Assessing the Success of the War on Terror Part I: Pakistan and the Failure of the Drone Strategy

Anti-American Protest.  Source:  LA Times

Anti-American Protest. Source: LA Times

As the never ending War on Terror drags on into the fourth consecutive presidential term without any decisive gains, one must question not only the effectiveness and strategy, but also our very leadership.  Nowhere is the ground truth more palpable than in western Pakistan.  Since President Obama took office and significantly increased drone strikes against alleged terrorist targets, America’s ability to safely operate and influence events in the country in a manner favorable to the United States has inversely deteriorated.  This is a direct result of America’s flawed drone strategy, which has strategically weakened the U.S. in Pakistan.

According to Gallup’s poll just released, more than nine in 10 Pakistanis (92%) disapprove of U.S. leadership and only 4% approve. Remarkably, this is the lowest approval rating Pakistanis have ever given the U.S. and its leadership.  This is noteworthy as President Obama’s ratings in Pakistan have sunk far below even those of the much criticized President George W. Bush.  Further, and more ominous, 57% of Pakistanis aged 15 to 29 and 53% of those 30 or older, deem interaction with the West as a threat.

Numerous explanations for this near total disdain for the U.S. have been suggested.  What is clear is that prior to the U.S. prosecuting the War on Terror via drones inside Pakistan, Americans enjoyed relative safety and warm relations.  As such, only a fool would be unable to make the connection between drone strikes, the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, and growing hatred of the U.S.  Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. Sherry Rehman makes this much explicit in her comments to reporters two days before President Obama’s nominee to be the next head of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan’s, Congressional Testimony.  Ambassador Rehman expressed Islamabad’s view that America’s continued deployment of drones was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and was strategically counter-productive.  Specifically, she stated “We need to drain this swamp and instead it [the drone campaign] is radicalizing people.”  Rehman went on to say “It creates more potential terrorists on the ground and militants on the ground instead of taking them out.  If it’s taking out, say, a high-value or a medium-value target, it’s also creating probably an entire community of future recruits.”  Her statements are corroborated by a Pew research poll conducted last year that showed 74% of Pakistanis termed the U.S. as an “enemy.”

Our senior policy makers have failed to grasp strategy at the strategic level.  At best, they are fighting a tactical war.  Our leaders have proven themselves amateurs that are unable to mitigate and defeat even the lowest echelon of threats facing the U.S.  Further, they have no appreciation of the historical precedent respective of the use of limited cross-border strikes against insurgent type threats.  Had they done their homework and studied cross-border insurgencies, they would know that these limited surgical strikes are counter-productive just as Ambassador Rehman states.  In fact, no matter how great the tactical gains achieved are, they never result in decisive strategic gains and in fact, result in a sum net strategic loss.  Thus, war strategies reliant on limited cross-border strikes, such as our drone strikes in Pakistan, have a near perfect correlation with the counterinsurgent’s failure or better stated, the insurgent’s victory.  No further proof of this need be generated than a simple review of the contemporary hostile sentiment towards America in Pakistan.

In our Part II of this series, we will look in more detail at the results of America’s flawed strategy that has caused the spread of radical Islam across the globe, made Al Qaeda franchise, and perpetuated a fear culture to fuel unending war.