Why does Washington’s imperialist warmaking continue?

(This is v.2 of this blog post. I edited it to try to give a better picture of the casualty tolls in Iraq from the 2003 decision to invade. But those numbers are still really hard to capture. ~HC.)

In the months leading up to March 19, 2003, when Pres. George W. Bush launched an unprovoked and completely optional war of “total regime change” against Iraq, I was proud to take part in several of the broad and spirited antiwar demonstrations and other actions that took place all around the United States and the world.

But we failed to stop Bush from launching his illegal war.

It was 15  years ago this week, on March 19, 2003, that Bush unleashed the war. The negative consequences of that decision– primarily on Iraq and its people, but also on the United States and the integrity of the global order– were massive, and continue to this day. They include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. The number of those who died directly or indirectly as a result of the invasion of Iraq or the numerous secondary conflicts sparked by the invasion has been estimated at around half a million. Around 4,500 U.S. service-members lost their lives. The numbers of those Iraqi residents wounded or displaced during the 15 years of conflict has been considerably higher. All these casualty figures continue to rise.
  2. The physical infrastructure of Iraq, a country of some 33 million souls, whose schools, hospitals, universities, road system, artistic infrastructure, etc, had already been very badly damaged by 13 years of extremely punitive, US-led sanctions, received considerable additional blows, leading to numerous public-health crises and de-development.
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Syria, the Western “left”, and the Palestinian-rights movement

I’m sorry that I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for so long. There has been a lot to ponder in international affairs. But I’ve been busy for the past 7-plus years publishing other people’s work. I feel very good about what my publishing company, Just World Books, has achieved. But I regret that because I’ve poured so much of my time and attention into the publishing, I’ve had so little time left to do my own writing.

Crucial among my concerns has been the question of how and why so much of the western “left”– a force that played such a strong role in the antiwar and broadly anti-imperialism movement in the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2003– has become so deeply co-opted into the allegedly “liberal/humanitarian” wing of the imperialist movement over the past 14 years.

There is much that I hope to write about this over the coming months. My thinking on the topic still evolves. But it already seems clear to me that a number of processes have been at work:

  1. The erosion of the whole memory/immediacy of the question of imperialism and the need to counter it, as I understood it back when I was young in the UK, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many younger people in the west today think that imperialism/anti-imperialism is “tired old dogma” or whatever. Or, they talk glibly, in re Syria, about “dual imperialisms”– that is, Russian along with US/Western– without any appreciation of the relevance of the history of western imperialism in the M.E. region or the significance of the fact that Russia is in Syria as the invited ally of the legitimate government of Syria wile the US/Saudi/western forces are there to disrupt, hobble, or topple the country’s entire governing system, in the continuation of plans that the Zionists and Americans have pursued for many decades now.

Continue reading “Syria, the Western “left”, and the Palestinian-rights movement”

How can I not blog when (#2)–

… Britain’s $1.6 billion-worth of brand-new nuclear submarine runs aground off the coast of Scotland while testing its sonar!
Just put this $1.6 billion figure together together with the sad facts of what I just blogged about Haiti, and you’ll see how totally askew the priorities of the so-called “western” nations are today.
Of course, Britain’s defense spending-hole is still tiny compared with ours in the U.S.
As Chas Freeman reminded participants in the conference he spoke at here in DC yesterday:

    The roughly $1 trillion we [in the U.S. spend annually] on military and related activities in the budgets for defense, veterans affairs, intelligence, military assistance programs, homeland security, nuclear weapons and propulsion, and the like is two-thirds of government operations. It is all — every cent of it — borrowed from future taxpayers and current trading partners abroad.

Wish I had more time to blog about the conference, which was held by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. But I have some last-minute things to do regarding our two soon-to-appear books from Just World Books!

Military spending: The real crisis for Israel and the U.S.

