Our Pakistani exchange student has stirred up my interest in an issue that I hadn’t given much thought to before. For his exchange program, he is required to choose a social issue in his home country to address while he’s here in the U.S. He started out planning a project about making better traffic rules for drivers in Pakistan, so that streets would be safer for pedestrians. That seemed like a good project, but it was a stretch for him to think about it; he didn’t have a burning interest. I asked him why not focus on the issue that he has been talking about since the day he arrived: the drone attacks on Pakistan.
Mateen decided that his project would be to do what he was already doing — asking people questions: “Do you know about drones?” “Do you think drone warfare is making the U.S. safer?” “Why do you think the Pakistani government doesn’t stop the drone attacks?” “What would it take for the U.S. government to stop the drone attacks?”; and collecting stories, statistics, and research about drone warfare.
Mateen has converted me. His questions have got me asking new questions. I already opposed drone warfare, but I hadn’t been connecting it to other issues. For instance, when Malala Yousafzai’s visit was the lead story in the news a few weeks ago, Mateen asked, “why is there all this concern about education for girls in Pakistan but not about the girls who are being killed in the drone attacks?” He got me wondering if the media hype around Malala was a diversion, as Murtaza Hussain suggests in an article asking why no one was listening to 9 year-old Nabila Rehman testifying before Congress (though only a handful of Representatives showed up to hear her) about the drone attack that killed several members of her family.
But what Mateen’s questions have also helped me to notice is the phenomenal expansion of the outsourcing game. Drones allow the U.S. to do an end run around the public institution of the army, to conduct warfare without public consent or knowledge. Similarly, paramilitary forces both within the U.S. and abroad are instruments of warfare by remote control. Until I started digging a little deeper, I assumed that such instruments were more efficient because they could be precisely targeted and leaner to operate than the unwieldy public institutions of police and army. But when thousands of innocent people are killed in drone warfare and in paramilitary strikes, we must ask how well it works to wage war by remote control. And how do remote control policies evolve when their use abroad has played out and the drones come home?
Of course, the U.S. weapons also provide excellent cover for the governments of the countries we’re attacking. These governments are also skilled players at the outsourcing game: in Pakistan, the U.S. drones handily assist the government in controlling its tribal areas. Who is the puppet master here; who is the puppet?
The big boys can worry about the question of who is controlling whom. My question is if we as a public really want to be playing the outsourcing game at all? Because if we continue to allow public knowledge, debate, and oversight to be bypassed through outsourcing, we are just being played for fools.