There are a number of things I disagree with Soonergrunt regarding his drone post yesterday, starting with what I considered a rather condescending title: “Sharpened Pencils or W-88s–when you really have to kill somebody, which is less impolite?” This reminds me of the exceedingly idiotic debates during the Iraq war about the use of White Phosphorous rounds, when actual insane people spent days informing me that a weapon that had been in our arsenal for decades was now all of a sudden a chemical weapon because… there are chemicals in White Phosphorous. Newsflash- there are also lots of chemicals in hand grenades, HE rounds, mines, 5.56 rounds, etc. The “active ingredient” in a bullet is rife with chemicals. So, for obvious reasons, anyone wanting to claim that something is a chemical weapon because there are chemicals in them is someone who should be summarily and routinely ignored.
But, I digress. It’s very easy to dismiss all opponents of the drone warfare we are currently engaging in as manic progressives or civil liberties purists like hack pseudo-intellectuals like Conor F. who simply still fail to understand how the American electoral system works. He has another whinging post up today that I refuse to link, but look, it boils down to this. Romney is worse. Should Romney win, things that you care most about (the national security state, our belligerent Middle East posture and complete obeisance to Israel, etc., will all get worse). Waxing poetic about your principles and voting for a third party doesn’t make you some sort of principled hero, it makes you irrelevant, or, at worst, someone whose behavior is actively assisting that which you claim to abhor the most. Contra Mr. Henley, I don’t think I was hectoring young Conor F. to vote for Obama, I was outright mocking him and his (unfortunately) not too uncommon brand of idiocy. I can’t persuade the willfully stupid, so I do what makes me feel good- I use this forum to let them know how stupid I think they are.
Back to the point. To characterize this debate about drone strikes as nothing more than manic progressives looking for some way to attack Obama is silly and pointless. I think I came up with the term, or at least helped popularize it, so despite my past transgressions, I have a touch of legitimacy on this point. So let’s go point by point.
Soonergrunt starts with a strawman:
Presumably, I’m not the only one who thinks the answer to terrorist or potential terrorist attacks is neither use nukes nor do nothing.
Hi. Reality here. There are a wide range of options in between doing nothing or using nukes. No one among those leery of the use of drone strikes falls for this false dichotomy.
He continues on with strawman number two:
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.
Nope. You ain’t the Lone Ranger on this one either. I think something needs to be done, as well.
And on we go:
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?
The duty we have to our soldiers is to provide them with the best training and equipment possible, to provide them with clear goals and with clear exit strategies, to not place them in un-winnable situations, to remove them from the field of battle the moment our objectives have been met, and to make sure that we take care of them and their families once they are stateside.
We don’t, however, have a duty to remove them from all risk in the very deadly game of warfare. Particularly at the expense of doing more damage than we are doing good, which is how I feel about the current drone warfare.
So what are my problems with drone warfare? Do I oppose using them in every situation? Of course not. Do I think that because drones are a relatively new weapon, they are somehow more evil than a bullet or a WP round or a grenade or even an improbably deadly sharpened pencil? Of course not.
My problem with the current drone warfare boils down to a couple key issues:
1.) The lack of transparency and accountability. From an article posted just a few hours ago:
The rules for drone killings by the US military in a declared war like Afghanistan are clear, with strict guidelines in place. But when the CIA is using drones for covert purposes in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, the extent of the oversight is far less clear.
“There’s a big difference when you’re using a drone in a full-scale military operation. Then it’s just a weapon,” says Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict at Columbia Law School in New York, which produced a report this week, “The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions.” “You’ve got boots on the ground and intel from soldiers out in the field.”
But the secrecy of CIA operations means that they do not get scrutinized under any international law, and other countries could argue that they are entitled to use armed drones at will, too.
That means the US could be vulnerable to attacks from enemies who argue that, since the CIA is carrying out such attacks, CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., is also a legitimate military target, some analysts argue.
2.) The loss of civilian life- from the same article:
Drone strikes are often described as “surgical” in their precision. But investigations estimate that civilians are being accidentally killed in large numbers.
A new joint study from New York and Stanford Universities, “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan,” estimates from an analysis of public records that as many as 881 civilians, including 176 children, have been killed since the US covert drone program began.
The report also cites an example from Afghanistan, in which two US troops were killed by drones after being mistaken for insurgents.
In Yemen, 8.5 percent of the more than 530 people that have been killed as of this June might be civilians, the New America Foundation estimates.
3.) We don’t know who we are killing. We really don’t. Yes, every time there is a drone strike, the Pentagon reports that the latest Al Qaeda #2 was killed (being #2 in the Al Qaeda has to be the most dangerous job on the planet- certainly worthy of a Mike Rowe episode of Dirty Jobs), but more often than not, after the dust has settled, we learn we have blown up a wedding party or a bunch of people going to market in the back of a pickup truck. But hey- they looked like terrorists, amirite?
4.) They are proving to be counterproductive and turning the populations of the countries we want to “save” against us:
A new analysis of the targeted killing of terrorists in Pakistan argues that U.S. drones have injured or killed far more civilians than the U.S. government has acknowledged and questions whether the strikes have been effective in making the U.S. any safer.
The study, by the Stanford and New York University law schools, urges policy makers to “rethink current targeted killing practices” based on evidence of the “damaging and counterproductive effects of current U.S. drone strike policies.”
White House officials declined to comment on the study, titled “Living Under Drones.”
While the authors make clear that drones have killed alleged combatants and disrupted terrorist networks, they question “the efficacy and counter-productive nature” of the strikes. Based on more than 130 interviews with witnesses and foreign policy experts, the authors dissect three separate drone attacks, detailing the personal stories of the victims and offering firsthand testimony from the families they left behind. The study concludes that drone strikes, particularly multiple strikes on one area, cause “under-accounted-for harm” to civilians who escape physical injury. “Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities,” the report says.
The authors call for more transparency and ask the federal government to make public the legal justification for targeted killing in Pakistan. It also calls for more detail on how the U.S. tracks and publicly recognizes civilian causalities.
We’re creating more terrorists than we are killing. Even David Petraeus has acknowledged this. Every time you hear the word “collateral damage,” what you need to realize is that collateral damage was someone’s husband or wife, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, son or daughter. Hearts and minds, bitches. I may be a normal, non-violent person, but if you drop a bomb on my family, I might just be radicalized. HOOCOODANODE!
5.) The more detached we become from warfare, and the less we have at stake, the more likely we will be to use it indiscriminately. I love that we have new technologies to help save our troops, but the fact of the matter is these smart technologies really aren’t that smart. We all see the pictures of guided missiles going through a window, but what we don’t realize is that smart bombs and drone strikes really are not as accurate as we are told. Whether we are using faulty intelligence, or just mistakes in the munition, they are never 100%. But because we have nothing at stake, and the American public really does not give two hoots in hell about dead foreigners, we continue to keep rocking on.
So, yeah. The drone debate isn’t about doing nothing or nuking. It isn’t about whether getting flattened by a 500 lb bomb or a stepping on a DPICM or a bullet is the worst way to die. It isn’t about whether idiots like Conor F. are trolling the intertrons.
It’s about what we are doing, what we are paying for, whether it is the right policy, whether it is legal, whether it is transparent, whether or not we want to condone clandestine warfare on multiple fronts that we know nothing about. whether or not we want to the CIA at the forefront of military operations, whether or not we support an imperial Presidency, whether or not it is doing more harm than good, and, oh, yeah, the morality of launching tons of munitions on civilians but assuring ourselves that since the Washington Post dutifully reprinted a Pentagon press release, there is no blood on our hands. Except for those fuckers who had it coming to them.
Trust me, they were terrorists, and Obama is such a good guy he would never ever make a mistake.
*** Update ***
Douchebags like this are why the drone debate get derailed:
I’d be lying to deny that now that Nick Gillespie has now become advocate #1 for the citizens of Pakistan, I’m less favorable regarding drone strikes. But ignore the noise and the chatter from the corporate Koch whores, and let’s once again revisit one of my favorite moments in glibertarianism:
dan at #15 makes a conjecture:
A libertarian is someone who thinks that a mandatory helmet law is for motorcyclists is a greater infringement on liberty than arbitrary detention, torture, warrantless searches. . . .
and kth at #23 also contributes:
[for libertarians] no-knock raids and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are categorically the same in terms of tyranny.
We now have a hypothesis. How shall we test it?
Lo! Who’s there? Why, it’s Matt Welch bringing proof!
Actually my opposition to the bailout was much stronger—I never came out one way or another on the Iraq war, until it was far too late.
Nick Gillespie commenting on Drone warfare and the evils of Obama should be seen for what it is- election year attempts to elect the corporate whore.