Opinion

David Rohde

How Obama’s drone war is backfiring

By David Rohde
March 1, 2012

This essay was originally published in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy.

When Barack Obama took the oath of office three years ago, no one associated the phrase “targeted killing” with his optimistic young presidency. In his inaugural address, the 47-year-old former constitutional law professor uttered the word “terror” only once. Instead, he promised to use technology to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

Oddly, technology has enabled Obama to become something few expected: a president who has dramatically expanded the executive branch’s ability to wage high-tech clandestine war. With a determination that has surprised many, Obama has embraced the CIA, expanded its powers and approved more targeted killings than any modern president. Over the last three years, the Obama administration has carried out at least 239 covert drone strikes, more than five times the 44 approved under George W. Bush. And after promising to make counterterrorism operations more transparent and rein in executive power, Obama has arguably done the opposite, maintaining secrecy and expanding presidential authority.

Just as importantly, the administration’s excessive use of drone attacks undercuts one of its most laudable policies: a promising new post-9/11 approach to the use of lethal American force, one of multilateralism, transparency and narrow focus.

Obama’s willingness to deploy lethal force should have come as no surprise. In a 2002 speech, Illinois State Senator Obama opposed Bush’s impending invasion of Iraq, but not all conflicts. “I don’t oppose all wars,” he said. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war.” And as president, in his December 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Obama warned, “There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.” Since then, he has not only sent U.S. forces into Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, but also repeatedly approved commando raids in Pakistan and Somalia and on the high seas, while presiding over a system that unleashed hundreds of drone strikes.

In a series of recent interviews, current and former administration officials outlined what could be called an “Obama doctrine” on the use of force. Obama’s embrace of multilateralism, drone strikes and a light U.S. military presence in Libya, Pakistan and Yemen, they contend, has proved more effective than Bush’s go-heavy approach in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We will use force unilaterally if necessary against direct threats to the United States,” Ben Rhodes, the administration’s deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, told me. “And we’ll use force in a very precise way.”

Crises the administration deems indirect threats to the United States — such as the uprisings in Libya and Syria — are “threats to global security,” Rhodes argued, and will be responded to multilaterally and not necessarily by force. The drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the creation of a smaller, more agile U.S. military spread across Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East, are also part of the doctrine. So is the discreet backing of protesters in Egypt, Iran and Syria.

The emerging strategy — which Rhodes touted as “a far more focused approach to our adversaries” — is a welcome shift from the martial policies and bellicose rhetoric of both the Bush administration and today’s Republican presidential candidates. But Obama has granted the CIA far too much leeway in carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. In both countries, the strikes often appear to be backfiring.

Obama and other administration officials insist the drones are used rarely and kill few civilians. In a rare public comment on the program, the president defended the strikes in late January. “I want to make sure the people understand, actually, drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” Obama said. “For the most part, they have been very precise precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied.”

But from Pakistan to Yemen to post-American Iraq, drones often spark deep resentment where they operate. When they do attack, they kill as brutally as any weapon of war. The administration’s practice of classifying the strikes as secret only exacerbates local anger and suspicion. Under Obama, drone strikes have become too frequent, too unilateral, and too much associated with the heavy-handed use of American power.

In 2008, I saw this firsthand. Two Afghan colleagues and I were kidnapped by the Taliban and held captive in the tribal areas of Pakistan for seven months. From the ground, drones are terrifying weapons that can be heard circling overhead for hours at a time. They are a potent, unnerving symbol of unchecked American power. At the same time, they were clearly effective, killing foreign bomb-makers and preventing Taliban fighters from gathering in large groups. The experience left me convinced that drone strikes should be carried out — but very selectively.

In the January interview, Obama insisted drone strikes were used only surgically. “It is important for everybody to understand,” he said, “that this thing is kept on a very tight leash.”

Drones, though, are in no way surgical.

