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The Senseless Deliverer

That One Time U.S. Military Drone Crews Booed Their Commander ...

The following study examines a brief sample of news articles from the Washington Post and the New York Times during the period between 2003 and 2004. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the major themes of coverage during this period as they relate to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and the conditions leading to the Iraq War, as well as the attitudes and concerns of supporters, critics, analysts and politicians. As ten years have elapsed between the period examined and the time of the completion of this study, history allows for the hindsight necessary to make judgments regarding the accuracy and consequences of the prevailing views as the conflict unfolded, and also of the oversights and inconsistencies which may be avoided in future conflicts. The focus is on the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles (or 'drones,' as they have come to be called) into the awareness of the general public, and into the theater of war.

These articles were selected at random from the Lexis-Nexis Database on the conditions that they were published during the specified time period, by either of the two leading publications, and that they each contained at least one instance of the queried key-word: "Drone." Every attempt has been made to restrain the author's own opinion, and to present these articles accurately, and in the context in which they were written.While it is general knowledge that the "Shock And Awe" campaign of 2003 began a long and protracted war between Christian America and Muslim Iraq, and that the U.S. and Iraq have had a long and bothersome history of hostility and remuneration, there is a general (and predictable) absence of any historically relevant background information in the articles examined, either regarding the relationship between Iraq and the U.S. or the causes of what would become one of the most frustrating and least understood conflicts in either nation's history.

Where drones themselves are concerned, little attention is given to the consideration of ethics or long-term consequences. Instead, coverage tends to be narrowly confined either to the given disputes of the day regarding the existence and capabilities of the Iraqi drone program, or to the advantages offered to the U.S. armed services by the use of drones. In these articles, no time is wasted examining the ethical implications of imposing armament restrictions on one country by another which is unburdened by any such restrictions. To put this another way, there was no international discussion over the technological implications or practical military applications of drone use by American Forces (at that time). Similarly, there was never actually any credible evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, or that the Iraqi drone-program could or would produce a weaponized drone that might threaten the United States, though both of these presumptions were integral components of the basis of the argument for an invasion of Iraq by U.S. Forces.

Because the War Powers Act and the enumerated powers of Congress and the President, as they are spelled out by the Constitution of the United States, each require a definable, articulate "clear and present threat" to the safety of the United States and its citizens and territories in order for a legal declaration of war to be handed down, and because the major claims of the Bush administration, the C.I.A. and the D.I.A. have all since proven to be either exaggerated or simply falsified, the conclusion that the entire war was unconstitutional, and that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell are each and all war criminals, is appropriate, but unlikely to ever come to any actual prosecution or indictment, because the media forces that govern public opinion have simply failed to maintain their own independence from the partisan bandwagon.

While atrocity and inhumanity are ubiquitous aspects of a broken political system across the Mexican Border, the eye of the American public remains unwaveringly trained on the perpetual crisis of the Middle East. Curiously, an acceptable, logical, fact-based explanation of why this is remains elusive, even as ten years have passed since "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."1 In spite of this dichotomy, and of all of the baseless claims that have brought about such an obviously unpopular war, Americans themselves are to blame for allowing this farce to occur. Post-911 sentiment was all that was truly needed to furnish the Bush Administration with the momentum to carry the U.S. to War. America doesn't look back, it doesn't apologize, and it doesn't possess a high regard for actual facts or a well-reasoned argument that opposes its intentions or preconceived notions.

This examination begins with an article by Rajiv Chandraekaren, appearing in the Post on March 13, 2003, entitled: "Iraqi Officials Proudly Exhibit a Disputed, Dinged Up Drone." The purpose of this exhibit is to "rebut U.S. allegations of an unreported drone," which journalists were allowed to view. It was described as a "make-shift contraption" with "wooden propellers, duct-taped wings, and a dinged up fuselage." When the claim was made that this item had not been "reported" (during a recent disclosure of military assets to the U.N. Assembly) Bush and Powell seized the opportunity to make unsubstantiated claims about its abilities that were denied by Iraqi officials and unsupported by the conclusions of U.N. weapons inspectors.2

These erroneous claims were made in February of 2013, when Colin Powell made allegations that the Iraqis possessed drones "that could fly 310 miles."3 One commentator elaborated in rank-and-file fashion, "This is the kind of thing Iraq could use to attack Israel."4 The charade should have been self evident when Powell offered what he called "proof" of his claims: a photo of an airfield "on which was drawn a race-track pattern, eight miles long and five miles wide."5 The significance of these claims is not made clear, however, until the spring of 2004, in which the retrospective testimony of one of the U.N. inspectors is recounted in another article, entitled "U.N. Inspector Writes of Pressure From U.S. on Iraq; Blix Book Says He Was Challenged About Arms Assessment On Eve Of Last Report." This article reveals that the U.S. "unsuccessfully tried to pressure [Blix] to tell the security council that Iraq was in violation of U.N. Resolutions just two weeks before Baghdad was attacked."6 Furthermore, Vice President Dick Cheney "was prepared to discredit inspections in favor of disarmament."7 This willingness to go to war regardless of fact or fiction is echoed in another article published in mid-march, 2003.

