Posts Tagged ‘Predator’

The Wall Street Journal‘s recent editorial [h/t Jeremy Scahill] supporting the CIA’s drone war over Pakistan is rank propaganda. In it, the editors denounce critics of drone strikes who rely on reporters instead of unnamed intelligence sources with unverifiable claims, and they assert that drones–which have killed roughly 800 civilians so far in Pakistan–are humane:

A U.S. intelligence summary we’ve seen corrects the record of various media reports claiming high casualties from the Predator strikes. For example, on April 1 the BBC reported that “a missile fired by a suspected U.S. drone has killed at least 10 people in Pakistan.” But the intelligence report says that half that number were killed, among them Abdullah Hamas al-Filistini, a top al Qaeda trainer, and that no women and children were present.

In each of the strikes in 2009 that are described by the intelligence summary, the report says no women or children were killed. Moreover, we know of planned drone attacks that were aborted when Predator cameras spied their presence.

Wait, wait…despite widespread reporting on the CIA drone war, the U.S. does not acknowledge that we’re even dropping bombs in Pakistan. If the editors saw hard evidence from U.S. intelligence reports that proves conclusively that the U.S. is bombing Pakistan–a country with which we are not officially at war–they should have given it to their reporters so they could write a front-page story about it. But that’s far from the only problem in this propaganda piece.

The overall argument presented by the WSJ–“drones have made war-fighting more humane”–is ludicrous on its face. (Scahill: “Ah, yes, that famous humane war we have all been waiting for. Finally!”) We know that the drones find their targets based on infrared beacons placed by paid informants who get high-dollar rewards for a “successful” strike, and reputable writers on the subject voiced concern that the financial incentives prompt the impoverished informants to sight false targets to get paid. Regardless of the reasons for the errant bombs, though, Predator/Reaper strikes have been absolutely lethal for non-combatants. According to a May 2009 column by Abdul Malik Mujahid, as of the date of his writing:

“There have been 65 to 85 US drone attacks on Pakistan, killing about 780 civilians and about 50 alleged terrorists.”

The assertion that “in 2009 … no women or children were killed” is a bald-faced lie. In just one strike, 35 local villagers, including 10 children ages five-to-10 and four local tribal elders were killed.

But what about the assertion that the drones can distinguish between men, women and children and abort the strikes when women and children are spotted? Let’s think about this for two seconds. Is the Wall Street Journal really ready to claim that, in a patriarchal society like that of the Pashtuns’, any gathering of men spotted by a drone is a legitimate target?

The worst transgression of this piece, however, is the assertion that we should suddenly start believing unverifiable (and therefore unchallengeable) kill reports. Uh, hello…remember this?

[U.S. Army General David] McKiernan, however, hinted that the American airstrikes might not have been responsible for the deaths in Farah. “We have some other information that leads us to distinctly different conclusions about the cause of these civilian casualties,” McKiernan said. He declined to provide more detailed information until the U.S.-Afghan team was able to investigate further.

A U.S. defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that “the Taliban went to a concerted effort to make it look like the U.S. airstrikes caused this.” The official did not offer evidence to support the claim, and could not say what had caused the deaths.

The military had its own “intelligence” based on “hours of cockpit video.”

The footage shows insurgents streaming into homes that were later bombed, said Col. Greg Julian, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. He said ground troops observed some 300 villagers flee in advance of the fighting, indicating that not many could have been inside the bombed compounds….Investigators later reviewed hours of cockpit video from the fighter jets as well as audio recordings of the air crew’s conversation with the ground commander. Julian said the military would release the footage and other evidence in the coming days.

That ‘vindicating evidence’ never materialized. It turned out that mistakes by U.S. forces caused the deaths of dozens of civilians. The U.S. stuck to that story until it was completely unable to do so because reputable third parties challenged the official story. We see here the same pattern: a propaganda piece defending government policy, with insiders insisting they have definitive proof of official claims and lamenting the fact that they just can’t show it to you.

