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.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Some Questions about Net Neutrality--A Divergent View

Perhaps it's the Emersonian in me, but when I see large numbers of people thinking in lockstep about an issue, I begin to feel a little uneasy. So as FB friend after FB friend have declared the recent Google-Verizon proposal "the end of the Internet as we know it," have signed petitions urging Google not to be evil, and have posted and reposted the same alarmist articles about the apocalyptic impact that would result from the implementation of this proposal, I have begun to ask questions about some of the arguments and the impetus behind them.

1. Would the implementation of this proposal really be the end of Internet as we know it, or the end of the mobile Internet as currently used by a privileged group of a technically-savvy, well-off community of mobile users?

2. Put differently, who does the "we" in the phrase "the end of the Internet as WE know it" refer to?

3. Is the wireless mobile network distributed through cellphone providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint the same as the Internet, or isn't it already a pay for play service with access available to those willing to pay the added fees for 3G or 4G service?

4. How can the current mobile internet be considered to be the same as the wired Internet, when unlike the Internet itself, which can be accessed at libraries, schools, and other places for free, this network is only available via subscription to cellphone service, at a price?

5. Has there ever been anything like "net neutrality" or "a level playing field" in the first place?

6. Does the technical equality of all packets produce an information equality for all users or does the ideology of net neutrality merely facilitate a form of inequality that benefits those with the resources (economic, social, educational, technical) to make more of the Internet than those without those resources?

7. Is there a necessary, definite relationship between the technical form of the Internet and its social, political, cultural uses?

I suppose I could go on, but I think these should do. Don't get me wrong--I am not advocating the Google-Verizon proposal or the creation of pay-for-play fastlanes on the wired, wireless, or mobile Internet (or on any future manifestation we, or Google-Verizon, may not have thought of yet). But I raise these questions to make two points.

First, I would want to suggest that if such a proposal were to be adopted, it would not replace a neutral net but rather the unequal net that currently exists. The issue is not a neutral net as opposed to a biased or unequal net, but the current net inequality as opposed to some other form of net inequality, a form which might very well, as has been argued, be even less equal, less neutral, than the form we have now.

Second, I would argue that technical neutrality, particularly insofar as it is defined in terms of the speed by which packets move across the Internet, is not the same as cultural, social, or political neutrality. The Internet comprises so much more than the switching of packets, but you wouldn't know that from listening to the current debate. The technical defense of net neutrality obscures or erases the multiple forms of inequality and non-neutrality that this defense would seek to protect.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

More on the Affectivity of WikiLeaks Afghan War Diary

In today's New York Times, Frank Rich likened the potential effect of the recent WikiLeaks data dump to The Pentagon Papers. He did so not because of the new or shocking nature of the information about the Afghan War, but rather because of what he characterizes as the limited effect of the Pentagon Papers on US policy towards Vietnam. Rich argues that the Pentagon Papers were published after public opinion had turned against the Vietnam war; similarly he contends that the relative indifference to the WikiLeaks release (an indifference that is arguable, I would say) marks the public's indifference to the War in Afghanistan.

While I don't completely agree with Rich's argument, I do think that he may be on to something about the effect of the Afghan War Diary. As I suggested earlier this week, I don't think that there was anything particularly shocking about the content of the WikiLeaks material. More interesting was the way in which its release activated individual and collective circuits of affectivity, particularly of negative affective feeling about the ongoing war. In my previous blog entry I traced out the way in which these leaks fed into the affect of anticipation that marks our current media moment. But what I did not emphasize was the quality of this anticipatory affect--specifically its intensification (in a quotidian fashion) of the negative affect towards the war that has come to predominate among the mediated American public.

Put differently, the significance of WikiLeaks' Afghan War Diary is almost certain to have little or nothing to do with the news it reveals about the current state of the US War in Afghanistan. What it might do, however, is serve as something like an affective tipping point, coalescing the widespread opposition to the war into a collective affective feeling that the war has outlived its usefulness, an affective premediation of the war's impending end.