Drone policy providing easy answers for the US but poses many difficult questions for Europe.
Beautiful Sicily is the largest of the Mediterranean isles, lying at the toe of Italy and home to Europe’s most active volcano, Mount Etna. Since early 2016 however, volcanic ash and cloud are no longer alone in the salty Sicilian air as they have been joined by the disconcerting hum of armed US drones. An agreement between the Italian government and the United States in February of 2016, allows the Americans the use of an air base on the island from which to launch ‘defensive operations’ against the Islamic state in Libya and other North-African countries. Controlled remotely by US military pilots sitting comfortably in the Nevada desert, armed drones are now departing Italian airspace to carry out, what Barrack Obama labelled, ‘precise’ strikes on identified targets South of the Mediterranean Sea.
In Germany over the last five years, it appears that the US air base of Rammstein, near the city of Kaiserslautern in the South-West of the country, has become a crucial and indispensable element of the US use of armed drones in the Middle-East. Although no drones physically fly from the air base, the signal for the deployment of the drones is routed through the site and it is widely believed, although not officially confirmed by either government, that Rammstein is involved in virtually every US Air Force drone attack.
European nations, through provision of these air bases, in Italy and Germany, or through general failure to challenge the use of armed drones, are enabling the US military to pursue a murderous policy that would be illegal in all western countries.
Every piece of US domestic and foreign policy is suddenly topical following the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States; the US drone policy, commonly labelled “Obama’s drone policy”, is no different. A man who reportedly could not be trusted with access to his own twitter account in the run-up to the presidential election has now assumed the role of US commander in chief and adopted the armed drone programme, possibly the second most powerful military apparatus in the world after nuclear weaponry.
Trump and his team at the White House have not wasted any time in implementing, or at least attempting to implement, a series of executive orders to follow through on his campaign promises. One promise Trump has yet to address publicly at least, since his inauguration, is his promise to “pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS”. In typical blunt fashion, he stated at a campaign rally in 2015 that he would “bomb the shit out of ’em”:
Of course the new administration will surely be aware that a more elaborate plan will need to be pursued in order to truly defeat one of the world’s most powerful and aggressive terrorist organisations. In 2015, when questioned on FOX news about how he intended, as president, to combat the threat of ISIS, Trump said he had a plan that is “foolproof” and “absolute” in it’s effectiveness, but he refused to elaborate further as “I don’t want the enemy to know what I’m doing”.
Since the US strategy to combat the rise of ISIS in particular, and address other Middle-Eastern issues in general, has proved to date to be anything but foolproof and absolute, it will be interesting to learn exactly what the hotel magnate has up his sleeve. The suspicion of course is that aside from not wanting the enemy to know what he is doing; Trump isn’t really sure himself. Hillary Clinton has always maintained that Trump was bluffing on his plan for ISIS – there is no plan, or at least nothing different to what has gone before.
— CNN (@CNN) September 27, 2016
What has gone before of course is the arming and support of groups who consider themselves enemies of ISIS (and therefore purport to be friends of the US) and, more importantly, drone warfare. Officially and ideally, drone warfare involves the targeted bombing of individuals and groups associated with ISIS in the Middle-East and North-Africa; but to put it another way, it is the murder of alleged terrorists without trial or plea on the whim of supposed US intelligence, while killing and wounding hundreds of innocent civilians in the process. The US are dropping death sentences out of the sky in a borderless ‘war on terror’ and the relative silence of Europe and the UN is deafening.
It is not clear who, if anyone, is being held accountable for the deaths of innocent civilians caught up in these ‘precise’ strikes. Nor is it clear what standard the US military or CIA are adopting in choosing exactly who is to be killed and why. The United States is a country with a legal system that ensures every murderer, rapist and child molester is allowed the opportunity to defend themselves in a fair and reasonable trial, but has somehow decided that those terms of justice shouldn’t be applied elsewhere. Other western nations are sitting idly by while the US executes alleged terrorists for alleged crimes, when over 60% of states in the US have not executed a person of proven guilt in well over a decade.
The use of drones to carry out bombing missions was attractive to Obama’s administration for a variety of obvious reasons. The opportunity to complete military missions without the need for US troops having boots on the ground, or in the air even, is a welcome one, especially following the disastrous drawn out invasion and occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq. The American public are largely unbothered if ‘precise’ strikes are actually killing innocent and potentially innocent people in the Middle East, as long as their sons and daughters aren’t coming home with serious and severe physical and psychological trauma.
Obama stated, when addressing the ‘official’ figures released concerning the hundreds of innocents killed by US drone strikes:
As a nation, we are steadfastly committed to complying with our obligations under the law of armed conflict, including those that address the protection of civilians, such as the fundamental principles of necessity, humanity, distinction and proportionality.
Using terms such as ‘necessity’ and ‘proportionality’ when discussing the protection of civilians from your own ‘precise’ strikes is not very promising , even if the former president did throw in the word ‘humanity’ as if to qualify the whole statement.
Now the control of the questionable drone programme is to be handed from the Nobel peace prize winning Obama to blunt, aggressive and undiplomatic Trump. This is the same Trump who wants to make America great again, who wants to bring back waterboarding, and even promises to do “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”, who lies as frequently as he pouts, who has shown complete disregard for diplomacy, who has been effusive in his praise for Russian president Vladimir Putin and who, again, has promised to “bomb the shit out of ISIS”.
Expect more droning from the States, surely the rest of the world will eventually wake up.
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