Email this link to a friend HOME : CTHEORY BOOKS: BORN AGAIN IDEOLOGY
Printer Friendly Version CTheory Books: Born Again Ideology: bai03
Date Published: 11/1/2006
www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=550
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

BORN AGAIN IDEOLOGY

Religion, Technology, and Terrorism


Arthur Kroker



4

The End of the New American Century


The United States is the world's only superpower, combining preeminent military power, global technological leadership, and the world's largest economy. Moreover, America stands as the head of a system of alliances which includes the world's other leading democratic powers. At present the United States faces no global rival. America's grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.

Further the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbour.

-- The Project for a New American Century,
"Rebuilding America's Defenses" (Sept. 2000)


In the real world of consequential events, this has been the "product" thus far of the Project for a New American Century. While the United States spends $500 billion dollars per year on "rebuilding" its military establishment, it has been twice effectively defeated, first on the battlefields of Afghanistan, then in the deserts and cities of Iraq. Although its politics are aimed almost exclusively at "homeland security," its border defenses have been easily punctured, first by the spectacle of terrorism that was 9/11, and then by the hard winds of Katrina. While American political preeminence is based on its historical self-consciousness as the world's leading economy, it runs at the recessionary edge of massive over-indebtedness, with the east Asian societies of China, Japan and Taiwan as American bankers of record. In the aftermath of the revolution in business affairs that is globalization, the manufacturing basis of the United States is in ruins; its outsourcing of software development undermining its claims to technological leadership; its scientific elite challenged at every populist turn by growing support for the spurious fictions of intelligent design and faith-based education; its domestic economy now expanding only of the basis of remortgaging an increasingly speculative future; and its most popular television shows obsessed with the cult of death. Paradoxically, the United States is that anomaly of an "empire" that eclipsed before it ever really began to shine. Making its presence felt with light-speed at the end of the twentieth-century, the American empire is now in the process of collapsing at the speed of darkness. While the 1990s was dominated by the capitalist rhetoric of globalization and the beginning years of the 21st century have been ideologically spearheaded by the language of empire, the near future may well witness the specter of imperial decline, if not economic collapse.

Why did the New American Century end so quickly?

As in ancient mythology so too in political history, the laws of eternal recurrence will not long be denied. In the age of feudalism, power rested on the control of absolute time: the labor time of serfs, the ceremonial time of masters, the warrior time of knights. In the industrial era, power invested itself in the control of absolute space: the territorial space of colonial conquest, the wage space of the factory, the bureaucratic space of public administration. In the digital era, power coincides with the control of relative spacetime: the spacetime fabric of electronic media of communication, the spacetime of the high-intensity consumer marketplace, concept of spacetime which is the real object of the Pentagon's aggressive vision of "full spectrum domination." Consequently, while feudalism could be defeated by a radical shift from (agrarian) time to (industrial) space, the industrial age was itself undermined by a sudden change from the modernist framework of space and time as isolated categories to the immanent, unitary vision of global society as a spacetime fabric at light-speed.

In the digital era, control of the spacetime fabric is the essence of the politics of empire. Fittingly, the fall of the Soviet (industrial) empire was perfectly captured by that haunting image of imprisoned space -- the Berlin Wall. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 it not only symbolized the collapse of the Soviet Union as an empire based on the coercive control of spatial extension, but the free movement of peoples and crowds and cultures which it unleashed literally pointed the way to the world itself as a spacetime fabric of electronic communication traveling at light-speed. If not McLuhan's joyous vision of the "global village," the new world of electronically mediated politics, culture and society would be at least a digital commonwealth, where as McLuhan prophesied every margin was a potential centre, and every emergent technology radical psychic surgery on the human sensorium. More than a singular historical event, the fall of the Berlin Wall could memorialize the end of the Cold War because it represented a tear in the fabric of political spacetime itself -- that precise moment when the age of dueling superpowers collapsed in favor of the unipolar world of American Empire. Born a Republic at the dawn of industrialism, America became an Empire in the new quantum age of singularities.


