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Madeleine Albright Supports Drones Because American Lives More Precious Than Other Lives

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(update below)

Appearing on the MSNBC program, “Morning Joe,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said President Barack Obama’s drone programs have been “very effective.”

Albright’s remarks on the use of drone strikes were the following:

…[O]ne of the issues that actually came up during the Balkans in Kosovo — it was an air war and a lot of people said: ‘Well, that’s not moral, you should have boots on the ground. And at the time, I thought ‘Why should we get more people killed, why do you have to have boots on the ground when you can take care of the terrible things that are happening from the air?’ I do think that drones have been very effective in terms of getting rid of people that are bound and determined to attack us. But it has gotten to be a much more complicated issue and I think there should be a public discussion about the appropriateness of them… [emphasis added]

Albright is a Truman Democrat, a liberal hawk who finds lethal force for “moral” or “good ends” acceptable as long as it is not the first choice or only option used to respond to “threats” or “adversaries.” She gained some notoriety for her remarks in 1996 when she appeared on “60 Minutes ” to address US sanctions on Iraq.

LESLEY STAHL We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

ALBRIGHT: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said on MSNBC on February 4, when talking about being able to make “moral” decisions because he’s a Catholic, that the operations had been “effective.” Reuel Marc Gerecht, former CIA specialist, said on CNN on February 7, “I think you have a consensus on both sides of the House amongst Republicans and Democrats that the drone program is sufficiently effective for it to continue, and I don’t think that’s going to change.” MSNBC host Chris Hayes even said in February, in his setup for a discussion on the “kill list,” “The policy has been efficient and effective in decimating al Qaeda and other affiliate terrorist groups.” So, that Albright thinks drones have been “very effective” is not what’s striking.

What is striking is how she said rhetorically, “Why should we get more people killed, why do you have to have boots on the ground when you can take care of the terrible things that are happening from the air?”

This is like what Robin Wright of the Woodrow Wilson Center said on “Hardball” on February 7:

SMERCONISH: Robin, when he described this as a last resort to save lives, one reaction I had is that among the lives we save when we use drones are those of troops who otherwise would be going into harm`s way.

ROBIN WRIGHT, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Absolutely. I lived in Beirut when Jesse Jackson had to hold his nose and go to Damascus to beg for the release of an American pilot who`d been shot down by the Syrians.

And drones are clearly the wave of the future because they save American lives, but they`re also very effective for surveillance. So they have far greater use than simply the kind of fighters we`ve used.

It is also along the lines of what Time magazine’s Joe Klein said in October when he was on “Morning Joe”:

SCARBOROUGH: “What we’re doing with drones is remarkable: the fact that over the past eight years during the Bush years – when a lot of people brought up some legitimate questions about international law – my God, those lines have been completely eradicated by a drone policy that says: if you’re between 17 and 30, and within a half-mile of a suspect, we can blow you up, and that’s exactly what’s happening . . . . They are focused on killing the bad guys, but it is indiscriminate as to other people who are around them at the same time . . . . it is something that will cause us problems in the coming years” . . . .

KLEIN: “I completely disagree with you. . . . It has been remarkably successful” —

SCARBOROUGH: “at killing people” —

KLEIN: “At decimating bad people, taking out a lot of bad people – and saving Americans lives as well, because our troops don’t have to do this . . . You don’t need pilots any more because you do it with a joystick in California.”

SCARBOROUGH: “This is offensive to me, though. Because you do it with a joystick in California – and it seems so antiseptic – it seems so clean – and yet you have 4-year-old girls being blown to bits because we have a policy that now says: ‘you know what? Instead of trying to go in and take the risk and get the terrorists out of hiding in a Karachi suburb, we’re just going to blow up everyone around them.

“This is what bothers me. . . . We don’t detain people any more: we kill them, and we kill everyone around them. . . . I hate to sound like a Code Pink guy here. I’m telling you this quote ‘collateral damage’ – it seems so clean with a joystick from California – this is going to cause the US problems in the future.”

