In ancient times, he used to be known as the Grim Reaper. Grim the wily fellow still is - always under many guises. Reinventing the concept of death from above, he may call himself MQ-9 Reaper and strut his stuff equipped with Hellfire missiles.
Or he may wear a business suit and incorporate the persona of the president of the United States.
Get me to the target on time
Barack Obama, from his UN podium, told the world, "Let there be no doubt: the tide of war is receding."
Neo-Orwellian spin doctors could hardly top him on this one. Referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's operation of bombing Libya into democracy, Obama stressed, "This is how the international community is supposed to work."
Virtually on cue, that usual suspect, a "NATO official", leaked that the alliance had just extended its mission to bomb Libya for another 90 days before the green card expired next Tuesday. Of course, the smart NATO bombs only recognize bad guys, and don’t commit collateral damage.
As for the "international community" - which now comprises only NATO members and Persian Gulf monarchies, to the exclusion of everybody else - it will still "have to respond to the calls for change" in the Middle East, according to Obama. Signaled targets, not surprisingly, were Syria and Iran.
And then, also on cue, the usual "US officials" leaked that the Obama administration was assembling what the Washington Post described as "a constellation of secret drone bases for counter-terrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula". Signaled targets, already engaged, are Somalia and Yemen.
As for the excuse, no surprises; it’s that same old al-Qaeda bogeyman. Once again, industrial-military complex "defense contractors" started uncorking their Moet.
A killer low-cost airline
As these contractors know so well, Washington is now involved in no less than six wars - or "kinetic" whatever, as the White House defines them - in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
For our friend the MQ-9 Reaper, the sky, literally, is the limit. He’s expanding his footprint from AfPak to the whole of East Africa up to the Gulf of Aden. He'll now be based in Ethiopia as well as in the Seychelles, that lovely Indian Ocean archipelago famous for its fabulous beaches and 10-star resorts.
The "hunter-killer" fleet of MQ-9 Reapers - that is, capable in Pentagonese of both "surveillance" and "strike" - parked in a hangar near the main passenger terminal at Victoria, in the Seychelles, will bring to a whole new level the concept of low-budget airline.
Although they are being depicted as innocent toys flying over Somalia "to support ongoing counter-terrorism efforts", bottles of supplemental Moet can be bet that sooner or later the exploits of this killer low-cost airline will hit the headlines.
Naturally, no MQ-9 Reapers will be bombing the al-Qaeda-linked Libyans formerly known as rebels who are now exercising total military control of Tripoli.
This will only happen after Libyan hardcore Islamists start getting into their Talibanization groove - be it as part of a Transitional National Council government or as a guerrilla force fighting NATO. The Pentagon always respects the motto of taking better care of its future enemies than its current friends.
In this newspeak-drenched "improved circles of surveillance" universe, there's hardly a thought about collateral damage. Even an establishment think-tank such as the Brookings Institution has stressed that for every "terrorist" killed, "10 or so civilians also died". More realistic estimates point to a ratio of 15 civilians to every "terrorist" biting the dust.
And this while the Pentagon-promoted, American Playstation way of war never ceases to be upgraded; Reapers or sons of Reapers will soon perform their chores by themselves, using just state of the art software and alien to human intervention.
Which bring us once again to Obama.
This freedom is not for you
At his UN pulpit, Obama stressed, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." This does not apply to Palestinians - because if he said it did the current president of the United States believes he would hit the unemployment lines in November 2012.
Obama also said, "Israelis have been killed by rockets and suicide bombers." Yet in his 47-minute UN opus he never even attempted to admit something along the lines of "Palestinians have been killed by airstrikes, smart bombs, dumb bombs, bulldozers, snipers, collective punishment and Reapers".
Obama also did not even try to mention, even in passing, the pre-1967 borders of a future Palestinian state - something that virtually the whole planet supports. No wonder, considering that recently Obama could not even persuade the Israeli government to stop building settlements on stolen land.
As far as Washington's position on the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN is concerned, torrents of bites have tried to explain how the US must abide by Israel's demands while pretending it's not at Israel's beck and call.
On the eve of a showdown at the UN Security Council, Palestine had secured the nine votes out of 15 it needed to be recognized as a state - and thus win at least a resounding moral victory, even considering the inevitable US veto.
