Tom Engelhardt: America’s Globalization of Misery

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By Tom Engelhardt , 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 is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World. Originally published at TomDispatch

The closest I ever got to Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was 1,720.7 miles away — or so the Internet assures me.  Although I’ve had a lifelong interest in history, I know next to nothing about Mosul’s, nor do I have more than a glancing sense of what it looks like, or more accurately what it looked like when all its buildings, including those in its “Old City,” were still standing.  It has — or at least in better times had — a population of at least 1.8 million, not one of whom have I ever met and significant numbers of whom are now either dead, wounded, uprooted, or in desperate straits.

Consider what I never learned about Mosul my loss, a sign of my ignorance.  Yet, in recent months, little as I know about the place, it’s been on my mind — in part because what’s now happening to that city will be the world’s loss as well as mine. 

In mid-October 2016, the U.S.-backed Iraqi army first launched an offensive to retake Mosul from the militants of the Islamic State.  Relatively small numbers of ISIS fighters had captured it in mid-2014 when the previous version of the Iraqi military (into which the U.S. had poured more than $25 billion) collapsed ignominiously and fled, abandoning weaponry and even uniforms along the way.  It was in Mosul’s Great Mosque that the existence of the Islamic State was first triumphantly proclaimed by its “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi.

On the initial day of the offensive to recapture the city, the Pentagon was already congratulating the Iraqi military for being “ahead of schedule” in a campaign that was expected to “take weeks or even months.”  Little did its planners — who had been announcing its prospective start for nearly a year — know.  A week later, everything was still “proceeding according to our plan,” claimed then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.  By the end of January 2017, after 100 days of fierce fighting, the eastern part of that city, divided by the Tigris River, was more or less back in government hands and it had, according to New York Times reporters on the scene, been “spared the wholesale destruction inflicted on other Iraqi cities” like Ramadi and Fallujah, even though those residents who hadn’t fled were reportedly “scratching out a primitive existence, deprived of electricity, running water and other essential city services.”

And that was the good news.  More than 100 days later, Iraqi troops continue to edge their way through embattled western Mosul, with parts of it, including the treacherous warren of streets in its Old City, still in the hands of ISIS militants amid continuing bitter building-to-building fighting.  The Iraqi government and its generals still insist, however, that everything will be over in mere weeks.  An estimated thousand or so ISIS defenders (of the original 4,000-8,000 reportedly entrenched in the city) are still holding out and will assumedly fight to the death.  U.S. air power has repeatedly been called in big time, with civilian deaths soaring, and hundreds of thousands of its increasingly desperate and hungry inhabitants still living in battle-scarred Mosul as Islamic State fighters employ countless bomb-laden suicide vehicles and even small drones.

After seven months of unending battle in that single city, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Mosul has receded from the news here, even as civilian casualties grow, at least half a million Iraqis have been displaced, and the Iraqi military has suffered grievous losses.

Though there’s been remarkably little writing about it, here’s what now seems obvious: when the fighting is finally over and the Islamic State defeated, the losses will be so much more widespread than that.  Despite initial claims that the Iraqi military (and the U.S. Air Force) were taking great care to avoid as much destruction as possible in an urban landscape filled with civilians, the rules of engagement have since changed and it’s clear that, in the end, significant swathes of Iraq’s second largest city will be left in ruins. In this, it will resemble so many other cities and towns in Iraq and Syria, from Fallujah to Ramadi, Homs to Aleppo.

The Disappearance of Mosul

At a moment when Donald Trump makes headlines daily with almost any random thing he says, the fate of Mosul doesn’t even qualify as a major news story.  What happens in that city, however, will be no minor thing. It will matter on this increasingly small planet of ours.

What’s to come is also, unfortunately, reasonably predictable.  Eight, nine, or more months after this offensive was launched, the grim Islamic State in Mosul will undoubtedly be destroyed, but so will much of the city in a region that continues to be — to invent a word — rubblized.

