Friday, May 1, 2015

Laying the Blame - A Drone and Death Primer

April in North Waziristan [image - WP]

"Death From Above"
7,000 Miles East of the Potomac
Speculating about the foggy military details
The history is now longer than the missile.

The mission was, after more than a decade of similar missions, intended to vaporize four al Qaeda "commanders" in a little hut located in the Shawal Valley in West Central Pakistan. In the planning stages this mission looked disconcertingly similar to many previous missions targeting "combatants" in the North Waziristan Province. Everywhere inside the dotted line on the map [left] is considered to be under the control of either the Taliban, al Qaeda or one of the equally hostile factions.

[MeanMesa uses the term "combatants" for lack of an any more objective choice. Apparently the initial targets of the drone strike were two individuals performing in command positions within the local groups.]

Nothing has been revealed about whether or not these specific targeted people had actually been observed doing acts of "jihadist violence" or if the evidence of them being in this command role may have been somewhat circumstantial. In any event, it is most likely the case that through aerial observation it had been determined that there was sufficient evidence that they were "commanders" and, hence, targets for the drone program.

Further, the official report of the incident -- including the carefully worded Presidential apology -- doesn't reveal much more, either. A tantalizing bit of the corporate media coverage briefly emphasized the absence of the use of the precise term, "drone" in both the news reports and the President's explanation. 

MeanMesa interprets the careful adoption of this "contextural anomaly" as a suggestion that the drone was under the control of the CIA rather than the Defense Department.  [The DoD usually makes drone strikes public. The CIA hardly ever does.]

Regardless of the departmental loyalties of the drone's command and control officers, it was at this point when the "law of accidents" entered the little ship's mission direction. In the best of worlds a cautious probability that the hostages were sequestered in the shack might have been calculated, but even that caution would have relied on parameters simply not accessible to those giving the orders for the drone's path.

Equally likely, the hostages could be sequestered out of sight in one of other two dozen targets being considered that day. They could have been in the next shack, ten feet away from the one targeted, or they could have been hundreds of miles away -- or already dead. Both the nature of the drone program and the nature of hostage holding come into play. Each has inherent strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages.

It is these complexities which were apparently too taxing for a corporate media reporter to bother presenting to the public in a form which could be reasonably comprehensible to a print or broadcast audience. It is also precisely these complexities which the public has predictably "mashed" into an unruly collection of conversationally convenient new narratives quickly "woven from whole cloth" which have essentially nothing at all to do with the facts of a situation there in Western Waziristan.

Lo Porto and Weinstein [image - TheGuardian]
Perhaps the most important part of this sad tale rests squarely with this last fact. The American public was already burdened with an overly simplistic model of the combat "arena." More than a few of these Pentagon supporting tax payers still presume that the action in Pakistan is somehow similar to World War II, replete with dough boys, battleships and tanks. 

Unhappily, such disconnected "visions" have been further embellished with every type of mischievous emotional addition and intentionally manipulated by a steady stream of additional, politically biased "information."

The Public Responds
The tone is even more shockingly
immature and unrealistic than usual.

Nanoseconds after the news of the drone killings was released for public consumption, a tediously road weary narrative dutifully marched out to accompany it. In fact, watching this play out in a litany of "reportably relevant," thought provoking questions -- each one bearing more "insinuated baggage" of implied mistrust, outrage, Obamaphobia and spirit crushing hopelessness that the one before -- amounted to little more than the "third helping" rerun of a not particularly memorable, black and white soap opera episode from four decades ago.

There were, unhappily, a "few facts" missing from the public's response, and -- also unhappily -- these "facts" could have served to place the tragedy into perspective, at least with respect to scale. MeanMesa recalls an equally exaggerated public response when a US citizen, after becoming an active participant in al Qaeda, was killed by a drone strike in Yemen. There was, at the time, a murmuring of  complaints regarding "due process." [Read more  here - WIKI]

In addition to the two hostages and the 3,000 dead on 9/11, there have been 6,000 American dead resulting from the invasion of Iraq and another 2,000 from the invasion of Afghanistan. [Read more Iraq Casualties WIKI and  Afghanistan Casualties WIKI] Recent estimates of Iraqi nationals dead have now officially reached one million. [Read more  here - REUTERS] Deaths of Afghan nationals are estimated at around 20,000. [Read more  here - Afghan casualties WIKI]

For anyone presuming that the "Bush-Cheney Church of Death" label is somewhat overly dramatic or exagerrated, this is what MeanMesa means when using it. Some of these deaths were those of "combatants;" the remainder may as well be classed as "sacrifices." The point is that these two additional deaths, while not being in any way less tragic than any of the others, must now become simply what they are -- two more added to this mountainous pile of corpses. In every one of these cases someone bled, and someone cried. Many of the orphans created are now reaching "fighting age."

Is there some way we can convince ourselves that any sentiment held about Lo Porto and Weinstein should not also apply to these other grisly numbers?

The Bush-Cheney "Church of Death" military campaigns cannot be conveniently set aside as we lament the loss of these two hostages. Those disasters were huge and bloody, and they were done in our name.

There were plenty of these carefully crafted, utterly predictable, unspoken insinuations embedded in this story's otherwise banal reportage. [Is there a term for the cheaply disguised editorial equivalent of "reportage?" The "policy issues" have been the "burning question of the day" for weeks.] However, "debating policy issues" becomes rather dull when one no longer enjoys the option of making any of the choices being debated. Dead hostages or not, thanks to the effeminate Commander in Chief before this one the prospect of making "policy choices" concerning the drone program is a null set.