In interviews, current and former Obama administration officials told me the president and his senior aides had been eager from the outset to differentiate their approach in Pakistan and Afghanistan from Bush’s. Unlike in Iraq, where Democrats thought the Bush administration had been too aggressive, they thought the Bush White House had not been assertive enough with Afghan and Pakistani leaders. So the new administration adopted a unilateral, get-tough approach in South Asia that would eventually spread elsewhere. As candidate Obama vowed in a 2007 speech, referring to Pakistan’s president at the time, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”

In his first year in office, Obama approved two large troop surges in Afghanistan and a vast expansion of the number of CIA operatives in Pakistan. The CIA was also given more leeway in carrying out drone strikes in the country’s ungoverned tribal areas, where foreign and local militants plot attacks for Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond.

The decision reflected both Obama’s belief in the need to move aggressively in Pakistan and the influence of the CIA in the new administration. To a far greater extent than the Bush White House, Obama and his top aides relied on the CIA for its analysis of Pakistan, according to current and former senior administration officials. As a result, preserving the agency’s ability to carry out counterterrorism, or “CT,” operations in Pakistan became of paramount importance.

“The most important thing when it came to Pakistan was to be able to carry out drone strikes and nothing else,” said a former official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The so-called strategic focus of the bilateral relationship was there solely to serve the CT approach.”

Initially, the CIA was right. Increased drone strikes in the tribal areas eliminated senior al Qaeda operatives in 2009. Then, in July 2010, Pakistanis working for the CIA pulled up behind a white Suzuki navigating the bustling streets of Peshawar. The car’s driver was later tracked to a large compound in the city of Abbottabad. On May 2, 2011, U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden there.

The U.S. intelligence presence, though, extended far beyond the hunt for bin Laden, according to former administration officials. At one point, the CIA tried to deploy hundreds of operatives across Pakistan but backed off after suspicious Pakistani officials declined to issue them visas. At the same time, the agency aggressively used the freer hand Obama had given it to launch more drone strikes than ever before.

Established by the Bush administration and Musharraf in 2004, the covert CIA drone program initially carried out only “personality” strikes against a preapproved list of senior al Qaeda members. Pakistani officials were notified before many, but not all, attacks. Between 2004 and 2007, nine such attacks were carried out in Pakistan, according to the New America Foundation.

In 2008, the Bush administration authorized less-restrictive “signature” strikes in the tribal areas. Instead of basing attacks on intelligence regarding a specific person, CIA drone operators could carry out strikes based on the behavior of people on the ground. Operators could launch a drone strike if they saw a group, for example, crossing back and forth over the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In 2008, the Bush administration carried out 33 strikes.

Under Obama, the drone campaign has escalated rapidly. The number of strikes rose steeply to 53 in 2009 and then more than doubled to 118 in 2010. Former administration officials said the looser rules resulted in the killing of more civilians. Current administration officials insisted that Obama, in fact, tightened the rules on the use of drone strikes after taking office. They said strikes rose under Obama because improved technology and intelligence gathering created more opportunities for attacks than existed under Bush.

But as Pakistani public anger over the spiraling strikes grew, other diplomats expressed concern as well. The U.S. ambassador in Pakistan at the time, Anne Patterson, opposed several attacks, but the CIA ignored her objections. When Cameron Munter replaced Patterson in October 2010, he objected even more vigorously. On at least two occasions, CIA Director Leon Panetta dismissed Munter’s protests and launched strikes, the Wall Street Journal later reported. One strike occurred only hours after Sen. John Kerry, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had completed a visit to Islamabad.

A March 2011 strike brought the debate to the White House. A day after Pakistani officials agreed to release CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the agency — again over Munter’s objections — carried out a signature drone strike that the Pakistanis say killed four Taliban fighters and 38 civilians. Already angry about the Davis case, Pakistan’s Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued an unusual public statement, saying a group of tribal elders had been “carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life.” U.S. intelligence officials dismissed the Pakistani complaints and insisted 20 militants had perished. “There’s every indication that this was a group of terrorists, not a charity car wash in the Pakistani hinterlands,” one official told the Associated Press.

Surprised by the vehemence of the official Pakistani reaction, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon questioned whether signature strikes were worthwhile. Critics inside and outside the U.S. government contended that a program that began as a carefully focused effort to kill senior al Qaeda leaders had morphed into a bombing campaign against low-level Taliban fighters. Some outside analysts even argued that the administration had adopted a de facto “kill not capture” policy, given its inability to close Bush’s Guantánamo Bay prison and create a new detention system.

In April 2011, the director of Pakistan’s intelligence service, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, visited Washington in an effort to repair the relationship, according to news accounts and former administration officials. Just after his visit, two more drone strikes occurred in the tribal areas, which Pasha took as a personal affront. In a rare concession, Panetta agreed to notify Pakistan’s intelligence service before the United States carried out any strike that could kill more than 20 people.

In May, after the bin Laden raid sparked further anger among Pakistani officials, Donilon launched an internal review of how drone strikes were approved, according to a former administration official. But the strikes continued. At the end of May, State Department officials were angered when three missile strikes followed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan.

As Donilon’s review progressed, an intense debate erupted inside the administration over the signature strikes, according to the Wall Street Journal. Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strikes should be more selective. Robert Gates, then the defense secretary, warned that angry Pakistani officials could cut off supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Clinton warned that too many civilian casualties could strengthen opposition to Pakistan’s weak, pro-American president, Asif Ali Zardari.

The CIA countered that Taliban fighters were legitimate targets because they carried out cross-border attacks on U.S. forces, according to the former official. In June, Obama sided with the CIA. Panetta conceded that no drone strike would be carried out when Pakistani officials visited Washington and that Clinton and Munter could object to proposed strikes. But Obama allowed the CIA director to retain final say.

Last November, the worst-case scenario that Mullen, Gates and Clinton had warned of came to pass. After NATO airstrikes mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Kayani demanded an end to all U.S. drone strikes and blocked supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. At the same time, popular opposition to Zardari soared. After a nearly two-month lull that allowed militants to regroup, drone strikes resumed in the tribal areas this past January. But signature strikes are no longer allowed — for the time being, according to the former senior official.

Among average Pakistanis, the strikes played out disastrously. In a 2011 Pew Research Center poll, 97 percent of Pakistani respondents who knew about the attacks said American drone strikes were a “bad thing.” Seventy-three percent of Pakistanis had an unfavorable view of the United States, a 10-percentage-point rise from 2008. Administration officials say the strikes are popular with Pakistanis who live in the tribal areas and have tired of brutal jihadi rule. And they contend that Pakistani government officials — while publicly criticizing the attacks — agree in private that they help combat militancy. Making the strikes more transparent could reduce public anger in other parts of Pakistan, U.S. officials concede. But they say some elements of the Pakistani government continue to request that the strikes remain covert.

For me, the bottom line is that both governments’ approaches are failing. Pakistan’s economy is dismal. Its military continues to shelter Taliban fighters it sees as proxies to thwart Indian encroachment in Afghanistan. And the percentage of Pakistanis supporting the use of the Pakistani Army to fight extremists in the tribal areas — the key to eradicating militancy — dropped from a 53 percent majority in 2009 to 37 percent last year. Pakistan is more unstable today than it was when Obama took office.

A similar dynamic is creating even worse results on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Long ignored by the United States, Yemen drew sudden attention after a suicide attack on the USS Cole killed 17 American sailors in the port of Aden in 2000. In 2002, the Bush administration carried out a single drone strike in Yemen that killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, an al Qaeda operative who was a key figure in orchestrating the Cole attack. In the years that followed, the administration shifted its attentions to Iraq, and militants began to regroup.

A failed December 2009 attempt by a militant trained in Yemen to detonate a bomb on a Detroit-bound airliner focused Obama’s attention on the country. Over the next two years, the United States carried out an estimated 20 airstrikes in Yemen, most in 2011. In addition to killing al Qaeda-linked militants, the strikes killed dozens of civilians, according to Yemenis. Instead of decimating the organization, the Obama strikes have increased the ranks of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from 300 fighters in 2009 to more than 1,000 today, according to Gregory Johnsen, a leading Yemen expert at Princeton University. In January, the group briefly seized control of Radda, a town only 100 miles from the capital, Sanaa. “I don’t believe that the U.S. has a Yemen policy,” Johnsen told me. “What the U.S. has is a counterterrorism strategy that it applies to Yemen.”

