Fools rush in to condemn Obama drone policy

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Warren Weinstein, a 72-year-old American development worker who was kidnapped in Pakistan by al-Qaida in 2011, was killed in an American drone strike.

Innocents get killed in war. There’s no getting around that hard, brutal reality even in the 21st century with advanced precision weapons like drones and laser-guided missiles and sophisticated intelligence-gathering from satellite, technological and human resources.


An anguished President Barack Obama demonstrated admirable grace and compassion in expressing his regret over two hostages held by al-Qaida being killed in a January drone strike on a terrorist compound in Pakistan. “As president and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations,” he said in offering “our deepest apologies to the families” of American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, aid workers kidnapped in separate incidents.

Obama is responsible for conducting America’s war on terrorism, but he is not responsible for the deaths of these two men. That blame falls wholly and entirely on the Islamist fanatics who seized Weinstein and Porto — both civilians, non-combatants.

Their tragic deaths produced the usual criticisms of U.S. policy, some bordering on the foolish. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) claimed that Weinstein’s “death is further evidence of the failures in communication and coordination between government agencies tasked with recovering Americans in captivity.” Where is the evidence of that? Finding and rescuing hostages from the lawless tribal borderlands of Pakistan is a daunting, if not nearly impossible challenge.

There’s been knee-jerk talk of an “intelligence failure,” as if spying were simple census-taking in a war zone — here a civilian, there a terrorist. In fact, it turned out that the dead this time also included two American converts to al-Qaida, though no U.S. planners knew that they were at the targeted sites. The hostages were well hidden. It’s hard for even the best intelligence operations to penetrate “the fog of war.”

Critics have long complained about collateral casualties from drone strikes. But what’s the alternative? Putting troops on the ground? Only fools could believe a squadron of soldiers storming a terrorist compound would guarantee that no civilians would be harmed.

Obama has brought some of this criticism on himself. Despite U.S. policy against negotiating with terrorists, he did just that in trading five Taliban militants to secure the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Weinstein’s family understandably wonders, why a deal for Bergdahl but not for Weinstein? Adding insult to injury, Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, had described Bergdahl at the time of his release as serving “the United States with honor and distinction” when there was already evidence of the behavior that resulted in him being charged last month with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

Furthermore, Obama sets unrealistic standards for counter-terrorism tactics. In 2013, he declared no drone attack would be ordered without “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”

His concern about civilians casualties also has been behind American pressure on Saudi Arabia to end its bombing campaign against Iranian-backed forces trying to take over Yemen.

And let’s not forget how quick the White House and State Department, as well as European leaders, Arab states and the United Nations, have been to condemn Israel for collateral casualties in its defense against terrorism such as the incursion into the Gaza Strip last year to end Hamas rocket attacks.

Unlike the Israelis, who take comprehensive measures to avoid civilian deaths, the Saudi-led air strikes have not been so careful, hitting hospitals, schools and humanitarian aid convoys. “Yet there have been zero Human Rights Council condemnations and zero calls for a commission of inquiry,” observed Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., in calling out the double standard used in judging his country.

Leaders in Congress promise inquiries into the drone strike that killed Weinstein. That’s as it should be in our democracy. But the cause of combating the Islamist terrorism that has killed tens of thousands of innocents won’t be advanced by holding the men and women waging that fight to foolish, unrealistic standards.


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