“Did China ask us if it was OK to... build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!” tweeted President-Elect Donald Trump after shattering nearly 40 years of U.S.-China diplomatic protocol by having a telephoneconversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
The call -- the first official contact between a U.S. president or president-elect and Taipei since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in the late 1970s -- was prime Trump. So was the tweet, a no-nonsense response to typical Chinese military provocations.
At least, that’s one way to look at it.
Of course, if China’s president Xi Jinping was a social media blowhard, he could have easily tweeted back: “Did America ask us if it was OK to... maintain a massive military complex of more than 100 bases in nearby Japan? I don't think so!”
Or the Chinese leader could have tweeted: “Did America ask us if it was OK to... rent space at the massive U-Tapao military complex in nearby Thailand? I don't think so!”
Or Xi could have tweeted: “Did America ask us if it was OK to... use portions of the military complexes at Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Air Base, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in the nearby Philippines? I don't think so!”
China’s president might have tweeted: “Did America ask us if it was OK to... deploy troops to a military complex near Darwin, Australia? I don't think so!”
Xi could have even tweeted “Did America ask us if it was OK to... maintain four major Army facilities in nearby South Korea at Daegu and Yongsan as well as Camps Red Cloud and Humphreys; not to mention air bases at Osan and Kunsan and a naval facility at Chinhae? I don't think so!”
Had he enough characters to spare, Xi might have mentioned U.S. access to key facilities in Singapore or its other Pacific military strongholds like Hawaii, Guam, and Saipan. He could even have mentioned the “massive” U.S. military presence in Asia -- the U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Army Pacific, U.S. Pacific Air Force, U.S. Marine Forces Pacific, U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific, and U.S. Forces Korea as well as the U.S. Eighth Army (also in Korea) -- for which there are no Chinese analogs operating in or around the Americas.
Even if Xi Jinping were to counter Trump’s twitter storm with gale-force tweets of his own, it’s fair to assume that the president-elect wouldn’t be swayed. American leaders don’t view U.S. power projection through the lens of those on the receiving end. Meanwhile, the American public remains mostly ignorant of the ways in which the U.S. garrisons the globe and rings its rivals with military bases.
Today, Tim Shorrock, a long-time Asia expert, seeks to do his part in obliterating this obliviousness with his inaugural TomDispatcharticle. The author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, he delves into how the election of Donald Trump will affect President Obama’s famed “Asian pivot” by teasing apart the tangled history of U.S. foreign policy in that region, and analyzing what it all means for the longstanding U.S. military footprint in Japan and South Korea. Nick Turse
Cops of the Pacific?
The U.S. Military’s Role in Asia in the Age of Trump
By Tim ShorrockDespite the attention being given to America’s roiling wars and conflicts in the Greater Middle East, crucial decisions about the global role of U.S. military power may be made in a region where, as yet, there are no hot wars: Asia. Donald Trump will arrive in the Oval Office in January at a moment when Pentagon preparations for a future U.S.-Japan-South Korean triangular military alliance, long in the planning stages, may have reached a crucial make-or-break moment. Whether those plans go forward and how the president-elect responds to them could help shape our world in crucial ways into the distant future.
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Many thanks to all of you who took up our special offer at our donation page and sent us contributions of $100 or more ($125 if you live outside the USA) for signed, personalized copies of John Feffer’s remarkable new dystopian novel, Splinterlands, which Dispatch Books has just published. Thanks as well to all of you who bought copies of the book, helping ensure that our growing TomDispatch publishing program will be a success. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am. For any of you who meant to donate to receive a personalized copy of the Feffer but just haven’t gotten around to it yet, the offer remains alive and well at our website, so go for it! And keep buying copies of the book. Think of all those gifts for friends in this particularly grim holiday season! Tom]
What is it about America and its twenty-first-century wars? They spread continually -- there are now seven of them; they never end; and yet, if you happen to live in the United States, most of the time it would be easy enough to believe that, except for the struggle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, there were no conflicts underway. Take the Afghan War, for an example. Now 15 years old and heating up again as the Taliban takes more territory and U.S. operations there grow, it was missing in action in the 2016 election campaign. Neither presidential candidate debated or discussed that war, despite the close to 10,000 U.S. troops (and more private contractors) still based there, the fact that U.S. air power has again been unleashed in that country, and the way those in the Pentagon are talking about it as a conflict that will extend well into the 2020s. It makes no difference. Here, it’s simply the war that time forgot. Similar things might be said, even if on a lesser scale, about expanding American operations in Somalia and ongoing ones in Libya. Nor is the intensity of the air war in Syria or Iraq much emphasized or grasped by the American public.
