By Mowahid Hussain Shah
March 28, 2013
Drone strikes are beginning to spark debate in Washington. Senator Rand Paul delayed the induction of the new CIA chief, John Brennan, by giving a 13-hour marathon speech questioning the usage of drones.
Most recent was a discussion before an overflow audience at Brookings, a leading Washington think-tank, where I was asked - along with Sally Quinn, wife of former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, whose coverage of the Watergate scandal toppled President Nixon - to discuss a notable new book, “The Thistle and the Drone”, of Professor Akbar Ahmed of American University. Akbar contends persuasively through case studies that drone strikes have devastated the tribal fabric of societies at the periphery.
Brookings, back in the 1970s and 1980s, had a reputation of being a thinking arm of the Democratic Party. One of its key studies in December 1975 endorsed and echoed congressional testimony given a month earlier by Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs, who had stated: “The Palestinian dimension of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the heart of that conflict."
Brookings then had a reputation for being even-handed. Not any more, according to noted critics Professor Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago and Professor Walt at Harvard University, who find it now too tilted toward Israel.
So is Washington really having second thoughts on the drone strikes? Not necessarily. According to the Washington Times of March 13, the Pentagon has just minted a Distinguished Warfare Medal to be given to drone operators. The proposed new medal - temporarily put on hold by Defence Secretary Hagel - would be ranked above the combat medals of the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
In on-the-record remarks at Brookings, this scribe posited that, abroad, the United States has lost the war on terror by not tackling the roots of radicalism, embedded in the occupation of Kashmir and Palestine. And, at home, it is powerless to contain the random terror of gun violence. I pointed to the perils of group-think and conformity, which negate self-reflection and lead to the safe sameness of the beaten track, and gave the example of former Vice President Dick Cheney who, when asked by an interviewer on camera, “What are your main faults?” was stumped and responded: “My main fault? Um…....well, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my faults.”
Dick Cheney was one of the architects of the March 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the 10th anniversary of which fell just now. Apart from incalculable human costs, the Watson Institute for International Studies of Brown University calculated the cost to American taxpayers as $2.2 trillion. Gallup Poll on March 12 released its largest global public opinion survey of 130 countries disclosing views on US leadership, called the US Global Leadership Track, which confirmed a significant decline of US influence.
Behind this US decline, too, is the closed mindset and policy prescriptions of Washington’s politically incestuous tribal community - composed of media pundits, think-tank commentariat, academia, lobbyists, and officialdom - which often sing similar tunes. Take a look now at their scorecard. There are too many zeros.
Mowahid Hussain Shah is an attorney-at-law and policy analyst based in Washington DC. He is the first Pakistani American member admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar.