First Published: 2013-08-15

 

Who Benefits from the Various ‘Wars’?

 

P.R. experts are skilled at framing policy debates in favorable though misleading ways, like the “war on terror” or the “war on drugs.” What gets shielded by this packaging are the unstated goals, interests and outcomes that would draw popular opposition if known, writes Arjen Kamphuis.

 

Middle East Online

When trying to understand current events in their fuller context, it’s often more useful to look at the policies and interests that are influencing these events rather than individual cases (although the individual cases often make up “the news”). That is because there is often a gaping chasm between the formally stated goals of a policy and its actual effects.

Think of the “wars” on various nouns such as “terror” or “drugs.” Though framed in simplistic P.R. terms, these “wars” justify a variety of other actions and serve many additional interests. Massive surveillance of citizens has emerged from the “war on terror,” and a prison-industrial complex and money-laundering banks have profited from the “war on drugs.”

Despite this reality, discussions about and opposition to these “wars” are often argued from the rather fictional standpoint that the stated goals are the actual goals. In the mainstream news media and conventional political circles, that’s often the case even if it is patently obvious that the policy in question does not further the supposed goal and that everybody smart enough to have some influence is aware of this.

Opposition against misguided or destructive policies thus allows the parameters of the debate to be fenced-in by its proponents. It’s pretty hard to win any debate if the other party can define (and re-define) the terms of the debate, moving the goal-posts without a need for any evidence that these goal-posts were reasonably placed to begin with.

When a pharmaceutical company wants to bring a new pill to market they need to show, in a series of transparently documented clinical trials, that the pill does what it is supposed to do and does not have (too many) negative side-effects. Evidence-based decision making is the norm and — while far from perfect — this standard prevents useless or downright dangerous pharmaceuticals from entering the market and thus the bodies of humans.

So when governments develop policies it is reasonable to ask: what problem does this solve? What new problems does it create? What proof do you have that your claims about these problems and their solutions are actually true? So let’s just assume for a moment that the people keeping these policies going have roughly the same IQ and information as you and I. They can understand the effects of policies even if these are completely different from officially stated objectives.

It is believable (depending on your gullibility) that a policy that turns out to have the opposite effect that it was meant to have will be kept going for a little while through administrative inertia. But at some point this stops being a credible explanation. There is a limit to what we can explain by sheer stupidity of policy-makers – really there is!

You can believe some of the policy-makers are stupid some of the time but it is not reasonable that all of them are completely insane all of the time for decades. So when policies seem to have clear effects that structurally differ from the officially stated goals, I would suggest that the policy is working just fine; its goal is just not what the stated goal is.

To understand what the real goal of a system of policy is we can simply look at its most obvious beneficial effects. What’s it for? What’s it good at? Let’s look at the example of the clearly failed policy of “The War on Drugs.”

Since that paragon or trustworthiness Dick Nixon “launched” it two generations ago, the global market in illicit drugs has exploded to a $500 billion enterprise, all of it outside any form of government oversight or control. Amid a plentiful supply, price has dropped almost constantly over this time across the entire Western World while potency has increased.

The goal of “banning” certain drugs from society has clearly and abjectly failed. In the process most judicial systems of modern countries spend the vast majority of their capacity waging this war. This to the detriment of doing things like improving public safety or going after violent criminals, rapists or thieves.

So clearly this policy of prohibition is not working, for all the reasons alcohol prohibition did not work in the US in the early 20th Century. So why keep it going? What are the upsides and who is benefiting? Obviously many people working in law-enforcement are benefiting (job security), privatized prison systems are benefiting (more business), governments looking for excuses to arbitrarily arrest people are benefiting. Banks where the billions are laundered are benefiting.

So lots of parties have an interest in keeping the policy going, even though it has patently failed at any of its original or (re)stated objectives. The only logical conclusion is that the real objectives of the policy are now to provide the various benefits to parties above.

Looking at the surveillance state from this non-naïve perspective; what are all the systems, organizations and procedures good at? PRISM and the wider tool set disclosed by Edward Snowden are obviously not very well suited to hunting down plotting terrorist masterminds. You know, the really brilliant ones that can successfully defeat the entire multi-trillion-dollar US air defense infrastructure armed with just a few box-cutters. People that smart do not plan their operations on Facebook or use unencrypted Gmail accounts for communications (unlike certain libidinous generals tasked with hunting them).

Many former intelligence and security services officials have stated that the way to fight terrorism is good old investigative police work and perhaps a serious look at the stated grievances that are the reasons for the radical behavior. This is how most European terrorist networks were successfully dismantled in the late 20th Century.

Finding a needle in a haystack is not served by adding ever more hay. So logically the goals of these programs are not “catching terrorists” or preventing attacks, something they have never demonstrably done. But this does not mean that these systems have no use. They are of use and are being used for what they are good at: suppressing dissent in democratic societies.

This is done by infiltrating and breaking up activist networks and thus pre-empting effective protest. By labeling non-violent and legitimate political activity “extremism” or “terrorism,” the entire suite of anti-terror laws erected over the last decade can be brought to bear against citizens using their democratic rights to protest various wrongs that they perceive in society (human rights, environmental problems, governmental corruption, abuse of power by corporations, etc.).

Therefore, any realistic discussions on the nature of the surveillance policies we live under need to start from the understanding of the true nature of these systems and policies. It’s not a mistake or polite difference of opinion on how to address “security” questions. Effectively resisting these policies cannot be done from the quasi-polite and naïve standpoint of acceptance of the official goals.

Those wanting to resist must show the policies for what they are; methods for achieving objectives that would never be accepted by the remaining democratic functions of western societies. If all of this sounds too evil for your liking, consider that the alternative is the idea that the world really is run by spoiled toddlers. Not impossible but very much more unlikely.

Arjen Kamphuis is co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Gendo. He studied Science and Policy at Utrecht University and worked for IBM and Twynstra Gudde as IT architect, trainer and IT strategy adviser. Since late 2001, Kamphuis has advised clients on the strategic impact of new technological developments. [An earlier version of this article can be read at http://gendo.nl/en/blog/arjen/whats-it-for-the-objectives-of-policies-systems#sthash.Fc66vqbc.dpuf ]

Consortiumnews

 

Calm reigns over Gaza amid celebrations

US rules out coordination with Syria on targeting jihadists

New Turkey PM leaves successor troubled legacy

Algeria president sacks Belkhadem

Saudi Arabia could earn $8.5 billion from Mecca pilgrimage

US spy agencies face difficult task in Syria

Saudi Arabia jails 18 militants on terror charges

Gazans breathe sigh of relief

Litany of horrors becomes regular fixture in jihadist-held Syria

Iraq forces mass for onslaught on jihadist siege of Amerli

Doha offers help to rebuild Gaza

Iran alters Arak heavy water reactor over Western worries

Palestinians ‘reach’ long-term Gaza truce with Israel

Barzani: Iran provided us with weapons

US to track jihadists in Syria with spy planes

Top Iran official in Saudi to repair strained ties

Drums of war are beating anew on Capitol Hill

Israel air raid in Gaza kills two Palestinians

Deadly bus tragedy in Egypt

Car bomb rips through Baghdad intersection

Shebab flee Somalia strategic town in latest advance of African troops

South Sudan warring leaders sign fresh ceasefire deal

Who’s funding extremists? Qatar struggles to clean up tarnished image

Abadi calls on militias to come under Iraq state control

Nile dam row at heart of talks in Sudan

Ansar Sharia calls for jihadist unity in Libya

No let-up in Gaza war as Egypt raises new truce proposal

Thousands march in support of Yemen President’s call for national unity

Syria reaches out to former foes in fight against ‘terrorism’

Libya parliament names new army chief

Egypt warns only disarmament could spare Libya from intervention

Egypt offers new Gaza ceasefire

Iran to Israel: we will arm Palestinians

American held hostage for 22 months in Syria freed

Iraq calls for global support in fighting jihadists

Iran bolsters arsenal with new drones and missiles

Arab ministers discuss ‘rise of extremism’ in Saudi Arabia

In Jordan, students stay home as teachers strike

Iran ‘shoots down’ Israel drone near Natanz nuclear site

Netanyahu vows to maintain Israel offensive in Gaza ‘as long as necessary’

Libya neighbours meet in Egypt amid serious concerns

Zarif meets Ashton in September to discuss framework for renewed talks

‘Islamic State’ jihadists enter Syria military airport for first time

Huthi intentions for war become obvious as talks collapse in Yemen

Signs of militia coup as Islamists openly defy Libya parliament