As Obama has escalated drone strikes abroad to more than 70 this year, our fortunes have predictably plummeted. For each authentic enemy of the United States killed by predator drones, more enemies are born. The colloquy of convicted Times Square car bomber Faisal Shahzad with United States District Judge Miriam Cederbaum speaks volumes.
She challenged Shahzad's self-description as a Muslim soldier because his contemplated violence targeted civilians, "Did you look around to see who they were?"
"Well, the people select the government," Shahzad retorted. "We consider them all the same. The drones, when they hit ..."
Cedarbaum interrupted: "Including the children?"
Shahzad countered: "Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It's a war, and in war, they kill people. They're killing all Muslims."
Later, he added: "I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people. And, on behalf of that, I'm avenging the attack. Living in the United States, Americans only care about their own people, but they don't care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die."
The United States should have anticipated the predator drone blow-back. The 1770 Boston Massacre occasioned but five American deaths, but engendered colonial hatred of the British that cascaded throughout the colonies. Thomas Paine's heralded pamphlet Common Sense, a figurative battering ram for the colonists during the Revolutionary War, scorned reconciliation with Britain after their scorched earth warfare:
The Men of passive tempers look somewhat lightly over the offenses of Britain, and, still hoping for the best, are apt to call out, 'Come, come, we shall be friends again, for all this.' But examine the passion and feelings of mankind, Bring the doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature, and then tell me, whether you can hereafter love, honor, and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land? If you cannot do all these, then are you only deceiving yourselves, and by your delay bringing ruin upon posterity...But if you say, you can still pass the violations over, then I ask, Hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on, or bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or child by their hands, and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor? If you have not, then you are not a judge of those who have. But if you have, and still can shake hands with the murderers, then you are unworthy of the name of husband, father, friend, or lover, and whatever may be your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward, and the spirit of a sycophant.
Predator drones are killing Afghan and Pakistan civilians in greater numbers than militants. According to a 2009 Brookings Institute study, the ratio in Pakistan is at least 10-1. The civilian deaths are inescapable. Adherents of Taliban or Al Qaeda do not wear uniforms or other distinctive insignia. They do not carry membership cards or pay dues. They blend into civil society and are characteristically targeted there. President Obama has hidden the informant or communications sources he uses to distinguish civilians from militants. But Informants may prevaricate for money or revenge. And intercepted communications can be misinterpreted or misleading. Based on identical sources, the U.S. has erroneously identified most Guantanamo Bay detainees as "enemy combatants" according to the vast majority of federal court rulings.
British abuses of civilian populations during the Revolutionary War awakened implacable American enmity. To expect Afghans or Pakistanis to act any differently in response to United States provocations is absurd. Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice is unanswerable on that score:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge! If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
Bruce Fein is former associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan and author of American Empire Before the Fall.