A new Gallup poll presents the latest on Americans’ views on drone use by the United States government.
The main question asked was the following:
A clear majority now appears to oppose drone strikes on US soil while a clear majority still favors drone strikes against suspected terrorists abroad.
In reaction Guardian columnist explored why Americans might oppose the targeting of American citizens abroad in the abstract, even though they supported the drone attack on Muslim cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen.
Many Americans can (a) say that they oppose the targeted killings of Americans on foreign soil while simultaneously (b) supporting the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen because, for them, the term “Americans” doesn’t include people like Anwar al-Awlaki. “Americans” means their aunts and uncles, their nice neighbors down the street, and anyone else who looks like them, who looks and seems “American”.
Thus, the poll reflects the racism or Other-ing of Muslims that helps to perpetuate the Global War on Terrorism.
It also found 25% of respondents, who were willing to support the use of a drone to strike a US citizen on American soil if necessary. That is profoundly disturbing given the fact that there should really never be any scenario where capture was infeasible. It shows the xenophobia of a section of Americans, who do not believe civilian courts can be used to bring suspected terrorists to justice, and it might be best to just target and kill them. Or, perhaps, they believe in a kind of ticking time bomb scenario, where it might be necessary to drone kill a “terrorist” in the same way they would find it necessary to torture a person to get information to stop an attack on the United States.
The poll also asked Americans, “How closely have you been following news about the US government’s use of unmanned military aircraft known as drones?” Fourteen percent of “national adults” said they were following new “very closely” and 35% said they were “somewhat closely.” Fifty-nine percent of Republicans said they were following it “very closely” or “somewhat closely” while 49% of Democrats and 48% of Independents said they were following it “very closely” or “somewhat closely.” This suggests that drones has been developing into a partisan issue that is followed closely by opponents of President Barack Obama because he is a Democratic president, and, likewise, fewer Democrats have followed the issue closely because they trust Obama more than they would a Republican or someone like President George W. Bush.
But, remarkably, the poll suggests those who follow the news on drones closely are more likely to support their use than oppose their use to target and kill suspected terrorists.
Among those who are “closely following,” 74% “support air strikes in other countries against suspected terrorists,” while 58% of those not following “too closely” or “not at all” support such drone strikes. Forty-five percent support “air strikes in other countries against US citizens living abroad who are suspected terrorists” while 36% following the issue “not too closely or “not at all” support such drone strikes. Those who follow the issue closely support targeting suspected terrrorists (29%) on US soil more than those who do not (21%), and those who follow the issue closely support targeting US citizens on US soil (16%) more than those who do not (11%).
The less one knows about US drone attacks, the more Americans are to be reluctant to support their use. However, given what is being heard on the news, which includes reporting statements from officials from the administration of President Barack Obama, they are more likely to “understand” why they are necessary and support their use. And somehow the poll indicates an American is more likely to support launching drone attacks on US soil if they follow the issue “closely,” which is disturbing.
Support for drones actually appears to be down if one compares it to a Washington Post/ABC News poll from February 2012. The percentage of Democrats that support drone strikes against US citizens in foreign countries is 41% while the percentage that supported this kind of strike just over a year ago was 65%.
It is difficult to go further in analyzing the results of the 1,000 or so Americans polled. The poll does not ask why anyone holds these views. So, in terms of issues like the fact that these strikes are occurring in countries where the US has not declared war and the fact that the president has claimed the authority of judge, jury and executioner, it is hard to know how much either motivates opposition. It is hard to know how much the perception of “precision” or ability to reduce amount of military forces in a country plays role in Americans’ support for drone strikes.
What is clear is, when one looks at the spectrum of issues facing Americans, most Americans are not interested or do not really care about the increased use of drones or the affect of their use on civilians in countries where they are being used to kill “terror suspects.”
Finally, it is worth highlighting that Pew Global Attitudes found last year “America’s use of unmanned drones to kill terror suspects is widely opposed around the world.” Seventeen out of 21 countries surveyed for the poll found that more than half of the people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, where strikes are taking place, oppose the use of drones. Citizens of allies “such as Britain, Germany and Japan disapproved of the drone strikes — at 47, 59 and 75 percent, respectively.” Over eighty percent of citizens in US-friendly majority Muslim nations such as Egypt, Jordan and Turkey highly disapproved of their use.
A majority of citizens around the world oppose US drone strikes. American public opinion is the exception. So, the following question might be put to Americans in a future poll: “A majority of the world’s citizens oppose US drone strikes. Does that affect your support for US drone strikes?” and/or, “Global public opinion indicates opposition to US drone strikes. Should that influence or factor into how the government uses drones?”
One can already venture a guess as to what the results would be, but that does not matter. Even it confirms what one might suspect—that Americans would not care what the majority of the world thinks so long as they believe what their government is doing is righteous and good—it will begin to get to the core of the issue: that the US government has found a way to use lethal force unilaterally in countries abroad with little to no constraints legally or politically. Indeed, such use of force has bipartisan support among Republicans and Democrats, especially those in Congress who have been given the lowdown on how the drone programs really work.