Monthly Archives: December 2009

Next Stop Yemen

Umar Abdulmutallab is alleged to have attempted to detonate a bomb on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. US media cite “anonymous government officials” “linking” Abdulmutallab to Al-Qaeda, claiming that he went to a “training camp” in Yemen. Shortly thereafter, Joe Lieberman calls for “pre-emptive” (sic) military action in Yemen. It is then reported that the CIA has been “training” Yemeni forces since 2008. But wait: back in 2002 a CIA predator drone killed 6 “terrorist suspects” in Yemen, including a US citizen. On Dec. 17 a US supported air strike directed at Al-Qaeda “training camps” killed either 34 “terrorist suspects,” according to Yemen’s government, or up to 70 civilians according to locals. A week later there is another strike, this time killing 30 “suspected militants” possibly including the “muslim cleric,” Anwar al-Awlaki, who is said to have “inspired” Maj. Nidal Hassan– the US army doctor and “Ft. Hood shooter”– and who is reported to be “sympathetic” to Al-Qaeda. Even as Yemen’s government undertook these attacks, Yemen itself is increasingly referred to as the next “failed state” and a “haven” for Al-Qaeda. Got that? Yemen: it’s the new Afghanistan.

Lagging the popgeist

Iron Man (2008)

Now that it’s nearly 2010– a decade after 2000, a year I once contemplated with awe in Ms. Conyers’ Language Arts class because I would be as old as Sting– it’s time to screen all those films I missed almost 2 years ago. The oughts (00’s) were a crap decade. Expectations those of us of a certain age had quietly nursed have been cast to the side of road like the shuck of a blown tire and we now face a deeper, more insidious version of what Hunter S. Thompson memorably tagged “the New Dumb.” The spine of American-style capitalist democracy finally buckled and snapped with the 2000 election (a judicial coup which has been carefully rehabilitated as a minor glitch in the system long since redeemed by the following two rounds of voting); the millenarian contortions of the post-conservative right resulted in millions of dead, maimed, orphaned, widowed and displaced people; and neoliberalism– its policies responsible for the greatest economic cataclysm since Black Tuesday– seems to have retained a patina of credibility among those Americans who can’t be bothered to be minimally informed about current events.

Continue reading

Last Thoughts

This short article seems to resonate with some of the things Prof. Franks discussed in lecture today regarding the increasing porosity of borders in an age of globalization.

From the LA Times:

Drone aircraft will be used to nab illegal immigrants on California-Mexico border

December 7, 2009 | 7:33 am

Predator drones, the unmanned aircraft used by the U.S. military in the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones, will soon be employed to track illegal immigrants on the Mexico-California border.

The drone, which will be unveiled later today, will be operated out of the Antelope Valley by the military contractor General Atomics. The drones will fly above the border region with advancing electronic tracking equipment looking for illegal immigrants crossing into California.

According to the San Diego-based company, the drones will transmit information to U.S. authorities on human smuggles as well drug smuggling.

Such drones are already used on the border of Texas and Arizona.

Three things to note:

a) if in fact political boundaries are increasingly open to human migration or other demographic shifts, then there is clearly an effort on the part of nation-states to regulate those “flows.”

b) this particular effort uses military-grade hardware operated by a private company. Remember that one of the core tenets of neoliberal globalization (aka Empire) is the diminution of the public sector in favor of private “solutions.”

c. the mission of the drone surveillance includes not only “illegal” immigration– here described as “human trafficking,” which raises the specter of what in the 1910s was called “white slavery” (the traffic in young women, enslaved for nefarious purposes)– but drug interdiction. We could view this pairing of law enforcement mandates as a means of establishing an equivalence between them via reification– i.e. both dope and undocumented workers are a form of contraband.


d) the methods and technologies being used in foreign wars are now trickling into mainstream law enforcement in the US. If you recall the Pittsburgh demonstrations against the G8 earlier this year then you’ll no doubt remember that local police used a sonic weapon called an LRAD first deployed in Iraq. Now predator drones are cruising not only the US-Mex. international border, but between states such as Texas and Arizona. I think we can see this as a provisional confirmation of one of the remarks I made during last Wednesday’s lecture: that Empire disturbs the distinction between inside (domestic) and outside (foreign).

Final Exam Prompts

Here they are. If you have any questions about anything we’ve covered including the prompts for the final address them here so that everyone can benefit from your inquisitiveness.

AMS 1B / Fall 2009 Connelly, Franks, and Sansbury

Essay Questions for the Final Exam (in your Seminar Room)

One of the following three essay questions will be selected for the final exam, which will take place on Friday, December 11, 9:45 to 12noon, in our Seminar Rooms. The essay portion of the final will be worth 40% of the total exam grade.

Both the Beats and Weatherman (the Weather Underground Organization or WUO) criticized or attempted to revolutionize Cold War America. What is the form and substance of this criticism/attempted transformation of the social and cultural landscape of the United States? What were its results?

The struggle for democracy in America has pushed diverse Americans to claim membership in the People’s Club. Based on the readings and lectures, analyze this struggle for inclusion in the People’s Club. Have these struggles worked? Has the U.S. effectively become a democracy? In your analysis, focus on the post-World War II experiences of FIVE of the following overlapping groups: 1) African Americans, 2) Asian Pacific Americans, 3). Latino/as, 4) American Indians, 5) women, 6) gays and lesbians, 7) and the poor. Be sure to be specific enough to demonstrate you’ve done the reading and paid attention in class. Be sure to use the lectures, primary sources from Heath, and secondary sources such as Norton to back up your analysis.

