Sunday, November 25, 2012

Drone Apparatchik Crocodile Tears

The lead story in today's New York Times, purporting to describe how certain conscientious members of the Obama administration do care about the war crimes that are being committed daily by them and their co-workers in the drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and who-knows-how-many other countries, is good news in at least one respect: it suggests that the vocal and growing opposition to U.S. actions with drones is being heard.

However, it's bad news in another respect. Look: clearly the sources for this article are the kind of "team players" whose first priority was to assure that their boss was re-elected in November. It is pathetic that they cannot even see how fallacious their own statements are: what, it was urgent to impose rules if Romney was using drones, but Obama's use of drones can proceed in a legal vacuum????

It is even more pathetic that these apparatchiks think that some end is served by telegraphing their twinges of conscience to the rest of the world . . . as if that somehow makes the drone killing alright.

If they really saw that what Obama and the rest of his administration are doing is wrong -- and if they really wanted to throw a wrench in the works -- there is a clear course of action.


(Can you say "Cameron Munter"?)

When I see "unnamed members of the State Department and Justice Department" -- the people who allegedly are concerned that the Obama administration is doing something wrong on drones -- use their power of exit to influence their erring masters, I'll fly to Washington to shake their hands.

Until then, it's just crocodile tears.

Related posts

More than anyone else, the beneficiaries of permawar are the politicians who thrive on the power to make and control wars.

(See J'ACCUSE: The Beneficiaries of Permawar)

There can be no question but that Americans and the rest of the world will eventually wake up to the terror being inflicted in their name on Pakistanis and others. The only question that will then remain will be whether Obama, Panetta, and the whole drone "kill chain" will be prosecuted as war criminals or as ordinary criminals. (And God help them if they are condemned to the limbo of "unlawful enemy combatant" - entitled to neither civil nor military justice.)

(See #NATOvictims - Drone Strikes in Pakistan )

"In response to the consequences of war, each of us is presented with the responsibility to say something and do something to prevent more killing. For better or for worse, how we respond to the moral challenges of our times defines who we are, as citizens, as parents, as neighbors, and as members of the global community."

(See #RemembranceDay2012)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

War By (Drone Base) Timetable?

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day - the day when we commemorate the armistice, signed on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month," that ended World War I.

On a day when we think about those who suffer so greatly from war -- veterans, as well as those who don't live to be veterans, as well as the enormous numbers of civilian victims of war -- it is easy to breathe a sigh of relief over our ability to (sometimes) end (some) wars.

But maybe we should, instead, devote ourselves to looking once again at how those wars get started.

WWI German sailors mobilized by rail
(See: Railways in War)

The historian A.J.P. Taylor had a startling insight about WWI - the war whose end we commemorate tomorrow. In studying how the war came about in the first place, he realized that the countries involved programmed themselves into a corner by the way they prepared their highly-efficient and "smart" systems (transport and other -- to "respond" to a war that they hoped wouldn't come:
[A]ll of the great powers believed that if they possessed the ability to mobilise their armed forces faster than any of the others, this would serve as a sufficient deterrent to avoid war and allow them to achieve their foreign policy. Thus, the general staffs of the great powers developed elaborate timetables to mobilise faster than any of their rivals. When the crisis broke in 1914, though none of the statesmen of Europe wanted a world war, the need to mobilise faster than potential rivals created an inexorable movement towards war. Thus Taylor claimed that the leaders of 1914 became prisoners of the logic of the mobilisation timetables and the timetables that were meant to serve as deterrent to war instead relentlessly brought war. [Source: A.J.P. Taylor article on Wikipedia]
Taylor's book on the war was entitled War By Timetable.

The historian Barbara Tuchman expands on this in her brilliant, unforgettable The Guns of August. She places the mobilisation planning in the context of the larger move by all the powers involved to develop enormous staffs to plan, plan, plan for war.

There is an eerie reminder of war by railway timetable in William L. Shirer's monumental The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer reminds us that the armistice of 11/11/18 was signed in a railway carriage -- and that when Hitler invaded France in WWII, he dug up the very same railway carriage, and had it transported to the very same spot, and forced the French representatives to sign the surrender terms in it.

Today, it may seem quaint to think about the role that trains played in the cataclysms of the 20th century. Could something as simple as a bunch of trains, once set in motion, possibly put people on a course they couldn't reverse?

And yet . . . what if I told you that the hyper-organized planners of the U.S. government have a timetable to make 100 drone bases operational in our country in the near future? (See: Department of Defense Report to Congress on Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training, Operations, and Sustainability (April 2012).)

To see what's developing near you, see the list of state-level "No Drones" sites on the No Drones Network website.

When there are so many plans being carried out to use drones, how can we possibly imagine that we won't end up in a global drone war?

