Category Archives: aerial bombardment

Gulfs of Meaning

In a world where borders don’t often correspond landmarks or terrain, tensions of incursions on new forms of territoriality multiply. Tensions of violations of airspace and national waters pose questions of the accuracy reliance on mapping systems, moreover, difficult to contest or resolve on a single map, as, at the same time, the frictionless nature of drone flights–here embodied by the costly RQ-4A Global Hawk, whose price as a high-end unmanned surveillance tool reflects its abilities to transgress borders without detection, flying at over 20,000 feet across borders at a speed of five hundred miles per hour, embodies an ability to remap a space of surveillance by superior mapping technologies than other countries. With literally hours remaining before devastating military airstrikes on Iran, amidst fears that a slight miscalculation or misinterpretation of mapping systems could precipitate an unwanted war of massive scale, the strikes were canceled at 7:30 p.m. Washington time, and the threat that Iran had “made a very big mistake” de-escalated; Trump suddenly allowed for the margin of human error, even as he maintained that the drone had been flying “clearly over international waters,” rather than Iranian airspace just 750 miles southeast of Tehran, refusing to relinquish his own map of where the Global Hawk was downed.

The trust in this unmanned drone may possess its own almost hubristic quality. For its downing by Iranian missiles downed not only a costly military surveillance tool, but punctured a space of surveillance of the Persian Gulf and Iranian territory, and a sense of security in a precarious geopolitical region–at the same time as the American government seems to be bent on increasing tensions about the continued flow of crude petrochemicals to much of the industrialized world. For the downing of the drone punctured confidence in a continuous space of surveillance. Radar systems the United States Military didn’t think Revolutionary Guards possessed or could acquire marked not only a threats of war, but of shattering an imagined space of global dominance by which the United States was effectively able to extend its sovereignty into international waters to protect traffic across the Strait of Hormuz–not only by a new surface-to-air missile, but a new radar system able to detect the drone–

–that effectively ended a map of surveillance that will no longer exist in the face of new Iranian defense systems allowing Revolutionary Guards to protect their territorial claims. If the region has long been planned and imagined to be a new theater of possible war, the nature at which each side is compelled to map the potential battle field has been forced to be remapped, in ways that rightly gave pause to the possibility of American air strikes, as the guidance systems of surface-to-air missiles that Iran possesses to target drones, aircraft and unmanned vehicles are no longer clearly understood by the U.S. Army or U.S. military intelligence. And as an American “upper hand” in mapping technologies has been punctured, the battlefield may well need to be remapped.

Airspace and territorial waters are more difficult to map on earlier maps, and difficult to map on top of shorelines, or in navigational routes, perhaps, for an untrained eye, but the proliferation of alternate readings of sovereign space have become especially fraught in the waters of the Strait of Hormuz, where overcrowded traffic turns on hairpin turns, seems to have been detected entering Iranian airspace–if one trusts the maps tweeted out in self-defense by Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif–who argued the unmanned surveillance drone had crossed the “red line” of its sovereign airspace without warning, ignoring alerts from Revolutionary Guards, and interpreted as threats to its sovereignty.

Coming on the heels of Iranian threats to shut the Strait of Hormuz to all traffic, as Iranian speedboats patrolled the waters, as if tempting to assert their control over the narrow passage-way out of belief that “if our oil does not go through the Strait, other countries’ will certainly not cross the Strait,” the jockeying for power over the transit of oil in international waters set up a conflict between where national sovereign interests began and ended, and what power the United States regained on a global geopolitical stage, even as the United States openly asserted the upper hand of global surveillance over what is one of the narrowest maritime site of petroleum transit in the world wildly out of proportion to the millions of barrels that cross the narrow strait daily, a transit that wildly dwarfs the petroleum carried to global markets by other maritime routes–despite the quite narrow nature of its passage, and the even narrower space of international waters by which oil tankers navigate the Strait.

NASA/Public Domain
Shipping Lanes of Strait of Hormuz

Where the unmanned vehicle flying American colors flew–and whether it crossed into a sovereign space–bedcame a flash-point of regional tensions, so much that the downing of the $110M drone, long celebrated by the U.S. Army as covering surveillance needs over the Gulf, embarrassingly became a target of Iranian defenses, as it was downed on June 20, even as it was flying at over 60,000 feet, or above what American forces believed that Iranian Revolutionary Guards could detect. The illusion that American unmanned surveillance drone RQ-4A Global Hawk could itself move frictionlessly across national boundaries without being downed was itself unmanned, creating a small catastrophe or large disruption in the international balance of powers.

