the nineteenth century, an American naval historian argued that seapower was the key to national security and international influence. A decade later, a British geographer observed that railroads had shifted the locus of global power landward into the interior of the vast Eurasian continent. In the succeeding century, a succession of scholars would draw on these two basic ideas to inspire bold geopolitical gambits by Nazi Germany, Cold War Washington, post-Soviet Russia, and even Donald Trump’s White House.

There is, in fact, a common thread in those disparate scholarly lives: in each case, the study of geopolitics seemed to change the trajectory of their careers, lifting them from the margins of society to the right hand of power. There, at moments when the empire they lived in was experiencing a crisis, their unconventional, even eccentric, ideas won influence — often in what would prove in the long term a nightmarish fashion.

Over the last century or so, while the actual application of such thinking regularly proved problematic at best and genuinely horrific at worst, geopolitics would remain a seductive concept with a persistent power to entice would-be practitioners. It would also prove an enormously elusive style of thinking, making it difficult to distinguish between the banal and the brilliant, between the imperially helpful and the imperially devastating.

Charting the interplay of land, people, and resources inside any empire, much less in a clash between such behemoths, is impossibly difficult. Admittedly, geopolitics in the hands of a grandmaster has, in the past, led to the crushing of armies and the conquest of continents. But seemingly similar strategies have also produced searing defeat and disaster. Caesar’s deft geopolitical balancing of Gaul and Germany on the fulcrum of the Rhine survived for some four centuries; Napoleon’s similar attempt lasted all of seven years.

Telling the difference, in the historical moment, is a daunting task and one that hasn’t turned out well in the last century. With that in mind, let’s now approach the careers of five modern “grandmasters” of geopolitics with an appropriate skepticism.

America’s Strategic Visionary

In 1890, as the industrial boom of the Gilded Age prepared the nation for a debut on the world stage, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, arguably America’s only original strategic thinker, published his famed Influence of Seapower Upon History. In it, he argued that naval power was the determining factor in the fate of nations. Born at West Point, where his father taught military tactics to Army cadets, Mahan came to the study of strategy almost by birthright. After graduating from the Naval Academy and having an indifferent career at sea, he became the head of the Naval War College in 1886. There, he developed novel geopolitical ideas that would revive a stalled career.

By analyzing sea power through a wide range of factors, including the defensibility of ports, national technological prowess, and the nature of good government, Mahan would produce the first serious study of geopolitics in the guise of a guide to naval strategy. In the process, he became an international celebrity, influencing admirals from London to Tokyo and inspiring leaders worldwide to join a naval arms race that would drain their treasuries to build costly battleships. The admiral who headed Germany’s navy, for instance, distributed 8,000 copies of Mahan’s history in translation and in the process won passage of the country’s first naval bill in 1898, funding his fateful challenge to British sea power.

As Europe’s empires continued to spread globally in the 1890s, Mahan’s prolific prose persuaded Washington that national defense required the creation of a genuine blue-water navy and bases in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. So important were such bases for the nation’s defense that, as Mahan gravely concluded, “No European state should henceforth acquire a coaling position within three thousand miles of San Francisco” — a distance that encompassed the Hawaiian Islands, soon to become U.S. possessions.

Like many advocates of geopolitics to come, Mahan would use seemingly precise strategic concepts to project his country’s current position into a murky future. As his geopolitical principles took physical form after 1898, they would produce an indefensible string of bases stretching across the Pacific from Panama to the Philippines.

Following his doctrine, the Navy ordered Admiral George Dewey’s squadron to seize Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War of 1898, which he did by sinking the Spanish fleet. Within five years, however, Japan’s stunning victory over the Russian fleet in the Sea of Japan forced Washington to withdraw much of its navy from the Western Pacific. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt began building a new Pacific bastion at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, not in Manila Bay, saying that the Philippines, by then an American colony, is “our heel of Achilles.” Making matters worse, the Versailles peace settlement at the end of World War I conceded the Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific to Japan, allowing its navy to block the sea-lanes from Pearl Harbor to Manila Bay — a geopolitical reality that would doom General Douglas MacArthur’s Philippine command to a searing defeat at the start of World War II.

At that war’s end, however, Washington finally resolved this geopolitical conundrum by conquering Japan and building a chain of more than 100 bases from that country to the Philippines, making the Pacific littoral the strategic fulcrum for the defense of one continent (North America) and dominion over another (Eurasia).

Sir Halford Propagates Geopolitics

Little more than a decade after Mahan wrote his influential studies of seapower, Sir Halford Mackinder, head of the London School of Economics (LSE), published a seminal article that shifted the focus of geopolitics from sea to land. Writing in 1904, as the 5,700 miles of the Trans-Siberian Railway was still being built from Moscow to Vladivostok, Mackinder argued that future rail lines would knit Eurasia into a unitary landmass that he dubbed “the world island.” When that day came, Russia, perhaps in alliance with another land power like Germany, could control Eurasia’s sprawling “heartland,” allowing “the use of vast continental resources for fleet-building, and the empire of the world would be in sight.”

This path-breaking analysis came at a fortuitous time in Mackinder’s academic career. After teaching geography at Oxford for 10 years, he had failed to win a professorship and his marriage collapsed. At this low ebb in his life, he tried to establish himself as an exploratory geographer by making the first recorded ascent of Mount Kenya. Using the “moral suasion of my Mauser” rifle to force his 170 African bearers to “obey like the faithful dogs they are,” Mackinder moved through the famine-stricken foothills leading to that mountain by extracting food from hungry villages at gunpoint. Then, in September 1899, at the cost of 10 porters shot and many more whipped for “malingering,” he traversed glaciers to reach the summit at 17,000 feet. His triumph before a cheering crowd at the Royal Geographical Society in London was, however, marred not by his treatment of those bearers but by his failure to bring back significant findings or scientific specimens.

So, in yet another career change, Mackinder joined the LSE where he produced that influential article on geopolitics. At the end of World War I, he turned it into a book that contained his most memorable maxim: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; Who rules the World-Island commands the World.”

Mackinder’s expertise in imperial geopolitics helped launch his political career, including gaining him a seat in Parliament. In 1919, amid the turmoil of the Russian revolution, Britain was shipping arms to anti-Bolshevik forces there under General Anton Denikin. At Winston Churchill’s behest, the cabinet then appointed Mackinder as a special high commissioner for southern Russia. In a unique test of his “heartland” theory, Mackinder made an abortive attempt to rally the Czarist forces by meeting General Denikin inside his railcar in the Caucasus to propose an alliance with Poland and promise a mass evacuation in the event of defeat. Upon return to London, ignoring the general’s role in slaughtering some 100,000 Jews, Mackinder recommended recognizing his government and providing aid — advice the cabinet quickly dismissed.

From that brief moment at the apex of power, Mackinder soon fell into obscurity — losing his seat in Parliament, retiring from the LSE, and settling into a sinecure as chairman of the Imperial Shipping Committee. Were it not for the surprising later appeal of his ideas in Nazi Germany and Vladimir Putin’s Russia, his name would have been largely forgotten.

The Sorcerer’s Nazi Apprentice

As the Versailles peace conference of 1919 stripped Germany of its colonial empire and placed its Rhineland frontier under foreign occupation, Karl Haushofer exchanged his general’s baton for a geography professorship at Munich University. There, he would apply Mackinder’s concepts in an attempt to assure that his fatherland would never again engage in the sort of strategic blunders that, in World War I, had led to such a humiliating defeat.

While Mackinder himself was courting the powerful in postwar London, Haushofer was teaching geopolitics to future top Nazis in Munich — first to his graduate assistant Rudolf Hess (later to become the deputy Führer), and then to Adolf Hitler himself while he was writing Mein Kampf during his incarceration at Munich’s Landsberg Prison in 1924. Both Haushofer and his son Albrecht, who would train Nazi diplomats in the geopolitics of European conquest, were later rewarded with influential positions in the Third Reich. By dressing the British don’s idea of the Eurasian heartland as the pivot of world power in the local garb of Lebensraum (or “the Greater German Reich’s dazzling ascent by war… for extension of its living space”), Haushofer helped propagate an enticing logic of expansion that would send Hitler’s army on the road to defeat.

In 1942, Hitler dispatched a million men, 10,000 artillery pieces, and 500 tanks to breach the Volga River at Stalingrad and capture Russia’s heartland for lebensraum. In the end, the Reich’s forces would suffer 850,000 casualties — killed, wounded, and captured — in a vain attempt to break through the East European rimland into the world island’s heartland.

Appalled by the attack on Russia, Haushofer’s son joined the underground’s attempt to assassinate Hitler and was imprisoned. Before he was finally shot by the SS (on the day the Allies captured Berlin), he would compose mournful sonnets about geopolitical power, which he saw metaphorically as buried deep under the sea until “my father broke the seal” and “set the demon free to roam throughout the world.” A few months later, Karl Haushofer and his Jewish wife committed suicide together when confronted with the possibility that the victorious allies might prosecute him as a senior Nazi war criminal.

The Liberator of Eastern Europe

As the United States recoiled from its searing defeat in Vietnam, Zbigniew Brzezinski, an émigré Polish aristocrat and autodidact when it came to geopolitics, went from teaching international relations in New York to being President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor in Washington. There, his risky geopolitical gambits gained an attentive audience after the Soviet Red Army invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

As an intellectual acolyte of Mackinder, Brzezinski embraced his concept of the Eurasian heartland as the “pivot” of global power. But in marked contrast to Mackinder’s failure in southern Russia in 1920, Brzezinski would prove adept at applying that geopolitician’s famous dictum on the dynamic that tied Eastern Europe to Eurasia’s heartland. (In the end, however, his Afghan moves would help give rise to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, and the never-ending war on terror of this century.)

Wielding a multi-billion-dollar CIA covert operation in Afghanistan like a sharpened wedge, Brzezinski drove radical Islam deep into the heart of Soviet Central Asia. In the process, he drew Moscow into a debilitating decade-long Afghan war, so weakening it that Eastern Europe would finally break free from the Soviet empire in 1989. Asked about the enormous human suffering his strategy inflicted on Afghanistan and his role in creating a militant Islam hostile to the United States, he would remain coolly unapologetic. “What is most important to the history of the world?” he responded in 1998. “The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

In retirement, Brzezinski resumed his study of Mackinder’s theory, doing a better job as an armchair analyst than he had as a presidential adviser. In a 1998 book, he warned that dominance over Eurasia remained “the central basis for global primacy.” To control that vast region, Washington, he insisted, would have to preserve its “perch on the Western periphery” of Europe and hold its string of “offshore bases” along the Pacific littoral. Should these conditions change, he predicted with some prescience, “a potential rival to America might at some point arise.”

Putin’s Geopolitical Visionary

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, a Russian rightist ideologue, Alexander Dugin, would revive Mackinder’s ideas yet again to promote expansion into Eurasia. In the process, he would become “a major influence” on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the 1980s, as the Soviet Union was beginning to unravel, Dugin was still moving in Moscow’s bohemian circles as a dabbler in the occult and a fringe member of the “ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic organization Pamiat.” After the Soviet collapse, he became chief ideologue for an eclectic alliance of patriotic and punk-rock groups called the New Bolshevik Party, serving as its candidate for a seat in the 1995 Duma legislative elections and winning just 1% of the vote.

