Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Foreign Affairs Magazine: Drones May Be Creating Sworn Enemies of the United States

Wow, the Council on Foreign Relations in-house journal, Foreign Affairs, is out with a feature piece that is very anti-drone. The essay is written by Audrey Kurth Cronin. Among the points she makes are the followings:
The problem for Washington today is that its drone program has taken on a life of its own, to the point where tactics are driving strategy rather than the other way around.  
The main goals of U.S. counterterrorism are threefold: the strategic defeat of al Qaeda and groups affiliated with it, the containment of local conflicts so that they do not breed new enemies, and the preservation of the security of the American people. Drones do not serve all these goals. Although they can protect the American people from attacks in the short term, they are not helping to defeat al Qaeda, and they may be creating sworn enemies out of a sea of local insurgents. It would be a mistake to embrace killer drones as the centerpiece of U.S. counterterrorism. 
 The fighters have proved remarkably adaptable: a document found left behind in February 2013 by Islamist fighters fleeing Mali detailed 22 tips for avoiding drone attacks, including using trees as cover, placing dolls and statues outside to mislead aerial intelligence, and covering vehicles with straw mats. Nonetheless, the prospect of living under the threat of instant death from above has made recruitment more difficult and kept operatives from establishing close ties to local civilians, who fear they might also be killed.
But the benefits end there, and there are many reasons to believe that drone strikes are undermining Washington’s goal of destroying al Qaeda. Targeted killings have not thwarted the group’s ability to replace dead leaders with new ones. Nor have they undermined its propaganda efforts or recruitment. Even if al Qaeda has become less lethal and efficient, its public relations campaigns still allow it to reach potential supporters, threaten potential victims, and project strength.
 Not only has al Qaeda’s propaganda continued uninterrupted by the drone strikes; it has been significantly enhanced by them. As Sahab (The Clouds), the propaganda branch of al Qaeda, has been able to attract recruits and resources by broadcasting footage of drone strikes, portraying them as indiscriminate violence against Muslims. Al Qaeda uses the strikes that result in civilian deaths, and even those that don’t, to frame Americans as immoral bullies who care less about ordinary people than al Qaeda does. And As Sahab regularly casts the leaders who are killed by drones as martyrs. It is easy enough to kill an individual terrorist with a drone strike, but the organization’s Internet presence lives on. 
Since 2010, moreover, U.S. drone strikes have progressed well beyond decapitation, now targeting al Qaeda leaders and followers alike, as well as a range of Taliban members and Yemeni insurgents. With its so-called signature strikes, Washington often goes after people whose identity it does not know but who appear to be behaving like militants in insurgent-controlled areas. The strikes end up killing enemies of the Pakistani, Somali, and Yemeni militaries who may not threaten the United States at all. Worse, because the targets of such strikes are so loosely defined, it seems inevitable that they will kill some civilians. The June 2011 claim by John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser at the time, that there had not been a single collateral death from drone attacks in the previous year strained credulity -- and badly undermined U.S. credibility.
The drone campaign has morphed, in effect, into remote-control repression: the direct application of brute force by a state, rather than an attempt to deal a pivotal blow to a movement. 

  it is understandable that Americans and the politicians they elect are drawn to drone strikes. But as with the fight against al Qaeda and the conservation of enemies, drones are undermining U.S. strategic goals as much as they are advancing them. For starters, devoting a large percentage of U.S. military and intelligence resources to the drone campaign carries an opportunity cost. The U.S. Air Force trained 350 drone pilots in 2011, compared with only 250 conventional fighter and bomber pilots trained that year. There are 16 drone operating and training sites across the United States, and a 17th is being planned. There are also 12 U.S. drone bases stationed abroad, often in politically sensitive areas. In an era of austerity, spending more time and money on drones means spending less on other capabilities -- and drones are not well suited for certain emerging threats. 
Very easy to shoot down, drones require clear airspace in which to operate and would be nearly useless against enemies such as Iran or North Korea. They also rely on cyber-connections that are increasingly vulnerable. Take into account their high crash rates and extensive maintenance requirements, and drones start to look not much more cost effective than conventional aircraft. 

1 comment:

  1. "drones are undermining U.S. strategic goals as much as they are advancing them."

    What "U.S. strategic goals" is the author referring to?

    Strategic goals as defined by the weapons industry, which owns congress and pays for pentagon influence would disagree. More enemies mean more sales.

    Their goals are being served by manufacturing more enemies, therefore drones are successful.

    US policy is not made from altruism. Its a racket pure and simple. Its designed to enrich one group at the expense of another.