Friday, June 19, 2009

The CIA’s machine war in Pakistan (and implications)

Despite protests from other countries, the United States is expanding a top-secret effort to kill suspected terrorists with drone-fired missiles as it pursues an increasingly decentralized Al Qaeda, U.S. officials say.


For a systems development account of this, see Manueal De Landa’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines.

For an apologetic account, listen to the silence. This is not the armed forces. It is the CIA, an agency without the strict constitutional accountability of the armed forces to Congress (as if Congress had exercised its prerogative any time lately against the military).

Warfare by drone is the latest leap in two directions: eliminating “friendly” exposure to the perils of the battlefield, and acceptance of the inevitability of civilian casualties in operations that amount to assassinations. Note the latter, because it’s very important. These are not really military operations. They are not conducted by the military; and they involve no engagement between opposing forces.

We are becoming more and more like the Israelis. Drone assassinations of political targets is a mechanized Phoenix Program; and killing a target that might be at a given location with a projectile that has a bursting radius big enough to blow up a building is the same as the Israelis exploding car bombs (as they have done) to hit one target with full knowledge that the bomb is detonating in a crowded street.

I think this rasies an ethical question that I’d like to see debated and discussed more, as one who sits with Yoder’s question and challenge: At what point(s) are we willing to trump our moral decisions with efficacy? This is a question that confronts activists, too. If you want to see what happened to communism, for example, in the context of hostile encirclement and the forced march to industrialization, find the points at which efficacy trumped morality (and was then called “necessity,” while opposition on moral grounds was characterized as “bourgeois sentimentality”). It’s a big question, because efficacy and morality are not the same, and can often come into conflict.

The short-term acceptance of these “compromises” is a slippery slope for sure; and I have to wonder if short-term efficacy doesn’t in some way undermine a longer-term moral stability the way termites silently gnaw out the load-supporting structures of a building. Fanon made note of how the oppressed becomes the oppressor, given the chance. So have others.

Oppressed people are frequently very oppressive when first liberated. And why wouldn’t they be? They know best two
positions. Somebody’s foot on their neck or their foot on somebody’s neck.

- Florynce R. Kennedy (1916-2000)

This drone warfare (by a “civilian” agency shrouded with official secrets) is a phase-transition in the interplay between people and technology in warfare, a signpost along a new — even more morally fraught — path, that will transfer not only justificatory technique from the Israeli application of hit teams (it was illegal until recently to use the CIA for assassinations, even though they did it), but one that will entrain American society with further habituation to nationalist efficacy at the expense of anything like a collective morality.

Bush brought us a long way foward in this trend already in motion (with the whole post-WWII security state). Obama has become the new, improved, hi-tech Lyndon Baines Johnson, with his very own secret CIA war.

Obama - change you can believe in!

I would ask those who share an interest to pass along articles and analyses of interest on this secret CIA war of flying robots.

And I would ask us all to think about where and how we might be tempted to abandon our moral principles on behalf of efficacy. The left, in particular, and I use myself as an example in my past apologetics for armed struggles, eg, needs to take a serious account of this moral threshold, and I would say (naturally) that gender needs to be examined in that account. (Proudly teling somone that you feel nothing in the face of the suffering of another sentient being is a masculine pose (that under the pressure of probative masculinity in male groups becomes an arms race of cruelties); as is calling “sissy” when people demonstrate a reluctance to physically attack and kill others.)

In a culture based on male domination and in which most things feminine tend to be devalued, even if they are secretly envied, the most important thing about being a man is not being a woman. This powerful adult male imperative to be unlike females and to repudiate anything that smacks of maternal caretaking [EMPATHY, SG] is played out just as powerfully in politics as it is in personal life.