The Quantum Dividend

However, very traditional habits of (strategic) thought have persisted in the American mind even as the United States has successfully thrown off the political attributes of a democratic Republic in favor of the power of empire constructed for the new post-Cold War era of a globalizing political economy and an equally universalistic imperial military strategy. Haunted by the dueling antagonisms of "mutually assured destruction" which flash-froze American strategic theory during the fifty year interregnum of the Cold War, the United States inherited what might be called the "quantum dividend" of power under the sign of the spacetime fabric only to immediately reverse-course by theorizing its military strategy in terms of absolute space, and its political economy in terms of absolute time. Unintentionally following McLuhan's insight that every epoch understands itself in terms of the backward vision of the "rear-view mirror," the American empire has in the few, short years since the end of the Cold War, wasted the quantum dividend in favor of an aggressive, but ultimately futile, attempt to reinstitute the hegemony of power over absolute space and absolute time. In its military doctrine as much as in its monetary policy, the quantum singularity that is American empire prefers to rule by looking in the rear-view mirror of the Cold War.

Consider these two examples: the military strategy proposed by The Project for a New American Century ("Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century") which is now the keystone of American strategic theory; and American monetary policy in defense of the hegemony of the US dollar as the dominant international reserve currency. While The Project for a New American Century is aimed at absolute control of territorial space, US monetary policy is directed at absolute control of the liquid flows of monetary exchange. In effect, having inherited an empire by default, the United States now proposes to transform itself into the rigidity of an absolute singularity. However, the laws of quantum politics are not so easily dismissed. Once having gained political and cultural power by the singularity that is American society, relativity theory, uncertainty fields, strange attractors, light-speed, power moving sideways, the curvature of time -- are no longer simply scientific concepts, but the force-field of power itself today. While leading neo-conservative theorists prefer to speak of the self-declared "War on Terrorism" as WW4 -- the Cold War representing WW3 -- the greater truth is that American strategy for a New World Order in the service of perpetual "security" is patterned on the industrial model of the Cold War. Here, territorially based power is viewed as trumping viral power, and the speed of international monetary exchange is visualized as capable of being successfully quarantined by hegemonic political interests. Unfortunately, as in quantum science so in political life. As vividly demonstrated by post-9/11 events, the world of real globalization will not be denied. The War on Terrorism witnesses territorially-based power (American Homeland) being constantly threatened by the viral power of suicide bombers -- power which is nomadic, liquid, intent on undermining the body of the host by strategies of mimicry, infiltration, and spontaneous attack. To the light-speed of the new empire of American hegemony, viral power responds with the more ancient tactic of the bodies of martyrs eager to sacrifice themselves for a greater eternal reward. To the light-time of American empire, real globalization responds with the impossibility of Katrina, again and again. In this race between the light-time and light-space of American empire and the real time and space of real globalization, power can only be maintained by applied violence. Violence, speed, and escape then as certain signs of the collapse of American empire as it bends against its will in the direction of the seduction of real globalization. Presenting itself historically as the limit condition of modernity, American empire has forgotten the basic insight of all postmodern political theory, namely that limit conditions exist only to be transgressed. The game of challenge and counter-challenge between limit conditions and transgression is precisely what animates both the absolute power of (American) empire and the viral resistance of its many challengers.


Second-Order Globalization

The years following the collapse of Soviet empire witnessed the unprecedented hegemony of the logic of advanced capitalism. With its contested double -- socialism -- having seemingly vanished from political history, advanced capitalism was no longer content to confine itself to the "merchant capital" of early capitalism, nor to the "industrial capitalism" of the age of manufacturing age or even to the "finance capitalism" of the post-industrial revolution. Once having effectively defeated socialism in the political figure of the Soviet empire, capitalism now was free to spread its ideological wings, to speak of its historical development as simultaneous with the innate will of world history itself. With this consequence: triumphantly discarding its previous manifestations as merchant, industrial or finance capital, capitalism now thought of itself exclusively in terms of globalization. Fusing together the promotional strategies of brand marketing, communicative computer networking, and a ceaseless search for cheap sources of labor, globalization seemingly fused the world together for a brief historical period as a unified enterprise economy. Politically articulated by the policy specialists of the Reagan/Thatcher era, economically adopted by the newly sovereign societies of Eastern and Central Europe, blending together the computational principles of William Gates' Business at the Speed of Thought with the rosy nostrums of Jeremy Rifkin's The European Dream, the language of globalization imprinted itself as the historical successor to the bipolar (political) universe of the Cold War.

