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drones


Obama’s doublespeak droning about drones

Reason magazine notes the following concerning Obama’s “end of terrorism” speech:

What was remarkable about Obama’s speech was its complete disconnect with his own actions in office. In a textbook example of Orwellian doublespeak, he declared that America would be haunted by the civilian casualties produced by drone attacks — without noting that these attacks were the defining feature of his war on terror.

As atonement, he pledged to transfer oversight of the drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon. But the problem with the program is not who runs it but what it does.

For those of us that have watched this guy from the beginning, it’s hardly a “complete disconnect”, it’s business as usual.  We’ve noted from the start that one should never believe what the man says, they should instead monitor his actions.  9 times out of 10, what he does or has done won’t be anywhere near what he said or said he’d do.  He is the master of doublespeak.

Oh, and remember how he told us that the world would love us again now that he was in charge?  Uh, yeah, more doublespeak:

[The Obama Administration] has escalated drone strikes against alleged militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. According to the liberal AlterNet, the Bush administration conducted 52 drone strikes in this region killing 438 people, including 182 civilians. This administration ordered 300 strikes in just its first term, killing 2,152 people, including 260 civilians. The constant buzzing in the sky traumatizes the local population — and violates Pakistani sovereignty — all of which has caused America’s popularity in Pakistan to plummet from 36 percent under Bush to 24 percent under Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner Obama.

I wonder if the Nobel committee ever wished they had recall privileges.  More importantly, I wonder if they learned anything from this debacle which might make them tend to wait until the subject of their next peace prize has actually done something to earn it.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 10 Mar 13

This week, Michael and Dale discuss the Rand Paul filibuster, The death of Hugo Chavez, and North Korea’s saber-rattling.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 10 Feb 13

This week, Bruce Michael, and Dale discuss drone strikes and the media.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


“Leading from behind” is not a doctrine that serves the best interests of the US

Jackson Diehl takes an interesting look at the Obama doctrine for foreign policy or, as some have called it, “leading from behind”.  Diehl prefers to call it the “light footprint” doctrine:

Contrary to the usual Republican narrative, Obama did not lead a U.S. retreat from the world. Instead he sought to pursue the same interests without the same means. He has tried to preserve America’s place as the “indispensable nation” while withdrawing ground troops from war zones, cutting the defense budget, scaling back “nation-building” projects and forswearing U.S.-led interventions.

[...]

It’s a strategy that supposes that patient multilateral diplomacy can solve problems like Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability; that drone strikes can do as well at preventing another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland as do ground forces in Afghanistan; that crises like that of Syria can be left to the U.N. Security Council.

Okay.  I really dont’ buy into the claim that Obama hasn’t led a “U.S. retreat from the world”, but I’m willing to stipulate that to get to the rest.

The rest, of course, has to do with the ineffectiveness and potential problems this doctrine presents.  And they’re not small problems either.  One thing that observers of world affairs seem to pick up on fairly quickly is that someone or something will fill a power vacuum.  Say what you want about “light footprints” or “leading from behind”, it has indeed created that sort of vacuum.  And other countries, notably Russia and China globally and Iran regionally, are busily trying to figure out how to fill that vacuum.

Perhaps, in the long run, it is best we do withdraw somewhat.  Fiscal reality demands at least some reductions and foreign policy is not exempt.  But it should be done shrewdly and according to some overall plan that carefully considers the ramifications of such a withdrawal.

Secondly, it likely makes sense not to involve ourselves too deeply in situations that don’t really concern us or threaten our security.  Like Libya.  It is interesting that Libya was a “go”, but Syria was a “no-go”, considering the stated reasoning (or propaganda if you prefer) for intervention in Libya.

So how has it worked?  Well, for a while it seemed to be working well enough – and then:

For the last couple of years, the light footprint worked well enough to allow Obama to turn foreign policy into a talking point for his reelection. But the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 should have been a red flag to all who believe this president has invented a successful new model for U.S. leadership. Far from being an aberration, Benghazi was a toxic byproduct of the light footprint approach — and very likely the first in a series of boomerangs.

Why were Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans murdered by Libyan jihadists? The preliminary round of official investigations may focus on decisions by mid-level officials at the State Department that deprived the Benghazi mission of adequate security, and a failure by the large CIA team in the city to detect the imminent threat from extremist groups.

But ultimately the disaster in Libya derived from Obama’s doctrine. Having been reluctantly dragged by France and Britain into intervening in Libya’s revolution, Obama withdrew U.S. planes from the fight as quickly as possible; when the war ended, the White House insisted that no U.S. forces stay behind. Requests by Libya’s fragile transition government for NATO’s security assistance were answered with an ill-conceived and ultimately failed program to train a few people in Jordan.

