Panetta: The Drone Strikes Will Continue Until Morale Improves

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.

Source: ABC

297 thoughts on “Panetta: The Drone Strikes Will Continue Until Morale Improves”

  1. Gene H:

    “Although I am appreciative of your educational guide for those in need of guidance, I personally understand the origins and variation on political realism.”


    I know. We’ve discussed it before. I was trying to provide a basis for those who didn’t. Our conversations usually draw a crowd. 😀

  2. Of course, we haven’t been helped in our ability to find diplomatically optimal solutions by the mass exodus of career diplomats from the State Department on Bush II’s watch or the appointment of that nitwit Panetta as Sec Def. I have a broad group of people I discuss political matters in addition to the Prof’s salon. To a one, none were please that Panetta was appoint to that position no matter their personal partisan (or lack thereof) leanings. To me, he’s just a prime example of the Peter Principle in Washington. He should be teaching (poorly) some kind of poli sci class at a third rate community college somewhere based on his actual competence. I didn’t like what he did at CIA or OMB and I don’t like what he’s doing now.

    Just to disclose any potential bias I might have on the matter. :mrgreen:

  3. mespo,

    Although I am appreciative of your educational guide for those in need of guidance, I personally understand the origins and variation on political realism. That is why I echoed Mike A’s statement about Machiavelli and said what I said about the “I can kick your ass card”. I understand that mutual protection is an underpinning of the social compact as well. However, it is an action – and you’ve stipulated as such – that should be taken as a last resort. That being said, the current drone policy is not one of last resort, but first resort. The core of my contention is that by ignoring the more aspirational ethical goals of diplomacy in favor of a tactic that by its very nature is a violation of sovereignty and invites escalation, it is in cases such as Pakistan (and their attendant nuclear capacities) unacceptably risky brinkmanship and overall bad tactics. The benefits don’t match the risks or the overall cost to our already severely damaged international image. Morality doesn’t have to hinder your responses but it should inform your course of best action. This current strategy is far from an optimal outcome and I think it shows the laziness and hazards of relying too heavily on the fall back position of might as right over what may be a more labor intensive and lengthy solution that serves both our ends and mending the PR damage done by Bush’s illegal invasion for oil profits.

  4. DonS,

    I didn’t write the sentence you quoted. Chris Woods made that statement in his interview with Amy Goodman for Democracy Now.

  5. “And the concern is that this is pushing America into a position that is going to make its efforts to fight terrorism worse rather than better.” — Elaine M.

    Well, you know, turning this freighter around, whether in the drone policy realm, foreign affairs realm, or the economic policy realm, or the marijuana legalization realm, etc., etc., just ain’t in the cards. Doesn’t really matter what’s morally productive though, does it? It’s just, debate all you want, but in the end getting on board with realism, and support the team.

  6. As U.S. Escalates Pakistan Drone Strikes, Expansive “Kill List” Stirs Fears of Worse Civilian Toll
    Democracy Now
    June 4, 2012

    Chris Woods, award-winning reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London. He leads the Bureau’s drones investigation team.

    AMY GOODMAN: Appearing on MSNBC over the weekend, Democracy Now! correspondent, The Nation’s national security correspondent, Jeremy Scahill, caused a stir when he said drone strikes that kill innocent civilians amount “murder.” This is where Jeremy explains why. Another guest, Colonel Jack Jacobs, briefly interrupts him.

    JEREMY SCAHILL: If someone goes into a shopping mall in pursuit of one of their enemies and opens fire on a crowd of people and guns down a bunch of innocent people in a shopping mall, they’ve murdered those people. When the Obama administration sets a policy where patterns of life are enough of a green light to drop missiles on people or to use—you know, to send in AC-130s to spray them down—

    COL. JACK JACOBS: But that wasn’t the case here. You’re talking about a targeted person here.

    JEREMY SCAHILL: No, no, no, no, no. That’s not—if you go to the village of al-Majalah in Yemen, where I was, and you see the unexploded cluster bombs, and you have the list and photographic evidence, as I do, of the women and children that represented the vast majority of the deaths in this first strike that Obama authorized on Yemen, those people were murdered by President Obama, on his orders, because there was believed to be someone from al-Qaeda in that area. There’s only one person that’s been identified that had any connection to al-Qaeda there, and 21 women and 14 children were killed in that strike. And the U.S. tried to cover it up and say it was a Yemeni strike. And we know from the WikiLeaks cables that David Petraeus conspired with the president of Yemen to lie to the world about who did that bombing. It’s murder, when you—it’s mass murder, when you say, “We are going to bomb this area because we believe a terrorist is there,” and you know that women and children are in the area. The United States has an obligation to not bomb that area if they believe that women and children are there. That—I’m sorry, that’s murder.