Nonetheless, despite the triumphalism associated with the planetary drive to globalization, all it really took to let the air out of the brand bubble was a timely combination of the anti-globalization movement of the mid- to late 1990s together with the millennial tech crash in all the Silicon Valleys of the cyber-world. Contested politically by an insurgency of global popular movements which insisted on making visible the costs associated with real globalization, and challenged for its utopian virtuality by the quarterly market cycle of capital itself, the rhetoric of globalization suffered a decisive cultural defeat. Its self-confidence shaken in the financial stability of digital economics, and its ideological growth having been effectively limited by the angry specter, seemingly everywhere, of anti-globalization forces, the rhetoric of globalization immediately went into sudden political eclipse.

As the American political theorists, Michael and Deena Weinstein, succinctly summarized the fate of globalization:

Within living memory (less than two years ago), the god-term was GLOBALIZATION. Throughout the '90s, we were taught to believe that the fall of the Soviet Bloc had ushered in a world-process that would bring about a new age of market democracies, interconnectivity and cultural synthesis. The dawning era would spell the end of that inconvenient little detail, history. Nothing could stop globalization; it was too big for anyone to control. Indeed, nation states and sovereignty would eventually dissolve in a wave of free trade and internet populism. As William Jefferson Clinton interminably insisted, military conflict had given way to economic competition. We know what became of that utopia. [1]

From the ashes of globalization rises the starlight of empire. Brought back into media vogue by an influential stream of contemporary intellectuals from Francis Fukuyama to Michael Ignatieff who quickly discovered in the logic of (American) empire the working out of the moral code of enlightenment culture, the military command rhetoric of empire has now replaced the consumer utopia of globalization. With the eclipse of globalization and the rise of empire, American power effectively based on a working alliance of zealous Christian fundamentalists, visionary military strategists, corporate capitalism, and technocratic intelligentsia takes power to ground in the codes of applied violence. As the Weinsteins note: "The revivalist and triumphalist ideology of empire boils down to a simple proposition; if the world doesn't bite at the bait of globalization on its own accord, America will have to shove in the hook itself."[2]

The military card was going to be played; it always is when techno-corporate interests and power are threatened. The only question concerning the auspices under which force would be exerted. Since the United States has overwhelming weapons superiority, the choice was really between putting a fig leaf of collective security over American leadership or proclaiming American dominance with brutal frankness. The same scenario that has attended the "war on terrorism" and the Iraq intervention had already played in the war on Serbia over Kosovo: if the UN won't go along with US policy, go to NATO; if NATO won't cooperate, do it yourself. In that case NATO folded. In the more recent cases, the US simply exerted itself. [3]

In terms of military strategy, everything follows from this. According to the key doctrine of the Project for a New American Century -- "Rebuilding America's Defenses" -- the core mission for U.S. military forces include:

  • Defend the American homeland;
  • Fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars;
  • Perform the "constabulary" duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions;
  • Transform U.S. forces to exploit the "revolution in military affairs"[4]

Several years later, this war manifesto reads as the hubris of a failed utopia. Waves of panic terror regularly convulse the American "homeland;" multiple wars (from Afghanistan to Iraq) have been fought and effectively lost; "constabulary" duties associated with the national security state have met very real juridical resistance from the European Union, and intensifying political resistance from the rest of the world; and the "revolution in military affairs" itself has turned out to be a cybernetic version of imperialism redux. Perhaps unintentionally predicting its own demise, the report notes: "Yet no moment in international politics can be frozen in time; even a global Pax Americana will not preserve itself."[5] Predictably, intellectual apologists for the founding of the American empire have been among the very first to abandon the project. Francis Fukuyama, who once argued that the rise of American empire is equivalent to the "end of history," now publicly disavows the Bush Administration for its abuse of the conservative values associated with the founding of the American Republic. Michael Ignatieff, who once wrote eloquently about the necessary "burdens of empire," has now retreated to his once and sometime homeland of Canada where, confronted by vocal criticisms of his vigorous defense of the War on Iraq, he now speaks equally passionately about the necessity of liberal internationalism, although not yet ready to abandon the torture tactics of "coercive interrogation" in pursuit of "information."

