Until this week, it seemed like the conventional wisdom in Washington was that stopping US drone strikes in Pakistan was outside the bounds of respectable discussion.
That just changed. Or it should have.
Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Doyle McManus notes that counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen has told Congress that US drone strikes in Pakistan are backfiring and should be stopped. Until now, Congress has been reluctant to challenge the drone strikes, as they are reluctant in general to challenge â€œmilitary strategy,â€ even when it appears to be causing terrible harm. But as McManus notes, Kilcullen has unimpeachable Pentagon credentials. He served as a top adviser in Iraq to General Petraeus on counterinsurgency, and is credited as having helped design the Iraq â€œsurge.â€ Now, anyone in Washington who wants to challenge the drone strikes has all the political cover they could reasonably expect.
And what Kilcullen said leaves very little room for creative misinterpretation:
â€œSince 2006, weâ€™ve killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, weâ€™ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular. They are deeply aggravating to the population. And theyâ€™ve given rise to a feeling of anger that coalesces the population around the extremists and leads to spikes of extremism…. The current path that we are on is leading us to loss of Pakistani government control over its own population.â€
Presumably, causing the Pakistani government to lose â€œcontrol of its own populationâ€ is not an objective of United States foreign policy.
McManus says thereâ€™s no sign that the Obama administration is taking Kilcullenâ€™s advice and the Obama administration is unlikely to abandon â€œone of the few strategies that has produced results.â€ But a Washington Post report suggests otherwise:
Although the missile attacks are privately approved by the Pakistani government, despite its public denunciations, they are highly unpopular among the public. As Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardariâ€™s domestic problems have grown, the Obama administration last month cut the frequency of the attacks. Some senior US officials think they have reached the point of diminishing returns and the administration is debating the rate at which they should continue.
Since it is manifestly apparent that 1) the drone strikes are causing civilian casualties, 2) they are turning Pakistani public opinion against their government and against the US, 3) they are recruiting more support for insurgents and 4) even military experts think the strikes are doing more harm than good, even from the point of view of US officials, why shouldnâ€™t they stop? Why not at least a time-out?
Why shouldnâ€™t members of Congress ask for some justification for the continuation of these strikes? The Pentagon is asking for more money. Itâ€™s time for Congress to ask some questions.