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WAR WHERE CIVILIAN DEATHS SEEM TOO SMALL A PRICE TO PAY:
Hard Rain Keeps Falling: Talking Peace in Prague, Dropping Bombs in Pakistan
Tuesday, 7 April 2009
"I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it."
-- Bob Dylan
As each passing week of the American drone campaign brings yet another harvest of civilian deaths, more and more Pakistanis are radicalized, and the government – the nuclear-armed government – grows ever more shaky.While the usual gaggle of sycophants and media hive-minders -- along with some ordinarily perspicacious analysts -- tell us that Barack Obama literally changed the course of human history by disgorging a great load of thrice-chewed cud about nuclear disarmament in Prague this week, the high-tech drone war the great hero of peace is waging inside the sovereign territory of America's ally, Pakistan, is helping drive tens of thousands of people from their homes and killing civilians almost daily.
Obama's Prague speech was a bold, creative, world-shaking, epochal address whose full import will only be understood many years hence by future historians, declared no less than Juan Cole. But the good professor seems to have mislaid his laser pointer -- the sharp-focused beam that just a week ago skewered Obama for his outright lies and Cheneyesque manipulations in announcing his "comprehensive strategy" to escalate and expand the "Af-Pak War". Indeed, just two days before Obama's pseudo-epiphany in Prague, Cole was accurately delineating the folly and falsehoods permeating Obama's Afghanistan policies.
Yet like so many, Cole seemed dazzled by Obama's nuclear boilerplate, hailing the president as "among the more creative and bold leaders the world has seen in the past half-century." (Admittedly, that is a mighty low bar.) Cole even found some reason to hope that that Obama would follow the logic of his disarmament rhetoric and somehow force Israel to give up its arsenal of nuclear weapons. But there was nothing in Obama's speech that had not been said dozens if not hundreds of times before by American presidents from both parties, going back decades: We pledge "to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." Nuclear proliferation must be stopped. Rogue states can't have nuclear bombs. We will work with the Russians to reduce our stockpiles. What president has ever said otherwise? Has there ever been a U.S. president since the atomic evisceration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who has not made an impassioned plea to rid the world of these terrible weapons?
And of course, the brute fact is that the United States is bound by solemn treaty to work toward the reduction and eventual elimination of its nuclear arsenal. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obliges the government of the United States "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures" to bring about complete nuclear disarmament in the world. Obama's "bold," "new" vision is, quite simply, part of his job description; or rather, a legal requirement for his office.
But what celebrants dazzled by Obama's assertion that he is "committed" (that great weasel-word of the high and mighty) to doing what he is obligated to do failed to notice -- or at least failed to highlight -- were Obama's other well-worn bromides in the speech: the ones where he makes the ritual declaration of America's continuing readiness to whip out the nukes at a moment's notice -- and to carry on with the decades-long, ever-expanding boondoggle of the "missile defense shield." As The Times reports:
In other words, as long as any other nation has nuclear weapons, the United States will keep its own nukes primed and ready and rarin' to go. And of course, as long as the United States retains its weapons, then other nations will also keep their arsenals, in the never-to-be-discounted event that they might become an "adversary" of the United States or one of its allies. This neat little dynamic means that we will never see "the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons" -- no matter how many world-shaking, epoch-making speeches are delivered in the shadow of Kafka's Castle.
The "missile shield" is of course another spur to nuclear proliferation, as the United States steadily rings the globes with an advanced weapons system that can just as easily be used for offensive operations as for its putative "defense" function. Come to think of it, it is actually only effective as an offensive system, because, despite decades of war pork and rigged tests, the missile "shield" is singularly unable to shoot down incoming missiles. Again, if some nuclear-armed nation was installing such a system on your frontier, you might want to hang on to your own nukes too -- or get some if you didn't have any yet.
Epochal epiphanies and kairotic events should be made of sterner stuff. That old hard rain is still looming on the horizon.
The hard rain of nuclear war remains metaphorical (except for the remaining survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan). But there is another hard rain of death -- death without metaphor, the thing itself -- falling on the villages of Pakistan from the literally faceless, literally soulless remote-control drones of the American military. In undeclared, unsanctioned acts of war, they are sent across the border to fire heavy missiles, usually on undefended villages, and almost always on residential areas.
The targets -- we are told -- are "militants" of various stripes, but of course the robot drones -- often controlled by "pilots" safely ensconced on military bases thousands of miles away, often in the leafy suburbs of the Homeland itself -- cannot climb down out of the sky, walk through the ruins, and identify the dead. Pakistanis on the ground can see the bodies, however; they are the ones pulling out the viscera-smeared corpses of women and children -- and innocent men as well; contrary to the near-universal belief among America's bipartisan Terror Warriors, every adult male of Muslim background is not a terrorist, and their deaths by drone do not automatically constitute a successful "kill" of a militant.
In considering the ramifications of Obama's escalation of the drone war, we understandably tend to focus on the individual attacks themselves: pinpoint, quickly in, quickly out, over and done with. And even if we denounce the inevitable "collateral damage" when a house or group of houses is destroyed, or when the wrong target is struck, the small scale of each individual attack still leaves the impression of a contained, localized phenomenon. But this is a gross distortion of the reality. For the purpose and nature of a terrorist attack is not just the destruction of an immediate target; the point is to engender widespread fear and chaos: Where will the next strike come? When will it come? Who will die next time?
(And make no mistake: a drone assault on an isolated, defenseless village is a quintessential terrorist attack, designed to induce terror, punish the enemy and force change by deadly violence. It is in no way comparable to any traditional notion of honorable combat. It is simply industrialized, corporatized, computerized slaughter.)
So the effects of Obama's drone war are not limited to the few houses destroyed here and there. The attacks have spawned, or greatly added to, a humanitarian catastrophe that remains largely hidden from the world -- and certainly from the well-wadded Western "liberals" who cheer Obama's savvy toughness in the "good war" on the Af-Pak front. As The Times reports, almost a million people have been driven from their homes in Pakistan's Tribal Areas to escape the American drones, and the bombs of Washington's Pakistani proxies:
Much of the worst damage has been done by Pakistani forces urged by their funders in Washington to step up attacks on their countrymen:
In the political schizophrenia induced in a state forced to serve a foreign master's interests as well as its own, the Pakistani government has alternated between savage attacks in Washington's service and sudden truces and peace deals with militant groups. But even when the local bombs stop falling, the American drones keep sailing across the border in ever-increasing numbers, keeping the people of the region locked in fear and on the run.
As each passing week of the American drone campaign brings yet another harvest of civilian deaths, more and more Pakistanis are radicalized, and the government -- the nuclear-armed government -- grows ever more shaky. If the state structure in Pakistan ultimately breaks apart from the pressures of the Terror War, its nuclear arsenal will be up for grabs. Thus the attacks ordered by Obama in Pakistan are escalating the threat of exactly the kind of nuclear instability that he decried in Prague.
"I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard...."
Chris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This column is republished here with the permission of the author.
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This story was published on April 7, 2009.
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