The Empire Drones On

Critics of American foreign policy center the great majority of their analyses on Iraq and Afghanistan, rightly recognized as the focal points of current U.S. military action. That attention — prioritizing the two countries in criticisms of military imperialism — is too often accompanied by an overshadowing or lack of consideration for the less easily seen instances of the global war conducted by the United States.

The assumption of the popular conception of American foreign policy and of war more generally is that military violence is narrowly concentrated on clearly- and specifically-defined areas that the U.S. transparently identifies and then confronts. But in contrast to the black and white view of war as setting the U.S. against explicitly designated enemies in narrowly demarcated regions, the reality is a disarranged miscellany of secrets bombings, covert actions and sub rosa partnerships.

An apposite example of the expansiveness of U.S. military presence around the world came through in the latest sequence of classified documents released by WikiLeaks. The newest unveiling, reports Michael Isikoff of NBC News, includes “an unusually revealing State Department cable in which Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his top ministers appear to agree to cover up the extent of the U.S. military role in disputed air strikes in Yemen.” Although Yemen has spurned U.S. attempts to increase military presence in the country, its cooperation should come as little surprise given the hundreds of millions of dollars of aid it receives from the U.S. annually.

Beyond merely revealing the bribed complicity of American thralls like Yemen, however, the story exposes the magnitude and reach of the War on Terror; where the rubber meets the road, its impact has not been to deracinate terrorism where it grows, but to ravage the lives of innocents unable to escape the United States’ ubiquitous bloodletting. Of the Yemeni bombing at issue in the new cable, Amnesty International had previously judged that 41 of the 55 people killed were civilians, most of whom were women and children.

Furthermore, the leaked communiqué between President Saleh and U.S. General David Petraeus advances a plan to increase the use of U.S. drones in the country, where they are, according to Yemen’s Foreign Minister, already at work. Drones — or, in Pentagon argot, “Unmanned Multirole Surveillance and Strike Aircraft” — have ascended to a favored position within the U.S. warfare schematic, with some estimates projecting a 600 percent increase in their use over the next ten years.

These remote-controlled airplanes, piloted by operators whose derrières are comfortably planted in the U.S., rain bombs inaccurately all over, for instance, Pakistan — and to devastating effect. Due to their indiscriminate destruction of human life, American drone attacks, in the words of Winslow T. Wheeler and Pierre M. Sprey, “make news with embarrassing regularity”; Wheeler and Sprey continue that, instead of subduing terrorists, drones are “more successful at killing civilians, infuriating the previously uncommitted local population into supporting the enemy, and deluding Americans into thinking remote-control bombing of other peoples’ homelands is a freebie spectator sport with no U.S. casualties and no consequences … .” Drones can be expected to continue featuring prominently in the War on Terror, and hopefully in the news as well, but the complete framework of reference for that War is still largely unseen.

Even when Americans hear about massacres — like that in Yemen — with more obviously scandalous death tolls, they are unlikely to learn of everyday outrages like the one suffered by Karim Khan. Occupying a tiny village in Pakistan’s tribal regions, Khan’s home was bombarded by U.S. drones, killing his son, brother and a hired hand. Khan has said that he will sue the CIA, and, although the suit will surely end up a fruitless endeavor, it brings to the fore the commonness of civilian casualties.

The secrecy surrounding the drone program and the number of innocents it kills is the most important device for ensuring the continued impunity of the American Empire. Opprobrium at the United States’ wars should — in order to underscore complete scope of their horrors — take the statists seriously when they say that the War on Terror is a “global war.” The Empire will muscle its way into any corner of the world if it means the ballooning of the security/surveillance state at home and a windfall for the racketeers who supply our missiles and unmanned aircrafts.

Only by acquainting ourselves with the global war we so repeatedly hear about, as compared to the romanticized mainstream media pictures of Iraq and Afghanistan, can we begin to splinter the syndicate of interests that drive the death turbines.

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