It often occurs to me that the fellow who wrote the book some years back about learning everything worthwhile at his mother’s knee had a very good point about foreign policy. We are trained and brainwashed to believe, of course, that foreign policy is too complicated for us mere citizens, and that the President and his minions have much more information than we do and must and should be trusted to deploy it to confound our enemies abroad. “Liberal” information radio constantly re-emphasizes the point that we are incompetent to participate in foreign policy by employing think-tank pundits to field every question and comment and turn it back on the listener with some patronizing pronouncement or other. (For example, CALLER: Why should everybody be in a lather about Iran and a possible nuclear weapon someday, when Israel already has 200-300 of those, won’t admit it, and doesn’t abide by any international agreements on nuclear weapons? ANSWER: Israel is a special case; it’s different; the President and the military and even Congress has special secret information about this; don’t worry your pretty head.)
Eventually, the heart overrules the head. A schoolyard bully is still a schoolyard bully, even with the school board’s attorney running interference.
I remember the exact moment I realized Barack Obama was mad. I suspected it even before he took office, having been trained by Johnson and Nixon and Ford and Carter and Reagan and Bush and Clinton and Bush to pay attention to the signs. But the moment I knew it, the pundit-proof moment, came at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The supreme orator was in a jocular mood. One of the Jonas brothers (boy band singers) had been presuming to “date” one of Barack’s daughters, apparently, and the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world outside the banking industry, wanted the young suitor to know that “I have two words for you: Predator Drone.” Bless me if the room didn’t break out in riotous laughter! Maybe some of it was nervous laughter, like when Dubya performed his skit pretending to look for WMDs in the Oval Office. (You could make a case that all you need to know about American foreign policy can be gleaned from one of the cheap seats at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.) Now I don’t insist that the Jonas boy is as innocent as Anwar Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, but the image of even a boy band singer being vaporized or dismembered to preserve the virtue of the President’s issue failed to fill me with mirth. Rather, it was like a cold knife to the heart. It said everything about how Barack Obama views the mounting civilian dead in his terrorist war against the terrorists. It said too much.
Drones are the mother’s knee moment, the reductio ad absurdum of the Empire’s program. You don’t need a doctorate or a RAND corporation brief or an above top secret clearance to understand drones. You just have to follow your heart back to the schoolyard and imagine what it would be like to live under that reign (and rain) of terror. Congress didn’t even have to do that. It was treated to first-person testimony the other day from a family that has lived under drones.
We have Rania Khalek’s account in Truthout about Pakistani school teacher Rafiq ur Rehman, who brought his two young children to tell the handful of Congress persons who showed up about the U.S. drone strike that killed his mother. Khalek writes:
“On October 24, 2012, a CIA drone killed my mother and injured my children,” Rehman said, speaking through a translator. And so began the first time members of Congress heard a drone victim tell their story.
“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” he continued. “Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed. But only one person was killed that day.
“She was the string that held our family together. Since her death, the string has been broken, and life has not been the same. We feel alone and we feel lost.”
… “How do I explain what I myself do not understand?” asked Rehman, bringing his translator to tears. “How can I in good faith reassure the children that the drone will not come back and kill them, too, if I do not understand why it killed my mother and injured my children?”
You see? This testimony would suffice in any schoolyard. People of good will do not treat other people like this. Only governments do, and they do it by keeping their own people ignorant of what is being done in their name. They do it by isolating policy from any possible influence by democratic forces. When is the last time, by exercising your right to vote, or by petitioning Congress or the White House, you had any discernible effect on American foreign policy, whether it was wielded by Democrat or Republican?
ut the other day, finally, in the halls of Congress assembled, the truth was heard. Drones are terrorism, which is why they fuel terrorism, as the young martyr girl Malala tried to tell Obama recently.
Unfortunately, Congress assembled fell a little short. Only five Congresspersons showed up for the testimony of the Rehman family. No doubt they had more important business elsewhere. Fundraising, maybe.
But no matter, it’s the President who makes foreign policy, right? To the extent permitted by the military-industrial-financial-intelligence complex, er, community. So what was Mr. Obama’s reaction? Who knows? He was busy, too, meeting with Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin CEOs, makers of, you guessed it, drones.
You may be sure the think-tank pundits will spin this one three ways from Thursday. Or maybe they’ll just let it die an unrequited death, sucked down the news cycle memory hole. In a few days there will be as little left of this story as there was of Grandma. War is hell. Get over it.
Our government is not accountable to these people. It is accountable only to our own people, whom the government is sworn to protect, and who don’t understand foreign policy because it’s very complicated and the public doesn’t know what the President knows and can’t be expected to make decisions based on ignorance, which is necessary for the safety and security of the people, to whom the government, which is very busy, can’t be expected to be accountable.
So it will go. But somewhere, somewhere in the schoolyard of every imagination, the bully with the drones will always and instantly be recognized for what he is. Experts assure us the President has a very tough job. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
But uneasier, one can hope, the heart.