Our infamous drone war has largely faded from the headlines. Aside from one strike that went horribly wrong during the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan, there has been vanishingly little coverage of what’s going on with the signature American tactic of the war on terror: remote-controlled death robots.
So I was rather taken aback to discover President Biden has almost totally halted drone strikes, and airstrikes in general, around the world. It’s a remarkable foreign policy reform, but also a remarkable failure of both government communication and media coverage. A hugely significant change in foreign policy has happened — and almost nobody is paying attention.
Not long ago, the drone war was subject to fierce public debate. It started under former President George W. Bush, then became a favored tactic of former President Barack Obama. He’d come to power on the strength of his record opposing the Iraq War but was, at bottom, a devoted imperial chauvinist. Obama wanted to avoid being bogged down in new overseas occupations (except in Afghanistan, where he idiotically boosted troop levels to no positive effect) but never truly questioned U.S. global imperialism or the military-industrial complex.
The drone strike was thus the perfect tool for his presidency: a cheap, high-tech, and supposedly super-accurate method of fighting terrorism (and extending U.S. military hegemony) at no risk to American soldiers. (U.S. airstrikes with human pilots increasingly operate in similar safety, rarely flying over targets with anti-aircraft defenses.) “Turns out I’m really good at killing people,” Obama told aides in 2011. “Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.”