A Swedish reporter asked President Obama Wednesday, “Could you describe the dilemma to being a Nobel Peace Prize winner and getting ready to attack Syria?”
Military action is, of course, sometimes necessary to maintain peace. Kosovo and World War II are good examples. But the president has not demonstrated that missile attacks in Syria would do anything to achieve peace. Worse, by all accounts, Obama’s “red line” threat was an off-the-cuff remark, not a well thought-out strategy. The U.S. should not attack another country because the president was careless with his words and now wants to protect his personal credibility.
But we don’t even need to look at Syria to conclude that the decent thing would be for Obama to return the prize that he never deserved in the first place.
There’s the obvious problem of Obama escalating a pointless and failing war in Afghanistan. From 2001 to the end of the Bush presidency in 2009, 625 American troops died because of the war. Under Obama’s watch, more than twice that many, some 1,500 soldiers, have died. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed as well.
But nothing undermines the notion of Obama as a leader for peace more than his five-year Middle East drone war. According to the New America Foundation, since 2004, there have been 361 American drone strikes in Pakistan. Of those, only 48 occurred during the Bush administration.
During a January 2012 online forum, Obama said, "I want to make sure that people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates."
The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates roughly 500 to 800 innocents have been blown up by our drones in the Middle East. If this happened on U.S. soil, it would certainly be considered a “huge number” by any reasonable person. No one would be calmed by the fact that the intent was to be “precise.” Obama’s statement also ignores the psychological impact of living in constant fear of being killed because you might happen to be standing near a suspected terrorist. This fear is certainly exacerbated by the fact that the Obama administration incredibly told The New York Times that it “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.”
What makes these civilian deaths even more tragic is the fact that the drone war isn’t even making America safer. Dennis C. Blair, Obama's former director of national intelligence, wrote in 2011, “Qaeda officials who are killed by drones will be replaced. The group’s structure will survive and it will still be able to inspire, finance and train individuals and teams to kill Americans. Drone strikes hinder Qaeda fighters while they move and hide, but they can endure the attacks and continue to function.”
Blair echoed a widely held belief by foreign-policy experts that “as the drone campaign wears on, hatred of America is increasing in Pakistan.” It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out that killing civilians and writing them off as “collateral damage” just creates more terrorists. This is Psychology 101. In a 2012 New York Times op-ed, “How Drones Help al-Qaeda,” 24-yeard old Yemeni Ibrahim Mothana wrote, “Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair.”
Retired general Stanley McChrystal told Reuters earlier this year, "The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates” because they create a "perception of American arrogance that says, 'Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.'" Following a drone strike in Yemen that killed civilians, a local man who had lost two brothers told the Washington Post, “These attacks are making people say, ‘We believe now that al-Qaeda is on the right side.’” Following extensive interviews in the region, the Post concluded that, “[A]n unintended consequence of the attacks has been a marked radicalization of the local population.”
The president has also misled the public on who the drone campaign targets. His administration long maintained that it was only targeting senior leaders of al Qaeda and allied groups. But leaked intelligence documents show that it “targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified ‘other’ militants” including people who weren’t even suspected of being affiliated with terrorist groups. Worse, the documents revealed that the U.S. actually doesn’t know who it is killing, despite Obama’s claims to the contrary. McClatchy reported, “The CIA killed people who only were suspected, associated with, or who probably belonged to militant groups.”
“Probably” is a pretty weak standard.
Two weeks after a drone attack killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. blew up his 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, in a separate attack. Eric Holder said that he was "not specifically targeted." What does this mean? Was he “un-specifically” targeted? When asked about the killing of this innocent 16-year-old, Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs quipped that the boy should have had a “more responsible father.”
Carelessly killing innocents, creating more hatred against America, and glib statements by your key aides about blowing up children do not add up to a peaceful agenda. If Obama won’t return the peace prize, then the Nobel Committee should revoke it.