It’s dark, there is no moon. Only the glimmer of a few stars through the curtain of cloud above for light. The wind is bitingly cold and you clutch your cloak tighter around you. It is the dead of night and you have this darkest of watches. The wall you stand on is the border of the Empire. Hadrian’s wall. Out there are the wild men, the Picts. You never thought you’d be here – your childhood was by no means idyllic but the Etruscan sun feels very far away.
You want to go home.
Hadrian’s Wall stands as a barrier to the mythical Picts. The savages who could not be defeated and must be kept out of the Roman Empire. There was no Rhein river for a natural barrier. It had to be built and maintained. An extreme force projection of the ancient world. And it was relatively close to the ultimate fall of the Roman Empire.
Now imagine this:
The world is clear green, your PSV18s bring extreme clarity to the dark of night. You see the compound clearly. The sleeping donkey, the rubble in the corner. Around you are other men, armed with the latest and greatest. You’re well rested, operating on vampire hours. You don’t care who this HVT (High Value Target) is – only that he is marked by JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) for elimination. Drones above are keeping watch – maybe you won’t need them. The America you knew is somehow very distant but here you are, eliminating threats to keep her safe.
You are hungry for the mission.
The post 9/11 world we inhabit has been characterized by both a very different form of warfare and a very familiar kind. The familiar kind was that which Rumsfeld’s DOD unleashed upon the world. Small groups of hardened men, true killers, tasked with hunting down and killing our enemies. Operating in the black of night with near magical night vision JSOC has been operating a global kill or capture missing for almost two decades now. Striking your enemies at night, killing their families wholesale, and causing havoc is deeply familiar to mankind. The methods are different. Drone’s have come to dominate this new form of warfare – they are both a reflection of America’s ability to strike and an example of the Empire’s increasing limitations.
This is an area I feel has been overlooked by many on the Reactionary right and understanding in part how the NeoCon and NeoLiberals deployed the military might of today’s Empire is important. It is important because it highlights the fragility of perpetual war system they embarked us upon and it suggests, perhaps, that the Empire’s force projection in the post 9/11 world has peaked and is in fact diminishing.
JSOC operations’ remit since 9/11 has been to fight the Global War on Terror. JSOC are the bogey men the Empire sends out, all the top tier, Delta, SEALS, etc. Unlike the CIA they are far less constrained by Senate oversight. They are part of the military, and some like investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill argue they have become the direct personal weapon of the Presidential Office (which makes Trump’s election all the more important, imagine Clinton turning these men to operate in say Ukraine). Due to some clever legal interpretations the world is their battlefield and they have had extraordinary resources granted in their fight. It is highly likely their actions in pursuit of HVT in the Middle East led to the emboldening of groups like ISIS, and whilst I do not ascribe to conspiracy theories, they trained them. We have existing historical evidence of how both the CIA’s paramilitary wing and JSOC have funded/trained dubious individuals (Somali warlords) in their single minded pursuit of HVTs.
Undeniably JSOC has run a ‘successful’ worldwide killing operation on ‘America’s enemies’, but everywhere we look we see the wider failures of this as a strategic approach. The NeoCons who unleashed them imagined a world dominated by the US and the ME magically transformed by a few select military actions into a free market paradise – ripe for the taking. Clearly they were wrong, but what they unleashed has been shown to be largely unstoppable. The use of Special Forces by our Empire in such a new and direct manner and in such numbers continued well past the NeoCon Bush years. Obama opted to directly continue with this approach albeit with a radical shift in tactics. Obama authorized 563 Drone strikes to Bush’s 57, both had 8 years in power. This is a both a product of technical change, and policy change. I posit it was also evidence of an increasingly hollow Empire grasping at what force projection it does have. The question is will this global operational mandate to persecute vendetta warfare continue unabated and for how long?
It is easy to argue that this assassination strategy is heading the same way of SOG in Vietnam. Incredibly effective at killing large numbers of Vietnamese, but not directly able to influence the overall course of the conflict, and producing more problems (terrorists) than it solves. Recently, it has been announced that the US is in direct negotiations with the Taliban. Seventeen years of assassinating AQ members in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) has undeniably weakened the organization – but ideologically the conditions that gave them cover – radical tribal Islam – are as strong as ever once more in Afghanistan. The graveyard of Empires, in this case perhaps it is not a military one alone, but also the ideological one. I would argue we are likely at the peak of the force projection America can exert for a few critical reasons.
The increased dependency on technology is evidence of the decline and limits of America’s foreign force projection under its current model. Many of Obama’s progressive critics leveled charges against him of being too drone happy. He was too blase about civilian casualties to kill 1 or 2 HVTs – these charges are accurate but the critics miss the point of his dependency. Drone strikes allow a projection of force but it is hollow, much like Hadrian’s Wall at the far end of the Empire. Drones are often striking at ghosts – some HVTs have escaped as many as 18 drone strikes. What is more, like the Roman citizen of Tuscany who didn’t care about Pictish raids, most average Americans don’t care about the latest Achmed named on an HVT find and fix list. The fact remains if we can’t put boots on the ground, we don’t control it. Instead we are striking with technology from high above whilst the public look away. No one asks, why are we not putting as many boots on the ground as before?
The Empire’s stomach has completely gone. PissEarth USA, even for all its flaws, won’t tolerate the kind of casualty numbers we saw during the Iraq occupation. Our appetite for death to fulfill the NeoCon dream of a IraqTM simply was not there. Americans realized quickly their sons were dying for nothing but a few more money in the NeoCon pockets and resistance crept up. How then does an Empire without the ability to deploy it’s mass of troops keep up the fight? By continued and extensive reliance on its Special Operations community. We now have a reduced force of JSOC ninjas continuing their find and fix missions with ever increasing pointlessness and emptiness. To the keen military observer, they will have noted a few US deaths in African countries as the Empire has expanded beyond the top-tier units to involve a few others not traditionally given the leeway that DEVGRU has been.
A smaller part of this continued hollow war is that many from the Special Forces community have talked openly about the challenges of recruiting into it. This is the other side of the limitation that GWOT ninja warfare has exposed. What are the necessary cultural conditions to keep producing a high enough number of men who can get into DEVGRU? What happens when the left begin to weaken the military culture through politically correct social justice programs promoting homosexuals and women? What happens when so many promising young men become disillusioned with their Empire? Most likely there will always be some adventurous men willing to do this work. Successful empires however have strength behind them to give these men work that will actually have a positive lasting impact. Our Empire does not do that.
Those twin realities of GWOT and the weakened Empire today stare starkly at us: an increased dependency on Drone strikes, and increasing lack of operators to deploy and make a difference. The NeoCon and NeoLiberal project for the globalized world stands in ruins – Iraq was meant to be a crowning achievement of bringing their world order to the Middle East. Instead it fueled a perpetual war, sucking in combatants and ideologies around the world on both sides. The quagmire wars now seem largely burned out. Far from anything on the homefront of ideological PissEarth – it is the meat grinder of fighting such a conflict with such limited forces is beginning to show real strain on the globalist interventionist project.*
There are serious questions remaining once we understand where we are. Namely what happens if Trump gets another 4 years to reduce involvement around the globe, to bring back our ninjas, to lessen the assassination machine? What happens if he loses? How much can this kind of force projection be sustained and how would a resurgent NeoLiberal President and staff redirect the military machine? This questions deserve further exploration and will be addressed in due course.
For now as Reactionaries it is important to understand how this fight has been carried out and how increasingly asymmetric warfare tactics and strategy will influence our lives. I will address these more theoretical questions in subsequent explorations.
*Any article discussing this would fall short without some mention of how GWOT has had to enlist mercenaries, Blackwater being the most famous of them. Whilst they are ostensibly private outfits they are really just extension of the Empire’s force. People who retire and seek better money, a wealth transfer. Effectively, however they are a tier 2 in this fight and deserve a separate exploration of their role in this.