Thursday, September 27, 2012


"drones are always on my mind. It makes it difficult to sleep. They are like a mosquito. Even when you don't see them, you can hear them, you know they are there."

Imagine you're having a barbecue at your home and that annoying neighbor who keeps yelling about people dying in the name of God drops by. You give him a burger off the grill and hear a strange sound, a buzzing sort of like a plane. Then the explosion erupts around you, as a missile from the drone piles into your back yard and blows your family to chunks. As you lie dying you wonder why and how this could have happened to you?
I think most people are in favor of the idea of stopping terrorism and even killing brutal terrorists.  Although it was basically illegal, the attack on Bin Laden's compound as described by the Obama administration was shrugged at by most Americans.  If that got rid of such an evil man, they were willing to put up with it.  But the drone thing, I think, makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
Yes, it means dealing with problems without having soldiers present.  Yes it means killing bad guys without needing men on the ground who can get shot and killed.  But at the same time, it means killing other people, too.
Its extremely difficult to get accurate numbers, because the US government for obvious reasons is very reluctant to help find out, the drone strike locations are quite remote, and the people are hostile to the US and more than willing to exaggerate and even lie outright.  That said, a study at New York University and Stanford University relays a bit of information:
The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals.
How accurate is this?  More accurate than the Obama administration which claims "single digits" of innocent civilians have died.  Remember that scene in Iron Man where he targets all the hostage takers in the little village and gets them, leaving the hostages behind?  When you fire a Hellfire missile into a wedding, that's not how it works. Everyone gets blown up.  And not everyone at a wedding is a ululating jihadi.  These aren't "surgical" unless using a hand grenade on cancer is considered surgical.  They aren't using a laser to vaporize a target or a single sniper shot.  This kind of attack levels homes.
In fact maybe none of them are.  The decision process for who to target with drones is based on intelligence, but since we have few if any people actually on the ground in Pakistan gathering that intel, we're largely dependent on local information - and informers - as to who is a target and who is not.  Now, I'd like to believe that the CIA and military intelligence has gotten suddenly a lot smarter after the Bush administration but where's the evidence of that?  If anything every agency and bureau in the federal government has gotten worse over the years, not better.  These people aren't fielding the best and the brightest, they're fielding the most political, the union-protected, and the entrenched long-term bureaucrat with virtually no accountability.
And since the focus under the Obama administration has been on killing terrorists and not capturing them,we're not getting more intel from them.  Guantanamo Bay has had no new terrorist suspects added to its numbers and many have been released (to go and commit more terrorism, in many cases - almost 50 since Obama took office, including the recent Consulate murders in Libya).  So our information is sketchy.
I actually don't have a problem with using drones to attack bad guys and blow up terrorist meetings.  I like how we can strike terrorists where they are, without endangering soldiers.  I like the ability to reach out and pound bad guys in Pakistan without a real military presence there.
But the use of drones has skyrocketed under Obama, to the point people are saying he's changed the face of warfare, and while the selection process of who gets hit (allegedly President Obama personally hand picks each one to make sure its a good target) might be good, what about the rest of the people in the area?  
The US Government declares every military age man with a target an enemy unless specific evidence proves otherwise - guilty until proven innocent, as it were.  That may be true, its unlikely someone just happened to be hanging out with a bunch of al`Qaeda guys in a truck on the way to a weapon buy, for instance.  But its not certainly true.  And its true that a conventional war would probably kill a lot more civilians, particularly when fighting cowardly, honorless scum who hide in homes and dress like civilians.
Perhaps this is the best way to deal with al`Qaeda hiding in Pakistan, perhaps this keeps the terrorists on the run and disrupts their activities.  But what does it do to the rest of the people living in an area?  They don't really understand what these things are for and who they are after.  All they know is these aircraft fly around their villages and in certain areas and sometimes blow up something.
Wartime casualties are the worst nightmare of Democrats, apparently, as they do everything they can to keep soldiers out of it. From bombing the former Yugoslav republics from air to drone strikes, Democrat presidents try to keep their hands clean by not putting anyone into the danger zone and potentially seeing casualties.  The problem is, you cannot really control an area and deal with a problem by remote control.  You have to have people on the ground doing the job; as the left kept yelling at the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, this isn't a video game.
And while drones are creating terror in our enemies (and innocent people on the ground) what are they ultimately accomplishing?  Is it enough to frighten and disrupt terrorists and murderous radicals?  I believe that the US will pull out of Afghanistan in the next presidential term and that will likely mean the end of the drone hits.  Then what?  Will the memory of the attacks, the destruction, the drones, and the American military's overwhelming power cling to these people?
Or will they only remember random explosions and terror, hating America, and how the US gave up and went away after a while because it got too hard to keep fighting?
Will President Obama's use of drones across the world (Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, etc) create a worldwide combat zone, a doctrine that everywhere is fair game to fire missiles into, as long as the president figures the target is valid?  After all, President Obama declared the war on terror over a few months ago, yet keeps hitting terrorists and suspects around the world.
One thing is sure: President Obama's rhetoric of 2008 certainly doesn't match his actions of 2012.


Unknown said...

There have been some studies done that show that Democratic Presidents are far more likely to use a drone then to put troops on the ground. Now granted this basically covers only Clinton and Obama but at least on the surface it seems to make sense. Which I find interesting.

Christopher R Taylor said...

I think its the fear of casualties and a perspective on war that is more hands off than ground pounders.