Progressive Presidents love war in the shadows. During World War I, Woodrow Wilson wanted to spy on all Americans. FDR created the OSS during World War II under “Wild” Bill Donovan. Both JFK and Lyndon Johnson set records for numbers of covert operations under the CIA. The attraction is obvious. On the one hand, they can spout “we are the world” rhetoric. On the other, they can play at war with operations that lack transparency and accountability—where failures can be swept under the rug away from the media glare and, more importantly, where liberal sensibilities don’t have to be offended.
President Obama has become a cheerleader for playing at covert operations. News reports today inform us that the “Obama administration is constructing a network of drone strike bases in Africa and the Arabian peninsula as its broadening campaign against al-Qaida affiliates reaches increasingly into Yemen and Somalia.”
The President’s obsession with drone strikes has become so, well—obsessive—that people are noticing. In Politico, former Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen cautioned in an article titled “Drones Can’t Change War”:
[W]e need to be mindful that the ease of pressing a button in a command center thousands of miles from the battlefield to send a missile to its intended target may lead some to think that war itself is a cost-free exercise. It is anything but cost free or bloodless… The decision to wage war is the gravest that any nation can make. It should always remain a difficult one—and one that involves the careful weighing of the risks of taking, or failing to take, action. Technology should not prove so dazzling as to blind us to the reality that war will always prove to be the doorway into a hell that is far easier to enter than to exit.
There is nothing wrong with drone strikes per se. As the Heritage Counterterrorism Task Force pointed out in its assessment of the Administration’s efforts, “Specifically, drone missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas have helped degrade al-Qaeda’s operational capabilities, while also significantly contributing to the U.S. ability to place al-Qaeda on the defensive.” On the other hand:
While covert strikes can be a successful tactic for hunting down the leaders of terrorist groups, attrition is counterproductive when combating an insurgency. The prospect of “body counts” as the proper metric for measuring success should give Americans pause about the strategy pursued by the Administration. Additionally, without persistent presence and engagement of threatened governments and civilian populations, the U.S. will lack the real-time actionable intelligence necessary for effective targeting of terrorists and the successful suppression of insurgencies.