Who Are the Real Invaders on Planet Earth?
By Tom Engelhardt
He crossed the border without permission or, as far as I could tell, documentation of any sort. I'm speaking about Donald Trump's uninvited, unasked-for invasion of my personal space. He's there daily, often hourly, whether I like it or not, and I don't have a Department of Homeland Security to separate him from his children, throw them all in degrading versions of prison -- without even basic toiletries or edible food or clean water -- and then send him back to whatever shithole tower he came from in the first place. (For that, I have to depend on the American people in 2020 and what still passes, however dubiously, for a democracy.)
And yes, the president has been an invader par excellence in these years -- not a word I'd use idly, unlike so many among us these days. Think of the spreading use of "invasion," particularly on the political right, in this season of the most invasive president ever to occupy the Oval Office, as a version of America's wars coming home. Think of it, linguistically, as the equivalent of those menacing cops on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, back in 2014, togged out to look like an occupying army with Pentagon surplus equipment, some of it directly off America's distant battlefields.
Not that many are likely to think of what's happening, invasion-wise, in such terms these days.
Admittedly, like so much else, the worst of what's happening didn't start with Donald Trump. "Invasion" and "invaders" first entered right-wing vocabularies as a description of immigration across our southern border in the late 1980s and 1990s. In his 1992 attempt to win the Republican presidential nomination, for instance, Patrick Buchanan used the phrase "illegal invasion" in relation to Hispanic immigrants. In the process, he highlighted them as a national threat in a fashion that would become familiar indeed in recent years.
Today, however, from White House tweets to the screed published by Patrick Crusius, the 21-year-old white nationalist who killed 22 people, including eight Mexican citizens, in an El Paso Walmart, the use of "invasion," or in his case "the Hispanic invasion of Texas," has become part of the American way of life (and death). Meanwhile, the language itself has, in some more general sense, has continued to be weaponized.
Of course, when you speak of invasions these days, as President Trump has done repeatedly -- he used the word seven times in less than a minute at a recent rally and, by early August, his reelection campaign had posted more than 2,000 Facebook ads with invasion in them -- you're speaking of only one type of invasion. It's a metaphorical-cum-political one in which they invade us (even though they may not know that they're doing it). Hundreds of thousands of them have been crossing our southern border, mostly on their own individual initiative. In some cases, however, they have made it to the border in "caravans." Just about every one of them, however, is arriving not with mayhem in mind, but in search of some version of safety and, if not well-being, at least better-being in this country.
That's not the way the White House, most Republicans, or right-wing media figures are describing things, however. As the president put it at a White House Workforce advisory meeting in March:
"You see what's going on at the border... We are doing an amazing job considering it's really an onslaught very much. I call it 'invasion.' They always get upset when I say 'an invasion.' But it really is somewhat of an invasion."
Or as Tucker Carlson said on Fox News, "We are so overwhelmed by this -- it literally is an invasion of people crossing into Texas"; or as Jeanine Pirro plaintively asked on Fox & Friends, "Will anyone in power do anything to protect America this time, or will our leaders sit passively back while the invasion continues?" The examples of such statements are legion.
The True Invaders of Planet Earth
Here's the strange thing, though: in this century, there has been only one true invader on planet Earth and it's not those desperate Central Americans fleeing poverty, drugs, violence, and hunger (for significant aspects of which the U.S. is actually to blame).
The real invader in this world of ours happens to be the United States of America. I'm speaking, of course, about the only nation in this century whose armed forces have, in the (once) normal sense of the term, invaded two other countries. In October 2001, the administration of President George W. Bush responded invasively to a nightmarish double act of terrorism here. An extremist Islamist outfit that called itself al-Qaeda and was led by a rich Saudi (whom Washington had, in the previous century, been allied with in a war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan) proved responsible. Instead of organizing an international policing operation to deal with bin Laden and crew, however, President Bush and his top officials launched what they quickly dubbed the Global War on Terror, or GWOT. While theoretically aimed at up to 60 countries across the planet, it began with the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and some of his crew were indeed there at the time, but the invasion's aim was, above all, to overthrow another group of extreme Islamists, the Taliban, who controlled most of that land.
So, Washington began a war that has yet to end. Then, in the spring of 2003, the same set of officials did just what a number of them had been eager to do on September 12, 2001: they unleashed American forces in an invasion of Iraq meant to take down autocrat Saddam Hussein (a former U.S. ally who had nothing to do with 9/11 or al-Qaeda). In fact, we now know that, within hours of a hijacked jet crashing into the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was already thinking about just such an invasion. ("Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not," he reportedly said that day, while urging his aides to come up with a plan to invade Iraq.)
So American troops took Kabul and Baghdad, the capitals of both countries, where the Bush administration set up governments of its choice. In neither would the ensuing occupations and wars or the tumultuous events that evolved from them ever truly end. In both regions, terrorism is significantly more widespread now than it was then. In the intervening years, millions of the inhabitants of those two lands and others swept up in that American war on terror were displaced from their homes and hundreds of thousands killed or wounded as chaos, terror, and war spread across the Greater Middle East (later compounded by the "Arab Spring") and finally deep into Africa.