    AMY GOODMAN: That was Jeremy Scahill on MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes. Chris Woods, your response? Would you call it murder?

    CHRIS WOODS: I think Jeremy’s strong words indicate a really—a rising concern, particularly about these signature strikes being carried out by the CIA and the Pentagon in Somalia, in Yemen and in Pakistan. And it’s not just Jeremy who’s speaking out about this. We’ve had Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, who introduced drone strikes; Robert Grenier, former head of the Counterterrorism Center at CIA when the drone strikes began; and Dennis Blair, who is the former director of national intelligence for the United States. All three of these very central characters have all made strong noises in the last few weeks, saying, “We are concerned about this policy. We’re worried that it’s getting out of control. We’re worried that it’s not achieving what it’s supposed to be doing and may actually be making matters worse.”

    And I think the Washington Post, just last week, very powerful article built on investigations on the ground by their African editor showing that drone strikes in Yemen are actually leading to an increase in support of al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, everybody at the White House and the CIA seems to be singing from the same hymn sheet here. There is no voice of criticism that we’re aware of challenging this narrative that’s driving events in Washington. And the concern is that this is pushing America into a position that is going to make its efforts to fight terrorism worse rather than better.

  7. Gene H:

    In international affairs, I am an advocate of the classical realism school. I was looking for something to explain the basics for folks here that hear what I say and gasp as though it’s new. Actually, it harkens back to Aristotle,Cicero, Thucydides, Hobbes, and Machiavelli. Here’s a short primer:

  8. Gene H:

    I meant that in international affairs using your sense of morality hinders your response. Hobbes had it right that nations interact with one another from an egocentric perspective. As Professor Mary Midley says of Hobbes,” All our passions, he said, may be “reduced to the desire for Power” – essentially, the power to protect ourselves. Thus all morality – not just its political aspect but the whole of it – is valid only so far as it serves this ruling purpose. If, for instance, you ask about virtue, he tells you “Force and Fraud are in War the two cardinal Virtues” – “Honour consisteth only in Opinion of Power”, and “The Value or Worth of a man is, as of all other things, his Price, namely as much as would be given for the Use of his Power”.

    Hobbes also explained the value of the State. Again Professor Midley on Hobbes: “The state exists only as a means of self-preservation for its citizens. What justifies its authority is (he said) simply the social contract, a tacit agreement by all members to obey government in return for the protection of their own lives.”

    To that extent, it is an amoral world. I have said until I’m blue that self-preservation is the fundamental goal of all international affairs. It is the basic law that trumps the rest. We can argue about the best way to achieve it, but we can’t really argue about it’s utility. To a large extent might does make right in the international sphere and we have eons of history to prove it. If not, why spend all these trillions on defense? Are we so naive to believe that moral suasion would protect our interests if we had the military capabilities of Sweden?

  9. AY:

    I was trying to find out the particulars of her charge. I’m not sure what war crime she means.

  10. “All that said, it proves nothing. I have already said I believe the world of foreign affairs is amoral. It’s based on providing safety and security and to some extent the most powerful nation wins. Imposing our values on persons and nations who don’t share them is foolhardy. Welcome to reality.”

    A belief that international affairs is inherently amoral? Does not justify not having any in how you conduct your international affairs other than “might makes right”. To conduct international diplomacy in this way is not only counterproductive to the very idea of diplomacy, it certainly makes the effort of “brining American democracy” to the world a hypocritical if not moot point. It makes as much sense as violating the Bill of Rights to prove the value of the Bill of Rights. The merits of the case – be that for cooperation or adoption of foreign values – should stand or fail on the merits of the argument, not the “I can kick your ass card”. And if necessity is the trigger, then a threat to your national sovereignty like the drug cartels present to South and Central America is actually a really strong argument for unilateral action on their part should they have the means. I’m not saying that the “I can kick your ass” card doesn’t exist or even that it should never be played, but to mix metaphors here, when all you have is a hammer, the world starts to look like nails. Remember, in the end it wasn’t a Reaper that took out Bin Laden. It was people acting on actionable human gathered intelligence, not some RC pilot operating off of what may or may not be valid signal intelligence.

