Friday, May 24, 2013

Star Trek versus Obama!

Gene Roddenberry, 1921 - 1991
His ashes were shot into space 1997
This memorial day weekend it is particularly apt to remember Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star  Trek, who flew 89 combat missions with the US Army Air corps in World War II.  After the war he became an LAPD cop.  Working in a company town he then started to write TV scripts for Gunsmoke and other TV series.  Star Trek was originally conceived as a "Western in outer space".  The crew of the Enterprise was a United Nations living in a post-nationalist universe that had overcome racism, sexism, etc.  The "Prime Directive" was a direct commentary and indictment of US involvement in the Vietnam war that was raging during Star Trek's brief three year run on NBC from 1966 to 1969.

Social commentary has, therefore, been part of the Star Trek phenomenon from its inception.

Star Trek, Into Darkness: Obama Critique?
In the 18th century French playwrights could criticise their kings as long as they set the plays' action somewhere in an ancient Greek setting.  The original Star Trek offered a Utopian vision of the future that questioned hawkish attitudes during the Vietnam war.  Today the Hollywood left can criticise President Obama as long as the story is set in a science fiction universe of the distant future.  Make no mistake about it, the latest release, Star Trek: Into Darkness boldly criticises the Obama administration where no Hollywood types have gone before!

The movie opens with horrific 9/11 style terrorist attacks in London (NB another senseless terrorist attack claiming the life of a 25 year old soldier in London this week) and San Francisco.  It quickly becomes apparent that the attacks have been carried out by a former Federation agent named John Harrison.  Kirk is ordered by his superior, Federation Admiral Alexander Marcus, (imperialist title fully intended) to track down the perpetrator and to kill him with a full complement of brand new high-tech torpedoes.  Admiral Marcus assures Kirk that the target planet is uninhabited except for the villainous Harrison, leaving no danger of collateral damage.  Federation intelligence assures us that the projected operation is a "slam dunk," so to speak.

It turns out that the CIA's, whoops I meant Federation's, intelligence sometimes proves to be faulty.  The planet is dangerously close to Klingon space and there is the danger that this act of counter terrorism might ignite a much wider war.  There are actually Klingons on the "uninhabited planet" who create the possibility of collateral damage, political repercussions and a wider war.  Without giving too much plot away, these new Federation torpedoes are not quite what they seem -- collateral damage guaranteed.  First officer Spock manages to use Vulcan logic to persuade Captain Kirk that it would be better to defy his Admiral's direct orders by capturing Harrison alive, interrogating him and bringing him to face justice on planet earth.

J.J. Abrams, the Producer of Star Trek: Into Darkness, did not have to search the galaxy for inspiration for his tale of faulty intelligence, collateral damage and imperial overreach; he merely had to consult the foreign policy record of the Obama administration.  J.J. Abrams has also demonstrated his strong sympathies for those risk their lives in the cause of freedom...
The Shadow War
Mark Mazzetti is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist for the New York Times who specialises in defence issues.  He published this year a book called The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth (2013,  The title is the author's adaptation of a quote from John Brennan who now runs the CIA in the Obama administration.  Brennan suggested that the US should rely upon a "scalpel" rather than a "hammer".  Obama believed that "messy, costly wars that topple governments and require years of occupation" could be replaced by a new form of secret shadow warfare that exploits new technological developments -- "the way of the knife."   Mazzetti's book's thesis is that this new way of warfare has its own set of costs and liabilities.

How did we get to this point in the first place?  In Mark Mazzetti's  The Way of the Knife (2013, he writes, "The Intelligence Authorization act of 1991 mandated that all covert operations be authorised by written presidential filing, explaining the need for the secret activity, and that the White house notify the House sand Senate intelligence committees shortly after the finding is issued to the CIA.  And yet the 1991 act contained a significant loophole: it exempted the Pentagon from these burdensome requirements if the military was conducting secret operations it considered to be "traditional military activities."

The law offered little guidance as to what constituted "traditional military activities," partly because the George H.W. Bush White House and Pentagon successfully lobbied Congress to keep the language vague.  These activities were ultimately defined as any operations carried out by the military that were connected to "ongoing" or "anticipated" hostilities.  In other words, the Pentagon could justify sending troops to any country in the world if it could make the case that the United States was at war inside that country -- or might be at some point in the future.

These arcane provisions were little discussed for a decade, until the days after the September 11 attacks when Congress gave President Bush a sweeping mandate to wage war all over the globe.  According to the provisions of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the United States was not at war with any one particular country but at war in any country where al Qaeda was operating.  The measure, in effect, gave Rumsfeld the license he was looking for to carry out a global war."

Since then the United States has invaded Iraq and fought a global war on terror in countries around the world. Coalition troops pursue Al Qaeda across the border from Afghanistan into Tajikistan killing 20 militants in one 2010 incident (  The United States has now deployed into 20 African countries including drone bases in Niger and Yemen.

