Category Archives: U.S. Foreign Policy

No One Has Read Huntington

The more I read people reference The Clash of Civilizations, the more I continue to believe that no one has read the actual book. In a recent New York Times article, journalists Scott Shane, Matthew Rosenberg, and Eric Lipton write that:

Mr. Trump was echoing a strain of anti-Islamic theorizing familiar to anyone who has been immersed in security and counterterrorism debates over the last 20 years. He has embraced a deeply suspicious view of Islam that several of his aides have promoted, notably retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, now his national security adviser, and Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s top strategist.

This worldview borrows from the “clash of civilizations” thesis of the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, and combines straightforward warnings about extremist violence with broad-brush critiques of Islam.” [ NYT: “A Sinister Perception of Islam Steers the White House.”]

The article was about how President Trump and his team of Culture Warriors at the helm of his administration believe in a far-right notion of radical Islam and have an outsized fear of it. Yeah. Ok. I know.

To say that this worldview borrows from Huntington is akin to saying that because my co-worker said the words “I am Genghis Khan,” means he is Genghis Khan. I’m bad at comparisons, I know.

My point is that just because there is a cultural element to Trump’ grand strategy and that his chief strategist Steve Bannon believes in a clash of civilizations means that it is borrowing anything from a thesis that was trying to predict how conflicts in the future might look like. Huntington wasn’t endorsing clashes of civilization, he was simply arguing that culture – shared values, customs, language, and belief-systems – are likely to spark conflict in the future as opposed to any other possible reason for war, such as trade or land.

All three reporters are fantastic. Scott Shane’s book from two years ago about Anwar al-Awlaki was probably my favorite of 2015. This to me is sloppy, lazy and I don’t know what purpose it serves, to be honest.

The Brilliant Foresight of Huntington

Samuel P. Huntington’s seminal book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, is a foundational text for any student of international relations, globalization, and contemporary history. I have the fortune of hindsight and I have to say – this book might in fact be my favorite book I’ve ever read. It’s certainly one of the most important I’ve ever read re: my field of study, political science. It’s not that often that a book stands up like this one does. It’s not only useful as a period piece or a “hot take” but rather as a paradigm piece. My opinion is certainly twenty years late and most students do consider this a paradigm book; I’m simply expressing my gratitude that I experienced this read for myself. I can concur what others have said before.

Honestly, I can’t think of a more magisterial IR text that explains the current zeitgeist than this one. Jihad vs McWorld does a good job; not an IR text but Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature is great too; Joseph S. Nye’s work is, of course, canonical as well. For what it’s worth, however, this text is paradigm-capturing and worthy of Kissinger calling it “one of the most important books to have emerged since the end of the Cold War.” This is my favorite.

I will try and capture just why I think it predicted so much of what we are living through right now. Counting the essay, Huntington conceived of this understanding more than 23 years ago. It was the end of the Cold War, Fukuyama thought it was “The End of History”, and 9/11 and the Arab Spring were a decade, and two decades away, respectively. Yet, if I would have read this book before the turn of the century, I would have had a framework to understand it quicker than it has taken me.

Huntington Predicted the Russian annexation of Crimea
Just shortly into the first chapter and I was already enraptured by his definition of civilizations, for example, and then s.m.a.c.k – I thought, “what?! He basically just predicted Putin’s capture of Crimea. Damn.” In a paragraph where Huntington is testing the validity of statism, or neorealism, such as that exposed by John Mearsheimer, who foresaw a Russia-Ukraine “security competition,” he lays out precisely what happened 18 years later. “A civilizational approach emphasizes the close cultural, personal, and historical links between Russia and Ukraine and the intermingling of Russians and Ukrainians in both countries, and focuses instead of the civilizational fault line that divides Orthodox eastern Ukraine from Uniate western Ukraine, a central historical fact of long standing which, in keeping with the “realist” concept of states as unified and self-identified entities, Meirsheimer totally ignores.” He continues: “While a statist approach minimizes that and instead highlights the possibility of Ukraine splitting in half, a separation which cultural factors would lead one to predict might be more violent than that of Czechoslovakia but far less bloody than that of Yugoslavia.”