The deaths of bin Laden and many of his lieutenants are a step forward, but Pakistan and Yemen are increasingly unstable. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country of 180 million with resilient militant networks; Yemen, an impoverished, failing state that is fast becoming a new al Qaeda stronghold. “They think they’ve won because of this approach,” the former administration official said, referring to the administration’s drone-heavy strategy. “A lot of us think there is going to be a lot bigger problems in the future.”

The backlash from drone strikes in the countries where they are happening is not the only worry. In the United States, civil liberties and human rights groups are increasingly concerned with the breadth of powers Obama has claimed for the executive branch as he wages a new kind of war.

In the Libya conflict, the administration invoked the drones to create a new legal precedent. Under the War Powers Resolution, the president must receive congressional authorization for military operations within 60 days. When the deadline approached in May, the administration announced that because NATO strikes and drones were carrying out the bulk of the missions, no serious threat of U.S. casualties existed and no congressional authorization was needed. “It’s changed the way politicians talk about what should be the most important thing that a nation engages in,” said Peter W. Singer, a Brookings Institution researcher. “It’s changed the way we in the public deliberate war.”

Last fall, a series of drone strikes in Yemen set another dangerous precedent, according to civil liberties and human rights groups. Without any public legal proceeding, the U.S. government executed three of its own citizens. On Sept. 30, a drone strike killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a charismatic American-born cleric of Yemeni descent credited with inspiring terrorist attacks around the world. Samir Khan, a Pakistani-American jihadist traveling with him, was killed as well. Several weeks later, another strike killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also a U.S. citizen. Administration officials insisted a Justice Department review had authorized the killings but declined to release the full document.

“The administration has claimed the power to carry out extrajudicial executions of Americans on the basis of evidence that is secret and is never seen by anyone,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s hard to understand how that is consistent with the Constitution.”

After criticizing the Bush administration for keeping the details of its surveillance, interrogation and detention practices secret, Obama is doing the same thing. His administration has declined to reveal the details of how it places people on kill lists, carries out eavesdropping in the United States or decides whom to detain overseas. The administration is also prosecuting six former government officials on charges of leaking classified information to the media — more cases than all other administrations combined.

Administration officials deny being secretive and insist they have disclosed more information about their counterterrorism practices than the Bush administration, which fiercely resisted releasing details of its “war on terror” and established the covert drone program in Pakistan. Obama administration officials say they have established a more transparent and flexible approach outside Pakistan that involves military raids, drone strikes and other efforts. They told me that every attack in Yemen was approved by Yemeni officials. Eventually, they hope to make drone strikes joint efforts carried out openly with local governments.

For now, keeping them covert prevents American courts from reviewing their constitutionality, according to Jaffer. He pointed out that if a Republican president followed such policies, the outcry on the left would be deafening. “You have to remember that this authority is going to be used by the next administration and the next administration after that,” Jaffer said. “You need to make sure there are clear limits on what is really unparalleled power.”

To their credit, Obama and his senior officials have successfully reframed Bush’s global battle as a more narrowly focused struggle against al Qaeda. They stopped using the term “war on terror” and instead described a campaign against a single, clearly identifiable group.

Senior administration officials cite the toppling of Muammar al-Qaddafi as the prime example of the success of their more focused, multilateral approach to the use of force. At a cost of zero American lives and $1 billion in U.S. funding, the Libya intervention removed an autocrat from power in five months. The occupation of Iraq claimed 4,484 American lives, cost at least $700 billion, and lasted nearly nine years.

“The light U.S. footprint had benefits beyond less U.S. lives and resources,” Rhodes told me. “We believe the Libyan revolution is viewed as more legitimate. The U.S. is more welcome. And there is less potential for an insurgency because there aren’t foreign forces present.”

In its most ambitious proposal, the administration is also trying to restructure the U.S. military, implement steep spending cuts and “right-size” U.S. forces around the world. Under Obama’s plan, the Army would be trimmed by 80,000 soldiers, some U.S. units would be shifted from the Middle East to the Pacific, and more small, covert bases would be opened. Special Forces units that have been vastly expanded in Iraq and Afghanistan would train indigenous forces and carry out counterterrorism raids. Declaring al Qaeda nearly defeated, administration officials say it is time for a new focus.

“Where does the U.S. have a greater interest in 2020?” Rhodes asked. “Is it Asia-Pacific or Yemen? Obviously, the Asia-Pacific region is clearly going to be more important.”

Rhodes has a point, but Pakistan and its nuclear weapons — as well as Yemen and its proximity to vital oil reserves and sea lanes — are likely to haunt the United States for years.

Retired military officials warn that drones and commando raids are no substitute for the difficult process of helping local leaders marginalize militants. Missile strikes that kill members of al Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan and Yemen do not strengthen economies, curb corruption or improve government services. David Barno, a retired lieutenant general who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, believes hunting down senior terrorists over and over again is not a long-term solution.

“How do you get beyond this attrition warfare?” he asked me. “I don’t think we’ve answered that question yet.”

PHOTO: A supporter of religious and political party Jamaat-e-Islami flashes the victory sign in front of an image of a drone, during a rally against drone attacks in Karachi, June 4, 2011. REUTERS/Athar Hussain

Comments
21 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Funny, if Obama was a republican no one would care and even expected him to act like this. He just continued down the path of his predecessor. US foreign policy has failed for a long time. Policing the world under the pretence of bringing democracy when everyone can see economical motives are he real factor, is just plain stupid. The economical crisis was caused by the US trying to stay a superpower. Funding all the wars has cost so much it’s obscene and US citizens are left to pick up the bill for it.

Posted by WROLblog | Report as abusive
 

If the writer thinks that the use of drones is backfiring, what does he think of our more conventional invasion of Iraq? A shock and awe campaign a time when 60% of the population was either female or under the age of 14? War will never be sanitary and people at or near the receiving end will always resent it. They key issue in the use of drones is effectiveness compared to the previous approach, not perfection.

Posted by RynoM | Report as abusive
 

RE: WROL
Interesting comment from WROL. Bush took much more heat for his activities than Obama has. Bush was constantly being criticized in the news. No one seems to care now. Do you see anything on the news about this? In the end,it does not matter if you are Republican or Democrat. If it is wrong, it is wrong. Whether it works this time or not, it will be used again by the next President. Slippery slope. Time for us to read the Constitution again.

Posted by capinfergie | Report as abusive
 

I read nothing in this article that would support the thesis of failure. This would seem more a complaint that drones have been used as a counterterrorist measure, and that familiarity with the technology has reduced the psychological threat.

Posted by SanPa | Report as abusive
 

I did not see anything in the article pointing to failure pertaining to the drone attacks. In the contrary drone attackkls have deminished Al queda presence in the world. A large number of the
al queda leaders have been elimanated using drones. No US soilders are in harms way. Al queda is now considering peace talks with the US, maybe because of the drone attacks. Give our president credit for doing a good job. Ben Laden is no longer on this earth and Gadafi is no longer a threat. Remember obama voted against the Iraq war. bush killed over 4,000 US soilders and for waht. No more troups in Iraq and son to be none in Afganastan.

Posted by MTH | Report as abusive
 

It’s called ‘realpolitik’ and it’s all the rage. B-52′s at 30,000′ are messy. Think of it, 100 holy warriors, chanting in a courtyard, “death to America”; then, Zot. I’ll be more impressed if O can fix the American problem with HumInt. Zot and spy cams just can’t keep up with outfits like Mossad, which is why we are flying blind on Iran, despite a huge population of Iranian refugees. We need to get our foreign policy back from Baptist preachers and Israeli-American ‘friendship groups’. Better intel will help get us there. Killing the enemy along the way is a very nice bonus.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for this insightful piece, despite the comments of some above who don’t consider that drones just might be considered instruments of “terror” by people overseas.

