The Truth about Drones

Article excerpt

Byline: Fawaz Gerges

They are inspiring homegrown terror.

Failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad says he was driven by anger over dozens of unmanned drone attacks that he witnessed during his most recent five-month visit to his home in Pakistan. That seems a plausible enough motive, particularly since he joins a growing list of homegrown U.S. terror suspects who have cited the escalation of U.S. military operations on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in general, or in the drone attacks in particular. They include U.S. resident Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan immigrant who pleaded guilty in a plot to bomb the New York subway system; Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S.-born army psychiatrist, charged with fatally shooting 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, last year; and the five American Muslims from Virginia, accused of plotting attacks against targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So why isn't the Obama administration listening? It has so far been unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge the link between the drone attacks and the rising incidence of homegrown terror. Instead, the administration has accused the Pakistani Taliban of directing and probably financing the Times Square plot, even though Shahzad has said he went to the Taliban for help, not the other way around. Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, dismissed the reports that Shahzad was motivated by the drone strikes and, instead, said that the suspect was "captured by the murderous rhetoric of Al Qaeda and TTP that looks at the United States as an enemy."

The Obama team has its rationale for drone attacks. It stresses that the drone attacks have degraded the capabilities of the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda, without putting U.S. troops in harm's way on Pakistani soil. What this calculus ignores is the damage drone attacks inflict on America's reputation in the Muslim world and the "possibilities of blowback," about which the CIA, which leads the drone war, has rightly warned.

The war on the AfPak border has replaced Iraq as the main source of homegrown radicalization. Qaeda's effort to find and recruit terrorists has been replaced by a bottom-up flow of volunteers, a flow that is currently very weak, and extremely difficult to track. …