Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Greenwald Was Right: "Humanitarian" War in Syria? It's Just More War

Glenn Greenwald has a way of being years ahead of the rest of us in providing the analysis we need as we try to get out from under the pronouncements of the U.S. government and explain to members of the general public what is really happening.

Take the situation in Syria and the latest pronouncements from the Obama administration about the "moral case" for U.S. attack on Syria. This gives rise to choruses of "we can't just stand by!"

Greenwald gave an outstanding talk in Chicago in May, 2012, in which he went through example after example in 20th century history and concluded (as closely as I can remember) with these words:
"The US -- no, everybody -- always says the reason for military intervention is 'humanitarian.' But since they always use the modifier 'humanitarian,' in fact the word 'humanitarian' here conveys no information. 'Humanitarian war' is not a subset of war; it is a synonym for war."
(Watch the talk yourself: The fraud of “humanitarian wars”: All wars, even the most unjustifiably aggressive, are wrapped in the same pretty rhetorical packaging .)

When it comes to buying what the U.S. is selling, buyer beware . . . .

(1) There is a humanitarian crisis in Syria

Zaatari refugee camp, on the Syria-Jordan border
There is a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions being caused by violent conflict in Syria. According to Lutheran World Relief, "More than 1.5 million refugees have fled the violence in Syria, which began in 2011, crossing the borders into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. In addition, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 2.5 million people are internally displaced."

The question we should be asking is, "How can we contribute to alleviating the suffering of the  people in the refugee camps on the borders of Syria?" and "How can we contribute to a reduction in the fighting?"

Is it simplistic to ask: isn't there a need for us to contribute money, food, and staff?  

(2) Less violence needed, not more
Logo of the Chicago-based
Ceasefire violence interruption project.

Given the nature of the crisis, the one thing that is not needed right now is more violence.

Experts on violence are coming to understand that the way to interrupt a pattern of violence lies in convincing people who are in conflict not to do the next violent act. It takes a lot of work, it is difficult and risky. But the most counter-productive thing is to try to use violent force to "compel" someone to stop using violence.

(Read more about the public health approach to ending violence. There is a growing movement toward using this approach in settings large as well as small.)

(3) An attack would help . . . how?

In light of the above points, there is no circumstance in which a resort to violent force by the United States is desirable (and certainly not anything that has been used as a pretext so far).

U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile
Moreover, the ease of American resort to overwhelming violence -- for example, the firing of cruise missiles from U.S. destroyers waiting in nearby Mediterranean waters, as was done under orders from Barack Obama against Libya and is now being threatened against Syria -- leads to a rush to judgement.

(Notably, as it did with the attack on Libya, the Obama administration seems determined to sidestep the U.S. Congress on this act of war, too.  Hence, the Speaker of the House's statement that, "before any action is taken there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress, as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability." Compared to Barack Obama, even John Boehner sounds like a statesman.)

(4) "Law? We don't need no stinkin' LAW!"

The UN is the proper forum for dealing with the developments in Syria -- not a separate "coalition."

I was shocked today to see the New York Times editorialize that the U.S. could "assemble an ad hoc international coalition to support military action that would provide legitimacy, if not strict legal justification, for intervening . . . ."

Obama and advisers follow reports of the clandestine U.S.
mission to assassinate Osama Bin Laden.
This is an exact echo of Obama administration line on "legality": "due process does not necessarily mean judicial process." (See Eric Through the Looking Glass )  In other words, the U.S. is a "law unto itself."

Ironically, the U.S. is facing, at this very minute, legal action under international law by several arms of the UN for U.S. extrajudicial executions using drones as well as other crimes.

If the U.S. was serious about justice, it would support the processes of the United Nations and other legally authorized bodies.

(5) Um ... is there something else going on here?

Any move by the U.S. (or anyone else) to move precipitously or to resort to force invites the question: what are their real motives? Why are they going about this the wrong way?

Let's face it: U.S. credibility is pretty low. Conflict in Iran? CIA. Conflict in Afghanistan? CIA. Drones strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia . . . . And on and on and on.

U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since WWII
The U.S. certainly has no qualifications to mix in an ethnically complex struggle like the one in Syria. Exhibit A is Iraq, which has an ethnically diverse society similar to that of Syria, and which has been splintered and caused untold suffering due to the years of U.S. war and destruction, particular by the way the U.S. shattered the civil society there. As I did at the beginning of this post, I will again refer to the work of Glenn Greenwald: Remember the Illegal Destruction of Iraq?

No critical observer can deny that the U.S. has an addiction to armed conflict, especially in the Middle East. Is Syria just the flavor of the week for U.S. permawar?

Related posts

To those of us who have worked hard to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, it is flabbergasting to see reports that U.S. officials see a "need" for someplace else to send troops and material: apparently, there's no such thing as demobilization, only re-deployment.

(See AFRICOM: The Heart of Darkness)

The biggest idea coming out of the 2013 Drone Summit? We will only deal successfully with the crimes being committed using drones when we understand them as part of the much larger war against communities of color . . . .

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color )

Perhaps the most troubling residue of the Syria crisis is that so much of our national discussion was centered on what our interests are, and whether we can force others to do what we want, and who our friends and who our enemies are. What's missing in all this is the question: what can we do to alleviate the suffering of the people of Syria?

(See Syria: Where Have We Ended Up?)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Back to School (All Quiet On the Western Front)

"You are the iron men . . . !"
Kids return to school in Chicago next week, and I've been reading up a storm, thinking about how we can counter the message of militarism and imperialism that more and more of our students are exposed to.

In Chicago, in particular, we're struggling to prevent another of our schools from being turned into a military academy, as well as engaging in a broader effort to overcome the influence of the military recruiters who have been given unbridled access to so many CPS schools. This has led me to think about how we can make use of the upcoming release of the film Ender's Game to provoke a discussion about war and the immorality of recruiting kids.

Two other developments are tied closely to this issue. First, in Chicago, as in many other big American cities, we are working hard to find a remedy for the violence that our young people encounter, particularly during the summer. But how can we hope to convince them that "violence isn't the answer" when our government is engaged in violent conflict in country after country? Second, we are all being forced to confront the acts of conscience of one young man who believed that the American people would want to put an end to war if they saw the true facts. Are we prepared to live with the Manning Principle?

So it was a "Eureka!" moment for me when I began reading an excellent new book about the collaboration between U.S. film producers and Nazi officials, and I realized how important it is to add All Quiet On the Western Front to our reading list for young people in Chicago.

"He tells you, 'Go out and die'!"
In particular, as described in The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler, by Ben Urwand, there is the moment in All Quiet On the Western Front when the young soldier returns to visit his old high school.

The soldier visits the class of the teacher who had goaded him and many of his classmates to enlist in the first place. (It seems unbelievable to imagine a public school teacher today giving his or her class a pep talk about how great it is to join the army . . . but isn't that, in effect, what we are exposing our students to when we let recruiters into the schools and convert them into military academies?)

Encouraged by his teacher to tell about the "glories" of being a soldier, he delivers a damning verdict:
"He tells you, 'Go out and die' . . . Oh, but if you pardon me, it's easier to say 'Go out and die' than it is to do it! . . . And it's easier to say it than to watch it happen!"
You may not be surprised to learn that that is the scene that Nazi officials fought to have expunged from the film. The Collaboration provides a full account of the controversy over All Quiet On the Western Front in Germany in the early '30s and a detailed description of the parts of the film that are inimical to the war-making enterprise.

All Quiet on the Western Front

The Collaboration, by the way, is un-put-down-able, and should be read by anyone who cares about how our media and the arts is entwined with our addiction to war. It has had a special meaning for me, because it reminds me of some very special conversations I had with my mom in the period shortly before she died. She had been a young adult in the years leading up to WWII, and she told me that, although the human rights abuses and growing militarism that were happening in Germany at the time were known to many, the topic seemed to be off-limits. "I don't understand why people weren't talking about it," she told me.

So: America's addiction to war and its disgraceful reliance on recruiting young people in the schools. Let's start talking about it.

Related posts

We need to do several things for our young people. First of all, we need to show them pictures of war and explain: "This is what real chaos looks like." And then we need to ask, "Still think this sounds appealing?"

(See The Few, the Proud ... and the Chaos)

A big Hollywood production of Ender's Game is scheduled for release on November 1. It's a perfect opportunity for us to ask: Are we happy seeing our schools turned into "Battle Schools"?

(See "Ender's Game" and the Militarization of Youth: Can We Talk About This? )

Ames serves a largely Spanish-speaking community. Is the militarization of Ames anything other than a signal of what the Democratic party means by equitable treatment for immigrants?

