What Hath Obama Wrought? Drone Warfare in the Trump Era.

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President Barack Obama was going to be different.

“Eight years ago, Mr. Obama suggested a messenger from a dreamy, multicultural future,” said Adam Shatz, a Fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities. “America would be steered back on track, working with other countries to meet the challenges of what he often called an ‘interdependent’ world…”

“But it hasn’t worked out that way,” Shatz said. “Despite the best of intentions, Mr. Obama became one of the midwives of of this dangerous and angry new world , where his enlightened cosmopolitanism increasingly looks like an anachronism.”

One area where the dreamy optimism eroded was with the drone strikes carried out from operations centers around the world that President George Bush initiated and Obama escalated.

Pressed by public interest groups, in July 2016 the Obama Administration released its estimates of the number of civilians killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, all countries where the United States is not officially at war. The three-page report, titled “Total Number of Strikes Against Terrorist Targets Outside Areas of Active Hostilities”, said 473 U.S. drone strikes in those three countries during Obama’s two terms killed 64-116 civilians. The report also said 2,372-2,581 combatants were killed in U.S. airstrikes from January 20, 2009, to December 31, 2015.

The government acknowledged that its figures differed substantially from estimates by non-governmental organizations. The Long War Journal, for example, estimated 207 civilian deaths just in Pakistan and Yemen, New America estimated at least 216 civilian deaths in the two countries   and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated that 380-801 civilians died during Obama’s presidency.

The U.S. defended its conclusions, however, asserting that:

  • U.S. government post-strike methodologies for determining combatant and non-combatant deaths were superior
  • The government relied on a more extensive collection and analysis of multiple sources of intelligence before, during, and after a strike, and
  • Some figures released by others have been tainted by the deliberate spread of misinformation by some actors, including terrorist organizations.

President Bush’s embrace of drone killings (he authorized about 50 non-battlefield drone strikes) stirred angry protests by liberals, but the massive escalation of drone strikes under Nobel Peace Prize-winning President Obama, including strikes on American citizens, hasn’t stirred up much public turmoil.

Until now.

Now, with President-elect Donald Trump about to take office, public debate and concern about the drone program is resurfacing in liberal circles.

“That any president has this kind of power is concerning on its own, but it’s even more alarming now that Donald Trump, who has praised repressive dictators like Vladimir Putin and shown little respect for things like international law and the Geneva Conventions, is going to be in the White House,” reported Vox on Jan. 10.

If Trump does go even more hog-wild with drones, a supine Congress, deferring to the Bush and Obama administrations, set him up for it by tolerating aggressive presidential behavior and being willing to watch passively as executive power was stretched beyond its constitutional bounds.

“…the truth is that both major parties under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have worked to remove the restraints on the presidency and drastically exaggerate its authority,” Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote recently in The Week. “If Donald Trump wants to wield nearly unlimited power, he’s seeking an office that provides it.”

A different world: the unintended consequences of China’s one-child policy

The deaths of female babies by drowning, sex-selective abortion, malnutrition, denial of health care and abandonment.

These are some of the grim consequences of China’s one-child policy.

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In 2012, CNN reported that Feng Jianmei, 22, was detained and coerced into having an abortion in the seventh month of her pregnancy, according to her husband.

But they aren’t the only ones.

China, once fixated on explosive population growth and worried about the economy’s ability to cope with it, now has a new problem, too sharp a drop in birth rates and too many old people.

The ramifications for China and the rest of the world could be severe.

In 1979, Liang Zhongtang, a Chinese economist and demographer, insisted that the one-child policy would be a “terrible tragedy” that would turn China into a “breathless, lifeless society without a future,” but he was ignored.

In 1980, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, fearfully contemplating a population of one billion, initiated a one-child policy.

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The rigorous enforcement of the policy quickly got ugly, with a particularly devastating impact on female babies, as families favored having male children.

“Chinese women’s reproduction is utilized as a feature of socialist modernization, a sacrifice for the good of the state,” said Winter Wall, founder and Managing Member at W3 Global Consulting in Denver, CO. “Reproductive rights in Chinese society have been co-opted by the government as a component of a broader push towards socialist modernization.”

While most Americans think of China in terms of the cheek-to-jowl masses of people crowded into Bejing, there’s much more to the story.

NPR reported this past year on the consequences of the one-child policy in China’s Rudong County in Jiangsu province.

The county launched a family planning pilot program in the 1960s. “Having a second child wasn’t allowed, so we had to work on (pregnant women) and persuade them to have an abortion,” Chen Jieru, the Communist Party secretary of a village at the time, told NPR.

The result? The policy, in combination with an exodus of young people to cities for better opportunities, has left the county’s young population shriveled while the elderly population has exploded.

The increasing number of the elderly is soon going to be a problem across China. There are now five workers to each retiree, but in a little more than 20 years that is projected to shift to 1.6 workers to every one retiree. “It spells shrunken tax coffers, reduced consumer spending and all-around diminished productivity,” said Mei Fong in her recently issued book, “One Child – the story of China’s most radical experiment.”

A senior Chinese economist, Liu Mingkang, speaking at the Asia Global Dialogue in 2012, said China’s population growth will end as soon as 2020 when its population will peak at 1.6 billion.

Youhua Chen, a demographer at China’s Nanjing University, has also gained some notoriety by warning about a sharp drop ahead for China’s population. The decline will be accompanied by soaring health care and pension costs, and collapsing real estate markets, he has warned.

Prof. Chen has predicted that China’s population will peak at about 1.4 billion and then fall precipitously to 500 million. His graph is below.

GraphImage

Title: Figure 1   Estimated China Population Growth 1950-2100   (Black line): Low (Plan, Program, Prospects…)   (Pink line): Medium (Plan, Program, Prospects…)   (Blue line):  High (Plan, Program, Prospects)   Graph courtesy of Mei Fong, Fellow, New America                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

If Prof. Chen is right, this means lots of problems.

“These problems will compromise economic development, strain social harmony, and place the traditional Chinese family structure under severe pressure; in fact, they could shake Chinese civilization to its very foundations,” said Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy with the American Enterprise Institute.

There are already signs of a slowing Chinese economy that will be exacerbated by the aging of the population. China’s economy is “like a speeding bicycle that has to keep going just to keep from falling over, “ said the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a report on China’s Long March to Retirement Reform.

Gordon G. Chang, writing in World Affairs, has posited that the decline in China’s population will also exacerbate China’s economic challenges, particularly its competition with India.

China has recently loosened the one-child restrictions, but it hasn’t resulted in a baby boom. So the prediction still holds that sometime in the next 10 years, India will overtake China as the world’s most populous state at some point before 2025, Chang says, and India will keep growing while China declines. India’s India’s workforce will pass China’s by 2030, according to the UN.

“When you see a country’s population decline, the country will definitely degrade into a second-rate one,” said Yao Yang, an economist with Peking University’s China Center for Economic Research.

In light of all this, it’s India, not China, that could end up dominating the middle of this century.

That will change things…a lot.