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<nettime> [IRAQ] The Race for War
Are Flagan on Tue, 11 Mar 2003 08:00:44 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> [IRAQ] The Race for War


The Race for War

I want to write briefly about this war soon upon us by examining the capital
State of affairs, comprised of peoples and governments, that now bring us
into conflict. The various arguments for and against the preemptive
incursion at hand are of little but remedial consequence anymore, as the
vote scheduled to be cast before the United Nations Security Council next
week follows familiar United States guidelines: the democratic process is
irrelevant to the outcome. This final "with us or against us" ultimatum for
multilateralism simply joins the monotonous chorus of a debate that, surely,
has reduced every noble or abject statesman to an opportunistic hypocrite
and elevated determinations separating elected representation from
dictatorship to a blurred crisis point. The slippery soap opera of
contemporary political discourse, where all is apparently fair in the love
of war, has too many depressing episodes to recount here. Its sordid details
should be familiar enough. What we have before us, as before, is a situation
where war is a resolute symptom of much greater ills, and not by any means a
resolve that leads toward greater prosperity and freedom for all. It is
first and foremost the materialization and expansion of a State founded upon
war and racism.

The reason I want to write about this war on these terms, this otherwise
sunny afternoon, is that I just this morning read a lecture delivered by
Michel Foucault at the College de France on March 17, 1976. The anniversary
date, coinciding with the upcoming deadline imposed by the axis lead by the
U.S., seemed to me a significant omen, just as the content of what he once
said before that French audience resonated so profoundly with what I have
wanted to address. Foucault's lecture, the last in his 1975-1976 year of
tenure, is assembled from audio recordings and lecture notes. It was
published in English for the first time in January this year, in a volume
titled _Society Must Be Defended_ (New York: Picador, 2003). My aim here is
far more modest than the defense layered upon his departed voice in the
title; it is to, rather second-handedly, shift this current discourse of war
away from the righteous debate of mechanics that currently preoccupies it.
There is so much more to war than machinery. And by war I mean not just
murder, but also the common denigration of life everywhere in the form of
expulsion and rejection, the contentious division of rights and property,
and so on. War is, as Foucault took as his theme that year by inverting
Clausewitz's famous dictum, not just politics by other means: politics is
war by other means.

What the present war mongering has consistently, and quite successfully,
sought to deny is a discourse that situates this blinkered drive toward
annihilation and destruction firmly within the cultures that seemingly
require it. War is finally the choice of Saddam Hussein and his rogue regime
we are consistently told, but it is without doubt (and rather with plenty of
obstinate divine providence) also the undeniable craving of another,
primarily American, society, boasting to be the world's only super power.
Superiority and right, both key terms in racism and war, are defined here in
the terminology we are increasingly getting accustomed to: military and
economic might. (Anyone seeking to call upon the bluff of "anti-Americanism"
must first appreciate that arrogance is only insufferable or justified at
the outlet; by itself, arrogance is typically delusional and always
pathetic.) What I want to address, via Foucault's remarkable lecture, is how
this power, based fundamentally on notions of supremacy, filters down to the
regulating and disciplining apparatuses of a "civility" that considers war,
in its most morbid phase, the only resource and resolution of a political
process. By inference, hereby invoked, the below will take in much of the
legislative changes, judicial processes and regulating aspects that have
swept America in the last couple of years. Let it be understood, however,
that this is not primarily aimed at one nation State, nor does it serve to
simply juxtapose ideologies across time (although it will), but it rather
seeks to pave the way toward a prevention of war by sabotaging its founding
premises. Jean Baudrillard once asked what we are doing after the orgy to
point out the troubled ecstasy of a particular postmodern condition. It
seems equally pertinent to ask what we are doing after this war, now doomed
to happen, to address and possibly circumvent the circumstances that have
led us down this gloomy path. War is like the destiny it seeks to summon a
point of no return, so we must instead start with the difficult conditions
that choose, by choice, to wage it.