(See The Militarization of Ames: The Real Meaning of the DREAM Act )


"A terrible disease has struck the area . . . people call it the "flu" . . . many in our own community have fallen to it . . . including someone very dear to you, someone in your own family . . . I'm talking about your sister, Margaret." (See November 11, 1918: Another Veteran for Peace )

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Permanent War and the Surveillance State: A Package Deal?

An important event is taking place ten days from now in Chicago -- Our Democracy in Crisis: The Rise of the Total Surveillance State and the War on a Free Press -- and I intend to be there.

The event will feature Free Press co-founder Prof. Robert W. McChesney, journalist John Nichols, NLG Executive Director Heidi Boghosian, and educator/author/activist Prof. Robert Jensen. The event takes place 7:30 p.m. on August 29 at North Park University and is sponsored by Chicago Area Peace Action.

I already know what my question is going to be:

(A) Is the surveillance state really just a support system for permanent war?

. . . OR . . .

(B) Is permanent war really just an excuse for having a surveillance state?

. . . OR . . .

(C) Are permanent war and the surveillance state complementary 
and mutually supporting constructs? 

. . . OR . . .

(D) Are permanent war and the surveillance state functionally independent?

Permanent war and the surveillance state: Can we hope to deal with one without dealing with the other?

See you on August 29th . . . .

Friday, August 16, 2013

Should We Include Sinai in the List of U.S. Drone Target Zones?

The movement to publicize and bring an end to drone warfare customarily focuses on U.S. actions in four places: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Is it time to add the Sinai Peninsula to that list, considering drone executions being carried out by Israel there?

Killed by Israeli Drone in Sinai, August 9, 2013 (More photos)

Many people would point to blanket U.S. support for Israel as evidence that the U.S. is complicit in Israel's use of drones. Now, however, there is more and more reason to ask: shouldn't we simply assume that Israel is a direct U.S. proxy anytime it uses drones to kill "Islamic militants"?

The questions that are leading me in this direction are discussed below.

(1) What's behind U.S. reluctance to call a coup a coup?

The Obama administration has gone to Orwellian lengths to avoid calling the military seizure of the elected government of Egypt a "coup." It even claimed that the power seizure was "restoring democracy." (!!)

Looks like a coup . . . smells like a coup . . . (read more)

The administration refuses to call a coup a coup, because under U.S. law that would lead to suspension of $1.3 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt.

Notably, the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace agreement is contingent on that aid.

It may be argued that the Obama administration is simply dodging its responsibility to tell the truth because it doesn't want to rock the boat. But given how rapidly the situation in Egypt is deteriorating, it's clear that Obama and company are holding out for something they want from the generals -- either for themselves, directly, or for Israel, or for both -- right here and now.

(2) What's happening right here and now between Egypt and Israel?

There is a growing awareness that Israel is a major user of armed drones.  The significant development this week between Egypt and Israel is the Israel drone strike on "Islamic militants" in Sinai.  (See Israel’s deadly drones have origins in Sinai occupation by Jimmy Johnson.)

Sinai Peninsula

The Sinai strike has been overshadowed by the brutal massacre by the Egyptian military of Islamic Brotherhood supporters in their encampments in Cairo, and so its significance may not have sunk in yet.

Nonetheless, the fact is: the drone strikes in Sinai were a violation of Egyptian sovereignty by an Israel. And the Egyptian generals are tolerating it.

Moreover, in the context of the battling between Egypt's military and Islamic groups there, it is reasonable to conclude that the Sinai strike went beyond being tactical (direct retaliation for involvement in specific alleged violent acts) to being strategic (part of a high-level strategy aimed at Islamic militancy).

This precisely fits the pattern of U.S. drone warfare in other areas: violations of national sovereignty that are tolerated, for complicated reasons, by the local authorities -- notably by the military -- and are directed at killing a long list of people who collectively represent the "leadership" of the forces opposing the U.S. and their allies/proxies.

Israeli-made Heron drone

(3) Isn't this type of subterfuge dangerous?

Did the Israeli drone strikes take place with the advance approval of the Egyptian generals? (Almost certainly.) Did they plan the operations together? (Hard to know.) Was Israel acting as a proxy for the United States? Was this latest drone execution of "Islamic militants" part of the "global war on terror" that the Obama administration has taken up with such alacrity? (You be the judge.)

