As President Barack Obama enters his second term, the nation will likely scrutinize the president’s actions to improve the economy and implement certain “Obamacare” initiatives while foreign policy takes the backseat. Obama’s use of drone strikes in Pakistan, however, is unmistakably the biggest failing of his administration thus far and deserves more attention.
The drone strikes, which began under former President George W. Bush in 2004, use unmanned weapons to remotely target hostile militant leaders. The technology is fairly new, and carries extreme risks, as the drones have proven to be very dangerous to civilians. Since Obama took office, as many as 53 civilians have been killed in attacks directed toward militants. The number of militants in Pakistan who died in drone strikes since 2009 is 2,681.
The definition of militant is not without question. The president defines “militants” as “all military-age males in a strike zone.” It is an utterly transparent tactic to lower the number of reported civilian deaths. Because of the murky definition of “militant” it is hard to know exactly how many actual civilians are killed by drone strikes.
The drone strikes are also eroding confidence in the U.S.’s foreign policy abroad. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center shows a unanimous decline of confidence in Obama’s international policies from 2009 to 2012 in Europe, Islamic countries, Russia, China, Japan and Mexico. The practice of drone strikes in particular has drawn the ire of the international community. The U.S. is the only country in which the majority of the population views drone strikes favorably.
The Obama administration has been highly surreptitious about the program, rarely acknowledging the strikes in public. White House chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan offered a tacit explanation of the attacks back in April, saying, “Yes, in full accordance with the law … the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones.”
The drone strikes don’t solely target al-Qaida terrorists, however. In October 2011, 16-year-old Tariq Khan and his 12-year-old cousin Waheed were killed in a strike shortly after Tariq had attended a meeting protesting American drone strikes. Drones have also been launched at rescuers aiding victims of previous strikes under the Obama administration. The attacks on rescuers are dangerous on several levels: They discourage them from providing aid to those injured in strikes and also discourage journalists from covering the drone strikes for fear of sustaining injuries, or even being killed.
It is certainly important for the U.S. to ensure the safety and security of the American people from terrorist attacks. But the CIA and Obama administration should not be doing so at the expense of international support, not to mention innocent civilian lives. Whether or not these drone strikes are in violation of international law is still up for debate. What is not debatable, however, is that intelligence gathering and reconnaissance is much safer and less costly than launching unmanned weapons into foreign countries.
In the coming term, Obama should exhaustively review the effectiveness and efficiency of these drone strikes. After all, the man won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. He needs to start acting like he deserved it.