“The late, great Kurt Vonnegut once wrote in the Nation that world leaders were addicted to war preparations in the same way that alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. He recommended: ‘From now on, when a national leader, or even just a neighbor, starts talking about some new weapons system which is going to cost us a mere $29 billion, we should speak up. We should say something on the order of, ‘Honest to God, I couldn’t be sorrier for you if I’d seen you wash down a fistful of black, beauties with a pint of Southern Comfort.’” Reichel, Matt. (2008, August 22). Cold War 2008: The madness continues. Dissident Voice, www.dissidentvoice.org.

Two things in the Twin Cities these days make me think of the appropriateness of this quotation. First and obviously, the presidential campaign. The hubbub over Obama’s supposed lack of experience, as though the great legislator McCain actually has some, demonstrates the addictive nature of this discourse. Palin has none and yet the debate has turned to her as the guardian of Alaskan territory from Russia. There was never a threat. If there had been a threat then that would only prove the inadequacy of a militaristic approach to world affairs. It has become an addiction to speak of military experience in a time of hostility which is completely self-fabricated.

The second thing that is happening is the militarization of our streets. Meeting kids after a concert with full riot gear is sure to provoke a response. And yet it is that very response that is used to justify the deployment of riot geared cops. People no longer see the fallacy because of the addictive nature of military engagements. We want so badly to speak of ass-kicking Americans that we are willing to create the very tensions that cause such ass-kicking. For proof we can see the pictures of police after these engagements. They beat up young kids that have no training, no discipline and no weapons of any comparable worth to the arms carried by the police. Even if these kids were hooligans why is there so much happiness at the inevitable police triumphs?

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The masculinity of war depends, therefore, on the myth that women are being protected. Spike Peterson has argued that rethinking the meaning of protection is a crucial component of efforts to address problems of world security. By exposing the protector/protected myth we can deepen our understanding of the real victims of direct violence. The National Organization for Women has estimated that up to 90 percent of total casualties in conflicts since 1945 have been civilians, the majority of them women and children. Moreover, as Judith Stiehm points out, if we are to think of men as protectors we must remember they are usually protecting women from other men.
Feminist theory also draws our attention to the issue of domestic violence, which is prevalent but generally underreported and not legislated against in most societies. By pointing to the high incidence of domestic violence in military families and in militarized societies, feminist perspectives can deepen our understanding of the connection between militarism and sexism. Peterson also asserts that the way notions of protection have traditionally been constructed by the state contributes to the reproduction of hierarchies, including gender hierarchies, and hence to the structural violence against which states say they offer protection. Tickner, Anne. 1994. Peace and world security studies: A curriculum guide. 47-8.

This passage needs little work to serve as an explanation for what is happening in Iraq. While some may see Tickner arguing for a conspiracy against women, I see her argument differently. Women tend to bear the brunt of war because military planners unintentionally overlook some of the horrors of war. The main way this overlooking is done is by the militaries assessments of damage. The military is understandably concerned with attrition rates to enemy combatants and less so to the damage done to noncombatants. I will not say the military is callous, however, as I do think they give some concern to non-combatants, but the damage they measure is the damage done by bombs and ammunition. The damage measured is not the damage caused by, for example, the destruction of a dam and the concomitant loss of running water, electricity and the industries powered by the dam – hospitals, pharmaceutical firms, food preparation firms and other essential firms.

Because the military – even the engaged, shocked and awed military – has rations and drugs, it seems the men of that very military are less affected by the disruptions caused by a war. It is also understandable how a military actuary would overlook the cost of these disruptions, since they are not dependent upon such services in their own respect. For example, when ascertaining the cost of destroying a dam in southern Iraq it is understandable that Captain Moore overlooks some things because those aspects of living are not within his realm of experience. I do not know if Tickner goes so far as to claim all war is bad. If she does then I will diverge from her there, as it seems there are times when maybe things can be improved. The problem though is in those assessments of cost and benefit. If history is indicator though, it seems we as a species need some improvement in our calculations.

We can easily see Tickner’s second paragraph at work in Iraq. The US argument all along was to protect the oppressed in Iraq and to liberate them. That message is now being used against us as the insurgents are targeting civilians. While these civilian killings undermine support for the occupation in Iraq, it also damages US credibility abroad as a capable protection force. The occupation in Iraq has ended up hurting, some would say more than Hussein’s Baath Party, those whose original protection was a justification for invasion.

This pace seems to represent assurance, but this is always paradoxical. Pace no longer represents competence; now, it is a reversal. New destabilizers constantly emerge to confound the stability of the nuclear age. The signs of safety continually appear as accompaniments of chaos, and the inherently chaotic (the nuke) raises possibilities of a more managed society than anyone had ever imagined. Reagan’s well-known inability to understand how our “defensive” capabilities could appear obviously “offensive” to the Soviets is only a symptom of a larger tendency that pervades nuclearism. As Gary Willis has explained, resources will inevitably be confused with intentions; resources become the sign of intentions, and the reality of the sign is continually overestimated, perhaps more so when the stakes are higher.

