Droning the world
We’re only a few days into the new decade and it’s somehow already a bigger dumpster fire than the last. On January 2, President Trump decided to order what one expert called “the most important decapitation strike America has ever launched.”
This one took out not some nameless terrorist in a distant land or a group of civilians who happened to get in the way, but Major General Qassem Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the mastermind of its military operations across the Middle East.
Among the thousands of ignored American drone strikes since the 9/11 attacks, this was not one of them. In the wake of the assassination, we’ve seen: the Iraqi parliament vote to expel American forces from their country; all the Democratic presidential candidates make statements condemning the strike; thousands of protestors around the world take to the streets; and both chambers of Congress introduce resolutions aimed at curbing the president’s expanding war powers.
Even though there is still so much we don’t know, one thing is for sure. Everything we thought we knew about drone warfare – and America’s wars more broadly – is about to be thrown out the window.
When I first started writing this piece, I was simply reflecting on a decade of US drone warfare and the problems it had spawned. But when this world-altering news broke, I immediately started thinking about how I got here, as well as how my country could continue to recklessly breed chaos and destruction throughout the Greater Middle East.
New decades afford us a chance to take a good, hard look at what transpired in the years past. Until that strike in Iraq occurred, it seemed like every time I opened Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram in the new year, I was inundated with sentimental reflections about how far we’ve come in the last 10 years and where we’re going next. And I get it. I really do. It’s the beginning of a new decade and nostalgia is in the air.
In fact, over the holiday season, I found myself with time on my hands and that same sort of sentimentality creeping up on me. So I decided to indulge myself by looking through old journals of mine. One entry in particular caught my attention.
In 2010, when I was still an idealistic high school student in Tennessee, I wrote about the democracy movement I saw rising in the Middle East (what we came to know as “the Arab Spring”) and how hopeful it made me that global peace might be achieved in my lifetime. I wrote about my desire not only to see the world but to help make it a better place.
Rereading that entry 10 years later, a few thoughts came to mind. First, I was amused by my unwavering optimism and how sure I was that everything would work out okay. Although I’d like to think that I still see glasses as at least half-full, the never-endingly destructive feedback loop of American foreign policy has certainly left me a more jaded twenty-something.
Then I was suddenly impressed by how close I’d actually come to living the life that the 16-year-old me once imagined. Of course, I haven’t yet seen the entire world (though it’s on my bucket list) or managed to bring about world peace (a girl’s gotta sleep, ya know). Still, working to bring attention to undercovered issues like drone warfare seems like a reasonable first step to have taken.
With the world veering into unprecedented territory, I realized that it was time for me to take off those rose-colored glasses, reflect on what our world really looked like 10 years ago and how oblivious I was to so many of the darker parts of it.
If you remember, as 2009 ended, President Barack Obama went to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. While accepting the award, he made a moving about war and peace. Noting the absurdity of receiving the prize while still “the commander-in-chief of a nation in the midst of two wars,” he laid out his ideas on how to build a just and lasting world of peace. At the same time, he defended his continued use of military force in the Middle East, arguing that “the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace,” even if we “must also think clearly about how we fight” war.
Looking back, there’s no doubt about the eloquence of his words, which fit well with my 16-year-old dreams. Unfortunately – for him, for me, and for the world – he didn’t take his own advice. Instead of preserving the peace, he quickly embraced the latest instruments of war, like drones, and so helped usher in a new era of warfare that, as the latest drone strike in Baghdad makes clear, is likely to haunt us for decades to come.
A large part of Obama’s speech was dedicated to America’s adherence to the laws of war and the importance of protecting civilians when using force.
Unsurprisingly, nowhere in Obama’s 36-minute speech did he mention that he had already authorized more drone strikes than his predecessor, George W Bush, approved during his entire presidency.
Excerpted from: ‘Droning the World: The Assassination Complex From Bush to Obama to Trump’.