“Never has it been more important for America to lead wisely, to shrewdly project power and wield influence on behalf of liberty and security. Unfortunately, I fear our once great influence is waning, a victim of misguided policies and impetuous actions.”
— Barack Obama, 2004
How, exactly, do those words, delivered in a speech to Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, square with U.S. drone attacks that have killed civilians, including women and children? Or with the gathering of 70 million telephone records and text messages from our allies in a global surveillance net?
They don’t — unless you can dismiss the deaths and recorded conversations of friendly private citizens as so much collateral damage.
So it’s not surprising that United States credibility is being seriously questioned overseas in the wake of two human rights groups documenting civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and the chancellor of Germany and president of France demanding an explanation for the U.S. intruding on private lives of their citizens.
Human Rights Watch reports at least 57 of the 82 people killed in six air strikes in Yemen since 2009 were civilians. Amnesty International says more than 30 civilians were killed in four strikes in Pakistan between May 2012 and July 2013. And a United Nations human rights investigator estimates 2,200 people — at least 400 civilians and 200 probable noncombatants — have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan over the past decade.
Drones have become an important but controversial component of President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East.
But in a recent Oval Office meeting with Obama, Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani student who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for speaking out in support of the right of girls to go to school, said she “expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism.”
And during a meeting Wednesday with Obama, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he asked the president to halt drone strikes in his country.
With regard to the overbroad National Security Agency surveillance program, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says “this sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable, and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens. We fully agree that we cooperate to fight terrorism. It is indispensable. But this does not justify that personal data of millions of our compatriots are snooped on.”
That includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who like French President Frangois Hollande has called Obama to demand an explanation. In Merkel’s case, German intelligence has reported the NSA monitored her own mobile phone, something the White House denies.
U.S. foreign policy demands a complicated and delicate balancing act of protecting freedoms and protecting lives, and when running for president in 2008, Obama said it was important to undo “the damage that has been done over the last seven years.”
After almost five years in office, recent events show the Obama White House has yet to come close.
— Albuquerque Journal