When Mosul is officially retaken, if not “ahead of schedule,” then at least “according to plan,” the proud announcements of “victory” in the war against ISIS will make headlines.  Soon after, however, Mosul will once again disappear from our American world and worries. Yet that will undoubtedly only be the beginning of the story in a world in crisis.  Fourteen years have passed since the U.S. invaded Iraq and punched a hole in the oil heartlands of the Middle East.  In the wake of that invasion, states have been crumbling or simply imploding and terror movements growing and spreading, while wars, ethnic slaughter, and all manner of atrocities have engulfed an ever-widening region.  Millions of Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Yemenis, Libyans, and others have been uprooted, sent into exile in their own countries, or fled across borders to become refugees.  In Mosul alone, untold numbers of people whose fathers, mothers, grandparents, children, friends, and relatives were slaughtered in the Iraqi Army’s offensive or simply murdered by ISIS will be left homeless, often without possessions, jobs, or communities in the midst of once familiar places that have been transformed into rubble.

Mosul now lacks an airport, a railroad station, and a university — all destroyed in the recent fighting. Initial estimates suggest that its rebuilding will cost billions of dollars over many years. And it’s just one of many cities in such a state. The question is: Where exactly will the money to rebuild come from? After all, the price of oil is at present below $50 a barrel, the Iraqi and Syrian governments lack resources of every sort, and who can imagine a new Marshall Plan for the region coming from Donald Trump’s America or, for that matter, anywhere else?

In other words, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Yemenis, the Libyans, the Afghans, and others are likely, in the end, to find themselves alone in the ruins of their worlds with remarkably little recourse.  With that in mind and given the record of those last 14 years, how exactly do you imagine that things will turn out for the inhabitants of Mosul, or Ramadi, or Fallujah, or cities yet to be destroyed? What new movements, ethnic struggles, and terror outfits will emerge from such a nightmare?

To put it another way, if you think that such a disaster will remain the possession of the Iraqis (Syrians, Yemenis, Libyans, and Afghans), then you haven’t been paying much attention to the history of the twenty-first century. You evidently haven’t noticed that Donald J. Trump won the last presidential election in the United States, in part by playing on fears of a deluge of refugees from the Middle East and of Islamic terrorism; that the British voted to leave the European Union in part based on similar fears; and that across Europe pressures over refugees and terror attacks have helped to alter the political landscape.

Where Is Globalization Now That We Need It?

To frame things slightly differently, let me ask another question entirely: In these last years, haven’t you wondered what ever happened to “globalization” and the endless media attention that was once paid to it? Not so very long ago we were being assured that this planet was binding itself into a remarkably tight knot of interconnectedness that was going to amaze us all.  As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times put it in 1996, we were seeing “the integration of free markets, nation-states, and information technologies to a degree never before witnessed, in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations, and countries to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever.”  All of this was to be fed and led by the United States, the last superpower standing, and as a result, the global “playing field” would miraculously “be leveled” on a planet becoming a mosaic of Pizza Huts, iMacs, and Lexuses. 

Who of a certain age doesn’t remember those years after the Soviet Union imploded when we all suddenly found ourselves in a single superpower world?  It was a moment when, thanks to vaunted technological advances, it seemed blindingly clear to the cognoscenti that this was going to be a single-everything planet.  We were all about to be absorbed into a “single market for goods, capital, and commercial services” from which, despite the worries of naysayers, “almost everyone” stood “to gain.”  In a world not of multiple superpowers but of multiple “supermarkets,” we were likely to become both more democratic and more capitalistic by the year as an interlocking set of transnational corporate players, nations, and peoples, unified by a singularly interwoven set of communication systems (representing nothing short of an information revolution), triumphed, while poverty, that eternal plague of humanity, stood to lose out big time.  Everything would be connected on what was, for the first time, to be a single, “flattened” planet.

It won’t surprise you, I’m sure, to be told that that’s not exactly the planet we’re now on.  Instead, whatever processes were at work, the result has been record numbers of billionaires, record levels of inequality, and refugees in numbers not seen since much of the world was in a state of collapse after World War II.