Obama and Netanyahu - March 22, 2013

Make no mistake about it: the vagueness, obscurity, contingency, and deniability of these activities -- besides being illegal and wrong -- present huge risk. Nonetheless, this way of operating is just the way the U.S. likes it. The more risk, the more potential for continued conflict; the more conflict, the more, well, the more ways for the conflict to just go on and on and on . . . .

We need to refuse to be buffaloed by the Obama administration's lies and deceit.  Many of us (myself included, I confess) believed that Barack Obama would roll back to the Bush scheme of global conspiracy to foment conflict and commit crimes at will.  It's time for people to start connecting the dots and grasping that the Obama conspiracy makes Bush and Cheney look like amateurs.

Related posts

The use of drones by Israel in the current Gaza crisis is bringing into full view the leading role of Israel in changing the way the U.S. and other countries assert state power against people everywhere.

(See Gaza Crisis Brings Israel's "Dronification" of State Power into Full View on the No Drones Network website)

Amos Guiora, an Israeli "counter-terrorism expert," held forth on the difference between "good" targeted killing -- i.e. the kind Israeli practices (!) -- and "bad" targeted killing -- namely, the kind the Obama administration carries out. But what this talk was really about was conditioning the public to accept the idea that "targeted killing" is a legitimate activity of a government.

(See "Targeted Killing" - The Heart of the U.S.-Israel Relationship )

No Drones Illinois has endorsed the following call by Anti-War Committee – Chicago, Jews for Justice in Palestine, U.S. Palestinian Community Network and 8th Day Center for Justice: Protest Boeing Death Machines in Gaza: Demand Chicago Drop Boeing from Air and Water Show!

(See No Drones Illinois Endorses Call to Drop Boeing from Chicago Air and Water Show)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Are YOU Ready to Swallow a Daily Dose of "the Manning Principle"?

"I am Bradley Manning"
As Bradley Manning's sentencing is taking place, a strong movement continues to grow to provide support and obtain ultimate justice for him. (See: Bradley Manning Support Network )

Protests are planned nationwide, including one in Chicago on Monday, August 19.

At this time, it is important to recognize two aspects of the Bradley Manning legacy -- which we can all recognize as true and build on, even as the struggle to free Bradley himself continues.

(1) The Manning Principle

Bradley Manning expressed a crystalline clarity on why he did what he did:
"I believed that if the general public... had access to the information contained within the [Iraq and Afghan War Logs] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan." (Quoted in the July 25, 2013 full page New York Times ad sponsored by Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network.)
Manning expressed confidence in the moral nature of the American people -- and people in general. The principle he expressed is (a) fundamental to democracy; and (b) far too seldom observed by those of us in the peace and justice movement.

I confess that I, myself, far too often fail to come anywhere close to Bradley Manning's level of belief in people. How often have I said, "The only way we'll get people to oppose war is to appeal to their self-interest" or "People will only care about this if we talk about how much money it's costing them" . . . ? Why is it so hard to believe that people are moral?

In my opinion, the single best way to honor Bradley Manning is to recommit ourselves to the Manning Principle.

What would it mean for each of us to commit, say, to a year in which we would consistently place the truth in front of ordinary people, day after day, and patiently engage with them as they worked through the implications? What would it mean if we all believed in people as much as Bradley Manning?

(2) Truth Stress Syndrome

During the sentencing phase, the defense cataloged the emotional difficulties that Bradley Manning experienced around the time he made the leaks. (See: Manning Played Vital Role in Iraq Despite Erratic Behavior, Supervisor Says)

There is a danger that some people might suggest that emotional difficulties led to the decision to leak information. I think it is very important that we speak clearly about the real cause and effect.

It seems clear to me that Bradley Manning experienced a tremendous amount of stress -- the stress of a person confronting the truth, and recognizing an enormous conflict with his own sense of integrity. It is indisputable that Bradley Manning has suffered enormous personal consequences as a result of his decision to act in a way that is consistent with his true, moral self.

"Truth stress syndrome," therefore, might be thought of as stress and associated behavior associated with an extreme challenge to a person's sense of moral integrity, and their difficulty reconciling their obligation to society with the personal consequences they will suffer from acting morally.

