By William Saletan
In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has developed an air force of drones to fight its new enemies. Faced with terrorists willing to take any life, we built machines that hunt and kill but donâ€™t bleed.
In the next decade, our reliance on drones and the spies who support them may increase for a different reason: Weâ€™re losing friends.
Since Sept. 11, the U.S. drone fleet has grown from a few dozen to 7,000. The Air Force now trains more pilots to operate drones than to fly bombers or fighter jets. Spy drones have flown extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq, where weâ€™ve fought ground wars. But killer drones have been particularly useful in Pakistan, where we canâ€™t send troops.
Every time U.S. ground forces have entered its territoryâ€”most recently in the raid that killed Osama Bin Ladenâ€”Pakistan has freaked out. But Pakistani leaders have tolerated U.S. drone strikes that killed nearly 2,000 insurgents in the countryâ€™s frontier provinces over the past five years. In fact, since the Bin Laden raid, the drone strikes have escalated and spread.
Hand in hand with the drone war, the CIAâ€™s role has expanded. Like the drones, the CIA is invisible. It can hunt and kill in a country without officially being there. So while the military operates our drones in Afghanistan, the CIA operates them in Pakistan. Apparently, weâ€™ve been allowed to launch some of our drone missions over Pakistan from bases within the country.
That may change. The Bin Laden raid, coupled with a lethal incident involving a U.S. agent inside Pakistan, has frayed the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Instead of investigating Pakistani officials who may have helped shelter Bin Laden, Pakistan has rounded up people it suspects of helping the CIA set up the raid. Pakistan has also snuffed out a U.S. program to train Pakistani troops to fight al-Qaida. And the CIA has caught insurgents being tipped off when the U.S. shares intelligence with Pakistan.
So the U.S. is preparing to fight on without Pakistanâ€™s help. The backup plan is to move our drones to Afghan bases and fly them into Pakistan from there. And as we pull out of Afghanistan, weâ€™d leave drones in place. That way, we can continue to hunt al-Qaida in both countries even when, as a human presence, weâ€™re no longer there.
A similar scenario is unfolding in Yemen. With Bin Ladenâ€™s decline and death, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, led by radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, has become the chief orchestrator of terror plots against the U.S. The regime in Yemen, like the one in Pakistan, prefers that we fight this enemy with drones rather than ground forces.
Until now, the drone war in Yemen has been run by the U.S. military. But the military has screwed up. First it misidentified a target and killed a Yemeni envoy. Then it failed three times to take out Awlaki. But the bigger problem is that the Yemeni regime is unraveling. Its collaboration with U.S. forces has collapsed. Its political opponents want to take over and end U.S. military operations.
So the U.S. is preparing the same nonexit strategy. Weâ€™re putting extra CIA officers in Yemen and instructing the agency to run an expanded drone campaign based outside the country.
Legally, the U.S. military needs the consent of the host government to wage a drone war.* The CIA doesnâ€™t. The war can be euphemized as intelligence gathering and â€œcovert action.â€ Nor does Yemen have to host the drones. We can fly them over the border, as in Pakistan. We already launch drone missions over Yemen from Djibouti. Now, according to reports, weâ€™re building a CIA base outside Yemen from which we can run a drone war in that country without its approval. U.S. officials are keeping the baseâ€™s location secret, but the logical guess is Saudi Arabia, where the dronesâ€™ intelligence-gathering network will be headquartered. Presumably, the base will support a bigger drone fleet than the Djibouti airfield, where limited runway capacity has constrained the number of drone missions.
Weâ€™re also flying killer drones over Libya. But there, weâ€™re waging an open military conflict in concert with NATO. Whatâ€™s significant about Pakistan and Yemen is that theyâ€™re off the books. We use drones instead of ground troops. We donâ€™t even send pilots who can be shot down. We put the CIA in charge of the war so we donâ€™t have to respect the laws of war.* And we build bases outside the country so we can conduct the entire operation by remote control, except for the collection of targeting intelligence, which we leave to the CIA.
