These days, lamenting the apparently aimless character of Washington’s military operations in the Greater Middle East has become conventional wisdom among administration critics of every sort. Senator John McCain thunders that “this president has no strategy to successfully reverse the tide of slaughter and mayhem” in that region. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies bemoans the “lack of a viable and public strategy.” Andrew Bacevich suggests that “there is no strategy. None. Zilch.”

After 15 years of grinding war with no obvious end in sight, U.S. military operations certainly deserve such obloquy. But the pundit outrage may be misplaced. Focusing on Washington rather than on distant war zones, it becomes clear that the military establishment does indeed have a strategy, a highly successful one, which is to protect and enhance its own prosperity.

Given this focus, creating and maintaining an effective fighting force becomes a secondary consideration, reflecting a relative disinterest — remarkable to outsiders — in the actual business of war, as opposed to the business of raking in dollars for the Pentagon and its industrial and political partners. A key element of the strategy involves seeding the military budget with “development” projects that require little initial outlay but which, down the line, grow irreversibly into massive, immensely profitable production contracts for our weapons-making cartels.

If this seems like a startling proposition, consider, for instance, the Air Force’s determined and unyielding efforts to jettison the A-10 Thunderbolt, widely viewed as the most effective means for supporting troops on the ground, while ardently championing the sluggish, vastly overpriced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that, among myriad other deficiencies, cannot fly within 25 miles of a thunderstorm. No less telling is the Navy’s ongoing affection for budget-busting programs such as aircraft carriers, while maintaining its traditional disdain for the unglamorous and money-poor mission of minesweeping, though the mere threat of enemy mines in the 1991 Gulf War (as in the Korean War decades earlier) stymied plans for major amphibious operations. Examples abound across all the services.  

Meanwhile, ongoing and dramatic programs to invest vast sums in meaningless, useless, or superfluous weapons systems are the norm. There is no more striking example of this than current plans to rebuild the entire American arsenal of nuclear weapons in the coming decades, Obama’s staggering bequest to the budgets of his successors.


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The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins

Taking Nuclear Weapons to the Bank 

These nuclear initiatives have received far less attention than they deserve, perhaps because observers are generally loath to acknowledge that the Cold War and its attendant nuclear terrors, supposedly consigned to the ashcan of history a quarter-century ago, are being revived on a significant scale. The U.S. is currently in the process of planning for the construction of a new fleet of nuclear submarines loaded with new intercontinental nuclear missiles, while simultaneously creating a new land-based intercontinental missile, a new strategic nuclear bomber, a new land-and-sea-based tactical nuclear fighter plane, a new long-range nuclear cruise missile (which, as recently as 2010, the Obama administration explicitly promised not to develop), at least three nuclear warheads that are essentially new designs, and new fuses for existing warheads. In addition, new nuclear command-and-control systems are under development for a fleet of satellites (costing up to $1 billion each) designed to make the business of fighting a nuclear war more practical and manageable.

This massive nuclear buildup, routinely promoted under the comforting rubric of “modernization,” stands in contrast to the president’s lofty public ruminations on the topic of nuclear weapons. The most recent of these was delivered during his visit — the first by an American president — to Hiroshima last month. There, he urged “nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles” to “have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.”

In reality, that “logic of fear” suggests that there is no way to “fight” a nuclear war, given the unforeseeable but horrific effects of these immensely destructive weapons.  They serve no useful purpose beyond deterring putative opponents from using them, for which an extremely limited number would suffice. During the Berlin crisis of 1961, for example, when the Soviets possessed precisely four intercontinental nuclear missiles, White House planners seriously contemplated launching an overwhelming nuclear strike on the USSR.  It was, they claimed, guaranteed to achieve “victory.” As Fred Kaplan recounts in his book Wizards of Armageddon, the plan’s advocates conceded that the Soviets might, in fact, be capable of managing a limited form of retaliation with their few missiles and bombers in which as many as three million Americans could be killed, whereupon the plan was summarily rejected.

