As a character in a book by Helen Simonson reflects, America wields their power in the world with a brash confidence which reminds him of a toddler who has got hold of a hammer.
From the FT Editorial today I learnt that there are two strands to the American drone operations in Afghanistan – and possibly elsewhere?
The writer, Lionel Barber, was formerly the Financial Times’ US managing editor, based in New York, with responsibility for the FT’s US edition, and for all US news on FT.com.
The CIA: secretive and unaccountable
He explains: “America’s regular military has long used surveillance and killer drones to complement operations in Afghanistan. But it tends to account publicly for such operations. The CIA, however, operates drones from secret bases, killing suspected terrorists with no accountability to outside bodies.”
With the departure of CIA chief, General Petraeus, Lionel Barber wonders if, when choosing a new CIA director, the president might also review the agency’s counter-terrorism strategy, reining in its excesses.
It became a paramilitary organisation
He records that, since the September 11 attacks, the CIA – an intelligence-gathering operation – became a paramilitary organisation that kills terrorist suspects in Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa.
Gen Petraeus is reported to have ordered an expansion in the CIA’s fleet of killer drones to step up operations against jihadists. But Barber observes that such drone operations are increasingly questionable on legal, moral and political grounds.
In an earlier FT article on drone warfare it was noted that, “Under Mr Obama, drones have killed targets in at least six countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and Libya. Their use has become so extensive in Somalia that there have been reports of commercial air traffic being disrupted”.
Drone strikes are “not only legally questionable, they ultimately act against US interests”
Lionel Barber says firmly that in Mr Obama’s second term, this policy must change: “Such actions are not only legally questionable, they ultimately act against US interests. As Kurt Volker, the former US ambassador to Nato under George W. Bush, has argued, they give foreigners the impression that the US is a country “with a permanent kill list”.
He ends by saying that Mr Obama should use the forced changeover at the CIA to work with the CIA, the military and Congress to forge a more structured and transparent approach on drones.
Most readers of this post would go further and rejoice if America, exercising that moral leadership it so often claims, would decide to restrict future military activities to defending its own territory.