As far back as May 8, 2009, Tom Englehardt (in an LRC article) mentioned reports that drones in Pakistan had killed “hundreds of bystanders”. (I haven’t searched for the earliest such reports.) By October, 2012, a 36-page study appeared out of Columbia Law School, and I believe it was not the first. Analysts for quite some time had begun saying that drone strikes created more terrorists than they killed, and that the people being targeted were not “high” terrorist figures. There was also a great deal of criticism of second strikes on funerals for the people killed. But drone policy was Obama’s baby, and he favored it. Despite the counter-productiveness of drone strikes to achieve the empire’s aims, now channeled through Obama, he continued these strikes. If he felt he could not back down, retreat, or show softness in his goal of dominating the politics of the regions being droned, and if he had nothing to put in its place to achieve this aim, then he decided to accept the accompanying costs of creating terrorists. The Boston Marathon bombing is one of those acceptable costs, although I am certain he wishes the FBI had not messed this one up royally.
The adminstration of Obama wants the maximum capacity to use drones without accountability. It doesn’t want anyone second-guessing its policies, and that includes Congress. Congress is a flabby and slow contender in the making and control over policy anyway.
The Columbia report complains about the “limited public debate on drones”. That’s because academics ignore most everything except what other academics say. They’re not reading press accounts, or LRC, or Englehardt, or they’re not giving much weight, say, even to a former CIA employee who criticizes the drone policy. Most academics don’t get ahead except by massaging lots of data, and so we find them complaining that “hard facts” and “information that ought to be provided by the U.S. government” are not being provided. This is called “stonewalling” or “secrecy”. It’s any government’s method of doing what it wishes to do without being constrained by widespread public knowledge of its base activities.
The U.S. government can stand LRC critics and quite a few others because so few Americans are paying attention, and when they do pay attention, they literally do not know whether they should believe what they are reading because their firmly-anchored belief is that the government is not only the authority but also “good” authority. This belief is part of a belief and value system that has been inculcated in them for years. Adults have to go through a period of years to root out such a system, and most people don’t do this.
The U.S. government even welcomes a certain amount of criticism as evidence that the government is open, that there is public debate, that this is a viable free-speech democracy, and that the government’s policies have been legitimized via this “open” debate. But since the government controls the flow of information to most of a big corporate media that cannot and does not put up any serious criticism, the government need not worry about critics. In addition, it can find and pay off, albeit indirectly, countless academics, columnists and commentators, who have no personal interest in being radical and a great interest in being loyal Americans who spout the ever-shifting party lines. More accurately, the standard analyses that never doubt the goodness of the State and Empire are like a river of Empire flowing between two banks, which are Left and Right. Almost everything that the public hears from first grade onwards is channeled between these two banks. This provides an illusion of a free country, just as the banks provide an illusion of a freely-flowing river.
Now, at least 5 years after drone criticism has begun, the Senate Judiciary Committee has a hearing in which a man from Yemen tells them face to face what the effects of the drone policy are on making Yemenis anti-American. This slowness in responding to events on the ground is intentional on the part of Congressional leaders. They only address an issue when, for whatever reasons that are in their interest, they calculate the time is right. Then they schedule hearings and then they invite hand-picked witnesses. Any concern about the loss of innocent lives of foreigners or the retaliation on American soil only enters their calculations indirectly. Power and position are #1, and lives factor in secondarily only insofar as they affect power and position. An extreme cynicism, if you will, is called for in assessing these matters, if only to counteract the programming that most Americans have undergone. However, one need only ask why it has taken so long to address this drone issue, even to the limited extent of holding a hearing? And what does Senator Dick Durbin, who chairs the committee, stand to gain from having this hearing at this time?
It may be that Durbin’s political antenna has picked up some possible gains to his power and position by gingerly moving toward a position that, while not anti-drone, advocates more, as he put it in May, “checks and balances”. He also seems carefully to be stepping toward a more anti-war position. He said in May
“From a constitutional viewpoint, it goes to this authorization for the use of military force. I don’t believe many, if any, of us believed when we voted for that – and I did vote for it – that we were voting for the longest war in the history of the United States and putting a stamp of approval on a war policy against terrorism that, 10 years plus later, we’re still using.”
I will venture to say that Durbin will remain solidly within the river banks. He may tack his boat a little more in an anti-war direction, but since both the left and right banks have for decades now been heavily mired in a pro-war fog, that direction may be beneath the river’s surface. Perhaps he should capsize his boat. In the end, he will if he succeeds gain some points for himself while not altering the Empire by any significant amount.
The Empire flows on.