TBR News July 22, 2017

Jul 22 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., July 22, 2017:”From an abstract economic point of view, there is no doubt whatsoever that the world-leading American Empire is starting to crumble.

The government expenditures on endless right-wing and useless wars far exceeds the revenues from the forced Income Tax and the national debt grows larger year by year.

Eventually, like Greece, the national economy will implode, Social Security and Federal pensions will vanish and the economy will finally grind to a halt and begin to fall apart.

A population will become ever more restive and finally there will be violence followed by repression and then ever more violence. America’s plan for a global empire controlled from Washington will totally disintegrate and eventually the States Rights movements will succeed and America will become an aggregation of independent statelets.

This is coming as surely as the oceans are rising and that event will only add to the dislocation and social disorder.

Lao Tsu said to spare him from living in interesting times.


Table of Contents

  • Interpol circulates list of 173 suspected members of Isis suicide brigade
  • Deadly attack on Jewish home in West Bank follows clashes over Temple Mount
  • From Paragon To Pariah: How Kaczynski Is Driving Poland Away from Europe
  • Donald Trump and the Coming Fall of American Empire
  • Can the Mall of America survive the retail apocalypse?

Interpol circulates list of 173 suspected members of Isis suicide brigade

Exclusive: Agency believes the fighters could have been trained to bomb Europe as revenge for military defeats in Middle East

July 21, 2017

by Lorenzo Tondo,Patrick Wintour and Piero Messina

The Guardian

Interpol has circulated a list of 173 Islamic State fighters it believes could have been trained to mount suicide attacks in Europe in revenge for the group’s military defeats in the Middle East.

The global crime fighting agency’s list was drawn up by US intelligence from information captured during the assault on Isis territories in Syria and Iraq.

European counter-terror networks are concerned that as the Isis “caliphate” collapses, there is an increasing risk of determined suicide bombers seeking to come to Europe, probably operating alone.

There is no evidence that any of the people on the list, whose names the Guardian has obtained, have yet entered Europe, but the Interpol circulation, designed to see if EU intelligence sources have any details on the individuals, underlines the scale of the challenge facing Europe.

The list, sent out by the general secretariat of Interpol on 27 May, defines the group of fighters as individuals that “may have been trained to build and position improvised explosive devices in order to cause serious deaths and injuries. It is believed that they can travel internationally, to participate in terrorist activities.”

The data was originally collected by the US intelligence “through trusted channels”. The material was handed over to the FBI, which transmitted the list to Interpol for global sharing.

A note appended to the Interpol list circulated in Italy explains how the terrorist database was constructed, putting together the pieces of the puzzle from hundreds of elements, mainly gathered when Isis local headquarters were captured.

“The people,” the note says, “have been identified through materials found in the hiding places of Isil, the Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant.” The note adds that “it emerges that those subjects may have manifested willingness to commit a suicidal attack or martyrdom to support Islam”.

The list shows the suspects’ names, the date Isis recruited them, their last likely address including the mosque at which they have been praying while away fighting, their mother’s name and any photographs.

For each of the fighters, an ID was created to ensure that each member country in the Interpol network could integrate the data with local databases.

Interpol has asked its national partners for any information they might have about each name on the list, and any other background personal data they have on their files, such as border crossings, previous criminal offences, biometric data, passport numbers, activity on social media and travel history.

The information will then be included in Interpol’s ASF (automatic search facility) database in order to possibly put the names on a higher level watch list.

US intelligence is apparently confident about the reliability of the sources used to compile the list. But western counter-terrorism forces have said they face an uphill struggle identifying potential suspects, who have access to a mountain of false documents, double identities and fake passports.

Interpol stressed the list’s transmission came as part of its role circulating information between national crime-fighting agencies. “Interpol regularly sends alerts and updates to its national central bureaux (NCB) on wanted terrorists and criminals via our secure global police communications network,” a spokesman said. “It is the member country which provides the information that decides which other countries it can be shared with.

The jihadi group is currently struggling to come to terms with the loss of Mosul in northern Iraq following a battle that produced some of the most brutal fighting since the end of the second world war.

The parallel advance on Raqqa, the group’s other urban stronghold in the region, has been stalled partly due to the severity of the resistance being mounted against the Syrian Democratic Forces made up of an alliance of Kurds, Arabs and US Special forces.

US Army Col Ryan Dillon on Friday estimated there were around 2,000 Isis militants in the city, who he said were using civilians and children as human shields. The distance between SDF forces on the eastern side of the city and on the western fronts is now just under 2km.

The United Nations estimates that about 190,000 residents of Raqqa province have been displaced since April, including about 20,000 since the operation to seize the provincial capital began in early June.

US diplomats this week admitted that the SDF forces, due to their ethnic make-up, will be constrained from going south of Raqqa to pursue Isis as far as Deir Azzour, saying this may be the task of the Syrian forces under Bashar al Assad, or even Iranian-backed Shia militia.

“The purpose of sending these alerts and updates is to ensure that vital policing information is made available when and where it is needed, in line with a member country’s request.”

A European counter-terrorism officer said one of the purposes of circulating the list around Europe was to identify those on it who might have been born and raised in European countries.

In 2015 the UN considered there were 20,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, of whom 4,000 were from Europe, but there has not previously been a specific list of those fighters including those born in the Middle East who have been identified as potential suicide bombers.

The speed with which Isis fighters are likely to attempt to reach Europe will depend on a range of issues including whether the group tries to set up a new base in Syria in the wake of the impending fall of Raqqa, its last major redoubt in north-west Syria. There is a growing suggestion that Isis fighters will shift south from Raqqa to the defensible territory stretching from Deir el-Zourez-Zor to Abu Kamal.


Deadly attack on Jewish home in West Bank follows clashes over Temple Mount

Four Israelis have been stabbed, three of them fatally, in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. The attack comes after three Palestinians were killed in clashes with the Israeli army over access to a holy site.

July 21, 2017


Israel’s military said the attack on Friday evening happened at a house in Halamish, no

“An assailant infiltrated a private home in the community of Neve Tsuf, northwest of Ramallah, and stabbed four Israeli civilians,” the Israeli army said in a statement.

An Israeli military official said a grandfather and two of his children died, while the grandmother was wounded. No further details on the victims were given.

The attacker was identified by Israel Radio as a 19-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank village of Khobar near Ramallah.

Eli Bin, the head of Israel’s rescue service MDA, said an off-duty soldier next door heard screams, ran to the house and shot the attacker through a window. Bin said the attacker was wounded and evacuated to hospital.

Earlier protests

Three Palestinians had been killed in protests in Jerusalem earlier on Friday in clashes with Israeli forcesover entry restrictions at the holy site of Haram al-Sharif, also known as Temple Mount.

The protests – over the placement of metal detectors and turnstiles at the site – turned into clashes in which the three men were shot dead, the interior ministry said. At least 400 people were hospitalized, the ministry reported.

Security forces prohibited Palestinian men under the age of 50 from entering Jerusalem’s Old City for Friday Muslim prayers this week. They have allowed access to women of all ages.

Abbas suspends contacts with Israel

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Friday that he would suspend all contacts with Israel because of the new security measures. He also urged the United States to intervene with Israel to drop the security changes.

The dispute

Israeli-Palestinian tensions over the Holy Land’s most revered shrine are severe.

Disputes over the 37-acre (15-hectare) walled, hilltop platform in Jerusalem’s Old City have triggered several major confrontations in the past.

Israel began installing metal detectors at the gates of the compound, saying extra measures were needed to prevent further attacks.

Since 1967, Israel has increasingly cut off east Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland.

Under the post-1967 arrangements, Muslims administer the compound, while Jews can visit, but not pray there. This arrangement held for decades – in large part because leading rabbis, citing religious purity laws, banned Jews from entering.


From Paragon To Pariah: How Kaczynski Is Driving Poland Away from Europe

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the most powerful politician in Poland, is the architect of judicial reforms that have drawn massive criticism across Europe. As the Polish government chips away at checks and balances, is it possible the politician could drive the country out of the EU?

July 21, 2017

by Jan Puhl


The nucleus of Poland’s political power lies not in the parliament in Warsaw, not in the presidential palace, but in a windowless, slightly strange looking building that most resembles a multistory car park. It’s not quite part of Warsaw’s city center, although downtown’s many new glass and steel skyscrapers are still just in sight. Every day, an official car picks up Jaroslaw Kaczynski from his apartment in the Zoliborz neighborhood and brings him to this office block at 84-86 Nowogrodzka. The building houses a sushi restaurant, a copy shop and an insurance company — and the headquarters of Kaczynski’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Its chairman uses a separate entrance. In the mornings, a team of young staff members supplies him with books, newspapers and printouts. All in Polish, because Kaczynski only reads Polish sources. At midday, a procession of black limos starts arriving, delivering ministers — and occasionally the president of the Polish National Bank — to the Nowogrodzka office to pick up directives and seek advice.

