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A Counterplea for Retracted U.S. Military Engagement

This is an excerpt from my recent piece for The Diplomat.

Former Defense Department officials Michèle Flournoy and Janine Davidson’s new article, “A Plea for Smart, Forward U.S. Military Engagement,” may contain some surprises for followers of contemporary history. The piece begins:

The recent global economic downturn has generated doubts about American resilience and our ability to lead in the world. Far from being a nation in decline, however, the United States’ global standing remains unmatched and the imperative for it to lead in today’s tumultuous environment is clear. Those who assume that in order to recover economically the United States must close its overseas bases and bring its military forces home misunderstand the role the U.S. military plays in promoting global prosperity.”

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In search of the 'Islamic menace' in Bolivia

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

Were I transcribing the wet dream of US Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – self-appointed bulwark against the alleged Islamo-Bolivarian threat to homeland security – I might describe my arrival to La Paz two weeks ago as follows:

Descending from the city of El Alto into the Bolivian capital, my bus was stopped by a battalion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

All passengers were required to pledge simultaneous allegiance to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Adolf Hitler, and Evo Morales. Once the Iranians had verified that there were no Jewish businesspeople on board available for kidnapping, the vehicle was allowed to pass.

Our progress was once again interrupted, however, by a parade of Iranian diplomats, whose infestation of Bolivia began when the Islamic Republic made the alarming decision to open embassies in Latin America – something no other country in the world has done. Augmenting the infestation are the more than two dozen Iranian diplomatic offspring who have reportedly been enrolled in the international school in La Paz.

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Thomas Friedman’s Confusions

The London Review of Books blog has just published my very short piece on Thomas Friedman’s Iraq war crimes, which begins:

In his most recent book, Thomas Friedman – New York Times columnist, Pulitzer Prize winner, presidential adviser – says of the Iraq War that he has ‘nothing but regret for the excessive price that America and Iraq have had to pay in lives and treasure’. The body count seems to be less cause for concern, however, than the fact that China, which has not been distracted from domestic infrastructure projects by pricey wars abroad, can now build a convention centre in approximately the same time it takes for the Washington Metro crew to repair two escalators in Friedman’s local subway station (the book is called That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back). Still, he’s come a long way since May 2003, when he said that the US military had to go ‘house to house from Basra to Baghdad’, wielding ‘a very big stick’ and instructing Iraqis to ‘Suck On This’.

Click here to read the rest of the piece at the LRB blog.

Thomas Friedman—Greenwashing Imperial Messenger?

My book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work was recently excerpted at Guernica Magazine.

Here’s an excerpt of the excerpt:

Despite Friedman’s newfound annoyance that the United States is preoccupied with nation-building abroad and that “the Cheneyites want to make fighting Al Qaeda our Sputnik“ while “China is doing moon shots“ and turning from red to green, he credits the U.S. army with “outgreening al-Qaeda” in Iraq. In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, we learn that this has been achieved via a combination of insulation foam and renewable energy sources, reducing the amount of fuel required to air condition troop accommodations in certain locations.

After speaking with army energy consultant Dan Nolan— whom he “couldn’t help but ask, ’Is anybody in the military saying, “Oh gosh, poor Dan has gone green—has he gone girly-man on us now?“ ’—Friedman announces that the outgreening of Al Qaeda constitutes a typical example:

“of what happens when you try to solve a problem by outgreening the competition—you buy one and you get four free. In Nolan’s case, you save lives by getting [fuel transportation] convoys off the road, save money by lowering fuel costs [from the quoted ‘hundreds of dollars per gallon’ often required to cover delivery], and maybe have some power left over to give the local mosque’s imam so his community might even toss a flower at you one day, rather than a grenade.”

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Guatemala’s September 11

Poised to win Guatemala’s presidential elections tomorrow is right-wing former army general Otto Pérez Molina, who is accused of genocide and torture during the epoch of state terrorism in the 1980s and is unsurprisingly an alumnus of the U.S.-run School of the Americas—alma mater of various Latin American dictators, death squad leaders, and other talented persons.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman recently managed to interview Pérez Molina about narcotrafficking in Guatemala without supplying any of these contextual details. In the interview, the former general surmised that 35-40 percent of Guatemalan territory is currently controlled by drug traffickers but failed to mention the drug ties of his own party.

The U.S. war on communism legitimated the elimination of over 200,000 Guatemalans via “internal conflict”. The full extent to which the new narco menace and increasing militarization of Central America will facilitate the eradication of large swaths of the area’s unnecessary human population remains to be seen, as does whether Guatemala will join the list of countries with memorable 9/11s.

Financial Times betrays Thomas Friedman

Today marks the release of yet another book by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’ prolific foreign affairs columnist whose articles over the years have exposed such trends as the “collective madness” of Palestinians and the progress in Mexican baby names to more NAFTA-friendly alternatives than Juan, such as Alexander and Kevin.

Friedman’s latest book, endearingly titled That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, is coauthored by Friedman’s “intellectual soulmate”, the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum—a longtime staple of Friedman columns and a purveyor of such predictable notions as that “The real threat to world stability is not too much American power. It is too little American power”.

Despite having admitted to an audience in Istanbul that his two previous bestsellers—The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded, marketed as wakeup calls concerning globalization and clean energy, respectively—really “have nothing to do with technology or environment at heart” and are instead “basically cries of the heart to get my country focused on fixing itself”, Friedman managed to advertise That Used to Be Us as “the first book I’ve really written about America” during an interview with Fox’s Don Imus earlier this year.

Slightly more surprising than Friedman’s continuing habit of self-contradiction is a recent less-than-favorable review of the new book on the website of the Financial Times, the institution that in 2005 partnered with Goldman Sachs to bestow upon Friedman the first annual £30,000 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award for The World Is Flat. Friedman responded to the honor by referring to the pair as “two such classy organizations”, before finally conceding two years after the 2008 financial crisis that Goldman Sachs is perhaps in fact “utterly selfish”.

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Honduras' very own war on terror

”]The following is my first article for Al Jazeera.

A few months after the 2009 coup d’etat against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, I was approached on the street in Tegucigalpa by a man who threatened to kill me unless I produced an economic incentive sufficient to halt my demise. I suggested that we walk to an ATM and postponed the issue of my lack of an ATM card to an indefinite future point.

Fortunately, by the time we reached the nearest gas station, my companion had finished a bottle of aguardiente and our conversation had taken an unexpected course. Thanking me for the stroll, he requested that I adopt his 18-month-old son in order to spare the child his girlfriend’s crack cocaine habit.

The brief but tragic death of Popeye’s

From the gas station I procured a ride back in the direction of my pension with a female university student in an SUV and designer sunglasses, whose analysis of what had just transpired was that 80 percent of Hondurans were thugs. By coincidence, her calculations also revealed that 80 percent of Hondurans were poor and that this was why the recently-expatriated Zelaya was so popular, which did not alter her view that Honduran democracy had in fact been upheld by his forcible expulsion from the country.

The expulsion was orchestrated once Zelaya had shown himself to be incompatible with everything from the regional neoliberal project  to the elite Opus Dei sect’s obsession with banning the morning-after pill. The president’s transgressions had included raising the minimum wage in certain sectors and paying slightly more attention than previous leaders to the complaints of poor communities tired of the effects of international mining endeavors on their skin and reproductive abilities. The last straw was Zelaya’s attempt to poll the citizenry as to whether the national constitution – which hails from the era in which the country was affectionately referred to as the “USS Honduras” and is skewed in the interest of approximately ten families who dominate the economy – should be revised.

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