And then, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author of American Nuremberg, makes clear today, there’s the war that couldn’t be forgotten because, in essence, just about no one here noticed it in the first place. I’m speaking of the U.S.-backed Saudi war aimed significantly at the civilian population of desperately impoverished Yemen. It’s a conflict in which the actual American stake couldn’t be foggier and yet the Obama administration has supported it in just about every wayimaginable, and it will soon be inherited by Trump and his national security crew. It could hardly be grimmer, more devastating, or more gruesome, and yet most of the time, from an American point of view, it might as well not be happening. There is evidently no good moment to bring up the subject of where American bombs are falling on our planet, so why not now? Tom
It's 2016. Do You Know Where Your Bombs Are Falling?
The Forgotten War in Yemen and the Unchecked War Powers of the Presidency in the Age of Trump
By Rebecca GordonThe long national nightmare that was the 2016 presidential election is finally over. Now, we’re facing a worse terror: the reality of a Trump presidency. Donald Trump has already promised to nominate a segregationist attorney general, a national security adviser who is a raging Islamophobe, a secretary of education who doesn’t believe in public schools, and a secretary of defense whose sobriquet is “Mad Dog.” How worried should we be that General James "Mad Dog" Mattis may well be the soberest among them?Along with a deeply divided country, the worst income inequality since at least the 1920s, and a crumbling infrastructure, Trump will inherit a 15-year-old, apparently never-ending worldwide war. While the named enemy may be a mere emotion (“terror”) or an incendiary strategy (“terrorism”), the victims couldn’t be more real, and as in all modern wars, the majority of them are civilians.
Just whom Donald Trump will appoint to various key posts in his future administration has an unbearably enticing set of moving targets for the media (until, as at a recent rally in Cincinnati, dramatic announcements are made at unexpected moments, or released in other ways). And give The Donald credit: if he has a genius for anything, it’s for dominating the news cycle in ways -- from his pre-crack-o’-dawn tweets to those rallies -- that simply haven’t been seen here before. And be suitably amazed that, as during the election campaign, he continues to have an uncanny knack for flooding the screens of our world with that larger-than-life figure of his dreams, Donald Trump, nearly 24/7. He's the media-made man of our -- and his -- (endless) moment.
Until each appointment is announced, the speculation goes on endlessly about which billionaire or multimillionaire will be included in the latest round of The Chosen. In some ways, those officially or unofficially being considered, whether appointed or not, offer us a strange window into the future Washington world of Donald Trump. Take, for instance, two oily selections touted recently as possibilities for the man who has committed himself to elevating fossil fuel extraction to a high art. Trump has, after all, already promised to make a future Saudi America independent of oil imports from the actual Saudi Arabia or any other “foe” or member of the “oil cartel,” come -- if you’ll excuse a phrase that, in the context of climate change, is all too apt -- hell or high water.