Did it cross the red line?

Or, as the U.S. Military’s Central Command tried to assert with its own parallel graphic of where the drone was downed, showed the apparent intensity with which Iran was able to pursue the dominance in a theater of oil transport vital to the global energy economy, and to the global economy that was attached to it, signaling a real Achilles heel in the continued image of American global invulnerability. which the United zStastes was determined to map as occurring outside Iranian sovereignty as an attack on American property and super-costly military hardware–starting a war of maps on the heels of a renewal to past Tanker Wars, both possibly poised to escalate into actual military bombardment.

It certainly seemed that the downed Global Hawk would constitute something akin to the arrow fired by the Trojan Pandarus into the groin of the Spartan Menelaus, the great warrior and husband of Helen of Troy, causing blood two streak down his legs, in an image of the fraught virility of the fabled warrior to incite the wrath of the leader Agamemnon, if not reveal newfound imbalance of military relations which Athena seemed to use to provoke the shattering military disaster of the Trojan War by starting the siege of Ilium. Would the downing of the jet provide the occasion of the bombing of Iran that Donald J. Trump has hoped to begin, matching his heightened bellicose rhetoric with the presence of a violent escalation of arms?

What happened was not clear, as was evident in the difficulty of mapping the event. When the costly U.S. Army Global Hawk drone looped back in the course of its surveillance of the Strait’s coasts, possibly entering Iranian airspace, after it was shot down, reverberations spread across the world, quite quickly. President Trump declared that Iran had shown itself by this act to be “ready for war” before plans for a miltirary reprisal were called off with but hours before it was poised to begin–perhaps saving the world from a global catastrophe, although U.S. Secretary of State was later dispatched to forge an improvised alliance against Iran in the coming weeks. Although war was averted on a global scale, the question of whose map was more authoritative, and whose could be trusted, reveals much about the contested status of authoritative maps in the globalized world, beyond being a debate waged across social media. The debate turned on different ways of reading space–or of wanting to read space; one hinged upon a notion of national boundaries and sovereign space, whereas the other relied upon the frictionless space of a notion of regional surveillance.

The downing of the drone lifted a corner on the shifting tensions in globalization, and indeed the increased problems of lamination of multiple maps over the increased density of economic traffic across the Strait of Hormuz, and indeed the conflicts between national and international waters along which petrochemical and crude petroleum leaves the increasingly blurry–if much mapped and over-patrolled–region of the Persian Gulf. The tensions were not about the drone. At least not only. The ratcheting up of tensions with a policy of “maximum prsssure” and rhetorical escalation has ratcheted up tensions, as Iran policy has been transformed into a flag-waving exercise of defense against a perceived infidel enemy–one that has disdained civil discourse and alleged overtures of open negotiation–in ways that are about American desires to map “international waters” and international airspace–

–rather than recognize even the potential legitimacy of a sovereign state’s defence. For all the mapping of “national” spaces on new maps of the region–that for all their identification of names of nations affirm the abilities and potentials of U.S. surveillance maps.

The Strait of Hormuz exists on the borders of several nations, and might be mapped in multiple ways. While the central waters of the Strait–which narrows to just twenty-one nautical miles, or less than forty kilometers–nonetheless retains a thin band designated as international waters, which puts it outside of local sovereignty. But the Strait increasingly is mapped in radically different global and local contexts, making the question of its territoriality and international status a question of increased tensions in the past weeks–when one American Global Hawk, a pretty fancy piece of surveillance, was downed. The cost was not only limited to the fourteen million dollar piece of military hardware, or to its symbolic loss, but the casualty of a sense of security in the frictionless policing of an economically vital transit routes–and the hegemony of mapping and ensuring the safety of the movement of crude oil from the Persian Gulf to global energy markets.