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Didi Remez we learn that many of the ‘scare stories’ about Hizbullah, Lebanon etc, that have been coming out of Israel’s defense ministry in recent days have been motivated by– no, not any real concern about new developments in Lebanon, but more by a desire by defense minister Ehud Barak to fight hard against… the finance ministry’s current demands for spending cutbacks.
Remez translates into English an article in today’s Maariv that starts with this:

    “Ehud Barak is the most expensive defense minister in Israel’s history”; “The IDF is impertinently disregarding all of the Brodet Commission’s findings, while deceiving the public”; “it’s interesting how every time the military budget is on the table, they release from the stocks Hezbollah’s missile array and expose sensitive classified material,” — these are just some of the harsh statements that were heard over the weekend among senior Finance Ministry officials and directed against the IDF and the security establishment.
    A brutal struggle over the Defense Ministry’s budget is expected next week. Finance Ministry officials, headed by the finance minister versus the security establishment headed by the defense minister. A personal dual in which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to give the final ruling.

Over at the excellent Global Issues blog, the info page on “World Military Spending” is headed by this great quote from U.S. founding father, proud Virginian, and president James Madison:

    Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Well, the folks in Israel who have turned down every attempt to broker a fair peace with their neighbors might have reflected on those words a few times over the past 62 years.
Israelis have been extremely lucky in the past 40 or so years to have had many of their military costs borne by the U.S. taxpayer through the always generous aid the U.S. congress has continued to send to Israel’s military. But many of Israel’s military costs– especially the manpower-related costs– can’t easily be dollarized, and therefore remain as a burden on the Israeli economy. ( Xinhua had this recent interesting article on the financial burden of Israel’s war-fighting and war-preparing projects.)
But in today’s United States, the picture of bloated military spending being sustained by (and in turn sustaining) the pursuit of numerous, apparently unresolvable wars– or, as it’s also known in mil-speak here, “the long war”– is exactly the same. And this, in the midst of a continuing, deep crisis in the civilian, real-world economy at home.
That page on the Global Issues site contains lots of very informative data, if you scroll down beneath James Madison. Including the stunning big pie chart that shows in ways no-one can misunderstand the fact that the U.S. (which has less than 5% of the world’s population) currently accounts for 46.5% of world military spending.
Of course this is not sustainable. Small wonder that current U.S. defense secretary Robert gates has spent quite a lot of time recently (e.g. here) trying to argue for some serious cuts in military spending.
But where to cut, and how? How to pull back the U.S. military from its present, extremely expensive engagement in war-zones (present and future) in more than 20 distant countries around the world– without further destabilizing those countries? And how to manage the loss of jobs in some U.S. communities that cutbacks of big-ticket weapons-system production would inevitably cause?
Those, of course, are the big strategic questions.
The U.S. public needs to start rationalizing our country’s interaction with the other 95% of humanity– and to start bringing our defense spending under some kind of real control– by taking the following steps:

    1. Let go of the idea that the U.S. is any kind of an “indispensable nation” when it comes to reducing inter-group tensions and building real, inclusive political stability in other countries around the world. We aren’t. Most often– including in Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan– the injection of a heavily militarized U.S. presence has made the situation considerably worse for the peoples of those countries. Those peoples may (or may not) need help from outsiders to get their sharp internal problems resolved. But if they do, there are many, many other international actors– including regional groupings, ad-hoc groups of neighboring countries, or the U.N. itself– that are infinitely better equipped to provide that help than the geographically and culturally distant U.S., whose reliance on a heavily militarized foreign policy only exacerbates tensions wherever it goes.
    2. Work with the other countries of the world to regenerate the U.N. and other international institutions on a basis of real equality and mutual respect among the world’s peoples, rather than continued U.S./western dominance of those bodies.
    3. Start planning to convert our massive and bloated defense industries into industries that serve the regeneration of our civilian national economy. Factories producing MRAPs and Hummers? They could and should be turned into factories producing rail cars and modern, green buses. Factories producing surveillance drones and cruise missiles? Shouldn’t they be producing solar panels and the hardware needed for a decent national broadbank initiative, instead? Etc, etc.
    4. Establish programs around the U.S. to take advantage of the (non-lethal) skill-sets the military has worked hard to inculcate in its members, and put those skills to use in rebuilding our nation, first, from the level of individual communities that are currently under great stress through the level of repair and regeneration of our crumbling infrastructure. Supporters of the military and of military spending make one good argument when they note that the military has done well at building a building a strong workforce that is generally well integrated as between different races, ethnicities, and even (to some extent) between men and women. (Though not, alas, between straight people and gay people.) So now, let’s take some of the money that continues to pour into sustaining those units as military units, and re-form them as a Civilian Community-Building Corps, to work at home.

… Anyway, these are a few of my ideas right now. Not original, I know. But still, increasingly urgent for us all to think about. These wars are dragging us all down. And there is, certainly, a far, far better way for Americans and Israelis to resolve the problems we face in our relations with the rest of the world’s peoples.

On war

I have been meaning for a while now to blog some of my thoughts on the nature of, and prospects for, our country’s continuing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq…. That intention was rekindled by reading the latest issue of Middle East Report, which has some good articles on the subject– as well as a good piece on Washington’s political interventions in Iraqi politics by none other than Reidar Visser.
Regarding U.S. military doctrine, and the whole issue of Gen. Petraeus having been rushed in to take over from McChrystal in Afghanistan, I’ve been thinking for a while that we really need to do a thorough re-examination of this whole “doctrine” of “counter-insurgency” (COIN), of which, of course, Petraeus was one of the principal authors. In this issue of MER, Rochelle Davis, Laleh Khalili, and B.D. Hopkins all have good articles on various aspects of ‘COIN’, and Steve Niva has a good piece on the ‘lessons’ from Israel’s failure to win the 33-day war against Hizbullah in Lebanon in 2006. You can read the whole text of Davis’s and Khalili’s pieces there, free.
My own emerging thoughts are that the entire “doctrine” of COIN may well be most appropriately thought of as a huge, elaborate Potemkin village, designed mainly to bamboozle the U.S. public into thinking our brave men and women in uniform are actually able to do something of some value in those distant battlefields, and that they will “achieve” something of value there before– as will inevitably happen– financial constraints at home and the constraints of the hugely intractable facts on the ground in those distant places will force a U.S. withdrawal “redeployment” from them. (As I wrote in Boston Review, last December.)
Maybe we should start calling it (Potem-)COIN.
… And in a very important and related development, Gen. Ray Odierno, the guy who’s in charge of all the U.S. forces in Iraq, told the AP on Tuesday that,

    U.N. peacekeeping forces may need to replace departing U.S. troops in the nation’s oil-rich north if a simmering feud between Arabs and minority Kurds continues through 2011.

That is not a direct quotation from Odierno, but the version reported by AP’s Lara Jakes. She also commented,

    A U.N. force might offer both the Iraqi leadership and President Barack Obama a politically palatable alternative to an ongoing U.S. presence to prevent ethnic tensions from descending into war. Although occasional bombings by Sunni extremists on Shiite targets grab the headlines, many observers believe the Kurdish-Arab dispute is the most powerful fault line in Iraq today.

To which, all I can say is two things: (1) Yes! Make this a role and challenge for an invigorated UN– a body in which all the nations of the world, including Iraq’s neighbors, are represented; but (2) How tragic that it has taken Washington and the U.S. military so many long years to get this far towards the idea that it might indeed not be the U.S. alone and its chosen lackeys inside Iraq who determine the future of that severely war- and occupation-battered country.
Of course, it would have been far, far better if the U.S. had never invaded Iraq at all. But Bush and Cheney were determined to do so, and did. Then, relatively soon after the invasion/occupation I started arguing– e.g. here in Kansas in May 2004 (scroll down to the comment from my dear, subsequently deceased, friend Misty Gerner), and doubtless also earlier– that the best way to deal with the tough challenges the U.S. faced in running the occupation would be to hand the whole basket of big questions involved over to the U.N.
But of course they didn’t take my advice. 3,000-plus U.S. service-members have been killed in Iraq since then, and many scores of thousands wounded. And more than 100,000 Iraqis probably lost their lives in the waves of sectarian violence that erupted in 2006 and 2007– stoked in good part by Washington’s blatant policy of emphasizing sectarian and ethnic differences in a sustained attempt to suppress adherence to any continuing form of (pan-)Iraqi nationalist feeling.
… And all for what? Because the powers that be in Washington did not want to admit that they needed to share decision-making power in Iraq with the U.N.
So now here’s Ray Odierno in July 2010 saying, Oh yes, and maybe now we need the U.N. in Iraq.
Staggeringly tragic. Much, much more to write about here.
But I have a huge bundle of things I need to do for my business in the days ahead. Stay tuned…

