By any common-sense definition, these vast targeted killings should
be characterized as America's Third War since 9/11. Unlike Iraq and
Afghanistan--where government agencies acted according to articulated
strategies, congressional hearings and press conferences provided some
oversight, and timelines explicitly stated when the U.S. combat role
would end--the Third War is Orwellian in its lack of cogent strategy,
transparency, and end date.
The Bush and Obama administrations have contended that some--but not
all--of their attempted targeted killings were covert actions, defined by
as "that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent
or acknowledged publicly." For example, President Obama acknowledged
drone strikes in Pakistan in January: "Obviously a lot of these strikes
have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan]
going after al-Qaeda suspects." He added, "There's this perception that
we're just sending a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly," but "this
thing is kept on a very tight leash" and not managed by "a bunch of
folks in a room somewhere just making decisions."
This is mere assertion. It echoes other senior administration
officials' repeated remarks about the legality, near-infallibility,
effectiveness, and inevitability of targeted killings. The U.S.
government has provided no information that would allow any review,
scrutiny, or oversight of its 350-and-counting targeted killings.
In Yemen, drone strikes target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
(AQAP), a terrorist organization that did not exist on 9/11 but now has
"more than a thousand members," according to John Brennan, senior White House counterterrorism adviser. Last week, CIA director David Petraeus reportedly requested
permission to expand drone attacks in Yemen to include "signature
strikes" against anonymous suspected members of AQAP. Since these
attacks are covert, the administration will offer no public defense,
although it begs Petraeus's haunting question at the onset of the Iraq war in 2003: "Tell me how this ends?"
Obviously, some operational details have not appeared in the open press and should remain classified. However, the existence of
these drone strikes is no secret, and no longer justifies the thick
veil of secrecy surrounding the program. When it comes to the
well-documented U.S. targeted killings, there is no well-informed
citizenry. The charade of the 'covert' nature of the Third War is
This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.