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Tomgram: William Astore, A Violent Cesspool of Our Own Making

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

It was a moment few noticed on Inauguration Day. It took place just before Donald Trump praised Hillary Clinton to the applause of those assembled for the Inaugural Luncheon. Standing at the microphone, the new president turned, looked toward a table somewhere in the room, and said, "We have so many of our cabinet members here. I see my generals. Generals [who] are going to keep us so safe. They're going to have a lot of problems [on?] the other side. A couple of them, these are central casting. If I'm doing a movie, I'd pick you generals. General [James] Mattis, who is doing really well. Even Chuck [Schumer] likes General Mattis. And General [John] Kelly..." Assumedly retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, Trump's national security adviser, was also sitting there, with his nominees for secretary of defense and head of the Department of Homeland Security, both confirmed by the Senate that very day.

As with so much that's Trumpian, however, you can't simply look at his stream-of-consciousness words as they appear -- always somewhat incoherently -- on the page. You need to note his tone of voice, in this case the almost eroticized possessive pronoun, "my generals," and the sense of near-awe and self-satisfaction that went with it. Now, pair that reverence for his choices and his generals with the instantly reconfigured WhiteHouse.gov webpage. On Inauguration Day, it promptly lost all its references to climate change, and its sections on the LGBT community and civil rights, but gained a new section on The Donald's America First Energy Plan ("For too long, we've been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry...") and another touting an America First Foreign Policy. From that one, you can already learn something about what "my generals" are going to be doing in the age of Trump. ("Defeating ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups will be our highest priority. To defeat and destroy these groups, we will pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary.") Also emphasized were the many taxpayer dollars to be invested in giving those generals plenty to do it with. ("[W]e will rebuild the American military. Our Navy has shrunk from more than 500 ships in 1991 to 275 in 2016. Our Air Force is roughly one third smaller than in 1991. President Trump is committed to reversing this trend, because he knows that our military dominance must be unquestioned.") And as a final nostalgic touch for a man who wants to make American great again, it looks like one of the true boondoggles of the military-industrial complex, dubbed "Star Wars" back in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, will return to Washington in the age of Trump -- developing a "state of the art missile defense system to protect against missile-based attacks from states like Iran and North Korea."

Now, as to that movie Donald Trump would like to make with those generals from central casting and all those dollars heading for the Pentagon and those missiles to come: Why not call it American Carnage? As retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore, a TomDispatchregular, points out today, this country is already well primed for just such a grim project. Tom

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The Dark [K]night of Donald Trump
Weapons, Warriors, and Fear as the New Order in America
By William J. Astore

I came of age during America's Cold War with the Soviet Union, witnessing its denouement while serving in the U.S. military. In those days, the USSR led the world's weapons trade, providing arms to the Warsaw Pact (the military alliance it dominated) as well as to client states like Cuba, Egypt, and Syria. The United States usually came in second in arms dealing, a dubious silver medal that could, at least, be rationalized as a justifiable response to Soviet aggression, part of the necessary price for a longstanding policy of "containment." In 1983, President Ronald Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union an "evil empire" in part because of its militarism and aggressive push to sell weaponry around the globe, often accompanied by Soviet troops, ostensibly as trainers and advisers.

After the USSR imploded in 1991, dominating the world's arms trade somehow came to seem so much less evil. In fact, faced with large trade deficits, a powerful military-industrial complex looking for markets, and ever more global military commitments, Washington actively sought to promote and sell American-made weaponry on a remarkable scale. And in that it succeeded admirably.

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Today, when it comes to building and exporting murderous weaponry, no other country, not even that evil-empire-substitute, Vladimir Putin's Russia, comes faintly close. The U.S. doth bestride the world of arms production and dealing like a colossus. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, U.S. arms contractors sold $209.7 billion in weaponry in 2015, representing 56% of the world's production. Of that, $40 billion was exported to an array of countries, representing "half of all agreements in the worldwide arms bazaar," as the New York Times put it. France ($15 billion) was a distant second, with Putin's Russia ($11 billion) earning a weak third. Judged by the sheer amount of weapons it produces for itself, as well as for others, the U.S., notes Forbes, is "still comfortably the world's superpower -- or warmonger, depending on how you look at it." Indeed, under President Obama, in the five-year period beginning in 2010, American arms exports outpaced the figures for the previous Bush-Cheney years by 23%.