In other words, in the Cold War as today, the idea of “nuclear war-fighting” could not survive scrutiny in a real-world context. Despite this self-evident truth, the U.S. military has long been the pioneer in devising rationales for fighting such a war via ever more “modernized” weapons systems. Thus, when first introduced in the early 1960s, the Navy’s invulnerable Polaris-submarine-launched intercontinental missiles — entirely sufficient in themselves as a deterrent force against any potential nuclear enemy — were seen within the military as an attack on Air Force operations and budgets. The Air Force responded by conceiving and successfully selling the need for a full-scale, land-based missile force as well, one that could more precisely target enemy missiles in what was termed a “counterforce” strategy.

The drive to develop and build such systems on the irrational pretense that nuclear war fighting is a practical proposition persists today.  One component of the current “modernization” plan is the proposed development of a new “dial-a-yield” version of the venerable B-61 nuclear bomb. Supposedly capable of delivering explosions of varying strength according to demand, this device will, at least theoretically, be guidable to its target with high degrees of accuracy and will also be able to burrow deep into the earth to destroy buried bunkers. The estimated bill — $11 billion — is a welcome boost for the fortunes of the Sandia and Los Alamos weapons laboratories that are developing it.

The ultimate cost of this new nuclear arsenal in its entirety is essentially un-knowable. The only official estimate we have so far came from the Congressional Budget Office, which last year projected a total of $350 billion. That figure, however, takes the “modernization” program only to 2024 — before, that is, most of the new systems move from development to actual production and the real bills for all of this start thudding onto taxpayers’ doormats. This year, for instance, the Navy is spending a billion and a half dollars in research and development funds on its new missile submarine, known only as the SSBN(X). Between 2025 and 2035, however, annual costs for that program are projected to run at $10 billion a year. Similar escalations are in store for the other items on the military’s impressive nuclear shopping list.

Assiduously tabulating these projections, experts at the Monterey Center for Nonproliferation Studies peg the price of the total program at a trillion dollars. In reality, though, the true bill that will come due over the next few decades will almost certainly be multiples of that. For example, the Air Force has claimed that its new B-21 strategic bombers will each cost more than $564 million (in 2010 dollars), yet resolutely refuses to release its secret internal estimates for the ultimate cost of the program.

To offer a point of comparison, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the tactical nuclear bomber previously mentioned, was originally touted as costing no more than $35 million per plane. In fact, it will actually enter service with a sticker price well in excess of $200 million.

Nor does that trillion-dollar figure take into account the inevitable growth of America’s nuclear “shield.” Nowadays, the excitement and debate once generated by President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” scheme to build a defense system of anti-missile missiles and other devices against a nuclear attack is long gone. (The idea for such a defense, in fact, dates back to the 1950s, but Reagan boosted it to prominence.) Nevertheless, missile defense still routinely soaks up some $10 billion of our money annually, even though it is known to have no utility whatsoever.

“We have nothing to show for it,” Tom Christie, the former director of the Pentagon’s testing office, told me recently. “None of the interceptors we currently have in silos waiting to shoot down enemy missiles have ever worked in tests.” Even so, the U.S. is busy constructing more anti-missile bases across Eastern Europe. As our offensive nuclear programs are built up in the years to come, almost certainly eliciting a response from Russia and China, the pressure for a costly expansion of our nuclear “defenses” will surely follow.

The Bow-Wave Strategy 

It’s easy enough to find hypocrisy in President Obama’s mellifluous orations on abolishing nuclear weapons given the trillion-dollar-plus nuclear legacy he will leave in his wake. The record suggests, however, that faced with the undeviating strategic thinking of the military establishment and its power to turn desires into policy, he has simply proven as incapable of altering the Washington system as his predecessors in the Oval Office were or as his successors are likely to be.

Inside the Pentagon, budget planners and weapons-buyers talk of the “bow wave,” referring to the process by which current research and development initiatives, initially relatively modest in cost, invariably lock in commitments to massive spending down the road. Traditionally, such waves start to form at times when the military is threatened with possible spending cutbacks due to the end of a war or some other budgetary crisis.

Former Pentagon analyst Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, who spent years observing and chronicling the phenomenon from the inside, recalls an early 1970s bow wave at a time when withdrawal from Vietnam appeared to promise a future of reduced defense spending. The military duly put in place an ambitious “modernization” program for new planes, ships, tanks, satellites, and missiles. Inevitably, when it came time to actually buy all those fancy new systems, there was insufficient money in the defense budget.