Where does that leave us?

A new report by the Rand Corporation concludes that “this lighter-footprint approach has made Libya a test case for a new post-Iraq and Afghanistan model of nation-building.” But the result is that, a year after the death of dictator Moammar Gaddafi, Libya is policed by what amounts to a mess of militias. Its newly elected government has little authority over most of the country’s armed men — much less the capacity to take on the jidhadist forces gathering in and around Benghazi.

The Rand study concludes that stabilizing Libya will require disarming and demobilizing the militias and rebuilding the security forces “from the bottom up.” This, it says, probably can’t happen without help from “those countries that participated in the military intervention” — i.e. the United States, Britain and France. Can the Obama administration duplicate the security-force-building done in Iraq and Afghanistan in Libya while sticking to the light footprint? It’s hard to see how.

It certainly is.  In fact, Libya is a disaster.  If the purpose of US foreign policy is to enhance the interests of the US I defy anyone to tell me how that has been done in Libya.  And now there are rumors we’re going to do the same thing in Mali (mainly because much of the weaponry that the Gaddafi government had has spread across the Middle East after their fall, to include terrorist groups which are now basing out of Mali).

How will the Obama administration answer these challenges?  Diehl thinks he’ll rely even more heavily on drone strikes.  But again, one has to ask how that furthers and serves the best interests of the United States:

A paper by Robert Chesney of the University of Texas points out that if strikes begin to target countries in North Africa and groups not directly connected to the original al-Qaeda leadership, problems with their legal justification under U.S. and international law “will become increasingly apparent and problematic.” And that doesn’t account for the political fallout: Libyan leaders say U.S. drone strikes would destroy the goodwill America earned by helping the revolution.

Anyone who still believes the myth that we’re better loved in the Middle East right now, needs to give up smoking whatever it is they’re smoking.  Adding increased drone strikes in more countries certainly won’t promote “goodwill” toward America.  It will, instead, provide jihadists with all the ammunition they need to demonize the country further – which, of course, helps recruiting.

I’m not contending this is easy stuff or there’s a slam-dunk alternate solution.  But I am saying that doing what was done in Libya for whatever high sounding reason has been a disaster, has not served the best interests of the United States and, in fact, will most likely be detrimental to its interests.

It is, as Deihl points out, a huge red flag.  The doctrine of choice right now is not the doctrine we should be pursuing if the results are like those we’ve gotten in Libya.  If ever there was a time for a ‘reset’ in our foreign policy approach, this is it.

~McQ


Drone wars–here’s something to think about

As most know, we’ve been very successful using drones to kill our adversaries in many places to include Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.  But the way we employ them has thus far pretty much gone unopposed and, more importantly, has mostly been limited to use by us and our allies.

What if we weren’t the only power with drones (in fact that’s already the case):

At the Zhuhai air show in southeastern China last November, Chinese companies startled some Americans by unveiling 25 different models of remotely controlled aircraft and showing video animation of a missile-armed drone taking out an armored vehicle and attacking a United States aircraft carrier.

Farfetched?  Most would say “yes” right now, but in the future – well who knows?  The point is clear.  We’ve started something that perhaps we will regret at some point:

“The problem is that we’re creating an international norm” — asserting the right to strike preemptively against those we suspect of planning attacks, argues Dennis M. Gormley, a senior research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “Missile Contagion,” who has called for tougher export controls on American drone technology. “The copycatting is what I worry about most.”

In relative terms, drones are cheap and much less dangerous to use for the user.  So if any of the following happen, how do we criticize or condemn?

If China, for instance, sends killer drones into Kazakhstan to hunt minority Uighur Muslims it accuses of plotting terrorism, what will the United States say? What if India uses remotely controlled craft to hit terrorism suspects in Kashmir, or Russia sends drones after militants in the Caucasus? American officials who protest will likely find their own example thrown back at them.

The author has a point. And it’s not just other countries we have to worry about.

However, it would be rather hard to condemn their use given our actions and activities.   While it might be argued that we had at least the tacit approval of the government’s involved, again, we’re making armed incursions into sovereign territory in the name of pursuing our enemies pretty much at will.  And for the most part other countries have been silent about that.

Doesn’t that give them the opportunity to a) ignore any protest we might launch if they do the same thing and b) pretty much dilutes any protest we might have if the same (unlikely) is done to us?

I’m not really commenting here on the efficiency of the tactics involved or the even the morality of the strikes, but more the practical and expected backlash – others will expect to do the same thing we do for the same ostensible reason, and we won’t have a leg to stand on if we protest.

