In Search of a Nail

Dirty Wars

by Hope Madden

In 2006, Jeremy Scahill’s articles on Blackwater exposed the privatization of American military force. Seven years later, the national security correspondent for The Nation magazine sees peril in another kind of American military power, a topic he uncovers in director Rick Rowley’s documentary Dirty Wars.

Sort of a less reverent counterpart to Zero Dark Thirty, Dirty Wars traces the rise in power of the Joint Special Operations Command, the covert military arm that brought down Osama bin Laden.

Dirty Wars makes some scary predictions due to the operational style and military philosophies of JSOC. Specifically, Scahill and company foresee sprawling and endless war. They base the theory on things like kill lists that eliminate ever more vaguely articulated threats, and a constantly widening circle of acceptable collateral damage – or what some call martyrdom.

In short, they see a war on terror transformed into a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Rowley keeps an impressive pace, pausing between revelations long enough for the information to sink in without stooping to obvious pronouncements or condescending reiterations. Unfortunately, not all of his choices are wise.

The documentarian falls on gimmicky cinematic clichés to suggest clandestine research, a journalist quietly consumed by what he’s finding, struggling with the unfolding mystery.  It’s a manipulative effort to keep attention, and Rowley’s Hollywood thriller sensibilities are needless, since his content is so bewilderingly, bleakly fascinating.

Are targeted assassinations just obvious military streamlining – the natural evolution of war?

Rowley’s film exposes a military machine that distances even the military itself from the act of war. Sure, drones help, but to the JSOC, war is a business and business practices are employed. They even outsource our kill lists to Somali war lords.

Scahill’s investigation wags a bi-partisan finger. It may have been Bush who created the JSOC, he points out, but Obama’s been more than willing to utilize this military arm.

They “created one hell of a hammer,” says an unnamed former JSOC member. “And they are continually searching for a nail.”



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