To top it off, we put the former director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, in charge of the military. And we put our top general, David Petraeus, in charge of the CIA. The CIA and the drones are the team of the future. Theyâ€™re the new face of a faceless war.
None of this is diabolical. Itâ€™s evolution. Al-Qaida, with its network of terrorist cells diffused among failed states, is an organism well-designed to evade conventional warfare. We, in turn, are evolving to fight the new threat. In a world of political chaos, waning American power, unstable allies, untrustworthy friends, and enemies who obey no rules, weâ€™re developing a new kind of war that we can wage from regional air bases with killer machines in the air fed by covert human networks on the ground. And the scary thing isnâ€™t that it might work. The scary thing is that it might not.
Clarification, June, 23, 2011: The Obama administration says that all its drone strikes respect the laws of war and that the U.S. military can legally wage a lethal drone campaign in a country without the consent of that countryâ€™s government. Specifically, State Department legal adviser Harold Koh said last year that it is the considered view of this Administration â€¦ that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war. â€¦
As a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaida, as well as the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks, and may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law. â€¦
In this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law â€¦ to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al-Qaida leaders who are planning attacks. â€¦ [W]hether a particular individual will be targeted in a particular location will depend upon considerations specific to each case, including those related to the imminence of the threat, the sovereignty of the other states involved, and the willingness and ability of those states to suppress the threat the target poses.
On this view, when a state is unwilling or unable to deal with people within its borders who threaten the U.S., both the Department of Defense and the CIA can legally use drones or other lethal force against those people, in the name of self-defense, even without that stateâ€™s consent.
By Jim Hightower
Americaâ€™s long, long war in Afghanistan has drained more than 1,500 precious lives and a trillion dollars from our country. But, finally, this enormous outlay paid off this year with the capture and killing of that al-Qaida demon, Osama bin Laden, who attacked America and was the reason our military went into Afghanistan.
Oh, wait — Osama wasnâ€™t in Afghanistan, was he? He was comfortably ensconced in an urban compound in Pakistan, whose leaders are supposedly our allies in the bloody Afghan War. And it wasnâ€™t the war effort that got bin Laden, it was old-time spy work, culminating in a raid involving a small team of Navy Seals, a dog and two helicopters.
So why have two presidents and a decade of Congress dumped so many lives and so much money into a country that poses no threat to us? Afghanistan is an impoverished, anarchic, largely illiterate land thatâ€™s split into ancient tribal factions and innumerable fiefdoms controlled by rival warlords. They have no desire or ability to attack us, some 8,000 miles away.
The only reason weâ€™re given for being in Afghanistan is that we must keep the al-Qaida terrorists network from establishing bases there. But — like bin Laden — al-Qaida left this country years ago and now operates transnationally in Pakistan, Yemen, Uzbekistan and elsewhere, including England and Germany.
Yet, weâ€™re told we must continue to pour American lives, dollars and reputation into Afghanistan. But … why? To create a central, democratically elected government with a 300,000-member army and police force, weâ€™re told. But why? To stabilize the country, they say. But, why? To keep al-Qaida out, they repeat, closing the endless loop on a Kafkaesque rational.
Yes, President Obama has finally started a slow withdrawal of U.S. troops, but thatâ€™ll take at least three years, more than $300 billion and untold numbers of shattered lives. The questions remains: Why?
At least one person was giddy with excitement upon hearing President Obamaâ€™s announcement on June 22 that all of Americaâ€™s combat troops would depart from Afghanistan by 2014: Hamid Karzai.
â€œA moment of happiness for Afghanistan,â€ exulted the incurably corrupt, inept, weak and pompous Afghan president. Our leaders put this ingrate in power, and both the lives of our soldiers and billions of our tax dollars have been spent to prop up his sorry excuse for a government — yet heâ€™s the one saying â€œgood riddance.â€ It puts the dumb in dumbfounding.
