x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Obama's slow approach on drones harmful

Recent developments tell us that the drones programme must be one of the most costly of America's military tactics - and all without making the country any safer.

The US president Barack Obama has had a bad few weeks in Washington. He has been subject to fierce media attacks over various issues involving civil liberties and policies at home and abroad. So it is understandable that his speech yesterday was widely seen as an attempt to ease pressure on his administration.

Mr Obama's focus is on the use of drones, which has been a signature policy of this president. The use of drones to target enemies abroad has angered several countries, primarily Pakistan and Yemen. Drones have also radicalised individuals in those countries and especially in communities where drones have killed innocent people.

The tactic has recently been the subject of heated debate in the US, leading to a Senate judiciary committee's first ever public hearing into the matter in April. Worse still, the US attorney general admitted for the first time on Wednesday that four American citizens were killed by drones in 2009 - at least one of those deaths had not previously been reported.

Despite fierce debates at the time over the legality of drone strikes or the targeting of American citizens outside their country, the Obama administration shunned the debates and even refused to attend the first public hearing in April. That is why the confirmation of the death of four American citizens just a day before Mr Obama's speech is significant and will hopefully lead to mounting pressure to abandon such strategies.

Again and again well-informed critics, both those close to the current US adminstration and those (metaphorically and geographically) far away have criticised the use of drones, pointing out that their use is illegal and their effect is counterproductive. But Mr Obama does not seem to listen.

As much as drone attacks seem easy for the US, they are in fact enormously costly. They are costly morally, since the programme is essentially one of assassination. They are costly politically, since US allies like the governments of Pakistan and Yemen lose the support of their people. And they are costly tactically, since the constant threat of drones turns civilians against the US.

Indeed, even without factoring the astonishing detail of the US president killing without legal charge his own fellow citizens, the drones programme must be one of the most costly of America's military tactics - and all without making the country any safer.