At this political nadir for both him and his country, Dugin recycled Mackinder’s long-forgotten writings in a 1997 bestseller, The Foundation of Geopolitics: Russia’s Geopolitical Future. As his book moved into its fourth printing and he “became a pole star for a broad section of Russian hardliners,” he began teaching geopolitics to military officers at the General Staff Academy, later lecturing on it to elite students at Moscow State University, and anchoring Landmarks, a weekly television show on the subject. In those years, Moscow bookstores even opened special sections for geopolitics, the legislature formed a geopolitics committee, and the Russian leadership began to embrace Dugin’s vision of expansionist nationalism.

Drawing on Haushofer’s German writings, he argued that Russia should become a Eurasian bastion against “the conspiracy of ‘Atlanticism’ led by the United States and NATO… aimed at containing Russia within successive geographic rings” of the former Soviet republics. To achieve the destiny envisioned by Mackinder, Russia needed, in Dugin’s view, to dominate Eurasia — annexing Ukraine, conquering Georgia, incorporating Finland, and bringing the Balkan states (Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria) under its rule as an Orthodox “Third Rome.” To advance such ideas, Dugin founded the Eurasia Youth Union of Russia in 2005, first to serve as “human shields” to fight against the Orange revolution in Ukraine and later to counter the “degeneration” caused by American cultural influence.

For the past decade, he has been a forceful advocate for Russian expansionism. During that country’s war with Georgia in 2008, he was photographed with a rocket launcher in South Ossetia and quoted in the national press calling for its annexation. After serving as “the brains behind Vladimir Putin’s wildly popular annexation of Crimea” in March 2014, Dugin embraced the Russian minority in eastern Ukraine, prodding the Russian president to openly support their separatist militia.

While advocacy of aggressive geopolitics has given Dugin significant political influence and Putin unprecedented popularity in Russia, it is still unclear whether in the long run such expansionism, in defiance of international norms, will prove a geopolitical masterstroke or a diplomatic debacle.

The Geopolitics of Trump’s Trade War

Most recently, a dissident economist and failed California politician named Peter Navarro has parlayed his hostility toward China into the role of key architect of Donald Trump’s “trade war” against Beijing. Like his Russian counterpart Alexander Dugin, Navarro is another in a long line of intellectuals whose embrace of geopolitics changed the trajectory of his career.

Raised by a single mom who worked secretarial jobs to rent one-bedroom apartments where he slept on the couch, Navarro went to college at Tufts on a scholarship and earned a doctorate in economics from Harvard. Despite that Ivy League degree, he remained an angry outsider, denouncing the special interests “stealing America” in his first book and later, as a business professor at the University of California-Irvine, branding San Diego developers “punks in pinstripes.” A passionate environmentalist, in 1992 Navarro plunged into politics as a Democratic candidate for the mayor of San Diego, denouncing his opponent’s husband as a convicted drug-money launderer and losing when he smirked as she wept during their televised debate.

For the next 10 years, Navarro fought losing campaigns for everything from city council to Congress. He detailed his crushing defeat for a seat in the House of Representatives in a tell-all book, San Diego Confidential, that dished out disdain for that duplicitous “sell out” Bill Clinton, dumb “blue-collar detritus” voters, and just about everybody else as well.

Following his last losing campaign for city council, Navarro spent a decade churning out books attacking a new enemy: China. His first “shock and awe” jeremiad in 2006 told horror stories about that country’s foreign trade; five years later, Death By China was filled with torrid tales of “bone-crushing, cancer-causing, flammable, poisonous, and otherwise lethal products” from that land. In 2015, a third book turned to geopolitics, complete with carefully drawn maps and respectful references to Captain Mahan, to offer an analysis of how China’s military was pursuing a relentless strategy of “anti-access, area denial” to challenge the U.S. Navy’s control over the Western Pacific.

To check China, the Pentagon then had two competing strategies — “Air-Sea Battle,” in which China’s satellites were to be blinded, knocking out its missiles, and “Offshore Control,” in which China’s entire coastline was to be blockaded by mining six maritime choke points from Japan to Singapore. Both, Navarro claimed, were fatally flawed. Given that, Navarro’s third book and a companion film (endorsed by one Donald Trump) asked: What should the United States do to check Beijing’s aggression and its rise as a global power? Since all U.S. imports from China, Navarro suggested, were “helping to finance a Chinese military buildup,” the only realistic solution was “the imposition of countervailing tariffs to offset China’s unfair trade practices.”

Just a year after reaching that controversial conclusion, Navarro joined the Trump election campaign as a policy adviser and then, after the November victory, became a junior member of the White House economic team. As a protectionist in an administration initially dominated by globalists, he would be excluded from high-level meetings and, according to Time Magazine, “required to copy chief economic adviser Gary Cohn on all his emails.” By February 2018, however, Cohn was on his way out and Navarro had become assistant to the president, with his new trade office now the co-equal of the National Economic Council.

As the chief defender of Trump’s belief that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” Navarro has finally realized his own geopolitical dream of attempting to check China with tariffs. In March, the president slapped heavy ones on Chinese steel imports and, just a few weeks later, promised to impose more of them on $50 billion of imports. When those started in July, China’s leaders retaliated against what they called “typical trade bullying,” imposing similar duties on American goods. Despite a warning from the Federal Reserve chairman that “trade tensions… could pose serious risks to the U.S. and global economy,” with Navarro at his elbow, Trump escalated in September, adding tariffs on an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods and threatening another $267 billion worth if China dared retaliate. Nonetheless, Beijing hit back, this time on just $60 billion in goods since 95% of all U.S. imports had already been covered.

Then something truly surprising happened. In September, the U.S. trade deficit with China ballooned to $305 billion for the year, driven by an 8% surge in Chinese imports — a clear sign that Navarro’s bold geopolitical vision of beating Beijing into submission with tariffs had collided big time with the complexities of world trade. Whether this tariff dispute will fizzle out inconsequentially or escalate into a full-blown trade war, wreaking havoc on global supply chains and the world economy, none of us can yet know, particularly that would-be geopolitical grandmaster Peter Navarro.

The Desire to be Grandmaster of the Universe

Though such experts usually dazzle the public and the powerful alike with erudition and boldness of vision, their geopolitical moves often have troubling long-term consequences. Mahan’s plans for Pacific dominion through offshore bases created a strategic conundrum that plagued American defense policy for a half-century. Brzezinski’s geopolitical lunge at the Soviet Union’s soft Central Asian underbelly helped unleash radical Islam. Today, Alexander Dugin’s use of geopolitics to revive Russia’s dominion over Eurasia has placed Moscow on a volatile collision course with Europe and the United States. Simultaneously, Peter Navarro’s bold gambit to contain China’s military and economic push into the Pacific with a trade war could, if it persists, produce untold complications for our globalized economy.

No matter how deeply flawed such geopolitical visions may ultimately prove to be, their brief moments as official policy have regularly shaped the destiny of nations and of empires in unpredictable, unplanned, and often dangerous ways. And no matter how this current round of geopolitical gambits plays out, we can be reasonably certain that, in the not-too-distant future, another would-be grandmaster will embrace this seductive concept to guide his bold bid for global power.

Alfred W. McCoy, a TomDispatch regular, is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, the now-classic book which probed the conjuncture of illicit narcotics and covert operations over 50 years, and the recently published In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power (Dispatch Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2018 Alfred W. McCoy

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We are now on a planet guaranteed, barring a miracle of coordinated human action, to find itself in a set of geo-ruins of an unprecedented sort by 2100, ruins that will remain so on a time scale anything but historical or in any way human.

Indeed!

Back to dogs tomorrow!

The State of the World!

Reality warning dear people!

As you all know, my world is dominated by love. My love for my Jeannie and all the wonderful creatures that inhabit this home and these few acres here in Southern Oregon. Time and time again I share with you stories and articles that I come across that underpin that loving umbrella. Time and time again I am deeply moved by your interest in my scribbles. As I said, my world is dominated by love, and your friendship across this blogging world added to Jean’s love for and attachment to me, has created a little paradise for me.

But! (And you may have sensed there was a ‘But’ coming up.)

But that doesn’t mean that I am immune to being deeply affected by other, more worldly issues, that are as far away from love as one could imagine; more accurately, as far away from love for this wonderful planet as one could imagine.

So for today and the next two days I am going to share with you the pain and angst that I do feel, and feel all too easily, at what we, as in the collective global ‘we’, are up to. Madness doesn’t even seem to touch it!

Today, I am going to republish a recent TomDispatch essay, with Tom’s very kind permission. Tomorrow, I am going to contrast what fellow Brit James Lovelock has been predicting for years with where we really are heading in terms of the future of Planet Earth. Then on Friday, I will finish up with an essay by Professor Ronald Pies regarding the “twisted relationships to truth”.

So don’t say you haven’t been warned!

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 Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, War Without End

None so blind …

…. as those who choose not to see!

Note: This is a long and pretty depressing post yet one that contains a critically vital message. Just wanted to flag that up.

This is not the first time I have used this expression as a header to a blogpost. The first time was back in August 2013 when I introduced the TomDispatch essay: Rebecca Solnit, The Age of Inhuman Scale.

I am using it again to introduce another TomDispatch essay. Like the Solnit essay a further reflection on the incredible madness of these present global times.

But before getting to that essay let me refer to a recent Patrice Ayme post. It is called: New Climate Lie: Magical CO2 Stop Possible.

Patrice included this graph:

To Stay Below 2C, CO2 Emissions Have To Stop Now. We Are On The Red Trajectory: Total Disaster
To Stay Below 2C, CO2 Emissions Have To Stop Now. We Are On The Red Trajectory: Total Disaster

Adding:

Tempo depended upon the CO2 concentration, pitch upon the Earth global temperature, distortion upon the energy balance on land in watts per square meter. The numbers used were past and anticipated. After 2015, the graphs became two: one was red, the bad case scenario, the other was blue, and represented the good scenario.

As I looked at the blue graphs, the optimistic graphs, I got displeased: the blue CO2 emissions, the blue temperature, and the blue power imbalance, had a very sharp angle, just in 2016. First a sharp angle is mathematically impossible: as it is now, the curves of CO2, and temperature are smooth curves going up (on the appropriate time scale). It would require infinite acceleration, infinite force. Even if one stopped magically any human generated greenhouse gases emissions next week, the CO2 concentration would still be above 400 ppm (it is 404 ppm now). And it would stay this way for centuries. So temperature would still rise.

The composer, who was on stage, had been advised by a senior climate scientist, a respectable gentleman with white hair, surrounded by a court, who got really shocked when I came boldly to him, and told him his blue graph was mathematically impossible.

I told him that one cannot fit a rising, smooth exponential with a sharp angle bending down and a line. Just fitting the curves in the most natural, smooth and optimistic way gives a minimum temperature rise of four degrees Celsius. (There is a standard mathematical way to do this, dating back to Newton.)

