Sharpened Pencils or W-88s–when you really have to kill somebody, which is less impolite?

Arising out of the mega thread earlier, commenter Corner Stone noted, if I understood him correctly,  that the problem with discussing the use of military force by the US government tends to get diverted into frog-hair splitting about which technology we should use to kill people, versus the policies that lead us to killing people on the other side of the world in the first place.

My reply to him:

I see somebody post something about drones being used to kill people on the other side of the world and how evil that is. I honestly don’t recall any elaboration on that point, even when specifically asked for it, but I’m sure that it’s happened. I don’t watch the blog all the time.  Sometimes I pay attention to my wife and kids. Would that they wouldn’t always get in the way of blogging, but they’re pretty selfish that way.

I’ll put up a thread later where we can talk about foreign policy specifically as it relates to the “war on terror”*…
What questions do we as engaged citizens ask or should we be asking? What answers should we be looking for?  What is the role of the military in addressing common national security challenges?  What is the role of the military in this specific national security challenge?  What other departments or agencies should address these issues?  Hell—what constitutes a national security challenge (in the first place)?

*A construct I’ve never liked as it makes war against a tactic, and not a base cause and therefore is an open ended commitment to use weapons to resolve problems whenever they present themselves whether or not they are the appropriate tool.

As commenter FlipYrWhig stated:

…if we’re really doing this, it’s not even clear what “the debate” even is. Is it “what’s to be done to stop suspected terrorists?” or “given that drones exist and can be grievously misused, what’s to be done to make that misuse zero or close to zero?” or “given that the American government continues to do various indisputably awful things, how much responsibility do we bear for those if we voted for the guy at its head?”

ETA: What debate do the disputants even think they’re having?

The way some people want to hash it out, you’d think the starting point was “given that Obama cackles while bathing in the blood of innocents, how ought we best advance the demise of murderous American hegemony?” or “given that terrorists will kill you tomorrow if we do nothing, why do you want to do nothing?”

I know that this is already starting to look like I’m trolling the blog.  I know that some of you are probably thinking I’m just doing this to fuck with you people in the hope of seeing some really epic commenter slap-fights.

Well, yes.  Duh.

But I also think this is a discussion worth having.  Presumably, I’m not the only one who thinks the answer to terrorist or potential terrorist attacks is neither use nukes nor do nothing.  Surely there’s some continuum of operations that includes dropping flowers and chocolates on one end and glassing their capitol city on the other with diplomatic operations, development aid, busboys with silencers, SEAL Team 6, the 82nd ABN Division, and B-2 stealth bombers in there somewhere.

Presumably I’m not the only one who thinks that the correct answer to enemy forces trying to widen the battlefield to neighboring countries, with the collusion of the governments and people of those countries, should be met by targeting them where they may be found hiding even in those countries, and that nothing good comes of waiting till they stand in the middle of a field by themselves firing a weapon at my friends.  But perhaps that question is better answered as part of a larger question–what are or should be the triggers for the use of various forces, and having made that decision, what does that imply for the military personnel we are sending into harms way to kill in our names?  What duty do we have to them, both during the conflict and after it?  How far should we be willing to go?

Are drones at their heart evil?  Is there some moral flaw attached to them that does not pertain to other forms of force?  If so, why?  And what distinguishes one form of force from another?

I’d ask that we keep it polite and try to avoid the personal attacks, but this is Balloon-Juice, and that train left the station long before I started commenting here.

236 replies
  1. 1
    TBogg says:

    I’ve been trying to get answers to all of these questions for weeks, and all I can get is “flying killer robots are killing brown children, you horrible racist monster” with no plan for an alternative to how to deal with existing terrorist cells and training camps. So… good luck with this

  2. 2
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    There are a lot of questions in that post, but what makes this whole thing so hard to talk about is that you really need to answer them all at once. But you did miss a question: What do we do considering that we cannot simply pull out of the region? There are a number of countries that are actually counting on our might, and it’s not like pulling out will magically end our dependence on oil.

    ETA: Just to be clear, I’m talking about us protecting most of the shipping lanes of the world. Imagine what navigation would be like if we either had Somalia everywhere or had the oceans divided into small chunks with tolls at ever point.

  3. 3
    Yutsano says:

    I think the real mystery is that there seems to be some opaque process in who gets the decision to be bombed. If these acts are to be done in our name we deserve at least a voice in saying either stop or pause while we decide if this is right. But what do I know? I’m just a worm.

  4. 4
    AT says:

    Isolationism! If it was good enough for monroe it’s good enough for Obama!

  5. 5
    Persia says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Another factor is that due to the heavy level of secrecy on all this, ‘real’ answers are pretty fucking hard to find.

  6. 6
    The Dangerman says:

    Is there some moral flaw attached to them that does not pertain to other forms of force?

    No.

    …and that train left the station long before I started commenting here.

    Is this where I preemptively invite everyone that disagrees with me to fuck off?

  7. 7
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Yutsano: We call those elections and polls and phone calls to your Congresscritter, Yutsano. One of the fun things about a Republic. And, sadly, I suspect the polling on drones wouldn’t be to our liking very much.

  8. 8
    Baud says:

    @Yutsano:

    I think the real mystery is that there seems to be some opaque process in who gets the decision to be bombed

    Isn’t that par for the course in any military action?

  9. 9
    Another Halocene Human says:

    Isn’t this whole debate kind of like the “I can respect a hunter who uses a bow and arrow, that’s real hunting, not a dude with a high-tech scope and an assault rifle and deer hormones, hyuck, hyuck.”

    And then it turns out the bow and arrow types are even bigger douchebags than the rifle guys and even more of the worthless sport hunters you despise. A lot of the rifle guys have two freezers and will be eating venison sausages and chili for months.

    You’ve got the douchebag sport hunters and you’ve got maybe harmless hobby hunters (really, there’s nothing pretty about an area overrun with deer… or even gators), you’ve got commercial poachers (hiss!), and you’ve got the people who work 3 months at the paper mill kissing the asses of assholes, 3 months tiling or roofing if they can get it, the rest of the year on unemployment and eating whatever they can catch.

    Unfortunately the rivers and streams are horribly polluted with heavy metals and dioxins so these people turn out a little … funny.

    We could do something about it, but that would be letting the Red State leeches win or something, so we’ll keep fucking that unMarshall Plan (Sherman Plan?) chicken and hoping they’ll wake up and come over to our side because Magic.

  10. 10
    geg6 says:

    @TBogg:

    Not to mention that this whole argument is an age old argument. The same arguments were being made when man was transitioning from stone to bronze to steel, from hordes to Roman army formations, from foot soldiers to cavalry, from muskets to rifled barrels, from just about every advance in weaponry. Whatever the new thing is, it is the most horrible thing ever, which it is because war sucks no matter how you’re killing The Other. But unless someone can figure out how to go back in time and have us all regress back into stone weapons and massive hordes participating in one-on-one battles, drones are pretty much the least indiscriminate weapon man has developed.

    I, personally, believe that we have to try to stop terrorists who want to hurt us, as a nation. I also can’t see how we go after these terrorists in any other way, both financially and tactically. I would like to know what the Oh Noes, DRONZ! crowd suggest as an alternative.

  11. 11
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): I like drones. Sounds like their effectiveness would provide the right weapon to lop off and cauterize the heads of the bajillion-dollar-baby useless fighter jet ripoff-the-taxpayer projects and the wasteful, fundy & white-power infested douchebag Air Force hydra.

    But that’s just one asshole’s opinion.

  12. 12
    the Conster says:

    Why do I see ships sailing, closed barn doors, trains leaving the station, omelettes and dead horses? BUT DROOOONZZZ!

  13. 13
    raven says:

    Go Bears!

  14. 14
    Heliopause says:

    The way some people want to hash it out, you’d think the starting point was “given that Obama cackles while bathing in the blood of innocents

    There you’ve done it, you can’t even get two-thirds of the way through your post without resorting to completely ridiculous straw man argumentation. The reason we can’t have the discussion is exactly because of garbage like this.

  15. 15
    gnomedad says:

    I know that this is already starting to look like I’m trolling the blog.

    Not at all. Fine post.

  16. 16
    Lit3Bolt says:

    The really simple question to ask is:

    Is the 9/11 war won and are we as safe as we are ever going to be from terrorist attacks?

    I have yet to hear any thoughts on the subject by Conor, Glenn, or Freddie.

    Have we won the war?

    Answer this please, using all the foreign policy expertise you can muster. Because unless you do, and do so convincingly, more of your precious “innocent Muslims” (along with the presumably “guilty Americans”) will die.

  17. 17
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): there are rumors that Romney’s game changer will be to call for reinstatement of torture, and I don’t think we’ll like the results of that, if true.

    the Constitutional romantic in me says the first step is to get congress back to a more active role in foreign policy oversight. The way they punted on Libya was disgraceful, however you feel about what we did, didn’t do, or should(n’t) have done, Republicans and a lot of Democrats wanted no part of it for crass political reasons. Republicans didn’t want to support Obama, and didn’t want to risk him having a victory. I honestly wonder if reasonable political discussion of foreign policy is possible while that vainglorious old fool John McCain is still with us. There are a few figures who could stand up to him, Colin Powell, whose image polishing makes him next to useless. Old John Warner or Jim Webb should have the stature to do it, but I don’t know if they do in a fucked up world where Tom Friedman, Candy Crowley and David Gregory are the arbiters, or if they would/will do it.

    And among the small number of voters who actually care– 20, 30%, I have no idea– the best often lack all conviction, while the worst are full of ‘kill’em all and let god sort ’em out’ intensity.

  18. 18
    PeakVT says:

    It’s somewhat tangential to the discussion, but Stephen Walt has a good post up today on what American’s security position actually is, in reality, which includes this quote:

    The main reason American foreign policy looks difficult is because Washington keeps taking on really difficult objectives, like occupying Iraq, trying to turn Afghanistan into a modern, Western-style state, [and] attempting to coerce Iran into giving up all nuclear enrichment in exchange for precisely nothing from us. And that’s just for starters.

  19. 19
    Soonergrunt says:

    @TBogg: I’m a Liberal (regardless of what some around here believe.) So I have hope.

  20. 20
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @geg6:

    I, personally, believe that we have to try to stop terrorists who want to hurt us, as a nation.

    Just spitballing, but is there also anything we can do to try to stop terrorists wanting to to hurt us, as a nation?

  21. 21
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    I have no problem with people being opposed to the use of force, especially when noncombatants are killed. I am myself opposed to that.

    But there are DR0NZ-ponyprogs who are waving it around PUMA-style to oppose absolutely anything Obama does, and they’re just trolls.

  22. 22
    MikeJ says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist:

    the Constitutional romantic in me says the first step is to get congress back to a more active role in foreign policy oversight.

    In a world where St. Bernie of Vermont voted to keep Gitmo open, I don’t see that happening.

  23. 23
    aimai says:

    I don’t see the issue in quite the way the OP posed it. For me its more like this;
    You are living in an imperial, war mongering state with many economic and geopolitical interests (that belong to corporations) and many economic and geopolitical risks which are assigned to the actual citizenry. The President and the Admin and the Congress all share a lot of responsibility for managing those interests and those risks. Sometimes those interests even create those risks–9/11 was, of course, blowback from our own actions arming the mujahadeen in Afghanistan and putting troops on Saudi soil after the invasion of Iraq in the first Gulf War.

    Not voting for this or that President does not, actually, remove you from the equation anymore than writing a sternly worded letter to the editor makes you a front line fighter in the battle against an Imperial US.

    Each and every one of us is equally complicit in whatever deaths are associated with the US as an international actor because we all benefit (in cheap oil, in retribution meted out to our enemies) whether we vote for this or that Presidential candidate or we don’t. [You are excused if, like Thoreau, you actually go to jail for your protest. Or if, like Gandhi, MLK, or any other serious political actor you actually, you know, act politically.]

    The whole nullification by withdrawal of the people’s consent (the “Imagine” version of politics) is actually very old. In fact Montaigne’s best friend wrote an important essay on this which is still used today by the right wing in the US. But it only has meaning if its more than a solitary, solipsistic, act of sulky self galtianism.

    In the case of the Drones, yeah, it seems to boil down to a strange discomfort with a particular technology, wrapped up in hysteria about civilian deaths that is all the more absurd when you think that we as a country, through our various corporate entities, are killing more people every day with leaky oil pipelines in Nigeria than have ever been touched by drones.

    I am, of course, not pro drone or pro the deaths of any civilian but I fail to see how we distinguish between deaths which we don’t have to mourn or act on and deaths that we do if we don’t grapple with mining deaths, oil pipeline deaths, etc..etc…etc…

    aimai

  24. 24
    Scotty says:

    I would assume this:

    Drone strikes against terrorists, even with the possibility of civilian casualties, cause less overall loss of life than ground operations to capture/kill terrorists or possible terror operations carried out by terrorists if they were not hit from the sky.

    If it is correct, then the drone policy makes sense. If not, then what other avenues are there to prevent the least amount of civilian deaths possible? Either way, the policies of both sides lead to loss of life.

  25. 25
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Heliopause: You should go back and re-read that. It was quoting another commenter. But you could also choose to answer the point he’s making…

  26. 26
    raven says:

    The dead don’t give a fuck how they got dead. Take that right down to the bank.

  27. 27
    David Fud says:

    @Lit3Bolt: Had there really been a war to win (as noted by the war on a tactic comment by Soonergrunt), then I would vote for we win. Otherwise, we are stuck fighting every time somebody has a civil war, or when Bibi decides that Iran is the devil, or someone in China decides that they need to rattle sabres to win internal political battles. Or whenever we decide that someone is not being sufficiently respectful of the US or when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

    Given that the premise is bull, there is no answer. But feel free to keep asking it.

