Merriam Webster: Noun. 1 : a stingless male bee (as of the honeybee) that has the role of mating with the queen and does not gather nectar or pollen 2 : one that lives on the labors of others : parasite 3 : an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control.
Ever have the queasy feeling that the federal government in Washington D.C. floats on top of the people?
A lack of legitimacy always appears when legitimacy is most needed. The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last month (see post of January 9) is a case in point.
Many readers see Obama´s hurried trip to Newtown, Conn., as one more pit stop photo op. I watched his speech at the local high school. I believe he genuinely wanted to console not only the families and friends of the victims, but America in general.
You disagree? Well, then, was Obama sincere or insincere?
It makes no difference. The calamity of Barack Obama is he cannot console -- not really.
Numerous Internet posts and media reports are comparing Adam Lanza´s 27 murders in Connecticut to hundreds of innocent women and children killed in Obama-ordered drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The critics contrast Obama´s tears on national TV over the former with his zero tears shed over the latter. Lifting the veil, they find Obama The Hypocrite.
O.K.: Did Obama "mean it" when he cried?
Once more, it does not matter. Real or false, his tears lack legitimacy.
Obama faces an existential dilemma he created for himself. A president who kills scores of women and children in faraway lands will inevitably give rise to massacres at home. You cannot have one without the other. It is banal but basic to note that in style and substance, in words and deeds, the U.S. president sets an example for the American people.
Sometimes the example is good, sometimes not.
It is difficult to calculate the number of women and children killed by U.S. drones. One estimate for Pakistan alone: between 2004-2013, from 475 to 891 civilians were killed, of which 176 were children. For an authoritative Stanford/NYU study of drone attacks in Pakistan, "Living Under Drones," click here. We will refer again to that study; it presents a key figure which should decide the drone issue once and for all.
The issue goes far beyond hypocrisy or other personal failings of Barack Obama. In the remote controlled deaths and in the automatic weapons deaths, what we are witnessing is nothing less than the crisis of legitimacy of the American government.
A sandy hook, indeed.
* * *
Legitimacy has been extensively and intensively discussed through the ages. It belongs in the category of things that seem obvious at first glance -- national security, organic food, pornography, sanity -- but which when examined closer become more and more obscure.
We will confine our discussion to the core of Max Weber´s observations. You will find it in any serious analysis of legitimacy:
"If the state is to exist, the dominated must obey the authority claimed by the powers that be. When and why do men obey? Upon what inner justifications and upon what external means does this domination rest?
To begin with, in principle, there are three inner justifications, hence basic legitimations of domination.
First, the authority of the 'eternal yesterday,' i.e. of the mores sanctified through the unimaginably ancient recognition and habitual orientation to conform ...
There is the authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace (charisma), the absolutely personal devotion and personal confidence in revelation, heroism, or other qualities of individual leadership. This is 'charismatic' domination, as exercised by the prophet or--in the field of politics--by the elected war lord, the plebiscitarian ruler, the great demagogue, or the political party leader.
Finally, there is domination by virtue of 'legality,' by virtue of the belief in the validity of legal statute and functional 'competence' based on rationally created rules. In this case, obedience is expected in discharging statutory obligations... "
Let´s run Obama and his drone attacks through the grid of the three sources of legitimacy: tradition, charisma, legality:
(1) The tradition of America regarding sneak attacks is -- or was -- clear. It surfaced during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962:
"In opposition to a group of advisers, including McGeorge Bundy, Acheson, and McCone, who had spoken in favor of an air strike on Cuba, the attorney general [Robert Kennedy] argued that:
it would be very, very difficult indeed for the President if the decision were to be for an air strike, with all the memory of Pearl Harbor and with all the implications this would have for us in whatever world there would be afterward. For 175 years we had not been that kind of country. A sneak attack was not in our traditions. Thousands of Cubans would be killed without warning, and a lot of Russians too. He favored action, to make known unmistakably the seriousness of United States determination to get the missiles out of Cuba, but he thought the action should allow the Soviets some room for maneuver to pull back from their over-extended position in Cuba.
