The Latest Strike
On Dec. 12, 2013, a wedding party of 50 or 60 guests in Yemen, after feasting on roasted lamb with the bride’s parents, piled into the 11-vehicle caravan for the drive up a mountain road to deliver the bride to the groom’s house. Suddenly a buzzing in the sky grew louder, and four Hellfire missiles launched from drones slammed into the convoy. The attack killed 12 people, including the groom’s son from a previous marriage, and seriously wounded 15, including the bride.
The U.S. government has conducted two investigations into the incident. Though the results have not been made public, U.S. officials claim that only militants were killed. A recent report by Human Rights Watch, titled “A Wedding That Became a Funeral,” released on Feb., 20, tells a different story.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 25 people, including family members, eyewitnesses and government officials from Yemen and the United States. From the evidence available, the report says, the attack violated a policy endorsed by President Obama on May 23, 2013: There must be “near-certainty” that a legitimate target is present, that he poses a “continuing and imminent threat” to the American people, that arresting him is not feasible and that no civilians will be killed. According to the report, the victims were most likely all shepherds, farmers and migrants, not terrorists; the “bad guy” was not there, and even if he had been, that would not have justified the devastating attack. Since 2009 the United States has conduccted at least 86 target killings in Yemen, taking at least 500 lives.
After this latest attack, the 60-year-old groom raised his hands to the sky, saying: “Why did the United States do this to us?” Why, indeed?
A Divided Venezuela
Events on the ground are proceeding quickly in Venezuela, where poor economic conditions and dissatisfaction with the government of President Nicolás Maduro have led to violent street protests. As of this writing, 13 people have been killed, and one of the principal opposition leaders, Leopoldo López, remains in jail. Meanwhile, Mr. Maduro’s rival for the presidency in 2013, Henrique Capriles, is calling for the Catholic Church to serve as a mediator.
The bishops of Venezuela have “called for the social and political leaders to engage in deep, sincere dialogue” to address the urgent problems in the country, like high rates of violent crime and the lack of basic consumer goods. On Feb. 24 the bishops’ justice and peace commission joined other organizations in calling for “urgent action to help guarantee human rights, justice and peace in Venezuela.”
In the past, church leadership alienated some in the Venezuelan community by its strong, while accurate, criticism of President Hugo Chávez. The fact that Mr. Capriles sees the church as an impartial negotiator is a positive sign that the reputation of the church has improved among the political elite. The United States should also refrain from taking sides, even as tensions rise over the expulsion of American diplomats in Caracas. Some in Washington may be tempted to take advantage of the crisis, but they should tread delicately. The United States may wish for a better negotiating partner than Mr. Maduro, but the president’s party still retains strong support among the poor. Mr. Chávez may be dead, but Chavismo lives on.
Central bankers are supposed to be gloomy proctors, not high-wire acrobats, so it seems a little unfair to criticize the want of urgency exhibited by some of the nation’s Federal Reserve presidents in 2008. Transcripts released on Feb. 21 of Federal Open Market Committee meetings conducted as the economic crisis accelerated reveal wayward prognosticators far too sanguine about the resilience of the U.S. economy, apparently oblivious to the acute damage recession and credit panic were already doing (though the current chairperson, Janet L. Yellen, shows up frequently right on the money).
More than five years later it is not clear that Congress and state and federal regulators have properly addressed the tangled complex of interests and incompetence that created and propelled the crisis. The Federal Reserve has indirectly pumped billions into the economy as “qualitative easing,” and markets are up past their pre-crisis highs. But restoration of the economy continues to move at a glacial pace that has left those at the bottom scrambling for decent-paying work. Meanwhile, the surviving too-big-to-fail banks have only gotten too-bigger; subprime mortgage lending has returned, renovated as “non-prime”; and commercial banking tentacles now reach deep into the real economy, opening exciting new opportunities for conflict-of-interest case studies.
The lesson to be drawn from the transcripts is not how woefully out of touch Federal Reserve bankers were in 2008. It is that a meeting room of central bankers should be the last place for high-risk innovations that are as likely to turn out wrong as right. A solid regulatory and enforcement regime makes a better bulwark against economic chaos than best guesses around a Federal Reserve meeting table. It is necessary to make these reforms before this latest fiasco slides away into the realm of the forgotten.