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By Bill Shunas
The use of drones to kill who the US considers to be enemy targets has been much discussed lately. Drone attacks have come under criticism for killing civilians, killing US citizens, for choosing arbitrary targets without any apparent judicial review and for using US military/gangster force in other sovereign nations. All these things should suggest that something is wrong here. As it is, many Americans support the use of drones. It's easy to see why. It's better than sending American troops with all the consequences that entails. Some would come back in coffins. Some would come back with serious physical and/or mental wounds. Plus drones are cheaper than deploying large number of troops in this age of austerity.
The type of warfare we are involved in today is much changed from the past. Some call it the war on terrorism. Some call it the war on Al Qaeda, although it might be more correct to say Al Qaeda and its allies because so many terrorists and terrorist groups are not under any kind of Al Qaeda central command. Rather, they are Al Qaeda admirers or wannabees. In any event these terrorist groups evidently have a variety of numbers and are widely scattered. That's the attraction for using drones. That's much easier than sending in troops which would probably involve some kind of problematic mix and match. Send in a battallion here and a Zero Dark Thirty team there.
Supporters of drone warfare, as well as cynics, might say that we would kill fewer civilians than we would if we invaded. See, for example, the Iraq War and the Vietnam War where civilian deaths were way out of proportion. It may be true that fewer civilians suffer under drones than invasion, but this also misses the point.
The key point is that drone warfare is counterproductive. Each drone attack becomes world knowledge. Each suffering child becomes world knowledge. The world knows about each civilian living in fear because her village is a target. Some of those under attack or observing will succomb to fear, and some people will be pissed off. Those pissed off will look around for a way to fight the senders of the drones — Americans. Another recruit for the friends of Al Qaeda. You kill one, and two join. So, in addition to all the ethical and political problems with drones, they only escalate the wars. This may even be something those on the right can agree with.
It is civilians in Washington, whether in the CIA or the administration who have decided on this drone policy. I suppose you can't say that civilians are always wrong on these issues. Same, same with the military. However, we shouldn't forget that it was civilians that brought us the quagmires of Vietnam and Iraq. And with the drones, it is once again civilians deciding again and making the worst choice.
The biggest political issues of the day have revolved around the debt and deficit and government sequestration and how it will all play out and further weaken our economy. The problems of the debt are nothing but smoke and mirrors used by those who can't find credible political or practical reasons to redistribute the wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy.
While all this smoke and mirrors is going on, there are a couple of elephants in the room. These are the economy and global warming. Life will be deteriorating much faster in this country for too many people in an economy such as ours which is growing the number of poor people. For decades wealth has been distributed from the poor and middle class to the already wealthy. Life will also be deteriorating much faster here and around the world very soon if nothing is done about climate change.
These two issues are not being dealt with because the Republicans have made the debt into a (the) major issue. It's not. It's nothing more than the Koala Bear in the room. It's a non-issue that people with their own agenda are using to prevent movement forward on major issues.
With all this recent talk of debt and deficit there was an aspect of the discussion that was of interest. This was the talk of cutting spending on the military, or of at least reducing the planned future increases in military spending. This kind of talk has always gone on. One less F-16 equals six more schools that could be built and so forth. It used to be that such talk was the province of the peace, love and brown rice liberals and was easily shot down by most folks who echoed the righteous patriots for whom national defense takes precedence over starving babies, poisonous landfills or any little hurricane that washes ashore. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do to protect the homeland.
What seems to be different nowadays is that people are actually discussing the idea of military cuts, and those who play the national defense card don't automatically have a get-out-of-jail-free card. They have to justify their positions. Even some Tea Partiers have talked about cutting military spending.
National defense, of course, means sticking our nose in every nook and cranny around the world. This is done, not so much to defend the nation as it is to bully the rest of the world in the hopes that everyone bows to American (corporate) interests. Such is the job of a superpower. Should we keep pumping money into "Defense?" It's becoming evident that to continue to do so means much sacrifice elsewhere. Of course there's always been sacrifice on the part of citizens. The difference is that it used to be only the poor who sacrificed. Now it's 99% of us. Or maybe 86%.
This all suggests that the American people should review what we want to do around the world. We need to rethink this superpower thing. We can't afford it. I suppose we could afford it for a bit longer if we give up a few things. Vet care can take a back seat. That's not a job for a superpower. Maybe that idea comes from the old days when combat soldiers simply died and didn't need to be cared for later. Maybe, just maybe we should give up on this superpower thing and start taking care of our populace. Our living standards are going to take a big hit in the future if we keep on being a superpower.
Giving up our meddling around the world will help with one of the elephants if some of the money not spent on the defense budget goes toward job creation. It won't be great because new jobs will pay less, but it would be better. As for the other elephant — global warming — I'm no expert, but I lean toward expecting that this will be the future's significant problem. Cue the Godzilla music. As long as energy decisions are made by the energy profiteers, we're going to be in some deep shit.
Bill Shunas is a Vietnam veteran, author and VVAW member in the Chicago chapter.