  11. Mespo,

    I have been following you fairly well and see your point of view until the comment to Jill…..

  12. Jill:

    “Basically we have a war crime. The US govt. is using collective punishment to get what it has no right to have. The drones will continue until we have what we want. This should deeply offend the people of our nation.”


    Tell us what “war crime” has been committed?

  13. will:

    “But the underlying reality is more important, especially when we’re talking about killing people.”


    What I see is the reality that you are unwilling to accept any argument other than your simple one that “killing is bad; letting live is good.” As I pointed out above, let’s see how it plays out in the scenario where a killer is holding a gun to your child’s temple and you have the means to end his life before he makes the fatal trigger pull. How’s that for a visceral “I care”? Wanna’ give us an intellectual gloss here?

    We all know the answer, but let’s see how it plays out in your world of perfect morals.

  14. .Bob,Esq:

    “See that Mark? Ya can’t kill people you ‘feel’ aren’t entitled to due process because your feelings are no substitute for the law.

    Yet another example of you demonstrating that you have no respect for the rule of law and that you believe first and foremost in assuaging your own anxieties and insecurities through tyrannical control.”


    Well, Bob, Esq, something is askew here. Congress approved the use of military force against Al Qaeda. The President ordered the death of our radical Al-Quaeda Iman under a claim of law. It was approved by the National Security Council as an American citizen was involved. The mission was carried out under color of law. The traitor is dead and there is no hue and cry except for a few that the act was illegal. The American people support the action. We are obviously safer and no prosecutorial organization — international, domestic, or combined — has said anything except “good work” in killing a terrorist.

    What you forget is that International law allows the killing of a person who poses an imminent threat to a country. On the topic, Judge Abraham Sofaer wrote:

    When people call a targeted killing an “assassination,” they are attempting to preclude debate on the merits of the action. Assassination is widely defined as murder, and is for that reason prohibited in the United States…. U.S. officials may not kill people merely because their policies are seen as detrimental to our interests…. But killings in self-defense are no more “assassinations” in international affairs than they are murders when undertaken by our police forces against domestic killers. Targeted killings in self-defense have been authoritatively determined by the federal government to fall outside the assassination prohibition.

    Seems a federal judge agrees with my “feelings” that killing this guy is no different that killing a domestic criminal with a gun pressed to your child’s temple.

  15. For sure there is no threat of terrorism against the US behind these drone bombings. Pakistan has cut off our supply routes and taken away one of the important drone bases we were using. At the NATO summit in Chicago the Pakistani president was pressured to give the US those things back. He did not.

    Basically we have a war crime. The US govt. is using collective punishment to get what it has no right to have. The drones will continue until we have what we want. This should deeply offend the people of our nation.

    G. Greenwald is also writing about an increasing amount of what I will call, “drone porn” put out by the MSM. You have to ask, why and why now? Yes, Obama followers appear to love a violent president, the more violent, the more reason to vote for him. However, I do not believe it is the only reason we are being subjected to drone porn. What is the govt. doing? In addition to making Obama supporters love him more because he is a violent and brutal man they are sending other messages. Our nation is in great danger. So are others in the world. Peacefully resist.

  16. Gene H:

    “And so I again say to you, ask yourself what would happen Mexico violated our sovereignty by launching drone attacks into Arizona?”


    Obviously, Mexico could conclude that we aren’t doing enough but given the billions we have spent and spend on the drug war that would be a hard argument to make. But lets say the unlikely becomes true and they did do it.Once they decided to violate US airspace I dare say we would shoot those drones down precisely because we can. Besides the right to pursue these criminals, they need the means. They don’t have the means. I doubt they would run the risk of inflaming a friendly neighbor but if they did, they would suffer the consequences.

    All that said, it proves nothing. I have already said I believe the world of foreign affairs is amoral. It’s based on providing safety and security and to some extent the most powerful nation wins. Imposing our values on persons and nations who don’t share them is foolhardy. Welcome to reality.

  17. “The debate” may indeed be the thing.

    But the underlying reality is more important, especially when we’re talking about killing people.

    I really don’t see much challenging “pre-conceived notions” going on. I see intellectual gloss on visceral positions.

    I don’t take winning debating points as the end; I see it as a cop out. One cannot easily honestly and easily join debating points with “I care” in the same breath.

Comments are closed.