American Legacy by Steve Fryburg

Will any of us be surprised when we wake up one day and see this picture, imagined by artist, Ohio Veterans For Peace leader, and anti-drones activist Steve Fryburg, realized?

Related posts

In my opinion, the reason to focus on drones is this: when we focus on drones, the general public is able to "get," to an unusual extent, the degree to which popular consent has been banished from the process of carrying out state violence. (Sure, it was banished long ago, but the absence of a human in the cockpit of a drone suddenly makes a light bulb go off in people's heads.) It takes some prodding, but people can sense that drone use somehow crosses a line. And that opens up the discussion about how our consent has been eliminated from the vast range of US militarism.

(See "Why focus on drone attacks?")

The U.S. can get more "bang for the buck" out of each pair of boots it puts on the ground, because -- through the magic of robotics -- it can back up those boots with Hellfire missiles and 500-lb. bombs. For the folks back home, it helps maintain the illusion that the U.S. isn't really intervening in a way that risks escalation. For the population of the affected areas of Iraq, it helps maintain the balance of terror -- because those armed drones are just part of a much larger fleet of drones that is patrolling the skies over Baghdad.  ("Is that drone overhead aiming . . . or just 'looking'?" From the ground, one has to assume they're all aiming . . . . )

(See Armed Drones Over Iraq: A Force Multiplier (Which Is Precisely Why They Are So Dangerous) )

Now comes the messy part. We need many more people to engage with with the emotions aroused by drones. This is going to involve many different groups of people, engaging with this topic in many different ways: churches and faith groups . . . young people . . . . The point is: the discourse on drones is going to get out of our hands. It isn't always going to go the way we want. But the important thing is that many, many people are going to be talking about it in the ways that feel appropriate to them.

 (See Democracy vs. Drones)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Orwell Was Right

I've decided to read a book to ring in Barack Obama's second term. No, I'm not talking about The Audacity of Hope. I'm talking about 1984, by George Orwell.

In case you haven't read it lately, I strongly recommend giving 1984 a fresh read. My memory of it was of a book that was clever, but a bit shallow, and one that ultimately imparted a feeling of comfort because, after all, it was pointing a finger at the misdeeds of other societies. (Okay, okay, it's been a long time since I last read it . . . . )

NATO protests, Chicago, May 2012

What I'm finding instead is a book that is both packed with insight into the psychology of the public experience of repression, and startlingly prescient about the specific facts of our world today.

With respect to the latter of these, allow me to quote just three brief descriptions that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up:
In the distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a blue-bottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. (p. 2)
We in Chicago are the most electronically surveilled population population in the world. (Can you say "seventeen thousand cameras??) The proliferation of cameras makes the use of helicopters optional.

Of course, they're not really doing anything with all that surveillance, right?
It was always at night -- the arrests invariably happened at night. . . . there was no trial, no report of the arrest. People simply disappeared, always during the night. (p. 17)
Considering that progressive Americans are rejoicing today over the re-election of Barack Obama, despite his failure to close Guantanamo, reverse the legacy of night raids in Afghanistan, prosecute the torturers who carried out extraordinary rendition, and abandon his claim to be able to detain anyone indefinitely under the NDAA . . . this passage is chilling.

But it was the passage that seemed to describe drone strikes really made me stop short:
"Steamer" was a nickname which, for some reason, the proles applied to rocket bombs. . . . The bomb had demolished a group of houses two hundred meters up the street. . . . Thre was a little pile of plaster lying on the pavement ahead of him, and in the middle of it he could see a bright red streak. When he got up to it he saw it was a human hand severed at the wrist. (p. 74)
This description was quite startling to encounter, shortly after seeing the account of Pat Chaffee, recently returned from the Code Pink delegation to Pakistan to protest U.S. drone killings, entitled, "Body Pieces".

I feel quite sure that when I read this passage years ago, I thought, "Well, certainly, that will never happen . . . .

Never say never.

Orwell was right.

Page references are to the 2009 Plume paperback edition.
Image: @Deprogrammer9 Copyright Julie Dermansky 2012

Related posts

Re-reading George Orwell's 1984 recently made me see at least 15 ways 2013 is like the world he describes in the book . . . .

(See 2013 = 1984 ? )

As the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights prepared to convene a conference on surveillance on October 19, 2013, it was a shock to find that the majority of the Illinois congressional delegation voted AGAINST the Amash Conyers Amendment -- the measure to curtail NSA surveillance.

(See In Chicago, Illinois: YOU ARE UNDER SURVEILLANCE!) 

"What are the unseen possibilities and risks associated with drones?" We need the insights of lots of people -- including the work of thinkers who are no longer living -- that are good at imagining the future and considering previously unimagined possibilities.

(See DRONES: Build a Foundation for Our 3-D Future