Drone

By Joshua Shinbrot

Kurdish Peshmerga troops take part in intensive security deployment against the Islamic State in January 2015. Source: Flickr/Times Asi (https://flic.kr/p/qTtEd7)

Yazidi men and women are being massacred. Their girls are being sold as sex slaves. Their boys are being forcibly converted and indoctrinated to form a modern Janissary Corps of suicide bombers and executioners. ISIL (ISIS/Daesh/IS) has been attempting to exterminate the Yazidis for over a year, yet with few exceptions the world has remained silent. All major world leaders know, few care, and none will act. History offers a plethora of examples of the dire consequences of the silence and indifference exhibited by the President of the United States and the leaders of powerful European Countries. This type of apathy allowed for the genocidal murder of approximately 10,000,000 people in the twentieth century: 100,000 in Bosnia, 800,000 in Rwanda, 2,000,000 Armenians, over 1,000,000 Roma, and well over 6,000,000 Jews. ISIL’s ideology seeks to implement a radical seventh century interpretation of Islam by using 21st century weaponry to murder or subjugate all who refuse to embrace their ways. The group most threatened by ISIL is the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, who overwhelmingly reject ISIL’s fanatical interpretation of the Islamic faith.

Today, ISIL is stronger than al-Qaeda was on September 11, 2001. It controls more territory, it is better funded, and it is more successful at recruiting westerners. ISIL’s genocide of the Yazidis is just the beginning. If we are to protect ourselves, our allies, the Yazidis, and Muslims threatened by ISIL, the United States needs to destroy the Islamic State and it must do this now. It’s time to level the territory controlled by ISIL and destroy the major transportation routes the group uses to supply and maintain itself.

President Obama has accurately referred to ISIL as a cancer. However, Obama has failed to properly treat the disease. This aggressive radical cancer requires an equally aggressive treatment. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it kills a lot of normal, healthy cells too. There is no way to destroy ISIL without killing large numbers of innocent people. The Obama administration’s attempts to destroy Daesh have killed many innocent people, but it has failed to make substantial progress in the struggle against ISIL. Drone strikes may kill higher-ups in IS, but it seems that every time this occurs there are plenty of people waiting to take the place of the dead. A 2014 report by The Guardian regarding Obama’s “targeted killing” program indicates that “attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of 1,147 people.” That means 28 civilians were killed per targeted individual without any substantial strategic gain from their deaths. Those are 28 families who lost an innocent mother, father, brother or sister. Locals lose loved ones, but the terrorists are not defeated.

It is time to take noncombatant immunity seriously. The United States and its coalition partners have a responsibility to ensure that the innocent lives lost during hostilities actually serve to defeat ISIL. If the strategy advocated in this article were implemented, substantial numbers of civilians would be killed. Yet, ISIL would be defeated, the world would know that America will do what it takes to defeat extremism, and international norms against genocide would be strengthened.

Just War Theory demands more than ensuring the proportionality of noncombatant deaths during hostilities. The object of a war with ISIL needs to be the creation of a just and lasting peace. It will not be possible to achieve such a peace without a long-term American presence in Iraq. ISIL is creating a backwards society with apocalyptic aims. The United States and its allies have defeated warped ideologies before. It was accomplished in the post-war occupation and reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II.

Unlike in Iraq, the United States never turned its back on Japan and Germany. Even today, there is a massive American military presence in Germany (36,691 troops) and Japan (52,060 troops). If the United States and our coalition partners aggressively work towards post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, in a few decades, the American military presence in Iraq may look much more like the American military presence in Germany or Japan. There is no simple, fast, or cheap way to resolve the “ISIS Crisis.” Failure to change the strategy for defeating ISIL will only raise the cost of victory over extremism in treasure and, more importantly, in blood.

By Benjamin Jury

Syrian refugee Mahmoud shown in the underground shelter where he and his family live in El Akbiya, Lebanon, 2013. He shares a tiny room measuring 2.5m x 3.5 metres with his parents and eight siblings. Source: UNHCR/S. Baldwin

When it comes to reporting on the Middle East, the Islamic State has quite literally become the new black. While hundreds of articles flood our Twitter feeds and morning e-mail brief dissecting every inch of the rebel group’s anatomy, readers simply cannot get enough about ISIS, leading to some rather bizarre headlines. The fifth year of the Syrian Civil War rages on, the Houthis continue their occupation of Yemen, and hundreds of migrant workers have died building the World Cup stadium in Qatar amount to footnotes in most major news networks’ Middle East coverage in the United States. Instead, we run endless counterfactual scenarios, playing “Choose Your Own Nuke Deal Adventure” and wondering what Israel could accomplish with Isaac Herzog at the helm.

Indeed, the situation in Syria appears more and more grim every day, with millions still in refugee camps with no hope to return to their homes in the foreseeable future. Just yesterday, Syria’s state news agency boasted that an American drone had been shot down near Latakia. President Bashar al-Assad continues his barrel bombing campaign on rebel-held Syrian cities and children like Mamoud suffer everyday from the lack of stability. In the United States, we maintained near radio silence until someone dropped the “drone” buzzword.

In Yemen, the situation has gone from chaotic to catastrophic. The Pentagon announced yesterday that they believe $500 million worth of weapons and equipment given to government forces have been compromised by either the Houthi occupation forces in the north or al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula in the south. The evacuation of US embassies in Yemen, too, is deeply troubling considering the growing conception of the crisis there as an escalation of the Saudi-Iran proxy war.

