Bomb First, Ask Questions Later: Looking at America’s Use of Military Force in the Drone Age

Ike warned us. He spelled it out for us in no uncertain terms at the close of his presidency and we should have listened. When the former Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, General of the Army and Commander in Chief cautions against the expansion of the same military that he has been in charge of to varying degrees for almost two decades, you would think the American people would heed his advice. We did not. “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”President Eisenhower told us. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” 54 years after uttering those words, Eisenhower’s predictions have not only come to fruition, but they have come true to a degree that the great general would not have been able to fathom.

Yesterday, The Intercept released a damning series of stories outlining the Obama administration’s drone program, using a cache of secret documents obtained from an anonymous whistleblower. These stories, collectively titled The Drone Papers, give the public a window into the use of drone warfare in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia between 2011 and 2013 for what The White House has euphemistically termed “targeted killings”. The Intercept‘s documentation and analysis is incredibly detailed and expansive and, while I couldn’t begin to cover everything contained in them, there are a number of findings that are too damning to gloss over.

Foremost among these findings—many of which were not “new”, but expansions and confirmations of previous information—was the fact that US government’s drone program is startlingly, criminally inaccurate. The information increasingly being used by drone operators to conduct “targeted killings” come from from what the military refers to as “signals information” or SIGNIT, which consists of intercepted communications from things like telephones and computers and the like to track potential targets. This sort of information gathering is used primarily in places where the military doesn’t have many boots on the ground and often comes from foreign partners and is, by the military’s own admission, an inferior form of intelligence.

A man walks past a graffiti, denouncing strikes by U.S. drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa November 13, 2014. Yemeni authorities have paid out tens of thousands of dollars to victims of drone strikes using U.S.-supplied funds, a source close to Yemen's presidency said, echoing accounts by legal sources and a family that lost two members in a 2012 raid. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah (YEMEN - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR4E1VF

In countries like Yemen, drone strikes are carried out by US forces with limited and often faulty intelligence.
(Photo Courtesy: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

The proof of this inferiority is in proverbial pudding, as the documents acquired by The Intercept show that between January 2012 and February 2013 in northeastern Afghanistan, US drone strikes killed 219 people, of which only 35 were intended targets, meaning that more than 5 unknown Afghanis were killed in exchange for each known target. Amazingly, of the three countries where US drone operations were covered in the classified documents obtained by The Intercept, Afghanistan was far and away the place where they had the most intelligence. In Afghanistan, the military was receiving 8,900 cellphone reports a month, while there were receiving 160 a month and 50 a month from Somalia and Yemen respectively.

The suspect nature of US intelligence, or at least the military’s disregard for international law, has been on display in recent weeks in the Northeastern Afghanistan city of Kunduz, where a US airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital killed 12 staff and 10 patients seeking treatment in the wake of the Taliban’s assault on the city the week before. Doctors Without Borders—also known as Médecins sans Frontières (MSF)—has declared the US military’s actions to be a war crime, while military brass has done their best to shift the blame to their Afghani coalition partners.

President Obama, seemingly immune to the international outrage over his country’s actions and despite pledging to end the War in Afghanistan consistently since hitting the campaign trail in 2007, took yesterday as an opportunity to inform the nation that he would be doing an about-face and would be keeping roughly 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan all the way through 2016, ensuring that our country’s 45th president—whoever he or she may be—will be fighting the same war that his or her predecessor inherited and that his predecessor started. And it would appear that, if the 3 presidential primary debates are any indication, none of the legitimate presidential contenders have any ideas that differentiate all that substantively from the military policies of Presidents Bush and Obama.

For their part, all of the Republican candidates seem to be trying to outdo each other in a contest of who can be the most bellicose and xenophobic, with little attention being paid to the countries we’ve already turned into war torn wrecks (Iraq & Afghanistan) and most of the focus on which countries we can bomb to hell and back next (Iran & Syria). As for the Democrats, it’s pure folly to believe that a President Hillary Clinton would be less martial in her approach to our nation’s foreign policy considering she shaped a lot of it during her time as Secretary of State. For example, during this week’s Democratic debate, Clinton presented her use of force in conjunction with NATO powers to depose Muammar Gaddafi as, “smart power at its best”, with no one onstage (excepting an earlier remark from Jim Webb) really challenging this objectively false assertion.

In the 1st of 6 Democratic debates, foreign policy took a backseat to domestic issues. ( Photo Courtesy: Reuters/Mike Blake)

Libya today is an unmitigated dumpster fire of a country and that fire was lit by President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton along with their NATO partners when they spurred on the war in Libya despite being in violation of the War Powers Resolution and acting in opposition to Congress, creating a power vacuum that they had no real plan on how to properly fill. Today, 4 years after the West’s intervention Libya is a place where ISIS is able to flourish and behead Coptic Christians, where there is no discernible government structure and where, according to the UN’s Libyan envoy, a nation is “falling apart” and becoming politically, financially and economically disastrous.

And that’s just the first Libyan domino. In the vacuum left after Gaddafi, nomadic Tuareg fighters in Libya raided the dictator’s weapons caches and moved west to Mali, where they started invading northern Mali and created conditions for a coup d’etat in the country’s capital Bamako by a US-trained officer, a situation that might’ve been advantageous to the US if he wasn’t quickly thrown out of power by a combination of Islamist rebel groupsincluding, Ansar al-Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar al-Sharia and Boko Haram. Of course, after this happened, French forces (with US aide) were deployed to Mali to restore “stability” to the region, sending these disparate Islamist groups fleeing, but this time with loads of Libyan and Malian weapons, which, for example, Boko Haram would go on to use to essentially take over northeast Nigeria, kidnap hundreds of young girls and postpone an election in the largest nation in Africa.

That is the use of “smart power at its best” that Hillary was trumpeting the other night and that none of the candidates, or moderator Anderson Cooper, challenged. It is also the type of foreign policy you can expect from Clinton and there’s little reason to expect much different from Senator Sanders. By and large, Sanders doesn’t care too much about foreign policy (his website didn’t even have a summary of his platform until late September) and he has already said that he would continue President Obama’s drone policy. Outside of his economic platform, Sanders votes like your standard, run-of-the-mill liberal and, unless Wall Street picks up and moves to Yemen, I doubt he’ll offer much more on his foreign policy than he absolutely has to.

In his Military-Industrial Complex speech, President Eisenhower remarked that, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” It would appear, from the actions of current president and all of the incoming presidential hopefuls, that the 5-star Cassandra was on point again. They’re not going to do anything to change the military status quo. Only we can do that.

Categories: 2016 Election, International Affairs, US Politics, War

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