The gradual intensification of US Predator and Reaper drone deployments across the planet represents a shift in the strategies of modern day warfare, security, and geopolitics. New theaters have been opened across the Gulf–some secret—some not-so-secret. As a National Strategy, Predators fulfill Obama’s 2012 mission to chase and hunt down al-Qaeda affiliates and allies across the world, whether they are located in the tribal areas of Pakistan or in the desert regions of Somalia and Yemen. No insurgent, it seems, is safe anymore.
But the real tragedy of this enveloping Predator Empire is the civilian, which is caught in the cross-hairs of a secret war, with little–if any–legal protection or accountability. Thousands have died in Pakistan, and while we can be sure the Hellfire missiles killed some of the ‘bad guys’, we will never know how innocent lives were lost.
There are remarkable features about the Predator Empire. While inheriting many of the discourses and strategies of former US empire, it represents a breakthrough–something truly novel.
(1). As already mentioned, CIA-controlled drone operations are officially ‘covert’ which means they are unaccountable.
(2) Drones can occupy an extended geographic region–across land, sea, mountains–it matters little. But they are fundamentally a tool of air power. They are everywhere and nowhere at once.
(3) As well as being weapons, drones are first and foremost a tool of surveillance, able to scan and monitor vast swathes of the planet.
(4) If the ‘war on terror’ was the ‘last war’, then drone warfare represents a continuation of Bush’s war by other means. It is amorphous, timeless, and doesn’t seem to possess an end point. The security ‘threat’ will always be there, so it is likely that Predator drones will be too. Their presence will likely spell the end of ‘war as we know it’, auguring the modern zeitgeist of a security-led agenda.
(5) Drones create a ‘risk-free’ environment for US pilots, distancing and desensitizing the domestic public from the real costs of war. They have–and will continue to–lower the threshold of going to ‘war’.
(6) The distance between drone and target doesn’t necessarily spell the end of intimacy. If anything, the camera images renders the target ever more intimate, ever more knowable: human but not quite as we know it.
(7) The ‘target’ of drone strikes is no longer simply a ‘person’, a ‘region’, a ‘village’ or a particular ‘space’–it is rather a ‘pattern of life‘; the mobility of civilians; their everyday lives; the population. In an age of drone warfare, guilt by association often leads to death from above. Drones survey the everyday intimacy of populations believed to be hostile: it is not simply the ‘everywhere’ war, it is the ‘everything war’; everything is watched.
(8) The civilian body–both individually and collectively as a population–is rendered ever-more-vulnerable and precarious: as a collective paranoia and fear grips entire regions.
(9) The population-centric nature of modern drone warfare doesn’t necessarily mean that populations are able to make more decisions. In fact, they can rarely even ‘speak’–both on a local, national, and geopolitical scale. They are silenced by the hegemonic narrative; their influence extremely limited.
(10) Blow-back will threaten the security of the world for generations to come, as angry Pakistanis and other civilians are exploited by the same ruthless insurgent groups that the Predators take aim at.