• Does it Matter Who Pulls the Trigger in the Drone Wars?

    April 3, 2017

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, Trump

    We’re allowing a mindset of “anything Trump does is wrong” coupled with lightening-speed historical revisionism for the Obama era to sustain the same mistakes in the war on terror that have fueled Islamic terrorism for the past 15 years. However, there may be a window of opportunity to turn the anti-Trump rhetoric into a review of the failed policies of the last decade and a half.

    A recent example of “anything Trump does is wrong” has to do with his changing the rules for drone kill decision making. In May 2013 President Obama self-imposed a dual-standard (known as the “playbook”) for remote killing. The White House, including Obama himself reviewing a kill list at regular meetings, would decide which individuals outside of the “traditional war zones” of Iraq and Afghanistan would be targeted.

    Meanwhile, in America’s post-9/11 traditional war zones, military commanders then made, and now make, the kill decisions without civilian review, with the threshold for “acceptable civilian casualties” supposedly less strict. Of course the idea that any of this functions under “rules” is based on the bedrock fallacy that anything militarily done by the last three presidents has been legal under the never-updated 2001 authorization for war in Afghanistan. For perspective, remember Islamic State never existed, and Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen had stable governments at the time Congress passed that authorization.

    In sum: since 2013 the military can kill from the air at will inside Iraq and Afghanistan (the status of Syria is unclear), as well as other areas designated unilaterally by the U.S. government as “traditional,” with allowances for less regard for the collateral damage of innocents slaughtered. It is the president himself who plays judge, jury, and executioner across the rest of the globe, including in several acknowledged cases, ordering the deaths of American citizens without due process.

    Supporters of this policy set refer to the president’s role as oversight. And because the president is supposed to make his decisions with more regard than the military for civilian deaths (though there are no statistics to support that has been the outcome), the process represented, in the words of the New York Times, “restraint.”

    Now there has been a change. Trump in mid-March granted a Pentagon request to designate certain areas of Yemen as “areas of active hostilities.” Trump is expected to approve the same new policy for parts of Somalia. That would shift more decision making for drone strikes from the Oval Office to the Pentagon.

    The issue being raised by Trump’s opponents some is that the new policy will kill more civilians as it will be carried out by an unfettered military instead of a “restrained” executive, and that those deaths will lead to more radicalization of more Muslims, which will impede America’s strategic progress toward, it’s unclear, maybe a world without radicalized Muslims.

    Such twisted logic is based on an almost insta-nostalgia that ignores President Obama approved 540 drone strikes killing 3,797 people in non-traditional war zones. No one knows how many of those bodies were civilian, although for the record the U.S. says it was precisely 324. The analytically conservative Council on Foreign Relations, however, assesses drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan killed 3,674 civilians as of 2014.

    Those body counts do not include fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and do not include any unacknowledged strikes elsewhere globally (stories persist, confirmed to me by a former U.S. Special Forces operator, of drone kills in the Philippines, for example.)

    Bottom line: There are already a lot of bodies out there under a policy of “restraint.”

    It is important to note Trump’s change in policy focuses only on who makes the decision to pull the trigger in places already under American attack, him or generals in the Pentagon. The killing itself is ongoing, seamless, and happening today as it happened six months ago (in fact, civilian casualties rose during the last months of the Obama administration, suggesting changes in U.S. rules of engagement predate Trump.) It is unlikely the people on the ground know or care which official in Washington decided to blow away a vehicle with their brother in it. The idea that it matters a whit in terms of radicalization whether the thumbs up or down is rendered by Trump, Obama, or a general would be comical if it was not horrible.

    An odd sense that all this killing globally is something new and damaging to America was captured in a letter some three dozen former members of America’s national security establishment (including Bush and Obama-era staff) to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stating “even small numbers of unintentional civilian deaths or injuries — whether or not legally permitted — can cause significant strategic setbacks,” increasing violence from militant groups and prompting others to reduce collaboration with the United States. The letter claims that pre-Trump, public confidence and belief in legitimacy were important facets of U.S. policy.