A corollary -- and one that was the focus of the defense presentation at sentencing -- is that there is a risk that, due to behaviors associated with truth stress syndrome, a person may actually be prevented from carrying out the moral actions that they determine are necessary. It is fortunate for us that, in Bradley Manning's situation, those around him were not alert to the stress he was experiencing. More generally, truth stress syndrome needs to be recognized by the movement for peace and justice as a major obstacle to the accomplishment of the movement's goals: the very people we depend upon most to engage in courageous and moral acts are the most likely to be thwarted by those around them when they exhibit the signals of stress.

There is no question in my mind that Bradley Manning is a hero of historic proportions, and that we should all aspire to become like Bradley Manning. Now's the time for us to start systematizing the process of nurturing -- and supporting, and protecting -- thousands of Bradley Mannings.

Related posts

A person may not feel that s/he is another Daniel Ellsberg ... or Paul Revere ... or Otto and Elise Hampel ... or Ai Weiwei ... or Bradley [Chelsea] Manning. But these are heroes we can aspire to emulate.

(See I am (I will become) Bradley Manning )

Are we all waiting for someone else to push back against injustice and aggression?

(See Hoping Against Hope (Resistance in America))

"In whom and in what should we be putting our faith?" If not in Manning -- and the Manning Principle -- then in whom and in what?

(See The Path to Peace: Why Not the Manning Way?)

Ai Weiwei is a fascinating character, and particularly interesting to me because of my years of involvement with China. But at some point I started to wonder if the situation of Ai Weiwei and other dissidents in China isn't just too remote to be relevant to most Americans. Somehow it was only when I saw these re-creations of the detention experience that I saw how directly connected the experience of Ai Weiwei is to that of people the U.S. persecutes.

(See Ai Weiwei: So Far Away, and Yet So Close (Take 1)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Obama: Go to Moscow!

[Update August 7, 2014 - Thinking back on the events of the past twelve months . . . and the upcoming NATO Summit in Wales . . . I am moved to ask again, "What about talking to Putin?"]

[Update September 23, 2013 - in light of the evolution of the showdown over Syria, it is interesting to turn the calendar back and ask ... "What about that summit?"]

Call me a demanding citizen, but I think the President should get off his butt and go talk to the leader of Russia.  (Yes, Putin.)  It's his job.

There's been a lot of grumbling by Barack Obama and company about the decision by Russia to grant asylum to Edward J. Snowden.  Well, I'm sorry, but that's not a reason to stop talks that might take move us another step closer to eliminating nuclear weapons, lead to missile reductions, and defuse some of the violence in Syria, among other concerns.

Obama is scheduled to go to St. Petersburg in September for the G-20 meeting, and he was scheduled to meet one-on-one with Putin in Moscow.  Now he has cancelled the plan for the Moscow summit.

 It is, frankly, beyond my comprehension that Obama thinks he is free to stop talking just because he's angry.

By the way, as soon as the talks were cancelled, the administration started to obfuscate, saying that, well, they didn't have any agreements ready to sign in Moscow, so what was the point of talking?  But isn't that precisely the reason that they should be talking -- to reach agreement that doesn't yet exist?

The administration seems to realize its own position is ridiculous. They're now doing a press blitz about all the diplomatic legwork being done by the State and Defense secretaries -- as if that somehow renders a summit meeting superfluous.  Can they possibly be as feckless as they seem?

Some may ask: is the idea that Obama should meet with Putin incompatible with the idea that we oppose the harassment of LGBTQ people in Putin's Russia?

In my opinion, we need to be pro-active about both of these issues, which is to say:
  • Obama does need to go talk to Putin because many people are depending on agreements to end militarism and war that rest, in the end, with the two of them; AND
  • We do need to meet the harassment of LGBTQ people in Putin's Russia with a boycott of the Sochi Olympics.
(As to how the harassment of all people by the NSA and the surveillance state in Obama's USA -- more on that later.)

Our designated leaders have some big problems. But the people have work that needs to be done.

Related posts

Conveniently, a large military alliance -- NATO -- bristling with weapons, has announced itself ready to step in and contest annexations of territories by Russia. For NATO, the measure of resolvability of conflict is firepower.

(See Crimean War? Crimean Showdown? or Crimean Mediation? It's Time for Americans to Get Some New Vocabulary )

Perhaps the most troubling residue of the Syria crisis is that so much of our national discussion was centered on what our interests are, and whether we can force others to do what we want, and who our friends and who our enemies are. What's missing in all this is the question: what can we do to alleviate the suffering of the people of Syria?