Consider the post WWII women’s movement. 1) How does it compare with other “rights” movements? Other “liberation” movements? How do you explain the similarities and differences? 2) In what ways did the conflicts among women with different backgrounds and views hurt the movement? In what ways did they advance it? Draw on the lectures, the Norton textbook, and readings about post-war social movements for evidence. Be sure to use at least three of the following readings: Vicki Ruiz, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., selections from Sing a Battle Song, Audre Lorde, Combahee River Collective, and Gloria Anzaldúa.


Just a bit more on the Obama speech. Andrew Bacevich and Nir Rosen were on Democracy Now on Dec. 2. Bacevich, who self-identifies as a conservative and graduated from West Point in 1969, could with some justice be deemed a right wing anti-imperialist in the (small ‘r’) republican tradition while Rosen is a journalist who has spent extensive time in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The link is here, but let me emphasize the following remarks:

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama also praised the United States as a country that has not sought world domination or occupation.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: More than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades, a time that for all its problems has seen walls come down and markets opened, and billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress in advancing frontiers of human liberty. For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for, what we continue to fight for, is a better future for our children and grandchildren and we believe that their lives will be better if other people’s children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama last night at West Point. Nir Rosen?

NIR ROSEN: Every empire has claimed it’s not an empire, it doesn’t want to occupy, it wants to help. Indeed, the American empire has done the same thing. The British in Iraq [in the early 20th century] were uttering the same things the Americans in Iraq were uttering in their occupation. Why do we have military bases all over the world if not an empire seeking to control much of the world? These days imperialism works in a different way. Maybe you don’t need direct physical control of every place, but you still have the physical force and the threat of violence. Indeed, I think we are actually a failure as an empire. We actually managed to make the Taliban look good. We took the most detested regime in the world, the Taliban, removed them in a matter of weeks and here seven or eight years later they’re more popular than ever. They’re stronger than ever.

AMY GOODMAN:Among who?

NIR ROSEN: Among the people in Pakistan and many Afghans, at least many Pashtuns. When I’ve been in Afghanistan you often hear non-Pashtuns expressing hostility to Americans. I have heard many Tajiks say, “Amreeka Dushman Islam”, “America is the enemy of Islam.” Nobody really wants the Americans there.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Professor Bacevich, your book is called “The Limits of Power, The End of American Exceptionalism”, responding to what Nir Rosen has said and President Obama’s last point about why we are in Afghanistan.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Yeah, I mean, I think the president’s sort of capsule description of modern U.S. history and our role in the world is extraordinarily important and the reason it is important is because that text could of been lifted out of a speech by Harry Truman, by John Kennedy, by Lyndon Johnson, by Richard Nixon, by Ronald Reagan, or by George W. Bush. This is the preferred narrative of American history, the way we prefer to see ourselves and, therefore, the narrative that we use to justify all that we do in the world. It is really telling and extraordinary that this president, whose background is quite different from all those other presidents that I just named, and who came to office promising to bring about change, it is extraordinary that he himself would embrace that narrative so uncritically. I think that is indicative of the extent to which whether there is going to be any change in Washington, it is simply going to be changes on the margins and that the Washington consensus, the status quo, is firmly in place.


Gareth Porter has an interesting take on the backdrop to Obama’s decision at Counterpunch.

And Jeremy Scahill has a recent article on the “secret” war in Pakistan at The Nation.

It usually feels a little weird to lecture on contemporary political issues and Wednesday was no exception. I’m painfully aware that as Ellen Meiskens Woods puts it:

“We are well prepared to view class power as having nothing to do with either power or class. We are educated to see property as the most fundamental human right and the market as the true realm of freedom. We are taught to view the state as just a necessary evil to sustain the right of property and the free market. We are taught to accept that most social conditions are determined in an economic sphere outside the read of democracy. We learn to think of ‘the people’ not in social terms, as the common people, the working class, or anything to do with popular power, but as a purely political category; and we confine democracy to a limited, formal political sphere. As the founding fathers intended, we think of political rights as essentially passive, and citizenship as a passive, individual, even private identity, which may express itself by voting from time to time but which has no active, collective, or social meaning.”

Politics don’t simply have to do with marshaling the facts. There is a powerful personal attachment to political ideology, something that runs so deep that political disputes can often become bitter and intractable. Confronting a room full of people who are in many ways in the earlier stages of their political development– I’m not trying to be condescending here but reflecting on my own development, which didn’t really get started until I was well into my 20s– with statements like “the US is an empire” runs the risk of alienating them completely.

Probably I wasn’t careful enough with my presentation. One remark I really ought to have made is that in order to get anywhere in analyzing the question of Empire a clear distinction needs to be drawn between individual acts and motives on the one hand and the larger “logic” or impersonal forces of collective (national, imperial) policies on the other.

30,000 troops and 30 billion dollars

The transcript of Obama’s much anticipated decision to send more troops to Afghanistan is out. You can find it here among other places. After a quick read I have only a few remarks:

1. Obama completely glosses the US role in the destabilization of Afghanistan and its direct responsibility for the rise of Al Qaeda.

2. Those of you who have read Woods’ essay will likely hear echoes of her criticisms of “democracy as the ideology of empire”:

And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom and justice and opportunity and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the moral source of America’s authority.

*    *    *

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for – and what we continue to fight for – is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.

3. He has totally rejected the notion of a political settlement which would include the Taleban.

4. Obama makes a vague gesture at increasing military aid to Pakistan though he does not specify what shape that aid will take. Predator drones?

5. Is it possible that the US will increase its “overseas contingency operations” in Somalia and Yemen?

Where al-Qaida and its allies attempt to establish a foothold – whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.

6. Despite the fact that only a few weeks ago James Jones suggested there were as few as 80 or 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, Obama chooses to emphasize them as a threat.