    Even the American Civil Liberties Union appeared to wake from a long slumber, claiming with Trump’s decision to slide sideways the kill decision, “the limits of war as we know it could virtually dissolve. At stake is no less than the global legal framework that protects life and preserves international peace and security.”

    At that point one must sit back and ask: Seriously? Who besides presidents Obama and Trump has endorsed that framework and under what set of laws is it legal?

    Are the signatories unaware of the attacks on hospitals, the wedding parties in Afghanistan and elsewhere blown to pink mist by Hellfire missiles? Civilian casualties overall in America’s 2003-2011 Iraq War alone were anywhere from 140,000 dead to upwards of 500,000, many by artillery, cluster munitions, and depleted uranium, indiscriminate weapons unique to American forces.

    As with the recent Navy SEAL raid in Yemen that took civilian lives, the new-found interest by the media and many Democrats in the costs of American war abroad is welcome. If it took the election of Trump to alert Americans what horrors are being done in their names, then that election has already served some larger purpose.

    But the next step is the critical one — can the new found revulsion for civilian deaths drive action to stop them or will nostalgia for the “good killings” under the previous administration block focus on ending the 15 year cycle of violence and revenge that has set the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia on fire? Will we simply again settle on a domestically palpable process of killing under Trump as we did under Bush and Obama?

    No matter who pulls the trigger — Bush, Obama or Trump — civilian deaths are not accidental, but a policy of preventable accident. The new drone rules under Trump are simply another example.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Mitch said...


      Perhaps protectionism or isolationism is the best policy now.

      The “free ” nations of the earth have Created a hell of a mess….

      A mess I don’t see a fix to or for.


      04/3/17 9:47 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      When Drones Fly Children Die.

      04/3/17 10:00 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Does it matter? We destroy fucking countries. What is the big deal with destroying a wedding party?

      Cracking down on our drone strikes is like getting Al Capone for tax evasion.

      04/3/17 10:38 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Meanwhile, back in the real world, don’t take your computer to the Best Buy Geek Squad. They have a financial reward system with the FBI for child porn arrests. Some geek downloads porn on your computer and gets paid for the detection, the FBI gets the credit and some poor unsuspecting citizen goes to jail. You know what they do to kiddie pornos in prison, right?i

      04/3/17 10:46 AM | Comment Link

    • Bruce said...


      Every prior imperious despot is envious of U.$. DESPOTUS’ Empire*!
      *Incredbly conducted under mere ACIA feinting with DEM critique !

      04/3/17 12:03 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Speaking of wasting our taxes:

      “The U.S. taxpayer is paying an exorbitant amount of money to protect the first lady in Trump Tower, located in New York City,” the petition reads. “As to help relieve the national debt, this expense yields no positive results for the nation and should be cut from being funded.”

      The first lady has continued to live in Trump Tower — not the White House with President Donald Trump — while their 11-year-old son, Barron, finishes the school year.

      That’s come with a hefty price tag.

      It reportedly costs the New York Police Department between $127,000 and $146,000 a day to protect the first lady and her son, and the Secret Service last month requested an additional $60 million in funding to protect the president and his family.

      The petition has been signed more than 250,000 times and will be delivered to Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

      04/3/17 12:19 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Americans do excel at finding new ways to kill others as well as themselves:

      Students and faculty at Sacred Heart University are mourning the death of a college student from New Jersey who died three days after choking during a pancake eating contest at the school, according to reports.

      04/3/17 1:03 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      But we are still the Dumbest Country on the Planet:

      Most children who have died of flu in recent years were not vaccinated against the virus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers reported Monday.

      They found that at least three-quarters of kids who died from influenza between 2010 and 2014 had not been vaccinated in the months before they got sick.

      04/3/17 1:51 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Before you judge… I would suggest you take a look into what is in the flu vaccine….

      Then look at the ties between the swine flu vaccine… And …narcleispy.


      04/3/17 2:59 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      Hey Rich !!!!!!!

      Looks like you were wrong again.

      Any bets on if everyone on the stage was being bugged???

      So… How is your crush, Susan Rice ?

      And…. Any bets on if the intel was going to Hillary?



      04/3/17 3:04 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...



      If stupid people are more likely to die because of their fear of vaccinations, then the gene pool benefits.

      04/3/17 4:40 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      First…. Your going to be wrong, again.

      Thank God your not in charge of Personal freedoms… Such as freedom to decide what is injected into your own body, or not.

      Third… You should really take a look at what is in the injections.

      Fourth… The swine flu vaccine is now part of the influenzas vaccine.

      If you do a bit of study… Even you will see something very wrong with it…

      Starting with… The paperwork that the schools send home… Question three is a Lie.

      Hence… Everything after that is a lie too.


      04/3/17 5:10 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Dems having hard time with Susan Rice story, and pivoting to “It’s Russias fault”.Did someone up the ladder ask Susan to do what she allegedly did?

      04/3/17 6:20 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      I don’t believe ” ask” is the word…. More like… Ordered.

      I know from history what happens to a sitting president who does these things….

      What happens when the president is recently out of office???


      04/3/17 6:39 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      In my opinion Obama is the type of weakling male that attracts women like Jarrett and Rice to want to protect and mother and protect him. Rice will lie for him and Jarrett will make sure he does not collapse into a pile of self doubt under stress.

      Rice: “There was a viral instruction video on YouTube describing how to unmask incidental surveillance that caused someone to ignore protocol.”

      04/4/17 10:46 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Hey Trump and Obama, Who would MLK drone?

      04/4/17 12:21 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      April 23-29 Shut Down Creech protest

      04/4/17 12:44 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      LOL! Susan Rice actually quoted Sgt Schultz in a TV interview.
      “I know nothing of this…” (the unmasking of incidental collection during national security surveillance). John Banner, the actor. is tumbling in the ether laughing his helmet off.

      04/4/17 12:49 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      John, I saw that and spit on the screen!!!!!!!!!! The quote I wrote down was ” Nothing to No Body (Body reminds me of the U.S. Reaper’s. What a name, Like Hell Fire, so special ” Condi, Susan,and Co. could make me boycott Rice! Have a nice day! Wage Peace… Stop the Drones.

      04/4/17 1:52 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      I know nothing.

      04/4/17 1:53 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      What did Susan Rice do when GAZA was droned to death, with over 2200 or so killed? For two days I listened to a live feed of the drone killing mission for peace, and will never forget it. HMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…Boom, death. Have a nice day!

      04/4/17 2:10 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Chuck: Condi or Susan as wedding planners can arrange for a dramatic pyrotechnics ending to any Iraqi wedding party via their special Rice-a-Roni drone package. No need to call in coordinates ahead of time. No security deposit is needed.

      04/4/17 2:40 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      They should get married. It would be a killer wedding!

      04/4/17 3:04 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Chuck: Condi would be thrilled with Susan but Susan is most likely hetero. She may be one of the few straight females who Obama allows in his power circle. Samantha Power is just strange- sort of a man with girlie parts.

      04/4/17 5:02 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Who is gonna pull the trigger on the GOP, the party of Putin? Repugnicans have a higher favorable rating of Putin than the Democrats. If we are spending all our tax money for our national defense against Russia because it poses the only dire threat to our national security, it stands to reason the Repugs are guilty of treason and should be rounded up like the Japanese Americans in WWII.

      04/4/17 5:15 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Or the Repugs can admit the whole military industrial complex is a big scam.

      04/4/17 5:29 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Gulf of Tonkin, Domino Theory, Iraqi WMD. Wonder the neoconartists are dreaming up next.

      04/4/17 5:31 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      Sorry Rich.

      You missed your investment window…..

      Suggest you try earlier next time…. I’m sure there are many more Obama/Clinton scandals yet to uncover.


      04/4/17 5:53 PM | Comment Link

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