Drones, Terror and The New Normal in US Foreign Policy
Fall 2012, Al Quds Bard, Thursdays 12:30 - 3:30 pm, Room 04
than a decade after the attacks of September 11, US foreign policy has
taken on a quietly lethal cast. The troops have come home from Iraq and
are departing Afghanistan; the angry threats that "you are with us or
with the terrorists," the loud declarations of American primacy - these
echo only in the memory. And in the gathering quiet, the work of daily
killing has fallen to the elite operators of the Special Forces and the
CIA and the quiet robotic efficiency of the unmanned drones. Sporadic
news of these attacks are among the few flickering signs that the "state
of exception" declared by President Bush persists. Indeed, under
President Obama, the exception has been normalized. Americans have come
to accept - or largely to ignore - a state of constant low-level warfare
that carries on beneath the radar, in which people in far-off lands are
attacked and killed remotely - and, when captured, imprisoned
indefinitely. This state of quiet war persists even as the broader shape
of US foreign policy is subtly altered to take account of a world in
which global power is moving steadily but undeniably toward the rising
nations of the East. In this seminar, we will examine this "new normal" -
its genesis and evolution, the contours of its functioning, its
implications for international humanitarian law - and study its place in
the evolving foreign policy of a superpower struggling to adapt itself
to an increasingly multi-polar world.
Syllabus Main Class Requirements: This is a seminar — a discussion class - which means the success of the class depends on student participation. The most important requirements are that students
*Attend all class sessions"¨
*Participate in discussions"¨
*Do all reading and writing assignments
A student's record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the thoroughness of his or her preparation, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the final grade.
Schedule. All classes will begin promptly at half past twelve on Thursday afternoon and finish at two fifty. Note that our first class will now meet on September 27.
Reading. This seminar is about both history and the here and now, which is to say, it is about what was news and "what's in the news." Our seminar centers on current events and you need to make sure you are well apprised of those events day to day. This means a primary requirement is to keep up with current news about foreign affairs by reading the New York Times, Washington Post and other current news sources; The Economist and Newsweek are also recommended, as is regular viewing of CNN and Al Jazeera. I'd urge you also to take advantage of the major foreign affairs websites, such as Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs, and also more specialized sites such as Small Wars Journal and various others. We encourage you to distribute articles of interest you find to your colleagues in the class. Apart from the listed books, our reading will center on a number of articles and reports drawn from the historic and the contemporary press — newspapers, magazines, television, websites; you will receive these articles either in photocopy during class or by means of links sent via email. Some readings are listed in the draft syllabus below, but keep in mind that the assignments may shift, depending on ongoing events.
Writing. Students will undertake a number of short in-class assignments, for which they are meant to draw on the assigned reading and on class discussions. There will also be a final research paper of 12 to 15 pages which will take up one of the issues discussed in the seminar and explore it using original research. Note that a one-paragraph sketch of your topic for this paper is due on November 22 and the actual paper is due on December 13. To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest a close reading of two works: George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language" — easily available online - and Strunk and White's little manual, The Elements of Style.
Office Hours: I will hope to meet with each of you individually during the course of the term. We will make these appointments on an ad hoc basis. I am best reached via email, at email@example.com. My writing, speaking and other information can be found at my website, markdanner.com.
Recommended Reading: Books
Though the bulk of our reading will be drawn from articles, as listed in the Tentative Syllabus (below), we will also look at some excerpts from the following books.
Daniel Klaidman, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)
Peritz and Rosenbach, Find-Fix-Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns (Public Affairs, 2012)
Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt, Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare 2001-2050 (TomDispatch, 2012)
Charles W. Sasser and Matt J. Martin, Predator: The Remote-Control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot's Story (Zenith, 2010)
September 27, 2012 -- Introduction: Drones, Counterterror and the New American Way of War
Drone Footage Excerpt from Dror Moreh's The Gatekeepers
After viewing the film, we discussed the film through the three time periods in which it exists: 1956 (the year of the battle), 1966 (the year the film was released), and 2012 (the year we are viewing it). This framework allowed us to discuss the relationship between revolutionary strategy and terrorism as well as state repression, and the different forms these three have taken since Algiers, through Saigon, and finally to Waziristan. The discussion had a strong focus on Col. Mathieu's 'necessary means' argument - essentially, that until the French press (and public) can agree that the occupation should end, they can't complain about torture. For the students, this seemed to be one of the strongest connections between the film and our discussion of drones so far.
October 18, 2012 — The Argument for Drones: Strategic, Practical and Moral
Our discussion was shaped by explicitly posing the question at the core of this class: What is wrong with Drones? Immediate reactions included, 1. lack of transparency 2. civilian casualties 3. impossibility of surrender 4. lack of defined vocabulary 5. murder not war/ endless war 6. lack of democratic oversite 7. reciprocity. Each of these points was challenged by a counter based in our reading - in particular we focused on the national security speech given by Eric Holder in March 2012. Through his own words, we identified the three criteria for a US strike on an American Citizen (al-Awlaki) - 1. He poses an imminent threat, 2. Capture is not feasable, 3. The act is consistent with the relevant Laws of War (necessity, distinction, proportionality, humanity). Each of these criteria was tested against the reports at our disposal.
November 8, 2012 — Are Drones Self-Defeating: The Political Cost
We began class by discussing the result of the recent Presidential election, through the lens of Mark's "The Politics of Fear." This led us into a discussion of the question "what sets Obama's FP/national security apart from those of his predecessors?," which drew heavily on Junod's piece in Esquire (and his argument surrounding the release of 600 guantanamo prisoners, in particular.).
