Melissa Harris Perry
updated 2/1/2013 6:22:03 PM ET 2013-02-01T23:22:03

What, exactly, is the Obama Doctrine in the drone-war era? Host Melissa Harris-Perry explored the varied definitions with her panel on Saturday.

One highlight from President Obama’s second inaugural address that still has people talking was what he said about war. He expressed the following notion that challenged the “idea” of an ongoing and perpetual, global war on terror. “We the people still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” said the president.

This comes more than a decade after 9/11, and President George W. Bush committed service men and women to wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been signs that the ill-defined global “War on Terror” may have been coming to a conclusion for a while now, since Osama bin Laden’s killing and the end of the Iraq war. And there’s a targeted end date to U.S. and NATO troop involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

But troops aren’t the only way to fight a war. While American’s are happy to have our brave men and women home, fewer troops on the front lines doesn’t mean less drones in the sky.

On Thursday, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights announced that they will “examine CIA and pentagon covert drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The team will also look at drone strikes by US and UK forces in Afghanistan, and by Israel in the Occupied territories. In total some 25 strikes are expected to be examined in detail.”

Just how prevalent are drone strikes? According to the Washington Post‘s tracking, there have been 347 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, and 55 drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia since 2002.

Is it that the president’s war doctrine has become a leaner military and more high-tech solutions to combat terror? Instead of using men and women of the military, the President uses drones to carry out military operations. Or do drones give us a false sense of security and are we stoking the fires of hatred toward the U.S. with this form of warfare? On Saturday’s Melissa Harris-Perry, the host looked at these very questions with her panel.

Nation editor and publisher Katrina Vanden Heuvel remarked that we’re still in a perpetual war. “Even while he speaks those glorious words, we are at perpetual war. I think the largest problem is you step back and you ask why is global war the appropriate framework for combating terrorism? That in some ways is the original sin.”

Col. Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient and MSNBC military analyst, went one step further and said it’s not the use of military force that’s the only problem, it’s also our failure to use economic instruments of power and policy. “Part of the problem is this, of the instruments of power that we exercise around the world we’re lousy at state crafting and have been for a long time. We don’t know how to use properly and effectively the economic instruments of power. And we don’t know how to integrate them either.”

Spencer Ackerman, a national security writer for WIRED, disagreed with Jacobs.

“It strikes me as quite a cop-out that after 11 years of doing this, the United States government still doesn’t know how to do this properly,” he said. “The United States under President Obama has proliferated aerial warfare from Afghanistan, into Pakistan, into Yemen, into Somalia, now there’s some open questions about whether this goes further into West Africa with U.S. support of the Mali incursion that the French are pulling off.”

Bob Herbert, a distinguished senior fellow at Demos tied together what he saw as the inherent problems with both drone warfare and the Guantanamo Bay prison. “Guantanamo is a good example of the problem with drone warfare. When we opened Guantanamo the Bush administration told us that everybody there was the worst of the worst. You know you didn’t need to have due process…”

Herbert continued, “It’s the same with the drone warfare stuff. We don’t know in all cases who we’re killing and we don’t know if the so-called collateral damage is the kind of thing that’s worth taking a shot at.

“So we need to roll back and look at this from some kind of moral perspective, what are we doing here?”

See below the second half of Melissa’s conversation with the panel.

Video: Can President Obama end perpetual war?

  1. Closed captioning of: Can President Obama end perpetual war?

    >>> at the second inaugural address monday, the president said something remarkable.

    >> we, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war .

    >> more than a decade after 9/11, the president of the united states suggested that we do not need to be in a state of perpetual war . perhaps not surprising, but more than a decade after president bush committed troops to iraq and afghanistan and initiated an ill-defined global war on terror , it was a relief to hear the commander of chief suggest the possibility that war could end. on may 2nd , 2011 , american troops killed osama bin laden and in that same year our troops came home from iraq , and in the next year 2014 , we should be bringing an end to u.s. troops and nato forces to afghanistan , but is perpetual war finally over? maybe. the president favors a smaller and leaner military, and one whose limited size could likely discourage international engagements and he seems eager to refocus the troops away from the battles in the mideast and towards the cooler and maybe even cold engagement of the global balance with asia, and it is not clear that the president can end a perpetual state of war , but now is a good time to ask what a more peaceful world would look like. at the table is retired colonel john jacob, and editor and writer katrina vanden houvel and cloeby angyal and also welcoming in our new panelist.

