The American deployment of its thousands of drones or unmanned aircraft is one dimension of the breakdown of the rule of law. The US sends the spy craft over other countries without permission and in the teeth of ardent protests, violating their sovereignty. There are now plans to fly drones over US towns, as part of our descent into an Orwellian surveillance society.
It is bad enough that the US has all those drones. Now the technology is spreading to anti-American powers in the Middle East. Iran has announced that it is reverse-engineering a US spy drone that crashed on Iranian territory. Rumors are swirling that Russia and China also want a peek at the specs. The Iranian authorities maintain that they have broken the software encryption of the drone, and have been able to verify its past missions and history of repair.
If Iran has these new kinds of sophisticated radar-defying American-style drones, how long will it be before Hizbullah, the Shiite party of south Lebanon, has them and uses them over Israel? (The old Hizbullah drones will have been quite primitive in comparison.)
The drones are also a big sticking point for the relationship of the US with its ally, Pakistan.
In a development most Americans won’t have paid much attention to, the elected Pakistani parliament has injected itself into foreign policy. After the US killed 24 Pakistani troops on the border with Afghanistan last winter, Pakistan stopped the NATO truck traffic that went up from the port of Karachi to the Khyber Pass, and which provisioned US and NATO troops. The parliament then launched an overview of the relationship, and recommended the banning of US drones over Pakistani soil.
The US has insisted that it will pay no attention to the Pakistani parliament, and will continue to deploy the drones in violation of Pakistani sovereignty. This, despite the argument that the drone strikes actually drive Pakistanis into anti-Americanism.
Then there are the ongoing drone strikes by the US in Yemen. Initially these attacks had been secretly authorized by then President Ali Abdullah Saleh. But Saleh has been deposed and Yemenis have become more active politically, and it is not clear what the legal status of the US drone strikes in Yemen is. Now it transpires that CIA director David Petraeus is seeking the authority to launch drone strikes on Yemenis even when their identity is unknown.
The drones are perfect for the imperial presidency. They don’t talk back, don’t have rogue cells, and they are outside that pesky international law. The potential here for blowback is enormous (when a covert operation creates of a foe of new potency instead). The news that Iran might have drones, courtesy the US, won’t set anyone’s mind at ease.