BY: EMILY WHALEN
When Antoine de Saint-Exupéry witnessed the fascist siege of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, he remarked: “Each shell that fell upon Madrid fortified something in the town.” Bombing often strengthens resistance, rather than weakening it. Saint-Exupéry might have been writing about London during the Blitz, North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder, or Baghdad during the Gulf War. He also could be writing about the current U.S. drone program.
“We don’t have enough drones to kill all the enemies we will make if we turn the world into a free-fire zone,” concluded David Ignatius in 2011, applauding the Obama administration’s intention to limit drone warfare. Six years later, a 2016 report did away with Ignatius’ illusion of self-control. We know now that U.S. drone operations proliferated in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa—killing villains, certainly, but also killing children and passersby. The world resembles a free-fire zone more than Ignatius and his fellow drone apologists anticipated. Others, of course, have begun to imitate the United States: Daesh deploys armed drones in Syria, Saudi factories are preparing to build the Saqr 1, and China is developing a sea-skimming unmanned aerial vehicle.
All this despite general expert consensus that using drones to kill targets has, at best, mixed results, and, at worst, provides psychological and moral fortification for one’s enemies. Deterrence doesn’t work at the end of a drone. So why does the United States still use them?
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