What's more nauseating: seeing Joshua Foust trying to make hash of the human rights movement again, or seeing all the myrmidons in the Central Asian research business nod and retweet?
Once again, we're supposed to take cynicism as a substitute for insight, and we're supposed to see penetrating wisdom in the commonplace phenomenon that yeah, people are idealistic and don't ground themselves in RealPolitik -- and then the junior analysts of IR can pronounce them as stupid -- too stupid to know what they want or know how to get it.
Oh, this posture that people are poorly informed, sloppy researchers, naive, or confused -- instead of simply moral.
It's like a textbook case of, "Nizi ne mogut, a verkhi ne khotyat," as Lenin cynically said about the pre-revolutionary period and revolution: "Those at the botton can't, and those at the top, won't," i.e. reform, or make revolution. Oh, and that's why they need that advanced guard, that guiding intellectual Party elite, see.
Here's the thing about film festivals and the drones thing in general -- they are emotional, and the topic is emotional, and it's about morality and moral feelings -- and that's okay because drones throw up real moral issues of:
o claims of precision that are uncheckable due to secrecy
o fears of greater power due to claims of precision
Foust always behaves in a magnetic moral context as if all the magnet filings are going in the wrong direction and it's all their fault.
But there's really nothing wrong with people protesting drones, as such, although both in Pakistan and the US, it is a totemic symbol of American power used in political movements for their own purposes.
I wonder if Foust really understands that when he hears the facile and ready anti-Americanism and hysteria about drones in Pakistan, and the call to build schools and hospitals instead of throwing drones (as he heard from the Yemen activist that he mercilessly bullied on Twitter the other day), that this is placebo politics -- it's a surrogate. In an odd way, for this generation, for these people, this American-hating is a placebo for the critique they really ought to have (and do have, in an inchoate way) for their own oppressive and abusive and kleptocratic governments which are busy helping terrorists in some ways.
There's this, too: it's just no good telling off Pakistanis and others at a human rights film festival that no, it's not a violation of sovereignty because they were invited in because they weren't part of that voluntary process. And wait, has he no sense of resonance in this region and with history? That's what the Soviets said about the tanks coming into Afghanistan or before that, Prague or Budapest. They were invited in to help save the socialist order.
Even if there is indeed a world of difference between Soviet tanks and American drones and the inviting process is more, shall we say, fluid, the fact is, Pakistan is not a democracy; people in it did not get to chose; the parliamentary doesn't have power over the military; all this is obvious. Why talk about "inviting" in a setting where clearly some political forces didn't get to participate democratically in that decision, and some feel marginalized by the process?
Leave aside the issue of whether it would be "good for the country" to have more drones kill more terrorists in an undemocratic way and oh, maybe hasten demoracy that way, as an engineering proposition. The fact is, it doesn't sound like a persuasive argument, and there has to be some sensitivity to this.
You have to wonder why the organizers invited Foust. Do they like getting lashed?!
The other day I was talking to a colleague from the establishment human rights movement, so to speak, who was trying earnestly to make the case for drones as in fact a new kind of human rights instrument because it is more and more precise and after all, that's what we should work toward with international humanitarian law (IHL), the laws of war -- precision, which means less casualities.
That struck me as a technocratic argument of the sort we hear about everything now all the time, especially with the Internet.
But, before that, there was always a debate between whether the proper subject of the human rights movement was even IHL or should stick only to human rights. No one remembers this any more, but it is worth recalling that there were some strong voices saying that the human rights movements should stick to human rights, and not get into the laws of war or crimes because those issues were better parsed by law-enforcers and militaries -- and of course the ICRC -- because they involved first suppressing what might be an act of conscience opposing war in the first place.
I kept saying that the remoteness of the control over the missiles was creepy and seemed a matter of conscience. My colleague kept saying, but the weapons are more precise now and don't cause as much collateral damage.
But here's the thing about all this then: they are secret, and housed in the CIA. And not "just because"; but precisely as a function of their precision. That is, precisely because they are precise, the information about them has to be wrapped up very tight to remain successful. There was just this unfortunate habit of terrorists hanging out in their home compounds with the whole family.
