Getting The Drone Wars All Wrong

Posted: August 16, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
Tags: , , , , ,

Denny Blair, former sailor and more recently, Director of National Intelligence, thinks the drone war being fought in Af-pak is the wrong way to achieve the outcomes the United States is looking for.  After correctly offering that public enthusiasm for a counterinsurgency campaign has waned (ignoring if there was ever much enthusiasm to begin with), Blair comes out in favor of nation-building:

American officials dealing with Pakistan now spend most of their time haggling over our military and intelligence activities, when they should instead be pursuing the sort of comprehensive social, diplomatic and economic reforms that Pakistan desperately needs and that would advance America’s long-term interests.  

The assertion that we will advance America’s long-term interests via nation-building in Pakistan is yet another example of hubris and overreach.  For example, is it possible we should first get our own house in order by removing the blinding debt log and deficit plank from our own eyes instead of borrowing money from China to nation-build in Pakistan?  While Blair’s assertions may or may not be true (there’s no empirical way to prove action-reaction here), the lack of any discussion of a cost-benefit analysis causes the argument to crater. 

In other words, even if Blair might have it right, based on what we’ve seen to-date, nation-building is likely to cost far more than it’s worth.  The exception is the Marshall Plan which may have worked because it took place following an extended period of total war that literally destroyed the social, governmental, and economic institutions of both Japan and Germany.  For successful nation-building to occur, the nation that is to be built must first be willing to submit itself to an obedience to freedom, that is, market economies and Western-type laws.

It’s been said that we’re fighting a war in a place of no strategic consequence (Afghanistan) while ignoring a place of great consequence, Pakistan.  Pakistan (like Afghanistan) has shown itself to be often corrupt, untrustworthy, and playing both sides of the street.  Pakistan is a nation of consequence for one reason: they have lots of nuclear weapons.

Blair thinks the drone wars will fail because the Al Qaeda leaders who are killed by UAV attacks will be replaced and the whole endeavor works to make the Pakistani people angry with the U.S. 

But the important question today is whether continued unilateral drone attacks will substantially reduce Al Qaeda’s capabilities. They will not.

Instead, we must work with Pakistan’s government as an equal partner to achieve our common goals while ensuring that the country does not remain a refuge for Taliban fighters.  

While it’s true that having an external enemy is more politically desirable to Pak-pols than having to face their own failures, it’s much simpler for the United States.  In that regard, the UAV attacks are intended to accomplish a few things.  First, to show there is no enduring refuge for Al Qaeda.  Second, to bleed Al Qaeda dry.  Third, to “discourage” those who would otherwise be inclined to take up the Al Qaeda cause. 

As such, the drone wars have limited goals and they’re meeting them quite nicely.  Overreach may be readily evident in U.S. domestic politics, but as things are playing out in Af-pak, the drone wars appear to be an effective and efficient way to achieve limited American objectives.

(image from waffenvombodensee).

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