Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 10, 2010

Drones and Dragon’s Teeth

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on June 10, 2010
Cadmus sowing dragon’s teeth by Maxwell Parrish

Last week it was confirmed that a drone attack killed Mustafa Abu al-Yazid.   Also known as Saeed Al-Masri,  he was directly involved in planning the 9/11 attacks.  More recently the dead man is thought to have coordinated al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and served as the AQ chief financial officer.

Also killed in the attack was the al-Qaeda leader’s wife, three daughters, a grandchild and other men, women, and children sharing a residence in North Waziristan (Pakistan). Precise body counts are unlikely.

The Obama administration has significantly increased the use of drone attacks inside Pakistan and in other difficult-to-access areas.  Many — including yours truly — perceive the tactic has been fundamental to disrupting the capacity of al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies.  

On May 28 the United Nations special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings released a report on US drone attacks (and similar tactics by other member states).  The report is especially critical of killer drones being operated by non-military personnel, such as the CIA, and use of targeted killings outside a legally established war zone (Afghanistan is sort-of ok, Pakistan is definately not).

In 2007 a RAND report suggested that terrorist groups enhance their capabilities by “sharing dragon’s teeth.”  Earlier this year the Pakistani commentator Irfan Husain compared the resilience of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the face of US drone attacks to the mythological warriors born of dragon’s teeth.   Another commentator gave President Obama the role of Cadmus, dragon-killer and teeth-sower, “The drone attacks, rather than exterminating ‘terrorists’ are sowing the proverbial dragon’s teeth from which more and more spring, like whole armies, trained and ready for combat.”

The wanna-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was  reportedly motivated to revenge drone attacks in Pakistan.  According to the New York PostFox News,  and others, Shahzad — an American citizen — was in Pakistan when a drone attack killed several innocents (and others not-so-innocent). Did a drone’s dragon tooth sprout in Connecticut?

There are at least two versions of the Dragon’s Teeth myth.  One version reflects American mythologizing.  The original is more starkly tragic in its telling.  In both the American and the  original a brave Prince Cadmus slays a dragon and plants its teeth.  From the teeth suddenly grows a horrible army, thousands of grim warriors are barely ripe when they begin killing each other.

Uplifting his weapon, he smote his next neighbor a blow that cleft his helmet asunder, and stretched him on the ground. In an instant, those nearest the fallen warrior began to strike at one another with their swords, and stab with their spears. The confusion spread wider and wider. Each man smote down his brother, and was himself smitten down before he had time to exult in his victory. The trumpeters, all the while, blew their blasts shriller and shriller; each soldier shouted a battle cry, and often fell with it on his lips.

Only five warriors survive. In the original, the battle is the climax of the story. But in the Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne the five’s exhausted survival is transformed into thorough redemption. The American  commitment to happy endings began long before Hollywood.

Like savage beasts, they would doubtless have done one another a mischief, if Cadmus had not kept watch over them, and quelled the fierce old serpent that lurked in their hearts, when he saw it gleaming out of their wild eyes. But, in course of time, they got accustomed to honest labor, and had sense enough to feel that there was more true enjoyment in living at peace, and doing good to one’s neighbor, than in striking at him with a two-edged sword. It may not be too much to hope that the rest of mankind will by and by grow as wise and peaceable as these five earth-begrimed warriors, who sprang from the dragon’s teeth.

Each one killed by a drone plants at least one dragon’s tooth.  Each woman killed plants three  or four and a child even more.  If we are careful and have chosen well, the drone also kills a dragon.  

This is the tragic choice of which Reinhold Niebuhr warns us.  We ought not deny our responsibility for killing those who abide with the dragon.  We should recognize our role in planting dragon’s teeth.  Our only hope of redemption — at least in this kingdom — is precisely in taking responsibility for our tragic choice.

To actively and meaningfully fulfill this responsibility we must exercise our power with particular care. We should also attend to those who survive our victims. Simply in our own self-interest we should, “keep watch over them… who sprang from the dragon’s teeth.”   But if this remains the sum of our relationship, we will never overcome mutual suspicion and an easy slide into continuing conflict.  More is needed.