Huntington was sage-like here. Not only did he foreshadow the Russian annexation of Crimea, but he was correct regarding the comparisons as well. Casualties from the Ukrainian crisis are more than 9,000. The “Velvet Divorce” in 1993 of Czechoslovakia was bloodless; Slovakia has since become a quiet success of Europe. The breakup up of Yugoslavia was protracted, genocidal, and devastating.  Huntington was right: what was to transpire in Ukraine was somewhere in the middle, and it was about identity and culture, or to use his parlance, “civilizations.”

His framework based on understanding that culture is Real and that culture is tremendously powerful and binding, especially in a modernizing world that is cold, fast, and spiraling out of control, has predictive power. No good theory leaves home without predictive power. Ukraine effectively split, with 65% of Crimean’s being ethnically Russian. Under the civilizational paradigm, this break up makes since and those who studied this work, should have anticipated this. Huntington even argued that “contingency planning for the possible breakup of Ukraine,” should have been in the works.

“In the long run, Muhammed wins out”: Religious revivalism and Islamic Renewal
For those like myself who read science websites, and who know the ins-and-outs of and have read all of the New Atheist tracts published early in this new century, it’s easy to think that, or hope for depending on your worldview, religion is on the ropes. That, in fact, would be horribly wrong. Religion, a steady and reliable form of culture/identity like no other, is on the rise. Huntington really hammers the point home that the future of conflict will be about culture. And when wars are fought over cultures, culture loses. Huntington, again, was correct. “The Cold war division of humanity is over. The more fundamental divisions of humanity in terms of ethnicity, religions, and civilizations remain and spawn new conflicts. There is a subsection titled La Revanche De Dieu, or “The revenge of God” that I am jealous of. Great analysis with zero fluff or wasted words. If you have the book, this section starts at the middle of p.95 and ends at the end of p.97.

The Rise of the East, Latin America and Africa(?)
“The West is overwhelmingly dominant now and will remain number one in terms of power and influence well into the twenty-first century,” asserts the author. Although one can (and often does) split hairs regarding this statement, as of Dec. 2016 this is still true. In the context of this book, where Huntington paints the rise of the East, it’s particularly still relevant because he did predict what was on the horizon. This entire section is less spectacular than, in my opinion, his analysis about culture being central to our identities and the Islamic Resurgence, for example, this still is worth mentioning.

Latin America and Africa – sub-Saharan Africa – lack a “core” state that would allow them to rise to the level of say, the West (America is the core state), or the Sinic world (China, core), or the Orthodox world (Russia). The consequence isn’t necessarily given much thought but the analysis and prediction is true. Huntington puts a question mark after Africa (like he did at the end of the title when this was first published as an essay, which most people seemed to forget; “The Clash of Civilizations?,” is was the title of the essay iteration.) in this book since it was hard to envision a core emerging African power. The contenders were South Africa and Nigeria. Interesting. Latin America, Brazil and Argentina, and Mexico, also don’t seem to be likely leaders of a civilizational world. Mexico, has one foot in the West and one foot in Latin America. The future is up in the air and going to be determined by much contingency in the future. The reason: “Throughout history the expansion of the power of a civilization has usually occurred simultaneously with the flowering of its culture and has almost always involved its using that power to extend its values, practices, and institutions to other societies.” Pan-Africanism is a fiction that never materialized. Latin America is very diverse and just in the split of languages alone, makes it hard to foresee any one country becoming the “core” state of Latin America.