We then broke into groups in order to prepare for a debate focused on the position: "The US should halt all drone strikes indefinitely, starting tomorrow." Morika and Majd argued in favor, while Jacob and Esra argued against. Each group gave an opening statement, and then exchanged points and retorts. At the conclusion of the debate, Casey asked each group a probing question, for which they were given five minutes to prepare a response.
The class ended with a brief and general discussion of "what would happen if all drone strikes ended tomorrow."
November 15, 2012 — Drones & the Law: When Is Targeted Killing Legal?
In class spent the majority of our session (which was held at Ziryab in Ramallah) discussing the recent conflict in Gaza, for which a ceasefire was signed the previous evening. We looked at some footage of Israeli drones, including the clip of Ahmed al-Jabari's death released by the IDF on twitter. We discussed the social media strategy of the citizen journalists in Gaza, in comparison to that of the Israeli establishment, and noted that both camps had placed an emphasis on drone activity in their reporting. Finally, we ended with a discussion of what the future holds for Hamas/Israel relations, and the potential for an Oslo-esque agreement.
November 29, 2012 — Collateral Damage: When Is A Civilian Not A Civilian?
Note: On this day, a one-paragraph summary sketch of your final paper — a 12- to 15-page research paper taking up one of the issues that we have discussed in this seminar - is due. The summary should be several sentences — no more than three sentences - describing roughly what you plan to write about and giving a sense of what your research goals are: What question do you seek to answer, or to explore, in the paper?
Our discussion began with a discussion of each student's final paper ideas. Majd identified a broad interest in the CIA roll in US drone warfare, and eventually narrowed his focus to the transformation of the CIA since 9/11. Jacob began by outlining a paper focused on US Foreign Policy toward Non-State Actors, and suggested that a step forward may take the form of formal recognition of these actors (al-qaeda, for instance). After seeing his thesis challenged in our discussion, it was suggested that he might focus on the question at the root of his initial idea: How do insurgencies end? Ezra was having trouble identifying a subject she was sincerely interested in, and was looking for suggestions. After a brief discussion, it became clear that she had an interest in the depiction of drones in the media and popular culture (youtube, memes, etc.) Last, Morika had a clear thesis coming into class, focused on the constitutionality of extra judicial killings of american citizens. She will focus on the FOIA request surrounding the Awlahi case, as well as the Eric Holder speech we read for class.
In the second half of class we attempted to answer the questions: 'Who are we killing?' and 'Who should we be killing?'
After a delightful dinner prepared by Esra's mother, we again discussed the concept of imminence, and the impact its definition has on US drone policy. We attempted to collectively conceive of a framework (legal or otherwise) that could restrain US drone activity, and found that the concept of imminence was critical to that process. In the end, we were left frustrated by the difficulty of outlining such a framework, which often appeared either unrealistic (beyond the pale of US policy) or unsatisfying (ineffective at restraining the reality of US drones use).
December 6, 2012 — Drone Warfare and the Future Battlefield
In the first half of class, we discussed Klaidman's Kill or Capture, which we'd just finished reading. We struggled with the critical question: what, if anything, could have been done differently by the Obama administration in order to fulfill the promises of the anti-Bush, anti-Guantanamo foreign policy platform he ran on. We looked at the effort to close Guantanamo, and concluded that it is conceivable that an administration with a clearer plan and a stronger commitment to its purported goal could have succeeded in closing the Cuba prison. We also discussed the character of Rahm Emanuel, whose personality and political outlook had a tremendous effect on the trajectory of Obama's first term, at least according to Klaidman.
In the second half of class, we looked at the proposed drones policies each student had prepared for discussion. Jacob argued for a policing framework, in which the AUMF has been abandoned, peacetime is realized, and drone strikes are reserved for use on individuals who are in the act of committing a lethal attack on the US, and are in a territory whose government has explicitly requested the aid of the US military.
Majd suggested drone strikes should be limited by the judiciary branch, requiring a US judge to approve requests for targeted killings from the military.
December 20, 2012 — Final Research Paper Due
A paper of 12 to 15 pages taking up one of the issues that we have discussed in this seminar and exploring the issue using your original research.
Resolved: Drone Warfare Is a Moral Way to Prosecute a War — An In-Class Debate. In this exercise, the class will be divided into thirds, with one third arguing for the proposition, one third against it, and one third serving as judges who will listen carefully, ask follow-up questions, and determine the winning side.
We began our final session of the semester with a discussion of John Yoo's defense of targeted killings. Mark gave an overview of Yoo's background in the legal world, and the class weighed the merits of his points against other condemnations of targeted killing we had read throughout the semester. Next, we began our concluding debate of the proposal "US drone strikes should be suspended indefinitely." Esra and Jacob argued for the proposal, while Majd and Casey (in Morika's absence) argued against. Eyas, a student from another of Mark's classes, sat in as a judge. Esra and Jacob argued that the continuation of drone's strikes is simply the current form of endless war, and that taking a stand against drone's is really taking a stand for peace. Majd and Casey cited a decline in civilian and American military casualties since the program had begun, and emphasized that the cost of drones would eventually lessen the burden of military spending on the american taxpayer. In the end, Eyas stressed that both sides had argued effectively, and only narrowly ruled in favor of Majd and Casey. At least according to our small court in Abu-Dis, it seems drones are here to stay.