FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Drone Trust the Government

by SHELDON RICHMAN

“Covert” drone warfare requires a level of confidence in politicians that they will never deserve.
In the Kentucky Resolutions, the 1798 protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts, Thomas Jefferson wrote,
It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in [politicians] to silence our fears for the safety of our rights: that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism — free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power.
If Jefferson had this reaction to restrictions on criticism of the government, we can surmise that he would have been appalled by a government whose chief executive has the unchecked unilateral power to kill people — including American citizens — away from the traditional battlefield and without due process, on the basis of suspicions and allegations that they are “involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States.” (The quote is from the Department of Justice White Paper on drone warfare [PDF].)
Jefferson and others of his generation understood that government was simply not something to be trusted. Rather, it was a permanent object of suspicion, because it was uniquely positioned to steal our freedoms. This of course is precisely the opposite of the attitude that government officials — Democrat and Republican — wish us Americans to hold.
Under the drone program, the president and high-ranking senior officials select individuals in foreign countries not at war with the United States for targeting on the basis of claims that they are involved in the operations of “al-Qa’ida or an associated force.” No judicial finding is required before an individual — again, including American citizens — can be killed. As columnist Glenn Greenwald notes, “Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a ‘senior al-Qaida leader’ and who is posing an ‘imminent threat’ to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.”
But we aren’t supposed to be bothered by this policy, because we are expected to have confidence in “our leaders,” at least as long as they are members of the right political party. Surely they would not abuse this terrifying power. At this point, any self-respecting American should be quoting Jefferson: “That confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism.” It is intolerable that the president can autocratically send unpiloted aircraft into foreign countries to kill people. And it is appalling that the administration feels it owes the people no detailed explanation of where this authority comes from. (A Justice Department white paper ostensibly describing a secret legal memo was obtained by NBC News.)
What has America become?
Drones raise a related concern. The technology is attractive to the ruling elite because using it is less expensive than traditional forms of war. That is, it lowers the cost of foreign intervention. “Boots on the ground” are expensive both in the risk to troops and money. Conventional airstrikes are similarly expensive. By comparison, drone warfare is cheap. American personnel are not at risk, because drones can be operated safely thousands of miles from the victims’ location.
This, however, is not the blessing some take it to be. Lowering the cost of foreign intervention and war is a false economy, because it allows government more easily to embroil the country in hostilities. Unintended consequences are inevitable. Thus we shouldn’t want to remove obstacles to a belligerent foreign policy. On the contrary, we should want to make it prohibitively expensive for politicians to enter overseas conflicts, because they have neither the information nor the incentives to perform good deeds in this regard.
But, some will ask, how can Americans be kept safe from terrorism? Let’s recall that the terrorism directed at Americans since the 1990s has been entirely the direct result of U.S.-government-inflicted or -sponsored violence, primarily in the Middle East. Captured terrorists say this, and there is no reason to doubt them. It’s not about “our freedom.” Jihadists don’t attack Switzerland. If people with a disposition for violence plot against American troops abroad, bring the troops home. If people in countries brutalized by American policy plot against us, stop the brutality and embrace nonintervention — a policy requiring no trust in “our leaders.”
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) in Fairfax, Va.

Sheldon Richman, author of the forthcoming America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com

More articles by:
July 25, 2016
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail