The Paranoid Pentagon


The disclosure that current U.S. drone warfare operations are directed from the presidential office in the White House, with the president himself selecting persons to be assassinated by unmanned aircraft in Muslim countries where the United States is militarily engaged, has ignited protests on moral, legal, political, and strategic grounds. The protests concern the nature of these attacks, which disregard national sovereignties, the laws of war, and the principles of U.S. and international law, justified by the consideration that terrorists don’t obey the law either. The attacks must be described as assassinations because, as no state of war has been declared to exist between the United States and these persons or their states, they are unlawful killings.

As John Fabian Witt of the Yale Law School has recently written, “the categories of war and peace, which the modern world thought it had carefully separated, are collapsing into one another.” In the past, such military acts would certainly have been considered unjust by virtue of being carried out in the course of unjust—and undeclared—wars. President Barack Obama’s acts undermine the civilized order of modern society. The United States has quite deliberately made itself an outlaw state.

The explanation offered in Washington is that drone attacks are economical and expedient methods for destroying enemies in the prevailing circumstances...

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About the Author

William Pfaff, a former editor of Commonweal, is political columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. His most recent book is The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (Walker & Company).