America’s drone war has already become controversial. Those in Obama administration have also started questioning the propriety of killing through drone attacks. Drone attacks in foreign lands, without express approval of the government of that country, has grave legal implications. It is feared that those involved in this war could be dubbed war criminals in the times to come. There is a general impression that American diplomatic community and the State Department do not favor drone war but the hawkish elements in Pentagon are not prepared to settle less that killing through these dreaded killing machines. The worst-hit country in drone war is America’s very own ally, Pakistan, where drone strikes are breeding anti-Americanism at a phenomenal scale. The drone war has also made the job of US envoys in Pakistan really tough because the outcome of this war is counterproductive to diplomatic efforts of winning over the people of the country of accreditation for any diplomat.It was, therefore, not surprising for many when a US ambassador Cameron Munter posted in Pakistan suddenly decided to call it a day in last May, much before the expiry of his tenure. State Department spokesman said he had made “a personal decision” to step down. But a few weeks after the announcement, The New York Times—in an article about counterterrorism policy—quoted one of Munter’s colleagues saying the ambassador “didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.” At the time of his posting to Islamabad, the Obama administration’s relations with Pakistan had been in steady decline. Instead of diplomacy, Washington was increasingly employing brass-knuckle techniques, such as threatening to cut back on aid. And this would also become a major source of tension between Munter and Washington officials.
The former ambassador has now spilled beans on his disagreement with the hawks back home. He was not against the drones as long as the drones take out the real target; the terrorists. According to an article in The Daily Beast which was based on his interview, Munter wanted a more selective use of drones, coupled with more outreach to the Pakistani government—in short, a bigger emphasis on diplomacy and less reliance on force. “The use of drones is a good way to fight the war. But you’re going to kill drones if you’re not using them judiciously.” Munter thought the strikes should be carried out in a measured way. “The problem is the political fallout,” he says. “Do you want to win a few battles and lose the war?”
The man who was to repair the worsening US-Pakistan ties, only wanted the ability to sign off on drone strikes—and, when necessary, block them. Then-CIA director Leon Panetta saw things differently. The hawk in Pentagon and Dove sitting in Islamabad clashed on this issue. Munter remembers one particular meeting where they clashed. “He said, ‘I don’t work for you,’ and I said, ‘I don’t work for you,’” the former ambassador recalls. Practically, the Pentagon was compromising the ambassadorial authority and undermining the position of Munter. The question of whether Munter should have had the ability to stop drone strikes was complicated. According to National Defense University’s Christopher Lamb, an ambassador has top authority at an embassy and should therefore be informed of CIA plans for covert action. And there is certainly precedent for this procedure. It is also true, however, that ambassadors historically have rarely objected to such operations when they are told about them.
That made what happened in March 2011 all the more extraordinary. That month, the CIA ordered a drone strike against militants in North Waziristan. Munter tried to stop the strike before it happened, but, according to the Associated Press, Panetta “dismissed” Munter’s request.
The timing of the strike was noteworthy. Pakistani government, at the cost of its public image had gone an extra mile to accommodate the US and release CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who had shot two Pakistani men. As a gesture goodwill and appreciation of one of the most unpopular decisions of Pakistani government, a drone strike was unleashed the very next day of the infamous release of the CIA killer. The fact that Davis had been detained for weeks reportedly angered the CIA. The strike killed at least 10 militants, and reportedly 19 or more civilians. And Munter wasn’t the only one who was upset. So were the Pakistanis: the Army chief, said the men had been “callously targeted.” Rumors circulated that some of them were spies for the military, risking their lives to help fight the Taliban.
Following the strike, the article says quoting Munter, president Obama set up a more formal process by which diplomats could have input into these strikes. “I have a yellow card,” Munter recalled, describing the new policy. “I can say ‘no.’ That ‘no’ goes back to the CIA director. Then he has to go to Hillary. If Hillary says ‘no,’ he can still do it, but he has to explain the next day in writing why.”
It was a limited victory for Munter, but his relationship with Washington remained difficult. Munter says he got along with Panetta’s successor at the CIA, David Petraeus. He did not, however, get high marks as an administrator: an inspector-general report criticized the management of the Islamabad embassy, calling it “controlling.” Yet insiders and outsiders agree that the main reason for his demise was not his personality, bossy or otherwise, but the fact that he was off message. Munter’s argument was that it would be much better to engage Pakistan diplomatically rather than just to rely on pressure but the real issue was that he was not on the same page as Washington.
During the interview, Munter criticized the way White House officials approached Pakistan. “They say, ‘Why don’t we kick their ass?’ Do we want to get mad at them? Take their car keys away? Or look at the larger picture?” He leaned back in his chair and recalled his last National Security Council meeting: “The president says, ‘It’s an hour meeting, and we’re going to talk about Afghanistan for 30 minutes and then Pakistan for 30 minutes.’ Seventy-five minutes later, we still haven’t talked about Pakistan.
The interview amply demonstrates the arrogance of the members of American establishment. The arrogance is directed against a country which still holds key to solutions for the problems; the likes of Panetta have pushed Americans into. Pakistan remains the only country to take the Americans out of the quagmire they have created for themselves in Afghanistan. The silver lining is that there are still people like ambassador Munter who have the spine to stand up to the snobbery of his own administration, and bow out in grace to register his disagreement. Such people will be remembered by history and held in high esteem.
- Ambassador of Death (thedailybeast.com)