Naturally, the enemy’s intent and willpower are less visible than his resources; so we overestimate them in much larger degree – this is called the “worst-case” scenario. If we must presume the worst in order to be prepared for anything, then the slightest increase in enemy resources must be read as part of a larger design being implemented. Even a cutback in one area will be read as an economy called for by greater expenditure elsewhere.

Transposed into the reverse logic of deterrence, the consequence is that assessments of enemy strength – a more or less routine affair in peacetime – become permanent destabilizers when the balance of terror is institutionalized. The rationalistic management that modern nuclearists proclaim as their achievement will continually threaten to produce aggression and unbalanced terror. In such a strange setting, as Deleuze and Guattari explain, desire will stage breakouts along all sorts of unexpected lines. Chaloupka, William. 1992. Knowing nukes. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press. 76-77.

The block quotation (that I have marked in bold) from Chaloupka here is a citation from Gary Willis’ Critical Inquiry 1982 article. As a combination of security studies and rhetoric this is an important book for me. What I remember not being adequately dealt with by Chaloupka is the break in thinking which supposedly occurred with the development of nuclear arsenals. I tend to think people were always nuclear a la Latour’s “we have always been modern.”

People have always known their lives are fragile and may come to a sudden end beyond their control. The advent of a nuclear arsenal overseas did not change this. There is the risk of a sudden cessation collectively. The immediate move into the remainder-less world might now be a new concern ushered in by nuclear weapons, but how this has wide reaching changes in signification I am not sure. Regardless, the passage above is important, especially to-day.

The new destabilizers to-day are easy to see: terrorism and their mechanisms such as email, cell phones, and porous borders. The signs of safety that accompany these destabilizers are border patrols, the National Security Administration and their Predator program, the Patriot Act and military commissions just to name a few. It is hardly contentious that these mechanisms have led to a more managed and manageable society.

The contentious part is the Gary Willis block quotation. The Bush Administration has become the ultimate peddler of the worst-case scenario. According to statements we are to believe that not only Iraq but also that al Qaeda was/are nuclear threats. The lack of evidence proving the nuclear threat is spun to mean that al Qaeda is not seeking nuclear weapons because they (here we will find carefully inserted words such as ‘may’ or ‘might’ or ‘possibly’, but the message is the same: be afraid) have nuclear weapons. The worst-case scenario then becomes a lens through which al Qaeda is viewed. If there is movement from Afghanistan it means al Qaeda is leaving and taking the offensive. If there is silence it means al Qaeda is preparing for a spring offensive.

This lens will produce a ratchet of violence. Tensions will always be escalating and the other will see every action one side takes as aggressive. This is easily seen in the bin Laden assessments. Initially he was just a Saudi critic, but his threat assessment has gradually ramped up, sometimes as a result of a violent action and sometimes not. For example we can look to his early statements, which have now been entirely discounted. Initially bin Laden claimed to want the US out of the Kingdom (the Kingdom is not just Saudi Arabia, but also the holy land of Mecca and Medina.) Those claims are now dismissed (whereas his more radical and catastrophic claims are uncritically accepted as truth) by our administration as lies to make him seem more moderate and appealing to others. Signs of moderation are seen as recruitment attempts. Is this not the perfect example of Willis’ “even a cutback in one area will be read as… greater expenditure elsewhere”?

Iran is another illustration. Not only does Bush fall into this pattern when looking at Iran, but it is this very pattern that allowed Ahmadinejad to be elected. Iranian aid to Shiites in Iraq is seen as an anti-US gesture, when it may possibly be merely a means to protect a minority, which faces violent persecution. The US media, Bush is not alone in this error, links Iraqi insurgents into one anti-US group. There are places in Iraq where the Shiite insurgents and the US troops are fighting the same enemy and Iran might possibly be helping US forces.

What was the threat to US interests when the Iranian revolution occurred? Why was it treated with such disdain? Our response was to arm Iraq and the Baath party; Saddam Hussein was our preferred weapon against Iran. And now we are bogged down in Iraq trying to clean up that mess while Iran has reacted to our hostilities and moved into a new tier of US threat assessments. The Iraq war is misnamed. This is all the same battle of the US versus Iran, which is really a battle of modern forces versus conservative forces. It is odd that the preferred weapon of the US to fight these conservative forces is an evangelical President that has celebrated his disavowal of nuance. Instead of focusing on killing the conservative forces, maybe we ought to instead focus on converting those forces. The real question then becomes the one Chaloupka finds begged by Deleuze and Guattari: what is the desire of modernity, which keeps staging breakouts in all these unexpected lines?

