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Obama plays God

When pro-establishment media start to be concerned about the excessive powers of the US president, it’s time for all of us to be on extra alert.

The scale of the drone warfare being escalated – by US General Petraeus and the Central Intelligence Agency on the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan becomes clearer just as a strike killed another 15 people yesterday. Pakistani authorities have protested at this, the eighth and deadliest strike over the last two weeks.

That the US military uses a sci-fi method of conducting its wars is not new, of course. We saw “smart bombs” being used in Iraq to wipe out enemy installations, and supposedly avoid “collateral damage”.

But the intensive use of unmanned drones to target supposed al-Qaeda leaders and militants only began in earnest after the election of President Barack Obama. At that time, the US military and its security machine discovered that the tactics of ground invasion followed by military occupation, which brought down the Taliban in the 1990s, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, simply did not work in post 9/11 Afghanistan.

And thus, under the Obama presidency, military policy has moved into a third phase seen by observers as the “new and as yet only partially understood doctrine of secret, unaccountable and illegal warfare”.

An essential element is the use of drones, with more drone-operators now being trained than air-pilots. And why not? It’s the politician’s and general’s dream way of making war. Your own forces are never put in harm’s way, while you can sit in a war-room and decide who the targets should be.

And there is a secret cabal consisting of Obama and his counterterrorism advisor John Brennan and the CIA who decide who shall live or die on the borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. A New York Times editorial describes it as “a unilateral campaign of death”. The transformation of Obama – the former liberal law professor – into a man who “approves lethal action without handwringing” now seems complete.

Reporters Jo Becker and Scott Shane have shown how Obama’s aggressive counterterrorism has “baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike”. They provide an insight into how the Obama administration takes on god-like powers over life and death:

It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

This secret ‘nominations’ process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.

... The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan – about a third of the total.

Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions.

The use of drones across national borders is rightly seen by many, including the Pakistani government, as not only violating its sovereign rights as a nation, but counter-productive. According to a recent poll, more than two thirds of Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy. Senior military experts warn that the drone attacks create more extremists than they eliminate. From “Infinite Justice” to “Enduring Freedom” – such a war can never win.

But Obama’s efforts to gain the moral high ground in the “war on terrorism” shows that there is less and less to distinguish him from his opponents in the Republican Party.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
4 June 2012

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