I Must Disagree

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.

Absolutely beautimous.

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.






187 replies
  1. 1
    gbear says:

    You must! You must!

  2. 2
    James E. Powell says:

    I would really like to get deep into this discussion and perhaps broaden it to a discussion of the long-term goals of American foreign policy. Most Americans have no clue about the size of the American military empire, the purposes or goals, or how our military and related operations affect people all over the world.

    Remember way back when so many asked “Why do they hate us?” Well Bush/Cheney and the corporate press/media shut down that line of inquiry pretty hard and pretty quickly. We need to revisit that question.

    I propose we do so right after election day.

  3. 3
    El Tiburon says:

    When I make these same arguments I’m called every name in the book.

    Perhaps u will finally knock some sense into the idiocracy over here.

    Also Greenwald.

  4. 4
    MikeJ says:

    Testing the comment fix by putting up 500 comment bait post.

  5. 5
    MikeBoyScout says:

    From one vet to another … thanks Cole.

    And as I told the socialist protesting with a bull horn in front of the FLOTUS event tonight in Seattle, Obama is not an enemy. Progress comes slowly. He’s on our side. There are enemies, and they are the sociopaths that run the Republican party.

    One step at a time, and on the issue of the use of force the veterans who served, fought and lived to tell about it will lead us forward in the years ahead … just like we’ve done throughout our history.

    Winning is best done without fighting.

  6. 6
    salacious crumb says:

    John, John…even though you have declared yourself voting for Obama, you will still get flamed for even questioning hid decisions? why, you ask? because any uncomfortable, in the eyes of Obots such as ABL, Mnemosyne and eemom, makes one more person pause and think about Obama’s presidency. Not good to question Dear Leader Obama’s policies, in their eyes. After all, whats a few dead brown men and women when compared to Sandra Fluke getting her contraception access, right?

  7. 7
    Svensker says:

    Pretty much what you said, Mr. Cole. Salutations.

  8. 8
    khead says:

    @MikeJ:

    Under.

    Also, since I’m at the window, I’d like to also take Florida and WVU getting points this weekend.

  9. 9
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    I’m going to have to work on a reply that is about the same size as Soonergrunts’ original and your reply. A comment alone will really fail to provide the kind of response that would be required for this topic.

  10. 10
    SatanicPanic says:

    The more detached we become from warfare, and the less we have at stake, the more likely we will be to use it indiscriminately.

    This is a pretty flimsy premise here. At best it only applies to Democratic presidents. Republicans are perfectly happy to send actual humans off to die for the lamest of reasons.

  11. 11
    some guy says:

    “The War on Terror” by Obama

    has a certain zing to it.

  12. 12
    burnspbesq says:

    You still haven’t satisfactorily explained why, out of every weapon in our arsenal, drones are sui generis and should have prior oversight from outside the chain of command with respect to their deployment. Until you can do that, there’s little point in taking anything else you have to say seriously.

  13. 13
    some guy says:

    @khead:

    Florida will take down LSU. bet on it

  14. 14
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    It isn’t about whether idiots like Conor F. are trolling the intertrons.

    I agree with this. Can I say, and hopefully most of you will agree, that whatever you think we should do on the issue, that the issue itself is too important to reduce to internet bullshit, and that if you’re going to act like you care about it, the least you can do is not automatically yell about how anyone who’s got a different opinion is ‘obviously’ trolling for page views or trying to stir up shit for the hell of it? Not everything is an internet dick-measuring contest, and way fewer people care about your stupid petty feuds and grudges than you think they do.

  15. 15
    LT says:

    Subtitled: Cole Finds Out What the Fuck is Going on in His Blog.

    Fucking hell. You’re complaining about this? Now? This kind of shit is ABL’s entire fucking reason for existence. Jesus Fucking Christ. Grunt at least only does it some of the time. (But fuck me rancid, that was an awful piece of shit post.)

    Goof fucking God, Cole. I love you, but fuck, this is weird say dumb shit right there.

  16. 16
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @salacious crumb: You really should have added “First” just to make the comment completely pointless.

  17. 17
    El Tiburon says:

    Also too Soonergrunt: Ha Ha. Hahaha.

  18. 18
    cyntax says:

    Thanks for posting this John. Your point about drones enabling a more bellicose posture is worth considering; P. W. Singer’s book Wired for War explores that and other issues connected with drones and robots on the battlefield, worth reading.

  19. 19
    Cacti says:

    No matter how much you hate teh ebil drones, Greenwald still won’t be your BFF Cole.

  20. 20

    I live in India, and let me explain how it seems to us:
    The USA and the Soviets battled it out in Afghanistan. Once that war ended, in 1989, the insurgency in Kashmir started. They said the mujahideen were turning their attention to Kashmir. Neighboring Pakistan became radicalized in a trend that has not stopped even now. This resulted in the mumbai attacks and in multiple “death by a thousand cuts”, including bombs in neighboring Bangalore.
    Now, as it turns out, the USA is being lobbied to recognize the MEK as the “legitimate opposition” of Iran. In other words, a blatant attempt at creating a new reality. Very tight sanctions have been slapped on Iran. May be thousands of children would die, as they did in Iraq; and may be a US Secretary of State would say it was all worth it, later.
    The super power’s will is strong. Ordinary people want to get on with their lives, not take revenge. And they know they will lose.
    Meanwhile, people such as Soonergrunt and DougJ argue about not voting for Obama.
    Who is slapping these illegitimate sanctions on Iran? Who is delisting the MEK from the terrorist organization list?
    US foreign policy is not some act of God; some inexorable movement. People make conscious decisions to kill or affect other people’s lives. Your country “created” this obsession with Iran.
    If you are going to argue for voting for Obama, there are ways to do it (and I include the commentariat here), without trivializing the very real violence your country is doing to other people. Saying “What would you do?” or “This is war” is not an answer. These are your fellow humans. Step out of tribalism, and base nationalism and at least sympathize for the collateral damage.

  21. 21
    Gin & Tonic says:

    The CIA has been secretly and unaccountably killing people for over 50 years. It’s what it does. I don’t see much of a distinction between then and now.

  22. 22
    Cacti says:

    Also too, reformed warmongers make the most obnoxious doves.

  23. 23
    El Cid says:

    It’s always a good idea to start asking “which questions are we asking?” when it comes to “the debate” about “drones,” given that it tends to be a gigantic pile of debates about a variety of topics and/or impressionistic view of political personalities and/or some immediate electoral need of one or other politician or party.

    One of those questions should always be “who do we mean by we”; another one ought be “what happens if we also imagine” (or in some cases simply state) “that we might be some of those over there instead of the we debating things over here?”

  24. 24
    Lev says:

    The more detached we become from warfare, and the less we have at stake, the more likely we will be to use it indiscriminately.

    This is basically my one issue with drones. I can see situations where they’d be useful, when it might be too risky to send in troops. But sending in troops is a check of sorts on using military power–the public does actually care that our troops don’t die unnecessarily, it bothers them. Retooling the GWOT to be a drone conflict means that the checks are gone. I find this…unsettling.

  25. 25
    Tractarian says:

    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.

    Oh really? And which of those options do you prefer to drone warfare? Special ops? A full-scale ground invasion? Are any of these preferable to drone warfare in terms of (1) preventing U.S. casualties or (2) preventing civilian casualties? Or “transparency and accountability” for that matter?

    Trust me, they were terrorists, and Obama is such a good guy he would never ever make a mistake.

    Talk about strawmen. Literally no one has advanced this argument.

  26. 26
    Lolis says:

    No doubt that drones are killing innocent people and that is awful. I am not sure what we would be doing in places like Yemen if we didn’t have drones. Large-scale bombing missions? Covert land operations? I don’t know.

  27. 27
    Cacti says:

    @Ramiah Ariya:

    Who is slapping these illegitimate sanctions on Iran

    The UN Security Council.

    Sorry it doesn’t meet your criteria for a legitimate body.

  28. 28
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    I think yer being a little naive, John. The drone thing is just another set piece in the ongoing passion play that passes the time around here.

  29. 29
    MikeJ says:

    @khead: the under is probably the safe bet. He started a bit late for the east coasters.

  30. 30
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Cacti:

    See, this is the bullshit I’m talking about. “What’s that? You advanced your argument using several rational and arguable points that I could address? Forget that-it’s obviously because you want to get on good terms with Glenn Greenwald. Because everyone’s just as obsessed with Glenn Greenwald as I am!

    Seriously. We make fun of the fucking Village so much and then turn around and do the whole Sally Quinn bullshit for our own blogs. Can we please just STFU about imagined popularity contests for one goddamn minute? Is that fucking possible? Anyone?

  31. 31
    eemom says:

    My problem with the current drone warfare boils down to a couple key issues:

    couple fucking OF.

    You’d have more credibility in matters of life and death if you could master basic grammar.

  32. 32
    dollared says:

    Thanks John. You get it. We do not have to be an imperial power. And it costs money we desperately need to invest in our country. Oh, and you can never win.

    Other than that, our military strategy is unquestionably brilliant.

  33. 33
    El Cid says:

    Thinking about these matters too much (like making a blog post about it on occasion) is a sign of immaturity, and no one would do so if it weren’t for a few particular bloggers.

  34. 34
    LT says:

    @Tractarian:

    Trust me, they were terrorists, and Obama is such a good guy he would never ever make a mistake.
    __

    Talk about strawmen. Literally no one has advanced this argument.

    Literally?

  35. 35
    Cacti says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    Would you like a tissue, little flower?

  36. 36
    Or something like that.Suffern Ace says:

    @Tractarian: I don’t know. It seems that drones are a substitute for cruise missiles and piloted air strikes. I think they somehow get promoted as an alternative to airborne raids. But we don’t know why they are being used. Transparency and all that.

  37. 37
    FuriousPhil says:

    Bottom line: you can be critical of Obama’s policies and still vote for him. With Romney, we’re back to seething every time we watch the news as George W. Bush’s proxy third term comes to fruition.

    I’m encouraging my Republican friends (yes, I have them) to vote Libertarian, partly for laughs, and partly because I really want THEM to vote for whatever lunatic best suits their fancy, to further proliferate the splintering and ultimate demise of the GOP as we know it.