Still, don’t you ever wonder where, conceptually speaking, globalization is now that we need it? I mean, did it really turn out that we weren’t living together on a single shrinking planet? Were the globalists of that moment inhabiting another planet entirely in another solar system? Or could it be that globalization is still the ruling paradigm here, but that what’s globalizing isn’t (or isn’t just) Pizza Huts, iMacs, and Lexuses, but pressure points for the fracturing of our world?

The globalization of misery doesn’t have the cachet of the globalization of plenty. It doesn’t make for the same uplifting reading, nor does skyrocketing global economic inequality seem quite as thrilling as a leveling playing field (unless, of course, you happen to be a billionaire). And thanks significantly to the military efforts of the last superpower standing, the disintegration of significant regions of the planet doesn’t quite add up to what the globalists had in mind for the twenty-first century. Failed states, spreading terror movements, all too many Mosuls, and the conditions for so much more of the same weren’t what globalization was supposed to be all about.

Perhaps, however, it’s time to begin reminding ourselves that we’re still on a globalizing planet, even if one experiencing pressures of an unexpected sort, including from the disastrous never-ending American war on terror. It’s so much more convenient, of course, to throw the idea of globalization overboard and imagine that Mosul is thousands of miles away in a universe that bears next to no relation to our own.

What It Really Means to Be on a “Flattening” Planet

It’s true that in France last week extremist presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was defeated by a young, little known former investment banker and government minister, Emmanuel Macron, and the European Union preserved.  As with an earlier election in Holland in which a similar right-wing candidate lost, this is being presented as potentially the high-water mark of what’s now commonly called “populism” in Europe (or the Brexit-style fragmentation of that continent).  But I’d take such reassurances with a grain of salt, given the pressures likely to come. After all, in both Holland and France, two extreme nationalist parties garnered record votes based on anti-Islamic, anti-refugee sentiment and will, after the coming parliamentary elections in France, both be represented, again in record numbers, in their legislatures.

The rise of such “populism” — think of it as the authoritarian fragmentation of the planet — is already a global trend.  So just imagine the situation four or potentially even eight years from now after Donald Trump’s generals, already in the saddle, do their damnedest in the Greater Middle East and Africa.  There’s no reason to believe that, under their direction, the smashing of key regions of the planet won’t continue.  There’s no reason to doubt that, in an expanding world of Mosuls — the Syrian “capital” of the Islamic State, Raqqa, is undoubtedly the next city in line for such treatment — “victories” won’t produce a planet of greater ethnic savagery, religious extremism, military destruction, and chaos.  This, in turn, ensures a further spread of terror groups and an even more staggering uprooting of peoples.  (It’s worth noting, for instance, that since the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Special Operations forces, al-Qaeda has grown, not shrunk, gaining yet more traction across the Greater Middle East.)  So far, America’s permanent “war on terror” has helped produce a planet of fear, refugees on an almost unimaginable scale, and ever more terror.  What else would you imagine could arise from the rubble of so many Mosuls?

If you don’t think that this is an ever-more connected planet still being “flattened” (even if in quite a different way than expected), and that sooner or later the destruction of Mosul will reverberate in our world, too, then you don’t get our world. It’s obvious, for instance, that future Mosuls will only produce more refugees, and you already know where that’s led, from Brexit to Donald Trump. Destroy enough Mosuls and, even in the heartland of the planet’s sole superpower, the fears of those who already feel they’ve been left in a ditch will only rise (and be fed further by demagogues ready to use that global flow of refugees for their own purposes).

Given the transformations of recent years, just think what it will mean to uproot ever vaster populations, to set the homeless, the desperate, the angry, the hurt, and the vengeful — millions of adults and children whose lives have been devastated or destroyed — in motion.  Imagine, for instance, what those pressures will mean when it comes to Europe and its future politics.

Think about what’s to come on this small planet of ours — and that’s without even mentioning the force that has yet to fully reveal itself in all its fragmenting and globalizing and leveling power.  We now call it, mildly enough, “climate change” or “global warming.”  Just wait until, in the decades to come, rising sea levels and extreme weather events put human beings in motion in startling ways (particularly given that the planet’s sole superpower is now run by men in violent denial of the very existence of such a force or the human sources of its power).

