The disclosure that current American drone warfare operations are directed from the presidential office in the White House, with the president himself selecting persons to be assassinated by unmanned American drone aircraft in the Muslim countries where the United States now is militarily engaged, has ignited protests on moral, legal, political and strategic grounds.

The protests concern the nature of these attacks, which disregard national sovereignties, the laws of war and the principles of American and international law, and are justified by the consideration that terrorists don’t obey the law either. The attacks must be described as assassinations because, as no state of war has been declared to exist between the United States and these persons or their states, they are unlawful killings.

As John Fabian Witt of the Yale Law School has recently written, “the categories of war and peace, which the modern world thought it had carefully separated, are collapsing into each other.” We are engaged in what in previous times would certainly have been considered unjust acts, in the course of unjust, because they are undeclared, wars. President Barack Obama’s acts consciously undermine the civilized order of modern society. The United States has quite deliberately made itself an outlaw state.

The explanation that is offered in Washington is that drone attacks are economical and expedient methods for destroying enemies in the prevailing circumstances of the current American campaign to defend against, and if possible put an end, to Islamic (or other) terrorism. This is a campaign of extravagant ambition and virtually no possibility of success, since the campaign itself inspires proportionate — or disproportionate — resistance and retaliation.

The drone campaign is another product of modern America’s widespread disregard of legal norms, begun under the George W. Bush administration, which as we have learned includes CIA and Special Operations kidnap, torture and assassination teams, operating in friendly or neutral as well as hostile countries.

How has the United States put itself into this situation, and why does its government display no apparent effort to end it? There is no clear answer. These measures derive from moral ruthlessness in the service of simple political and intelligence errors and prejudices, interacting with two special interests concerning the Muslim world, the main U.S. preoccupation since the end of the Cold War.

The first of these is the interest of the American government, pressed by the American oil industry, to exercise sufficient control over the Middle East and Central Asia as to prevent the nationalization of foreign or domestic energy industries, or the organization of resource boycotts. (British and American resistance to the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian oil company was the issue which caused Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, seizure of the American embassy and all that has followed in the relations between the two countries). The second issue has been prevention of an Arab challenge to Israel’s regional military domination.

The 1980-’90 war between Iran and Iraq was generated by local factors (chiefly territorial), although the United States unofficially supported Iraq. Iraq’s subsequent invasion of Kuwait was also the result of a territorial dispute of local inspiration.

The Gulf War against Iraq served Israeli interests as well as enlarging American regional influence. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan was provoked by the United States (as Zbigniew Brzezinsky, the person responsible, himself conceded in 1998) in order to give Cold War Russia “its own Vietnam.”

The 9/11 attacks on the United States were conceived and carried out by a small group of anti-Western Saudi Arabian religious extremists hostile to mounting U.S. regional influence, and specifically outraged by the post-Gulf War stationing — over Saudi protest — of U.S. forces in proximity to the Islamic Holy Places. This was part of a Pentagon project for establishing a global U.S. base system, never (at the time) given Congressional hearing or public and press discussion, so far as I am aware.

The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was meant to damage al-Qaida. The 2003 invasion and wrecking of Iraq was an exploitation of the 9/11 attacks, plus “war of civilization” hysteria, for Israel’s strategic benefit. President Obama’s renewed and reinforced war in Afghanistan, in 2008 and 2009, followed by increasing and extensive American interventions in or concerning Pakistan, Yemen and the Gulf states, was justified by the same hysteria, by this time become a factor of political paranoia in American domestic politics. (It is to save Homeland America from jihad rule, Sharia law and conquest by a new global Caliphate.)

Lack of success in Afghanistan (and Iraq) now is producing discouragement in the U.S., but the forces of Pentagon expansion are opening new theaters of American intervention elsewhere (as well as developing the promising new zone of expanded military activity in the Far East, with China identified as a permanent threat to the United States).

The war is to be extended, the conduct presumably the same. The June 8 issue of Army Times announces a new program in which Army brigades will next year be rotated throughout the world according to a “regionally aligned force concept.”

Brigades composed of 3,000 soldiers will be sent to Africa, which until now has been relatively neglected by the United States, but “where terrorist groups have become an increasing threat to U.S. [how?] and regional security.” The troops will “learn regional cultures and languages and train for specific threats and missions.” In addition, Special Operations Command soldiers will be active in other African countries, “including those amid conflict.” The war expands.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at

© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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