Young Master Poosh asked me yesterday to check out a new study on the wisdom and effectiveness of the US’s use of drone strikes in Pakistan and other places. I had my doubts because it sounded like something a Soros-affiliated group would come up with, but I’m always up for a good read. Or even a bad one (send me shit! I need ideas!).
Anyhow, I was right. It’s a left-wing academia thing assisted by Reprieve, known to me as a progressive grievance group. But that got me more interested in reading it, not less. After all, the Left has been pretty quiet about US tactics in the Global War on Terror (whatever that is) since, uh, well, I’m not entirely sure when they lost their curiosity about the appropriateness of our methods. Weird. At any rate, these fine liberals decided to start asking some questions that Congressional Democrats and their news media aren’t.
You can read all about it in this PDF called Living Under Drones. It’s lengthy, but the major points are:
1. Drone strikes are killing civilians
2. They are terrorizing the civilians who don’t get killed
3. They don’t really work that well
4. They’re probably illegal
I think their research is actually quite good, assuming that their anonymous sources aren’t lying or fabricated. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt though. At any rate, I am pleased to see that Obama and the press aren’t getting a pass from the same people who used to scream about Bush doing things like this. On that basis alone, I take it on good faith.
If I have one problem with the report, it’s that it offers no alternatives to using drones to hunt militants in Pakistan. The entire report criticizes their use, but spends no time saying what (if anything) might work better. What they ironically failed to note is that the same reasons why drones are the only option for knocking off militants in Pakistan are the exact same problems that hindered their own research for the report.
Primary research in FATA is difficult for many reasons.
First, it is very difficult for foreigners physically to access FATA, partly due to the Pakistani government’s efforts to block access through heavily guarded checkpoints, and partly due to serious security risks.
Second, it is very difficult for residents of Waziristan to travel out of the region. Those we interviewed had to travel hundreds of kilometers by road to reach Islamabad or Peshawar, in journeys that could take anywhere from eight hours to several days, and which required passing through dozens of military and police checkpoint stops, as well as, in some cases, traveling through active fighting between armed non-state groups and Pakistani forces.
Third, mistrust, often justifiable, from many in FATA toward outsiders (particularly Westerners) inhibits ready access to individuals and communities.
Hmm. It’s almost as if an area where the host government is uncooperative, road travel is insanely difficult, and the populace loathes outsiders might be ideal for covert, unmanned air operations.
What the authors really want is more transparency on this program, so they say. How are targets being selected? Who are we really killing? How did the Administration come to the conclusion that this was allowed by international law? Good questions, but there’s no way that either the Obama Administration or Pakistan’s government can answer those questions and still have the program work effectively since we’re officially not really doing it to begin with.
The drone program is one of those few things that the Obama Administration has done that I like. When you blow the bad guys up, you get no messy problems that go with capturing them like indefinite detention, interrogation, and trials. The same people who complained about those activities were either unaware of or willing to accept the fact that killing suspected terrorists on sight was the only thing that could be done if we were to keep the GWoT going.
Unfortunately, this method may be too perfect for the US government, you know? Total secrecy, no risk of losing any pilots and having to explain why one is on Pakistan television with a gun to his head, no explanations of who was killed or why; just an assurance that “he was a militant and we totally didn’t kill any innocent people.” Note that this has even been done to an American citizen (and total dirtbag, but still). I don’t think we should give the Administration a complete license to kill on the soil of countries we’re not at war with (yet) with so little accountability or oversight.
Above all, I’ll say that the report has me convinced that the drone strikes probably have killed plenty of innocent people and are both legally and ethically questionable. However, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to being able to stop doing them. Americans approve of drone strikes–and the rest of Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy–in principle, like it when al Qaeda and Taliban guys get zilched out, and see no risk in doing any of it. But at least somebody’s asking questions. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what we’re hoping to accomplish over there and how we’re doing it. When you ask me to believe that this Administration should be trusted on terrorism matters, remember that Benghazi has shown us that it simply cannot.