ragblog | What are Obama’s drones except a robotized version of the Phoenix program?
Tom may also be prescient in implying that the current celebrity of the unorthodox ‘warrior thinker’ – whether personified by Kilcullen or the sinister General McMasters – doesn’t necessarily put any new ideas on the empire’s table. But Down from the Hills – and this why I blurbed it – does register with stark honesty a global reality that foreign policy mandarins have generally ignored: the consequences of warehousing a billion poor people in peripheral slums with negligible hope of ever finding employment in the formal world economy.
An agricultural ‘apocalypse’ (and here the term is accurate) has driven hundreds of millions into cities where, apart from the world factory of China and its periphery, capitalism no longer creates jobs or rewards education. Moreover, economic globalization, as it were, has ‘leaked space.’ Without an international red menace incubating in the slums, governments have often abdicated everything except police violence and extortion in their poorest and most rapidly growing urban districts.
Into this “vacuum” of governability, Kilcullen claims, has rushed a motley mob of terrorist militias and super-street gangs who have transformed the despair of the young into a new strategic weapon: suicide bombers. A chief architect of counter-partisan warfare in the Middle East, he now concedes that special-ops can also be a steroid to the very movements it seeks to behead. So ‘smart power’ must now pay attention to underlying causes. Indeed the analysis in his new book drives him part way into the arms of Jeffrey Sachs. (Or, more accurately, into those of Dilma Roussef, Brazil’s ex-1960s-guerrilla president, who extols the military occupation of Rio’s favelas as ‘profound reform.’)
Tom gives all this a deserving yawn: hearts and minds redux. While desperate liberals having been seeking light at the end of Obama’s tunnel, Tom has been thunderous in denouncing this scary administration’s love affair with executive immunity, special ops and universal surveillance.
But I believe if you carefully read Kilcullen and the literature coming out of places like the Naval War College (where they recently had a think-tank discussing the implications of ‘deglobalization’), you’ll come to the recognition that the Pentagon’s killing machines are not the most profound danger ahead. Rather it’s the fact that the military intellectuals are already exploring the consequences of writing off the future of a large part of humanity. They see an absolute darkness on the horizon.
During the high Cold War, of course, there was no social group or acre of sovereign land that wasn’t seen as a valuable ‘stake’ by one side or another. Ideology had to rhetorically address the condition of all humanity, whether by the promises of five-year plans or Alliances for Progress. With the collapse of the USSR, however, the ‘Free World’ became an unnecessary pretense on a planet of free markets while any vision of common humanity was abdicated to NGOs and UN speeches.
What material interest now remains in wooing the poor or helping them adapt to global warming?
What geopolitical leverage do they possess in a world without a powerful international left?
The ultimate warning of my book Planet of Slums was about the ‘triage of humanity’ that since the 1990s had become the new unspoken framework of international politics. The greatest evil is no longer that capital exploits labor but that it expels it from the circuits of production entirely. To the extent that this surplus humanity poses no realistic threat of reorganizing society on more egalitarian principles, it’s simply a problem whose ultimate management – after the helicopter gunships and Predators – may be through pandemic disease, famine, and unnatural disaster.
In another of my fraternizations with the enemy, I had a beer with an admiral a few years ago in Coronado who wanted to pick my brain about the convergence of urban poverty and natural disaster.
He had commanded a carrier task force in the Gulf and as he put it, “my kids really didn’t like bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan. But morale soared when we provided relief after the 2004 earthquake/tsunami in Indonesia.” He emphasized that only the US Navy could bring the infrastructure of a medium-sized city (in the form of ships supplying power, medicine, supplies, helicopters, etc) to a littoral region devastated by floods or quakes. “No one else – not China, Russia, the UK or the UN – has this capability.”
“But here’s the rub,” he said, “Congress will never authorize a serious expansion of humanitarian missions, especially when we’re likely to see more Katrinas and Superstorm Sandys on our own coasts.” “So at some point,” I completed his thought, “no one would ride to the rescue.” “That’s right,” he said, “no one. And this is the kind of future that some us at Newport [Naval War College] have been trying to understand.”