Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gallup: Drones on others are fine - but not on us!

by Salman Hameed

Here is the least surprising hypocritical poll result: Almost two-third of Americans feel that it is okay for the US government to launch airstrikes against suspected terrorists in other countries. But only 13% say that the drone strikes are okay if the suspect is a US citizen living in the United States. I'm sure that this number would go up if it is known the suspect is a Muslim! (actually, this is not a joke. This is probably true).

Here is the Gallup poll:

And don't worry. While the Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on anything, there is a bipartisan support for this particular drone view (yay - for bipartisanship!). Here is the same question on party-lines (Democrats come off slightly better):

Two somewhat related things. First, for your entertainment purposes, watch this painful Daily Show segment about the Fox's reaction of the Boston marathon bombing suspects' religious identity: "ban Muslim students from entering the US"; "wiretap mosques"; and of course from the incomparable Ann Coulter: "jail time for wearing hijab". Can anyone get away with saying this kind of stuff about any other ethnic or religious group?

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Second, here is a fantastic article on the reasons why the US-Pakistan relations took a nose-dive in the last couple of years. Here is Mark Mazzetti's article, How a single spy helped turn Pakistan against the United States. I highly recommend this article as it gets the situation in Pakistan. But Mark Mazzetti has been writing about the increasing militarization of the CIA - and that Pakistan is the test case for its new role. I haven't read his book, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the End of the Earth yet, but it looks fantastic and it has long sections on CIA's war in Pakistan.

In any case, here are some highlights from the NYT article which primarily about the Davis Affair in Lahore:
A city once ruled by Mughals, Sikhs and the British, Lahore is Pakistan’s cultural and intellectual capital, and for nearly a decade it had been on the fringes of America’s secret war in Pakistan. But the map of Islamic militancy inside Pakistan had been redrawn in recent years, and factions that once had little contact with one another had cemented new alliances in response to the C.I.A.’s drone campaign in the western mountains. Groups that had focused most of their energies dreaming up bloody attacks against India were now aligning themselves closer to Al Qaeda and other organizations with a thirst for global jihad. Some of these groups had deep roots in Lahore, which was why Davis and a C.I.A. team set up operations from a safe house in the city.
So the CIA's drone campaign has united disparate militant groups against the US. Talk about unintended consequences.

And here is a flavor of the way CIA's militarism has trumped diplomacy of the State Department. This is chilly:
The Davis affair led Langley to order dozens of covert officers out of Pakistan in the hope of lowering the temperature in the C.I.A. – I.S.I. relationship. Ambassador Munter issued a public statement shortly after the bizarre court proceeding, saying he was “grateful for the generosity” of the families and expressing regret for the entire incident and the “suffering it caused.” 
But the secret deal only fueled the anger in Pakistan, and anti-American protests flared in major cities, including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. Demonstrators set tires ablaze, clashed with Pakistani riot police and brandished placards with slogans like “I Am Raymond Davis, Give Me a Break, I Am Just a C.I.A. Hit Man.” 
The entire episode — and bin Laden’s killing in Abbottabad later that spring — extinguished any lingering productive relations between the United States and Pakistan. Leon Panetta’s relationship with General Pasha, the I.S.I. chief, was poisoned, and the already small number of Obama officials pushing for better relations between Washington and Islamabad dwindled even further. Munter was reporting daily back to Washington about the negative impact of the armed-drone campaign and about how the C.I.A. seemed to be conducting a war in a vacuum, oblivious to the ramifications that the drone strikes were having on American relations with Pakistan’s government. 
The C.I.A. had approval from the White House to carry out missile strikes in Pakistan even when the agency’s targeters weren’t certain about exactly whom they were killing. Under the rules of so-called “signature strikes,” decisions about whether to fire missiles from drones could be made based on patterns of activity deemed suspicious. For instance, if a group of young “military-age males” were observed moving in and out of a suspected militant training camp and were thought to be carrying weapons, they could be considered legitimate targets. American officials admit it is nearly impossible to judge a person’s age from thousands of feet in the air, and in Pakistan’s tribal areas, adolescent boys are often among militant fighters. Using such broad definitions to determine who was a “combatant” and therefore a legitimate target allowed Obama administration officials at one point to claim that the escalation of drone strikes in Pakistan had not killed any civilians for a year. It was something of a trick of logic: in an area of known militant activity, all military-age males could be considered enemy fighters. Therefore, anyone who was killed in a drone strike there was categorized as a combatant. 
The perils of this approach were laid bare on March 17, 2011, the day after Davis was released from prison and spirited out of the country. C.I.A. drones attacked a tribal council meeting in the village of Datta Khel, in North Waziristan, killing dozens of men. 
Ambassador Munter and some at the Pentagon thought the timing of the strike was disastrous, and some American officials suspected that the massive strike was the C.I.A. venting its anger about the Davis episode. More important, however, many American officials believed that the strike was botched, and that dozens of people died who shouldn’t have. 
Other American officials came to the C.I.A.’s defense, saying that the tribal gathering was in fact a meeting of senior militants and therefore a legitimate target. But the drone strike unleashed a furious response in Pakistan, and street protests in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar forced the temporary closure of American consulates in those cities.
Munter said he believed that the C.I.A. was being reckless and that his position as ambassador was becoming untenable. His relationship with the C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad, already strained because of their disagreements over the handling of the Davis case, deteriorated even further when Munter demanded that the C.I.A. give him the chance to call off specific missile strikes. During one screaming match between the two men, Munter tried to make sure the station chief knew who was in charge, only to be reminded of who really held the power in Pakistan. 
“You’re not the ambassador!” Munter shouted. 
“You’re right, and I don’t want to be the ambassador,” the station chief replied. 
This turf battle spread to Washington, and a month after Bin Laden was killed, President Obama’s top advisers were arguing in a National Security Council meeting over who really was in charge in Pakistan. At the June 2011 meeting, Munter, who participated via secure video link, began making his case that he should have veto power over specific drone strikes. 
Panetta cut Munter off, telling him that the C.I.A. had the authority to do what it wanted in Pakistan. It didn’t need to get the ambassador’s approval for anything. 
“I don’t work for you,” Panetta told Munter, according to several people at the meeting.
But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Munter’s defense. She turned to Panetta and told him that he was wrong to assume he could steamroll the ambassador and launch strikes against his approval. 
“No, Hillary,” Panetta said, “it’s you who are flat wrong.” 
There was a stunned silence, and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon tried to regain control of the meeting. In the weeks that followed, Donilon brokered a compromise of sorts: Munter would be allowed to object to specific drone strikes, but the C.I.A. could still press its case to the White House and get approval for strikes even over the ambassador’s objections. Obama’s C.I.A. had, in essence, won yet again.         
Read the full article here


Asad M said...

Great post!!

In my opinion, comparing the use of drones in other countries (like Pakistan) and US is not really fair coz in the US it’s a lot easier to hunt down terrorists on the ground by FBI & police with little chances of losses by FBI than say doing the same in FATA which is essentially a war zone and a hub of terrorists.

Using drones in Pakistan is a sensitive and debatable topic; it has advantages in that it is an effective way of eliminating wanted terrorists (and thus limiting future terrorist activities) in a difficult and terrorist-infiltratred terrain where the Pak Forces are either unable or unwilling to go. Also all of FATA and adjoining Afghan border regions are hardly under the control of Pakistan Govt and where even Pakistan laws don’t apply.

Downsides being that there is considerable collateral damage (up to 1/3rd victims are innocent children & women) and that it creates an experience of humiliation for the innocent survivors that breeds more contempt against US and a desire to seek revenge, hence joining the ranks of TTP is a real possibility. There are counter arguments to the “downsides” too, that TTP use women/children as shields and the victims’ families and tribal elders actually provide refuge to terrorists.

There have been several attempts at appeasement, peace & negotiations and with TTP but they simply haven’t worked; TTP perceives any attempt at negotiation as a strengthening of its own position and doesn’t even recognize the Pak govt. It’s a very complicated situation, blame also lies with both US (for being a arrogant and thinking that the only solution is a military one) and Pakistan (for still hanging on its “Strategic Depth” policy and not doing enough to control extremism being promulgated from madaris and mosques).

While the drone strategy works to an extent but attempts at negotiations shouldn’t be ruled out as it’s clear that there’s no military solution. There are no short-term solutions to problems of extremism that took a couple of decades to cook and bear fruits. From a Pakistan perspective there has to be a clear realization that extremism now poses a grave threat to the country and both the Govt & Army need to work towards a long-term solution, one that should include halting this slide towards extremism/intolerance by regulating madaris and curbing power of mullahs and undertaking a major overhaul of the GHQ-driven foreign policy vis-à-vis interference and exporting militancy in Afghanistan, Kashmir.

Asad M said...

Amazing how Fox News gets away with blatant Islamophobia and no one bats an eye; Jon Stewart was brilliant as always in exposing these people….

The eye-opening NYT adds more evidence as to how the influence of CIA has grown as the war has gone on with no end or solution in sight, certainly there’s more need for diplomacy.

Salman Hameed said...


Re: Drones
But this is a question of how American see the drone strikes. The question is not about "when terrorists are inaccessible via traditional means". The strikes are taking place outside Pakistan as well (for example Yemen) - and the "suspected terrorists" are often defined as any male of military age. The Gallup poll is more about the way Americans see what ought to be allowed or not.

And this is all independent of the assessment of the overall assessment of the effectiveness of the drone campaign - which has been winning battles but losing the war.

And yes - Fox News is just vile. The scary part is that a lot of people watch it and are exposed to those crazy assertions!

Asad M said...

I was coming from a Pakistan point of view, and factored in “ when terrorists are inaccessible via traditional means” thing in the poll question.

Often dismissed as left-wing conspiracy, but it should be cause of concern in the US that the “military-industrail complex” (includes defense contractors and corporations such as Lockheed, Boeing, GE etc. which Eisenhower termed as a threat to the democratic govt in his farewell address in 1961) is reaping the most benefit from the drone campaign and the trillion dollar US military budget spending, when some of those funds can be better spent on healthcare, infrastructure and education, science. Not to mention the influence these corporations yield on members of Congress via political contributions, surely they want something in return too.

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