Significantly enough, the votes were by the five BRICS emerging powers - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - plus Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria. Germany, Colombia and the US were poised to vote against it. So inevitably Washington unleashed major hardcore pressure on Bosnia (a Muslim-majority country), Gabon and Nigeria (a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, OIC).
It does not matter that the idea of a Palestinian state is a virtual consensus among the international community - the real flesh and blood one, not that ghost brandished by Washington.
Yet a glance at the map, comparing the erosion of Palestinian land from 1946 to 2011, is enough to show Israel has already killed the two-state solution, regardless of what happens at the UN.
What matters are the "facts on the ground" of Israel as the supreme dominatrix of US foreign policy as well as the US Congress being Israel's bitch. What matters is Obama trying to entice Muslims with flowery rhetoric in Istanbul and Cairo just to meekly submit, and when the going gets tough, to feel the dominatrix whip.
And all this while from northern Africa to the Middle East multitudes are fighting for the same "freedom" Americans (and Israelis) apparently enjoy, but are forever denied to Palestinians.
Whatever happens at the UN, Israel's got the deal of the century. Under the cover of a return of the living dead "peace process", successive Israeli governments get to steal Palestinian land, build illegal settlements and procrastinate, while the US pays the heavy political price.
Washington not only pays for the settlements but fights virtually all of Israel's enemies, lethally antagonizes 1.3 billion Muslims all over the world, spends trillions of dollars and goes bankrupt deploying a "war on terror".
Which brings us to yet another impersonation by the Grim Reaper.
He may be a MQ-9 in AfPak or in the new Seychelles-Somalia killer route. He may be channeled by the president of the United States. And he may answer by the name of Bibi. He's here, there, everywhere. Fear the Reaper. Or else ...
By Jim Lobe
See The age of the Reaper
WASHINGTON - As Somalia undergoes its worst famine in six decades and Yemen slides into civil war, the administration of President Barack Obama is expanding its network of bases to carry out drone strikes against suspected terrorists in both countries, according to reports published in two major United States newspapers on Thursday.
Based in part on newly disclosed US diplomatic cables recently posted by WikiLeaks, the Washington Post reported that the US military had been flying armed drones over both countries from a base in Djibouti and was planning to build a second base in Ethiopia.
The Post and the Wall Street Journal also reported that a base in the Seychelles that the US military has previously used to fly surveillance drones will now host armed drones capable of flying their lethal payloads the more than 1,500 kilometers that separate the Indian Ocean island chain from Somalia and the African mainland and back.
The "constellation" of drone bases will also include a secret new Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) base that the administration announced earlier this year would be situated somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula.
That facility will be hosted by Saudi Arabia, according to an unnamed "senior US military official" quoted in a FoxNews.com report also published on Thursday.
"Operations in Saudi [Arabia] are [the] only new expansion to this plan," the official was quoted as saying. "The rest has been working for over a year when we long ago realized danger from AQAP [al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula]," a Yemen-based affiliate which, according to recent statements by US intelligence officials, has been consolidating links with al-Shabaab, the Somali group which Washington claims also has ties to al-Qaeda.
Inter Press Service (IPS) calls to the Pentagon press office for confirmation that Saudi Arabia was hosting the new base were not returned. But a former US ambassador to Riyadh who has retained good ties with its government, Admiral Chas Freeman (retired), said the report was "highly plausible" given both the "close and robust" cooperation on counter-terrorism between the US and the kingdom and its geographical proximity to Yemen.
According to one of the authors of the Post report, the expanding network is designed to "avoid the mistakes of the past".
"When al-Qaeda fled Afghanistan into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, it took years before the CIA had assembled a drone program capable of putting the terrorist network under pressure," wrote Greg Miller on the Post's website. "That delay, and costly deals for air-basing access in neighboring countries, allowed al-Qaeda to flourish."
The reports come amid considerable controversy about the increased use by the Obama administration of armed drones, ominously named Predators, and the longer-range Reapers, in its counter-terrorism campaign.