Despite holding no formal government office, Kaczynski is Warsaw’s undisputed leader. Together with his late twin brother, Lech, he founded the PiS party in 2001 and twice led it to victory. In 2015, he hand-picked its presidential candidate Andrzej Duda, at the time an unknown member of the European Parliament, who went on to win the vote. He also personally selected current Prime Minister Beata Szydlo. Both politicians are widely seen as Kaczynski’s willing stooges.

From a backroom in the Nowogrodzka office, he has turned Poland into a problem case for the EU. Poland, of all places. Under the liberal leadership of former prime minister Donald Tusk, it had long been viewed as the paragon among the Eastern European accession countries. But Kaczynski, who thinks in nationalist categories, clearly sees the union as a source of ready cash rather than a community of solidarity, to which his own country must also contribute. Under his leadership, this once deeply pro-European country might now be moving toward an exit.

The ruling PiS party is already doggedly distancing Poland from Europe’s central values. It has restricted the power of the country’s highest constitutional court and filled top positions in public radio and television as well as major state-owned companies and the intelligence services with loyalists. In the past week, it turned its attention to reforming the independent Polish judiciary with the aim of giving parliament, in which the Law and Justice has a majority, and the president, chosen by the Law and Justice party, the power to appoint judges — even in the Supreme Court — who were previously nominated by the independent National Judiciary Council.

Thursday saw the lower house of parliament vote through the reform, which now has to be approved by the upper house, the Senate, in a vote that is expected imminently, and signed by the president. To the surprise of many, Duda actually proposed a compromise reform, even though so far Duda has always acquiesced to his patron’s will — hence his disparaging nickname, “the notary.”

A Threat to the Rule of Law

As Poland, the biggest and most important of the EU’s Eastern European members, sets about dismantling the separation of powers, Brussels and Berlin are protesting loudly. The European Commission has referred to “a systemic threat to the rule of law” and indicated Poland could be stripped of its voting rights. But its leverage is limited. The Commission’s probe into the “threats to the rule of law,” launched last year, has stalled. Revoking Poland’s voting rights would require a unanimous decision among all other EU member countries, and Hungary, whose prime minister Viktor Orbán is also no friend of liberal democracy, has declared he would never agree to such a move. The EU has no other sanctions to impose.

But political resistance is also growing inside Poland. In recent days, tens of thousands of people have taken the streets to protest against what the opposition has called “an assault on democracy.” But the PiS party doesn’t need to worry too much about the demonstrations, which are restricted to the major cities. The party still enjoys a clear lead in national polls. The Polish economy is growing steadily — by over 4 percent in the first quarter of 2017 alone. And tax revenues have also risen since the party came to power.

Judicial reform is only one aspect of Kaczynski’s plans to overhaul Poland. He has long entertained ideas of a “Fourth Republic,” a strict but caring state replacing the “Third Republic,” as post-communist Poland is often called. Parliamentarians with the liberal opposition fear that the government will continue eroding Polish democracy and that a compliant judiciary could start to challenge unwelcome election results. There are indications that the PiS party is planning to revamp electoral regulations so that it is guaranteed victory for years to come. Urban constituencies, where the party tends to perform poorly, could be redrawn to include more rural areas, thereby redistributing its majorities.

The government’s next target could be Poland’s private media companies. A favorite buzzword of the Law and Justice party is “renationalization,” which in this case would exclude by law international publishing companies from the Polish market.

A Conspiracy Theorist

Kaczynski is a stocky man with a round head. He often looks disgruntled and rarely has any kind of emotional outburst. This week, however, he became unusually angry. During a parliamentary debate on the judicial reforms, a liberal member of parliament raised the specter of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s late brother Lech, who served as president from 2005 to 2010, and was killed in a plane crash close to the Russian city of Smolensk seven years ago.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski stormed over to the podium. “Don’t wipe your treacherous mugs with the name of my late brother,” he bellowed. “You destroyed him, you murdered him!” The incident illustrates the party chairman’s obsession with conspiracy theories. Like many in the party, he is convinced that his brother was deliberately killed in an assassination masterminded by Russia and approved by the liberal Polish government in power at the time.

There was a time when Lech and Jaroslav were Europe’s political curiosity nonpareil. They were outsiders, frequently mocked, not least for their appearance. But they had a talent for demagoguery, which propelled them both to power. From 2005 to 2007 they both held office, as president and prime minister respectively. Jaroslav continued to pursue their political agenda after the death of his brother in the Smolensk plane crash. But what is driving him?

Two weeks ago, Kaczynski was the keynote speaker at a Law and Justice party congress in Przysucha, some 40 kilometers from Warsaw. “Poland is united,” he said from behind the lectern in a drab auditorium. “We are here to ensure that everyone in Poland has the same opportunities, regardless of whether they live in the cities or in the country.”

Kaczynski is not a fiery speaker. He’s not a champion of the people. He tends to enumerate ministerial achievements, which sounds dull, but only to the uninitiated. PiS party politicians listen closely, because this is when they get to find out who has earned brownie points. The list of acknowledgments tells them who is currently in favor with the “prezes,” Polish for president.

‘Positive Change’

Issues and appointments are not debated within the party. Its agenda is drawn up by Kaczynski, as is the electoral list.

Ideologically, he stands for what is essentially a left-wing vision of a generous state, dished up with what liberal politician Leszek Balcerowicz once called “nationalist-Catholic gravy.” Kaczynski makes himself out to be the defender of the interests of the common people, defending them from the supposedly “pathological” consequences of the economic liberalism rampant since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

From the very beginning of his political career, he has maintained that it was former communists and dissidents and not the general public who benefited from this economic upswing. According Kaczynski’s narrative, they cherrypicked jobs and businesses from Poland’s bankrupt estate and ushered in an era of dog-eats-dog capitalism. Average Poles were hung out to dry. Kaczynski wants to see the “networks” that emerged at this time tackled, and the most egregious examples of the cold new economic order crushed. The current PiS party slogan sounds less combative than previous ones: “dobra zmiana” means “positive change.” The underlying message is that the party intends to make Poland more humane.

In contrast, the liberal opposition, which had been in power until 2015, has little to offer these days. The bedrock of its political platform has always been the EU. Its vision is basically that so long as Poland is a reliable European partner, aid from Brussels will ensure prosperity for all. The trouble is that few people believe in this vision in the remote east of the country, in villages and small towns.

The Law and Justice party appeals to people who are frustrated by the slow pace of economic progress. Its core voters are not the poor, but the middle classes. Families fed up with dilapidated schools and kindergartens, as well as small businesspeople and shop owners who feel threatened by international retail chains. These are the sorts of voters who want the PiS to guarantee a welfare benefit of 500 zlotys for a second child and reduce the retirement age from 67 to 65 for men and to 60 for women.

Most of them attach little importance to constitutionally spurious moves such as the judicial reform. The judiciary they know from the post-’89 years was inefficient and corrupt anyway. It all goes to show that one reason why Kaczynski is such a successful politician is because he understands how to harness a mood and bring it to a head. He’s seen as a modest man willing to sacrifice his own interests for the greater good of the country — in direct contrast to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has a soft spot for oligarchy glamor.

Eroding Democracy

But where exactly does Kaczynski stand on democracy? “(He) loves Poland and believes in God and the state,” says Michal Kaminski, who used to represent the Law and Justice party in the European Parliament and is now a conservative lawmaker in Poland’s lower house. He says that Kaczynski is deeply convinced that he knows what is best for Poland and the Polish people. On principle, he is not opposed to democracy, but nor does he want his agenda to be impeded by pesky checks and balances such as a constitutional court. “Internally, the PiS party is looking increasingly more like a sect than a political party,” says Kaminski.

The case of Elzbieta Jakubiak lends weight to this theory. She used to work for Lech Kaczynski. After his death, she was ejected by the party by Jaroslav but has long since reconciled with him again. “He had to choice, he had to let us go in order to keep the party together,” she said. Many in the party, it seems, are willing to see its chairman’s every move as a brilliant maneuver, even when it entails their own exclusion.

Operating out of his backroom office on Nowogrodzka, Poland’s unofficial leader appears to be in an unassailable position. Whenever anything goes wrong, he can simply pass the buck.

The death of his brother in a plane crash consolidated his standing. As the surviving twin, Jaroslaw Kaczynski has become part of the national mythology which is such as pillar of the Polish right-wing’s identity: The Poles are heroic but forever victimized by Russia and Germany.

