“Bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended, is prohibited.”
(4th Hague Convention, 1907).
A new continent has emerged on our atlas: it is Droneland. The borders of Droneland run from Libya to Somalia to Yemen to Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Reaper and the Predator stalk the air, driven by young people in distant bases. A necklace of American power, these bases throttle the globe in a silent embrace. The New America Foundation estimates that the U. S. drone attacks in Pakistan alone have killed between 1,579 and 2,490 civilians since 2004. Last year, the UN investigator on extrajudicial killings Philip Alston noted that these attacks might very well be illegal. The UK-based Reprieve is seeking an international arrest warrant against John Rizzo, acting general counsel for the CIA, who told Newsweek in February that he approved at least one drone strike per month. This would be a minor earthquake on Droneland, if the accusation were not shelved somewhere in the topsy-turvy offices of Scotland Yard.
In 1922, the head of the British Empire’s Northwest Provinces (roughly Pakistan and southern Afghanistan), Sir John Maffrey wondered aloud about the bombings of the civilians, “What are the rules for this kind of cricket?” His betters in Delhi responded that international law did not apply “against savage tribes who do not conform to codes of civilized warfare.” It would be unwise to warn the assailants, and better to use maximum force. After all, it was the ferocity that would break the morale of the savages. Any solicitude toward women was also dismissed. Afghan women, the imperial headquarters noted, are treated as “a piece of property somewhere between a rifle and a cow.” The Air Officer Commanding, India, Philip Game wisely put it in another dispatch, “I expect that in a short time, if we use our Air Force wisely and humanely, such outcry as there is will cease and air action will be regarded as a normal and suitable weapon for enforcing the just demands of government” (October 18, 1923). Games’ hope has come to pass. Apart from Reprieve and the families of those killed by the strikes, few are upset by the creation of Droneland.
The National Priorities Project, in Northampton, MA, informs us that the total war spending by the U. S. government since 9/11 is now in the range of $7.6 trillion. The NPP has the decency to add the Pentagon’s base budget, the nuclear budget, the budget of Homeland Security, and the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars (by themselves $1.26 trillion). It is a startling figure. It has been underscored by the otherwise irresolute U. S. Conference of Mayors. The mayors adopted the activists’ “war dollars” language and called upon the U. S. Congress to “bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy.” The economic arguments to end the war have now entered the mainstream – LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, head of the Conference and nothing of a progressive, intones the criticism of “war dollars.”
The mayors say nothing about Droneland, or of the pedagogical importance of aerial bombardment. They also say nothing about international law, and its subservience to the “international community,” a synonym for the G-7 states.
Silent for too long, the anti-war legions have begun to regroup. During the Bush years (eight, but they seemed eternal), it was easy for the radicals to draw in the liberals: Bush was the lodestone. It was easy to despise him. The anti-war grouping then was considerable (a million people protested across the United States on February 15, 2003). But it was unstable. One strand was hardened against militarism at least, if not fully against imperialism. Among them one finds the various left-of-center parties and the peace organizations, as well as the Quakers, the Bruderhofs, and the Buddhists. Then there were those who do not like irrational wars, or as State Senator Barack Obama put it in 2002, “dumb wars, rash wars.” This strand was furious with the “distraction” of Iraq, and wanted the President to focus attention on the War on Terror and on Afghanistan. The link between these two camps was their antipathy to Bush and to the Iraq War. That was the energy that produced the February 2003 wave.
With the election of Obama, the basis for unity (Bush) disappeared. The liberal tendency tied its hopes to Obama, and despite the consistent disappointments, remains firmly of the view that this presidency has been trying, despite the (Republican) odds to focus attention on Afghanistan and to drawdown from Iraq. The death of Bin Laden, for this strand, is proof positive that Obama is the better bureaucrat of warfare. It is unlikely that the liberal branch of the anti-Iraq war movement will assemble once more on the expansion of warfare under Obama throughout the Dronelands. This is perhaps why there has been such silence over the past years, as the U. S. has expanded its operations, and found itself wrong-footed in the Arab Spring (trying to block the Egyptian revolution, succeeding in blocking the Bahrain uprising, and moving the Libyan struggle hastily to warfare). The anti-Iraq war formations have been largely silent.