Not that our protests yield much fruit when we do make them, but as Dennis Gormley hints, we’ve opened Pandora’s box here and we’re going to have a heck of a time, if not an impossible time, closing it again. 

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Drones, “war criminals” and the ICC

You probably recall the left’s call for the US to join the International Criminal Court. One of the primary reasons behind that call was a desire to see George Bush tried as a “war criminal” by much of the more extreme left. And that is one of the declared purposes of that court.

The Clinton Administration signed the Rome Statute in 2000 establishing the court but never submitted it for Senate ratification. Then Senator Barack Obama, when asked if the US should join the ICC, said “yes”, echoing the far left’s desire.

So I read this particular article with interest the other day, and wondered if their desire to join the court is still as strong now as it was then:

The pilots waging America’s undeclared drone war in Pakistan could be liable to criminal prosecution for “war crimes,” a prominent law professor told a Congressional panel Wednesday.

Harold Koh, the State Department’s top legal adviser, outlined the administration’s legal case for the robotic attacks last month. Now, some legal experts are taking turns to punch holes in Koh’s argument.

It’s part of an ongoing legal debate about the CIA and U.S. military’s lethal drone operations, which have escalated in recent months — and which have received some technological upgrades. Critics of the program, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that the campaign amounts to a program of targeted killing that may violate the laws of war.

In a hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s national security and foreign affairs panel, several professors of national security law seemed open to that argument. But there are still plenty of caveats, and the risks to U.S. drone operators are at this point theoretical: Unless a judge in, say, Pakistan, wanted to issue a warrant, it doesn’t seem likely. But that’s just one of the possible legal hazards of robotic warfare.

Now note carefully what is being said. Not all drone pilots are considered to be violating the laws of war. For instance, an airforce officer flying a drone is a combatant and are normally found operating in a combat zone (Afghanistan) in support of combat operations.

However, it is argued, CIA operatives flying them in Pakistan and using lethal force for targeted killings in an undeclared war may be liable to charges of “war crimes”. It would, of course, require some legal entity in Pakistan to issue a warrant to take this argument from theoretical to real.

Now you may or may not agree with the legal arguments. But let’s stipulate, for the sake of argument, that they’re correct. Where does that lead us? Well, here:

Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, said the pilots operating the drones from afar could — in theory — be hauled into court in the countries where the attacks occur. That’s because the CIA’s drone pilots aren’t combatants in a legal sense. “It is my opinion, as well as that of most other law-of-war scholars I know, that those who participate in hostilities without the combatant’s privilege do not violate the law of war by doing so, they simply gain no immunity from domestic laws,” he said.

“Under this view CIA drone pilots are liable to prosecution under the law of any jurisdiction where attacks occur for any injuries, deaths or property damage they cause,” Glazier continued. “But under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes.”

There’s no question where the buck stops when talking about who has “authorized or directed” such attacks. It stops at the Oval Office.

So … about those cries for membership in the ICC and those shouts of “war criminal” by the left. Where in the world have they gone?
~McQ


War Crimes?

Here’s an interesting twist:

A U.N. human rights investigator warned the United States Tuesday that its use of unmanned warplanes to carry out targeted executions may violate international law.

Philip Alston said that unless the Obama administration explains the legal basis for targeting particular individuals and the measures it is taking to comply with international humanitarian law which prohibits arbitrary executions, “it will increasingly be perceived as carrying out indiscriminate killings in violation of international law.”

Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s investigator on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, raised the issue of U.S. Predator drones in a report to the General Assembly’s human rights committee and at a news conference afterwards, saying he has become increasingly concerned at the dramatic increase in their use, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, since June.

June. So the Obama administration has one of its favorite excuses – blame Bush – preempted.

And the administration’s response?

He said the U.S. response — that the Geneva-based council and the General Assembly have no role in relation to killings during an armed conflict — “is simply untenable.”

“That would remove the great majority of issues that come before these bodies right now,” Alston said. “The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions are not, in fact, being carried out through the use of these weapons.”

You can’t help but appreciate the irony. They can, as would have the previous administration, stick with their claim that the UN’s Human Rights council has absolutely no jurisdiction or say in the issue (something I happen to agree with) and risk being branded “war criminals”, or they can capitulate to the “legal” argument and submit justification for using these weapons in combat against terrorists (thereby giving said council legitimacy and a say in how the weapons can and can’t be used).

Apparently the UN Human Rights council has yet to issue the same sort of warning to the Taliban who, when blowing up buildings in Pakistan and Afghanistan are, in fact committing “arbitrary executions” and “extrajudicial executions” with the use of their bombs.

But then, other than arbitrary in their application of anything (especially if it is a blow to the US) what would you expect from the UN?

~McQ

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