(See Syria: Where Have We Ended Up?)

How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons?  How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position -- will always be in the position -- to say, "No" ?  At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will never give up its nuclear weapons, because it has the power and the rest of the world doesn't?

(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

Monday, August 12, 2013

Who Decides? (When Drones are Judge, Jury, and Executioner)

Abdulrahman Awlaki, killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.

This past week I was in Madison, WI, where I saw a number of excellent presentations on peacemaking. One, in particular, changed my thinking.

Joan Haan and Elliott Adams gave a presentation at the Veterans for Peace (VFP) convention, "Creating a Culture of Peace: Exploring Nonviolent Social Change Movements Past, Present, and Future," which provided excellent tools for organizers. Part of their presentation dealt with three distinct aspects of public opinion:
  • public awareness of the problem
  • public opposition to powerholder policies
  • public support for movement alternatives

(These three aspects are part of the Movement Action Plan model developed by Bill Moyer, as shown on the chart above.)

Our discussion turned to the question: where are we on each of these aspects when it comes to drones?

Public opposition

There seemed to be general agreement that we are making good progress in encouraging public awareness of the problem of drones.

Clearly, we are not yet at the point where there is broad public support for the alternatives being offered by the antiwar movement.

This then led us to ponder: might we, in fact, be on the cusp of a breakthrough moment when the public decides that they aren't buying the policies of U.S. powerholders with respect to drones?

As I thought about this in the days that followed, I became more and more convinced . . .
  • It's time for our movement to move beyond stimulating public awareness of the problem -- beyond just saying "drones, drones, drones"
  • The moment is not yet ripe for us to convince the public of commit to the alternatives we are proposing
  • The moment is right to invite the public to shine a bright light on powerholder policies -- to decide for themselves, "Are you buying the government's story?"
In other words, it's time for us to do less telling and more asking, inviting, and listening.

In my opinion, all we need to invite many more people into the conversation is two words: "Who decides?"

Who decides?

If the public will join us in asking the question "Who decides?" about drone executions, I believe they will rapidly come to realize that they are utterly dissatisfied with what the government is saying.

(1) All the President's men?

Ever since last May, when the New York Times profiled the weekly Tuesday "kill list" decisions by Barack Obama and his inner circle, we've been aware that the President and a few close advisers think they have the right to huddle in the White House and decide who lies and who dies.

Is the American public really happy with the idea that we're back to rule by "All the President's Men" -- this time with drones?

(2) The CIA?

The largest portion of the U.S. drone killing program to date has been in the hands of the CIA. (Though this is not publicly acknowledged, because, well, it's the CIA.)

Who among the public -- really -- vests trust in the CIA?

(3) The generals?

Strange to say, the public would probably place more confidence in the leaders of the military -- at least when it comes to the use of drones -- than in the other possible alternatives.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the military are probably the least involved in decisions about the use of drones. (Perhaps we should hear more from them about that.)

(4) Contractors?

The Snowden affair has gone a long way toward exposing the involvement of government contractors in propping up the U.S. security state. However, we have not yet begun to see real public awareness of the number of civilian contractors involved in the drone "kill chain."

Is the American public going to be satisfied with the idea that these life-and-death decisions are in the hands of a bunch of IT contractors?

(5) Or does The Machine decide?

There is a very real sense in which the decisions to use drones to kill are being made by the machines themselves. That is, the relative weight of the system design and network communications in the outcome, relative to the weight of human agency, is becoming more and more overwhelming.

I predict that, at the end of the day, Americans will vote down the idea of computers, robots, and information systems being judge, jury, and executioner.

What do you think we can to spur public engagement with the question, "Who decides?"

Related posts

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)

By now, everyone knows about the New York Times article describing Barack Obama's personal administration of drone killing around the world. What few people are willing to face up to is that Obama 2012 partisans actually see this as a way to get a lot of Americans to like Obama: "This is the candidate; you MUST support him!"

(See Being a Team Player for "Mr. Forceful": Obama and the Dems )

First Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) called the U.S. on the carpet for dodging the call from the international community to come clean about its drone killings. Then Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) submitted a bill calling for drone transparency. So ... are we finally going to get the truth?

