Total war, double vision and surgical strikes

Paul K. Saint-AmourOver the years I’ve learned much from the writings of Paul K. Saint-Amour, whose work on the violent intersections between modernism and air power has helped me think through my own project on bombing (‘Killing Space’) and, in a minor key, my analysis of cartography, aerial reconnaissance and ‘corpography’ on the Western Front in the First World War.  A minimalist listing would include:

Like me, Paul also has an essay in Pete Adey‘s co-edited collection, From above: war, violence and verticality (Hurst, 2013): ‘Photomosaics: mapping the Front, mapping the city’.

He has just published an important essay, ‘On the partiality of total war‘, in Critical inquiry 40 (2) (2014) 420-449, which has prompted this post.  What I so admire about Paul’s writing is his combination of literary style – these essays are a joy to read, even when they address the bleakest of subjects – critical imagination and analytical acumen, and the latest essay is no exception.

His central point is that the idea of ‘total war’ – which, as he insists, was essentially an inter-war constellation – was deeply partial.  It both naturalized and undermined a series of European imperialist distinctions between centre and periphery, peace and war:

‘… forms of violence forbidden in the metropole during peacetime were practiced in the colony, mandate, and protectorate, [and] … the distinction between peace and war was a luxury of the center. At the same time, by predicting that civilians in the metropole would have no immunity in future wars, it contributed to the erosion of the very imperial geography (center versus periphery) that it seemed to shore up.’

Hence the partiality of what he calls ‘the fractured problem-space of the concept’: ‘A truly total conception of war would have insisted openly on the legal, ethical, political, and technological connections between European conflagration and colonial air control’ (my emphasis).

CharltonPaul advances these claims, and enters into this fraught ‘problem-space’, by tracking the figure of a Royal Air Force officer, L.E.O. Charlton (left).  A veteran of the First World War, Charlton was appalled by his experience of colonial ‘air control’ in Iraq in the 1920s (‘direct action by aeroplanes on indirect information by unreliable informants … was a species of oppression’: sounds familiar) but became a strenuous advocate of bombing civilians as the ‘new factor in warfare’ in the future. Convinced that Britain was exceptionally vulnerable to air attack, the only possible defence was extraordinary air superiority capable of landing devastating ‘hammer blows’.

Now others have traced the lines of descent from Britain’s ‘air policing’ in Palestine, Iraq and the North-West Frontier in the 1920s and 30s to its bomber offensive against Germany in the 1940s – ‘Bomber’ Harris notoriously cut his teeth in both Iraq and Palestine, though one historian treats this as precision dentistry – and still others have joined the dots from yesterday’s imperial borderlands to today’s: I’m thinking of  Mark Neocleous‘s (re)vision of police power (‘Air power as police power‘, Environment and Planning D: Society & Space 31 (4) (2013) 578-93 and Priya Satia‘s genealogy of ‘Drones: a history from the Middle East‘, Humanity 5 (1) (2014) 1-31.

But Paul complicates these genealogies in important ways by showing how, within British military circles, war from the air was at once prosecuted and displaced/deferred.  He argues that major air power theorists of the day reserved the category of ‘war’ for conflicts between sovereign states and relegated state violence ‘against colonial, mandate and protectorate populations’ to minor categories: ‘police actions, low-intensity conflicts, constabulary missions, pacification, colonial policing’.  Indeed, at the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1923 the British delegation sought to abolish all air forces except those deployed ‘for police purposes in certain outlying regions’.  The manoeuvre failed, yet it wasn’t until 1977 that the first Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention of 1949 recognised the right of subject populations to resist colonial domination, military occupation and racial repression, nominated such acts as constituting an ‘international conflict’, and extended to them the protections of international law.  Several states have refused to ratify the AP, including the United States, Israel, Iran, India and Pakistan.  Charlton’s original objection was to the use of air power outside declared war zones and against civilian subject populations: an objection that many would argue continues to have contemporary resonance in the CIA-directed drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

But Charlton’s masters (and, ultimately, Charlton himself) ‘dissevered’ the meaning of ongoing state violence in the periphery from prospective state violence at the centre.  ‘Home is the space of the total war to come‘ – the Royal Air Force evidently believed that lessons learned in the colonies could be repatriated to the metropolis – and this would necessarily involve the breaching of state borders.  War from the air thus dissolved the distinctions between military and civilian spaces, as Giulio Douhet prophesied in the 1920s:

‘By virtue of this new weapon, the repercussions of war are no longer limited by the farthest artillery range of guns, but can be felt directly for hundreds and hundreds of miles… The battlefield will be limited only by the boundaries of the nations at war, and all of their citizens will become combatants, since all of them will be exposed to the aerial offensives of the enemy. There will be no distinction any longer between soldiers and civilians.’

Few military experts in Britain talked about Douhet before the 1930s, but Charlton had read him in French translation, referring to him in his Cambridge lectures published as War from the air: past, present, future (1935): John Peaty calls him ‘Douhet’s leading disciple in Britain.’  But in Charlton’s view war from the air also redrew the contours of military violence so that they no longer lined fronts but bounded areas.  In principle this transformation of the target space provided for two different strategies, though in practice the differences between them were as much ideological as they were substantive.  Air strikes could take the form of either area bombing, levelling whole districts of cities, or so-called ‘precision bombing’ that would dislocate strategic nodes within a networked space, and it was this that Charlton believed was the key to aerial supremacy:

‘[T]he nation conceived by air-power theorists was a discrete entity unified both by the interlocking systems, structures, and forces that would constitute its war effort and by their collective targetability in the age of the bomber. As the proxy space for total war doctrine, in other words, air-power theory provided limitless occasions for representing the national totality. The common figures of “nerve centres,” “heart,” and “nerve ganglia” all participated in the emergent trope of an integrated national body whose geographical borders, war effort, and vulnerability were all coterminous.’

Penguin-S8 Air Defence of Britain

In War from the air, Charlton had advocated a devastating attack on the enemy capital:

‘It is the brain, and therefore the vital point. Injury to the brain means instant death, or paralysis, whereas injury to the body or the members, especially if it be a flesh-wound, may mean nothing at all, or, at most, a grave inconvenience.’

And in his contribution to The air defence of Britain, published in 1938, Charlton used the figure of the ‘national body’ to underscore what he saw as Britain’s vulnerability to air attack: ‘We are laid out, as if on an operating table, for the surgical methods of the bomber.’  As it turned out, of course, air strikes were even less ‘surgical’ than today’s aerialists try to claim, but as I showed in ‘Doors into nowhere’ (DOWNLOADS tab), these bio-physiological tropes were refined by Solly Zuckerman when he sought to provide a scientific  basis for the combined bomber offensive during the Second World War.

wp0a26afc9_1b-1But precisely because the enabling experiments for these operations were carried out in a colonial laboratory, ‘outside the boundaries of the national body’, this couldn’t qualify as war – so this was ‘interwar’ in quite another sense too – and, Charlton notwithstanding, the ‘bombing demonstrations’ that took place in Iraq and elsewhere were not subject to much critical scrutiny or public outcry in Britain.  On the contrary, within the metropole they were turned into popular entertainment at successive air displays at Hendon in North London in the 1920s (see below) (though, prophetically, by the 1930s, the pageant staged bombing runs against ‘the enemy’, and in War over England (1936) Charlton envisaged Britain forced to surrender after a devastating German air attack on, of all things, the Hendon Air Show) .



I think this argument could profitably be extended, because the desert ‘proving grounds’ had a cultural-strategic significance that, as both Priya Satia and Patrick Deer have shown, can be unravelled through another figure who also enters this problem-space, albeit in disguise, T.E. Lawrence or ‘Aircraftsman Ross’ (I’ve suggested some of these filiations in ‘DisOrdering the Orient’)….

I hope I’ve said enough to whet your appetite.  This is a rich argument about war’s geographies, at once imaginative and material, and my bare-bones’ summary really doesn’t do it justice.  An introductory footnote reveals that the essay, and presumably Paul’s previous ones, will appear in a book in progress (and prospect), Archive, Bomb, Civilian: Total War in the Shadows of Modernism, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Theory of the drone 4: Pennies from Heaven

This is the fourth in a series of posts on Grégoire Chamayou‘s Théorie du drone.

7: Counter-insurgency from the air

The focus of the new US Army /US Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual FM 3-24 that was issued in 2006 was, naturally enough, on ground operations in which the Army and the Marine Corps would take the lead.  To the anger of many Air Force officers, air operations were relegated to a supporting role outlined in the last appendix, the last five pages of 335, which acknowledged the contribution of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) from ‘air- mounted collection platforms’ and (in certain circumstances) the ‘enormous value’ of ‘precision air attacks’.


