Over the winter, I heard US military commanders and White House officials murmur in hushed tones about how they would have to figure out a legal and moral framework for the flying killer robots executing targets around the globe.
They were starting to realize that, while the US public approves of remotely killing terrorists, it is a drain on the democratic soul to zap people with no due process and little regard for the loss of innocents.
However, they never got around to it, leaving [US Senator] Rand Paul to take the moral high ground.
After two bloody, money-sucking, never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the idea of a weapon of war that precluded having anyone actually go to war was too captivating.
Our sophisticated, sleek, smart, detached president was ensorcelled by our sophisticated, sleek, smart, detached war machine.
In an interview with Jon Stewart last year, US President Barack Obama said that he was in the grip of a powerful infatuation.
“One of the things that we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need congressional help to do that to make sure that not only am I reined in, but any president is reined in,” he said.
The US’ secret drone program, continually lowering the bar for lethal action, turns the president, the CIA director and counterterrorism advisers into a “star chamber” running a war beyond war zones that employs a scalpel rather than a hammer, as new CIA director John Brennan, puts it.
However, as the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti writes in his new book, The Way of the Knife, “the analogy suggests that this new kind of war is without costs or blunders — a surgery without complications. This isn’t the case.”
Mazzetti raises the issue of whether the CIA — which once sold golf shirts with Predator logos in its gift shop — became “so enamored of its killer drones that it wasn’t pushing its analysts to ask a basic question: To what extent might the drone strikes be creating more terrorists than they are actually killing?”
Mazzetti writes that Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, watched one of the first drone strikes via satellite at Langley a few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. As he saw a Mitsubishi truck in Afghanistan being blown up, Dearlove smiled wryly.
“It almost isn’t sporting, is it?” he asked.
In the run-up to the Iraq war, then-US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld and his hawkish inner circle were disgusted that the CIA dismissed their spurious claims of a connection between then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, so they set up their own CIA at the Pentagon. Soldiers became spies.
Meanwhile, the CIA was setting up its own Pentagon at Langley, running the ever-expanding paramilitary drone operation. Spies became soldiers.
Mazzetti writes that after Sept. 11, 2001, the CIA director morphed into “a military commander running a clandestine, global war with a skeleton staff and very little oversight.”
Why did the CIA, as General James Cartwright asked when he was the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, need to build “a second Air Force?”
Former CIA director Leon Panetta made the agency far more militarized and then went to the Pentagon. When an actual military commander, general David Petraeus, became CIA director in 2011, he embraced the drone program, pushed to expand the fleet and conducted the first robo-targeted killing of a US citizen.