Growing EU Skepticism

It’s an identity that also defines Kaczynski’s foreign policy. “He doesn’t understand the principle of the EU,” says one former member of the Law and Justice party. As far as he is concerned, the EU is simply an ongoing competition between the member states. That’s why he doesn’t see the European Union as a project securing peace and prosperity. In his eyes, it is first and foremost an instrument of German power.

Polls show that a large majority of Poles still support EU membership. But many diplomats fear that this support is crumbling. “When you talk to Law and Justice party politicians, it’s obvious they think that the EU’s best days are behind it and you shouldn’t expect much from it anymore,” says Marek Prawda, the Polish head of the European Commission representation in Warsaw. Resentment of Brussels is growing, he believes.

PiS politicians such as Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski are constantly maintaining that Western European nations take the lion’s share of Brussels’ funds. He points to the German companies constructing roads and train stations in Poland, overlooking the fact they help create jobs, improve infrastructure and pay taxes in the country.

Pressure from Brussels is unlikely to make the Law and Justice party cave in. If the EU ends up punishing Poland, relations will become even more strained. The government might one day question why Poland is in the EU in the first place. As one diplomat put it: “As Britain has shown, you can stumble your way into an EU exit.”


Donald Trump and the Coming Fall of American Empire

July 22 2017

by Jeremy Scahill

The Intercept

Even as President Donald Trump faces ever-intensifying investigations into the alleged connections between his top aides and family members and powerful Russian figures, he serves as commander in chief over a U.S. military that is killing an astonishing and growing number of civilians. Under Trump, the U.S. is re-escalating its war in Afghanistan, expanding its operations in Iraq and Syria, conducting covert raids in Somalia and Yemen, and openly facilitating the Saudi’s genocidal military destruction of Yemen.

Meanwhile, China has quietly and rapidly expanded its influence without deploying its military on foreign soil.

A new book by the famed historian Alfred McCoy predicts that China is set to surpass the influence of the U.S. globally, both militarily and economically, by the year 2030. At that point, McCoy asserts the United States Empire as we know it will be no more. He sees the Trump presidency as one of the clearest byproducts of the erosion of U.S. global dominance, but not its root cause. At the same time, he also believes Trump may accelerate the empire’s decline.

McCoy argues that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the beginning of the end. McCoy is not some chicken little. He is a serious academic. And he has guts.

During the Vietnam war, McCoy was ambushed by CIA-backed paramilitaries as he investigated the swelling heroin trade. The CIA tried to stop the publication of his now classic book, “The Politics of Heroin.” His phone was tapped, he was audited by the IRS and he was investigated and spied on by the FBI. McCoy also wrote one of the earliest and most prescient books on the post 9-11 CIA torture program and he is one of the world’s foremost experts on U.S. covert action. His new book, which will be released in September, is called “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.”

“The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, may already be tattered and fading by 2025 and, except for the finger pointing, could be over by 2030,” McCoy writes. Imagining the real-life impact on the U.S. economy, McCoy offers a dark prediction:

“For the majority of Americans, the 2020s will likely be remembered as a demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness. After years of swelling deficits fed by incessant warfare in distant lands, in 2030 the U.S. dollar eventually loses its special status as the world’s dominant reserve currency.

Suddenly, there are punitive price increases for American imports ranging from clothing to computers. And the costs for all overseas activity surges as well, making travel for both tourists and troops prohibitive. Unable to pay for swelling deficits by selling now-devalued Treasury notes abroad, Washington is finally forced to slash its bloated military budget. Under pressure at home and abroad, its forces begin to pull back from hundreds of overseas bases to a continental perimeter. Such a desperate move, however, comes too late.

Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying its bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace.”

Alfred McCoy is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of the now-classic book “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.” His new book, out in September, is “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.”

This week, I interviewed McCoy for the Intercepted podcast. We broadcast an excerpt of the interview on the podcast. Below is an edited and slightly condensed version of the full interview. In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss Trump and Russia, the history of CIA interference in elections around the world, the Iran-Contra scandal, the CIA and the crack-cocaine epidemic, U.S. proxy wars, narcotrafficking in Afghanistan, and much more.

Jeremy Scahill: One of the things that you’re best known for is a book that continues to this day to be relevant when studying covert U.S. operations around the world, as well as the international narcotics trafficking industry, and of course you tie both of those together. We’re going to get into all of that in a moment but I wanted to begin by asking you to assess this current moment that we’re in with Donald Trump. How do you see him in a historical context, and what does his presidency represent about the American Empire?

Alfred McCoy: What I think right now is that, through some kind of malign design, Donald Trump has divined, has figured out what are the essential pillars of U.S. global power that have sustained Washington’s hegemony for the past seventy years and he seems to be setting out to demolish each one of those pillars one by one. He’s weakened the NATO alliance; he’s weakened our alliances with Asian allies along the Pacific littoral. He’s proposing to cut back on the scientific research which has given the United States — its military industrial complex — a cutting edge, a leading edge in critical new weapons systems since the early years of the Cold War. And he’s withdrawing the United States, almost willfully, from its international leadership, most spectacularly with the Paris Climate Accord but also very importantly with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

And he seems to be setting out to systematically demolish US global hegemony. Now, it’s important to realize that the United States is no longer the preeminent global power we were, let’s say at the end of Eisenhower’s presidency, back in 1960. Our share of the global economy has declined substantially. We’re about to be eclipsed by 2030, by China, and become the world’s number two economic power. China’s making some breakthroughs in military technology. The world system is spreading its wealth and there are a number of second tier powers, the rise of the European Union, et cetera. It’s a more complex world, so United States can no longer dictate to the world, or at least much of the world, like we could back in the 1950s.

Having said that, the presidency is a weaker office internationally than it used to be. Nonetheless, there are presidents, and I say Barack Obama was one of them, George H.W. Bush was another, these presidents through skillful diplomacy, their knowledge of the international system, their geopolitical skills, they could maximize U.S. influence on the world stage. They could use U.S. military power strategically, deftly, they could lead international coalitions, they could set the international agenda. Trump is turning his back on all of that and I think he’s accelerating perhaps markedly, even precipitously, the U.S. decline.

JS: Since Trump became president, everyone is sort of wrapped up in the palace intrigue, and what did Trump know about Russia and when did he know it, and did he know about Don Jr’s meeting with this lawyer who is being described as “Kremlin-connected?” And I think all of that is a very important story because it could bring down his presidency, but at the same time my sense is that the CIA and the darkest elements of the U.S. military are actually in a pretty flexible position right now because Trump is so hands-off and, because as you say he’s not an effective manager of empire. What are your thoughts on that?

AM: That’s correct. Much of the military establishment and its links with the intelligence community is in place. Let’s say that some of the new initiatives— cyberwarfare—well the Trump Administration understands the importance of that and indeed he has advisors that do, so the continued evolution of that, the development, that will continue, space warfare is in a long-term trajectory. Weapons systems take as long as 10 years to go from design, prototype, testing, and either rejection or acceptance. So that transcends any administration, even a two-term administration. So there’s a long-term trajectory.

President Eisenhower, that famous phrase that he warned us about in his last address, the military industrial complex—he built a complex in which he integrated scientific research, basic research in the universities and private corporations, and then dozens of defense contractors who have more or less permanent contracts to maintain their research and production establishment—he integrated that with the U.S. military and that will survive any American president.

Unfortunately what Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that there’s a close relationship between basic research, like research in artificial intelligence, and your capacity to come up with the next new thing that will give the United States a leading edge in military technology. And that’s what he doesn’t understand, that’s the one way he’s damaging the whole complex. But otherwise, you’re right, it’s on a longer-term trajectory about ten, ten-year cycles of research, procurement, and deployment of new weapon systems and that transcends any single administration.

JS: We’ve seen this kind of convergence of the agendas of some neoconservatives who formed part of the core of the “Never Trump” movement of Republicans and then the liberal elites that host shows on MSNBC or are identified as “Democratic strategists.” And this line that we’ve seen repeated over and over is that, what they deride as people calling the “deep state”—in other words, the elements within the CIA in the military—that they’re actually secretly protecting the country from Trump. Given your scholarship on what people loosely call the deep state right now, what do you make of those claims that the CIA and certain elements within the Pentagon are actually the protectors of the Democratic republic?

AM:  A complex argument. One: the rapid growth of that state documented by The Washington Post, in a series about eight years ago, 2010, what they called the fourth branch of the U.S. government. That under the terms of the global war on terror, a massive infusion of nearly a trillion dollars into the Homeland Security. And all of the 17 agencies in the so-called intelligence community plus the considerable expansion of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is the military’s permanent integration with that security apparatus, that secret security apparatus, all of this has built a fourth branch of the U.S. government.

