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02-03-11 The American Empire Is Collapsing Before Our Eyes in the Mideast

02-03-11 The American Empire Is Collapsing Before Our Eyes in the Mideast

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Published by William J Greenberg
This is a global moment unlike any in memory, perhaps in history. Yes, comparisons can be made to the wave of people power that swept Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-91. For those with longer memories, perhaps 1968 might come to mind, that abortive moment when, in the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, including Eastern Europe, masses of people mysteriously inspired by each other took to the streets of global cities to proclaim that change was on the way.
This is a global moment unlike any in memory, perhaps in history. Yes, comparisons can be made to the wave of people power that swept Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-91. For those with longer memories, perhaps 1968 might come to mind, that abortive moment when, in the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, including Eastern Europe, masses of people mysteriously inspired by each other took to the streets of global cities to proclaim that change was on the way.

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Published by: William J Greenberg on Mar 10, 2011
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The American Empire Is Collapsing Before Our Eyes in the Mideast
As the sun peeks over the horizon of the Arab world, dusk is descending onAmerica.
March 2, 2011
 
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This is a global moment unlike any in memory, perhaps in history. Yes,comparisonscanbe madeto the wave of people power that swept Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-91. For those with longer memories, perhaps1968might come to mind, that abortivemoment when, in the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere,including Eastern Europe, masses of people mysteriously inspired by each other took to thestreets of global cities to proclaim that change was on the way.For those searching the history books, perhaps you’ve focused on the year 1848when, in a timethat also mixed economic gloom with novel means of disseminating the news, the winds of freedom seemed briefly to sweep across Europe. And, of course, if enough regimes fall and theturmoil goes deep enough, there’s always 1776, the American Revolution, or 1789, the French one, to consider. Both shook up the world for decades after.But here’s the truth of it: you have to strain to fit this Middle Eastern moment into any previousparadigm, even as -- fromWisconsintoChina-- it already threatens to break out of the Arab world and spread like a fever across the planet. Never in memory have so many unjust or simplydespicable rulers felt quite so nervous -- or possibly quite so helpless (despite being armed to theteeth) -- in the presence of unarmed humanity. And there has to be joy and hope in thatalone.Even now, without understanding what it is we face, watching staggering numbers of people, many young and dissatisfied, take to the streets in Morocco, Mauritania, Djibouti, Oman,Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya, not to mention Bahrain, Tunisia, andEgypt, would be inspirational. Watching them face security forces using batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and in all too many cases, real bullets (in Libya, even helicopters andplanes) andsomehow grow stronger is little short of unbelievable. Seeing Arabs demanding something wewere convinced was the birthright and property of the West, of the United States in particular,has to send a shiver down anyone’s spine.The nature of this potentially world-shaking phenomenon remains unknown and probably, at thispoint, unknowable. Are freedom and democracy about to break out all over? And if so, whatwill that turn out to mean? If not, what exactly are we seeing? What light bulb was it that sounexpectedly turned on in millions of Twittered and Facebooked brains -- and why now? I doubtthose who are protesting, and in some cases dying, know themselves. And that’s good news.
 
That the future remains -- always -- the land of the unknown shouldoffer us hope, not leastbecause that's the bane of ruling elites who want to, but never can, take possession of it.Nonetheless, you would expect that a ruling elite, observing such earth-shaking developments,might rethink its situation, as should the rest of us. After all, if humanity can suddenly rouseitself this way in the face of the armed power of state after state, then what's really possible onthis planet of ours?Seeing such scenes repeatedly, who wouldn’t rethink the basics? Who wouldn’t feel the urge toreimagine our world?Let me offer as my nominee of choice not various desperate or dying Middle Eastern regimes,but Washington.
Life in the Echo Chamber
So much of what Washington did imagine in these last years proved laughable, even before thismoment swept it away. Just take any old phrase from the Bush years. How about “You’re either with us or against us”? What’s striking is how little it means today. Looking back onWashington’sdesperately mistaken assumptionsabout how our globe works, this might seemlike the perfect moment to show some humility in the face of what nobody could have predicted.It would seem like a good moment for Washington -- which, since September 12, 2001, has beenremarkably clueless about real developments on this planet and repeatedlymiscalculatedthenature of global power -- to step back and recalibrate.As it happens, there's no evidence it's doing so. In fact, that may be beyond Washington’spresent capabilities, no matter how many billions of dollarsitpours into “intelligence.” And by “Washington,” I mean not just the Obama administration, or the Pentagon, or our militarycommanders, or the vast intelligence bureaucracy, but all those pundits and think-tankers whoswarm the capital, and the media that reports on them all. It’s as if the cast of characters thatmakes up “Washington” now lives in some kind of echo chamber in which it can only hear itself talking.As a result, Washington still seems remarkably determined to play out the string on an era that isall too swiftly passing into the history books. While many have noticed the Obamaadministration's hapless struggle to catch up to events in the Middle East, even as it clings to afamiliar coterieof grim autocrats and oil sheiks, let me illustrate this point in another areaentirely -- the largely forgotten war in Afghanistan. After all, hardly noticed, buried beneath 24/7news from Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East, that war continues on itsdestructive, costly course with nary a blink.
 
Five Ways to Be Tone Deaf in Washington
You might think that, as vast swathes of the Greater Middle East are set ablaze, someone inWashington would take a new look at our Af/Pak War and wonder whether it isn’t simply besidethe point. No such luck, as the following five tiny but telling examples that caught my attentionindicate. Consider them proof of the well-being of the American echo chamber and evidence of the way Washington is proving incapable of rethinking its longest, most futile, and most bizarrewar.1. Let’s start with a recent
New York Times
op-ed,“The ‘Long War’ May Be Getting Shorter.” Published last Tuesday as Libya was passing through“the gates of hell,”it was an upbeataccount of Afghan War commander General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency operations insouthern Afghanistan. Its authors,Nathaniel Fick andJohn Nagl, members of an increasingly militarized Washington intelligentsia, jointly head the Center for a New American Security inWashington. Nagl was part of the team thatwrote the 2006 revised Army counterinsurgency manual for which Petraeus is given credit and was anadvisor to the general in Iraq. Fick, aformer Marine officer who led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and then was a civilian instructor at the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy in Kabul, recently paid a first-hand visit to thecountry (under whose auspices we do not know).The two of them aretypical of many of Washington’s war experts who tend to develop incestuous relationshipswith the military, moonlighting as enablers or cheerleaders for our war commanders, and still remain go-to sources for the media.In another society, their op-ed would simply have been considered propaganda. Here’s its moneyparagraph:“It is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasingevidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think. Itnow seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability andself-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.”This is a classic Washington example of moving the goalposts. What our two experts are reallyannouncing is that, even if all goes well in our Afghan War,2014 will not be its end date. Not by a long shot.Of course, this is a position that Petraeus has supported. Four years from now our “withdrawal”plans, according to Nagl and Fick, will leave 25,000 troops in place. If truth-telling or accuracywere the point of their exercise, their piece would have been titled, “The ‘Long War’Grows
Longer 
.”

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