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.

Continue reading “Obama’s Drone Legacy”

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.

Continue reading “The Longest War Gets Longer”

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.

Continue reading “The End of American Hegemony?”

The Gray Zone and the Clash of Barbarisms

Recent attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, California have led to some unduly assessments of terrorist threats faced by Western societies. British Home Secretary Theresa May was quick to label Islamist militancy the greatest terrorist threat in British history. Referring to the Islamic State, former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel confessed to Foreign Policy that he believed the United States was “up against something … we had never seen before.” US Senator Lindsey Graham was much more apocalyptic, telling an interviewer that the Islamic State “will open the gates of hell to spill out on the world.”

That these exaggerated appraisals have become common among politicians is unfortunately no surprise given the irrational fear of terrorism prevalent in the West. Each new attack serves only to compound this fear and leaves even less room for sober analysis. Politicians attempt to outdo each other with hawkish proposals to defeat one or other extremist group and an accurate diagnosis of the problem falls to the wayside.

Jason Burke’s book The New Threat: The Past, Present, and Future of Islamic Militancy is a welcome antidote to contemporary hysteria about terrorism as well as an insightful account of the history and evolution of Islamist militancy. Throughout the past decade and a half, Burke has remained an indispensable guide to various strands of political Islam and what he now characterizes as the “monumentally misconceived” War on Terror. His previous books Al-Qaeda and The 9/11 Wars are essential readings for anyone wishing to understand the nature of al-Qaeda and the foundering responses to Islamist militancy which exacerbated the very problems they were supposed to solve. In his new book, Burke turns his focus to the threat Islamist extremism poses to the West.

Continue reading “The Gray Zone and the Clash of Barbarisms”

New Article: The Cost of Secrecy

I have a new article on antiwar.com on the implications of secrecy in US military operations in the targeted areas. An excerpt:

Over the past thirteen years the U.S. has been involved in a perpetual war that includes covert operations spanning the globe, at times pursued unilaterally and other times in collaboration with local regimes. These operations require extreme secrecy, preclude all attempts to redress grievances, and ultimately uproot any semblance of democratic accountability. The intimidation, torture, and even murder of journalists and activists seeking to document and publicize these policies are crucial components of an embedded imperative to secrecy. While legal and human rights groups in the United States argue for more transparency on covert operations and drone strikes, it is usually forgotten that challenging secrecy in targeted areas involve much deadlier stakes.

Read more here.

Corporate Media, State Interests

The media’s complicity in suppressing information governments deem unworthy of our attention is not exactly newsworthy any more. In the age of Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks, and Edward Snowden it is no longer surprising to discover that state interests are considered sacred by most journalists and pundits in the corporate media. This was expressed most clearly by Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, in a review of Times‘ dealings with Julian Assange. Pontificating on the role of the media, Keller declared that the newspaper of record was “invested in the struggle against murderous extremism” and had ” no doubts about where our sympathies lie in this clash of values.” This was a wholesale adoption of the government’s position in the War on Terror and a complete abdication of the supposed responsibilities of the press.

A new report in The Miami Herald is simply another example in this long history of collusion between the state and corporate media–the consequences of which, as this report details, can be deadly. The failed military invasion of Cuba by a CIA-sponsored paramilitary organization in 1961 was “a decisive point-of-no-return for the Castro regime” which “substantiated the Government’s warnings against imperialist aggression from the United States,” according to a dispatch from the Canadian embassy in Havana.  There were casualties on both sides and the invasion itself strengthened the Castro regime. According to a memorandum from Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin, months later Che Guevara would thank Goodwin for the Bay of Pigs–as the invasion came to be known–calling it “a great political victory.” For the United States, it was a strategic disaster by all accounts.

Continue reading “Corporate Media, State Interests”

Article on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)

I have an article in Jacobin on the recent Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) summit held at the White House. It briefly traces the history of the Pakistani Taliban to look at some of the underlying causes of terrorism. An excerpt:

The problem is not that the Obama administration lacks the information to formulate an effective counter-extremism strategy that doesn’t scapegoat Muslims. The problem instead is that the most effective way to reduce the threat of terrorism is to retreat from empire.

It is no surprise that imperial wars and longstanding alliances with authoritarian states responsible for funding right-wing Islamist movements do not reduce the threat of terrorism. This holds true not just for “homegrown” terrorism but also for terrorist groups abroad. Unwilling to abandon policies that continually produce recruits for militant Islamism, the US falls back on blaming an ideology and the community which supposedly harbors it. Hence the focus on Muslims and the battle for “hearts and minds.”

Read the full article at Jacobin.