Anderson Issues

Commentary on the Zeitgeist

CIA’s Use of Drone Strikes: Responsible National Defense Initiative or Legitimate Cause for Concern (Alternate Title: The Real Petraeas Problem)

Posted by iexercisebytyping on November 12, 2012


When, in the fall of 2011, David Petraeus moved from commanding the Afghanistan war effort to commanding the CIA, it was a disturbingly natural transition (given his previous employment). I say “natural” because today the CIA conducts drone strikes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and is involved in other military operations there, so Petraeus, in his new role, was continuing to fight the Afghanistan war, which he had previously fought as a general. I say “disturbingly” because this overlap of Pentagon and CIA missions is the result of what looks like militarization of the CIA that might be undermining America’s national security.

President Barrack Obama is famous for using drone strikes far more extensively than any other president, for better or worse. The use of drones in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but what does scare me is that it seems that the CIA rather than the U.S. military is the entity behind the drone use. I did find exceptions, notably in the Washington Post. Its reporters raised the militarization issue shortly after Petraeus was nominated for the CIA post and then, the week before he took office, raised it again. Discussing the ongoing “expansion of the paramilitary mission of the CIA,” Greg Miller and Judie Tatewrote:

The shift has been gradual enough that its magnitude can be difficult to grasp. Drone strikes that once seemed impossibly futuristic are so routine that they rarely attract public attention unless a high-ranking al-Qaeda figure is killed… The drone program has killed more than 2,000 militants and civilians since 2001, a staggering figure for an agency that has a long history of supporting proxy forces in bloody conflicts but rarely pulled the trigger on its own.

The militarization of the CIA raises various questions. For example, if the CIA is psychologically invested in a particular form of warfare–and derives part of its budget from that kind of warfare–can it be trusted to impartially assess the consequences, both positive and negative, direct and indirect to the same extent as the United States military?

And then there’s the transparency question. The Washington pPost Article noted concerns among some activists that “the CIA now functions as a military force beyond the accountability that the United States has historically demanded of its armed services. The article says that the CIA doesn’t officially acknowledge the drone program, let alone provide public explanation about who shoots and who dies, and by what rules.” Indeed, only a few months ago, in compliance with the War Powers Resolution, the Obama administration reported (vaguely) on targeted killings in Somalia and Yemen that had been conducted by the military, but not on those conducted by the CIA.

What’s wrong with this opaqueness? For starters, you’d think that in a democracy the people would be entitled to know how exactly their tax dollars are being used to kill people–especially people in countries we’re not at war with. But there’s also a more pragmatic reason to want more transparency.

These drone strikes can be a very good thing in that they are a radical departure from America’s traditional use of violence in pursuit of national security. In contrast to things like invading or bombing a country as part of some well-defined a campaign, our drone strike program is constantly ongoing and, by most standards, endless for the foreseeable future. Every month, God knows how many people are killed in the name of the US in any of several countries, and God knows how many of these people were actually militants, or how many of the actual militants were actual threats to the US, or how much hatred the strikes are generating or how much of that hatred will eventually morph into anti-American terrorism. It might benefit us, , before we accept this nauseating spectacle as a permanent feature of life, to fill in as many of these blanks as possible. You callow drone strikes to go on with America in the dark. And yes, I am aware that “America” is a vague term in the previous sentence, but vagary was necessary as ambiguity surrounds the identities of those actually in the know regarding the use of drone strikes, prompting the generalizing use of the title “America” as the agencies and groups affiliated and entrusted with the responsibility of national defense ideally represent the will and best interest of the American people, something that should be taken into account in their decision making.

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