Introduction of Andrew Cockburn to a Committee for the Republic Salon
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
November 10 2015 Washington, DC
We’re here tonight to listen to Andrew Cockburn tell us what he learned while writing his latest book: “Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins.”
Andrew is well-known as a gifted and articulate student of war who is justifiably skeptical about how Americans approach it.
For defense and intelligence, threat analysis is the highest form of budget justification. It is in the interest of those devoted to lethal gadgetry, military Keynesianism, and jobs in the defense sector to talk up the menaces to our domestic tranquility. Almost alone among major national journalists and film producers in the Cold War United States, Andrew Cockburn produced analyses of Soviet military weaknesses rather than strengths. The subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union showed that the Washington consensus had been very wrong. The even more alarmist narrative propagated by the so-called corrective to that consensus, “Team B,” was even wronger. But Andrew got the Soviet Union’s military debilities right.
The idea that the Soviet Union would be a formidable threat forever was the very basis of America’s military-industrial-congressional complex. When the Soviets irresponsibly gave up the ghost and died, Washington came down with a bad case of enemy deprivation syndrome. Analysts who had made a reliable living portraying the USSR as not just predatory but powerful lost their jobs. I’ve always thought that the only really bad thing about the Soviet collapse was that many of these politically correct but reality-challenged analysts shifted their attention to China. They sought to expiate their failure to anticipate the Soviet Union’s demise by predicting that China would also fall apart. Wrong again – so far.
We should all be grateful that, when expertise on the Soviet Union lost its relevance to all but historians, Andrew once again did not follow the herd. Instead, he turned to reporting and doing documentaries about two subjects of very great concern to the members of the Committee for the Republic and attendees at these salons – the effects on the United States as well as the Middle East of our continuing misadventures there and the causes and consequences of the 2008 financial meltdown that the wizards of Wall Street engineered
In “Kill Chain,” Andrew Cockburn lays into the perennial American faith in the capacity of technology to overwhelm the human dimension of war. Our technologically enthusiastic military elite is ever hopeful that it can turn war into a sort of video game and render ground combat and other unpredictable human interactions unnecessary. Experience has repeatedly battered this belief, but it never seems to go away.
The latest effort to automate the battlefield is the drone program. Andrew shows how and why the United States has come to use flying robots to murder perceived ideological enemies – a category that now includes selected Americans as well as foreigners. He traces the evolution of the covert projects, internal security programs, and military and paramilitary cultures that underpin this industrialization of counterterrorism. For increasing numbers of people abroad, daily assassinations through drone warfare – not our republic’s ideals – now define America.
In “Kill Chain,” Andrew reports how the drone program works. What he describes is chilling. So much so that he apparently does not feel the need to judge, except implicitly. He shows that drone warfare doesn’t achieve its objectives. He does not deal directly with the moral and political dilemmas that the implementation of American foreign policy by murderous flying robots presents. But he leaves me, at least, wondering whether this failure is a consequence of the inherent limitations of the use of force in solving political problems or the result of systemic and technological limitations unique to the American mentality and the way of war preferred by our military and intelligence agencies.
I’m hoping that tonight Andrew will help us answer that question and more. Why do Americans believe that using machines to kill foreigners in distant lands can reduce the number of our enemies and make the world a safer place for us and our allies and friends? What is the alternative to this hyper-interventionist way of relating to the world?