In his 2002 State of the Union Address, George W Bush warned Americans about the looming threat of the contemporary ‘axis of evil’. This trio – Iran, Iraq and North Korea - was ostensibly engaged in the headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons with the sole purpose of wreaking havoc on the west. In the aftermath of 9/11 and in the early days of combat in Afghanistan, Americans were eager for the next target of our indignant fury. Within 14 months, combat operations would begin in Iraq, tearing apart the first of the three ‘axis powers’.
Fortuitously, we have not yet engaged or invaded Iran or North Korea. North Korea has continued to execute a strategy of being the crazed knife-wielding hyena of the East Asia. To placate the beast, we have and will continue to offer it food while maintaining the DMZ along the border. This is how Clinton, Bush, and Obama maintained the peace. With Iran, we have perceived the continual threat of nuclear armament for years on end. Subsequent predictions should the Persians develop weapons for the atomic age have conjured apocalyptic scenarios of a world without Israel and gasoline at $12 a gallon. While we have intentionally avoided official diplomatic discussions with Iran, we protest that it is Iran who is the aggressive power in the Middle East. It is politically convenient to ignore the reality that we have invaded two neighbors and control by military might nearly 60% of the borders in contact with Iran. In the face of such naked aggression on our borders, any nation would seek a more capable military response.
The solution for Iran has not yet come to pass, although it is debatable that such a solution is the responsibility or prerogative of these United States. It is unlikely that our solutions for North Korea and Iran will involve a land invasion reminiscent of Iraq. In simple terms, the financial and emotional wherewithal for a ground invasion and occupation of yet another nation does not exist. Military strategy in the near future will require different tools, tools developed and escalated within the past decade of military operations.
In our rampant imperialism with boots on the ground, we have developed an unprecedented level of air superiority. A decade ago, drones were the infants in the arsenal of the west; today they are entering their adolescence. The military tools now seen in the Predator and Reaper drones, when combined with precision munitions, are capable of striking an enemy without endangering a pilot. This is a blessing, as combat operations retain a keen edge of destruction without becoming life threatening to military personnel. It is a perfect storm of superiority and safety in opposition theatres.
This risk free application of force has become the terrible vice of drone warfare, and in turn, our foreign policy. The tactical reality is that there is almost no cost to the US when autonomous missile throwers are employed. Economics imparts the wisdom that ‘there is no free lunch’; there are costs associated with all actions. One clear cost is the damage wrought on the ground by the ordinance. This is intentional, although properly controversial. A cost that is far more difficult to account for is the United States’ loss of moral standing in the world. The hearts and minds of people matter, as actions and preferences are born from people’s beliefs.
Terrorism is one consequence of desperation, the killing of innocents to draw attention and make a point. It is not a consequence of living among sand, nor is the result of raising goats rather than cattle. Terrorism is a tactic employed to provoke a response and affect the hearts of the enemy. The ostensible mastermind of the 9/11 attacks did not see the breaking of the towers as an end, but as a means to an end. Bin Laden believed that when the US retaliated and began to destroy the lives and families of Muslims, they would join his jihad against the United States. Our invasions fit the historical US pattern of invasion, occupations, withdrawals, and intermittent air strikes; we have returned to the very tactics so strongly decried by those recruiting new terrorists. In Afghanistan alone, there has been a 72% increase in drone air strikes in the past year.
Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Niger, Somalia, Mali and others are now active theatres for US air strikes. These strikes frequently create collateral damage. At the very least, they are annoying to those who live nearby. In a primitive society, this is a god-like power, to strike across borders from the air without consequence. These people are not primitive; they are well aware of who bears responsibility for the bombings. It has inflamed opinion against the US. It will bring on additional action against the US. It will spur the very hearts and minds of those whose tacit opposition to the jihad we so crucially depend on.
George Friedman said it well, "A military strategy to defeat the jihadists is impossible. At its root, the real struggle against the jihadists is ideological, and that struggle simply cannot be won with Hellfire missiles.”
Pakistan is rightly opposed to US actions: our invasion of their borders, our assassination teams sent in without permission and our continually escalating air strikes by drones. According to Gallup, 92% of those polled in Pakistan are now opposed to the US leadership in Pakistan. The single nation on earth which lays claim to being both Muslim and a genuine nuclear power is the sovereignty we have violated with reckless abandon. The democracy of Pakistan is on shaky ground, propped up by the US, which is detested by the population. It is no far-fetched proposition to see a future in which the nuclear weapons of Pakistan are deployed against the west in retribution for the wrongs committed in the name of preempting terrorism.
In a poker game where cards represent nations, and the cards showing nuclear threats are Iran and North Korea are on the table. The card of Pakistan still sits in the deck. History and God deal many wildcards over the course of time, and Pakistan could be the next one. If such a deal comes, we will look once again in wonder and anger and ask, “Why do they hate us?” The answer will be found in our actions, our vice, and our imperial hubris that led us to believe that there could be no consequences to rampant bombing of individuals the world over.
Liberties and the constitution are sacrificed for security upon the altar of political expediency. Once again, we will see the Military-Industrial complex fully primed for a war financed by continual deficits. It is glory and it is pain to see from within an empire behave as an empire, but better perhaps to be within then without.