Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Phoenix Program and Counterterrorism as Politics


The Phoenix Program and Counterterrorism as Politics

Peter Schultz


            The Phoenix program that was instituted during the Vietnam War represented the culmination of elitist politics. That is, it represented a politics composed of potentially deadly groups who were considered and consider themselves to be elites. So, too, this may be said of counterterrorism generally, which is why counterterrorism was so readily embraced by US elites, by both political and bureaucratic elites, as the way to wage the War on Terror.


            Elitism is seductive because (a) elites are composed of allegedly superior human beings; (b) because elite organizations concentrate and convey great power on their members; and (c) because that power is meant to be and will be wielded energetically, with “secrecy and dispatch,” as Alexander Hamilton put it in the Federalist. What reason could there be for granting significant, even great powers to allegedly superior human beings other to have those powers be used with gusto?


            Elite arrangements are difficult for human beings, who are political animals, to resist, especially when confronting what are alleged to be “existential threats.” The seductions of sex cannot hold a candle to the seductions of elitism and elitist power. The seductions are so great that even elite savagery will be celebrated. As Hillary Clinton guiltlessly put it regarding the assassination and anal rape of Omar Qaddafi, “we came, we saw, he died.” Or as Barack Obama put it regarding his drone warfare: “Turns out I am pretty good at this killing thing.” Or as Madeleine Albright put it: the deaths of half a million young Iraqi children were worth the imposition of economic sanctions on Iraq. Whereas once decent people admired sexual prowess, now such people admire the savage prowess of our elites. It is an interesting state of affairs.

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