And should such evidence turn out to be not so solid, according to WSJ, we should ignore contrary information provided by reporters, which is a fun argument for a newspaper to make [emphasis mine]:

In both cases, the argument against drones rests on the belief that the attacks cause wide-scale casualties among noncombatants, thereby embittering local populations and losing hearts and minds. If you glean your information from wire reports — which depend on stringers who are rarely eyewitnesses — the argument seems almost plausible.

You know, the funny thing about this age of the Interwebs is that news organizations often embed a search engine into their website. You know what else is funny? I used the Wall Street Journal’s search engine to search their site, and found this article that they published online:

Associated Press

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A car bomb destroyed an Internet cafe and tore through a bus carrying handicapped children in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, killing at least 11 people and wounding many more, police said.

Elsewhere in the troubled region, an apparent U.S. missile strike hit a Taliban training camp, killing 29 militants, while Pakistani troops killed dozens of Taliban in their bid to re-conquer the Swat Valley, officials said.

Must be an isolated incident, right? I mean, the WSJ wouldn’t be caught dead relying on stringers for wire services like the Associated Press who “rarely witness events first-hand.” Right?

Associated Press

ISLAMABAD — Suspected U.S. missiles struck a Taliban compound in a northwestern Pakistan militant stronghold bordering Afghanistan on Sunday, killing three people, officials said.

Err, maybe not.

The facts are these:

  • Drone strikes are inhumane and indiscriminate, regardless of the Wall Street Journal’s propaganda. As of May 2009, they killed more than 15 civilians for every one suspected terrorist.
  • The strikes have caused such carnage that leading British legal experts “said the aircraft could follow other weapons considered ‘so cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance’ in being consigned to the history books,” likening them to “cluster bombs and landmines.”

With the mothership’s creditibility already on the ropes due to staff lawlessness, you’d think the Journal would think twice about damaging it further by publishing rank propaganda. You’d be wrong.

Unmanned drones are indiscriminate and inhumane. Ground them, now.

UPDATE: Among the distortions in the WSJ piece is the assertion that one of the things that makes the Predator so “humane” is its compliment of “laser guided munitions with low-explosive yields.” Again, the WSJ’s propaganda piece omits essential information:

However, the Predator has now been joined by the much larger MQ-9 Reaper, which can carry a heavier payload, around three thousand pounds, including a large number of Hellfires and GBU-12 Paveway II and GBD-38 JDAM bombs. These are different types of 500-pound bomb, one with laser guidance and the other satellite guided. Both are based on the 1950’s-vintage Mk 82 bomb ; less than half the weight of the bomb bomb is explosive, and the rest is the steel casing. The reason for having such a thick casing is shrapnel: when the bomb detonates, the casing blows up like a balloon before bursting and spraying high-velocity steel fragments in all directions. It is these fragments, rather than blast, that do most of the damage.

Marc Herold, in looking at casualties in Afghanistan, quotes an ‘effective casualty radius’ for the Mk82 of 200 feet: this is radius inside which 50% of those exposed will die. Quite often the target is taking cover or lying down and the effect is reduced, but if you can catch people standing up or running then the full effective casualty radius will apply.

Obviously, this information disrupts the story WSJ’s editors want to tell, so they left it out. Again, classic propaganda.

UPDATE II: One final, but massive, point of disagreement. The editors are flat wrong that “the argument against drones rests on the belief that the attacks cause wide-scale casualties among noncombatants, thereby embittering local populations and losing hearts and minds.” That’s one argument made by the folks they cite in the article, yes. But a larger and more important argument is not that drones “undermine the war effort by turning people against us,” but that they consistently kill people who are not parties to the conflict, period. The worst effect of all this talk about counterinsurgency is that it has reduced the civilian populations of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan to mere means to the end of our strategy. They’re not. Drones may be awful in part because their use leads to more terrorism, but the worst effect of their use is the slaughter of people whose right to life exists independent from our goals for the region.

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Forty-two years ago last Saturday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City to indict his country’s war policies in Vietnam. Entitled “Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break the Silence,” this seminal speech attacked the paralyzed apathy stifling his nation’s ability to yield to the clear moral imperative to work for peace:

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

King’s summation in 1967 of the situation in Vietnam rhymes with the news on our television and on the Internet in 2009. His description of the moral fog that blocks clear vision could equally apply to the search for a palatable strategy in Afghanistan.