And yet in practice, as Chamayou argues, the balance was already being reversed; the incorporation of drones into counterinsurgency (COIN) was soon so advanced that there were calls (from air power advocates) for the promulgation of an official doctrine reflecting the new intrinsically three-dimensional reality.  So – to take the example Chamayou gives – Phillip Meilinger, a retired command pilot and former Dean of the School of Advanced Airpower Studies at the USAF’s Air University at Maxwell AFB, complained that the Field Manual had already been overtaken by events:

The role for airpower in COIN is generally seen as providing airlift, ISR capabilities, and precision strike. This outdated paradigm is too nar- rowly focused and relegates airpower to the support role while ground forces perform the “real” work. Worse, marginalizing airpower keeps it in support of ground-centric strategies that have proved unsuccessful.

He called for the Pentagon to

‘re-examine the paradigm that was so successful in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. That was the use of air and space power, combined with [Special Operations Forces], indigenous ground forces, and overwhelming ISR. Given the outstanding results already demonstrated, an air-centric joint COIN model should be one of the first options for America’s military and political leaders.’

As the image heading his article makes clear, Meilinger – a gifted military historian – was not limiting the role of airpower to drones; far from it.  But his repeated references to the Air Force’s ‘more sophisticated and effective sensor aircraft and satellites’ signalled their indispensable importance in the transformation of counterinsurgency from a ground-centric to an air-centric model.

fm-3-24-counterinsurgency_500A similar salvo was fired at more or less the same time by Charles Dunlap, Deputy Judge Advocate General for the USAF, who castigated FM 3-24 for conceiving air power ‘as aerial artillery’ whose weapons were ‘somehow more inaccurate than other kinds of fires.’

‘In perhaps no other area has the manual been proven more wrong by the events of 2007…. [T]he profound changes in airpower’s capabilities have so increased its utility that it is now often the weapon of first recourse in COIN operations, even in urban environments.’

Dunlap was quick to say that this myopia wasn’t the result of inter-service rivalry (‘parochialism’):

‘Rather, FM 3-24 draws many of its lessons from counterinsurgency operations dating from the 1950s through the 1970s. While this approach is remarkably effective in many respects, it inherently undervalues airpower. The revolutions in airpower capabilities that would prove so effective during 2007 were unavailable to counterinsurgents in earlier eras.’ 

Those ‘revolutions’ – what Dunlap identified as ‘the precision and persistence revolutions’ – placed armed drones at the leading edge of counterinsurgency and, as Chamayou glosses these arguments, consigned previous objections to the dustbin of history.

Recalling my post yesterday about ‘pattern of life’ analysis, Dunlap argued that ‘visual observations have a grammar all their own’, and he cited with approval this paragraph from journalist Mark Benjamin‘s Killing “Bubba” from the skies’:

‘The Air Force recently watched one man in Iraq for more than five weeks, carefully recording his habits—where he lives, works, and worships, and whom he meets . The military may decide to have such a man arrested, or to do nothing at all. Or, at any moment they could decide to blow him to smithereens.’

It’s a revealing essay that accords closely with Chamayou’s central thesis: Benjamin reported that, from the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar, ‘they are stalking prey’ and that the US Air Force had turned the art of searching for individuals into a science.

But Dunlap cooly added: ‘The last statement may be more insightful than perhaps even Benjamin realized.’  For it was not only a matter of killing, ‘blowing a man to smithereens’, and what Dunlap had in mind was not only persistent presence but also persistent threat: the ability to ‘dislocate the psychology of the insurgents’ who now never knew where or when they might be attacked.

For this reason Chamayou suggests that the drone effects a sort of détournement on the strategies and weapons of the insurgent-terrorist – the skirmish and the ambush, the IED and the suicide bomb – to become what he calls, through this radical reversal, ‘the weapon of State terrorism’.  Its short-lived engagements happen without warning and target individuals without compunction.

