The US isn’t the first Western nation to bomb Waziristan. As you note, the British did it in the 1920s. Do these campaigns have anything in common?
Yes, there are some things in common. Let me point out a difference first: the historian Priya Satia has observed that for the British creating terror through “air policing” — what it was called then — was considered humane because it would terrorize people into submission and therefore minimize the number of people they’d actually have to kill, or so they reasoned. For the US, that discourse has been replaced by claims about precision, accuracy and surgical strikes.
But, of course, the buzzing of the drones does create terror, particularly among those who have already been attacked or seen an attack. That’s the simplest link. More interestingly, there’s a kind of technophilia that’s part of the British and American effort. It has been part of the fantasy of empire ever since flight became a possibility. It’s the belief that flight — whether by airplanes or drones — can make total control of a territory possible. It’s the idea that flight equals omniscience, that territory is transparent, and that all one needs to do in order to understand it, is to see it by air. The British made that mistake, and the Americans are making it now. They have their heads in the clouds. They have failed to grasp the link between the violence they inflict and the response that they get. The British wrote off rebellions as part of the alleged innate savagery of Pashtuns rather than a reaction to their brutal colonial rule. The US now presumes the right to be the global policeman, to occupy and destroy entire countries, but then wonders “why do they hate us?” This is a question that reflects the utter, willful blindness of American power.
This is not to say that those fighting against the Americans in Afghanistan are simply anti-colonial warriors, because the insurgents have been ruthless to Waziris and Pakistanis more generally. But, at the level of imperial politics, there is a definite link between what the British did and what the US is attempting to do now.
U.S. imperial power, disguised as a liberal polity concerned with protecting the freedom and rights of all human beings, is revealed when it selectively showcases certain human rights that support the destructive actions planned by the state. WMD’s in Iraq. Women’s rights in Afghanistan. Such “principles” are clearly exhorted almost exclusively to enable voters to support otherwise dubious or indefensible policies. … It is not possible to continue to violate the freedom and bodies of so many people — American or foreign, citizens or otherwise — without confronting the inevitability that those chickens will come home to roost. I don’t mean revenge … I mean the disintegration of a society that claims to respect the bodily and psychic integrity of human beings to live and speak without fear of despotic retribution. Consequently, the United States can no longer credibly claim to be a beacon of democracy or protector of rights without hearing the loud, widespread, jeers of derision and contempt from the victims of the US’s unceasing violence: the families of droned Pakistanis and Yemenis as well as those of Gitmo detainees who have already ended their own lives; the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, as well as those of Chelsea Manning, Barrett Brown, John Kiriakou and many others. The list is long, too long. … Counter-terrorism, as we now understand it, is about
exchanging sacrificing selling out human rights principles in the name of American security while chiseling away at the rights long claimed by American citizens and residents.
… Africa has many needs. Whether it needs the United States bringing to bear a million American soldiers is doubtful. If Washington wants to encourage “positive change” in Africa, training a million African schoolteachers or a million doctors might be more useful.
Efforts to build foreign armies are implicitly based on the assumption that “backward” peoples want and will surely benefit from American tutoring. That paternalistic assumption, amounting to little more than a politically correct updating of the white man’s burden, deserves critical examination. Indeed, it should be abandoned as both false and pernicious — bad for Africans and bad for us.
“If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.”
So say many Americans. And many Germans as well.
But one German, Ilija Trojanow, would disagree. He has lent his name to published documents denouncing the National Security Agency (NSA), and was one of several prominent German authors who signed a letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel urging her to take a firm stance against the mass online surveillance conducted by the NSA. Trojanow and the other authors had nothing to hide, which is why the letter was published for the public to read. What happened after that, however, was that Trojanow was refused permission to board a flight from Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, to Miami on Monday, September 30. Without any explanation.
Trojanow, who was on his way to speak at a literary conference in Denver, told the Spiegel magazine online website that the denial of entry might be linked to his criticism of the NSA. Germany’s Foreign Ministry says it has contacted US authorities “to resolve this issue”. - Associated Press, October 2, 2013
In an article published in a German newspaper, Trojanow voiced his frustration with the incident: “It is more than ironic if an author who raises his voice against the dangers of surveillance and the secret state within a state for years, will be denied entry into the ‘land of the brave and the free’.” 11
Further irony can be found in the title of a book by Trojanow: “Attack on freedom. Obsession with security, the surveillance state and the dismantling of civil rights.”
