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Drone Wars

October 27, 2013

Increasingly, the US war on terror is being carried out against suspected terrorists in foreign countries using armed unmanned drone aircraft. The primary targets have been in countries with which the US is not currently engaged in a conventional war – Pakistan and Yemen. The strikes began under the Administration of George W. Bush, but have accelerated in frequency under the Obama Administration. While there are tactical advantages to using unmanned aircraft to neutralize terrorists, their use in countries with whom we are not at war is problematic, both in terms of international law and international popular opinion

Using drones to attack suspected terrorists has several advantages over more traditional methods for taking out enemy combatants – such as the Seal attack that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden and the more recent raid in Libya to capture the alleged mastermind behind US embassy bombings in Africa during the Clinton Administration. The ability of the US military to carry out such attacks without the risk of death or personal harm to American soldiers is a big PR boost with the folks back home. The mantra of accomplishing a desired result without employing “boots on the ground” appears to negate adhering to established rules of military conduct and punishment for criminal acts in favor of expediency. The ability to accurately pinpoint targets make this option less likely to result in large numbers of innocent people getting killed in any such strike, compared to more conventional missile or air strikes.

However, the United Nations and some international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed doubts as to the legality of such strikes under international law. Some conclude they violate international law and constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. If that is the case, those authorizing them should be held accountable by the International Criminal Court. So far, that body has only been used to deal with African despots, not political or military leaders in major countries.

There is no denying that using extrajudicial means such as drone strikes to kill suspects is far easier than coordinating and executing a raid by a special forces unit to capture them {though doing that is morally and legally questionable as well) . Risks to our military personnel are definitely minimized, but to the extent that targeting is still less precise than eyeballing the suspects face to face, collateral damage in the form of innocent civilians being killed or maimed are increased dramatically. Hundreds have been killed in these attacks so far. Our preferred method of determining guilt or innocence of anyone should be in a court of law, not in the mind of an individual – even if that person is President of the US. The killing of bin Laden and capture of other terrorist suspects is more consistent with the alleged moral standards that our military and elected officials, as well as the CIA, swear to uphold.

Many in this country are averse to going to the trouble of actually convicting these people in a court of law, be it a civilian court or military tribunal. We have had many people incarcerated for over a decade in Guantanamo Bay, without charge or prosecution, to prove this. Congress has repeatedly refused to authorize closing that facility. That is unacceptable, as is the killing of people not even remotely associated with terrorism, except maybe by physical proximity. Neither is infringing on the sovereignty and airspace of a foreign country to execute these missions. Even if the government of the countries we are thus invading is not opposed to such actions, the attacks are so unpopular with the people living there as to force the host governments to publicly denounce them or face even more internal strife than they already experience.

While using drone strikes to eliminate individual terrorists or perhaps even significant portions of individual terror cells may weaken them for a time, they also increase enmity for the American military and government wherever they occur. Surely, a point has been reached where the positive results are being more than negated by the negative publicity created among the people affected by conducting them. Does our killing of these terror suspects diminish their numbers in one place only to strengthen the resolve of others, or aid them in recruiting new opponents to American tyranny abroad? Many have come to the conclusion that the whole policy, opaque as it has become to the American public, has become counterproductive. The President and Secretary of State have recently indicated they might be among those who think that is the case and that, like the war in Afghanistan, the time has come to curtail the US drone strikes. I sincerely hope that happens soon.

In a different vein, the US hardly has the exclusive ability to use drone aircraft in a similar manner in the not so distant future. As is the case with other weapons, including nuclear ones, we also need to remain cognizant of the fact that other nations already possess the technology and the know-how to produce such drones of their own. To think that they cannot at some time in the future be used by a foreign nation or even a terrorist organization against us here would be folly. Would we tolerate Israel, al-Qaeda or someone else carrying out such a strike on American soil, even if they claimed to have reasons to do so that was just as valid as the ones we currently use to justify such action? The obvious answer is no, but given the fact that we have been acting in this manner ourselves elsewhere leaves us on shaky moral ground when it comes to condemning such practices on the part of others. Hypocrisy does not sell any better abroad than it does at home.

We get away with doing this is places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia merely by force of arms. Schoolyard bullies have nothing over the US when it comes to forcing our will on people in foreign countries who cannot withstand our sheer military might. Is that not the stated reason many of these groups formed to begin with? I suspect that, if the American people were made more fully aware of exactly what these strikes look like on the ground to the people directly affected by them, there would be an even larger outcry opposing them than there has been.

Our foreign policy must come more into alignment with the moral values we have espoused throughout our existence as a nation. We have been engaged, for almost this entire century so far, in seemingly endless wars with no apparent achievable objective. Doing so has left a large part of the region we have invaded in virtual chaos. Does anyone really think Iraq is a better place to live in now than it was before we invaded? How long will it take Afghanistan to revert to another full-blown civil war as it did when the Soviets exited? Thankfully, we have so far managed to avoid doing the same in Syria or Iran. If we aren’t careful, there are politicians in this country who would like nothing more than to double down on the disastrous policies followed by George W. Bush and expand our war footing into other countries in the region.

Getting involved militarily in even more countries in that region and elsewhere, boots on the ground or not, is not in our interest any more than it is in the interest of many of the people living under the tyrannical regimes there. It troubles me that so many nations in the volatile region live in countries whose government pays even less lip service to the human and civil rights of their inhabitants than does ours. Some of our staunchest allies in the regime also happen to have some of the worst records in this regard. For our words to match our deeds, more attention needs to be paid to the fate of these people, and less to people in charge who are helping themselves and our corporations get rich exploiting their natural resources.


Further Suggested Readings:

A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized

U.S. Drone Strikes May Amount to War Crimes, Report Finds

Why Washington Just Can’t Stop Making War

Rights Groups to World: Hold U.S. to Account for Possible Drone War Crimes

"Acting Like Hit-and-Run Driver," US Defends Drone Killings

Drone Island in the East River

US Diplomat: Each US Drone Attack Creates ’40 to 60′ New Enemies

Geopolitics of the Drone

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  1. I watch Homeland, and as ridiculous as the show can be at times, many of the scenes can make you think about right and wrong and what it is like from others’ perspectives. I think about the scene where fictional terrorist leader Abu Nazir’s son Issa, and many other children, are killed horrifically in a U.S. drone strike. And you see how U.S. Marine Sargent Brody becomes so conflicted. Drone strikes are a horrible way to conduct war, but it can be looked at from two different angles. The way the Islamic extremist terrorist conduct war has caused us to have to evolve in the way we fight back, drone strikes being the prime example. Another way to look at it is, when we conduct war in this fashion, are we any better than the terrorists?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have great insights. Thanks for sharing them and thanks for following my Twitter site. I hope you’ll also follow my blog,, since we’re clearly on the same page and it’s so important that we all work together to raise our voices louder, to get heard, to hope people will begin to listen. Thank you for all of your hard work and effort. Every. Word. Counts.


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    Reblogged this on L8in.


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