Waging War by Other Means: The Bureaucratic Present

Waging War by Other Means: The Bureaucratic Present

‘In facing a legislature, the bureaucracy, motivated by a pure lust for power, will battle every attempt of the legislature to gain information by means of its own experts or from interest groups’. (Weber,  1918)

‘It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash. It’s not a bunch of folks in a room somewhere just making decisions.’  President Barack Obama, January 2012

According to a recent Washington Street Journal article, by 2011, the CIA would regularly fax the ISI an outline of the boundaries of the airspace the drones would use, known as ‘flight boxes’ because they are three-dimensional rectangles in the sky. The ISI would then send back a fax acknowledging receipt. This, combined with clearing airspace to avoid midair collisions (a proces known as ‘de-confliction’) represnted tacit consent to the program according to the U.S. After the May 2011 bin Laden raid, this changed. The ISI stopped sending back receipts. “Not responding was their way of saying ‘we’re upset with you,’ ” a U.S. official said.

The banality of this bureaucratic exchange is telling.

The drone war waged in Pakistan’s northwest flank is spearheaded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The US’ top-secret agency is at the center of an international storm: Are the extrajudicial strikes legal?  Are they ethical? Are they even accurate? What gets missed in much of the media frenzy is that the CIA is a civilian agency that resembles many government bureaucracies. Indeed, the civilianization of the ‘kill-chain’ is one of the distinctive features of modern drone warfare. Bureaucrats in boardrooms pouring over PowerPoint presentations define an age of remotely-piloted war, despite Obama’s assurances that ‘It is not a bunch of folks in a room somewhere just making decisions’.

By way of introduction, consider ‘Terror Tuesdays’. The New York Times (2012) recently carried a story that revealed how President Obama chairs a weekly meeting at the White House to review a classified inter-agency ‘kill list’. As the story goes, ‘When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation’. This nominations process is unprecedented in U.S. history and represents a centralization of executive power in the hands of the President,  and also terrorism tzar John Brenan. A former counter-terrorist director at the CIA, ‘No politically appointed official in U.S. history has played such a prominent role in killing so many people outside of a war zone as John Brennan’ (Zenko, 2012).  But this ‘lethal bureaucrat’ did not emerge in a vacuum. The uses and abuses of bureaucratic power have been a permanent feature of U.S. and Pakistani history.

Indeed, representatives of the U.S. and Pakistan still refuse to comment on what are arguably the most basic facts of the region’s geopolitics.

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3 Responses to Waging War by Other Means: The Bureaucratic Present

  1. Pingback: Administrative geographies and killing fields « geographical imaginations

  2. Pingback: The Obama Administration’s ‘Disposition Matrix’ – a Deadly Drone Database? | Understanding Empire

  3. Pingback: Deadly Documents: Executive Orders, Their Monarchical Power, and Their Roots in Thanksgiving | Understanding Empire

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