by Craig Considine
When Obama was campaigning on ‘Hope and Change’ in 2008, many Americans thought he was committed to implementing future foreign policies that would drift drastically away from the ’war on terror’ initiatives directed under the infamous Bush II administration.
Yet over one year into his Presidency, Obama has actually expanded upon one of Bush’s gross military endeavors: the United States’ drone bombing campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
For many Americans, it is unfathomable to think that Obama has been more gruesome than Bush. Even putting the two in the same sentence sounds like blasphemy. But the fact is the Obama administration has used the Predator and Reaper drones much more often than the Bush administration.
The truth hurts.
And the numbers do not lie. In his first year as President, the United States used the Predator and Reaper drones 53 times, a more than 50% rise from the 36 under Bush in 2008. In his second year as President, Obama is on track to triple his drone strike total from 2008.
Many may think ‘who cares’ when the drone strike total almost triples over a two-year span. The logic of many Americans is that the drone campaign is cost effective and efficient. Instead of putting thousands of Americans in harm’s way, why not just use the Predator and Reaper?
Are not drones saving the United States millions of dollars anyways?
All of these are fair statements. The drone campaign is saving Americans lives and dollars. But what is the mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan anyways? Is it not to remove the Taliban from governing Afghanistan and to rid the world of the al-Qaeda network?
I wonder if people realize that the drone campaign has been moderately successful at best and that it is actually emboldening the Taliban and giving al-Qaeda even more recruitment resources than they already had.
What are the reasons why the drone campaign has been harmful to the United States? The answer is the civilian casualties they have wrought. Why are civilian casualties harmful to the effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan? The answer is obvious: it stirs anti-American fervor, it makes more enemies and it destabilizes the frail and corrupt government in Pakistan.
The Brookings Institution has figured that roughly 14 of the 700 deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan during 2009 were considered ‘high valued’ al-Qaeda targets. At this rate, 50 civilians die for every militant. This puts the success rate of the drone campaign at an abysmal 6%. To put it simply, as Al Jazeera has, ‘if you look at the number of strikes and the number of casualties on the ground the militants do not figure very prominently’.
Civilian casualties, most Americans will say, are simply the unfortunate result of liberating the Afghan and Pakistani people from the stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But let us be honest for a second: does the Obama administration seem to even have any sincere interest in differentiating between militant and civilian?
An anonymous ex-military officer of the United States has recently said that ‘if there’s one guy we’re trying to hit and there is thirty-four other people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die that day’.
Does that sound like differentiating between militant and civilian?
This type of behavior alerts us to possible American war crimes in Pakistan.
How would you define terrorism? Is it the killing of people in drone attacks? These were two questions that a Pakistani woman asked Hillary Clinton when visiting Pakistan in December, 2009. The Pakistani woman also asked if Clinton considers the killing of innocent civilians as ‘acts of terrorism’. Clinton casually responded with ‘No, I don’t’.
Clinton, like a good politician, would never admit to the obvious. Drone strikes and their killing of civilians are acts of terrorism.
Have Americans forgotten what it feels like to be victims of terrorism? Have they forgotten about 9-11? How can they consider the 9-11 attacks as terrorism and not the drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Did not both incidences kill a gross amount of innocent civilians?
While the Obama administration may not consider the drone campaign as terrorism, Afghan students, as they exhibited in May, 2009, certainly do. In Kabul, hundreds of Afghan students held protests for an American drone strike that then recently killed roughly 150 civilians in the Farah province of Afghanistan. Students held up signs reading ‘America: the biggest terrorists in the world’.
Even the United Nation’s and its Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions is concerned that the United States’ drone campaign is terrorism. ‘My concern is that these drones, these Predators, are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law’.
Where is the evidence suggesting that drones have been even moderately successful in Afghanistan? When enemy leaders are killed, are they not simply replaced by the next in the chain of command?
And are not drone strikes and their indiscriminate killing of civilians providing justification for the fervent anti-American militaristic movement of the Taliban and al-Qaeda? Instead of isolating extremists, are not drone strikes being used as tools of recruitment? Are they not giving rise to anger that is coalescing Afghans and Pakistanis around the extremists? Will this not lead to more extremism?
The drone campaign is, perhaps, one issue that both Democrats and Republicans can agree upon. Republican Senator McCain and Independent, Republican-leaning Senator Lieberman recently hailed the drone campaign as ‘a critical element in our effort, our campaign, and our strategy to deny the terrorists who are terrorizing the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan’. McCain has gone as far as claiming it is ‘part of an overall set of tactics which make up the strategy for victory’.
Would you expect anything else but this type of rhetoric and propaganda from those ‘leaders’ in Washington?
And how sad it is that one of the only issues Democrats and Republicans can agree upon is their own acts of terrorism!
Obama is taking the lazy route and ‘easy way out’ with his war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In his own blindness, he continues to assume that taking out one militant, even if the drone strike kills dozens of civilians, is a sign that the drone bombing campaign is working. Instead of looking down the road at the future consequences of his own administration’s terrorist actions, Obama is using drones as quick fixes to short-term problems.
I guess short-term fixes is what any effective politician cares about anyways. For Obama, the use of drones and the appearance that progress is being made is quite the sly way to try to boost his own approval rating.
Obama, like Bush, continues to deal with the symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself.