Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Securitization of Iraq

"Civilians to Take U.S. Lead After Military Leaves Iraq," trumpets the front-page headline of this morning's New York Times. The departure of the US military and the concomitant transfer of security responsibility to civilians does not signal the disappearance of US governmental power or control in Iraq, but the transfer of responsibility for maintaining order in Iraq from the Pentagon to the State Department, a transfer unprecedented in scope.

“'I don’t think State has ever operated on its own, independent of the U.S. military, in an environment that is quite as threatening on such a large scale,' said James Dobbins, a former ambassador who has seen his share of trouble spots as a special envoy for Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo and Somalia. 'It is unprecedented in scale.'”

The end of the US combat mission in Iraq, as the Obama Administration has pledged, is not then, as the Times article emphasizes, the end of US security presence in Iraq. But this replacement of soldiers with security contractors should not lead to the cynical conclusion that the military mission in Iraq has no more been accomplished under Obama in 2010 than it was under Bush in 2003. Instead it should be taken as further indication of the transformation of the form of US biopower in the 21st century.

The significance of the end of combat operations lies in the transformation of the Iraq operation from a military operation to a security one, a transformation that is of a piece with what Foucault has described as the shift from a disciplinary state to a governmental one. Indeed the replacement of defense with security, of militarization with securitization, can be seen in almost any discussion of US foreign policy in the 21st century.

In transferring control of the US Iraq mission from the Pentagon to the State Department, the Obama administration is participating in, and instantiating, the shift from a modality of power that works by constraining and limiting mobility of individuals and groups of individuals to one that works by allowing and encouraging mobility. This modality of power goes under the name of "securitization" and has been examined by scholars of international relations in the nascent field of "securitization studies."

The establishment of securitization as the dominant modality of US power can be seen in an unremarkable use of the term "security" in another article in today's Times. "U.S. Strategy in Pakistan Is Upended by Floods" discusses the way in which the major disruptions of Pakistani society caused by the catastrophic flooding that has beset the nation have also disrupted US foreign policy. “'Every dimension of our relationship — politics, economics, security — is going to see major shifts as a result of this historic disaster,' said Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the White House coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan. 'All the tools of diplomacy have to be examined in light of this new reality.'”

What is telling about this quotation is not just its assessment of the way in which the Pakistani flooding is a security as well as a natural event, a complex quasi-object that has had both material and virtual effects, damaging homes, businesses, crops, and bodies as well as less tangible entities like "the tools of diplomacy." But for our purposes General Lute's comment is also telling for his taxonomization of the US relationship with Pakistan in terms of "politics, economics, security." The shift from militarization to securitization in Iraq is only of a piece with the ongoing transformation of US geopower in the 21st century in the Middle East as well as elsewhere around the globe, including the US "homeland."

In my recently published book, Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11, I begin to explore the relationship between securitization and mediality, the way in which our quotidian media interactions are both enabled by and enable the globalized formation of securitization. In particular I point out the way in which we are individually and collectively encouraged to generate terrabytes of data to be mined for purposes of security through our participation in social media networks, electronic commerce, and the mobile internet.

Virtually all of these media transactions, particularly their role in bolstering securitization, go unnoticed by us, insofar as they have happened incrementally and almost invisibly. These mechanisms of securitization work paradoxically to control populations by encouraging us to move quickly and effortlessly through mediated networks of transportation, communication, and information. As we move forward into the second decade of the 21st century, it is incumbent upon us as media scholars and as media users to continue to be alert to, to interrogate, and where necessary to oppose the mechanisms of securitization that make up the fabric of our media everyday.

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