The new Predator drone technology initiated by President Bush and enhanced and perfected by President Obama has allowed the US to hit terrorists with Hellfire missiles in many countries where we are not even at war such as Yemen and Pakistan.  This new technology has allowed the US President in two different administrations to act as judge, jury and executioner.  There is no need for messy debates about the possible need for enhanced interrogation techniques (AKA torture) or about prisoner treatment and conditions on Guantanamo (referred to as "Strawberry Fields" because the prisoners remain "forever").  There is no due process or rule of law. Terrorist problems can now simply be vaporised with the equivalent of a photon torpedo.  OK, there is there risk of collateral damage.  Yes, there is the risk of faulty intelligence too (not merely the failure to discover WMD in Iraq under Bush but the CIA mistakenly targeted the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 during the Serbian war under Clinton).  Moreover, there is the risk that in living by "the way of the knife" we ultimately incite thousands of others to wield knives or, as in the ghastly murder of Lee Rigby in London this past week, machetes against us.

Lee Rigby RIP, 1988 - 2013
Nevertheless, studies show that most Americans continue to approve of these kill lists.  President Obama even was willing to compromise details of this covert shadow campaign in order to burnish his reputation for decisive action prior to the recent election campaign (

According to a Stanford poll, the USA has become more "hawkish on counter terrorism matters.  A large majority -- 69 percent of respondents -- said they supported the American government secretly assassinating terrorists." (Source: The Way of the Knife, Mark Mazzetti, 2013,
Abdulrahman al Awlaki, 1996 - 2011
Killed by our Nobel Prize-winning POTUS
An American citizen who had terrorist and extremist links, Anwar al Awlaki, was killed with a CIA drone strike in Yemen in 2011.  One could argue that this action might be justifiable.  A few weeks later his sixteen year old son, Abdulrahman Al Awalaki, born in Colorado, was killed by a JSOC strike  in Yemen -- a victim of collateral damage due to his proximity to perceived "bad guys".  His son was in Yemen looking for his father and he was killed while sitting in an open air restaurant in Shabwa province.  The skinny teen was guilty of having gone looking for his father in Yemen.  Here is is his Facebook page...  (Source: The Way of the Knife, Mark Mazzetti, 2013,  See also

Change the poll question and the answers will, of course, vary.  Consider the following sample questions: "Do you approve of the American government killing terrorists?", "Do you approve of the American government killing American teenagers who have committed no crime?"  or "Do you approve of unarmed drones being used in the USA to enforce traffic regulations?"

While some Conservatives are ambivalent on the question of killing proven terrorist targets, is it not abundantly clear that anyone who believes in limited government must have grave concerns about the current American drone program?   Recent events demonstrate that even President Obama is clearly now having second thoughts on the entire program (

As Lord Acton (1834 - 1902) wrote, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  How many wives would Henry VIII have had if he had had access to drone technology during the Tudor era (see earlier post Tower of London, 3/10/13)?

Commander Kelly concludes, "Do we not risk becoming as evil as the terrorists we confront if we forsake the rule of law and act without humanity, compassion or even...logic?  An American President cannot and should not "play God".  In order to confront the terror threat successfully, we must combine the heroic activism of Kirk with the cool dispassionate analysis of Spock.*  Otherwise, we all risk proceeding into a "darkness" that is indeed unimaginable."

*  Perhaps the London cops this week had the Kirk/Spock balance just about right.  Shoot the villains in the legs and bring them in for questioning!  One suspects that Gene Roddenberry, ex-LAPD cop, ex-bomber pilot might approve from his celestial orbit.  It looks like this approach is paying off as police in London continue to make arrests...


Dan Wilson said...

I agree completely with your example Chris. I am what I call a Constitutionalist with Jeffersonian under tones. Meaning by definition I am not a pure Conservative, but believe in much of what they say and stand for. That being said I also believe in avoiding violence as much as possible. Not that I fear it, but more out of the fact it is often not the best way of dealing with Problems. We have a Constitution that was designed for just this very thing we are going through, and our primary Weapon is the voting booth. It is here where we can get the most accomplished, and all it requires is the majority of the people. Though we cannot get the far left to ever change we can bring over Moderate Democrats, and independents, and this is where the key lies. So this is the best way of dealing with such problems. As for using weapons against our own again our Constitution as an answer. Killing fellow Americans with out due process is clearly in violation to the Constitution. So before you pick up your weapon make sure this is the last option available, and that violence may not be the best solution. Use the Lion Spirit of Capt Kirk with the logic of Spock, and we can get through this

Juliet Schwatz Martinez said...

I love Star Trek - and your post. Excellent.
I'm going back to finish reading it. I'm really thrilled that there is a new Star Trek movie, and if it criticises the Obama administration, so much for the better.