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Tomgram: Engelhardt, Welcome to His World

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In addition, the U.S. military -- equally unsuccessfully, equally long-lastingly, equally usefully when it came to the spread of terrorism and of failed or failing states -- took action in Libya, Somalia, Yemen (largely but not only via the Saudis), and even Syria. While those might have been considered interventions, not invasions, they were each unbelievably more invasive than anything the domestic right-wing is now calling an invasion on our southern border. In 2016, in Syria, for instance, the U.S. Air Force and its allies dropped an estimated 20,000 bombs on the "capital" of the Islamic State, Raqqa, a modest-sized provincial city. In doing so, with the help of artillery and of ISIS suicide bombers, they turned it into rubble. In a similar fashion from Mosul to Fallujah, major Iraqi cities were rubblized. All in all, it's been quite a record of invasion, intervention, and destruction.

Nor should we forget that, in those and other countries (including Pakistan), the U.S. dispatched Hellfire missile-armed drones to carry out "targeted" strikes that, once upon a time, would have been called "assassinations." In addition, in 2017 alone, contingents of the still-growing elite Special Operations forces, now about 70,000 personnel, had been dispatched, in war and peace, to 149 countries, according to investigative journalist Nick Turse. Meanwhile, American military garrisons by the hundreds continued to dot the globe in a historically unprecedented fashion and have regularly been used in these years to facilitate those very invasions, interventions, and assassinations.

In addition, in this period the CIA set up "black sites" in a number of countries where prisoners, sometimes literally kidnapped off the streets of major cities (sometimes captured in the backlands of the planet), were for years subjected to unbearable cruelty and torture. U.S. Navy ships were similarly used as black sites. And all of this was just part of an offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice set up by Washington, whose beating heart was a now notorious (and still open) prison in Guanta'namo Bay, Cuba.

Since 2001, the U.S. has succeeded in squandering staggering amounts of taxpayer dollars unsettling a vast swath of the planet, killing startling numbers of people who didn't deserve to die, driving yet more of them from their homes, and so helping to set in motion the very crisis of migrants and refugees that has roiled both Europe and the United States ever since. The three top countries sending unwanted asylum seekers to Europe have been Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, all deeply embroiled in the cauldron of the American war on terror. (Meanwhile, of course, we live in a country whose president, having called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" during his election campaign in 2015, has done his best to follow through on just such a Muslim ban.)

And by the way, those original invasions and interventions were all surrounded by glorious explanations about the bringing of "democracy" to and the "liberation" of various societies, explanations no less bogus than those offered by the El Paso killer to explain his slaughter.

Still in the Land of the Metaphorically Invaded

Invaders, intruders, disrupters? You've got to be kidding, at least if you're talking about undocumented immigrants from south of our border (even with the bogus claims that there were "terrorists" among them). When it comes to invasions, we should be chanting "USA! USA!" Perhaps, in fact, you could think of this country, its leadership, its military, and its war on terror as a version of the El Paso killer raised to a global scale. In this century at least, we have been the true invaders and disrupters on planet Earth (with the Russians in Crimea and the Ukraine coming in a distant second).

And how have Americans dealt with the real invaders of this world? It's a reasonable question, even if seldom asked in a country where "invasion" is now a matter of almost obsessional discussion and debate. True, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, a striking number of Americans had the urge not to go to war. The streets of major cities and small towns filled with protesters demanding that the Bush administration not do what it was obviously going to do anyway. When the invasion and occupation happened, it should have quickly been clear that it would be a destructive disaster. The initial shock-and-awe air campaign to "decapitate" Saddam Hussein's regime, for example, managed not to touch a single key Iraqi official but, according to Human Rights Watch, killed "dozens of civilians." In this way, the stage was set for so much of what would follow.

When the bad news (Mission Unaccomplished!) started coming in, however, those antiwar protestors disappeared from the streets of our country, never to return. In the years that followed, Americans generally ignored the harm the U.S. was doing across significant parts of the globe and went on with their lives. It did, however, become a tic of the times to "thank" the troops who had done the invading for their "service."

In the meantime, much of what had transpired globally in that war on terror was simply forgotten (or never noted in the first place). That's why when, in mid-August, an ISIS suicide bomber blew himself up at a wedding party in Kabul killing at least 63 people, the New York Times could report that "weddings, the celebration of union, had largely remained the exception" to an Afghan sense of risk-taking in public. And that would be a statement few Americans would blink at -- as if no weddings had ever been destroyed in that country. Few here would remember the six weddings U.S. air power had obliterated in Afghanistan (as well as at least one each in Iraq and Yemen). The first of them, in December 2001, would kill about 100 revelers in a village in Eastern Afghanistan and that would just be the beginning of the nightmare to come. This was something I documented at TomDispatch years ago, but it's generally not even in the memory bank here.

In 2016, of course, Americans elected a man who had riled up what soon be called his "base" by launching a presidential campaign on the fear of Mexican "rapists" coming to this country and the necessity of building a "big, fat, beautiful wall" to turn them away. From scratch, in other words, his focus was on stopping an "invasion" of this land. By August 2015, he was already using that term in his tweets.

So, under Donald Trump, as that word and the fears that went with it spread, we became the invaded and they the invaders. In other words, the world as it was (and largely remains) was somehow turned on its head. As a result, we all now live in the land of the metaphorically invaded and of El Paso killers who, in these years, have headed, armed with military-style weaponry, for places ranging from synagogues to garlic festivals to stop various "invaders" in their tracks. Meanwhile, the president and a bipartisan crew of politicians in Washington continued to pour ever more money into the U.S. military (and into little else, except the pockets of the 1%).

As for me, in all those years before Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign, I had never watched his reality TV shows. Though I lived in New York City, I had never walked into Trump Tower. I had never, in other words, invaded his space, no matter how metaphorically. So, with invasions in the air, I continue to wonder why, every day in every way, he invades mine. And speaking of invasions, he and his crew in Washington are now getting ready to invade the space not just of people like me, but of endangered species of every sort.

Of course, the president who feeds off those "invaders" from the south doesn't recognize me as a species of anything. For him, the only endangered species on this planet may be oil, coal, and natural gas companies.

Believe me, you're in his world, not mine, and welcome to it!

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 and is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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