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<nettime> UAV-SUV-DNA
crandall on Mon, 30 Jun 2003 12:06:27 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> UAV-SUV-DNA

Rita Dasgupta wrote (on 24 June) a very interesting text regarding the
“shoot first, identify later” ethos of the US military and the recent UAV
strike on a convoy that was thought to contain fugitive Iraqi leaders and
possibly Saddam Hussein or his sons.  She described it as a particularly
messy and distasteful way of going about a political assassination, and
lamented the loss of earlier forms:

>There was something very intimate about 20th century assassinations, 
>From Franz Ferdinand onwards.  You got close, you suddenly brandished 
>your gun in the crowd, people screamed...

This is a Hollywood-driven image of assassination.  But we want this sort
of thing to get a grasp on what happened.  The UAV (in this case, the
Predator drone) was flown most likely by an operator in Nevada, the live
video images watched at military/intelligence bases in Virginia or
California and routed to other analysts and commanders.  There is no drama
to these strikes, no Hollywood image of what they might resemble.  No
squinting Top Gun, and even the plane doesn’t look like anything other
than a harmless toy.

The military would not call this an assassination, and the use of that
term in this case is subject to dispute.  But here is something further.  
Why do we even regard this as a “military” strike?  When you look
carefully at these distributed combat networks, industry is so completely
bound up in them that to separate them is like trying to unravel a forest
thicket.  What new terms can we use to describe these
military-industrial-entertainment clusters?  We need a way to hold warfare
and business together as part of one mechanism, rather than analyzing each

The contract to rebuild Iraq’s oil industry was given to Kellogg Brown &
Root, subsidiary of the oil services megacorp Halliburton, which has about
$12.5 billion in annual revenue.  Dick Cheney’s connection to Halliburton
is well known (he was CEO and still even receives compensation today), and
there is growing talk of his influences in the awarding of the contract to
KBR.  But as Dan Baum wrote in the New York Times, KBR didn’t need any
help from Cheney.  It is now so firmly enmeshed within the Pentagon that
it was able to simply award the contract to itself.  It’s unbelievable how
much the military has outsourced to the corporate world and how much
inbreeding has resulted.  The story of this war is very much also a story
of giants like Halliburton and Bechtel, to the extent that even the air
strikes that we see could be defined as military- corporate ones.

The way the Bush administration talks about this war is a curious mix of
rumor, information, myth, strategem.  Trailers are found on the ground in
Iraq that the administration speculates contain biological or chemical
weapons laboratories.  “We have found the weapons of mass destruction.”
This most recent strike was aimed at a convoy that was “thought to have
been carrying” Saddam Hussein.  Afterwards, Pat Roberts, chair of the
Senate Intelligence Committee, says that he would “not be surprised” to
learn that Hussein had been killed.  It is as if the speculation, reported
often enough, substitutes for the actual occurrence, overwriting it.  The
logic of pre-emptiivity operates with words as well as bombs.

We are already seeing, with the UAV and other distributed systems now
being tested, the growing lack of specificity of who is shooting, and from
where.  We get a target – one man, one car – that is incinerated, but the
genesis of the fire is a field of distributed possibility, a kind of
networked armed intent.  A networked armed intent whose “armor” is the
rumour-information-myth-strategem articulatory complex.  And the whole
thing gets pulled along by normative narrative conventions.  We are fed
the endless quest for the figure Saddam (did we get Saddam?), in what Rita
compellingly describes as a Lord of the Rings- style scenario, a figure
who must be destroyed in order for his evil influence to end.  As she
implies, the quest should rather be aimed toward understanding this
apparatus that just struck him down, for it is far more the mystery.  And
we are not going to find it by looking at a category abstraction like

On the one hand, there is this undefinable, distributed armed apparatus.  
On the other hand, there is “the DNA,” whose precision-guided accuracy
rises to take up the slack. Rita writes how a team was sent to “recover
the DNA” of those killed in the convoy strike.  She wonders, Do they leave
the body parts and take only the DNA?  One wonders if there are even body
parts at all.  In between the armed apparatus and “the DNA” are only
probable bodies, incinerated.  They gain identity (if at all) only in
retrospect.  What are we looking at, when we “look” at “the DNA”?  
Abstractions at the micro level meet those at the macro level, with a
body-identity torn asunder and reconstructed within.

A field of imminent danger.  A pre-emptive strike.  A collection of torn
parts.  “The DNA” as an index of the real.  An identity endowed. We are
pulled along the story line as in a detective or mystery movie (or
increasingly, the news itself). There is no resisting the unidirectional,
vectoral force of this narrative munition.  We ask:  Did we get the bad

The war opened on Thursday March 20, with four one ton satellite-guided
bombs and forty Tomahawk missiles dumped with pinpoint accuracy on Dora
Farms, the location where Hussein was thought to be.  On Saturday, the
third day of the war, Tommy Franks gave his first briefing.  He was
surrounded by a 38-foot world map and an array of plasma video screens
showing battlefield images.  He seemed to be at the very crossroads of the
war.  Do you know what he was actually standing in?  An elaborate stage
set that was finished just two days before the war started, devised by a
Hollywood set designer at a cost of $250,000.

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