Being against the usage of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as “drones,” for any situation with no exceptions is, to be frank, idiotic and pointless.
UAVs are more precise than conventional weaponry at reducing civilian casualties. They also intrinsically prevent the loss of American military life in combat.
To be anti-drone in our time is tantamount to being anti-tank or anti-fighter jet during the early 20th century. UAVs are a technology that will continue to grow and evolve, if not by the United States then inevitably by someone else. The most one can hope for is that they are developed responsibly and with an aim towards making war more “humane.”
Having said all that, this is not to say that America’s drone program is without criticism. Far from it. The U.S. has a very serious drone problem – a drone addiction, if you will.
In places like Pakistan and Yemen, traditional and often more effective means of foreign policy practice are being scrapped for the illusionary panacea of drone strikes.
Take, for instance, the case of Farea al-Muslimi. This Yemeni youth activist has not only written on the pernicious effects of the U.S. drone program in his home country but he recently testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his experiences as well.
The most compelling of al-Muslimi’s stories involved a drone strike against Hammed al-Masea Meftah, also known as Hammed al-Radmi. Although the strike was successful in killing al-Radmi, the way the operation, and many like it, took place has grave ramifications for U.S. public image in Yemen, al-Muslimi explained.
“Was it really necessary to conduct an operation that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, while two soldiers could have captured the target? Locals who didn’t know al-Radmi had AQAP affiliations are now angry that they were in close proximity to this man and could have been killed with him. Had they known he was a target, they would not have even allowed him to stay in the village in the first place. More importantly, people like al-Dhafer Ali Muhammed who used to see al-Ramdi at the security and local government headquarters on a daily basis ask why not capture him and find out who is behind him?”
Al-Muslimi is not the only one to point out the underuse of Yemeni tribal leaders and militias in combatting Al Qaeda and its ilk at the expense of an unpopular and traumatic (to the people of Yemen) drone program. Last year, Frontline’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad produced an extensive report on both presence of Al Qaeda in Yemen and the effects of the U.S. drone program there. Similar to Al-Muslimi, Abdul-Ahad found that local tribal empowerment was key to staving off Al Qaeda influence in the country, yet the U.S. has continued to rely on its drone program much to the detriment of its quickly decreasing goodwill with the Yemeni people.
None of this is to say that drones should never be used. UAVS have their time and place. And they have been effective to an extent in Pakistan and Yemen in eliminating dangerous men who meant to cause grave harm not only to Americans but Pakistanis and Yemenis as well. There is a role for drones, yes. But every answer to American foreign policy questions involving Al Qaeda or similar jihadist organizations is not a default to drone strikes. The Obama administration and future American administrations must get a hold on this growing drone addiction before it alienates too many of the United States’ potential allies across the globe.