And I think that, just as Congress has proved independent from the Trump administration to a certain extent, and we’ll see about the Supreme Court, those are the classic three branches of executive, legislature, and judiciary—now we have this fourth branch. And, what you’re proposing is we need to take this very seriously when we look at the array of power in Washington, DC. And I agree, we need to. And like all of the other branches it will coordinate with the executive because the executive has a great deal of power, of funding, you can set priorities, but it has a ten year cycle—ultimately a much longer term cycle of preparation and responsibility.

A president is in office for eight or maybe four years. A military career, if successful, an intelligence career, is thirty years. So those professionals and the agencies they represent, have a much longer term viewpoint. You can see this, for example, in the periodic reports of the National Intelligence Council, that every four years when there’s a new administration coming in, they’re the one agency of the U.S. government that looks ahead twenty years. Not just four or eight or ten. But they actually look ahead twenty years and they try and see the shape of the world and then, set, through the intelligence community and through the national security establishment, priorities for coping with this fast changing world.

So at the apex of the intelligence community, there is this formal procedure for establishing a long range, or medium range, twenty-year perspective. So, yes, they look longer, they have their own policies, they have their contracts, their programs that are in many ways autonomous from the executive, and increasingly so. And depending on your point of view and how it plays out, that’s either a strength of the American system in the short term, when you have an executive that some people don’t like, like Donald Trump, over the longer term it could be seen as a threat to democracy, creating a bureaucratic apparatus that’s autonomous, even independent from both the executive and the legislative branch. So, it’s an open question but a good question.

CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade

JS: You’ve written this excellent book that will come out from Haymarket books in September called In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and the Decline of U.S. Global Power. But I want to ask you about a much earlier book that you wrote, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade. And that details your investigation—and it really was what introduced you to this world of covert CIA operations, client states, mercenaries, local proxies, and you also found yourself in conflict with very powerful individuals in the CIA and the national security state because of what you were researching. Talk about that book and the process that led to writing it and how it was eventually published.

AM: Sure. Now, almost fifty years ago, looking back it was an extraordinary experience. In the space of eighteen months to two years, I acquired an amazing education. Up to that point I was a graduate student looking at the history of colonialism in Southeast Asia, writing articles that had lots of footnotes. I was a library rat.

And in 1970 and ’71, there were rumors that started coming back from Vietnam, particularly 1971, that heroin was spreading rapidly in the ranks of the U.S. forces fighting in South Vietnam. And in later research, done by the White House, [it was] determined that in 1971, 34 percent, one-third of all the American combat troops fighting in South Vietnam were heavy heroin users. There were, if that statistic is accurate, more addicts in the ranks of the U.S. Army in South Vietnam than there were in the United States.

And so what I did was I set out to investigate: Where was the opium coming from? Where was the heroin coming from? Who was trafficking it? How is it getting to the troops in their barracks and bunkers across the length and breadth of South Vietnam? Nobody was asking this question. Everyone was reporting on the high level of abuse, but nobody was figuring out where and who.

So I started interviewing. I went to Paris. I interviewed the head of the French equivalent of the CIA in Indochina, who was then head of a major French helicopter manufacturing company, and he explained to me how during the French Indochina war from 1946 to 1954, they were short of money for covert operations, so the hill tribes in Laos produced the opium, the aircraft picked it up, they turned it over to the netherworld, the gangsters that controlled Saigon and secured it for the French and that paid for their covert operations. And I said, “What about now?” And he said, “Well I don’t think the pattern’s changed. I think it’s still there. You should go and look.”

So I did. I went to Saigon. I got some top sources in the Vietnamese military. I went to Laos. I hiked into the mountains. I was ambushed by CIA mercenaries and what I discovered was that the CIA’s contract airline, Air America, was flying into the villages of the Hmong people in Northern Laos, whose main cash crop was opium and they were picking up the opium and flying it out of the hills and there were heroin labs — one of the heroin labs, the biggest heroin lab in the world, was run by the commander-in-chief of the Royal Laotian Army, a man whose military budget came entirely from the United States. And they were transforming, in those labs, the opium into heroin. It was being smuggled into South Vietnam by three cliques controlled by the president, the vice president, and the premier of South Vietnam, and their military allies and distributed to U.S. forces in South Vietnam.

And the CIA wasn’t directly involved, but they turned a blind eye to the role of their allies’ involvement in the traffic. And so this heroin epidemic swept the U.S. Army in Vietnam. The Defense Department invented mass urine analysis testing, so when those troops left they were tested and given treatment. And what I discovered was the complexities, the complicity, of the CIA in this traffic and that was a pattern that was repeated in Central America when the Contras became involved in the traffic. The CIA looked the other way as their aircraft and their allies were smuggling cocaine from Colombia through Central America to the United States. Same thing in the 1980s, during the secret war in Afghanistan, the Mujahideen turned to opium. The opium production in Afghanistan during that secret war increased from about 100 tons of opium per annum to 2000 tons, a massive increase. Afghanistan went from supplying zero percent of U.S. heroin supply — soared to sixty-five percent of the illicit heroin supply for the United States came out of Afghanistan. The CIA sent arms across the border through caravans to the Mujahideen fighters and those same caravans came out carrying opium. The CIA prevented the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, from investigating. Again, complicity in the traffic.

So a clear pattern. The other thing was when I began to do that investigation and write up the book, I faced enormous pressures. My phone was tapped by the F.B.I., the I.R.S. investigated, I had an audit as a poverty-stricken graduate student. The Department of Education investigated my graduate fellowship. Friends of mine who had been serving in military intelligence were recruited to spy on me. In other words, what I found was the CIA penetrated every aspect of my life. The head of CIA covert operations, a very famous operative name Cord Meyer Jr., visited the offices of Harper and Row, my publisher, and tried to persuade the publisher to suppress the book, hold the contract, just don’t release the book, claiming that it was a threat to national security.

So what I discovered was not only CIA complicity, complex compromise relationships with covert allies far away in remote places like Southeast Asia, but also the incredible depth of the penetration of the CIA within US society under the conditions of the Cold War. I found my phone, my fellowship, my friends, my publisher, every aspect of my life was manipulated by the CIA. It was a fascinating discovery.

JS: And you write in your forthcoming book, In the Shadows of the American Century, “I had crafted a historical method that would prove over the next forty years of my career surprisingly useful in analyzing a diverse array of foreign policy controversies, CIA alliances with drug lords, the agency’s propagation of psychological torture, and our spreading state surveillance.” Part of the reason it seems that they were concerned about what you were investigating in Vietnam, Laos, and elsewhere was that you were tapping into something that was an emerging nexus that the CIA would rely on for decades to come.

AM: Indeed. All of those areas. The method I came up with was very simple. Start far back in the past, as far back as you can go, when the — let’s say the research on torture, although somewhat secret is not controversial because it hasn’t been applied. Go back to the U.S. colonial policy in the Philippines when we started surveillance circa 1898 to pacify the Philippines, and then track it forward step by step all the way to the present, keeping in mind the patterns, the structure of the operation. And then when you get to the present where it becomes secret, highly classified, and very controversial, you understand the structure, so you know where to look, what assumptions are likely to be sound, what hypotheses might work, how you can conduct your analysis and that can lead you to an insight.

For example, let’s take the case of torture, okay? I work on the Philippines as my main area in southeast Asia that I study, and I was very interested in the overthrow of the Marcos regime. I did some research that contributed to that overthrow. In the aftermath of the overthrow of the Marcos regime, there was this coterie of military colonels that had plotted an abortive coup, that had sparked a so-called People Power Revolution that put a million Filipinos on the streets of Manila calling for Marcos’ downfall, forcing Washington to provide him with aircraft that flew him out to exile in Hawaii and brought democracy. So I was very interested in who these colonels were.

And what I found when I investigated them is that they weren’t line officers, say combat officers, they weren’t even intelligence officers. They were internal security officers who’ve been personally involved in torture. And what I begin to realize is that torture was a transactional experience, that these officers who’ve been trained by the CIA on how to interrogate and use torture, that, as they broke down their victims, they empowered themselves and inspired themselves to this coup to overthrow Marcos.

Well, that also introduced me to the idea that the CIA was training torturers around the globe. And I figured this out in the 1980s, before it was common knowledge. There was some research in the 70s, people working on this, but we didn’t have the full picture. And what I began to figure out was also the nature of the methods that these colonels were using. Now, look, these are physical guys that were brutally, physically hazed at their military academy, as often happens in such organizations. And so instead of beating physically their victims, they use something counterintuitive. They didn’t touch their victims. They used psychological techniques. And so in 2004, when C.B.S. Television published those photographs from Abu Ghraib prison, and nobody knew what was going on. There was that famous photograph of the Iraqi detainee standing on a box with his arms outstretched with phony electrical wires attached to him, he’d been told that if he lowered his arms, he’d be shocked, and he had a bag on his head.

