The Obama Administration and Drone Strikes

Hunter Koski
Jul 16, 2013 at 9:19 AM

These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney as he solemnly spoke of President Obama’s use of drone warfare.

Carney cited careful consideration of the government, the President’s responsibility, and anti-terrorism as ethical grounds for the use of drones, saying, “ (The) President takes his responsibilities very seriously, and first and foremost, that’s his responsibility, to protect the United States and American citizens,” and “We have acknowledged, the United States, that sometimes we use remotely piloted aircraft to conduct targeted strikes against specific al Qaeda terrorists in order to prevent attacks on the United States and to save American lives.”

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder

However, the responsibility of the Obama Administration’s use of drone warfare is dubious, as is the use of drones altogether. Only 2% of casualties from drone strikes have been targets, the rest untargeted militants and, most importantly, innocent men, women, and children.

Second, these strikes do not only occur in caves dug out by terrorists in the Middle Eastern mountains, but in cities and towns, where children are sure to be a significant externality. Innocent civilian casualties could number higher than 300 in Pakistan, 150 in Yemen, and smaller numbers elsewhere. However, as many as 400 are unknown as to whether or not they were untargeted militants or innocent civilians. The vast majority of the casualties are untargeted militants.  Some sources note higher civilian casualties.

Notably, 4 casualties were American citizens, 3 of whom were targets, and the other a terrorist’s innocent 16 year-old son. All four were targeted without a trial of justice. Of course, the Obama Administration has stated these innocent casualties are to be minimized, however, a study has found that drone strikes kill 10 times more innocents than manned aircraft. If reducing innocent casualties were the Obama Administration’s real intention, we would abandon the use of drones and return to conventional means, or not use this tactic. 

Drones are not only an international policy blunder, but also pose threats to domestic civil liberties. The Obama Administration has supported the use of drones on domestic soil as a response to a letter from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul asking whether or not the President had the authority to use a drone strike against a U.S. citizen on American soil without a trial, Attorney General Eric Holder stated:

The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”

After Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster of CIA Director nominee John Brennan, Mr. Holder responded with the following, “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: 'Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?' The answer to that question is no.”

What is important to note is how the Obama Administration's interpretation of the powers of the President changed. First, Mr. Holder stated the President could authorize the use of drones on Americans soil against Americans without a trial under restrained discretion. Then days later, after Senator Paul’s filibuster that garnered global attention, Mr. Obama suddenly does not have the authority to use a drone against an American citizen on U.S. soil. Does that not bring any discomfort in the name of civil liberties and executive power? — That an administration’s interpretation of the law may change in a manner of days as long as it receives enough popular attention with something as deadly as an aircraft believed to cause 10 times more casualties than a conventional aircraft?

It is understandable that the government would need to purchase this weaponry in order to compete with other nations that have purchased them to their inventory, such China and Russia, so those nation-states do not become comparably more technologically advanced. However, it would be better if we just bought them, locked them in a basement, and abandoned their use.

Popularly, as the use of the drone strikes becomes more prevalent in our foreign policy, and since Senator Paul’s filibuster, American citizens have become increasingly unfavorable toward them, with 41% of Democrats, 50% of Republicans, and 35% of Independent having a favorable view, down almost a fifth to a third in each category since 2012. Stopping the use of drones would be a favorable policy for the Obama Administration abroad and at home.

It is essential that in order to protect the safety of American citizens that we forbid the President to have the authority to use drones on domestic soil and we resist their use abroad. Drone warfare inflicts as much harm on our foreign image with other nations as it could potentially within American borders.

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