The boomerang would keep rebounding throughout the twentieth century, consolidating US ideological hegemony marked by racist domestic policy and imperialist foreign policy. Even after independence, the US elite collaborated with their counterparts in the Philippines to sustain a partnership of developing repressive counterinsurgency strategies against guerrilla movements – methods that would be enacted beyond the Philippines in Southeast Asia, from Africa and the Middle East to Latin America and the Caribbean.
These methods are what Stuart Schrader refers to as ‘security assistance’, which was an inherent component of US foreign policy during the Cold War. Schrader points out how such security services were offered to governments overseas to subdue both criminal and communist activity. Established under the Kennedy Administration was a programme called the Office of Public Safety (OPS), which was part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); the ‘aid’ administered had the aim of ‘professionalising’ policing across the globe through training in countering insurgency, gathering intelligence, and strengthening law enforcement.
The OPS did not last long as social movements at that time exposed its repressive elements and the fact that USAID was aiding authoritarian governments from Marcos’s Philippines to Somoza’s Nicaragua. Through mass demonstrations and legislative scrutiny, the programme was forced to shut down 13 years after its inception. As Schrader writes, this did not put an end to the practice, but merely privatised it. A public–private security coalition surfaced through commercial contractors offering similar training, including even former OPS trainers. The fact that this became a civilian initiative enabled the practice to bypass certain legal constraints, which continues to this day to make it a successful and profitable enterprise.
Nonetheless, the Reagan Administration revived state involvement in training foreign police by escalating the US ‘war’ on drugs domestically and abroad, especially targeting Latin American countries. This time, it involved various federal government agencies, particularly the Department of Defense, which according to Schrader was given new competences in combating narcotics by empowering the military to train foreign police. This militarisation of policing abroad was euphemistically termed by police experts as ‘professionalisation’, which would become an ever-expanding and perpetual process with no end in sight.
Its goal is to take on the task of developing innovative ways of policing abroad in order to ‘domesticate the foreign through modularity of practice’. This domestication entailed defining the coercive state as the primary protector of a fragile society prone to insurgents – from independence movements to civil rights activists to workers’ unions. As Atiya Husain points out, ‘counterinsurgency to anticolonial, antiracist, and anti-capitalist struggles, whether or not they actually hurt or killed people’ would fundamentally shape our modern understanding of the concept of terrorism.
The development of policing in the US is marked by its transnational elements that underpin the country’s self-styled role as the ‘global policeman’. Territorial conquests led to experiments with repression and control in the colonies which then led to the expansion of a security state apparatus in the US. This was repackaged and offered to the world as ‘aid’ by training the world’s soldiers to be cops, and in effect training cops to be soldiers. Indeed, this practice has been like a boomerang that kept on spinning, leading Schrader to call it a ‘perpetual motion machine of US empire.’
It is worth noting, however, that this endless motion machine incorporates a certain multidirectional aspect to the boomerang effect. Concretely, it affirms that pre-existing racialised policing in the US co-existed with its colonial experiments abroad, and that these circumstances would both regenerate violent law enforcement domestically as well as advance counterinsurgency practices overseas, exporting those practices as training and importing the experiences back again.
It is this reconceptualised notion of the boomerang effect that Jeanne Morefield refers to, one that exposes the complex intertwined web of imperialism and racism and explains the entanglements that underpin the US forever wars of today. The expansion of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance operations and the unprecedented use of drone strikes – ushered in by the Obama Administration – amplified ‘the “feedback” between power projection abroad and at home’.