|November 11, 2011
This Week: Remote-Control War Part III
Thanks to ALL of you who have sent in new Pledges of support for Nygaard Notes, AND to those of you who renewed your Pledge without me having to send a reminder. As I endlessly repeat (because it is forever true): I couldn't do any of this work without your support. And I really appreciate the inspiring notes you included with your Pledges. Thank you.
This week's "Quote" of the Week is longer than usual, but I included it because I think it addresses an important aspect of the Occupy Wall Street protests that some people might be missing: That the current "crisis" of capitalism that has played such a role in igniting the current movement is just a phase in the ongoing crisis that afflicts poor people and people of color constantly, regardless of the "business cycle," in "good times" as well as bad. I think this "Quote" underlines the importance of the OWS movement's reluctance to advocate for certain "policies," as that's the very strength of the movement. We're talking about transformational politics, not "reform," and this insistence on "thinking big" is why the Occupy Wall Street movement is so exciting to me, and I think why it is so threatening to the Powers That Be.
Not only is the "Quote" longer than usual this week, but Part 3 of my little series on Remote-Control War is long, too. Even this editor's note is long! So I think the next couple of issues should include some shorter articles. Long-time readers know what that means: It's time for "A Stroll Through the News with Nygaard." A "Stroll" is when I go through my news clippings and publish a bunch of short, punchy articles that point out the important and the absurd in recent news reports, as well as noting the un-reported and under-reported. These notes in the Notes are generally shorter, often funnier, yet no less poignant than the typical fare found in these pages. And they allow me to get rid of these big piles of news clippings that are cluttering up Nygaard Notes World Headquarters! I enjoy doing them, and I hope you'll enjoy them, too. Coming up next.
On October 13th an article headlined "I am Occupied/Yo Soy Occupado" was posted on the website of POOR Magazine. The author, Tiny, spoke of attending a "Foreclose on Wall Street Rally" in San Francisco which included over 2,000 people. She spoke of "the power of that moment, even if it wasn't us or other always landless peoples they were speaking for, I know they were speaking truth to domination." But then she brought up a question that I think should be at or near the center of all of the occupations going on. Here's how Tiny (who attended the rally with POOR Magazine co-editor Tony Robles) put it:
"As we left the protest to get our young kids to school on time, Tony and I spoke about the power of the resistance that we had just been part of. I brought up how although I am excited and about all of the issues peoples were speaking and acting on I remain vexed by the fact that as poor peoples of color and indigenous peoples we are constantly in battle, in protest about the genocide and violence perpetrated on us and yet it is a struggle for us to get 50 people to show up for protests, so what is the difference? and what really is our role in all of these resistance 'occupations' as poor peoples of color in struggle who are also in struggle with the occupation of our time due to no-wage and low-wage work, system abuse and ongoing criminalization and why do our resistance movements stay at the margins of what is important to show up for?
'POOR Magazine had just helped postal workers organize a protest for the closure of three post offices that serve thousands of poor, disabled and houseless elders of color in the Bayview and the Tenderloin and four people showed up. Last month we and other groups organized a protest for a young woman in Oakland who was evicted out of public housing because of government corruption and 10 people came and two nights ago, Homes Not Jails organized an event called World Homeless Day which included the squatting of 4000 vacant units kept vacant by landlords and devil-opers and if you didn't look too closely there might have been 50 people with us on the march. Homes Not Jails, an organization who has done this kind of work for years with similar turnouts even tried to include wording about 'occupying' just to tag on some of the trendy 'occupy' wording.'
Reluctantly, I have to announce that I am increasing the price of a subscription to the paper version of Nygaard Notes. For years the basic subscription of $25 would get you 40 issues. But now, due to increases in the postal rate, and also due to the fact that I seem to put out more double issues than I used to, the average cost of printing and mailing each issue is more than I've been charging. That can't go on. So now a $25.00 subscription will get you 34 issues. Sorry about that.
For those who don't know, the cost of a subscription to the paper version of Nygaard Notes has always been set at a level just sufficient to cover the cost of printing and mailing. I've never made any money on the paper version. So, if you subscribe to the paper version and wish to support Nygaard Notes financially, then you may want to join the trendy crowd and send in a donation above and beyond the cost of your subscription. Many do.
But mostly I just make the paper version available because not everyone has e-mail, and even for those who do, not everyone likes to read newsletters on a computer screen. So, if you're one of those, I invite you to subscribe at the (still low) price of 74 cents per issue. A bargain!
Last week I said that robots are the future of U.S. warmaking. It's not just the U.S., as it turns out. Robots are the future of warmaking by any number of countries. Although robots of all kinds are in the works or already at work in the field, the ones we hear the most about are the flying kind, variously known as Unmanned Military Aircraft, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). The media, and thus the U.S. public, knows them as "drones."
A New York Times article from August noted that "the drone aircraft deployed in Pakistan are the leading edge of a revolution in robotic warfare that has already expanded to Yemen and Somalia, and that military experts expect to sweep the world." [Emphasis by Nygaard]
The London Guardian reported last November that "States with advanced militaries such as the US and the UK are viewing autonomy as a way to have a longer reach, greater efficiency and fewer repatriated body bags." By "autonomy" they mean "unmanned aerial systems—drones—that can literally pilot themselves." There is currently a prototype being tested, called the Taranis, which is "just one example of a huge swing towards autonomous defence systems: machines that make decisions independent of any human input, with the potential to change modern warfare radically." I stressed last week the Public Relations importance of "fewer repatriated body bags."