The progressive movement in the United States finds itself in a bind, with many of our once anti-war allies now pounding the drums for escalation.  In general, we want President Obama to succeed, and, on almost every issue, we feel the need to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Furthermore, the moral ambiguities inherent in any proposed Afghanistan policy leave it open to criticism from well-meaning folks acting in good faith to create a better future for that country.  This complexity, and the fear of getting it wrong or of allowing harm to come to those we’re trying to help, can be paralyzing. The result of that paralysis, however, is deference to inertia, no matter where the forward motion carries us. Writing after the horror of World War I, W.B. Yeats summed up this hesitance:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

All of this uncertainty, however, relies on a bad assumption: that this war can help the people of Afghanistan. As Rachel Maddow said recently:

I want to hear [President Obama] reject what I think is this really hot idea — even among liberals, certainly in the national security brainiac community — this idea that war can be constructive. (That) if you wage war just the right way, the result is a country and a community that is helped by the war. War is destructive. The idea that you can do something constructive with war is becoming this facile, dangerous, intellectually lax political interpretation of military counter-insurgency theory.

Maddow is not alone. Rita Lasar lost her brother on September 11 and then watched in horror as his death was used to sell this war to the American people:

My brother, Abraham Zelmanowitz, was on the 27th floor of the North Tower on September 11th, 2001. …[H]e chose instead to stay with his friend and coworker Ed Bayea, a paraplegic in a wheelchair, who could not leave. My brother told all who passed them on their way down that he would wait with Ed until help came. They both died….I knew this country would use my brother’s death to invade and bring death to Afghan civilians as innocent as my brother and I was appalled.

Lasar traveled to Kabul in 2002 with three others who lost family on September 11. Here’s what she saw:

…[W]omen, if they did venture into the street, were universally clad in their burkas. I did not see one woman, not one, without a burka…We spent 2 weeks there. We met with many families who had lost loved ones when our bombs hit the wrong targets. We visited a hospital, partially destroyed, where we saw young children who had mistaken cluster bombs for food packages, who were missing limbs.  We visited orphanages full of children who no longer had parents. We went out of Kabul to tent cities full of families who could no longer live on their land because cluster bombs circled them.

She has a clear message for the president:

Get us out of there now.

But if the new administration follows through on its current policies, we won’t be leaving anytime soon. The drive to “help” the people of Afghanistan through “massive doses of violence” leads us to continually raise the stakes, adding more troops. But, as the Carnegie Institute for International Peace pointed out in a recent report:

The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.

According to international women’s rights group MADRE:

A troop surge has already been tried—and it failed.  In 2007, the number of US/NATO troops was increased by 45 percent. During that surge, more civilians were killed than in the previous four years combined.

MADRE also points out the deplorable situation of Afghan women, not under the Taliban, but under the U.S. backed government in Kabul:

  1. 1 in every 3 Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence
  2. 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan
  3. Every 30 minutes, an Afghan woman dies during childbirth
  4. 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate
  5. 30 percent of girls have access to education in Afghanistan
  6. 44 years is the average life expectancy rate for women in Afghanistan

Afghan women rights activists often refer to the U.S.-backed regime as “The Rule of the Rapists,” a name all the more apt now that the Karzai government passed a law legalizing rape in marriage for a portion of the population.  The Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has called repeatedly for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the end for our support of the corrupt regime in Kabul. But the “new” policy in Afghanistan assures us that we Americans know better.

Our attempts to “help” the Afghan people have now pushed us into unleashing bloodless unmanned drones into the skies of Pakistan, dropping missiles onto impoverished villages, killing innocent men, women and children in unlucky proximity to suspected militants. (I say “suspected” with good reason. We have very poor intelligence in the region, and have been tricked into eliminating the rivals of local drug lords rather than al-Qaida or Taliban extremists.) And though our president seized on the use of Predator and Reaper drones as a politically pain-free way of widening the scope of the war, often referred to now as “AfPak,” these strikes are not pain-free for the people in the villages along the Durand Line. Drone attacks from the air, along with the heavy-handed tactics of a Pakistani military under pressure from the U.S. government, create a massive humanitarian crisis:

AMERICAN drone attacks on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are causing a massive humanitarian emergency, Pakistani officials claimed after a new attack yesterday killed 13 people.