Pentagon facing up to cash crunch

This article in today’s WaPo shows us Secdef Bob Gates as trying to raise the alarm regarding the ballooning of the costs for today’s overseas wars. Specifically, Gates is starting to raise questions about the pay/compensation packages being given to the 1.4 million members of the U.S. military.
A recent report– here in PDF— from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that, if the value of health benefits, retirement benefits, and tax advantages are added in along with base pay, in 2006 enlisted personnel received on average $13,360 more in year than similarly qualified civilians, while officers received on average $24,870 more than civilian counterparts.
The WaPo article, which is by Craig Whitlock, says that,

    Congress has been so determined to take care of troops and their families that for several years running it has overruled the Pentagon and mandated more-generous pay raises than requested by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. It has also rejected attempts by the Pentagon to slow soaring health-care costs — which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said are “eating us alive” — by raising co-pays or premiums.
    Now, Pentagon officials see fiscal calamity.
    In the midst of two long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense officials are increasingly worried that the government’s generosity is unsustainable and that it will leave them with less money to buy weapons and take care of equipment.

This is a great illustration of the fact that maintaining such a huge military is a huge burden on U.S. taxpayers– especially at a time of such deep financial emergency at home. It also gives a window into the fact that Congress and the U.S. political elite in general have been wanting to fight the U.S.’s two big and numerous smaller wars overseas in a way that essentially feather-beds the members of the U.S. military and makes them into a very pampered group of fighting men (and women) by any historical standard.
It is really time to bring an end to this whole process of worshiping the military that has held the US public in its grip for so long now.
Let’s face it, the military posture the U.S. has been trying to sustain around the whole world since the end of the Cold War is not only counter-productive– from the point of view of it’s not having built or sustained a more stable and equitable world order– but it also itself quite unsustainable into the medium term.
Time to figure out how to cut back our military considerably and to cooperate with all the other nations of the world in designing and establishing a system that ensures “public security” for the whole global commons in a way other than having it all be dominated and decided on by one, decidedly minority member of the world community.

Mike MccGwire on the Iraq war

One of my dearest friends and most esteemed mentors in the field of strategic studies is Mike MccGwire, a veteran analyst of (then-)Soviet military affairs who started out life as an officer in Her Majesty’s Navy. Or maybe His Majesty’s Navy, since MccGwire is now 85 years old.
I’m on a brief visit to England, and today I had the immense pleasure of going down to the MccGwires’ home in southern Dorset to visit Mike and his wife Helen. He always makes such good, succinct sense. We talked a little about the mega-lethal debacle of the US-led invasion of Iraq. One of his judgments ran something along these lines: “It was doomed to fail, anyway. Cheney wanted to use it to project a fearsome threat against Iran, along the lines of ‘Look, see, this is what you’ll be facing very soon.’ That involved pummeling Iraq very hard; pulverizing it. But Wolfowitz wanted it to be a little island of pro-American democracy in the region; an example of a completely different sort to the whole region. Their goals were at complete odds with each other.”
He also said, with his characteristic air of amazement, that he couldn’t understand why, whenever the American government is faced with a tricky problem on the international scene, “Its first instinct is to reach for the gun.”
Anyway, it was great to see him. Sorry this is all I have time to blog tonight.

