I am conflicted over our use of drone strikes overseas. I think they could be a useful tool, but not the way we are currently using them, and I hate the fact that the technology is coming home to spy on US citizens.
Bunkerville has been doing a consistently excellent job covering the president's extra-judicial assassinations, and their latest post on Yemen sparked me to investigate further, leading me to a good article in The Atlantic, of all places.
Joshua Foust wrote a surprisingly-balanced piece in that magazine, Targeted Killing, Pro and Con, examining the issue of drone strikes in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). He starts with the recently released report, Living Under Drones.
The report argues that the U.S. narrative of drone strikes -- precise, accurate, and limited -- is false. Citing 130 interviews and a review of media reports, the authors argue that the civilian toll from drone strikes is far higher than acknowledged, that many problems with the drone campaign go unreported, and that more government transparency is essential to gaining a better understanding of the campaign and its consequences.While acknowledging that bad things happen, the author rightly questions the report as biased and not having a big enough sample, and not sampling enough of the people who are affected by the strikes. He points out that the strikes are highly effective in taking out bad guys, and he asks, are they really so bad? And more importantly, is there a better alternative?
It is not a simple one to answer. Looking at how residents in the FATA have behaved in other violent campaigns is instructive. In early 2009, the Pakistani Army announced its campaign to "clear" the Swat Valley, north of Islamabad, of terrorist groups that had been systematically murdering elders and tribal policemen and destroying hundreds of schools and other government buildings.
As the campaign proceeded, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said more than 300,000 people fled the fighting. By the end of the campaign, more than 1 million people got displaced by the army-Taliban fighting in Swat, which left the region completely devastated.
There have been no reported mass movements of people fleeing the drones in the last four years. The mere threat of a Pakistani army offensive into Waziristan, however, prompts thousands to flee in terror. There are several possible explanations: for example, people in heavily affected drone areas might be terrified to leave their houses.
But there is a simpler explanation: Perhaps drones are not as scary as opponents claim.
He makes a good point. I have read reports featuring people cheering the strikes because they are fed up with the violent gangs that infest the place. The anti-drone groups and campaigns could be patsies of the terrorists, who knows?
We also can't have governments invite us in and then publicly badmouth us while privately cheering us on as duplicitous Pakistan does. If we're going to partner with a nation, it needs to be an honest alliance that furthers US objectives.
But most important is the transparency. Why isn't congress debating our overseas actions and bringing We The People into the discussion? Has congress voted on any of this? Has anyone from the government explained to us why we are in Yemen? Should we be there? Should we be in Pakistan?