Less for strategic than metaphysical reasons, the dream of Pax Americana was fated to be eclipsed by actually existing history. Like the 19th century jingoist vision of Pax Britannica before it, Pax Americana is perhaps best understood as the logical conclusion of that peculiarly 20th century tendency to insulate (technological) power from the necessary turbulence of real world events, sometimes by moving fast at light-speed, and at other points by freezing the force-field of real globalization in the military matrix of a controlling simulation. Here, it is not so much that the model comes before the territory, but that in the ruling cybernetic strategies there is no real territory at all, only "surges" and "pulses" of military power, theater wars, and the administrative abstractions of "security environments." With the abandonment of the rhetoric of the (territorial) Republic in favor of the universal empire, the United States has committed itself to a form of power which would be all sign, no metastasis; all model, no real territory; all code/no flesh. This explains why, for example, the American historian Chalmers Johnson in his important book, The Sorrows of Empire, can detail so vividly the "garrisoning" of the world as the key military strategy of American empire.[6] Known in the popular military vernacular as "lily pads," American permanent military garrisons, from the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Bosnia, not only map themselves onto key oil, shipping and critical control points across the geography of global politics, but distinguish themselves by complete independence from their surrounding environment. Literally, these are lily pads in a pond, floating military abstractions, independent of local populations, instantly mobilized to suppress insurgencies in the border regions of empire, disconnected from their embedded nation states in terms of sustenance and shelter, permanent outposts for an American military model that knows only the logic of cybernetic abstractions, not historical particularities.


Art of Warfare

Speaking from the perspective of aesthetic, not military, theory, the artistic imagination of Ted Hiebert speaks directly to the fallacy immanent to the mapping of the world through the optic of military garrisons. Following Baudrillard's perceptual insight that "the objectivity of facts does not put an end to [the] vertigo of interpretation,"[7] Hiebert argues:

We may think that the real persists despite the accuracy of our contemporary maps, but a simple question reveals the fallacy here: which real? No longer is the map simply the size of the territory. In contemporary times, the map is itself much bigger, much more detailed, a magnified map that forever reveals minutia of the territory that it never even knew existed -- charting everything from the microscopic to the telescopic, crossing virtual as well as material territory, including myths and imaginings and narratives, from media reports to political campaigns, genetic composition to historic and familial lineage, weather patterns to electromagnetic radiation. In short, we face precisely a map so detailed that one single reality can no longer be invoked as its source. Instead, here we find an excess of realities, a map so precise that it precludes the possibility of any singular unified perspective.[8]

It is precisely the "excess of realities" that precludes the possibility of the "singular unified perspective" necessary first to the successful prosecution of battle plans for The Project for a New American Century, and later to its cybernetic offspring: stealth warriors equipped with night-vision goggles and GPS helmets; permanent military garrisons existing in the "real" of the spacetime fabric of American military power; and what the Navy likes to call "network-centric warfare as opposed to platform-centric warfare."[9] But for all of that "the revolution of military affairs" is creative in its visualization concerning how best to achieve "full spectrum dominance." In terms as blunt as they are futuristic, The Project for a New American Century will meet the "excess of realities" with the reality of excessive violence:

Although it may take several decades for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and "combat" likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, "cyber-space," and perhaps the world of microbes. Air warfare may no longer be fought by pilots manning tactical fighter aircraft sweeping the skies of opposing fighters, but a regime dominated by long-range, stealthy unmanned aircraft. On land, the clash of massive, combined-arms armored forces may be replaced by the dashes of much lighter, stealthier and information-intensive forces, augmented by fleets of robots, some small enough to fit in soldiers' pockets. Control of the sea could be largely determined not by fleets of surface combatants and aircraft carriers, but by land- and space-based systems forcing navies to maneuver and fight underwater. Space itself will become a theater of war, as nations gain access to space capabilities and come to rely on them; further, the distinction between military and commercial space systems -- combatants and non-combatants -- will become blurred. Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can "target" specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool. (italics added)[10]

A military utopia, then, which wagers its success on full spectrum dominance, migrating beyond land, sea, and air into the materiality of the body itself: targeting "specific genotypes" as "politically useful" forms of futuristic biological warfare. With this, a fully sinister imagination with its own unpredictable and unknown realities is mapped onto the human condition. Unmanned aircraft, fleets of robots, information warfare, micro-robots "small enough to fit in soldiers' pockets," targeted genotypes: we are in the presence here of something more ominous than simply "military" strategy for the 21st century. It is as if the "will to power" first articulated by Nietzsche, meditated deeply upon by Heidegger as the grisly abstraction of the "will to will," and lamented by Hannah Arendt as the "will to total negation" has finally found historical expression in The Project for a New American Century. Everything that would constitute Heidegger's prophecy of a coming culture of "completed nihilism" is present: the "harvesting" of genotypes; the reduction of human beings to passive "standing-reserve;" the "objectification" of cyber-space; the global ordering of the human condition itself according to the unfolding of a greater "process of transformation in time." And all this less as a military strategy strictly speaking than something deeply aesthetic -- an "art of warfare" -- which proposes to culturally redesign the future of humanity.

But if The Project for a New American Century is the spearhead of an "art of warfare," this only means that resistance to the planetary drive towards the fully realized (American) empire will adopt the counter-strategy of an "art of insurgency." To the garrisoning of the empire with "lily pads," the art of insurgency replies with a violent metastasis of urban suicide attacks. To the "network-centric" warfare of the military under the sign of "code," the art of insurgency replies with the centrifugal pressure of car bombs on city streets. To a future of "micro-robots," "information warfare," and "umanned aircraft," insurgency today suddenly abandons the domain of codes for real materiality, witness the renewed importance of bodies of flesh and blood -- those spectral bodies of hostages, terrorists, prisoners, criminals, suicides, celebrities. Everywhere today the "art of warfare" has only a single assured success. It has unleashed a powerful counter-drive towards the material, the bodily, the decoded realm of the historically consequential.

Definitely not wired, contemporary political history is increasingly militant, random, and eruptive. Improvised home-made bombs on all the roads of the many provinces and cities of Iraq; a resurgent Taliban existing in the interzone of religious fundamentalism and Pakistani intelligence services gone pirate; daily secret executions by hanging ordered by the Iraqi government bunkered in the safety of the Green Zone; counter-hangings in the full sunshine of Baghdad streets by insurgents and Iraqi security services alike; suicide bombings along the archipelago of cities -- Madrid, London, Bali, New York; rumors of new terror attacks on the American homeland, by ship, air, car, and martyred bodies. To the excess of applied violence, real globalization always responds with an "excess of realities." So much so, in fact, that there is no longer a useful distinction to be made between the model and the real, or the map and the territory. When full-spectrum dominance can be challenged by a microbiology of viral insurgencies; when the garrisoning of the reality-principle is instantly undermined by an uncontrollable reality of excessive political, cultural, and religious tensions, then we are living at that historical moment of the folding of time and space -- the folding of the model and the real into one another as indistinguishable elements -- simultaneously limit condition and transgression -- as epochal signs of the end of the New American Century.