  28. 28
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Wouldn’t that involve disengaging from our foreign adventures and not starting new ones? We seem to be doing pretty good on that front.

    I was super worried about Libya but Obama pulled it out of the bag. The Libyans actually seem to like us. Let’s not fuck that up.

    We can’t do anything about Israel (and they have serious problems internally that are not going away) but Bin Laden got real interested in the USA because we were supporting the monarchist assholes in Saudi Arabia… anglophile CIA aristocrats and similar sorts locked us into the mistakes of the Brits (ditto with Iran), so here we are.

    Not starting new conflicts would be a good start. Maybe engaging some of these marginal states as trade partners in a constructive way. That’s worked for us in the past.

  29. 29
    gnomedad says:

    Some of the questions for me are:

    Do drones make war more palatable and therefore less of a last resort?

    Do we use drones to reduce our own casualties and expenses while causing greater “collateral damage”?

    And what of the drone pilots who run these missions and go home to their families each night? Can they just decompress every day?

  30. 30
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @geg6: The pope was issuing anathemas against the crossbow at more or less the same time he was granting indulgences for taking the Cross.

    This is an age-old problem.

  31. 31
    Soonergrunt says:

    @raven: This is true.

  32. 32
    Roger Moore says:

    @geg6:

    I would like to know what the Oh Noes, DRONZ! crowd suggest as an alternative.

    I’m pretty sure that it starts with “get the hell out of everywhere we’re currently using drones because we don’t belong there”. I have to admit that I find that sentiment appealing. We’ve gotten trapped in a classic case of defensive imperialism. We aren’t really interested in a lot of the places we’re involved in, but we kind of got sucked in because we were already involved with the neighboring country and didn’t want bad stuff happening next door. We need to back up and get the hell out of every place we’re currently involved that doesn’t represent a real national interest.

  33. 33
    raven says:

    @gnomedad: “Do we use drones to reduce our own casualties and expenses while causing greater “collateral damage”?” Greater than what?

  34. 34
    Shawn in ShowMe says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    We could close the embassies, withdraw financial and political support for Israel and remove our military presence in the region. Of course, we’d forfeit credibility on national security for the next 50 years and get shut out of the White House.

  35. 35
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Roger Moore:

    We need to back up and get the hell out of every place we’re currently involved that doesn’t represent a real national interest

    Fair enough. What constitutes a real national interest?

  36. 36
    Davis X. Machina says:

    We need to back up and get the hell out of every place we’re currently involved that doesn’t represent a real national interest.

    Every place we’re already in represents ‘a real national interest’, maybe not to you, or me, but to the political nation. It’s why we’re there already.

  37. 37
    El Cid says:

    “Drones” are a category of aircraft, distinguished by how they’re controlled. (At least in current usage it’s mainly about aircraft, ground drones are likely to be more common shortly.)

    So it’s a question over what one thinks about a particular policy or campaign of aerial bombardment.

    This is basically the outcome of the policy on the ground or at the target whether it’s an unguided gravity bomb, a guided bomb, a cruise missile flying a long distance on its own, a guided shell from a vessel offshore, a big-ass artillery shot from a vessel, or missiles launched from manned or unmanned aircraft.

    The technology involved certainly changes all sorts of things, including the relative cost to the nation doing the aerial bombing / long-range shelling / shooting missiles.

    If you think in a particular situation it’s wrong (or right, for that matter) for a given nation (ours, or another nation, because other nations can bomb and shell and fire missiles from ships and piloted and unpiloted crafts too) to be blowing up certain targets, that’s true whatever the technology used to do so.

    However, it’s also true — as it always has been — that the type of lethal technology changes what happens at the intended target (and/or in the vicinity) and the process followed to make a decision as to use that lethal technology or not.

    “Drones” to this extent are a more mundane and less costly version of the “smart” bombs which made history (though constituted a small portion) in the videography of Gulf War 1. But most of the postwar US-UK military campaign consisted of bombing and missile shots from piloted aircraft.

    On the one hand, ordinary people are always going to need to analyze a situation and come to their own conclusions about whether or not it’s right and/or wise to bomb certain people or targets or areas. (For some the answer may be a universal ‘no’, for many others, that’s not the answer they come to.)

    And on the other hand, people can also wonder about how the form of technology might affect things in and of themselves.

    In areas in which the US (or whoever) feels aerially dominant then it would have been (and is still) quite common to choose to use piloted aircraft to bomb / fire missiles against whomever or whatever.

    But in other areas, the risk to pilots, craft, international boundary related diplomacy and the like might make the likelihood of even longer distance ‘fire-and-forget’ shots from piloted craft less likely.

    It’s not like the US has been reticent to bomb people and targets and locations from aircraft in the past; but you could see how people might (at least preliminarily, maybe empirically it’s true, maybe it’s not) conclude that the use of a pilotless technology like an unmanned drone craft which avoids the loss of pilots, is seen as less serious by the public (for whatever reasons, including the first), and which are much more difficult to track and easier to sacrifice make aerial bombing & missile firing more likely.

    Maybe that’s not the case. Maybe that’s the case and people that this is a good thing. Maybe anticipated negative futures in which pilotless air and ground and sea vehicles are not vastly more common or greatly more commonly used.

  38. 38
    David Fud says:

    Personally, I think a nice Middle East pullback of epic proportions would be great. The reason we could consider this is that we are now more or less self-sufficient in oil/energy. We don’t need to play these realpolitic games with shipping lanes and regional powers and fundamentalists and nation-building when we have all the resources we need at home.

    Then, the fact that we don’t have to police the world will allow us to get our federal deficit under control because we won’t need to spend like mad for our military anymore.

    My magic pony just stopped by and dictated that for me, so forgive my rose-colored comment for the foolishness that it is.

  39. 39
    geg6 says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    Nope. I think all we can do is to try to prevent terrorist attacks from occurring. People will always hate us. Especially as long as we are the biggest and most powerful country on earth. Not that I would disagree with changing that whole paradigm, but it ain’t gonna happen no matter how much you and I wish. So as long as people hate us and as long as human nature still resorts to violence to solve political, religious, economic, and cultural arguments, I prefer to protect our people in the most cost-effective, targeted way possible, which, right now, means drones.

    Unless you have some brilliant idea as to how we bring these guys to a diplomatic bargaining table, we’re going to be fighting someone, somehow. Tell me how we do that in a way of which you’d approve.

  40. 40
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Roger Moore: Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan aren’t in our national interest?

  41. 41
    Michael says:

    I actually think its worth asking whether we absolutely need to kill every single terrorist we ID.

  42. 42
    The Dangerman says:

    @geg6:

    Whatever the new thing is, it is the most horrible thing ever…

    Yes and no; it wasn’t that long ago that warfare from the air meant things like Dresden (avoiding Hiroshima and Nagasaki rather intentionally as that opens a whole different can of worms). In the recent past, instead of that rather indiscriminate carnage, one could almost choose the window that a cruise missile goes through, causing far less collateral damage.

    Seems to me, in this new era, where the target isn’t land, but particular people (i.e., terrorists), drones are a second pass solution to the problem. The first pass solution was sending in the C130 and A10 gunships, which rained hell from the air and, I presume, caused far more collateral damage than drones. The next solution (whatever it may be) will be even better than the drones used now. Unfortunately, unless the terrorists decide to call a timeout waiting for that new technology to come along, one does the best one can do to minimize casualties among the innocent.

  43. 43
    piratedan says:

    might as well open my naive self to evisceration as more learned folks will undoubtedly point out my flaws and mistakes…

    it revolves around oil…. not just oil that gets made into gasoline, but stuff like jet fuel, plastics, diesel and myriad other things. If we reduce our need for gas, i.e. more efficient fuel efficient fuel standards, more hybrid vehicles, it doesn’t mean that we’re gonna stop needing oil tomorrow, but reduce how much we need. The part I don’t know, is how much of an impact does oil play in the refurbishing of the us infrastructure? I would assume that the impact on high speed rail, geothermal energy plants and wind farms is low, but how low?

    I feel the this president is doing what he can to make us less dependent on oil and in turn less dependent on having to interact with these countries that control the oil in a way that doesn’t make them a strategic lynchpin. He has started us on that path and I would like to see him continue us down that path. The hard part is whether the next guy will continue to do so.

    I think this president would very much not like to bomb or order the deaths of others, but until we can pull our collective ‘nads out of places like Afghanistan, he’s duty bound to protect them and us against any terrorist threat until that’s done. While I believe that Al Qeida has been crippled, it hasn’t been broken and I have to believe that even if we extracted everyone out of Afghanistan tomorrow (which I would be in favor of) the US has to be aware that we haven’t made many friends in the Islamic world and that there needs to be a lot of fence mending and time and actions to reconcile that position.

    We have to be supportive of Arab nationalization. We have to honor the idea that we can disagree and not bomb them just because we can. We have to make clear what our interests are and what we stand for, be it a Palestinian state, an Israel that is finally treated as a neighbor instead of a threat by the Arab League, that we suspect that if a fundalmentalist Islamic state gets a nuke that they will use it and somebody has to make them understand what the concept of Freedom of Speech means so that when some religious nutcase speaks on TV they speak for themselves and not for the nation. They also have to understand that shouting in the streets amidst burning buildings with small arms and chanting “death to America” won’t exactly play well here either.

    Once that status quo is achieved, then we can continue to win them over through the usual means, catchy pop music, sexy movie stars, nifty handheld electronic gadgetry and fast food franchises.

    okay….. now I’m gonna go cringe in a corner while you do what you have to do

  44. 44
    raven says:

    @Michael: absolutely

  45. 45
    PeakVT says:

    This might be relevant as well:

    It’s only a matter of time, however, before the defense industry starts arguing that autonomous drones should be given the “right” to use deadly force without human intervention. In fact, Ronald Arkin of Georgia Tech contends that such an evolution is inevitable. In his view, sentient drones could act more ethically and humanely, without their judgment being clouded by human emotion (though he concedes that unmanned systems will never be perfectly ethical). Arkin is not alone in thinking that “automated killing” has a future, if the guidelines established in the U.S. Air Force’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047 are any indication.

  46. 46
    burnspbesq says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    Just spitballing, but is there also anything we can do to try to stop terrorists wanting to to hurt us, as a nation?

    As long as there is one person anywhere in the Muslim world who can gain a domestic political advantage by whipping up hatred of the Great Satan, no.

  47. 47
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @PeakVT: I liked that article. Thanks.

  48. 48
    Greg says:

    @Heliopause:

    There you’ve done it, you can’t even get two-thirds of the way through your post without resorting to completely ridiculous straw man argumentation.

    But, of course, you clipped out the rest of the sentence where he builds exactly the opposite straw man argument for the other side. He was demonstrating what straw men people on both sides of the issue have used.

    Duh.

  49. 49
    MikeJ says:

    @David Fud:

    We don’t need to play these realpolitic games with shipping lanes and regional powers and fundamentalists and nation-building when we have all the resources we need at home.

    I like lots of imported things. Some because they’re higher quality, some because they’re more stylish, some because they’re cheaper, some because I spend time outside the US and you get used to different things.

    Putting up a wall around the US is moronic when the wingnuts suggest it. It doesn’t sound any better when it’s economic isolationism.

  50. 50
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Another Halocene Human: This is America. Pretty soon, the drone pilots will spin off into their own branch of the military. Their mascot will be Mr. Potato Head staring at four screens holding two joysticks. And their physical fitness test will be to see how many times they can spin in their chair before vomiting.

  51. 51
    Kadzimiel says:

    If you are going to go to war, you can’t really complain when people get hurt. That’s just one of the basic realities of what going to war involves. That said, I tend to think that while drone strikes against terrorists are well within the acceptable parameters of war in the modern age, the way they’ve been handled is amazingly stupid. Taking out wedding parties and similar groups of innocent civilians is not the best use of our technological edge and wins us no friends at all. In sum, drones are fine in theory, but we desperately need to work on our practice.

  52. 52
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Gin & Tonic: You could let the terrorists hurt you, or try to hurt you that is. They might even succeed occasionally. It would probably have cost you less in American lives spent in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past ten years or so (6000 dead and counting, tens of thousands more maimed), assuming competent intelligence and police activity in the continental US catching the sorts of clowns like the Underpants Bomber who usually end up trying to carry out terrorist attacks.

    That’s not what you want though. You want revenge, you want blood and you’re getting it by turning the Middle East into a free-fire zone and breeding hatred and resentment in entire populations. You’re surprised it hasn’t worked already; some think it’s because you haven’t killed and maimed enough brown-skinned people yet and if you kill some more then they’ll stop hating you, much as carpet-bombing in Vietnam and Cambodia was winning the war of hearts and minds, really before you cut and run from that particular clusterfuck.

    From what I’ve observed most American citizens and a definite plurality of voters are all in favour of continued killing and maiming of brown-skinned people in the Middle East as long as it doesn’t cost too much and nobody they know personally gets hurt doing it. I doubt very much that a call to march on Washington to bring an end to the killing and occupation of assorted bits of the Middle East would turn out anything like the millions who marched against the Iraq war and you know how influential that was to the powers that be at the time.

  53. 53
    Soonergrunt says:

    @piratedan: Not at all. A lot of that was well said.

  54. 54
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @burnspbesq: Burns, I suspect you misspoke a bit. Iran’s leaders including Imadinnerjacket have been talking shit about the US for years… hell, our pols talk shit about Japan and China… but the Iranians never flew planes into buildings or blew up any subways, nor did we attack China or Japan (though both US and Japan have experience domestic terrorism from homegrown crazies).

    Hell, Slovenians don’t like Austrians but there isn’t a Slovenian IRA blowing up paper bombs in Viennese subway stations. You kind of need the right confluence of circumstances to get people so pissed off and with nothing to lose that they will decide “I’m going down but I’m taking two of you with me.”

