Here are my quick observations (3 of them) on some of the articles that have come out in the last few days on drones. These are, I stress, musings/thoughts that I am working out/ notes to myself. So, if you read them, please take them as such–and not my final word.
1. Mark Mazzetti How a Single Spy Helped Turn Pakistan Against the United States (on Raymond Davis) Apr 14.2013
The interesting point about this article is it depicts, quite clearly, how little control the State Department has in trying to establish relationships in Pakistan. Shorter CIA to State: STFU. Why that’s relevant is below this quote:
Munter saw some value to the drone program but was skeptical about the long-term benefits…He would learn soon enough that his views about the drone program ultimately mattered little. In the Obama administration, when it came to questions about war and peace in Pakistan, it was what the C.I.A. believed that really counted.
Munter said he believed that the C.I.A. was being reckless and that his position as ambassador was becoming untenable. His relationship with the C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad, already strained because of their disagreements over the handling of the Davis case, deteriorated even further when Munter demanded that the C.I.A. give him the chance to call off specific missile strikes. During one screaming match between the two men, Munter tried to make sure the station chief knew who was in charge, only to be reminded of who really held the power in Pakistan.
“You’re not the ambassador!” Munter shouted.
“You’re right, and I don’t want to be the ambassador,” the station chief replied.
This turf battle spread to Washington, and a month after Bin Laden was killed, President Obama’s top advisers were arguing in a National Security Council meeting over who really was in charge in Pakistan. At the June 2011 meeting, Munter, who participated via secure video link, began making his case that he should have veto power over specific drone strikes.
Panetta cut Munter off, telling him that the C.I.A. had the authority to do what it wanted in Pakistan. It didn’t need to get the ambassador’s approval for anything.
“I don’t work for you,” Panetta told Munter, according to several people at the meeting.
But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Munter’s defense. She turned to Panetta and told him that he was wrong to assume he could steamroll the ambassador and launch strikes against his approval.
“No, Hillary,” Panetta said, “it’s you who are flat wrong.”
There was a stunned silence,…
There are a series of articles and news reports coming out now elaborating on the complicity between segments of the Pakistani state and the US. For example:
Nic Robertson Musharraf Admits Secret Deal with US on Drone Strikes Apr 12.2013
These reports are of import because there has long been the question of whether the Pakistani state has given consent to the US for drone bombing. First, as the article above clearly shows, the State Department doesn’t even have control of its own agenda, never mind Pakistan’s elected government when it comes to the machinations of the security establishment in the US. In Pakistan, (as in the US), the question of the state must be disaggregated into its various parts. The military, which is by far the strongest arm of the Pakistani state, has been funded, backed, armed and encouraged by the US. That has been the case for decades so much so that the only Pakistani military coup that wasn’t backed by the US was Musharraf. That changed after 9.11.
The structure of the Pakistani state is, therefore, thoroughly conditioned by the arrangements that have existed between the American and Pakistani security establishments. The Pakistani army has its own interests, independent of the US, but however fraught that relationship is, its continuance has been the overriding concern for much of Pakistan’s history.
To put it baldly, the US has spent billions bribing the Pakistani security establishment and thus fundamentally re-structuring the Pakistani state to the detriment of Pakistanis. In that context, talking about “consent” of one allegedly independent state to another, is laughable. These conditions structure the way drone attacks happen and who bears the responsibility. Darryl Li made this point with respect to US secret prisons in other countries.
Therefore contrary to the discussion of consent given, the discussion that ought to be had is about consent bought: from whom and to what effects. The American government dispenses with its responsibility and its crimes, displacing them onto other states. That does not, of course, mean that those governments are not complicit or war criminals. But, it does mean a discussion that is much closer to the character of the actually, existing relationships between the US and other countries rather than the pretense that we are simply dealing with independent, container states.
2. Mark Mazzetti A Secret Deal on Drones Sealed in Blood (on Nek Mohammed) Apr 6, 2013
The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.’s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.
Ok, this article shows what I have been saying for a while now. Accountability and transparency are weak procedures. The demand for these procedures in the context of secret prisons meant that the CIA shifted its tactics to drone attacks. The state learns, and adapts. Another example was Israel’s shift towards torture tactics that left no marks on the bodies of Palestinians following human rights reports documenting torture using bodily wounds, scars and marks as evidence.
3. Jonathan Landay Obama’s Drone War Kills ‘Others,’ not Just al-Qaida Leaders (on secret papers received by McClatchy) Apr 9.2013
Jonathan Landay US Collaborated with Pakistan Spy Agency in Drone War Apr 09.2013
Micah Zenko An Inconvenient Truth Apr 10.2013
Zenko’s article is subtitled, “Finally, proof that the United States has lied in the drone wars.” It’s useful that these reports are out there, but I find it troubling that liberals and leftists have been touting these reports as “Finally! proof!” which is how some have also tweeted about it.
For one, the bodies of dead kids should’ve been enough proof. Even the little wire service stories –even as they are largely driven by various interested parties –have also occasionally noted the confusion on the ground about who was killed. That these stories –those of the government’s own pronunciations and declarations– continually grab the major headlines when it comes to Pakistan rather than stories from the ground, perfectly rehearses the spectacle of secrets. It invests a kind of legitimation and power in the American government to determine the line between the truth and a hunch, between the visible and the invisible. I wrote about this in my New Inquiry piece.
This is also what happens when the major voices, even among liberals and leftists, are those of white males, with journalists or analysts from the country in question either entirely missing or brought on for bit parts in the narrative that is written largely by those in empire. I am not accusing Zenko or indeed anyone else of maliciousness or even support for American empire, but I do think these stories would look quite different if they were being told by people from the countries in question. It would shift perspective, and it would highlight as well as marginalize different aspects of the issue. As it is, the conversation is had among largely American, largely white, largely male voices, and the only real options for the rest of us are either to enter that conversation by agreeing or disagreeing, or risk irrelevance.
Finally, the intense focus on the government’s narrative lets journalists and the media off-the-hook for not doing the hard work of actually reporting the stories of those on the receiving end of America’s war in Pakistan. I say “in Pakistan” as a caveat because, interestingly, the recent gruesome, shocking murders of 11 Afghan children by NATO did get its own full-length articles, complete with photos. In the Afghanistan context, this happens much more frequently. And this is, I suspect, because there are western, largely white reporters on the ground. In other words, it speaks to the racist structural underpinnings of the modern media, and about those we think can serve as legitimate witnesses and those whose stories are always cast in doubt because there were no western (white) bodies in the vicinity to lend them credibility.