The dumbest and most shameful aspect of Americaâ€™s 10-year Afghan War is the pretension that Karzai represents an exercise in democracy-building. Installed in the presidency by dictate of the Bush-Cheney regime in 2002, he is widely despised and ridiculed by the people and has clung to power only through flagrant electoral fraud, not only in his two presidential â€œelections,â€ but also in last yearâ€™s parliamentary contest.
Karzai was POâ€™d that 62 candidates he favored lost or were disqualified by the countryâ€™s independent election commission because of fraud. So, Hamid haughtily set up his own special court to review those results, while also bringing criminal charges against several of the independent election commissioners.
Last week, only one day after Obamaâ€™s withdrawal announcement, Karzaiâ€™s kangaroo court disqualified the 62 parliamentary winners, replacing them with his chosen ones. Of course, the 62 winners are refusing to budge from their seats. This has created a governmental stalemate, but that suits Karzai perfectly, for it allows him the defacto power to rule without parliament. As a top opposition leader puts it: â€œKarzai does not believe in the rule of law; he thinks democracy doesnâ€™t work in his favor.â€
Itâ€™s both insane and immoral for our leaders to cause even one more American to die for Karzai. Tell Obama to bring all of our troops home, pronto. The White House comment line is (202) 456-1111, or www.whitehouse.gov/contact.
WASHINGTON: Top White House national security advisers are considering much more significant troop reductions in Afghanistan than those discussed even a few weeks ago, The New York Times reported late Sunday.
The newspaper said some officials were arguing that such a change is justified by the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden.
President Barack Obama is expected to address these decisions in a speech to the nation this month, the report said.
The National Security Council is convening its monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday, and assessments from that meeting are likely to inform decisions about the size of the force, The Times said.
Before the new thinking, US officials were anticipating an initial drawdown of 3,000 to 5,000 troops, the paper noted.
Those advocating steeper troop reductions did not propose a withdrawal schedule, according to the report.
But the latest strategy review is about far more than how many troops to take out in July, the paper noted. It is also about setting a final date by which all of the 30,000 surge troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan, The Times said.
Obama sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan last year in a bid to gain the initiative in the war against Taliban-led insurgents which started in 2001, while vowing to begin pulling out forces by mid-2011.
Roughly 100,000 US troops are stationed in Afghanistan as part of an international force.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in Afghanistan Saturday that a â€œmodestâ€ number of troops would likely be pulled out in July and argued for maintaining pressure on the insurgents to force them to the negotiating table possibly by the end of the year.
With A Little Help From A Foe
By Stephanie Doetzer
The reactions following Bin Ladenâ€™s death are a disaster. A personâ€™s death may sometimes be good news. But somebodyâ€™s assassination never is. A commentary by Angela Merkel is happy. Hillary Clinton is happy. Barack Obama claims that justice has been done and hundreds of Americans celebrate cheerfully right next to Ground Zero. Hmm. Is this the Western world that likes to think of itself as an epitome of civilisation?
Bin Laden has never been the Arab icon that many Westerners believed him to be. And during the last four months of Arab revolutions Al Qaida has become even more irrelevant. But the fact that he was shot by American Special Forces on a â€œkill missionâ€ changes the picture. He now has a chance of becoming an icon after all.
To be sure, many Arabs arenâ€™t even interested in Bin Ladenâ€™s death. There are far bigger issues to care about these days and the young revolutionary crowd doesnâ€™t have time for a man they perceive as a mere Western obsession. They didnâ€™t care while Bin Laden was still alive, and why would they now?
German chancellor Angela Merkel comments on the death of Bin Laden in front of the press:
Epitome of civilisation? Chancellor Angela Merkel was chided in Germany for expressing â€œjoyâ€ of Osama Bin Ladenâ€™s death Others, however, do care quite a lot. They started caring when the news of the killing broke and changed the tone in which Bin Laden is being talked about. While most Western media prefer to use the word â€œkillingâ€ rather than â€œassassinationâ€, Arab media go for either ightiyaal, meaning political murder, or istishhad, which is martyrdom said to lead straight to paradise.
