Note to Obama, Sisyphean American Assassin: Dead No. 1 Taliban Leader Replaced by Somebody Else

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As President Obama’s term in office draws to a close, he has been scurrying about in a diaphanous attempt to convey the impression that he has accomplished a lot. Will he leave any significant legacy beyond having served as the country’s first Assassin-in-Chief, who normalized targeted killing—the Hannibal Lectoresque stalking and hunting of human beings—through the use of drones?

Despite shedding tears for gun violence victims in the United States, Obama managed to spread deadly weapons all over the world and provoked renewed militarism in Eastern Europe and the Far East by presiding over untold numbers of covert actions and military exercises. Remarkably, Obama even convinced Japan to renounce its anti-militarist stance spanning the decades since World War II. How about that trillion-dollar, thirty-year-plan nuclear weapons program upgrade in violation of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty? (I have to ask: has Obama himself been replaced by a machine?) In a bizarre and ironic twist, Obama plans also to be the first sitting US president to pay a visit to Hiroshima, the city entirely razed by the first atomic bomb to be deployed in history, by the United States, on August 6, 1945. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, Nagasaki suffered the same fate.

In recent weeks, Obama has been busy issuing executive actions—from public school bathroom initiatives for transgender students (was this a problem?), to extensions of overtime pay, to opening up arms trade with Vietnam (motivated by concerns about China and the TPP?). At the same time, Obama has stepped up his efforts to demonstrate that he has the terrorism situation under control. It wasn’t that surprising when two days ago he made a big show of the fact that he had authorized the execution without trial by lethal drone of Mullah Akhtar Mansur in Pakistan.

Once again, as in the case of the operation in which Osama bin Laden was slain by a group of Navy SEALS, the Pakistani authorities were not informed about the mission until after the fact. Obama claimed that the authority to assassinate Mansur derived from the tried-and-true “legitimate self-defense” pretext. The “evil” Taliban leader was said to be responsible for planning attacks on US forces in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“Today marks an important milestone in our longstanding effort to bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan. With the death of the Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammed Mansur, we have removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and Coalition forces, to wage war against the Afghan people and align itself with extremist groups like al Qa’ida.”

What Obama omitted was that the US force presence in Afghanistan had been increased at his behest in order to provide support for killing operations in Yemen back in 2015, when President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was overthrown by a Houthi coup, and US personnel were evacuated from that country. In other words, it was Obama’s own insistence on continuing his drone campaign in Yemen which led him to send more soldiers to Afghanistan, where they met with the ire of the Taliban, the members of which naturally sought to eject the invaders from their land.

We’ve seen this all before. In fact, it has been going on since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. But rather than heeding the lessons of history—or even the dictates of common sense—the US government persists in its killing campaigns, as though they were accomplishing something. So now Mullah Akhtar Mansur, said to be an obstacle to the peace process between the Taliban and Afghan authorities, is dead. Does it matter in the least? This morning the Taliban announced that Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada has been named the new No. 1 leader.

A variation on this theme has played like a broken record throughout the absurdist Global War on Terror, during which most of the people killed are said to threaten “our interests” on the other side of the world. Other victims just happen to be located in the same neighborhood. US citizens have become so accustomed to the narrative according to which our good leaders are saving us from people just like Osama bin Laden, that they have lost all ability to consider the reality of what they are paying for.

I recently watched the film American Sniper (2014), directed by Clint Eastwood, which offers a perfect illustration of the foggy lens through which most Americans, including politicians and government bureaucrats, view military intervention abroad. US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is depicted as a hero for killing more than 200 “enemy forces”, 160 of which were confirmed by the Department of Defense. In reality, Kyle was killing people attempting to kill the invaders of their own land, Iraq.

Does anyone seriously believe that if hordes of armed warriors made their way to US shores that residents would stand by and let them round up “suspects” and torture them, or assassinate them point blank, along with anyone who happened to be with them at the time? Is it at all plausible that no one in the United States would retaliate? Would anyone accept the “self-defense” pretext of the invaders for killing US residents in their own homeland?

The US invasions and occupations of both Afghanistan and Iraq, the removal of Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya, and the drone campaigns in Yemen and Somalia have all proven to be disastrous, as evidenced by the predictably surging ranks of the Taliban and Al Qaeda and AQAP and Al-Shabaab and ISIS and Daesh in direct response to US counterterrorism initiatives. Even setting aside the gross moral and legal violations inherent to the US drone program, it simply does not work. It never worked, and it will not work when Obama hands over the drone warrior holster to the successor of his throne.

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Hegemonic Spread and Lethal Creep: The Case of Japan

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Earlier this year, the people of Japan took to the streets to oppose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposal to reintroduce the possibility of military engagement abroad. After the horrors of World War II, memories of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were etched unforgettably on the psyches of the Japanese people. War as a means of resolving international disputes became taboo, with Article 9 of the Japanese constitution explicitly renouncing the offensive use of force.

The prime minister’s proposal to “open up” Japan to the possibility of military intervention abroad was met with vehement opposition. International networks aired the protests, but in the United States mainstream media outlets were largely silent—perhaps because the US government so heartily approved. In the end, the protests did not alter the executive’s decision to do what he had already decided to do.

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Just as the mass protests against George W. Bush’s proposed war on Iraq in 2003 did nothing to deter the hawks, in Japan, too, the bellicose few were unmoved by the outpouring of dissent. When the leaders of democratic nations claim to know better than the people themselves what the people need, then so-called democracy is on a downward path to its worst perversion: demagoguery.

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Japan can now become militarily engaged in the world once again, because Prime Minister Abe said so and his cronies went along with what he wanted. Sound familiar? The next step is of course to emulate the US war makers by acquiring the tools of twenty-first-century warriors. The number one choice in the Drone Age, needless to say, is the unmanned aerial vehicle.

No surprise, then, that Japan will be acquiring three shiny new RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft. Will they be armed? Sooner or later, no doubt. The Predator and the Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles were originally surveillance drones with the “R” designation (for “reconnaissance”)  as well, but eventually they were adapted to the true purpose implied by their names.  For the Global Hawk, the “upgrade” to “M” is only a matter of time.

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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