The War Has Never Stopped
The theatrics of war declarations and congressional resolutions can make it appear as if the United States is only just now restarting direct involvement in conflicts in the Middle East. President Obama claimed proudly on the 2012 campaign trail that he had kept his promise to end the war in Iraq. Now, it seems, with the unjust war over, the Obama administration can pursue a new strategy free of the sins of the past wars. The follies of nation-building neocons are behind us, and now we can go back to the Middle East with a clear conscience and purpose. The president’s announcement of his intents to eradicate ISIS were met with levels of jingoism one might have thought impossible from a generation that remembers Bush’s wars. The sentiment is expressed pretty well by this GIF which has been circling around:
Clean slate. New war for a new president. Time to kick ass.
But this is riotously false. The war has never stopped.
After the Obama administration came to power, the public utopianism of Bush-era warfare transitioned swiftly into a shadow-war of “precision strikes” and dark money. We’ve been killing people the whole time. Lots of people. Lots of innocent people. Lots of children. Bush’s Iraq War may have ended, and Obama’s Iraq War may just now be beginning, but the Drone War has been going on semi-silently in the background the entire time.
I’ve written about this extensively here. This week’s past events should be read as a continuation of a conflict. Not the start of a new one. ISIS wasn’t born in a vacuum.
Below is an excerpt of the text of my article on drone warfare:
Out of sight, out of mind.
Our cognizance of the Drone War over the past couple years has been focused on extra-judicial killings of American citizens abroad. This was epitomized by Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster over John Brennan’s nomination to the CIA. This concern is not without reason, as the New York Times reported in 2013:
The missile strike on Sept. 30, 2011, that killed Mr. Awlaki — a terrorist leader whose death lawyers in the Obama administration believed to be justifiable — also killed Mr. Khan [a propagandist], though officials had judged he was not a significant enough threat to warrant being specifically targeted. The next month, another drone strike mistakenly killed Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who had set off into the Yemeni desert in search of his father. Within just two weeks, the American government had killed three of its own citizens in Yemen. Only one had been killed on purpose.
It is natural for U.S. citizens to be so concerned about extra-judicial killings of fellow U.S. citizens. It raises deep Constitutional questions and smacks of wild, runaway executive power. But these questions are not the most horrifying aspect of our drone policy, and we are severely overdue for a hard look at the war acts in which we are all complicit.
The LA Times shed some all-too-rare visibility on the effects of U.S. drone policy in a 2013 report:
Miya Jan was filling potholes on the rutted trail that leads to his village in rugged eastern Afghanistan when he heard the whine of a drone aircraft overhead.
The sunburned 28-year-old farmer looked up and saw a gray, narrow-winged drone circling the village. A few minutes later, he said, it fired a missile that landed with a tremendous thud across a stony ridge line.
Jan ran to the explosion site and recognized the burning frame of his cousin’s blue pickup truck. Inside, he said, he saw blackened shapes — people whose torsos had been sheared off. He recognized the smoking remains of his brother, his brother’s wife and their 18-month-old son. Jan and other villagers say 14 people were killed in the attack; U.S. and Afghan officials place the toll at 11.
“There were pieces of my family all over the road,” said Jan, recalling the deadly Sept. 7 late afternoon incident in an interview last week. “I picked up those pieces from the road and from the truck and wrapped them in a sheet to bury them.
“Do the American people want to spend their money this way, on drones that kill our women and children?” he asked.”
Stories such as this are deeply horrifying. But are they common? How common would civilian tragedy need to be to bring the morality of drone policy into question?
Data and Definitions
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism provides some data on Drone War casualties, stating that
“In Yemen on average one civilian is killed in every other strike whereas in Pakistan, on average more than one civilian is killed in each strike.” The Bureau’s data paints a dark picture of drone policy:
– Over three-fifths (61%) of all drone strikes in Pakistan targeted domestic buildings, with at least 132 houses destroyed, in more than 380 strikes.
– At least 222 civilians are estimated to be among the 1,500 or more people killed in attacks on such buildings. In the past 18 months, reports of civilian casualties in attacks on any targets have almost completely vanished, but historically almost one civilian was killed, on average, in attacks on houses.
– The CIA has consistently attacked houses throughout the 10-year campaign in Pakistan.
– The time of an attack affects how many people – and how many civilians – are likely to die. Houses are twice as likely to be attacked at night compared with in the afternoon. Strikes that took place in the evening, when families likely to be at home and gathered together, were particularly deadly.
The data suggests that horrific experiences suffered by people like Miya Jan are common.
Read the rest here.