More than ever, Bin Laden is now referred to as â€œSheikh Osama Bin Ladenâ€. In most Arab countries this is a sign of respect â€“ or at least, itâ€™s not the kind of word one would use to describe a heretic who has besmirched religion and misused Islam for his own goals.
Complex picture of Arab realities
In secular media, formulations are neutral and almost indifferent, but in many more religiously conservative outlets the tone is clearly one of mourning. But how to write about this for Western media without distorting the complex picture of Arab realities with its many shades of grey?
Does it make sense to quote the most outrageous readerâ€™s comments from Al Jazeera Arabicâ€™s website? From â€œMay God have mercy on his soul and let him enter paradiseâ€ to â€œIf heâ€™s dead, then weâ€™re all Bin Ladenâ€?
Or is it more appropriate to quote those Arabs who say exactly the kind of stuff that Westerners want to hear? Like the commentators in Egyptâ€™s Al Wafd newspaper who call Bin Laden a â€œblack spot in Islamic clothesâ€ and hope to close a dark chapter of Arab history.
There has been plenty of both. What is new is that people who are neither Salafi, nor particularly religious now defend Bin Laden as a person. They donâ€™t approve of attacks on civilians, but they do consider him a fighter for a just cause rather than a criminal. And not because of 9/11, no. Itâ€™s because of his criticism of the Saudi royal family, because of his speeches about Palestine and because he allegedly relinquished his familyâ€™s fortune to lead a life of poverty.
Those who praise his principles and â€˜good intentionsâ€™ donâ€™t hate the West, nor are they likely to ever turn terrorist. But they feel an immediate urge for solidarity when one of them â€“ and thatâ€™s what Bin Laden remained after all â€“ gets shot by the special forces of a country of which they have ceased to expect anything good.
What may sound offensive to most Westerners, doesnâ€™t shock many Arabs. After all, Bin Ladenâ€™s image in the Arab world has never only been that of a ruthless mastermind of international terrorism. He was the man that you could see on those Al Qaida videos from time to time, until they were replaced by audio-tapes. A man with a calm voice, a charismatic face and a captivating way of speaking classical Arabic â€“ which is not exactly what the Western world got to see. Outside the Arab world, Bin Laden was reduced to fear-inspiring sound bites without context.
Front page of a Pakistani newspaper covering the death of Bin Laden
Is Bin Laden merely an obsession of the West? Al Qaida believes in violence as a political means, and, writes Doetzer, â€œthe problem with many Western powers is that they believe in similar things, but without ever openly acknowledging itâ€ By listening to him directly, Arabs could disagree, discard his ideas and compare him with their official leaders they liked even less. Unlike most Westerners, they knew Bin Laden wasnâ€™t only talking about US foreign policy and Israel, but also about climate change and food security. And that he sometimes came up with suggestions for a US withdrawal from the Middle East that werenâ€™t completely preposterous.
Emotional mishmash and contradictions
But events in these days also show that many Arab Muslims never quite figured out their own take on Bin Laden: Within one conversation, the same person may well claim that Bin Laden was on the payroll of the CIA, then deny his involvement in the 9/11 attacks â€“ and end up by saying that the attack could be morally justified given the American atrocities on Arab soil.
Itâ€™s usually an emotional mishmash without much moral reflection, but a high dose of an intra-Islamic sense of unity that allows downplaying crimes committed by oneâ€™s own group by pointing to those committing by others.
The mechanism is strikingly similar to what Americans and Europeans do when they celebrate the extrajudicial killing of an individual and justify their reaction by highlighting his crimes.
Itâ€™s yet another example to show that the current enemies may have much more in common than they would ever admit: The problem with Al Qaida is that it believes in violence as a political means. The problem with many Western powers is that they believe in similar things, but without ever openly acknowledging it.
