Doubling Down on Drone Mistakes

Doubling Down on Drone Mistakes

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US NEWS & WORLD REPORT 06/29/17
By Michael Shank

America’s trigger-happy president, Donald Trump, is increasingly getting the United States into trouble with dramatic ramp-ups of military intervention. The latest, Russia’s threat to retaliate in response to the Defense Department’s downing of a Syrian jet and Trump’s vague threatening over Syria’s use chemical weapons, shows how combustible Trump’s foreign policy is becoming.

But it’s not just happening in Syria. In Somalia, after Trump weakened rules of engagement to allow for more civilian casualties, while simultaneously scaling up drone strikes, there’s been an uptick in deadly counterattacks by the country’s primary insurgent group, al-Shabab.

The same is happening in Afghanistan, as America’s longest war gets longer with the recent announcement of a troop surge. Trump’s air attacks in Afghanistan now number at nearly 1,000, to which the Taliban is responding with even more deadly and frequent raids.

The need to press pause on this panicked foreign policy is paramount.

Trump’s careless escalation in the first few months of office, presumably to appear hard powered, is throwing away American blood and treasure at strategies that haven’t proved effective under this presidency or even the previous two presidencies. America has not left its official war zones – Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – or its non-official battlefields – Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen – any safer. These countries are left crumbled with little functioning infrastructure, institutions or investment. America’s democracy building agenda has had a track record of zero.

Making the same mistakes as President Barack Obama, Trump is now doubling down on drone dropping at a rate that exceeds his predecessor. Obama used drones and raids, on average, once every 5.4 days while Trump has used them, on average, once every 1.25 days.

That’s a lot of drone activity, and much of it is happening in countries that aren’t officially war zones, such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, which means that government mechanisms, such as special inspectors general for oversight and accountability are absent. America deployed them in Iraq and Afghanistan, because these were official war zones. But nothing exists in the remaining countries that Trump is attacking.

Trump appears prepared to match or exceed Obama’s airstrikes average, too. In March and April of 2017, the U.S. administration doubled its use of air attacks and drones. The number of attacks could easily surpass the over 26,000 bombs dropped in 2016 by the Obama administration in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya.

Given that the U.S. acknowledges roughly only one-fifth of its lethal strikes, according to a new study out this month by the Columbia Law School, it’s difficult to say how many more airstrikes or drone strikes are actually happening.

Trump’s tactics reflect thinking in Washington that there’s a finite number of bad people out there and that if you strike by air or by sea you can rid the world of the problem. Anyone who has studied terrorism, or served overseas, knows that’s not the case. Extremist ideology, of any stripe, can grow quickly, be replaced quickly and spread quickly. Kill one leader and a new one falls immediately in line.

What’s most problematic about Trump’s reckless, attack-heavy foreign policy, however, is that it’s authoritarian, involving no conversation with Congress and draining taxpayer monies and precious financial resources, it’s not how one ends a terrorist group and it’s further destabilizing already deeply unstable countries.

On the first point, thanks to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was agreed to by a shellshocked Congress in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks and which allows the U.S. president to wage war with almost anyone, anywhere and anytime, much of this proceeds apace with no transparency, no accountability and no oversight. Though incredibly costly, these multimillion dollar strikes continue with few checks and balances by Congress or their constituencies. This must stop. It’s time for Congress to step up and start checking and balancing.

On the second point, if Trump really wanted to end terrorist groups in any of these countries, he’d tackle terrorism based on what past precedent indicates. 83 percent of terrorist groups have ended with political processes or improved policing, not drones or airstrikes. Many of the insurgencies in Somalia, Yemen or Pakistan, for example, could be quelled by political integration or better policing. A quick study on any of these conflicts shows that, at the root, it’s more about seeking access to political, economic or environmental resources than about causing terror. The violence has simply become a tool to obtain access to the resource.

On the third point, the last thing most of these countries need is further destabilization. Yemen is a tragic example of this. It’s a humanitarian disaster with millions facing famine and cholera. And yet America’s response has not been famine focused. Instead, the Pentagon has engendered more violence in Yemen by aiding and abetting in indiscriminate bombing, with airstrikes that have targeted hospitals and weddings. That’s exactly the direction on which Trump is now doubling down, striking Yemen relentlessly, with nearly 100 strikes in his first 100 days of office. What a stain on America.

All of this is a waste of goodwill and good resources. No wonder the U.S. didn’t even make it into the top 100 most peaceful countries in the latest Global Peace Index. America should take direction from the index’s data. The most peaceful countries have invested in human capital, the equitable distribution of resources, good relations with neighbors, the rights of others, free flow of information, anti-corruption practices, a sound business environment and a functioning government. That’s how you reduce violence. That’s also how you save money. A mere 10 percent reduction in global violence would garner $1.43 trillion.

That’s the tack Trump needs to take. Instead of doubling down on drones, try any of the other investments mentioned above. They’re bound to yield a much higher return on investment.