Part I
The President’s recent address concerning the War on Terror as it relates to drone warfare has supposedly set the stage for a revitalized American foreign policy. Whereas drone strikes merely described the previous administration’s handling of terrorist threats to the United States, this surreptitious war tactic has actually defined and illuminated the current Obama administration’s congruent pursuit. While acknowledging four American casualties, President Obama stridently defended the drone program as effective, moral, and legal. In his address’ most profound and chilling moment, the President reflected on the drones’ tendencies to cause civilian casualties. “For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live," he said. Needless to emphasize further, the drone program is a serious matter that raises questions and requires a proper examination and understanding.

Although the arrow of time points forward, it is crucial to grasp the historical context that precedes drone warfare as it is practiced today. Aerial warfare, of course, is not a newly discovered military maneuver. During the Italo-Turkish War in 1911, an interesting precursor to World War One that disrupted an already chaotic Balkans, the airplane made its military debut. Italy flew over Libya and dropped a bomb on Turkish troops. This seemingly inconsequential event in history’s grand scheme set the groundwork for aerial warfare in years to come. The implications of airborne combat during World War II, to provide a more popular example, are axiomatic.

Flashing ahead from World War I to modern history, a pervasive trend in aerial warfare persists. Plainly, a human being strapped him or herself into an airplane and flew that machine into combat. A human life was at stake as soon as the plane lifted off. This human element should not go unnoticed. Too often, any attention paid to human sacrifice ends where foreign policy discourse begins. To a large extent, ironically enough, the drone program has addressed this problem.

The Bush administration first introduced drones as a foreign policy tactic and tool. While aerial warfare previously required a vital, human element, drones can operate without that prerequisite. Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that serve one of two purposes: 1) Drones can gather intelligence, or, 2) Drones can launch missiles and destroy targets. In essence, drones depend on a computer, which significantly removes any measure of human calculation from an aggressor during wartime. Such a device is especially dangerous during perpetual wartime.

Since the year 2000, the Central Intelligence Agency had been flying unarmed drones above Afghanistan. These drones in particular were flown for surveillance purposes. After all, the Taliban did not stumble into Afghanistan along with the United States simultaneously. The CIA was thus using unarmed drones to gather intelligence on the Taliban and other threats in the region. According to most observers, this was fair enough. No harm, no foul. That was, until the horrific terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. Months later, on February 4, 2002, the first recorded drone strike took place in the Afghani province of Paktia.

A strictly CIA operation, Osama Bin Laden was the intended target. CIA operatives launched the drone, and a decade of drone warfare ensued. Interestingly, that fatal first drone killed Afghan civilians as opposed to Bin Laden, who would flourish in Southwest Asia for years to come. Yet, although the drone program’s inauguration commenced at the Bush administration’s beginning, the program’s proliferation occurred at the onset of the Obama presidency.

Despite recurring yelps of partisanship from mainstream media outlets, foreign policy narratives remain nearly unchanged no matter which political party is in power. The drone program is a stark example that illustrates this reality. Considering Pakistan alone, where drone strikes have been the most voluminous, the Bush administration oversaw 49 drone strikes through two terms in office. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, with three years remaining in the oval office, has already overseen 307 drone strikes in Pakistan. Moreover, staying with Pakistan, the Obama administration’s drone policy has resulted in a staggering 153 civilian casualties. These figures are derived from the New America Foundation, which is an organization that has conducted serious examinations and inquiries into the drone program. Further, the organization is highly esteemed and its findings have not been refuted.

Aside from Pakistan, Yemen has also had to suffer the blunt effects of drone warfare. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 45 and 91 drone strikes have been administered in Yemen since President Obama took office. For civilians on the ground in Yemen, the United States drone policy is not only threatening, but also confusing. Last month, Yemeni writer Farea al-Muslimi testified in a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about drone strikes in his country. “The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis. If America is providing economic, social and humanitarian assistance to Yemen, the vast majority of the Yemeni people know nothing about it," he said.

Taking a step back, it is further salient to notice the drone program’s methodology. Namely, drone warfare employs an assassination mentality. The CIA investigates potential terrorist activity in region X or country Y. If a particular individual is said to be actively plotting against the United States, then he or she is deemed an imminent threat to our national security. Thereafter, the President is briefed and a drone strike comes to fruition. That individual is killed. An admittedly terse depiction, one will be hard pressed to discover due process in any account of the drone program. Without even a trace of formal charges or a proper trial, individuals are killed as suspects. A slippery slope at the very least, the drone program seems to create more questions than it resolves.

