As many people have heard by now, a whistleblower sent to NBC News several days ago a confidential DOJ memo that provides justifications for the government to use drones to assassinate Americans. This is extrajudicial action carried out by the White House alone. If individuals were to do it it would be called vigilantism and/or murder. I want to put this all into a larger context to illuminate what has been afoot. But before doing that, a hypothetical scenario:
If it was within Iran's capacity to deploy drones over the U.S., the way the U.S. does over Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, etc., and Iran's Prime Minister and his closest advisor for drones, Mohammed J. Brennan, met every Tuesday in Tehran to decide which Americans were going to be assassinated, the way President Obama and his own John Brennan do, and Iran was murdering thousands of Americans, including over 176 American children, what do you suppose the response in the U.S. might be? Do you suppose that we would be grateful for Iran's behavior? Would there be American pundits opining that Iran has a right to self-defense, and after all, the U.S. has been carrying out acts of terror, open and clandestine, against Iran for years? To even ask these questions is to, of course, answer them"
According to what you learn in middle school or high school, the government only acts to kill people through a process in which checks and balances are operating and actions are scrutinized by supervisory bodies according to the rule of law, and only when all else fails, in order to ensure that some tyrant isn't exercising dictatorial powers over the people.
But that's just what you are told in school and what Presidents say in major speeches.
President Obama's use of drones actually predates his presidency. He proposed drones' use against Pakistan in 2007 while running for the White House, a proposal that then president Bush initially ridiculed, "He's going to attack Pakistan!" After getting over the shock of having someone standing further to his right, being as how he was a president who never saw a war that he didn't want to start or a phone and computer that he didn't want tapped, Bush subsequently secretly took Obama's advice and began using covert ops and drones in Pakistan.
Why has the U.S. government -- under Republican and Democratic administrations - been declaring for itself the right to spy on literally everyone, pre-emptively arrest peaceful demonstrators and designating all legal protest as "low-level terrorism," using torture (euphemistically entitled "enhanced interrogation techniques") openly, assassinating people by drones (including over a 176 children who are now, according to a military spokesman, legitimate targets for drones and also people who have publicly taken stands against al-Qaeda and the Taliban), waging multiple undeclared pre-emptive wars without even getting a new Congressional rubber stamp of approval, passing and using the USA Patriot Act and the NDAA, with the latter allowing the military to preventively and indefinitely detain you, and if you're an American citizen, having your citizenship immediately revoked, merely on the basis of an accusation?
The Red Queen of Alice in Wonderland -- "Sentence first - verdict afterwards" - is now in charge.
Why, in short, are previously supposedly sacrosanct principles that lie at the heart of American and western jurisprudence --the rule of law -- now being suspended?
Beneath the usual noise of Republicans and Democrats pointing the finger at each other and the related debates between people who argue on behalf of one party versus the other, is a larger shift that both parties are part of. You cannot tell who is doing what based on the conventional understanding that the Republicans are more rightwing, more contemptuous of civil liberties, and more belligerent than the Democrats. Obama's policies both foreign and domestic, leaving aside his cleverly disguised rhetoric, are in key respects, to the right of Bush's. The only way to understand what is going on is to probe beneath surface appearances and the self-serving rhetoric of the two parties and look at what the government's trajectory has been over the last several decades.
It is on this level that these deeply disturbing moves need to be and can be understood. The use of assassinations, ubiquitous surveillance, suspension of due process, and torture, are all necessary corollaries to the rise of neoliberal policies. Neoliberalism is the doctrine and set of policies that aim to demolish the welfare state (aka the New Deal in the U.S.) on behalf of giving unfettered freedom to capital's unquenchable thirst for profit -- allowing so-called market forces to dictate all things personal and societal.
Because capital benefits from rendering workers' status more and more precarious -- it allows them to extract more work from people at lower cost to capital -- the positive incentives for people to go along with authority and the way things are are disappearing. In order to maintain social order and the continued operations of capital's dominance, negative incentives -- fear, coercion, and terror -- must therefore take its place increasingly. The turning point in the world to abandoning the welfare state and adopting the neoliberal state dates back the first September 11: September 11, 1973 with the fascist coup of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, backed by the CIA, over the socialist Chilean president Dr. Salvador Allende.
After the coup, Pinochet began to implement neoliberal policies, under the supervision and guidance of University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman. Subsequently, neoliberal policies were adopted in the U.S. under Ronald Reagan and in England under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Every U.S. president since Reagan has carried this program of neoliberalism further, with each of them, regardless of their party, going further down that road.
Neoliberal policies are also evident in public order policies, a term that very few people have ever heard but that actually accurately describes what has happened to the guiding principles of governance since the end of the Cold War. Public order policies treat government's role as one of anticipating and forestalling the unlikely, rather than punishing people on the basis of actual evidence and actual actions. Under POP, you can be detained, punished, or even killed by authorities because of what authorities think that you might do, rather than what you have done. The zenith of POP was expressed by Dick Cheney when he declared his famous 1% doctrine: If there's a 1% chance that something can happen then we have to treat it as a certainty.
[Public order policies] may be defined as a shift in emphasis by governments away from dealing with actual and discrete threats to public safety towards preparing for a putatively more generalized and ubiquitous foe. The very possibility of something untoward happening began to be treated as probable. These policies are also sometimes referred to as "risk assessments." Precluding the unlikely has increasingly become a guiding principle in statecraft and private enterprises.