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Blowback

Candidates are eager to show us how tough they are. I’d prefer smart.

The rhetoric is clear: We must strike fear into the hearts of our enemies. We must bomb them until the sand glows. We must kill their families. This is the only country that matters.

While this is political posturing in an election year, it veers very close to fascism. We talk about Donald Trump as being a danger to democracy and world peace, and he arguably is. But every major candidate save Bernie Sanders has expressed a desire to commit a war crime.

The United States spends around $711 billion on its military: almost 48% of the world’s total military spending. The next closest, China, which is home to almost four times as many people, spends $143 billion.

This is not something we should be proud of.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that the NSA was using a program called SKYNET to assassinate suspected terrorists in Pakistan based on their cellphone data. This data was processed by a machine learning algorithm based on activity by “known couriers” — there not being a large dataset of terrorist activity for us to analyze — which included simply swapping handsets among its signals. Many of the targeted individuals were civilians, while the technology itself, according to one data scientist, was “complete bullshit”.

Statistically, the greatest terrorist threat to Americans are Americans themselves. Domestic white supremacists and anti-government groups have killed many more people (PDF link) than the Islamic terrorists often highlighted in political campaigns and in the media. Yet strikes like those in Pakistan, hitting civilians almost indiscriminately, are likely to create more. The CIA’s term for this is blowback. In President Obama’s first year in office, America’s military activity in Yemen ignited an uprising.

I don’t believe you can build a more peaceful world by bombing it. Certainly not by bombing civilians. You can, perhaps, assert one nation’s dominance, but this is temporary at best. We are all connected now, in the information age, and the idea that one nation can be isolated from another is ludicrously regressive: ideas, people and resources move across borders more efficiently than ever before, and rightly so. Rather than build walls and create artificial separations, we need to work together with other nations and build agreements. Nationalistic exceptionalism and military posturing should be a thing of the past.

We still live in the shadow of September 11, 2001: undoubtedly a horrific act of terror. It will have been fifteen years since those attacks this September, and I expect the political rhetoric of violence to escalate accordingly. It will be opportunistic and macho. Candidates will again talk about the war crimes they’re eager to commit in the name of freedom.

We can aspire to more.

A global world, full of interconnections and post-border national identities, is nothing to be afraid of. A peaceful world, driven by diplomacy, consensus and compromise, is something to work towards. So much of our military spending — somewhere between our $711 billion and China’s $143 — could be spent on more positive ways of establishing our security.

I want to see a candidate with a peaceful foreign policy agenda. I want to see the same kind of liberalism that has transformed domestic society start to think about how we interact with the rest of the world. I’m waiting, in short, for a candidate who can move us forward — but I don’t think we’ve been given one in this election.

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Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.

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