And yet, for all its technological sophistication, Chamayou insists that this is not a new strategy. Military historians ought to look further back, he suggests, to the policies of colonial ‘air control’ developed in the inter-war period (the image below shows a bomb dropped by the RAF on Sulaimaniyah in Iraq on 27 May 1924: more here).  He develops this argument in a later chapter, where he describes the drone as ‘the weapon of an amnesiac post-colonial violence’ (p. 136): a postcolonialism that has forgotten – or suppressed – its own wretched history.

British bomb dropped on Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, 1924

Indeed it has.  The twenty-first century version of counterinsurgency has made much of the iconic, inspirational figure of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.  But as I’ve argued in ‘DisOrdering the Orient’ (DOWNLOADS tab):

‘… long before he resigned his Army commission and re-enlisted in the Royal Air Force as Aircraftsman Ross, [Lawrence] had been drawn to the wide open spaces of the sky as well as those of the desert. Patrick Deer suggests that in Lawrence’s personal mythology ‘air control in the Middle East offered a redemptive postscript to his role in the Arab Revolt of 1916-18’. He imagined the Arab Revolt ‘as a kind of modernist vortex,’ Deer argues, fluid and dynamic, ‘without front or back,’ and in Seven Pillars he recommended ‘not disclosing ourselves till we attack.’ To Lawrence, and to many others at the time, the intimation of a nomadic future war gave air power a special significance. ‘What the Arabs did yesterday,’ he wrote, ‘the Air Forces may do tomorrow – yet more swiftly.’  As Priya Satia has shown, this rested not only on a military Orientalism that distinguished different ways of war but also on a cultural Orientalism that represented bombing as signally appropriate to the people of these lands. This was, minimally, about intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. ‘According to this perverse logic’, Satia explains, ‘the RAF’s successful persecution of a village testified to their intimacy with the people on the ground, without which they would not have been able to strike it accurately.’ More than this, however, ‘the claim to empathy ultimately underwrote the entire air control system with its authoritative reassurances that bombardment was a tactic that would be respected and expected in this unique land.’ From this perspective, Satia continues, Arabs saw bombing as ‘pulling the strings of fate from the sky.’ They understood it ‘not as punishment,’ Lawrence informed his readers, ‘but as misfortune from heaven striking the community.’ And if women and children were killed in the process that was supposedly of little consequence to them: what mattered were the deaths of ‘the really important men.’’

JONGBLOED Lawrence triptych

As far as I know, Lawrence has not been invoked by any of the contemporary advocates of airpower in counterinsurgency – though he has been called ‘Lawrence of Airpower‘ – but many of these formulations and their successors, translated into an ostensibly more scientific vocabulary, reappear in contemporary debates about the deployment of drones in counterinsurgency.

In fact, Meilinger had conceded the relevance of these historical parallels. ‘It would be useful to revisit the “air control” operations employed by the Royal Air Force in the Middle East in the 1920s and 1930s,’ he wrote. ‘These operations were not always successful in objective military terms, but they were unusually successful in political terms, in part because they carried a low cost in both financial and casualty terms’ (my emphasis).

That is an extraordinary sentence, although Chamayou doesn’t quote it, because what is missing from the air power advocates’ view (so Chamayou argues) is – precisely – an apprehension of the politics of counterinsurgency in general and air strikes in particular.  Indeed, when the imaginary conjured up by Lawrence and his successors reappears in contemporary debates it is entered on both sides of the ledger: not only as economical and effective but also as cowardly and counter-productive.   Here is Colonel Keen, complaining about the bombing of Pashtun villages on the North West Frontier in 1923:

‘By driving the inhabitants of the bombarded area from their homes in a state of exasperation, dispersing them among neighbouring clans and tribes with hatred in their hearts at what they consider ‘‘unfair’’ methods of warfare … [these attacks] bring about the exact political results which it is so important in our own interests to avoid, viz., the permanent embitterment and alienation of the frontier tribes.’ 

Both Chamayou and I cite this passage, and you can find more about the colonial bombing of Waziristan in a previous post (scroll down).

This sentiment reappeared in different form in the critique of drone strikes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas  – the same region described by Keen – published by David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum in the New York Times in 2009, ‘Death from above, Outrage down below‘. Their core argument was that the campaign was making the cardinal mistake of ‘personalizing’ the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban – going after individuals – while causing considerable civilian casualties: ‘every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.’