And I looked at that photo and I said, “Those are not bad apples. That is CIA doctrinal techniques. The bag is for sensory deprivation, the arms are for self-inflicted pain, those are the two fundamental techniques of CIA psychological torture.” I wrote a book, A Question of Torture, that made that argument. I participated in a documentary that won an Oscar, Taxi to the Dark Side, that interviewed me and also made that argument, and it would not be for another ten years until 2014, when the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee spent forty million dollars and reviewed six million CIA documents and came to a rather similar conclusions. So the method’s useful.

U.S. interference in elections

JS: I want to ask you how we ended up with national security state that we have today? What I mean is, the N.S.A. with its vast powers, which of course you document in the book. The CIA employing tactics under what you you’ve called “covert netherworld.” There is this sense, under someone like Barack Obama, that we’re not going to send massive troop deployments around the world, as much as we are going to depend on drones, discreet covert operations, escalated use of Special Operations Forces and CIA paramilitaries. But, talk about the post World War II growth of what now has come to be known as the national security state?

AM: Sure. I think the national security state is the instrument the United States used to build and exercise its global hegemony. Looking at the comparative history of empires in the modern age going back 500 years, the thing that distinguishes the U.S. empire from almost any other, is the reliance upon covert methods and it’s a result of an historical moment.

The U.S. empire coincided with the decolonization, the dissolution of half a dozen European empires that produced 100 new nations, more than half the independent nations on the planet today. And so US hegemony was being exercised, not over colonies, whose sovereignty was compromised, in fact had been transferred to the imperial power, but over independent nation states, who had sovereignty. So you had an empire under conditions that denied empire. So how do you exercise hegemony in non-hegemonic world? You have to do it covertly.

And in 1947, President Harry Truman, right after World War II, and Congress passed the National Security Act that laid down the bureaucratic apparatus for the U.S. national security state. That National Security Act created the Defense Department, the U.S. Air Force, the CIA, and the National Security Council—the key instruments of the US exercise of global power. And then when the next administration came in, under President Dwight Eisenhower, what he did is he realized that there were nations that were becoming independent across the world and that he had to be intervening in these independent nations and so the only way he could do it was through plausible deniability, you had to intervene in a way that could not be seen. You had to do it covertly. And so Eisenhower turned to the CIA, created by Harry Truman, and he transformed it from an organization that originally tried to penetrate the Iron Curtain, to send agents and operatives inside the Iron Curtain. It was a complete disaster. The operatives were captured, they were used to uncover the networks of opposition inside the Soviet Union, it was absolutely counterproductive. Eisenhower turned the CIA away from that misbegotten mission of penetrating the Iron Curtain and instead assigned them the mission of penetrating and controlling the three quarters of the globe that was on the U.S. side of the Iron Curtain, the free world.

And Eisenhower relied upon the CIA, and then the National Security Agency, to monitor signals. And we began to exercise our global hegemony, covertly, through the CIA and allied intelligence agencies. And that’s been a distinctive aspect of U.S. hegemony since the dawn of American global power in 1945. And that continues today, ever deepening, layer upon layer, through those processes you described. The drones, the surveillance, the cyber warfare—all of that is covert.

JS: It’s interesting because there’s a lot of talk now about foreign interference in the U.S. election with— exclusively the attention is being focused on: did Russia interfere in our election? And if so, were they successful in promoting Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton? And in your book, you cite this compilation from Carnegie Mellon University that says between 1946 and 2000, rival superpowers the United States and the Soviet Union, then Russia, intervened in 117 elections or 11 percent of all the competitive national level contests held worldwide via campaign cash and media disinformation. And then you write, “Significantly, the United States was responsible for 81 of those attempts, 70 percent of the total.”

This is not new, the idea that nations interfere in in the elections of others. Walk us through some of the greatest hits of the CIA and other intelligence agencies in election interference, since the 1940s.

AM: Sure—first of all, that was one of the central instruments of the U.S. exercise of global power covertly. We were promoting democracy worldwide, we stood very strongly for democracy over authoritarianism. On the other hand, we were exercising U.S. hegemony, which meant that somehow for those open free democratic contests to produce a leader who was our guy. And indeed, one of the key aspects of U.S. global power, as exercised by Eisenhower through, covertly, was the change. Look, under the colonial empires, Britain, France, Belgium all the rest, they had district officers and they worked with chiefs, maharajahs, emirs, local officials in colonial districts around the globe. And they controlled who was going to be the new emir, who was going to be the new sultan, who was going to be the new maharajah.

And then, when all of those nations decolonized and became independent, the fulcrum for the exercise of power shifted from the colonial district to the presidential palace. And so the United States paid a lot of attention in controlling who were the leaders in those presidential palaces. If you look at the 240,000 WikiLeaks cables from around the world that were leaked in 2011, you’ll find that much of what they’re concerned about is, who is in those presidential palaces around the country? So the U.S. did it through coups and, during the period of the 1950s to the 1970s, about a quarter of the sovereign states in the world changed government by coups, and they also did it by electoral manipulation.

One of the most famous ones, the one that actually established the capacity of the CIA to do that, was the 1948 elections in Italy when it looked like the communist and socialist parties were slated for capturing a majority of the seats in parliament, and then forming a government. And you could have on our side of the Iron Curtain, in a very important world power, Italy, a legally elected, democratic elected communist government. And so the CIA spent, bargain basement, one million dollars. Imagine: Buying Italy for a million dollars. Seems like a bargain.

They spent just a million dollars in very skillful, electoral manipulation, and they produced the electoral results of the Christian Democrats, a centrist government. And, throughout the Cold War, the U.S. deftly intervened in Italy at multiple levels overtly in bilateral aid and diplomacy, covertly, and electoral manipulation and something much deeper, Operation Gladio, where they had, if you will, an underground apparatus to seize power in Italy in the case of a communist takeover, by invasion. And the CIA would intervene, they pump money into the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, they played electoral politics in the Philippines. They intervened in Korea politics, in South Korean politics, all around the globe. Any time that there was a serious electoral contest in which the outcome was critical to us, geopolitical interests, the U.S. was intervening.

Now, the difference between that and what we’ve seen with the 2016 elections in the United States, if you’re the global hegemon, you are manipulating, influencing other people’s elections. If you’re a global power like United States that stands for democracy, that’s the way we exercise that power. We did it sometimes crudely, sometimes deftly, but we didn’t invade countries, we didn’t bomb et cetera. We did it that way. And when we were manipulating other people’s elections, we’re the global power. And when we’re being manipulated, when other powers are penetrating our society and manipulating our elections, that’s a sign that we’re a declining power. And that’s very serious.

In order to maintain our position internationally, not only do we have to exercise our power skillfully, covertly through the operations we’ve been describing, surveillance and the rest and overtly through diplomacy and international leadership, treaties and trade and all that, okay? But we also have to make sure that our electoral process is impenetrable, is secure, that other powers cannot manipulate us because they’re going to try.

Reagan, Iran-Contra, the CIA and crack cocaine

JS: I often find myself, when I’m watching the news, or in some cases even reading very serious powerful newspapers like The New York Times or The Washington Post, as they cover Donald Trump and this issue of Russia, it seems as though we are totally detached from history. And in reading your book I was reminded of the rise of Mobutu to power in Kinshasa, and also you went into great depth about the CIA crack cocaine story that ultimately was broken wide open by Gary Webb in the San Jose Mercury News, and then attacked and major news organizations trying to discredit him. Walk us through the Contra War and the connection to the selling of embargoed weapons to Iran and the fact that you had eleven senior officials in Ronald Reagan’s administration actually convicted of selling Iran embargoed arms.

I mean we talk about scandals and then you look at Reagan, and it’s like 11 senior officials convicted of selling embargoed arms to finance the CIA’s death squad the Contras in Nicaragua?

AM: You know, in the Reagan administration the United States was at a low ebb in its global power. The Reagan administration launched the invasion of Grenada. It was the first time in nearly a decade that the US has been able to exercise its global power anywhere beyond the United States successfully, its military power. And then in Central America, the Reagan administration felt very threatened by the collapse of the Somoza regime, one of the US client regimes in Central America, and the Sandinista guerilla movement capturing the capital Managua in 1979.

And that occurred at the same time as the Soviet Red Army basically occupied Kabul, the capture of the capital of Afghanistan, so the Reagan administration felt threatened, on a kind of far periphery of U.S. power in Afghanistan, and close at home, kind of a gateway to America—in Central America. So the Reagan administration reacted by mounting two major covert operations: one, to push the Red Army out of Afghanistan and two, to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. And both of these operations involved tolerating trafficking in opium in Afghanistan by the Mujahedeen Muslim guerrilla fighters, and tolerating the trafficking in cocaine in Central America by our Contra allies.