2m2ba #4: Killings and cover-ups

Jerome Starkey of the London Times published a great piece of reporting yesterday about an incident in Afghanistan’s Paktia province on February 12 when U.S. Special forces gunned down two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a police officer and his brother in their home– and then “dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened… ”
Glenn Greenwald has an excellent follow-up today in which he gives extensive details of how successful the cover-up was. Well, it was especially successful in that the military concocted a cover-up story–as shown in this NATO press release from the time– and then most of the US MSM just swallowed that whole story completely and regurgitated it without trying to do any independent reporting.
The NATO cover-up story was particularly odious because it blamed the U.S.’s opponents for the killings and quoted NATO/ISAF’s Canadian spokesman as saying,

    “ISAF continually works with our Afghan partners to fight criminals and terrorists who do not care about the life of civilians.”

He should resign.
Greenwald noted that the only independent reporting that came out at the time was performed by AP and by Pajhwok Afghan News, an independent news agency created in Afghanistan to enable war reporting by Afghans.
Late on Sunday night, the U.S. military command in Kabul finally admitted that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.
This news comes out at the same time that Wikileaks, yesterday, published some extremely disturbing footage, shot from a U.S. attack helicopter in Baghdad in July 2007, that shows the chopper’s gunners gunning down a group of around 7-8 people who appear to be relaxedly standing and walking in a street. The group included two TV cameramen for Reuters. It seems the troops on the chopper thought the cameras were weapons– but no-one shown o the video looks as though they’re in any kind of combat stance.
Reuters has been trying since 2007 to get the military to release the video. Wikileaks does not say how it got it.
On the video, the U.S. troops later fire at a van that comes to pick up a wounded survivor from the assault. Then, as U.S. ground troops arrive, one of their voices on the intercom is laughing about having driven over a body.
All these revelations that keep coming out about the strong propensity of U.S. (and Israeli) troops to engage in excessive violence, and the propensity of their respective high commands to cover up that fact, underline a couple of important lessons:

    1. Armed conflict is always violent, and extremely damaging to anyone who is in the war zone. No matter how often they tell us about “pinpoint accuracy”, “smart weapons”, and so on, the vast majority of the violence involved in armed conflict is brutal and anything but “pinpoint”.
    2. Armed conflict always also brutalizes those sent out to engage in it. And it brutalizes people more and more over time, as acts that earlier are seen as taboo or “exceptional” progressively become more and more routine. Time was, in Israel, the military would rigorously investigate the cause of every death-in-conflict of a Palestinian. Then it stopped doing that. Then it started acting as if extrajudicial executions could be considered as “just routine”…

Using violence to try to resolve differences is outrageous, and barbaric. All of us who live in countries that claim to respect human life and human liberties should renounce it. Guess what, we do now have international institutions that, if further strengthened, could help us resolve all the world’s big conflicts without recourse to war.

More on Petraeus

Paul Woodward of ‘War in Context’ has a good post, “Israel is putting American lives at risk”, that expands on the info that Mark Perry blogged Saturday, about the briefers whom Gen. Petraeus despatched recently to go tell JCS chair Mike Mullen that the administration’s Israel-Palestine policy is putting American lives at risk.
Woodward got Perry to discuss the circumstances behind his post a little more, and to give his assessment of what Petraeus is up to.
Perry told Woodward:

    My sense is that General Petraeus neither likes nor dislikes Israel: but he loves his country and he wants to protect our soldiers. The current crisis in American relations with Israel is not a litmus test of General Petraeus’s loyalty to Israel, but of his, and our, concern for those Americans in uniform in the Middle East.
    It is, perhaps, a sign of the depth of “the Biden crisis” that every controversy of this type seems to get translated into whether or not America and its leaders are committed to Israel’s security. This isn’t about Israel’s security, it’s about our security.

