Cooper: Former University President Bienen wrong on foreign policy suggestion

Danny Cooper, Columnist

At an event earlier this week, former University President Henry Bienen criticized President Barack Obama’s foreign policy as not assertive enough. Bienen identified Obama’s reluctance to use force outside of drone strikes as a problem. However, the force that Obama exercises through drone strikes has actually been overly aggressive. Obama’s drone strikes have endangered civilians and harbored enmity for the United States in the Middle East, all while circumventing the U.S. legal system.

Too often, drone strikes cause significant collateral damage. According to a report from The Intercept, over a five-month period during a previous campaign in Afghanistan, almost 90 percent of those killed in airstrikes were not the targets. The same report suggests that U.S. designates men killed in drone strikes as terrorists unless contrasting evidence emerges posthumously, minimizing the number of reported civilian casualties. The only times the U.S. seems willing to admit mistakes is when they are truly egregious and cannot easily be hidden, such as the bombing of an Afghani Doctors Without Borders hospital in late 2015. Obviously the U.S. should be attempting to eliminate its enemies abroad, but doing so with such little regard for the civilians who surround their targets is callous.

Such reckless attacks not only harm the communities in which people are killed, but can also engender distrust and hatred for the U.S. In the aftermath of a tragic drone strike, terrorist organizations can capitalize on the anger and sadness of those left behind to spread anti-American and anti-Western sentiments. There is a strong belief in Pakistan that drone strikes motivate terrorist groups to attack both Pakistani police forces and civilians.

Drone strikes can be inspirational for domestic terrorists, too. Both the Underwear Bomber and the Times Square Bomber listed drone strikes as part of their motivation. Though both of their attacks failed, it is clear that drone strikes have a powerful emotional impact even for those outside of the Middle East.

These strikes threaten more than the citizens and infrastructure of the United States; they sometimes shake the foundation of our hallowed legal system. In 2011, Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American cleric and alleged Al-Qaeda operative, was killed while hiding in Yemen. Though perhaps morally justified, Obama had authorized the killing of an American citizen without constitutionally-guaranteed due process. A Justice Department memo deemed the action lawful due to extraordinary circumstances including the inability to capture Al-Awlaki, but the move set an unsettling precedent.

For all the damage drone strikes inflict upon people, families and in some cases the law itself, it’s unclear if it is even the best method for fighting terrorist operatives around the globe. I’m not suggesting boots on the ground would be more effective, but rather that it is difficult to fight an ideological war with firepower. It’s a lesson we should take from Cold War conflicts and, even more recently, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Too often, over-aggression leads to alienation of the people the campaign is intended to help. Because of this, a call for increased force is misguided. Instead, the U.S. should reduce the usage of drone strikes to avoid creating even more senseless violence and discord in the Middle East.

Danny Cooper is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.