Estimates of combatant and civilian casualties remain contentious, of course, including those used by Kilcullen and Exum; Chamayou doesn’t discuss this in any detail, but most sources (including the Bureau of Investigate Journalism) suggest that civilian casualties in Pakistan have fallen from their peak in 2009-10.  Others have argued that drone strikes are more effective than their critics claim.  Their confidence typically rests on a combination of assertion and anecdote, but a recent quantitative study by Patrick Johnston and Anoop Sarbahi (from which I’ve borrowed the map below) purports to show that, contrary to Kilcullen and Exum’s original claim, US drone strikes between January 2007 and September 2011 reduced the incidence of militant activity in the FATA.

JOHNSTON and SARBAHI Figure 1 Drone strikes and militant activity in FATA

I mention these qualifications neither to adjudicate them nor to blunt Chamayou’s argument: simply to note that the situation is far from static or settled. Chamayou uses the Kilcullen-Exum critique, in conjunction with Kilcullen’s other, more extended contributions, to leverage two linked claims:

(1) counterinsurgency is a politico-military strategy that depends, for its effectiveness, on a sustained presence amongst a population: a politics of verticality (described in my previous post) cannot substitute for, and usually confounds, a properly population-centric campaign, which can only be won on the ground.

(2) the ‘dronisation’ of US military operations signals a shift away from counterinsurgency and towards counter-terrorism, which is a police-security strategy that prioritises an individual-centric campaign.

Chamayou owes the distinction to Kilcullen [‘Countering global insurgency’, Journal of strategic studies 28 (2005) 597-617]:

‘Under this [counter-terrorism] paradigm … terrorists are seen as unrepresentative aberrant individuals, misfits within society. Partly because they are unrepresentative, partly to discourage emulation, ‘we do not negotiate with terrorists’. Terrorists are criminals, whose methods and objectives are both unacceptable. They use violence partly to shock and influence populations and governments, but also because they are psychologically or morally flawed (‘evil’) individuals. In this paradigm, terrorism is primarily a law enforcement problem, and we therefore adopt a case-based approach where the key objective is to apprehend the perpetrators of terrorist attacks…

‘The insurgency paradigm is different. Under this approach, insurgents are regarded as representative of deeper issues or grievances within society. We seek to defeat insurgents through ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the population, a process that involves compromise and negotiation. We regard insurgents’ methods as unacceptable, but their grievances are often seen as legitimate, provided they are pursued peacefully… We see insurgents as using violence within an integrated politico-military strategy, rather than as psychopaths. In this paradigm, insurgency is a whole-of-government problem rather than a military or law enforce- ment issue. Based on this, we adopt a strategy-based approach to counterinsurgency, where the objective is to defeat the insurgent’s strategy, rather than to ‘apprehend the perpetrators’ of specific acts.’

in Chamayou’s terms, ‘manhunting by drones’ represents the triumph, at once doctrinal and practical, of counter-terrorism over counterinsurgency.  In this optic, a space of representation substitutes for lived space: ‘The body count, the list of hunting trophies, substitutes for the strategic evaluation of the political effects of military violence.  Success is turned into statistics.  Their evaluation is disconnected from effects on the ground.’

It’s an engaging argument, but I think it’s over-stated for several reasons.

First, contemporary counterinsurgency clearly has not ceded the statistical battleground to anyone. Under David Petraeus in particular, cascades of PowerPoint slides sluiced a tidal wave of metrics over military and public audiences, and these too were often disconnected from events on the ground.  As I showed in “Seeing Red” (DOWNLOADS tab), for example, at the height of the violence in Baghdad military briefers preferred the virtual-cartographic to the visceral-physical city, ‘walking’ reporters through maps of the capital because, for all their upbeat assessments, it was far too dangerous to walk them through the real city that lay beyond the Green Zone.  And so far it has proved impossible to obtain any figures of fatalities from drone strikes in the FATA from Obama’s otherwise garrulous ‘off-the-record’ (and, remarkably, never prosecuted) officials.

Second, contemporary counterinsurgency is not only about deploying ‘soft power’ and exploiting the humanitarian-military nexus; this is a one-sided view.  Kilcullen himself conceded that ‘there’s always a lot of killing, one way or another’, in counterinsurgency, but in the wake of the nightmare that was Abu Ghraib the publicity campaign that surrounded the release of FM 3-24 directed attention to ‘hearts and minds’ – to a kinder, gentler, culturally-informed and compassionate military – rather than to bullets and bombs.   But as Petraeus reminded Noah Schachtman in November 2007,  the manual

‘doesn’t say that the best weapons don’t shoot. It says sometimes the best weapons don’t shoot. Sometimes the best weapons do shoot.”