Very well said.
This is, of course, another sign of how the discussion over the nature and value of our country’s currently joined-at-the-hip relationship with Israel is fermenting in different sections of the U.S. political elite.
As a serving military officer, Petraeus is of course not allowed to take a “political” stand on anything. But he is also the man who as head of Centcom is charged with ensuring that the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops serving in combat zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other portions of the Greater Middle East are not exposed to any unnecessary dangers. And where he sees that Washington’s policies do indeed place U.S. troops in unnecessary danger, he has a duty to speak out through the appropriate channels.
Though in the past I have accused Petraeus of being a grandstander, I think in the present circumstances there is no evidence at all that he did anything to leak the news of his briefings to Mullen (or about his reported request that Israel, currently handled out of EUCOM, nt Centecom, be transferred to his command. That one, Perry wrote, got shot down immediately.)
… Anyway, readers here at JWN might like to note that when I read interesting and significant things I am now trying once again to tag them and get them onto the “Delicious” zone on the right sidebar of the Main Page here for your edification, with a few comments from myself. I realize the Delicious zone is quite far down on the sidebar, but do try to check it from time to time…. In my current redesign, I’ll try to bring it up a lot higher and more accessible.
For now, note that I put the Woodward piece on there yesterday. And today, there is this good roundup of pieces on the current “tipping point”, by Ali Gharib.

U.S.’s extra-judicial killings in Pakistan

Joshua Foust had a really thoughtful post at Registan today, in which he started to assess the “effectiveness” of the drone-implemented, extra-judicial killings that the U.S. military has undertaken against hundreds of claimed “militant leaders” in northwest Pakistan over the past six years.
His conclusion:

    The end result of this incessant drone war against militant leadership is that the leadership itself is far more radical and far less willing to negotiate an end to their insurgency than they were in 2004. While the drones could be called a stunning success in going after al Qaeda, they’ve also been used for years to go after the Pakistani Taliban—and in both cases the men who replaced the dead commanders were more vicious and less amenable to overtures from governments to discuss an end to the violence.
    While a (very) brief look at the leadership of these organizations cannot really say much about their success or failure in aggregate, it can highlight some of the second order consequences of a somewhat overly narrow focus on degrading leadership. Successful though it may be—and if [the figures presented here by researchers at the New America Foundation are] to be believed, then a large majority of drone targets are actual bad guys—the drone war still carries with it serious consequences. Even within the insurgency in Northwest Pakistan, we cannot conclusively say that drones have had a major effect on operations, considering how much worse the area has gotten as strike frequency increased (we cannot draw anything more than a correlation on this front). Al Qaeda’s expeditionary reach may have been curtailed, but it seems to have been at the cost of vast swaths of Pakistan… and even Afghanistan. Have we been shooting ourselves in the foot?

So Foust is identifying two significant negatives that, he says, either did follow, or may have followed, from the U.S. military’s launching of the “drone war” in Pakistan:

    1. “The leadership itself is far more radical and far less willing to negotiate an end to their insurgency than they were in 2004.” Foust describes this as unequivocally an “end result” of the drone war.
    2. The situation in Northwest Pakistan– I’m assuming he’s referring to the political situation, the socioeconomic situation and the general conditions in which the area’s people live– have gotten worse. Foust describes this only as an observable “correlation”, without claiming to establish any actual responsibility of the drone war for having caused it.