In such situations, it undoubtedly makes a certain sense to think about going directly to the trough. If you want someone to oversee the Department of Energy, why not, for example, consider Harold Hamm, the Oklahoma oil tycoon and 60th richest person on the planet, whose fortune, according to Forbes, rose by $1.7 billion to $14.7 billion in the wake of Trump’s election victory? (On the subject of such a possible appointment, Hamm himself has been diffident.) Or if it’s the State Department you’re thinking about and global energy policy is on your mind, why not put aside the thought of frog legs and Mitt Romney for a second and at least consider -- as Donald Trump reputedly is doing -- Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, a man who made a salary of $27.3 million last year alone? After all, it would ensure transparency if the global energy policy you were going to pursue was directed by the man who had steered one of the top fossil-fuel extractors on the planet through years of choppy waters, right?
If you’re a normal human being and not a billionaire, this ongoing spectacle has to have a phantasmagoric feel to it. After all, we’re now in a world in which -- I’m not kidding you -- Sarah Palin has denounced Trump’s deal with Carrier to keep 1,000 jobs in Indiana as “crony capitalism”! And if you’re feeling that way now, just wait until you take the initial tour of his onrushing world that TomDispatch regular (and author of All the Presidents’ Bankers) Nomi Prins offers today, billionaire by billionaire. My suggestion: buckle your seatbelt; it's going to be a bumpy ride. Tom
Trump’s Bait and Switch
How to Swamp Washington and Double-cross Your Supporters Big Time
By Nomi PrinsGiven his cabinet picks so far, it’s reasonable to assume that The Donald finds hanging out with anyone who isn’t a billionaire (or at least a multimillionaire) a drag. What would there be to talk about if you left the Machiavellian class and its exploits for the company of the sort of normal folk you can rouse at a rally? It’s been a month since the election and here’s what’s clear: crony capitalism, the kind that festers and grows when offered public support in its search for private profits, is the order of the day among Donald Trump’s cabinet picks. Forget his own “conflicts of interest.” Whatever financial, tax, and other policies his administration puts in place, most of his appointees are going to profit like mad from them and, in the end, Trump might not even wind up being the richest member of the crew.Only a month has passed since November 8th, but it’s already clear (not that it wasn’t before) that Trump’s anti-establishment campaign rhetoric was the biggest scam of his career, one he pulled off perfectly. As president-elect and the country’s next CEO-in-chief, he’s now doing what many presidents have done: doling out power to like-minded friends and associates, loyalists, and -- think John F. Kennedy, for instance -- possibly family.Here, however, is a major historical difference: the magnitude of Trump’s cronyism is off the charts, even for Washington. Of course, he’s never been a man known for doing small and humble. So his cabinet, as yet incomplete, is already the richest one ever. Estimates of how loaded it will be are almost meaningless at this point, given that we don’t even know Trump’s true wealth (and will likely never see his tax returns). Still, with more billionaires at the doorstep, estimates of the wealth of his new cabinet members and of the president-elect range from my own guesstimate of about $12 billion up to $35 billion. Though the process is as yet incomplete, this already reflects at least a quadrupling of the wealth represented by Barack Obama’s cabinet.
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: This is the official publication day for our newest Dispatch book, Splinterlands, by John Feffer, and so we have a special offer for you. Splinterlands began in November 2015 as that rarest of all things for this website, a piece of fiction in which a “geo-paleontologist” named Julian West looked back from the year 2050 on a world shattered by the unexpected rise of nationalism and the devastation of climate change. It was an instant hit. Managing Editor Nick Turse and I both loved it and suggested to Feffer, a remarkable columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus (and a playwright in his spare time), that he turn it into a dystopian novel for us, which he promptly did. Of the new book, Mike Davis says, “John Feffer is our twenty-first-century Jack London and, like the latter’s Iron Heel, Splinterlandsis a vivid, suspenseful warning about the ultimate incompatibility of capitalism and human survival.” Barbara Ehrenreich adds, “A startling portrait of a post-apocalyptic tomorrow that is fast becoming a reality today. Fast-paced yet strangely haunting.” In a starred prepublication review, Publisher’s Weekly called it “a chilling, thoughtful, and intuitive warning.”