You want a shrinking planet? You want terror? You want globalization? Think about that. And do you wonder why, these days, I have Mosul on my mind?

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  1. Temporarily Sane

    Excellent piece. Americans by and large have no fu****g idea what the wars they support do to people and nations. Lulled into passively accepting these wars by stories of “humanitarian intervention”, “precision bombing” and cartoon villains who “massacre their own people” and a sycophantic press that is more propaganda and distraction service than news media, the American (and European) public are sold a package of obfuscating nonsense that anyone with half a brain should be able to challenge.

    But it’s easier to believe comforting BS than to face uncomfortable truths that call into question some very fundamental beliefs about the nature of Western democracies.

    Bonus Rant
    The concept of “humanitarian war” is as ludicrous as it gets. Can you imagine any empire in history spending blood and treasure to wage long wars because human rights? That’s just insane. Yet a majority of Americans still believe America is “different.” Empires of time past fought wars on economic and tribal grounds (usually to preserve the status of the most powerful group) and to steal land from their neighbors etc. but the good ole U.S. does so because it is hopelessly altruistic and sentimental. That’s lol funny. United States’ foreign policy is simply a continuation of the pre-1945 European colonial project.

    But repeat a lie often enough (which is what 75% of the west’s propaganda “technique” amounts to) and it percolates into the “collective unconscious” to become part of conventional wisdom. So why do people who were around for, or learned about, 2003 and Iraq’s vaporware WMD, 1990 and the incubator babies the Iraqi army wasn’t killing in Kuwait, the bailing out of the financial sector in 2008, the many shady intelligence agency/FBI ops we know about, the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” etc. etc. still trust our [sic] government and the powerful interests it represents? The events and revelations of the last few years especially should have made it clear to anyone with two neurons to rub together that the people in power are devious liars who will do anything to keep their power…and gain more of it… up to and including sending the sons and daughters of the people with the fewest options in our society to kill and be killed.

    They sacrificed the wellbeing of millions of Americans – and continue to do so – so the 0.1% don’t have to suffer the indignity and hardship of having to make do with a billion or few hundred million dollars rather than the multiple billions they horde today. Hell, a single payer healthcare system is too much to ask for, but yeah the USG goes to war to free foreigners from tyranny because it cares. Haha… and I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale and a choice parcel of land in Florida I know you’re gonna love!

    1. Thuto

      Some have called it “the weaponization of human rights” and I can’t think of a more apt description for the misery that we see unfolding under the guise of freeing people from the snares of tyranny by evil dictators. America believes the lie of its insulation from the effects and consequences of the chaos it is unleashing against “far away lands” but we know it’s a lie because sooner or later, the chickens come home to roost. Just ask the Europeans, whose leaders have somehow contrived to work against their own interests by supporting America’s horrific foreign policy no matter what the cost. Meanwhile the average American subsists on a rich diet of reality tv and propaganda news channels, blissfully unaware of the true extent of the destruction being perpetrated by those who lead them…

      1. PKMKII

        Meanwhile the average American subsists on a rich diet of reality tv and propaganda news channels, blissfully unaware of the true extent of the destruction being perpetrated by those who lead them…

        I don’t think they’re unaware, I think they’ve bought into the propaganda presented by the MSM and politicos that “rubblization” is the default status for the brown places of the world. That buildings in ruins, poverty, disease, high mortality rates, these are not the result of our policy choices, it’s just the natural state of things outside of the US, Western Europe, and parts of East Asia. After all, it’s the only image they see of these places: the picture of the Middle East beamed into our living rooms is of rubble, the image of Africa is starvation, the image of Latin America is constant coups, etc.

        1. Thor's Hammer

          And still, even a writer like Tom Engelhardt who sees so many things clearly is mentally captive to the power of propaganda.

          “death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Special Operations forces,” Give me a break! That only happened in the Hollywood reenactment.