But still. Given how much respect I have for Foust’s grasp of the dynamics in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think we have to take seriously his argument that the net geostrategic effect of the drone war has probably been that it has been counter-productive.
To understand the scale of this “extra-judicial killing” phenomenon, go look at the NAF tables, which tell us that from 2004 until now, the U.S. military has launched 117 killer-drone strikes in Pakistan, killing somewhere between 846 and 1,238 people in Northwest Pakistan, of whom between 561 and 866 were described as “militants”.
Of the 117 killer-drone attacks, 21 have been launched in just the nine weeks of this year to date; and reportedly, a total of 55 since Pres. Obama’s inauguration.
I am very glad Foust has brought his thoughtful, public-policy form of cost-benefit analysis to the question of drone-based killings. But there is another form of analysis that should be applied, too, that I think is even more important: that is, an analysis of the validity/justifiability of these kinds of operations under international law.
I shall leave aside for the moment the issue of Pakistan’s national sovereignty. Not because I think it’s unimportant, but because I believe, as Foust does, that the strikes are carried out with the Pakistani government’s full knowledge and therefore, at some level with its acquiescence, or possibly cooperation.
Rather, I want to look at the whole ethics and legal situation of a policy whereby a network of U.S. military officers that spans several continents undertakes a process whereby a person is determined to be a “valid target for killing”; he is then located; and then, a series of steps are undertaken that send that inanimate killing machine, the drone, somewhere into his vicinity, and it targets and kills him.
Okay, first of all, this is not a precision, “one-bullet” type of killing. You can see from the NAF figures that if 117 strikes were reported, resulting in a minimum of 846 deaths, then each strike killed, on average, around seven people. Or perhaps, more than ten people.
Second, scroll down the NAF report through the incident-by-incident reporting for 2010. In 21 drone-killing strikes so far this year, between 112 and 186 people were reported killed. But the same local and global media reporting that arrived at those death tolls were able to name only ten actual identified “Al Qaeda/Taliban leaders” who were killed! Four of those named leaders were killed in one strike. In the majority of strikes, no named “leaders” were identified, at all. Thus, the drone killings seem not to be used only for killing known individuals identified (through some very opaque process) to be “leaders”, but also, very frequently, for killing anyone participating in what may look from a distance like a “gathering” of “Al Qaeda/Taliban militants”.
At the time of their being killed, are these alleged “militants” engaged in combat against the U.S. military? It would be hard to make such a claim, since the U.S. military has no publicly identified military units engaged in combat on Pakistani soil.
Therefore, it would seem to me that for the U.S. military to be going out at proactively hunting down and killing people, even allegedly “militant” people, who are located outside any zone of combat, is extra-judicial killing, not lawful combat.
The fact that the members of the U.S. military who “pull the trigger” on the drone are sitting in secure circumstances many hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the battlefield makes these killings feel even more dishonorable.
And then, let us look at the whole, presumed “information stream” on which the relevant commanders make their decisions to kill or not to kill. In a judicial killing (an execution), such as we have far too many of here in the U.S., the person to be killed is at least clearly identified by name, and the accusations against him or her have been extensively presented and tested in a court of law.
In the case of these killings carried out by our government in distant Pakistan, we have in most cases absolutely no idea what the “evidence” against any of the targets might be– or even, in most cases, who they are. They are simply individuals judged by some body or grouping inside the U.S. military to be “suspicious”, a “a threat”, or “possible militant leaders”, or whatever.
Where are the criteria? Where is the process that tests these accusations– that makes certain that a gathering, say, of men with guns in some corner of Waziristan is not simply a group going to accompany a groom to his wedding?
Nobody knows.
That is what makes this whole process of distance-killing so eery, so unaccountable and Star Chamber-like.
And it comes as no surprise that it really upsets the people on the ground, in Northwest Pakistan, a lot.
The U.S. military clearly seemed to “learn” a lot in this realm from the Israelis, who have used extra-judicial killings against distant enemies a lot, over the course of many decades, but most especially since the 1990s, in Gaza. It was the Israelis, too, who pioneered the use of airborne drones to execute those killings.
The Israelis’ use of extra-judicial killings (= assassinations) was never judged legal under international law, by anyone else. And nor should the U.S. military’s increasingly frequent use of this tactic– in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In addition, in Gaza, over the many years the Israelis used drone-based assassinations, they were never “effective” in terms of decapitating the leaderships of Hamas and its allied groups and leaving them in operational disarray. Instead, Israel’s repeated use of the tactic led Hamas to adapt in numerous ways, including by placing heavy stress on constantly raising up and testing new generations of successor leaders, by dispersing its assets, and so on.
In Pakistan, guess what, the militants have been doing the same thing. Indeed, it’s quite possible that the popular resentment aroused by the Americans’ use of the drone-based killings may result in the building of a well-entrenched popular movement where none was before.
Tragic. It’s like humankind has learned nothing over the last 200 years. Except now it is grown-up American boys in military uniforms, with video-games, who are sowing havoc many thousands of miles away from our shores.