Qatar has its own set of domestic problems slowing spilling onto global news radars. The conditions for migrant workers, many of them South Asian, building the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup are appalling. According to Qatar’s commissioned DLA Piper investigation, hundreds have died since the beginning of construction while working long hours at temperatures up to 50°C (122°F). Labor law reform, while promised, has been dismally slow.

There are no feature articles on these issues. Instead, we read page after page of “What ISIS Really Wants”, hoping to ‘get inside their heads’ and understand their agenda.

Without unbiased, well-rounded coverage of the Middle East, the United States faces a perpetuation of the same dangerous stereotypes of Islam, the people of the Middle East, and the instability of the Middle East that encourages the occupation of war-torn countries and continued unrest.

No news agency, writer, or blog will ever be able to package and deliver the current events of every region of the Middle East. Those who disseminate ‘hard news’ and op-eds do, however, need to search beyond the hot topics and deliver content that needs to be heard, our own blog included. Let’s work together to make uncovering the truth the new, new black. Until then, I think I’ll just keep tweeting about Macklemore joining ISIS.

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By Nicolò Donà dalle Rose

An MQ-9 Reaper takes off on a mission in Afghanistan. Source: United States Air Force

For the first time since 2012, the United States defense budget will increase considerably in both magnitude and scope. Obama’s February 2 Defense Department budget request paints an interesting picture when considering the country’s upcoming foreign policy priorities. Much of the surge in research and development funding will be designated to technologies that are clearly directed towards naval and aerial measures to contain geopolitical foes in East Asia. An electronic and laser weapon systems is chief among these technologies, which will likely be integrated into carrier-group platforms. Most importantly, however, the budget gives us some important signals about Obama’s intended security legacy, especially with regards to the Middle East.

The first element within the new strategic plan focuses heavily on research. In fact, Obama requested to boost overall R&D spending by as much as $500 million to $13.5 billion. As part of this, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) budgetary power will be increased to $3 billion in an attempt to work on developing fields such as synthetic biology. Some of these investments have no clear short-term application, but they give me the sense that the United States is looking for new technological domains on top of conventional platforms and capabilities.

The second, sizable component of the budget entails the purchase of 29 additional Reaper drones, a source of guaranteed business for General Atomics. The use of drones for imagery and strikes has been a centerpiece of the past two presidencies’ policies, particularly in Iraq. Yet not all drone programs were as successful as claimed by the White House. For example, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system was postponed due to technical difficulties, decreasing its budget from $400 million to $134 million after incurring considerable wastes of funding.

USS Theodore Roosevelt leads a formation through the Persian Gulf. Source: United States Navy/Matthew Bash
USS Theodore Roosevelt leads a formation through the Persian Gulf. Source: United States Navy/Matthew Bash

The third and final key element is the strong emphasis the military is placing on the development of space technologies, an industry now gravitating more towards the private sector. The best example of this is one of the latest requests for information (RFI) by the government, which states the Pentagon is looking for ideas related to advanced propulsion, 3D printing, radar affordability and electronic warfare, transparent ceramics, and pervasive technologies. This means the military establishment is beginning to recognize the importance of space-related technologies, a slow and long overdue shift. In fact, the Navy’s Rapid Technology Transition (RTT) program, which seeks to incorporate non-defense technologies into R&D, is probably going to be granted an additional $10 million in the next fiscal year.

R&D, drones, and space. What does this mean for the Middle East?

Let’s start with the short term. The acquisition of additional UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) shows that the Pentagon is turning to the MQ-9 Reaper as its preferred measure to deal with security threats in the region without utilizing land forces. This is increasingly important considering the most recent temporary suspension of Da’ash-targeted airstrikes by the United Arab Emirates. While the country later resumed its participation, US action represents 90% of all efforts in the current campaign. If the United States will be required to conduct operations of this sort on its own, it will try to do it with its gloves on, using more and more drones to do the job.

Beyond the moral and legal question marks revolving around the use of UAVs, this trajectory is extremely dangerous for the region. The use of unmanned aircrafts clearly reduces the political cost of intervening in the Middle East. At the same time, it does very little to prevent the creation of new security vacuums as aerial military action alone does not build institutions, trust, and foreign relations. In an attempt to maintain, unsuccessfully, a non-interventionist approach to the region, Obama has continued to doom its security framework just like his predecessor. While defeating or containing Da’ash aids Iraqi institutions, mere armed action fails to facilitate the establishment of a political environment that can aid Iraqis as they would try, for the first time, to determine their own future with limited foreign intrusion.

As we look at the longer term, Obama’s strong return to investment in space and other adjacent technologies may be beneficial to the United States as it seeks new avenues for disengagement from the region. As the United States gradually turns its eyes East, the ability to acquire intelligence, imagery, and the ability to strike remotely in any part of the region will enable the reallocation of other resources, like carrier groups, aerial platforms, and manpower, to other parts of the world. While this may suit the country’s strategy as it decreases its dependence on Middle East-based resources and energy, the timing of the technological transition will prove decisive for the fate of many Arab and South Asian countries, particularly Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states.

As the United States re-evaluates its security strategy and priorities, the political stakes are higher in the region than anywhere else. While moving away from military occupation will certainly benefit countries like Iraq and Afghanistan in the long term, the very nature of disengagement will determine the fates of these countries. The United States cannot simply become an actor that occasionally identifies and destroys some terrorist cell and leaves. Policymakers need to pay more attention to diplomacy and foreign relations before the United States can leave a now more chaotic region than when it last entered in 2001.

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