The nature of U.S. state violence has changed quite dramatically over the past decade. As the occupation of Afghanistan winds down, with some kind of “exit strategy” to be rolled out in 2014, many assume that the tide of U.S. conflict will similarly ebb. But this belief in wars with distinct timelines and distinct geographies is now as antiquated as the international law frameworks that struggle under the weight of Special Operations Forces and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Recently, the Pentagon’s chief of irregular warfare admitted that the war against al-Qaeda will last for decades to come. At a Senate hearing, Michael Sheehan (the assistant secretary of defense for “special operations and low-intensity conflict”) said the planetary-wide conflict would last “At least 10 to 20 years”.
But 10 to 20 years is an underestimate! There is no reason to belief that the policing of the globe with black-op soldiers and drones will ever end. The legal, bureaucratic, and technological infrastructure are firmly entrenched within the corridors of the White House, the Pentagon, and Langley. Once institutions adopt certain practices, habits, and pathways it is extremely unlikely they would consider – never mind enact – a U-turn in behaviour. It is impossible to “unthink” the drone and it is impossible to “unthink” the JSOC soldiers who are now garrisoned in the borderlands of the globe.
So perhaps it is no understatement to say that counter-terrorism will never end – after all it produces its own excesses and “blowback”. It is a self-sustaining force and there is simply no political capital to be spent on halting the military-industrial complex.
So too will counter-terrorism become a feature of daily life in the domestic settings of the U.S. and beyond. Drone technology is already patrolling the peripheral spaces of the nation state (especially along the U.S.-Mexico border), and with FAA legislation due to be passed in 2015 that will open America’s skies, the battlespace will rapidly become borderless. Manhunts will involve SWARMs of drones in cities, with tiny insect-like robots whizzing between skyscrapers and backyards.
For Sheehan, U.S. counter-terrorism stretches “from Boston to the FATA [Pakistan]”.
Again, once a technology, or “technique” of government exists, its trajectory is usually one-way. There are very few examples of deadly machines brought into this world only to be discarded for ideological reasons.
Indeed, the very nature of “ideology” – of Left versus Right – masks the hulking technological Leviathan that is in now firmly in place – one that is not under the control of Democrats, Republicans, or any other human actors.
Rationality, order, efficient killing: these are the post-political motifs of a violent new order that simply cannot be restrained by “legal frameworks” or “moral outrage”.
Is this really the destiny we have been gifted by thousands of years of history?