          According to Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the centre-left Pakistan Peoples Party who was assassinated in December of 2007, Osama bin Laden died of medical complications (likely related to his known kidney failure) in 2002. The various bin Laden persona trotted out by the Bush administration whenever an orange alert was needed are so different physiologically that it is absolutely certain that some or all of the video presentations are fabrications. When Barack Obama finally decided that the bin Laden scarecrow had outlived its usefulness, the Rambo comedy that was staged is so lacking in credibility as to be believable only by the type of American who can’t locate Europe on a map. Contradicted by eye witnesses viewing it from a nearby building. Special forces operatives all dead in a helicopter crash soon thereafter. Bin Laden’s body spirited away to be buried at sea in a closed casket that nobody was allowed to view “out of respect for his religion.” Only the truly brainwashed could believe such a tale.

        2. JTMcPhee

          Rubblization in Detroit/Flint, the south end of Lake Michigan and west side of Chicago, what we condescendingly (some of us) call “Appalachia,” etc. It’s GLOBAL, isn’t it? And there’s the pre-rubblized or built-from-rubble favelas in all those Monroedoctrinia countries (sic) south of “our” Walled Border.

          But where is that butterfly whose wing can be caused to beat in just that special way that will defeat all the forces and vectors and end the momentum of all the masses of corporatized people with their careers and wealth who drive the processes of bomb- and political-economic-induced rubbleization?

          Of course the Empire’s military has planned for all this, and environmental collapse too — and has volunteered itself to be the force that manages and responds to all the sh!tstorms that result. In a vast “public-private partnership” where MIC weapons create the rubble (in partnership with FIRE forces) and then Malliburton et al. sweep in on a tide of MMT or tax revenues or looting of “our oil” and such resources, to profitable and with full corruption in play, to build it up again for another go-round… There’s a strategy, they say:

          Chairman’s Foreword
          Today’s global security environment is the most unpredictable I have seen in 40 years of service. Since the last National Military Strategy was published in 2011, global disorder has significantly increased while some of our comparative military advantage has begun to erode. We now face multiple, simultaneous security challenges from traditional state actors and transregional networks of sub-state groups – all taking advantage of rapid technological change. Future conflicts will come more rapidly, last longer, and take place on a much more technically challenging battlefield. They will have increasing implications to the U.S. homeland.
          This National Military Strategy describes how we will employ our military forces to protect and advance our national interests. We must be able to rapidly adapt to new threats while maintaining comparative advantage over traditional ones. Success will increasingly depend on how well our military instrument can support the other instruments of power and enable our network of allies and partners.
          The 2015 NMS continues the call for greater agility, innovation, and integration. It reinforces the need for the U.S. military to remain globally engaged to shape the security environment and to preserve our network of alliances. It echoes previous documents in noting the imperative within our profession to develop leaders of competence, character, and consequence.
          But it also asserts that the application of the military instrument of power against state threats is very different than the application of military power against non-state threats. We are more likely to face prolonged campaigns than conflicts that are resolved quickly…that control of escalation is becoming more difficult and more important…and that as a hedge against unpredictability with reduced resources, we may have to adjust our global posture.
          Despite what is likely to be a difficult future, we are blessed to be able to count on the young Americans who choose to serve, to live an uncommon life, and to defend their fellow citizens. Our focus must remain that they are the best-led and best-equipped force in the world. The 2015 National Military Strategy of the United States offers a blueprint towards that end.

          And there’s the grand design in the particular frame of “environmental collapse as a threat to US security:”

    2. fresno dan

      Temporarily Sane
      May 15, 2017 at 2:07 am


      “The globalization of misery doesn’t have the cachet of the globalization of plenty. It doesn’t make for the same uplifting reading, nor does skyrocketing global economic inequality seem quite as thrilling as a leveling playing field (unless, of course, you happen to be a billionaire). And thanks significantly to the military efforts of the last superpower standing, the disintegration of significant regions of the planet doesn’t quite add up to what the globalists had in mind for the twenty-first century. Failed states, spreading terror movements, all too many Mosuls, and the conditions for so much more of the same weren’t what globalization was supposed to be all about.”

