"The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis. I have spoken to many victims of U.S. drone strikes, like a mother in Jaar who had to identify her innocent 18-year-old son's body through a video in a stranger's cellphone, or the father in Shaqra who held his four- and six-year-old children as they died in his arms.
"Recently in Aden, I spoke with one of the tribal leaders present in 2009 at the place where the U.S. cruise missiles targeted the village of al-Majalah in Lawdar, Abyan. More than 40 civilians were killed, including four pregnant women.
"The tribal leader and others tried to rescue the victims, but the bodies were so decimated that it was impossible to differentiate between those of children, women and their animals. Some of these innocent people were buried in the same grave as their animals."
Who Cares What Blows You Up, Once You're Blown Up?
But wait, some might say, cruise missiles are different from missiles from drones, and technically that's correct. It's also morally meaningless. The remote killing of civilians remains an act of terror, and a war crime, and it really doesn't matter if drone missile s have less explosive power and therefore kill innocent people at a slower rate.
These days, in America, drone wars are not part of a moral debate. Discussion of anonymous killing from the air has raised a debate about technicalities, sometimes important technicalities of ordnance, tactics, law, and constitutionality.
If the debate were about morality, we'd admit that our country commits terrorist acts with relative impunity -- and then we'd consider whether that's the country we want to go on being.
Terrorism is generally thought to be a weapon of the weak, but there's no inherent reason it can't work even more effectively for the strong, at least in the short term. Especially when the strong have the media ability to redefine their terrorist acts as "targeted killings" or, better, "signature strikes."
What's good about the "war on terrorism" (for America) is that it's a war we can't lose. Those foreign terrorists, no matter how you add them up, cannot become an existential threat to the United States. They don't have the numbers or the resources.
So why does the U.S. pursue fundamentally impotent enemies with such implacable ferocity? Especially, why does the U.S. pursue terrorists in ways that create more terrorists than we kill?
Or is that the point?
What if the Point of the War on Terror is to Sustain the War on Terror?
Since 9/11 our government, with the consent of all too many of the governed, has taken us down the road of permanent war against an abstraction -- terrorism -- rooted in a racist premise, that the terrorists are mostly Arabs or Muslims or some sort of poor, brown people.
They envy us our freedoms, as some like to say, with apparently unintended irony, since the course of permanent war abroad has been accompanied by a permanent state of security at home that looks more and more like the latest incarnation of a police state.
That enlarged authoritarian presence in our lives likely contributes to concern about the constitution and the rule of law -- even when those concerned ignore the rule of lawlessness in places like Yemen. Taking this situation as a whole, the constitution looks more and more like collateral damage.
On its face, American anti-terrorism terrorism is insanely stupid in its ineffectual circularity. Or is it fiendishly clever, however planned or unplanned, in its seemingly infinite self-perpetuation?