Watching those YouTube videos of Americans cheering in front of the White House feels a bit like a DÃ©jÃ -vu. Last time, it was some Palestinians cheering the killing of Israeli settlers. And if I remember it rightly, Westerners were appalled by the pictures.
US Americans celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden in front of the White House in Washington
An eye for an eye:
Doetzer criticises the extrajudicial killing of Bin Laden, arguing the victory of Al Qaidaâ€™s ideology would have been more sustainable had it been achieved in court those chanting â€œU.S.A.â€ and â€œWe did itâ€ in New York and Washington donâ€™t sound fundamentally different from Islamists chanting â€œAllahu Akbarâ€. And in both cases, itâ€™s not the words that are problematic; itâ€™s the spirit behind them.
A myth rather than a man
Both are tearing at each other for double standards, but neither truly believe in the rule of law. After all, things could have been done differently: Bin Laden could have been captured and put on trial. We could have listened to his version of events and might have found out what kind of person he was.
Instead, all we have are a couple of pictures: Bin Laden as a young fighter in Afghanistan, and then the man with a turban and a greying beard. Itâ€™s not much. And it allows him to be a myth rather than a man who has lived until a couple of days ago.
Had he died of kidney failure instead of the bullets, it may indeed have been a blow to Al Qaida.
But as things are, American Special Forces did him a huge favour by making him a martyr in the eyes of many. â€œI swear not to die but a free manâ€ he said on an audio tape released in 2006.
He got what he wanted â€“ with a little help from a foe.
By Nicholas D. Kristof
When he was alive, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was effectively gagged, unable to comment on what he saw as missteps of the Obama administration that he served. But as we face a crisis in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden, itâ€™s worth listening to Holbrookeâ€™s counsel â€” from beyond the grave.
As one of Americaâ€™s finest strategic thinkers and special envoy to the Af-Pak region, Holbrooke represented the administration â€” but also chafed at aspects of the White House approach. In particular, he winced at the overreliance on military force, for it reminded him of Vietnam.
â€œThere are structural similarities between Afghanistan and Vietnam,â€ he noted, in scattered reflections now in the hands of his widow, Kati Marton.
â€œHe thought that this could become Obamaâ€™s Vietnam,â€ Marton recalled. â€œSome of the conversations in the Situation Room reminded him of conversations in the Johnson White House. When he raised that, Obama didnâ€™t want to hear it.â€
Because he was fiercely loyal to his friend Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, Holbrooke bit his lip and kept quiet in public. But he died in December, and Marton and some of his friends (me included) believe itâ€™s time to lift the cone of silence and share his private views. At this time, with Pakistan relations in a crisis and Afghanistan under review, our country could use a dose of his wisdom.
Holbrooke opposed the military â€œsurgeâ€ in Afghanistan and would see the demise of Bin Laden as an opportunity to go into diplomatic overdrive. He believed strongly that the only way out of the mess in Afghanistan was a peace deal with the Taliban, and his team was secretly engaged in outreach to figures linked to the Taliban, Marton says.
â€œReconciliation â€” that was what he was working toward in Afghanistan, and building up the civilian and political side that had been swamped by the military,â€ Marton recalled. â€œThe whole policy was off-kilter, way too militarized. Richard never thought that this war could be won on the battlefield.â€
His aim, she says, was something like the Balkan peace agreement he negotiated at a military base in Dayton, Ohio. The process would be led by the United States but include all the regional players, including Pakistan and Iran.
â€œHe was dreaming of a Dayton-like setting somewhere, isolated, no media, no Washington bureaucracy,â€ Marton said. â€œHe was a long way from that, but he was dreaming of that.â€
Vali Nasr, a member of Holbrookeâ€™s team at the State Department, puts it this way: â€œHe understood from his experience that every conflict has to end at the negotiating table.â€
Nasr says that Holbrookeâ€™s aim for Afghanistan was â€œnot cut-and-run, but a viable, lasting solutionâ€ to end the civil war there. If Holbrooke were still alive, Nasr says, he would be shuttling frantically between Islamabad and Kabul, trying to take advantage of Bin Ladenâ€™s killing to lay the groundwork for a peace process.