The dead and injured included foreign militants, but women and children were also killed when two missiles hit a house in the village of Data Khel, near the Afghan border, according to local officials.

As many as 1m people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape attacks by the unmanned spy planes as well as bombings by the Pakistani army. In Bajaur agency entire villages have been flattened by Pakistani troops under growing American pressure to act against Al-Qaeda militants, who have made the area their base.

President Obama, laboring under the broken assumption that war can help the Afghan people, has continually widened the zone of use for drone aircraft in Pakistan despite warnings from regional experts that these strikes dishonor us in the eyes of the local population, increase sympathy for extremists and radicalize those affected by them. In retaliation for drone attacks, the Pakistani Taliban upped its violence toward the Pakistani government, attacking a police station in Lahore last week and promising weekly suicide bombings until the airstrikes cease. As our robotic swipes at this hornet’s nest continue to agitate the situation in Pakistan, our generals and civilian militarists issue solemn warnings that our allied government in that country could be toppled in as little as six months. These are the ultimate in self-fulfilling prophecies, as the extremists on the border have no real chance to topple the Pakistani government on their own. Middle East expert Juan Cole:

As for a threat to Pakistan, the FATA areas are smaller than Connecticut, with a total population of a little over 3 million, while Pakistan itself is bigger than Texas, with a population more than half that of the entire United States. A few thousand Pashtun tribesmen cannot take over Pakistan, nor can they “kill” it. The Pakistani public just forced a military dictator out of office and forced the reinstatement of the Supreme Court, which oversees secular law.

In 1967, King thundered against the U.S.’s rationale for supporting corrupt allies through ever-escalating use of military violence. He quoted the statements of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam, saying:

“A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

In 2009, betrayal seems to be all around us. A pivotal anti-war umbrella organization during the last administration, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, was swiftly decapitated through political co-optation by the new administration.  Senior AAEI staff, including Steve Hildebrand, Paul Tewes, and Brad Woodhouse, now work as political aides for President Obama or for the Democratic National Committee. MoveOn moved on from its vocal opposition to war in Iraq to a deafening silence about the war in Afghanistan. The Center for American Progress recently published a report arguing for escalation. And, as Roll Call reported recently,

Anti-war Democrats have been largely mum on President Barack Obama’s recently unveiled policy for Afghanistan — partly because leading liberals don’t yet know where they stand.

On the 42nd anniversary of King’s speech, we find ourselves “mesmerized by uncertainty.” Many progressives worry that reversing the planned escalation will sacrifice justice in Afghanistan in the name of peace. But before this concern pushes them to embrace counterinsurgency doctrine as the answer in Afghanistan, they might want to read the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which states explicitly on p. xxxiv that COIN doctrine “implicitly asks Americans to define their aims in the world and accept the compromises they require…[c]ounterinsurgency favors peace over justice.”

With this context, those paralyzed by the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan should be able to escape the false dilemma of “counterinsurgency or compromise.” There are no ideal options in Afghanistan. Every possible way forward, escalation included, will incur compromise and cost. But faced with the rising humanitarian toll of our policies, we must realize now that we, not al-Qaida and not the Taliban, are responsible for our behavior and that we can only be responsible for our own choices. As such, we cannot allow terrorists and extremists to decide for us when we will end our military violence in Afghanistan. As King said,

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

Alternatives to escalation exist. The Carnegie Institute for International Peace suggests that the U.S. limit its goals in Afghanistan to leaving behind a government that can survive a U.S. withdrawal. Their report suggests that because military confrontation with the United States provides the unifying rationale for our opponents, the best way to weaken and divide them is to unilaterally reduce the number of troops without negotiating with the Taliban. During this drawdown, U.S. troops would be concentrated in major population centers, and the U.S. and our allies would focus on assisting Afghan attempts to build good governance that will outlive our presence.