Read Patrice’s essay in full here.

However, I find the malaise gripping us in these times to be infinitely more difficult to understand than what is or is not mathematically possible. I just can’t get my mind around the possibility that we are in an era where greed, inequality and the pursuit of power and money will take the whole of humanity over the edge.

Why, for goodness sake, is the U.S., my adopted home country, pursuing gas exports? As I read here: United States On Path to Becoming Major Exporter of Natural Gas Despite Climate Impacts
Here’s a taste of this report from Julie Dermansky of Desmogblog:

A flare at Cheniere Energy Sabine Pass LNG facility. ©2016 Julie Dermansky
A flare at Cheniere Energy Sabine Pass LNG facility. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

But rather than acknowledging the climate risk posed by further expansion of LNG export infrastructure, the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration are moving in the opposite direction.

The natural gas export industry may grow even more rapidly if the first new bipartisan energy legislation drafted since 2007 passes. The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, known as S. 2012, would expedite permitting for LNG export terminals.

The bill’s passage was considered imminent until it derailed with the introduction of an amendment that would provide emergency aid towards solving the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Now the passage of the bill hinges on whether the Senate will come to terms on aid to Flint.

Lobbying for the bill has been heavy. As DeSmog’s Steve Horn reported: “The list of lobbyists for S.2012 is a who’s who of major fossil fuel corporations and their trade associations: BP, ExxonMobil, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, American Petroleum Institute, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Southern Company, Duke Energy and many other prominent LNG export companies.”

I highlighted the name ExxonMobil in that extract because that company is the subject of Tom Engelhardt’s essay from Bill McKibben. Republished here with Tom’s kind permission.

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Tomgram: Bill McKibben, It’s Not Just What Exxon Did, It’s What It’s Doing

Trying to make sense of these times?

A departure from recent themes.

Tom Engelhardt
Tom Engelhardt

Some time ago, I republished, with Tom’s permission, essays that were being published on the TomDispatch blogsite. While those essays had nothing at all to do with dogs, they had much to do with integrity; the underlying theme of Learning from Dogs. Then Tom Engelhardt very generously gave me blanket permission to republish further TomDispatch essays whenever I felt so inclined. Thus back in 2011, I republished The Great American Carbon Bomb because it seemed so important to readers of this place. Subsequently, from time to time, other essays have been republished again because they seemed worthy of a broader distribution.

Which brings me to today’s post; another republication of a TomDispatch essay. Why? Because what is presently going on in the world, about the price of oil, about the chaos in the Middle-East, about the prospects of global deflation and the frightening consequences that could flow from that, are of concern to 99.9% of the ordinary folk living on this planet, including the vast majority of owners of dogs.

Thus without any further ado, here is the latest ‘Tomgram’: Michael Klare, The Look of a Badly Oiled Planet.

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Tomgram: Michael Klare, The Look of a Badly Oiled Planet

Thoughts about the future.

“Predictions are so difficult – especially when they concern the future.”

That witticism in the sub-title is not my invention, far from it, but, nonetheless, it seemed appropriate for today’s post. For today’s post is the republication of a recent essay that appeared over on TomDispatch. Tom Engelhardt, as with George Monbiot, gave me blanket permission to republish his essays some time ago and his latest essay, or rather the essay from TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, seemed worthy of being shared with the many dear readers of this place.

So with no further delay, let me offer you: Are Resource Wars Our Future? (NB: there were too many links to carry across in the essay so I have indicated each link by changing the text colour to red. If you skip across to the TomDispatch page, you can link through to the relevant item.)

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Tomgram: Michael Klare, Are Resource Wars Our Future?

Posted by Michael Klare at 7:24am, November 3, 2015.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

These days, all you have to do is look around if you want your hair to stand on end on the subject of our future on this planet. Here’s just a little relatively random list of recent news on climate-change-related happenings.

Mexico was recently hit by the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average global temperatures for September ran off the rails. (“This marks the fifth consecutive month a monthly high temperature record has been set and is the highest departure from average for any month among all 1,629 months in the record that began in January 1880.”) It was the seventh month of 2015 to be “record shattering” and the year itself looks as if it might cumulatively be the same. (By now, this story is considered so humdrum and expectable that it didn’t even make the front page of my hometown newspaper!) The cataclysmic civil war, terror war, and international conflict in Syria is being reclassified as the first climate-change war based on the staggering drought that preceded it. That, in fact, has been called “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.” Turning to colder climes, ice in Antarctica is melting so unexpectedly quickly that, according to the latest research, the continent’s ice shelves might be heading for collapse by 2100, guaranteeing a future rise in sea levels of potentially staggering proportions. Meanwhile, last week you could go online and watch dramatic video evidence of the melting of Greenland — rivers of water raging across a dissolving ice shelf that, one of these decades, will raise sea levels by an estimated 20 feet globally. And oh yes, for those of you curious about the hotter regions, a new study indicates that heat waves in the Persian Gulf may be so fierce before or by the end of this century that, in some of parts of the oil heartlands of the planet, they might quite literally endanger human survival.

Need I go on? Need I mention why the upcoming climate change confab in Paris in a few weeks matters big time? Need I add that, whatever agreements may be reached there, they are essentially guaranteed not to be enough to bring global warming truly under control. And in that context, if you think that a Greater Middle East with five failed states in it since 2001 is already a nightmare, consider TomDispatch regular Michael Klare’s vision of a resource-war-torn planet in a “record-shattering” future of abysmal heat and climate tipping points. If you want to know what’s at stake for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, read this article. Tom

Why the Paris Climate Summit Will Be a Peace Conference Averting a World of Failed States and Resource Wars

By Michael T. Klare

At the end of November, delegations from nearly 200 countries will convene in Paris for what is billed as the most important climate meeting ever held. Officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the 1992 treaty that designated that phenomenon a threat to planetary health and human survival), the Paris summit will be focused on the adoption of measures that would limit global warming to less than catastrophic levels. If it fails, world temperatures in the coming decades are likely to exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees Fahrenheit), the maximum amount most scientists believe the Earth can endure without experiencing irreversible climate shocks, including soaring temperatures and a substantial rise in global sea levels.

A failure to cap carbon emissions guarantees another result as well, though one far less discussed. It will, in the long run, bring on not just climate shocks, but also worldwide instability, insurrection, and warfare. In this sense, COP-21 should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference — perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history.

To grasp why, consider the latest scientific findings on the likely impacts of global warming, especially the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). When first published, that report attracted worldwide media coverage for predicting that unchecked climate change will result in severe droughts, intense storms, oppressive heat waves, recurring crop failures, and coastal flooding, all leading to widespread death and deprivation. Recent events, including a punishing drought in California and crippling heat waves in Europe and Asia, have focused more attention on just such impacts. The IPCC report, however, suggested that global warming would have devastating impacts of a social and political nature as well, including economic decline, state collapse, civil strife, mass migrations, and sooner or later resource wars.

These predictions have received far less attention, and yet the possibility of such a future should be obvious enough since human institutions, like natural systems, are vulnerable to climate change. Economies are going to suffer when key commodities — crops, timber, fish, livestock — grow scarcer, are destroyed, or fail. Societies will begin to buckle under the strain of economic decline and massive refugee flows. Armed conflict may not be the most immediate consequence of these developments, the IPCC notes, but combine the effects of climate change with already existing poverty, hunger, resource scarcity, incompetent and corrupt governance, and ethnic, religious, or national resentments, and you’re likely to end up with bitter conflicts over access to food, water, land, and other necessities of life.

The Coming of Climate Civil Wars

Such wars would not arise in a vacuum. Already existing stresses and grievances would be heightened, enflamed undoubtedly by provocative acts and the exhortations of demagogic leaders. Think of the current outbreak of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, touched off by clashes over access to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (also known as the Noble Sanctuary) and the inflammatory rhetoric of assorted leaders. Combine economic and resource deprivation with such situations and you have a perfect recipe for war.

The necessities of life are already unevenly distributed across the planet. Often the divide between those with access to adequate supplies of vital resources and those lacking them coincides with long-term schisms along racial, ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines. The Israelis and Palestinians, for example, harbor deep-seated ethnic and religious hostilities but also experience vastly different possibilities when it comes to access to land and water. Add the stresses of climate change to such situations and you can naturally expect passions to boil over.

Climate change will degrade or destroy many natural systems, often already under stress, on which humans rely for their survival. Some areas that now support agriculture or animal husbandry may become uninhabitable or capable only of providing for greatly diminished populations. Under the pressure of rising temperatures and increasingly fierce droughts, the southern fringe of the Sahara desert, for example, is now being transformed from grasslands capable of sustaining nomadic herders into an empty wasteland, forcing local nomads off their ancestral lands. Many existing farmlands in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East will suffer a similar fate. Rivers that once supplied water year-round will run only sporadically or dry up altogether, again leaving populations with unpalatable choices.

klarepbk2012As the IPCC report points out, enormous pressure will be put upon often weak state institutions to adjust to climate change and aid those in desperate need of emergency food, shelter, and other necessities. “Increased human insecurity,” the report says, “may coincide with a decline in the capacity of states to conduct effective adaptation efforts, thus creating the circumstances in which there is greater potential for violent conflict.”

A good example of this peril is provided by the outbreak of civil war in Syria and the subsequent collapse of that country in a welter of fighting and a wave of refugees of a sort that hasn’t been seen since World War II. Between 2006 and 2010, Syria experienced a devastating drought in which climate change is believed to have been a factor, turning nearly 60% of the country into desert. Crops failed and most of the country’s livestock perished, forcing millions of farmers into penury. Desperate and unable to live on their land any longer, they moved into Syria’s major cities in search of work, often facing extreme hardship as well as hostility from well-connected urban elites.

Had Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad responded with an emergency program of jobs and housing for those displaced, perhaps conflict could have been averted. Instead, he cut food and fuel subsidies, adding to the misery of the migrants and fanning the flames of revolt. In the view of several prominent scholars, “the rapidly growing urban peripheries of Syria, marked by illegal settlements, overcrowding, poor infrastructure, unemployment, and crime, were neglected by the Assad government and became the heart of the developing unrest.”

A similar picture has unfolded in the Sahel region of Africa, the southern fringe of the Sahara, where severe drought has combined with habitat decline and government neglect to provoke armed violence. The area has faced many such periods in the past, but now, thanks to climate change, there is less time between the droughts. “Instead of 10 years apart, they became five years apart, and now only a couple years apart,” observes Robert Piper, the United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel. “And that, in turn, is putting enormous stresses on what is already an incredibly fragile environment and a highly vulnerable population.”

In Mali, one of several nations straddling this region, the nomadic Tuaregs have been particularly hard hit, as the grasslands they rely on to feed their cattle are turning into desert. A Berber-speaking Muslim population, the Tuaregs have long faced hostility from the central government in Bamako, once controlled by the French and now by black Africans of Christian or animist faith. With their traditional livelihoods in peril and little assistance forthcoming from the capital, the Tuaregs revolted in January 2012, capturing half of Mali before being driven back into the Sahara by French and other foreign forces (with U.S. logistical and intelligence support).

