GET IN TO A
STATE OF MIND
Like most, I have seen the meme (see above) of Obama and his pet drone, and no, I’m not talking about Bo. Dogs are not drones, but that’s a separate matter. As I look at the sheer number of deaths, not by dogs, but ones caused by drones, I wonder, how did we go from land wars to drone wars? Should we be concerned about drone attacks on Countries that clearly mean you, myself, and the United States harm? Finally, what are the ramifications of this type of war?
Let us define what a drone is, at least for now. In a biological sense, a drone is a bee, a wasp, a male ant, all included. Here? Not really. What is it then? It is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), or Multirotor/quadcopter. There are drone enthusiast groups that build, fly, and race drones. Amazon wants to deliver our packages by drone. The military likes the Predator Drone, which they also use for surveillance and bomb drops.
Why did we go from boots on the ground combat to drone war(s)? It started long before 2008, when Bush was in office and anti-war rhetoric was at an all-time high. After the lies came out, people began to focus more on why we went to war, and less on the results of the conflict, or effect of war in these countries. This emotional response started an anti-war movement that fed protests and the 2008 presidential elections which followed.
President Obama ran on a platform which favored the climate of the time(s), one where he promised to end the wars in the middle east. Winning the primary and the election against Clinton, then McCain, these victories were taken as a mandate to get out the Middle Eastern hotbed. In addition to internal pressure, there was external rhetoric, that the US was not needed as a policemen of the world, any longer. President Obama was faced with a conundrum of how to balance these objectives with the reality of multiple wars, torn and unstable regions, that wished the USA harm, likely becoming footholds for groups that meant to do damage at the time, with more so if possible, if left unhindered, into the future.
And so it was, the newly minted president looked for a tool the United States could use to strike, without needing boots on the ground. He found his weapon of choice: drones. Theoretically? It was perfect. In other words, maintain an internal military influence, if not quite presence, within a country that needed monitoring. This, without any international, or even Stateside criticism, that an actual presence would then create. So again, theoretically perfect. Realistically?
Over the next eight years, Obama expanded the Drone Program. The expansion, in turn, allowed for an official end to the war in Afghanistan; even with some troops on the ground remaining. The application of drones was not at an end, quite the contrary, only beginning. To date, the U.S is fighting unofficial wars, in Syria, Somalia and Yemen. These conflicts are ones which Congress refuses to sanctify, but are made possible by the expanded Drone program. In sum, this was the president with a mandate to end wars, but a need to fight. In a nutshell, that is the cause or need of it, of why drones came to be.
Hopefully, not that the above was dull, but the “How”, that is where it gets interesting. Article II section 2 of the Constitution provides that, “The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States and the Militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States;” but what does this truly mean? Can the president declare war? If you look to the Federalist Papers #69, Hamilton explains that although the President would be the first general and admiral of the confederacy, such power would not extend to declaring a war, and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies. This influence appertains to the Legislature. Still, the President has ordered the armed forces to take action, to maintain a position without obtaining prior congressional authorization, and starting with the undeclared war with France in 1798-1800. Some would argue, however, that these actions are not war, per se.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 attempted to fix the discrepancy, one of what the framers stated they wanted, conflicting with what was actually in Article II. However, the resolution was incoherent, as it stated the President may only, “Send in US Armed Forces through a declaration of war by congress, statutory authority, or in case of emergency”. It then goes on to allow the president, “To introduce military force for any reason, for up to 90 days”. This is normally called a police action. Remember Vietnam? To this day, some still call it a police ‘action’. Vietnam vets may, and probably would, differ on that opinion. But the history of U.S incursion into Asia, fighting Communist onslaught aside, the more ‘accurate’ application of military policing, has had a different consequence. What this has done is create the ability for the president to act alone on minor issues, but sequesters power over major wars to Congress.
The current status of Presidential War Powers is clearly one of the reasons President Obama has utilized the drone program to such a heavy extent. Each drone strike falls well within 90 days, hence doesn’t require an expenditure of major man power, and the force can move from location to location quite easily. In sum, these factors clearly show how and why Obama chose to use Drones.
In order to expand the use of UAV’s, in the military theater, Obama made a number of changes, the first was the issue of who controlled the drones. Hence, in reality, who does this? The CIA has used drones from almost two decades. By creating the target packets, the CIA maintained control, however the drones actually belonged to the Air Force. This created not only an issue of ownership, or ‘privilege’ right, but a split, one where we have two separate drone programs running concurrently. The CIA maintains their drone program and now the Military has their separate one as well. Some say there is a third drone program run by DHS, however that’s a whole other blackberry bramble. Maybe Odessa will look into it? J Looking at the two sanctioned programs: CIA and Military. I wonder about the legality of the using drones?
In a sense, legality as determinant is more easily said than done. Why? The drone program is blanketed in secrecy. What I can tell is, Obama has fought long and hard in the court system to validate the use of drones. Challengers say that we are assassinating people, without due process of law and without over sight. Obama’s stand is that these are military actions; as such, fall outside the criminal justice system. He contends the targets are not US citizens (well most of them are not US citizens) and are combatants would not receive civilian due process, even if captured. On the surface, this looks to be a viable argument, until you see just how many non-combatants are killed in the process of killing a combatant. Additionally, US citizens have been killed by drone strikes, some intended other casualties of war.
I believe in war, even undeclared war, civilians will die. These casualties, may and often will, include civilians, U.S. Citizens, men, women, and even children; this is a fact of war. Knowing this, one needs to consider what is a reasonable loss of life. With only 1 in 20 drone attacks actually hitting the intended target, this does not seem to be a tolerable casualty ratio.
This being said, I agree with Obama’s goals beyond Afghanistan, “We must define our effort not as a boundless global war on terror, rather by a series of persistent, targeted efforts, to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists who threaten America.” Clearly, Obama’s approach was to avoid world war three, though he clearly states, “Despite a strong preference for detention and prosecution of terrorists, sometimes this approach is foreclosed.” Even though Obama did not want an all-out war, he did aim to have a persistent presence, one that would inhibit the formation of strong holds. Again, based on target needs, this is where drones come into play. To this end, and at the risk of, “Our relationship with Pakistan—and the backlash among the Pakistani public over the encroachment on their territory—was so severe that we are just now beginning to rebuild this important relationship.”
President Obama has used drones, to strike at targets he determined to be a threat to the nation. (Obama’s Speech at the National Defense University https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226399.pdf)
As stated, there are limits to the President’s War Powers because we are not officially at war. Nonetheless, for the last eight years, the President has mandated the bombing of countries that we are NOT at war with, some of whom are our official allies. Information regarding, who exactly had been targeted, how many targets have been neutralized, and the total number of drone strikes? To date, this is all top secret. Estimates, ones I have found, put the number of casualties at 60,000, in the last year alone. According to some, 1500 in 2016. Any number I look at, one thing is for certain, drone strikes are taking place at a steady pace, with attacks occurring in Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, and a number of other African countries.
Leaving the third world, going back to the bureaucracy of the west, it took the White House four years of heavy drone use to issue a set of standards and procedures for conducting UCAV strikes. This protocol shows what some call the kill chain, from the Agent on the ground, all the way to the presidential approval. These chains are supposed to ensure that drones are only being used to strike combatants. The disclosed protocols and procedures on drone strikes at the time of this writing, have been removed, by President Trump. All in all, this leads us to questions the following: how will Trump utilize the Drone system Obama put into place? As well, will he even use the same protocols and procedures?
I doubt the Military or CIA will agree to limiting the use of UCAV’s for a number of reasons. Firstly, money both agencies received, funding budgets for their drone programs. Never forgetting, with governmental spending, you either use it or lose it. Secondly, drones can go into no fly zones, without putting a pilot in the line of fire. As well, they are low flying, hard to detect, and getting harder with more advanced stealth technologies, making them better at destroying targets. Finally, the funds for the drone applications stay Stateside, as many of these programs are run from afar. All this sounds good if you:
The Ramifications of using Drones, is that we, the citizens, will no longer know who we are at war with, or even how these wars are being carried out. With Trump in office, this already highly secretive processes, debates over application, funding, and execution (assassinations included), will likely become even less open for review or even discussion. In the end, how good can this be? Whilst lag doesn’t always guarantee success, expediency is not always conducive to accuracy, and drone accuracy is a moot question at best.