Nationally, we are "on the train" and we're going "where the tracks go." As Americans we've been on this dead end rail route for more than a decade. There are now, officially, more than a million corpses strewn on the rails behind our car.

Nonetheless, a "suspiciously thought provoking" media continued to obediently march forward, trudging directly into the fray, spewing one "thought provoking question" after another like a meth addict with a box of Roman Candles until the "mouth junk" network pundits were nearly collapsing from exhaustion. It was fascinating to watch them labor to keep a straight face while the cameras were running.

Not a single hour passed without the following proposition being once again breathlessly and relentlessly repeated as if it were a fresh faced, new born colt venturing beyond the barn doors into the sun light for the first time.

We need to debate the drone program.

The "publicity appeal" of this proposition is understandable. However, the drones are but a "tip of the ice burg" with the remainder of the ice burg being another military colonial adventure in the Middle East. The cowardly Republican controlled Congress has, so far, been so frightened by the political ramifications of either authorizing or not authorizing another Iraq War that they won't touch the question with a stick. Meanwhile, the President's "authorization to use force" is wearing thinner by the day.

There is a nice collection of "thought provoking" policy "adjustments" being bandied about. MeanMesa has provided selected links to sites offering further discussion of these examples.

The drone program should be transferred from the CIA to the Pentagon for increased oversight and accountability.

We should simply stop the drone strikes altogether. They are only creating more jihadists.

Why can't the drone strikes be 
managed more effectively?

Why are we killing people when 
we're not even sure who they are?

What about the civilian casualties?

Is the drone program effective in anti-terrorism?

Of course the "elephant in the living room" suddenly becomes "interested in your dinner" every time this insightful discussion careens toward the blood drenched "boots on the ground option." The Congressional politicians most "indebted" to Pentagon procurement contractors' lobbyists can be identified immediately by simply watching which ones seemed permanently stuck in the "unfortunate necessity" of reintroducing American ground forces into the fray. [Most of the Congressional Democrats holding this same point of view are currently under indictment for something else.]

The point here is clear. This discussion has been going around in circles for more than a decade. Drone technology has, predictably, improved by orders of magnitude, but drone policy has turned out to be frozen in time. Perhaps history will view the effort as something akin to an "airborne Maginot Line." The refinement of asymmetric terrorist tactics has kept up with the work of the drone engineers. [Read more  here -MeanMesa - Understanding Asymmetry]

Even the "actual picture" of someone like Barack Obama -- compelled by present and unchangeable history -- "signing off" of something like a drone war is bizarre. The man is a law professor. The fact that he is currently standing ankle deep in this blood and gore accurately indicates just how grotesque his predecessor really was. On one side he faces the public horror and disgust resulting from having been so duped, and on the other he faces to next, inevitable wave of terrorists eagerly beheading any unfortunate they can find.

Philosophy: Death, Righteousness
 and the American Religious Culture
And, of course, Politics
Gee whiz. This hardly looks like a perfect deal.

The prevailing American religion has everything to do with death. This situation is roughly also quite similar to the religion prevailing in the region where these hostages were killed. It is the designed intention of such modern manifestations of prehistoric mythology to "comfort" the dying -- and certainly to "comfort" the living. Perhaps the original idea was to offer an alternative -- although it turns out, a rather flimsy alternative -- to the inevitability of a devout individual's "end of the future."

In the unmatched luxury of the West the more or less normal traditional appetite for religious fervor has been replaced with a much less potent addiction to religious ecstasy. MeanMesa has always had difficulty explaining the Middle East's cordial hatred of the US as enmity justified exclusively by religious dictates. Although mythology's presence in western culture may have become embarrassingly hollow, it remains hard to imagine that its Islamic equivalent has inertia sufficient to explain the languishing hatred for that reason alone.

Given all of this, when military violence is added to the conceptual mix, death gains the added dimension of becoming "just," "unfair," "unfortunate." "untimely" or even "avoidable" and so on. If any part of the concept starts to emerge as paradoxical, the difficulty can be completely attributed to the reality that it "emerged" in the eyes of the living. The sanguine natures of both death and military violence are absolute, implacable and very dependably, always define themselves.

Even the logic of our own language deceives us. We think that some humans "deserved" to die while others did not "deserve" it, when the fact is that every human both "deserves" and does not "deserve" to die -- continually and simultaneously. Imagine a sentencing verdict which would deny a miscreant the death that he "deserved" for the duration of his "punishment" -- say, a duration of a hundred years or a thousand years. If that proposition seems similar to the religious mythology all around us, so be it.

The living consider the dead and decide if that death had "meaning," but with cooler minds we discern that every death has both "meaning" and, paradoxically, "no meaning." It is far more cruel to make a similar judgement as to whether lives had "meaning" or no "meaning." MeanMesa has come to consider such judgements to be "no more than the idle folly of the breathing."

The indigenous residents of New Mexico's high desert, themselves enjoying a peaceful, insightful, cultural maturity, call death "the dark wind."

So now, having accomplished all this "preparatory discussion," we should progress to the topic of this post: the deaths of the hostages in the drone attack. We should probably begin with one of MeanMesa's frequently repeated, iconic axioms.

"There is nothing which can be done with the reality of military combat which will make it palatable to civilians."

[Visitors can read a February, 2013,  MeanMesa post concerning drones here: So. You Have A Problem With The Drones]

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