On those battlegrounds, argues Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, “our drones have become the counterinsurgency air force for those governments.”
“The real reason for most of these strikes has been to protect a regime in Pakistan or Yemen,” Zenko said.
Nobody contests the right of the United States to strike at terrorists who pose an imminent danger to U.S. citizens. But when the United States secretly uses armed force in another country’s internal conflict, “it sets a dangerous precedent,” he said.
Is the Obama administration listening? It can be hard to tell, since most of the drone program is shrouded in secrecy.
But in recent statements, administration officials from Obama on down have emphasized the importance of limiting the drone strikes. “Our goal has been to focus on al Qaida and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States,” Obama said in a television interview in September.
“It’s not some random effort, not some unnecessarily broad effort, but a very targeted effort,” Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, said last week.
So far, Zenko and other critics say, the administration’s practice doesn’t fully match its aspirations.
But in a little-noticed remark, Obama proposed that Congress replace its hastily drafted Authorization for Use of Military Force passed in the aftermath of 9/11.
“One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place — and we need congressional help in order to do that — to make sure that not only am I reined in, but any president’s reined in,” Obama said on Oct. 16 on, of all places, comedian Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.
Congress has shown no great appetite to legislate the war on terror. Members may not relish the idea of explaining to constituents why politicians should place any limits on the use of armed force against terrorists. But reining in drones — holding them to their original use against terrorists who pose an imminent threat to the United States — would be a good idea.