For TomDispatch readers, this will, I hope, be a must-buy book. It’s both a riveting read and a way you can help support this website in its ongoing efforts in the age of Trump. And here’s our special offer: if you go to the TomDispatch donation page and give us $100 ($125 if you live outside the USA), Feffer will send you a signed, personalized copy of the book. It’s one hell of a novel. Think of it as an owner’s manual for the age of Trump and beyond. And keep in mind that this website is going to need all the help it can get! Tom]
Old as I am, I can still remember secretly reading books by flashlight under the covers at a time when my parents thought I was asleep. Those were the haunted hours of my young life, a perfect time -- my early teens -- to check out, say, an Isaac Asimov space opera or some shivery little H.G. Wells nightmare like The Island of Dr. Moreau or The War of the Worlds, or to dip into that other genre of horror, the dystopian novel -- say, Wells’s The Time Machine, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, or Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
Dystopian fiction has always been a haunted form, offering the bleak thrill of a futuristic plunge into the black hole of what we humans are capable of doing to ourselves. And I must admit that, even at age 72, once I slip under the covers at night I still find a magnetic fascination in such futuristic fiction, as in, say, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Water Knife (a conjuring up of a drought-ridden, climate-changed future Southwest in which water is gold). However, what I find far stranger at the moment, both locally and globally, is the curiously dystopian path that reality seems to be taking before our eyes and in broad daylight rather than in the witching hour of our predictive nightmares. As The Donald puts together the wealthiest cabinet in American memory, possibly in history, on the evident principle that government of the billionaires, by the billionaires, for the billionaires shall not perish from this Earth; as Europe is repeatedly rocked by similar eruptions of right-wing populism and a nationalism that threatens to sink the European Union; as the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa are plunged into a chaos of failed and failing states and extreme jihadist outfits while experiencing a cacophony of conflict and a wave of refugees of a sort not seen since the end of World War II, we increasingly seem to be living in a dystopian novel.
This gives my most recent encounter with the form a certain poignancy. As part of TomDispatch's publishing program with Haymarket Books, we are this very day putting out our latest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s striking new dystopian novel, Splinterlands. It’s a look back at our world from the shattered Earth of 2050. What’s made the experience so strange for me is that, in these recent months, as we prepared for publication day, as the planet visibly threatened to shatter before our eyes, Feffer’s novel has come to read ever less like futuristic fiction and ever more like a vivid journalistic report on the latest developments in our distressed, Trumpian universe. With that in mind, we asked him today to return to the world of Splinterlands, and launch the book at this website by offering us the view not of the “geo-paleontologist” Julian West, the central figure in his novel, but of West’s ex-wife, Rachel Leopold, herself looking back from 2050 on the planet that Donald Trump’s election helped produce. Slip under the covers and read it late tonight! Tom
Pulling the Lever for Doomsday
Or How Donald Trump Changed Everything (2016-2020)
By John FefferI didn’t vote in the pivotal American election of 2016. Thirty-five years ago, in that unseasonably warm month of November, I was in Antarctica’s Allan Hills taking ice core samples with a hand augur. The pictures I have from that time show my team drilling deep into the blue ice, but what we were actually doing was digging a million years into the planetary past to gaze upon the panorama of climate change. The election was a bad soap opera playing out far beyond my field of vision.At the time, I lived in Washington, D.C. So my vote, I told myself for years afterward, wouldn’t have made any difference in that overwhelmingly Democratic city. And of course, I never had a doubt about the result, nor did my family and friends, nor did the pollsters, the media, and the entertainment industry, nor the members of the political and economic elite of both major parties. Ours was a confidence composed in equal parts of ignorance and arrogance. We underestimated the legitimate anger and despair of large sections of the country -- as well as the other darker motivations much discussed in the years since.“Remember, Rachel,” my ex-husband used to say, “Homo homini lupus: man is wolf to man.” I criticized him for slandering the poor wolf, but he was right. Beastliness has always lain just beneath the surface of our world.