A relatively even-handed and close-up look—in fictional form–at the U.S. drone program currently used in the so-called “war on terrorism,” Sting of the Drone provides the reader with an insider’s view of one of the latest and most controversial weapons currently being employed by the Obama administration. Clarke, a 30-year veteran national security advisor to multiple U.S. governments, gives us a fictionalized account of an impending Christmas attack on several U.S. cities by a combined force of al-Qaeda and drug cartel elements from “that side of the world,” an attack whose planning was triggered as it turns out by a unilateral US drone deployment in the heart of Vienna, Austria against a handful of conspiring bad guys.
While Clarke’s writing is hardly stellar, he incorporates enough technical knowledge of the instruments of terror and assassination on both sides that it creates an edge-of-the-seat tension that grips the reader, whether you otherwise find some of his writing a little too prosaic or pedantic. What Clarke does is alternate chapters between the major players in the U.S. involved in the predator drone attacks against perceived enemies of the U.S. around the globe, and the terrorist or criminal elements who are waging their own increasingly sophisticated war.
What Clarke brings out in his narrative is the vast collateral damage on both sides resulting from employment of drone warfare. First, there are the civilians and otherwise innocent victims of drone attacks who simply don’t figure in the calculations of the U.S. political and military figures who order the kills. There is also the question of whether assassination is a legitimate form of warfare. But also, there are the U.S. pilots and their families, among others, who suffer the psychological consequences of being turned into assassins with joysticks, using a combination of military training and video-game indoctrination to kill real-life flesh-and-blood human beings from a safe, cool and dark room on the other side of the globe. No semblance of justice or trials, just a political decision from faceless higher-ups that the target needs to be eliminated in defense of the “national interest,” however that may be defined at any given time and by any given government.
Clarke is no novice when it comes to battling terrorism and defending the national interest, but while he takes great care to present all sides of the argument, his nervousness about the potential abuse of drone warfare—by the U.S. governments and others—is discernible. I think Sting of the Drone should be read by everyone, so that when you weigh in on the issue of drone warfare–as surely you must–, you are at least a little better educated as to what the issues are.