The other day I was listening to a "progressive" talk radio program dissecting the Rand Paul filibuster and rallying for Obama. One woman called in and spoke fautously of how people who wouldn't agree to Obama's budget should be arrested for "obstruction of justice" -- as if that's what it meant. She had the determined and matter-of-fact ire of someone who wasn't quite educated enough to know that the meaning of the phrase wasn't quite what she wanted (and Foust approaches all human rights activists as being like that woman). Yet despite all that, she had an essential point, from her perspective as an Obama voter -- if the president won, why can't he do what he wants?
Then a man called in whose son was a drone pilot. He described his son as "flying the planes" even though he was located in the United States and not physically flying them there. But he said, "But it's still flying the planes". There were people in Afghanistan or Pakistan who did the ground work and scoped out the area, of course. Then the people who "flew the planes" from the US. He said so much expense, care, training and precision! -- went into this that it would be "inconceivable" that it would be misused on somebody sitting in a cafe in San Francisco.
We're told that people who "fly the planes" even from thousands of miles away like this still get post-traumatic stress syndrome from killing people. But really, what's the difference between 30,000 feet up in the air, and 3,000 miles away? You're still looking at an electronic dashboard nowadays and you can't see what you hit? So shouldn't we accept this as "better" because it's more precise?
Again, the secrecy and housing within the CIA then is the problem -- it has less oversight then from Congress, and victims can't be compensated as they are when the military accidently kills them in ordinary bombings.
A band of eager lawyers and technologists who want to prove that war is "better" because it is more precise now perhaps make a more humane military, if you will, or they make a civil society of sorts that acts perhaps as a brake on military that might want to do things with less precision or expense, let's say. Foust would like to turn the human rights organizations into something like this -- appendages of the military with troubled looks on their faces about "going to far" but essentially getting with the program.
But it shouldn't then be called a human rights movement of conscience -- and that's okay to have, because in the face of the technologists, they have to say: but it's secret, so we don't know; but that kid was killed, so we're not sure.
It's not just the secrecy -- itself dictated by that very precision. It's then the psychological and political impact on other countries. Sure, corrupt governments whip up anti-American sentiment and weak oppositions faced with vicious persecution and even death convert their positions into anti-American placebos. But ordinary people, too, then begin to get caught up in the sense of feeling helpless and pinned by stronger, more precise, more deadly force out there.
We saw what resonance the #StandwithPaul stuff had on Twitter and even in the real world, and how people could somehow come to see that maybe, really, they could be sitting in a cafe in San Francisco, and...
If that much agitation could come just from the *thought* of such a situation, and the reality of only two cases of American citizens, imagine if you were in a setting where thousands of people were killed that way, and you didn't know if maybe hundreds of them weren't militants but were just kids or women and old men. Such it's a psychological situation, if nothing else, and one meriting sympathy.
Foust could only sniff:
A similar mindset afflicted the panel on Afghanistan, where outrage overpowered reason. Jawed Taiman’s documentary about Afghans’ views of the future was done very well, but the audience was raucous and bordered at times on hostile. Panelists and audience members alike blamed everything on America, on Pakistan, or on the military. Most said that Afghanistan would be just fine once the foreigners leave – a conclusion many Afghans don’t share.
Really? But the link is to a New York Times article about "strivers" and a budding "middle class" -- certainly a thin concept in Afghanistan where most people are poor. Those people have not been better off with NATO troops there for the last ten years; it just didn't work in a lot of places. That's not to suggest the Taliban and company are better, but the reason we're leaving is that we have to concede it didn't work.
And then a Twitter exchange:Gartenstein-Ross @DaveedGR CatherineFitzpatrick @catfitz CatherineFitzpatrick @catfitz CatherineFitzpatrick @catfitz CatherineFitzpatrick @catfitz CatherineFitzpatrick @catfitz
I always come back to that Bonfire of the Vanities insight:
Where is the poet who has sung of that most lacerating of all human emotions, the cut that never heals -- male humiliation?
While precision should in theory make the ordinary man more secure that he won't be caught up in a mass conflagration and the enemy is only going to target the bad guys very selectively, the government can exploit the "eye in the sky" fears that come with that precision.
Then the precision perhaps might be the very trigger of his immense feeling of helplessness and therefore greater anger.
This is about culture, and psychology and group dynamics, and I have a feeling that even the "human terrain" expert Joshua Foust isn't really good at navigating these things because the RealPolitik is too captivating. Who wouldn't want to be the president's aide instead of the injured child?