The number of nations in possession of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) is increasing rapidly. In the beginning, it was only the United States and Israel, but now just about every day fresh inductees into the Drone Age Push-Button Killing Club are being announced. Over this past week, both China and Turkey were reported to be revving up the engines of their lethal drones.
Some of the recently equipped drone nations have already joined the trendsetters in using this technology against their own countrymen: Britain, Pakistan, Nigeria, the list will continue to grow as the capacity to kill by remote-control sweeps around the globe. Soon the question will be not Who has UCAVs? but Who has been left out? Which forlorn government leaders don’t have their fingers on the buttons of a killing machine?
Thanks to the unexpected use of this technology in 2011 by President Barack Obama to summarily execute US nationals without trial, all international norms on extrajudicial killing have fallen by the wayside. Lethal drones have become the savvy political leader’s symbol of success—no less than the “with it” modern citizen’s i-phone. The possession of UCAVs in a leader’s arsenal is proof positive that he or she is up-to-the-minute on the technology front, and ready and willing to get his hands—or rather fingertips—dirty.
Drone-armed leaders appear more than a little eager to participate in the new free-for-all missile strikes now referred to as “war” wherever they occur, with or without the permission of the people of the countries being bombed. As for the UN Security Council? It’s basically a relic of the past. How many governments currently bombing Syria asked anyone’s permission to do so?
Anyone who thinks that George W. Bush’s legacy is over are sorely confused. Preemptive war has not only been championed but proliferated by Barack Obama, despite his outspoken criticisms of Bush’s preemptive invasion of Iraq. Obama may prefer Hellfire missiles to “boots on the ground”, but his penetrations of other sovereign nations have been no less preemptive than were those of W.
In the new, ever-more-lethal Drone Age, everyone is getting in on the remote-control killing game, including a number of African nations entirely devoid of the means to develop and produce the technology to do so themselves. Fortunately for the leaders of third world nations, no one needs to have sophisticated industrial means to join the drone killing craze, because the US government, Israel, and China are ready and willing, between them, to provide every leader with the new twenty-first-century “tools” for globalized war. But it’s not just the drones: the bases from which drones are launched have also been furnished to leaders willing to collaborate with the US government.
The number of US surveillance bases on the African continent continues to rise, and includes at least these: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Seychelles, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and, the latest addition: Cameroon. The US government denies the existence of most of the bases, just as they denied the existence of the drone program itself for nearly a decade. But Cameroon has been singled out for acknowledgement, and we have been assured that the drones are being used for surveillance purposes only. In fact, it’s a short step from surveillance to slaughter, since all that needs to be done is to snap a couple of Hellfire missiles onto a Predator drone, and the killers are “good to go”.
The US government has vaunted its collaboration with the government of Cameroon as an important part of dealing with Boko Haram—the group which abducted 200 school girls back in 2014. No one seems to know where the girls are—although a few reports maintain that they have been transformed into child soldiers—but now Cameroon is going to help Nigeria to find out. At least that’s the official story of the sudden bestowal of US military largesse on a country about which most US citizens know nothing. Where is Cameroon, anyway?
That was a rhetorical question, of course. For it does not matter where US taxpayers’ hard-earned cash is being redistributed around the globe, so long as the enemy is being hunted down and destroyed before they have the chance to reach US shores. Does Boko Haram have international aspirations? Unclear, but again, no one seems to care. If they aren’t setting off bombs in the United States, well, that just shows that the US government is keeping us safe—no matter what they do, and no matter what our enemies say! Why do they hate us? Because of our freedom! Notwithstanding the testimony of jihadists from Osama bin Laden on, this remains the ever-popular refrain of US warriors and their supporters.
Now that Cameroon has a drone base and 300 US special forces to do with as they deem fit, courtesy of the US government, I have a few questions, on the topic of freedom, for President Barack Obama:
- Are you aware that President Paul Biya has been the leader of Cameroon for 33 years?
- Do you know how it is that African leaders become “presidents for life”?
- Would you be surprised to learn that President Biya has been reelected over and over again amidst allegations of malfeasance? As a matter of fact, the president of Cameroon is renowned among scholars for “creative innovation” in electoral fraud. Quite an accomplishment.
- Are you aware that Biya has been consistently and repeatedly ranked among the world’s worst dictators? Any ideas why that might be?
- Do you believe that petty despots provided with the means to track and eliminate political enemies will refrain from doing so?
- Have you read the report on Cameroon issued by Amnesty International in 2009? Not to worry, that was a rhetorical question, as I realize that you were busy learning the remote-control killing ropes from John Brennan at that time. Here’s the summary blurb:
“In February the security forces killed as many as 100 people during protests against price rises and against a constitutional amendment that would extend the President’s term of office. As part of a strategy to stifle opposition, the authorities perpetrated or condoned human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions and restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Human rights defenders and journalists were harassed and threatened. Men and women were detained because of their sexual orientation.”
For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 4: Lethal Creep; Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants Do