Clueless in the District of Columbia (Engelhardt)

I was thinking that in light of the labor and youth revolutions of 2011, Washington’s focus on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past two decades seems increasingly odd, like a set of fixations. They originated in the Cold War and in a frantic attempt to keep petroleum inexpensive so that alternative energy did not eat into Big Oil’s profits (Rupert Murdoch famously promised us $14 a barrel petroleum as a result of the Bush war on Iraq). But if you’ve ever played the board game “Risk,” you know that campaigns against the enemy can sometimes progress unexpectedly and you are left with a pile of your soldiers so far behind your lines that they are essentially useless.

In the same way, Washington has been left behind, its Soviet-era fixation on Central Asia now inexplicable in the absence of a Soviet Union, its hopes of cheap oil a distant chimera. Given global warming, cheap oil would not even be a good thing. Washington just seems increasingly out of touch with the real world, as Michael Schwartz recently argued. After all, a youth-and-labor revolution against Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and local tyranny supported by both– all at once– leaves inside-the-Beltway pundits sputtering and spinning their wheels.

(For my own recent thinking on some of these foreign policy issues see this interview in Foreign Policy in Focus).

So I was thinking of writing something about all that, but as often is the case, Tom Engelhardt of beat me to it, with his incisive essay, “Washington’s Echo Chamber.” Don’t miss it.

12 Responses

  1. This article frames the North African revolts as “The Revolution Against Neoliberalism,” link to

    The same publication has a first hand report regarding female participation in the Revolt by an Egyptian woman, link to

    Our current condition was forseen by the late social historian Christopher Lasch, in his Revolt of the Elites and echoed by David Korten”s When Corporations Rule the World and is following the axioms laid out by Kennedy in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. As Hudson has noted for the past several years, the USA is now just a franchise in the eyes of Global Finance and is being exploited just like the IMF exploits nations through its imposed policy of Structural Adjustment Programs, which is essentially Dollar Diplomacy on steroids; and the same is happening to EU nations. The essence of the USA’s current problem is providing for the Pentagon and its utterly useless destruction and waste of vital resources or providing for the polity and the basic infrastructure that provdes its support–one must be starved for the other to live. It is that missing reality Englehardt emphasises.

  2. There doesn’t seem to be Anybody in Our Political System anymore that has a clue as to what is happening in the real World. I did read Tom’s article and it makes You want to cry at what has happened to My Country. To go from the most Admired Nation of can do ism to the pariah status We currently have in 50 years, with Nobody in Our Body Politic seeming to notice Our Own suicide, is just bazaar. I’m a 73 yr. Old Man, Who did serve in the Army in the 50’s and vividly remember how Our Country contrasted Our Government with that of Nazi Germany and the USSR and now watch as We Ourselves, with the loss of more and more Rights and the culture of spying on Neighbors by Our Big Brother Security services, embracing Torture at the highest level of Government, ignoring Our Own Constitution, imprisoning without Trial or even scheduling one and then stating if We did and the defendant was found not guilty We would keep Him imprisoned anyway and breaking of any and all International Laws and Treaties We found inconvenient, We have become Them. My Generation will be the first to leave This Country worse than when We started and the deaf Washington Establishment runs on like It’s on autopilot. The rest of the World moves forward as We, like Qaddafi, Rant and Rave like the Mad Men We are and shed Rivers of Blood Blood as We try to hang on to the indefensible. Like Qaddafi, We will have to be put out of Our misery, kicking and screaming as the rest of the World moves on.How in God’s name could We be so unknowing and allow Ourselves to kill the Golden Goose? As a Young Man I often wondered how the German People could have supported Hitler and His disaster, unfortunately, I now know. Without Moral Leadership, even good People can become very debased.

  3. That’s why my mantra for sometime now has been – neither of the two evils …. and of course to completely ignore the MSM pundits and talking heads.

  4. I hear the “serious insiders” and members of what they call the “policy community” without any sense of irony, there inside the Beltway, also refer to their neither-fish-nor-fowl District of Columbia and its corporate-leech environs as “The Village.” Too bad “The Village,” as represented in so many tiny ways by the parasites of K Street and the C Street “Family,” seems mostly populated by the kinds of wealthy idiots who bought the reservoir above Johnstown, PA, for their private fishing hole and summer retreat, and then for their convenience, weakened the restraining dam which so spectacularly failed in 1889. link to (I particularly like this bit from the Wiki piece, as a former lawyer who sickened of the reality of our phony mythical “rule of law” and moved into nursing:

    After the flood, victims suffered a series of legal defeats in their attempt to recover damages from the dam’s owners. Public indignation at that failure prompted a major development in American law—state courts’ move from a fault-based regime to strict liability.

    Like that has anything to do with “reality.”

    And Professor, as you know, the people who have consigned all the rest of us to bit parts in the Grand Networked Battlespace, are still playing roles in a silly board game of “Risk!” where real people get to die and suffer for the sins of their “betters.”

    • .
      JT, to my biased view,
      that dam failure did have at least one good thing come of it, eventually. Whether motivated by shame, or megalomania, or something else, the party most responsible subsequently established numerous free public libraries across the country.

      • And… you see what a difference that has made in what has become of us, subjugated as we are by the successors and assigns and heirs of the Big Fella with the Common Touch. We get to be, some of us, who go to the Carnegie liberries, educated enough to appreciate how well and truly we are screwed. 2,200 dead at Johnstown — how many since, in a world where the Blessed Few can justify themselves by repeating that mantra — “A certain amount of killing has always been a tool of business.”

  5. once again the question for experts
    it is now being raised on left wing blogs, that what may reallly be going on is the peeling off of eastern oil rich libya from the colonel and his nationalization of that oil from western euopean dominace
    I would be most interested in prof Cole’s (and others) comments

    • Reuters has an item addressing the issue: “Rebels in eastern Libya said on Friday they now controlled most of the oil fields east of the town of Ras Lanuf, and said they would honour oil deals as long as they were in the interest of the people.” link to

      Given the outlook of the Revolutionaries, I very much doubt Libya will leave OPEC or provide better terms than Qaddafi as they want to utilize petro income to improve the condition of the masses–a major motivation for the Revolt. Current net exports are about 1.8MBPD and flow mostly to the EU. EIA data shows the US imported from Libya:
      2009: 22.35 million barrels. At $90/bbl, $2 billion/yr.
      2010: 14.7 million barrels. At $90/bbl, $1.3 billion/yr.
      Theoildrum republished its article on Libya, link to with most data indicating Libya has peaked; and with its rapidly rising consumption rate, its net exports will continue to decrease, especially if income distribution improves once the Revolution’s upheaval ends.

      Related to all the revolutionary North African action is this republished article discussing the EU NatGas market and NatGas exports to Europe from North Africa, link to

      The upshot is with the dictators who provided favors to the USA and EU gone, we should expect diminishing energy exports as internal consumption rises and increased husbanding of the resource base is imposed. In a sense, the West had “invaded” North Africa through its compradore dictators and IMF privitization mandates. For the latter, I expect to see repudiation of “loan” repayments as neoliberalism is the second aspect driving the Revolutions. This will also have consequenses for the European revolt against the neoliberal “austerity” program, which will likely spread to sub-Sahara Africa too.

      With the Standing-Up of some of the worlds most downtrodden people and the immense couage they displayed as an example, I expect 2011 to be a year even more full of surprises than we’ve already seen. At some point I expect to see a muscular backlash by the forces of Neoliberal Imperialism because such an act has always occured historically. But it seems the planet’s people have finally grasped the fact that while “they’ve got the guns; we’ve got the numbers” to establish real democracies that will finally checkmate the global oligarchy.

  6. I really liked this piece. The nonsense from vacuous pundits (Applebaum, Sullivan, Yglesias, etc.) about the “Arab world’s 1848” just evoke for me Stephen Colbert’s sketch about Oregon: is it California’s Canada? Or is it Washington’s Mexico? Most likely, it is Idaho’s Portugal!

    Not being able to see how current events are unique is a horrible symptom of this DC disease. The people coming out of IR programs (under Paul Wolfowitz’s deanship-hahahaha!) and working in the various foreign policy organizations usually substitute jargon and cliche for serious analysis and thought. As this has become the norm, the U.S’s vulnerabilities to the harsh realities of the world increases.

    For the first time in my life I am unquestionably more optimistic about the politics of the Arab world than of the Anglo-Saxon one. The Arabs are tackling the issues that the Anglo-Saxon has forgotten exist.

  7. Thank you for pointing to the post by Tom. I came across Tom Dispatch from your site.

    I had read the post yesterday. Truly, it is a must-read. So passionate, yet devoid of hyperbole. I was so impressed by it that I wrote Tom a letter.

    And was very glad to find it being written about here.

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