Force Multipliers and 21st Century Imperial Warfare: Practice and Propaganda

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If the present provides a hint of what it is to come, the nastiest, ugliest, and bloodiest wars to be fought this century will be between states opposed to continued US dominance, and the force multipliers of US dominance. We see the outline of sovereign self-defense programs that take diverse forms, from the banning of foreign funding for NGOs operating in a state’s territory, controlling the mass media, arresting protesters, shutting down CIA-funded political parties, curtailing foreign student exchanges, denying visas to foreign academic researchers, terminating USAID operations, to expelling US ambassadors, and so forth. In extreme cases, this includes open warfare between governments and armed rebels backed by the US, or more indirectly (as the force multiplier principle mandates) backed by US allies. US intervention will provoke and heighten paranoia, stoking repression, and create the illusion of a self-fulfilling prophecy that US interventionists can further manipulate, using logic of this kind: they are serial human rights abusers; we therefore need to intervene in the name of humanity. There will be no discussion, let alone admission, that US covert intervention helped to provoke repression, and that the US knowingly placed its “force multipliers” on the front line. “Force multipliers” also requires us to understand the full depth and scope of US imperialism comprising, among other things: entertainment, food, drink, software, agriculture, arms sales, media, and so on.

Yet, in the end, we are still left with a basic question: What is a force multiplier? There are even more answers to this question than there are persons answering it. Beyond the most basic definition in physics, we see a proliferation of examples of force multipliers, reflecting a weak pseudo-science that reifies actual policies, offering mixed results in practice. Given the scientistic and positivist approach that achieved hegemony during the Cold War in US universities and the military, the conceptualization of force multipliers reveals familiar problems arising from the naturalization of social phenomena, of “man” as “molecule” of society. As an impoverished form of political science, one that is formulaic, mechanical, utilitarian, and ideologically-driven, the force multiplier idea nonetheless poses difficult anthropological questions about the agency of others. My hope was that military writers did not choose to write “force multipliers” because candidly calling them “quislings,” “shills,” “dupes,” “pawns” or “suckers” would have been too “politically incorrect,” or would have validated older, Cold War-era accusations of the US supporting “stooges,” “lackeys,” “cronies,” “henchmen,” “running dogs,” or “lap dogs”. In other words, my hope was that this was not yet another imperial euphemism. Regardless of the intentions behind the terminology, whether conscious or not, the basic idea of using humans as a form of drone, one that is less expensive yet more precise and in less need of constant guidance, seems to be the persisting feature of the force multiplier concept.

If the concept is not a mere euphemism, then there is still an absence of sound theorization of force multipliers on the part of the Pentagon, and by that I mean that while an inchoate lexical infrastructure exists consisting of nested synonyms derived from the natural sciences, there is little more than crude utilitarianism and functionalism to hold the terms together. Some may wish to retort, “then that is the theory” by noting the presence of functionalist assumptions and premises derived from rational-choice theories. However, the presence of theory should also involve the process of theorization, which entails questioning, revising, and exposing one’s assumptions to a dialogue with other theories and with facts that appear to challenge the validity of the theory.

There may be a lot of real-world destruction by the US military and intelligence apparatus, but there is no winning as such—the absence of theorization is killing the imperial political and security structures, but their exposure to critical theories will only hasten their defeat. No wonder then that so many right-wing “pro-military” columnists in the US routinely scoff at and dismiss “post-colonialism”—theirs is a hegemony in trouble, turned narcissistic: unable to find their mirror image in many sectors of the social sciences and humanities, they resort to angry triumphalism and cyclical repetition of the same failed “solutions,” repeated over and over again. On the other hand, they can find their mirror-image in academia, and particularly anthropology, in other ways: many US anthropologists’ convoluted (meta)theoretical fumblings, obfuscated by pretentious language whose deliberate lack of clarity masks deep confusion and bewilderment, stands out particularly in the cases of topics which are “new,” such as democracy or globalization. In this sense, both the US military and US anthropology in some quarters share in common a proliferation of theoretical-sounding rhetoric and a lack of scientific theory. Not coincidentally, both also share an apparent aversion to even saying the word “imperialism”. One might detect a certain decadence in imperial intellectual life, of which the force multiplier theoretical pretense is but one small example.

Clearly there are numerous examples of agents serving as “force multipliers,” and almost as clear is the absence of theorization, let alone reason for imperial elites to feel confident about success when the political, economic, and cultural projects they represent are domestically bankrupt and alienating. Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq, and “winning hearts and minds,” certainly did happen in some places and to some extent, which gives partial weight to the “force multiplier” idea at the core of these processes. However, on the whole, counterinsurgency programs have been defeated in Afghanistan just as in Vietnam before.


zaniv5smExtracted from:
Force Multipliers: The Instrumentalities of Imperialism
Edited by
Maximilian C. Forte
Montreal, Alert Press, 2015
Available in print, or as a
Free E-book

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