Some thoughts about drones and imperialism

Published online 12 September 2012.

Now that this story has made it into the blogosphere, it seems time for me to offer two cents:

More Killing in Obama’s ‘War on Terror’ Than Bush’s ‘War’Hayden noted “targeted killings” had “increased under Obama.” They had gone up because he closed CIA “black site” prisons and ended torture of detainees. Capturing terror suspects for imprisonment became “politically dangerous,” so Obama took another route: he just decided to kill them all. (Of which, Hayden said: “I don’t morally oppose that.”)

This ostensible Obama administration policy — drones instead of troops, targeted killings instead of torture — appears as a logical re-publicization of war in the absence of a meaningful “Left” in American politics.  The “Left,” clearly, has failed to contest imperialism per se, and so minor complaints about global war have been dealt with in a way appropriate to the public relations strategy of the times.  US troops look bad on camera?  Use drones.  Torture doesn’t sound good?  Kill them all.Some time ago I pointed out a serious problem with the claim of some participants in American politics to be a “Left.”  Here’s what I said:

what I had in mind was to expose the fact that thirty years of neoliberal “Washington Consensus” policy has made a laughingstock of the idea of “the Left” in this country, at least if you take seriously the Wikipedia definition that “in politics, the Left, left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a more egalitarian society.”

Now perhaps the most egregious sign that the “Left” is a joke is its failure (outside of Occupy) to insist that government act decisively to challenge the class structure.  But there’s also a problem in the US with “Left” failure to challenge the American warfare state or its imperialist justifications.  What else accounts for the “Left” endorsement of warfare in poll results so declaimed by Glenn Greenwald?  What else accounts for the absence of an antiwar movement in recent years?I think this problem goes back to justifications of the “War On Terror.”  Apparently such justifications won the day.  As I recall, the “War On Terror” was justified in press public relations by declaring “al Qaeda” as a renegade transnational agency that the United States could legitimately fight a “war” against.  Perhaps the “Left” could claim that instead al Qaeda was a criminal conspiracy that could be handled by a police force, and that fighting a war against them wasn’t necessary.  Such arguments might have been correct — but they didn’t, and don’t, get to the root of the real problem with the “War On Terror.”  The invocation of al Qaeda was, after all, public relations.  A real war against al Qaeda might have gone after the hawala system of finance, as Loretta Napoleoni once suggested.

To be sure, the drones are fighting al Qaeda out there — public relations look best when they’re conducted in some degree of sincerity — but the ultimate goal of the wars, from Afghanistan to Iraq to all the secret wars elsewhere, was and is to secure political control of resources vital to the global capitalist economy.  In Iraq the war was about oil; in Afghanistan it was mineral resources.  The “Left” acted like this was a bad thing, without really explaining why.  General Petraeus explained back in 2010 why we can’t leave Afghanistan:

Remember how the USGS mapped out Afghanistan’s mineral resources just the month before last?

I don’t really think this argument has received a serious challenge.  The problem is that only with an economy that isn’t capitalist can representatives of the US think seriously about leaving control of the Earth’s diminishing resource supplies up to the natives.  As supply declines and demand increases, price goes up, so it better be “our” oil, “our” minerals, “our” illegal drugs etc. if US corporations (you know, the ones who rent out the services of our politicians) are to control resource access for a good “business climate.”  There’s no sense in arguing for anything more than minimal sharing in a global economic environment permeated by brutish capitalist competition for profits.

Obama merely operates upon an imperialist rationale that has been in place from the time of the Spanish-American War onward.  “Leftism” in the US has often meant a bit of tinkering with the existing system on top of this imperialist rationale — a nice social program here or there, but nothing that would disturb exploitation, extraction, or extinction.  Now and then the “Left” has thought “out of the box” in this regard, but not consistently.

So consider the drone operators in their relevance to the greater scheme of things.  Some would say they’re murderers and others would call them patriots, but they’re only acting upon an unimaginative, brutal notion of political and economic life to which we have yet to mount a serious challenge.

Peace on Earth, and post-capitalism for all.


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