Critique: A Worldwide Student Journal of Politics

The already tenuous diplomatic relationship between Pakistan and the United States is debilitated only partly because of the U.S.’s drone program. This can be exemplified by the arrest and subsequent release of C.I.A. agent Raymond Davis, who shot two Pakistanis in Lahore while gathering information on the Lashkar-e- Taiba, a jihadi group that operates in Pakistan. This, along with the U.S. Navy SEALs raid on Osama bin Laden’s ‘compound’ in Abbottabad, Pakistan, exemplifies the contradictory and complex nature of U.S. foreign policy in the region. On the one hand, the U.S. government and media ignored or underplayed the significance of the Davis negotiations, portraying it instead as a human-interest story, according to “Drone Warfare.” This further incensed the Pakistani public, because to them, the U.S. showed no regard for the significance of a clandestine American agent extra judicially murdering two citizens in Pakistan. On the other hand, when compared to the use of Special Forces troops in the bin Laden raid, the Obama administration and U.S. military at least recognize that precision airstrikes cannot always get the job done. The ensuing media frenzy after the raid and the political capital Obama gained during his re-election campaign are indications that the American people supported Obama in his endeavor to employ on the ground judgment in helping to determine the success or failure of the raid, instead of just using a Predator missile and hoping for the best. Human discretion and on the ground judgment, can be the difference between a foreign policy triumph and disaster. Despite all this, drone strikes and have not been a significant media story in the United States since the campaign began eleven years ago. This is a major problem for the future of U.S.-Pakistani diplomatic relations – not only that, but the usage of strikes against American civilians in Yemen, regardless of their ideological affiliation is an affront to American civil liberties and sets a very dangerous precedent – that

American civilians can be killed by their own government without any sort of judicial process. Rohdes’s article quotes Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union: “‘The administration has claimed the power to carry out extrajudicial executions of Americans on the basis of evidence that is secret and never seen by anyone. It’s hard to see how that is consistent with the Constitution.’”25 The article closes by pointing out the problematic way these strikes have been justified by the Obama administration. The administration has outright refused to release details of its strikes, and in doing so has made it impossible to allow the courts to review the strikes’ constitutionality, and if this were to be a tactic used by a Republican presidential administration, ‘the outcry on the left would be deafening,’26 says Jaffer.

The dehumanizing danger of drone’s discursive space

“Surveillance and violence from afar: The politics of drones and liminal securityscapes” by Tyler Wall and Torin Monahan offers an interesting framework with which to view the way drones affect the way human beings relate to each other in the contexts of space, place, and identity – or “corporeal politics.”27 When technological systems gain the ability to physically remove a lethal missile-launching drone pilot thousands of miles away from the proximity of his target by remote operation, the dehumanization process of those targets begins in full force. The drone operational systems make up a vast and complex array of surveillance assets that “amass data about risk probabilities and then manage populations or eliminate network nodes considered to exceed acceptable risk thresholds.”28 The very description of what a drone does –killing human beings – is awash in a sea of technical, esoteric and impersonal language.

The argument that western society’s obsession with the mobility and speed of its various technological innovations, from the car to the airplane to modern mobile forms of communication and the Internet, is linked to its militaristic culture and “secondarily to the political desire to control people and their movements” (241) according to “Surveillance and Violence.” The mastery of all modes of potential combat, on the sea, in the air and on land has been an obsession of many U.S. military and political leaders since the Second World War, through the Cold War and America’s rivalry with the Soviet Union, and to present-day post 9/11 U.S. political discourses about terrorism and globalization. The discussion takes a violent and abrupt turn after the events of September 11 2001, when governments are forced to modulate their policy and military strategy to accommodate an enemy that is transnational, by its nature guerilla and a camouflaged, unpredictable mobile network of organizations with fundamentalist motivations.

Under the Obama administration, the range of ‘acceptable targets’ has increased, according to “Surveillance and Violence” by a quite wide margin to now include suspected terrorists whose identities as terrorists may not necessarily have been confirmed, when previously it had been only strikes on known terrorists whose identities had been confirmed by intelligence sources. In terms of the nature of the War on Terror, former C.I.A. Director Leon Panetta has enthusiastically endorsed the use of drones, calling them “the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership.”29 This shows that politicians and military leaders in Washington have a lot of work to do in bridging the gap between governmental and media-related portrayals of and perceptions toward drone strikes to the public. This will help to moderate the potential for the de-humanization of targets, a radical shift not just in the War on Terror but in war fighting as a whole. According to “The Origins of C.I.A.’s Not-So-Secret Drone War in Pakistan,” by Mark Mazzetti for the New York Times,

