In his election campaign, President Obama continues to brag about killing Osama Bin Laden. Also, reports on the U.S. government’s use of drone aircraft to kill alleged Al-Qaeda operatives have been leaked in an apparent effort to boost Obama’s image as a committed prosecutor of the “war on terror.”
The Democratic Party is proud of its warrior president and the Republicans can hardly find fault. But the truth behind the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere is what Obama and the rest of U.S. imperialists would like to remain under wraps. Fortunately that has not been fully possible. It is an open secret that Obama has been busy quietly expanding U.S. military interventions in many countries abroad. For example, Rolling Stone noted “American drones have been sent to spy on or kill targets in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya,” and pointed out that 3000 alleged terrorists, including “at least” 4 U.S. citizens, have been assassinated. The article cited a “collateral damage” of “more than 800 “defenseless civilians.”
What Bush started, Obama has greatly escalated. Where the Bush regime was responsible for launching 52 drone strikes in Pakistan, the Obama regime is responsible for at least 260 in Pakistan so far, as well as dozens in other countries. Where Bush talked about a “global war on terror” Obama is turning it into more of a reality.
U.S. imperialism has always been about flagrantly invading other nations abroad, punishing “Third World” nations for daring to exercise their independence and trampling over their peoples’ democratic rights. From the vantage point of the workers and oppressed of the world, U.S. imperialism is an inhumane monster hiding behind the rhetorical façade of “democracy” and “liberty.” In the horrific scenario going on today, however, a number of alarming features of U.S. foreign conduct have come to the fore.
With actions like the Navy Seal unit’s killing of Bin Laden and the rising remote-control drone warfare in Pakistan, Obama has re-affirmed and extended the right of the U.S. to intervene militarily anywhere in the world, violating the sovereignty of other countries and substituting assassinations for trials along the way. The Presidency operates under the premise that there is no obligation to offer any proof that the people assassinated were actual terrorists, or that it was impossible to capture a given “target” alive and provide them with a trial instead of an assassination.
These operations are carried out by the executive arm of government in secret; there is no judicial or congressional role in the decisions, oversight, or review. In effect they are undeclared illegal wars – or events that can very easily turn into wars. Obama is deepening the long-established notion that the President is actually above the law and thereby is also free to violate the rights of U.S. citizens, while maintaining government secrecy to limit their knowledge, consent or control.
In addition to alleged terrorists, Special Operations forces and drone attacks also murder a lot of unquestionably innocent people. But the events are routinely falsely painted to the public as “clean,” i.e. high-tech streamlined interventions where only dangerous targets like Bin Laden are eliminated.
The killing of unquestionably innocent people as part of these operations is often not just an accident. In 2010 WikiLeaks posted a video in which a U.S. Apache helicopter in Iraq can be seen killing two journalists among others and then other civilians who tried to aid the wounded, including children. Rather than an isolated abomination, the killing of innocents is now understood to be actual policy.
In sum, no one can really know exactly how many such operations have occurred, exactly how many people have been killed and who they were. Of course they were all guilty – of being near someone else – who in turn was a “target” being executed by remote control as an alleged “terrorist,” a term in turn defined as broadly as suits the powers-that-be.
A huge problem for Obama and the ruling class at this juncture has been how to continue to wage murderous attacks on oppressed people across the globe as needed. Most Americans have wanted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to end and oppose any new foreign wars that would produce American body bags. This has meant that the widespread use of elite Special Operations forces like in the Bin Laden mission and remote control drones – with “collateral damage” conveniently kept as invisible to the American public as possible – serves U.S. imperialism well for the moment.
The horrors that the US military is now perpetrating in Pakistan and elsewhere is not widely understood in this country. Some of the growing opposition inside the US to the government’s war-making abroad arose not from internationalist concern for the victims of US imperialism, but from the privileged position and chauvinist viewpoint that the problem has been that Americans are dying and that the wars mean spending abroad instead of spending at home. For this and other reasons, there is hardly any enthusiasm for traditional war abroad in the American working class right now.
Working-class internationalism is the opposite of any viewpoint that accepts the imperialist world order. The internationalist view is based on the necessity of unity of the international working class and oppressed facing a common enemy of capitalist imperialism. Indeed the fact that U.S. imperialism is the common enemy of the American working class and workers in oppressed nations is a critical insight. Revolutionaries strive to demonstrate the truth of this.
On this score, the same methods developed to try to keep the workers and oppressed around the globe cowed are being turned on American citizens and adapted for use on home soil. In short, drones are coming to a neighborhood near you. The use of drones along the U.S.-Mexican border has been public knowledge but only a recent lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managed to elicit information about the broader domestic use of drones. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) pursued a Freedom of Information Act case and eventually obtained a list of organizations that have received permission to fly drones. The list includes a number of police departments. This is just the beginning of what is expected to become widespread.
The militarization of state and local police departments in the United States has been going on for decades and advanced in the last four years. Black and Latino people, and immigrants, are most often in the cross-hairs of police attacks. While for now domestic drones are being proposed only for surveillance, one can not discount their future use for more violent forms of domestic repression. Indeed as writer Glenn Greenwald has noted:
Police officials are already speaking openly about their desire to weaponize their drones with “nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun.”
For the moment, the American working class remains largely passive in the face of its own exploitation and oppression. Many of our fellow workers are far from conscious of the need to fight U.S. imperialism as the main enemy. When the class struggle heats up here, more workers and young people will begin really questioning the system and the connections between imperialism abroad, the growth of state repression at home and the “bread and butter” issues that workers face daily will be understood by growing numbers. More working people will become convinced that the only way to reach a society of economic security – as well as real political liberty – is through a socialist revolution which smashes U.S. imperialism. A new state power can be created, one which will not only serve the masses at home but will offer actual internationalist solidarity and friendship to the masses of the world for the first time.
1. Michael Hastings, The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret.
2. Chris Kirk, Obama’s 262 Drone Strikes in Pakistan
3. For example, one journalist noted a Special Ops raid in Afghanistan in February 2010 “during which two pregnant women and a U.S.-trained Afghan police commander were killed. Senior Afghan security officials and eyewitnesses claimed that U.S. forces dug the bullets out of the dead women’s bodies” since they were initially trying to blame the killings on the Taliban. Stories of such cover-ups are also par for the course. See, for example, Jeremy Scahill, JSOC: The Special Ops Force That Took Down Bin Laden.
4. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, for one, has proof that “the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals.” See Glenn Greenwald, US drone strikes target rescuers in Pakistan – and the west stays silent.
5. See www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/08/these-drones-are-made-watchin for more information.
6. For history on this phenomenon see Rania Kalek, Why Do the Police Have Tanks? The Strange and Dangerous Militarization of the US Police Force.
7. Glenn Greenwald, The growing menace of domestic drones.