[Marxism] "Armed social science"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jun 22 06:49:04 MDT 2008

The Huffington Post
June 22, 2008
Tom Hayden
Meet the New Dr. Strangelove

In the depths of the Cold War, Stanley Kubrick created a 
notoriously-mad scientist character, Dr. Strangelove, whose passion 
was for dropping atomic bombs. Now there is a rising media and 
Beltway fascination with a new Dr. Strangelove, whose passion is 
imposing a mad science of counterinsurgency on Iraq.

His name is David Kilcullen, an Australian academic and military 
veteran whom the Washington Post's Thomas Ricks once described as 
Gen. David Petraeus' "chief adviser" on the counterinsurgency 
doctrine underlying the surge in Iraq.

Kilcullen advocated a "global Phoenix program" in an obscure military 
journal, Small Wars, in 2004. For the ahistorical or uninitiated, 
Phoenix was a largely off-the-books detention, torture and 
assassination program aimed at tens of thousands of South Vietnamese 
who were identified by informants as the Vietcong's "civilian 
infrastructure." The venture was so discredited that the US Congress 
denounced and disbanded it after hearings in the 1970s.

But Kilcullen says the Phoenix program was "unfairly maligned" and 
was actually a success. So inflammatory was his advocacy in some 
circles that he revised his 2004 paper to rename the Phoenix program 
one of "revolutionary development."

In addition, he advocates "armed social science", which involves a 
key role for anthropologists and shrinks of various kinds in order to 
"exploit the physical and mental vulnerabilities of detainees."

The long New Yorker piece by George Packer pictured Kilcullen as a 
charming, eccentric, and isolated genius of sorts. In the Washington 
culture of national security think tanks, he appears to be a familiar 
and friendly figure.

His latest media fan is the Post's David Ignatius, reporting a 
Kilcullen briefing given "in a private capacity" at the Philip 
Merrill Center for Strategic Studies. It was an argument for 
appearing to get out of Iraq while staying in, expressed in the 
Kilkullen formula "Overt De-Escalation, Covert Disruption.". 
Kilcullen argues that the American troop presence is so large that 
it's counter-productive, only inflaming Iraqi sensibilities. What is 
required is a combination of US combat troop withdrawals combined 
with "black" special operations to "hunt terrorists" plus "white" 
special operations forces training and embedded with the Iraqi 
security forces, turning tribes against tribes wherever possible. 
Covert warfare is the future: "over the long run, we need to go 
cheap, quiet, low-footprint." And, he might have added, off the 
television screen and front pages.

What Kilcullen means is a kind of deception-based warfare that is 
contradictory to democracy itself, with its instruments of critical 
media, congressional oversight, and public disclosure of the cost in 
blood, taxes and honor. The key militarily is to secure the civilian 
population from the insurgents, in South Vietnam by "strategic 
hamlets", in Iraq by the "gated communities" with checkpoints, blast 
walls, concertina wire, fingerprinting, retinal scans and 
house-to-house population listings. The insurgents, meanwhile, are to 
be hunted, killed if necessary, and detained without charges in 
American-controlled or American-supported prison camps indefinitely, 
without access to lawyers, journalists, human rights observers, or 
family members. In most cases, there are no charges against them. 
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who headed the Abu Ghraib inquiry, has more 
than once suggested that "a systematic regime of torture" occurs in 
these camps. That's not including the CIA's secret rendition sites or 
the secret Baghdad prisons under the US-funded Ministry of the 
Interior, as reported previously in the New York Times.

Naturally the distinction between civilian and combatant is difficult 
to draw in counterinsurgency warfare. But aside from those already 
killed, it is a fair estimate that 100,000 detainees are currently 
languishing in such facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, few with any 
charges against them. These facilities are incubators for future 
insurgencies. Last week, after a long hunger strike, for example, 
1,100 detainees escaped an Afghan facility after the Taliban blew up 
the walls. The Pentagon's plan is to build a permanent $60 million 
new detention facility on forty acres. The money might be better 
spent on lawyers for the present defenseless detainees.

These are the realities masked behind the almost-sensual description 
of a "lighter, smaller, more nimble residual force" in Ignatius' 
summary of the Kilcullen scenario.

How have the nation's once-great newspapers come to virtually 
sanctify -- and obfuscate the real meaning of -- these military 
doctrines, as if there were no alternatives? An explanation is 
impossible to obtain. But the uncritical acceptance, and even 
promotion, of counterinsurgency as a rational, realistic alternative 
to the either the status quo or withdrawal draws the Times and Post 
closer to the very Pentagon news manipulation operation they have 
recently exposed. The mainstream media have rarely if ever published 
anti-war critiques by leaders of protests against US military policy 
since the 2002 buildup, to the 2003 invasion, to the current turn to 
counterinsurgency. On the contrary, both the Post and the Times 
regularly publish the views of unrepentant neo-conservatives with no 
military experience whatsoever. The only valid "anti-war" voices 
apparently must be former military men or White House operatives who 
have turned against their former employers. The spectrum of the 
"op-ed page" is devolving into center-right insiders. As a result, 
the wild frontier of the blogosphere has exploded as the only outlet 
for dissent, with or without the documentation. The two opposing 
sides of the Iraq debate now inhabit separate worlds, the anti-war 
voices having been expelled from the mainstream for being prematurely 
anti-war or not being attendees at places like the Philip Merrill 
Center for Strategic Studies.

In the era of Dr. Strangelove, the sociologist C. Wright Mills vented 
against the national security intellectuals as "crackpot realists." 
Few realized then [or now] that our lives and future are placed at 
risk by the unbalanced nature of our national dialogue, including the 
extreme gap between the reportage in America and the rest of the world.

Will a November election of Barack Obama bring an end to the one-note 
monotony of the national security debate? I fervently hope so. Obama 
to his credit favors combat troop withdrawals and diplomacy with Iran 
rather than obliteration. Obama and John McCain would seem to have 
totally opposing views of Iraq. But at a deeper level, Obama seems to 
be heading towards the counterinsurgency trap -- planning to leave a 
"lighter, smaller, more nimble residual force" behind in a wasteland 
of preventive detention, secret gulags, and advisers like David 
Kilcullen. For the media and public to fail to recognize, evaluate 
and debate this likely future during the presidential campaign will 
mean something beyond tragedy or farce.

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