As our warrior robot drones eradicate evil -- or at least "militancy" -- from above, the Suicide Army of the East vows to keep blowing itself up until we call them off.
This is not the plot of a bad sci-fi thriller. It's page one of the New York Times, described, as ever, with a sober politeness that doesn't quite do justice to geo-insanity's latest thrilling mutation:
"Despite threats of retaliation from Pakistani militants, senior administration officials said Monday that the United States intended to step up its use of drones to strike militants in Pakistan's tribal areas and might extend them to a different sanctuary deeper inside the country.
"On Sunday, a senior Taliban leader vowed to unleash two suicide attacks a week like one on Saturday in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, unless the Central Intelligence Agency stopped firing missiles at militants."
And by the way: "Pakistani officials have expressed concerns that the missile strikes from remotely piloted aircraft fuel more violence in the country, and some American officials say they are also concerned about some aspects of the drone strikes."
What has ever mattered less to the war machine than "concerns" . . . that robot killers don't win friends, that violence, perhaps, is counterproductive? Women, children, collateral damage, blah blah blah. Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, good-guy-turned-war-enabler, "acknowledged," as the Times put it -- or as I might say, channeled every morally compromised spokesperson who ever equivocated in the name of George Bush, Adolf Hitler or Attila the Hun -- that "the price is very heavy."
Now we know.
But alas, as Levin went on to explain, drone-fired missiles are "an extremely effective tool." And really, they're no more than a technical update of the innovation that allowed the English to slaughter French noblemen at the battle of Crecy in 1346 and ushered in modern, impersonal warfare: the longbow. One difference is that the dead at Crecy were all soldiers.
In any case, "The principle . . . is action at a distance," Barbara Ehrenreich points out in "Blood Rites," her 1997 study of the roots of war. And action at a distance, as Sen. Levin could explain to you, has the advantage of allowing the heavy price to be paid only by the other side.
To wit: "As many as 1 million people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape attacks by the unmanned spy planes as well as bombings by the Pakistani army," London's Sunday Times reports, describing the situation on the Af-Pak border as "a massive humanitarian emergency."
Our longbows are flattening villages. Furthermore, while "Pakistani forces say they have killed 1,500 militants since launching anti-Taliban operations in Bajaur (Pakistan) in August," the Sunday Times story continues, "locals who fled claim that only civilians were killed." History, common sense and objective analysis, even by the U.S. military, make clear that the tactics the U.S. is using -- first with Bush at the helm, now with Barack Obama -- are fostering hatred of the West and strengthening the Taliban.
All of which does nothing but make the point I've already made, that the war on terror that President Obama says he wants to widen, and win, in Afghanistan, is insane. Since Obama is neither insane himself nor indebted politically to a base that is, the enormous post-inaugural question we are now wrestling with is: Why is he pursuing it? And why are the Democrats so intent on fracturing their party in the pursuit of a war that is flawed at its core, just as they did in the '60s?
To quote from a comment made on Common Dreams in response to a piece I wrote last week about the new president and the war: "Demopublicans and Republicrats only see a narrow world of $elf-intere$t run by their corporate ma$ter$ who call the $hot$."
Well, OK. I concede a piece of the truth to this viewpoint -- but fear that there is no pure, chaste and financially uncompromised route to the American presidency. Lincoln, the Obama role model, was, after all, something less than an abolitionist when he got elected. He was a man of his time -- only slightly off the racist political center of the day -- but wound up altering the course of history.
Obama's trajectory is not on a collision course right now with the entrenched insanity of war. He's trying to make peace with this insanity and wage the "softer," PC war that Democrats prefer, building schools as well as blowing them up, going out of his way to say positive things about Muslims, etc.
But he's still operating on the assumption that a robot war, which kills just as randomly and far more prolifically than suicide bombings in public squares do, can root evil out of its cave and secure U.S. and, while we're at it, world peace. History is waiting to tell him otherwise.
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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.
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