One highlight from President Obama’s second inaugural address that still has people talking was what he said about war. He expressed the following notion that challenged the “idea” of an ongoing and perpetual, global war on terror. “We the people still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” said the president.
This comes more than a decade after 9/11, and President George W. Bush committed service men and women to wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been signs that the ill-defined global “War on Terror” may have been coming to a conclusion for a while now, since Osama bin Laden’s killing and the end of the Iraq war. And there’s a targeted end date to U.S. and NATO troop involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
But troops aren’t the only way to fight a war. While American’s are happy to have our brave men and women home, fewer troops on the front lines doesn’t mean less drones in the sky.
On Thursday, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights announced that they will “examine CIA and pentagon covert drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The team will also look at drone strikes by US and UK forces in Afghanistan, and by Israel in the Occupied territories. In total some 25 strikes are expected to be examined in detail.”
Just how prevalent are drone strikes? According to the Washington Post‘s tracking, there have been 347 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, and 55 drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia since 2002.
Is it that the president’s war doctrine has become a leaner military and more high-tech solutions to combat terror? Instead of using men and women of the military, the President uses drones to carry out military operations. Or do drones give us a false sense of security and are we stoking the fires of hatred toward the U.S. with this form of warfare? On Saturday’s Melissa Harris-Perry, the host looked at these very questions with her panel.
Nation editor and publisher Katrina Vanden Heuvel remarked that we’re still in a perpetual war. “Even while he speaks those glorious words, we are at perpetual war. I think the largest problem is you step back and you ask why is global war the appropriate framework for combating terrorism? That in some ways is the original sin.”
Col. Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient and MSNBC military analyst, went one step further and said it’s not the use of military force that’s the only problem, it’s also our failure to use economic instruments of power and policy. “Part of the problem is this, of the instruments of power that we exercise around the world we’re lousy at state crafting and have been for a long time. We don’t know how to use properly and effectively the economic instruments of power. And we don’t know how to integrate them either.”
Spencer Ackerman, a national security writer for WIRED, disagreed with Jacobs.
“It strikes me as quite a cop-out that after 11 years of doing this, the United States government still doesn’t know how to do this properly,” he said. “The United States under President Obama has proliferated aerial warfare from Afghanistan, into Pakistan, into Yemen, into Somalia, now there’s some open questions about whether this goes further into West Africa with U.S. support of the Mali incursion that the French are pulling off.”
Bob Herbert, a distinguished senior fellow at Demos tied together what he saw as the inherent problems with both drone warfare and the Guantanamo Bay prison. “Guantanamo is a good example of the problem with drone warfare. When we opened Guantanamo the Bush administration told us that everybody there was the worst of the worst. You know you didn’t need to have due process…”
Herbert continued, “It’s the same with the drone warfare stuff. We don’t know in all cases who we’re killing and we don’t know if the so-called collateral damage is the kind of thing that’s worth taking a shot at.
“So we need to roll back and look at this from some kind of moral perspective, what are we doing here?”
See below the second half of Melissa’s conversation with the panel.