Reaper Madness: Obama’s Whack-A-Mole Killing Machine

Guest post by Doug Noble of Rochester Peace Action and Education.  Originally published on Counterpunch Blog.

“Our entire Middle East policy seems to be based on firing drones,” Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Intercept. “They’re enamored by the ability of special operations and the CIA to find a guy in the middle of the desert in some shitty little village and drop a bomb on his head and kill him.”

Targeted killing by drones remains the US weapon of choice, famously called “the only game in town,” by former CIA director Leon Panetta. This despite a decade of worldwide moral outrage over its overwhelming civilian casualties, violations of international law, disregard for national sovereignty, dismissal of due process, and continuing secrecy. The Obama administration recently announced that the drone killing program will in fact be increased by 50 % in the coming two years.

Now government documents leaked to the Intercept show conclusively that the US drone program kills thousands of innocents on bad intelligence and careless targeting while being falsely portrayed as a program of impeccable planning and precision execution. The recently leaked “Drone Papers” reveal the extent of willful ineptitude in US drone operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, which rely on systematically faulty intelligence and astonishing inaccuracies in identifying targets. These revelations only further confirm what many of us already knew about the appalling failure, relentless deception and criminal lethality of the US drone program.

But it’s even worse. Careless execution and public distortion are one thing. If the US were in fact relying on a proven military technology and strategy to defeat terrorists and “keep America safe,” despite setbacks and innocent lives lost, there are those who could justify the cost.

But what is perhaps most insidious of all is the fact that many studies long available to military planners have shown decisively that the use of weaponized drones in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism efforts is both ineffective and counterproductive. Even more, the historical record and recent research shows quite clearly that the “decapitation” strategy driving such drone use – the assassination of high value targets – has itself been both unsuccessful and counterproductive in defeating insurgent or terrorist organizations.

So the drone warriors have known all along it wouldn’t work: that killer drones and kill lists would slaughter thousands of civilians but never defeat terrorists. They’ve known this conclusively from decades of  military experience and volumes of research studies. Yet they continue to do it anyway, ever more expansively, ever more mindlessly. Why? Because they can (and because they have no Plan B).


Weaponized drones were in fact first proposed by the US military in 2000, prior to 9/11, as a means to both target and kill, with the same aircraft,  the Number One high value target, Osama Bin Laden. For this purpose, Predator surveillance drones were fitted with Hellfire missiles still available from the Gulf War. The name “Hellfire,” an acronym for “heliborne-launched fire-and-forget missile,” was originally designed as an “anti-tank guided missile (AGM),“ somehow now redeployed for remote precision killing of individuals, or, as one Air Force article called it, “warhead to forehead.”

These weaponized drones have been used ever since, as the weapon of choice in US operations all over the Middle East and North Africa. Now, given all the moral and legal controversy surrounding their use, some have begun to question if  these weaponized drones have even been effective in defeating terrorists. As Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus asked recently, “Are we winning the drone war?

It’s hard to know since, as a recent Stimson Center Task Force on US Drone Policy report explains,

“after more than 10 years of use, the U.S. drone program remains so shrouded in secrecy that we do not have enough information to make an educated assessment of its effectiveness … Without a clear understanding of the drone program’s strategy, goals, and metric(s) used for evaluation, … experts … cannot make informed assessments regarding the program’s efficacy.”

The Stimson Report observed that “on May 23, 2013, President Obama delivered a major speech at the National Defense University in which … he pledged to continue the difficult task of ensuring that the use of lethal UAVs is .. strategically sound.” The Report’s authors recommend that the US government conduct a thoroughgoing evaluation of the impact of UAV strikes on terrorist organizations, with regard to capabilities, threats currently posed, morale and recruiting, as well as their impact on public opinion, litigation, and defense policy.” Nothing is expected to be forthcoming any time soon.

President Obama did provide a metric of drone effectiveness in a major speech in 2014: “Our actions should meet a simple test: We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.” Though hardly a robust definition of victory, even by this measure, given the growing numbers of new recruits in  Al Qaeda, ISIS and other groups, it would appear that the US strategy has been decidedly ineffective. But since there are no clear numbers from the Obama administration of enemies killed and new recruits created, this metric of effectiveness is decidedly unhelpful.

Historical precedent  and longstanding military doctrine, though, offer insight into the potential effectiveness of Obama’s drone war. What follows is a brief sampling of conclusions drawn by research scholars, both within and without the military, who have examined the historical record and the military evidence. These scholars all agree that drone strikes are useless to defeat counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, but they all concede as well that the US military will continue into the future to rely on them anyway, as “the only game in town.”

James A. Russell, a  researcher at the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, concludes in his article The False Promise of Aerial Policing,”  that

“the idea of aerial policing is dangerous and deeply flawed, yet mysteriously it has become a panacea for states seeking to apply force in the modern era….  Aerial policing is an intellectual and strategic house of cards built on shaky foundations … [it] represents the triumph of tactics over strategy, turning fundamental truths about the nature of war on their head.”