What appears to be a navigational course, in an era when territoriality is designed by points, rather than either landscapes or terrain, created an increasingly serious a quandary for measuring locations along a nautical map alone, or in reference to a mainland. For the question of incursion in territoriality–as the high-grade U.S. Army drone that was shot down in Iranian airspace–is not so evident from the Gulf waters, or the landscape over which it flew, approaching the Islamic Republic of Iran’s sovereign region of Hormogazan Province, or appearing to stray outside of the path of international airspace, or at least doing so at a height of 20,000 meters, higher than Americans’ expected Iranian radar systems could detect, but in fact just within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s radar detection abilities.

Was it an incursion of sovereignty? It depends less on whose maps you are looking at, than what sort of landscape of military conflict and geospatial intelligence you followed, or what side of the cat and mouse game of mapping the nature of the international status of the navigational paths of the Strait you follow to understand how securing “free passage” through he Strait of Hormuz became rooted in the security of abilities of mapping energy transit. If the Strait has emerged as a hotspot in an increasingly irrevocably globalized world, the conflict between Iran and American interests arose as abilities of local mapping temporarily shifted, and the hegemony of American mapping of gulf waters was challenged, as Iran accused the United States of crossing a long drawn “red line” of sovereignty in spying on the banks of a Strait that Iran has increasingly asserted its ability to close, and indeed to monitor the escalating American surveillance of its waters and shores.

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Filed under aerial bombardment, globalization, Middle East, military intelligence, Persian Gulf

The Distributed Geography of “Homeland”

When Michel Foucault told a gathering of architects that “the anxiety of our era has fundamentally to do with place” in 1967, he was describing prisons.  Foucault’s fierce generalization argued that the growing shift from time to place was a crucial means to understand the attention of governments, but he could not have foreseen the level at which place has become a focus of anxiety in the Global War on Terror–either in the ramped up security at public buildings and in mass transit, or in the targeted assassinations and shootings of individuals.  As threats of terrorist strikes seem to respect no battleground, we are consumed with tracking global networks on which we have no geographical orientation.  The conflation of such conflict as global, and the elevation of the attacks of 9/11 to a regime of terror instilled fears of where the next possible target of terrorism might be.  It has opened a sense of the place-lessness of the War on Terror–described as global, but long increasingly located in Afghanistan and Pakistan–has increasingly disoriented the American public from the world, and left them reeling for a narrative to orient us to its origins, which the convoluted narratives of the television drama “Homeland” takes such particular delight in purporting to unmask.

And the audiences that have emerged around the made-for-television thriller “Homeland,” a psychological drama which crosses multiple boundaries and suggesting the confusion or the problematic status of clear boundaries in its dramatic structure, asks audiences to decide what the nature of patriotism in fact is–and indeed the possibility of mapping places of safety in what increasingly seems a post-cartographical world.  For despite the previous security of the mapping of lines of battle and sites of safety that were perpetuated in World War II and its aftermath, as a new era of stability, by a President who looked at its surface from a measured distance–

 

Roosevelt and Globe.pngCentral Intelligence Agency/”President’s Globe” US Army Presented on Christmas, 1942

 

–the mapping of danger and of sites for surveillance have so proliferated in the Global War on Terror to make any coherent narrative about them seem cognitively challenging to knit, save to affirm the omnipresence of danger in the world.  While Homeland provided temporary narrative coherence to this world in ways that were increasingly satisfying to its viewers, in ways that have not been fully understood, the Reality TV figure Donald J. Trump created a sense of an imagined link between security, flows of capital and immigration—claiming to reverse the decline of American centrality and supremacy that was avoided by his opponent, but which increasingly dominated the rallies, public statements, tweets, and rallies that Trump held over the two years of the election.  For in the election, Trump provided a sense of the national imaginary that was besieged and looking for moorings that responded to the dislocation that the “Global” War on Terror brought, and that was ramped up in troubling ways by each possible terrorist attack that occurred on “American soil” and which reminded us of national vulnerability.

 

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If the confusion of place, patriotism, and boundaries has in large part contributed to the election of Donald J. Trump–driven not only by economic anxiety, but where economic insecurity became the stand-in on which to displace far deeper fears about the homeland and about national frontiers and belonging–and to respond to a deep feeling of disempowerment not only in the economy, but an emotional satisfaction in an era of particularly acute dislocation.

Vulnerability was the dramatic theme, of course, of Homeland, which questioned the role of patriotism in a country that was infiltrated by hidden networks of terrorists far more than was evident to most.  It was an insider’s look at the War on Terror, from a place that we have only imagined to be able to stand.  For the status of place as a focus of anxiety has been elevated and transmogrified in the broad generality of a Global War on Terror to lose ny sense of security.  In the “Global War on Terror,” there is no clearly defined battlefield, but suspicion and surveillance have been generalized across space in ways that have confounded much of the nation in ways we have rarely seen before.  For a society in which the heightened ratcheting up of anxieties about place are difficult to narrate or indeed process, we have perhaps come to seek new figures of collective strength.  We have been trying to narrate what the new instability of space, and lack of a harmonious sense of place, has come to mean–or the lack of security of any given location with the confusion of sites of military engagement and sites of fear, and of where exactly the Home Front or the next sites of military engagement and future site of terrorist attack might come be.

The destabilization of place was rife in the 1960s, to be sure.  One remembers the instability of the home front during Vietnam that the poet Denise Levertov perceived so acutely:  during the Peoples’ Park Riots in Berkeley, CA, Levertov wrote ominously in her diary, “War/comes home to us,” as police and national guards arrived to quell protestors:  during the Vietnam War, she voiced a common concern that the circulation of soldiers from its front to nation, as teargas, bayonets, billy clubs and bullets appeared in the park off of Telegraph Avenue.  The narration of a deep discomfort with place in HBO’s psychological thriller “Homeland” captures the deep dissonances and uncertainties of place in the Global War on Terror–GWOT–where the act of terrorism makes a fear of violence felt everywhere, and the storyline of a suspected sleeper terrorist introduces us to a broad hidden network of terrorism.

 

1.  The Global War on Terror may be the only possible culmination of the profoundly asymmetrical invasions of Iraq, before minimal resistance, and inuagurating the declaration of war not against a fixed target or country, but an emotion, Rebecca Solnit noted, and the generalization of the emotion became something of a justification for the war.  The open-ended notion of a GWOT, without  fixed site, has encouraged the expansions of a battlefield less clearly drawn than ever before, confusing categories of “home” and war in ways that the dramatic television series Homeland has dramatically structured over seven seasons.  The War on Terror has provided an everywhere war.  And as we watch the series drawn by the mirror it provides on how fear of the ineluctable infolding of “war” as a threat to “home.” For the GWOT has provoked such heightened tension about place–and the place of a possible attack–to compel a sense of narrative   about place, and the uncertain nature of the front line, or even of where the enemy lies, that the television series on HBO has come to provide on our televisions, where we can watch the narrative that maps the presence of terrorism both on our shores and in our military, and even stage that drama in Syria, Pakistan, and the generic Middle East, from refugee camps to houses and families of suspected terrorists, as if to give palpable stories to the increasing fears of a strike in our homeland that cannot be stopped.

The permeation of anxiety in the nation has in a sense created a captive audience for a drama that unfolds the increasingly complex contours of the a “war” on terror, and map out the sites of contested arenas in ways that they are suddenly materialized and rendered not only as fears, but as something like a clash of civilizations. As sites of engagement on the edge of state sovereignty have engaged the nation in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2000 with particular unease, as if the shock of a narrating a reaction to the attack on American soil has both challenged our sense of place and compelled us to orient ourselves collectively to place, whether to accept a surveillance apparatus to track terrorist organizations with a largely imagined degree of accuracy, or to acknowledge the edges of sovereignty to be effectively redrawn.  The pretence of pin-point precision of drones as combat tools seems designed to quell the anxieties of place with which we are increasingly best.  The ominous disorientataion of how it is that war now “comes home to us” is thematized in HBO’s dramatic thriller Homeland, as inner lives, and we turn to it to  inhabit the changed geography of terror, narrating a changed a collective relation to place through the stores of protagonists whose paths question and trace the margins of state sovereignty.

Place, and the uncertain fear of its obliteration, is questioned from the return of a marine suspected to be a terrorist operative in the first season of Homeland, whose life reveals the presence of terrorist networks across the country, and who in later seasons of the television drama we trace to examinee the rewritten boundaries of state sovereignty with a vertiginous level of anxiety that starts form an increasingly uncertain relation to the map and the opening up of new areas of national vulnerability, as if to offer a parallel escape narrative to the terrorist threat map that he Homeland Security Department regularly generates on its website, as if to tabulate and contain the new threats to national stability at specific sites where sovereignty seems endanger of being undermined.

