What’s Behind the Drones?

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Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security, a critic of the CIA’s Predator drone program in the Pakistani tribal areas, writes:

I worry that the CIA is carrying out their own campaign in part because a) it’s been getting kicked around so much since 9/11 that it is now overly focused on killing high-level al-Qaeda targets rather than gathering intelligence and that b) it’s trying to justify and defend its budget through what it can claim is a successful program.

Exum correctly argues that the drones are a tactic — not a strategy, and certainly not a silver bullet. The implication, though, is that CIA can’t be expected to come up with a strategy. That’s the president’s job. As best as I can determine, the agency really does consider the program a remarkable success — rightly or wrongly — and while it helps that such a success gets the agency out of its post-9/11 whipping-boy mode, that alone doesn’t explain CIA’s all-guns-blazing support for the program.

Nor is the agency responsible for how policymakers want to view it. But ultimately, the faith that some invest in the Predator program is toxic for CIA. Ultimately, the drones can’t solve the United States’ counterterrorism problems in Pakistan, and the easiest tendency in the entire national security bureaucracy is to blame the CIA for not magically resolving all strategic complexities.

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