In the last of his 1976 lectures, Foucault turned away from the
eighteenth-century concept of war, fought between races, and investigated
violent conflict in the form of State racism. The prime reason for this
shift, according to Foucault, arrives with the human sciences of the
nineteenth century (explored exhaustively in The Order of Things) that
produced a biological nexus of power and secured the partial transfer of
sovereignty's right to life and death (the subject is considered neutral and
life/death only arises as a right in relation to the sovereign's will) into
a complementary regulatory and disciplining system. Individual bodies became
the subjects of training, discipline and surveillance, but they also entered
a mass of characteristics directed toward, as Foucault puts it, both
man-as-body and man-as-species. This gives rise to a biopolitics or biopower
that revolves not only around the individual; it also engages the genus, the
human race, with questions of demographics and statistics. It is in such
subtle complements to sovereignty's traditional role in matters of life and
death that more rational mechanisms, like insurance and savings, and
communal concerns for safety and security start to creep in. The function of
such schemes upon the populace is to optimize a certain life and compensate
for variations; "It is therefore not a matter of taking the individual at
the level of individuality but, on the contrary, of using overall mechanisms
and acting in such a way as to achieve overall states of equilibration or
regularity; it is, in a word, a matter of taking control of life and the
biological processes of man-as-species and of ensuring that they are not
disciplined, but regularized" (246-247).

A consequence of this is that sovereign power no longer needs to cruelly
behold death on the spectacular scaffold of its exercise. Power rather
regulates mortality within the processes of biology and confines death to
the, finally very private, limits where the individual slips away from the
public. As a result, power is shying away from the right to take life (the
lingering death penalty excluded) and resurrects itself in the right to
intervene in life. Like a double-edged sword, not so symbolically speaking
here, this balancing act reflects two parallel systems that work both the
sovereign will and society's disciplining and regulating functions
respectively and collectively, to varying degrees. One relates to the
individual body; the other seeks to address the general populace. They are
not exclusive and obviously interweave at all levels of governance and
control, from the institution to the State. (A compelling case is made for
the disciplining and regulation of sexuality through propriety, where body
and population meet.) To sum up and conclude Foucault inserts the norm: "A
normalizing society is a society in which the norm of discipline and the
norm of regulation intersect along an orthogonal articulation" (253). While
the sovereign power is on the retreat, in favor of regulating and
disciplining systems of normality, the crucial question of how political
power justifies and calls for the right to kill remains. How can a call for
war, imposing the antiquated function of death, be reconciled with a
political system of biopower centered on subtle interventions in life?

The partial contemporary answer, lifted from airwaves and press conferences,
is that death mundanely intervenes as the platitude of liberation (in
another public normality). For Foucault, this is rather where racism enters.
His definition is chilling: "It is primarily a way of introducing a break
into the domain of life that is under power's control: the break between
what must live and what must die. The appearance within the biological
continuum of the human race of races, the distinction among races, the
hierarchy of races, the fact that certain races are described as good and
that other, in contrast, are described as inferior: all this is a way of
fragmenting the field of the biological that power controls" (255). But this
fragmenting role is twofold. It also sets up a seesaw where the balance of
life and death, or money and property for that matter, enter equations of
dependency that take from one to reward the other. This is the very logic
and relationship of war is now being repeated: the terrorists must die for
us to live, the more you kill the safer you are, and so on. The observed
fact that these statements in addition follow racial lines and slurs seeks
to cloak the resurrection of a militant sovereignty in biological gripe: "In
the biopower system, in other words, killing or the imperative to kill is
acceptable only if it results not in a victory of political adversaries, but
in the elimination of the biological threat to and the improvement of the
species or the race. There is a direct connection between the two. In a
normalizing society, race or racism is the precondition that makes killing
acceptable" (256).

Now the official rhetoric seeking to redraw the entire map of the Middle
East is starting to take shape. To exercise this particular war, to justify
the killing, power must turn racist and declare the masses of an opposition,
from which martyred "terrorists" hail, a project for democratic
normalization and, although the term is horribly loaded, ethnic cleansing.
What is ultimately sought, as it has repeatedly been stated, is the complete
elimination of a threat to our way of life, our freedoms and in this,
arguably genocidal, process you are either with us or against us. This
returning catchphrase is the very recipe for war on racist terms. Every
death of a "terrorist," every prison cell occupied, and every truth
extracted by torture is thus a victory for the species defined by the
supreme American plurality. We are seeing a type of racism, of course, that
is not just the standard contempt of bodies colored by ideology. Focualt
eloquently contends: "We are dealing with a mechanism that allows biopower
to work. So racism is bound up with the workings of the State that is
obliged to use race, the elimination of the races and the purification of
the race, to exercise its sovereign power" (258).

