More than a dozen dead, many more injured, and an unknown number of survivors whose lives have suddenly taken a nightmarish turn the likes of which we cannot imagine, and all for the sake of five people suspected of ties to al-Qaeda. How many actual al-Qaeda terrorists would we have to kill with drones in Yemen to make the benefits of our drone war there outweigh the costs of this single catastrophic strike? If U.S. drone strikes put American wedding parties similarly at risk would we tolerate our targeted-killing program for a single day more? Our policy persists because we put little value on the lives of foreign innocents. Even putting them through the most horrific scene imaginable on their wedding day is but a blip on our media radar, easily eclipsed by a new Beyonce album.
The Obama Administration dishonestly talks of "surgical" drone strikes, as if surgeries ever result in double digit casualties. "Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured—the highest standard we can set," President Obama promised back in May. The CNN story about this latest strike says, "The convoy consisted of 11 vehicles, and the officials said that four of the vehicles were targeted in the strikes." Is attempting to pick off alleged militants while in a wedding convoy with innocents the highest standard we can set to avoid civilian deaths? If so, the results speak for themselves.
In that same May speech, Obama said:
Remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes. So doing nothing is not an option. Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted lethal action would be the use of conventional military options. As I’ve already said, even small special operations carry enormous risks. Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and are likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage.
And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies, unleash a torrent of unintended consequences, are difficult to contain, result in large numbers of civilian casualties and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict.
Does anyone believe that, if not for our lethal drone program, the United States would've sent the Air Force or ground troops to fire on this wedding party? The thousands of drone strikes we've carried out in recent years suggest that drones decrease the cost of lethal action so much that the U.S. takes it more often now than we would if we didn't have a drone fleet at the ready—and not, as their defenders sometimes argue, that drones are saving us from air strikes and ground invasions.