Reuters blog archive
If President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan is confirmed as director of the CIA on Thursday, he will take the role of the lead authority for CIA drone strikes, institutionalizing a program that has killed an unknown number of suspected militants and civilians since 2004. Although his confirmation is expected to help preserve the drone program while glossing over concerns about its transparency and effectiveness so far, his appointment leaves a bigger question about the CIA's future role.
Brennan’s open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday has been pegged as a time to demand answers about the highly secretive U.S. campaigns to target and kill al Qaeda militants using unmanned aerial vehicles in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The administration is tight-lipped on the subject, and critics have assailed the campaign over its lack of public accountability. U.S. drone strikes have killed not just foreign militants, but also civilians and American citizens. Rights groups have lambasted the extrajudicial killings of American citizens, including the “Internet imam” Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son in Yemen. A New York Times report last May revealed that the government’s troubling definition of a “militant” suggests any military-age man in a strike zone is fair game. On Tuesday, a 16-page memo from the Justice Department published by NBC News further outlined the vague criteria for who can target and be targeted, as well as showed an expanded definition of conditions that the government can use to order strikes.
The effectiveness of the targeted killings remains unknown, and critics say the drone program serves as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda because it embitters local populations whose neighbors have been killed by drones.
John Brennan has been called the architect of this program, and placing him at the head of the CIA will help legitimize targeted killings as a counterterrorism tool. Yet history suggests there will be little, if any, discussion of drone strikes during his confirmation hearing. Micah Zenko, a Council on Foreign Relations Douglas Dillon Fellow who wrote a 2013 special report on drones, notes drones did not come up in hearings for previous CIA directors Michael Hayden or Leon Panetta. When the subject arose during David Petraeus' testimony in 2011, Senator Dianne Feinstein repeatedly interrupted the conversation. She will run the hearings this time, too. Brennan's previous speeches outline the administration's stance on drone strikes, and it's unlikely that the hearings will cover anything he hasn't spoken on before.
from Thinking Global:
Munich – For America’s friends and allies, who will welcome Vice President Joe Biden to the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend, President Obama’s second inaugural address was notable for its single-minded focus on U.S. domestic issues even as global challenges proliferate. It was the clearest sign yet that Obama intends to build his historic legacy at home.
No one quibbles with Obama’s conviction that America’s global role can best be sustained through a period of “nation-building at home.” The problem is the world is unlikely to hit the pause button as America gets itself off the fiscal cliff, reforms its immigration system, modernizes its infrastructure, fixes its education system and focuses on other long-neglected home chores.
from David Rohde:
The question from a colleague – one whose work I admire – could have come from anyone in the United States.
“So the French,” he asked, “now have their own Afghanistan?”
The answer is yes and no. Western military interventions should be carried out only as a last resort. But Mali today is a legitimate place to act.
The French intervention in Mali this week raises the specter of another first-world nation’s rather recent mission to weed out Islamic militants. As France's jets pummel the desert and its troops face ground battles against al Qaeda-linked rebels, a troubling analogy has presented itself in media reports and analyses: Will Mali become France’s Afghanistan?
from The Great Debate:
As Hillary Rodham Clinton finished her last few weeks on the job, after a month of convalescence, how can we assess the secretary of state’s contributions?
The question is worth asking simply because of the job’s importance and its significance for U.S. national security. It is also relevant given Clinton’s unprecedented role in our national life over the last two decades.
from The Great Debate:
The stubborn war in Afghanistan, which has spanned a decade and cost more than 2,000 American lives, has now faded to one key question: How many U.S. troops will remain after 2014?
This is the issue that will likely occupy President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai when they meet at the White House on Friday. Officials are already batting numbers about, ranging from zero to 20,000.
from Photographers' Blog:
By Fabrizio Bensch
There are thousands of miles that separate the German soldiers in Afghanistan from home. For up to one year, they may be stationed in Afghanistan, but for most of them no more than four to five months.
The lead up to Christmas in Germany has a very long tradition and the arriving season is dominated by beautifully decorated shop windows in department stores and the smell of gingerbread and cinnamon. Christmas trees are festively illuminated in the streets with Christmas decoration and Christmas markets and Santa Claus are in every city.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
The United States carried out more drone strikes in Afghanistan this year than it has done in all the years put together in Pakistan since it launched the covert air war there eight years ago. With all the attention and hand wringing focused on the operations in Pakistan, it's remarkable that such a ramp-up just over the border has gone virtually unnoticed.
The two battlegrounds are not the same, of course. Afghanistan is an open and hot battlefield where U.S. forces are deployed and the drones are part of the air support available to troops. Pakistan is a sovereign nation and the United States is not in a state of war with it and so you wouldn't expect the same pace of operations, even though U.S. commanders say the Taliban insurgency draws its sustenance from the sanctuaries in the Pakistani northwest.
from The Human Impact:
When it happened two months ago, it shocked the world. Masked Taliban gunmen stopped a school bus filled with children in northwestern Pakistan, boarded it and shot 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck as she sat in the bus with her friends.
Her crime? She was a campaigner for the right of girls to go to school -- an act strictly forbidden by Taliban militants who are still active in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
from The Great Debate:
The conventional wisdom in Washington these days is that a newly empowered president, freed from the political constraints of reelection, will have more discretion, drive and determination to take on the Middle East’s most intractable problems.
Don’t believe it. This looks a lot more compelling on paper than in practice. Should President Barack Obama be tempted to embrace it, he may well find himself on the short end of the legacy stick.