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Drone hypocrisy

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Where does the political hypocrisy end?  Right now, there’s so much hypocrisy we don’t even know where it began.

Of late, Secretary of State John Kerry has been globetrotting and opining about so many issues that yesterday his own State Department devoted most of its time walking back his statements.  Ever since Kerry became Secretary, the department he leads has been on damage control full-time.

Kerry’s latest tale was related to the timeline for ending drone strikes in Pakistan and other areas of the world – “very, very, soon.”  The State Department distanced itself from that immediately in a “no plans to set a timetable” press briefing.  This morning’s New York Times goes even further: 

There were more drone strikes in Pakistan last month than any month since January. Three missile strikes were carried out in Yemen in the last week alone. And after Secretary of State John Kerry told Pakistanis on Thursday that the United States was winding down the drone wars there, officials back in Washington quickly contradicted him.

More than two months after President Obama signaled a sharp shift in America’s targeted-killing operations, there is little public evidence of change in a strategy that has come to define the administration’s approach to combating terrorism.

Most elements of the drone program remain in place, including a base in the southern desert of Saudi Arabia that the Central Intelligence Agency continues to use to carry out drone strikes in Yemen. In late May, administration officials said that the bulk of drone operations would shift to the Pentagon from the C.I.A

Let’s see if I have it right.  Drone attacks are increasing, the announced transfer of drone operations to the Pentagon – begging the question of how that would improve the situation – hasn’t occurred. The not-so-secret American drone base in duplicitous Saudi Arabia is as busy as ever, but not too busy for the Saudis to publicly support the Egyptian military’s martial law regime.  I shouldn’t leave out the administration’s threatened withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan that apparently won’t really be full withdrawal after all – though no doubt President Obama will address the nationas our troops “leave” Afghanistan.  Or will he leave the announcement to John Kerry?

Is it any wonder, then, that skepticism surrounds the suddenly silent peace process in Israel/Palestine?  Though Kerry might not have time for skepticism, it’s difficult to blame skeptics considering the facts on the ground and the political double-talk that he and others in the Obama administration engage in.

Imagine now for a moment if against the obvious odds the Israelis and Palestinians did come to an agreement.  Since that agreement would have to be so unbalanced and so limited another, deeper, skepticism would set in.   When the bluff called is worse than the bluff itself you’re in real trouble. 

Meanwhile, the proposed referendums on any agreement are gaining ground on both side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.   If we can imagine an agreement and the skepticism that would engender, imagine the skepticism surrounding Israelis and Palestinians voting on their future.  The entire peace process is fundamentally flawed and inundated with half-truths and lies.  How could either people trust the agreement they were voting on?

Though you have to respect political gamesmanship at times, when it becomes a way of life there is less and less room for real political action.  Everyone knows that what is supposedly happening isn’t. 

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, tried to bail Kerry out the drone mess he created:  “Pakistan’s leaders often say things for public consumption which they don’t mean.  It seems that this was one of those moments where Secretary Kerry got influenced by his Pakistani hosts.”

One of those moments – John Kerry couldn’t help himself.  That’s a generous take on America’s Secretary of State.  But what if Kerry and other American officials, including President Obama, actually mean what they say and what they don’t say?  What if double-talk isn’t about pleasing this host or that host but the policy itself, thinly cloaked?

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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3 Responses

  1. Nevada Ned on August 3, 2013, 2:57 pm

    As of now, US and Israel are just about the only countries using drones for war. But I predict that some day other countries and stateless movements will have drones also. Today, over 50 countries are using drones (for non-military and military purposes), and a number of these countries are developing their own drones, including Israel, Iran, Vietnam, Venezuela, and China. The technology isn’t particularly difficult or expensive, so some day soon US military forces will be attacked by drones. Now the US military and the Obama administration absolutely loves drones. That attitude will change when US forces start getting killed by drones.

  2. Citizen on August 3, 2013, 8:11 pm

    The number one seller of drones in the world is….Israel; number two is USA. Funny, huh?

  3. Hostage on August 4, 2013, 9:43 am

    Let’s see if I have it right. Drone attacks are increasing, the announced transfer of drone operations to the Pentagon – begging the question of how that would improve the situation – hasn’t occurred.

    Like Obama’s campaign slogan, it really isn’t a “Change We Can Believe In”. The announcement should have begged the question how anyone would be able to tell when the program had been transferred to the DoD, since it was always a DoD operation in the first place.

    The DoD has always provided the actual manpower, maintenance, and logistical support for the CIA to conduct these missions. The CIA picks targets or “types” of targets (signature strikes) and owns the aircraft. But there are inherent legal problems when non-uniformed officials, who are not subject to regular military discipline, try to act as privileged combatants under the laws and customs of war. It’s also somewhat doubtful that civilian CIA employees can invoke a public-authority defense in a prosecution under the US foreign-murder statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1119.

    Just read the article on the Air Force award of the Silver Star to Francis Gary Powers. Then try to figure out which department he was really employed by when he piloted that U-2 spy plane and earned that military award?

    Here’s another link which explains the relationship:

    2. The CIA does not “fly” drones. It “owns” drones, but the Air Force flies them. The Air Force coordinates (and deconflicts) their use through the CIA’s Office of Military Affairs, which is run by an Air Force general. The Air Force performs maintenance on them. The Air Force presses the button that releases the missile. There are no CIA civilians piloting remote controlled air vehicles. The Agency has about 40 unmanned aerial vehicles in its worldwide arsenal, about 30 of which are deployed in the Middle East and Africa. Most of these thingies are equipped with sophisticated surveillance gear. A few of them are modified to launch missiles. The Air Force owns many more “lethal” RPVs, but it uses them in the contiguous battlefield of Afghanistan.

    5 truths about the drone war

    In short, the President is being investigated for crimes by a the UN, and several other countries. Even the Congress wanted to know where he got the authority from to kill US citizens far away from any battlefield? So he got ahead of the news cycle, by announcing a change in his questionable policy along with the release of a classified White Paper, that really amounts to no change at all.

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