By Ramin Karbasi 

Edited by Sanchita Malhotra, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

According to a recently released report by the Pew Research Center, people across the world do not support U.S. targeted killings and surveillance via drones. The report was based on 50,000 interviews conducted within the span of one year in 44 countries. Amongst its findings, the report portrayed numerous global sentiments regarding U.S. policies abroad including, but not limited to, disapproval, distrust, and anger.

Perhaps most disquieting – though not all that unsurprising – was the stated impact drone utilization had on predominately Muslim countries. The report’s findings suggest that the controversial utilization of drones has significantly contributed to a general feeling of alienation amidst the Muslim world. If one also accounts for the fact that most U.S. drone use is conducted disproportionately more so in primarily Muslim countries, and that one of the U.S.’ strongest supporters for drone usage is Israel, the feelings of alienation not only become more understandable, but also increasingly more justified.

Of course, the matter of the issues and controversies that surround drones is not a new one. In fact, one may even reasonably argue that such matters are innate to drones themselves. This, however, does not imply that the continued use of drones is, or should be, permissible. Instead, it should be interpreted as a consistent indication to alter U.S. policies and diplomacy towards the Muslim world.

The case for the popularity of drone usage needs no other explanation than that of the discrepancy between their use under the Bush Administration and their use under the Obama administration.

Relatively no secrecy surrounds the fact that drones are the centerpiece of President Barack H. Obama’s counterterrorism strategy. One need not look any further than Peter Bergen’s September 19th, 2012 article on the increased usage of drones under the Obama Administration to verify such a claim. The aptly titled article – “Drone is Obama’s weapon of choice” – notes that President Obama’s then-283 authorized strikes in Pakistan were already six times more than the number during former-President Bush’s full eight years in office. The drones’ role as the centerpiece for US counterterrorism strategy is even further strengthened if one were to also account for the subsequent two-year span (September 19th, 2012 – July 23rd, 2014) – assuming that the frequency of drone usage remained constant.

During his first Presidential Campaign in 2008, President Obama promised to restore America’s image in the eyes of the world. Six years later, numerous studies – most recently that of the Pew Research Center – blatantly rebuke such a promise. The answer cannot be clearer: drone usage is not the route to diplomacy and peace with the Muslim world.

Though, as always, the appeal of drones for policymakers is understandable. They are relatively cheap, far away from domestic shores, and, admittedly, quite efficient. But for all that they posses in appeal, they overwhelmingly lack in tact and statesmanship. It is upon such a notion that the U.S., if it is in fact aiming to restore its image in the eyes of the world, should adopt a Frostian mentality. In other words, U.S. policymakers ought to forgo the allure of drones in favor of the ‘road less travelled by’: public diplomacy.

Public diplomacy is, as its name suggests, communication with foreign publics in order to establish foundations and channels of dialogue. The channels, then, serve as avenues of discourse through which each party can inform, influence, interact with, and learn from each other.

As is the case with almost any policy option, the question of costs poses the largest obstacle. Public diplomacy, unfortunately, is not immune to such a question. It is increasingly costly in terms of time, it stands to drain finances in certain situations, and its success is never guaranteed. It is far less objective than drones, and far more subjective than other, more traditional forms of diplomacy.

These costs, however, should not dismay policymakers because the rewards of public diplomacy far outweigh its costs. The feelings of alienation that plague the Muslim world are largely the result of a communications problem. There is a lack of understanding between the Muslim world and the US. The culture, the languages, and, perhaps most importantly, the desires and goals of the two differ in essentially every way imaginable. And while this may seem like a daunting task to have to overcome, it is not an impossible one by any means. The sheer presence of a possibility of success ought to be nurtured and cultivated into an assurance of success.

In Niccolo Machiavelli’s quintessential realist text,” The Prince”, he declared that it was “better to be feared than loved, if [one] cannot be both.” With respect to drones and public diplomacy, it is clear which policy option represents fear and which represents love. The markedly realist undertones of contemporary (and, for that matter, historical) international relations make it difficult for such an epitome of idealism as public diplomacy to gain any noteworthy momentum. Yet, that is the principle issue that this article attempts to resolve; the principle issue that guided President Obama’s noble 2008 promise; and the principle issue that much of the world appears to be ready for. The world is now, for perhaps the first time ever, truly ready for and capable of adopting a policy of love as opposed to fear. What remains to be seen, however, is to what extent this love can succeed in its goal of both understanding the Muslim world through Western eyes, and restoring America’s image in the eyes of the (Muslim) world.


Ramin is currently a Senior Honors student at Southern Methodist University, where he majors in Political Science and Sociology. An avid student of comparative politics and economics, Ramin hopes to one day pursue post-graduate International Development studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. As such, and acknowledging the works of Mr. Nayef Al-Rodhan, he best describes himself as a symbiotic realist. A self-ascribed Francophile, Ramin also enjoys reading works of French existential literature in his spare time.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind