The Financial Times reports that George W. Bush signed off on 50 drone strikes, Obama has approved more than 350. Disturbing things are emerging from the Obama Administration regarding the drone strikes. First, is the unprecedented interest that (some say ghoulishly) Obama takes in the strikes. Personally approving who lives or dies, and reviewing the drone footage of the deaths himself, often alone. Two things that unnerve even Obama’s closest aides. [It is also monumentally stupid for Obama to be anywhere near the decision to kill to someone -- he WILL be indicted for war crimes in a Western country and extradition be fought over, Nobel Peace Prize or not.]
Obama views drone strikes as Chicago politics writ large. The equivalent of mob hits, cheap, quiet, not messy, intimidating, and unlikely ever to backfire on himself. It fits into his image of himself as Don Corleone, a guy who scares other men, something Obama has never done (indeed he’s been dogged by gay rumors most of his life). Drones are of course, cheaper than fighter jets, as the article shows, an F-35 costs $130 million, while a Reaper drone costs $53 million. Of course the drone requires an extensive ground crew, which costs, but won’t put pilots at risk.
Simply put, Obama wants to fight war on the cheap. And this is a disaster for America. One, furthermore, that the American people are complicit in, wanting pretty lies rather than ugly truth. And like all lies eagerly preferred to the truth, this one is likely to be one the American people regret deeply as drones are used eventually against them in the service of a corrupt and decadent elite.
Obama (and the elites who back him) don’t like the military. They don’t understand or respect men who look for battle. A man like Sherman, or Grant, or Patton, might as well be aliens. So too, SEALs, Marines, any elite or special forces oriented towards combat. Obama and company don’t like the military, and want to replace a deeply conservative, mostly White force with something cheap and seemingly high-tech. Drones. Which ultimately can answer to just a small group of controllers ordered about by Obama. That’s the dream. Obama deciding who to kill or not, today Anwar al-Awlaki. Tomorrow Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. For him its all the same.
This is why it is essential to elect Mitt Romney. Not that Romney has any desire to get rid of drones, but that as a Republican, the media and NGOs and celebrities and Democratic Politicians who have been silent under Obama will band together and force the issue. Obama means more of the same, Romney means hard limits to the power of the President to kill people with drones. And that is a good thing.
No President should have the power to order individual people killed. He certainly can order military action. That will in the course of events kill people, often a lot of them. Every President since Madison has faced this challenge, potential or actual. But no President until now has had the power to carry out individual killings, deciding for himself who lives or dies. That has to stop. It must stop.
Drones have their place. In Libya, Somalia (where their over-use has been so frequent they disrupt air traffic), Yemen, and Pakistan, places hostile to us and without any real law other than tribal rabble, they can be useful. Whack this man, or that one, and buy a day, or a week, or a month of peace. That is not nothing. But it is not everything either. Those decisions, on who to kill and who to spare, should be the province of the regional commander. Who should be responsible for them, under the code of Uniform Military Justice, if need be. FDR did not select targets for the Eight Air Force, while LBJ personally decided which buildings would be hit in Hanoi. Tell me who was the more effective war-fighter.
The President has the right to replace commanders who have lost his favor (but remains responsible himself to the American people through re-election or impeachment and conviction in that regard). He does not have the right nor should he do so as a practical matter, to order troops around. To move this division or that one to a hill, or not. To order a shot on Somali pirates, or not. He won’t have the right information, being distant and removed from the scene and people. He won’t have the experience or judgment. The President does have the right to approve or disapprove of raids into places like Pakistan, to say, kill Bin Laden. Things like that will always be the decision of the President, involving as they do politics and diplomacy. The same is true of hostage rescue operations, like the failed Desert Eagle. But not a fast-moving situation on the ground, or the air, or sea. And certainly not which individual jihadis will live or die. That is the responsibility of the commander on the ground.
Drones are not a pancea. They are not magic. They kill people, yes, but often only those careless and ill-protected. Drones don’t do well against protected airspace, which includes Iran, Syria, and Russia. Drones operate well into Pakistan, because they come across the Himalayas, well shielded by the mountains from radar. Operating from the sea instead of say, Afghanistan, they would be detected (and likely shot down) fairly quickly. Against poorly armed, ill-trained tribal rabbles in Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya, drones are effective. Jihadis there have no active radar much less anti-aircraft missiles and jet fighters. That is not the case for much of Pakistan outside tribal areas, away from the mountains, or places like Iran. Drones can also be tricked or hacked, as Iran and even AQ have shown. They have their place but like pinpoint area bombing, are limited. They can’t hold and defend ground. They can’t interrogate prisoners. They cannot storm buildings, or flush out carefully hidden tyrants like Saddam.
