Drone Warfare Is Neither Cheap, Nor Surgical, Nor Decisive
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The fantasy of air war as a realm of technical decision, as an exercise in decisively finding, fixing, and dispatching the enemy, appeals to a country like the United States that idolizes technology as a way to quick fixes. As a result, it’s hardly surprising that two administrations in Washington have ever more zealously pursued drone wars and aerial global assassination campaigns, already killing 4,700 “terrorists” and bystanders. And this has been just part of our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president’s campaign of 20,000 air strikes (only 10% of which were drone strikes) in his first term of office. Yet despite -- or perhaps because of -- these attacks, our global war against al-Qaeda, its affiliates, and other groups like the Taliban appears no closer to ending.
And that is, in part, because the dream of air power remains just that: a fantasy, a capricious and destructive will-o’-the-wisp. It’s a fantasy because it denies agency to enemies (and others) who invariably find ways to react, adapt, and strike back. It’s a fantasy because, however much such attacks seem both alluringly low-risk and high-reward to the U.S. military, they become a rallying cause for those on the other end of the bombs and missiles.
A much-quoted line from the movie Apocalypse Now captured the insanity of the American air war in Vietnam. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” says an Air Cav commander played by Robert Duvall. “Smelled like... victory.” Updated for drone warfare, this line might read: “I love the sound of drones in the morning. Sounds like... victory.” But will we say the same when armed drones are hovering, not only above our enemies’ heads but above ours, too, in fortress America, enforcing security and conformity while smiting citizens judged to be rebellious?
Something tells me this is not the dream that airpower enthusiasts had in mind.
Copyright 2013 William J. Astore
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