Not only has the U.S. come to dominate the arms trade in an almost monopolistic fashion over the last two decades, but it has also become the top exporter of troops globally. Leaving aside the ongoing, seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. continues to garrison the globe with approximately 800 military bases, while deploying its Special Operations forces to a significant majority of the planet's countries annually. As TomDispatch's Nick Turse reported recently, "From Albania to Uruguay, Algeria to Uzbekistan, America's most elite forces -- Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets among them -- were deployed to 138 countries in 2016." Think about that: last year, U.S. Special Operations troops were sent to more than two-thirds of the approximately 190 countries on the planet. While some of these deployments were small, others were more impressive -- and invasive -- and often enough dovetailed with efforts to sell weaponry (which even has its own military acronym: FMS, or foreign military sales).

Recall those Red Army trainers and advisers who often accompanied Soviet weaponry into the field a generation ago. These days, travel the planet and the trainers and advisers you'll see are overwhelmingly likely to be wearing U.S. uniforms or at least to be contractors working for Pentagon-allied, U.S.-based warrior-corporations. Testing, touting, and toting American-made arms in far-flung realms is the common mission of the U.S. military these days, and business is booming.

If all of this were to be summarized under one rubric, it might be Weapons & Warriors "R" Us, and it's not just an international phenomenon. Consider the surge in the production and sale of guns in the good old US of A. It's now estimated that there are more than 300 million weapons in American hands, nearly enough to arm every citizen, the tall and the small (even tots). That old chestnut associated with early advertising for Colt Manufacturing has truly come into its own in twenty-first-century America: God created men; Sam Colt made them equal.

These days, arms are everywhere, even prospectively in public schools, which, as Betsy DeVos pointed out recently in her confirmation hearings for secretary of education, should certainly be armed against "lone wolf" grizzly bears (if not Islamic terrorists). Even liberals are now reportedly getting into the act, scarfing up guns in the aftermath of November's election, apparently gripped by the rising fear of a coming Trumpocalypse. This national mania for guns (and for carrying them everywhere) is mirrored by an abundance of domestic prisons and security firms, offering jobs that, unlike those in steel mills and manufacturing plants, can't easily be outsourced to foreign lands.

Since the end of the Cold War, America has been exporting a mirror image of its domestic self: not the classic combo of democracy and freedom, but guns, prisons, and security forces. Globally, the label "Made in the USA" has increasingly come to be associated with violence and war (as well, of course, as Hollywood action flicks sporting things that go boom in the night). Such exports are now so commonplace that, in some cases, Washington has even ended up arming our enemies. Just consider the hundreds of thousands of small arms sent to Iraq and Afghanistan that were simply lost track of. (Many of them evidently ended up on sale at local black markets.) Or consider the weapons and equipment Washington provided to Iraq's security forces, only to see them abandoned on the battlefield and captured by ISIS. Look as well at prisons like Gitmo (which Donald Trump has no intention of ever closing), Abu Ghraib, and an unknown number of black sites that were in some of these years used for rendition, detention, and torture, and gave the U.S. a reputation in the world that may prove indelible. And, of course, American-made weaponry like tear gas canisters and bombs (including cluster munitions) that regularly finds its way onto foreign soil in places like Yemen and, in the case of the tear gas, Egypt, proudly sporting those "Made in the USA" labels.

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Strangely, most Americans remain either willfully ignorant of, or indifferent to, what their country is becoming. That American-made weaponry is everywhere, that America's warriors are all over the globe, that America's domestic prisons are bursting with more than two million captives, is even taken by some as a point of pride.

The New World Order

This is not the "new world order" I envisioned in 1991, when the Soviet Union was collapsing. Back then, I was a young captain in the U.S. Air Force, and my fellow Americans were talking boldly not of arms and war, but of a "peace dividend." Hawks like Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who served as U.N. ambassador under Ronald Reagan, were waxing philosophical about the possibility of the U.S. shedding its worldwide military commitments to become a normal country in normal times. There was even a fair amount of elevated discussion about whether we hadn't reached the "end of history" and the inevitable, eternal triumph of liberal democracy. None of it, of course, was to be.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("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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