 

Terrorist Threat map.png

 

The rise of the tabulation of “Islamist threats,” of which we are advised that our troops bear the brunt, with law enforcement, are displayed the website of the Dept. of Homeland Security as if to stabilize fears but in ways that destabilize of sense of place,  now inundated with an anxiety of future attacks to which we are most everywhere potentially susceptible, in what seems a deeply unethical  remapping of unending terror.  We mark attacks in hotspots and begging interpretation as if it were the weather, operating by  isolines and isotherms, as if we might predict the future sites of vulnerability to terror strikes–or the level of “terror threats,” calibrated for easy comprehension as “high” in the U.S. homeland, which begs the question of place after all, but all the more unsettles us.  But what would a “high terror threat” be?  Is the map a way of orienting us, or is it a method for disorienting us?  What possibility of orientation exists in an age of such sorts of uncertainty that a new set of attacks might occur anywhere?

For we seem to conceal that none of this has any contingent logic, but tracked in the manner of a disease map or a record of local virulence, it is embodied in spatial terms so that we can try to impose logic on and live with deep anxieties of place.  Yet, of course, the Daily Terror Threat is unable to be mapped by any “snapshot,” and the analogy of a documentary or diagnostic record is only an illustration of our current addiction to maps to which we turn for better hopes of certainty or stabilize insecurity, but whose function seems to suggest the unseen presence of ISIS in our lives and in the space we know.

 

 

TerrorThreatSnapshot_Graphic_August_SMALL_Website.pngDaily Terror Threat

 

And, as the monthly assessment of terror strikes is mapped online, we turn as if for relief to Homeland, in hopes to better gain purchase on a perpetual fear of place the maps as the above, tracking Hatchet attacks that we are assured our troops and law enforcement bear the greatest brunt, placing us in a state of seige unless we can delink, as some aggregated news website warn us of increasingly immanent “main events” on the Homeland as if “Islamic Terrorist Network” is able to be mapped across the majority of the United States.

 

islamicterrorthreatmap

 

“Sporadic attacks” seem so recurrent in intelligence assessments that we may forget that right-wing domestic terrorists as “equal to” or “in some cases greater than” foreign-born Islamic terrorists, such as ISIS, and need to generate our own maps of domestic “domestic anti-government terrorist groups”that proliferate in parallel, covering even more of the map, and more than doubling our fears–and having little apparent coherence as well.

 

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2.  Homeland seems to orient geography that was begun by the War on Terror, on the margins of the very boundaries of state sovereignty in ways that we never expected to be allowed, and its invitation is extremely compelling because it seems to map the edges of state sovereignty that are increasingly questioned or up for grabs in terrorist attacks.  Indeed, the series’ own structure has opened us to the danger of localized destruction by immersing us in an extension of its landscape of fear that has no set battlefield, but where any place can suddenly become a new front of engagement, and its progress cannot be clearly mapped.  Much as the fear of terror strikes have justified police raids and surveillance to an unprecedented degree, and opening attacks to new forms of mapping that have placed “place” within a new complex of geospatial control, the dramatic series boasts to orient us to it in ways for which a distinct thirst exists–and it fills the new contours of an everywhere war with recognizable human faces as we follow the protagonists to explore what sort of space for individuality the ongoing and widely distributed “War on Terror” allows.  As we move to the edges of state sovereignty where violence is greatest, the series asks us to explore the new topography of a world where straight edges between terror and civil society can’t be so cleanly drawn–and that violence erupts most strongly and fiercely on the edge of civil societies.

For the uncertainties of drone targeting provide a recurrent theme in the episodes of the first four seasons of Homeland, as if to orient viewers to the landscape of the War on Terror, where any place is invested with instability as a site of potential terror attack.  We move at the margins of space of sovereignty in the television drama, where any site is both able to struck, and exists in a GPS armature at the limits of sovereign space.  With the figure of Carrie Mathison, the heroine and intrepid protagonist who moves on and across these boundaries of sovereignty, moving across actual boundaries between sovereign states–as the publicity for the show so graphically announces in color-contrast–as if moving on the very frontier of state sovereignty and danger.

 

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Filed under aerial bombardment, Homeland (TV Show), Homeland Security, terrorism, War on Terror