There's a saying that when something sounds too good to be true...it probably is. And nothing sounds better than the notion that "we can win the war on terror" by finding the location of top al-Qaeda leaders -- even in remote areas of Pakistan -- and then sending up unmanned (i.e., risk free) high-tech drones, and killing them -- and a total of exactly 30 people -- with accurate missiles every time, steadily reducing the number of terrorists that threaten us while causing no loss of life to Americans or our allies.

Great plan, especially when you read about all the high-level al-Qaeda terrorists that we're killing this way. Too bad it's complete and utter baloney:

Yet over and over and over, it turns out that these anonymous government assertions -- trumpeted by our mindless media -- are completely false.  The Big Bad Guy allegedly killed in the strike ends up nowhere near the bombs and missiles.  Sometimes, the very same Big Bad Guy can be used to justify different strikes over the course of many years (we know we said we killed him four times before, but this time we're pretty sure we got him), or he can turn up alive when it's time to re-trumpet the Al Qaeda threat (we said before we killed him in that devastating airstrike, but actually he's alive and more dangerous than ever!!).  Just like the "we killed 30 extremists" claim or the "we got Al Qaeda's Number 3" boast, this is propaganda in its purest form, disseminated jointly by the U.S. Government and American media, and it happens over and over, compelling a rational person to conclude that it's clearly intentional by both parties.

In the last week alone, this pattern just asserted itself -- twice -- with regard to the air strikes in Yemen.  The first set of strikes, it was immediately leaked, was allegedly aimed at "the presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Qaaim al-Raymi," yet it turned out he was not among the dozens of people killed, though "U.S. officials believe one of his top deputies [unnamed] may have been killed."  Then, after a second set of strikes on Thursday, it was claimed that "a Yemeni air raid may have killed the top two leaders of al Qaeda's regional branch," and an American Muslim preacher linked to Nidal Hasan, "the man who shot dead 13 people at a U.S. army base [Anwar al-Awlaki] may also have died."  

But while ABC News had identified "the presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen" as "Qaaim al-Raymi" when he was the target of last week's strikes, Reuters decided that the "top two leaders of al Qaeda's regional branch" were completely different people -- "Nasser al-Wahayshi, the Yemeni leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and his Saudi deputy, Saeed al-Shehri" -- and then excitedly announced that they "may have been killed" by this week's air strikes.  Whoever we claim we kill is the "key leader of Al Qaeda's operations"-- and it can change from day to day.

What in God's name are we doing? It's time to wake up and realize that this policy of anonymous death from above isn't making America safer, but it's placing everyday people like you and me in greater danger, by creating far more new terrorists -- from the friends and families and neighbors of the civilians who are killed in these drone attacks -- than whatever small numbers of actual al-Qaeda members are killed.

Yes, the unsuccessful Christmas attack on a jetliner landing in Detroit show we still need smarter security after all these years (i.e., making sure someone like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab isn't boarding a plane to America at the same time we're too busy looking down the list for a guy who wrote a snarky book about Karl Rove) but we also need to be smart enough to learn how not to create new Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabs, which would actually be the "victory in the war on terror" that people are always talking about. Instead, we just move a tired war-based strategy from country to country -- next up: Yemen! We just keep droning along.

*