The ground had shifted, and counterterrorism officials began to rethink the strategy for the secret war. Armed drones, and targeted killings in general, offered a new direction. Killing by remote control was the antithesis of the dirty, intimate work of interrogation. Targeted killings were cheered by Republicans and Democrats alike, and using drones flown by pilots who were stationed thousands of miles away made the whole strategy seem risk-free.30

The drone program has fundamentally changed the role of the C.I.A. in American foreign policy. As a former Deputy Director of the C.I.A., John E. McLaughlin stated in his testimony to the 9/11 commission, “You can’t underestimate the cultural change that comes with gaining lethal authority. ‘When people say to me, “It’s not a big deal,” he said, ‘I say to them, “Have you ever killed anyone?” It is a big deal. You start thinking about things differently,’ he added.”31 As stated earlier however, drones have crept upon the American political landscape in a way that will hopefully facilitate the necessary discussion on when, how, how often, and where to use these lethal weapons.

In terms of their usage in Waziristan and other tribal areas, drone strikes have remained outside the discourse of American media and politics. They have however occupied a very different place in the American public imagination. Drones used for surveillance purposes on American citizens is a divisive civil liberties issue gaining some traction in contemporary political debates. Rand Paul, a Republican U.S. Senator from Kentucky, notably conducted a twelve- hour long Senate filibuster in protest of the Obama administration’s secrecy concerning its drone program. Rand Paul filibustered, because in a letter to Paul, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that only if an attack to a degree similar to the events of September 11th 2001 were to be threatened would the United States government be authorized to use military force on its own soil, including but not limited to drone strikes. In Constitutional terms, Attorney General Eric Holder’s response to the 12-hour filibuster was that if an American citizen is not engaged in combat on American soil then a weaponized drone cannot be used against him or her. The Attorney General left out a response on whether or not it is constitutional to use drones for surveillance purposes on U.S. citizens.

Conclusion

In terms of their current usage, drone strikes that cause civilian deaths as a result of targeting ‘suspected’ terrorists are the most counterproductive to the U.S.’s strategic goals in the region. The next most destructive aspect of this policy is the Obama administration’s previously stated initial directive to not even acknowledge the existence of the program, enraging Pakistanis to a further degree and lending more legitimacy to militancy. The third aspect of this program and how it has been administrated is the ‘accidental guerilla’ phenomenon. This phenomenon is directly related to the tribal custom of Pashtunwali, which translates to “revenge for the death of a close relative or fellow tribesman.” When the Obama administration carries out drone strikes that kill civilians and later maintains that those civilians were in fact militants, this disingenuous method actually produces more militants. How does this happen? By motivating regular civilians living in that area to take up arms against the United States in revenge for those killed. An emphasis must then be placed on publicly acknowledging the drone strikes in order to keep Pakistani public opinion from boiling over. Keeping negative Pakistani public opinion relatively low will also mitigate the complex relationship between the U.S. and Pakistani governments, and help to smooth over the United States’ military’s withdrawal from neighboring Afghanistan. The program should finally re-focus the strikes themselves on High-Value Targets (HVTs) so that the attacks can be justified. Striking surgically and minimizing collateral damage will also lend some legitimacy to these strikes in the eyes of the Pakistani people.

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References:
24 Hudson, Leila, Colin S. Owens, and Matt Flannes. “Drone Warfare: Blowback from the New American Way of War.” Middle East Policy 18.3 (2011): 122-32.
26 Ibid.
27 Wall, Tyler, and Torin Monahan. “Surveillance and Violence from Afar: The Politics of Drones and Liminal Security-scapes.” Theoretical Criminology 15.3 (2011): 239-54. Print.
28 Ibid.
29 Wall, Tyler, and Torin Monahan. “Surveillance and Violence from Afar: The Politics of Drones and Liminal Security-scapes.” Theoretical Criminology 15.3 (2011): 239-54. Print.
30 Mazzetti, Mark. “RISE OF THE PREDATORS; Origins of C.I.A.’s Not-So- Secret Drone War in Pakistan.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2013.
31 Ibid.

Works Cited
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http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/03/ are-drone-strikes-killing-terrorists-or-creating-them/274499/
Bowcott, Owen. “US Drone Strikes in Pakistan ‘carried out without Government’s Consent'” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 15 Mar. 2013. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.
Bergen, Peter and Katherine Tiedeman, “The Drone War. Are Predators Our Best Weapon or Worst Enemy?” New Republic, 3 June 2009.
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http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/02/former- white-house-press-secretary-treating-drones-like-a-secret-is- inherently-crazy/273458/
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Hassan Masood

Hassan Masood is a Contracts professional with Tetra Tech International Development Services Energy Services group, where he currently implements the $60 million USAID-funded Sustainable Energy for Pakistan (SEP) project. Recipient of the 2013 Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society Best Paper Award (undergraduate).

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