  55. 55
    David Fud says:

    @MikeJ: Talking oil here… Don’t care about trade. Point being that the extraction of oil simply gets us into all kinds of trouble because of the regimes we support, the resentment it causes, the jealousy of other regional powers (i.e., China), etc.

    Trade is great.

    Dependency and violence to extract cheap energy, not so great.

  56. 56

    @Roger Moore: I find the let’s get out of everywhere sentiment appealing as well but how we get out of those places has consequences. For emoprogs and concern trolls it can’t be done soon enough. I think that could be a mistake. We don’t have to make the same mistakes as other defensive Imperialists.

  57. 57
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist: Yeah, the whole “We’ll hold a symbolic vote against the bombing but not vote against funding it” was pure cowardice. Either stand against it, or be for it. My personal opinion of the Founding Fathers is that they would be truly frightened of what the military has become today, and truly pissed off at Congress for allowing and encouraging it to happen.

  58. 58
    raven says:

    @Robert Sneddon:
    “turning the Middle East into a free-fire zone” that’s such horseshit. Ask the dudes that are humping every day about their Rules of Engagement and tell me again about the “middle east free fire zone”.

  59. 59
    burnspbesq says:

    @David Fud:

    we are now more or less self-sufficient in oil/energy. We don’t need to play these realpolitic games with shipping lanes and regional powers and fundamentalists and nation-building when we have all the resources we need at home.

    People who can set their tap water on fire as a result of gas seeping from fracked wells might not see it as quite that easy a question.

  60. 60
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    You could let the terrorists hurt you, or try to hurt you that is. They might even succeed occasionally.

    Well, that was my answer. But I wasn’t scared of terrorism. First, it’s so rare, secondly if a terrorist has come up with a new technique the police can’t detect then you can’t do anything about it so why waste brain cells worrying about it?

    Apparently you and I are in the minority.

    I think better leadership would have helped TREMENDOUSLY though. Instead we had Bush, Condi, Rummy, Darth Cheney, and ASHCROFT.

  61. 61
    Liberty60 says:

    @PeakVT:
    I like that- We assume that America is to provide an answer for the world’s most pressing and difficult problems. Which may in fact be necessary and correct; but it also means we are going to constantly be faced with the most wicked and thorny moral issues of peaceful negotiation versus warfare.

    Also, it is sometimes assumed that foreign policy issues are amenable to simple silver bullet solutions, whether its shuttle diplomacy or nukes. Iran has its own objectives, which weave in and out between the thread of Syria’s objectives, Russia’s objectives, and China’s.

    So for every move there is a countermove, and for every goal, there are multiple fronts and progns that all need to be pressed simultaneously or in turn, all the while protecting our flank.

    Basically, its a hella tough problem; I am hoever, glad we have cool steady hands like Obama and Clinton on the button, instead of, say, Romney and Michelle Bachman.

  62. 62
    El Cid says:

    By the way, I think that the core of the debate orbits around the phrase used in the title — “when you really have to kill somebody”.

    It presumes a sort of generalized agreement about that when most of the debate either centers on or painfully dances around the fact that there isn’t a lot of agreement about that category of “people you really have to kill”, such as whether or not it exists, who would be in it, if people feel that information about allegations of who’s in that category are substantive enough to make the decision…

    In a venue like this people are quite naturally going to relate it to some large policy level.

    This disagreement arises not because there’s an easy distinction between bloodthirsty warhawk, cool yet pained realist, and naive pacifist, but because there usually isn’t such an easy distinction which saves us from having to think through issues.

    Particularly given an environment in which what is so often asserted as “the national interest” is quite likely to describe a policy harmful to the actual generalized interests of the citizens of the US, while benefiting some foreign policy establishment goals; but that non-zero portion of US foreign policy which might benefit the genuine real and moral interests of actual citizens still gives cause to have to think an issue through.

  63. 63
    Shawn in ShowMe says:

    @David Fud:

    Personally, I think a nice Middle East pullback of epic proportions would be great. The reason we could consider this is that we are now more or less self-sufficient in oil/energy.

    Yeah, but what about the lithium, poppy fields and the oil we need for plastic. People gotta have their electric cars, dope and water bottles.

  64. 64
    dollared says:

    @Roger Moore:This.This.This. And I am really tired of people telling us that we have to maintain a presence every fucking goddamn place.

    Three things: 1) if we dedicated $100B/year to reduce our oil dependency 30%, it would be reduced 30%. And the savings in defense would pay for it.
    2. We should reinstate the fucking draft. We really need some senator’s sons at stake.
    3. Anybody arguing against those two points should explain why 200,000 troops in the Middle East for at least the next 20 years is a preferable solution.

  65. 65
    David Fud says:

    @burnspbesq: Don’t disagree. But, the era of cheap natural gas is here – they are way ahead of any regulation holding them back, and it isn’t going to get regulated in any significant way. I have friends trying to hold these companies responsible and they are not successful.

    Our energy usage always does have consequences…

  66. 66
    raven says:

    @dollared: “We should reinstate the fucking draft. We really need some senator’s sons at stake.”

    Yea right, just like the last draft we had.

  67. 67
    MikeJ says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    It would probably have cost you less in American lives spent in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past ten years or so (6000 dead and counting, tens of thousands more maimed)

    Or we could have skipped invading Iraq, which probably nobody here thinks was a good idea, and used drones and seal teams exclusively in Afghanistan/Pakistan.

    Just because a person agrees with strikes against terrorists[1] doesn’t mean they’re in favour of every military operation. Airstrikes are on the low end of military engagement.

    [1] Yes, there really are terrorists in the world, no, they weren’t just made up by Bush

  68. 68
    Michael says:

    @raven: Absolutely, we need to kill them? Or absolutely, the question is worth asking? Heh.

    I actually am of the mind that, at this point, we probably do not need to kill any terrorist we positively ID.

    To me, treating AQ like the Brits treated the IRA obviously won’t work, because AQ is global and exist in far too many areas that simply have NO government whatsoever. OTOH, the more you’re able to confine AQ and its ilk to those ungoverned areas, the less of an existential threat they present to US security interests.

  69. 69
    I_D_Inuse says:

    @TBogg:

    Not an easy question when 90 percent of foreign policy is classified, perhaps it should be, but again if democracy equates to transparency where does national security fit in?

    I think my question is just what is our national interest and why is it our national interest?

  70. 70
    Arclite says:

    Well, yes. Duh.

    Okay, that was really well done.

    As for the topic, I just finished a 3 week move, having to work full time and am quite exhausted, so I’ll leave it to others to hash this out.

  71. 71
    Ruckus says:

    A good place to start would be to question why the US acts like the world revolves around the stick stuck up it’s ass.

    The world is a big place. We are what, 5% of the world’s population? Yet we seem to want to impose our ways upon everyone else. This is like the 27% factor wanting the other 73% of us to bend over for them.

    After that we can talk about being a representative democracy and having very little input into that because right now money seems to be more important than lives.

  72. 72
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @PeakVT: Cool, so would James Cameron.

  73. 73
    Baud says:

    @raven:

    Every time I read a bit of history about WWII, I am amazed at how fair (or fairer) the nation’s commitment was across class lines when it came to the draft.

  74. 74
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Shawn in ShowMe: We can make some plastics from renewable sources.

    But overall would it be terrible if plastics went up in price? Some plastics are very recycleable but we under-recycle (actually, some plastics recycle better than glass). Some items that are made from plastic probably shouldn’t be, but plastic has been cheaper.

    Maybe if we had a frank discussion of the link between (synthetic) RUBBER TIRES and ASTHMA we could get more rail transit in our biggest cities.

    And it would be nice if the enforcement fairy would crack down on line-haul trucking at the behest of the Class 1 RRs the way the enforcement fairy cracked down on the railroads at the behest of the trucking/construction/petroleum industry. Fatigue for one, fatigue for all.

  75. 75
    Soonergrunt says:

    @El Cid: That’s just a snarky title, you know. We do that here. It’s in my contract.
    I’m not completely opposed to the idea that we don’t have to kill everybody we meet, nor even a small percentage.
    You tell me how you think we can move through the world, doing as little damage as possible while still securing our national interests (a discussion that must of course include “what those national interests are in the first place) and I’ll read that with honest interest.

  76. 76
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    My (probably uneducated) thoughts:

    I think a good foundation for any sort of debate is that if the world was a better place, drone strikes wouldn’t have to happen. The reason they’re happening is not because we just enjoy doing it, but because they’re arguably strategically necessary to preserve the greater good. And then the debate can center around whether they actually are necessary. Shouldn’t be too controversial.

    I think the reason this doesn’t happen is the two opposing sides in that debate (idealists vs. pragmatists, in my opinion) have made their positions tied to their own identity. To play at psychology for a minute, the pragmatists who think drone strikes are a ‘necessary evil’ are preyed upon by the idea that it’s maybe not as necessary as they think, and they lash out at people who imply that’s true because it would mean they’re complicit. As for the idealists, I think they fall into the Hipster Trap-because they’re assumed to be morally in the right, they don’t really have to live with all the consequences of their ideas, they can just remind everybody how superior they are for simply believing them.

    Honestly, and I consider myself a pragmatist, I think it’s the pragmatists who have to cede some ground here. I can see exactly where the idealists are coming from: they’re sick of war, they’re sick of the bloated military industry, they’re sick of DoD pork, they’re sick of it all. They really, really, wish it could all go away. I understand it completely, if I don’t think it’s realistic.

    But that’s the problem, isn’t it? At some point, “It’s not realistic/practical” morphed from what should be a neutral summary of objective conditions into a sort of rhetorical weapon. The undertone isn’t “I disagree with your analysis of the situation” but “you’re an idiot for even thinking things can be different, and I’m smarter than you because I’m more practical.” I think it’s a problem. What I think pragmatists should keep in mind is that pragmatic utilitarianism isn’t the higher principle-opposition to human suffering is the higher principle, and the pragmatic stuff is what we use to get there. People get so wrapped up in figuring out the best tactical solution to a problem that they somewhat lose sight of the higher goal.

    I think a good question for the pragmatists to ask themselves occasionally is “If we suddenly did wake up in a world where there wasn’t a need for war, would I be happy? Or is too much of my identity wrapped up in how ‘practical’ I am compared to everyone else?” I mean, I can see why people would assume that question is trolling. War is such a constant that trying to think of a world without the need for it is almost an unanswerable question. We should also remind ourselves that a lot of the ’emoprogs’ don’t think the way they think just to piss us off. They’re opposed to war and are somewhat less willing to compromise about it. I don’t see why they should be ashamed of that, even if they are not being realistic about objective situations on the ground.

  77. 77
    raven says:

    @Baud: Something about really fighting for something.

  78. 78
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Ruckus: Bread and circuses and the MIC–lobbying campaign contribution revenue stream.

    We keep trying to get the money out of politics and failing. Ike was right.

    Even the military itself has been penned in and ‘captured’, forced to take equipment it never asked for and rebuked by Congress for trying to switch to more fuel efficient sources.

    Tsk tsk, you’re not here to win conflicts, you’re here to make money for war profiteers. That means dragging them out.

  79. 79
    different-church-lady says:

    @TBogg:

    I’ve been trying to get answers to all of these questions for weeks, and all I can get is “flying killer robots are killing brown children, you horrible racist monster” with no plan for an alternative to how to deal with existing terrorist cells and training camps.

    I think, for the purposes of this thread only, the only way to deal with that is to ignore anyone who brings that kind of screeching in and focus on the real discussion.

    This is not to say that we should dismiss anyone who brings up the horror of drones, only that when it’s brought in with the intent to deliberately derail the honest examination of the topic that we don’t allow ourselves to get knocked off track.

    As for outside of this thread, I gotta say that while I enjoy reading your rants on the topic, I don’t find them quite as ingenuous as you make them sound here. I mean, even you’ve grown tired of your own baiting recently. It really is impressive the way you can get the puppies to bark when you rattle the cage, but I can’t say any of us are learning anything from it, other than the fact that puppies can make hella noise.

  80. 80
    Cacti says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist:

    the Constitutional romantic in me says the first step is to get congress back to a more active role in foreign policy oversight. The way they punted on Libya was disgraceful, however you feel about what we did, didn’t do, or should(n’t) have done, Republicans and a lot of Democrats wanted no part of it for crass political reasons

    I’m with you. I found the Libyan intervention to be Constitutionally dubious, but it was a case of the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear.

    Congress has almost completely outsourced its war powers to the Executive branch in the post-WWII era, effectively removing one of the biggest checks in ye old checks and balances.

  81. 81
    geg6 says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Exactly. And the arguments against the crossbow are almost exactly the same as the arguments against the drones.

    People don’t know their history. It’s a shame.

  82. 82
    Kadzimiel says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    Can we assume that there is such a thing as “our” national interests? Do the interests of the wealthy align even in part with those of the poor?

  83. 83
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Polling on torture is BARELY to our liking.

  84. 84
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @MikeJ: “Yes, there really are terrorists in the world, no, they weren’t just made up by Bush”

    No shit Sherlock. I’m British and lived through thirty years of American-funded and supported IRA terrorism. When we could we caught the terrorists, put them on trial and locked them up. When they succeeded we buried the bodies and swept up the debris and went on with our lives.

    An American-style military reaction would have had us blowing towns like Crossmaglen off the map with Black Buck strikes and hitting the Sinn Fein offices in Dublin with a couple of 500lb freefall bombs from a Tornado and believe me quite a few British folks would have cheered on those efforts. But we didn’t.

  85. 85
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @I_D_Inuse: My dream would be a major de-escalation of the security classification state.

  86. 86
    Linda Featheringill says:

    @TBogg:

    Hi, TBogg!

  87. 87
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Kadzimiel: Well, that’s the eternal American rift, isn’t it?

  88. 88
    burnspbesq says:

    @I_D_Inuse:

    As a general proposition, I like transparency. Alas, I haven’t yet figured out how you have up-front transparency with designating people to be taken out, without making it impossible to find them.

    Transparency after the fact?

    Now, al-Awlaki’s father has standing to sue the United States for killing his grandson, because under Yemeni law he’s the administrator of the kid’s estate. Do I think that lawsuit, if brought, has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting to a merits determination? No, I don’t. There are far too many other grounds on which it can be dismissed in response to the Government’s 12(b)(6) motion. And even if that weren’t the case, the next time a damage award in a wrongful death case brings the decedent back to life will be the first.

    At some point, you have to trust somebody to make the call based on the information available to him or her at the time. The best you can do is elect people who you think can be trusted to exercise this awful responsibility in a way that’s consistent with your values.

  89. 89
    raven says:

    @Robert Sneddon: How doid that “American-style military reaction” work out for you when Hitler was ready to run your ass into the sea?

  90. 90

    If we had had drones in WWII to knock out Nazi industries without losing all those flight crews on B-29s who back then would complain? Drones in and of themselves offer a weapon that can target an enemy without risk of our own military personnel. The question is who’s getting targeted. Are they all bad guys, are they just folks getting together for a wedding?

    By the way, these wars are not being fought for oil that comes here to the USA. It’s being fought for our corporations to control oil (& natural gas et al) that’s going to be going to all those factories in India which will be taking all those manufacturing jobs we used to have here. In other words, corporate welfare.

  91. 91
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Robert Sneddon: How much thanks to NI being an actual part of the UK, and how much thanks to the Troubles coming after, and not before, Suez and the withdrawal from east of Aden?

    Virtue isn’t quite the same thing as lack of opportunity.

    Back when you lot were the hegemon, there was a certain send-in-the-gunboat flavor to UK foreign policy.

  92. 92
    Michael says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Right, but there are important differences between the IRA and AQ, mainly where they hide. Who’s going to serve a warrant on a terrorist in Yemen? Southern Algeria? Waziristan? etc.

  93. 93
    Kadzimiel says:

    @Another Halocene Human:

    Yes, but it does raise the question of how we can coherently define national interests. I think it’s quite clear that there is a strong lobby for as many wars as possible as often as possible. I personally think of wars as wasteful, dangerous and harmful to both sides of the dispute. I am not convinced that we’ve come close to recovering from “winning” the Cold War yet.

  94. 94
    raven says:

    @Davis X. Machina: They seem to be in Afghanistan as well.

  95. 95
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Robert Sneddon: I’ll bet that quite a few of the denizens of Ulster have a different perspective on the Troubles. And I’m pretty sure that 22nd Regiment wasn’t living there for giggles and shits and guard duty for all those years.
    And to extend the metaphor, the people of Boston didn’t exactly enjoy the loving embrace of British Regulars, you know. I seem to remember having read something about that somewhere.

  96. 96
    Kadzimiel says:

    @raven:

    How did isolation work out for us? Expensively, I would say.

  97. 97
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @El Cid: I don’t think pacifism is naive, actually. Interestingly, the Authoritarians describes some Model UN games with serious crises as handled by social dominators and non-social-dominators.

    All we need is a nice aerosol that makes social dominators give up and go home and most international relations problems would just go away.

    The real problem, maybe, is that people get frightened easily, and frightened people start lashing out irrationally. See US Public, 2001-2005. Making conflict all but inevitable.

    In WWII, some had the courage of their convictions and went to prison for it. During the Afghanistan runup, even the Left went oddly silent.

  98. 98
    The Dangerman says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    When we could we caught the terrorists, put them on trial and locked them up.

    This point has validity; if we had treated 9/11 as a criminal act (which it was) as opposed to an act of war, we’d be far less buried in the muck. Unfortunately, we had Bush and the PNAC crowd in charge…

    …and we have what we have. Yes, a mess, but Obama is extricating us in a responsible manner (or so it would appear to me, but I’m a Obot).

  99. 99
    raven says:

    @Soonergrunt: They didn’t exactly half step in the Falklands either.

  100. 100
    MikeJ says:

    @Robert Sneddon: I unequivocally oppose the US annexation of Waziristan backed up by tens of thousands of troops on the ground and orange sashes for the parades.

  101. 101
    Kadzimiel says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    The Loyalist paramilitaries certainly did their share of torturing and murdering when they could. That said, I don’t think anyone comes out of the imbroglio in Northern Ireland with much credit.

  102. 102
    eemom says:

    Before the bullshit sets in — um, oops, too late? — absolutely one of the best and bravest posts ever posterated here.

    Posing an enormous question? Check.
    Expressing a sincere opinion? Check.
    Honestly engaging debate? Check check.
    Not out for self promotion or just madly in love with the sound of your own voice? Check that too.

    I haz a impressed.

  103. 103
    raven says:

    @Kadzimiel: Unlike, say, the middle east?

  104. 104
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Michael: The US offered refuge to IRA terrorists, including murderers who had been convicted and escaped custody because they were freedom-fighters and the large Irish-American constituency (including the Kennedy family) supported the murderers with money, guns and influence.

    The IRA made great efforts to never kill an American during the armed struggle. One time an active service unit came perilously close to doing this when they shot and killed two Australians in Germany believing them to be off-duty soldiers, part of the BAOR. It is common knowledge that the men involved were executed for their incompetence as they could have killed Americans by mistake.

  105. 105
    ericblair says:

    @Michael:

    To me, treating AQ like the Brits treated the IRA obviously won’t work, because AQ is global and exist in far too many areas that simply have NO government whatsoever. OTOH, the more you’re able to confine AQ and its ilk to those ungoverned areas, the less of an existential threat they present to US security interests.

    Problem is, there’s no way to confine them to ungoverned areas. It’s the existence of these areas themselves that’s the problem, and that’s why law enforcement solutions can’t work everywhere. What it looks like we need is an international commitment to deal with failed states, and what solutions to these problems look like.

    It’s not only our national anti-terrorism interest; these failed states are warlord societies with no commitment to human rights or freedoms as expressed by international charter. The obvious solution is Global Imperialism, which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid. So what: permanent UN protectorates? International assistance in asserting control? By who: who gets Waziristan, and how will they be governed, and what do you do when the people who actually live there violently disagree with you and with each other?

    I’ll get right on all that, but first I gotta feed the cat.

  106. 106
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    Another thing, I think the problem is that so much of it is ritual. At the risk of re-opening a nasty can of worms, I found the whole Conor Friedersdorf episode was just stupid and ugly, all the way around. Now, Conor himself I think is a concern troll, or at least that article was, but it seems like everyone here just tripped over each other to be the first to yell about how NAIVE and STUPID and UNREALISTIC it was, and how ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good’ blah blah blah ‘politically impossible at this time’ blah blah blah ‘WELL I’M SURE PRESIDENT ROMNEY WILL LISTEN TO YOUR CONCERNS’ It all felt very dull and very familiar, in the way we accuse the media of being; everyone knew their lines already and it was just a contest to see who could belt them out quickest.

    I dunno. I like this blog for a lot of reasons, but I think we’re maybe getting a bit too tightly wound these days, everyone seems to be actively looking for Firebagger and/or Villager witches to burn, even if they’re regulars trying to make a joke. That ‘manichean’ article got a lot of laughs around here, but I think Freddie had a point. That sort of paranoia isn’t good for liberalism. If you’re assuming people are advancing a different opinion just to cause trouble, not because they sincerely believe it, I think that’s troubling. If we want to have an honest debate about the merits of drone strikes and similar policies, get rid of all that kabuki crap. Enough with the name-calling and the splitting into sides and the ritualized call-and-response. Not because it particularly offends me, but because you can’t have a good debate with that. You can’t have a debate at all. Things that should be arguable positions get reduced to tribal identifiers. That’s just not good, for anybody, no matter their opinion on the issue at hand.

  107. 107
    max says:

    @El Cid: painfully dances around the fact that there isn’t a lot of agreement about that category of “people you really have to kill

    I am in favor of killing Al Qaeda members because they are trying to kill us. Congress is in favor of that too, and would be in favor of it no matter what the voters wanted (because they think it’s life or death for them personally).

    If we’re going to fight them, I say we either kill or capture as many of them as possible until they decide to quit. Or die. Whichever.

    I have no interest in killing anybody else in particular, so we can skip the rest of this stuff. What has always amazed is how keen the Bush administration was to avoid killing Al Qaeda too much. Rather like they wanted them to stick around as a useful political prop.

    max
    [‘Excellent thread.’]

  108. 108
    Kadzimiel says:

    @raven: Could you expand on your point? I am not sure what you are trying to say.

  109. 109
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @raven: Not with gunboats. I admire the expertise and tradition of the Royal Navy on this side idolatry, but they’re not that good.

  110. 110
  111. 111

    @eemom:
    Ditto. And the number of bad faith arguments in the threat have been microscopically low. The discussion has been so reasonable I kept out because I feel like it’s being covered pretty well!

  112. 112
    Linda Featheringill says:

    @Kadzimiel: #51

    I agree. If you go to war, people are going to get hurt and killed. And that’s the problem.

    Honestly, though, I am a pacifist. I also feel that allowing myself to be killed is not morally better than killing. Allowing my people to be enslaved is not better than forcing slavery on others. So what to do?

  113. 113
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Another Halocene Human: Pearl Harbor was a military target far away, in a place the vast, vast, vast majority of Americans would never see and many hadn’t heard of. When the attack happened, most of the country heard about it after it was over in a news report.
    It’s not just the effects of 50+ years of television set in New York that made WTC more real for more people. It happened live on TV for tens of millions of people, and the world has gotten smaller. Most people today can at least conceive of a visit to New York City, which is something that even today most people cannot really do in regards to Hawaii.

  114. 114
    Baud says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    Sorry, I disagree. We can’t “debate” people we have to stand up to, and there are some people we have to stand up to. Many of those are on the right, but there are some on the other side also.

  115. 115
    raven says:

    @Soonergrunt: If they saw my fish they might!

  116. 116
    Donald says:

    I haven’t read the thread and probably won’t. But outside of people making fun of the drone issue, I’ve not actually seen anyone who thinks that the drone policy is evil because it’s drones and not, say manned aircraft. Sure, people talk about flying evil killer robots, but they wouldn’t be any happier if we were terrorizing Pakistani villagers by dropping bombs from Snoopy’s doghouse. It’s that whole “terrorizing innocent people” that’s the objectionable part and the argument should be about whether we’re doing that and to what extent collateral damage to brown people is acceptable. Are we really being ultra-careful in only killing known terrorist leaders or is there a lot of “better blow that group up because they might be bad guys” going on, something that you would expect from a government no matter who is in charge if they aren’t accountable and if the vast majority of the voters isn’t that interested in what happens to faceless villagers thousands of miles away. I can understand the reasoning–suppose they were super-cautious and there is another successful terrorist attack in the US? They’d be crucified. So at the very least having a drone program allows them to claim they’re doing what they can to prevent that, and if they’re overzealous, well, other than the Glennbots, nobody in this country is going to care that much.

    I mean, when I’ve seen the drone issue come up it’s from the same people (people like me, as it happens) who think that Western governments in general get away with murder. Standard lefty stuff, in other words, whether you agree with it or not. Pretending that the opponents are all obsessed with the particular form of technology when the deeper issue is obvious seems, well, disingenuous.

    This thread started out that way (I read Tbogg) and I doubt it got better.

  117. 117
    different-church-lady says:

    I believe another salient angle on this set of questions is: how does a country defend itself in a situation where warfare has become deeply asymmetrical? When the attackers are not represented by (nor represent) any single nation? When the belligerents are individuals on one side and a state on the other?

    One of the obvious places to start examining that question is the idea of technology that targets individual belligerents instead of territory. Drones are an attempt in that direction, but their effectiveness is up for debate.

    Of course, one cannot engage in this examination if one has already reached the conclusion that the warfare is illegitimate to begin with. And that deeply clouds the questions and the examination you’re trying for here. I doubt anyone here is actually in favor of warfare, and precious few are getting any satisfaction from our involvement in Afghanistan. I believe one can simultaneously hold the view that the “Global War on Terror” is completely oversold and also acknowledge that terrorism is a genuine, legitimate concern that we must deal with somehow. However, it appears too many people aren’t interested in honest debate within that framework, because it doesn’t do enough to validate their own emotional needs.

  118. 118
    Kadzimiel says:

    @Linda Featheringill:
    Fight as few wars as possible, give diplomacy a real chance,curb your generals and hold them publicly accountable, reject the cult of the military – and if you do have to fight, fight hard and get the misery done with as soon as possible.

  119. 119
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Kadzimiel: No. No one does. Which was the point I was making. It is only highly selective memory that supports the concept that the British (English particularly) were a force for goodness and light wherever they went. And that is particularly true in Ireland.

  120. 120
    Soonergrunt says:

    @eemom: “Not out for self promotion or just madly in love with the sound of your own voice? Check that too.”
    Unfortunately I must concede to failing on that point. After all, if I wasn’t madly in love with the sound of my own voice, I wouldn’t be a Front Pager on a blog.

  121. 121
    Kadzimiel says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    Absolutely true, although if ever a nation has done as much as it could to bring misery on itself, that nation was Ireland. Had the Irish princes not decided back in the day that inviting foreigners in to help them win wars against their neighbors was a fine and dandy idea, I think it’s fair to say that the history of Ireland would have been much more pleasant.