All this in mind, as the American flag is paraded around overseas to symbolize the United States’ influence in the world, perhaps we ought to remember what the flag stands for in the very first place.

Part II
Shortly after Barack Obama’s momentous, surely historic address that announced a scaling back of the drone program, an ironic episode in Pakistan has captured headlines. On Wednesday, May 29, a United States drone strike killed the Pakistani Taliban’s second in command, Waliur-Rehman. While the CIA and White House have yet to confirm Rehman’s death, all incoming reports point in that direction. Occurring in the volatile North Waziristan region on Afghanistan’s border, the assassination is said to be a significant boost in the War on Terror. The drone launched missiles into a house on the outer limits of Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan region. Including Rehman, the drone killed five people.

What is apparently lost on reporters, however, is the likelihood that Waliur-Rehman will be replaced by this week’s end. On this occasion, and many more in the past, the target was not the only casualty. The four additional people whose lives were lost to America’s perpetual campaign against terror presumably have families and friends. Do they need any more reason to join the Taliban’s ranks? Concerning foreign policy and foreign affairs, federal programs need to be measured against their implications. In the case of drone warfare this is especially the case.

In fairness to the Obama administration, the application of drones to combat terrorist threats in the Middle East has tremendously diminished in 2013. In fact, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that the CIA has launched 13 total drone strikes in Pakistan since January, killing anywhere between 49 and 94 people. Although political activists may find this number reprehensible still, the number is a sharp decrease nonetheless. Yet the drone strike on May 29 is a reminder that politicians’ actions rarely reflect their rhetoric. Regrettably, President Obama is not an exception. Despite the President’s talking points and speech making, the drone program’s implications alone have rendered the future bleak at best.

Drone warfare’s ramifications can be easily bifurcated into two basic modes of description: legal and technological. Legal implications for drone warfare at this point are almost tautological. Even the most vociferous champions of drones will acknowledge the tactic’s ugly features. Individuals are targeted and assassinated on suspicion alone, plain and simple. Americans have grappled with the death penalty as a moral and legal issue since the country’s founding. Yet capital punishment only arises after a trial by one’s peers make that determination. Drones have completely and grotesquely circumnavigated that entire process. Without even a discussion, much less a trial, much less a trial by jury, individuals are killed instantaneously.

Whether or not these individuals are guilty is irrelevant. Granted, many if not most of the drones’ targets are people with reactionary values. In the past these characteristics, coupled with imminent intentions to attack the United States, were grounds to capture and detain suspects. But, much to the Obama administration’s credit, torture as an institutionalized practice has greatly receded. Without torture as a viable ‘interrogation’ option, capturing suspects in especially volatile regions in the Middle East has become much less attractive. Thus, drones have clawed their way into a mainstream foreign policy maneuver under a nominally liberal administration. Grimmer still is the Obama administration’s unwillingness, even through speech, to revitalize a campaign that captures and imprisons suspected terrorists.

The drone program’s technological implications are as fascinating as they are dangerous. U.S. drones, as they currently operate, are sophisticated machines that are extraordinarily accurate in eradicating targets abroad. Whether additional casualties are suffered, for these purposes, is beside the point. Meanwhile, from an economical standpoint, drones have an ever-expanding market. So long as a terrorist seeks to cause a utilitarian amount of damage, chaos, intimidation, and fear, then that terrorist just might wish to invest in a drone.

NBC reporters Keir Simmons and Gil Aegerter wrote on May 28 that, “On a sprawling complex just outside Pretoria, South Africa, a government-owned arms manufacturer is preparing to test an armed drone that it hopes to begin selling soon to governments around the world.” On the one hand, foreign governments can effectively utilize drones to enhance their national security interests. This technology could be useful in regions throughout Africa and the Middle East for that reason alone. After all, there is a foreign policy school of thought that suggests armament is a pathway to peace. Drones could very well mark that pathway.

On the other hand, as the demand for drones increases, the cost will inevitably diminish. Whereas drones have enjoyed a recondite status in the past, they may become more available in the future. With this increased availability, ‘the wrong hands’ are always serious threats in which the United States does not wish to see a drone. The Pandora’s box that President Bush pried open may remain open for some time to come. With the current administration’s insistence that this box stay open, we should prepare for the reality that America will not be the world’s foremost superpower forever. For the moment drones are on our side. Are we prepared to face the consequences of our own creation down the road?