Last April the Christian Science Monitor reported that "Countries throughout the Americas are deploying drones as a high-tech answer to tackling drugs, gang violence, and activities such as illegal logging. From Canada to Brazil, at least 11 nations are flying UAVs over the Western Hemisphere, often Israeli-made. Brazil's Army in January purchased its first two [Israeli-made] Hermes drones, and its federal police force is set to deploy its first surveillance UAV by July." Like it or not, the Monitor ominously informs us that "Drones are here to stay, experts say, and the time is past for debate." Who are these "experts"? The Monitor doesn't say.
The U.S. Leads the Way
As the nation with by far the largest and most powerful military in the world, the U.S. is leading the way into this remote-control future about which the time for debate is past. (Basic facts, always worth repeating: U.S. military spending makes up 43 percent of the military spending in the entire world, while our population makes up less than 5 percent of the global total. U.S. military spending is equal to the military spending of the next 15 countries combined. Six times that of China.)
It was on September 11th of this year that FOX News reported, "As U.S. forces prepare for a complete withdrawal [sic] from Iraq and gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan, the drone program is expected to stay—leaving Obama with the question of whether this will become the face of U.S. foreign policy." Added the right-wing news service: "In a little under three years, Obama has established himself as the drone president."
There's lots of evidence that FOX got this one right. The lead article in my local newspaper, the Star Tribune, on October 2nd was headlined, "Drones Lead Terror War Into Future." It was a reprint of a New York Times article about drones as "a cheap, safe and precise tool to eliminate enemies." That's why, says the Times, that "the Obama administration has decisively embraced the drone." Indeed, the day before the Associated Press (AP) reported that "Drones are often called the weapon of choice of the Obama administration."
The Drone President
The AP story reported that drones are now "Hunting al-Qaida targets from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Yemen to Somalia..." and are "the night stalkers of the expanded U.S. war on terrorists," noting that the Obama administration has "quadrupled" the number of drone strikes in Pakistan, "up from less than 50 under the Bush administration to more than 220 in the past three years."
The AP noted that drones are operated by both the U.S. military and the C.I.A., and are "launched from bases in ... Djibouti [on the Red Sea], and from a secret CIA base in the Persian Gulf, which The Associated Press has agreed not to identify at the request of U.S. officials. Other drones are launched from Ethiopia and a temporary base in the Seychelles [in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalis]."
One of the most extensive reports that I've seen in the mass media on the drone phenomenon appeared on September 21st on the front page of the Washington Post. Headlined "U.S. Creating a Ring of Secret Drone Bases," the article began "The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials said." I don't know how "secret" they are if "U.S. officials" are telling the Washington Post about them, but presuming any of it is true, the Post reports that drone bases exist or are being planned for Ethiopia, the Seychelles, and Djibouti. "In addition," says the Post, "the CIA is building a secret airstrip in the Arabian Peninsula so it can deploy armed drones over Yemen." (It was just 10 days later that the AP reported on an already-existing "secret CIA base in the Persian Gulf." It was built in 10 days? That was fast!)
The Post reported that "The negotiations that preceded the establishment of the [drone-launching] base in the Republic of Seychelles illustrate the efforts the United States is making to broaden the range of its drone weapons. Overall, officials said, the cluster of bases reflects an effort to have wider geographic coverage, greater leverage with countries in the region and backup facilities if individual airstrips are forced to close." ["Greater leverage"? Would that be the polite term for "ability to threaten with remote-control bombs"?]
All of those reports focus on the launching of the drones. As to which countries are targeted, the Post reports that "The U.S. government is known to have used drones to carry out lethal attacks in at least six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen." But the U.S.-led Empire is global, and doesn't stop with Africa and South Asia.
A month after the Washington Post article, on October 16th, the TomDispatch website ran an article by journalist Nick Turse called "America's Secret Empire of Drone Bases." Turse speaks of "an expanding American empire of unmanned drone bases being set up worldwide." In addition to the known bases in Africa, South Asia, and the Arabian Peninsula, Turse mentions that the U.S. Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aerial system "is actively looking for a suitable site in the Western Pacific" and "already has Global Hawks perched at its base in Sigonella, Italy."
In fact, says Turse, TomDispatch "has identified at least 60 bases integral to U.S. military and CIA drone operations." He adds that "There may, however, be more, since a cloak of secrecy about drone warfare leaves the full size and scope of these bases distinctly in the shadows."
Here's what we have: A growing network of secret bases for secret attacks with no "repatriated body bags" to alarm the voting public. All of this is exactly what I've been talking when I speak of drones as the dream of U.S. warmakers: We can "withdraw" from everywhere and retain the ability to make war anywhere. And the dream is a bipartisan dream: Had McCain won the last election, no doubt he would now be the drone president.
One wonders if this secret, no-U.S.-casualty future—about which the time for debate is past—would be known in this country as "war" or "peace." In Part IV of the Remote Control War series, in the next Nygaard Notes, I'll argue that it will most certainly be war. And it won't be secret, even in this country, for long.