  122. 122
    kc says:

    Yeah, we should have that debate, and also figure out what we’re gonna say when it’s a Repub doing the killing.

  123. 123
    Andrey says:

    What are our national interests? Well, there are a lot of extremely complex answer, but looking at it very coarsely, we can at least start with saying “Lives”. We have an interest in saving/extending/preserving lives. But that’s the coarsest level. Refine it a little, and you can see we place different values on different lives. I’m not saying this is how it should be; I’m talking from the empirical evidence perspective. As a nation, judging by what is popular policy and unpopular, and the actions that we support or don’t, in the context of foreign policy we value “American civilians” over “American military”, and those in turn over “Foreign civilians”, and those in turn over “Terrorists” – the latter having a negative value, such that ending those lives is considered a positive. Finally, the absolute value of the lives of Terrorists is higher than the lives of Foreign Civilians – meaning that killing one Terrorist and more than one Foreign Civilian may be a net positive by this calculus.

    The general shape of this kind of policy will not change, in my opinion, until that calculus changes. If we valued our military lives as highly as civilian casualties, we would probably not have gone out and lost twice as many men and women in Iraq & Afghanistan as we did in 9/11. If we valued foreign civilians as highly as we value our military, we would be willing to expose our military to higher risk and reduce “collateral damage”. If we valued civilians’ lives higher than terrorists’ deaths, then we would not “take the shot” when we know we can get a terrorist but also likely kill a bunch of bystanders.

    But I don’t see our national values changing from that weighting any time soon. Majority opinion is turning against things like the Iraq War, but not because of the cost to foreign civilians. It’s not “stop killing Iraqis”, it’s “bring our troops home”. Until that changes, the chances of stopping drone strikes are slim to none. The long-term solution is not to have a particular president stop a particular attack policy, it is to convince Americans to value foreign innocents as highly as they value their own. And I do believe it is actually possible to do that, and working toward it is a noble goal – but it is only likely in the very long term.

    There is a certain amount of hope for the medium term, though. There, your hope lies not in policy changes, but in technology. Aerial bombardment may give way to ground-based drones and robots, capable of more precisely distinguishing targets. A sniper bullet has a lot less collateral damage than a guided missile, even a very carefully guided missile. And the aerial bombardment may itself improve. It sucks to give more money to the MIC, yes, but improvement in particular areas of military technology – specifically, the ones improving accuracy and precision in such actions – may be a relatively cost-effective way to lower the number of lives wasted, in those cases where policy and political-calculus changes are too slow.

  124. 124
    Donald says:

    Incidentally, I’m voting for Obama. Lesser of two evils. Romney would clearly be worse on human rights issues. Just to get that out of the way. Okay, now I’m gone.

  125. 125
    Soonergrunt says:

    @raven: I’m saving up for the 30th anniversary trip to Hawaii.
    It was going to be the 20th next year, but she wants a new house. I don’t need a new house. I’m happy enough with this one, but she wants a new house and I can give that to her, so a new house it is. Hawaii will be the 30th. Maybe the 25th if I cut back on the Venti Double Mocha Lattes.

  126. 126
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Baud:

    Many of those are on the right, but there are some on the other side also.

    I’d agree with that, with two conditions:

    1) We tend to vastly overestimate their power and influcence, mostly because we deal with them so much.

    2) We should keep in mind that we agree on most things, and the fights are about strategy instead of values.

  127. 127
    Michael says:

    @Robert Sneddon: That all may be true, but I’m not sure what it has to do with my point about the differences between fighting someone in Ireland v fighting someone in Waziristan

  128. 128
    kc says:

    @TBogg:

    I’m a tbogg fan from way back, but that sounds like the kind of talk I used to hear from Republicans on waterboarding.

  129. 129
    raven says:

    @Soonergrunt: I did a good bit of research and it was weird that July was not high season but the airfares seem to be higher then. If we go again I think we’ll need more than a week. Damn flight killed this old goat and throw in a 12 hour, all night fishing trip and it took me a while to get over the whole deal.

  130. 130
  131. 131
    kc says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    When did this place turn into Red State?

  132. 132
    dollared says:

    @eemom: I am agreed. Glad we’re talking about it.

  133. 133
    Pen says:

    @dollared: 1) if we dedicated $100B/year to reduce our oil dependency 30%, it would be reduced 30%. And the savings in defense would pay for it.
    2. We should reinstate the fucking draft. We really need some senator’s sons at stake.

    you’re 100% right on point one.

    As for point two: you’re kidding, right? A draft produces nothing but cannon fodder, and unless you are willing to put your money where your mouth is and join up you’ve got no room to talk. You want my son to be forced to join the service against his will when he comes of age just so politicians have a little skin in the game? You first.

  134. 134
    kc says:

    @Donald:

    I mean, when I’ve seen the drone issue come up it’s from the same people (people like me, as it happens) who think that Western governments in general get away with murder. Standard lefty stuff, in other words, whether you agree with it or not. Pretending that the opponents are all obsessed with the particular form of technology when the deeper issue is obvious seems, well, disingenuous.

    Yes. Thank you.

  135. 135
    dollared says:

    @kc:
    @Soonergrunt:

    I am really disappointed by this discussion. Has anyone considered that we don’t want perpetual war and a perpetual police state? That the drones don’t change the situation one bit? That we don’t need to spend twice what we spent in 2001 on defense?

    We really need to step back here. We need to cut defense. We need to be militarily involved in fewer places Our economy can’t sustain it. Our Constitution can’t sustain it. We need to find a way out, even if it means the occasional shoe bomber tries his way in.

    Has anyone noticed that we didn’t do this shit 10 and 20 years ago and the world kept turning without us?

    We need the money for other stuff. Why isn’t this thread dedicated to finding a way out, rather than to rationalize our current situation?

    Because the current situation is bad for the United States.

  136. 136
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Donald: So what exactly is your point? If you’re against all uses of force, that’s a policy position that I can actually understand and to some extent get behind, believe it or not. I don’t entirely agree with it, but it’s consistent and has a recognizable moral component to it.
    But if you think that some use of force is necessary/good then why some and not others?
    That’s the thrust of that particular question and it arises because there IS, whether you acknowledge it or not, a substantial number of people that have specifically attacked the use of drones for warfare while never addressing the “bigger” issue. That is confusing.

  137. 137
    Soonergrunt says:

    @dollared: “Why isn’t this thread dedicated to finding a way out, rather than to rationalize our current situation?”
    Because I’m not trying to direct the discussion one way or another. I’m trying to find out what people think about these issues.

  138. 138
    Ken_L says:

    Option (A): accept that the USA has no business trying to interfere in the affairs of other countries, close overseas military bases, pension off all the black ops folks, arrange state funerals for all the John McCains and Joe Liebermans who die of apoplexy, and generally stop trying to tell everyone else on the planet how exceptional you are and how much better off we are for having you try to run our lives for us;
    Option (B): accept that your government will continue to do immoral things in the cause of trying to sustain American hegemony over a good part of the globe.

    You really have no other choices.

  139. 139
    Michael says:

    I don’t see the point in trying to start a meta-debate about how one side tends to describe or straw-man the other side. RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, people are specifically trying to avoid doing just that.

  140. 140
    PopeRatzo says:

    I’m OK with the idea of making people not want to stand anywhere near terrorists.

    I call it the “Cheese Stands Alone” approach.

    I’m not joking.

  141. 141
    dollared says:

    @Soonergrunt: Good point. Well, put me down as one vote for Obama. And then, one vote and much support for someone who is willing to point out that the GWOT is over and we have our rights back again.

    And then, a vote for an adult military strategy that 1) withdraws us from the Middle East 2) continues drones with a rigorous but classified process that ensures that a judicial branch official signs off on the evidence against US citizens and ensures that there is an annual GAO report that discloses key aggregate data for all strikes, including number of strikes and % of noncombatants killed.

    Finally, a vote for a complete overhaul of the military to reduce capital expenditures by 30% and troop numbers by 30%.

    We need to re-assert that we live in a democracy that is not in a state of war.

  142. 142
    Keith G says:

    I think of the apocryphal stories of Alfred Nobel who was convinced that his invention would make the world a better place since it would change the nature of war. He hadnot taken into account 1) the generals and 2) militaristic capitalism.

    I think those inaccurate tales have resonance because some want to feel that we can change the nature of war and give it a cleaner, lighter, American footprint. Unfortunately, I am not certain the neighbors and survivors of those communities we attack are giving us points for our choice of weapons and our lighter footprint. In their place, would we?

    I see that the use of these complex tools reduces the threshold for involvement. Cruise missiles or a Marine expeditionary force, or a fleet of ships of the line are examples of choices used in the past that require much higher thresholds for use. Use of the last two in particular might well spark a large debate over the need and propriety of the mission at hand.

    Drones are so easy to use that debate over each separate mission is…well…invisible. So we go on ahead with a process that kills handsfull of other humans at a time and I guess we draw comfort by being able to tell the survivors (and now enemies for many lifetimes ahead) “Well at least you weren’t carpet bombed.”

    Responding to things up thread: Yeah, if there were a plebiscite, I bet the current policy would win affirmation, but at least there would be a debate and it would be a policy that we all would clearly own however it might play out.

    When I see commenters who tied themselves in knots over a NARC raid that killed a dog (or students getting pepper sprayed) go meh over this issue, I wonder if we have learned much over the last twelve years.

    Last note. Since my default is to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that the cases he reviewed were handled as justly as the circumstances permitted, but hopefully he will not be the last American president. So I am concerned. Then there are the signature drone attacks (targets who match a profile) done by the CIA via the USAF. Not much to add to that.

  143. 143
    dollared says:

    @Pen: OK, I’m in. It isn’t just about the politicians. Look at the difference between the popular reaction to Viet Nam and the popular reaction to Iraq. It’s all about the children of the upper middle class, and college students.

    The draft is essential. Have another child, and man up, or admit that your country hires mercenaries to wage immoral wars around the world on behalf of oil companies, with your permission.

  144. 144
    I_D_Inuse says:

    @Another Halocene Human:

    That makes two of us. If only we had a press worth their purpose!

  145. 145
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Ken_L:

    Reducing complex situations to binary choices is the sign of a deep thinker – or a pathetic holier-than-thou wanker who ignores the ramifications of those choices. Sure, Obama could accept your first choice. The only problem is that among the results of that choice is that no Democrat would be elected for at least fifty fucking years.

  146. 146
    Pen says:

    @Ken_L: that’s all well and good, but you don’t get option a without us being able to tell the rest of the world to piss off and handle their own problems. We’re arguably the worlds last remaining superpower and we have a vested interest in regional stability anywhere we have a supply source. Right now that means rare earth metals and oil, mostly, which is reflected by out military focus. It doesn’t help any that we’re, as a planet, such with aftermath of Europe’s meddling when they broke up the Ottoman Empire with no regard for the actual middle eastern population dynamics. I going to go out on a limb and guess that you’re European, so you might want to check out a. History book before you climb back on that white horse of yours.

  147. 147
    dollared says:

    @Keith G:

    When I see commenters who tied themselves in knots over a NARC raid that killed a dog (or students getting pepper sprayed) go meh over this issue, I wonder if we have learned much over the last twelve years

    You have just captured the essence of Balloon Juice. It’s not racist per se. It’s just the brand of Democrats that won WWII, and haven’t learned much since.

  148. 148
    Pen says:

    @dollared: have another child and man up? Are you fucking serious? You claim the moral high ground and say shit like that? Unreal.

  149. 149
    dollared says:

    @Pen: I’m from Wisconsin. And I’m with Ken. We need to get off the fucking oil. And you need to explain how we kept our trooops out of the Middle East for 40 years and now we just couldn’t possibly, ever, for any reason, just fucking leave and take care of our own business.

  150. 150
    Soonergrunt says:

    @dollared: Those are all the kinds of ideas that I was hoping this thread would generate. Thanks!

  151. 151
    El Cid says:

    @max:

    I am in favor of killing Al Qaeda members because they are trying to kill us. Congress is in favor of that too, and would be in favor of it no matter what the voters wanted (because they think it’s life or death for them personally).

    I know that this sounds offhand like it answers a question, but it doesn’t, actually.

    Because you’ve just retitled the category — you haven’t specified it.

    How about I get a magic wish that anyone who really really wants to kill us dies?

    A lot of people seem to think that a bold, gutsy statement like that makes things clear.

    But there’s a difference between saying “I believe in having our soldiers kill Nazis,” with a fairly specific range of people encountered in that particular ongoing war and under certain conditions…

    …and that anyone, anywhere, at any time, can declare themselves to be “a Nazi.”

    I can speak boldly, too. As a matter of fact, I can say the exact same thing you just did, and it still doesn’t answer the question of who fits into the category of ‘people we need to kill’.

    Try to imagine that you’re asking yourself really difficult questions, rather than asking questions of an imagined easy target.

    When you make a statement like that, instead of pretending that you’re saying it to someone who has no ability to voice that sort of statement himself or herself, imagine that you say it to yourself, maybe in the mirror, and then say, ‘Okay, now what?’

  152. 152
    dollared says:

    @Soonergrunt: No, thank you.

    And – remember when we used to laugh at the Russians for being so stupid as to invade Afghanistan? Can we ever be that smart again?

    Remember, we’re not the Romans. We can test for lead in our drinking water.

  153. 153
    dollared says:

    @Pen: Well, you want to be a citizen and you don’t want to participate in the mutual defense of the nation. Can you please explain that logic?

  154. 154
    El Cid says:

    @Another Halocene Human: I didn’t mean to suggest that pacifism was by definition naive — I was pointing out that it’s easy to come up with stereotypical reductions of any of that sort of character.

    The quality of argument used to justify one’s pacifism or lack of a pacifist outlook can be stronger or weaker without regard to which side one falls on the matter.

