4. Yemenis love U.S. drone strikes.
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, we see little evidence that [drone strikes] are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for AQAP. In fact, we see the opposite: Our Yemeni partners are more eager to work with us.… In short, targeted strikes against the most senior and most dangerous AQAP terrorists are not the problem -- they are part of the solution." ("U.S. Policy Toward Yemen," speech, Aug. 8, 2012)
Based on his education and deployments with the CIA, Brennan is said to have a deep knowledge of the Middle East; he speaks Arabic; and he enjoys contact with many senior officials in foreign intelligence and interior ministries -- which explains his de facto role as White House liaison to Yemen. As Brennan says, "I find the Arab world a fascinating place."
Although he might have unique insights into the Arab mind, actual Yemenis and journalists reporting from the country (see here, here, and here) say that Yemenis hate drones strikes. There is also a strong correlation between targeted killings in Yemen since December 2009 -- primarily conducted by U.S. drones -- and increased anger toward the United States and sympathy or allegiance to AQAP. In 2010, the Obama administration described AQAP as "several hundred al Qaeda members"; two years later, it increased to "more than a thousand members." Now, AQAP has a "few thousand members." After a drone strike reportedly killed 13 civilians in early September, Yemeni activist Nasr Abdullah noted: "I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined the lines of al Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake." Let's hope Brennan and Abdullah can agree to disagree.
5. U.S. citizens are acceptable collateral damage.
Wallace: "Are U.S. citizens in Yemen in danger?"
Brennan: "We are doing everything possible to make sure that all U.S. citizens, as well as Westerners and the Yemenis themselves, are protected from the scourge of al Qaeda." (Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Jan. 3, 2010)
According to the State Department, five U.S. citizens have been killed in terrorist attacks in Yemen: in December 2002 three hospital workers by a lone gunman at a Baptist hospital in Jibla; in September 2008 one American (and 17 others) in an attack on the U.S. Embassy by seven assailants dressed in government security-service uniforms; and this March one U.S. citizen in Taiz, a murder that AQAP claimed responsibility for. These five Americans were killed by various Islamist groups in brutal acts of terrorism, defined under U.S. law as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."
Over that same period, four U.S. citizens were killed in Yemen by U.S. drones, only one of them intentionally:
- November 2002: Ahmed Hijazi (aka Kamal Derwish) was killed while in an SUV by a CIA drone whose intended target was Abu Ali al-Harithi. U.S. officials acknowledged that the CIA did not know Hijazi was in the vehicle, though one later claimed his death was justifiable because he "was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
- September 2011: Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in a single attack, though Awlaki was the only target. Khan reportedly produced propaganda videos for AQAP. Awlaki was a senior member of AQAP. Before his death, U.S. officials had described him as "inspirational," "charismatic," and an "effective communicator"; after his death, they described him as "the most operational affiliate," "very operational," and "the leader of external operations."
- October 2011: Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed by a drone along with a number of suspected militants. U.S. officials initially fudged the details, saying that he was in his mid-20s and of "military age." (In response, the Awlaki family released his birth certificate, which shows he was born on Aug. 26, 1995.) The State Department has refused to discuss or acknowledge his death because it has "not received confirmation of his death from the government of Yemen," though that has never stopped U.S. officials before. Anonymous U.S. officials later stated, "The U.S. government did not know that Mr. Awlaki's son was there."
Attorney General Eric Holder argues that the Fifth Amendment right to due process is determined solely by the executive branch and that only with "robust oversight" can the United States target its citizens. Similarly, Brennan claimed that the Obama administration engages in "additional review if the al Qaeda terrorist is a U.S. citizen." None of these reviews mattered, however, for the three U.S. citizens killed by U.S. drones who were not intended targets, but collateral damage. At the same time, the United States has never provided public evidence that they were involved with terrorist groups in Yemen.
6. Drones are just a part of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.
"[Obama] has insisted that
our policy emphasize governance and development as much as security and focus
on a clear goal to facilitate a democratic transition while helping Yemen
advance political, economic, and security reforms so it can support its citizens
and counter AQAP.… This year alone, U.S. assistance to Yemen is more than $337
million. Over half this money, $178 million, is for political transition,
humanitarian assistance, and development. Let me repeat that. More than half of
the assistance we provide to Yemen is for political transition, humanitarian
assistance, and development.… Any suggestion that our policy toward Yemen is
dominated by our security and counterterrorism efforts is simply not true." ("U.S.
Policy Toward Yemen," speech, Aug. 8, 2012)
There are a couple of problems with Brennan's math. First, he excludes the vast costs of maintaining the manned and unmanned aerial platforms, nearby naval assets, and U.S. military targeters and trainers stationed in growing numbers at the al-Anad Air Base. It also does not include the covert aid funneled to members of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi's regime and others who support U.S. interests in Yemen. Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh carefully manipulated the presence of suspected international terrorists within his country in order to maintain Western support crucial for his survival, and he reportedly received hundreds of millions of dollars in covert assistance. Some Yemeni officials, analysts, and journalists such as Sam Kimball now claim that under Hadi, "the Yemeni government is fully aware of a number of al Qaeda cells -- and their existence is tolerated and their crimes covered up."
Finally, Brennan's boasts that U.S. civilian and military assistance is evenly split is nothing new. Between 2007 and 2011, U.S. (overt) aid to Yemen was $642 million: $326 million in security assistance primarily for counterterrorism and border security, and $316 million in civilian assistance for development and humanitarian work. If this alleged 50-50 foreign aid to Yemen strategy led to the collapse of the Saleh regime, widespread anti-American sentiment, and the tripling of al Qaeda, why would it work this time around?