  2. Bandit

    I cannot think of a more descriptive title than “The Globalization of Misery”. Since WW2 the US has left a trail of death, destruction (on an industrial scale) and of course the attendant “misery”. Let us not forget that one of the key aims of globalization is to destroy state structure and infrastructure of those countries that are not compliant vassal states, thus rendering them incapable of mounting a united resistance.

    Thus, failed states are the norm, and not unintended collateral damage. But, what disgusts me the most is that the great majority of Americans could care less as long if these wars do not touch them personally, such as sons and daughters coming home in flag draped coffins. Immiserating the world is just day to day US foreign policy in the pursuit of power and hegemony.

    1. MoiAussie

      Some related discussion here a couple of weeks ago triggered by the link War and Empire: the American Way of Life, which is also well worth reading, and takes a slightly longer historical perspective.

      IMO, globalization is with us until disrupted by widespread technological and societal collapse. That appears more likely than an uprising of the 99% bringing about a change in course, which itself is more likely than useful change happening within the existing political framework.

      1. Praedor

        Ecological collapse, and with it, societal and economic collapse are soon to come due directly to runaway greenhouse warming. Many of us will see this in our lifetimes. The scientists studying climate change are nearly all presenting the more conservative results, NOT the full, actual data that points to a human extinction event within 15-20 yrs. Methane seeps are becoming more prevalent of both coasts of the US, in the Arctic regions of the world, and methane is massively worse than CO2. Already baked in is a 4 degree rise in temperature globally without a near full stop of use of fossil fuels. That isn’t going to happen so we ARE finished. Sadly, this isn’t something that will just eliminate humans. It’s monstrous that we insist on taking out virtually all complex organisms with us – THEY are true innocent victims.

        First will come ever more extreme weather events and mega drought wiping out food production in large areas. This will cause famine and massive refugee movement, but the bread basket of the US and Canada are not immune. They too will them start to collapse, and starvation and societal collapse will be upon us. It’s simply unavoidable at this point, and too late to stop it. It’s already baked in.

  3. Daniel F.

    Europe, in particular, will change forever. I’ve seen projections for about a hundred million climate refugees by 2050, and going by the s**tshow measly two million caused in 2015-2016, we’re doomed. Europe, its nations, and the EU either grow up to the occasion and start preparing now – I have no illusions, this will never EVER happen – or “we” (as in europeans) begin building our 3 meter high border wall, complete with minefields and machine gun emplacements.
    A stronger, federal EU could stand a chance, but as I stated before, I have no illusions. There are far too many faultlines between the Western EU mainstream and the former Eastern Bloc member states, like Poland and Hungary. Hell, nobody liked the one-sided German “open sesame, there are no borders” or “wir schaffen das”, and recently, even German officials admitted the failure of their “Wilkommenskultur”. Despite everything the globalist media said (they are all middle-class college- or university-educated people, doctors and engineers and IT specialists etc), less than 10% of them found proper employment. Because they actually are not education middle-class professionals, and some of them are illiterate, even adults. So instead we got a new wave of far-right populism, and with it, far-right parties got into the political mainstream. Plus Brexit, ’cause “we don’t want those bloody browsing bastards coming here from Europe!”.
    And I won’t start listing the problems with those brown people (not really) adapting into the so-called western society.

  4. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    Skin in the game of which the US has very little, appears to me to be the main reason for this. The ability to unleash unprecedented destruction on other parts of the world with so little comeback. The majority of the architects will not suffer for any of this, but rather despite the almighty mess they have made, they will no doubt continue to prosper. Perhaps the financial cost will come back to haunt them, but these cockroaches will still be getting the best pickings from among the top of the rubble. & even if they overreach to a state of swapping ICBM’s, they will have their hidey holes prepared.

    I suppose I can hope that like Hitler they become stranded in them, but of course that particular lunatic made the mistake of visiting wholesale destruction on an industrial state on his own doorstep, resulting in relatively immediate consequences. Around four and a half million soldiers lost, the wholesale destruction of infrastructure followed by a vengeful horde who raped & pillaged it’s way through the Fatherland. The women were then left to clear the bricks one by one, but they did get their Marshall plan.