Aerial policing grew out of theories of airpower that the airplane had revolutionized war by making it unnecessary for armies to clash on the ground and destroy one another. Instead, they argued, an opponent’s armies, his means of waging war, and even his will to fight could be destroyed from the air via strategic bombardment. The conduct of this strike war, they argued, reduced operations and warfare to an engineering problem of identifying and striking targets.

World War II was the great laboratory to try out these ideas, as the United States and Britain sought to pound Germany into submission via strategic bombing. The lessons of the war for strategic bombardment, however, went unlearned. The allied bombers missed most of what they were aiming at, did not end Germany’s means to wage war, and did not convince the German people to give up the fight.

The mythology of the airpower advocates endured through the Vietnam War, despite another failure of airpower to achieve strategic effect. More recently, America’s special forces set about creating an insurgent targeting methodology that had its roots in the engineering approach employed by the airpower advocates. The targeting methodology was eagerly seized upon by airpower enthusiasts to assassinate suspected terrorists around the world with America’s new generation of robots in the sky.

America’s strategic retreat from Iraq and Afghanistan after 15 years is a monument to the failure of … clever tactics championed by counterinsurgency advocates and their precise targeting methods. Yet America’s response to this strategic failure has been to double down, showering more money and responsibility on the Special Forces and similar organizations that achieved no positive strategic effect in battle over the last 15 years.

James Igoe Walsh, U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, wrote a comprehensive article entitled, “The Effectiveness of Drone Strikes in Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism Campaigns“.  He concludes  that

“… drones are at most, weak substitutes for traditional counterinsurgency operations. While drones have the capability to punish and deter insurgent organizations, they do not alone contribute to the establishment of effective state authority in direct and meaningful ways, which … requires large numbers of ground forces and civilians to provide services to, and gain intelligence from, the local population.”

The groups targeted by drones operate in areas where the United States and the [local] national government cannot or will not engage “on the ground” in large numbers. Drones are most useful in precisely such areas, since they allow the United States to project force when it and the national government have few other options

But the absence of boots on the ground makes it more difficult to gather human intelligence on the activities of militant groups that can be used to target drone strikes. Ungoverned spaces also can allow armed groups to proliferate and form complex and short-lived alliances that are difficult for outsiders to understand, increasing the challenge of targeting only militants who oppose the United States. Drones, then, are most useful for counterterrorism in precisely those settings where the challenges of counterterrorism are the greatest, and the ability to collect intelligence is the weakest. This means that the bar for the successful use of drones to counter terrorism is set quite high.… The evidence from the most sustained campaign to rely on drone strikes to deter and punish insurgent organizations in Pakistan suggests this technology has limited capacity to achieve these objectives. Despite these limitations, drone technology seems very likely to spread both within the U.S. Armed Forces, the armed forces of other countries, and even insurgent organizations.

Philosopher and historian Gregoire Chamayou, in his book, A Theory of the Drone, cites a 2009 op-ed by David Kilcullen, influential US military advisor on counterinsurgency, which called for a moratorium on drone strikes in Pakistan. Kilcullen viewed them as dangerously counterproductive, driving the population into the arms of extremists. Kilcullen drew direct parallels between the current drone program and  the infamous  failures of earlier French and British aerial bombardment campaigns in Algeria and Pakistan. He also opposed the technological fetishism of drone use, which “displays every characteristic of a tactic – or, more accurately, a piece of technology,  – substituting for a strategy.”

Gregoire notes that “air force strategists are well aware of the objections that [counterinsurgency] theorists never fail to raise, …that what is being presented as a new strategy has already been tried out, with remarkably disastrous  results.” He cites in military doctrine the  “truism that COIN [counterinsurgency] is about boots on the ground and that airpower is counterproductive.”

Gregoire observes, “Dronized manhunting represents the triumph… of antiterrorism over counterinsurgency.  According to this logic, the total body count and a list of hunting trophies take the place of  a strategic evaluation of the political effects of armed violence. Successes become statistics.”  Never mind that drone strikes multiply new enemies. The strategic plan of drone counterinsurgency now seems to be that an armada of killer drones is capable of eliminating new recruits as fast as they are created: “as soon as a head grows back, cut it off,” in a pattern of ongoing eradication.

This assessment  coincides with the Stimson report conclusion that “the availability of lethal UAVs has fueled a ‘whack-a-mole’ approach to counterterrorism.”

