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Obama’s Drone Campaign: Portrait of a Failed War on Terror

By: Alice Salles - Dec 3, 2014, 9:45 am
Drone warfare in Pakistan alone has killed over 3,000 people between 2004 and 2012, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
US drone strikes in Pakistan alone killed over 3,000 people between 2004 and 2012, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. (Wikimedia)

EspañolWar, by definition, involves a conflict between two active subjects. Maintaining that the campaign the US government has sustained in the Middle East since 2003 is a war misses the point — there’s only one active aggressor.

As I’ve pointed out before, President Obama may favor the use of what he calls the most “precise” weapon there is, but the experience of Pakistan and Yemen prove that drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes, seldom observe strict civilian casualty standards.

Obama maintains that only those “who want to kill us” pay the price with their lives, not “the people they hide among.” But despite his promises, saving American lives by putting robot killers in the skies of distant lands does not prevent the formation of what he calls “hostile populations.”

Instead, drone attacks increase the terrorist recruitment drive while putting the lives of thousands of innocent people in severe danger.

“Precise” Strikes Kill 28 Innocents for Every Target

A recent report carried out by human-rights NGO Reprieve has only confirmed what many of us knew along: drone attacks are anything but precise.

According to their analysis of data made available by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), drones rarely succeed in the real world. Individual targets are often missed entirely, while hundreds of civilians die in the process.

Reprieve analyzed US drone strikes meant to kill 41 men. According to the assessment, said attacks have killed 1,247 people so far, representing around 28 people for every target they go after.

Take Ayman al-Zawahiri – the man who the Guardian names as the current Al-Qaeda leader – as an example. The United States has sent two UAVs to take his life since 2006. So far, these attempts have killed 105, including 76 children. Zawahiri is still alive, while other drones continue to target the names in Obama’s kill list.

We may only reach a true estimate of the collateral damage caused by US strikes abroad when more data become available, but even as it stands, the evidence doesn’t look promising. It clearly invalidates the words of CIA Director John Brennan that drone warfare constitutes “targeted, surgical pressure.”

The collateral damage is far too great, and the conflict far too one-sided, to continue calling this campaign a war.

Target Killing Is Murder, Not War

Inefficiency is one of government’s most defining features, and the UAV campaign is no different. When the Obama administration maintains that drone strikes are efficient, we have to take this assertion with a grain of salt.

Data from 2004 to 2012 gathered by the BIJ shows that strikes in Pakistan alone have killed between 2,496 and 3,202 people, and injured 1,300. The fraction of those killed who were the intended targets is minimal, but the denial from Washington continues.

Not only have successive administrations refused to acknowledge the evidence, their poorly-executed killing campaigns, thinly disguised as wars, have run contrary to the very fabric of US constitutionality. By discarding due process, officials have weakened a foundational pillar of US society and disregarded the warnings set down by the Founding Fathers.

We may in the future wonder when the so-called American way began to include murdering people, hesitating only long enough to write their name on a target list.

Evidence Is Clear: the War on Terror is Counterproductive

Nevertheless, mounting public pressure is calling for the White House to end drone strikes – not only on ethical or legal grounds, but also for national security reasons.

Those who trust the official narrative, and agree that the threat of terror is real and significant, must also admit that drone strikes in reality serve to increase the risk to the United States. The presence of unmanned killing machines in foreign countries spreads terror and anger among otherwise peaceful communities, driving them into the arms of terrorist organizations.

Sustaining UAV bombing campaigns constitutes a massive recruitment drive for jihadi groups funded by Washington, putting US citizens in further danger, instead of delivering them from peril, as promised by the current and past administrations.

The public must put pressure on their elected officials to end this illegal and counterproductive feature of US foreign policy. Before this can happen, however, US citizens and their representatives in government must first be honest with themselves about the true nature of Obama’s drone campaign.

Edited by Laurie Blair.

Alice Salles Alice Salles

Alice Salles is a wordsmith, editor, and ghost writer. As a UnitedLiberty.org contributor and columnist for the popular Brazilian culture and politics website Liberzone.com.br, she covers both foreign and domestic policy and offers commentary from a libertarian perspective. Follow @AliceSalles.