I don’t know what you’ve been thinking and feeling in the last month, but if you are anything like me, you have been stunned and extremely disheartened by Barack Obama’s expanding air war in Iraq and the pro-war propaganda campaign that has infected television and radio news in the US.
I have had to ask myself whether the focus of our work as US counter-drone war organizers – stopping drone attacks and banning drone attacks and drone surveillance – is still relevant in the face of the eagerness and determination of the United States government to dramatically enlarge its wars in Iraq and Syria while continuing the war in Afghanistan and subsidizing relentless Israeli attacks on Palestinians.
The Obama War Model
Last Friday, September 5, the President clarified things for me when, in a press conference at the Wales NATO meeting, he committed the United States to an all out war against the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL) that will depend on the use of drones for surveillance and for assassination.
The tip-off about the key role of drones in the new war came in his reference to what he sees at success in the US campaign against al Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan, a campaign that has been based on drone surveillance and killing.
Here is what the President said:
“You can’t contain an organization that is running roughshod through that much territory, causing that much havoc, displacing that many people, killing that many innocents, enslaving that many women. The goal has to be to dismantle them.
“And if you look at what happened with al Qaeda in the FATA (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan), where their primary base was, you initially push them back. You systematically degrade their capabilities. You narrow their scope of action. You slowly shrink the space, the territory that they may control. You take out their leadership. And over time, they are not able to conduct the same kinds of terrorist attacks as they once could.”
Here is a link to transcript of Obama’s Wales remarks.
That drones are central to US plans for the new war was made even more clear in his nationally broadcast speech five days later in which he asserted that his models for the war to “eradicate” the Islamic State will be the US attacks on Yemenis and Somalis, in which drone assassination has been the most important feature.
Curiously, Obama did not utter the word “drone” in Wales or his speech, perhaps because of the stench that emanates from drone war.
Nor did he mention the FATA in the September 10 speech.
Maybe he avoided this reference because between September 5 and 10 someone reminded him of Pakistani sensitivity about US drone attacks, which have been a major factor in creating Pakistan’s current extremely deadly, chaotic political situation. US drones have killed in Pakistan, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 416 and 951 civilians, including 168 to 200 children.
Likewise it is astounding that Obama would speak of success in Yemen and Somalia, also nations in which US drone attacks and other military interventions have contributed mightily to keeping governments broken and spreading widespread suffering.
In September 2013, the Al Karama human rights group issued a little-publicized, highly detailed report documenting Yemeni deaths from US drone and cruise missile attacks. The report outlined ways in which the US attacks violate international law and called on the US to: “End extrajudicial executions and the practice of targeted killings by drones and other military means.”
Obama said that his “strategy” against the Islamic State requires that non-Americans wear the “boots on the ground.” This in spite of overwhelming evidence that indigenous armies and militias will never have the same goals as the US or be willing to fight US wars to the last drop of their blood.
The unrelenting eyes of drones, the capacity to see and follow people for hours at a time and then to kill them, may be leading US military leaders to hold the delusion that this technology is equivalent in some way to having “boots on the ground.” Possibly, Obama and company think that the power of drones to assassinate will give the US the power to exact loyalty from and establish control over the Arab fighters Obama claims he can mobilize.
Oil and the New, Improved Drone Slaughterhouse
Regardless of Obama’s speech to the nation that was intended to give a sheen of democratic process to the march to war, it appears likely that corporate bosses, particularly those in the oil business, decided several months ago that action must be taken to prevent the Islamic State from occupying more and more oil wells in Iraq.
Given greater urgency of the United States and some European governments to eliminate the Islamic State, one can imagine that the level of drone killing across Iraq and Syria will far exceed what has been happening in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
In its drone use against the Islamic State forces occupying the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Fallujah, and other urban areas, the US will almost certainly study Israeli procedures developed for drone operations over Gaza where drones harass the population, assassinate and guide bombing runs by piloted aircraft.
The use of drones now underway in Iraq and envisioned for Syria takes US drone use beyond assassination and relatively narrow use in ground support that has occurred in Afghanistan and Libya, into wide-ranging, systematic use as a key component of US war fighting against people who have no modern air defenses. This follows the lead of Israel in drone use, and is predicated on ignoring the rights to privacy of hundreds of thousands of civilians as well as their right to freedom from fear and right to life.
In addition, the air war that is being planned offers the US aerospace industry not only healthy profits but an opportunity to test a new generation of drone technology, such as General Atomics’ Avenger of Boeings’ X-47B, in what is, effectively, a huge free fire zone that holds an inviting array of fixed, mobile, urban and desert targets.
The US and Israel are learning about how to use a technology that is well-suited to attempts to control oil and other resources in less developed countries without politicians having to face the pesky problem of sending in troops.
For us in the United States, this will mean an increase in the number of drone executions that will triggered daily from the dark, air-conditioned buildings in at least 19 drone control bases across the United States, including the new drone control centers in: Des Moines, IA; Horsham, PA; Battle Creek, MI; Niagara Falls, NY; Hurlburt Field, FL; and Fort Smith, ARK. All the communities near these bases will, consciously or unconsciously, feel the emotional burden of the killing that is going on.
The larger scope of drone war will also put more pressure on Air Force drone pilots who are already facing serious morale problems because of the surge in drone attacks under Obama.
The new war will also likely mean that drone attacks in Syria and Iraq will be flown from the United Kingdom, which now flies killer drones in Afghanistan. Germany, part of the anti-Islamic State coalition, will be under pressure to acquire and fly Reaper killer drones, as will France. In Germany, there is popular opposition to being involved with drone surveillance and attack, although the U.S.-controlled Ramstein Air Base being used as a coordinating hub for U.S. drone attacks.