This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
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Don't laugh. No, really, stop it!
Honestly, it's perfectly sensible. Secrecy being such an all-encompassing value for our government, why shouldn't its employees work in the dark, even when the rest of us, the rest of the world, knows what's going on. Fortunately, I'm not an employee of the U.S. government or its military-industrial contractors; so, though Raytheon, the Library of Congress, and other places have been thoughtful enough to try to minimize the pain of the ongoing Wikileaks dump of State Department documents by blocking people from reading them, and the Obama administration and assorted Internet crews, including Amazon and PayPal, are trying to ensure that there won't be a fourth, fifth, or sixth round of dumps, I've been wandering the Web like any 12-year-old reading around.
You want to know what struck me? Something small. And it happened in Yemen, that anything-goes country whose president Ali Abdullah Saleh gave Washington almost carte blanche to act militarily -- "an open door on terrorism," as he put it to Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan in September 2009 (according to one of the State Department documents Wikileaks released). More like an open bomb bay, actually. And Saleh was even eager to take credit for those bombs we were dropping. "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," he told then-Centcom commander General David Petraeus last January.
In return for the right to drop bombs and launch missiles, the Yemeni president got his own "open door" -- directly into the U.S. Treasury: tons of money (it's euphemistically called "aid") shoveled his way, U.S. trainers and training for his troops, and lots of fancy military equipment because, let's face it, Washington is still laboring in a coalition-of-the-billing, not a coalition-of-the-willing world. Still, even for Saleh, there were limits and -- it's so Washington 2010 of us -- we nonetheless tried to exceed them. According to that State Department document, Petraeus evidently wanted to get U.S. troops -- probably Special Operations forces -- on the ground in combat areas with Yemeni units. According to a State Department observer, "Saleh reacted coolly, however, to the General's proposal to place USG [U.S. Government] personnel inside the area of operations armed with real-time, direct feed intelligence from U.S. ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] platforms overhead."
In other words, anywhere we have a foot in the door of war, the next thing you know we're trying to slip a (uniformed) body through it as well. That catches the American way of war these days and helps explain why we always seem to end up more, not less involved, in conflict in distant lands. Among the places where the U.S. offers big dollars for the right to blast the hell out of things, Yemen is actually a Johnny-come-lately. Only recently have American officials made Sana'a, its capital, a Club Med for recreational bombing.
On the other hand, ever since Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage marched into the office of Pakistani autocrat General Pervez Musharraf soon after the 9/11 attacks and reportedly told him that the U.S. would bomb his country "back to the Stone Age" unless he joined the fight against al-Qaeda, that country has been a magnet for Washington's top brass, military and civilian. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen had visited 16 times by early 2010 and sometimes there seems to be a greater density of American officials, wheedling, bribing, threatening, cajoling, and maneuvering in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, than in Washington itself. Meanwhile, the CIA's drones have been attacking Pakistani territory, its helicopters crossing the border shooting, its Special Operations troops on the ground, and the CIA swarming, as Washington acts with relative impunity in that land.
Fatima Bhutto, whose father, a member of Pakistan's parliament, was killed by the police in 1996 during the premiership of his sister, Benazir Bhutto, offers an insider's vision of just what impunity means in the Pakistani context. She has recently written a stirring memoir, an epic search for the truth behind her father's life and death, Songs of Blood and Sword. Tom
A Flood of Drone Strikes
What the Wikileaks Revelations Tell Us About How Washington Runs Pakistan
By Fatima Bhutto
With governments like Pakistan's current regime, who needs the strong arm of the CIA? According to Bob Woodward's latest bestseller Obama's Wars, when Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, an obsequiously dangerous man, was notified that the CIA would be launching missile strikes from drones over his country's sovereign territory, he replied, "Kill the seniors. Collateral damage worries you Americans. It doesn't worry me."
Why would he worry? When his wife Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 2007 to run for prime minister after years of self-imposed exile, she was already pledged to a campaign of pro-American engagement. She promised to hand over nuclear scientist and international bogeyman Dr. A.Q. Khan, the "father" of the Pakistani atomic bomb, to the International Atomic Energy Agency. She also made clear that, once back in power, she would allow the Americans to bomb Pakistan proper, so that George W. Bush's Global War on Terror might triumph. Of course, the Americans had been involved in covert strikes and other activities in Pakistan since at least 2001, but we didn't know that then.
This has been the promise that has kept Zardari, too, in power.- Advertisement -
According to the recent cache of State Department cables released by Wikileaks, his position and those of his colleagues in government haven't wavered. In 2008, for example, Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani enthusiastically told American Ambassador Anne Paterson that he "didn't care" if drone strikes were launched against his country as long as the "right people" were targeted. (They weren't.) "We'll protest in the National Assembly," Gilani added cynically, "and then ignore it."
In fact, protests by the National Assembly have been few and far between and yet, by the end of November, Pakistani territory had been targeted by American unmanned Predator and Reaper missile strikes more than 100 times this year alone. CIA drone strikes have, in fact, been a feature of the American war in Pakistan since 2004. In 2008, after Barack Obama won the presidency in the U.S. and Zardari ascended to Pakistan's highest office, the strikes escalated and soon began occurring almost weekly, later nearly daily, and so became a permanent feature of life for those living in the tribal borderlands of northern Pakistan.
Barack Obama ordered his first drone strike against Pakistan just 72 hours after being sworn in as president. It seems a suitably macabre fact that, according to a U.N. report on "targeted killings" (that is, assassinations) published in 2010, George W. Bush employed drone strikes 45 times in his eight years as President. In Obama's first year in office, the drones were sent in 53 times. In the six years that drone strikes have been used in the fight against Pakistan, researchers at the New America Foundation estimate that between 1,283 and 1,971 people have been killed.