12 January 2016 - 08:15 AM
State of the Union: Will Obama Boast About Drone Legacy?
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On Tuesday, the United States public and the world will turn their eyes to the State of the Union address that President Barack Obama will deliver in front of the U.S. Congress as the man, according to White House officials, is expected to boast about his legacy over the past seven years.

 Men look at graffiti showing a U.S. drone on a wall in Sanaa in this Nov. 9, 2013, file photo.

"This is the grandest stage in all of American politics," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

"In this case, (President Obama) wants to focus most of his time on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for the country, and how the choices that we make today will have a significant impact on the success of future generations of Americans."

As the U.S. Congress is controlled by Republicans, Obama seems to acknowledge that trying to suggest any ideas or policies to Congress would be a waste of time.

Thus, the Commander in Chief opted to use his last State of the Union address to advance his party’s political agenda by ensuring that his successor be someone from within the Democratic Party, aka Hilary Clinton.

Steering away from the usual “laundry list” of desired policy proposals to the U.S. Congress, Obama will instead boast his legacy to drive his approval ratings, now about 45 percent, higher. That, according to political analysts, would translate into boosting Clinton’s chance in the upcoming presidential elections later this year.

Drone warfare will be one of Obama’s most controversial and tragic legacies.

“Electing Hillary Clinton is the best thing he can do to protect his legacy,” the Financial Times newspaper said in an editorial article Monday. “Whether he manages to avoid the litany of must-pass bills — a pledge his bureaucracy will be trying to undo until the last minute — Mr. Obama’s speech will be judged on whether he can shift his poll numbers.”

Well, Obama’s speech then would include a spectrum of policies that his administration have implemented on both domestic and foreign levels.

Considering his impact on the world as president, Obama arguably expanded one of the deadliest programs in human history, the U.S. drone program.

Obama ran a campaign in 2007 saying he would end the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and push for a U.S. policy away from the troops-on-the-ground approach of his successor George W. Bush.

Indeed, the U.S. officially ended the war in Iraq and withdrew all combat troops from the country in December 2011, while military advisers remained there for the publicly declared reason of “training and advising” the Iraqi army and giving other limited support.

Obama did keep troops away from Syria, without mentioning the special forces who conduct limited operations in the country every now and then. In Afghanistan, too, the U.S. did pull a significant number of its troops from the country, but Obama failed to keep his promise of a full withdrawal due to, according to his administration, the threat of the Taliban insurgency.

However, Obama found instead an alternative way of continuing the U.S.’s broader “war on terror”: using drones.

Drone warfare will be one of Obama’s most controversial and tragic legacies. As it fought the troops-on-the-ground policy tooth and nail, the Obama administration found a way to continue the U.S.’ “war on terrorism” with the unmanned flying bombers that keep U.S. troops safe while waging wars from afar.

Nearly 90 percent of people killed in recent drone strikes in Afghanistan were not the intended targets

In May 2013, Obama defended U.S. drone strikes and claimed responsibility for overseeing the program.

He claimed that targets were limited to terrorists that posed a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons,” and that strikes were executed only when there was “near certainty that the target is present,” “near certainty that noncombatants will not be injured or killed” and “capture is not feasible at the time of the operation.”

But, in October 2015, Obama’s claims were ripped to shreds when a whistleblower leaked to The Intercept website documents revealing troubling details of the U.S. drone program. The documents said a drone target must be simply “a threat to U.S. interest or personnel,” contradicting the “imminent threat” claim by the U.S. government.

Drones have been used as part of the U.S. counter terrorism efforts since the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. in 2001. In recent years drones became more technologically capable and less costly placing them at the center of Washington's war on terror.

U.S. drone attacks are conducted frequently in several countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia Iraq and Syria.

Yemen, Somalia and parts of Syria and Iraq are not, by the U.S. definition, battlefields, which therefore renders it illegal, according to loose international agreements, to carry out military operations there, let alone extrajudicial killings using drones.

According to The Intercept’s documents, nearly 90 percent of people killed in recent drone strikes in Afghanistan "were not the intended targets" of the attacks.

Yemen has been one of the most affected countries by Obama’s drone program. The Bush administration first kicked off drone attacks against al-Qaida’s branch there, regarded as one of the extremist group’s deadliest franchises.

Obama expanded on Bush’s operation in Yemen and elsewhere. But despite the Obama administration's claims of success, analysts and military experts say the Yemen drone program is in fact strengthening al-Qaida and other extremist groups there.

Jillian Schwedler, a political-science professor in New York, argued in an interview for The Atlantic magazine last September, that for al-Qaida, “the drone program is a gift from the heavens. Its recruiting narrative exploits common misconceptions of American omnipotence, offering an alternative route to justice and empowerment.”

Schwedler, who spent the last two decades researching and traveling in Yemen, stressed that such operations are simply seen by locals as an undeclared war against their countries.

“Regardless of American perceptions about the legitimacy or efficacy of the attacks, what Yemeni could now deny that the United States is waging an undeclared war on Yemen?”

According to the data collected by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, a website that has been keeping a database of all drone strikes, the U.S. has conducted up to 200 drone strikes in Yemen killing up to 160 civilians between 2002 and 2015.

In Pakistan, the number of total strikes has been up to 420 between 2004 and 2016, with more than 370 conducted on President Obama’s watch.

But the most disturbing part about Obama’s drone program is the fact that other governments around the world have been emboldened by the U.S.’s widespread and unapologetic use of the unmanned killers.

In September 2015, the United Kingdom and Pakistan said they had carried out drone strikes in Syria against their own citizens, suspected of fighting with the Islamic State group. The strikes took place outside the declared battlefield of the U.S.-led coalition against the extremist group in Syria and Iraq.

“The proliferation of a method of secretive killing that critics consider 21st-century assassination is probably not how Barack Obama sees his legacy,” Spencer Ackerman, national security editor for The Guardian US, wrote in an article in September last year.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration would also have to answer for its failing strategies in Syria and Iraq in the wake of the rise of the Islamic State group.

While Obama attempted to formally stay away from the Syrian conflict, he did finally concede to Republican demands that Washington should get involved. In September last year, he initiated an airstrikes operation against the Islamic State group.

In total, 250 civilian deaths have been recorded since September 2014 by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. And the operation has not achieved any of its intended goals of eradicating the extremist group as it still controls almost one-third of Syria, the same territory it had before the U.S.-led coalition. But the Obama administration has no use for facts. A recap of the State Department’s accomplishments, written by spokesman John Kirby and published last month, has taken pride in “bringing peace, security to Syria."

Obama will most probably keep this part of his legacy out of his State of the Union speech, but the drone program will continue to have its toll on the populations in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia. And the U.S, whether led by a Democrat or a Republican, will most likely continue its illegal extrajudicial killings that in all cases claim innocent lives in the process.

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