Thursday, May 06, 2010

Jumbo shrimp, clean war, oxymorons arise!

"The C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan, which was accelerated in 2008 and expanded by President Obama last year, has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Washington in part because it was perceived as eliminating dangerous militants while keeping Americans safe.

But the attack in December on a C.I.A. base in Afghanistan, and now possibly the failed S.U.V. attack in Manhattan, are reminders that the drones’ very success may be provoking a costly response."
--Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane, New York Times, 6 May 2010

Killing people will provoke a longing for retaliation. This goes on until everyone's dead, someone decides unilaterally to stop, or the parties are convinced by wiser minds to talk it out until they can come to an agreement on going forward without further violence. That is history and that is part of what we know from both fields of Security Studies and Conflict Resolution. Most of us in the field of Conflict Resolution seem to actually internalize this without exceptionalism and we tend to challenge our own democracies to in fact develop those wiser minds. But Security Studies is catching up to our work in that regard and passing us by in some ways. In fact, some of them are so good we'll just have to take their work straight into our field as the next generation of knowledge about nonviolence as a far more adaptive response to violence. Sometimes it takes a brilliant scientist with 10 research assistants in a research center at a university to empirically show us what we should have learned in kindergarten.

The work done by Erica Chenoweth, Maria Stephan and others is quite exciting. Indeed, Chenoweth runs a longitudinal and expanding study on the outcomes and factors of conflict management methods called the Program on Terrorism and Insurgency Research at Wesleyan University in Middleton, Connecticut--just 40 miles from where the New York SUV bomberwannabe lived. Her work is breaking out of old worn models, braving and paving new examinations of the contextuals of conflict in history and presently.

Her work is bringing her to the clear conclusion that nonviolence is the most adaptive response to conflict, whether you are a power party or a weak party. The only questions revolve around your skill, your connections, your ability to rouse support, and what you can bring to the table. Bringing bombs will earn bombs back. When that is the formula for nation-states and there is no moral or ethical consideration, violence works quite well, as history shows us, especially for the elite powers who can insulate themselves from any backlash.

But ethics erode in the face of violence. The descending spirals produce fewer moral considerations until you have a system that believes drone attacks are a superior method of engaging in conflict and the other side, deeply offended by the killing of civilians by airborne machines, resort to contemptible methods like those of bombing suspect, Faisal Shahzad, the 30-year old from Pakistan, where the drones have killed more and more civilians in past months.

So humanity again chooses: the model of Erica Chenoweth--complex but clear nonviolence--or Faisal Shahzad--an eye for an eye. One vision, one darkening nightmare of blindness for all.

Shazad is lucky; he won't have to live with himself as murderer, because his carbomb failed. Instead, in all likelihood, he will be valorized by his Taliban mentors as a warrior for the poor and oppressed. He will spend some time incarcerated and we can hope for his rehabilitation.

What about the rest of us? Will we show future Shazads that the American people are opposed to the violence that is killing Pakistani children with Predator and Reaper drones launching Hellfire missiles at them (test photo of Hellfire attack shown) with no risk to the US military pilots who are sitting playing their deadly video game literally thousands of miles away? Those "pilots" are immune from danger while the ones at risk are just American citizens who happen to wander by when the next evil plot unfolds. Thus the Taliban believes it is closing that circle--you kill our kids and our mothers and yours are next. Evil for evil.

Is this how we should plan for our future? Nonviolence has so much to teach our government and our people. I am so glad Chenoweth's former partner in this research, Dr. Maria J. Stephan, is now in the US State Department. I hope she can help them understand and mend their ways.

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