Hubris, in the wrong hands, is the most dangerous weapon of all. Michael D’Andrea, the man Donald Trump has put in charge of intelligence operations in Iran, has more of it than most. For this was the man who invented the so-called signature strike, and stuck with it despite (deadly) evidence that it did not work. He should not be getting a new job. He should be getting a lawyer to defend him against charges of being a war criminal. Instead, we are sending this murderer to do the job of a diplomat. Bad things are on the horizon.
Signature drone strikes, you may remember, are the ridiculous idea-put-into-practice that we Americans know so much about the hearts and minds of Afghani farmers and shepherds that we can tell—from a computer screen thousands of miles away—what they are up to. We can, according to this theory, tease out the difference between a group of tribal leaders coming together to discuss land use, or village education, or whatever it is tribal leaders discuss, and a group of terrorists coming together to discuss what to blow up next.
Of course, we can’t. Classified documents that came to light in 2013 listed 114 drone strikes that killed as many as 613 people over a 14-month period beginning in September 2010. About one out of every four of those killed by drones during that time where blithely labeled “other militants,” by the CIA. In other words, the CIA had no idea whom they were killing.
We met some of that “collateral” damage making Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars. We heard how the fear, the pain, and the anger of indiscriminate killing was warping young minds on the ground, turning children into potential Al Qaeda recruits far faster than we could kill them. We brought them to Washington, from Pakistan, and forced those setting this deadly policy to look them in the face and recognize their humanity.
I would like to think that paid off, in the form of less killing. Eventually, the Obama administration did put in place the rule that no drone strike could take place outside a war zone unless there was “near certainty” that no civilian would be harmed. Obama also put the White House in the decision loop for each and every strike. That was not enough, of course, but it was something.
Now we have Trump, who doesn’t want to know who is getting killed, as long as someone is, as long as he can say that he is acting. Trump appears to be reversing an Obama-era policy preference that removed the CIA largely from the drone-killing business.
Now the drone-killing czar is in charge of our nuanced and complicated relationship with a country that has kept us on our toes for decades. It is a country that is moving in its own time in a better direction, trading nuclear transparency for sanctions relief. President Hassan Rouhani of Iran was reelected by an overwhelming majority based on a short but furious campaign advocating continued dialogue with the West. Rouhani represents an opportunity to address regional security concerns through diplomacy, rather than through an antagonistic, hawkish approach.
In addition, the United States and Iran actually share many common enemies: Both nations despise ISIS. In Iraq, American troops are de facto fighting alongside Iranians in the fight against ISIS. Putting a hawkish, bloodthirsty killer into this arena and setting him free to do his worst will land us with just that—the very worst possible outcome.