Heaven’s Wrath

Science, technology, and life.
March 26 2009 11:46 AM

Heaven’s Wrath

Big news from Pakistan: The government there is becoming a partner in our  remote-controlled assassination campaign . Here's the deal: They'll let us kill our enemies on their soil if we'll use the same drones to kill their enemies, too.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Officially, Pakistan continues to object to the drone strikes. We just hit two more targets yesterday, prompting Pakistan's Foreign Office to declare that "these attacks are counterproductive and we hope that as a result of the policy review in Washington, we would have some positive outcome."


That's a pretty funny protest, since today's Wall Street Journal brings this news :

U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials are drawing up a fresh list of terrorist targets for Predator drone strikes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, part of a U.S. review of the drone program, according to officials involved. Pakistani officials are seeking to broaden the scope of the program to target extremists who have carried out attacks against Pakistanis, a move they say could win domestic support. ...

Already, the campaign has apparently stepped up attacks on the network of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who is believed to be behind the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was [current President] Zardari's wife. In the fourth of a series of recent attacks targeting Mr. Mehsud's network, a drone attack Wednesday killed at least eight militants along the Pakistan-Afghan border, according to two Pakistani officials. The intensified campaign could help win domestic support for the strikes because it shows that the drone attacks are targeting direct threats to Pakistan, said a Pakistani official.

To put it crudely, we seem to be renting out the drones. Since President Obama took office, the drones have been slaughtering Mehsud's fighters. Apparently, we're doing this to satisfy Zardari's government. And it's not clear whether the satisfaction is political or personal. Do the hits on Mehsud really generate "domestic support" for the drone strikes? Does the average Pakistani conclude that the CIA's killing machines aren't so bad after all? Or does the "domestic support" consist of Zardari? Are we buying his support by sending our drones to avenge his wife's death?

It's almost Shakespearean. But since we're in the 21st century instead of the 16th, we seal our pact with the king by sending machines, not human assassins, to bring heaven's wrath on the warlord who slew his beloved. And this time, the wrath really does come from heaven. Put yourself in Zardari's shoes. You're being offered the chance to destroy your enemy with a power unknown to history's greatest kings and generals: a bloodless, all-seeing airborne hunting party. Would you refuse?

And if you were Obama, would you refuse to wield this power? No way. According to the Journal , Obama has "concluded that the drones have been an effective weapon," and his aides are now "examining ways to reduce the time it takes between identifying a target and when the Predators fire—now less than 45 minutes." And in a curious coincidence, the U.S. also just announced a $5 million reward for "information leading to the arrest or location of Mehsud" and another warlord.

Something tells me there won't be an arrest. Location will be enough.




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