Consider the events in Syria and Mali previews of what is likely to come later in this century on a far larger scale. As climate change intensifies, bringing not just desertification but rising sea levels in low-lying coastal areas and increasingly devastating heat waves in regions that are already hot, ever more parts of the planet will be rendered less habitable, pushing millions of people into desperate flight.

While the strongest and wealthiest governments, especially in more temperate regions, will be better able to cope with these stresses, expect to see the number of failed states grow dramatically, leading to violence and open warfare over what food, arable land, and shelter remains. In other words, imagine significant parts of the planet in the kind of state that Libya, Syria, and Yemen are in today. Some people will stay and fight to survive; others will migrate, almost assuredly encountering a far more violent version of the hostility we already see toward immigrants and refugees in the lands they head for. The result, inevitably, will be a global epidemic of resource civil wars and resource violence of every sort.

Water Wars

Most of these conflicts will be of an internal, civil character: clan against clan, tribe against tribe, sect against sect. On a climate-changed planet, however, don’t rule out struggles among nations for diminished vital resources — especially access to water. It’s already clear that climate change will reduce the supply of water in many tropical and subtropical regions, jeopardizing the continued pursuit of agriculture, the health and functioning of major cities, and possibly the very sinews of society.

The risk of “water wars” will arise when two or more countries depend on the same key water source — the Nile, the Jordan, the Euphrates, the Indus, the Mekong, or other trans-boundary river systems — and one or more of them seek to appropriate a disproportionate share of the ever-shrinking supply of its water. Attempts by countries to build dams and divert the water flow of such riverine systems have already provoked skirmishes and threats of war, as when Turkey and Syria erected dams on the Euphrates, constraining the downstream flow.

One system that has attracted particular concern in this regard is the Brahmaputra River, which originates in China (where it is known as the Yarlung Tsangpo) and passes through India and Bangladesh before emptying into the Indian Ocean. China has already erected one dam on the river and has plans for more, producing considerable unease in India, where the Brahmaputra’s water is vital for agriculture. But what has provoked the most alarm is a Chinese plan to channel water from that river to water-scarce areas in the northern part of that country.

The Chinese insist that no such action is imminent, but intensified warming and increased drought could, in the future, prompt such a move, jeopardizing India’s water supply and possibly provoking a conflict. “China’s construction of dams and the proposed diversion of the Brahmaputra’s waters is not only expected to have repercussions for water flow, agriculture, ecology, and lives and livelihoods downstream,” Sudha Ramachandran writes in The Diplomat, “it could also become another contentious issue undermining Sino-Indian relations.”

Of course, even in a future of far greater water stresses, such situations are not guaranteed to provoke armed combat. Perhaps the states involved will figure out how to share whatever limited resources remain and seek alternative means of survival. Nonetheless, the temptation to employ force is bound to grow as supplies dwindle and millions of people face thirst and starvation. In such circumstances, the survival of the state itself will be at risk, inviting desperate measures.

Lowering the Temperature

There is much that undoubtedly could be done to reduce the risk of water wars, including the adoption of cooperative water-management schemes and the introduction of the wholesale use of drip irrigation and related processes that use water far more efficiently. However, the best way to avoid future climate-related strife is, of course, to reduce the pace of global warming. Every fraction of a degree less warming achieved in Paris and thereafter will mean that much less blood spilled in future climate-driven resource wars.

This is why the Paris climate summit should be viewed as a kind of preemptive peace conference, one that is taking place before the wars truly begin. If delegates to COP-21 succeed in sending us down a path that limits global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the risk of future violence will be diminished accordingly. Needless to say, even 2 degrees of warming guarantees substantial damage to vital natural systems, potentially severe resource scarcities, and attendant civil strife. As a result, a lower ceiling for temperature rise would be preferable and should be the goal of future conferences. Still, given the carbon emissions pouring into the atmosphere, even a 2-degree cap would be a significant accomplishment.

To achieve such an outcome, delegates will undoubtedly have to begin dealing with conflicts of the present moment as well, including those in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Ukraine, in order to collaborate in devising common, mutually binding climate measures. In this sense, too, the Paris summit will be a peace conference. For the first time, the nations of the world will have to step beyond national thinking and embrace a higher goal: the safety of the ecosphere and all its human inhabitants, no matter their national, ethnic, religious, racial, or linguistic identities. Nothing like this has ever been attempted, which means that it will be an exercise in peacemaking of the most essential sort — and, for once, before the wars truly begin.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Michael T. Klare

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Thank goodness I offer a change of scenery, so to speak, tomorrow.

The golden age of spying; or whistleblowing?

Maybe an open debate is the most important aspect of this important topic – the one about national security.

I am frequently a republisher of essays that are presented over on TomDispatch, as regulars of this place know well.  As the TD ‘About’ page explains, in part and my emphasis,:

In December 2002, it gained its name, became a project of The Nation Institute, and went online as “a regular antidote to the mainstream media.

No bad thing as the ‘media’ is a vast machine and it’s long been difficult, nay impossible, to separate fact from fiction.  Perhaps, better expressed as impossible to separate fact from agenda!

TD’s ‘About’ page goes on to add, and again my emphasis:

Tomdispatch is intended to introduce readers to voices and perspectives from elsewhere (even when the elsewhere is here). Its mission is to connect some of the global dots regularly left unconnected by the mainstream media and to offer a clearer sense of how this imperial globe of ours actually works.

Stay with that last thought, the one about having a clearer sense of how this imperial globe works, and I am assuming Tom Engelhardt has in mind the USA when he uses the word “imperial”,  for both today and tomorrow.  Why? Because in this particular instance I’m not sure that I have ended up with a clearer sense about how the security apparatus works across the USA and much of the rest of the ‘Western world’.  I want to explore this very important topic over two days.

Back to TomDispatch.

On the 19th October, Tom published a joint essay, or TomGram as he calls it, with Laura Poitras about her film Citizenfour.  This film is about Edward Snowden. The TomGram was called: Laura Poitras and Tom Engelhardt, The Snowden Reboot.

Here is the trailer to the film.

Next to the TomGram.  But first a note about hyperlinks.  There are many links in the TomGram, many of which offer great insight into the background to the essay.  However, there are too many to carry across to my republication so, please, do go across to TomDispatch if you wish to pursue a link or two.

Finally, a thank you to both Tom and Laura for giving me permission to republish.

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Tomgram: Laura Poitras and Tom Engelhardt, The Snowden Reboot

Posted by Laura Poitras and Tom Engelhardt at 5:01pm, October 19, 2014.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Call me moved. I recently went to the premiere of Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s engrossing new film on Edward Snowden, at the New York Film Festival. The breaking news at film’s end: as speculation had it this summer, there is indeed at least one new, post-Snowden whistleblower who has come forward from somewhere inside the U.S. intelligence world with information about a watchlist (that includes Poitras) with “more than 1.2 million names” on it and on the American drone assassination program.

Here’s what moved me, however. My new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World, ends with a “Letter to an Unknown Whistleblower,” whose first lines are: “I don’t know who you are or what you do or how old you may be. I just know that you exist somewhere in our future as surely as does tomorrow or next year… And how exactly do I know this? Because despite our striking inability to predict the future, it’s a no-brainer that the national security state is already building you into its labyrinthine systems.” And now, of course, such a whistleblower is officially here and no matter how fiercely the government may set out after whistleblowers, there will be more. It’s unstoppable, in part thanks to figures like Poitras, who is the subject of today’s TomDispatch interview. Tom]

Edward Snowden and the Golden Age of Spying

A TomDispatch Interview With Laura Poitras

Here’s a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! stat from our new age of national security. How many Americans have security clearances? The answer: 5.1 million, a figure that reflects the explosive growth of the national security state in the post-9/11 era. Imagine the kind of system needed just to vet that many people for access to our secret world (to the tune of billions of dollars). We’re talking here about the total population of Norway and significantly more people than you can find in Costa Rica, Ireland, or New Zealand. And yet it’s only about 1.6% of the American population, while on ever more matters, the unvetted 98.4% of us are meant to be left in the dark.

For our own safety, of course. That goes without saying.

All of this offers a new definition of democracy in which we, the people, are to know only what the national security state cares to tell us. Under this system, ignorance is the necessary, legally enforced prerequisite for feeling protected. In this sense, it is telling that the only crime for which those inside the national security state can be held accountable in post-9/11 Washington is not potential perjury before Congress, or the destruction of evidence of a crime, or torture, or kidnapping, or assassination, or the deaths of prisoners in an extralegal prison system, but whistleblowing; that is, telling the American people something about what their government is actually doing. And that crime, and only that crime, has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and beyond) with a vigor unmatched in American history. To offer a single example, the only American to go to jail for the CIA’s Bush-era torture program was John Kiriakou, a CIA whistleblower who revealed the name of an agent involved in the program to a reporter.

In these years, as power drained from Congress, an increasingly imperial White House has launched various wars (redefined by its lawyers as anything but), as well as a global assassination campaign in which the White House has its own “kill list” and the president himself decides on global hits. Then, without regard for national sovereignty or the fact that someone is an American citizen (and upon the secret invocation of legal mumbo-jumbo), the drones are sent off to do the necessary killing.

And yet that doesn’t mean that we, the people, know nothing. Against increasing odds, there has been some fine reporting in the mainstream media by the likes of James Risen and Barton Gellman on the security state’s post-legal activities and above all, despite the Obama administration’s regular use of the World War I era Espionage Act, whistleblowers have stepped forward from within the government to offer us sometimes staggering amounts of information about the system that has been set up in our name but without our knowledge.

Among them, one young man, whose name is now known worldwide, stands out. In June of last year, thanks to journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, Edward Snowden, a contractor for the NSA and previously the CIA, stepped into our lives from a hotel room in Hong Kong. With a treasure trove of documents that are still being released, he changed the way just about all of us view our world. He has been charged under the Espionage Act. If indeed he was a “spy,” then the spying he did was for us, for the American people and for the world. What he revealed to a stunned planet was a global surveillance state whose reach and ambitions were unique, a system based on a single premise: that privacy was no more and that no one was, in theory (and to a remarkable extent in practice), unsurveillable.

Its builders imagined only one exemption: themselves. This was undoubtedly at least part of the reason why, when Snowden let us peek in on them, they reacted with such over-the-top venom. Whatever they felt at a policy level, it’s clear that they also felt violated, something that, as far as we can tell, left them with no empathy whatsoever for the rest of us. One thing that Snowden proved, however, was that the system they built was ready-made for blowback.

Sixteen months after his NSA documents began to be released by the Guardian and the Washington Post, I think it may be possible to speak of the Snowden Era. And now, a remarkable new film, Citizenfour, which had its premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 10th and will open in select theaters nationwide on October 24th, offers us a window into just how it all happened. It is already being mentioned as a possible Oscar winner.

Director Laura Poitras, like reporter Glenn Greenwald, is now known almost as widely as Snowden himself, for helping facilitate his entry into the world. Her new film, the last in a trilogy she’s completed (the previous two being My Country, My Country on the Iraq War and The Oath on Guantanamo), takes you back to June 2013 and locks you in that Hong Kong hotel room with Snowden, Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, and Poitras herself for eight days that changed the world. It’s a riveting, surprisingly unclaustrophic, and unforgettable experience.

