Archive for the ‘propaganda’ Category
Regrettably, the US government is continuing its shell game of distraction, disinformation, and shifting definitions to thwart any serious attempts to impose transparency on its drone killing campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. A good example is found in the headlines of Monday, May 21, 2012. One news story reported that several anonymous government officials disclosed (off the record) certain new regulations concerning selection of drone strike targets. The new regulations probably mean very little, since, as we shall observe below, targeted strikes of terrorist kingpins are relatively infrequent. But ironically, a second story summarized the latest brief issued by the CIA in its ongoing legal battle with the ACLU (the ACLU is suing, under the Freedom of Information Act, for the government to supply more information about drone strikes, including data on civilian casualties.) The gist of the CIA response is that, even though the existence of drone strikes is common knowledge, and the government informally acknowledges the strikes, it does not officially acknowledge them, and to do so would somehow jeopardize national security. So, in short, on the same day the government is both leaking carefully prepared propaganda about the strikes in an evident move to assuage public opinion; and also refusing to admit that the CIA conducts strikes in Pakistan or elsewhere.
In the face of such contradictory and confusing tactics, we, the American public have only one recourse: to doggedly pursue the truth, and to not cease asking questions until we are entirely satisfied with the answers.
We must begin with clear terms, and that is the purpose of the present article. Drone strikes, that is, the launching of explosive missiles from a remotely operated aerial vehicle, come in four varieties: targeted killings, signature strikes, overt combat operations, and covert combat operations. We shall consider each in turn.
- Targeted killing. This occurs when a drone strike is used to kill a terrorist whose identity is known, and whose name has been placed on a hit list, due to being deemed a ‘direct and immediate threat’ to US security. The government would like people to think this means these strikes target a terrorist literally with his or her hand on a detonator. But, in actuality, the only real criterion is that the government believes the target is sufficiently closely affiliated with terrorist organizations (e.g., a propagandist or financier) to justify assassination. This is likely the rarest form of drone strike. However it receives the most publicity, because the government likes to crow when it kills a high-ranking terrorist.
- Signature strikes. In signature strikes, the target is a person whose name is not known, but whose actions fit the profile (or ‘signature’) of a high-ranking terrorist. There is some ambiguity concerning the meaning of this term. Some use it in the sense just stated — i.e., a strike against an anonymous terrorist leader. Others use it more broadly to include killing of any non-identified militants, whether high-ranking or not. However from the moral standpoint it makes a major difference whether an anonymous targeted victim is a high-level leader, or simply an anonymous combatant. For this reason it is advantageous to restrict the term “signature strike” to the targeting of anonymous high-level leaders, and to assign strikes against anonymous non-leaders to the two further categories below.
- Overt combat operation. This category includes drone strikes conducted as part of regular military operations. These strikes are presumably run by uniformed military personnel according to codes of military conduct, and are, logically and legally, not much different from ordinary air or artillery strikes. As a part of routine warfare, such strikes are subject to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. Three items of the Geneva Conventions are of special interest here: (1) strikes should occur only in the context of a legally declared war; (2) they should be conducted by lawful combatants (which, many experts believe, excludes use of non-uniformed, civilian contractor operators); and (3) standard provisions concerning the need to report casualties, especially civilian casualties, are in effect.
- Covert combat operation. Finally, there are covert combat operations. These, like the former category, are launched against usual military targets – e.g., any hostile militant, not just high-ranking ones. But why should these strikes be covert? The obvious answer is: to mask something shady. Covert combat strikes can evade all those irritating constraints on military tactics imposed by the Geneva Conventions, International Law, public opinion, and basic human decency.
The specific terms used above to distinguish these four kinds of strikes are admittedly arbitrary, and perhaps some other nomenclature would be more advantageous. But we need some fixed set of terms to refer to these fundamentally different kinds of strikes. Without such terms, the US government will continue to have its way by relying on public confusion and terminological sophistry. For example, if there is only a single generic term, the government may issue a claim such as “drone strikes comply with international law.” This is perhaps technically true for, say, overt military drone strikes, but it is not true for signature strikes. With more precise terms, it would be more difficult for the government to mislead the public.
