For years, the United States has danced around the fact that it has repeatedly enter the sovereign territory of other countries with drone attacks and in some cases small unit attacks without the permission of countries like Pakistan. Such acts violate international law and would be viewed by the United States as an act of war if committed on U.S. territory. This week,Defense Secretary Leon Panetta finally responded directly to those objections and said that the attacks would continue unabated. Panetta essentially stated that we can invade other nations because we can and that countries will have to come to accept that — using the same concept as “floggings will continue on ship until morale improves.”
Panetta insisted this is really not them (other countries) but us. Speaking in India, he proclaimed “This is about our sovereignty as well.” As for Pakistan, which has repeatedly objected to attacks on its territory, Panetta said “It’s a complicated relationship, often times frustrating, often times difficult. They have provided some cooperation. There are other times when frankly that cooperation is not there.” Strangely, we would not view the relationship as complicated if Mexico sent drones into Texas to take out suspects or landed Mexican special forces in Arizona to kill enemies. We would treat it as a matter of war.
Panetta has finally made “American exceptionalism” official policy. We do these things simply because we can; because we are the United States. From torture to military tribunals to hit lists, the United States is above the legal standards that we impose on others. The greatest danger is that our hypocrisy abroad is turning into hypocrisy at home where we continue to claim to be the “land of the free” while stripping citizens of basic rights and expanding unchecked presidential and police powers.
Obama has expanded drone attacks to an unprecedented level while expanding his claimed authority to kill citizens without a charge or trial. Now the most common image of the United States abroad is not our Constitution but our drones. For many people around the world, Panetta’s speech will be viewed as adding unrestained arrogance to unrestrained power.