The terrible dilemma this poses is that the most murderous States are also
the most racist. The obvious example of this emerged in Nazi Germany and the
argument must be followed in this direction without painting a tiny
moustache on any portraits; that silly subversion, leading to an abandonment
of reasoning, is not the objective. However, domestic U.S. policy,
segregationist faux pas, and White House stands before the Supreme Court may
speak volumes for themselves in this regard. And on the foreign and alien
front, following the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II,
Arabs are now the subjects of renewed racial profiling, mandatory INS
registrations, containment without due process, and secret incarcerations of
an unknown duration. Nazi Germany obviously embraced the biopower mission of
racial improvement by seeking to eliminate the random element in biological
processes. As a result, the disciplinary and regulatory functions, along
with their dual goal of public safety and a safe public, were unprecedented.
It was a society obsessed with reassuring norms and it imposed iron security
as insurance. The archaic sovereign power with a right to kill gradually
crept in and proliferated down through chains of military and judicial
command into the general populace of individuals, where informing on your
aberrant neighbor, for example, effectively signed his or her death warrant.
Everyone who qualified eventually held on to this murderous power by strict
adherence to the regulatory and disciplining functions laid down by the
State. This in turn exposed the superior race to its own universal threat of
extinction, which, one can speculate, further fed the evolutionary paranoia
and righteous killing that eventually ensued.

In Nazism, then, we have the perfect extension of the disciplining and
regulatory functions into an unmitigated right to kill. One needs, perhaps,
only to recall the NRA-sponsored 11,000 or so murders by gun Americans
inflict on each other per year to see how the constitutional right to bear
arms is far too frequently confused with a license to kill. This diffusion
of sovereign power, a trickle down effect of the authoritarian will, is now
further promoted in endless appeals to citizens to stay alert and report any
and all suspicious activity. At the same time, threat levels to Americans
are symbolically coded for convenience; the danger of extinction is an
uncomplicated color standing in for the appropriate level of fear. The
consequences of such a situation, drawn from Germany, are alarming: "We have
an absolutely racist State, a murderous State, and a suicidal State. The
three were necessarily superimposed, and the result was of course both the
"final solution" (or the attempt to eliminate, by eliminating the Jews, all
the other races of which the Jews were both the symbol and the
manifestation) of the years 1942-1943, and then Telegram 71, in which, in
April 1945, Hitler gave the order to destroy the German people's own living
conditions" (260). This is the endgame mechanism, fuelled by the machinery
of war, inscribed in the modern State.

To better understand the paradoxical nature of the outcome in light of the
desire that drives it, one must appreciate that the threat of destruction
imposed by and upon supremacy is also a suicidal pact aimed at evolutionist,
biological purity. As population numbers decline, through coerced sacrifice,
the risk exposed to one's own life only serves to reinforce a sense of
belonging to the increasingly pure core of a creed thus regenerated. It is,
of course, no coincidence that the armies now facing off are constructed of
hierarchical tiers, where the differently "colored" are the first to perish
on the battlefield. Those considered most valuable to the species are
proportionally removed from the risk, and this leads toward the final
realization that this sovereign right, invoked and justified on racist
terms, extends indiscriminately to obliterate anyone, even, in the end,
those defined as belonging to the same people. Hence the order issued by
Hitler, which was preceded by earlier plans, in March, to destroy Germany's
infrastructure, not only enlightens the scorched earth tactic of a
retreating despot; it broadens the game of racism and war, of politics by
other means and the means of politics, to embrace the logistics and
functions of civil society in an overpoweringly logical right to kill off
itself.

The danger here is that such analogies go too far and only solicits
accusations of inflammatory, unfounded rhetoric. But forget the ideological
symbols and the responsible faces; look instead at the State and its fate in
light of war and racism. The effect is not, as I have tried to argue, only
tied to the permanent enslavement of some for the benefit of others, or the
final solution found in blood rites. Where there is racism in the service of
murder and killing for the sake of a species, there is always the highly
addictive risk to one's own life, which leads down the path of sacrifice and
suicide. One cursory look at the domestic state of affairs in the United
States today may provoke a critical commentator to observe that orders to
destroy the living conditions, and rights, of the people have already been
issued. Such dynamics are an integral part of the racial hygiene of being at
war, and opposition must vehemently argue that another self-interest, linked
to another biology intervening in life, can prevail. What must be defused is
a situation (which we now have) where the sovereign right to kill saturates
the populace, and where the polling results -- now seducing the American
people to offer an emperor's thumbs up or down on a matter of life and death
-- return a resounding vote of none of the above and reject the proposition.
Resistance must furthermore take into account the regulating and
disciplining apparatuses of the State and sever their links to a racism
that, when pronounced throughout a society, inevitably leads to warfare. It
is this atrocious _right_ to war exercised by a sovereign will that must be
overcome. In this regard, the outset of war on or around March 17 has to
mark the beginning of politics by other means.

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