This is a whopping "I told you so" moment for a decent handful of pundits and analysts: Army Gen. James E. Cartwright has expressed worry to Obama that drone strikes may cause "blowback."
Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane of The New York Times write "[Cartwright] is the latest and perhaps the most influential former member of Mr. Obama’s national security team to publicly express concerns."
From the Times:
“We’re seeing that blowback,” General Cartwright, who is retired from the military, said at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”
The general's terminology here is crucial.
"Blowback" specifically refers to attacks on Americans that are caused by covert policy decisions or operations, little information of which reaches the general American populace.
“We’re seeing that blowback,” General Cartwright, who is retired from the military, said
Yemen is a perfect example.
The first-ever targeted strike in Yemen reportedly killed as many as 90 innocent villagers, despite supposedly targeting an "al Qaeda training camp." Initially, the Yemeni government took responsibility for the strikes.
Two days later, U.S. officials acknowledged firing cruise missiles into Yemen, though Defense Department officials remained silent on their involvement.
The practice of Yemen taking responsibility for strikes (drone or otherwise) gone bad is reportedly commonplace. Doing so shields the U.S. from any international heat, but also relieves officials from reporting mistakes to the American people.
Until recently, the CIA was under no obligation to honor Freedom of Information Requests or even acknowledge the existence of their drone program. Furthermore, the leaking of an Obama drone memo outlined certain details under the so-called "disposition matrix."
The matrix, in part, outlines stipulations regarding signature strikes. A signature strike is when the CIA-Military supersedes needing Obama's permission to kill based on contextual characteristics of a certain target (i.e. friends, weapons, posture).
The sticking point for many observers is that the practice does not require firmly placing the target's identity or guilt.
Many generals and advisers have warned Obama about the deleterious nature of the drone program, most recently, and most firmly, General Stanley McChrystal. The former commander in Afghanistan said Pakistanis "hated" drones "on a visceral level" and that the practice was wearing on progress in Pakistan's contentious regions.
What makes Cartwright different than the others is that Obama "favored" him above others, according to the New York Times.
Cartwright also expressed misgivings about the move of the drone program from the Agency to strictly Department of Defense responsibility.
From the Times:
General Cartwright said that he worried about a “blurring of the line” between soldiers and spies if the Pentagon was put in charge of drone operations in sovereign countries “outside a declared area of hostility.”
Oddly enough, when the CIA assumed more responsibility for the drone program, the worry was converse: that a spy agency primarily responsible for the gathering of information that would affect policy, would over time convert into a covert paramilitary organization.
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