The rise of Asia, including India as the “core” state of the Hindu world, Japan (Japanese is  a civilization on it’s own according to Huntington’s paradigm), and China (the Sinic core) is an unstoppable historical force. The “blip” of Western dominance of 200 years will come to an end, and China, once again will be the leading power of the world by the middle of the next century. I can’t recall where I learned or who I learned this from, but a scholar has mapped the trend line of power and it is now sitting in Persia, working it’s way towards the East. 3 billion people all industrializing and modernizing is unstoppable. Well, at least by other people. Mother nature is a force to be reckoned with.

Conclusion
All-but-predicting the Crimea annexation by Russia; the rise of cultural and identity politics and the antidote of religion and community; and the likely power-shift from the West to Asia has come to pass, make The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of Global Order a must read. Impossibly relevant. Satisfying. Groundbreaking. The book, itself, is a paradigm. Huntington, in the last sentence, argues that a global order must be based on civilizations – regionalism (though he wouldn’t use that word), and bi- and tri-lateral regimes; globalization is only for the Davos World and global government seems like a 22-century utopian idea that we have yet to figure out. Until then: we must understand that culture and meaning and metaphysics matter tremendously.

Everyone should go out and pick up, and highlight, and annotate and devour this book. Certainly one of the best books I’ve ever read regarding international relations and the future of the global order.

*Bonus: Here’s a link to me reading this essay, basically, on my Foran Policy: Book Reviews & Miscellany podcast.*

Illustrative Example of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I like illustrative examples; specific actions that can symbolize an entire….administration, or decade, or era, or an individuals temperament, for example. Here is good example of what I’m talking about regarding President Obama’s Syrian dilemma. In 2012:

“Obama did ask his military and intelligence chiefs to come up with plans to speed history along, and in the summer of 2012, CIA Director David Petraeus laid out a scheme to arm a group of “moderate” Syrian rebels. The plan, which Petraeus had formulated with Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan and a few other Arab security chiefs, called for shipping small arms, mainly rifles, to a small, select group of the Syrian opposition. …The plan had the backing of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and the Joints Chiefs of Staff. But the president rejected it.

“This was not a winning argument with Obama: he was looking for something that had a chance of succeeding in the near term, and he did not want skin in a game played in the quagmire of a sectarian civil war. While Petraeus was working up the plan, Obama asked the CIA to produce a paper on how often in the past U.S. arms had succeeded in helping rebels oust hostile governments. The answer: not very often. That sealed the case.”

Fred Kaplan, in an well-written essay of Obama’s foreign policy dichotomy between theory and practice, mentions that Obama was worried that this would also drag Iran more into the mix. Kaplan argues that Obama’s preferred tools were – “words, logic, persistent questions, and sequential problem solving.” In a world like this one: good luck, Mr. President.

In 2014:

“In any case, two years later, Obama approved a similar plan. However, when the American-backed rebels started racking up victories on the battlefield and appeared to be closing in on Assad, Obama’s prediction of what would happen next came true: the Iranians redoubled their support for Assad, sending Quds Force soldiers to fight the rebels. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, fearing the loss of Moscow’s sole outpost outside the former Soviet Union, sent tanks, planes, and missiles to support the Syrian army.”

Obama’s foreign policy motto could be: In any case.

This isn’t an attack on President Obama, by the way, more of an assessment on the difficulties of making decisions in an anarchic world. It has been repeated, like a mantra, that in politics, your choices are all horrible. This also illustrates the outsider/insider bias/dichotomy. Outside and without any power, it’s easy to condemn and to say you would have done X over Y if you were in power. Inside: you must make a decision based on imperfect information and the possible black swans, or simple spillover effects, are unknown.

This Time It’s Different

I noted in an earlier blog post that it’s quite evident to me that what is being called the French 9/11 will be a major geopolitical event that will shape how the next 10 years will play out. Here’s 3 possibilities of how these attacks in Paris could impact politics in the United States.

Fear Mongering is Back
Just kidding, it never went away. Fear, as a political and social and cultural phenomenon has always been a guiding light in American politics. However, we now have a newer half-generation of Americans who basically have not experience a terrorist attack conducted by an armed-group with long-term goals and plans. I streamed Morning Joe this morning, on MSNBC, and maaaaaannn….it’s like 9/11 never happened and good ‘ol American amnesia came back and everyone forgot just how we got to this place in the first place. Joe Scarborough was being all manic about Obama not calling Muslim terrorists….muslims. Obama, not long ago, said: “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” Whether you agree with this or not, if you don’t understand why Obama would say this then you don’t understand realpolitk, or even, domestic politics. It’s a tactic Joe; he’s not saying those words to you and to the media; this does not mean the Obama Administration does not understand the current situation. It does. President George W. Bush had similar remarks saying we are at war against evil, not Islam and not Muslims. Nonetheless, pundits are freaking out and telling everyone that we are in a Clash of Civilizations. This is not a clash of civilizations; this is a war where ISIS is targeting countries that are currently engaged in military attacks That’s kind of a big difference. This is not to say that ISIS isn’t engaged in what they think is a clash of civilizations; they, for all intents and purposes, do think that is what’s going on. It’s not.

This Changes the 2016 U.S. Pres Race; & It Helps Republican Chances
No really; look out for Mitt Romney getting into the race and winning the GOP nomination if he does get in. Regardless, foreign policy will now be a focus in 2016 in a way that wasn’t quite anticipated. In times when Americans are scared, they vote Republican. Americans think that Republicans tackle national security issues better; moreover, this is classic political psychology. Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist, has written about this and studied this extensively:

“People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.”

Whether its fear or a more ostensibly sanguine notion of clarity and group think, if we aren’t careful, we will let this brutalize us and make us more xenophobic and jingoistic. To reiterate, an America reminded of 9/11 and potential terrorist attacks is one that easily gives up rights. Due diligence is heeded; we must not buy into demagoguery when we need actual leadership and an actual strategy. This brings me to my final point.

Finally, this could actually push Obama to reiterate our strategy in the Middle East and regarding our position in the world, more generally.
Political scientist Ian Bremmer in his recent book Superpower: Three Choices For America’s Role in the World (2015) argues that the U.S. needs to choose a strategy and he lays out three distinct options. First, what Bremmer calls Independent America is one where we should nation build but that building should be done here; this isn’t isolationist so much as it’s a reaction to real foreign policy failure and real economic needs here at home. The second choice, Moneyball America, is basically the idea of crafting a strategy that is closer to what international affairs experts call Realism; a realist should ask: what is the alternative to the status-quo? Finally, the third possible strategy is titled Indispensable America. The anarchic world order needs a hegemonic force to help maintain the rule of law and the spread of democratic values and systems. You can’t choose all three; Bremmer wrote this book for the next president and urges them to choose a strategy and to stick with it.

Obama, today at the G-20 event in Antalya, Turkey, sounds like Obama of ‘ol. Obama articulated what amounts to a Realist understanding and a realist strategy with shades of idealism: we still must not work with Assad, argues Obama. The attacks of Paris could force the next presidential candidates to construct a strategy that deals with the reality of ISIS and the reality of the Middle East. Governments often govern from crisis to crisis; this tragic event could help focus the upcoming debates in a way that definitely is overdue: who are we?

What role will America take in this battle against ISIS? Will the U.S.A. accept refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia? Is America going to abandon the Middle East and “pivot” to China? All of these questions, and so many more, are important are are surely going to be asked, in some capacity at least, now after Paris.

US-Pakistan: Magnificent Delusions, Part 3

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, The United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding
by Husain Haggani. PublicAffairs. 413 pp.

Part 1 covered the years 1947-1951. Part 2 covered 1951-1959. Part 3, below, covers 1960-1969.

