from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Obama on Proxies, and U.S.-China Military Relations

November 17, 2014

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Remarks by President Obama at G20 Press Conference, White House, November 16, 2014.

Obama: But we’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles. And one of those principles is that you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.

(3PA: The United States led coercive regime change invasions in three countries in the past thirteen years. Moreover, the international community has been funding and training proxies in the Syrian civil war for almost two years, and on September 19 Obama signed legislation to include the Pentagon in training the proxies. Presumably, these core international principles apply exclusively to other countries.)

Steve Coll, “The Unblinking Stare: The drone war in Pakistan,” New Yorker, November 24, 2014.

There are many reasons to be skeptical of the C.I.A.’s unpublished, lower estimate. According to former Obama Administration officials, the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, which oversees the agency’s drone operations, generates an after-action report, which includes an assessment of whether there was collateral damage. The center has a specialized, independent group that conducts post-strike investigations. The investigators grade the performances of their colleagues and bosses—not exactly a recipe for objectivity. But it seems clear that, over time, the Administration’s record improved significantly in avoiding civilian casualties…

The drones create a lot of misery in our area,” one student said. “So do the Arabs.” He meant Al Qaeda. “Why are the Arabs coming to our country? Why are they not fighting in their own countries? But we also say to America: If you say the Taliban are terrorists, yes, we agree. They are. But who created them?”…

North Waziristan residents and other Pakistanis I spoke with emphasized how difficult it would be for a drone operator to distinguish between circumstances where a Taliban or Al Qaeda commander had been welcomed into a hujra and where the commander had bullied or forced his way in. If the Taliban “comes to my hujra and asks for shelter, you have no choice,” Saleem Safi, a journalist who has travelled extensively in Waziristan, told me. “Now a potential drone target is living in a guest room or a guesthouse on your compound, one wall away from your own house and family.”

“You can’t protect your family from a strike on a hujra,” another resident of North Waziristan said. “Your children will play nearby. They will even go inside to play.” The researcher in Islamabad said, “There is always peer pressure, tribal pressure, to be hospitable.” He went on, “If you say no, you look like a coward and you lose face. Anyway, you can’t say no to them. If a drone strike does take place, you are a criminal in the courts of the Taliban,” because you are suspected of espionage and betrayal. “You are also a criminal to the government, because you let the commander sleep in your hujra.” In such a landscape, the binary categories recognized by international law—combatant or noncombatant—can seem inadequate to describe the culpability of those who died. Women, children, and the elderly feel pressure from all sides. A young man of military age holding a gun outside a hujra might be a motivated Taliban volunteer, a reluctant conscript, or a victim of violent coercion...

Cheryl Pellerin, “Fiscal Crisis, Threats Test DoD Strategy, Readiness,” U.S. Department of Defense, November 16, 2014.

One such area, particularly because of the ISIL fight in Iraq and Syria, [Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers] said, is intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR. “There is just not enough of that capacity to go around right now,” he said, adding that primary reconnaissance aircraft in demand include the Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles. “We’re making due,” he added, “but we’re taking more risk in some areas. The demand now in Iraq and Syria is very high and we have challenges in Yemen and Libya and elsewhere, so we’re working hard to fix this but it’s not something you can get out of right away.”

Without going into specific shortfalls, the intelligence official said, “we’re concluding that we will need more [drones] going forward than we might have thought a year ago if we hadn’t had Iraq-Syria and this situation.

Memorandum of Understanding Between the United States of America Department of Defense and the People’s Republic of China Ministry of National Defense on Notification of Major Military Activities Confidence-Building Measures Mechanism, U.S. Department of Defense, November 12, 2014.

The United States Department of Defense and the People’s Republic of China Ministry of National Defense (hereinafter referred to as the “sides”):

Reaffirm the commitment to the development of a new model of U.S.-China military-to-military relations, which is an integral part of the bilateral relationship:

…The United States Department of Defense and the People’s Republic of China Ministry of National Defense (hereinafter referred to as the “sides”):

Affirm that notifications should aim to reduce misunderstanding, prevent miscalculation, and manage risk and crisis effectively; and

Establish a mechanism to inform when both sides would exchange notifications of major military activities on the basis of the principles of constructive cooperation, mutual interest, mutual trust, mutual benefit, and reciprocity, consistent with accepted international norms of behavior…

Gen. Wesley K. Clark (ret.), Don’t Wait for the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership (New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2014) p. 39.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary [Paul Wolfowitz],” I opened. I paused. It felt a little awkward as he looked up at me. I thought I better put it in context. “Sir, when you visited us out at the NTC in January, you said I should stop by to say hello when I got back to the Pentagon.” I paused. No reaction. I tried again. “Well, I just wanted to stop by and say congratulations for all that was done overseas. You must be very proud of the operations and the troops.”

I wasn’t one of those troops, and, sure, that was a little disappointing. I’d been held in position at the National Training Center during the war to continue the training activities for our mobilizing National Guard forces. But I was proud of what our team and the Army had accomplished.

Now Wolfowitz was engaged. He looked up at me intently. “Yes,” he said, “of course….But, we didn’t get Saddam Hussein. President Bush says his own people will take him out….Maybe, but I doubt it.”

I knew there was a rebellion underway as the Shiites in southern Iraq took advantage of Saddam’s defeat to rise up against his control, and I had read there was some argument as to whether or not President Bush had flinched and called a halt too soon, or should have ordered General Normal Schwarzkopf Jr. to Baghdad. But I wasn’t prepared with an opinion one way or the other on Saddam’s future.

“Still, we did learn one thing,” Wolfowitz continued. “We learned that we can intervene militarily in the region with impunity, and the Soviets won’t do a thing to stop us.” (p. 39)

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