No “Change” In Obama’s Drone Doctrine

The Article: Don’t Look For “Change” In Obama’s Drone Doctrine by Savannah Cox in The Speckled Axe.

The Text: We see it in the headlines every day: Obama will be on the right side of history. In the social stratosphere, he righted himself recently via “coming out” of his own moderate and pragmatic closet in favor of gay marriage (albeit at the state level). To justly associate himself with the “99%” majority, Obama aligned himself with aging plutocratic dissenter Warren Buffett while his wife Michelle sat next to Buffett’s now-famous secretary at the State of the Union Address. Meanwhile, his fumbling attempt at affordable healthcare—one whose roots can easily be traced to the work of none other than presidential hopeful Mitt Romney—awaits its fate this June. This is the hope and change that Shepard Fairey so colorfully promised back in 2008, right?

Not necessarily. Amid the flurry of Obama’s so-called “novel” policies and plays on the political chess board, many of the same strategies of fact manipulation, deceit and political posturing spring eternal. No, he’s not Bush—and thank God for that. But in terms of counter-terrorism, when the Obama administration’s strategies employ the same disregard for dehumanized civilians via drone strikes and the simultaneous generation of misleading nomenclature to soften the political blowback that would occur if, God forbid, Americans really knew how their tax dollars were being spent in the name of “freedom,” one has to wonder how different the two presidents actually are. Yes, we’re scheduled to exit Afghanistan and Iraq for good in the coming years, but when the administration’s drone war only emblazons the cause of the same groups against whom American troops fought extensively and expensively for nearly a decade, what have we really accomplished?

Recently, the New York Times released a troubling story regarding Obama’s seemingly above-the-law approach to counter-terrorism throughout the Middle East. While Obama counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan lauds the alleged sensibility and precision of drone strikes against “specific individuals,” the facts belie the false praise. In Yemen, where the US has recently steeped its drone strikes, the Times reports that the Defense Department can actually target suspects whose names they don’t even know.

It’s just as bad in Pakistan. There, “Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.” By the way, these are the same “militants” that the Obama administration defines not by their illustrated and imposing threat to national security but rather by their mere appearance as military age males unfortunate enough to be located within a strike zone.

Thus the administration substitutes hard intelligence for indefensible hunches: if a guy looks like he’s up to no good, he probably isn’t and should be dealt with accordingly. It is curious, though, that the stereotyping the Obama administration came out so vehemently against regarding the death of Trayvon Martin doesn’t really apply outside of US soil—or at least when they’re the ones doing it. In this case, then, it seems that the only “change” the Obama administration actually provides lies within its ever-shifting moral code.

Naturally, the populations affected by the drone strikes are responding accordingly. Only six months into 2012, there have already been a staggering 21 US drone strikes in Yemen, which is 7 more than the number of similar US-led strikes in 2010 and 2011 combined. And while it is true that the drones have been effective in eliminating what the Obama administration deemed al Qaeda militants in a “low-cost” manner, murder is still murder and the potential consequences are just as damning. Even for those fortunate enough not to fall within the line of fire, the experience remains equally traumatic. Says David Rhode, a New York Times reporter once held hostage in Pakistan, “it’s terrifying for everyone…you have no idea when this missile is going to come and kill you. There’s a sense that your sovereignty is being violated.”

As such, the deaths of these US targets have also demonstrated the strikes’ uncanny ability to curry civilian sympathies toward the fallen al Qaeda members and by extension the al Qaeda cause. Since 2009, when Obama initially authorized drone strikes in Yemen, the number of al Qaeda members in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) hasn’t decreased; rather, it has more than doubled. Unfortunately for Obama as well as the rest of us currently financing these fruitless air strikes, AQAP’s own ambitions have increased as well. Just last week, a suicide bombing rocked the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and resulted in the deaths of over 100 people. Now, some of the more angered Yemeni “militants” are calling for the one thing that makes the DC doves wince and the hawks screech: jihad against the United States. Wasn’t that the platform that led a few men to orchestrate the single largest loss of life from a foreign attack on US soil a little over a decade ago? For that matter, if an administration truly considers itself a dissident of familiar strategical flops and the font of political progress, isn’t repetition something they’d try to avoid?

Regardless, it’s election season and we’re in the midst of a miserable global recession. And for once, Obama should be thankful for it. The incumbent’s counter-terrorism policy will be a secondary issue and the hypocrisies manifest within his draconian doctrine will serve as mere two-minute talking points for the Romney campaign this fall. But if left unaccountable for his counterproductive and frankly lawless counter-terrorism strategies in the Middle East and South Asia, this “low-cost” solution will only perpetuate the problems that defined the quagmire that was the Bush presidency. Where’s the change in that?


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