The Future of War Under President Donald Trump Looks Like a Swarm of Drones

Reports show possible loosening of restrictions on strikes, more CIA participation.



Not long after Donald Trump was elected president I asked—in a headline, no less—"President Trump + Military Drones = What Exactly?" It was a question I didn't feel entirely confident answering back then because—for all his campaign talk about reducing our military footprint overseas while focusing on defeating the Islamic State—he didn't have much to say about using drones.

Looks like we're getting our answer: possibly more drone strikes, and possibly even less transparency about them than under President Barack Obama (which is pretty hard to imagine, given during most of his administration the government refused to discuss them). Stories in both The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal show the machinery in action to spread the use of drone strikes as part of the Trump administration's efforts to fight terrorism.

According to The Washington Post, the administration is working to change the rules Obama put into place that would most certainly result in a greater number of drone strikes, and also a greater likelihood of civilian casualties:

The Trump review must still be approved by the president, but recent drafts of the new policy would represent a major change in the way the United States approaches drone strikes and other targeted-killing operations in places such as Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

The changes to the Obama-era Presidential Policy Guidance would empower the Pentagon to make decisions on targets without approval from the White House and potentially scrap the "near-certainty" standard of no civilian deaths for strikes outside war zones. The Trump plans are also likely to relax the requirement that potential terror targets pose a "continuing and imminent threat" to U.S. personnel, officials said.

A senior administration official said that the Trump White House remained committed to a standard above the minimum requirement mandated by the international law of armed conflict that governs most military operations.

"Some standard above [that] is wise," the official said.

As always, whenever policy proposals get leaked out before Trump actually approves them, be wary that we don't actually know yet whether it's really going to be implemented. What's very clear from the Post is that these unnamed sources they're using seem to want this decentralization to happen and allow military officials to decide more frequently on their own when to use drones to kill.

Like the proposal or not (you should not like it), it seems primed to be something Trump would support. As I noted back in November, an expansion of the use of drones seemed like a logical outcome given Trump's stated desires to focus on killing ISIS terrorists but not necessarily expand direct military engagement with troops on the ground.

The Wall Street Journal's reporting suggests not only will we have more drone strikes, but we might hear even less about them than we already do. That's because the Trump administration has authorized the CIA to perform its own strikes. Previously, while the CIA and the military worked together to gather intel for the strikes, the Obama administration's rules required the military perform the strikes. This, according to The Wall Street Journal, promoted "transparency and accountability" (reasonable people may disagree there). But because the CIA operates covertly, we may be less likely to know about the strikes they perform. And we already have an example. The CIA performed a drone strike against a target in Syria in February, but we're only finding out now that this operation was performed by the CIA under these new authorities:

While U.S. officials said Mr. Trump's action specifically applied to the CIA's ability to operate in Syria, it means the agency eventually could become empowered under Mr. Trump to once again conduct covert strikes in other places where the U.S. is targeting militants in Yemen, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere.

Syria may not be the only place where the CIA is now authorized to conduct drone strikes. Earlier this month, a U.S. drone reportedly targeted two men in a village in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. The Defense Department didn't acknowledge conducting the operation, as it typically would.

Whether the CIA's new authority might expand remains unclear. The CIA, the Pentagon and the White House are negotiating a longer-term approach to conducting counterterrorism operations and determining who has the authority to do what, U.S. officials said.

Ultimately, this highlights both the absurdity and the dangers of the executive branch writing its own rules on when to use these drone strikes without participation from Congress or a new Authorization of Use of Military Force focusing on the conflict as it exists now, not just how the world looked immediately post-Sept. 11. It's a bit mystifying that the Obama administration thought it could change the "rules" for extrajudicial drone assassinations and think that they'd survive a change in leadership.

NEXT: Mississippi Finally Brings Some Transparency to Asset Forfeiture

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  1. You won’t believe his kill list. Very opulent. Much classier than Obama’s. It’s the best.

    1. It’s…the greatest kill list you’ve ever seen. Believe me.

      1. You’ll get bored of how big league his kill list is.

        1. The list the last guy had? Sad! Some big names, HUGE names, left off it and they weren’t gonna die. Fixed now.

          1. We’re going to make extrajudicial drone killing great again!

  2. One thing we know for sure from that photo is that drones are circumcised.

    1. Alright, let’s kick this off. What do you suppose is a drone’s position on deep dish?

  3. The more things change, the more they stay the same

  4. If you don’t want to be a terrorist, don’t live where terrorists live. Also, don’t come here.

  5. Build a behemoth military state with muddy unchecked global tentacles gloated over and lauded by both the left and right and the reasons to utilize its immense brutality will flock like neon sign hordes strobing dread and flickering causes ceaselessly against the edifices of your fucking Oval Office.

    1. Shorter AC: when you have a fleet of killer robots, every problem looks like a Pakistani wedding.

      1. Frightening: both the poetic and the concise version get it exactly right.

  6. It’s a bit mystifying that the Obama administration thought it could change the “rules” for extrajudicial drone assassinations and think that they’d survive a change in leadership.

    No mystery at all: he changed the rules on his way out the door because it would make him look better and his successor look worse. 50 years from now all people are going to “know” is that Obama, PBUH, as part of running “the most transparent administration in history” changed the rules regarding drone strikes and his successor, the Neo-fascist Nazi Drumph made them less transparent. Nobody’s gonna know or care that he only changed the rules as he was leaving after overseeing drone strikes for 8 years in countries that we weren’t formally at war with and with little to no input from Congress.

    That’s all Obama really cared about: his legacy.

  7. Do they have little, tiny rocket stencils for when they kill a kid?

    No. They get a little gold star.

  8. Trump or no Trump, the future of war looks like a swarm of drones. Every nation has been moving this way for a couple of decades. Very soon all advanced air forces will be fully unmanned. Shortly after that ground assault forces will be unmanned.

    Asymmetrical warfare is about to become much more difficult for the little guy.

    1. We started living in caves and we’ll go back to living in caves to avoid Sky Net, if need be.

  9. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss (in some ways). //dontdronemebro

  10. This thread should meet the racism thread. Drone-friendly over there. Whatever it takes to keep America pure.

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