JFK vs Ahub
Enter: John F. Kennedy, the telegenic Democratic senator from Massachusetts, who won the 1960 presidential election over the incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon (For new students of U.S. history, don’t worry, Mr. “I Am Not a Crook” Nixon will get his chance later…) by way of the Electoral College. John F. Kennedy, and his Vice President Lyndon Johnson, continued Eisenhower’s tactic of basically supporting both India and Pakistan. Ayub, now the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan used this for domestic propaganda and conspiracy-drivel. The Kennedy administration invited Ayub to Johnson’s personal ranch in Texas and Ayub left “with assurances of continued military and economic assistance.” Concrete successes happened during this administration: the Indus Water Treaty, from 1960, “enabled Pakistan and India to share the six rivers flowing into Pakistan form the north, with the World Bank providing funding for Pakistan to build dams and storage capacity.” Similar to the grain shipment, the Kennedy Administration continued to pour in hundreds of millions of dollars to Pakistan; while simultaneously questioning the relationship similar to Eisenhower.

October 1962
China and India went to war in 1962, mostly over disputed Himalayan territory; It ended with China gaining control over the territory. During this war, the U.S. supplied India with arms – this angered Ayub, who – of course – used this as domestic fuel. However, Ayub understood – privately – that Pakistan didn’t have that much leverage but Kennedy “did keep his promise to Ayub to try to address the Kashmir dispute” between India and Pakistan. Mediated talks between India and Pakistan went nowhere and the Kashmir Problem remained.

November 22, 1963
U.S. President JFK was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald and interim president Lyndon Johnson, focused on domestic issues, “attempted to offer reassurance” to Pakistan that not much would change regarding their relationship. Haqqani adroitly describes Ayub’s three-prong strategy: first, Ayub would continue to complain about U.S. aid to India – while still asking for military assistance himself. Second, Ayub would further ties with Communist China. Finally, Ayub was not scared of using force regarding Kashmir. Why did Ayub think he had leverage? The Badaber Intelligence base set up by the CIA-U.S. Air Force Security Service to intercept radio signals coming from the Soviet Union. Ayub was getting more aggressive. The Prime Minister of India, Nehru, died in 1964 and this allowed for Ayub to engage militarily for the Kashmir region. Ayub insisted the the U.S. must support them in this battle. “From the US point of view there was no commitment to assist Pakistan in war it had initiated,” remarks the author.

Much happened in the next 6 years; one thread-line through all of this so far is continued military assistance from the US to Pakistan in exchange for vague anti-communist promises from Pakistan and – privately – the US reconsidering this relationship while simultaneously changing no behavior. On the Pakistan side, Ayub in the spring of 1969 resigned and counter to their constitution, implemented martial law. Neither country was fully satisfied and the status-quo became entrenched and full of more risks and possible flashpoints. Including: India. US and India were allies and Pakistan promised to not go to war against India with American-supplied arms; Pakistan did not listen. In 1965, Pakistan and India went to war over Kashmir and Jammu. In the end no territory changed hands and in a normal world, this would have really challenged the US-Pakistan relationship. In our real geopolitical realist world, all parties involved put blinders over their eyes and kept moving forward with their self-selected bad hands of cards.

So what became of that listening base? The lease expired and it was not renewed because, per Pakistan, this base did not benefit them and strained their relationship with China. The Pakistani public was not aware of this base; yet they were told about the ending of the lease. This dynamic is seen throughout this relationship.

The next decade is the Nixon/Kissinger decade, on the US side; on the Pakistan side saw the rise of Amin, and Bhutto. We see more war; genocide; and a military coup.

#BrookingsDebate: Is the JCPOA Deal Between the P5+1 a good or bad deal?

I have read the JCPOA, or “The Nuclear Iranian Deal” and I have read many analyses regarding the deal, as well. Last night, Brooking’s had a debate regarding the deal. The proponents of the deal were Suzanne Maloney and Bruce Riedel – both Senior Fellows at the Brookings Institution. The opponents were the senior Senator John McCain – Republican from Arizona and Leon Wieseltier, who is the Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow on Culture and Policy.