One explanation for how a constitutional law professor could now be using targeted drone strikes five times more than George W Bush (apart from domestic politics), is the “Bomb Power” theory of Garry Wills.

His book of that name argues that the secrecy needed for the Manhattan Project has led to a network of 1000 overseas military bases, with the aim of protecting from any restraint the President’s power to push the nuclear button.

This has meant that the executive branch is now the most powerful, taking over from Congress.

“Constitutional diminishment” is now the established order, he wrote in a piece calling Mr Obama an “Entangled Giant” – NYRB, Oct 8, 2009.

Posted by rohdesscholar | Report as abusive
 

I’m no democrat, but I think a few bombs dropped on the enemy doesn’t hurt anyone but bad guys, I think these reporters forget that, its not like they are carpet bombing cities. maybe they should try that and see how the media reacts.

Posted by BK4America | Report as abusive
 

Unchecked political powers in some Arab countries caused the Arab Spring.

Unchecked banking powers in the US caused the 2008 Wall Street Meltdown.

Housing developed by unchecked money caused the foreclosure and job crisis.

Unchecked imperial and military American powers caused wars and conflicts too numerous to mention since WW2.

And now, they found a way to fight unchecked air wars in foreign lands. What will this cause? How about blow-back? You know, sorta like 9/11.

Posted by TomKi | Report as abusive
 

Mr. Rhode’s premises are as flawed as his conclusions.

In the “real world” there are real consequences inseparable from both action and inaction. A person both responsible and competent must carefully evaluate genuine alternatives carefully. Choices that exist only in and for a “perfect world” inhabited by honest people are a waste of limited time when real and present threats must be dealt with.

On 9/11 America became painfully aware of the consequences of ignoring the significance of an Afghan government allowing a terrorist organization “safe haven” for its leaders and training camps. Those who would ignore that lesson would have us invite another.

The Taliban are not a state but a state of mind common in Afghanistan. The same is true of what remains of al-Qa’ida. The same is true of many in high places in Pakistan and of Pakistani militants, not surprising considering the teachings common in Pakistani Madrassas.

These people hate “Westerners” and a “western” way of life they see as conflicting with their Islamic values, and as having subjugated their peoples for many, many years. In their impotence they hate America and Americans as once they hated Britain (with better reason) when Britain was the “face of the West”.

By placing a higher priority for available funds on “defense” against India than on improving the day-to-day life of their citizens, Pakistan has atomic missiles but is not a financially self-sufficient country. They have to have money from SOMEONE; whether America, China or Russia just to survive as a sovreign state from year to year.

America cannot invade and remove terrorist threats because of world “proxy” politics. It is not considered politically correct to bomb countries that harbor them into the stone age. We cannot ignore them. So we use drones that are as cheap and surgical as undeclared war can be.

America isn’t going to win the “hearts and minds of these people by ANY means. There are NO “innocents” in areas that tolerate radical intimidation as “local government”. So, when we kill wolves, if a few wolf pups also die, so what? Our Predators are killing foreign predators and future predators who would gladly slit the throats of any f us had they the chance. As an American I loose no sleep at all over a reality these people, and ONLY these people, have created.

They only think drone strikes too frequent, too unilateral, and too heavy-handed because they work, and because all they can do about a situation of their own creation is to complain. Too bad! When they learn to live without threatening others, the attacks will stop. That choice is theirs, and theirs alone.

When the U.S. government executes those of its own citizens whose actions have conclusively proven them traitors, good riddance. No tears here. They will themselves cause no more risk or loss of American lives. The “alternative”, to put boots on the ground of a hostile sovereign state to take such people out of action (as we did with Osama bin Laden) is not an option for frequent use.