Accordingly, the high command cut back on spending for “readiness”; that is, for maintaining existing weapons in working order, training troops, and similar mundane activities. This had the desired effect — at least from the point of view of Pentagon — of generating a raft of media and congressional horror stories about the shocking lack of preparedness of our fighting forces and the urgent need to boost its budget. In this way, the hapless Jimmy Carter, elected to the presidency on a promise to rein in defense spending, found himself, in Spinney’s phrase, “mousetrapped,” and eventually unable to resist calls for bigger military budgets.

This pattern would recur at the beginning of the 1990s when the Soviet Union imploded and the Cold War superpower military confrontation seemed at an end.  The result was the germination of ultimately budget-busting weapons systems like the Air Force’s F-35 and F-22 fighters. It happened again when pullbacks from Iraq and Afghanistan in Obama’s first term led to mild military spending cuts. As Spinney points out, each successive bow wave crests at a higher level, while military budget cuts due to wars ending and the like become progressively more modest.

The latest nuclear buildup is only the most glaring and egregious example of the present bow wave that is guaranteed to grow to monumental proportions long after Obama has retired to full-time speechmaking. The cost of the first of the Navy’s new Ford Class aircraft carriers, for example, has already grown by 20% to $13 billion with more undoubtedly to come. The “Third Offset Strategy,” a fantasy-laden shopping list of robot drones and “centaur” (half-man, half-machine) weapons systems, assiduously touted by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, is similarly guaranteed to expand stunningly beyond the $3.6 billion allotted to its development next year.

Faced with such boundlessly ambitious raids on the public purse, no one should claim a “lack of strategy” as a failing among our real policymakers, even if all that planning has little or nothing to do with distant war zones where Washington’s conflicts smolder relentlessly on.

Copyright 2016 Andrew Cockburn

The Pentagon’s Real $trategy

As the war on terror nears its 14th anniversary — a war we seem to be losing, given jihadist advances in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen — the U.S. sticks stolidly to its strategy of “high-value targeting,” our preferred euphemism for assassination.  Secretary of State John Kerry has proudly cited the elimination of “fifty percent” of the Islamic State’s “top commanders” as a recent indication of progress. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself, “Caliph” of the Islamic State, was reportedly seriously wounded in a March airstrike and thereby removed from day-to-day control of the organization. In January, as the White House belatedly admitted, a strike targeting al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan also managed to kill an American, Warren Weinstein, and his fellow hostage, Giovanni Lo Porto.

More recently in Yemen, even as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took control of a key airport, an American drone strike killed Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish, allegedly an important figure in the group’s hierarchy.  Meanwhile, the Saudi news channel al-Arabiya has featured a deck of cards bearing pictures of that country’s principal enemies in Yemen in emulation of the infamous cards issued by the U.S. military prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as an aid to targeting its leaders.  (Saddam Hussein was the ace of spades.)

Whatever the euphemism — the Israelis prefer to call it “focused prevention” — assassination has clearly been Washington’s favored strategy in the twenty-first century.   Methods of implementation, including drones, cruise missiles, and Special Operations forces hunter-killer teams, may vary, but the core notion that the path to success lies in directly attacking and taking out your enemy’s leadership has become deeply embedded.  As then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it in 2010, “We believe that the use of intelligence-driven, precision-targeted operations against high-value insurgents and their networks is a key component” of U.S. strategy.

Analyses of this policy often refer, correctly, to the blood-drenched precedent of the CIA’s Vietnam-era Phoenix Program — at least 20,000 “neutralized.” But there was a more recent and far more direct, if less noted, source of inspiration for the contemporary American program of murder in the Greater Middle East and Africa, the “kingpin strategy” of Washington’s drug wars of the 1990s. As a former senior White House counterterrorism official confirmed to me in a 2013 interview, “The idea had its origins in the drug war.  So that precedent was already in the system as a shaper of our thinking.  We had a high degree of confidence in the utility of targeted killing. There was a strong sense that this was a tool to be used.”

Had that official known a little more about just how this feature of the drug wars actually played out, he might have had less confidence in the utility of his chosen instrument.  In fact, the strangest part of the story is that a strategy that failed utterly back then, achieving the very opposite of its intended goal, would later be applied full scale to the war on terror — with exactly the same results.