Fractions of that earlier coalition continue to assert themselves. We would appear a complicit nation if not for the splendid shenanigans of Code Pink, whether at the empty hearings in Congress or the streets of our cities, and of the newly created United National Anti-War Committee (UNAC). In July 2010, about eight hundred activists from dozens of organizations gathered in Albany, New York to inaugurate UNAC, and to release a portmanteau statement that opposed all that is bad about military policy (from spending on war to the incarceration of Bradley Manning). On April 9, 2011, UNAC hosted a very large demonstration in New York City against the warfare state and in defense of Muslims. The antiwar movement had returned from hibernation, and announced that this time it would gather around two intrinsically related principles: anti-imperialism and anti-Islamaphobia.
Anti-Imperialism: Warfare and war dollars by the United States is not irrational and accidental, as the Conference of Mayors suggested. A depleted industrial base and an elephantine financial sector squeeze the possibility of jobs and social services for the people. This combination of financial power and industrial decline is the signal that a civilization’s time of power has now come to a close. It is a “sign of autumn,” wrote the historian Ferdinand Braudel. These signs have come before, in Genoa, Holland and the United Kingdom (as Giovanni Arrighi documents in The Long Twentieth Century). When it became clear that the United Kingdom’s autumn was at hand by 1925, Winston Churchill proclaimed, “I would rather see finance less proud and industry more content.” The United States overtook the United Kingdom as the world’s largest and most important economy within months of this pronouncement. The IMF has now declared that China will overtake the U. S. by 2016. Braudel and Arrighi argue that in the time of autumn, the declining power resorts to force to try to prevent the inevitable. In addition to that cyclical possibility, the United States has developed a warped economy with military production as a centerpiece of industrial development, and with military power required to secure the primacy of the dollar. War is essential to the absurd dreams of another “American Century.” An antiwar movement has to see this, and argue for more than the end to this war or that war. Our historical task is to confront the basis of these wars, the imperialist war economy that threatens the planet to preserve the fortunes and pride of the few.
Anti-Islamaphobia: At the April 9 rally in New York City, leaders of the Muslim Peace Coalition and the 100 Imams for Peace provided a brisk anti-imperialist message, and pointed out that these wars in the Dronelands have increased the attacks on Muslims and those who resemble Muslims inside the United States. Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid (from Chicago) hoped for “an America that does not bomb the poorest of the poor for the service of the richest of the rich.” For him, war, terrorism and Islamaphobia “are all one evil triplet.” A new study from the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice demonstrates that the United States government has systematically used paid and untrained informants to sow fear among American Muslims (“Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the ‘Homegrown Threat’ in the United States,” 2011). In preparation for what will be a season of Islamaphobia, as the tenth anniversary of 911 approaches, the citizens of Teaneck, NJ., passed an anti-bias resolution as part of the “An America for All of US” campaign organized by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). Other towns will follow. It is to the credit of UNAC that it does not see the issue of Islamaphobia as divisive, as irrelevant to what others claim is the principle issue, namely the war. As Imam Mujahid put it, we have to “unite against war at home and war abroad.”
The election season is upon us. Progressives will be asked the same old tired question: do you support Obama to hold the “Left” united or will you go for a third party and hand the election to the “Right”? It is of course the case that the “Right” is a party of lunacy. Obama’s posture as an anti-war figurehead is not as ridiculous as Mitt Romney’s populist fancy. The question of the election is a divisive issue, and it should not be the focus of our energy. What must guide the anti-war camp is to strengthen our organization and to build momentum in this country against a political class that is largely devoted to war. No point wasting energy on a tired debate. Better to put that time and those resources into building a formation such as UNAC, which would then be able to challenge a political class that is incapable of deciphering the entrails that say quite clearly that the American Century is now over.
Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. He can be reached at: email@example.com
CounterPunchers in Philadelphia can hear Prashad speak on Palestine and the Arab Spring on July 23. Click here for details.