MADRE’s suggestions closely track those of the Carnegie report:

  1. Set a timetable for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops.
  2. End US missile strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  3. Demilitarize aid operations and fund reconstruction efforts that benefit Afghans, not US corporations.
  4. Promote peace talks between all parties involved in the conflict. Negotiations should include women’s organizations and other progressive forces and uphold the principle that human rights, including women’s human rights, are non-negotiable.
  5. Compensate families and communities hurt by US military operations and pay war reparations.
  6. Support local models of governance, such as the Loya Jirga, not a charade of procedural democracy that empowers war criminals.
  7. Support demands of the Afghan women’s movement to end violence against women, ensure women’s access to critical services such as healthcare, education, food and water, and give real meaning to hard-won legal reforms meant to protect women’s rights.
  8. Create a fund to meet Afghans’ urgent humanitarian needs. After 30 years of intervention and war, the US owes Afghanistan nothing less.
  9. Support Afghan civil society, particularly women’s organizations, which are a crucial counter-force to warlordism, terrorism and government corruption and a key to rebuilding Afghan society.
  10. Recognize that ultimately, decisions about what happens in Afghanistan should be made in Afghanistan, not Washington.

Taking our cue from Dr. King, we should not ignore the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan. But, recognizing the dangers posed by an escalating conflict to an impoverished people, the security of the region and the soul of our nation, we should understand that a time comes when silence is betrayal.

That time has come for us in relation to Afghanistan.

Help us break the silence:

Message creep tracks mission creep. “The real problem is Pakistan!” Mechanized hunter-killer falcons wander out of the Graveyard and hurl hellfire. Afghanistan becomes “AfPak.” The strike areas grow. A widening gyre whose center cannot hold.

April 4, 1967: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gives one of the most important and least remembered speeches of his career: “Beyond Vietnam–A Time to Break the Silence.” King denounces the economic exploitation of the poor by the U.S. war machine, its effect on our national economy and poverty programs, and the anti-Christian darkness swirling in the basic assumptions of the war. He says:

What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building?

April 4, 1968: An assassin kills Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of a hotel.

April 4, 2009: A U.S. “Predator” unmanned drone is given a command to fire on a house in North Waziristan, killing civilians.

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Intelligence officials say a suspected US missile attack has killed at least 13 people in northwest Pakistan.

The officials say Saturday’s strike targeted a home in a remote area of North Waziristan. They say residents pulled out 13 bodies and at least eight wounded from the rubble. There are civilians among the casualties.

April 4, 1967:

The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

Roll Call 2009:

Anti-war Democrats have been largely mum on President Barack Obama’s recently unveiled policy for Afghanistan – partly because leading liberals don’t yet know where they stand.

April 4, 1967:

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

…..

The war in Afghanistan has crept into Pakistan. Despite the refusal of the CIA to acknowledge the Predator and Reaper strikes in Pakistan, many, many reports in the media document the presence of our loitering killing machines over Pakistani territory, remote controlled from facilities in the continental United States. The American public knows the drones are there; the Pakistani public knows they are there. The U.S. national security structure is at war in Pakistan.

The President might find comfort in the fact that large numbers of U.S. ground troops are not on Pakistani soil, but in so doing he’s splitting the finest of hairs, and betraying an inability to get past a decidedly Western frame of reference when weighing the costs of his policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. From that myopic point of view, the use of Predators and Reapers solves a problem: they allow us to pursue enemies into Pakistani territory while preserving some infinitesimally small amount of plausible deniability (the drones often fly so high they cannot be seen from the ground) and so-called “respect” for Pakistan’s sovereignty over its territory. These drones also allow the U.S. mission to creep into Pakistan without risking troop deaths as a direct result of the drones’ deployment. But the administration’s attribution of these benefits to the use of these killing machines can only be made possible by a lack of understanding of the people affected by the strikes and the dynamics that lead to the use of terrorism as a tactic.