Before that moment, we were quite literally in the dark. After it, we have a better sense, at least, of the nature of the darkness that envelops us. Having seen her film in a packed house at the New York Film Festival, I sat down with Poitras in a tiny conference room at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City to discuss just how our world has changed and her part in it.

Tom Engelhardt: Could you start by laying out briefly what you think we’ve learned from Edward Snowden about how our world really works?

Laura Poitras: The most striking thing Snowden has revealed is the depth of what the NSA and the Five Eyes countries [Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, and the U.S.] are doing, their hunger for all data, for total bulk dragnet surveillance where they try to collect all communications and do it all sorts of different ways. Their ethos is “collect it all.” I worked on a story with Jim Risen of the New York Times about a document — a four-year plan for signals intelligence — in which they describe the era as being “the golden age of signals intelligence.” For them, that’s what the Internet is: the basis for a golden age to spy on everyone.

This focus on bulk, dragnet, suspicionless surveillance of the planet is certainly what’s most staggering. There were many programs that did that. In addition, you have both the NSA and the GCHQ [British intelligence] doing things like targeting engineers at telecoms. There was an article published at The Intercept that cited an NSA document Snowden provided, part of which was titled “I Hunt Sysadmins” [systems administrators]. They try to find the custodians of information, the people who are the gateway to customer data, and target them. So there’s this passive collection of everything, and then things that they can’t get that way, they go after in other ways.

I think one of the most shocking things is how little our elected officials knew about what the NSA was doing. Congress is learning from the reporting and that’s staggering. Snowden and [former NSA employee] William Binney, who’s also in the film as a whistleblower from a different generation, are technical people who understand the dangers. We laypeople may have some understanding of these technologies, but they really grasp the dangers of how they can be used. One of the most frightening things, I think, is the capacity for retroactive searching, so you can go back in time and trace who someone is in contact with and where they’ve been. Certainly, when it comes to my profession as a journalist, that allows the government to trace what you’re reporting, who you’re talking to, and where you’ve been. So no matter whether or not I have a commitment to protect my sources, the government may still have information that might allow them to identify whom I’m talking to.

TE: To ask the same question another way, what would the world be like without Edward Snowden? After all, it seems to me that, in some sense, we are now in the Snowden era.

LP: I agree that Snowden has presented us with choices on how we want to move forward into the future. We’re at a crossroads and we still don’t quite know which path we’re going to take. Without Snowden, just about everyone would still be in the dark about the amount of information the government is collecting. I think that Snowden has changed consciousness about the dangers of surveillance. We see lawyers who take their phones out of meetings now. People are starting to understand that the devices we carry with us reveal our location, who we’re talking to, and all kinds of other information. So you have a genuine shift of consciousness post the Snowden revelations.

TE: There’s clearly been no evidence of a shift in governmental consciousness, though.

LP: Those who are experts in the fields of surveillance, privacy, and technology say that there need to be two tracks: a policy track and a technology track. The technology track is encryption. It works and if you want privacy, then you should use it. We’ve already seen shifts happening in some of the big companies — Google, Apple — that now understand how vulnerable their customer data is, and that if it’s vulnerable, then their business is, too, and so you see a beefing up of encryption technologies. At the same time, no programs have been dismantled at the governmental level, despite international pressure.

TE: In Citizenfour, we spend what must be an hour essentially locked in a room in a Hong Kong hotel with Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Ewan MacAskill, and you, and it’s riveting. Snowden is almost preternaturally prepossessing and self-possessed. I think of a novelist whose dream character just walks into his or her head. It must have been like that with you and Snowden. But what if he’d been a graying guy with the same documents and far less intelligent things to say about them? In other words, how exactly did who he was make your movie and remake our world?

LP: Those are two questions. One is: What was my initial experience? The other: How do I think it impacted the movie? We’ve been editing it and showing it to small groups, and I had no doubt that he’s articulate and genuine on screen. But to see him in a full room [at the New York Film Festival premiere on the night of October 10th], I’m like, wow! He really commands the screen! And I experienced the film in a new way with a packed house.

TE: But how did you experience him the first time yourself? I mean you didn’t know who you were going to meet, right?

LP: So I was in correspondence with an anonymous source for about five months and in the process of developing a dialogue you build ideas, of course, about who that person might be. My idea was that he was in his late forties, early fifties. I figured he must be Internet generation because he was super tech-savvy, but I thought that, given the level of access and information he was able to discuss, he had to be older. And so my first experience was that I had to do a reboot of my expectations. Like fantastic, great, he’s young and charismatic and I was like wow, this is so disorienting, I have to reboot. In retrospect, I can see that it’s really powerful that somebody so smart, so young, and with so much to lose risked so much.

He was so at peace with the choice he had made and knowing that the consequences could mean the end of his life and that this was still the right decision. He believed in it, and whatever the consequences, he was willing to accept them. To meet somebody who has made those kinds of decisions is extraordinary. And to be able to document that and also how Glenn [Greenwald] stepped in and pushed for this reporting to happen in an aggressive way changed the narrative. Because Glenn and I come at it from an outsider’s perspective, the narrative unfolded in a way that nobody quite knew how to respond to. That’s why I think the government was initially on its heels. You know, it’s not everyday that a whistleblower is actually willing to be identified.

TE: My guess is that Snowden has given us the feeling that we now grasp the nature of the global surveillance state that is watching us, but I always think to myself, well, he was just one guy coming out of one of 17 interlocked intelligence outfits. Given the remarkable way your film ends — the punch line, you might say — with another source or sources coming forward from somewhere inside that world to reveal, among other things, information about the enormous watchlist that you yourself are on, I’m curious: What do you think is still to be known? I suspect that if whistleblowers were to emerge from the top five or six agencies, the CIA, the DIA, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and so on, with similar documentation to Snowden’s, we would simply be staggered by the system that’s been created in our name.

LP: I can’t speculate on what we don’t know, but I think you’re right in terms of the scale and scope of things and the need for that information to be made public. I mean, just consider the CIA and its effort to suppress the Senate’s review of its torture program. Take in the fact that we live in a country that a) legalized torture and b) where no one was ever held to account for it, and now the government’s internal look at what happened is being suppressed by the CIA. That’s a frightening landscape to be in.

In terms of sources coming forward, I really reject this idea of talking about one, two, three sources. There are many sources that have informed the reporting we’ve done and I think that Americans owe them a debt of gratitude for taking the risk they do. From a personal perspective, because I’m on a watchlist and went through years of trying to find out why, of having the government refuse to confirm or deny the very existence of such a list, it’s so meaningful to have its existence brought into the open so that the public knows there is a watchlist, and so that the courts can now address the legality of it. I mean, the person who revealed this has done a huge public service and I’m personally thankful.

TE: You’re referring to the unknown leaker who’s mentioned visually and elliptically at the end of your movie and who revealed that the major watchlist you’re on has more than 1.2 million names on it. In that context, what’s it like to travel as Laura Poitras today? How do you embody the new national security state?

LP: In 2012, I was ready to edit and I chose to leave the U.S. because I didn’t feel I could protect my source footage when I crossed the U.S. border. The decision was based on six years of being stopped and questioned every time I returned to the United States. And I just did the math and realized that the risks were too high to edit in the U.S., so I started working in Berlin in 2012. And then, in January 2013, I got the first email from Snowden.

TE: So you were protecting…

LP: …other footage. I had been filming with NSA whistleblower William Binney, with Julian Assange, with Jacob Appelbaum of the Tor Project, people who have also been targeted by the U.S., and I felt that this material I had was not safe. I was put on a watchlist in 2006. I was detained and questioned at the border returning to the U.S. probably around 40 times. If I counted domestic stops and every time I was stopped at European transit points, you’re probably getting closer to 80 to 100 times. It became a regular thing, being asked where I’d been and who I’d met with. I found myself caught up in a system you can’t ever seem to get out of, this Kafkaesque watchlist that the U.S. doesn’t even acknowledge.

TE: Were you stopped this time coming in?

LP: I was not. The detentions stopped in 2012 after a pretty extraordinary incident.

I was coming back in through Newark Airport and I was stopped. I took out my notebook because I always take notes on what time I’m stopped and who the agents are and stuff like that. This time, they threatened to handcuff me for taking notes. They said, “Put the pen down!” They claimed my pen could be a weapon and hurt someone.

“Put the pen down! The pen is dangerous!” And I’m like, you’re not… you’ve got to be crazy. Several people yelled at me every time I moved my pen down to take notes as if it were a knife. After that, I decided this has gotten crazy, I’d better do something and I called Glenn. He wrote a piece about my experiences. In response to his article, they actually backed off.

TE: Snowden has told us a lot about the global surveillance structure that’s been built. We know a lot less about what they are doing with all this information. I’m struck at how poorly they’ve been able to use such information in, for example, their war on terror. I mean, they always seem to be a step behind in the Middle East — not just behind events but behind what I think someone using purely open source information could tell them. This I find startling. What sense do you have of what they’re doing with the reams, the yottabytes, of data they’re pulling in?

LP: Snowden and many other people, including Bill Binney, have said that this mentality — of trying to suck up everything they can — has left them drowning in information and so they miss what would be considered more obvious leads. In the end, the system they’ve created doesn’t lead to what they describe as their goal, which is security, because they have too much information to process.

I don’t quite know how to fully understand it. I think about this a lot because I made a film about the Iraq War and one about Guantanamo. From my perspective, in response to the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. took a small, very radical group of terrorists and engaged in activities that have created two generations of anti-American sentiment motivated by things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Instead of figuring out a way to respond to a small group of people, we’ve created generations of people who are really angry and hate us. And then I think, if the goal is security, how do these two things align, because there are more people who hate the United States right now, more people intent on doing us harm? So either the goal that they proclaim is not the goal or they’re just unable to come to terms with the fact that we’ve made huge mistakes in how we’ve responded.

TE: I’m struck by the fact that failure has, in its own way, been a launching pad for success. I mean, the building of an unparallelled intelligence apparatus and the greatest explosion of intelligence gathering in history came out of the 9/11 failure. Nobody was held accountable, nobody was punished, nobody was demoted or anything, and every similar failure, including the one on the White House lawn recently, simply leads to the bolstering of the system.

LP: So how do you understand that?

TE: I don’t think that these are people who are thinking: we need to fail to succeed. I’m not conspiratorial in that way, but I do think that, strangely, failure has built the system and I find that odd. More than that I don’t know.

LP: I don’t disagree. The fact that the CIA knew that two of the 9/11 hijackers were entering the United States and didn’t notify the FBI and that nobody lost their job is shocking. Instead, we occupied Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. I mean, how did those choices get made?

Laura Poitras is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, and artist. She has just finished Citizenfour, the third in a trilogy of films about post-9/11 America that includes My Country, My Country, nominated for an Academy Award, and The Oath, which received two Emmy nominations. In June 2013, she traveled to Hong Kong with Glenn Greenwald to interview Edward Snowden and made history. She has reported on Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA for a variety of news outlets, including the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the New York Times. Her NSA reporting received a George Polk award for National Security Reporting and the Henri Nannen Prize for Services to Press Freedom.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Laura Poitras and Tom Engelhardt.

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On first reading the TomGram I found myself nodding vigorously, metaphorically speaking, with the whole thrust of the essay.

Then what appeared to be small uncertainties started appearing in my mind.

Those will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

Truth and integrity

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

Thus spoke Thomas Jefferson who died nearly 200 years ago (April 13th, 1743 – July 4th, 1826).

But some essays that have passed my eyes in the last few days have profoundly disturbed me.  Because they illustrate, well to me anyway, the parlous state of wisdom in today’s world.  Or better put, the parlous state of truth and integrity in today’s world.

The first essay was the latest one from Tom Engelhardt over at TomDispatch. Normally I republish TomDispatch essays in full, with permission I hasten to add, because they seem such a fine commentary of where we are as a ‘modern’ society.  I used the word ‘we’ in the context of a global ‘we’.

But the latest essay was so disheartening that I couldn’t bring myself to republish it in full.  Plus, if I am to be brutally honest (in line with the theme of today’s blog post!) I didn’t want to ‘make waves’ as a non-US citizen albeit a valid US resident (Green Card holder).  I want to live freely and openly in the USA for the rest of my natural days!

Then in the last twenty-four hours up popped the latest essay from George Monbiot and I was struck by the harmony, the terrible harmony, between Tom and George.

See if you agree with me.

Tom Engelhardt published on Tuesday a TomGram about American Intelligence.  It was called Failure Is Success – How American Intelligence Works in the Twenty-First Century.

Here’s a flavour of Tom’s essay.

What are the odds? You put about $68 billion annually into a maze of 17 major intelligence outfits. You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for… well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the system you’ve created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of “spycraft” gains its own name: LOVEINT.

You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet. You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees, creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order. You break into the “backdoors” of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of events and regularly rubberstamp them — and whose judgments and substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about.

Then a few paragraphs later, Tom holds up his mirror:

Whatever the case, while taxpayer dollars flowed into your coffers, no one considered it a problem that the country lacked 17 overlapping outfits bent on preventing approximately 400,000 deaths by firearms in the same years; nor 17 interlocked agencies dedicated to safety on our roads, where more than 450,000 Americans have died since 9/11. (An American, it has been calculated, is 1,904 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a terrorist attack.) Almost all the money and effort have instead been focused on the microscopic number of terrorist plots — some spurred on by FBI plants — that have occurred on American soil in that period. On the conviction that Americans must be shielded from them above all else and on the fear that 9/11 bred in this country, you’ve built an intelligence structure unlike any other on the planet when it comes to size, reach, and labyrinthine complexity.

It’s quite an achievement, especially when you consider its one downside: it has a terrible record of getting anything right in a timely way. Never have so many had access to so much information about our world and yet been so unprepared for whatever happens in it.

Tough words indeed!

But it gets worse.

Let’s focus for a moment, however, on a case where more is known. I’m thinking of the development that only recently riveted the Obama administration and sent it tumbling into America’s third Iraq war, causing literal hysteria in Washington. Since June, the most successful terror group in history has emerged full blown in Syria and Iraq, amid a surge in jihadi recruitment across the Greater Middle East and Africa. The Islamic State (IS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which sprang to life during the U.S. occupation of that country, has set up a mini-state, a “caliphate,” in the heart of the Middle East. Part of the territory it captured was, of course, in the very country the U.S. garrisoned and occupied for eight years, in which it had assumedly developed countless sources of information and recruited agents of all sorts. And yet, by all accounts, when IS’s militants suddenly swept across northern Iraq, the CIA in particular found itself high and dry.

The IC seems not to have predicted the group’s rapid growth or spread; nor, though there was at least some prior knowledge of the decline of the Iraqi army, did anyone imagine that such an American created, trained, and armed force would so summarily collapse. Unforeseen was the way its officers would desert their troops who would, in turn, shed their uniforms and flee Iraq’s major northern cities, abandoning all their American equipment to Islamic State militants.

Nor could the intelligence community even settle on a basic figure for how many of those militants there were. In fact, in part because IS assiduously uses couriers for its messaging instead of cell phones and emails, until a chance arrest of a key militant in June, the CIA and the rest of the IC evidently knew next to nothing about the group or its leadership, had no serious assessment of its strength and goals, nor any expectation that it would sweep through and take most of Sunni Iraq. And that should be passing strange. After all, it now turns out that much of the future leadership of IS had spent time together in the U.S. military’s Camp Bucca prison just years earlier.

All you have to do is follow the surprised comments of various top administration officials, including the president, as ISIS made its mark and declared its caliphate, to grasp just how ill-prepared 17 agencies and $68 billion can leave you when your world turns upside down.

Leaving Tom to offer the following sorry conclusions:

Clearly, having a labyrinth of 17 overlapping, paramilitarized, deeply secretive agencies doing versions of the same thing is the definition of counterproductive madness. Not surprisingly, the one thing the U.S. intelligence community has resembled in these years is the U.S. military, which since 9/11 has failed to win a war or accomplish more or less anything it set out to do.

On the other hand, all of the above assumes that the purpose of the IC is primarily to produce successful “intelligence” that leaves the White House a step ahead of the rest of the world. What if, however, it’s actually a system organized on the basis of failure? What if any work-product disaster is for the IC another kind of win.

Perhaps it’s worth thinking of those overlapping agencies as a fiendishly clever Rube Goldberg-style machine organized around the principle that failure is the greatest success of all. After all, in the system as it presently exists, every failure of intelligence is just another indication that more security, more secrecy, more surveillance, more spies, more drones are needed; only when you fail, that is, do you get more money for further expansion.

Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the 9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth. That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions, or even explosions, in history. (And mind you, no figure in authority in the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.) However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power, their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power, they have succeeded impressively.

You could, of course, say that the world is simply a hard place to know and the future, with its eternal surprises, is one territory that no country, no military, no set of intelligence agencies can occupy, no matter how much they invest in doing so. An inability to predict the lay of tomorrow’s land may, in a way, be par for the course. If so, however, remind me: Why exactly are we supporting 17 versions of intelligence gathering to the tune of at least $68 billion a year?

So over to George Monbiot. Yesterday, he published an essay in the UK’s Guardian newspaper entitled: Bomb Everyone. I am going to republish this in full, with the kind permission of George.

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Bomb Everyone

Humanitarian arguments, if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 1st October 2014

Let’s bomb the Muslim world – all of it – to save the lives of its people. Surely this is the only consistent moral course? Why stop at blowing up Islamic State, when the Syrian government has murdered and tortured so many? This, after all, was last year’s moral imperative. What’s changed?

How about blasting the Shia militias in Iraq? One of them selected 40 people from the streets of Baghdad in June and murdered them for being Sunnis(1). Another massacred 68 people at a mosque in August(2). They now talk openly of “cleansing” and “erasure”(3), once Islamic State has been defeated. As a senior Shia politician warns, “we are in the process of creating Shia al-Qaida radical groups equal in their radicalisation to the Sunni Qaida.”(4)

What humanitarian principle instructs you to stop there? In Gaza this year, 2,100 Palestinians were massacred: including people taking shelter in schools and hospitals. Surely these atrocities demand an air war against Israel? And what’s the moral basis for refusing to liquidate Iran? Mohsen Amir-Aslani was hanged there last week for making “innovations in the religion” (suggesting that the story of Jonah in the Qu’ran was symbolic rather than literal)(5). Surely that should inspire humanitarian action from above? Pakistan is crying out for friendly bombs: an elderly British man, Mohammed Asghar, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, is, like other blasphemers, awaiting execution there after claiming to be a holy prophet(6). One of his prison guards has already shot him in the back.

Is there not an urgent duty to blow up Saudi Arabia? It has beheaded 59 people so far this year, for offences that include adultery, sorcery and witchcraft(7). It has long presented a far greater threat to the west than Isis now poses. In 2009 Hillary Clinton warned in a secret memo that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban … and other terrorist groups.”(8) In July, the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, revealed that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, until recently the head of Saudi intelligence, told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”(9) Saudi support for extreme Sunni militias in Syria during Bandar’s tenure is widely blamed for the rapid rise of Isis(10,11). Why take out the subsidiary and spare the headquarters?

The humanitarian arguments aired in parliament last week(12), if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East and West Asia. By this means you could end all human suffering, liberating the people of these regions from the vale of tears in which they live.

Perhaps this is the plan: Barack Obama has now bombed seven largely-Muslim countries(13), in each case citing a moral imperative. The result, as you can see in Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan,Yemen, Somalia and Syria, has been the eradication of jihadi groups, of conflict, chaos, murder, oppression and torture. Evil has been driven from the face of the earth by the destroying angels of the west.

Now we have a new target, and a new reason to dispense mercy from the sky, with similar prospects of success. Yes, the agenda and practices of Isis are disgusting. It murders and tortures, terrorises and threatens. As Obama says, it is a “network of death”(14). But it’s one of many networks of death. Worse still, a western crusade appears to be exactly what it wants(15).

Already Obama’s bombings have brought Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, a rival militia affiliated to Al Qaeda, together(16). More than 6,000 fighters have joined Isis since the bombardment began(17). They dangled the heads of their victims in front of the cameras as bait for war planes. And our governments were stupid enough to take it.

And if the bombing succeeds? If – and it’s a big if – it manages to tilt the balance against Isis, what then? Then we’ll start hearing once more about Shia death squads and the moral imperative to destroy them too – and any civilians who happen to get in the way. The targets change; the policy doesn’t. Never mind the question, the answer is bombs. In the name of peace and the preservation of life, our governments wage perpetual war.

While the bombs fall, our states befriend and defend other networks of death. The US government still refuses – despite Obama’s promise – to release the 28 redacted pages from the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, which document Saudi Arabian complicity in the attack on America(18). In the UK, in 2004 the Serious Fraud Office began investigating allegations of massive bribes paid by the British weapons company BAE to Saudi ministers and middlemen. Just as the crucial evidence was about to be released, Tony Blair intervened to stop the investigation(19). The biggest alleged beneficiary was Prince Bandar, mentioned above. The Serious Fraud Office was investigating a claim that, with the approval of the British government, he received £1bn in secret payments from BAE(20).

And still it goes on. Last week’s Private Eye, drawing on a dossier of recordings and emails, alleges that a British company has paid £300m in bribes to facilitate weapons sales to the Saudi National Guard(21). When a whistleblower in the company reported these payments to the British ministry of defence, instead of taking action it alerted his bosses. He had to flee the country to avoid being thrown into a Saudi jail. Smirking, lying, two-faced bastards – this scarcely begins to touch it.

There are no good solutions that military intervention by the UK or the US can engineer. There are political solutions in which our governments could play a minor role: supporting the development of effective states that don’t rely on murder and militias, building civic institutions that don’t depend on terror, helping to create safe passage and aid for people at risk. Oh, and ceasing to protect and sponsor and arm selected networks of death. Whenever our armed forces have bombed or invaded Muslims nations, they have made life worse for those who live there. The regions in which our governments have intervened most are those which suffer most from terrorism and war. That is neither coincidental nor surprising.