(See REAL Progressives Demand that the U.S. Come Clean on Drone Killings)

The impossibly upside-down world described by George Orwell actually turns out to be -- point by point -- the world we now live in.

(See Dirty Wars and Extrajudicial Execution (So 1984!) )

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Democracy vs. Drones

I'm in Madison, WI, for the Democratizing Defense Conference. Later this morning we'll have a session on "Democracy vs. Drones."

Our "discussion of what is being done and what can be done to put the interests of humans ahead of those of killer flying robots" will include questions such as . . .
  • Can a democracy use drones abroad or domestically?
  • Do drone murders uphold the rule of law or destroy it?
  • Do surveillance drones make us free or strip away our rights?
  • Are false beliefs about drones leading us down a dangerous path?
  • How can we bring drones under control?
  • And is there any place for good or harmless uses of drones?
I hope that more and more people will begin asking these and other questions.

What would a truly democratic response to drones look like?

In the last year, we've seen a big change: a significant resistance has arisen against drones. (See for instance: April Days of Action Against Drones - 2013) Nonetheless, that resistance has been confined to a small segment of the American public. The vast majority of people are "out of sight, out of mind" when it comes to drones -- or any of our country's other military depredations, for that matter.

What's coming next is a more broad-based, democratic response. Here's what I think it will look like:

(1) Starting point: DENIAL

First and foremost, let's acknowledge the gravity of the problem we face as an antiwar movement. The vast majority of the American public is in denial about the violent aggression carried out in its name, and that's just the way the government likes it.

The U.S. government's drone strategy is a direct outgrowth of its defeat by the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War. At that time, the draft provoked a broad-based, democratic response which made it impossible for the government to conduct war unilaterally. You can just hear the voices in Washington, D.C., saying, "We're never going to let that happen again!"

Fast forward to today, when the government can carry out more and more of its acts of injury to others throughout the world without the involvement of a person, or without the physical presence of a person.

[UPDATE: This has now been stated in more formal language in the report of UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns:
18. Given that drones greatly reduce or eliminate the number of casualties on the side using them, the domestic constraints — political and otherwise — may be less restrictive than with the deployment of other types of armed force. This effect is enhanced by the relative ease with which the details about drone targeting can be withheld from the public eye and the potentially restraining influence of public concern.
(See full 24-page report: Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions)]

Most Americans have an attitude of, "Works for me!" . . . if they have any awareness at all of what's going on.

(2) The unforeseen sticking point

And yet . . . there is something about drone killings that arouses feelings in people. Often quite inchoate, part unease, part disgust, part a sense of injustice; unarticulated.

We see this clearly when we bring out large-scale drone replicas and use them in our discussions with people at protests and education events. There's something about being face to face with these things that just sticks in your craw.

No one could have predicted that drones would stimulate these kinds of emotions. It's not clear why drones do this in a way that many other forms of military activity do not. In any event, this is what we, as a movement, have to work with.

(3) The messy part

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. I've written frequently about my belief that drones are an important topic for churches and faith groups to take on. I expect young people will be reading and writing about this topic in their schools.

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.


The really interesting part will be when the ultimate showdown comes. I don't think the American people are going to say to their government, "We don't like war by robot. Reinstate the draft." What I do think they are going to say is, "We don't like war by robot. We don't like the draft. The military activity of the U.S. government is just going to have to change."

In other words, the government and the military are going to have to respond to the unreasonable demands of the people.

(5) Post-drone defense

No one knows what the defense establishment is going to look like after we disallow the use of drones.

My hope is that, in the process, we will expose questions about why we are so expansionist and aggressive. My hope is that we will see a return the question, "What really would it mean to focus on "defense"?  How much -- really -- do we need to do to defend ourselves?"

I believe that we will recognize that, in fact, we can keep ourselves safe with a vastly reduced force.

And finally, I hope, we will dispense with all the rest.

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?")

First Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) called the U.S. on the carpet for dodging the call from the international community to come clean about its drone killings. Then Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) submitted a bill calling for drone transparency. So ... are we finally going to get the truth?

(See REAL Progressives Demand that the U.S. Come Clean on Drone Killings)

In the past several weeks, the President of the United States tried to undertake an attack against a foreign country, but the American people said "Hell no!" and the Congress let the President know they couldn't support it. How often does that happen?

(See When THE PEOPLE Take Control: "Anything Can Happen")