Some Thoughts on the #BrookingsDebate

McCain: Blabble, babble, and blah. (“Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran,” remember that?) Also: Red Herrings. Non-sequiturs. Seriously, Senator McCain did not say a whole lot that he hasn’t said before; also, he didn’t say anything that my mother’s boyfriend hasn’t said regarding politics. McCain appealed to fear and didn’t really have a cohesive or strong argument.

Maloney: Well, she has read the deal and basically just delineates it as such. Her take on the alternative choices are all valid, too. Maloney demonstrates a strong grasp of all of the relevant actors – U.S., Israel, Iran, Russia, the American public, for example – and does so in a very serious non-partisan way.

Wieseltier: You can see why he is considered a public intellectual. Very smart words. But more suitable for a good polemical piece in The New Republic or the New York Review of Books than actually addressing the deal as a policy. I enjoy listening to this man speak, though.

Riedel: He explained the facts on the ground in a very practical way. Referencing the former Mossad agent was particularly important and an interesting way of thinking about it: Israel benefits in this deal in particular. Iran prior to the deal, theoretically, was a couple of months away – for all we know – from enrichment levels that could be used in a bomb. Now: not so much. The U.S. now has more leverage if Iran does cheat. Riedel mentioning just how superior of a power that Israel is, thanks to us, for the most part, is was particularly refreshing and honest. Israel is and will continue to flying the latest military jets; Iran – not so much. The international community also has more leverage. Neither McCain or Wieseltier addressed Riedel’s points at all.

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I think this agreement is about realizing that Iran is and will be a regional power and one that will be more stable than Saudi Arabia, for example. This is a hedge on our current relationships with an eye on the future layout of the region. Gideon Rose says when he teaches polsci his polsci 101 rule is this: All policy choices are bad; some are worse than others. If you want to look at it in this way then the key is that this deal is more towards the bad side of the spectrum and not the absolutely horrible side. In my opinion, there is much to applaud in the agreement; in particular, the IAEA inspections and the Iranian commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Former Secretary of State, and #2016 presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton responded to the Iranian deal today, at Brookings. Her speech was very hawkish and she reconfirmed the U.S.’s commitment to Israel and that all options were on the table including military force on Iran if they cheat. Regardless of what any of us think, it looks like the Iranian deal will go through. (Edit: “Senate Dems Block GOP Measure to Kill Iran Deal,” Kim & Everett, POLITICO, September, 10, 2015.)

A Brief Primer on: US Drone Strikes

HuffPost going hard: “A Drone Program That Has Killed Hundreds Of Civilians Finally Killed Some That The White House Regrets,” by Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim.

What follows is some of my thoughts and info that I am aware of regarding drones.

American drone strikes are something that we as a nation do not like to really talk about. We have conducted at least five confirmed drone strikes in 2015 alone. In 2014: 22 confirmed drone strikes (New America, 2015). Moreover, according to PEW and Gallup, Americans tend to support an aggressive foreign policy regarding potential terrorists around the world. To many this debate is over: the U.S. can and should do whatever it takes in this ever-expanding power-vacuum-creating War on Terror. So what if this (or these, potentially) “kill list(s)” grows and grows. What’s the worst that could happen?

In the wake of 9/11, fear became – once again – a dominant political and social force. A ontological phenomenon, if I may say so myself. It’s often been said that a scared population tends to value security – or what they’re being sold as security – over civil liberties, or human rights, for example. History abounds this notion. But does the public and the government, even know who we are killing?

“We’re in a new kind of war,” claimed then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice shortly after America’s first drone strike; which was conducted in 2002 in the outskirts of Sana’a, Yemen (Scahill, 2013). Rice would go on to be a persistent vocal supporter of setting us this targeted killing regime. Many critics of drones see them as extra-judicial executions in violation of international human rights law. And by critics I mean everyone from constitutional law scholars, the United Nations, civil liberty and human rights groups, and every day Pakistani, Yemeni, and American citizens. Opponents of drone strikes have well….really good arguments, all around.

