Between the recent Department of Justice white paper on assassinating American citizens and Tom Brennan's hearing for head of the CIA, drones have finally managed to achieve decent coverage in the media.
These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) can have weapons and reconaissance capabilities and conduct missions with 40 hours of flight. Much of the controversy has arisen due to the relatively recent addition of Hellfire missiles to the Predator and Reaper drone models.
The U.S. has carried out the majority of these missile strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, killing vast numbers of civilians for every "militant" life claimed. To help fudge the numbers, the U.S. conveniently classifies any "military-aged male in a strike zone" as a militant. However, the U.S. doesn't only have male collateral damage; the Obama administration has come under fire for the number of women and children killed by these drones as well. This is a serious issue that has remained unaddressed for too long, and the public needs to be advocating for transparency in this area.
As such, I took a wild shot at what the current president and four previous presidents might have said if asked how they honestly feel about the use of drones ....
1. Barack Obama:
"It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today, but we have just begun. Today we begin the earnest work of making sure that the world we leave our privileged, rich, American children is just a little better than the one we inhabit today."
While the president never actually said this, the sentiment is the same nonetheless. After ignoring drones in the State of the Union, Obama continues to marginalize the use of drones and the concept of "due process" as guaranteed by the Constitution. As touching as the president’s words about recent shootings may be, they fall flat. Children are children, no matter the country of birth ... and be it drone strike or Bushmaster .225, death is death.
2. Abraham Lincoln:
Rumors have been circling for quite some time that President Lincoln may have used unmanned drones to defeat the Confederates during the Battle of Gettysburg. When asked by reporters about God and how the war was going, Lincoln reportedly shot back “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right and God created the RQ-1 Predator Drone for me to defeat the South.”
Of course, President Lincoln never had access to drones during his tenure, but no doubt would have gladly accepted the advantage over the South during the Civil War. As a skilled politician, Lincoln would likely have expressed qualms similar to those expressed by Obama in signing the NDAA: "I disagree with this, but I support it completely."
3. Bill Clinton:
Although reports show that President Clinton spent too much time chasing women around the Oval Office, he reflected after his second term that "I may not have been the greatest president, but I've had the most fun eight years." The president attributed his glee to the immense political power and prototype drone army at his command. As drones were still a closely guarded secret at this point (and hadn’t proved to be effective killing machines), Clinton resigned himself to harassing the Secret Service on guard with UAV flyovers. After one too many close calls with the White House lawn, the Secret Service attempted to shut down the president’s personal drone program. Unfortunately, the service was forced to wait until the Lewinski scandal came to light before ordering SEAL Team 5 to raid the Oval Office and end "the reign of terror" that they had been subjected to.
4. George Washington:
Legend has it that long before being a successful general and president, George Washington was a hobby model enthusiast. His journals show that during the infamous "cherry tree" incident, young George was miles away working on his first draft of the "revolution drone." The revolution drone was sidelined due to technical difficulties (it was made of wood), but remained a lifelong passion for our famed leader. Upon his deathbed, President Washington stated "the revolution drone is my life’s greatest achievement. Tomorrow, I shall share the view of my baby from heaven as it soars over the world, encroaching on civil liberties and leaving bodies in its imperial wake."
5. Theodore Roosevelt:
"I didn’t start a cavalry unit so some damn California techie could kill the enemy for me! Teach me to pilot that thing myself!"
Ok, so Obama is really the only president on this list to actually have had to deal with droning (heh!) from the media, but that’s not to say that these other popular presidents wouldn’t have a bone to pick with the (current) president over his use of drones in the War on Terror. Or maybe they would be supportive of his aggressive "self-defense" policies.
Most likely, the majority of past presidents would appreciate the advantage provided by drones, and without public challenge, make use of their capabilities as much as possible. The president is the commander-in-chief of our armed forces; to expect him to voluntarily turn down the incredible advantage of unmanned killing machines is unrealistic.
Either way, drones are at the center of a growing debate and the public ought to be paying attention. From the East Coast to the West Coast, legislators are banding together to create domestic no-drone zones and address the worries of their constituents – but this is just the opening move in a public policy war sure to last generations.
I’ll end with a second “quote” from our 16th president in case the satire was missed: