US and drones

An op-ed in the Washington Post makes a good case as to why the use by the US government of drone strikes is so problematic

Start with the past. In 1976, exiled Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier was driving to work in Washington when a car bomb planted by Chilean agents ripped through his vehicle, killing Letelier and his young, American assistant. From the viewpoint of Chile’s ruling military junta, the killing was justifiable: Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s regime considered itself at war with leftist insurgents and viewed Letelier as a security threat.

U.S. authorities saw things differently, of course: They condemned the bombing as an assassination. The FBI opened a murder investigation, and the Senate intelligence committee launched an inquiry into illegal foreign intelligence activities on U.S. soil.

Now, imagine the future: Suppose Russian President Vladimir Putin decided that a few drone strikes in eastern Ukraine would be just the thing to eliminate some particularly irritating critic of Russian policy.

If this happened, U.S. authorities would surely denounce the strikes, just as they denounced Letelier’s killing. But Putin would surely respond by parroting the U.S. government’s justifications for drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. “First,” he might say, “I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any such Russian strikes. Second, I assure you that all Russian decisions to use lethal force comply fully with applicable law. Russia targets only terrorist combatants who pose an imminent threat to Russia, and it uses force inside other sovereign states only when those states are themselves unwilling or unable to address the threat.”

The authors conclude:

The United States’ drone policies damage its credibility, undermine the rule of law and create a potentially destabilizing international precedent — one that repressive regimes around the globe will undoubtedly exploit. As lethal drones proliferate, the future imagined above is becoming all too likely.

These are good arguments but what makes this unusually interesting are the authors. One of them is Rosa Brooks and that is no surprise since she is usually on the right side of things and I have commented favorably on her before. But the other is John Abizaid who was head of U.S. Central Command from 2003 to 2007.


  1. dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!" says

    Shouldn’t it be “Drones and US?”

  2. lorn says

    One small difference might be contemplated. Drones, for the most part, are used for attack in areas not actively controlled by the national or local authorities. The strikes in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were in areas the national and local authorities had little or no control.

    If Russia, or other nation were to do the same on US soil not controlled by US authorities they would have to limit themselves to a few survivalist compounds in Idaho and the Bundy ranch in Arizona. These are areas in the US where even the FBI can’t go without having to shoot their way in and out.

    I suspect that Chinese drones blowing up Teabagging Freemen Patriot Militia wouldn’t upset Obama, or the FBI, directly. There would likely be high-fives all around at the designated undisclosed location. Of course the public face of the administration would be one of sober concern and outrage over he loss of ‘the lives of American citizens’ and strong protest, likely accompanied by cigars and whiskey, would be delivered to the Chinese diplomatic mission. And, true to form, the right would go ape-shit crazy.

    In other words the reaction of the US government to a Chinese strike against anti-government militia in uncontrolled areas within the US would mirror the two-level Pakistani response to US strikes on anti-government forces in uncontrolled areas within Pakistan. Private celebration and strong public condemnation and outrage over loss of sovereignty. Sovereignty they, we , don’t really have much of in those areas.

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