The consensus in ExComm had been shifting since the previous day away from the military options and toward the blockade; and John Kennedy had likewise changed his initial belief that an air strike must be carried out to a conviction that the quarantine was the better alternative. Robert Kennedy's comments in ExComm on October 19 helped solidify that consensus."*
A sneak attack is not in our traditions. No legitimacy there for drone attacks.
As for killing civilians in wartime, America´s tradition is -- or was -- ambiguous.
On the one hand:
Nobody will ever know how many Native American noncombatants were killed by the federal government in the Indian Wars; the official estimate is 30,000 Indians altogether. The same holds for America´s nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A UCLA doctor concluded: "The destruction and overwhelming chaos made orderly counting impossible. It is not unlikely that the estimates of killed and wounded in Hiroshima (150,000) and Nagasaki (75,000) are over conservative."
On the other hand:
Seven more nuclear bombings of Japan were scheduled. President Truman stopped them. Here is why, according to Arthur Schlesinger:
"Revisionist historians condemn Truman for his allegedly unrepentant decision to drop the bomb in 1945. In fact, Truman behaved like a man most shaken by the decision. He had directed that the bomb be used 'so that military objectives are the target . . . and not women and children,' and he was considerably disturbed when he learned that most of those killed at Hiroshima were civilians. The day after Nagasaki he ordered that further atomic bombing be stopped. He told his cabinet, as Henry Wallace recorded in his diary, that the thought of wiping out another 100,000 people was too horrible. He didn't like the idea of killing, as he said, 'all those kids.'"**
I think Truman came to a crossroads and made a choice, then realized he had taken the wrong route, doubled back, and took another direction. That direction prevailed until January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama became president
All those kids. I know that Truman´s remorse will come as a shock to most readers, especially when viewed in the light of current events:
(i) Not only did Obama not stop the drone attacks, in Pakistan he increased them 6-fold over the Bush Administration.
(ii) As if to highlight an unshakable commitment to drones, Obama recently picked John Brennan, his top terrorism adviser, to head the C.I.A. Brennan has always been a true believer in drone attacks, so much so he has earned the sobriquet The Drone Ranger. Brennan was also a staunch supporter of the Bush Administration´s "enhanced interrogation techniques" (read: torture). The Guardian observed, "Brennan's statements on the current drone program also have attracted controversy. In a June 2011 speech at Johns Hopkins university, he said that in the prior year ´there hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we've been able to develop.´"
Not a single civilian death? Strange thing about Brennan´s attitude of unflinching certainty: it is shared by middle class rebel terrorists. Our 12-point definition of terrorist:(The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion) includes
"(5) a deliberate decision to commit a criminal act that is almost always (6) violent and usually (7) murder, in (8) the name of higher intentions or convictions without (9) retaining consciously the ambiguity of his criminal act and his higher intentions/convictions ..."
In such a syndrome, the remorse of a Harry Truman*** has no place.
In directly countering a 68-year old direction, Obama´s drone attacks lack legitimacy. Of course, if you go further back and define American tradition in terms of the Indian Wars, the drone attacks can be said to be legitimate in the sense of a genetic throwback.
2. Charisma. Obama showed flashes of a Weberian gift of grace in his speech to the Democratic Convention in 2004. That performance started his meteoric rise to the White House.
However, the cold hard numbers of the 2012 presidential election (see prior post) -- voter turnout up but Obama´s absolute vote count down; 7 million vanished Obama voters -- tell a different story:
You cannot be disillusioned without having an illusion in the first place: it is impossible. Obama in his 2004 convention speech and throughout his first presidential campaign created illusions regarding unity in America and a re-start of a Kennedy Camelot, replete with anointments by Caroline and Ted Kennedy. Back then, more drone attacks were nowhere on the horizon.
They are now. Not surprisingly, there is a report of a Kennedy/Obama rift.
For readers who like quantitative indicators, click here for the Gallup daily tracking polls of the presidential race, 2012. Obama`s flat, monotonous line is not that of a charismatic leader.
Conclusion: no charisma-based legitimacy for Obama´s drones.
