[News] How Drones, Special Operations Forces, and the U.S. Navy Plan to End National Sovereignty As We Know It

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 6 17:17:50 EST 2012


Kicking Down the World's Door

Posted by <http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/tom/>Tom Engelhardt at 
5:26pm, February 5, 2012.
http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175498/

Offshore Everywhere
How Drones, Special Operations Forces, and the U.S. Navy Plan to End 
National Sovereignty As We Know It
By <http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/tom>Tom Engelhardt

Make no mistake: we're entering a new world of military 
planning.  Admittedly, the latest proposed Pentagon budget 
<http://hamptonroads.com/2012/01/us-weapons-future-defense-include-relics>manages 
to preserve just about every costly toy-cum-boondoggle from the good 
old days when MiGs still roamed the skies, including an uncut 
<http://www.fas.org/blog/ssp/2012/01/budget.php>nuclear 
arsenal.  Eternally over-budget items like the F-35 Joint Strike 
Fighter, cherished by their services and well-lobbied congressional 
representatives, aren't leaving the scene any time soon, though 
<http://marietta.patch.com/articles/pentagon-proposes-f-35-delays>delays 
or 
<http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-02/boeing-textron-v-22-said-to-be-cut-1-75-billion-by-pentagon.html>cuts 
in purchase orders are planned.  All this should reassure us that, 
despite the talk of massive cuts, the U.S. military will continue to 
be the profligate, inefficient, and 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175484/tom_engelhardt_debacle>remarkably 
ineffective institution we've come to know and 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175361/christopher_hellman_the_real_us_national_security_budget>squander 
our treasure on.

Still, the cuts that matter are already in the works, the ones that 
will change the American way of war.  They may mean little in 
monetary terms -- the Pentagon budget is actually 
<http://www.thenation.com/blog/165910/nibbling-pentagons-fat>slated 
to increase through 
<http://thinkprogress.org/security/2012/01/27/413122/pentagon-budget-flattening-long-way/>2017 
-- but in imperial terms they will make a difference.  A new way of 
preserving the embattled idea of an American planet is coming into 
focus and one thing is clear: in the name of Washington's needs, it 
will offer a direct challenge to national sovereignty.

Heading Offshore

The Marines began huge amphibious exercises -- 
<http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=67001>dubbed Bold 
Alligator 2012 -- off the East coast of the U.S. last week, but 
someone should IM them: it won't help.  No matter what they do, they 
are going to have 
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/in-a-presidential-election-year-pentagon-stressing-positive-side-of-defense-cuts/2012/01/26/gIQABVV9RQ_story.html>less 
boots on the ground in the future, and there's going to be less 
ground to have them on.  The 
<http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/01/26/panetta-to-outline-new-defense-spending-cuts-at-pentagon/>same 
is true for the Army (even if a cut of 100,000 troops will still 
leave the combined forces of the two services 
<http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/01/26/137056/defense-budget-plan-doesnt-cut.html>larger 
than they were on September 11, 2001).  Less troops, less 
full-frontal missions, no full-scale invasions, no more 
counterinsurgency: that's the order of the day.  Just this week, in 
fact, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that the 
<http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4967>schedule 
for the drawdown of combat boots in Afghanistan might be 
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/panetta-us-nato-will-seek-to-end-afghan-combat-mission-next-year/2010/07/28/gIQAriZJiQ_story.html?hpid=z2>speeded 
up by more than a year.  Consider it a sign of the times.

Like the F-35, American mega-bases, essentially well-fortified 
American towns plunked down in a strange land, like our latest 
"embassies" the size of 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175401/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_how_not_to_withdraw_from_iraq/>lordly 
citadels, aren't going away soon.  After all, in base terms, we're 
already 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175321/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_off-base_america__>hunkered 
down in the Greater Middle East in an impressive way.  Even in 
post-withdrawal Iraq, the Pentagon is 
<http://news.antiwar.com/2012/01/30/pentagon-to-begin-talks-with-iraq-on-new-defense-agreement/>negotiating 
for a new long-term defense agreement that might include getting a 
little of its former base space back, and it continues to build in 
Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, Washington has typically 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175214/tomgram:_john_feffer,_can_japan_say_no_to_washington/>signaled 
in recent years that it's ready to fight to 
the<http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127356895> 
last Japanese prime minister not to lose a 
<http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120204a8.html>single base among 
the three dozen it has on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

But here's the thing: even if the U.S. military is dragging its old 
habits, weaponry, and global-basing ideas behind it, it's still 
heading offshore.  There will be no more land wars on the Eurasian 
continent.  Instead, greater emphasis will be placed on the Navy, the 
Air Force, and a policy 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175476/tomgram%3A_michael_klare,_a_new_cold_war_in_asia/>"pivot" 
to face China in southern Asia where the American military position 
can be 
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/philippines-may-allow-greater-us-presence-in-latest-reaction-to-chinas-rise/2012/01/24/gIQAhFIyQQ_story.html>strengthened 
without more giant bases or monster embassies.

