Blowback: Why They Try to Bomb Us

Imagine, if you can, an alternate universe.

Imagine that in this alternate universe, a
foreign military power begins flying remote-controlled warplanes over
your town, using onboard missiles to kill hundreds of your innocent

Now imagine that when you read the
newspaper about this ongoing bloodbath, you learn that the foreign
nation's top general is nonchalantly telling reporters that his troops
are also killing "an amazing number" of your cultural brethren in an
adjacent country. Imagine further learning that this foreign power is
expanding the drone attacks on your community despite the attacks'
well-known record of killing innocents. And finally, imagine that when
you turn on your television, you see the perpetrator nation's
tuxedo-clad leader cracking stand-up comedy jokes about drone
strikes-jokes that prompt guffaws from an audience of that nation's

Ask yourself: How would you and your
fellow citizens respond? Would you call homegrown militias mounting a
defense "patriots" or would you call them "terrorists"? Would you agree
with your leaders when they angrily tell reporters that violent
defiance should be expected?

Fortunately, most Americans don't have to
worry about these queries in their own lives. But how we answer them in
a hypothetical thought experiment provides us insight into how
Pakistanis are likely to be feeling right now. Why? Because thanks to
our continued drone assaults on their country, Pakistanis now confront
these issues every day. And if they answer these questions as many of
us undoubtedly would in a similar situation-well, that should trouble
every American in this age of asymmetrical warfare.

Though we don't like to call it mass murder, the U.S. government's
undeclared drone war in Pakistan is devolving into just that. As noted
by a former counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus and a
former Army officer in Afghanistan, the operation has become a
haphazard massacre.

"Press reports suggest that over the last
three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders,"
David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum wrote in 2009. "But, according to
Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50
civilians for every militant killed."

Making matters worse, Gen. Stanley
McChrystal has, indeed, told journalists that in Afghanistan, U.S.
troops have "shot an amazing number of people" and "none has proven to
have been a real threat." Meanwhile, President Barack Obama used his
internationally televised speech at the White House Correspondents
Dinner to jest about drone warfare-and the assembled Washington
glitterati did, in fact, reward him with approving laughs.

By eerie coincidence, that latter display
of monstrous insouciance occurred on the same night as the failed
effort to raze Times Square. Though America reacted to that despicable
terrorism attempt with its routine spasms of cartoonish shock (why do
they hate us?!), the assailant's motive was anything but baffling. As
law enforcement officials soon reported, the accused bomber was
probably trained and inspired by Pakistani groups seeking revenge for
U.S. drone strikes.

"This is a blowback," said Pakistan's
foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi. "This is a reaction. And you
could expect that ... let's not be naive."

Obviously, regardless of rationale, a
"reaction" that involves trying to incinerate civilians in Manhattan is
abhorrent and unacceptable. But so is Obama's move to intensify drone
assaults that we know are regularly incinerating innocent civilians in
Pakistan. And while Qureshi's statement about "expecting" blowback
seems radical, he's merely echoing the CIA's reminder that
"possibilities of blowback" arise when we conduct martial operations

We might remember that somehow-forgotten
warning come the next terrorist assault. No matter how surprised we may
feel after that inevitable (and inevitably deplorable) attack, the fact
remains that until we halt our own indiscriminately violent actions, we
ought to expect equally indiscriminate and equally violent reactions.

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