In recent years, the United States has pioneered the development of the most advanced killing machines on the planet. In the process, we have turned much of the rest of the planet into what can only be considered an American free-fire zone. We have, in short, established a remarkably expansive set of drone-war rules for the global future.
Naturally, we trust ourselves with such rules, but there is a fly in the ointment, even as the droniacs see it. Others far less sagacious, kindly, lawful, and good than we are do exist on this planet and they may soon have their own fleets of drones. At the time of Brennan’s speech, about fifty countries were already buying or developing such robotic aircraft, including Russia, China, and Iran. And who knows what terror groups are looking into suicide drones?
As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius put it in a column about that speech: “What if the Chinese deployed drones to protect their workers in southern Sudan against rebels who have killed them in past attacks? What if Iran used them against Kurdish separatists they regard as terrorists? What if Russia used them over Chechnya? What position would the United States take, and wouldn’t it be hypocritical if it opposed drone attacks by other nations that face ‘imminent’ or ‘significant’ threats?” This is Washington’s global drone conundrum as seen from inside the Beltway. These are the nightmarish scenarios even our leaders can imagine others producing with their own drones and our rules.
A deeply embedded sense of American exceptionalism, a powerful belief in their own special, self-evident goodness, however, conveniently blinds them to what they are doing right now. Looking in the mirror, they are incapable of seeing a mask of death. And yet our proudest export at present may be a stone-cold robotic killer with a name straight out of a horror movie. The “shining drones” launched on campaigns of assassination and slaughter are increasingly the “face” that we choose to present to the world, even as the president, with his “kill list” and his meetings to pick those who are to die, has quite literally become the country’s assassin in chief. And yet it’s beyond us why such a reality might not shine for others. In fact, what we increasingly look like to those others is a Predator nation. And not just to the parents and relatives of the more than 160 children the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented as having died in US drone strikes in Pakistan.
War is now the only game in town. As for peace, to the managers of our national security state, it’s neither a word worth mentioning nor an imaginable condition. In truth, our leaders should be in mourning for whatever peaceful dreams we ever had. But mention drones and they light up. They’re having a love affair with those machines. They just can’t get enough of them or imagine their world or ours without them. What they can’t see in the haze of exceptional self-congratulation is this: they are transforming the promise of America into a promise of death. And death, visited from the skies, isn’t precise. It isn’t glorious. It isn’t judicious. It certainly isn’t a shining vision. It’s hell. And it’s a global future for which, someday, no one will thank us.1
1. Engelhardt, Tom (2014-09-15). Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Kindle Locations 2103-2127). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.