The whistleblower source for the Drone Papers concludes:

“The military is easily capable of adapting to change, but they don’t like to stop anything they feel is making their lives easier, or is to their benefit. And this certainly is, in their eyes, a very quick, clean way of doing things. It’s a very slick, efficient way to conduct the war, without having to have the massive ground invasion mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan. … but at this point, they have become so addicted to this machine, to this way of doing business, that it seems like it’s going to become harder and harder to pull them away from it the longer they’re allowed to continue operating in this way.”


In addition to research on drone killings, some scholars have been researching the strategy  underpinning US drone strikes, namely, the “decapitation” strategy (our own manner of beheading the enemy). This strategy assumes that the assassination of leaders and other key players –  so-called “high value targets” (HVTs) – within an enemy insurgent or terrorist group will eventually defeat the group itself.

Scholars, though, come to the opposite conclusion.

RAND researcher Patrick B. Johnston, in his article “Does Decapitation Work? Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Targeting in Counterinsurgency Campaigns,” notes:

“Regardless of whether a government’s adversary is a state, a terrorist organization, or a guerrilla insurgency, the scholarly opinion has been that high-value targeting is ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. The data also show conclusively that killing or capturing insurgent leaders is usually not a silver bullet, since governments were only around 25% more likely to defeat insurgencies following the successful removal of top insurgent leaders.”

In his review of the relevant  literature, “The ABCs of HVT: Key Lessons from High Value Targeting Campaigns Against Insurgents and Terrorists,” Matt Frankel of the Brookings Institution, concludes:

“The final implication for the United States is that it is vital that any HVT campaign take place as part of a larger  strategy, not merely as an end to itself. Remote strikes and targeted raids need to be combined with broader  operations, both military and non-military, to achieve maximum effectiveness.

The United States will face an uphill battle in utilizing HVT campaigns successfully, since it will always be operating as a third-party force. If the goals of the host government and the third-party force are divergent, there is little chance for success.

It is clear that as long as Al Qaeda remains a global force, U.S.-sponsored HVT operations will continue. But if the United States continues to conduct HVT operations in a vacuum, …it will continue to be doomed to failure.”

Professor of International Affairs Jenna Jordan, concludes in her article “Why Terrorist Groups Survive Decapitation Strikes

“The targeting of terrorist leaders affiliated with al-Qaida has been the cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism policy since 2001. ..Targeting al-Qaida is not likely to result in organizational decline or long-term degradation [since] its bureaucratic organization and communal support have allowed it to withstand frequent attacks on its leadership.”

However, she cautions,

“Regardless of the effectiveness and potential for adverse consequences of its decapitation strategy, the United States is likely to continue targeting al-Qaida leaders because U.S. policymakers view the killing of high-level targets as successes in themselves.”


The publication this year of the Drone Papers reveals that the Obama administration, the US military, and the CIA have been lying all along about the drone assassination  program, its targets and its civilian casualties. These documents also expose the obscene disregard for human lives pervading the entire operation, as the drone warriors pursue their technological dreams. “Throughout human history,” the Stimson Report reminds us, “the ability to project force across significant distances has been a much sought-after military capability… and since the dawn of mechanization, militaries have sought to replace people with machines.” In this context, drones are the unholy grail. The Drone Papers reveal that in its pursuit these Dr Strangeloves  have been well aware of the horrific human costs of their enterprise and that they couldn’t care less. ​

What I’ve tried to show here is something more:  that these military miscreants have also known all along that their drone technology and targeting strategy are militarily bankrupt. They could not but be aware from military history and doctrine that these approaches have  absolutely no possibility of defeating terrorist groups or keeping America safe. They must know that in fact the opposite is true, that  their nefarious enterprise only further endangers us all. And yet they will continue ever more brazenly their Reaper madness, the scholars here all agree, until we find some way to stop them.



Recommendations and Report of the Stimson Center Task Force on US Drone Policy, Second Edition.  Research Director: Rachel Stohl, April 2015

Rachel Stohl, “Just how effective is the US drone program anyway?”

Doyle McManus, “Are we winning the drone war?Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2015

Patrick B. Johnston, “Does Decapitation Work? Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Targeting in Counterinsurgency Campaigns,” International Security, 36(4):47-79, 2012

Frankel, Matt(2011) ‘The ABCs of HVT: Key Lessons from High Value Targeting Campaigns Against  Insurgents and Terrorists’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34: 1, 17 — 3

Jenna Jordan , “Why Terrorist Groups Survive Decapitation Strikes,” International Security, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Spring 2014), pp. 7–38,

Gregoire Chamayou, A Theory of the Drone, The  New Press, 2015

Richard Whittle, Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution. Henry Holt & Co., 2014

Andrew Cockburn, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, Henry Holt & Co., 2015

Jeremy Scahill et al., The Drone Papers.

Undrone Upstate Walk 2015 – Gallery

Click an image to view a slideshow.

Medea Benjamin Speaks at Hallwalls

Undrone Upstate Walkers Rally at Niagara Fall Air National Guard Base With Medea Benjamin, then head into Buffalo to hear her speak.

A rapper named Alex started off the show with some great music. Then Russell Brown of the Undrone Upstate Walk ers spoke, followed by Medea. I made the audio recording of their presentations which follows. There will eventually be a video, but if you just want to hear what was said, listen to the recordings below.

Alex calls for Peace.   He did a song before this, but I missed most of it while fiddling with my phone to get it set up.

Russell Talks about Undrone Upstate

Medea Benjamin's Talk 

Drones, Black Lives Matter, the European Refugee Crisis

Drones, Black Lives Matter, the European Refugee Crisis:
What do They Have in Common?

Panel discussion at Nazareth College in Rochester with walker Russell Brown, Professor Harry Murray and Yaqub Shabbaz, a social sciences student and community organizer from Chicago.   Below is an audio recording of this fascinating conversation.   I have broken out the introduction, each individual speaker and the following discussion for convenient listening.

Introductory Remarks by Harry Murray:

Yaqub Shabbaz speaks about Black Lives Matter:

Russell Brown speaks about Drones and the Undrone Upstate Walk:

Harry Murray speaks to the EU refugee problem and ties the issues together:


Warrior Connection: Interview on Military Drones

Veteran Doug Rokke produces a radio show called the Warrior Connection that speaks to soldiers about real issues that affect their lives and well being. Judy Bello and Ed Kinane joined the program to talk about the ways in which military drones are used to violate international law, and the fact that the pilots are put in a position where they subject to severe ptsd, working as executioners at the bottom of a kill-chain with military bosses at the top. Listen to Judy Bello and Ed Kinane talk to Doug Rokke about military drones, drone pilots and international law on “The Warrior Connection” radio show:



Peaceful Conflict Resolution Benefits Everyone

by Victoria Ross,
Originally Published in the Buffalo News, Another Voice, August 10, 2015

In response to the interesting question in The Buffalo News Aug. 2, “Does America Spend Enough on Defense”?: We don’t need more military spending – we need less. Our military aggression makes us a target.

John Quigley rightly points out that we should be building bridges at home, rather than bombing bridges abroad and maintaining about 1,000 military bases worldwide. He observes that the average annual defense budget has risen, not fallen, since George W. Bush left office.

In opposition, James Jay Carafano claims that cuts to military spending will leave the United States weaker than before 9/11: without continual increases in military spending, others will think we’re weak and attack us. However, al-Qaida’s 9/11 attack was not caused by perceived weakness.

The United States spends $15 billion more on its military than the next nine countries put together (International Institute for Strategic Studies), or more than 34 percent of the military spending for the entire world (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2015).

What have we got to show for such spending?

  • A drone program that kills 28 people for each one targeted, and they may be reported killed up to seven times (Reprieve’s 2014 study “You Never Die Twice”) – prompting the question: who was actually killed?
  • Ever-multiplying numbers of potential “terrorists,” persons violently disposed toward U.S. citizens in reaction to U.S. terrorizing of whole communities (by soldiers’ night raids on suspect family homes, and frequent drone surveillance with intermittent deadly attacks).
  • Culpability for war crimes. Attacks are made without regard for humanitarian principles of international law governing armed conflicts (e.g., necessity and proportionality; protection for civilians, especially women and children; and prohibition against collective punishment).

We are the only country that has used nuclear bombs, and we maintain our nuclear arsenal at great financial and environmental cost rather than pursuing nuclear disarmament. The treaty with Iran is the first recent serious attempt toward nuclear nonproliferation.

Hopefully Congress will support the treaty with Iran. Iran will benefit by the end of sanctions – as will U.S. businesses eager to enter that market. Diplomacy rather than military efforts make this a real victory for the United States.

Such peaceful and just conflict resolution benefits all, and is much more effective in reducing violence. Let’s invest in life-sustaining efforts instead.


Victoria Ross is the Interim Executive Director of the WNY Peace and a peaceful conflict resolution consultant for the WNY Peace Center and the Interfaith Peace Network. Buffalo News, Another Voice

Photonics In Rochester, A Question of Values

Guest post by George Payne of Gandhi Earth Keepers, International.  George follows local and global issues, and has a radio show on Rochester Free Radio called The Broken Spear.

The $600 million photonics hub promises to create manufacturing jobs and spur innovation in the science of light, robotics and medical imagery. Senator Charles Schumer has stated:

By combining the academic and research resources of the University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, and SUNY Polytechnic Institute together with the hundreds of New York photonics companies in Rochester and beyond, Rochester will be able to lead the way in this cutting-edge industry with some of the finest minds in the world.

I agree that photonics research in Rochester is important. But do we need more improvements in the areas of drone, cyber and terrestrial warfare? Do we need more money spent on missiles, lasers, radars, and countless other gadgets and systems which maintain the global business of war? Should we not be concerned about the merger between private industry, research universities and the military?

Last week the world observed the 70 year anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 66,000 people were horrifically killed at Hiroshima out of a population of 255,000. The bomb was a result of weapons research using public tax money, university scientists and laboratories, commercial manufacturing, and guidance from the Department of Defense. Without the genius of J. Robert Oppenheimer of the University of California Berkeley, the study of weapon detonation by professor John H. Manley, Robert Serber of the University of Illinois, who examined the problems of neutron diffusion, and several theoretical physicists from the University of Chicago, the bomb would not have been possible.

We have a moral obligation to challenge the military industrial complex. War will never come to an end as long as communities like Rochester succumb to the insane policy of killing lives in order to save lives. As much as I want to support this venture, as a community of conscience we should not tread cavalierly into this alliance. In the words of Gandhi, “The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.”

Why should we design lasers that heal disease on the same campuses where similar technologies are being developed to terrorize populations in other countries? Moreover, why should we recruit brilliant minds to design faster computers with the same grant money used to feed a world wide addiction to war that has the power to make communication between people impossible? These are important questions that all of us should be asking before hopping on the photonics bandwagon

The Metasticizing US Military Drone Program

This post by Judy Bello is cross-posted from The Deconstructed Globe

It was never in doubt that the US has expanded its military drone program continuously, at least since 2001, and continues to do so. Not only have the numbers of active, armed Predators and Reapers increased, but continuing research and development have yielded larger, faster drones capable of carrying more armaments, better video feeds, and more security. Smaller drones that can go unnoticed with the capacity to obtain visual or audio information, or deliver a small weapon, say a poison dart are also under intensive development..

Additionally, military industrial complex has worked, at least since I last went to a trade show 7 years ago, on technologies to create fleets of drones with a central command or lead drone (with redundancies that make it replaceable in real time from within the grouping) that act together like a flock of birds. This technology will provide automated networking for information sharing and coverage of specified areas with a group of drones, small or large.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has a comprehensive section investigating the use of military drones, has reported on the expanding use of Predators and Reaper drones for months. A number of new military drones are about to come on line, and the number in use will increase. Within the last few days, numerous mainstream venues have published articles on this subject. In an article on the World Socialist Web Site, Niles Williams quotes the following information from the latest article on the subject in the Wall Street Journal:

… the number of daily flights will increase by 50 percent from the current 61 to as many as 90 a day by 2019.

… drone killing and spying operations will be expanded to include missions carried out by the Army, Special Operations Command as well as government contractors.

… expansion of the drone program will be directed at improving surveillance and intelligence gathering operations in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, the South China Sea and North Africa.

The growth of the fleet and the number of flights will also be accompanied by a growth of the program’s capacity for carrying out killings via airstrikes.


I saw this coming a couple of years ago while the US was pulling a temporary veil over the drone program following prominent criticisms from international Human Rights NGOs and a critical report by a specially appointed United Nations Rapporteur, all of which raised serious questions about the legality and morality of the program.. For a while, there were less Hellfire missile strikes reported and the conversation turned to the possibilities of Amazon drone delivery and random Octocopter sitings. Domestic activism focused on attempts to bar drones from the airspace of local communities. Meanwhile, the plotters were in the War Room plotting and the factories at BAE, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell and General Atomics.

Today I received a request to comment on some excellent questions about the planned escalation of the U.S. military drone program, which spurred me to do a little writing on the subject. These are serious questions, important questions, but in the current climate of military dominance, they struck me as strangely absurd. As such,I found myself compelled to answer them as you can see below.

What do I think about the Pentagon’s decision to expand this program?

Most likely there is a plan to offset any global economic setbacks with brute force and a monopoly on certain types of information useful for terrorizing populations that don’t have access to resources while blackmailing governments that are a threat to U.S. hegemony and bribing those that need a little help holding power. This is nothing new in the most general sense. More immediately, a global network of military drones conducting reconnaissance and able to strike at any time might reflect an attempt to create a global fait accompli. An automated network of control deployed over international waters and disputed territories around the globe, deployed before anyone has the capacity to block it, would make it possible to use military might to enforce U.S. hegemony around the globe as a policing action.

Plans utilizing a combination of special ops and drones are not easily adapted to any goal other than assassination and possibly ‘herding’ – in other words, moving populations on the ground using coordinated threats. This is important because dominance is assumed rather than acquired (say, by treaty or by war). I.E. this is not a plan to win a war. Drones are uniquely adapted for policing. The neocons (and their neoliberal cousins) are once again dreaming big! They want to skip the war and assume control – they see it as their destiny.

Is this increase necessary for US national security?

Of course this expansion isn’t necessary for U.S. national security, unless of course, you view the U.S. nation as spanning the globe. It might decrease U.S. national security in a world where computer technology is essentially impossible to fully secure.

