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They build jails ’cause of me

August 17, 2011

Warning: the following post contains spoilers to the movie Training Day. If you have not seen Training Day, please contact your security officer and ask them if they want to watch Training Day with you because you’ve never seen it. 

Training Day is a movie about a lot of things, none of which are foreign policy. BOOM! It’s actually about foreign policy now. Bear with me here. Training Day is about the problematic relationship between American power and ideals in the foreign policy arena. It is also about financial responsibility.

Jake Hoyt is a straight-laced rookie cop who wants to do things right, and thinks that by doing things right – but taking some risks and joining an aggressive unit, narcotics – he can make detective and get a better salary to support his family. Alonzo is a narc and he’s got an even bigger family and thus a bigger tab. Hoyt thinks doing the right thing, even at risk to himself, will get him paid. Alonzo’s philosophy is a little different.

Jake Hoyt is a quintessential American idealist. He believes doing good things makes you prosperous and happy. He wants to use force only for good, and believes doing good sometimes needs force. But he doesn’t know anything about the street, and Alonzo does. Alonzo packs two pieces and drives a car off the motor pool. He does what he wants and on the street the idealist answers to him.

Jake initially asks Alonzo if he’s going to learn how to bust heads, but Alonzo initially sounds like the good counterinsurgent we’ve come to expect from the hard power folks. Nobody does that “Rodney King shit” anymore, you use your brains and you learn the local language! Smart power! The graduate school of narcotics!

Anyway, Alonzo gets Jake acquainted with the local culture, which in this case happened to be laced dope. They go to meet Roger, the eccentric drug ring leader with a taste for quality liquor who’s also an informant who tells bizarre inscrutable jokes that are supposed to be keys to the wisdom of the barbarous Orie – er – Los Angeles streets. Anyway, imbibing further in the local culture, Jake gets to the counterinsurgency-as-platitude level of analysis and explains that it’s all about “smiles and cries,” or hearts and minds, or whatever. Anyway, Alonzo is busy being the smart, brain-fueled street-savvy type and Jake is making up some nonsense about feelings, and the large-livin’ dealer is on everyone’s good side. He even likes American football! And he says he’ll back Alonzo up against these nasty sounding Russians, who we might call Alonzo’s “peer competitors.” But no worries, they can’t be a problem. Let’s get back to making the streets safe for the citizen!

Anyway as Jake’s coming out of a weed, PCP, and booze-induced daze, he spots an innocent girl being assaulted by two cretins, who he attempts to subdue all by himself, after taking a bit of a beating in a drawn out brawl. Alonzo is impressed but mostly amused: “you should have just shot ’em.” Despite the Responsibility to Protect (and Serve), he stands by while Alonzo dishes out some punitive street justice but doesn’t bother dealing with the arresting and actual “justice” part of “street justice” but the sheep are protected. Jake had deviated from the MO of narcos by not letting the garbage man take out the garbage, but Alonzo, forced to deal with it, insists that to protect the sheep, you’ve got to embrace some homo homini lupus. Things are smoothed over with more beer because, damn, Alonzo is thirsty. However Alonzo, while acknowledging that Jake did the right thing, still wishes people like those he just left cuffed and groaning would wipe each other out. Clearly this is something of a dysfunctional relationship.

Alonzo insists that Jake try and pick some crack up off of Blue, as played by a wheelchair-bound Snoop Dogg. The idealist gets a bit rougher here, throwing the dealer off his wheelchair. Alonzo comes in and makes sure to incriminate Blue so he can get a lead on Sandman, whose house Alonzo and Jake drop by without a warrant, because World Po-lice can do what they want.

So the house is occupied by a woman who knows this isn’t quite legit and her 10 year old nephew, Dmitry. Jake watches them while Alonzo ransacks the house for cash. Hearts and minds are not won. It’s all right though. You’re cool, Dmitry. You’re cool. Stay cool.

OK, so maybe there wasn’t WMD or spidermonkey or crack in the house of Sandman, but there was money, which gets everybody in the neighborhood trying to light up Jake, Alonzo, and his Monte Carlo. Alonzo dominates that end of the combat spectrum, though, and gets out with cash. Then they head to Baldwin Village, where Alonzo is deeply enmeshed with the local regimes which are just as dangerous to society as the people Alonzo shakes down. But Alonzo has a girl there, and although Jake the idealist feels a little awkward seeing Alonzo this deep in the street, he likes Alonzo’s kid, who appears to be seeking refuge from the harsh environs with some kind of video game or twitter or whatever.

So Alonzo and Jake head up to see the Three Wise men, the representatives of impartial institutions which run the system that Alonzo is now hoping to work. It becomes clear that Alonzo is involved in doing the dirty work of these arbiters of justice, and, in turn, lubricates the system with cash he is able to extract from providing the global public good of securing the non-integrated Gap of Los Angeles.

The Three Wise men agree to let Alonzo cash in on an account, in exchange for 40,000 he ripped from Sandman. He gets an honest-to-goodness, not-a-Chinese-menu warrant. A mandate! To preserve liberty under law! But there’s an ulterior motive. Turns out that Alonzo has some debt problems, some bad investments at Vegas. The warrant allows him to assemble a crew of equally morally creative officers. Everyone has heart a lot of bad things about Alonzo’s balance sheets and is concerned about the peer competitors associated with that negative balance sheet. Alonzo insists on maximum force protection and everybody comes in well-armed. Turns out the account being cashed in on, this rogue, is none other than our eccentric Scotch-drinking strongman friend Roger!