In Pakistan, where the CIA greatly sharply increased unilateral drone strikes - to nearly 200 - against "high-value" al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in the first two years of the Obama administration, the tactic has contributed heavily to an increase in anti-Americanism. An overwhelming 97% of respondents in a recent Pew Research Center poll in Pakistan, where anti-Americanism is at an all-time high, said they viewed drone attacks negatively.
Indeed, none other than Obama's first top intelligence chief, Admiral Dennis Blair (retired), told an elite gathering of foreign policy and national security wonks in July that it was a mistake "to have [an air-only] campaign dominate our overall relations" with Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
"Because we're alienating the countries concerned, because we're treating countries just as places where we go attack groups that threaten us, we are threatening the prospects of long-term reform," he said. Such strikes should only be carried out with the consent of the host government.
But Obama's new Pentagon chief and former CIA director Leon Panetta rejected that criticism, insisting that the tactic had been and would continue to be "effective at undermining al-Qaeda and their ability to plan attacks [against the US]".
Panetta and the Pentagon have also reportedly led the charge in an ongoing debate within the administration to broaden the current target list in Yemen and Somalia from high-level leaders of AQAP and al-Shabaab, who are presumed to share al-Qaeda's global aims, to include low-level foot soldiers, whose motivation for joining such groups may be more parochial and less ambitious.
The drone has increasingly become the administration's "weapon of choice" in its efforts to subdue al-Qaeda and its affiliates, although it has been used far less frequently against targets in Yemen and Somalia than in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
At least six drone strikes targeted alleged militants in Yemen in 2010 and 2011, but that number may have risen recently due to the collapse amid the ongoing political turmoil of the central government's authority over various parts of the country. Militias that Washington believes are tied to AQAP have taken control of towns near the Gulf of Aden.
"There's an assumption that the US has used a lot of aerial strikes in recent months, but it's difficult to get verification," said Gregory Johnson, a Yemen expert at Princeton University.
In Somalia, where Washington has also used cruise missiles and heliborne Special Operations Forces (SOF) against senior al-Shabaab leaders, there are believed to have been only two drones strikes since 2007.
According to the Post and Journal accounts, Washington used a base in the Seychelles in 2009 and 2010 to fly drones for surveillance of both Somalia and Somali piracy activity in the Indian Ocean. According to the WikiLeaks cables cited by the Post, Seychelles President James Michel has concurred with the idea of arming the drones.
Somalia's Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told the Journal that he did not object to armed drone attacks on members of al-Shabaab, provided that such operations were coordinated with his government, but that he opposed attacks on pirates.
The Post reported that the US had negotiated with Ethiopia, with which Washington also cooperates closely on counter-terrorism activities, for four years over building a base for armed drones on its territory. Fox News reported that the US had flown surveillance drones from several Ethiopian bases.
"There could certainly be a lot of internal discussion before they would agree to authorize the use of a base [for armed drones]," said David Shinn, a former US ambassador to Addis Ababa. "They don't want to be seen as a pawn of anyone."
Shinn, who teaches at George Washington University, said the use of armed drones should be highly constrained and warned against its becoming "the default policy for dealing with Somalia".
"I don't see a problem with using an aerial strike with a couple of huge caveats," he told IPS. "First, that you have intelligence which is 95% accurate or better on a high value target - which is a pretty tough standard - and, second, that there's little or no likelihood of collateral damage. If you're using these things willy-nilly on the basis of not very good intelligence, then it will be counter-productive."
Johnson voiced similar caution, noting that "Washington has drifted into this tactic, because it can't seem to find any other good options in Yemen".
"But it runs the very real risk of actually exacerbating the situation," he noted. "The problem with drones is that the US doesn't have a very good track record on killing who it's aiming at in Yemen. So it often ends up killing civilians, which drives their brothers, fathers, sons, nephews, etc into the hands of al-Qaeda and makes it easier for al-Qaeda to argue that Yemen is an active theater of jihad, no different from Iraq or Afghanistan."
He also expressed concern about the CIA building a base in Saudi Arabia. "One of the primary motivations for Osama bin Laden's jihad against the US were military bases housing US troops in Saudi Arabia after the end of the Gulf War [in 1991]," he wrote on his blog, Waq al-Waq. "Does the US think this current of thought no longer holds sway in Arabia?