From my perspective, this single photograph, which depicts a member of Code Pink holding up a sign that reads “Don’t drone me, bro” while interrupting the confirmation hearing of John Brennan, somehow encapsulates much of opposition to the drone program. And in it, I see arrogance.
I see arrogance because the debate currently hinges not on the right of the government to destroy terrorists, but on the right of the government to destroy terrorists if they are also American citizens. It’s a selfish argument, depicted here in clear pictorial form, which conveys that American lives are somehow worth more than the lives of others. It’s “don’t drone me,” not “don’t drone them.”
The reason this isn’t an effective argument is because it’s cynical. It’s painted in this light to solicit a specific emotional response. Because if you pose the idea that the president isn’t just targeting terrorists abroad in an abstract sense, but that he may be targeting you, you’re more likely to react in a desired manner. And this kind of cynical messaging would not be out of place if this were a scene of service members returning home from Vietnam or the street corner outside the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi where protesters hold signs that read “baby killer.”
This may be effective at garnering traffic to your blog or adding credibility to your cult of personality, but it isn’t going to change the conversation in Washington. Because as we saw today after Code Pink interrupted the confirmation hearing for John Brennan, the room was cleared and the hearing continued as planned.
This selectively-directed outrage at certain aspects of the program, but not the program as a whole or the environment that made the program necessary in the first place, and absent a discussion of the alternatives, isn’t going to change anything. And when you consider how effective the program has been at dismantling the leadership structure of terrorist groups operating in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, “don’t drone me, bro,” just isn’t going to cut it. Not as far as congress is concerned.
I don’t believe there will be an appetite in Washington or within the core of the Democratic party for turning back the clock on the drone program or the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force at least until the last American soldiers exist Afghanistan at the end of next year. And in hindsight, maybe that’s best for the men and women still serving there who have been shielded from carrying out more dangerous missions by the program.
I won’t predict the response you would receive if you were to ask the men and women still stationed in Afghanistan if they were bothered that Anwar al-Awlaki, a man who purchased plane tickets for 9/11 hijackers and recruited the infamous underwear bomber before being taken out by a drone strike in Yemen, was formerly an American citizen, but I can imagine.