What does this decision indicate?

This decision indicates increased impunity on the part of the largest and most widely engaged military on the face of the earth. It also indicates a pattern of increasing reliance on technology supplanting human interaction and intelligence.

It might indicate that the U.S. government and its corporate masters are getting ready to go for the gold. Chaos is spreading through the global economy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that an artificial system of continual growth within a closed system (like the earth) is impossible. The hegemony of the dollar is now threatened by reckless attempts to resolve inconsistencies in the system through monetization and by emancipatory initiatives taken by other nations through external multilateral trade agreements grounded in local currencies. Diplomatic initiatives to rope U.S. allies into coercive treaties like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) are meeting significant resistance. Meanwhile, these guys aren’t going to live forever so if they want to rule the world they will have to move soon.

What does the past expansion indicate?

The past expansion of military drone activity indicates a period of development and testing of a new technology and the unveiling of a new paradigm for world domination.

The advantages and disadvantages of this strategy tend to be relative to the observer. From the ground and from the perspective of other independent states, one would think that just the intention begind of this kind of policy is rather threatening. It is a threat to the rule of law, to national sovereignty and democratic aspirations, and to the security of ordinary people on the ground everywhere On the other hand, since it is not a plan to win a war how should the sovereign nations of the world respond? Might they go to war against the largest most broadly based military power in the world? They are already forced to defend themselves in a number of regional disturbances. Can they use economic independence to secure their sovereignty against this threat?

This is a plan to hold ground, to control resources and to manage those who might interfere. Because it isn’t yet fully operational, they have options. They could try to join the force and secure their future though collaboration. (notably, Israel and Saudi Arabia) They might begin to build regional economic networks and collaborate among themselves to build an empowered political network to resist this intrusion through a variety of diplomatic and other means. (China, Russia) Individuals can go mad with rage or defiance and join any one of a number of active organizations that provide opportunities for self empowerment through notably regressive and barbaric actions on the ground. (ISIS, al Qaeda) They get a lot of good press for this kind of activity and if you were not a thinking person you might assume that you can rule the world without air power.

From the U.S. perspective, the military will not save money because so many people are involved in the process, technicians, observers, pilots, with managers and decision makers at many levels similar to corporate decision making procedures. But, as long as the cash is flowing there is profit to be made. This kind of process is messy and slightly randomized so that the job gets done with a lot of spillover and wasted resources. Like machine generated software, it may work (do something) but the logic isn’t clean and there is a lot of redundancy making it difficult for humans to decipher. As in other processes borrowed from the corporate sphere, there is a goal to take human intelligence out of the picture and use social processes to make individuals redundant. This keeps them from getting in the way. It also lowers the unique significance of individual workers at all levels and disperses responsibility among individuals so there is no where for the proverbial ‘buck’ to stop.

Drones are slow and fragile compared to war planes. But, if you aren’t in a war and you are targeting people and things on the ground, no problem. Individual drones are much cheaper than war planes, and don’t require an on-board pilot, so they are relatively disposable. It is the process that is expensive, and that is not vulnerable at the site of the action.

There are some disadvantages inherent in a technical solution based on computers and data transmission. These activities are not innately secure. Currently, the U.S. is utilizing this feature of computer/internet technology to brazenly spy on anyone and everyone. But, there are brilliant hackers and security experts in the field who might, due to national loyalty, moral judgement or the sheer joy of the chase, cause some serious problems for this system, or in fact, co-opt it completely to own purpose. When decision makers are reliant on a technology they don’t fully understand, there are risks. The use of mercenaries creates risks.

What are the possible consequences of this drastic expansion of the drone program?

The probable consequences are:

  • a lowering of the mean status of military recruits with more and more jobs filled by non-commissioned personnel sitting in trailers, computer labs and fabric demarcated cubicles staring at computer screens and taking orders from managerial specialists who show up on video feeds.
  • Drone pilot teams become glorified line workers whose purpose is to kill other people,
  • Lots of dead and traumatized innocents around the globe
  • U.S. citizens living in the homeland find themselves under the same kind of drone surveillance and risk of targeted killing as people around the world;.

Some possible consequences are

  • a world dominated by a network of US military drones of all sizes and shapes making resistance, if not ‘futile’, certainly very dangerous.
  • other countries of the world finally rise up to set international standards of behavior that are appropriate for human survival.
  • Ongoing processes like the shift of the global economy away from the dollar, global warming and other effects of pollution and tampering with natural processes for corporate profit make unipolar drone policing moot;
  • World War III triggered by global efforts to retain national sovereignty,

Is there another way to get the intelligence these drones will provide?

You must be kidding! We have satellites overhead nearly everywhere nearly all the time. In fact, the drones depend on these satellites for orientation and communications. We should have informants on the ground. if we don’t it is due to a unique combination of arrogance and cultural ignorance commonly known as American exceptionalism.

Meanwhile, killing suspects and anyone else in the neighborhood is against US Law, International Law and morality, Flying armed drones on Russia and China’s borders sets up an accident waiting to happen. So, whatever the intent of these actions is, there ought to be a better way. Diplomacy comes to mind. But, that isn’t the strong suit in the US Game of Thrones.


Messages from Iraqi Refugees, Cankiri Turkey

from Cathy Breen, May 6, 2015, Cankiri, Turkey

Dear Friends,

As I write I am looking out a bus window at a beautiful landscape of rolling hills and mountains. Everything is green, and the trees are budding. It is hard to know where to begin. In the past week, I have traveled hundreds of miles by bus and train in order to visit Iraqi refugees living here. Eskisehir, Ankara, Bolu, Mersin and now Cankiri. Some of the families are refugees twice over, having fled to Syria where we first met them some years ago. Others fled more recently after ISIS took Mosel last June and then the surrounding villages. Some of them I was meeting for the first time. Muslims, Christians and Palestinians, all from Iraq.

Last night Iraqi friends, refugees themselves, took me to a family I had not yet met. I thanked them for receiving me and explained how many people come with me on this trip wanting to know how he and his family are doing. Upon hearing this, he could hardly contain his emotions, his words spilling out rapidly.

We have been waiting for someone to come!” he exclaimed. “We needed someone to visit us. We are happy that someone is thinking of us.

A handicapped sister, 39 years of age, sat on the floor beside him. His wife and four sons inline-image-1-5_06surrounded him: 21, 19, 15 and 10 years of age. The family has only been registered by the Turkish government, and were given a date of December 2021 for their interview with the UNHCR. At this time, almost six years from now, their history will be taken and the family will be asked if they have relatives anywhere else in the world. Only then might they be considered for resettlement. In the meantime, work is not permitted and children are not in school! How are they to live?

Earlier in the day I met with another refugee family with three children, ages 8 and 6 years and 4 months. They were given an interview date for the UNHCR of Sept. 2022. Yes, you read correctly ….. seven years from now! None of the above mentioned children are in school. By 2022 these children will be 15 and 13 years of age, and the youngest just turning school age. The father’s parents are both in Australia, but the UNHCR will not register that fact until 2022, unless their interview date is moved forward. The father said he pled repeatedly with the clerk at the registration office to give them a date not so far in the future.

The family I am staying with also have a 10 year old child with cerebral palsy in addition to two other daughters, 9 and 3 years old.

I held this child in my arms in Damascus, Syria in 2009. When given no hope for inline-image-2-5_06resettlement, the father returned to Mosel with his wife and then, two daughters.
Both parents of the father recently received citizenship in Canada after being resettled there as refugees four years ago. The parents of the mother have been recently resettled in Australia with refugee status. Because of his handicapped daughter, the family has been granted an interview date with the UNHCR for November of 2O17. Only one and a half years to wait! Only at that interview however will their history be taken and the UNHCR will solicit information about family members living outside of Iraq. Only then might they begin the tedious path for resettlement.

One thing is clear. The UNHCR is completely overwhelmed by the refugee crisis, unable to offer protection, financial assistance, food rations, schooling, etc. Mothers and fathers are beside themselves with worry as their children are not in school. One refugee related how an Iraqi camped out in front of the UNHCR office for days in an attempt to draw attention to their plight. One of the guards told the demonstrator that Iraqi families had done the same and it had made no difference. “Nobody cares” is the general feeling.

Forced to look for work “under the table,” I heard multiple stories of Iraqis working 10 to 12 hour days for a fraction of the money Turkish people would receive for the same work or, worse yet, not receiving any compensation for their labor.

We are like people drowning” was how one refugee described the situation. “All families are scattered, and we ask Americans who were behind all this to help Iraqis now.”


Cathy Breen is a Catholic Worker who lives in NYC, and has made many trips to Iraq since the first Iraq War and the imposition of draconian sanctions of Iraq in the 90s. She has been there at least twice over the last 3 years. This is the third of a series of reports she wrote during her most recent trip this spring.

Messages from Iraq: Erbil

from Cathy Breen, Erbil, Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, April 28, 2015

Dear Friends,

Each year Catholics read from the Book of Acts in the period following the Easter celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. This morning’s reading speaks of “those who had been scattered by the persecution.” Over a span of more than eight years, I had ample opportunity as Voices for Creative Nonviolence to meet many Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan and Syria. I was often gripped by their stories, and the visions and dreams given to them as the “suffering church.”