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who oversees the NSA and other intelligence agencies, said recently that the intelligence community “is only interested in communication related to valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes.” - Washington Post, October 5, 2013
It’s difficult in the extreme to see how this criterion would apply in any way to Ilija Trojanow.
The story is a poignant caveat on how fragile is Americans’ freedom to criticize their Security State. If a foreigner can be barred from boarding a flight merely for peaceful, intellectual criticism of America’s Big Brother (nay, Giant Brother), who amongst us does not need to pay careful attention to anything they say or write.
Very few Americans, however, will even be aware of this story. A thorough search of the Lexis-Nexis media database revealed a single mention in an American daily newspaper (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch), out of 1400 daily papers in the US. No mention on any broadcast media. A single one-time mention in a news agency (Associated Press), and one mention in a foreign English-language newspaper (New Zealand Herald).
[The] United States will never submit to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court; its presidents cannot measure up to anyone’s standard of justice. They live by the law of the gun – the greatest war criminals on planet Earth.
In recent decades American political discourse has relied heavily on the very short memories of the American public for its effect. When George W. Bush initially pushed his disastrous war on Iraq he was met with large-scale resistance—the largest anti-war protests in history and widespread skepticism around his purported justifications for war. Mr. Bush made his push at a particular moment in history when the capitalist triumphalism of the (Bill) Clinton years was temporarily interrupted by the attacks on New York and Washington. Mr. Bush successfully co-opted America’s compliant press whose mission, to the extent there ever was one, had shifted from a vague tendency toward public service to maximizing shareholder value at a time when war was considered good for business. Mr. Bush and his administration had a mission—to reassert American empire as adjunct to the capitalist expansion begun in the (Jimmy) Carter and (Ronald) Reagan years. And to those familiar with neo-con (neo-conservative) doctrine, the outcome of Mr. Bush’s war—one of the greatest social catastrophes in human history, was as desirable to its architects as would have been the effective re-colonization of Iraq by the U.S. … The ‘Bush Doctrine’ of ‘pre-emptive self-defense’ was a legal strategy to preclude the charge under international law of launching ‘aggressive war.’ The wholly fictional content surrounding WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) successfully frightened the always-gullible American public into supporting Mr. Bush’s portion of the decades old political (neo-con) and economic (neo-liberal) coup that continues today to segregate imperial capitalism’s ‘winners,’ the very few on the inside of state and economic power, from its ‘losers,’ a/k/a the rest of humanity. … [‘The] West’ did have real reason to fear chemical, biological and nuclear weapons because it had spent much of the prior half-century producing and distributing them liberally. U.S. President Barack Obama’s current fret over the apparent use of sarin gas against a civilian population in Syria is morally justified but is implausible given the history of the U.S. in the Middle East and ludicrous given his own actions and those of U.S. ‘partners’ in creating existing circumstance in Syria. Put another way, Mr. Obama is pointing to the fire burning in Syria as justification for additional intervention when he and the U.S. substantially lit the fire.
Rob Urie, Syria and the US Imperial Project
At some point in the next few hours or days, it is likely that deeply damaged collection of moral cretins known as “Western leaders” will sit down behind the gargantuan phalanxes of heavily armed security that keeps their well-wadded rumps safe and cozy and give the nod to some close-cropped flunky laden with medals for mendacious time-serving and relentless butt-covering to launch the airstrikes that will kill a large number of human beings who had absolutely nothing to do with the alleged chemical weapon attacks allegedly carried out by Syrian government forces.
That is to say, the leaders of the West, particularly the notoriously bloodthirsty nations of the United States and Great Britain, will murder a number of their fellow human beings for no reason whatsoever. What’s more, they know this and admit it beforehand, speaking under oath, as the U.S. military chief did this week, of the inevitable “collateral damage” the coming attacks will cause.
These Western leaders, primarily Barack Obama and the pathetic, feckless ex-PR shill David Cameron, will knowingly murder an unknown number of people while braying all the while of their own righteousness and the strict “legality” of their acts of mass murder. They will be supported in these murders by the leaders of the so-called opposition parties, who will, as always, line up like automatons and spew out mindless, spineless rhetoric in favor of murdering people, because they too are deeply damaged moral cretins who hope one day to have the opportunity to sit in well-wadded comfort and order human beings to be killed.
These wretched, cowardly weaklings — the leaders, their opposition, their minions — believe that the exercise of brutal, death-dealing power (at a distance; always, always at a safe distance!) will somehow fill up the howling emptiness inside them. It will not, of course, but they are too stupid to know this — or else they are already so far steeped in blood that they can’t stop, can’t go back, their humanity is already lost.
These leaders know that their action will murder innocent people (as so many of their actions do, week after week, year after year), they know (because their own analysts and experts tell them) that it will exacerbate extremism, worsen the conflict in Syria, destabilize the region, increase global tensions and lead directly and indirectly to the needless death and horrific suffering of countless people in the days and years to come.
They know all this, they will do it anyway. They know all this, but they do not care. They don’t know how to care. They have given themselves over to Moloch — to the insane, inhuman force of violent domination — and they must blindly follow its dictates. Nothing can stop them, no reasoned argument, no moral objection, not even self-interest, national or personal. They are insane. They are stupid. They are enslaved to murderous power — so they will kill.
Obama waxes eloquent over the casualties of chemical weapons, not a word though of the thousands his personal authorization destined to vaporization through his campaign of armed drones for targeted assassination. I’m suspicious. With a record of war crimes that he seeks desperately to cover up (hence, his obsession to punish and silence whistleblowers), how much can we trust him on Syria, even before UN monitors have reached conclusions? … One does not have to be an apologist for either side in the conflict to know that the US and its European clubbies are thinking and probably soon executing intervention not for the well-being of the Syrian people, but for reasons of US and Western goals which might well extend beyond the Middle East itself to an all-out confrontation, whether with Islam or China [or Russia] (or [all three]) doesn’t seem important, just so long as the militarization of class-rule on an international scale can continue.
Norman Pollack, Obama’s War Itch
The tendency of we in ‘the West’ has been to draw a circle around the visible political-economic relations—those close at hand, and to exclude from our realm of concern the broader impact of Western policies. However, neo-liberalism as both ideology and imposed political economy is now fact in the West. With quiet acceptance any pretense of ‘democracy’ has been replaced with the admonition that if we behave ourselves we can remain on the ‘winning’ side of political economic restructuring according to neo-liberal dogma. Left unsaid is that rapidly declining circumstance, in terms of both the increasing economic marginalization of most citizens and the imposition of the technologies of totalitarianism, is wholly the product of four decades of near-silent neo-liberal coup. What Mr. Obama’s insistence on continuing to push neo-liberal policies indicates is that no economic debacle will cause neo-liberalism to be re-thought by its proponents. What historical trajectory suggests is that the imposed political economies and failed policies of neo-liberalism will only result in their greater imposition until the world says ‘no more.’
You did it, friend. You helped discover the cure for cancer. Pretty big deal, that. Just imagine: Within 20 years, leukemia and lymphoma could end up being nothing more than trendy baby names - alongside yours.
Understandably, your first impulse might be to share your discovery. Tell the world! But not so fast, professor. Your holier-than-thou plan for sainthood has one big flaw: that fancy little cure of yours is worth a pretty little penny. And divulging that cure before someone can patent it is likely to land you in a prison cell for crimes against economic disparity. Quarterly profits are people too, you know. And the reality is whether you want to be a saint or not, the economic considerations that govern academic research in the United States almost give one no choice but to be a scoundrel.
It doesn’t matter if you start out working for a university. Scientists are given two choices for getting their research funded, academia or not: go to work for the Pentagon or start making something you can patent. And the government and its corporations want it that way.
Of the $140bn in research and development funding requested by President Barack Obama for 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service, more than half goes through the Department of Defense; less than $30bn through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That invariably leads to a shift in resources, with scientists going to where the money is: instead of finding ways to cure, finding high-tech ways to kill or otherwise aid the war effort. Researchers at the University of Arizona, for instance, received a $1.5m grant to “adapt their breast cancer imaging research for detection of embedded explosives”, which speaks rather well to the US government’s priorities and the toll it takes on research that has the general public in mind. [READ]
In 1898, Washington occupied the Philippines and in the years that followed pacified its rebellious people, in part by fashioning the world’s first full-scale “surveillance state” in a colonial land. The illiberal lessons learned there then migrated homeward, providing the basis for constructing America’s earliest internal security and surveillance apparatus during World War I. A half-century later, as protests mounted during the Vietnam War, the FBI, building on the foundations of that old security structure, launched large-scale illegal counterintelligence operations to harass antiwar activists, while President Richard Nixon’s White House created its own surveillance apparatus to target its domestic enemies.
