Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Okay, Next.

The American press is all over the story of the successful drone attack on Taliban commander, Mullah Mansoor, whose car was reduced to scrap metal by a missile fired from a stalking drone.

Why do these "we whacked their leader" stories so closely resemble "world's oldest person dies" stories? Both seem to happen with an almost boring regularity.

Yes, you're the new Taliban commander? Thanks, I'll write down your name and do remember to have somebody tell me when you're dead.

There's always another "world's oldest person" and there's always another Taliban or al Qaeda or ISIS commander.

Okay, next.


It seems that Georgetown University law prof, Rosa Brooks, also sees the futility in this whack-a-mole warfare and says it demonstrates magical thinking:

The “important milestones” come and go; we keep on killing bad guys, and the bad guys just keep on keeping on. In the three years since the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the group appears to have gotten stronger, not weaker: Afghanistan experts say the Taliban now control more territory in the country than at any time since before the 2001 U.S. invasion. The Islamic State, the target of intense U.S. attacks since 2014, has lost some of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq, but the group still managed to pull off mass-casualty attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Afghanistan — not to mention ongoing brutalities in Syria and Iraq. Al-Shabab and Nigeria’s Boko Haram continue to leave a trail of bloodshed across Africa, and even al Qaeda, which has surely had more “senior leaders” killed than any other terrorist group, continues to stage a zombie-like comeback around the globe, with recent mass attacks in Yemen, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso.

So what’s the point of all these killings?

...U.S. counterterrorism strikes may be emotionally satisfying for White House and Defense Department officials, but they come with a cost: Their questionable legal status troubles even key U.S. allies while the death and destruction caused by U.S. strikes can breed resentment in affected communities, potentially boosting rather than undermining terrorist recruitment efforts. This is particularly true when U.S. strikes kill civilians, as some inevitably do.

...most counterterrorism programs undertaken by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local law enforcement are both expensive and pointless. The United States... has created at least 263 new counterterrorism organizations since the 9/11 attacks — a rather high number, given that those same organizations have so far apprehended fewer than 100 people for allegedly planning attacks within the United States. (And many of these terrorist suspects seem to have posed little serious threat: With a handful of exceptions, most were amateurs with grandiose plans far exceeding their competence levels.)

...Maybe, rather than viewing those counterterrorism efforts as policy and budget choices to which we can reasonably apply economic cost-benefit analysis, we should view them instead through the lens of anthropology.

After all, human societies throughout history have developed magical rituals designed to ward off real or imagined evil. Anthropologists call these apotropaic rituals. From ancient Greece to early Britain, numerous cultures sacrificed animals — and sometimes humans — to propitiate the gods and prevent misfortune. In medieval Europe, ancient China, and pre-European Native American settlements, groups developed elaborate dances and other rituals to prevent drought and dangerous storms. In Europe, medieval pilgrims displayed badges with bawdy images to ward off the plague; in colonial New England, women placed coins once held by corpses under their pillows to prevent male demons from impregnating them while they slept.

We modern Americans don’t believe in demons, rain dances, or the efficacy of sacrificing children or goats. We’ve developed our very own 21st-century magic rituals — and we call them “counterterrorism programs.”


Anonymous said...

Nicely put.

I've always viewed counter-terrorism programs as kind of David Copperfield show - full of colour and grand gestures meant to trick people into looking one way while the magician did something entirely different. Before we realized it, we had a lawless surveillance state that would have made Erich Mielke drool with envy.


Unknown said...

"counterterrorism' as "magical rituals." I wonder if that makes Obama a witch doctor.

crf said...

They need to be scaled back, and operated in ways that do not undermine the governments of, for example, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq or Pakistan. Drone strikes blatantly undermine the sovereignty of governments the US is ostensibly trying to help, and create popular sympathy for radicals. They do nothing to encourage peace or moderation.

There was much to hate about the US policy in the seventies and eighties, propping up right-wing dictators and turning a blind eye to human rights abuses. But repeated nudges and well targeted carrots and sticks did result in most US supported Latin-American dictatorships evolving into more democratic and tolerant governments. There may be wishes for democratic and respectful governance in the mid-east, but US policy as practiced by Bush and Obama just breeds chaos, and doesn't advance their stated goals one jot. In many US allies there has been severe backsliding.

The Mound of Sound said...

I get the feeling that America has "lost the script." This seemed to result when military force displaced diplomacy as the principal instrument of foreign policy. Even AfriCom, the Pentagon's newest global command, has jostled the state department into second place.

What makes this shift all the more worrisome is that it's happening at a time when "All the King's Horses and All the King's Men" are consistently incapable of delivering successful outcomes.

Anonymous said...

The Taliban are not all created equal, just as born again Christians are not all like Glen Beck, Jimmy Swaggart etc.
Obama seems very simplistic in his response to a complicated problem.