General Stanley McChrystal is speaking out against the Obama administration's use of drone strikes, echoing previous warnings and clashing with the White House's carefully cultivated narrative:
To the Daily Telegraph:
It's very tempting for any country to have a clean, antiseptic approach, that you can use technology, but it's not something that I think is going to be an effective strategy, unless it is part of a wider commitment.
They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one.
To journalist Trudy Rubin:
[Drones are] a very limited approach that gives the illusion you are making progress because you are doing something.
And to television anchor Candy Crowley
It can lower the threshold for decision making to take action that at the receiving end, feels very different at the receiving end.
McChrystal offers a unique perspective on the debate surrounding drone strikes. Serving as the commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) from 2003 to 2008, he restructured the secretive unit to capture or kill hundreds of suspected militants and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. During this time, he had the authority to deploy U.S. forces into Pakistan -- without prior approval from the White House -- in order to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. As commander of the international and U.S. forces in Afghanistan from June 2009 to July 2010, he significantly tightened the rules of engagement for airstrikes in populated areas, noting, "Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction." (Full disclosure: McChrystal served on the advisory committee of my recent report on U.S. drone strikes, although that does not mean he agreed with my findings or recommendations.)
Although his candor is rare in his field, many of McChrystal's concerns are increasingly shared by active-duty and retired military officials with whom I've spoken. The vast majority of these officers, who held a wide range of positions while in uniform, are deeply troubled by the Obama administration's ongoing drone wars for five reasons.
First, many believe that discrete military operations -- like drone strikes and special operations raids -- are much easier, more responsive, and less risky than previously available uses of force. However, they worry that civilian policymakers have lowered the threshold for the use of lethal force, often at the exclusion of other elements of power that are essential to achieving any strategic objective. The capabilities of Special Operations Command (SOCOM) have improved and expanded so dramatically since 9/11 that its commander, Admiral William McRaven, sincerely characterized the mission to kill Osama bin Laden as dull: "From a military perspective this was a standard raid. And not very sexy."
If once-exceptional missions are now routine -- there were 13 comparable raids in Afghanistan the night bin Laden was killed -- then the major concern is that they become the default option, with limited consideration for their long-term consequences. As General Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned: "I worry about speed making it too easy to employ force...too easy to take the easy answer -- let's go whack them with special operations -- as opposed to perhaps a more laborious answer for perhaps a better long-term solution."