Here’s the essence of it: you can trust America’s crème de la crème, the most elevated, responsible people, no matter what weapons, what powers, you put in their hands. No need to constantly look over ‘their’ shoulders. Placed in the hands of evildoers, those weapons and powers could create a living nightmare; controlled by the best of people, they lead to measured, thoughtful, precise decisions in which bad things are done only to truly terrible types. In the process, you simply couldn’t be better protected. And in case you were wondering, there is no question who among us are the best, most lawful, moral, ethical, considerate, and judicious people: the officials of our national security state. Trust them implicitly. They will never give you a bum steer. They deserve our congratulations, but if we’re too distracted to give it to them, they are quite capable of high-fiving themselves.
We’re talking, in particular, about the use by the Obama administration of a growing armada of remotely piloted planes, a.k.a. drones, grimly labelled Predators, to fight a nameless, almost planet-wide war. Its purpose: to destroy al-Qaeda-in-wherever and all its wannabes and look-alikes, and anyone affiliated with any of the above, or just about anyone else we believe might imminently endanger our “interests”.
In the service of this war, in the midst of a perpetual state of war and of wartime, every act committed by these leaders is, it turns out, absolutely, totally, and completely legal. We have their say-so for that, and they have the documents to prove it, largely because the best and most elevated legal minds among them have produced that documentation in secret. (Of course, they dare not show it to the rest of us.)
By their own account, they have, in fact, been covertly exceptional, moral and legal for more than a decade - so covertly exceptional, in fact, that they haven’t quite gotten the credit they deserve. Now, they would like to make the latest version of their exceptional mission to the world known to the rest of us. It is finally in our interest, it seems, to be a good deal better informed about America’s covert wars in a year in which the widely announced “covert” killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan is a major selling point in the President’s reelection campaign.
No one should be surprised. There was always an “overt” lurking in the “covert” of what now passes for “covert war”. The CIA’s global drone assassination campaign has long been a bragging point in Washington, even if it couldn’t officially be discussed directly before, say, Congress. The covertness of our drone wars in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere really turns out to have less to do with secrecy - just about every covert drone strike is reported, sooner or later, in the media - than assuring two administrations that they could pursue their drone wars without accountability to anyone.
We have established a remarkably expansive set of drone-war rules for the global future. Naturally, we trust ourselves with such rules, but there is a fly in the ointment, even as the droniacs see it. Others far less sagacious, kindly, lawful, and good than we are do exist on this planet and they may soon have their own fleets of drones. About 50 countries are today buying or developing such robotic aircrafts, including Russia, China and Iran, not to speak of Hezbollah in Lebanon. And who knows what terror groups are looking into suicide drones?
As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius puts it: “What if the Chinese deployed drones to protect their workers in southern Sudan against rebels, who have killed them in past attacks? What if Iran used them against Kurdish separatists they regard as terrorists? What if Russia used them over Chechnya? What position would the US take, and wouldn’t it be hypocritical if it opposed drone attacks by other nations that face ‘imminent’ or ‘significant’ threats?”
Consider this as well: those “shining drones” launched on campaigns of assassination and slaughter are increasingly the “face” that we choose to present to the world. And yet it’s beyond us why it might not shine for others. In reality, it’s not so hard to imagine what we increasingly look like to those others: a Predator nation. And not just to the parents and relatives of the more than 160 children that have died in US drone strikes in Pakistan. After all, war is now the only game in town. Peace? For the managers of our national security state, it’s neither a word worth mentioning, nor an imaginable condition.
In truth, our leaders should be in mourning for whatever peaceful dreams we ever had. But mention drones and they light up. They’re having a love affair with those machines. They just can’t get enough of them or imagine their world or ours without them. What they can’t see in the haze of exceptional self-congratulation is this: they are transforming the promise of America into a promise of death. And death, visited from the skies, isn’t precise. It isn’t glorious. It isn’t judicious. It certainly isn’t a shining vision. It’s hell. And it’s a global future for which, someday, no one will thank us.