The U.S. government has used drones strikes that have killed thousands of people in this last decade during our “War on Terror.” This is on top of the millions of total casualties in the Iraq, Pakistani, and Afghanistan military adventures since 2002 in what can properly be called total war. There has been award winning documentaries produced about our expanded global war that two subsequent administrations, the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration, have started and escalated, respectively. Since Obama, we are now conducting military and intelligence operations in over 100 countries and drone strikes are being conducted by the military and by the CIA. The Obama administration has even constructed a secret air base in Saudi Arabia, to conduct drone strikes(Scahill, 2013).

It is terribly important that the public knows that 8 American citizens – confirmed by the state – have been killed in drone strikes so far. It’s also surreal that, as professor Micah Zenko, currently the Douglas Dillon fellow in the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) writes: “The United States simply does not know who it is killing” (ForeignPolicy, 2014). Drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with warheads that drop Hell Fire missiles on people in the likes of Pakistan, Somalia (East Africa Al Qaeda cell), Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq. Jeremy Scahill writes about how CIA agents, after the aforementioned first strike in Yemen in 2002, “went to examine the aftermath of the strike and to obtain DNA samples from the dead.” Post-mortem is when we really start caring about identifying just who we are killing. Sometimes we drop a bomb on wedding parties. In Somalia, “AC-130 attacks resulted in a shocking number of Somali civilians being killed,” illuminates Scahill. Oxfam warns that the U.S. is ignoring the international mandate to distinguish between military and civilian targets (Scahill, 2013). We don’t know who we are killing, and it honestly doesn’t seem like we really care. Former White House Press Secretary and now MSNBC correspondent, Robert Gibbs is on record saying of one drone victim that he should have had a better father if he didn’t want to be killed by a drone strike in Yemen (Friedersdorf, 2012).

The U.S. Department of Justice has issued many “white papers” with their legal justification for what they do. They often point out that high-level al-Qaeda and affiliate group members are who is targeted. Moreover, the U.S. does not consider drone strikes to be assassinations; they consider them to be “conducted according to the ‘law of war principles’“ (Isikoff, 2013) as well. Media reports paint a different picture: CNN reported on the fact that “a White House evaluation of drone strikes in summer 2011 found that ‘the CIA was primarily killing low-level militants” (Bergen and Rowland, 2012). As “The Civilian Impact Report” issued by the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School in conjunction with the Center for Civilians in Conflict eloquently states: “When the scope of who may be targeted enlarges, the chance that civilians will be caught in the crossfire increases” (2012). The U.S. military and the CIA often do not completely know who they are killing when they issue drone strikes. This has humanitarian implications. This has legal and constitutional implications.

I appreciate the Huffington Post responding this way: A recent drone strike killed two Western hostages, once from Italy and one from the United States, and suddenly we feign concern regarding strikes that have killed thousands of people, including 16 year old Colorado-born Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of the once moderate turned radical jihadist cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. He, too, was killed in an earlier drone strike. (Samir Khan as well.) I’m not saying these former two aren’t horrible people who wanted to kill American civilians; they are and they did. I’m saying that it’s way more complicated and grey than that. I’m saying that this drone issue is a crisis and we as a country really need to understand what is going on. I’m saying that at least 172 children have been killed

Seriously, if you have devoted little time to our disastrous foreign policy, I highly recommend reading Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill and also watching the documentary version as well. Chomsky has been great on this issue too; Zenko has been critical and informative as well.

Other quality sources to learn about U.S. counter terrorism (CT) policy: Brookings, CATO, Helene Cooper & Mona El-Naggar, Dissent, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been an invaluable source as well. New America has compiled good data. The Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School has studied the issue; “The Civilian Impact of Drones,” is one of their most substantive publications regarding them.

Hope this was kind of informative and I hope the hyperlinks can set you in a good direction to learn more about this.