More than tradition or charisma, legality -- centered in the United States Constitution -- has been the source of legitimacy of the American government. The presidential oath of office underlines it: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
By virtue of occupying the position of president, Obama automatically inherited legally-bestowed legitimacy -- then jettisoned it. Why he did so is a fascinating subject, perhaps the key to our era.
Regular readers of this blog know we date the Second American Revolution -- the change from a polity to an oligarchy (see below) -- to 2008-9. I keep looking for a specific day or event; so far, I have not found it. Such is not the case, however, with the mortal wounding of the United States Constitution. We have a day and a place -- a name, too.
Yemen, September 30, 2011. Anwar al-Awlaki, Islamic cleric and poster-boy middle class rebel turned terrorist (see our posts of 10/15/10, 10/31/10, 11/12/10, 11/23/10, 4/4/11, 10/11/2011) was killed by a Predator drone. The good news was so good, President Obama announced it.
As for the bad news …
This is the 5th amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights:
"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
No person ... shall be ... deprived of life ... without due process of law ...
Al-Awlaki, an American citizen, never received due process of law. No judge, no jury, no presumption of innocence, no formal charges, no conviction -- not even the most ridiculous kangaroo court ever cranked up.
What on earth (or elsewhere) happened?
"I want al-Awlaki," President Obama muttered. He personally ordered the killing. ´nuff said. Case closed.
Now, what made possible such a blatant, wanton disregard of the presidential oath and the due process of law ordered by the constitution?
In 2008-2009, America underwent a revolution -- a change of, not in, political systems. We no longer have a Политей. or polity, the oligarchy/democracy hybrid created by Washington, Jefferson, Madison and other Founding Fathers. The moment Bush-Obama handed over billions of public dollars to the American super wealthy, the polity went the way of all polities. It was replaced by an oligarchy.****
The United States Constitution founded the polity. With the polity gone, the constitution is now obsolete. Or rather, unlike before, the constitution is not obeyed when it is inconvenient, only when it is convenient.
We are looking at a recently-formed oligarchic political system sporting democratic accessories -- gloves, hats, shoes. That system definitely has power, but not authority or prestige. Tradition, charisma, legality: the oligarchy lacks legitimacy. Such is the new order. Get used to it, you who are reading these words.
Strange isn’t it, though, how despite everything it keeps coming back. There it is again -- the 5th amendment: No person ... shall be ... deprived of life ... without due process of law ... No need to tell you, Dear Reader, what due process of law is; it is the heart of America.
Contrary to what the oligarchy wants you to believe, that heart is still beating. The proof is Attorney General Eric Holder was compelled to defend al-Awlaki´s death by resorting to a Bill Clinton-esk ploy: he said it all depends on how you define due process. "The constitution guarantees due process," Holder asserted, "not judicial process."
Sorry, it won´t fly -- unlike the drones. Eric Holder, read the 5th amendment again: it says due process of law. For readers who believe in the legality of the C.I.A´s "kill or capture" hit list for terrorists, Samir Khan, another American citizen who was killed with al-Awlaki, was not on it. Neither was al-Awlaki´s 16 year old son, who was killed in a separate drone attack a few weeks later. Obama adviser Robert Gibbs defended the second killing not by saying the boy was a threat or by claiming his death was an accident, but rather "he should have [had] a more responsible father." All of which shows that al-Awlaki´s son wasn´t the only child to pick the wrong parents.
In the Anwar al-Awlaki affair, Obama relegated Gibbs, Holder and the entire Justice Department to play The Blivet Trick, i.e., try to shove 10 pounds of horse shit into a five-pound bag. Under the circumstances, Holder did the only thing he could do: hide. The bulk of his ruling on al-Awlaki is top secret.
In all this, one thing the Pentagon got right was the name of its missile: Hellfire.
It is doubly tragic that the constitution is no longer the law of the land. It had a remedy for a president who defied due process or any other constitutional provision. Here it is:
"Article I, Section 2
Clause 5: The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
Article I, Section 3
Clause 6: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present."
The most irrefutable proof possible that the constitution is dead letter came in the form of a non-event. The impeachment and trial of Obama never occurred.
The paradox for the Obama Administration is that with the constitution extinguished, so too is legality as a basis of legitimacy for the Obama-ordered drone attacks.
We come to Max Weber´s bottom line: "In general it should be kept clearly in mind that the basis of every system of authority, and correspondingly of every kind of willingness to obey, is a belief, a belief by virtue of which persons exercising authority are lent prestige."
When that belief is gone, legitimacy vanishes. Exactly like seven million Obama voters.
* * *
Definition of Drone (continued):
Merriam Webster: Intransitive verb a : to make a sustained deep murmuring, humming, or buzzing sound ... 2 : to pass, proceed, or act in a dull, drowsy, or indifferent manner ... [Transitive verb] 2 : to pass or spend in dull or monotonous activity or in idleness.
It is easy to disprove the main point of this post. To show there is no relationship between faraway drone deaths and Connecticut rampage deaths, all Obama has to do is ban automatic weapons
Will he do it?
After the Sandy Hook massacre, America clamored for more gun control. Obama created a task force headed by VP Joe Biden to "pull together real reforms right now."
We were never optimistic about the task force. Our post of January 9:
"Like you, Dear Reader, I wish the Connecticut killings would lead to a constructive change. Tragically, with Biden in charge, the fix is in ... what to expect is exactly what happened before in assault weapon control. Nothing.
The truth: assault weapons -- you hold the trigger down and the weapon keeps firing -- and semi-automatic weapons (the gun automatically reloads but you have to pull the trigger to fire each bullet) -- are a megabucks business. And Obama is a megabucks guy...
I am an expert marksman in the National Rifle Association -- twice, with air rifles and .22s. The Bushmaster AR-15 Adam Lanza used is good for only one thing and one thing only: killing people. I call upon all other Expert and Distinguished Riflemen to join me in an effort to buck the tide of money the NRA is amassing to defend assault rifles.
What is waiting at the end of Biden task force road: an Obama ´anti-assault weapon´ law that is so full of holes a typical teenager can play it like a flute."
Biden´s task force report gave birth on January 16, 2013, to Obama´s 23 executive orders for gun control. I invite you, Dear Reader, to join me and look them over.
Here we go:
- Issuing a presidential memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
- Addressing unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
- Improving incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
Dull, drowsy ... Sorry, but Information exchanges are no more than paper shuffling when the end goal -- e.g., an automatic weapons ban -- has not been identified. Information for what purpose?
- Directing the attorney general to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
- Proposing a rule making to give law enforcement authorities the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
- Publishing a letter from the A.T.F. to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
- Starting a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
- Reviewing safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
- Issuing a presidential memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
- Releasing a report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and making it widely available to law enforcement authorities.
- Nominating an A.T.F. director.
You might want to wonder about the introductory words: Review, propose, publishing, starting, reviewing, issuing, releasing, nominating. Humming, murmuring, buzzing ...
By now you are getting the picture. Obama drones on:
- Providing law enforcement authorities, first responders and school officials with proper training for armed attacks situations.
- Maximizing enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
- Issuing a presidential memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence.
- Directing the attorney general to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenging the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
- Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
- Releasing a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
- Providing incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
- Developing model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
- Releasing a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
- Finalizing regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within insurance exchanges.
- Committing to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
- Starting a national dialogue on mental health led by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education.
Dull, drowsy, indifferent. In all of the above it becomes apparent that the D.C. bureaucracy has wasted no time cabbaging in on the latest flurry of gun control action.
I will spare the reader the tedium of going through the 12 "proposed congressional actions" Obama also announced for gun control. They are a grab-bag of actual and promissory boondoggles ("Providing financing to expand mental health programs for young people") and self-serving administration measures ("Confirming President Obama's nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.")
One proposed congressional action is worth singling out: "Reinstating and strengthening the ban on assault weapons that was in place from 1994 to 2004." As noted above, the ban did not work then and will not work now.
Monotonous activity, idleness...
We come to the bottom line: can drone attacks and their aftermath be confined to distant lands?
It doesn´t work that way. In reality, no nation can colonize others without colonizing itself.
Sandy Hook, Aurora: the drones have come home to roost.