For Washington, "offshore" means the world's boundary-less waters and 
skies, but also, more metaphorically, it means being repositioned off 
the coast of national sovereignty and all its knotty problems.  This 
change, on its way for years, will officially rebrand the planet as 
an 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175416/tom_engelhardt_making_earth_a_global_free_fire_zone>American 
free-fire zone, unchaining Washington from the limits that national 
borders once imposed.  New ways to cross borders and new technology 
for doing it without permission are clearly in the planning stages, 
and U.S. forces are being reconfigured accordingly.

Think of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as a harbinger of and 
model for what's to come.  It was an operation enveloped in a cloak 
of secrecy.  There was no consultation with the "ally" on whose 
territory the raid was to occur.  It involved combat by an elite 
special operations unit backed by drones and other high-tech weaponry 
and supported by the CIA.  A national boundary was crossed without 
either permission or any declaration of hostilities.  The object was 
that elusive creature "terrorism," the perfect global 
will-o'-the-wisp around which to plan an offshore future.

All the elements of this emerging formula for retaining planetary 
dominance have received plenty of publicity, but the degree to which 
they combine to assault traditional concepts of national sovereignty 
has been given little attention.

Since November 2002, when a Hellfire missile from a CIA-operated 
Predator drone 
<http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2002-11-04-yemen-explosion_x.htm>turned 
a car with six alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen into ash, robotic 
aircraft have led the way in this border-crossing, air-space 
penetrating assault. The U.S. now has drone bases across the planet, 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175454/nick_turse_america%27s_secret_empire_of_drone_bases>60 
at last count.  Increasingly, the long-range reach of its drone 
program means that those robotic planes can penetrate just about any 
nation's air space.  It matters little whether that country houses 
them itself.  Take Pakistan, which just forced the CIA to remove its 
drones from 
<http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/12/15/cia-drones-quit-pakistan-site-but-us-keeps-access-to-other-airbases/>Shamsi 
Air Base.  Nonetheless, CIA drone strikes in that country's tribal 
borderlands 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/20/world/asia/us-says-qaeda-operative-killed-in-drone-strike.html>continue, 
assumedly from bases in Afghanistan, and recently President Obama 
offered a full-throated 
<http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/31/nation/la-na-obama-drones-20120131>public 
defense of them.  (That there have been fewer of them lately has been 
a political decision of the Obama administration, not of the Pakistanis.)

Drones themselves are distinctly fallible, 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175489/nick_turse_drone_disasters>crash-prone 
machines.  (Just last week, for instance, an advanced Israeli drone 
capable of hitting Iran 
<http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2094181/Iran-busting-Israeli-drone-wing-span-Boeing-737-crashes-test-flight.html?ito=feeds-newsxml>went 
down on a test flight, a surveillance drone -- assumedly American -- 
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/surveillance-drone-crashes-in-refugee-camp-in-somali-capital-african-union-soldiers-remove/2012/02/03/gIQAnZiWmQ_story.html>crashed 
in a Somali refugee camp, and a report surfaced that some U.S. drones 
in Afghanistan 
<http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2012/01/marine-shadow-afghanistan-unmanned-extreme-heat-013012w/>can't 
fly in that country's summer heat.)  Still, they are, relatively 
speaking, cheap to produce.  They can fly long distances across 
almost any border with no danger whatsoever to their human pilots and 
are capable of staying aloft for extended periods of time.  They 
allow for surveillance and strikes anywhere.  By their nature, they 
are border-busting creatures.  It's no mistake then that they are 
winners in the latest Pentagon budgeting battles or, as a 
<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/01/humans-robots-budget/all/1>headline 
at Wired's Danger Room blog summed matters up, "Humans Lose, Robots 
Win in New Defense Budget."

And keep in mind that when drones are capable of 
<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/04/navy-wants-mouse-click-flying-for-its-carrier-based-drone/>taking 
off from and landing on aircraft carrier decks, they will quite 
literally be offshore with respect to all borders, but capable of 
crossing any.  (The Navy's 
<http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-auto-drone-20120126,0,740306.story>latest 
plans include a future drone that will land itself on those decks 
without a human pilot at any controls.)

War has always been the most human and inhuman of activities.  Now, 
it seems, its inhuman aspect is quite literally on the rise.  With 
the U.S. military 
<http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2011/November/Pages/10TechnologiestheUSMilitaryWillNeedFortheNextWar.aspx>working 
to 
<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/02/1-in-50-troops-robots/>roboticize 
the future battlefield, the American way of war is destined to be 
imbued with Terminator-style terror.

Already American drones regularly cross borders with mayhem in mind 
in Pakistan, Somalia, and 
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16806006>Yemen.  Because 
of a drone 
<http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/12/05/us-military-sources-iran-has-missing-us-drone/>downed 
in Iran, we know that they have also been flying surveillance 
missions in that country's airspace as -- for 
<http://wemeantwell.com/blog/2012/01/30/started-they-have-the-state-department-drone-wars/>the 
State Department -- they are in Iraq.  Washington is undoubtedly 
planning for far more of the same.