The American people want to believe that there is an exit from the nightmare of the Twenty First Century. They want the safety and security of say, the 1990’s back. No more Cold War, no more nuclear threat. Just Party Like It’s 1999, apologies to Prince. They don’t want mass terror, and they want the threat neutralized, off the front pages of newspapers and the evening news. Cheap, and with no US casualties. Meanwhile, Americans still want cheap energy, which runs on oil, and the ability to have nice things. Like power, water, and sewage flushed away, not sitting in a chamber pot and dumped on the street.
Since the US runs on cheap oil, until we can develop North America’s mix of coal, tar sands, oil shale, natural gas, and offshore oil, we are stuck in the Middle East propping up the corrupt House of Saud. George W. Bush and Iraq showed us what replacing the corrupt regimes would cost, and the order of blood and treasure it requires to remove an old corrupt regime and replace it with a new one to our liking.
No one in the Muslim world really gives a damn about the Palestinians. The Saudis are in semi-open alliance with Israel over Iran’s nukes. Syrians are busy killing each over who will rule: a corrupt and brutal, bloody Shia-allied family dynasty, or a corrupt and bloody Sunni salafist rabble determined to turn the place into the Taliban’s Afghanistan. The US as a protector of the Saudis to get cheap oil will ALWAYS be drawn into these feuds. Al Qaeda wants to supplant the corrupt House of Saud and rule the place themselves. They’ll be even worse. Iran wants to control the Gulf and raise the price of oil to at least $150 a barrel.
It is a fantasy and fallacy that we can ever escape this fight, as long as we run on oil. At best, we can manage it. Putin did that by killing 40,000 Chechens or more. No more terrorist attacks. He scared people. America is not willing to do that. Even if most Americans buy into the fantasy of zapping remote Jihadis in Yemen and places like it, outside any real bother to their lives.
America won’t support any more Iraq or Afghanistan Wars. That is clear. But the alternative is not drone zapping by a President acting like a comic book villain choosing who lives or dies, either. Americans need to come to terms with reality. We need to protect the (loathsome) House of Saud. This means forces in the area, supported by US airpower. This has been the traditional US policy since FDR. It includes the Gulf kingdoms, the Israelis, and now pointedly excludes Egypt as Obama handed that place to the Muslim Brotherhood, intent on overthrowing our most important ally, the Saudis, who set the global price of oil through their production levels. America will have to rebuild military alliances with peoples who face real threats from enemies, and have as a result forces willing and able to fight their enemies. We can provide air power, naval power, and supplies. But they’ll have to do the fighting.
And yes, occasionally the US will have to embark on limited, Gulf War style battles of annihilation, but mixed with installing friendly forces to maintain power. George Herbert Walker Bush’s mistake was not to remove Saddam, and install friendly Shia Arab forces, with US help. Let them do the fighting and dying, they were ready then (before the US let Saddam slaughter them), and the destruction of Saddam’s forces had his remaining thugs on the run. Idealism, a lot of blather about noble purposes, and such led Bush to follow Colin Powell’s advice, disastrously.
The US has two main objectives, keep oil cheap, and nukes out of the hands of the jihadis in Pakistan and Mullahs in Tehran. All else is window dressing, stuff that doesn’t matter. Zapping Jihadis is a “nice to have” thing, when it can be done cheaply and without too much trouble. But zapping guys like Awlaki, won’t stop Iran from nuking up, or some jihadi getting ahold of a nuke in Pakistan. That takes a lot of military presence (to deter bad actions), which means a big navy, air force, and repeated but limited demonstrations of US power and the will to use it against enemies who don’t listen to reason.
This means a continued dominant military, and large amounts of money spent on it. It means being realistic about what can and cannot be done with drones. It means focusing the Presidency on strategic decisions not semi-snuff arousal videos. It means limiting the power to kill individual people, keeping that away from the Presidency and limited to answerable military commanders in the field, away from the US. And it means, if need be, demonstrations of US power by limited wars against enemies, and their removal and replacement by friendly forces who will fight on their own accord against sworn enemies.
This is not very nice. Nothing noble or uplifting about it. No democracy, peace in our time, no “from this thistle war, I pluck this flower peace.” No “We can do business, with Mr. Hitler!” No grand bargain. Nothing but a constant readiness, military strength, and ruthless use of allies and promotion of national interests. It is not easy. Or cheap. And requires some sacrifice. On the other hand, it is proven to work. But it requires realism and acceptance of US limits and human nature. That if we like all the things that cheap oil brings, it has a cost.