  155. 155
    I_D_Inuse says:

    @burnspbesq:

    I agree with you. However, my idealistic side is screaming noooooooo…..but reality is what it is considering I do not receive early morning briefings. I am still trying to figure out our national interest other than oil at any cost, and how that trumps alternative renewable energy. Hell,, what do I know being a DFH.

  156. 156
    ericblair says:

    @dollared:

    2) continues drones with a rigorous but classified process that ensures that a judicial branch official signs off on the evidence against US citizens…

    I understand the desire to get the judicial branch involved in military decisions to put a check on things. However, once you’ve done that, you might want to consider the prospect of the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, finding that Iran is a clear and present danger to the United States, and ordering the National Command Authority to execute its war plans against the Republic of Iran effective immediately.

  157. 157
    Pen says:

    @dollared: we’re still using oil and were approaching, or past, peak. The main source of remaining oil is in a region that’s been destabilizing ever since Europe fucked it up after World War I. I’m pretty sure those salient facts explain much of our middle eastern policy.

    The fact that we’ve had multiple administrations mire us ever deeper into being the regional police, either by propping up governments or doing whatever it took to protect oil supply, really hasn’t helped. That won’t go away overnight, just like we won’t kick oil because you wish for it really hard. We have the world we do, not the one you want. The question is if you can accept that and all the mess it entails while you try to fix it, or if you toss your votes for an idealist 3rd party and rant on the web.

  158. 158
    Michael says:

    I think a FISA-style court could work for drone strikes if we wanted to set up some sort of drone “system.” I think its dangerous to normalize that as a tool in the executive’s belt though

  159. 159
    Pen says:

    @dollared: last I checked we were either talking about my son, or you. You said, and I quote, “have another child”, implying that either you’re inept at conveying ideas or that my son is an expendable asset that I shouldn’t have any trouble replacing.

    Those aren’t the words of a moral person. They’re the words of an idealist blinded.

  160. 160
    Michael says:

    @ericblair: SCOTUS authority doesn’t actually work like that. If we had FISA-style courts, then any time the Exec wanted to get clearance for a drone strike, it would have to go to the courts, BUT there wouldn’t be anyone who could force the exec like that. Courts certainly don’t have that power and tend to shy away from nosing into the running of the military

  161. 161
    👽 Martin says:

    Well, y’all know I generally support Obama on these strikes, because the alternative genuinely has been a decades long occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re reaching a point where we can conduct these missions without the occupation by doin it from sea or a suitable distance.

    That said, there’s a very troubling problem underlying this whis is that the marginal cost of initiating a military action dropped to damn near zero. 20 years ago, the only option for striking at OBL were cruise missiles targeted by someone on the ground, or an honest to god no doubt about it invasion. We tried the former and that failed and we tried the latter and that too mostly failed – and this came at enormous expense. The good part about an enormous expense is that you really need to want to do it.

    But now the CIA can do it remotely, and do it for almost no cost. So even if you have congressional oversight (which we do) the cost to doing it is so low that its going to be hard to tell them to not at least fly around a bit and see what they find. And because that cost is so low, they can authorize it for all manner of things because the primary concern will be the impact on the Homeland Security budget and not on the social cost to the nation looking up in the sky wondering if a rocket is about to destroy their house.

  162. 162
    dollared says:

    @Pen: I’ourll try again. You say your child should never fight in a war. You apparently think that OTHER people’s children are expendable, but yours is not. Now, let’s discuss morality….

  163. 163
    El Cid says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    You tell me how you think we can move through the world, doing as little damage as possible while still securing our national interests (a discussion that must of course include “what those national interests are in the first place) and I’ll read that with honest interest.

    Okay, but it’s just as much of a challenge to do so if you do so from any point of view you may be advocating as any imagined point I might advocate.

    There’s no default “easier” position. I’m not in the position of having to challenge some intellectually established argument any more than you are in a position of beginning at that point.

    That parenthetical phrase of “what those national interests are in the first place” are in reality the entirety of the debate, and therefore it is the ground from which we really have no practical input whatsoever.

    No one asks, no one much cares what you or I think about such things when it comes to decisions about whether or not to continue building a miserable powder keg of blood and bile by insisting that ‘friendly’ tyrants and shitty regimes carry out venal, selfish actions we are told are in ‘our’ interest (the Russkies, and the Iranian hostage-takers, you know)

    So on one level, it may help to recall that you’re not being asked to draft U.S. foreign policy, or the nation-state rationale on security policy.

    Really, you aren’t, and neither am I.

    It’s a blog. It’s okay to ask the wacky and impractical questions, and not pretend like we’re all in the Embassy under siege or threat, or in some chair at some decision level needing to know whether in this context to launch something or not.

    So maybe that might be a good set of questions to ask — rather than wanting someone to propose an imminently if not immediately actionable plan to be placed upon our something-something desks to implement our ideal policies, why not break out some of those questions?

    For example, if your interest in the post was about drones, then you could ask questions about whether or not the use of drones somehow changes via its type of technology the policy of warfare or the effects on the ground, etc.

    Or if the interest is ‘who needs killin’,’ there’s that.

    Or ‘what might your and my biggest concerns be with regard to Yemen’?

    Otherwise it’s a discussion of drones wrapped up in questions of identifying actionable targets wrapped up in questions of the philosophy of lethal force mixed up with definitions of what it is we should all be wanting times a discussion of who’s the most sharp-eyed, hard-edged realist, etc.

  164. 164
    burnspbesq says:

    @Pen:

    With all due respect, I think you made Dollared’s point more forcefully and more effectively than he did. When it’s suburban white kids who might have to go in harm’s way, the political calculus around sending in troops gets a lot dicier.

    Of course, if you don’t want your son drafted, you kinda have to accept the diffusion of covilian control that comes with an all-professional military.

  165. 165
    Pen says:

    @dollared: I did my tour and consider the idea of draftees to be next to worthless. I don’t want my son having any part in something that would serve as little more than cannon fodder. How exactly is that immoral?

    I volunteered, as did every leatherneck I served with. We choose to put ourselves in harms way, you want to take that choice away while trying to put me on the defensive. Don’t pretend to be on some strong moral footing.

  166. 166
    General Stuck says:

    At least this is a halfway sane thread on an important topic. In previous threads, I linked to some data on drone attacks deaths of civilians, by what I think is as honest and neutral a source as there is. Being Peter Bergen and his New America Foundation, that canvassed a large number of media outlets both world wide and in Pakistan local to arrive at their numbers. If you don’t believe the drone program is justified no matter, then any argument and data indicating very low civilian casualties of late, will not mollify you.

    There is also the current fact that most attacks are on Taliban leaders and groups of fighters along the border with a mission to attack and kill American troops in Afghan. Very few AQ are even left in Pakistan, so there are fewer attacks on them. And I don’t know how anyone can justify not using every tool available within the realm of acceptable warfare, toward protecting those troops we sent into harms way. I just can’t go there. I can holler all day it’s past time to pull them out, and 2014 is too long, but I won’t condemn a tactic that by every account is vital support to combat troops that are our countrymen. And they didn’t order themselves into that meat grinder.

  167. 167
    sharl says:

    I’m glad to see some folks asking ‘Just what IS our national interest?’ I’ve been asking myself this for awhile, and it feels like trying to untangle a writhing ball of ill-tempered snakes.

    AFAICT, the answer is, unfortunately, provided by the MOTUs, and goes something like “The National Interest is whatever we say it is, and is subject to change whenever we choose to revise it.”

  168. 168
    dollared says:

    @Pen: Pen, we could cut our oil consumption by 30% within 10 years. It would cost less than $100B per year, plus it would be hugely stimulative. It’s called hybridization of our entire fleet. All the necessary technololgy exists and the infrastructure exists to manufacture. And spreading it over 10 years would make it entirely feasible.

    We don’t get much of our oil from the ME. We could make it somebody else’s problem. It really is not that hard.

    We are so convinced that we are helpless that we lock ourselves into this insane world where the military gets a trillion dollars and our children cant’ get educated.

  169. 169
    👽 Martin says:

    @Michael: Whats the opposition to the current system with the gang of eight signing off on everything? You’ve got a legislative check that also includes an approval from the opposing party. Obama introduced this, but I’d have trusted the Bush actions a lot more knowing that Reid and Pelosi were signing off.

  170. 170

    @TBogg: But us too, you know; what are we really saying that doesn’t boil down to “politics ain’t beanbag, sonny”? For instance, why do we have to deal with existing terrorists and training camps at all? We didn’t talk like that about Iraq, did we?

    Here I imagine O might say no, we don’t have to, we just can, as we couldn’t in Iraq, and fewer people get hurt this way. And then we can say so he’s more like Truman than Gandhi, and would you rather have Gandhi for president than Truman, and the emoprogs can say yes we would, and there you have it, but at least there would have been some rationality in the discussion.

  171. 171
    Pen says:

    @burnspbesq:

    Care to chime in SoonerGrunt? How much stock would you put into a draftee?

  172. 172
    Ken_L says:

    @145 & 146 you misunderstand me. I was not trying to tell you guys which option the USA should take – that’s your decision. I’m not American so I don’t know which one I would choose if I were in your position. All I’m saying is that if you choose option (b), just accept your government will continue to engage in morally dubious behaviour. It will have no choice, given that trying to dominate other countries out of self-interest is a fundamentally immoral objective no matter how much you try to dress it up with manifest destiny bullshit.

  173. 173
    I_D_Inuse says:

    @Andrey:

    Thank you. I have much to think about and you have posed intriguing avenues of thought. What do you think is worse, group-think or the circular merry-go-round of ones own creation? I am trying to avoid both.

  174. 174
    Pen says:

    @dollared: we get our oil on the global market regardless of source. Here in the upper Midwest (I’m a cheddar head too) most of it comes by way of Canada. That doesn’t change the market dynamics. And I completely agree that given the political will we could transition off of oil extremely quickly. We could decouple ourselves from the entire Middle East and tell them to pound sand. The problem is both that we don’t Have the political will specifically because of republican gridlock and Fox News style propaganda, vested interests in our corporations, and a general unwillingness to toss up our hands and walk away no matter how bad things get afterwards.

    Well ultimately get out of the ME once oil is no longer available, but I fear it won’t happen until it’s forced by lack of supply. History and technology has inertia and I think our only disagreement is in how much.

  175. 175
    Michael says:

    @👽 Martin: a legislative check is better than NO check, but this is the same legislature that prevented courts from hearing Gitmo detainees from being tried in US courts and tried to strip fed courts of Hanes jurisdiction for those same detainees. I’d rather judicial oversight; they don’t have to fear electoral problems in the event of another attack. Congressional incentives are out of whack here IMO.

  176. 176
    👽 Martin says:

    @dollared: But that won’t change anything, unfortunately. Even with $4 gas, we export 15% of the gasoline we refine. If we cut our gas consumption by 50%, we’d import just as much and just export 60% of what we refine instead. We’re already a net petroleum exporter.

    Hell, that’s the whole point of the Keystone pipeline – to import even more oil than we need and export even more refined product through our southern ports.

  177. 177
    burnspbesq says:

    @ericblair:

    you might want to consider the prospect of the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, finding that Iran is a clear and present danger to the United States, and ordering the National Command Authority to execute its war plans against the Republic of Iran effective immediately.

    If you want us to consider that prospect, you might want to explain, among other things, who has standing to bring that lawsuit, what the cause of action and the theory of subject-matter jurisdiction are, etc.

    This has been a really good thread so far. Do you really want to be the tipping point?

  178. 178
    Pen says:

    @General Stuck: There is also the current fact that most attacks are on Taliban leaders and groups of fighters along the border with a mission to attack and kill American troops in Afghan. Very few AQ are even left in Pakistan, so there are fewer attacks on them. And I don’t know how anyone can justify not using every tool available within the realm of acceptable warfare, toward protecting those troops we sent into harms way. I just can’t go there. I can holler all day it’s past time to pull them out, and 2014 is too long, but I won’t condemn a tactic that by every account is vital support to combat troops that are our countrymen. And they didn’t order themselves into that meat grinder.

    This.

  179. 179
    👽 Martin says:

    @Michael: Gang of eight decisions aren’t public. There’s no political cost in their decisions – no more or less than the judicial branch.

  180. 180
    Kylroy says:

    @Pen:

    It’s nothing personal. It’s not that he wants *you* to have skin in the game – he wants the *average American* to have skin in the game.

    Simple fact – Americans do not now, and probably never have, cared much about dead foreigners. And we love it when our leaders get the guns out – hell, Kennedy had a short-lived popularity spike from the Bay of Pigs incident. About the only thing that turns Americans against imperial adventurism is when the flag-draped coffins start coming home in bulk. And drone strikes will mean our attacks can continue without getting our troops killed.

    Deprived of even the remote possibility of the only thing that ever got the majority of Americans to agree with them, dedicated anti-war folks are kinda freaking out. They know nobody right of Obama is going to listen to then, so they’re hoping if they yell at leftists REALLY LOUDLY…something will happen. I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work. When you can’t get any consensus among the leftmost 20% of the population that posts on sites like Balloon Juice, I’m unsure what your endgame is.

  181. 181
    Michael says:

    No political cost to any individual decision, but SOME potential cost if there’s another attack or the war effort goes bad, etc. there’s no very little incentive to say no.

  182. 182
    burnspbesq says:

    @Pen:

    Remind me again where it says that you can only draft people for two years. If you’re going to have a draft, you keep them long enough to train them properly. What’s wrong with the Swiss system, to cite only one possible alternative?

