Now that he's teaching at Yale and writing memoirs, Stanley McChrystal is getting brutally honest about the ethically questionable war he helped architect in Afghanistan and environs. Specifically, he voicing serious concerns about the use of unmanned drones to fire missiles at terrorists hiding in the mountains -- or farmers or goat herders or whomever happens to be in harm's way. This is a great way to piss off not only more terrorists but also the rest of the world."The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates," McChrystal told Reuters on Monday. "They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one." He added that drones add to the "perception of American arrogance that says, 'Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.'"
The rest of us have known about this problem of drone-induced rancor for a while now, at least since last October when the United Nations launched an investigation into America's use of drones. The UN turning against us must've served as a wake-up call of sorts for President Obama, because a month later, news emerged that his administration had been frantically trying to put together a new rule book -- there is no old rule book -- for targeted killings by drone strikes. The election had a lot to do with the urgency, and now that we're getting close to Obama's second inauguration, there's been little mention of drawing up rules or even coming up with a better way of carrying out the strikes so that civilians don't end up in on the wrong side of a missile.
The civilian casualty issue is surely what pisses the world off the most. Even Americans were shocked to learn a few months ago that the White House doesn't even know how many people they've killed with drones strikes, and the number of civilian deaths that the administration had said was in the single digits last May was actually closer to 500. A report on the casualty count told the story of one strike that killed a man selling fruit and his entire family, one of many outrageous stories that lead to the kind of visceral hatred McChrystal is now talking about. "The secrecy surrounding the drone program, combined with its operation in many areas that are inaccessible, has meant that civilians harmed by drones have no recourse and no point of contact to hold accountable for the sudden devastation they face," reads the report. "This vacuum of accountability can lead to anger, despair, and even hatred, directed at their own government or at the U.S."
To McChrystal's credit, he's been critical of the drone war for a few months now, though his comments this week bear a new sense of gravity about the situation and urgency to rectify it. Too bad the president doesn't feel the same way. Or at least he's not tough enough to say it.