June 12, 2009


The Drone War: Are Predators our best weapon or worst enemy? (Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, The New Republic)

There has been some speculation in the press that the CIA might extend the drone attacks to other parts of Pakistan, in particular the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan where the Afghan Taliban is headquartered, but this seems unlikely. The western tribal regions, which have lived under their own legal and social codes for centuries, have never fully been part of Pakistan proper. In fact, the Urdu word for the tribal regions is ilaqa ghair, or "foreign area." By contrast, Baluchistan is part and parcel of the Pakistani state. U.S. drone attacks there would almost certainly provoke the same fierce Pakistani pushback that the SEALs' ground incursion into the tribal regions did last year. Shuja Nawaz, the author of Crossed Swords, the authoritative history of the Pakistani military, says, "Any drone attack in provinces outside of the tribal regions would be disastrous, totally destroying the American relationship with the army."

There is widespread consensus among national security experts that the drone program is the least bad available option to pressure the Al Qaeda leadership and its Taliban allies. This is because the Pakistani government--divided between a barely functional civilian arm and a strong but unelected army--has wavered between ineffective punitive expeditions against the extremists and appeasement. Neither the military nor the political establishment has articulated an effective plan to rid the country of its jihadist militants. And so, for the moment, the drones are the only game in town.

But the drone program is a tactic, not a strategy. Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown widely regarded as the dean of terrorism studies, says, "We are deluding ourselves if we think in and of itself the drone program is going to be the answer," pointing out that the 2006 U.S. airstrike which killed the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, did not exactly shut down the organization. Following Zarqawi's death, violence in Iraq actually accelerated.

And militant organizations like Al Qaeda are not like an organized crime family, which can be put out of business if most or all of the members of the family are captured or killed. Al Qaeda has sustained and can continue to sustain enormous blows that would put other organizations out of business because the members of the group firmly believe that they are doing God's work.

Really? Where is the evidence that they have sustained themselves and are in any sort of significant business?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 12, 2009 5:29 AM
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