The Economist has published interviews with ordinary Yemenis revealing what should be obvious – but clearly isn’t in our Orwellian political world – that continuously bombing another country that we are not at war with tends to generate hatred and create new enemies.
“PEOPLE are afraid to go to weddings because, whenever large groups of men gather, they are afraid a drone will hit them,” says a sheikh from Bayhan district in Shabwa, a haven for al-Qaeda to the south-east of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. He says he sees or hears about one drone a week flying over his home. After a big lunch, reclining on cushions as he and his friends chew the Yemenis’ beloved qat, a leaf that is a mild stimulant, they all grumble about drones. If these tribesmen are anything to go by, the Americans’ increasingly active deployment of drones is far from winning Yemeni hearts and minds in the battle against jihadism.
“Our people ask how these foreign planes have a right to come here and kill them, even if some of the people they kill are al-Qaeda,” says a friend of the sheikh, a smuggler. “The other thing is that they think the drones are taking photos of them and spying on them. Because of this, our people have finished with America. They see America as this,” he adds, making the letter X with his fingers. All the men on the cushions are convinced that drones photograph their wives, a vile insult in conservative Yemen.
The expanding drone war in Yemen, which often kills civilians, does in fact cause blowback and help al-Qaeda recruitment – as attested to by numerous Yemen experts, investigative reporting on the ground, polling, testimony from Yemen activists, and the actual fact that recent bungled terrorist attacks aimed at the US have cited such drone attacks as motivating factors.
To take just one recent example, a US drone strike launched last night reportedly killed 5 people, including at least two civilians. One of those civilians was an imam who was known for his mosque sermons condemning al-Qaeda, according to Haykal Bafana, a prominent Yemeni lawyer and activist. It’s hard to understand how someone could deny the potential for this kind of incident, which is becoming normalized in Yemen, to bolster the influence and recruitment of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
This policy of weekly bombings, mind you, remains technically classified, allowing the Obama administration to skirt any and all responsibility by citing national security concerns and shrouded it in secrecy. The President, personally, with top counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan are picking who they can kill, and what groups of people they can target, without providing any evidence against the suspects and without any checks or balances. As we know, this process holds even for American citizens with constitutional rights. So not only is the drone war in Yemen dangerous, murderous, and strategically counterproductive, but it also represents one of the most dramatic expansions of executive authority in modern American history.