  183. 183
    Pen says:

    @burnspbesq: it’s not a matter of time, but of will. Our country’s history and psychology would never allow the Swiss system to even get off the ground. We’re too independent, basically, to see it as anything but an attack on our freedom no matter how much the government might talk about duty. I wouldn’t in my worst days have ever wanted to. Serve beside someone who didn’t want to be there, that’s a good way to end up dead.

  184. 184
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Pen:

    I won’t speak for Soonergrunt. I will speak from personal experience in Vietnam. If you get into combat you’re fighting for two things; your life, and the lives of the guys on either side of you. You aren’t fighting for US foreign policy, the Stars and Stripes or American hegemony. It’s that simple. Draftees put into combat will fight for the same reasons.

    Moreover, if Mr. and Mrs. America know that fighting a war means that their children stand a good chance of going to that war then the pols’ appetite for starting wars or for prolonging them for years might be decreased.

  185. 185
    👽 Martin says:

    @Pen: There’s something of a false choice here. We can dream up alternatives to a draft to distribute the pain of warfare. The simplest (and I’m not arguing these would be sufficient, but they’re a start) would be a mandatory tax hike at the top of the income ladder and massive benefits support for those that go to war. One problem now is that military service is sufficiently low paying that it doesn’t draw broadly from society. There are other forms of mandatory service we could impose. We jumped from conscription to nothing without really any consideration that there could have been a substitute for conscription.

  186. 186
    Scamp Dog says:

    @Shawn in ShowMe: Yeah, but what about the lithium, poppy fields and the oil we need for plastic. People gotta have their electric cars, dope and water bottles.

    I’ve been thinking about this a little. The price of oil (or anything else traded internationally in large volumes) is set by the world market, and really isn’t under anyone’s direct control. Even who makes the profit and how much they make on extracting, refining and moving is market based. As a consumer, I’m not that interested in who’s pocketing the profits, just how much I have to pay for the amount that I need to use.

    If you’re Dick Cheney, CEO and major shareholder of Halliburton (or some other oil industry company), America’s military and diplomatic might can help send the some of the business and profits your way, though. I’m starting to think THAT’S why we’re mucking around in that part of the world, to make sure that they get a cut. I suppose that it’s nice that some of the profits come to the US instead of some other nation, but given that the US elite has effectively zero interest in the rest of the population, based on their political efforts to pay the lowest possible tax rates, I don’t think it’s benefiting me in any noticeable way.

  187. 187
    General Stuck says:

    Having been one of the last draftees, I have long thought one of the actions needed to save this bumbling republic, is to bring back the draft or required public service. It is very worrisome to me, having a professional military drifting further and further from the mainstream of life in America outside the self contained bubble of military life that in part is a whole other world.

  188. 188
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @General Stuck:
    Nicely put. The time-honored concept of the American citizen soldier is becoming lost and its loss affects the nation. A concern that I have is the attitude, sometimes openly stated, that “Well, they volunteered.” That attitude manifests itself in the troops being treated like any other piece of military equipment rather than as human beings.

  189. 189
  190. 190
    dollared says:

    @Pen: I recognize the way things are. I want to change them for the better. Isn’t that how the Republicans made it worse? Isn’t that how we got the New Deal?

    We are not stuck with the current petroleum market. That’s an incredibly easy thing to change. five McKinsey people in a room could redesign our internal market in a month’s time.

  191. 191
    Kadzimiel says:

    @dollared:

    Anyone can redesign a market. The hard part is implementing the redesign. How do you get any real reform through our happy little Gridlock on the Potomac?

  192. 192
    piratedan says:

    @dollared: #135 a couple of things…..

    I’m pretty sure we’ve been in war mode for quite some time….

    i.e. Bosnia, Somalia come to mind during the Clinton years, Somalia was pretty much just us. Bosnia was a more coordinated affair, but it was pretty nasty as far as what went on, but for most Americans, out of sight, out of mind.

    I agree that we need to cut back on Tanks, Bombers etc etc etc and retool our forces to be more responsive to the challenges of warfare in these times. I also agree that this administration is looking to return that war production into national infrastructure and like you I wish it was sooner rather than later.

    I do believe that our extrication is more in line with helping the Uzbeks and Tadziks get stability and making friends and staying friendly with them than anything regarding the current Afghan and Pakistani regimes. I don’t know if this means that we will transition to a war on terrorism by proxy or not. I’m not sure that conventional intelligence means will help us combat terrorism or not, as such, I can see the drone program continuing until a better mechanism manifests itself.

    As for building good relationships with the Islamic world, I do believe that we may have a foothold in Syria (and Morocco)to start building better ties and perhaps wean ourselves from the Saudi’s as being our only envoy in that region (talk about both extremes, Israel and Saudi Arabia, sheesh). I believe with this President we will make better choices on who we make friends with. I honestly believe that has had a lot to do with our issues in the past, hard to see what other choices were available when you consider that the US was all about fighting war by proxy from 1945 thru 2008.

  193. 193
    dollared says:

    @Shawn in ShowMe: These things are not hard. The rare earth elements can be gotten in Bolivia. The petroleum can come from South America.

    We.don’t.need.to.be.in.the.Middle.East. It’s that simple. We just need to stop using our military as the business development department of the Fortune 50.

  194. 194
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @dollared:
    There are too many of the 1% with a vested interest in the status quo. Common sense would tell anyone that investing in renewable energy is in our best interest – anyone except the people making a fortune off of petroleum.

  195. 195
    dollared says:

    @piratedan: Agreed on all counts. I just want to make sure we all understand that it is much worse now than it had been at any time after 1973. And we can easily cut our military by 40-50%, any time we want.

    We need to expand the envelope of the possible. It really would be very easy to have a different world, if we can articulate and organize politically to make it happen.

  196. 196
    dollared says:

    @Kadzimiel: Articulate a vision, sell the benefits for 10 years. Get 60 votes. It’s how anything good was ever done in this country. And how bad things are done as well.

  197. 197
    Pen says:

    @dollared: I could redesign our economy, that not the issue. Implementation is. In any event I’ve got to e up in 4 hours, peace.

  198. 198
    Kayla Rudbek says:

    @dollared: one of the big problems is that the republicans in the House are trying to block military R&D in alternative fuels.

  199. 199
    Kadzimiel says:

    @dollared:

    Yes, which is just a touch more complex than your previous program of redesign by five McKinseyites in a room for the weekend.

  200. 200
    Mnemosyne says:

    @dollared:

    Has anyone noticed that we didn’t do this shit 10 and 20 years ago and the world kept turning without us?

    WTF are you talking about? 10 years ago was 2002 and we’d been in Afghanistan for months. 20 years ago was 1992 and we were in Somalia — hello, Black Hawk Down? Sound familiar at all, in any way? 30 years ago, we were a year away from having over 300 US Marines killed in Lebanon in a truck bombing.

  201. 201
    Or something like that.Suffern Ace says:

    @dollared: ….. Sorry but if you hire McKinsey for that job I’m out. Sheese. Have you never been redesigned by them?

  202. 202
    Soonergrunt says:

    @El Cid: Nobody ever said this was easy. There’s a reason that every President of my lifetime entered the office with dark hair and left with grey hair.

  203. 203
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Pen: I’ve never had to deal with them, obviously, but I have had to deal with young men who had determined that they had made a mistake in enlisting.

    I can tell you from my own experience (and it is my OWN–by no means should it be taken to apply to others) that it’s more a matter of leadership. Good leaders can get Soldiers to do what needs doing, and poor leaders cannot.
    Obviously you’re not going to get everybody to do everything all the time, but I don’t see any reason to believe that draftees are inherently inferior to volunteers. If anything, a draft would probably increase the average IQ and education level of the enlisted ranks, particularly if there were no ways for able-bodied persons to avoid service.
    WWII was won by an Army that was largely composed of draftees, after all.

  204. 204
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Kylroy: “Americans do not now, and probably never have, cared much about dead foreigners.”
    I don’t believe that we are special in this particular behavior or outlook. One need only read Victorian-era British novels and articles about life in Africa and India to see much the same thing, and this is repeated in translations of French stories from North Africa and Southeast Asia, and Dutch writings about Malaysia and so forth. Hell, read what the British were saying about the Canadians and Australians in WWI (their colonies and allies) and you’ll find much the same thing.

  205. 205
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    I won’t speak for Soonergrunt. I will speak from personal experience in Vietnam. If you get into combat you’re fighting for two things; your life, and the lives of the guys on either side of you. You aren’t fighting for US foreign policy, the Stars and Stripes or American hegemony. It’s that simple. Draftees put into combat will fight for the same reasons.

    I never saw anybody open up on the enemy with “here’s one for Manifest Destiny, motherfuckers!” or “this is in support of American trade policy” when triggering a claymore.

  206. 206
    dollared says:

    @Mnemosyne: Scale, my friend. can you tell the difference between 500 troops in Lebanon and 250,000 in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan?

    I can.

  207. 207
    dollared says:

    @Soonergrunt: Thanks for the thread. I really don’t think things will change in our country until we start asking these questions.

  208. 208
    Soonergrunt says:

    @dollared: Logistically, the difference is huge. Politically, it’s almost nil.

  209. 209
    sharl says:

    The topic of rare earth minerals (cf. comments 146 & 193) is an excellent example of how not even acknowledging (let alone addressing) long term national interests gets us into trouble. What with Wall Street going for the quick buck, with the active assistance of paid-off legislators and senior appointed officials (deferred payment for them, e.g. via the ‘revolving door’), and the media pimping “The Invisible Hand of the Free Market”, we end up with a situation like this (12July2012):

    WASHINGTON—The House passed a bill Thursday to boost production of exotic rare-earth elements and other in-demand minerals used to make high-tech military, clean-energy and medical products.

    The U.S., the European Union, and Japan jointly filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization in March to protest China’s restrictions of rare-earth exports. China produces about 97% of the world’s total of rare-earth elements, and has in recent years cut exports to important consuming countries such as Japan.

    Once self-sufficient in rare-earth minerals production, the U.S. ceded the market to China over the last two decades, partly because of environmental concerns over energy-intensive mining and partly because of falling global demand and prices.

  210. 210
    jshooper says:

    I’ve actually read firebagger / paultard nutjobs on Glenn Beckwald’s old blog (Salon) go into great detail explaining how drones are WORSE than other forms of bombing…because they don’t give the enemy an opportunity to defend themselves…They call the use of drones “cowardly” and some even go as far as describing the soldiers who control them as “kids playing video games in the basement”…They also love to refer to them as Obama’s death robots…It seems like their entire issue with drones is that they are unmanned instead of piloted by Americans who could be killed by enemy fire…If the terrorists were shooting down helicopters full of American soldiers, these assholes wouldn’t give two shits

  211. 211
    FlipYrWhig says:

    Thanks, Sooner, for using me in the OP, especially a case of my doing that “what is the real question?” thing that gets under Corner Stone’s skin.

    I said at the end of the last thread that I suspect that drones, with the proper reviews and failsafes in place, are probably a rather effective way to kill people who need killing. But of course for me to say that entirely begs the question. It seems to me that the real complaint is about who if anyone “needs killing” and what to do if the guy who needs killing is standing near someone who doesn’t. And it seems further that what needs to happen is for sensitive, skeptical people to be involved in the chain of decision-making, throwing up red flags. But there’s an immediate problem to solve, and it involves the separation of powers, checks and balances, and the like: war powers have been ceded to the executive branch, and the executive branch likes it that way (who wouldn’t want a freer hand to make decisions?), and both parties in Congress seem to like it that way too.

    Hence to my mind the right thing to do when it comes to activism on these issues is to badger _Congress_. Badger Obama too, that’s cool, but what you really want is an alternate power center to keep at bay the threat of an unchecked executive. We don’t need to be left in a position where it’s only the conscience of the president that works against the indiscriminate use of military force. If you want procedures and reviews and all that, you need laws, ergo you need Congress.

    And, you know, not one person around here LIKES the idea of explosives falling on innocent people, ether by malice or by error. So can we dispense with the part of the ritual where we earnestly decry that? I think it goes without saying.

    (Also, Heliopause totally misread me by skipping over the second half of that line, so thanks to the people who pointed that out before I came around.)

  212. 212
    Ed Marshall says:

    I don’t have a problem with using drones to kill AQ or Taliban. I also know the aF drones have very tight ROE. What I don’t like are the consistent reports of double tap strikes, where the drone kills it’s target, waits for whoever shows up to try and assist or clean up the bodies and takes them out to. That probably isn’t the military, it’s probably an OGA, but I do believe it’s happening.

    I guess you could make a calculation whoever that was *probably* sucked, and it’s as good an opportunity as any to get rid of his presumed friends. I guess you could say, well, we could have just saved the drone and carpet bombed the location. You have to ask how much that is adding to the national security to use a tactic that is more or less terroristic to kill a handful of people in Pakistan. It’s really something the American people should know and debate if that is happening. If it’s happening, it’s certainly not a secret to our enemies.

  213. 213
    Ruckus says:

    @FlipYrWhig:
    …I suspect that drones, with the proper reviews and failsafes in place, are probably a rather effective way to kill people who need killing.

    This is a great sentence. It really is the essence of the issue. People who need killing.

    In a country that still allows(embraces in some states) the death penalty, I’m hearing a lot of, every life is precious. I’m pretty sure that it’s not necessarily the same people thinking both things are good, but it is a rather large disconnect that we can’t defend ourselves in a way that is at this time as close as we can get to pinpoint personal accuracy and we seemingly at the same time are willing to kill people who can no longer hurt others.

    The number of issues in this (or probably any) country that don’t get discussed in a realistic way staggers me.
    1. War, should or shouldn’t we, of course that depends on why (WoT, WoD, WoP, Oil, land, power…
    2. Climate change
    3. Death penalty
    4. Oil, it’s use, it’s real cost in money and lives
    5. Corporate control of, well everything.
    6. Taxes, why, how much, fair share,
    7. Congress, what they do to us not for us.
    I’m sure there are more.

