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Cyberwarfare Exceptionalism


Tom Donilon’s recent speech to the Asia Society on Naughty China’s stealing of American intellectual property, a holier-than-thou continuing effort to discredit China in the eyes of the world (and through a constant drumbeat, keep the American public on its toes alert to, and predisposed for, the new Cold War—a new enemy in the wings—indispensable to domestic conformity, huge military budgets, and further interventions in the name of counterterrorism), simply exposes Obama and the US to global ridicule for pursuing our own program of cyberwarfare while condemning that of others.  Even then, however, more is at issue.

The US is out to get China in any way it can, cyber-issues being a convenience for the more broad-gauged attack on China’s increasing political-economic challenge to America in such key areas as trade, investment, raw-materials acquisition, and strategic prowess, now occurring in Africa and Latin America, a challenge tantamount to dismantling the US-arranged structure of world capitalism and itself the architect and leader.

How dare they?  The wages of hubris are costly.  The psychology of exceptionalism by which America has known itself for nearly four centuries, beginning in 1620 (a long period, as national mythologies go), is becoming instead the psychopathology of invincibility, in thematic content merely an incremental step forward, but translated into the aggressive surge of militarism of what is now a declining world power relative to China’s rise and other centers of power coming on the scene, betokens a stridency akin to an attitude of desperation.

Hence the cavalier violation of international law by resorting to armed drones for targeted assassination.  Hence the by now well articulated Pacific-first strategy, justifying still more hardware focused on naval power and long-range aircraft.  Hence Obama’s declared Iron Curtain around Government per se and its holistic retreat behind the walls of the National Security State.  Hence the backward glance at and reinstitution of McCarthyism with respect to whomever rocks the boat, whistle-blowers to labor militants to critics of social policy.  Exceptionalism:  license to rule, at home and abroad.

Cyberwarfare exemplifies the Obama approach to American greatness.  Strike from a distance (just as armed drones are directed by “pilots” often 8,000 miles away), both to elevate the role of technology in more sanitized destruction, and inflict maximum damage on a cost-effective basis.  Our own preemptive use of cyber attacks is legitimated by their aim, to bring democracy to the world.  Iran’s use, vengeance pure and simple—not as retaliation for what we had done to them, but sheer Islamic malice toward US openness and freedom.

Ditto China, or, if stealing intellectual property actually occurs, welcome to the universe of capitalistic practice—they are proving apt learners.  By that, I do not mean that one should excuse China for its own cyber-stealing, but there is a difference between that illegal behavior and the use of cyberweapons for purposes of sabotage—the difference between thievery and military-imposed acts of destruction.  Perhaps if the US abandoned the latter, China might abandon the former.

In any event, the Obama administration has taken cyberwarfare to its heart, as part of the solid phalanx of advanced weaponry and accompanying strategy for what is euphemistically titled the “light footprint” in shaping world affairs to our liking.

[My New York Times Comment (Mar. 12).  The militarization of US policy]:

With Natanz in full view, once again US hypocrisy comes to the fore, a double standard which characterizes the Obama administration at every turn. Billions for cyberwarfare, actually now operational, yet No, no to others, along with the fatuous distinction between attacks on intellectual property and that involving national security. Donilon-Brennan-Obama, Team A in the militarization of US policy-making affecting all realms of national life, but converging–with the “pivot”–on China, its isolation and containment, signals a more aggressive global posture than that of previous administrations going back decades. And with Susan Rice joining the Team, we have a full-court press to keep America in the forefront of hegemonic moves to ensure unilateral world military and commercial dominance. It ain’t gonna work: this has become a multipolar global power structure, in which the US can no longer act with impunity in satisfying its definition of national interest, no matter how many armed drones for targeted assassination it sends out.

We can’t kill everybody who questions our system, our values, our conduct. If we could, the earth would be a global desert.

Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at

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