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Drone Attacks

Published by marco on

A recent email exchanged that I partially documented in Benghazi: a storm in a teacup continued and the suggestion that I was providing information that “did not make sense” (read as “did not fit into preconceived notions”) and was “not very patriotic.” Again, I tried to respond with more background, though with waning hope.

Email Exchange

Not very patriotic? Me? Good. Patriotism is for those unwilling to think. I think I made my case very strongly that your laser-like focus on Benghazi is because of a mass propaganda effort.

Citing my interlocutor:

“There is so much more behind this tragic story, one does not let an ambassador be killed denying proper protection. Killed like a beast. This is not honest. So sad.”

To which I responded:

“denying proper protection”: according to whom? What would have been proper? Marines on the ground? Shall we just cut the charade and occupy Libya as well? The American military cuts an immense swath of death through the Middle East and I’m supposed to be surprised—or at least get my knickers in a twist—when a few Americans are killed abroad? Am I supposed to be outraged that these people attacked an embassy and an ambassador, clearly ignoring international law? Is that not how we have taught them to act? When was the last time the U.S. gave a shit about international law except when it suited its purposes?

Your plea for knee-jerk jingoism falls on deaf ears. I send you reliable documentation of how the U.S. is indiscriminately wiping out young men, families, women and children with drone attacks and you write back to tell me I’m not being patriotic. Why in God’s name should I be? Are these people to be lauded for killing an ambassador? Of course not. Their killing is just as reprehensible as ours. The losses the U.S. has incurred are negligible considered how many people we’ve pissed off and how arrogantly we’ve conquered other lands.

“Are we all animals now, just cutting heads and other parts of the body and let the people bleed to death? In the street? Go home and have supper?”

Oh, no. Far better to bomb them from 20,000 feet, taking whole neighborhoods away in one fell swoop. Much more clinical. Or perhaps we can use remote-control drones flown by pilots in Nevada, U.S. of A. who go home to their families at night for supper after having blown up a wedding party in Afghanistan because there were too many people gathered in one spot, all wearing turbans.

All murder is horrible, but the U.S. is clearly winning on numbers. You may wonder why I’m not more incensed by the acts of terrorism carried out by others. It is because those acts pale in number to those carried out in my name by my government. My concern is to stop my country from engaging in terrorism. First, we clean our slate; then we can criticize others.

The attack on the embassy was a tragedy but a rather commonplace one. You’re simply agitated because the guns were turned in the other direction for once. That’s why you care this time. When the U.S. military wipes out ten times that number in the hinterlands of Pakistan, I don’t get mail from you.

More Research from 2009 and 2011

The drone discussion caused me to search references that I had lying around for more information. One article I found was The Predator War by Jane Mayer in October 2009 (New Yorker), which discusses the drone war in detail.[1]

The article describes drone attacks and the meaning it has for the people there—that the attack sites define a battlefield, not some sort of cop-on-the-beat as we have it defined for us by our military. When the military of another country rains hellfire missiles down on your country, you don’t really care whether your crooked government has pre-approved these attacks. They are an act of war in the eyes of the people in that country.

It does not matter that the U.S. has not actually declared war in Pakistan. It can’t define a battlefield and must designate anyone as an enemy who happens to be under its bombs. In this case, it was Mehsud, a man with failing kidneys considered by Pakistan to the its number-one enemy. So we sent a Predator drone to eliminate him. In all of this, the U.S. itself is not threatened in any way, only its purported interests. Is there any more succinct or appropriate definition of a rogue military state than this? A nation that implies wars (no legal war has been declared), infers battlegrounds, and intuits enemies, then kills human beings with missiles?

More recently, the article Here’s the Key Question in the Libyan War by Diana Johnstone (CounterPunch) discussed the use of American air power in Libya.

“Sixty years later, it is easy for Americans and Western Europeans, their lives still relatively comfortable, their narcissism flattered by the ideology of “human rights”, to contemplate initiating “humanitarian” wars to “save victims” – wars in which they themselves take no more risk than when playing a video game. Kosovo and Libya were the perfect humanitarian wars: no casualties, not even a scratch, for the NATO bombers, and not even the necessity to see the bloodshed on the ground. With the development of drone warfare, such safe war at a distance opens endless prospects for risk-free “humanitarian intervention”, which can allow Western celebrities like Bernard-Henri Lévy to strut and pose as passionate champions of hypothetic victims of hypothetical massacres hypothetically prevented by real wars.”

Those are U.S. drones and U.S. bombers and the people that they strike do not care how comfortable we feel about using them, nor do they care how well we manage to sleep at night despite their increased use. That there are Libyans incensed enough by America to attack its embassy is anything but surprising. The U.S. sent bombers once to wipe out an entire neighborhood in an attempt to kill Qaddafi’s family (in the eighties courtesy of Reagan). The U.S. provided a lot of the air-power in the recent months-long NATO bombings that led to the downfall of Qaddafi. We think it’s antiseptic and that no-one could possibly fault the U.S. because its intentions are so bloody noble. The essential goodness of American foreign policy is the grandest delusion that the American people have ever swallowed.


[1] The article Rethinking the Drone Wars by Scott Horton (Harper's Weekly) was also useful, but is unfortunately no longer publicly available for free and can only be accessed with a subscription to Harper’s, with which one can browse the archives.