Obama’s Drone Legacy

In the waning months of his presidency, the Obama administration has finally released an assessment of civilians killed in its drone strikes outside areas of “active hostilities.” An Executive Order accompanying the assessment also promises the protection of civilians in counter-terrorism operations, an acknowledgement of responsibility for civilian casualties, and financial compensation for victims or their families.

According to the three-page summary released by the Director of National Intelligence, the US has killed 64 to 116 “non-combatants” in 473 US drone strikes since 2009. It is impossible to compare the government’s aggregate assessment to much more thorough, case-specific information compiled by independent sources such as the The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Even still, the government figure is absurdly low and previous reporting on civilian deaths in just a handful of drone strikes already approaches the high-end of casualties admitted to by the government.

And yet to quibble with the numbers, even as it is necessary, would be to miss the point. The release of the assessment and the Executive Order has precious little to do with the long-awaited transparency. Instead, it is a calculated attempt to ensure Obama’s legacy is untainted by a program of extrajudicial murder and wanton killing, one which extends beyond any recognizable battlefield.

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The Longest War Gets Longer

A few days ago, the United States killed the leader of a militant group it does not consider to be a terrorist organization, with which it is attempting to engage in peace talks, as part of the longest war it has ever been engaged in.

So far the justifications offered for the killing of Taliban leader Mullah Mansour only reveal the myopic mindset and desperation which must have led to the decision to authorize the killing.

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The End of American Hegemony?

Omar Waraich has a recent article in DAWN on the declining US influence in Pakistan. According to Waraich, there has been a “sharp decline” in US influence in Pakistan since 2011 because “the region is no longer important to the US.” The Obama administration is merely hoping for the least bad outcome in Afghanistan, no longer considering it a priority. While terrorism is still a threat, “Af-Pak” is no longer the central front, having been unceremoniously displaced by the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East.

Not only has US influence receded in Pakistan, it has also receded globally. Waraich believes “the US’s two-decade-long unipolar moment has now likely come to an end.”

The end of American hegemony has been a fashionable topic as of late. Fareed Zakaria wrote an awful book on the subject in 2009. Just yesterday the Boston Globe published an article by Stephen Kinzer on the US as a “fading superpower.” And here is Noam Chomsky from a few years ago issuing some important qualifications on the same topic. It seems to be a popular topic of discussion across the political spectrum.

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Nuclear Deal with Iran: The Wrong Defense

Most sensible people allowed themselves to breathe a sigh of relief when Iran and six other countries announced their agreement on key parameters of a nuclear deal. It was no surprise to discover that Israel and the Republicans in the United States did not belong to this category of sensible people. Illinois Senator Mark Kirk promptly declared “that Neville Chamberlain got a lot more out of Hitler than Wendy Sherman got out of Iran,” referring to a top State Department negotiator. Ignoring that a deal reduces the chances for a US-led military attack on Iran, Kirk nonetheless maintained that lifting sanctions (as the deal would require) “dooms the Middle East to yet another war” and it would all end “with a mushroom cloud somewhere near Tehran.”

Kirk wasn’t alone in his frustration. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who once compared organized workers to the Islamic State, declared that “Obama’s dangerous deal with Iran rewards an enemy, undermines our allies and threatens our safety.” Walker doesn’t explain how a deal that limits Iran’s nuclear capacities, subjects them to international inspection, and reduces the risk for another war in the Middle East manages to do all of that. For Walker, Kirk, and others the contents of the nuclear deal are simply not relevant, which makes sense considering some of the sources of their funding. The are only interested in depicting Iran as an irredeemable evil requiring a military response. As Walker put it, “The Islamic Republic of Iran — the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — is on the march throughout the Middle East.” Not to be outdone, Texas Senator and presidential-hopeful Ted Cruz said that the Obama administration “doesn’t understand the people they are dealing with. They support death and suicide.”

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Cyber Warfare and the State of the Union

There is a well-defined script to the State of the Union. It is typically filled with vague and platitudinous statements about the strengths of the nation and the challenges the country faces, culminating in an outline of policies the administration will pursue as it courageously rises to the occasion. To acknowledge the lack of its literary merit and its labored attempt at mass appeal is not to confuse it for being a vapid performance. The President proposes substantive policies—even if the details usually leave something to be desired.

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New York Times and Pakistan’s Double Game

New York Times editorials are usually a reliable guide to ruling class opinion in the United States. They don’t always echo government pronouncements and there is often disagreement with official government policies. They eagerly suggest alternatives to pursue while pointing out the ramifications current policies may have. Propaganda is of course at its most effective when it is subtle and seems iconoclastic. Such is the nature of New York Times editorials: even as they disagree with official government policies they demarcate the boundaries of what is acceptable and what isn’t.

A recent editorial in the newspaper of record concerns US aid to Pakistan. ” Since 9/11,” it reads, “the United States has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars, mostly in military aid, to help fight extremists.” The editorial board, however, has “doubts about the investment,” which they explain as follows: “Doubts about the aid center on Pakistan’s army, which has long played a double game, accepting America’s money while enabling some militant groups, including members of the Afghan Taliban who have been battling American and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.”

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