Nikhil Pal Singh, “Race and America’s Long War” (2017) – I picked this up because I think one of the missing pieces — one of many — in our discussion of the rise of the far-right in the era of Trump is its relationship to America’s role in the broader world. Diplomatic history has, for the last twenty years or so, been working on the relationship between domestic politics and American foreign policy, but it’s still pretty specialized and under-developed. Consider how much angst and ink has been split over the relationship between college campus politics and the rise of the right, and how little of both we see how the fact we’ve been at war for more or less the entire time undergrads today have been alive might condition the situation. This imbalance tells us a lot.
In the essays collected in “Race and America’s Long War,” Singh works to put America’s current wars in the framework of the long war of settler colonialism and capitalist accumulation. War and policing inform each other in a never-ending cycle going back to the wars against the Native Americans and the policing of slaves. Singh argues that in many respects race (and, he alludes, other identity categories, but he spends less time with them) is continually created by an array of policy decisions and the violence that goes into backing them up. If the post-WWII era changed the normative background of how America’s war-police complex was justified — eventually making its peace with a notionally color-blind liberalism while still maintaining deeply racialized structures of inequality — liberal policymakers (like Obama) never challenged the underlying logic of the system. This left the whole thing open to being taken over and rolled back by openly revanchist elements, like Trump.
The devil, of course, in the details. The crises — either spun off or accelerated by the ur-crisis of climate change — are mounting in intensity at a time when the US is, relatively (and maybe absolutely) speaking,declining in power. You have to figure that’s going to make a difference in terms of the type of freak-out we’re likely to see from those in power and those who hold dear to the tropes and methods of racialized power Singh illuminates. Singh offers provocative examples and short case studies, but by and large devotes himself to the big picture in this book. In part that’s probably due to the book’s provenance (essays published elsewhere) and Singh’s efforts to theorize the relationship between America’s foreign and domestic politics. It can be dense going at times (though a lot less so than many theory-inflected writers) but it’s a pretty good start. ****’