With most of the country’s attention firmly placed on the government shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, few noticed that President Obama met last Friday with Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai. The White House planned the meeting as an opportunity for the President to show public support for Malala, who is a hero for her determination to help women in Pakistan get the education they deserve, but the President also got some unsolicited advice. A press report noted:
“In a statement, the White House says the United States ‘joins with the Pakistani people and so many around the world to celebrate Malala’s courage and her determination to promote the right of all girls to attend school and realize their dreams.’
In a statement released after the meeting, Malala said she was honored to meet with Obama, but that she told him she's worried about the effect of U.S. drone strikes. (The White House statement didn't mention that part.)
‘I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,’ she said in the statement. ‘I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.’”
President Obama was later quoted as saying that Friday was International Day of the Girl, and that "across the globe there are girls who will one day lead nations, if only we afford them the chance to choose their own destinies." But is the President undermining that laudable goal, as well as U.S. interests in the process?
The White House has hailed the increased use of drone strikes to target terrorists in Pakistan and other corners of the world as a riskless means to eliminate dangerous terrorist leaders, and indeed several high-profile leaders have reportedly been killed since 2009. On the flip side, many question the legality of sending missiles into a foreign country we are not at war with to annihilate people we believe are terrorists, and evidence is mounting rapidly that drone strikes have also killed hundreds of innocent civilians.
Perhaps most troubling is the effect the strikes have on the civilian population throughout the Middle East, the population the United States will have to win over to secure long term peace in the War on Terror. A combined study conducted by students and faculty at NYU Law and Stanford Law demonstrated that the drone strikes destabilize society and in effect “terrorize” the innocent people in those countries. The constant strikes and the fear created by them have become an incredible recruiting tool for Al Qaeda and the Taliban, even as their influence appeared to be waning. One representative story is from a Pakistani teenager who said to the NYU and Stanford researchers “Before the drone strikes started, my life was very good. I used to go to school and I used to be quite busy with that, but after the drone strikes, I stopped going to school now. I was happy because I thought I would become a doctor.” As long as the drone strikes continue, the United States is sabotaging its fight for the “hearts and minds” of many Pakistani people.
Who was responsible for shooting brave Malala while she tried to attend school? What group continues to bar women from receiving a decent education in Pakistan (and other places throughout the Middle East)? Groups of hard-line, extremist Muslims who sympathize with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In essence, President Obama is undermining his own stated goal to improve access to education for women every day that he launches another missile into a different part of the world.
*Thomas Warns is a J.D. Candidate, class of 2015, at New York University School of Law and Staff Editor of the Journal of Law & Liberty. Mr. Warns is the author of the weekly column "Consider This a Warning."