American War Enters the Shadows

Along with those skies filled with increasing numbers of drones goes 
a rise in U.S. special operations forces.  They, too, are almost by 
definition boundary-busting outfits.  Once upon a time, an American 
president had his own 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174824/chalmers_johnson_agency_of_rogues>"private 
army" -- the CIA.  Now, in a sense, he has his own private 
military.  Formerly modest-sized units of elite special operations 
forces have grown into a force of 60,000, a secret military cocooned 
in the military, which is 
<http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/05/pentagons-new-strategy-is-about-much-more-than-cuts/>slated 
for further 
expansion. 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175426/nick_turse_a_secret_war_in_120_countries>According 
to Nick Turse, in 2011 special operations units were in 120 nations, 
almost two-thirds of the countries on Earth.

By their nature, special operations forces work in the shadows: as 
hunter-killer teams, night raiders, and border-crossers.  They 
function in close conjunction with drones and, as the regular Army 
<http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/army/204015-army-withdrawing-two-brigades-from-europe>slowly 
withdraws from its giant garrisons in places like Europe, they are 
preparing to operate in a new world of stripped-down bases called 
"lily pads" -- think frogs jumping across a pond to their prey.  No 
longer will the Pentagon be building American towns with all the 
amenities of home, but forward-deployed, minimalist outposts near 
likely global hotspots, like 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/world/africa/camp-lemonier-in-djibouti-played-crucial-role-in-somalia-rescue.html>Camp 
Lemonnier in the North African nation of Djibouti.

Increasingly, American war itself will enter those shadows, where 
crossings of every sort of border, domestic as well as foreign, are 
likely to take place with little accountability to anyone, except the 
president and the national security complex.

In those shadows, our secret forces are already melding into one 
another.  A striking sign of this was the appointment as CIA director 
of a general who, in Iraq and Afghanistan, had relied heavily on 
special forces <http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175074>hunter-killer 
teams and 
<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/07/commando-killed-taliban-so/>night 
raiders, as well as 
<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/08/petraeus-campaign-plan/>drones, 
to do the job.  Undoubtedly the most highly praised general of our 
American moment, General David Petraeus has himself 
<http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/01/petraeus-general-spymaster-comfortable-in-casual-wear/>slipped 
into the shadows where he is presiding over covert civilian forces 
working ever more regularly in tandem with special operations teams 
and sharing drone assignments with the military.

And don't forget the Navy, which couldn't be more offshore to begin 
with.  It already operates 11 aircraft carrier task forces (none of 
which are to be cut -- thanks to a decision 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/30/opinion/new-strategy-old-pentagon-budget.html>reportedly 
made by the president).  These are, effectively, major American bases 
-- massively armed small American towns -- at sea.  To these, the 
Navy is adding smaller "bases."  Right now, for instance, it's 
retrofitting an old amphibious transport docking ship bound for the 
Persian Gulf either as a Navy Seal 
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/pentagon-wants-commando-mother-ship/2012/01/27/gIQA66rGWQ_print.html>commando 
"mothership" or (depending on which Pentagon spokesperson you listen 
to) as a 
<http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-31/uss-ponce-isn-t-persian-gulf-seal-mothership-admiral-says.html>"lily 
pad" for counter-mine Sikorsky MH-53 helicopters and patrol 
craft.  Whichever it may be, it will just be a stopgap until the Navy 
can build new 
"<http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/afsb.htm>Afloat 
Forward Staging Bases" from scratch.

Futuristic weaponry now in the planning stages could add to the 
miliary's border-crossing capabilities.  Take the Army's Advanced 
Hypersonic Weapon or DARPA's Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, 
both of which are intended, someday, to 
<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/11/2400-miles-in-minutes-hypersonic-weapon-passes-easy-test/>hit 
targets anywhere on Earth with massive conventional explosives in 
less than an hour.

 From lily pads to aircraft carriers, advanced drones to special 
operations teams, it's offshore and into the shadows for U.S. 
military policy.  While the United States is economically in decline, 
it remains the sole military superpower on the planet.  No other 
country pours anywhere near as much money into its military and its 
national security establishment or is likely to do so in the 
foreseeable future.  It's clear enough that Washington is hoping to 
offset any economic decline with newly reconfigured military 
might.  As in the <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050025/>old TV show, 
the U.S. has gun, will travel.

Onshore, American power in the twenty-first century proved a 
disaster.  Offshore, with Washington in control of the global seas 
and skies, with its ability to kick down the world's doors and strike 
just about anywhere without a by-your-leave or thank-you-ma'am, it 
hopes for better.  As the early attempts to put this program into 
operation from Pakistan to Yemen have indicated, however, be careful 
what you wish for: it sometimes comes home to bite you.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the 
author of 
<http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608460711/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20>The 
American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's as well as 
<http://www.amazon.com/dp/155849586X/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20>The 
End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. 
His latest book, 
<http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608461548/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20>The 
United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

[Note: I couldn't have written this piece without the superb 
reportage of TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse on 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175338/nick_turse_the_pentagon%27s_planet_of_bases>bases, 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175489/nick_turse_drone_disasters>drones, 
and 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175426/nick_turse_a_secret_war_in_120_countries>special 
operations forces.  I offer him a deep bow of thanks. Tom]
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Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt




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