Does anyone else remember back when members of the US congress proclaimed that fried potato sticks should henceforth be referred to as “Freedom fries”? Some self-styled patriots, who apparently believed that the impending 2003 war on Iraq would have something to do with defending our liberty, went even so far as to pour bottles of French wine into the gutter!
I for one fondly recall French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin’s vocal and vehement expression of his nation’s opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq still in the planning stages under the administration of George W. Bush. Today we know that the French were right, that the invasion of Iraq was a colossal mistake, which keeps getting worse as its consequences ramify in so many different ways and all over the Middle East.
Unfortunately, France suffered some bad blows by extremist groups in 2015. On January 7, one year ago today, murderous thugs attacked and killed members of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly newspaper known for lampooning everyone and everything, including religious fanatics of all stripes. Twelve people were killed, and another eleven injured.
Even more frightening to average citoyens were the considerably more arbitrary and coordinated attacks carried out at multiple venues on November 13 by a group of nine individuals. About 130 people were killed and nearly 400 others injured. In the aftermath of the attacks, the entire city of Paris was paralyzed with fear.
Nine EU citizens, as all of the perpetrators on November 13 were, do not a state make, any more than did the nineteen perpetrators of the attacks on US symbols of power on September 11, 2001. Sadly, the French response to the November 2015 attack has been all too familiar, beginning with the proclamation by President Hollande that “Nous sommes en guerre” [“We are at war”].
It is disheartening that the government of France, which was derided by the Bush administration for its resistance to US plans to invade Iraq in 2003, has now essentially aligned itself with W, redefining crimes as acts of war and using that as a pretext for launching missiles wherever they may be launched—that is, wherever the US has already been doing so.
In mid-December 2015, it was reported that France had ordered three new Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles. The timing was right: France had recently been attacked—by nine persons NOT located in the Middle East—yet who would object to further military expansion, under the circumstances?
I recall in late 2002 and early 2003 when George W. Bush and his associates—Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, and the others—derided the French opposition to invading a sovereign nation at peacetime without first seeking the authority of the UN Security Council. The Bush clan called the United Nations a “debate club” and brushed off France as irrelevant—a part of “Old Europe”.
Now France has joined the ranks of the modern, techno-savvy warriors, led by US President Barack Obama, who know how to kill but know nothing about how to quell conflict. None of the drone warriors seems to have any interest in the etiology of the particular societal ill which plagues the Middle East. Why should they? Now they all have their lethal drones. In the twenty-first century, “When in doubt, kill!” has become a widely shared principle of foreign policy.
Time and time again, experts have stepped forward to air concerns that the perpetual motion killing machine has no more obvious effect than to generate more ill-will against the taxpayers funding the warriors and to cause young people to flock to the cause of radical Islamist groups.
We have decorated veterans who have made this claim. We have UN Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial Execution who have explained this in detailed reports. We have former drone operators who have stood down to protest and issue warnings about what is being done. We have the US government-appointed Stimson Center Task Force. We have numerous NGOs and Human Rights groups who have issued damning studies of the deleterious effects on human security of the drone killing campaigns.
However, the people with their fingers on the triggers of Hellfire missiles are all politicians who insist that they must do something, do anything! “We are at war!” they continue to chant. Facts be damned, the people with the power to stop killing have proven incapable of leaping out of the lethality box. When killing people does not resolve the problem, they steel themselves to kill even more. These leaders, of the United States, France, Britain—and more and more are joining the Drone Warrior club each day—are trapped on the killing treadmill, incapable of facing up to the gravity of their mistake.
Within three days of assuming office, in January 2009, Barack Obama had authorized several different drone strikes in tribal regions. Many of the victims were innocent. Loud and angry protests by locals affected by the US government’s savage drone campaigns were ignored by the US media.
Unfazed by the human costs of their political expediency—they could hide domestically under cloak of “State Secrets Privilege”—the administration declined for years to acknowledge, must less apologize for the terrorism ruthlessly exacted on entirely innocent people abroad, generating extremists outraged at being made the subjects of US leaders whom they never appointed.
Obama denounced Bush’s preemptive war on Iraq, but he became the protector and perpetuator of the Bush legacy by expanding the drone program and waging preemptive war all over the Middle East, not only through the use of drones, but also in a vast array of other covert operations. The Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)—essentially a squad of professional killers—were granted the authority by Obama to eliminate targets selected for them on the basis of sketchy intelligence presented by privately contracted analysts (with financial interests at stake) of bribed hearsay and circumstantial data culled from shadowy film footage, cell phone and SIM card records.
Far worse, Obama normalized the summary execution without trial of citizens, which transcends even the wrongs done to random unnamed non-national targets. All of these victims, under both Bush and Obama, have been denied their rights under domestic and international law, including protocols such as the Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But the US citizens killed under Obama’s authority have furthermore been denied their rights under the US Constitution.
As the Drone Age forges on, fewer and fewer people seem to remember why any of the documents were penned in the first place—not even the leaders of France. As difficult as it may be for his supporters to accept, Obama has done more to promote the George W. Bush worldview than did the 43rd US president himself. Obama claims to champion gun control in the United States, but his generosity in arming dictators and factions abroad appears to know no limits. Cameroon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt…?
In late 2012 and 2013, Obama furnished rebel forces in Syria with 600 tons of weapons. The result was a massive expansion of ISIS, the takeover of large swaths of territory, and the killing of countless innocent civilians. Obama may shed tears for schoolchildren shot dead in the homeland, but where are the tears for the victims destroyed abroad under his direct authority or as a result of his signature policy, Kill don’t capture?
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 9: Death and Politics; Chapter 10: Death and Taxes; and Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants Do