The False Choice of Drones

October 12, 2012

In the next few weeks Americans will go to the polls to elect a president. It is hard forget that this will be the third time we do so while our country is in a state of war. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest running war the U.S. military has ever participated in -- longer than World War I and World War II combined. 

Osama bin Laden is dead and al-Qaeda’s leadership and organizational structure has been decimated. Its ability to communicate, let alone operate, has been greatly reduced and what remains of the elusive and bankrupt group of individuals has moved on to Yemen and the Horn of Africa. The current enemy we seem to be fighting is the Taliban.

There is no question that there are elements of the Taliban both in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are brutal extremists whose vision of the world and distortion of Islam must be marginalized. Yet the question remains whether it is our job to do that fighting or must we help facilitate the environment for the Afghans and Pakistanis to deal with this threat militarily, politically and socially.

The question we must now ask ourselves is: Is there a real enemy or an elusive one that we keep trying to grasp in the midst of a changing world and region? The U.S. is the only superpower in the world and is protected by the most powerful military in the history of civilization.  According to a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed titled An America Eternally ‘at War,’ our military capability will not diminish anytime soon; but will our political and moral leadership hold the same weight?

The debate among policy-makers and pundits has been whether to send ground troops or to continue with the controversial drone strikes into Afghanistan and Pakistan while trying to determine the most effective tactic against the violence emanating from South Asia.  Although some think tanks, such as the New America Foundation (NAF), argue that drone strikes have significantly reduced civilian casualties:

“Even as the number of reported strikes has skyrocketed -- with one every three days in 2010, compared with one a week last year and one every 11 days in 2008 -- the percentage of nonmilitants killed by the attacks has plummeted.”

Choosing between these two military options is, in reality, a false choice. 

Our ongoing war in the region is not a conventional war, which is defined by two armies in true military engagement. It is, in fact, asymmetrical warfare. 

The lack of a true enemy has revealed President Barack Obama’s false choice between launching drone strikes or sending troops. The use of deadly force, which kills more civilians than terrorists, increases anti-American sentiment, hence radicalizing a region that is already battling a social undercurrent that is ripe with anger and hatred. As we have seen since the onslaught of drone attacks, the “collateral damage” of civilian casualties has made it easier for violent extremists to recruit young people who have witnessed more than a decade of destruction of their homes and the killings of their loved ones. 

The real question is not one between using drone strikes or sending in troops. The real question should be between using military force in South Asia or establishing a true Marshall Plan to focus on rebuilding the region, as commissioned in Europe following World War II.

“Officially known as the European Recovery Program (ERP), the Marshall Plan was intended to rebuild the economies and spirits of Western Europe, primarily. [Secretary of State George] Marshall was convinced the key to restoration of political stability lay in the revitalization of national economies. Further he saw political stability in Western Europe as a key to blunting the advances of communism in that region.”

Rather than using more funds to feed the military industrial complex, which only serves the coffers of war-mongers in Washington, DC and beyond, the U.S. should organize the international community to rebuild the countries which have been decimated as a result of our military campaigns.  That’s the real choice.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. so aptly put it, “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

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