Yet our politicians affect to learn nothing. Insisting that more killing will magically resolve deep-rooted conflicts, they scatter bombs like fairy dust.

http://www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.theguardian.com/guardianweekly/story/0,,1818778,00.html

2. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/22/shia-attack-sunni-mosque-iraq

3. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/24/iraq-frontline-shia-fighters-war-isis

4. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/24/iraq-frontline-shia-fighters-war-isis

5. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/29/iran-executes-man-heresy-mohsen-amir-aslani

6. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/29/stand-up-for-blasphemers-like-mohammed-asghar-frankie-boyle

7. http://www.amnesty.se/upload/apps/webactions/urgentaction/2014/09/23/52302414.pdf

8. http://www.theguardian.com/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/242073

9. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/iraq-crisis-how-saudi-arabia-helped-isis-take-over-the-north-of-the-country-9602312.html

10. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/06/isis-saudi-arabia-iraq-syria-bandar/373181/

11. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/islamic-state-us-failure-to-look-into-saudi-role-in-911-has-helped-isis-9731563.html

12. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140926/debtext/140926-0001.htm#1409266000001

13. https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/09/23/nobel-peace-prize-fact-day-syria-7th-country-bombed-obama/

14. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140926/debtext/140926-0001.htm#1409266000001

15. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/26/west-isis-crusade-britain-iraq-syria

16. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/28/isis-al-qaida-air-strikes-syria

17. http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/1.616730

18. http://nypost.com/2013/12/15/inside-the-saudi-911-coverup/

19. http://www.theguardian.com/world/bae

20. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/feb/05/bae-saudi-yamamah-deal-background

21. Richard Brooks and Andrew Bousfield, 19th September 2014. Shady Arabia and the Desert Fix. Private Eye.

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Two journalists reporting from two very different countries separated by thousands of miles.

Yet together they illustrate the very low regard for truth, for truth and integrity I should add, held by two major western Governments.  That old saying of never underestimate the power of unintended consequences is hammering inside my head.

What very strange times we live in just now.

The sooner the concepts of truth and integrity are adopted by those with the power, money and influence, the sooner this world will turn away from what looks eminently like future self-destruction.

Let’s turn to dogs for some examples of beautiful ways of living.

Truth and integrity: It’s in those eyes!

Climate Change and Humanity: Postscript.

A personal viewpoint after reading Tom’s essay Is Climate Change a Crime Against Humanity?

Last Thursday, July 3rd, I republished a post, what Tom calls a Tomgram, from TomDispatch comparing the USA’s attitude to the very small risk of a country exploding a weapon of mass destruction, WMD, over American soil to the 95% risk of the USA being harmed from the effects of climate change.  Here’s an extract from the central part of Tom’s essay:

So here’s a question I’d like any of you living in or visiting Wyoming to ask the former vice president, should you run into him in a state that’s notoriously thin on population: How would he feel about acting preventively, if instead of a 1% chance that some country with weapons of mass destruction might use them against us, there was at least a 95% — and likely as not a 100% — chance of them being set off on our soil? Let’s be conservative, since the question is being posed to a well-known neoconservative. Ask him whether he would be in favor of pursuing the 95% doctrine the way he was the 1% version.

After all, thanks to a grim report in 2013 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we know that there is now a 95% -100% likelihood that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming [of the planet] since the mid-20th century.” We know as well that the warming of the planet — thanks to the fossil fuel system we live by and the greenhouse gases it deposits in the atmosphere — is already doing real damage to our world and specifically to the United States, as a recent scientific report released by the White House made clear. We also know, with grimly reasonable certainty, what kinds of damage those 95% -100% odds are likely to translate into in the decades, and even centuries, to come if nothing changes radically: a temperature rise by century’s end that could exceed 10 degrees Fahrenheit, cascading species extinctions, staggeringly severe droughts across larger parts of the planet (as in the present long-term drought in the American West and Southwest), far more severe rainfall across other areas, more intense storms causing far greater damage, devastating heat waves on a scale no one in human history has ever experienced, masses of refugees, rising global food prices, and among other catastrophes on the human agenda, rising sea levels that will drown coastal areas of the planet.

Tom’s essays had many great links to background research papers and other supporting material.  The penultimate link was embedded (my italics) in this sentence: “In the case of a major exchange of such weapons, we would be talking about “the sixth extinction” of planetary history.”  That linked to the Amazon page describing the book, released earlier this year, of the same name written by Elizabeth Kolbert, as follows:

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Here’s an interview of Elizabeth Kolbert taken from the Democracy Now programme. It’s a tad under 20 minutes so easy to put aside a little of your time to watch it.

PLEASE DO!

Published on Feb 11, 2014
February 2014 on Democracy Now!

In the history of the planet, there have been five known mass extinction events. The last came 65 million years ago, when an asteroid about half the size of Manhattan collided with the Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and bringing the Cretaceous period to an end. Scientists say we are now experiencing the sixth extinction, with up to 50 percent of all living species in danger of disappearing by the end of the century. But unlike previous extinctions, the direct cause this time is us — human-driven climate change. In “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” journalist Elizabeth Kolbert visits four continents to document the massive “die-offs” that came millions of years ago and those now unfolding before our eyes. Kolbert explores how human activity — fossil fuel consumption, ocean acidification, pollution, deforestation, forced migration — threatens life forms of all kinds. “It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion,” Kolbert writes. “The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific and in the North Atlantic, in the Arctic and the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys.”

Elizabeth Kolbert, is well known for her reporting on global warming as a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, which led her to investigate climate species extinction. Her new book is The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. In 2006, she wrote Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.

Make no mistake, that short video interview doesn’t pull any punches.  Just as Kolbert’s book.  It is very tempting to want to hide, to close one’s ears and eyes and pretend it’s all a bad dream and, soon, we will awaken to a bright, new dawn.

(Now for something really lovely! It’s 1:40pm on Sunday, 6th)

I took a quick break to think about my next sentence.  I was looking for some words that would encourage us all to do something!  Because as John Hurlburt recently wrote: “Failure to act condemns us to death as a species of fools.

In that short break I saw that someone else had signed up to follow Learning from Dogs.  That person describes herself as Elsie Bowen-Dodoo.  Her blog is called BowenDiaries. On her About page, Elsie writes:

Elsie Bowen-Dodoo. Living life with a purpose. Persevering to inspire all races.

I write to inspire people hoping that they reading my articles and stuff will be touched to do something positive in their lives.

We really can all make this world a better place to live in.

Talent should not be wasted.

This is the picture on Elsie’s home page.

Positive inspiration!
Positive inspiration!

So here’s my take on where we, as in all mankind, are at.

  • We have to turn our backs on growth, greed and materialism.
  • Each of us must place caring for our planet our highest priority in life.
  • Each of us must be alive to making a positive difference.
  • Being true to what we know is right will set us free.
  • This will also create ripples of positive energy that will set others free.
  • That is the only sustainable way to go.

Let me close by returning to dogs.  After all this blog is called Learning from Dogs! By recognising, of course, that these are challenging times. As we are incessantly reminded by the drumbeat of the doom-and-gloom news industry every hour, frequently every half-hour, throughout the day. A symphony of negative energy.

Yet right next to us is a world of positive energy. The world of dogs. A canine world full of love and trust, playfulness and relaxation. A way of living that is both clear and straightforward; albeit far from being simple. As anyone will know who has seen the way dogs interact with each other and with us humans.

In other words, dogs offer endless examples of positive behaviours. The wonderful power of compassion for self, and others, and of loving joy. The way to live that we humans crave for. A life full of hope and positive energy that keeps the power of negativity at bay.

That is the only way forward!

Oliver, Cleo and Hazel playing together.
Oliver, Cleo and Hazel joyfully playing together.

Climate Change and Humanity

A powerful essay by Tom Engelhardt from his blogsite TomDispatch.

Regular readers of Learning from Dogs know that essays from TomDispatch often find their way onto these pages.  They are republished with the generous permission of Tom and I endeavour to select those essays that shine a new light on a current issue.   No less so than with today’s essay, first published over on TomDispatch on May 22nd, 2014.

Just a note before you start reading Tom’s very important essay.  That there are many links to papers, articles and other references throughout the essay.  (I know, they took me a couple of hours to set up!)  Could I recommend strongly that you ‘click’ on each link and make a note of the references you wish to read at a later time.  I shall be referring to some of them next week when I comment more generally on this fabulous essay.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt, Is Climate Change a Crime Against Humanity?

The 95% Doctrine

Climate Change as a Weapon of Mass Destruction 

By Tom Engelhardt

Who could forget? At the time, in the fall of 2002, there was such a drumbeat of “information” from top figures in the Bush administration about the secret Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and so endanger the United States. And who — other than a few suckers — could have doubted that Saddam Hussein was eventually going to get a nuclear weapon? The only question, as our vice president suggested on “Meet the Press,” was: Would it take one year or five? And he wasn’t alone in his fears, since there was plenty of proof of what was going on. For starters, there were those “specially designed aluminum tubes” that the Iraqi autocrat had ordered as components for centrifuges to enrich uranium in his thriving nuclear weapons program. Reporters Judith Miller and Michael Gordon hit the front page of the New York Times with that story on September 8, 2002.

Then there were those “mushroom clouds” that Condoleezza Rice, our national security advisor, was so publicly worried about — the ones destined to rise over American cities if we didn’t do something to stop Saddam. As she fretted in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer on that same September 8th, “[W]e don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” No, indeed, and nor, it turned out, did Congress!

And just in case you weren’t anxious enough about the looming Iraqi threat, there were those unmanned aerial vehicles — Saddam’s drones! — that could be armed with chemical or biological WMD from his arsenal and flown over America’s East Coast cities with unimaginable results. President George W. Bush went on TV to talk about them and congressional votes were changed in favor of war thanks to hair-raising secret administration briefings about them on Capitol Hill.

In the end, it turned out that Saddam had no weapons program, no nuclear bomb in the offing, no centrifuges for those aluminum pipes, no biological or chemical weapons caches, and no drone aircraft to deliver his nonexistent weapons of mass destruction (nor any ships capable of putting those nonexistent robotic planes in the vicinity of the U.S. coast). But what if he had? Who wanted to take that chance? Not Vice President Dick Cheney, certainly. Inside the Bush administration he propounded something that journalist Ron Suskind later dubbed the “one percent doctrine.” Its essence was this: if there was even a 1% chance of an attack on the United States, especially involving weapons of mass destruction, it must be dealt with as if it were a 95%-100% certainty.