P.W. Singer, in his new book, Wired for War, describes the effect of “distance warfare.” After summarizing a negative attitude toward technology in some parts of the Muslim world affected by deep, backward-looking fundamentalism, Singer cites retired Pakistani lieutenant general Talat Masood:

Masood…described the technology tha the U.S. military was using as “amazing,” but also as causing “great anger” in the region….”The advent of ‘distance warfare’ has profound implications for the battlefield and for America’s global strategy…in every case, whether it is Afghanistan or Iraq, it has vastly complicated the prerequisite of building the structures of peace.” In short, warned Masood, “The concept of ‘shock and awe’ could drive moderate and uncommitted civilians toward anti-Americanism.”

Singer goes on to describe how our understanding of the costs and benefits of the drone strikes ignores the cultural of the region, leading us to miscalculate how the strikes will be interpreted by the local society.

As a security expert in Qatar summed up, “How you conduct war is important. It gives you dignity or not.” …America was coming across as a menace, using its high technology to pick on the little guy. …Even pop culture in the region echoes the experts. In 2007, for instance, one of the most popular songs…[gave] a hint at how what Masood described as America’s “distance war” is being portrayed: “America’s heartless terrorism, Killing people like insects. But honor does not fear power.”

Finally, Singer summarizes how the use of Predators and Reapers could motivate terrorist attacks on the United States:

Mubashar Jawed “M.J.” Akbar…sees a similar message going out from American use of unmanned systems to the broader Muslim world. “It will be seen as American cowardice. In war terms, if you are not willing to sacrifice blood, you are essentially a coward…These systems will show the pathway to your defeat unintentionally. They create a subtext that shows that you don’t want to die…That all we need to win is to frighten them.”

…Unmanned systems…are the ultimate means of avoiding sacrifice. But what seems so logical and reasonable to the side using them may strike other societies as weak and contemptible. Using robots in war can create fear, but also unintentionally reveal it.

It is this link that leads Akbar to conclude that…[t]he greater the use of unmanned systems, the more likely it will motivate terrorist strikes at America’s homeland. “It will be seen as a sign of America’s unwillingness to face death. Therefore, new ways to hit America will have to be devised…”

Disturbingly, I heard the same conclusion time and again from other regional experts.

An opponent will often choose terrorism when they face an extremely powerful adversary exerting their overwhelming advantages in the region of conflict. War is always at its core a struggle between factions to generate sufficient violence to trigger political consequences. Tactically, when an enemy uses weapons platforms so advanced that their opponent cannot deflect or directly respond, the victim of the advanced weapon has an incentive to respond indirectly and asymmetrically. Psychologically, when one faces an opponent exerting an overwhelming and untouchable ability to exert violence, a sense of powerlessness and humiliation can compel some to seek a way to assert themselves against their enemies. When this is reinforced by a cultural disdain not only for the technology itself but also for those who would utilize such asymmetrical advantages in the field of battle, combined with the deaths of loved ones or neighbors caused by the technology, drone strikes become a severe liability if the overarching goal is to reduce the threat of terrorism against one’s people.

The administration’s strategy review ignored warnings that flooding Afghanistan with troops would unite the U.S.’s enemies against them. Once the administration announced they planned to escalate, the Taliban factions, as warned, reinforced their mutual allegiance and their ties with al-Qaida. Similarly, experts warn that Predator and Reaper strikes could generate terrorist retaliation against the U.S. and the U.S.’s allies, but the Pentagon recently widened the use of drones deeper into Pakistan. And, as predicted:

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the attack on a police training academy in Lahore and suicide attacks in Islamabad and Bannu, and warned of further attacks in Pakistan in the coming days and later in the US.

“These (attacks) were in reaction to (US) drone strikes in the Tribal Areas,” Baitullah Mehsud told BBC Urdu over the telephone from an undisclosed location.

“Over the next few days, more such attacks will come … two or three suicide attacks will take place,” warned Mehsud, without naming any cities or targets. “As long as the drone attacks continue, we will not stop.” The Taliban leader said he would himself “teach the US a lesson”.

Enough. As King said in 1967:

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

… The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality…and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

…We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

The Obama Administration should seriously consider the recent recommendations of the Carnegie Institute for International Peace. Then, the Administration should go back to the drawing board on Afghanistan, craft a strategy that has as its goal an immediate reduction in the level of violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The best way to do that is to give up on the idea that more troops, more drones, and more killing will help the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.


When they shall paint our sockets gray
And light us like a stinking fuse,
Remember that once we could say,
Yesterday we had a world to lose.
–Stanley Kunitz, Statement, Poets Against the War

Today, the New York Times reports that the Obama Administration may widen the use of unmanned aerial vehicle strikes to attempt to kill Taliban leaders inside Pakistan outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). And, officials inside the administration want the president to validate Bush policies authorizing commando raids across the Afghanistan/Pakistan border without the approval of the Pakistani government. These officials want to solidify the undeclared war in with elements based in Pakistan and expand it. (The article calls it a “covert war,” but how covert is a war if a search for the terms “covert war” and “pakistan” turns up more than a dozen relevant articles on the Times’ website for the past 12 months?)

The new policy proposals urge airstrikes on areas near Quetta. There’s just this one, tiny little problem:

Missile strikes or American commando raids in the city of Quetta or the teeming Afghan settlements and refugee camps around the city and near the Afghan border would carry high risks of civilian casualties, American officials acknowledge.

Pakistan is a basket-case right now…a nuclear-armed basket-case. Their economic and political spheres teeter all over the place and the civilian government lacks firm control over the military. The people of Pakistan already seethe about these airstrikes, but according to Juan Cole, this new policy of cross-border raids and airstrikes could cause Pakistani popular outrage to boil over:

But, of course, it’s not a precision sort of business, and if you strike at a village, you are likely to kill locals and civilians. And the Pakistani public is starting to really, really mind. And I think in the same way that they rebelled against the president’s overreaching, there’s going to be increasing trouble with the Pakistani public if we go on infringing against their sovereignty.

Noah Shactman over at Danger Room sounds a similar warning:

Already, some counterinsurgency specialists warn, the unmanned attacks have been destabilizing to an already-fragile Pakistan government. “If we want to strengthen our friends and weaken our enemies in Pakistan, bombing Pakistani villages with unmanned drones is totally counterproductive,” influential counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen recently told Danger Room. And that was before the mass protests in Lahore, the standoff between Pakistan’s two leading politicians — and these new reports, the drone war may extend even further than before.

Speaking strictly from a strategic perspective, this proposed policy is a total farce. The U.S. will dig itself deeper, widen the existing conflict, destabilize a nuclear-armed state and incite more attacks on U.S. interests.

From a moral standpoint, this new policy is repugnant. Only the most rank utilitarian calculation could justify the murder of large numbers of civilians in pursuit of opponents.

From a Christian perspective, this proposal is an abomination: there’s no way to reconcile this with Jesus’ commands to love your neighbor as yourself, much less his commands to love your enemies.

At the same time that the president’s advisors push him to expand U.S.-backed violence in Afghanistan, public opinion polling continues to show strong anxiety about official and actual policies in Afghanistan. According to the latest USA Today/Gallup poll on the issue:

American support for the war in Afghanistan has ebbed to a new low, as attacks on U.S. troops and their allies have hit record levels and commanders are pleading for reinforcements, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows.

In the poll taken Saturday and Sunday, 42% of respondents said the United States made “a mistake” in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30% in February. That’s the highest mark since the poll first asked the question in November 2001 when the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban government that sheltered al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In January 2002, 6% of respondents called the war “a mistake.”

Those who said the war is going well dropped to 38% in the latest poll, the lowest percentage since that question was asked in September 2006.

As I’ve said before, President Obama risks his entire reserve of political capital on an escalation policy. We in the peace and justice movement have to make it politically possible for Obama to reverse U.S. policy in Afghanistan, and then we must force our policymakers–including Congress and the President–to follow through and bring our troops home. You can start by doing a few quick things:

These are just a few small steps. They are insufficient on their own to stop escalation. We’re going to have to get active in our local communities if we’re going to actually affect policy.

What are your thoughts on local actions we can take to stop an escalation?