As I showed in “The rush to the intimate” (DOWNLOADS tab), more often than one might think. Chamayou is perfectly correct to say that ‘drones are excellent at crushing bodies from a distance, but they are perfectly  inappropriate for winning “hearts and minds”‘: but counterinsurgency, even in its supposedly radically new form, involves both.

Third, for that very reason counterinsurgency has continued to incorporate air power into its operations, and ground troops and commanders in Afghanistan continue to clamour for Predators and Reapers to provide close air support.  In October 2009 the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued Joint Publication 3-24 on Counterinsurgency Operations, which was far more positive about air power than the Field Manual three years earlier:

‘Video downlink and datalink technology have revolutionized real-time air to ground employment allowing air assets to seamlessly integrate into and support the ground commander’s scheme of maneuver. Armed overwatch missions provide ground forces with the critical situational awareness, flexibility, and immediate fire support necessary to succeed in the dynamic COIN environment.’

Fourth, later modern war is intrinsically hybrid, and military operations under its sign are likely to involve an unstable and often contradictory mix of counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism. Writing a year or so into Obama’s first term, Colleen Bell and Brad Evans [in ‘Terrorism to insurgency: Mapping the post-intervention security terrain’, Journal of intervention and statebuilding 4 (4) (2010) 371-390] described a reverse movement from counter-terrorism to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan:

‘Counterterrorist interventionism has, until relatively recently, been principally rooted in an exterminatory logic that demands a sovereign commitment to the violent excision of enemies. The shift towards the problem of insurgency, however, is more expansive. It demonstrates a strategic focus on political opposition as embedded within besieged, illiberal and underdeveloped populations…. [The] focus on insurgency in terms of population represents a break from the preoccupation with terrorism as a form of incalculable danger to the mobilization of a different rationality of risk, that of insurance, which seeks to govern the future on the basis of the collective probabilities emanating from within host societies today.’

kaplan_the-insurgents_cover-finalThey treat this as a transformation of what Chamayou would call the ‘logics’ of intervention: from ‘a conventional struggle to eliminate adversaries’ to a ‘productive reconstitution of the life of a population’ (which requires ‘marking out what qualities the “good” life must possess, whilst in the process positively rendering dangerous all “other” life which does not comply with the productive remit).  In other words (their words), a switch from sovereign power to bio-power.  I have my reservations about the theoretical argument, but in any case the transformation was far from stable or straightforward.  In December 2009 Obama committed thousands of extra ground troops as part of a revitalized counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan; they were supported by a continued increase in drone operations. And Obama had also authorised a dramatic increase in CIA-directed drone strikes in Pakistan.  But in June 2011 he announced the withdrawal of those additional troops: as Fred Kaplan puts in The insurgents, ‘pulling the plug on COIN.’  All of this va-et-vient was, as Kaplan shows in exquisite detail, more than a philosophico-logical affair: it was also profoundly political, and included considerations of domestic US politics, concerns over the Afghan state in general and the re-election of Hamid Karzai in particular, and no doubt calculations of advantage within the US military.  In short, while Chamayou is surely right to accentuate the politics of military violence this is not confined to the ‘inside’ of counterinsurgency – COIN as ‘applied social work’, as Kilcullen once described it – because politics also provides one of its activating armatures. (I’ve discussed Kaplan’s view of drone strikes and what he sees as an emerging imaginary of ‘the world as free-fire zone’ here).

For all that, Chamayou’s dissection of the ‘reverse logics’ of these particular forms of counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism is analytically helpful, and adds another dimension to his argument about the transformation of war from battlefields to hunting grounds and from armies to individuals.   He insists that the commitment to targeted killing (by drone or, I would add, Special Forces) is a commitment to ‘an infinite eradicationism’ in which it becomes impossible to kill leaders (‘High Value Targets’) faster than they can be replaced. In his vivid image, the hydra constantly regenerates itself as a direct response  to the very strikes that seek to decapitate it.

‘Advocates for the drone as the privileged weapon against terrorism promise a war without loss or defeat.  They fail to note that this will also be war without victory’ (p. 108).