By John Watts
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham recently told a home state audience that the United States has killed over 4,700 people using drone strikes since their introduction into use.
Senator Graham’s remarks drew a wide array of interest, as the US government has never officially made public the number of deaths, militant and civilian alike, due to drone strikes.
Graham blithely alluded that, many times, non-combatants and innocent bystanders are massacred along with the higher-up terrorists that are being targeted.
Using “Predator” and “Reaper” drones to kill terrorist leaders at first appears to be a win-win situation for many policymakers and the general public. It obviates the need for “boots on the ground.”
Undoubtedly, the American people have grown weary of using combat troops to run counterinsurgency operations in foreign countries. These operations necessarily require serious commitment of resources and large amounts of manpower and are seemingly interminable.
You can’t really run counterinsurgency while trying to control the budget. War hawks are starting to realize that the precarious US financial situation will preclude many of their fantasy invasions and occupations from being realized. For the would-be American imperialists, this could not come at a worse time; a large swath of Middle East and North Africa is alight with rage at the authoritarian leaders Western powers have historically propped up.
Without the political will and the resources requisite to invade and “democratize” Islamist countries, less costly and seemingly more subtle policies will be relied upon increasingly. Obama certainly loves to employ drones, even more than Bush – see these charts.
But pursuing a more indiscriminate drone policy will inevitably entail some nasty consequences for Americans, however delayed these repercussions are in coming. And it’s not just Ron Paul elucidating the concept of ‘blowback’ anymore. Read closely this interview with the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
The general points out that, “…if you go back in history, I can’t find a covert fix that solved a problem long term.” He is referring to the reliance of Presidents on the CIA, Special Ops, and covert drone strikes. It is refreshing to hear a man of the top military hierarchy divulge this truth. Now if only we can point this out to the likes of Senator Graham and other drone enthusiasts.
To go one step further, we should acknowledge it is counterproductive to our security in the long-run - that frame of reference politicians aren’t often inclined to consider. The killing of innocent women and children is as abhorrent to the people of Pakistan as it is to Americans.
What if the government used a drone strike to kill a violent, antisocial suspect and in the process took out his grandparents and children? Americans would be upset and say the costs did not necessarily outweigh the “collateral damage.” It would engender contempt and hostility toward an authoritarian government that claimed the right to decide how much human life was expendable in attaining the destruction of a suspect it had prejudged guilty.
If you think that is an outlandish example, consider that the Obama administration and its nomination for CIA chief, John Brennan, have not yet answered Sen. Rand Paul’s question of whether or not they believe the government can carry out a drone strike on US soil.
The Muslim world might have a longer memory than Americans who are preoccupied with reality television shows. Our unconstitutional and unaffordable foreign policy is being carried out right in their backyards. It is bound to elicit hatred, and drone strikes that kill non-combatants will only intensify that, making it easier for fundamentalists to recruit.
Tags: Rand Paul, Obama, drones, blowback, Brennan, Predator, Pakistan, McChrystal, drone strikes, Reaper