    Money and Power, in this context for me, these are the big issues. Yes someone will always have more of one or both but in a representative democracy it is currently completely out of control.

  214. 214
    pattonbt says:

    My answer…..Boots on the ground. If it aint worth the blood, toil and politics of loss of our own lives, then it aint worth doing.

    If you dont have skin in the fight game (i.e. actual battle line blood loss), then you make it too easy to jump in with distance warfare and its hideous collateral damage impacts which means you will jump in when you shouldnt.

    If you wont commit your own ground troops, then dont commit period.

    I would need to flesh all that out a bit, but its a high level approach I use when trying to determine “justified” warfare.

  215. 215
    pattonbt says:

    More to the point, the more we remove the person from the fight, the more we are willing to fight.

    We’ve made it too easy to engage, and as a necessity of that, we have made it too easy to write-off collateral damage impacts.

    And the more we allow ourselves to write-off collateral damage, the more har than good we do to our cause.

    Way oversimplified, but my general theme.

  216. 216
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @David Fud:

    Personally, I think a nice Middle East pullback of epic proportions would be great. The reason we could consider this is that we are now more or less self-sufficient in oil/energy.

    But this is part of the problem. It was oil consumption that allowed the population of Saudi Arabia to grow from about 4 million in 1960 to about 28 million (about 1/4 of them being guest workers) today, and they didn’t get that population from food grown in their own desert nation.

    Saudi Arabia has presumably passed the peak of it’s petroleum reserves. When they- or any of the other Kingdoms, Emirates or Islamic Republics- run out of petroleum, what commodities have they got to trade for food? Sand? Desalinated ocean water? Are they going to have to go begging for food? Will there be conditions placed on any food handouts that might run against the religious beliefs of the recipients of those handouts? I don’t think I’m the only person who’s ever thought this, but I expect the vast majority of others who have regard the Arabian Peninsula as home…And a few of them have been scared enough to start lashing out at the rest of the world while they can still get their hands on weapons.

  217. 217
    sharl says:

    @pattonbt: I agree with you that the draft would make war less palatable. Which is why it won’t get any support. Otherwise corrupt bastard Rep. Charlie Rangel (D, NY-15) – Korean War vet, so no chickenhawk there – has been beating that drum for a long time. But outside of those who want to sign up, or have that as their only apparent option, we now have an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ policy where war is concerned. War is much easier when someone else is fighting it! USA! USA!

    And now with drones, our Remote Control Nation has yet another way to make the killing even more distant and effectively invisible, so it won’t trouble our beautiful minds. That’s the part that is most troubling to me – being decoupled from the consequences of our actions. This certainly won’t make us better people; quite the contrary.

    ETA – agree with your follow-on comment totally (didn’t see it while composing my own).

  218. 218
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    @TBogg:

    I’ve been trying to get answers to all of these questions for weeks, and all I can get is “flying killer robots are killing brown children, you horrible racist monster” with no plan for an alternative to how to deal with existing terrorist cells and training camps. So… good luck with this

    My alternative would be to start with “don’t use drones” and work from there.

    Alas, in the real world, the syllogism of “Something must be done”, ‘This is something”, and “therefore we must do this” often fails.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/worl.....ive-report

    —-

    The CIA’s programme of “targeted” drone killings in Pakistan’s tribal heartlands is politically counterproductive, kills large numbers of civilians and undermines respect for international law, according to a report by US academics.

    The study by Stanford and New York universities’ law schools, based on interviews with victims, witnesses and experts, blames the US president, Barack Obama, for the escalation of “signature strikes” in which groups are selected merely through remote “pattern of life” analysis.
    […]
    “The dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling ‘targeted killings’ of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false,” the report, entitled Living Under Drones, states.
    […]
    The study goes on to say: “Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best … The number of ‘high-level’ militants killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just 2% [of deaths]. Evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks … One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.”

    —-

    Let me suggest a situation that might shed more light on these ideas. Imagine the Cuban government started blowing up car bombs on the streets on Miami to eliminate militant Cuban exiles, in the process murdering innocent American civilians.

    i, Would you also be defending this as a morally acceptable expression of tough-minded real politik?

    ii, Would it be likely to be effective?

  219. 219
    IM says:

    I don’t care about drones. A weapon is a weapon and death by stoning is not more or less moral then death by drone.

    The question is, is there a net benefit of the military operations of the USA in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan to either the US or these countries?

    I don’t think so, at least as far Somalia, Yemen and Psakistan is concerned.

    In Afghanistan it can be argued that the government is better then the Taliban and the military operations of the west are keeping a part of the country under government control. That is something.

    So I would stop the killing of civilians now in three countries and that in Afghanistan a few years later.

    The killing done by americans, that is. Other forces will still kill a lot of civilians obviously.

    How that relates to american presidential elections, I don’t know. Could well be the case that Obama is still closest to the position sketched above.

  220. 220
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @IM:

    The question is, is there a net benefit of the military operations of the USA in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan…In Afghanistan it can be argued that the government is better then the Taliban and the military operations of the west are keeping a part of the country under government control. That is something.

    Well, if you’re going to make that argument about Afghanistan, you’ve got to include Pakistan- with it’s porous border with Afghanistan and its more-than-friendly-with-the-Taliban ISI- in the argument.

  221. 221
    IM says:

    But the warfare in the bort-western territories of Pakistan is not helping Pakistan to kepp or gain control there. Perhaps, as you claim they don’t even want control there. So all this is a bit pointless.
    .
    But if that all is justdependent on Afghanistan, then in two or three years the drone war in Pakistan will end

  222. 222
    Ed Marshall says:

    @Phoenician in a time of Romans:

    I’ve had one comment and it wasn’t praising at least one aspect of the drone program to the high heavens, but think about this. We have had a lot of leaks of nosecone footage from Predators. Have you ever once seen someone look like they knew what was coming? Inevitably, if they have a reaction at all outside of death, it’s pant-shitting surprise. The report says that people hear them all the time. If you want you hear them take off a little outside Vegas. You won’t hear them long. That part alone makes me suspicious of the rest of that report.

  223. 223
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @IM:

    Well, ya know, Pakistan’s a clusterfuck. Sindhi’s controlling the civilian government, Punjabi’s controlling the military (and, thus, the ISI), both with different goals when it comes to India, throw in the Pashtun (ethnically Persian and living, in many places, like it’s the 17th Century) population that straddles the border with Afghanistan…It’s been fucked since the partition of the Subcontinent at least, if not a bit earlier.

  224. 224
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    We have had a lot of leaks of nosecone footage from Predators. Have you ever once seen someone look like they knew what was coming? Inevitably, if they have a reaction at all outside of death, it’s pant-shitting surprise. The report says that people hear them all the time. If you want you hear them take off a little outside Vegas. You won’t hear them long. That part alone makes me suspicious of the rest of that report.

    Uh-huh.

    And which part of the report would that be? Could you give us an exact quote of what you think you’re responding to?

  225. 225
    IM says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    That is true. How can you be allied with a military that thinks India is the enemy? And that is exactly the reason why the military operations in Pakistan are pointless.

  226. 226
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @IM:

    How can you be allied with a military that thinks India is the enemy?

    Because when we took Pakistan on as an ally, India had some strong ties with the Soviets, based on the BIG problem between them: The People’s Republic of China.

    And that is exactly the reason why the military operations in Pakistan are pointless.

    No. India doesn’t come in to the US rationale for the use of drones, at least not directly. It’s the Taliban crossing back and forth over the AfPak border. That this benefits India by tying up or eliminating the Taliban- whom the ISI has used to foment shit on the Pakistan-India border in the past- is of secondary or tertiary concern to the US.

  227. 227
    IM says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    No, that isn’t what I meant. I do know these cold war calculations. But they seem pretty pointless now. And no, the drone war hasn’t to do anything with india. The india obsession of Pakistan makes them an wortless ally in either Afghanistan or the border territories. If Pakistan had an plan to reconquer Bangladesh instead, they would be wortless too.

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    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @IM:

    The india obsession of Pakistan makes them an wortless ally in either Afghanistan or the border territories.

    Except that it isn’t an “india obsession of Pakistan” as much as an India obsession of the Punjabis of Pakistan. If you’re Sindhi, and can use your greater numbers to elect a government that is more in tune with your specific values, why would you support bringing the larger part of Punjab- the part that rests on the Indian side of the border- into Pakistan’s borders, thus giving Punjabis the larger voice in the government?

    Our post-Cold War policy seems to be that we are allied with the Sindhis- keeping peace with India, stabilizing Afghanistan and that border- but we have to maneuver through the Punjabis.

    Again, a clusterfuck, but it’s that or mushroom clouds.

  229. 229
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    @IM:

    Revisiting this:

    The question is, is there a net benefit of the military operations of the USA in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan…

    Regarding Somalia and Yemen…Alfred Thayer Mahan…It’s about controlling the sea lanes, more specifically in this case the Red Sea entrance/exit of the Suez Canal. Piracy in that area seems to be disorganized now, but if someone were to get the idea and organize in an attempt to hinder imports and exports to and from the eastern seaboard of the US and the ports of Western Europe…Yeah, we’re talking about oil now, but at some point in the not-to-distant future that runs out, and we’re talking about trade with India. Shipping around the Cape of Good Hope is expensive compared to shipping through Suez.

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    Alex SL says:

    I am late to this thread; I am not an American; and I am not a constitutional scholar or something like that. But I think the answer to the original post is bleeding obvious:

    Unless (1) some other country has declared war on your country or (2) your country has declared war on that other country, officially and with all that entails, the whole thing is at best a police operation.

    Use Interpol; collaborate with other countries’ police services; bribe local warlords; demand that country X hand over the criminals they are shielding. If they don’t, then consider formally declaring war (if that is worth it – I’d say usually it would not be). But before you do that, leave the drones, bombers and marines at home. Perhaps it would help your case if the USA, in turn, would not shield and even actively support other countries’ terrorists. If a pressured country does hand the criminals over to you, put them on trial.

    You know, unbelievable as it sounds, there used to be a time when the Israelis would abduct Eichmann, a guy who was a much greater monster than your average Muslim terrorist, and put him on a trial, with lawyer and everything. These days, it seems, he would just be blown up together with five random people standing around him. Progress?

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    dmbeaster says:

    The drone thing is two issues.

    The first is big picture concerns about when and how to use our military force. I am of the opinion that we are far too hair trigger in going to military options since we can. Frustration with the drone program is partially part of frustration with the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and whether or not it is accomplishing anything meaningful anymore. If it is not, then bombing the Pakistani tribal areas to maybe kill suspected high value targets, while certainly killing civilians, does not seem warranted.

    The second is a belief that drones lower the bar about when we conduct strikes and kill civilians in the process. The drone is launching hellfire missiles at targets in the same manner as any other airstrike. The drone’s advantages over a regular airstrike is that it is cheaper to deploy, can linger over an area, and is stealthy since it is very difficult to spot compared to an airplane. Hellfire missiles are remotely guided based on the TV camera in their nose, and very accurate in hitting what you intend to hit.

    It is already a somewhat iffy thing to be bombing in this manner to allegedly “pinpoint kill” selected targets. There is nothing magic about a drone strike – it really depends on your intel in making the decision to shoot and the nature of the target in terms of likelihood of killing civilians. The idea that you can make very good decisions to bomb civilian areas based on intel from drone cameras is very suspect. You are going to have a lot of screw-ups if that is how you are targeting. And since the downside of drone strikes is civilian deaths and all the blowback associated with it, it is hard to see how they are on balance a good thing.

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    Barry says:

    @El Cid: “The technology involved certainly changes all sorts of things, including the relative cost to the nation doing the aerial bombing / long-range shelling / shooting missiles.”

    Which is key. Greater ability to kill people at low (up front and obvious) cost and risk.

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    Keith G says:

    @dmbeaster:

    allegedly “pinpoint kill”

    I have a feeling that if the killings were as pinpoint as advertized, there would be at least some after-blast video (or image capture) made available to bolster the “surgical kill” case.

    Anytime we use our military, “non bad guys” die. That is why is is so important to have a general debate, when possible, about if we are doing the right thing for the right reasons and if the reality of the consequences of our use of deadly force matches up with what is really in our best interests.

  234. 234
    Barry says:

    @Gin & Tonic: “Just spitballing, but is there also anything we can do to try to stop terrorists wanting to to hurt us, as a nation?”

    burnspbesq : “As long as there is one person anywhere in the Muslim world who can gain a domestic political advantage by whipping up hatred of the Great Satan, no.”

    Wrong, for reasons which are incredibly obvious.

  235. 235
    Ruckus says:

    @Barry:
    He’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just he’s barely right about the effect of the problem, and not the problem itself, and it’s a very shallow and bigoted way to state that. If it was about one person, hell we wouldn’t even have to leave home to find at least one or two citizens living here that would qualify. Hell we wouldn’t even have to find them, they are on the radio.

    It is about power and money. It’s always about power and money. A few have too much and many have way too little. Wealth and power inequality. It creates revolutions. The forms of those revolutions vary over history but they are always the result of wealth and power inequality. When you have nothing left you have nothing left to lose in trying to change that. And when the cause of that having nothing is a very few, still trying to take that nothing away, the target is easy to visualize. And if that target is over the next hill and ranting about it doesn’t upset those who are squeezing you directly, there is little direct cost in doing so.

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    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    @Barry:

    Which is key. Greater ability to kill people at low (up front and obvious) cost and risk.

    Of course, we’re getting into the territory of saying that murdering people is more acceptable if you do it wholesale with an assault rifle than retail with a handgun, ‘cos it’s easier, faster and cheaper.

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