The Kingpin Strategy Arrives

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was the poor stepsister of federal law enforcement agencies.  Called into being by President Richard Nixon two decades earlier, it had languished in the shadow of more powerful siblings, notably the FBI.  But the future offered hope.  President George H.W. Bush had only recently re-launched the war on drugs first proclaimed by Nixon, and there were rich budgetary pickings in prospect.  Furthermore, in contrast to the shadowy drug trafficking groups of Nixon’s day, it was now possible to put a face, or faces, on the enemy.  The Colombian cocaine cartels were already infamous, their power and ruthless efficiency well covered in the media.

For Robert Bonner, a former prosecutor and federal judge appointed to head the DEA in 1990, the opportunity couldn’t have been clearer.  Although Nixon had nurtured fantasies of deploying his fledgling anti-drug force to assassinate traffickers, even soliciting anti-Castro Cuban leaders to provide the necessary killers, Bonner had something more systematic in mind.  He called it a “kingpin strategy,” whose aim would be the elimination either by death or capture of the “kingpins” dominating those cartels.

Implicit in the concept was the assumption that the United States faced a hierarchically structured threat that could be defeated by removing key leadership components.  In this, Bonner echoed a traditional U.S. Air Force doctrine: that any enemy system must contain “critical nodes,” the destruction of which would lead to the enemy’s collapse.

In a revealing address to a 2012 meeting of DEA veterans held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the kingpin strategy’s inauguration, Bonner spoke of the corporate enemy they had confronted.  Major drug trafficking outfits, he said, “by any measure are large organizations. They operate by definition transnationally. They are vertically integrated in terms of production and distribution. They usually have, by the way, fairly smart albeit quite ruthless people at the top and they have a command and control structure. And they also have people with expertise that run certain essential functions of the organization such as logistics, sales and distribution, finances, and enforcement.”  It followed therefore that the removal of those smart people at the top, not to mention the experts in logistics, would render the cartel ineffective and so cut off the flow of narcotics to the United States.

Pursuit of the kingpins promised rich institutional rewards.  Aside from the overbearing presence of the FBI, Bonner had to contend with another carnivore in the Washington bureaucratic jungle eager to encroach on his agency’s territory. “DEA and CIA were butting heads,” recalled the former DEA chief in a 2013 interview. “There was real tension.” Artfully, he managed to negotiate peace with the powerful intelligence agency, “so now we had a very important ally. CIA could use DEA and vice versa.”

By this he meant that the senior agency could use the DEA’s legal powers for domestic operations to good advantage.  This burgeoning relationship brought additional potent allies. Not only was his agency now closer to the CIA, Bonner told me, but “through them, the NSA.” A new Special Operations Division created to work with these senior agencies was to oversee the assault on the kingpins, relying heavily on electronic intelligence.

This new direction would swiftly gain credibility after the successful elimination of the most famous cartel leader of all.  Pablo Escobar, the dominant figure of the Medellín cartel, was an object of obsessive interest to American law enforcement.  He had long evaded U.S.-assisted manhunts before negotiating an agreement with the Colombian government in 1991 under which he took up residence in a “prison” he himself had built in the hills above his home city. A year later, fearing that the government was going to welsh on its deal and turn him over to the Americans, Escobar walked out of that prison and went into hiding.

The subsequent search for the fugitive drug lord marked a turning point. The Cold War was over; Saddam Hussein was defeated in the first Gulf War in 1991; credible threats to the U.S. were scarce; and the danger of budget cuts was in the air. Now, however, the U.S. deployed the full panoply of surveillance technology originally developed to confront the Soviet foe against a single human target. The Air Force sent in an assortment of reconnaissance planes, including SR-71s, which were capable of flying at three times the speed of sound. The Navy sent its own spy planes; the CIA dispatched a helicopter drone.

At one point there were 17 of these surveillance aircraft simultaneously in the air over Medellín although, as it turned out, none of them were any help in tracking down Escobar.  Nor did the DEA make any crucial contribution. Instead, his deadly rivals from Cali, Colombia’s other major trafficking group, played the decisive role in the destruction of that drug lord’s power and support systems, combining well-funded intelligence with bloodthirsty ruthlessness.

His once all-powerful network of informers and bodyguards destroyed, Escobar was eventually located by homing in on his radio and gunned down as he fled across a rooftop on December 2, 1993.  Though the matter is open to debate, a former senior U.S. drug enforcement official assured me unequivocally that a sniper from the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Delta Force had fired the killing shot.