Here is a paragraph from Lea Brilmayer, a professor of international relations at Yale University, which does an admirable job representing one of the arguments made by the neoconservatives:

Even if all states would like an agreement not to build nuclear weapons, there are formidable practical problems with constructing a compliance regime because enforcement is costly and few states are willing to contribute to the cost. The hegemon has more to lose from violations than smaller states (both because it is large and because it is more subject to nuclear threat). Its existence makes a nonproliferation regime possible, because smaller states would not get enough benefit to make it worthwhile to enforce the regimes themselves. Enforcement of nonproliferation treaties by the United States is a public good; for when states keep their promises to the United States, they are simultaneously keeping their promises to one another. The smaller states can all free-ride on the willingness of the United States to undertake the cost of enforcement, and in this way they benefit from American hegemony. (American hegemony: Political morality in a one-superpower world, 1994, page 118)

This is a typical realist explanation of proliferation motivations. The obvious answer, I will call it the ‘empirically denied argument’, others will make to this argument is that it is an old theory and recent events (if post-94 events, 1995, can be considered recent) disprove the theory. That argument goes something like this: since 1995 the US has been the sole hegemon with few drains on its willingness to fight and ability to do so. But there have been proliferation efforts regardless of the US presence, forcing the above theory to be inaccurate.

However, instead of disproving the argument, it actually helps bolster Brilmayer’s argument. The realist conception says a nation will not pursue nuclear weapons because it is not in their interest (the weapons are not needed and therefore those resources would be wasted.) But, what if the hegemon were seen to be a menace to one of these free-riding states? It seems the realist account would then explain why some nations do proliferate. The empirically denied argument then uses the Brilmayer thesis to explain why Iran and North Korea did begin proliferation efforts.

This is not to say the Brilmayer view is complete. There are surely other factors that influence a state’s decisions than just the security dilemma. Iran is a great case study here, because the Persian people have a culture that actively remembers itself as great. Darius, after all, once challenged Alexander the Great not just for regional supremacy but also for global domination. Nuclear weapons have a status and can be seen as granting a status to those that possess them.

What does this mean for current US policy towards Iran? I contend it means the US should take a more conciliatory approach to Iran. The stability of the unipolar world was not seen to include Iran because of US condemnation since 1980. Maybe a more friendly approach would have staved off the current crisis. It also seems the harder the line we draw with Iran the more we emphasize a fundamental difference between Iran and the US, the gap in military proficiency. By emphasizing Iran’s deficiency we only make it more attractive for Iran to close that gap. The quickest and easiest way to do that is by acquiring nuclear weapons. I will concede the possibility that the genie is out of the bottle and a concillatory approach now would be too little too late. That is a subject for later exploration

Detail of St. Augustine in a stained glass win...

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These are some rough ideas of something I am trying to work out. But given the timliness of Bush’s comments to what I am thinking I felt it important to put something out there for some feedback:

The worst thing to happen to the War in Iraq is for Bush to have gone to Vietnam and to see things working well. It has become for him proof about the power of democracy and freedom to prevail in the fight over evil and (Islamic) Fascism. I really these terms are nuanced and not all applicable to past or present Vietnam, but this is how Bush sees the country. There is an obvious reply here, if freedom prevails in Vietnam even though we left it to be under the heel of a communist regime, does that not prove we do not need to be in Iraq to bring them freedom? Possibly, but with Bush in the White House that argument needs not be fleshed out because we will be in Iraq to bring them whatever it is we bring them.

The main problem with the War in Iraq is how US policy is grounded. Clearly there are some issues about planning that need to be examined. But there is something larger at work. The goal that Bush wants has been turned into such a mythic figure of happiness that it now stands as the coercive utopian ideal. These ideals are so powerful that any sacrifice becomes worthwhile and any deviation is seen as the embodiment of evil.

William Connolly discussed this in his book about the effects of St. Augustine. While the passage I am about to re-cite is discussing polytheism as opposed to monotheism, it is applicable as Bush’s war of a value versus the all of the different fanatics and their polyvalent (the individuals may not be fighting for multiple values, but the aggregated enemies of the US are polyvalent). This clash is automatically predisposed to not only resistance but also to a violent response to such resistance.

The key defect in the multiple, limited, disputing pagan gods is that they did not have enough power, separately or in combination, to hold out the realistic prospect of eternal salvation to hu8mans, a prospect “which is the essential aim in religion.” Augustine endows his god with omnipotence to enable it to deliver on the promise of salvation. He endows it with care for humanity to make it want to do so. When these three demands are combined (omnipotence, care and salvation), you generate a god who must be the author of an intrinsic moral order and you have a moral order under powerful pressure to constitute itself restrictively and coercively. (The Augustinian imperative. NY: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 48-9).

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