And there were basically two forms of support for the Contras. The one was the arms-for-money deal to provide black money to sustain the Contra revolt for the decade that it dragged on. And the other thing was a kind of hands-off approach. There was a DEA operative, a Drug Enforcement Administration operative, in Honduras that was reporting on the Honduran military complicity in the transit traffic of cocaine moving from Colombia through Central America to the United States. He was removed from the country. And then the CIA, because of Congress cutting off the arms shipments periodically for the CIA, the so-called Boland amendment that imposed a kind of embargo upon U.S. support for the Contras, they needed to periodically warehouse their arms. And what they found was that the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras, particularly Roatan Island, was an ideal logistics point right off the coast—it was a major transshipment point for cocaine moving from Colombia across the Caribbean to the United States but it’s also an ideal place for the U.S. to warehouse and then ship its arms to the Contras on the border with Nicaragua and Honduras.

And so, the kingpin, the drug kingpin of the Bay Islands was a notorious international trafficker named Alan Hyde who had 35 ships on the high seas smuggling cocaine from Colombia into the United States. Every U.S. security agency involved, the Coast Guard, the CIA itself, the Drug Enforcement Administration, they all had reports about Alan Hyde being a Class A trafficker, arguably the biggest smuggler in the Caribbean. And to get access to his warehouses what the CIA did was they basically blocked any investigation of Alan Hyde from 1987 to 1992, during the peak of the crack-cocaine epidemic, and so the CIA got to ship their guns to his warehouses and then onward to the border post for the Contras. And Alan Hyde was given an immunity to investigation or prosecution for five years.

That’s—any criminal, that’s all they need, is an immunity to investigation. And this coincided with the flood of cocaine through Central America into the United States. This CIA inspector general in response to protests in South Central, Los Angeles, conducted an investigation also in response to Gary Webb’s inquiries and they released Report 1, they called “The California Connection.” They said that Gary Webb’s allegations that the CIA had protected the distributors, the deal of the Nicaraguan dealers who were brokering the sale of the import cocaine to the Crips and Bloods gangs in South Central, L.A., that that all that was false.

Then they issued, the inspector general in 1998, issued part two of that report, the executive summary said similarly: no case to answer, CIA relations with the Contras in Central America complex, but nothing about drugs. But if you actually read the report, all the way through, which is something historians tend to do, you get to paragraph 913 of that report and there are subsequently 40 of the most amazing revelations, forty paragraphs of the most amazing revelations stating explicitly in cables and verbatim quotes from interviews with CIA operatives about their compromised relationship with the biggest drug smuggler in the Caribbean, Alan Hyde.

And if you go on the CIA website and you look for that 1998 Inspector General Report, you’ll find a little black line that says paragraphs 913-960 have been excised. Those are those paragraphs. But you can find them on the Internet.

JS: One of the fascinating aspects of this— it’s a short part of your book, but I think it’s always important to point this out, the name Robert Gates pops up at the time that the CIA had this relationship with Hyde. Gates was the deputy director of the CIA, and of course now is one of the beloved figures in the bipartisan foreign policy consensus. He was defense secretary under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And Gates, his hands are all over this thing as well.

AM: Yeah, there’s, how am I going to put it? That illustrates the disparity between the formal rhetoric of politics and the geopolitics of the exercise of global power. And the difficulties, the demands, the moral and political compromises required to run, well let’s call it an empire. A global empire. And, from a pure realpolitik imperial perspective, that Contra operation, by seeking an effective complementation between the flow of drugs north, very powerful illicit economic force, and the Contra guerrilla operations, accomplish their objective. You know? After ten years of supporting the Contras, the Sandinistas lost power for a time in a democratic election. They were finally pushed out of office. The CIA accomplished its mission.

Now, if you compare that with where we are with drugs and covert operations and military operations in Afghanistan, it was very successful in the 1980s, as a result of the CIA’s alliance of the Mujahideen, provisioning of arms and tolerance for their trafficking and drugs, which provided the bulk of their finance. You know, in 1989, the Soviet Red Army left Kabul, they left Afghanistan, the CIA won. Well today, of course that drug traffic has been taken over by the Taliban and it funds the bulk of the Taliban’s guerrilla operations, pays for a new crop of teenage boys to become fighters every spring, and we’ve lost control of that. So from a realpolitik perspective, we can see a weakening of U.S. controls over these covert operations that are another manifestation of our, of the decline of the US hegemony.

Heroin and the worsening war in Afghanistan

JS: I want to ask you about Afghanistan given all of the work you’ve done on the intersection of covert operations on behalf of an empire and transnational narcotics trafficking. I think a lot of people who have followed the history of Afghanistan and U.S. involvement there find it hard to believe that the United States is not aware that its actions are fueling the heroin trade and fueling the insurgency there by having a Taliban that relies on it, as you just laid out. Given your historical, analytical work on past crises, what should we be looking for to see whether or not there is a direct U.S. role in facilitating narcotics flow out of Afghanistan?

AM: Sure. Good question. Look, during the 1980s, when that operation was successful, the CIA knew and in fact a man named Charles Cogan who was the head of the CIA operation in Afghanistan, and when he retired he gave an interview to Australian television, and he said, “Look, there was fallout from that operation. OK, yes there was fallout in terms of drugs”. But he said, “Let’s remember the Soviets left Afghanistan.” So the CIA was, and if Charles Cogan was any sign and I think he is, and he was the head of the operation for a while, they very well knew that the mujahideen fighters, the Muslim guerrillas they were arming and equipping, were getting the bulk of their finance and were sustaining their mass base among the farmers of southern Afghanistan through trafficking in opium and heroin. And that provided—I mean it provided 65 percent, the bulk of U.S. heroin supply, the bulk of the world’s supply.

Now, when the United States pulled out of Afghanistan in 1992, we turned our backs on it and the Taliban backed by Pakistan took power, and under the Taliban by 2000, by 1999-2000, the opium harvest more than doubled to 4500 tons. But then the Taliban became concerned about their pariah status and they decided that if they abolished opium they would no longer be a pariah state, they could get international recognition, they could strengthen their hold on power. And so they actually, in 2000-2001, completely wiped out opium, and it went down from 4600 tons to 180 tons, I mean like an incredible— the most, one of the most successful opium eradication programs anywhere on the planet.

They also completely weakened their state, so that when the U.S. began bombing in October 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban quickly collapsed and then what happened was, of course, when the U.S. came back in, what we did was we worked through the CIA. And we put pallets of hundred dollar bills, we sent in 70 million dollars in cash, we mobilized the old warlord coalition in the far north, the warlords there were heavily involved in opium traffic. We mobilize the Pashtun warlords who were all opium traffickers, and when they swept across Afghanistan and captured the countryside in the provincial capitals, they began supervising over the replanting of opium. And, very quickly, the opium harvest began blooming and by 2006 it was up to 8000 tons of opium— the highest in a century providing well over 90 percent of the world’s opium and heroin supply, and a majority of the gross domestic product of Afghanistan.

And, at the local level, the Taliban took control of the cultivation, the processing and the smuggling and they used the profits to rebuild their apparatus. They were completely wiped out in October 2001, they steadily rebuilt and have launched this succession of offensives that now control over half the countryside, so there’s a very clear relationship between the opium crop, which is now beyond our control, we ignored it up to 2004, as it was booming and spreading again. So it’s one of those interesting exercises or instances in which the U.S. loses control over this complementation between the illicit traffic and the surrogate warfare, that complementation that worked so well in Central America. When you’ve lost control of it in Afghanistan, and it’s one more index of our waning control over the world, an ever more complex world.

The pillars of empire are starting to crumble

JS: One of the things that struck me as I read your book, In the Shadows of the American Century, was how often you predict, based on data, on historical example, that the United States as an empire is headed down a path of demise and you write about that with a nuance and you don’t pretend to know the exact scenario. One of the things you write in the book is, “Future historians are likely to identify George W. Bush’s rash invasion of Iraq, in 2003, as the start of America’s downfall. But instead of the bloodshed that marked the end of so many past empires with cities burning and civilians slaughtered, this 21st century imperial collapse could come relatively quietly through the invisible tendrils of economic contraction or cyber warfare.”

Why do you seem so convinced that this is inevitable, and how do you foresee the scenarios, potential scenarios for the demise of what we now understand as the American empire?

