Perils of U.S. Drone Program

Solution or Spark?

Written by Joseph Carducci
Posted June 5, 2013 at 7:30PM

President Obama has given the appearance of trying to do everything he can to distance himself from the 'War on Terror' policies of his predecessor. He even gave a speech recently in which he promised that the use of drone strikes – at least overseas – would decline. To many critics, this would be good news. 

But things are not as they would appear, since a recent national poll (Monitor/TIPP) indicates that the majority of Americans actually support the use of drones, at least in the continuing War on Terror against targets overseas.

This poll, along with new drone attacks in Pakistan, seem to bode well for the future of the drone program...and since it is supported by the majority of American voters (across the political spectrum), it looks like the attacks will continue. This is despite all of the problems that have already been revealed in regards to the program and the attacks against civilians.

Growing U.S. Support For Drone Program

Roughly 80 percent of Americans actually approve of the drone strikes, with 60 percent even saying that the authorization for such attacks should come directly from either the President, the Pentagon, or the CIA. Over 25 percent would support the establishment of a 'drone court' to determine which strikes can take place. 

While it is interesting that support for the continuation of the drone program exists among both Democrats and Republicans, there are still some specific differences. More than two-thirds of Democrats support the authority for these strikes remaining in the hands of the President, the CIA, or the Pentagon, while only 55 percent of Republicans feel this way.

Another interesting fact is that of those who label themselves as 'conservatives' – rather than a strict party affiliation – 28 percent actually support more strikes. Within the general population, only a little more than 10 percent feel this way, so the difference is striking and somewhat surprising. 

Perhaps these attitudes are colored by the beliefs of the public regarding the War on Terror in general. There are still high numbers of people who believe the U.S. continues to remain in a such a situation (56 percent) and who feel that fundamentalist Islam continues to remain a major threat to the country (58 percent).

Whatever your political perspective or outlook may be, one of the major problems with such drone attacks is that the majority of them are being conducted in almost total secrecy. They are run through either direct Presidential approval or through the CIA, without the possibility of any kind of Congressional or other oversight.

While numbers vary as to how many people have actually been killed in such attacks, the Bureau of Investigative Journalists indicates that somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 people have lost their lives, with as many as 884 of them being civilians.

Unintended Deaths Result from Drone Strikes

While drone attacks may seem to be a perfect solution for the planners in Washington to take out undesirables from thousands of miles away, there are a number of unintended consequences as well. Even Obama has stated that the lack of necessity to send troops into harms way and the ability to conduct operations in almost total secrecy are positives that need to be weighed against legal and moral concerns.

A major concern with these types of attacks is their legality, especially when the consequences of unintended deaths are weighed. Since these have occurred in foreign countries like Pakistan, the international community is concerned about the blatant disregard for national sovereignty.

Certainly, the goal of taking out top Tailban and other criminal organization leaders is to remain a top U.S. and international priority, but the methods used may not be justifiable.

In March 2011, a U.S. drone strike was conducted against a local Pakistani tribal meeting. This resulted in the death of 40 people, many of whom were civilians. In fact, looking deeper into the Bureau of Investigative Journalism report, they indicate that of those nearly 880 civilian deaths, between 168 and 197 of them were children. All resulting from drone strikes.

Is this not a tragedy? When U.S. children die as the result of unfortunate events, we have our 'sympathetic' president crying on national television, yet no one really wants to talk about – or even recognize – these unintended killings from the U.S.-based drone program.

Drone Program Creating More Enemies

As far as unintended consequences go, these drone attacks may actually become counter productive. While they do have the support of the Pakistani government, many in the country are outraged by these attacks occurring in their country on a regular basis.

They are also well aware of the strong possibility of 'collateral damage' – like the innocent being killed – just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The support of the Pakistani government may be creating enough anger within the country to allow for the revival of existing extremist groups. It may even lead to the rise of new groups committed to doing even more in an effort to rid the country of U.S. influence. 

The Taliban itself is once again beginning to win new recruits to their cause. They have CDs and DVDs – capturing some supposed U.S. drone attacks upon innocent civilians and children – which are being used as propaganda ploys.

The Pakistani born U.S. citizen who attempted to detonate a bomb in Times Square was also influenced by these attacks. He even mentioned this as one of the major reasons for his anger and hatred against the U.S. and the government. 

One of the major goals of the U.S. has been to negotiate a peace between the Taliban and the Pakistani government. Yet an ill-planned drone strike during the last week of May actually killed the Taliban second in command. This came at a time when there seemed to be real interest in both parties to actually sit down and begin serious talks. Now, however, it would seem that the opportunity has passed, and that this ongoing War on Terror, at least in Pakistan, will continue. 

More than this, many of the common people in Pakistan are now feeling “terrorized” by these events. Even as long ago as 2011, polls showed that 89 percent of Pakistani citizens felt that drones were responsible for the killing of innocent people. Certainly these sentiments have not declined much given the increase in these events and reports of more innocent civilian deaths.

When the average citizen on the street feels this way, conditions are right for creating new terrorist breeding grounds. If the U.S. continues these ill-conceived drone attacks, it is very likely that the number of new enemies created will expand exponentially and the so-called War on Terror may never actually come to a full resolution. On the other hand, maybe this is exactly what the planners in Washington are hoping to accomplish?


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