A majority of Americans, it seems, approve of drone strikes against terrorists, even if they kill innocent bystanders.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project poll found that while most people worldwide disapprove of the tactic, 62 percent of Americans approved of the drone strikes, while 28 percent disapproved. While 74 percent of Republicans approved, surprisingly, 60 percent of independents and 58 percent of Democrats also approved.
Around the rest of the world, nearly everyone registered disapproval of the drone strikes, not only in Muslim countries but in most of Europe as well.
What’s the difference?
The drone strikes, started by George W. Bush and greatly expanded by Barack Obama, are ostensibly meant to target terrorists in surgical strikes. The reality, widely reported worldwide but rarely in U.S. media, is that all too often these strikes kill innocent civilians in addition to, or even instead of, the intended targets.
Obama, it was revealed May 29 in the New York Times, takes it upon himself to personally review and approve every drone strike because he wants to take moral responsibility for them.
Yet the method by which the CIA counts civilian casualties is so flawed as to be completely unbelievable, except perhaps by a president who desperately needs to soothe his own conscience over the hundreds of innocent men, women and children who have died at his orders, and of course by a credulous American press who long ago lost the skepticism required of journalists when dealing with government and accept at face value anything in a government press release, no matter how ludicrous.
Worse, some of the drone strikes are so-called “signature” strikes, targeted not at any particular individual, but at unknown people who are doing things that indicate they might be terrorists, such as loading fertilizer into a truck. These strikes carry a high risk of killing innocent people, as anyone who has walked through airport security can understand. But under the CIA’s methodology, any adult male gets counted as a militant, even if it was just a farmer who was preparing to plant his crops.
To be fair, there are still some skeptical journalists out there. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism maintains its own data on civilian deaths from drone strikes; it shows the number of civilian deaths to be at least 551, and possibly much higher.
Government officials have a hard time admitting to any civilian deaths, of course. Update: Or even to the existence of the program.
There are certainly terrorists and other enemies of the U.S. being killed in these strikes. But by killing the innocent, the strikes themselves are manufacturing more enemies.
Haykal Bafana, a lawyer in Yemen, writes on Twitter, “Dear Obama, when a US drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda.”
This is not just some guy’s rant.
Robert Grenier, former head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, echoed the warning last month. “One wonders how many Yemenis may be moved in future to violent extremism in reaction to carelessly targeted missile strikes, and how many Yemeni militants with strictly local agendas will become dedicated enemies of the West in response to US military actions against them.”
“We’re setting a standard for all other nations that when they’re ready if they want to, they can send drones at the United States,” Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said on CNN’s State of the Nation Sunday. “What goes around comes around, and those drones are going to come right back at us.”
It’s even questionable whether the drone strikes are even legal, since the administration has claimed the so-called Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks as the legal basis for the strikes.
On Wednesday, Rep. Dennis Kucinich sent a letter to the White House, cosigned by 25 other members of Congress including two Republicans, demanding “the process by which ‘signature’ strikes are authorized and executed (drone strikes where the identity of the person killed is unknown); mechanisms used by the CIA and JSOC to ensure that such killings are legal; the nature of the follow-up that is conducted when civilians are killed or injured; and the mechanisms that ensure civilian casualty numbers are collected, tracked and analyzed.
“We are concerned that the use of such ‘signature’ strikes could raise the risk of killing innocent civilians or individuals who may have no relationship to attacks on the United States,” write Kucinich et al. “Our drone campaigns already have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight. We are further concerned about the legal grounds for such strikes under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
“The implications of the use of drones for our national security are profound. They are faceless ambassadors that cause civilian deaths, and are frequently the only direct contact with Americans that the targeted communities have. They can generate powerful and enduring anti-American sentiment.”
So we come full circle. Only a minority of people show any concern over Obama’s killing of innocent people abroad in the name of the war on terror (oops, we aren’t supposed to say that anymore). Perhaps the people who approve of the drone strikes simply don’t know. Or perhaps, like Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), they don’t care. “I am not concerned,” he said.
Am I completely wrong in thinking that most Republicans only care about the innocent if they happen to be unborn? And that most Democrats don’t care about the innocent, so long as it’s their guy killing them?
Let’s be perfectly clear. Killing an innocent person is wrong, whether you’re the lowest criminal or the highest .. excuse me, president of the United States.
What should worry you even more than that, though, is that in a few years, those drones and their missiles are coming home, and they will be used here in the U.S. against Americans. Police chiefs all over the country are drooling at the prospect of getting hold of their own drones — to be used only for aerial surveillance, of course, and not to kill people by remote control. At least not right away. That part comes later, after you all are accustomed to seeing the things flying around.
As for me, I think it’s time to move to a place near an airport flight path, where it hopefully won’t be safe to operate a drone…