In "Threats and Responses: An Overview: March 12, 2003; Trolling For Votes (8 Enough?) Terms for Delay, Drones on Display" Anthony Depalma describes the difficulty in obtaining British Support through Parliament for the American Invasion. With Russia and France Prepared to Veto any such resolution on the U.N. Security Council, and with the uncertainty of forthcoming British Support, Colin Powell makes a revealing comment, suggesting "withdrawing the resolution is better than going to war against the wishes of a majority of the security council."8 The hope, at the time, in the minds of "some officials" was that "nine votes...might be sufficient to confer legitimacy on an invasion."9 The question is never asked why legitimacy is so important if the Bush administration has already made up its mind to invade with or without the support of the U.N. (or the American public, for that matter.)

An article published in the Fall of 2003 elaborates on this exchange. The C.I.A. contended that the Iraqi development of "spray devices that could be adapted for use U.A.V.s"10 but the Air Force concluded that these were "weighty tanks that were intended for fighter jets[which have a range of up to about 200 miles] and were too heavy for Iraq's U.A.V. fleet."11 Though the Bush administration concocted their own narrative, the Air Force analysis made it clear that Iraqi U.A.V.s were practical only for reconnaissance and not for weapons delivery. In fact, though Powell's speech to the U.N. security council on 5 February, 2003, outlined "U.S. Intelligence on Hussein's weapons of mass destruction," the "intelligence" to which he was referring was the report supplied by the Air Force analysts, the inspector Blix later wrote that "In no case had we found any convincing evidence of any prohibited activity" and that if given a fair opportunity to do so "Iraq could have shown that there were no WMDs."12

These findings were not isolated. According to U.N. Chief Weapons Inspectors, there was "no evidence [that] Saddam's government ever developed un-piloted drones capable of dispersing chemical or biological weapons."13 This statement was in response to Bush's unsubstantiated claim that such drones could attack U.S. cities, and was used to support the case for the invasion of Iraq, but it had been previously supported by the views of the U.S. Air Force and by the Pentagon. According to the U.N. there was "no evidence [that] Iraqi drones could travel beyond a 150km range."14While the Iraqi drone was treated like an ominous threat to U.S. (and world) security, the American drone was treated with science-fiction mysticism and patriotic deference. And no wonder! Military application was a great boon for defense contractors such as Northrup Gruman and General Atomics, but what the industry was really itching for was domestic, civilian application. Drones could be outfitted for reconnaissance and weapons delivery for Armed Services clients, but the real money lay in civilian application.

As it stood, drone-use over the U.S. was constrictive. Drones were generally confined to "test-flights within military airspace," required "FAA approval for each flight", required adherence to "tightly controlled flight paths", and often required expensive "chase-craft" or piloted aircraft to follow closely behind in order to ensure the safety of commercial flight-liners that might be nearby.15 In order for the industry to broach the concerns of U.S. citizens and legislators, these autonomous craft would need some kind of satisfactory track record which was simply, empirically unavailable at the time. These concerns included the possibility of "lost contact with ground countrol" resulting in "crashes near populated areas," in addition to privacy concerns and a "spotty combat record."16 The best possible ally in the pursuit of legislated permissibility for the inevitable flood of domestic drone uses was good , all-American PR. Such treatment would not be found wanting.

One example of this starry-eyed pseudo-journalism can be found in a WaPo article from March 7, 2003, for which no Author is listed, entitled "A High Tech Pilot Who Keeps His Feet On the Ground." This article describes a young marine by the name of Micheal DeGuzman..."the only marine in his battalion with an airplane in his backpack."17 In this revolting example of lopsided propaganda, Deguzman is lavishly treated as the archetypal 21st century American hero, an appropriately multi-cultural example of young military virtue and fortitude. "DeGuzman has the compact build of a wrestler, but his thick thatch of brown hair is tinged orange from long days spent surfing back in Huntington Beach, California...Good natured and articulate, he speaks Danish, Swedish and Norwegian."18 He "keeps a hawk as a pet, and has been training it to fly around the camp and return to his arm."19 His SGT Major likes to "kid him[about his miniature backpack drone] that it must get pretty cramped in that cockpit."20 The most heart-warming, flag raising touch is what he likes most about his drone..."that it will save the lives of his fellow marines."21 Oorah! Regarding the drone itself, called the Dragon Eye, "It looks like something my kids would play with." says the Commander of the 1st Battalion.22

Though blustery and virtually irrelevant as anything other than a "feel-good" piece, this article contains a single little gem of significant interest. While briefly mentioning the limited history of the American Drone, the author briefly refers to Yemen in 2002, and uses one of the first instances of a subtly constructed phrase which will evolve to define the real targets of unmanned aerial war-fare: The C.I.A. used a Predator drone armed with Hellfire missiles to kill "six alleged terrorists."23 The term "alleged terrorist" will eventually be reinvented under the similarly vague, but wholly ubiquitous "Suspected Militant." While the constitution mandates a fair trial before an impartial jury with the guarantee of competent public defender in order to incarcerate (let alone execute) an American citizen, no narrower heading than "suspected militant" will be required for the execution and destruction on executive authority of any human being anywhere in the (third) world, over the following decade.

