With See It/Shoot It: The Secret History of the CIA’s Lethal Drone Program, Christopher J. Fuller wants readers to understand that the commonly held belief that drone warfare was a product of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the war on terror after 9/11 is a misunderstanding of the way things developed. Instead, he argues, while it is true that the use of drones peaked in the Obama administration, the history of drone warfare goes back to the Reagan years and the search for a post-Vietnam defense strategy that would respond to new challenges in what was once called the Third World. This richly detailed study of the evolution of drone warfare, heavily weighted with Pentagonese acronyms, will satisfy students seeking answers to specific questions about the past and likely future of this new weapon of choice in the “Third World.” During the Reagan administration a split developed at the top level of policymaking between Defense and State, led by Caspar Weinberger and George Shultz, respectively, each with strong ideas about the proper role of military force in the pursuit of national goals. Reversing what one might expect, it was Weinberger and his chief military advisor, General Colin Powell, who used Vietnam as a cautionary tale against allowing the military to be wrongfully employed ever again, while Shultz argued that diplomacy without the backbone of a standby force was destined to fail. In this reading, Reagan appears to Fuller much less the stalwart figure of the end years and final victory in the Cold War than an indecisive Hamlet. Into the middle of the debate, Fuller recounts, stepped Duane Clarridge, a CIA veteran, who established the Counter Terrorism Center (CTC) under Reagan’s intelligence chief, William J. Casey, whose own government service went back to the World War II years and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency. During World War II, the OSS did not draw a line in the sand, or anyplace else, against assassination as a proper tool for fighting the Axis powers. After the war, things were left more uncertain, even as the Truman administration created the Central Intelligence Agency, with a mandate in its charter to collect information but also “to undertake ‘such other functions … [to protect] national security as the President or the Director of National Intelligence may direct’” (12). Here was a double loophole. At once, the CIA could make a claim that operations like those conducted by the wartime OSS came under the rubric of “such other functions” embedded in the agency’s charter, and the White House could have plausible deniability by giving only the director authority to carry out those “other functions.” Clarridge was a perfect person to seize upon the loopholes or gaps to push through the drone program as a more efficient means of delivering “a bullet to the head,” “a better way to send a message to outlaw nations” (101). In its early days, the CTC dubbed the drones the “Eagle Program.” From its outset, however, and down through the Obama administration and up to the present, the CIA will neither confirm nor deny its role in the “bullet to the head” operations. There are several reasons for this reluctance to take credit for drone warfare against terrorists, beginning with the taint that still attaches to assassination and complications in the original mandate for the CIA that might not—indeed do not—fit comfortably under international rules of warfare. Hence, President Barack Obama went to great lengths, in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize after only a few months in office, to extrapolate on the theory of just war in Christian theology to provide a moral platform for drone warfare. This time, another CIA veteran, John Brennan, schooled the new U.S. president. Indeed, Obama’s speech might have been quoted at length by Fuller as an example of how Obama attempted to square the thought of Martin Luther King Jr. with that of the Cold War religious guru Reinhold Niebuhr to bring drones under the shelter of just war theory. Obama had outlined other parts of the rationale for drone warfare even before he entered office, in a 2007 speech at the Wilson Center in Washington that he hoped would provide him with the necessary foreign-policy credentials that a first-term senator might be seen to be lacking. In that speech, which could have been taken out of the new counterinsurgency manuals of 2006 and 2007, Obama showed a very different side of his political persona than had been evident in his 2002 opposition to what he called George W. Bush’s “dumb war” in Iraq. Describing “the wild frontier of our globalized world,” he said there were places with “blood ties deeper than alliances of convenience, and pockets of extremism that follow religion to violence. It is a tough place” (http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/barackobamawilsoncenter.htm). It was not a good place to send troops, Vietnam-style, or even Iraq-style. Drones appeared to be the weapon of choice, or perhaps the only available weapon that could make a difference. Fuller gives a very balanced account of whether the drones have actually achieved their mission, citing on the one hand statistics to show that the drones have indeed killed a great number of real and potential terrorists, and spared civilian casualties, while citing on the other hand opinions that the campaign has so far not achieved the goal of eliminating the threat, and that it does, in so-called “signature strikes,” kill innocents. At the end of 2017, with what some military figures from the time of the 9/11 attacks maintain is a “generational war” raging in Afghanistan, Yemen, and parts of Africa, the efficacy of drones is even more questionable. And then there is the objection to drone warfare voiced by the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has written (“To the Editor,” New York Times, February 12, 2013) that drone warfare resembles the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision in that it appears to define those in certain areas—that “wild frontier of our globalized world”—as less human than Europeans or Americans in terms of what kind of weapons can be used against them. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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