On March 14, a Russian SU-27 fighter brought down a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea. The exact details of where and how remain a mystery even after the release of drone video showing what appears to be a dump of jet fuel onto the drone, but those details don’t matter much. The incident mainly serves as an excuse for more ratcheting up of US-Russian tensions around the war in Ukraine.
When I think of drones, I’m more likely to think of music – yes, music – than of unmanned military aircraft. And thinking about the drone effect in music provides a useful analogy to US foreign policy.
They’re over Alaska! They’re over Montana! They’re over Lake Huron! They’re over … oh, wait, they just got shot down. Whew! That was close!
Tesla’s engineers are gathering this week in Washington with an eye on dramatically improving their vehicles’ acceleration profiles by studying how fast the US government managed to get from “nothing there,” to “balloon of some kind,” to “spy balloon,” to “Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon,” to seemingly flying squadrons of military aircraft over every child’s birthday party and using expensive missiles to take down stray helium containers.
From, you know, an abundance of caution. Wouldn’t want the Chinese to find out about those low, low prices at the Walmart in Billings, Montana on pretty much everything but the giant sub-$100 helium balloons which US Senator Josh Hawley finds “very disturbing” (as if we didn’t know he’s already very disturbed in general). To surreptitiously gather THAT information, they’d have to surveil an Amazon.com distribution center.
As the post-Russian-invasion phase of the war in Ukraine approaches the end of its first year (its previous, lower-intensity, phase blazed into military flame in 2014), I continually find my own position pigeon-holed into convenient categories by those who hold other positions on it.
Some who claim to be “antiwar” accuse me of supporting Russian aggression, while others say I support Ukrainian Nazism or US imperialism. Still others, more openly “pro-war,” find me “soft” on the various actions of [insert regime of choice here].
An “experienced analyst” at the National Security Agency ran an illegal surveillance project that involved “unauthorized targeting and collection of private communications of people or organizations in the US.” The agency’s inspector general concluded that the analyst “acted with reckless disregard” for “numerous rules and possibly the law.”
“Hereby it is manifest,” Thomas Hobbes wrote in 1651’s Leviathan, “that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called War; and such a war as is of every man against every man.”
Hobbes’s solution to the absence of a “common Power” was a “covenant” with a “sovereign” who would act on behalf of all – what we today call “the state” or “government” – thus bringing an end to the terrible war he discerned.
So, how well has that worked out for us?
Hobbes wrote in the shadow of the Thirty Years’ War, concluded by the Peace of Westphalia, which created the state as we know it. Casualties in that war are estimated at eight million.
Nearly three months into the war Ukraine, events upended quite a few assumptions by quite a few people. I count myself in that crowd.
I didn’t expect Vladimir Putin to order the invasion.
When he did, I expected it to go the way of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War – a quick rout of Ukrainian forces, a stern “don’t ever do that again” warning from Putin (as with Ukraine, the Georgia dust-up had to do with attempts to re-conquer seceded, pro-Russian areas), and a quick return to International Relations Business as Usual.