The Financial Times recently reported that Nobel Peace Prize recipient Barack Obama has conducted ten times more drone strikes than his predecessor George W. Bush. As far as we can tell, that number is somewhere in the ballpark of 500 strikes and spans a wide array of countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. We can’t know for sure exactly how many drone attacks have taken place, who is conducting them, how many people have been killed by them, or how many other countries have been victim.
It’s important to Obama that the extent of his drone wars remain secret. His peaceful veneer would quickly disintegrate if we had an accurate Obama-death-toll. Drone wars have been kept so secret, in fact, that Obama’s former Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, revealed that he was instructed not to acknowledge or discuss their existence. A handful of investigative journalist groups like The Long War Journal have been left conducting important but difficult guess work about Obama’s drone wars, as if putting together a large puzzle one small piece at a time.
All the while, the American public is left clueless as to the activities being conducted in their name. Obama proclaims that “a decade of war is over,” while behind the scenes he expands the scope of the War on Terror. As a result of our being kept largely ignorant of our government’s actions, we are all the more astounded when the consequences of such wars come to fruition.
The phenomenon of blowback results from the American government’s actions abroad which cause tremendous resentment within local populations. When retaliation for these actions arrives at our shores or against Americans abroad, as it inevitably does, the American public is shocked and appalled, wondering what could possibly prompt such heinous actions. Hungry for answers, Americans are then fed simple explanations by politicians, such as, “they hate our way of life,” or “their religion commands them to commit such acts.” Never are we provided the context in which such reprisals occur. And because so many Americans willingly accept the state’s spoon-fed version of events, they largely tolerate a domestic police and surveillance state that is said to keep them safe from such “terrorists.”
Tribal areas of Afghanistan surveyed about the psychological effects of drones reveal a people living in terror, unable to sleep, with children often kept home from school for fear they’ll be targeted. Though generally out of sight, drones can constantly be heard buzzing overhead, creating a persistent state of fear. Despite our being told of the precision of drone strikes, subject populations have described massive civilian casualties and widespread destruction of property.
Consequently, large swaths of these foreign populations living under drones view the United States in a negative light. One Pew Research Center study found that three quarters of Pakistanis now view Americans as the enemy. One would expect similar numbers from the many other countries across the Middle East and Africa in which America now conducts drone strikes. Blowback is not limited to those directly terrorized by drones either. General Stanley McChrystal stated “resentment created by [drones] … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.”
Though it’s shrouded in secrecy, this new form of American warfare will be Obama’s legacy. The “sanitization” of war offered by drones (introduced on a grand scale by Obama) all but ensures America will never again be without foreign conflict at the hands of crazed politicians. As drone technology continues to improve, the rest of the world will be more at risk of attack by the American war machine, and Americans less safe as a result. As Obama’s time in the White House winds down, let’s remember that he escalated the War on Terror. He’s offered his successors the safety of precedent to fall back on and opened new frontiers for American military demolition. Barack Obama had the opportunity to curtail America’s destructiveness around the world, and instead, he amplified it.