Roger thinks Alonzo is going to back him up, but things have changed. Alonzo pretends that he’s just taxing Roger for the benefit of the system, the international community! Alonzo claims he isn’t seeking regime change, and just wants to ensure that Roger is being a responsible stakeholder. Jake does not quite seem to understand how to  reap the rewards of the new global rules of economic interdependence and obeying the enlightened self-interest of seeking prosperity through security. That’s okay for now, though. He’ll figure out his interests and values are one in the same eventually.

Roger, like many dictatorial eccentrics, doesn’t really think that Alonzo is going to pursue full-out regime change and go for the decapitation strike. Think of all the laughs and good times in the ’80s! Remember when the Soviets were still around? How about Iran? Those were the days. Roger even jokes along as Alonzo goads Jake into shooting Roger. He laughs all the way to the moment that Alonzo pulls the trigger. When Jake does not go along with the retroactive justification for the operation, the coalition of the willing fractures. Jake turns the shotgun on Alonzo! Ideals versus power! Interests versus values! Defense versus State! Who is this nutjob? “Just a quiet boy with a heart who got the drop on all you fools.” Alonzo vouches for Jake because, as cold-blooded as he is, Alonzo just doesn’t want to give up on Mr. Smiles and Cries. Or at least he has another plan to get rid of him.

Alonzo urges Jake that he must have dirt on him for anybody to trust them. Whoever invokes pure morals might be trying to cheat. Jake, Alonzo insists, must change things from the inside. With that, they go on an expeditionary economic mission of kitchen appliance capacity building and unconditional development assistance. Upon delivering this aid, local elders ask Jake to participate in a jirga where they play a card game. Imparting their folk wisdom on Jake, they explain that Alonzo’s troubles with his peer competitors have to do with a $1 million dollar debt racked up due to Alonzo’s murder of a well-connected Russian in Las Vegas, which was due at midnight by the end of the day. While the elders explained that this was due to Alonzo’s poor temper, they probably heard that from watching the Alonya Show on RT and did not realize that the recently deceased Russian was illegally occupying the rightfully Georgian territory of Nevada.

Jake, upon realizing that Alonzo had abandoned him among these people who had not internalized the international norms of poker hand precedence, attempted a quick escape but soon found himself in a bathtub with a shotgun in his face. Fortunately, his good humanitarian act saving the girl earlier paid off when Smiley, the most powerful elder, realized that he had saved his young cousin earlier with his brash action. Despite its strategic effects being an entirely unforeseen accident, it was doubtlessly heralded by think tanks as adequate proof of the logical perfection of “democratic realpolitik.” Presumably after promising to build his former kidnappers a school in their province upon his return, Jake took a bus up back to Alonzo’s neighborhood, hoping to intercept him before the midnight debt ceiling deadline set by the Russian mob.

After intercepting Alonzo with his extensive stash of money, Alonzo, like any good advocate of hard power, decided to risk a child (who is, of course, Our Future). You may be wondering at this point why I have equated Alonzo’s child both with networked Arab youth and future debt-ridden Americans, and that is because now that the world is flat they are basically the same thing because they must all compete to Win the Future, as long as they do not get hit by the stray 9mm parabellum of Inadequate Math and Science Education or the 00 buckshot load of Gutted Pell Grants. After terrible partisan debate and inter-argency bloodletting, Alonzo seemed to have gained the upper hand, and began driving away. Just then, Jake drops off the roof, causing even further damage to the force readiness of a car already suffering from the strain of the previous engagement in Sandman’s hood, or, possibly, inadequate funding.

Now, in a showdown between Jake and Alonzo, Alonzo learned a classic lesson: that one can never rely on burden-sharing as a grand strategy for the perpetuation of a hegemonic system. Having witnessed Alonzo undergo a serious crisis in leadership and with peer competitors anxiously eyeing the impending debt deal deadline, Alonzo’s previous interventions on the streets proved woefully inadequate to demonstrate his credibility as either an effective patron or regional hegemon. In words of Robert Gates to Europe: “You got us twisted,  homie. You got to put your own work in around here,” and they leave a loaded firearm on the ground behind Alonzo.

Just like that.

Although this high-level strategic dialogue resulted in Alonzo making a “player to player, pimp to pimp” assessment of the non-credibility of Jake’s threats, Jake keeps his weapon trained on Alonzo. Alonzo clearly explains the ends, ways, and means of his muscular strategy of primacy and asserts that if Jake resists, he will be subject to the “pine oil hell” of institutionally-sanctioned WMD retaliation. Jake will not shoot another cop in the back.

But what Alonzo discounts is Jake’s capability for surgical discrete military operations in the rear in order to establish the credibility of a higher threat. Having dominated the escalation ladder, Jake utterly destroys the credibility of his opponent and takes Alonzo’s badge. Stripped of his role as world policeman and with his leadership image and soft power potential now at an all time-low, the local gang members turn against Alonzo and allow Jake to return, money in hand.

Infuriated, Alonzo insists that he is “the man up in this beast” and that “King Kong ain’t got shit on me.” And indeed, while Alonzo achieved full spectrum street dominance in Los Angeles, the overstretch of his engagement with peer competition against the Russians and the ruinous debt of his reckless policies were too much to bear. King Kong may indeed not have shit on you, but that will not save you from degraded force readiness through a politically and economically insolvent financial foundation. Dismayed, Alonzo announces that he is “winning [the future] anyway” and “can’t lose,” presumably because of his continued belief in the Idea that is Alonzo. Decline is not a choice for Alonzo.

Attempting to escape through LAX regardless, Alonzo’s peer competitors catch up anyway, using a mass-firepower enabled street denial doctrine to bring him to an ignominious end. However, despite his reckless intervention, his tarnishing of American idealism, and his totally irresponsible fiscal policies, as the TV broadcast reassures us at the film’s close, Alonzo Harris will always be a AAA cop.

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