    >> there was supposed to be the peace dividend at the end of the cold war , but i have given up on thinking about the end of war.

    >> well, president obama would like to find a different engagement with the world, and that means nation building at home, but even while he spokes those glorious words, we are at perpetual war . the largest problem is that as you step back and ask why is global war the appropriate framework for combatting terrorism, and that in some ways is the original sin . post 9/11, the authorization to use military force has made the world a global battlefield and allowed the escalation of drone warfare which has been escalated under president obama , and secret counter terrorism programs and special ops and secrecy, and until this country and maybe we are not ready yet can escape the spasm of fear and find a different way to approach safety and security and understanding that these methods will not increase our security, and that we should come home to find new ways to build a new internationalism that does not measure our security by weapon, but about the education and roads and bridges that we build and how we find a way to lead a global recovery in time and create global jobs, but we are still locked into it.

    >> but not without threats. not without threats.

    >> is global war the way to wage it?

    >> well, the answer is no, and part of the instruments of power that we exercise around the world, we are lousy at state craft and we have been for a long time. we don't know how to use properly and effectively the economic irnstruments of power and how to integrate them easily and the thing is that we go to default instrument of power which is what the guys who know what they are doing in the narrow sphere, and if you want stuff blown up, i'm the guy. you want people killed? call me. but that is not how you stop the preponderance of threats of the united states . we need to be able to integrate our instruments of policy, and we are lousy at it, and until we are better at it, we will be constantly calling on the military instrument of power, and it is not appropriate.

    >> is this threat even true when the primary threats were other nation states or mostly true of being lousy at it, because it is no longer nation states or rather stateless actors within them.

    >> i agree that the proliferation and fragmentation of threats to us make the application of national power much more difficult, but it puts a greater premium on greater leadership, and integration of power and good relationships around the world, and it makes it more difficult for us who does a lousy job at it, and makets it difficult to do a good job.

    >> spencer?

    >> it strikes me as a cop-out after 11 years of doing this, the united states government still does not know how to do it properly. speaking to katrina 's point, there was something that president obama said when he was engaging in the primary debates with hillary clinton when he said he didn't want to just end the war in iraq , but he wanted to end the mindset that got the united states into iraq , and a fair reading of the record is not a fight he has pressed. under his presidency, he has proliferated aerial warfare into yemen, and so many other place, and if you would imagine a plane at 30,000 feet that took off during the bush edadministration as global warfare and perhaps rack up the global withdrawal from iraq and perhaps afghanistan differently, and president obama has taken it down to 10,000 feet, be but it is flying parallel to the earth.

    >> well, part of what i am wondering is that we started the day by saying that this president is going to leave a legacy of having shifted the demographics of the military, and he is going to look culturally and demographically quite differently, but also, will he leave behind a strategic way of for good or better or leaner or smaller and a different warfare?

    >> yes, he is. it is not his own doing, but it is the trajectory of the foreign national security and we are gining to see the end of land mass wars as we drawdown in iraq and afghanistan , and for the peace and justice community and those who are citizens, we have to think of engaging with the new warfare which is going to involve aerial drones and special ops , and what that means at a time when there is great support in this country and a need to cut an extraordinarily bloated defense budget which is higher than the height of the cold war if we are going to fulfill the promise of this nation, you have to believe that president obama wants to do that, but at the same time, it is very tempt, because it is leaner and less expensive in some ways to do what he is doing.

    >> katrina , that is what we want to do when we come back on the break is to talk about the drones, but leaving to listen a little bit to secretary of state hillary clinton who made a claim this week that we need to start thinking of a strategy that does not lurch from administration to administration, but a new strategy, and we will listen to her as we go.

    >> let's be smart and learn from what we have done in the past and see what can be transferred into the present and the future. and let's be honest in trying to assess it to the best of our abilities. i think that the committee could play such an es ssential role in trying to answer your questions and put forth a policy that wouldn't go lurching from administration to administration, but would be a steady one like we did with colombia and did in the cold war . let's be smart about this. we have more assets than anybody in the world, but we have gotten a little bit, you know, off track in trying to figure out how best to utilize them. i have


Discussion comments