In the aftermath of those wars, however, reformers pushed back against secret surveillance. Republican privacy advocates abolished much of President Woodrow Wilson’s security apparatus during the 1920s, and Democratic liberals in Congress created the FISA courts in the 1970s in an attempt to prevent any recurrence of President Nixon’s illegal domestic wiretapping.
Today, as Washington withdraws troops from the Greater Middle East, a sophisticated intelligence apparatus built for the pacification of Afghanistan and Iraq has come home to help create a twenty-first century surveillance state of unprecedented scope. But the past pattern that once checked the rise of a U.S. surveillance state seems to be breaking down. Despite talk about ending the war on terror one day, President Obama has left the historic pattern of partisan reforms far behind. In what has become a permanent state of “wartime” at home, the Obama administration is building upon the surveillance systems created in the Bush years to maintain U.S. global dominion in peace or war through a strategic, ever-widening edge in information control. The White House shows no sign — nor does Congress — of cutting back on construction of a powerful, global Panopticon that can surveil domestic dissidents, track terrorists, manipulate allied nations, monitor rival powers, counter hostile cyber strikes, launch preemptive cyberattacks, and protect domestic communications.
Writing for TomDispatch four years ago during Obama’s first months in office, I suggested that the War on Terror has “proven remarkably effective in building a technological template that could be just a few tweaks away from creating a domestic surveillance state — with omnipresent cameras, deep data-mining, nano-second biometric identification, and drone aircraft patrolling ‘the homeland.’”
That prediction has become our present reality — and with stunning speed. Americans now live under the Argus-eyed gaze of a digital surveillance state, while increasing numbers of surveillance drones fill American skies. In addition, the NSA’s net now reaches far beyond our borders, sweeping up the personal messages of many millions of people worldwide and penetrating the confidential official communications of at least 30 allied nations. The past has indeed proven prologue. The future is now. [++]
For all of the purported ‘benefits’ of empire, it is clear the American bourgeois have contented themselves to exist on the other side of human dignity—without education, health care or democratic participation. Even the lauded ‘hard’ education of math and science is devoted to ‘algorithmic’ trading and other financial and medical fakery. It’s fine and well that the American bourgeois choose lives of artless subservience, but it is a problem for ‘the world’ when empire forces the choice on those who don’t want it. … To Democrat supporters finally disillusioned: we don’t need better candidates– we need a fucking revolution. The side of human dignity is with America’s victims, not with the murderous arrogance of the professional sociopaths of American empire who are their victimizers.
Rob Urie, Democracy and Empire
For any who don’t yet understand our (American) circumstance, part of the value of Mr. Snowden’s disclosures is that the guardians of American empire increasingly see us, the American people, as ‘others’ from whom the social-historical construct ‘America’ must be protected. This has always been true in the social taxonomy by degree: indigenous peoples, kidnapped blacks forced into slavery, citizens of Japanese descent in WWII, and as reified history in current social relations. Self-defined ‘true’ Americans were those on the ‘giving’ end of empire. Marxists and nineteenth century populists even had clarity around the predator-prey relations of unfettered capitalism before the collective amnesia of recent decades set in. And the marketers of empire, well fed on psychological techniques of coercion and control, have convinced many– perhaps a majority, corporate state strategies of domination and control are the best ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ will ever offer.
But that raises the question—democracy and freedom for whom? When we are asked what we think—which policies we favor, the answers are rarely aligned with official policies. Within the convenient (for whom?) boundary of nation, this serves the storyline of ‘out of touch’ government corrupted by ‘money in politics.’ But imagine away ‘nation’ and a different alignment appears—Venezuela is a functioning democracy because, to the extent possible, the same empire that now burdens us was cast off. When Glenn Greenwald reports the citizens of Brazil, and South America more broadly, are being spied on by and for American empire, how is it not also clear that we—Americans, are being spied on by and for empire? How is it not also clear, as the brave people of Venezuela concluded, this empire does not act in our interests? And not only does it not act in our interests, through lies, coercion, exploitative political-economic relations, and now through the technologies of surveillance, it is absolutely antagonistic to our interests. [++]