Terminator Planet: How America Became an Empire of Drones
Lord knows, I should'a been gone
And I wouldn't've been here, down on the killin' floor
- Howlin' Wolf, Killing Floor
As convenient as it is for someone in a cubicle in the Nevada desert to press a button and incinerate a Pashtun wedding party in North Waziristan, now, with only a click, anyone can download a 359 KB file available on Amazon for only $8.99 - including free wireless delivery - and learn everything there is to learn about All Things Drone.
It's fitting that Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 has been put together by Tom Engelhardt - editor, MC of the TomDispatch website and "a national treasure", in the correct appraisal of University of Michigan professor Juan Cole - and TomDispatch's associate editor Nick Turse, author of the seminal 2008 study The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives.
This is essentially Tom and Nick's revised and updated body of work detailing the uber-dystopian Dronescape over the past few years - spanning everything from secret Drone Empire bases to offshore droning; a Philip Dick-style exercise on a more than plausible drone-on-drone war off East Africa in 2050; and a postscript inimitably titled, "America as a Shining Drone Upon a Hill". It does beat fiction because it's all fact-based. An MQ-1 Predator or an MQ-9 Reaper to go?
This digital file becomes even more crucial now that US and world public opinion knows US President Barack Obama is the certified Droner-in-Chief; the final judge, jury and digital Grand Inquisitor on which suspicious Muslim (for the moment, at least, they are all Muslims) will get his paradise virgins via targeted assassination.
Obama owns his newspeak-drenched "kill list". He decides on a "personality strike" (a single suspect) or a "signature strike" (a group). "Nominations" are scrutinized by Obama and his associate producer, counter-terrorism czar John Brennan. The logic is straight from Kafka; anyone lurking around an alleged "terrorist" is a terrorist. The only way to know for sure is after he's dead.
And the winner of the Humanitarian Oscar for Best Targeted Assassination with No Collateral Damage goes to… the Barack Obama White House death squad.
Targeted - and dissolved - throughout this grim process are also a pile of outdated concepts such as national sovereignty, set-in-stone principles of US and international law, and any category which until the collapse of the Soviet Union used to define what is war and what is peace. Anyway, those categories started to be dissolved for good already during the Bush administration - which "legalized" widespread CIA and Special Ops torture sessions and death squads.
Any self-respecting jurist would have to draw the inevitable conclusion; the United States of America is now outside international law - as rogue a state as they come, with The Drone Empire enshrined as the ultimate expression of shadow war.
Incinerate the faithful
Reading Terminator Planet inevitably evokes the incestuous interaction between Hollywood and the Pentagon. Even discounting the trademark wacky paranoia of Hollywood screenwriters and producers, a simple re-run of both the Robocop and Terminator series reveals this may end up badly.
And we're not even talking about a Revolt of the Drones - yet. In 2010 there was already a hint of juicy possibilities to come, when a RQ-170 Sentinel crash-landed in Western Iran via sophisticated jamming, and was duly reverse-engineered, to the delight of Iranians, Russians and the Chinese. The Pentagon hysterically denied it had been outmaneuvered.
The notion that a Drone Empire may win definitive control over what the Pentagon used to call the "arc of instability" between the Middle East and Central Asia - at the behest of Big Oil - is eminently laughable.
As laughable as the notion that a Drone Empire active in AfPak, Yemen, Somalia and soon in all points across the "arc of instability" will save the homeland from jihad, Sharia law, a new Caliphate set up by a bunch of fanatics, and all of the above.
Especially now that the Pentagon itself ditched the rhetoric - and is focused on a "pivoting" to face the potential peer competitor that really counts, China.
And US Army brigades (and Special Ops commandos) from 2013 onwards will be rotated all around the world - with an emphasis in Africa - according to a Pentagonese "regionally aligned force concept."
And Southcom has announced that Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk drones will be deployed in Central and South America for "anti-drug operations, counter-insurgency and naval vigilance".
As much as The Drone Empire is global, drones can only be effective if ground intelligence is effective. A simple example is enough. Ultimately, in AfPak, it's not Obama that decides on his "kill list". It's the Pakistani ISI - which relies the info that suits its contingencies to the CIA. And this while the Pentagon and the CIA keep working under the galactic illusion of absolute supremacy of American technology - when they cannot even neutralize an inflation of cheap, ultra low-tech IEDs.
Uncle Sam wants your ass
Americans must also worry about the Inland Drone Empire - as the pitifully unpopular US Congress and President Obama have now fully authorized their "integration" into American airspace by 2015; by 2020, they will number at least 30,000. For the moment, the Pentagon has "only" 7,000 drones (ten years ago there were less than 50).
Predictably, massive corporate lobbying by drone manufacturers such as General Atomics was key for the approval of the new legislation. There's even a drone caucus, with 55 Congressmen (and expanding), and a global lobby with 507 corporate members in 55 countries, the Association for Unmanned Vehicles International, which essentially sets the rules.
The Orwellian - and Philip Dick - overtones are inescapable; this is all about 24/7 drone surveillance of large swathes of the US population via radar, infrared cameras, thermal imaging, wireless "sniffers" and, crucially, crowd-control weapons. You better monitor the skies very closely before you even start thinking about protesting. And wait for the imminent arrival of nuclear-powered drones, which can go on non-stop for months, and not only days.
Tom and Nick's digital file is absolutely essential reading for contextualizing the lineaments of an already de facto surveillance state, where everyone is a suspect by definition, and the only "winner" is the military-industrial complex. Welcome to Motown as Dronetown: "Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide…" Obama and the Dronellas, anyone?
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) andRed Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most recent book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at
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