Counterinsurgency On Steroids: Interview With Bernard Harcourt On Trump, Cesar Sayoc, And The Counterrevolution
Bernard Harcourt, author of “The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went To War Against Its Own Citizens,” joins the “Unauthorized Disclosure” weekly podcast to talk about what he describes as the Counterrevolution and how President Donald Trump’s administration advances this new form of governing in the United States.
He outlines counterinsurgency and its objectives and how it accelerated after the September 11 attacks.
Later, he highlights how Trump is counterinsurgency on steroids and addresses the case of Cesar Sayoc, who was arrested for allegedly sending mail-bombs to targets of Trump’s vitriol.
Listen to the interview by clicking on the above player or go here.
In Harcourt’s book, he argues, “What we face today in the West—in the United States and some of its allies—is a new form of governing rooted in a military paradigm of counterrevolutionary war.”
“The very methods that we developed to contain the colonized other have come back to inflect the way that our government now governs us. We in the West now live, at home, shoulder to shoulder with the insurgent other—ourselves—and have started to govern ourselves, at home and abroad, as we brutally and mistakenly learned to govern the colonized others.”
There are three objectives of counterinsurgency—to achieve total information awareness of a population, to identify and eradicate the revolutionary minority, and to pacify the masses (often referred to as winning hearts and minds).
Governing through counterinsurgency accelerated as President George W. Bush employed the ideology when waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The PATRIOT Act and the use of torture against terrorism detainees expanded counterinsurgency as well.
President Barack Obama built on the expansion of counterinsurgency by ramping up drone strikes. He curtailed some of what were seen as excesses, but he maintained the framework of making counterinsurgency conform to the law and shifting the law so it permitted counterinsurgency.
More significantly, in the past ten to fifteen years, it became abundantly clear the tools of fighting terrorism were coming back home to be deployed against U.S. citizens.
Harcourt agrees that what citizens face currently with Trump as president is essentially counterinsurgency on steroids. Trump is focused on creating enemies.
“Donald Trump really operates through a counterinsurgency of trying to identify the enemy within,” Harcourt contends. “So we’ve seen that clearly in the case of Muslims and Muslim Americans. When you look at the rhetoric that surrounded the Muslim ban, it’s really appalling.” Muslims were singled out as a “dangerous class” to be monitored or even put into a registry in this country.
The same goes for Mexican Americans. The focus on a “migrant caravan” from Central America is intended to amplify the fear of an enemy. And it also happens with the media, which he treats as an internal threat to his ability to govern.
“It’s very strategic,” Harcourt adds.
Trump astutely recognizes how to pacify the masses through distraction, according to Harcourt. His presidency distracts the public with daily episodes of reality television, directing our attention to who is fired or hired, what morning tweets were sent, what he said and how he said it, etc.
This takes our focus off critical issues, including how he is ramping up the Counterrevolution.
In the case of Cesar Sayoc, Harcourt believes it resembles the kind of targeting of internal enemies that flows from the logic of counterinsurgency theory.
“When you look at the vehicle that he lived in and you see all of the sniper target images over Hillary Clinton and others on the car, you realize that it’s inhabiting this logic of counterinsurgency practice. It’s identifying enemies and trying to eliminate them.”
Harcourt suggests Trump’s use of language, where he singles out enemies, almost makes one feel like Sayoc was “incited to engage in what is a form of counterinsurgency practice”—the targeted bombings.
“I have no doubt that even if there isn’t an explicit intent or intentionality on the part of President Trump for his supporters to act out some of the things he’s saying—I have no doubt that it likely does have an effect on individuals, who then may again suffer from mental health issues,” Harcourt adds. They act out this logic.
“There’s the greatest danger in some sense—the practice, the logic, the way of talking about the world through this counterinsurgency theory can have really terrible consequences.”
On one hand, Trump is taking what Harcourt describes as the Counterrevolution into overdrive. He is manically allowing it to metastasize against whichever “enemy” he wants to fight during any given week. On the other hand, Trump himself activates supporters within an insurgency to undertake acts that can destabilize society as they become shock troops for suppressing a revolution in a country with no present uprising to suppress.