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Silence of the Drones

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More likely, hewing to the drone-attack approach can be attributed, at least in part to what Barbara Tuchman, in her The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, describes as wooden-headedness:

"Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.

"A variant might be called the 'lemming factor,' which is particularly influential during an election campaign with the overriding requirement to shun any sign of weakness or lack of honor for 'the fallen.'

"Two lemmings are chatting while standing in the line to the cliff. One says to the other, 'Of course we have to go over the edge. Anything else would dishonor all the lemmings that have gone before us.'"

Remember, none of our troops get killed in these drone attacks. They can do the killing from a safe distance sitting at a computerized play-station. And the drones are relatively cheap. Most important, we can be seen as doing something against the feared al-Qaeda and other terrorists.

And, somehow, the Pakistanis won't mind very much, goes the thinking. Or what can they do about it, after all?

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may cling to the (forlorn) hope that relations with those who hold the real power in Pakistan will not really suffer, especially if the U.S. shows determination and uses the traditional mix of flattery, threats, money and sophisticated military hardware to cultivate Pakistani military leaders.

U.S. policy makers may even harbor the naive expectation that, with continued efforts to "educate" the Pakistanis, they will "shift their strategic calculus" (as then Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy put it two years ago) away from India, and focus instead on helping the U.S. pull its chestnuts out of the fire in Afghanistan.

If all this seems naive and feckless, that's because it is. But Americans don't know that. And the killing from drone strikes continues. And that's why it is fitting and proper for American activists to be sticking their necks out in traveling to the area to see for themselves.

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Is there no one with any sense? The answer is yes. Take former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter who opted out of a third year in Islamabad apparently out of frustration having to implement the hare-brained policies devised at the Pentagon, CIA, and White House.

Highly qualified and perceptive people leave; Munter retired after more than a quarter-century in the Foreign Service on Sunday for reasons that are clear enough, even given the timid valedictory he gave on Sept. 25 at the Carnegie Foundation.

Just five days short of being out-the-door, Munter's words remained diplomatic -- far too much so. What came through clearly was his exasperation at having to implement a myopic, counterproductive policy toward a nuclear-armed state with the world's sixth largest population.

Although he did not say it right out, Munter words reflected frustration with a feckless U.S. policy unable to look beyond the sacred cow of counter-terrorism and whatever it is the U.S. is still trying to do in Afghanistan.

There, as Munter gingerly put it, U.S. and Pakistani interests "do not align that well," despite the efforts of people like Panetta and Clinton to persuade the Pakistanis to revise their strategic view of the region.

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The centerpiece of Munter's presentation was a recounting of a long list of indignities that, as ambassador, he was forced to spend so much of his time cleaning up after.

The Nov. 26, 2011 killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by U.S. air attacks against suspected insurgents/militants/terrorists (call them what you will) in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area; the refusal of the Pentagon to apologize; Pakistan's shutdown of U.S. supply lines to Afghanistan; the CIA/Raymond Davis affair; the CIA/Navy SEAL incursion into Abbottabad and killing of Osama bin Laden with no prior notification; the mutual acrimony that ensued -- you name it.

Munter bemoaned the reality that 2011 was a very bad year, without specifically attributing blame. But, guess what he left out of the litany. Drones.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)

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