Saturday, September 29, 2012

Living Under Drones and Living Under Delusions: Reflections on Faith, Evidence, Socks, and America's War against Pakistan

Would you believe me?
What would you think if I told you I was wearing red and blue striped knee-socks? Would you believe me?

If you did, it would be a matter of faith, for I would have merely made the claim, without showing you any evidence to support it. Your only possible rational reason for believing what I said about my socks would be a strong, underlying belief that I would never lie to you about such a thing.

But let us suppose, for the sake of discussion, that you had such an underlying belief, and that you believed what I had said about my socks. In other words, let's say you had enough faith in me to accept my claim without seeing any evidence to support it.

If I took off my shoes, and showed you that I was indeed wearing red and blue striped socks, then you might have some rational grounds for believing me, or at least for suspecting that I might be telling the truth. And if I continued by rolling up my pants to show you that my socks extended all the way to my knees, then you would have all the evidence you would ever need. Your faith would be justified, but it would no longer be required, because the question would have become a matter of evidence, not one of faith.

But what if I took off my shoes and you could see my bare feet? Would you still believe me? It may seem incredible, especially in the context of this trivial and hypothetical example, but if your underlying belief that I would never lie to you were strong enough, you might continue to believe that I was wearing red and blue striped knee socks, even though you could see with your own eyes that I was wearing no socks at all. It would not take a great leap of intelligence to deduce that I was lying, but if your faith were strong enough, it might prevent you from making such a leap.

These thoughts have come into focus for me lately because of the reading I have been doing. As you may know, researchers from two major universities, NYU and Stanford, have recently collaborated in producing a report on America's use of unmanned missile-launchers (which we call "drones") against sketchily defined targets in Pakistan (which our government calls "terrorists"). Pakistan, as you may recall, is supposedly an American ally.

Their report, "Living Under Drones," documents the effects of these heartless killing machines against the defenseless people whose lives they can shatter at any moment. The report provides more detail than has ever appeared in the public record. And, although it makes for very unpleasant reading, it is an important contribution to our knowledge about these quasi-secret attacks. However ...  

Having spent quite some time reading "Living Under Drones," as well as many recent pieces about it, I have been struck by the number of times the report has been described as a valuable addition to the "public debate" on the issue, and the number of times the drone campaign has been called "counter-productive" -- even in critical, dissident analysis. And it pains me to say that such analysis appears to be generally accepted among dissidents and critics as "serious," possibly even "penetrating." I see it as deeply flawed.

The ever-incisive Chris Floyd stands alone among those whom I have read, in that he has pointed out one of these flaws. In his words,  
[T]his report will have no influence whatsoever on the non-existent "debate" [...] For beyond the rare, isolated op-ed, there is no "debate" on drone warfare in American political or media circles. The bipartisan political establishment is united in its support of the practice; indeed, both parties plan to expand the use of drones on a large scale in the future. This murderous record -- and this shameful complicity -- will be one of the Peace Laureate's  lasting legacies, whether he wins re-election or not.
But among the many observers whose words on this subject I have read, no one has apparently thought to pose the question: "Counter to what?"

It is easy to see why opponents of the drone attacks would argue that they are counter-productive. The critics also argue that the attacks are immoral, but hardly anyone expects this argument to carry any weight, given that the decision-makers behind the drone attacks -- Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama and his military-and-intelligence associates -- view their roles as beyond morality.

No nation is moral, say our great leaders, so international relations must be seen, and practiced, as an amoral enterprise, in which statesmen must be guided by self-interest, not morality. Therefore, to persuade our great leaders of anything, one must appeal to their self-interest, not their morals. Thus the critics claim that the drone attacks are counter-productive, in the obvious hope that this argument will cut some ice with the decision-makers, and in the almost certain knowledge that arguments based on morality will not do so.

Why are the drone attacks counter-productive? Because by killing innocent people, including women and children, they provoke anger against the USA, creating more terrorists than they eliminate. This doesn't make America safer; it actually makes America less safe. And it is therefore counter-productive. Or so the critics say.

In making this argument, the critics rely on the unspoken assumption that the Peace Laureate's stated goals are identical to his actual goals. This assumption rests on nothing but faith, since there is no actual evidence to support it. And it is a very powerful faith. We can deduce this because it endures, even though all the evidence points in the opposite direction.

