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The Silence of the Drones


Without mentioning the widespread protests against US drone warfare, the mainstream media reports a sharp decline in drone attacks recently. Noted several weeks ago by the Peace and Justice Resource Center, the sudden silence of the drones once again received front-page mention by Scott Shane in the May 22 New York Times in the run-up to President Obama’s speech at the National Defense University. 

Shane explained the drop as perhaps due to “a changing calculation of the long-term costs and benefits of targeted killings,” without mentioning that spreading protests by groups like Code Pink, among others, and the simmering criticisms by public-interest journalists as a “cost” of the previously invisible drone program. Shane, whose continuing coverage of Obama’s secret wars and crackdowns on whistleblowers has “cost” the Obama administration, portrayed the conflict over drones in a top-down, Beltway-based, fashion, ignoring the “cost” of protests wherever administration officials appear. Some in the Obama administration fear the return of angry “ghosts” from past anti-war movements. 

Shane only mentions “an eroding political consensus in the United States” as one of the factors, while placing emphasis on growing differences within the national security elite over the relative effectiveness of the drone strategy. 

To the extent that the drone policy has a geo-political dimension, it may be necessary for the Obama administration to still or reduce the attacks in Pakistan in exchange for progress on a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. It is difficult to imagine the Taliban calling off its spring offensive while US drones are attacking their sanctuaries in Pakistan. 

US drone attacks on Pakistan climbed from 53 in 2009, Obama’s first year in office, to a high of 117 in 2010, and dropped in subsequent years to 64, 46, and 13 so far in 2013. 

It is vital to distinguish between ending drone warfare and de-escalating or adopting a de facto cessation, either of which could lead to diplomatic progress while containing the growth of protest at home. 

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