President Barack Obama, Term II: Attack of the Drones

On Tuesday 6th November, Barack Obama won a second term of the US presidency with 50.8% of the popular vote, compared to Mitt Romney’s share of 47.5%. Prior to the elections, US and international media had been buzzing at the closeness of the race, and the ominous prospect of a return to the growingly radical leadership of the Republican Party. Supporters of the President suggest that it was a comfortable win – with Obama gaining 332 electoral seats, almost a hundred more than Romney’s 206. However, the extent of his popularity has certainly depleted since his lead of 192 seats over Senator John McCain in the 2008 elections.

If you opened your Facebook or Twitter feed on Tuesday night, you were probably met with dozens of posts from your friends supporting Obama or celebrating his success. Curiously, here in Britain, and around the world, Obama is idolised – seen as a beacon of hope and change, even for those otherwise uninterested in politics. Indeed, statistical data has confirmed this; last month, public opinion research consultancy GlobeScan published the results of a survey, in which thousands of people across 21 nations voiced who their preferred candidate was. Obama was overwhelmingly supported worldwide, scoring popularity ratings over 60% in the UK, France, Canada, Nigeria, Brazil and several other states. For many, he is representative of the ideals of a liberal, social democracy; considerate of human rights, fairness and equality.

Looking at President Obama’s track record on domestic policy, he has made a lot of socially progressive decisions; he has expanded the eligibility for healthcare for impoverished US citizens, he has increased spending on laws that protect victims of domestic violence, he has extended further rights to LGBT+ people. The list is long and commendable, but these choices have little impact on the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s foreign policy has taken a very different turn from the humanitarian image his administration often attempts to instil; most importantly, the use of drones as part of the ‘war on terror’. Drones or ‘unmanned combat aerial vehicles’ started being used by the US military under the presidency of George W Bush, but their use has increased hugely in the past four years. Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen have been attacked numerous times with these machines, though the prime target bearing the brunt of drones has been Pakistan. In fact, in the four years of the Obama Administration, Pakistan alone has been targeted by drone strikes almost 300 times, compared to 52 strikes during the entirety of President Bush’s two terms.

Obama’s increase in drone warfare has been highly controversial; seen by tamer opponents as the extrajudicial killing of perceived enemies, and by fiercer critics as a significant cause of death for many non-combatants. Earlier this year, a report published by the United Nations noted that the Obama administration’s widespread drone use occurs due to the internationalism of the counter-terrorism ideology; an argument denounced by UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson as a “spurious justification to a range of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations”.

A report into drone strikes in Pakistan published by NYU and Stanford University this year documented that despite the Obama administration’s efforts to avoid democratic accountability for such attacks, “there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians”. Evidence which indicates that during the second term of George W Bush, and the first term of Obama, between 474 to 884 Pakistani civilians were killed by drones – including 176 children.

The report provides more detailed and morbid findings regarding the results of drone strikes in Pakistan. A tactic implemented under Obama and utilised by the US military has involved the deliberate targeting of any person who, following a drone strike, attempts to help the injured or remove the bodies of the dead – in case they are abetting terrorism. Such policy has the capability to destroy the essence of a civilised society, as it makes medical workers and other civilians too scared to provide help to each other; it takes the humanity out of society by means of terror. This belief that people are guilty by association is seen even more clearly with the policy implemented under Obama of drone striking the funerals of those killed by drone strikes; killing numerous people who knew the deceased, often family members.

During the recent televised debates between Governor Mitt Romney and President Obama, the subject of drones was one of the few topics that united the two competitors; Romney declared that he “supported [drone warfare] entirely” and that President Obama’s policy regarding its enforcement “was right”. The successful domestic policy and trustworthy aura of President Obama seem to have overshadowed the ideological similarity of his foreign policy implementations with those intended by Romney. It is undoubtable that if Mitt Romney had succeeded in the elections, the international implications of US foreign policy would have been far more severe – notable through his aggressive rhetoric in relation to Iran, Afghanistan, China, and Russia. However, despite posing slightly less of an existential threat to the world as we know it, Obama remains a firm proponent of increasingly indiscriminate interventionist US foreign policy.

If a US voter desired a presidential candidate who has not vocally supported the extra-judicial execution-by-flying-robot of ‘terrorists’, and any unlucky person who is near that ‘terrorist’ at the time, then they could only have wasted their vote. As opposition to the heinous 9/11 attacks, and similar attacks around the world, many have justly used the word ‘cowardly’ to describe suicide bombings. But are suicide attacks any more cowardly than sitting safely in a bunker, out of harm’s way, bombing targets on a screen, as if its nothing more than the latest Xbox release? Obama’s expansion of drone strikes is killing countless civilians, increasing animosity towards the US around the Muslim world, as well as lowering the standards of ethical warfare. Despite his huge popularity around the world, the more people learn about his true foreign policy objectives, the more distrust in him grows. I hope President Obama at least has the decency to remove his Nobel Peace Prize from the mantel…

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