AM: There are, I think multiple factors, that lead to an imperial decline. If you look at the key aspects of the U.S. global power, you can see a waning of strength in every one of those. One of the key things that I think very few people understand, after World War II, the United States became the first world power, the first empire in a 1000 years to control both ends of the vast Eurasian continent. Now Eurasia, that enormous landmass, is the epicenter of world power. It’s got the resources, the people, the civilizations that—you’ve got to control that to control the world. And the United States, through the NATO alliance in Western Europe and a string of alliances along the Pacific littoral with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia, controlled the axial ends of the Eurasian landmass.

And then we link that with layers of power, treaties multilateral defense treaties, starting with NATO in Europe, all the way to SETO and ANSIS with Australia, the Japan Mutual Security Treaty, the South Korea U.S. Mutual Security Treaty, the Philippine U.S. Mutual Security Treaty. And then we had fleets, we had the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, the Seventh Fleet at Subic Bay Philippines, later the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. We had hundreds of military bases. By the end of the Cold War we have about 800 overseas military bases.

Most of those were arrayed around the Eurasian landmass. In the last ten years as drone technology has developed, we’ve laid the latest layer upon that, which are the drone bases. There are 60 US drone bases that stretch from Sicily all the way to Andersen air base on Guam, and that, given the range of the most powerful drones, the Global Hawk, it gives us surveillance and then with Predator and Reaper, strike capacity, all the way along that rim, and that has been, if you will, the key pillars in the global architecture of U.S. power.

And those pillars are starting to crumble. The NATO alliance is weakening under Trump, with the rise of Russian pressure on that alliance, but more particularly, our capacity to control those critical allies along the Pacific littoral is beginning to weaken. Jeremy, your organization The Intercept had, last April, a very important document that leaked out, the transcript of that phone conversation between President Trump and President Duterte of the Philippines, that should have had front page coverage all across the world, and every serious American newspaper. It got good coverage, but not the coverage it deserved.

If you read that transcript closely, you can see the waning of U.S. power along the Pacific littoral. Donald Trump is calling up, he’s got a fellow demagogue in the person of Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, who has killed about 8000 people in his so-called drug war— people blown away, bodies dumped in the streets of Manila and Cebu and elsewhere in the country, and he’s calling up and congratulating him and trying to bond with him, you know, autocrat to autocrat. And then Trump shifts the conversation and says, “Well, we got this problem in Korea. Kim Jong Un is unreliable.” And Duterte says, “I’m going to call China, I’ll talk to Xi Jinping about that.” And Trump says, “We’ve got some very powerful submarines, which we’re going to have in the area.” And Duterte says, “Yeah, I’m going to call,” he says, “Yeah, I’m gonna call Xi Jinping about that. I’ll be talking to China.”

And it’s clear that Trump is trying to court the man, trying to impress him with U.S. strength, and every time Trump tries to do it, Duterte responds, “I will call China.” It’s a clear indication of China’s rising power along that Pacific littoral. Also, China has been conducting a very skillful geopolitical strategy, so-called “One belt, One road” or “Silk Road” strategy and what China has been doing since about 2007 is they’ve spent a trillion dollars and they’re going to spend another trillion dollars in laying down a massive infrastructure of rails and gas and oil pipelines that will integrate the entire Eurasian landmass. Look, Europe and Asia, which we think of as— we’re learning in geography in elementary school that they’re two separate continents—they’re not. They were only separated by the vast distances, the steps in the desert that seem to divide them. Well China’s laid down, through a trillion dollars investment, a series of pipelines that are bringing energy from Central Asia across thousands of miles into China, from Siberia into China.

They’ve also built seven bases in the South China Sea and they’re taking control over these— spent over two hundred million dollars in transforming a fishing village on the Arabian Sea named Gwadar, in Pakistan, into a major modern port. They’ve also got port facilities in Africa. And through these port facilities they’re cutting those circles of steel that the United States laid down to kind of link and hold those two axial ends of Eurasia. So we are slowly, because of China’s investment, its development, some of our mismanagement of our relationships and long term trends, those axial ends of Eurasia they’re crumbling. Our power, our control over that critical continent is weakening, and China’s control is slowly inexorably increasing and that is going to be a major geopolitical shift. One that is going to weaken the United States and strengthen China.

JS: You write, “All available economic, educational, technological data indicate that when it comes to U.S. global power, negative trends are likely to aggregate rapidly by 2020, and could reach a critical mass no later than 2030. The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, may already be tattered and fading by 2025, and, except for the finger pointing could be over by 2030.” How do you see that happening and what does that mean for the United States in the world, but also for ordinary Americans?

AM: Sure. How do I see it happening? There are the geopolitical shifts that I just described. The other thing of the long term trends, the issues of economic waning, U.S. economic strength. China is slowly, is steadily surpassing the United States as the number one economic power. That’s one long term trend. And China will therefore have the resources to invest in military technology.

The second thing is, we speak of crumbling U.S. infrastructure, one thing that nobody talks about very seriously in a sustained way is the intellectual infrastructure of the country. The OECD, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the rich countries club, conducts these tests every couple years, the PISA tests, and they test fifteen year-olds. In the latest rounds of tests, Shanghai students have come number one in math, science, and literacy.

U.S. students have been somewhere, in math and science, somewhere between twenty and thirty. And so you might say, “Who cares about a bunch of fifteen year-olds with braces, backpacks, and attitudes?” Well, by 2030, those fifteen year-olds are going to be in their 20s and 30s. They’re going to be the super smart scientists and engineers that are coming up with the cutting edge technology. Technology, for example, like photon communications. China is evidently going to lead in this, that means that China can communicate with its satellites and its entire cyber and space and military apparatus without fear of being compromised. We have not developed the same level of photon communications as China. We’re much more subject to being hijacked and manipulated.

So, those kinds of trends in raw military power. The sort of the erosion of U.S. educational standards within ten or fifteen years can have some very serious implications for our military technology. It means you just don’t have the scientists, the technology, the innovation that has been so central to U.S. global power for so many years. And so that waning, the geopolitical shifts, you know, those invisible movements of a power arrayed across the landscape. And then the technological and educational shifts coming together means that there are all kinds of ways for the U.S. to lose power. Either with a bang or a whimper. But by 2030, it’s pretty much over for our global dominion.

JS: And is that, is that in your opinion a bad thing?

AM: Well, yes it is, and I here, you know I speak, you could call me, you know a narrow American. But, okay, every empire—if you think we’ve had empires in the world for about four thousand years. Some have been more benign and beneficent, others have been absolutely brutal. If you want to go to the most brutal empire, I think in human history, the Nazi empire in Europe. It was an empire. It plundered. Much of that mobilization of labor was just raw exploitation. It was the most brutal empire in human history and it collapsed. The Japanese Empire in Asia, which was arguably the biggest empire in history, was a second runner-up for raw brutality, they collapsed. The British Empire was relatively benign. Yes, it was a global power, there were many excesses, many incidents, one can go on, but when it was all over, they left the Westminster system of parliament, they left the global language, they left a global economy, they left a culture of sports, they created artifacts like the B.B.C.

So the US empire has been, and we’ve had our excesses, Vietnam, we could go on. Afghanistan. There are many problems with the US exercise of its power but we have stood for human rights, the world has had 70 years of relative peace and lots of medium size wars but nothing like World War I and World War II. There has been an increase in global development, the growth of a global economy, with many inequities, but nonetheless, transnationally, a new middle class is appearing around the globe. We’ve stood for labor rights and environmental protection. Our successor powers, China and Russia, are authoritarian regimes. Russia’s autocratic, China’s a former communist regime. They stand for none of these liberal principles.

So you’ll have the realpolitik exercise of power, all the downsides with none of the upsides, with none of the positive development. I mean we’ve stood for women’s rights, for gay rights, for human progress, for democracy. You know we’ve been flawed in efficacy, but we’ve stood for those principles and we have advanced them. So we have been, on the scale of empires, comparatively benign and beneficent. And I don’t think the succeeding powers are going to be that way.

Moreover, there are going to be implications for the United States. Most visibly, I think that when the dollar is no longer the world’s unchallenged, preeminent, global reserve currency, the grand imperial game will be over. Look, what we’ve been able to do for the last twenty years is we send the world our brightly colored, our nicely printed paper, tea notes, and they give us oil and automobiles and computers and technology. We get real goods and they get brightly colored paper. Because of the position of the dollar. When the dollar is no longer the global reserve currency, the cost of goods in the United States is going to skyrocket.

We will not be able to travel the world as we do now. We won’t be able to enjoy the standard of living we do now. There will be lots of tensions that are going to occur in the society from what will be a major rewriting of the American social contract. This will not be pleasant. And arguably, I think it’s possible if we look back, we could see Trump’s election and all the problems of the Trump Administration as one manifestation of this imperial decline.

Can the Mall of America survive the retail apocalypse?

While malls across the country are struggling to survive, the Mall of America is celebrating its 25th year – and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down

July 22, 2017

by Dominic Rushe in Minneapolis

The Guardian

Twenty-five years ago this August, the Mall of America, America’s largest shopping mall, opened its many, many doors for business. The Minnesota mall is currently wrapping up a year of celebration at the dizzyingly vast temple to consumerism. It’s a celebration that comes, ironically, as America’s malls are dying. But not the Mall of America.

Once the epicenter of American retail, malls are in crisis. Pictures of dead malls, their hollow shells left like abandoned sets for a George Romero zombie movie, are rapidly replacing pictures of decaying Detroit as the go-to image for dystopia USA.

It has been three years since a major new shopping mall opened in the US, leading even some mall operators to speculate that the last one has already been built. Of the roughly 1,200 spread across the country, less than half are expected to be in operation five years from now.

As usual, the internet gets the blame. The shift to online shopping has taken its toll on traditional mall anchors, such as Macy’s, JC Penney and Sears. But there are other issues. America has too much retail space and too many crappy malls. “It’s much less about technology than it is about overbuilding,” says Bruce Batkin, chief executive of Terra Capital Partners, a commercial real estate lender.

The Mall of America is different and its survival points to what has gone wrong in retailing and where it is heading. It’s a shift that will have profound consequences.

On a recent visit, the Mall of America hummed with visitors. Its owners, the Triple Five Group, manage several mega-malls and their staff “programme” its spaces with fanatical attention to detail.

In the early morning, clubs of elderly “mall walkers” go through their paces across the site’s smooth, safe floors overlooked by the ever-present security.

By mid-morning, the older people have given way to young mums and children attracted by Nickelodeon’s indoor theme park, which forms the core of the building. Then there’s the lunch crowd and later gangs of giggly teens slurping smoothies. A light show closes the shopping day under its huge glass roof. The specially commissioned song is titled: Always Here for You. But Mall life continues into the night with its cinemas and restaurants, some of which are open until midnight or later.

Safe, clean, controlled and always a pleasant 70F, the mall attracts 40-plus million people a year – 3-5 million from overseas, with UK visitors making up the largest segment. Bargains are not Mall of America’s selling point (although it probably helps that the state has no sales tax on clothes). With its cinemas, an aquarium, rides, hotels and conference-goers, Mall of America is betting on more than shopping to keep itself in business.

Christopher Grap, senior manager of experiential design, breaks into a Cheshire cat grin as we approach the the edge of Nickelodeon Universe. We stop to watch as a family take a photo on a bench made to look like an exploding dollop of the children’s network’s trademark green slime. “Wait,” whispers Grap. Ten seconds after they have settled in, the bench starts to fart and burp, and the family erupts in giggles. “Somehow, I snuck a farting chair into the Mall of America,” he laughs.

Grap’s background is in film production, including working on the far darker Hellraiser movies and Dracula 2000. He says what he is looking for are scene-stealing moments. “It’s a playground. We are creating unexpected moments. People want physical, tactile experiences they can be part of,” he says.

As part of the 25th birthday bash, the mall employed a poet. Over five days, Brian Sonia-Wallace crafted poems on his manual typewriter for shoppers who spilled intimate details of their lives while sitting outside Anthropologie. Of the roughly 100 people he wrote for, 25 cried.

It was a “strange and wonderful experience”, says Sonia-Wallace. “I was a little skeptical at first.” He was worried the mall would be soulless, its staff too controlling, too corporate. Someone told him this wasn’t a shopping mall but a “themed entertainment destination”, he says with a slight shudder. The more time he spent there, the more it started to remind him of “immersive theatre” – the type of drama where the crowd becomes part of the action. These are creative people looking to solve a problem artists as well as retailers are facing, he says.

We are all struggling in the age of Netflix and Amazon Prime to get people out of the house, how do you get them out of their bubble?” he says.

Jean Anderson, 76, asks Sonia-Wallace to write a poem for her husband Ron, 79. Ron is one of the mall’s early morning exercisers. Anderson and Sonia-Wallace discuss the couple’s 57 years of marriage, their church, the letters he wrote to a cousin in prison. The typewritten poem begins:

“The footsteps of your

walking echo through

halls of memory … ”

The “h” in “halls” has been typed twice. It looks a little like an “m”.

Her husband loves walking at the mall, Anderson says. “He’s met so many different types of people. You can’t do this on a computer.”

That is the general reaction from shoppers at the mall. They want to get out of the house, meet people, see something. Another of Sonia-Wallace’s subjects has just come off a five-day silent retreat. “She wanted some Dippin’ Dots [the self-styled “ice cream of the future”],” he laughs.

Mall of America’s celebrations aren’t over yet but the team is already hard at work on Christmas. Planning for the holiday starts in February. The mall has sackfuls of Santas: there’s a Santa who knows sign language, and a Santa “by appointment” for people who don’t want to wait. “We have to provide an experience that is worth getting out for. Attention to detail is everything,” he says.

There’s a goofy, good natured naffness to the Mall of America. Its staff loves breaking Guinness records and the mall is planning the world’s largest gathering of people wearing conical (birthday) hats for August. The mall was host to a number of other record breakers, including the world’s largest handbell choir.

In a space this large, something needs to be happening. And those happenings keep people coming back, said Grap. The mall gets more than a million visitors each year from Chicago – a 90-minute flight away. “They can get anything you can get here in Chicago, except the experience,” he says.

Mall of America is a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s a glimpse of the future, a vision of the past, a safe space, a censorious enemy of free speech that took out restraining orders to censor protests by the Black Lives Matter movement. It is also one of the reasons that America’s malls are dying. A Wells Fargo study of dead malls found that competition from newer malls was the most common cause of closures.

With competition so fierce, retailers want to stick with the winners and will soon dump, or avoid, what looks like a failing mall.

Michael Sedlacek is the owner of Worker Bee, a group of beekeepers and “artisanal skincare formulators” started in a small space in downtown Minneapolis. Last year, they took the plunge and opened a store in the mall. The shop has a raw-honey-tasting bar with a golden rainbow of different styles. There’s firewood honey from Yukon, dandelion honey from Quebec, knotweed from Pennsylvania.

“We could do this online but people respond differently here,” he says. “I had someone in recently who said: ‘This honey reminds me of my childhood in Eastern China … It’s a lot more personal.”

But nor is it for the faint hearted. The store is in operation 12 hours a day all but three days of the year. Sedlacek declined to say what he pays in rent for his 600ft-store but does say he can’t imagine doing it anywhere else. “We need a lot of people to make a lot of small purchases to survive,” he says.

“You have to be realistic. The internet has changed business so much. Buyers are confused right now. Half of them want to sit on the couch and get everything delivered and the other half want to go out and taste some weird honey that tastes like marshmallow, something they have never tried before.”

While confusion reigns, Sedlacek is probably best staying where he is. Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School and a former senior retail executive at Sears and the Gap, thinks the Mall of America will survive the great retail apocalypse but he still expects an epochal reshaping of the landscape

“Customers will always want to physically shop ; the internet is not going to eliminate brick and mortar by any means,” he says. That said, most of America’s malls will close, he predicts.

“When a specialty store goes bankrupt or closes in the Mall of America, the customer doesn’t notice it because the mall is able to lease the space quickly. Smaller malls start to look increasingly like an empty restaurant and customers start to avoid them. They not only have less to offer; they also look effectively abandoned,” he says.

Bigger malls have always cannibalized their lesser neighbors but the shift to internet shopping is fundamentally rewiring retail, he says. “It has hollowed out these spaces in the same way that these spaces hollowed out downtown retailing in the 1960s, 70 and 80s. The cycle is running its course once again.”

That shift is likely to have a profound impact on the US economy. The retail industry is the largest private employer in the US, according to a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the National Retail Federation, supporting some 42m jobs directly and indirectly.

The death of America’s malls may not affect cities in the same way that their birth did, destroying many of the country’s downtowns. But the shift from brick-and-mortar stores is already reshaping the employment market. Just as Macy’s, Sears and co used to anchor US malls, retail employment has been a solid anchor for the jobs market, generating on average 200,000 jobs per year in the 2014-6 period. The retail industry has lost an average of 9,000 jobs a month this year, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, compared with average monthly job gains of 17,000 last year. In a recent report analysing the data for January to May, Robin Brooks, chief economist of the International Institute of Finance, said the sector was on course to lose 110,000 jobs on an annualized basis.

Coal mining, an industry championed by president Donald Trump, employs about 80,000 people. Perhaps he should be campaigning for mall workers.

America will probably never lose its appetite for shopping: “There is no shortage of customers. Human beings have retained the gene that means that we need to acquire things we don’t really need,” says Cohen.

Years from now the Mall of America will still be standing, but the future of the malls of America looks far less certain.







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