American Imperialism and the Drone War

Although its power has declined in recent years, the United States remains the dominant military and political power in the world. The fall of the USSR left a vacuum on the world stage, and without an ideological enemy—a counterweight to American military aggression—the US expanded its power and influence with merciless interventions. Through a series of both covert operations and outright invasions, the US protected the economic interests of its capitalists and consolidated worldwide political domination. For an entire historical period, American imperialism faced little opposition domestically or internationally. Nonetheless, such brutal foreign policy could not go wholly unnoticed by the increasingly war-weary American public. In order to gain a marginal degree of popular support, both presently and historically, the true nature of these foreign interventions has been consistently obscured and mystified by the state and media.

On October 15, the Intercept published a series of articles about the inner workings of the drone program. The information was obtained from military documents released by an anonymous whistleblower. Unsurprisingly, the documents revealed the cynical degree to which the US had been lying about the drone program—specifically regarding its authorization and targeting procedures, and its effectiveness.

Firstly, what has the public been told about the drone program? The Obama administration has stated that drone strikes would be more precise and result in fewer casualties than sending in ground troops. Strikes would only be made in situations of “imminent threat” if there was a “near certainty” that the target could not be captured.

According to the documents, roughly 9 out of 10 victims of drone strikes are untargeted. Those untargeted are posthumously labeled “enemies killed in action,” whether they were actually “enemy troops” or simply civilians. In one example, during 2011–13, the CIA launched “Operation Haymaker” in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In the end, 35 “targets” were eliminated, though 200 were labeled as “enemies killed in action.” In this manner, the high number of civilian deaths is concealed. Drone strikes have not been “precise” by any definition of the word, nor have they resulted in reduced casualties. Furthermore, the phrase “capture/kill” is a misnomer, for the administration’s efforts are exclusively about killing, regardless of the collateral damage.

When a strike is authorized, there is then a 60-day window for the strike to be carried out. Therefore, the threat is clearly not “imminent.” In fact, the term “imminent threat” has never been defined by the government—but surely two months is not a plausible definition. Individual strikes themselves are not authorized by President Obama; rather, the target is authorized. As a result, civilians live in constant terror of this imprecise drone war. Zubair Rehman, whose grandmother was killed by a drone, said in 2013, “I no longer love blue skies . . . When the sky brightens, drones return and we live in fear.”

The so-called “War on Terror” is used to justify the drone program. However, contrary to what the US government and bourgeois media say, this is not a war for “democracy in the Middle East.” The US has no qualms about supporting undemocratic regimes. It has upheld numerous tyrannical states in the past and continues to do so in the present—so long as US interests are maintained. For example, the US has blatantly toppled democratically elected governments, such as the leftist government of Allende in Chile in 1973. More recently, the US has supported despotic states in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia. Nor has the War on Terror increased security and stability in the region. The instability devastating the region arose precisely because of Western imperialism. The imperialists are therefore fighting against the terrorism they themselves created, while sowing the seeds for even more chaos and instability.

The last section of the Intercept articles, titled “Target Africa,” details the recent expansion of US military bases in various regions of Africa. At present, these seem to be used primarily for refueling aircraft and drones. However, this expanding military influence shows the continued efforts of US imperialism to shore up its interests worldwide, even if it has been forced to beat a strategic retreat in many areas due to the economic crisis.

Imperialism is, as Lenin said, the highest stage of capitalism. Capitalism inevitably leads to the aggressive expansion of markets, as the capitalists attempt to increase profits by exporting capital and using military force to defend and expand their access to economic resources such as oil and cheap labor power. The drone program is just another tool of US imperialism. As the public grows tired of sending in “boots on ground,” remote-controlled bombings becomes the more viable, albeit less effective, method. However, the solution is not merely to demand the end of the inhumane drone program. Imperialism and its horrors will continue so long as capitalism continues, and this is why the root cause of this unrelenting misery must be abolished once and for all.

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