    There is a Vasily Grossman quote that always comes into my mind when considering these things. A man who as a journalist followed the Red Army from Stalingrad to the extermination camps, one of which had killed his Mother – all grist to his mill through thousands of interviews with the likes of gas chamber operatives & all other participants in that horror show, to produce his novel ” Life and Fate “. I have to believe that he is right as he has seen hell at first hand.

    “I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never by conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.”

  5. Gee

    Add to this the refugees that are most assuredly coming from climate change. You’ll get the picture, and it ain’t pretty.

    1. DH

      Since waterfront property is very expensive in many areas, the refugees will be the wealthy who will have to avail themselves of every legal mechanism to displace the poor black people living inland on the higher ground.

      Unlike most refugees, they will be able to use the full force of local government to assist in their search for a place to live and work.

  6. DH

    The only war since 1776 that the US has fought in where the meaning of “Victory” was truly understood and internalized was WW II. In 1776 the goal was a new independent country. In WW II, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin understood what “unconditional surrender” meant. Immediately following WW II, Truman instituted the Marshall Plan to reconstruct the battered economies around the world to avoid a repeat of the Treaty of Versailles consequences.

    Since WW II, the wars were generally fought to maintain a status quo or to hold something back (colonial independence, Soviet/Chinese vassal states incursions into new territories, nationalism interfering with multi-national corporations, disrupt bases of terrorism export). They were generally to simply get back to some ill-defined status quo, usually not understanding the reasons why the destabilization was occurring in the first place. Simply knowing that destabilization was occurring was sufficient to send in the troops without clear goals in mind. Once it was discovered that a significant percentage of the local population was against the US presence, doubling-down became the norm because we are the “good guys” (probably the same thing the British thought in 1780 as the American Revolution continued).

    Unfortunately, in our current post-fact world, we are even less likely to have coherent policy discussions. Our moat has generally held firm with only occasional, momentary breaches like 9/11. Most of the violence and terrorism has been internally generated from our own internal grievances of racism, inequality, etc. But that does not match with the traditional message of governments which is that problems are generally generated externally, not internally. Internal would imply the government has to do something other than launch cruise missiles. Internal problems call for actual solutions which the policy makers are loath to commit to (ACA/AHCA etc. as Exhibit 1)..


    A shift that’s accompanied and amplified the globalization of rubblizing is how we think about wars. Wars are no longer things to be won, with clear objectives as to what victory entails, but are now things to be managed. Just look at the language used on Mosul: “ahead of schedule,” as if this was some accounts report that needed to get done by a certain deadline. It’s another expression of the neoliberal mindset: governments do not have agency for transformative change, just micromanaged refinements of the status quo, an insistence that meritocracy in the leadership is key instead of sound policy, TINA arguments (in this case, for military adventurism rather than financialized capitalism). They are neither willing to go full imperial mode, nor a true draw-down, as both would be an admission that the neoliberal agenda has failed.

  8. John k

    Why did we do it?
    Because we could.

    Maybe women should run things, less egocentric and blood thirsty, right?

    1. Thuto

      War is old men talking (lying, willfully deceiving, obfuscating) and young men dying (believing with all their hearts that they’re serving some noble purpose like protecting their fellow countrymen)…

      1. JTMcPhee

        …and women, of the general officer or Ruler class, never send young men off to war, or order bombings or orchestrate “color revolutions,’ or “fight for the right” to join the Airborne Rangers and kill wogs for the Empire — or in the case of Kurdish women, fight alongside their menfolk, on and on and on… “Amazon” used to signify some pretty nasty female war brutes, as I recall —

        But hey, we’re all just human, right? And War is what we have done, since the first proto-hominid cracked the skull of his mate with a rock or whatever and ate the brains, eh?

  9. Scott

    I believe in Western Civilization. I do not believe that the US ought have allowed Goldman Sachs to sell so much US Debt. I do see Goldman Sachs as parasitical.
    Globalization has so far worked for Sir Richard Branson, & Jeff Bezos, & the Clinton Unit, and now Obama. The Trump family & there was the Bush family, lots of family businesses like the Walton family.
    These jet setter people of the jet setter class can buy and do buy citizenship papers & move themselves & their money around. On the airport, on the FBO side, there is the civilization as was more generalized an American experience in the 50s & 60s. At least that is the case for White people. I was there as labor.
    My first business failed. I have some negatives left.
    This is Naked Capitalism & the purpose is to come to greater understanding of economics & the system as it has evolved. What is happening today in Economic thought. Economic Warfare is part of the discussion.
    Mr. Engelhardt knows as much as about any of the big guys, and he as do many of us struggle to determine what system there is that can be made to work fairly & sustainably.
    We are anti war.
    I divide world up into the jet setters & labor.
    Labor is trapped in the same nationalistic situation as was the labor of the French & the Germans in WWI. Operating a machine gun is akin to working at the factory, though it was outside and muddy.
    For the jet setters national currencies don’t matter much. They can pay themselves or others in whatever currency has the most value for them.
    To make things more fair, labor needs its own universal & international currency. Sure seems that way to me.
    If I get my way I’ll hire systems engineers to give me a currency that would free labor.
    The Wall is a sign of how trapped Americans are.
    In The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John C. Mearsheimer he says all nations must get nuclear weapons because there is no Government of Governments to call.
    This means to me an ensured Apocalyptic Riot, and that we have to create a Government of Governments.
    Ambassador Andre` Lewin believed in a Tax on Weapons to fund the UN. Here is a pivot from which to create the universal currency aye? Something for the system that in a Gov. of Govs. treasury the UN can use to pay labor that it hires to work on sustainable development projects, as a start, comes to my mind.
    What do you all think?

  10. BradK

    Interesting how the only U.S. President mentioned by name — five times — is Trump, someone who has been in office barely four months and whose only military action thus far has been the bombing of an airbase suspected of launching a chemical weapons strike. Even if you don’t buy into the rationale, at least there were no casualties.

    Yet no mention of the previous administration and the civilian blood on its hands the world over. The unrelenting (and unaccountable) drone strikes. Or mention of its role in the epically failed states of Syria and Libya, or in the rise of J.V. team ISIS.

    Besides the naked partisanship the piece comes across as a shrouded paean for Globalization, whose dream has not (yet) been realized due to a handful of bad actors and unfortunate events. Other than that, Globalization is a great idea and we should stay the course.

    1. MoiAussie

      Even if you don’t buy into the rationale, at least there were no casualties.

      It was widely reported at the time that 7 (or 9) Syrian soldiers were killed. Unverifiable reports claimed another 9 civilian casualties. People died. Perhaps you meant, at least there were no Russian casualties.

      I’m not having a go at you here, as your words show that you’re critical of the blood on US hands, but this phenomenon where the deaths of nameless foreigners are ignored or forgotten needs to be fought against.

      You also seem to have missed that the article does lay the blame at the feet of previous administrations, just not by name, and does mention Syria, Libya, etc. Consider:

      Fourteen years have passed since the U.S. invaded Iraq and punched a hole in the oil heartlands of the Middle East. […] Millions of Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Yemenis, Libyans, and others have been uprooted, sent into exile in their own countries, or fled across borders to become refugees. […] If you think that such a disaster will remain the possession of the Iraqis (Syrians, Yemenis, Libyans, and Afghans), then you haven’t been paying much attention to the history of the twenty-first century.

      So there is really no naked partisanship here, just a focus on what is happening now in Iraq. As for being a “paean for Globalization” you seem to have missed the ironical tone, as the entire piece is a critique of globalization.

  11. RBHoughton

    The article is a superior offering from the ever-reliable Tom Engelhardt. I too was captivated by the sentence “The globalization of misery doesn’t have the cachet of the globalization of plenty.” That’s where we are.

    But I object to the broadly anti-American flavor of some comments. There are not 300 million people who have gone wrong – its just a handful of peculiar people in Washington who have chosen not to speak out or are reluctant to do so to preserve their employment. I have no expectations of the mercenary members of Congress but the world needs American officials to display courage.

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