Here’s the curious thing: if you look back on America’s apocalyptic fears of destruction during the first 14 years of this century, they largely involved three city-busting weapons that were fantasies of Washington’s fertile imperial imagination. There was that “bomb” of Saddam’s, which provided part of the pretext for a much-desired invasion of Iraq. There was the “bomb” of the mullahs, the Iranian fundamentalist regime that we’ve just loved to hate ever since they repaid us, in 1979, for the CIA’s overthrow of an elected government in 1953 and the installation of the Shah by taking the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran hostage. If you believed the news from Washington and Tel Aviv, the Iranians, too, were perilously close to producing a nuclear weapon or at least repeatedly on the verge of the verge of doing so. The production of that “Iranian bomb” has, for years, been a focus of American policy in the Middle East, the “brink” beyond which war has endlessly loomed. And yet there was and is no Iranian bomb, nor evidence that the Iranians were or are on the verge of producing one.

Finally, of course, there was al-Qaeda’s bomb, the “dirty bomb” that organization might somehow assemble, transport to the U.S., and set off in an American city, or the “loose nuke,” maybe from the Pakistani arsenal, with which it might do the same. This is the third fantasy bomb that has riveted American attention in these last years, even though there is less evidence for or likelihood of its imminent existence than of the Iraqi and Iranian ones.

To sum up, the strange thing about end-of-the-world-as-we’ve-known-it scenarios from Washington, post-9/11, is this: with a single exception, they involved only non-existent weapons of mass destruction. A fourth weapon — one that existed but played a more modest role in Washington’s fantasies — was North Korea’s perfectly real bomb, which in these years the North Koreans were incapable of delivering to American shores.

The “Good News” About Climate Change

In a world in which nuclear weapons remain a crucial coin of the realm when it comes to global power, none of these examples could quite be classified as 0% dangers. Saddam had once had a nuclear program, just not in 2002-2003, and also chemical weapons, which he used against Iranian troops in his 1980s war with their country (with the help of targeting information from the U.S. military) and against his own Kurdish population. The Iranians might (or might not) have been preparing their nuclear program for a possible weapons breakout capability, and al-Qaeda certainly would not have rejected a loose nuke, if one were available (though that organization’s ability to use it would still have been questionable).

In the meantime, the giant arsenals of WMD in existence, the American, Russian, Chinese, Israeli, Pakistani, and Indian ones that might actually have left a crippled or devastated planet behind, remained largely off the American radar screen. In the case of the Indian arsenal, the Bush administration actually lent an indirect hand to its expansion. So it was twenty-first-century typical when President Obama, trying to put Russia’s recent actions in the Ukraine in perspective, said, “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”

Once again, an American president was focused on a bomb that would raise a mushroom cloud over Manhattan. And which bomb, exactly, was that, Mr. President?

Of course, there was a weapon of mass destruction that could indeed do staggering damage to or someday simply drown New York City, Washington D.C., Miami, and other East coast cities. It had its own efficient delivery systems — no nonexistent drones or Islamic fanatics needed. And unlike the Iraqi, Iranian, or al-Qaeda bombs, it was guaranteed to be delivered to our shores unless preventive action was taken soon. No one needed to hunt for its secret facilities. It was a weapons system whose production plants sat in full view right here in the United States, as well as in Europe, China, and India, as well as in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, and other energy states.

So here’s a question I’d like any of you living in or visiting Wyoming to ask the former vice president, should you run into him in a state that’s notoriously thin on population: How would he feel about acting preventively, if instead of a 1% chance that some country with weapons of mass destruction might use them against us, there was at least a 95% — and likely as not a 100% — chance of them being set off on our soil? Let’s be conservative, since the question is being posed to a well-known neoconservative. Ask him whether he would be in favor of pursuing the 95% doctrine the way he was the 1% version.

After all, thanks to a grim report in 2013 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we know that there is now a 95%-100% likelihood that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming [of the planet] since the mid-20th century.” We know as well that the warming of the planet — thanks to the fossil fuel system we live by and the greenhouse gases it deposits in the atmosphere — is already doing real damage to our world and specifically to the United States, as a recent scientific report released by the White House made clear. We also know, with grimly reasonable certainty, what kinds of damage those 95%-100% odds are likely to translate into in the decades, and even centuries, to come if nothing changes radically: a temperature rise by century’s end that could exceed 10 degrees Fahrenheit, cascading species extinctions, staggeringly severe droughts across larger parts of the planet (as in the present long-term drought in the American West and Southwest), far more severe rainfall across other areas, more intense storms causing far greater damage, devastating heat waves on a scale no one in human history has ever experienced, masses of refugees, rising global food prices, and among other catastrophes on the human agenda, rising sea levels that will drown coastal areas of the planet.

Buy the Book

From two scientific studies just released, for example, comes the news that the West Antarctic ice sheet, one of the great ice accumulations on the planet, has now begun a process of melting and collapse that could, centuries from now, raise world sea levels by a nightmarish 10 to 13 feet. That mass of ice is, according to the lead authors of one of the studies, already in “irreversible retreat,” which means — no matter what acts are taken from now on — a future death sentence for some of the world’s great cities. (And that’s without even the melting of the Greenland ice shield, not to speak of the rest of the ice in Antarctica.)

All of this, of course, will happen mainly because we humans continue to burn fossil fuels at an unprecedented rate and so annually deposit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at record levels. In other words, we’re talking about weapons of mass destruction of a new kind. While some of their effects are already in play, the planetary destruction that nuclear weapons could cause almost instantaneously, or at least (given “nuclear winter” scenarios) within months, will, with climate change, take decades, if not centuries, to deliver its full, devastating planetary impact.

When we speak of WMD, we usually think of weapons — nuclear, biological, or chemical — that are delivered in a measurable moment in time. Consider climate change, then, a WMD on a particularly long fuse, already lit and there for any of us to see. Unlike the feared Iranian bomb or the Pakistani arsenal, you don’t need the CIA or the NSA to ferret such “weaponry” out. From oil wells to fracking structures, deep sea drilling rigs to platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, the machinery that produces this kind of WMD and ensures that it is continuously delivered to its planetary targets is in plain sight. Powerful as it may be, destructive as it will be, those who control it have faith that, being so long developing, it can remain in the open without panicking populations or calling any kind of destruction down on them.

The companies and energy states that produce such WMD remain remarkably open about what they’re doing. Generally speaking, they don’t hesitate to make public, or even boast about, their plans for the wholesale destruction of the planet, though of course they are never described that way. Nonetheless, if an Iraqi autocrat or Iranian mullahs spoke in similar fashion about producing nuclear weapons and how they were to be used, they would be toast.

Take ExxonMobil, one of the most profitable corporations in history. In early April, it released two reports that focused on how the company, as Bill McKibben has written, “planned to deal with the fact that [it] and other oil giants have many times more carbon in their collective reserves than scientists say we can safely burn.” He went on:

The company said that government restrictions that would force it to keep its [fossil fuel] reserves in the ground were ‘highly unlikely,’ and that they would not only dig them all up and burn them, but would continue to search for more gas and oil — a search that currently consumes about $100 million of its investors’ money every single day. ‘Based on this analysis, we are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become “stranded.”‘

In other words, Exxon plans to exploit whatever fossil fuel reserves it possesses to their fullest extent. Government leaders involved in supporting the production of such weapons of mass destruction and their use are often similarly open about it, even while also discussing steps to mitigate their destructive effects. Take the White House, for instance. Here was a statement President Obama proudly made in Oklahoma in March 2012 on his energy policy:

Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75% of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.

Similarly, on May 5th, just before the White House was to reveal that grim report on climate change in America, and with a Congress incapable of passing even the most rudimentary climate legislation aimed at making the country modestly more energy efficient, senior Obama adviser John Podesta appeared in the White House briefing room to brag about the administration’s “green” energy policy. “The United States,” he said, “is now the largest producer of natural gas in the world and the largest producer of gas and oil in the world. It’s projected that the United States will continue to be the largest producer of natural gas through 2030. For six straight months now, we’ve produced more oil here at home than we’ve imported from overseas. So that’s all a good-news story.”

Good news indeed, and from Vladmir Putin’s Russia, which just expanded its vast oil and gas holdings by a Maine-sized chunk of the Black Sea off Crimea, to Chinese “carbon bombs,” to Saudi Arabian production guarantees, similar “good-news stories” are similarly promoted. In essence, the creation of ever more greenhouse gases — of, that is, the engine of our future destruction — remains a “good news” story for ruling elites on planet Earth.

Weapons of Planetary Destruction

We know exactly what Dick Cheney — ready to go to war on a 1% possibility that some country might mean us harm — would answer, if asked about acting on the 95% doctrine. Who can doubt that his response would be similar to those of the giant energy companies, which have funded so much climate-change denialism and false science over the years? He would claim that the science simply isn’t “certain” enough (though “uncertainty” can, in fact, cut two ways), that before we commit vast sums to taking on the phenomenon, we need to know far more, and that, in any case, climate-change science is driven by a political agenda.

For Cheney & Co., it seemed obvious that acting on a 1% possibility was a sensible way to go in America’s “defense” and it’s no less gospel for them that acting on at least a 95% possibility isn’t. For the Republican Party as a whole, climate-change denial is by now nothing less than a litmus test of loyalty, and so even a 101% doctrine wouldn’t do when it comes to fossil fuels and this planet.

No point, of course, in blaming this on fossil fuels or even the carbon dioxide they give off when burned. These are no more weapons of mass destruction than are uranium-235 and plutonium-239. In this case, the weaponry is the production system that’s been set up to find, extract, sell at staggering profits, and burn those fossil fuels, and so create a greenhouse-gas planet. With climate change, there is no “Little Boy” or “Fat Man” equivalent, no simple weapon to focus on. In this sense, fracking is the weapons system, as is deep-sea drilling, as are those pipelines, and the gas stations, and the coal-fueled power plants, and the millions of cars filling global roads, and the accountants of the most profitable corporations in history.

All of it — everything that brings endless fossil fuels to market, makes those fuels eminently burnable, and helps suppress the development of non-fossil fuel alternatives — is the WMD. The CEOs of the planet’s giant energy corporations are the dangerous mullahs, the true fundamentalists, of planet Earth, since they are promoting a faith in fossil fuels which is guaranteed to lead us to some version of End Times.

Perhaps we need a new category of weapons with a new acronym to focus us on the nature of our present 95%-100% circumstances. Call them weapons of planetary destruction (WPD) or weapons of planetary harm (WPH). Only two weapons systems would clearly fit such categories. One would be nuclear weapons which, even in a localized war between Pakistan and India, could create some version of “nuclear winter” in which the planet was cut off from the sun by so much smoke and soot that it would grow colder fast, experience a massive loss of crops, of growing seasons, and of life. In the case of a major exchange of such weapons, we would be talking about “the sixth extinction” of planetary history.

Though on a different and harder to grasp time-scale, the burning of fossil fuels could end in a similar fashion — with a series of “irreversible” disasters that could essentially burn us and much other life off the Earth. This system of destruction on a planetary scale, facilitated by most of the ruling and corporate elites on the planet, is becoming (to bring into play another category not usually used in connection with climate change) the ultimate “crime against humanity” and, in fact, against most living things. It is becoming a “terracide.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (from which some of this essay has been adapted). He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

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There are so many strong and fundamental points raised in this essay from Tom that I am going to return to them next week.  (Will give it a rest for July 4th!)