Cadmus and his five survivors went on to build a great city.  In Hawthorne’s tale it is a place of beauty, happiness and harmony.  In the ancient original it is, whatever its virtues, also the city of Oedipus and Antigone. Tragic potential persists.  But in both the ancient and American versions a future is practically envisioned, constructed, and shared.  Can we  leave aside our easy Hollywood hopes long enough to craft a — no doubt uneasy — common cause with our victims?

For further consideration:

The Year of the Drone (2010) by the New America Foundation

The Obama Administration and International Law by Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser, US Department of State

Central Asia Institute

Catholic Relief Services in Pakistan

Oxfam America in Afghanistan

Oxfam International in Pakistan

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Comment by Philip Palin

June 10, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

A reporter with the Times of India called me today on this post. He told me something I had forgotten or never known. In some of the classical tales at his death Cadmus is transformed into a dragon. (This is certainly not in Hawthorne’s proto-Hollywood version.) The reporter asked me if I was trying to encourage the United States to embrace full responsibility for its power in order to avoid becoming a dragon itself. Not knowing the ancient stories as well as he, I had not been worried about the United States becoming a dragon. But it did remind me of what, I think, is a Niebuhr quote: “Goodness armed with power is always corrupted, but pure love with no power is often destroyed.” Which suggests, at least to me, the need to add another element: Goodness, power, and self-criticism. The reporter wondered if any nation could be effectively self-critical. I offered that the current political turmoil of the United States would, when resolved, probably answer that question.

Comment by 10,000 BP Shares For Each Legitimate Claim

June 11, 2010 @ 7:22 am

Chris Uncle says to India that unfortunately our beloved Republic has the inability to criticize self like so many other nations in this 21st century as it is so riddled with the lack of tranparency in government and business with BP’s intentional lack of transparency just one example – In China, executives responsible for such horrendous devastation as a result of thir arrogant demeanor, seeking only to please their stockholders – they themselves stockholders, a company which will revisit this same well in a couple of years and reap hugh profits from the oil which will now be capped only temporarily –
these excecutives would be placed in handcuff and jailoed for Life – in America today, We here in Main Street USA see only the beltway gridlocked by special interest groups and truthfully, a bunch of multi-milionaires in Congress who could care less for Katrina victims, the good people in Haiti and all throughout the Gulf –

My proposal, this morning BP should be granting every legitimate claim, an add’l 10,000 shares of BP stock as those with legitimate claims have now personal interests in this specific well and the hugh profits of another American and global entity with billions and billions in the coffers –

The greed of those entrusted with the EU, the US, the “Brutes of Tehran” all these governments who are supposed to serve the good souls created by the Lord, well…they don’t give a damn and We have all been enslaved by the Federal Reserve Bank and all central bankers with promise of War again to follow –

10,000 shares of BP stock specifically focused on this well for We all know that BP will be revisiting in the middle of the night to catch the hugh profits of this eventually capped well as BP’s greed cannpt turn its back on this well or wihtin proximity and those so harmed deserve 10,000 shares of stock in addition to justified claioms as BP’s future is not to be found behind bars, but soaring revenues from the well which BP did not want anyone to really know how much oil has been coming out of it – the good folks in the Gulf area deserve a part of the profits eventually to be captured by these money managers who have little compassion for anything other than a buck!

Citizen Joe
Main Street USA

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 11, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

One out of every seven British citizens have retirement investment in BP!

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 13, 2010 @ 11:31 am

Perhaps earlier comment in error and now appears it is one of of every seven British Pound invested in BP and well as 35% ownership of BP by Americans.

So is BP too big to fail? Are the Gulf States from Florida to Texas too big to fail?

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Text, subtext, and terrorism

July 15, 2011 @ 12:12 am

[…] to two predators or even one reaper?  Apples and oranges some will complain.  Apple seeds and dragon’s teeth I am inclined to reply. Share and Enjoy: Permalink | | Comment on this Post […]

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