It's starting to make sense why the Obama administration rarely acknowledges its secret drone program: When it does it, it reveals some unreconcilable contradictions.
In a rare moment on Sunday, President Obama's top counterterrorism adivser John Brennan defended the administration's armed drone assassination campaign on Fox News Sunday. "Drones, the remotely piloted vehicles, [are] a tremendously capable tool to use against the terrorist abroad," he told Chris Wallace. "When we're doing this, we are doing it in full consent and cooperation with our partners internationally. This is something that the president has told us we need to work closely with these partners."
That statement might not sound particularly revelatory to casual news readers because the government's drone campaign is discussed frequently by members of the press and national security experts. But the administration almost never acknowledges the existence of the program itself, which led Politico's Josh Gerstein to wonder "whether Brennan's comments were simply an unplanned outbreak of public candor on the subject or whether high-level administration deliberations about whether to be more open in discussions of anti-terrorism operations led to his remarks."
Gerstein wasn't able to pin that down. But whatever the case is, it's pretty clear that either Brennan told a lie on TV on Sunday in his remarks on the drone program or his counterparts in Pakistan are lying today. The specific line that's suspect? "When we're doing this, we are doing it in full consent and cooperation with our partners." That makes it sound like the country whose territory is receiving the drone strikes is authorizing them. But look what's being reported out of Pakistan today by The Associated Press: Officials in the country are condemning the US. for launching its first drone strike since parliament banned them two weeks ago. Per the AP's Asif Shahzad:
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the strikes which killed three suspected militants in the North Waziristan tribal area Sunday "are in total contravention of international law and established norms of interstate relations."
"The government of Pakistan has consistently maintained that drone attacks are violative of its territorial integrity and sovereignty," it said.
Pakistan's parliament demanded an end to the strikes in mid-April when it approved new guidelines for the country's relationship with the U.S.
In sum, you have the U.S. saying it only launches drone strikes with the consent of the strike countries and Pakistan saying the U.S. just launched a drone strike with no consent, in fact, an explicit request to stop doing so. Go figure.
Of course, it's difficult to say who's not telling the truth. One might think it's Brennan, given that Pakistan's parliament codified its prohibition of the practice. However, it's plausible that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani secretly approved the strikes while publicly condemning them, as other Pakistani leaders have done in the past. Either way, it's starting to make sense why U.S. officials don't talk about the drone campaign: It exposes the wide disconnect with U.S. "partners" in the Middle East.
Below is the Fox News interview with Brennan: