By JONATHAN BALMER
More than potentially harming our long-term prosperity, the foreign policy of the United States has gross moral flaws which have failed a generation here and abroad. Nowhere is that better seen than in the increased prevalence of remote drone warfare in Pakistan and Yemen under Obama’s administration.
CNN reported in September that President Obama ordered six times more strikes in one term than President Bush did in his entire presidency.
Ross Douthat succinctly described Obama’s policy in his Jan. 12, 2013, New York Times op-ed “The Obama Synthesis” as, “Fewer boots on the ground, but lots of drones in the air. Assassination, yes; nation-building, no. An imperial presidency with a less-imperial global footprint.” Through this modification of the Bush doctrine, it became clear: just because something has a smaller footprint doesn’t necessarily mean it’s less dangerous or more morally justified.
And while a senior Obama official has claimed “single digit” deaths in Pakistan, databases such as “The Long War Journal” claim between 130 and 268 civilian deaths, and “The New American Foundation” reports 152-191 deaths of civilians and 130-268 “unknowns” while the recent Stanford/ NYU report, admittedly more criticized by those such as “Foreign Policy’s” Meg Braun, claims much more: between 474 and 881 civilians.
However, whether the number of civilian casualties since 2004 is 100 or 800, the effectiveness of these drone strikes is questionable. As Braun herself referenced in another article, while one third of all strikes by President Bush killed a militant leader, under President Obama, that number has fallen to 13 percent and leaders account for only two percent of all drone–related fatalities. All of this as the administration claims drones “limit collateral damage.” All of this, when we are told the drones are “surgical” in accuracy.
Given these varied sources, two things appear true: first, many more civilians are being killed than the Obama administration would like citizens to believe. Second, the drones are having a profoundly damaging psychological effect upon innocent citizens.
Connor Friedersdorf reported in “The Atlantic” that those living in northern Pakistan suffer intense psychological trauma from the constant presence of U.S. drones. Some of these civilians were interviewed and attest to this. Friedersdorf writes:
“Faheem Qureshi is still just a teenager.
“Back in 2009, he was the sole survivor of the first drone strike that President Obama ordered. He was ‘one of the top four students in his class before the drone strike fractured his skull and nearly blinded him,’ the report states. He’s struggled ever since. ‘Our minds have been diverted from studying. We cannot learn things because we are always in fear of the drones hovering over us, and it really scares the small kids who go to school,’ he told his interviewer. ‘At the time the drone struck, I had to take exams, but I couldn’t take exams after that because it weakened my brain. I couldn’t learn things, and it affected me emotionally. My mind was so badly affected.’”
Not only do the drones have a questionable success rate, kill civilians and cause psychological problems, but they are setting an unsettling legal precedent. As Maj. Charles G. Kels wrote in the “Armed Forces Journal,” John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism adviser, “acknowledged that as ‘the first nation to regularly conduct strikes using remotely–piloted aircraft in an armed conflict,’ the U.S. has a special obligation to set an example of the lawful and ethical prosecution of such a program.” Yet the United States ceased waiting for Pakistan’s permission to continue drone strikes, straining our relationship with that country.
This, from what I have learned, does not indicate a foreign policy which is creating friends for the United States or protecting the innocent. And we should be concerned on an individual, as well as national, level. If we are trying to eliminate terrorism, why should we not hope to prevent creating terrorists?
When a drone, by accident or not, kills a man’s son I would imagine it would not matter much the father’s disposition before the attacks. Should we be surprised if his anguish desires revenge? What would stop him from turning to wish war upon the United States which killed his son? What is it, exactly, which prevents this huge prevalence of drones from creating more terrorists than it eliminates?
I say all of this not as a strong pacifist. I now, however reluctantly, recognize war sometimes arrives a grim necessity. But, as someone who considers himself pro-life, I believe I must be consistently so. I ask, “Is this how a just war is fought?” Is a three percent success rate of killing militant and dangerous targets all we can achieve for what is lost in “collateral damage”? And, to speak specifically to those with whom I share pro-life convictions: if the life of a boy in rural Pakistan is a life just as the child in the womb, why don’t we advocate for him against the actions our government has taken— as so many thousands demonstrated for the unborn at the “March for Life” at Washington a few weeks ago?
Though that “Bush Doctrine” of foreign policy has evolved over the years, preemptive strikes and drone warfare seems to becoming increasingly the norm. Should it? Or, rather, is this a situation in which it is a moral imperative that we question the harm caused by these actions—however remote the location or however remote the agent of the action may be.