Following this triumph, the DEA turned its attention to the Cali cartel, pursuing it with every resource available: “We really developed the use of wiretaps,” Bonner told me.  Patience and the provision of enormous resources eventually yielded results. In June and July 1995, six of the seven heads of the Cali cartel were arrested, including the brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodríguez-Orijuela, and the cartel’s cofounder, José “Chepe” Santacruz Londoño.  Although Londoño subsequently escaped from jail, he would in the end be hunted down and killed.  Continued U.S. pressure for the rest of the decade and beyond resulted in a steady flow of cartel bosses into prisons with life sentences or into coffins.

Cartel Heads Go Down and Drugs Go Up

The strategy, it appeared, had been an unqualified success.  “When Pablo Escobar was on the run, for all practical purposes, his organization started going down… ultimately it was destroyed.  And that’s the strategy we have called the kingpin strategy,” crowed Lee Brown, Bill Clinton’s “drug czar,” in 1994.

In public at least, no officials bothered to point out that if that strategy’s aim was to counter drug use among Americans, it had achieved precisely the opposite of its intended goal.  The giveaway to this failure lay in the on-the-street cost of cocaine in this country.  In those years, the DEA put enormous effort into monitoring its price, using undercover agents to make buys and then laboriously compiling and cross-referencing the amounts paid.

The drugs obtained by these surreptitious means, however, were of wildly varying purity, the cocaine itself often having been adulterated with some worthless substitute. That meant that the price of a gram of purecocaine varied enormously, since a few bad deals of very low purity could cause wide swings in the average. Dealers tended to compensate for higher prices by reducing the purity of their product rather than charging more per gram. As a result, the agency’s price charts showed little movement and so gave no indication of what events were affecting the price and therefore the supply.

In 1994, however, a numbers-cruncher with the Institute for Defense Analysis, the Pentagon’s in-house think tank, began subjecting the data to more searching scrutiny. The analyst, a former Air Force fighter pilot named Rex Rivolo, had been tasked to take an independent look at the drug war at the request of Brian Sheridan, the hardheaded director of the Defense Department’s Office of Drug Control Policy who had developed a healthy disrespect for the DEA and its operations.

Having tartly informed DEA officials that their statistics were worthless, mere “random noise,” Rivolo set to work developing a statistical tool that would eliminate the effect of the swings in purity of the samples collected by the undercover agents. Once he had succeeded, some interesting conclusions began to emerge: the pursuit of the kingpins was most certainly having an effect on prices, and by extension supply, but not in the way advertised by the DEA. Far from impeding the flow of cocaine onto the street and up the nostrils of America, it was accelerating it. Eliminating kingpins actually increased supply.

It was a momentous revelation, running entirely counter to law enforcement cultural attitudes that reached back to the days of Eliot Ness’s war against bootleggers in the 1920s and that would become the basis for Washington’s twenty-first-century counterinsurgency wars. Such a verdict might have been reached intuitively, especially once the kingpin strategy in its most lethal form came to be applied to terrorists and insurgents, but on this rare occasion the conclusion was based on hard, undeniable data.  

In the last month of 1993, for example, Pablo Escobar’s once massive cocaine smuggling organization was already in tatters and he was being hunted through the streets of Medellín. If the premise of the DEA strategy — that eliminating kingpins would cut drug supplies — had been correct, supply to the U.S. should by then have been disrupted.

In fact, the opposite occurred: in that period, the U.S. street price dropped from roughly $80 to $60 a gram because of a flood of new supplies coming into the U.S. market, and it would continue to drop after his death.  Similarly, when the top tier of the Cali cartel was swept up in mid-1995, cocaine prices, which had been rising sharply earlier that year, went into a precipitous decline that continued into 1996.

Confident that the price drop and the kingpin eliminations were linked, Rivolo went looking for an explanation and found it in an arcane economic theory he called monopolistic competition. “It hadn’t been heard of for years,” he explained. “It essentially says if you have two producers of something, there’s a certain price. If you double the number of producers, the price gets cut in half, because they share the market.