* * *
It is often observed that Obama keeps a part of himself secret. Who is Obama? has become the national guessing game, hence the stuff of best sellers:
- "In contrast to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama has not been vetted, not even by Democrats. Even today he is largely an unknown to all but a small handful of dogged political professionals and a concentrated core of political junkies who inhabit Internet blogs." Jerome Corsi, The Obama Nation, 2008.
- "Think you know the real Barack Obama? You don’t—not until you’ve read The Amateur. In this stunning exposé, bestselling author Edward Klein—a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, former foreign editor of Newsweek, and former editor-in-chief of the New York Times Magazine—pulls back the curtain on one of the most secretive White Houses in history." Edward Klein, inside flap, The Amateur, 2012.
Eyes twinkling, Obama likes his aura of mystery. He has certainly passed up repeated opportunities to be more forthcoming. His attraction to drones, however, reveals him.
HIs fixation cannot be conscious, i.e., rationally explained in terms of the costs/benefits of drones. Here is the key figure we referred to earlier: "Living Under Drones" reported that the drones´ kill rate of terrorists is 2%. Anybody who took an introductory statistics class knows that figure shows an insignificant correlation between drone attacks/terrorist deaths. Otherwise stated, we are in the vicinity of a monkey with a dart board.
What is the deadly attraction, then, that drones hold over Obama? How could that attraction be so powerful as to make him break his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the constitution?
Clearly, something unconscious in Obama is being projected onto drones. Projection never occurs haphazardly. For it to take place there must be something in the object receiving the projections that functions as a "hook" to activate and hold them.
The hook is often no single item but a relationship made by the unconscious among different elements. The fictional character Dracula provides an example. He is a constellation of highly disparate components -- he is repulsed by garlic, doesn´t appear in mirrors, sleeps in a casket, turns into a bat. On a rational level, that assembly of characteristics is nonsense. Nevertheless, the Dracula figure persists not only through time but also across cultures; he "works" because the unconscious is engaged. It is making associations which the conscious mind literally could never dream of.
Words often provide the symbolic foundation for unconscious associations. The soul of a person, for example, can be represented in dreams by the sole of a shoe. As with Dracula, the constellation of disparate elements defining drone is not gratuitous, accidental. The unconscious is activated, engaged:
Stingless bee, non-working, only function is to mate with queen, gathers no nectar, parasite, unmanned aircraft, remote controlled, murmuring, buzzing, humming, dull, drowsy, indifferent, monotonous activity, idle.
The above characteristics and their constellation afford a richness of text. The Drone Complex deserves a place alongside the complexes of Oedipus and Cassandra, Adonis and Napoleon, Don Juan and Mother. Not only will psychoanalysts find The Drone Complex to be a useful tool for comprehending Obama, their analyses of him will simultaneously deepen and develop our understanding of the Complex itself.
It may well be that once the analyses get underway, we will no longer know too little about Obama but that we will know too much. Id est:
In romancing the drone, Obama is romancing himself.
*Leonard Meeker, record of meeting, October 19, 1962, in FRUS, XI, pp. 118-119. Cited in Mark White, Robert Kennedy and The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Reinterpretation.
**Arthur Schlesinger, The Cycles of American History, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999, p. 398.
*** Brennan once tried to nuance his position. He said in an oblique reference to civilian deaths caused by drones. "If anyone in government who works in this area tells you they haven't struggled with this, then they haven't spent much time thinking about it. I know I have, and I will continue to struggle with it as long as I remain involved in counterterrorism."
Do not be fooled. Obama is no Truman; neither is Brennan. Lachrymose effusions and angst-laden musings lack credibility as long as Obama´s finger keeps pulling the trigger.
****According to Aristotle, this is how the rich destroy a polity: “[Forgetting the claims of equity], they not only give more power to the well-to-do, but they also deceive the people [by fobbing them off with sham rights]. Illusory benefits must always produce real evils in the long run; and the encroachments made by the rich [under cover of such devices] are more destructive to a constitution than those of the people." Aristotle, The Politics of Aristotle, translated and edited by Ernest Barker, Oxford University Press, New York, 1962, p. 186. (Book IV, Chapter XII). Brackets made by the translator.