If these “citizens will voluntarily surrender to U.S. authority for a trial in America facing execution by firing squad, I’m sure we will give safe passage and an airline ticket. Until then, Americans need no longer be willing victims waiting for future slaughter by such people and their pupils and followers.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

Ok, nice, long article, but very little opinion and analysis in it, just fact grabbing.
As some commenters observed (WROLblog, Tomki) there are also broader consequences of drone usage.
1. Before Obama, terrorists were using terrorist measures like plane hostages in 9/11 or murders of political opponents and to the contrary the countries – the “good guys” were using armies in wars and judicial measures otherwise (you hunt and capture the villain, sentence him in fair trial and put in jail or execute). Obama changed this world-wide perception, crossed the red line between terrorists and states. Of course limited covert operations are always in place but, please! Nobody, especially US President that represents legal authority of the country boasts about them with pride ! It is not a game, it would certainly backfire.
2. Obama will be remembered by historians also because of making drones, covert killings technology popular, edgy. The technology is being compromised by other countries. Drones will be produced in thousands by many countries. So, one step futher they will come to secondary, terrorist market. I can imagine Al-Quaida purchasing 200 of them at 1m $ a piece and transporting in standard containers to US. It could backfire directly at Obama, as having 20 of them in midair together, they are lethal weapon against any VIP.
3. An last but not least aspect of drone usage, not even observable by US, because it is a strong country.
Before Obama sovereignty of the country was saint, there were borders of countries, borders that were not crossed legally, only in war times. Again special forces were different cup of tea, but CIA attacks never part of front page US officials PR, pride and propaganda.
Now US is violating sovereignty of numerous countries, and US President legitimates this violations. For any country that is not NUKE state it means “US legitimized this, we can be now bullied legally by stronger countries, this United Nations crap is no longer valid”.
And weaker countries are becoming stronger by nuke building. And stronger countries will in the future violate sovereignty of weaker neighbours because US set the tone.

Posted by Wantunbiasednew | Report as abusive
 

My apologies, I just read that you are one of the best political journalists in US, 2 times Pulitzer-winner.
It is not lack of your insight that forces you to write such articles. It is self-censorship called political correctness.

Posted by Wantunbiasednew | Report as abusive
 

The article by Mr.Rhodesis blatantly motivated by opposition interest along with possibly self interest sympathizing cited countries which have not acted fairly with US in the first place. It is appalling that a Pulitzer winner is turning the table on president Obama who was given the pre-election goal of eliminating all the terror sources to save our country. It is not a show of honest thinking to SHOW we are sympathizing with countries plotting subversive activities in the USA and should be humane to them to look good in history. This is clearly cooked up with election stunts, asking a Pulitzer prize winner to make twisted statements. I disagree specifically with the statement that the pre-Obama sovereignty of our country was saintly (may be before world war II)- amnesia Mr. Rhodes? Remember Vietnam, Help to Shah of Iran to cite a couple and domestically Watergate all involving US presidents’ decisions? Politics thrives on people’s memory or lack thereof. History never forgets good and bad and the final results. In any case, drones did not spring up in Obama’s time. Bush simply did not have the intelligence to use them. OUR US DEFENSE PERSONNEL MUST BE PROUD OF INVENTING DRONES THAT SAVE OUR SONS’ AND DAUGHTERS’ LIVES IN THE ARMED FORCES. CRY OUT LOUD IF WE GO INTO A NEW COUNTRY THAT IS NOT AT ODDS WITH US AND WE DEPLOY THE DRONES FOR DESTRUCTION. Already there are many ways drones can be used for peaceful purposes – by Appalledbyblurredvision.

Posted by slnsimhan | Report as abusive
 

Actually, the “Drone War” is going quite well … for the US Military/Industrial Complex, that is.

If you want to read an absolutely fascinating article on the US Drone Warfare program, I suggest you check out this article in the Asia Times Online.

How drone war became the American Way
By Tom Engelhardt

For your convenience, here is the web page to the article:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Econ omy/NC03Dj02.html

Posted by Gordon2352 | Report as abusive
 

Unfortunately, military and intelligence related technology advances end up primarily used to spy on a country’s own citizens. Here in the USA, how difficult is it to find some type of political activist who thinks harming a fellow citizen who disagrees with him is a good idea? It is not hard at all.

For starters, operating an unmanned aircraft within the airspace of the USA without a specific, non-”John Doe” warrant should be a Federal felony. Criminal liability should rise upward through the chain of command at least three levels. There should be no limitation on how long indictment could take. If such an individual is not indicted within three years, any US human person (no corporations) should be able to file a civil suit against whoever did the offense for a minimum of the value of all accrued Federal employment benefits of each and every kind.

The least punished crime in America is a crime against the American public and the American Constitution. Time for a change!

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive
 

AND HOW LONG BEFORE THEY OBTAIN THEIR OWN DRONES ?
THEY ARE BEING PRODUCED IN MANY COUNTRIES AND THEY ARE VERY CHEAP…
THEN WHAT ?

Posted by GMavros | Report as abusive
 

My concern regarding drone strikes is that the controllers of such military actions are so removed both physically and psychologically from the bombings that it’s intellectually easier to execute these attacks. Modern military training has already increase American soldiers “willingness to kill” ratios from a low of mid-30s during WWII to 90% today. Drones are now flying “missions” over the United States. My gravest concern is it’s only a matter of time before they are used to attack a gang of suspected “drug-runners” at first & once that door is kicked-in so to speak, Americans will have to confront the true nature of our unchecked militarism and greed in our own back yards. Maybe not this year but soon very soon and the resulting chaos will not be described by euphemisms related to medicine or clever jingoistic slogans meant to dehumanize the victims because then they -the victims- will be on the same side as the media pimps who prostituted the propaganda of lies to rationalize the crimes previously relegated to foreign citizens.
It’s sad really but Americans have no one to blame but themselves. Ignorant, bloated & angry for all the wrong reasons. Addicted, distracted and divided over simple human rights such as housing, abortion and habeas corpus. Seemingly concerned, Americans look to the mid-east or Asia and ask why? I look to the US and ask why not… ?

Posted by echobravotango | Report as abusive
 

Among a significant portion of the intellectuals of the developing world, the phrase qualifying Obama as “Assassin-in-Chief” rather than Commander-in-Chief has morphed from a jibe to a deadly serious call of warning against the excesses of the marriage of technology with blind warmongering.

Posted by MohamedMalleck | Report as abusive
 

Is there any limit at all on what US Government officials can do to people?

Practically, no. If the Government would randomly select 10,000 US citizens and torture them to death on tv by the Reflecting Pool, under current practice they would be immune to prosecution. We have recreated unlimited autocratic power. The justification here is the same one always used by dictators — they can obviously do no wrong, by definition.

This is a system a reasonable person would die for? This is what we want other countries to emulate? This is the system we want to live under?

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive
 

What the writer points to as failures is more due to overall conditions in Pakistan and Yemen. The strained relations with Pakistan are more due to the constant criticism they are bombarded with for not cooperating with the war on terror, despite two leaders being overthrown for that exact reason. The current leader is not “weak” due to drone strikes, but to continued support for the US.

Further, trying to compare the executive powers President Obama has “claimed” to those of President Bush is ridiculous. Pres. Bush took so much heat because he: 1) Openly saw the Constitution as a hindrance to his ability to rule; 2) His Administration therefore sought to circumvent it at every opportunity; 3) He compromised Judicial branch by having it find ways to shred the Constitution; 4) He sought to eliminate legislative and judicial interference with any actions he may take by claiming National Security allowed him to do so; 5) Pres. Bush actively used torture; 6) He believed tapping the phones of every single American was allowed without a warrant; 7) His Administration was prepared to suspend “sections” of the Constitution without legislative or judicial oversight. Suspending any part of the Constitution is suspending the entire document because they are all co-supportive. Despite giving an oath to defend the Constitution, Pres. Bush’s Administration, arguably hijacked by Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, did everything but burn it on the White House lawn.

Posted by KJeroH | Report as abusive
 

“..when we kill wolves, if a few wolf pups also die, so what? Our Predators are killing foreign predators and future predators who would gladly slit the throats of any f us had they the chance. As an American I loose no sleep at all..” – courtesy :OneOfTheSheep.

- Guys, what percentage of americans think on similar lines!!! Gosh if it’s more than 1%, then we have a real sick humanity on this continent.

Posted by 12356 | Report as abusive
 

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