To do that, though, we have to put diplomacy and development â€” and not 100,000 troops, costing $10 billion a month â€” at the heart of our Afghan policy. Holbrooke was bemused that he would arrive at a meeting in a taxi, while Gen. David Petraeus would arrive escorted by what seemed a battalion of aides. And Holbrooke would flinch when Petraeus would warmly refer to him as his â€œwingmanâ€ â€” meaning it as a huge compliment â€” rather than seeing military force as the adjunct to diplomacy.
As for Pakistan, Holbrooke told me and others that because of its size and nuclear weaponry, it was center stage; Afghanistan was a sideshow.
â€œA stable Afghanistan is not essential; a stable Pakistan is essential,â€ he noted, in the musings he left behind. He believed that a crucial step to reducing radicalism in Pakistan was to ease the Kashmir dispute with India, and he favored more pressure on India to achieve that.
Holbrooke was frustrated by Islamabadâ€™s duplicity. But he also realized that Pakistan sheltered the Afghan Taliban because it distrusted the United States, particularly after the United States walked away in 1989 after the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan. And renewed threats of abandonment wonâ€™t build trust.
Rather, Holbrooke poured his soul into building a relationship not only with Pakistani generals but also with the Pakistani people, and there were modest dividends. He helped improve C.I.A. access to Pakistan, which may have helped with the raid on the Bin Laden compound. And he soothed opposition to drone attacks, Nasr noted.
â€œHe was treating them as a serious player, not as if youâ€™re just having a one-night stand but as if there might actually be marriage at the end of the relationship,â€ Marton said.
Itâ€™s a vision of painstaking diplomacy toward a strategic goal â€” peace â€” and itâ€™s what we need more of. President Obama said wonderful things at the memorial service for Holbrooke. But the best tribute would be to listen to his advice.
By Maamoun Youssef (AP)
CAIROâ€”Osama bin-Ladenâ€™s deputy said in a video message released Monday that the al-Qaida leaderâ€™s offers of a truce with the U.S. and Europe remained on the table, though he ridiculed President Barack Obama as â€œthe new face of the same old crimes.â€
In a video posted on an Islamic militant Web site, al-Qaidaâ€™s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, scorned the American president over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nonetheless, al-Zawahri said â€œfairâ€ truces offered by bin-Laden were still valid.
In 2004, bin-laden offered a truce to European countries that do not attack Muslims. Two years later, he offered the American people a â€œlong-term truceâ€ without specifying the conditions, though in that same audio recording he also warned that his fighters were preparing new attacks in the United States.
â€œThese offers were dealt with impolitely but are still valid, and the offer is fair,â€ al-Zawahri said. â€œBut they (Americans) want a relationship with us based on suppression.â€
â€œObama is like a wolf whose fangs tear your flesh and whose paws slit your face and then he calls on you to talk about peace,â€ he said.
Al-Zawahri has been critical of Obama since his election, even releasing a message that referred to him as a â€œhouse negro,â€ a slur for a black subservient to whites.
In the message released Monday by al-Qaidaâ€™s media operation, Al-Sahab, al-Zawahri said Obama is seeking to mislead the Muslim world with calls for better ties and was doing so because wrath from the Muslim world had inflicted catastrophes upon America.
â€œWe are not idiots to accept meaningless flexible words. Obama is the new face with the same old crimes,â€ he said.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Monday that the United States believes it has â€œturned a tideâ€ in the struggle against extremists. He spoke of success in Afghanistan, â€œdifficult as it is,â€ and â€œmeaningful stepsâ€ by the Pakistani government against al-Qaida and others.
â€œThis is not a struggle that al-Qaida is destined to win,â€ Crowley said. â€œAs to a truce, I have no further comment.â€