Wednesday, October 22, 2014

HEINTZ: Counterproductive effects of drone strikes

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 5/15/2013

One important facet of the war on terror that doesn’t get near enough attention is the people directly affected by U.S. foreign policy.

When Americans are the victims of terrorism, we learn everything about their lives, but when civilians in predominantly Muslim countries are killed by U.S. counterterrorism efforts the exact opposite is true. These victims are rendered nameless and their stories — with some rare exceptions — go untold, although, to their credit, the news media usually mentions that women and children were among those killed when such is the case. The dehumanizing effect on the U.S. public of this faceless coverage is exacerbated by the fact that the Obama administration egregiously considers all Muslim males of military age living in hostile or unstable countries like Yemen and Pakistan to be militants. Such a skewed outlook is bound to make average Americans apathetic about civilian casualties in these countries.

One important facet of the war on terror that doesn’t get near enough attention is the people directly affected by U.S. foreign policy.

When Americans are the victims of terrorism, we learn everything about their lives, but when civilians in predominantly Muslim countries are killed by U.S. counterterrorism efforts the exact opposite is true. These victims are rendered nameless and their stories — with some rare exceptions — go untold, although, to their credit, the news media usually mentions that women and children were among those killed when such is the case. The dehumanizing effect on the U.S. public of this faceless coverage is exacerbated by the fact that the Obama administration egregiously considers all Muslim males of military age living in hostile or unstable countries like Yemen and Pakistan to be militants. Such a skewed outlook is bound to make average Americans apathetic about civilian casualties in these countries.

Two young men from Yemen did their part to help broaden the prism from which Americans — and our government — view the war on terror by explaining the counterproductive effects U.S. drone strikes are having on their country.

“The killing of innocent civilians by U.S. missiles in Yemen is helping to destabilize my country and create an environment from which A.Q.A.P. (al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula) benefits,” Farea al-Muslimi, a pro-American 22-year-old democracy activist, said in testimony before a U.S. Senate committee.

The affect drone strikes have had on his country was made all too real for al-Muslimi when his own village was targeted by drones.

“In the past, most of Wessab’s villagers knew little about the United States,” he said. “Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads ready to fire missiles at any time.”

What American policymakers need to understand, al-Muslimi told the committee, is that “Wessab first experienced America through the terror of a drone strike. What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: There is now an intense and growing hatred of America.”

Ibrahim Mothana, a 24-year-old Yemeni writer and activist, made many of the same points last year in an opinion piece for the New York Times, writing that drone strikes were radicalizing Yeminis who were driven not by ideology, but a combined feeling of revenge and despair.

“Anti-Americanism is less prevalent in Yemen than in Pakistan,” Mothana wrote. “But rather than winning the hearts and minds of Yemeni civilians, America is alienating them by killing their relatives and friends. ... Certainly, there may be short-term military gains from killing militant leaders in these strikes, but they are miniscule compared with the long term damage the drone program is causing.”

Much to its credit, a Senate sub-committee invited Mothana to travel to Washington, D.C., to speak about targeted killings and drone strikes in Yemen, but he was unable to attend, so he sent written testimony instead that was published in the Congressional Record by the committee.

Though some well-informed folks in the political cognoscenti still consider drone strikes to be the most feasible way to deal with terrorists living in hostile territories — they logically reason it’s better than risking American lives by putting troops on the ground — this tactic might be creating as many terrorists as it’s killing.

Mothana, in his written testimony to the sub-committee, wrote:

“Many of us ruefully repeat a line from one of President Obama’s press conference on Nov. 18, 2012: ‘There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.’”

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.

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