Is America ready to talk about drones?

Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney have touched upon the issue of drones during their election campaigns this year.

October 05, 2012

The world is finally waking up to the disastrous aftermath of drone attacks conducted regularly by the United States in countries such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Recently, the release of a study by Stanford University and New York University’s School of Law, detailing the death and destruction caused by the drone programme in Pakistan, created a great hue and cry. The study corroborated the earlier findings by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that drone strikes killed 2,562 to 3,325 people in Pakistan of whom, 474 to 881 were civilians. This figure included 176 children. It also details the deep psychological impact on the survivors of a programme that operates under the façade of being ‘surgically precise and effective’. Almost every major world publication ran a story on the issue. Now, hopefully, Americans will realise the real impact of these deadly weapons on innocent lives in another corner of the world. Maybe the current percentage of 62 per cent of Americans, as quoted by a Pew global attitudes project poll that favours drones as a measure of dealing with terrorists, will also decline. But will this debate find any real place in the upcoming American elections?

The answer is no. A look at the current election campaigns by both Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama will tell you why.

When it comes to President Obama, he is still playing the ‘getting rid of Osama bin Laden’ card when it comes to dealing with terrorism, as was seen in the Democratic National Convention earlier this month and many of his other speeches as well. To add to it, he also takes credit for ending the hugely unpopular war in Iraq and the plan for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by 2014. Drone attacks that have been repeatedly denied by the CIA and the White House until President Obama’s admission of the programme on a recent Google Hangout with the American public, find no place in his re-election campaign. They are not even mentioned on the list of issues he plans to address on his official website. In fact, the reluctance by President Obama to even discuss any measure that can potentially eliminate terrorists will be seen as a sign of weakness and carries the risk of negative repercussions.

On the other hand, Romney’s stance on the Afghanistan-Pakistan issue is mainly a regurgitation of President Obama’s plans, including the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and working with the Afghan and Pakistan governments to end insurgency and fight terrorism. His recommendations on the region make no mention of the drone attacks, their benefits or drawbacks, or how his administration would deal with them, if voted into power. In fact, Romney has completely shied away from making any connection with the programme, despite its Republican legacy of having been started by former president George W Bush.

Finally, the American vote bank’s main concerns in this election are also a contributing factor to the lack of debate on drones. The average American is too distraught by problems at home to raise concerns about an issue that does not affect them directly. According to a report released by the Pew Research Centre on September 24, the main concern for voters right now is the economy, followed by jobs, health care and education, with terrorism falling eighth on the list of priorities. Furthermore, the importance of terrorism as an issue for voters has declined from the 72 per cent of 2008 elections to 60 per cent right now.

While we should appreciate the findings of this report and the discussions it has generated in academic and political circles, let us not be naive enough to hope that it will bring about any real change when it comes to mainstream American policy. The buzz of drones that have driven many to insanity and others to the grave will once again be drowned in political uproar until those seeking to be in power, figure out a way of manoeuvering this debate to their political advantage.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2012.


nimit | 9 years ago | Reply

if pakistan military and government had done their part against terrorism properly than drones attack would not been made and number of youths joining terrorist would have declined significantly

Solomon2 | 9 years ago | Reply

The drone strikes are not controversial in the U.S. because it is assumed that any president would behave similarly: foreign military ops in terrorist-controlled areas are legal under post-9/11 international law (Pakistani sovereignty literally doesn't exist in such areas) and strikes against Al Qaeda and allied Taliban are clearly a matter of American self-defense.

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