The End of the Sovereign Self

Tomgram: Philip K. Dick Meet George W. Bush

Blowing Them Away Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry: Globalization Bush-style
By Tom Engelhardt

Imagine, for a moment, that you live in a small town somewhere near the Southern California coast. You’re going about your daily life, trying to scrape by in hard times, when the missile hits. It might have come from the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) — its pilot at a base on the outskirts of Tehran — that has had the village in its sights for the last six hours or from the Russian sub stationed just off the coast. In either case, it’s devastating.

In Moscow and Tehran, officials announce that, in a joint action, they have launched the missile as part of a carefully coordinated “surgical” operation to take out a “known terrorist,” a long-term danger to their national security. A Kremlin spokesman offers the following statement:

“As we have repeatedly said, we will continue to pursue terrorist activities and their operations wherever we may find them. We share common goals with respect to fighting terrorism. We will continue to seek out, identify, capture and, if necessary, kill terrorists where they plan their activities, carry out their operations or seek safe harbor.”

A family in a ramshackle house just down the street from you — he’s a carpenter; she works at the local Dairy Queen — are killed along with their pets. Their son is seriously wounded, their home blown to smithereens. Neighbors passing by as the missile hits are also wounded.

As it happens, there are no terrorists in the vicinity. Outraged, you organize your neighbors and march angrily in protest through the town, shouting anti-Russian, anti-Iranian slogans. But, of course, there is nothing you can really do. Iran and Russia are far away, their weaponry powerful, your arms nonexistent. The state of California is incapable of protecting you. This is, in fact, at least the fourth time in recent months that a “terrorist” has been declared “taken out” from the air or by a ship-based cruise missile, when only innocent Californians have died.

As news of the “collateral damage” from the botched operation dribbles out, the Russian and Iranian media pay next to no attention. There are no outraged editorials. Official spokesmen see no need to comment further. No one is held responsible and no promises are made in either Tehran or Moscow that similar assassination strikes won’t be launched in the near future, based on “actionable intelligence,” possibly even on the same town. In fact, the next day, seeing UAVs once again soaring overhead, you load your pick-up and prepare to flee.

Swatting Flies in Somalia

Philip K. Dick meet George W. Bush. When it comes to such a thing happening in the United States, we are, of course, at the wildest frontiers of science fiction. The U.S. is a sovereign nation. We guard our air space and coastal waters jealously. Any country violating them for purposes of aggressive action, no less by launching a missile against an American town, would be committing an act of war and would certainly be treated accordingly.

If, somehow, such an event did occur, it would be denounced in Washington and on editorial pages across the country as a shocking contravention of international legal conventions and a crime of war… unless, of course, we did it in a country where sovereignty has been declared meaningless.

In fact, an almost exact replica of the above fictional incident — at least the fourth of its kind in recent months — did indeed take place at the beginning of March in the embattled failed state of Somalia. (For that country’s most recent abysmal collapse, the Bush administration, via an invasion by Ethiopian proxy forces, can take significant credit.) One or two houses in Dobley, a Somali town, were hit, possibly by two submarine-launched Tomahawk Cruise missiles in what a U.S. official termed “a deliberate strike against a suspected bed-down of known terrorists.”

The missiles were evidently meant for Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, an al-Qaedan suspect in the bloody bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. He was, however, not in Dobley, despite the “actionable intelligence” on hand. Accounts of the dead and wounded in the town vary. One report claimed only wounded Somalis (and two dead cows); most spoke of anywhere from four to ten dead civilians. Local district Commissioner Ali Nur Ali Dherre told CNN that three women and three children had been killed and another 20 people wounded; while a “U.S. military official said the United States is still collecting post-strike information and is not yet able to confirm any casualties. He described [the] strike as ‘very deliberate’ and said forces tried to use caution to avoid hitting civilians.”

For the dead Somalis, not surprisingly, we have no names. In stories like this, the dead are regularly nobodies and, though the townspeople of Dobley did indeed march angrily in protest yelling anti-American slogans, just about no one noticed.

In our world, only the normal smattering of small news reports dealt with this modest sidebar in the President’s Global War on Terror (GWOT). On the GWOT scorecard — if you remember, for a long time George Bush kept “his own personal scorecard” of top terror suspects in a desk drawer in the Oval Office, crossing off al-Qaedan figures as U.S. forces took them down — this operation hardly registered. One terrorist missed, and not for the first time, possibly a few dead peasants in some god-forsaken land. Please, move on…

In a recent Pentagon briefing for reporters featuring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen, who had just returned from a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, 4,500 words of back-and-forth were interrupted by this question from a reporter:

“Secretary Gates, the strike on Somalia two days ago — did the missiles that were fired — did they strike their target? And was the target Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan? Do you have a report back from the field? And Admiral Mullen, what message did you give to President Musharraf, and why did you meet with him?”

Gates responded to the Somali part of the question in eight words: “You know we don’t talk about military operations.” He might have added: …unless they’re successful.

That was evidently all that the incident and its minor “collateral damage” deserved in such a global war. So Gates and Mullen moved on immediately. So many matters more important than a single “decapitation” strike that didn’t succeed to consider.

Read the rest, including links and references, here.

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