“So the question was,” he continued, “how many monopolies are there? We had three or four major monopolies, but if you split them into twenty and you believe in this monopolistic competition, you know the price is going to drop. And sure enough, through the nineties the price of cocaine was plummeting because competition was coming in and we were driving the competition. The best thing would have been to keep one cartel over which we had some control. If your goal is to lower consumption on the street, then that’s the mechanism. But if you’re a cop, then that’s not your goal. So we were constantly fighting the cop mentality in these provincial organizations like DEA.”

The Kingpin Strategy Joins the War on Terror

Deep in the jungles of southern Colombia, coca farmers didn’t need obscure economic theories to understand the consequences of the kingpin strategy. When the news arrived that Gilberto Rodríguez-Orijuela had been arrested, small traders in the remote settlement of Calamar erupted in cheers. “Thank the blessed virgin!” exclaimed one grandmother to a visiting American reporter.

“Wait till the United States figures out what it really means,” added another local resident. “Hell, maybe they’ll approve, since it’s really a victory for free enterprise. No more monopoly controlling the market and dictating what growers get paid. It’s just like when they shot Pablo Escobar: now money will flow to everybody.”

This assessment proved entirely correct. As the big cartels disappeared, the business reverted to smaller and even more ruthless groups that managed to maintain production and distribution quite satisfactorily, especially as they were closely linked either to Colombia’s Marxist FARC guerrillas or to the fascist anti-guerrilla paramilitary groups allied with the government and tacitly supported by the United States.

Much of Rivolo’s work on the subject remains classified. This is hardly surprising, given that it not only undercuts the official rationale for the kingpin strategy in the drug wars of the 1990s, but strikes a body blow at the doctrine of high-value targeting that so obsesses the Obama administration in its drone assassination campaigns across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa today.

Rivolo was, in fact, able to monitor the application of the kingpin strategy in the following decade.  In 2007, he was assigned to a small but high-powered intelligence cell attached to the Baghdad headquarters of General Ray Odierno, who was, at the time, the operational U.S. commander in Iraq.  While there he made it his business to inquire into the ongoing targeting of “high-value individuals,” or HVIs.  Accordingly, he put together a list of 200 HVIs — local insurgent leaders — killed or captured between June and October 2007.  Then he looked to see what happened in their localities following their elimination.

The results, he discovered when he graphed them out, offered a simple, unequivocal message: the strategy was indeed making a difference, just not the one intended. It was, however, the very same message that the kingpin strategy had offered in the drug wars of the 1990s.  Hitting HVIs did not reduce attacks and save American lives; it increasedthem. Each killing quickly prompted mayhem. Within three kilometers of the target’s base of operation, attacks over the following 30 days shot up by 40%. Within a radius of five kilometers, a typical area of operations for an insurgent cell, they were still up 20%. Summarizing his findings for Odierno, Rivolo added an emphatic punch line: “Conclusion: HVI Strategy, our principal strategy in Iraq, is counter-productive and needs to be re-evaluated.”

As with the kingpin strategy, the causes of this apparently counter-intuitive result became obvious upon reflection.  Dead commanders were immediately replaced, and the newcomers were almost always younger and more aggressive than their predecessors, eager to “make their bones” and prove their worth.

Rivolo’s research and conclusions, though briefed at the highest levels, made no difference.  The kingpin strategy might have failed on the streets of American cities, but it had been a roaring success when it came to the prosperity of the DEA.  The agency budget, always the surest sign of an institution’s standing, soared by 240% during the 1990s, rising from $654 million in 1990 to over $1.5 billion a decade later.  In the same way, albeit on a vaster scale, high-value targeting failed in its stated goals in the Greater Middle East, where terror recruits grew and terror groups only multiplied under the shadow of the drone.  (The removal of al-Baghdadi from day-to-day control of the Islamic State, for instance, has apparently done nothing to retard its operations.)  The strategy has, however, been of inestimable benefit to a host of interested parties, ranging from drone manufacturers to the CIA counterterrorism officials who so signally failed to ward off 9/11 only to adopt assassination as their raison d’être.

No wonder the Saudis want to follow in our footsteps in Yemen. It’s a big world. Who’s next?

Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine.  An Irishman, he has covered national security topics in this country for many years.  In addition to publishing numerous books, he co-produced the 1997 feature film The Peacemaker and the 2009 documentary on the financial crisis American Casino.  His latest book is Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (Henry Holt).

Copyright 2015 Andrew Cockburn

The Kingpin Strategy