A believer in the forms of sorcery commonly associated with Haiti should be forgiven for thinking that the souls of miscreant, anti-communal academics had been captured by the Pentagon and bottled up in military uniforms, resulting in the creation of zombies. Like the so-called living dead, the Human Terrain System keeps coming back from the grave, the grave that it has dug for itself among anthropologists, and the graves it has dug for three of its own researchers (who are periodically resusicated in the media — more on this in the next post — so they can serve an eternity of servitude for HTS, when their whole lives will be known only by their last place of employment). Who is the chief sorcerer, the bokor, of this program? For a while, some of us would have said Montgomery McFate, but the chief sorcerer here is really none other than Papa Doc Obama (dubbed “No Drama Obama” by those who have been captivated by the man’s utter elocutionary blandness, simply because it is spoken with pompous conviction — he obviously blew the powder in their faces).
In a recent article in CounterPunch, David Price wrote: “I am left to wonder how Barak Obama’s mother, anthropologist Ann Dunham would have reacted to her son’s reliance on such clearly unethical anthropological means to achieve political ends so aligned with neocolonialist goals of occupation and subjugation?” Seemingly in response, another anthropologist essentially suggested that Dunham might not have reacted as negatively as one might think, having herself served as an anthropological agent of American foreign policy (see “HTS and Barack Obama’s Mother: Whose ‘Anthropology’?“).
The point I wish to make is that it serves little purpose appealing to Obama’s dead mother or to demand answers from the elusive and selectively taciturn McFate: the program’s continued existence, indeed its very incorporation into the Pentagon structure (HTS personnel are no longer employees of BAE Systems, but are now government employees), and the promised expansion of the program, should tell us that ultimate responsibility lies at the top. This is Obama’s Human Terrain System. The newest war president has taken responsibility for the latest poison in his war chest of imperial sorcery, placing it right next to the toxic marine toad (Stanley A. McChrystal), the puffer fish (John Nagl), and the tree frog (David Petraeus). The final ingredient in the bokor’s tetrodotoxin is human remains, and here too HTS has its own in-house supply.
One of Obama’s objectives, in apparently embracing counterinsurgency, another zombie (this one brought back from the grave of Vietnam — it has been a while since people have seen it wandering the neighbourhood and scavenging on bags of government cash, so they think it is “new”). Obama is intent on not just widening the war from Afghanistan to Pakistan (as we see with his mercilessly shoving the Pakistani government into civil war, along with incessant missile attacks with U.S. air drones, the combined result being the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians), he is also intent on Americanizing the war (with increased U.S. military forces now rivaling the total size of all NATO forces in Afghanistan), and civilianizing it. As the Boston Globe reported on 27 March 2009:
Obama’s plan will also expand a controversial program that sends social scientists to counsel the military on local customs and support counterinsurgency operations, two senior military officials said yesterday. The expansion of the so-called “human terrain teams,” which hire cultural anthropologists and other academics to help in the war effort, is likely to bring a mixed reaction. Anthropologists have protested that cooperation with military operations violates their code of ethics, and some analysts say the program has limited value, since it has trouble finding academics with deep knowledge of Afghanistan’s languages and culture.
This expansion is described as part of a “civilian surge“:
…military officials say the social scientist teams – which will increase from six to at least nine – are part of a “civilian surge” that will build up necessary institutions in the country and help the fledgling central government extend its authority to rural Taliban strongholds. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Mexico yesterday that Obama is proposing “an integrated military-civilian strategy,” and that the effective use of civilian trainers, aid workers, technical assistance is critical to success. It was not clear last night how many civilian advisers Obama will propose.
Overall, the immediate plan is to increase the number of U.S. civilians serving in Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy by 50%, to more than 900 (source).
Ironically, the Boston Globe article tells us the following towards the end:
…military officials say they have worked hard in recent years to come up with creative programs that can win the population’s trust, crucial to any effective counterinsurgency strategy. The human terrain program has become a cornerstone of that effort.
One would think that the fact that Afghans blew up one of the researchers and torched the other would have led even American journalists to be more hesitant about associating HTS with winning hearts and minds.
Then again, do HTS researchers really ever die, or do they come back as zombified media reruns?