On Drones, Part 2: Blowback

The word “blowback” usually riles people up. Whenever you mention that our failed international policies might be negatively impacting our domestic security, people like to call you “anti-American” or “unpatriotic.” Some people seem to think that using diplomacy rather than force to get our way in the world is akin to the appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain. Most “conservatives” prefer Teddy Roosevelt’s “big stick” policy. Minus the “speaking softly” part, of course. That sounds like foreign policy for sissies or something.

But let’s talk about some, at least partially, good news. America does have some fans in the world. Even in the Middle East. In fact, one of our biggest fans, Farea al-Muslimi, is a Yemeni man who actively promotes American ideals in his home country. Because of American charity, this poor villager was given a chance to go to college and make a better life for himself. In gratitude, he passionately advocates that his countrymen adopt American values: “In my heart, I know I can only repay the opportunities, friendship, warmth, and exposure your country provided me by being their ambassadors to Yemenis for the rest of my life.” He combats Muslim propoganda daily and does everything he can to dispel the idea that America is some “great Satan.”

Recently, he came to speak before a Senate committee on drones. He was heart-broken and discouraged. In his tiny remote home village of Wessab, five people had recently been killed by a drone strike. After it happened, al-Muslimi’s phone was inundated with texts and phone calls from his friends and family demanding an explanation. He had none to give. He was just as terrified and disappointed as everyone else. He explained that he had won his village over to the American cause. If there were a terrorist lurking in his village, any of the townspeople would have happily turned him over for arrest. But now, thanks to the judge-jury-executioner drone strike, the village was ripe for infiltration by terrorist cells. In al-Muslimi’s own words: “Wessab first experienced America through the terror of a drone strike. What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America.”

In tears, al-Muslimi begged the Senate committee to stop the drone attacks. “If America is providing economic, social and humanitarian assistance to Yemen, the vast majority of the Yemeni people know nothing about it. Everyone in Yemen, however, knows about America and its drones. . . . I hate AQAP [Al-Qaeda]. I don’t support their ideology. I don’t like the way they have distorted my religion. And I despise their methods, but I fear that these air strikes undermine the United States’ effort to defeat AQAP and win the hearts and minds of the Yemeni people.”

When are we going to listen? The “highly efficient” drone strikes regularly harm or kill innocent civilians. Every time this happens, once neutral bystanders become highly susceptible to radicalization.

What is the answer? Isn’t it obvious? How did we win over al-Muslimi? By showing him kindness and sharing the best we have to offer with him. I fail to see why this shouldn’t be our normal policy. It’s not isolationism, as some would argue. It’s just not “imperial interventionism.” Basically, it is the Golden Rule on an international level: Do to other countries what you would have other countries do to you. If it weren’t for our strength, we would never get away with our drone policy. Can you imagine if other countries were sending drones to America in order to find and kill potential and perceived enemies? This would not stand. Why don’t we understand this?

You can’t force freedom and democracy on a people. Isn’t the very idea absurd? How can you use force of arms to subjugate a people into freedom? We must take the log out of our own eye first. Let’s get free at home. Then perhaps we’ll have something to show the world.

Tomorrow, I’ll address the most reasonable argument against the drone blowback theory, a version of which you can find here.