Last September I had hoped to travel to the village areas surrounding Mosel to hear their voices, so often neglected since the U.S.-led war on their country over a decade ago. And then as we know, in early June of 2014, ISIS took the city of Mosel. I write all of this to help explain the deep emotions that welled up in me as I entered one of the compounds for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Erbil just two days ago. The Sunday service had just ended and people were streaming out of the tent that serves as their church.

inline-image-1-4_28This compound, called Ozal city, in the Kasnizan area of Erbil in Kurdistan, houses approximately 900 Christian families, 400 Muslim families, and 35 Yazidi families. It is just one of many compounds in Erbil. Almost all of the Christians in this complex, if not all, come from the village of Qaraqosh, a Syriac Catholic enclave, outside of Mosel.

In early August in a 24 hour period, more than 50,000 fled Qaraqosh, the total population of that village together with thousands they had given refuge to from Mosel. I would visit about eight or nine families in the course of the day, meeting the children and hearing accounts of their situations. Some of them were unable to share any of the details of their fleeing ISIS. It was just too painful.

It is important to note that the majority had fled their village twice, the first time in June due to warnings from ISIS, aka Da’ash. But after a few days the families felt they could return. On August 6th however, in the span of 24 hours, over 50,000 fled Qarakos. Da’ash had given people three days to decide their fate. To convert and pay money, or be executed.

As ISIS surrounded the village, they were able to stop people on the road as they fled. Cars were taken, and all of their money and jewelry. Even, at times, suitcases. One fighter took a baby’s bottle saying “Christians don’t have the right to live.” People continued on foot in the merciless heat with just the clothes on their back. The absence of suitcases and household items in the rooms I visited testified to this. Not a single family photo was on display.

One sister told me she knew a family where ISIS took the three year old daughter, never to be seen again.

Three Dominican sisters live among the displaced, as well as two Redemptorist priests and a brother. They too are from Qaraqosh. One of the priests was wounded in 2004 when his car was crushed by a U.S. tank. A fellow priest in the car was killed. The priest who met with me can no longer go up the stairs as both of his legs suffered multiple breaks. A handsome man, he told us “This was my first experience with Americans….Many people translating for the U.S. were killed…We are wounded on the inside.” He feels that people are being called to live in peace, respecting one another. “The differences between people is a source of richness for us. Our God is our future, we are on earth temporarily. Our God is our future” he repeated.

The other priest, dynamic and just as good looking, wanted to speak without a translator.

“The U.S. government has two faces: one of diplomacy, the other of Da’ash. Everyone knows what America is doing. America must confess and admit ‘We have killed people and now we need to ask for forgiveness’. …The U.S. has not only destroyed a country and a people, but the culture. And not just of Iraq. Of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine….”

It has been over a year since I have been in Iraq, and on this trip I have heard repeatedly in every place I have been, Muslim or Christian, a strong belief that Da’ash is a creation of the U.S., that the U.S. is responsible for Da’ash and is out to destroy Iraq. People ask themselves, and me, why?

The Dominican sister acting as my guide and translator throughout the day was as tireless as she was gracious. In the late afternoon we came upon an older gentlemen who was sitting on a mat visiting with two other men. This was in yet another compound in Erbil housing about 160 displaced Christian families from Qaraqosh. Some of the families are living 20 people in a small space.

Upon learning that I was from the United States, Mr. Shukrallah (which means thanks be to God), became agitated and angry. “I want to write a letter to Obama” he said shaking his finger at me, ‘in the name of everyone here.‘ “

“I want to tell him that America did nothing for us. They did this to me.” He has bone cancer. “We have nobody. Only God, because we are Christians. Obama sent the dogs [ISIS} to eat us. This is the reality. You have to bring my voice to Obama. Say to him for all the Christians from our village : You did bad for the Christian people in Iraq. I have cancer and cannot walk. In some way, Saddam Hussein was better than Obama even though he was a dictator. Because he [Saddam] did not treat us in this way.”

inline-image-2-4_28He wanted my word. He wanted a promise from me that I would get this letter to Obama. I told him that ordinarily I would have little hope that such a letter would reach the president. But, I told him, because of all the faith I had witnessed this day in the people around me, I felt that such a miracle could be possible! As we took our leave, Mr. Shukrallah’s anger had dissipated and he pressed my hand warmly. I find there is a great need for Iraqis to be able to express themselves to someone from the U.S. It humbles me to be the representative.

There is much to write, but it will have to wait. Everyone, without exception, wanted to return to Qaraqosh. Everyone, without exception was tired and worn, worrying about the future, not seeing any way out. But each one, without exception, said their faith had deepened in these times of great trial. I assured them that many people come with me on this trip wanting to express their solidarity and friendship. When I asked what, if anything, we could do the response was

 “Pray, pray, pray.


Cathy Breen is a Catholic Worker who lives in NYC, and has made many trips to Iraq since the first Iraq War and the imposition of draconian sanctions of Iraq in the 90s. She has been there at least twice over the last 3 years. This is the second of a series of reports she wrote during her most recent trip this spring.