In other words, the American Empire took off its shoes and rolled up its pants a long time ago. For many decades now, the whole world has been able to see that the American Empire wears no socks. And yet, a great many people, including some who would describe themselves as dissidents and critics, continue to believe what they've been told, rather than what they could see with their own eyes if they dared to look. These people, apparently despite their best efforts, are living under delusions. Such is the power of propaganda.

One important fact which many critics tend to overlook is that American politicians speak in a peculiar double-talk -- a slightly-secret code, one in which all the key words and phrases carry meanings very different than what they appear to mean. In most cases, the apparent meaning and the actual meaning are polar opposites. This is a long-standing tradition in American politics.

The "logic" of this double-talk was in play nearly a century ago, when Woodrow Wilson claimed World War I was about "Making The World Safe For Democracy," That project was a huge success, if you consider expanding the victors' spheres of commercial and military influence to be identical with making the world safe for a system of government whose two main enemies are commercial and military influence. 

Similarly, Franklin Roosevelt told us that World War II was being fought to provide "Self-Determination For All Peoples." This project worked out even better, if you consider being ruled by the Soviet Union to be the same as "self-determination" for all the peoples of eastern Europe -- and so on (this last phrase covering countless similar successes, from Algeria to Vietnam, in which one nation achieved "self-determination" by becoming, or remaining, a colony of another).

Indeed, American history is replete with such double-talk. The United States has a long and bloody record of destabilizing foreign countries while claiming to bring "stability," of interfering with democratic processes and overthrowing democratically elected governments while claiming to bring "democracy," and of fomenting economic devastation while claiming to bring "liberty."

None of this makes any sense at all, until you understand that a country has "stability" if it is ruled by an oppressive tyrant who does what the Americans tell him to do, that it is a "democracy" if its government (which may have been installed at gunpoint) supports the American Imperial Project, and that conditions of economic devastation provide a certain "liberty" to crooks of the most unscrupulous kind -- such as the American Imperialists.

Occasionally our great leaders (or prospective great leaders) offer us unintended glimpses of the reality behind the double-talk. Mitt Romney, for example, recently claimed that the most sacred duty in a democracy is to protect the overseas embassies. If taken at face value, this statement is pure rubbish. But if we understand that by "democracy," he means "empire," and that by "embassies," he means "bases," the statement makes perfect sense. The most important job in an empire is to protect the overseas bases. And clearly Mitt Romney understands this. He just doesn't know enough to keep his mouth shut about it.

Romney's statement is one tiny example among many which support my contention that the shoes are off, the pants are rolled up, and the Empire has no socks. And yet even some of his harshest critics persist in believing that (or acting as if) our Nobel Peace Laureate President is dedicated to making America safe, and adverse to creating more terrorists. Maybe it's because he keeps telling us he wants to prevent another 9/11.

As Robert Higgs has written, "there are no persistent 'failed' policies." In other words, any policy which is truly counter-productive to the actual goals will be quickly modified. And any long-standing policy which appears to be counter-productive to the stated goals should be seen as a signpost, marking a place where the stated goals and the actual goals are in direct conflict.

The signpost represented by "Living Under Drones" appears to indicate that, far from trying to keep America safe, prevent another 9/11, and win the "Global War On Terror" (or whatever they want us to call it this week), our Peace Laureate is actually trying to extend the Terror War, keep Americans in danger and afraid, and make another 9/11 more likely, or at least render the threat more plausible.
If the dissidents and critics who are still living under delusions could shed their blind (and blinding) faith in America's socks, they might reach the same conclusion by simple reasoning: If Barack Obama truly wanted to prevent another 9/11, he would have empowered a full and independent investigation of 9/11 itself. Then we could have identified the perpetrators of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and we might have brought them to justice, after which we would clearly be in a much better position to prevent another such attack.

But no full and independent investigation has taken place, nor will any such investigation take place anytime soon. The Peace Laureate has made that abundantly clear. And therefore, if he wants to prevent another 9/11, Obama must kill every Muslim on the planet, so that no future false-flag shenanigans can ever be blamed on "Islamic fundamentalists."

Maybe this is what he is trying to do -- kill them all, one family at a time, while enraging and terrorizing the rest. If so, his approach has been anything but counter-productive.

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