Assessing the Human Cost of Drone Strikes


The expansion of the U.S. military’s drone program has led to the loss of too many innocent lives. (PHOTO COURTESY OF RICHARD UNTEN VIA FLICKR)


When Barack Obama came into the Oval Office after a landslide victory in the 2008 election, he did so with the promise that he would scale back the hawkish, neo-conservative foreign policy of the prior Bush Administration. Instead of the expected reduction, the main change in the President’s strategy has been a shift from former President Bush’s reliance on ground troops to a military strategy centered around the use of missile strikes from unmanned combat aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones. Though many (including the President) view these airstrikes as a means of neutralizing enemy combatants without endangering the lives of American servicemen, the deployment of this defense strategy has been intensely problematic, both strategically and ethically.

Though there are fewer soldiers physically stationed in combat areas, the use of airstrikes has greatly increased the number of civilian deaths. According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, “there have now been nearly nine times more strikes under Obama in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia than there were under his predecessor, George W Bush.” The Bureau also reported a minimum of 256 civilian deaths in Pakistan alone since 2009, compared to the 167 deaths that occurred under the Bush Administration.

As a result of the expansion of the aerial theater of the War on Terror, the Obama White House and the Democratic leadership have continuously attempted to conceal the extent of the impact these military strikes have had. One of the most Machiavellian tricks pulled by the administration has been its expansion of the official definition of the word “militant.” According to an article written by Glenn Greenwald in May 2012 for Salon, as opposed to the previous and stricter definition (simply, anyone engaged in violent revolt against the U.S. government) it can now be used by the military to refer to any able-bodied men in a combat area. This dangerous wordsmithing is a clear attempt by the administration to purposefully obfuscate its record on drone strikes, resulting in a far lower official civilian death count than in reality.

This muddying-of-the-waters is vital to controlling public opinion of U.S. military action, as well as to maintaining the status of the Democratic Party as the standard-bearer of the American center-left. As a Democratic President, Barack Obama is forced to walk a delicate balance between a more dovish, left-leaning electoral base and his far more hawkish advisors and the Democratic leadership.

Simultaneously, as most of the core voters of the Democratic Party had plenty of objections when President Bush took their country to war, the party feels an immense pressure to hide the similarities between its policies and those of the Republican opposition. As a result, most Americans do not realize that more civilians have died in drone strikes under the current President than under the former (according to the New York Times), just as they similarly do not realize that more undocumented immigrants have been deported (according to Fusion). Obama is responsible for more innocent casualties in air raids than his predecessor, a man so controversial in military policy that many have decried him and his top advisors as war criminals. It only attests to the success of the administration’s maneuvers that right-wing media can still criticize him for a “weak” foreign policy.

The deaths of innocent civilians in U.S. drone strikes is immoral and unacceptable.The grand founding ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are besmirched by their loss at the hands of shortsighted and uncompassionate foreign policy. It is the duty of every American citizen to work to end this reckless violence that portrays the United States as a conquering imperial power, as opposed to an equal partner striving for global peace and prosperity. The only way to win the “War on Terror” is to win the hearts and minds of people hardest hit by global terrorism. Killing their friends and family is certainly not a means of accomplishing that.