Due process became a singularly American luxury, and though these drones were armed with precision "1500mm cameras" that could allow analysts to "discern soldiers from civilians more than three miles away"24 the number of civilian casualties would account for roughly between a fourth and a fifth of the total number of drone victims throughout the following ten years before the use of these machines would finally be attenuated by growing international discontent.
For awhile, however, no one seemed to notice, and where coverage did not center on the disputed claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, it could generally be characterized as advantage centric. Global Hawks had "cloud piercing radar," drones were embraced by all armed services, decoys could "flush out air-defense systems," these systems enjoyed "seamless integration," they reduced to minutes the "Kill-Chain" or the sequence of events between identification and attack of some enemy or other, and they offered "extended, all-weather, broad range reconnaissance" and reduced the "amount of territory that the U.S. didn't have access to."25

Additionally, when civilian applications become more commonplace, drones will assist in the movement of cargo, the finding of forest fires, and the monitoring of border areas.26 Mass production will make them "cheaper and more available"27 which will expand their functionality and application to unpredictable heights. If one queries "Quad-Copter GoCam" on Youtube in 2013, one will find extensive examples of breathtaking (however disturbing) footage from civilian remote-controlled toys equipped with expensive cameras, trolling over neighborhoods, industrial complexes, military bases, and natural wonders such as Yosemite and Niagara Falls.

What has been constant from year to year is that the public remains helplessly uninformed and perpetually divided on the issue of drones. Industry leaders such as Boeing and Northrup Gruman have demonstrated the drunken frat-boy mentality of "get the tip in first, ask questions later." And finally, Politicians and Analysts have exchanged roles, the former assumes the confidence of the other, while the other now plays a purely passive role in the technical considerations of the first. One may not view the media as complicit in the way matters have evolved over ten years, but one may not exclude media accountability either. The media forces that shape civilian attitudes have a direct influence on government policy. The trend towards speculation, and away from objectivity, has been alarming. The failure of the Iraq or Afghan wars to effect any meaningful change in global politics after more than a combined two decades of fighting was disheartening. But the consequences of the American public's refusal to subordinate blind patriotism to education and reason have been devastating.

The approach of the federal government to foreign policy and acquisition in the 21st century has been remarkably familiar, echoing the experience of the Mexican American War, in which American aggression went unnoticed until it provoked Mexican retaliation, at which point, only the retaliation was given audience by the press and the people. A misguided sense of patriotism and a purely false understanding of context were the ingredients that brought favor to an otherwise ill-gotten war. Mexico was unfairly deprived of nearly half of its land, thousands of its soldiers, and an unrecoverable treasury of self-esteem and pride. All because one president had an agenda, and the gall to lie to the faces of his otherwise unsuspecting people.

Progress has not lessened the effects of bad information. Nor has it sharpened the senses of the common mob.

Image Source:
1. Eric Schmitt, "A Nation at War...," New York Times, 18 April, 2004.
2. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "Iraqi Officials...," Washington Post, 13 March, 2013.
3. Bradley Graham, "Work On New Drones...," Washington Post, 6 February, 2003.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Walter Pincus, "U.N. Inspector Writes...," Washington Post, 9 March, 2004.
7. Walter Pincus, "U.N. Inspector Writes...," Washington Post, 9 March, 2004.
8. Anthony DePalma, "Threats and Responses...," New York Times, 13 March, 2003.
9. Ibid.
10. Bradley Graham, "Air Force Analysts Feel Vindicated on Iraqi Drones," Washington Post, 26 September, 2003.
11. Ibid.
12. Walter Pincus, "U.N. Inspector Writes...," Washington Post, 9 March, 2004.
13. Colum Lynch, "U.N.: Iraqi Drones Were No Threat...," Washington Post, 5 September, 2004.
14. Ibid.
15. Renea Merie, "Drones May Be Allowed...," Washington Post, 4 October, 2003.
16. Ibid
17. No Author Listed, "A High Tech Pilot Who Keeps His Feet On the Ground," Washington Post, 7 March, 2003.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid
24. Eric Schmitt, "A Nation At War...," New York Times, 18 April, 2003.
25. Ibid.
26. Renae Merie, "Drones May Be Allowed...," Washington Post, 4 October, 2003.
27. Ibid.

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