The last two categories of strikes correspond to what (according to the New York Times) the Department of Defense calls TADS, for Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes. This term is a misleading euphemism, however. It invites the interpretation that such strikes aim to disrupt potential terrorist attacks on the US. But what these strikes actually seek to counter are things like cross-border raids from Pakistan to Afghanistan, attacks on supply lines, militant engagements with US forces, and actions of insurgents within their own countries.
Statistical tabulations compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and other sources show convincingly that most strikes in Pakistan must belong to the last category, covert combat operations. The sheer number (300 strikes, with thousands of casualties) rules out targeted killings and signature strikes: there simply aren’t that many high-level terrorists. What seems much more likely is that the US military feels the need to attack Taliban fighters within Pakistan – both to prevent Afghan Taliban members from hiding in Pakistan, and to counter strikes by the Pakistan Taliban and affiliated groups on NATO supply trains.
This, of course, is completely illegal, inasmuch as the US is not at war with Pakistan, or, for that matter, with the Pakistan Taliban.
“But”, drone strike zealots will plead, “what if we have the permission of the host government to conduct strikes in their territory?” This is bogus logic to begin with. Suppose some brutal dictator gives the US permission to launch drone strikes against innocent civilians in his country? Would that permission somehow make the strikes just and legal? And in any case, what good does such permission mean if it is not public, not acknowledged by the host country?
What really appears to be going on in Pakistan is this: the US military in Afghanistan has a decided military interest in launching combat operations against the Pakistan Taliban. However, this is illegal. Meanwhile, conservative factions of the Pakistani government would love to see the Pakistan Taliban eliminated. Unfortunately, the hands of this faction are tied by an uncooperative and unreliable military, and by other powerful Pakistani factions that are not so interested in seeing the Taliban destroyed, and certainly not at the price of trashing national sovereignty.
The solution is obvious. The Pakistani conservatives give a wink and a nod to the US to do the dirty work. “You launch the strikes, then we’ll officially disapprove of them.” This works until the toll of innocent civilians killed by the strikes becomes too great, and pressure mounts on the Pakistani government to denounce them. But, as modern politicians understand so well, the public has a short attention span. All that need happen is for the strikes to subside for a few weeks until the anger abates, only to begin again.
To summarize, the US government thus far has promoted and capitalized on public confusion about the nature and purpose of drone strikes. Most strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are likely covert combat operations. The government, however, would gladly have the public believe these are targeted killings and signature strikes against high-level terrorists. As covert combat operations, the strikes are illegal under international law, and extremely harmful to US dignity and security. Further, unlike targeted killings or signature strikes, which might potentially prevent a terrorist act, collateral civilian damage of covert combat drone strikes is unacceptable.
John Uebersax is a psychologist, writer and former RAND Corporation military analyst.
The Obsolescence of War and its Implications for Countering Terrorism
A point emphasized in several Nobel Peace Prize Lectures of the 1950´s and 60´s (e.g., those of Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King Jr) is the obsolescence of war. It was noted that modern technology had produced weapons of awesome power. This meant we had no choice but to evolve beyond war, because, with such weapons, the prospect of war was no longer thinkable — too much harm would be done. For those too young to remember, this was a widely held view in the years following the development of nuclear weapons.
However this reasoning does not just apply to nuclear weapons. As the 9/11 attacks illustrate, technology had made it possible to easily inflict massive harm in other ways. A few extremists were able to get control of huge jets and fly them into buildings, killing thousands. It could have been even worse. The jets could have been flown into nuclear reactor power plants, potentially producing much greater devastation and loss of life. Other realistic scenarios we must contend with are use of biological weapons on civilians, attacks to the electrical power infrastructure, poisoning of water supplies, or even things like computer viruses. Any of these could be used by a few terrorists or a small country to inflict great harm. Coupled with the continued threat of nuclear proliferation, the potential threats are so many, and so easily accessible, that, we are more vulnerable than ever.
Fifty years ago, the consensus was that our only choice was to evolve ourselves — by dint of sheer will, if necessary — out of the mentality that begets war and violence. If that was so then, how much more true it is now. Further, the very fact that people are not saying such things today is itself extremely serious and revealing. It means we are collectively less wise and more confused than people were then. In this atmosphere of confusion, desperation, and loss of vision, people are even more likely to lapse in their judgment and make use of such weapons.
This pertains directly to the US involvement in Afghanistan, and the stance of modern governments towards terrorism. Yes, terrorism is a terrible thing, and we must be prepared to work with intense dedication to prevent terrorist attacks. But in today’s technologically advanced world we must ask more than ever: can terrorism be effectively prevented by pre-emptive aggression or a just war? And yet, not only is the US now falling back on the notion of a just war, one is astonished to see that no public officials are questioning it.
Even if the war in Afghanistan is ‘just’ – and there is genuine doubt as to that – two other questions must also be asked. First, is the war winnable? Events so far would suggest that it is not. We are not countering a conventional army of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. The nature of terrorism in the age of modern technology is precisely that a group of dedicated extremists, few in number and extremely mobile, may hold at bay even a great military superpower. We cannot spend $1 trillion retaliating every time there is a terrorist attack — especially if the retaliation is ineffective.
Second, we must ask: does a large military response to terrorism cause more harm than potential good by affirming the principle of aggression as a way to solve problems?
Third, we should ask why governments are so chronically unable to work for peace pro-actively.
Fourth, what has happened to the moral and ethical fabric of society? Fifty years ago the view expressed by socially-minded intellectuals was that the moral evolution of humankind was not keeping pace with technological progress. But at least there was a sense of there being some progress. Now there is considerable evidence (and one need only turn on television any given evening to confirm this) that we are going rapidly going backwards.
We cannot lay blame on President Obama so much as on the failure of the intellectual community to question the continued dominance of war as a strategy for countering terrorism.
Letter to US Senator Barbara Boxer
December 24, 2009
Dear Senator Boxer,
Please be apprised that, I, as a US citizen, do not exclude the possibility of forgiving Osama bin Laden for the terrorist attacks of 9/11, or of some form of general diplomatic discussions. I believe many Americans feel likewise. Neither will I hesitate to mention that ‘forgiveness of enemies’ is a central ethical principle of Christianity.
I therefore wish that the US government not proceed unquestioningly under the assumption that all or even most citizens are intent on revenge, or see no possibility of peaceful resolution of current conflicts.
Nor do I simply take it for granted that bin Laden and Al-Queda are inherently ‘evil’ and hold positions inherently and irrevocably inimical, hostile, and dangerous to the welfare of the citizens of the United States.
Further, I perceive a tendency of the government to actively shape — though perhaps unintentionally — public opinion in the direction of revenge and violence. The president’s recent remarks on Afghanistan, for example, nowhere seem to acknowledge that many Americans are hesitant about continued military involvement in Afghanistan. In effect, a false consensus on this issue is presented to the American public. The government is not making a sincere attempt to determine the true sentiments and beliefs of the people.
Indeed, if we are concerned about the events 9/11, should not our first priority be to take better care of the survivors and their families? Imagine how much more we could help these people were even a small fraction of the $1 trillion spent on Iraq and Afghanistan devoted to assisting them.
That we do not do so calls into question the sincerity of our expressed motives in Afghanistan and Iraq.
John S. Uebersax PhD
Here we refer again to a recurring theme of this site: how American politics is, under the present regime, basically a one party system, with two colluding “wings” — Democrats and Republicans.
The argument presented in this post is that this is exactly what you’d expect to find if a single special interest coalition wished to control a country. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that in some hypothetical country there was a group of people who wished to control the government and to benefit themselves by manipulating government decisions in ways that were potentially harmful to the population at large.
