Begun the Drone Wars Have

Obama Drone Rule BookWith drones from the beginning there has been a kind of technological determinism associated with the idea that since the United States possesses this relatively new technology it should use it. Facing the uncertainty of reelection, President Obama became so concerned about the lawlessness of his drone killings he sought hastily to codify the rules governing their use.

What began in the Bush era as a means for targeting al Qaeda leaders hiding in remote areas has become a vast “amorphous” death machine targeting suspected “militants” in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. Now we’ve learned that, in addition to “personality strikes” aimed at individuals deemed enemies of the United States, there are now what’s called “signature strikes” where any congregation of suspicious looking military-age men is open game.

The Obama administration apparently views drones as the cheapest and easiest way to kill “militants” while keeping American casualties low to non-existent. This seeming techno-supremacy has the added political benefit of getting around a war-weary electorate. But future presidents might not quibble about using drones as judiciously as our current president claims to be, hence his rush to clarify the rules of engagement.

But possessing new tools of warfare doesn’t mean they should be used. The U.S. has chemical weapons and an arsenal of hydrogen bombs but those technologies (sane people agree) should be left on the shelf. Drones are no different. We mustn’t allow global drone warfare to become the “new normal.” Sadly, the drone killings of U.S. citizens abroad might end up being one of President Obama’s most lasting legacies.

The former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a military audience before leaving office that any future president who sends ground troops into a situation like Afghanistan should “have his head examined.” The constant drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, are breeding hatred, creating new enemies where none existed, and costing more lives than otherwise would be the case. Anyone seeing drones as a solution to the problem of international terrorism should also “have his head examined.”

We’ve become numbed to the death and destruction that U.S. military and CIA actions have ushered in since 9/11. These days the American people seem less capable of being shocked, which is why Fox News’s obsession with milking the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi (and the “war on terror” generally) for partisan gain has gone nowhere. After years of invasion and occupation, aerial bombardment, and resistance taking the form of car bombs, suicide bombers, IEDs, and “green on blue” attacks killing countless innocent people the drones fit into this larger cycle of violence.

Drone warfare is a moral failure because it terrorizes entire populations and kills innocent people. We cannot leave it to the “experts” to weigh the potential human costs of these extrajudicial murders. Of late, high-ranking officials in charge of the drone wars appear to be too busy cavorting with their groupies to heed the wider moral and strategic implications of their actions.

The drones represent a political failure too because they allow the president to usurp war powers that the U.S. Constitution explicitly places in the hands of Congress. And since the president and the CIA act as judge, jury, and executioner they also arrogate the powers of the judiciary.

President Obama’s decision to kill American citizens with drones abroad without any semblance of “due process” has come after a long period of abuse of presidential powers to the exclusion of Congress and the courts that we’ve seen since the passage of the Patriot Act. The drones have further skewed what’s left of our system of “checks and balances” in favor of executive branch prerogatives. New presidential powers, once acquired, are never relinquished.

Drone warfare, like the invasion of Iraq, is also a “strategic” failure because it undermines the U.S. standing in the world since most nations condemn it. It has unleashed a new wave of hatred toward the United States unrelated to the 9/11 attacks. It has created new enemies among peoples throughout the world with whom the American people have no real conflict.

And the drone technology is proliferating with unpredictable consequences.

Since the United States, a nation emulated by friends and foes alike, is the nation that has initiated this lawlessness — violating sovereign air space and killing citizens of other states without acknowledging international borders — a precedent has been set that will be difficult to live down. One thing we should have learned from al Qaeda is that terrorizing innocent people is no way to win hearts and minds.

Nobody should be forced to tolerate killer robots flying overhead that can rain death and destruction on anybody around them at any time. As President Obama said recently: “There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”

Using drones to kill your enemy means you’ve given up on political negotiation or ameliorating the social conditions that give rise to terrorism. It means you have embraced a military “solution” to local or regional conflicts. And since there is no long-term military solution to “terrorism,” the drones preclude seeking nonviolent alternatives. The use of drones only makes these wars more intractable.

Among the “terrorists” (whoever they are) the backbenchers that assume leadership roles following targeted assassinations are usually less inclined to negotiate than their predecessors, which require more targeted killings, ad infinitum. The Israeli model of killing Palestinian leaders has only created more enemies of the State of Israel, and has not moved the ball one inch toward a settlement of the underlying land disputes at the heart of the conflict.

Before they get totally out of control these weapons must be banned under an international agreement similar to that of the Mine Ban Treaty that was adopted in September 1997. By 2011, 80 percent of the world’s nations had signed on to the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.”

Joe PalermoWe need to put the pressure on the Obama administration to reel in the drone program and put the United States on the side of common decency in calling for a United Nations-brokered ban on these pernicious weapons. If Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice are as good at their jobs as we’re often told they are, surely they can begin an effort to put the United States on a new footing that recognizes the folly of relying on drones as a panacea in the “war on terror.”

Joseph Palermo

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Published by the LA Progressive on November 27, 2012
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).