Every American citizen knows this already. The twisting of code and real has always been the animating energy of the American Republic -- the essence of the American dream. It's the twisted logic that can somehow, somewhere bind together a society running from the beckoning poetry of the Statue of Liberty -- "Bring me your poor, your huddled masses" -- to angry posses of middle-aged, white male, new age "Minutemen" patrolling the "outlaw" borders of the southern United States and Mexico. It's enacted everyday, sometimes in violence, rarely in peace. Like the recent slaughter at the Zombie Rave in Seattle where peaceful sentiments of PURL (Peace, Understanding, Respect, Love) by all the local ravers was met with murderous vengeance by the most recent iteration of Nietzsche's last man. Or the recent insurgency of millions of "illegal" immigrants who took to the streets, the media, and the pulpit with demands to finally have their "excess of reality" recognized for its labor, its struggles, its (human) worth. It's that twist in all of American music where hard-driving, upbeat tunes are accompanied by downbeat lyrics; in American cinema where the question of good and evil -- in detectives, marshals, politicians, soldiers, killers -- is always ambivalent, always a strange force-field of opposite attractors; and in American writing where the song-line of Burroughs and Walt Whitman can play word rhapsodies at the fires of the death of western lands.

Misinterpreting the twisted spiral of power, the lasting legacy of The Project for a New American Century is fated to be that of an elegant tombstone marking the end of the new American century. While power in the age of classical imperialism was something accumulated through the violent possession of lands, peoples, and time itself; "network-centric" power is the opposite. Here power exists only in circulation, projected through the light-stream of full spectrum exchange -- of commodities, ideas, design, images, goods and services. This is a point brilliantly understood by Thomas Freidman's The World is Flat which, theorizing with all the confidence of an apostle of capitalist uber-development, understands deeply that the digital implosion has unleashed a new multilateral world of economic competition, where the eventual victors will be those societies which digitally enable their futures in the new languages of the (technologically) mobile, the animated, the wireless.

Consequently, if the model can be blown apart by the excess of the real, the reality of territory has also been blasted away by the proliferation of all the circulating signs of power. Perhaps we are already deep into the wastelands at the dark side of power, with only the brilliant residue of remainders lighting the way to the future. Oil multinationals prefer to describe these times as an increasingly desperate global struggle for "Peak Oil" -- an epoch, that is, where the predatory will monopolize diminishing fossil fuels in the interests of the rich and powerful. But perhaps it's more than that. Not simply Peak Oil, but also Peak Power (The Project for a New American Century) with all its ideological reflexes, illuminating a future in which there will be increasingly savage contests for ever diminishing resources. But then, the United States has always been an empire of lost remainders -- a society which progressed quickly over the span of only several centuries from Republic to Empire precisely because it has always specialized in living off its waste, pulsing most brilliantly as the scene of its own sacrificial violence. Not an enlightenment culture, America's special twist of power has involved liberally absorbing the energies of the world, and creatively reconfiguring them, without prejudice towards possible objects of appropriation. Neither map nor territory, Republic nor Empire, pure code nor material reality, America is the third term, the fold, the torque, unleashed by the violent fission of all the opposing binaries. This is why the end of the new American century is now accompanied by the wild specter of competing futures, all mapping the excess of reality that is the United States today.


Notes
---------------

[1] Michael and Deena Weinstein, "The Ruse of Empire," Newtopia Magazine, a journal of the new counterculture. (http://www.newtopiamagazine.net/archives/content/issue12/features/ruse.php)

[2] Ibid; p.3.

[3] Ibid.,

[4] "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century," A Report of The Project for a New American Century, September 2000, p.iv.

[5] Ibid; p.i.

[6] Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, Henry Holt and Company: New York, 2004. See particularly Chapter 6, "The Empires of Bases," pp.151-185.

[7] Jean Baudrillard, "The Murder of the Real," in The Vital Illusion, Julia Witwer, ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), p.63. Quoted in Ted Hiebert, "SuperModels: Maps from the Imagination Machine," Open Space, Victoria, Canada, April 2006, p. 1.

[8] Ted Hiebert, "SuperModels: Maps from the Imagination Machine," Open Space, Victoria, Canada, April 2006, p.1.

[9] "Rebuilding America's Defenses," p.66.

[10] Ibid; p. 60.


Next Chapter -->


© CTheory. All Rights Reserved