Suppose, further, that these ruling interests first founded or bankrolled a single party only, which tried to gain control of the government. That might work in a dictatorship, but in a democracy like the United States, where people can in theory vote an aversive regime, it is difficult. After a few years, people would get tired of the oppression, identify the government as the cause, and elect a new government. Therefore it would not be in the interests of such vested interests to form a single party only, and to try to control the government by that means.
Suppose instead, then, that this group formed two nominal parties, and that these two parties shared control of the government, alternating, so that only one was in power at any given time. By this means the special interests could then exploit a population indefinitely. When the public got tired of the oppression of party A, then party B could come to the fore, denouncing party A. People could then vote party B into office, believing that in this way they had acted to end oppression. However, under the conditions of the example, party B would also be “owned” by the special interests. Nothing really would change. In this way, the special interests would become effectively immune to the corrective actions of public indignation.
Crucial to this scheme would to to convince people that they must vote only for one of these two main parties, and to dissuade them from voting for third-party candidates. One effective means for this is to dominate news media with coverage of two main parties. A second strategy would rely on the ultimate tried-and-true principle for mass manipulation: fear. That is, make both main party candidates so extreme that people will be forced to vote against one of them; this is facilitated by selecting platforms that divide the electorate as close as possible to a 50/50 split — that way nobody will be willing to vote for a third-party candidate, because each person believes that his or her own vote is crucial in preventing the less desirable mainstream candidate from winning.
This would be the perfect racket, scheme, or con-game. It would let vested interests remain in power indefinitely, continuing to exploit the population. Now, (1) since this would indeed be a very effective strategy for powerful vested interests, and would benefit them greatly, (2) since existing American special interests (big finance, defense contractors, etc.) are quite capable of manipulating two different parties, and (3) since, as outlined above, it gains them very little to manipulate only a single party, then we must seriously consider that this dual-party manipulation is actually occurring.
We might also note some specific evidence of this. First, it is well known that many corporations make campaign contributions to both the Democrats and the Republicans. There is absolutely nothing to prevent this. (Anyone who still thinks that big business only contributes to the Republicans is very naive!) Second, the news media (which is part of big business) tells us very little about third-party and independent political candidates and viewpoints. Rather, they devote inordinate amounts of space to petty squabbles between the Republicans and the Democrats, which fits with our model here.
Okay, that’s the argument. Some readers probably already accept that this is going on. Others are welcome to think about it. If you do agree that this is what’s happening, the answer is obvious: one should vote for some party other than the Republicans/Democrats. Even if this doesn’t change the government in 2012, it serves as a protest vote. It will gradually (or perhaps not so gradually) force the Republicans and Democrats to develop more rational and productive platforms. Further, it signifies that you yourself have extricated yourself from the game.
Most of all, I wish to encourage people reconsider entrenched ways of thinking about Republicans versus Democrats. If the model proposed here is correct, then if one is a staunch Democrat who hates Republicans, or vice versa, then I propose that one is succumbing to the false rhetoric of these parties; one is buying into the specious controversies which the parties and their special interest owners engineer to give the mere appearance of their having two different points of views..
Look at the evidence. Yes, we’ve had a Democrat in the White House for 4 years, and things are bad. But before that we had Republican president for 8 years, and things were bad then. Previous to that, we had a Democrat president along with a deeply troubled economy and imperialistic foreign policy. (True, on paper, the economy then was booming in the 90′s. But how much of that was the result of a hyperinflated stock market? Everyone was delighted when their pension plans, heavily invested in the stock market, doubled in value. But who was asking if this was sustainable? Or moral?) At the same time people were still working like dogs in high-stress jobs, commuting 1 hour to and from work, and breathing polluted air. The country then, as now, suffered from massive epidemics of stress-related psychosomatic diseases. In short, the quality of life was bad under Clinton, a Democrat, under George W. Bush, a Republican, and now under Obama, a Democrat. During none of these administrations was there anything even remotely close to a realistic long-term vision or plan for the country.
We can keep going back and forth like this, changing the name and the superficial appearance of the ruling party, telling ourselves that it matters; or we can wake up and smell the coffee, and throw both sets of bums out of office. What’ll it be?
Related post: Why Vote Third-Party?