KLEIN: “If it is misused, and there is a really major possibility of abuse if you have the wrong people running the government. But: the bottom line in the end is – whose 4-year-old get killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.” [emphasis added]

It does not matter who is being targeted and whether they are actually individuals who pose imminent threats. And it does not matter that extensive collateral damage might occur where innocent people are blown into bits of flesh that make their corpses unidentifiable. What matters is there is less of a chance that our soldiers meet death because their lives are infinitely worth more than the lives of those in the country, which US forces are intervening and waging war.

The mentality is not different from the mentality that allowed for terror bombings of civilian populations during World War II. In Kurt Vonnegut’s classic Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy encounters the statement of Ira C. Eaker, retired Lieutenant General, USAF:

I deeply regret that British and US bombers killed 135,000 people in the attack on Dresden, but I remember who started the last war and I regret even more the loss of more than 5,000,000 Allied lives in the necessary effort to completely defeat and destroy nazism.

In Japan, according to Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s Untold History of the United States, Gen. Curtis LeMay revolutionized the use of incendiary bombs to destroy “sixteen square miles” and perhaps 100,000 people. Similar to what happened in Dresden, “The scalding inferno caused canals to boil, metal to melt, and people to burst into flames spontaneously. The victims, LeMay reported, were ‘scorched and boiled and baked to death.”

Or, how about the air war in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, which Nick Turse detailed in his book Kill Anything That Moves on the Vietnam War?

US aircraft laid waste to huge swaths of rural areas. American forces considered the spartan Vietnamese thatch-roofed huts, built of bamboo, mud, and leaves, to be “enemy structures” and regarded the earthen shelters beneath them as fortified “bunkers.” They were often officially classified as military targets and treated accordingly. In September 1965, in an agrarian countryside with only the most modest of buildings, nearly 10,00 enemy structures were blasted by US and allied aircraft. By mid-1966, some 100,000 had reportedly been destroyed from the air. All types of buildings were fair game: homes, hospitals, temples, pagodas and schools, in addition to actual enemy fortification.

One particular aircraft that evoked fear during the Vietnam War is the UH-1 Huey, the helicopter used by American forces. “At the conflict’s peak,” the US had “more than 4,000 helicopters in the country.” According to Warrant Officer Cecil Jimeson, who commanded the 48th Assault Helicopter Company, “The rules of engagement meant ‘anything that moves dies.’ Warrant Officer Thomas Equels recalled the orders were to destroy villages, even in the absence of enemy fire.

The drone is a part of the natural evolution of American warfare. Bombs have been dropped from airplanes in many wars and the benefit has been they are not on the ground to take fire. With the advancement of drone technology, troops do not even have to be in a combat zone to launch attacks. They can sit on a base in the United States and go home to their wife and children every night if they want.

The costs of this warfare, in history and today, are acceptable because in all cases the missions were just and righteous. They have all been to preserve America’s position in the world. As President Obama has said, “America remains the one indispensable nation. And the world needs a strong America.”

This is the exceptionalist ideology that holds the political class or ruling elites in Washington captive. There is no atrocity or inhumane conflict that cannot be justified if America is the “one indispensable nation.”

In furtherance of empire, people like Albright have indoctrinated themselves with the idea that America is a saintly custodian of morality and order in the world. If America does not take action to maintain control through whatever means necessary, there will be chaos and populations will suffer. That is what they have to tell themselves otherwise they might have to confront the resulting barbarity caused by the acts they have authorized and/or endorsed.


From a speech given by the historian Howard Zinn at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston, Massachusetts on June 28, 2003—”the idea that American imperialism is different: kinder, gentler.”

…There’s a professor at the Kennedy School at Harvard who wrote, “The twentieth century sees a new invention, a global hegemony, whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy.” A writer for the New Republic, Charles Krauthammer, says, “We are a unique, benign imperialism.” And it made me go back to something that the secretary of war, Elihu Root, said at the time of the Spanish-American War and at the time of our conquest of the Philippines. He said, “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the world began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order and of peace and happiness.”

Drones, to people like Albright, are simply a technical advancement in warfare that makes it easier for US troops to be that “advance guard” without having to risk life and limb.




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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."