    Hey, I’m an optimist.

  38. 38
    amk says:

    @salacious crumb: Idjit strawman.

  39. 39
    El Cid says:

    @Spaghetti Lee: Apparently if I read discussions of these things in Pakistani or Indian or Spanish or Mexican or Argentinian or French or South African papers, they’re all only talking about it because of this one blogger.

  40. 40
    burnspbesq says:

    @Lolis:

    Well said. Innocent civilians have been randomly and senselessly killed in every war since the beginning of war.

    I’m still waiting for someone to coherently explain why the innocent civilians who are killed by drones are qualitatively different than the innocent civilians who were killed by bombs dropped from manned aircraft, artillery, poison gas, small-arms fire, stampeding livestock, or arrows.

  41. 41
    LT says:

    @El Cid:

    Thinking about these matters too much (like making a blog post about it on occasion) is a sign of immaturity, and no one would do so if it weren’t for a few particular bloggers.

    Someone’s applying for a Jonah Goldberg ghostwriting position…

  42. 42
    The Tragically Flip says:

    @Cacti: The US sanctions are independent of the UN sanctions and the far more economically damaging.

    And why should someone from India see the UN Security council, dominated by India’s former colonial master, it’s current biggest adversary, the global superpower, the global superpower’s previous biggest adversary and France as legitimate? I don’t hate the UN, but the Security Council fucking sucks. Get rid of the P5’s veto powers and we can talk about legitimacy.

  43. 43
    burnspbesq says:

    Help! I’m being repressed!

  44. 44
    El Cid says:

    @FuriousPhil: Bottom line of what?

    If someone discusses the topic of drones or various other bomb / missile delivering technologies or how they are or are alleged to be used and the observed and posited effects, it’s really all about for whom we should vote?

    I mean, that is certainly a significant topic; but hopefully we citizens exist for the full year and/or two or four years, not simply during that brief moment in the voting booth.

  45. 45
    El Cid says:

    @LT: This is central to my point.

  46. 46
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Lev: Question, not knowing how old you are: What did you think of Clinton’s use of only the Air Force in Serbia (or whichever country it was we bombed to keep the government from massacring people)? They were specifically chosen to keep troops out of harms way.

  47. 47
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Lev:

    the public does actually care that our troops don’t die unnecessarily, it bothers them

    I don’t see a ton of evidence that this really makes a difference. I’m with John on points 1-4, but after watching how the Iraq War went down… let’s just say I’m skeptical that negative public opinion is ever really going to deter a US president from going to war.

  48. 48
    LT says:

    @burnspbesq:

    I’m still waiting for someone to coherently explain why the innocent civilians who are killed by drones are qualitatively different than the innocent civilians who were killed by bombs dropped from manned aircraft, artillery, poison gas, small-arms fire, stampeding livestock, or arrows.

    Because drones don’t exist.

    John – you’ve made this place into a complete shithole.

  49. 49
    Cacti says:

    @The Tragically Flip:

    And why should someone from India see the UN Security council, dominated by India’s former colonial master, it’s current biggest adversary, the global superpower, the global superpower’s previous biggest adversary and France as legitimate? I don’t hate the UN, but the Security Council fucking sucks. Get rid of the P5’s veto powers and we can talk about legitimacy

    UN Security Council lacks the legitmacy of anonymous internet commenter’s superior UN that exists only in his/her imagination.

    Got it.

  50. 50
    Michael says:

    Look, I’m not a fan of the drone warfare, but I have to say, if true, this:

    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.

    …would make drones basically the most accurate method of warfare ever. I’ve made this point a thousand times on this blog, but if you’re going to throw out a number like that as if its damning to drones, then you’re literally damning all war

  51. 51
    Lev says:

    @Ramiah Ariya: The MEK business is truly shameful, no doubt about it, and almost entirely explicable through corruption. But it is a textbook case on how foreign policy happens here, sadly. The issue with foreign policy is that the public doesn’t really understand how it works, the complex power dynamics between client states and their sponsors and how foreign lobbies and inertia create the status quo, largely because the media is either too distracted or resource-strapped or scared to look into these things, or maybe just corrupt.

    Still, I see this as more Obama wanting to rattle as few cages as possible on foreign affairs because he was spending as much time as possible on domestic stuff. One of the year one Obama books (maybe Woodward’s, don’t remember) basically had him saying as much. One suspects term two will be a different story…

  52. 52
    LT says:

    @El Cid: Oy. did I let something go over my head?

  53. 53
    Bernard Finel says:

    Hmmm… I am not sure whether to wade in here. Probably I should save it for a full post if I am going to.

    That said, I do want to note that while I am in general agreement with John here, his point 4 about turning people against us has surprisingly little evidence to support it — and I’ve looked pretty closely. The big issue that we’re up against the zero bound in most places where we are using drones, so the radicalizing effect — if any — does not manifest in public opinion data. That said, there is also little solid other data. Consider as a comparison the demonstrable radicalizing effect of the Iraq war. Hundreds of foreign fighters, a dramatic uptick in violence by self-described “jihadist” groups, and so on. What has been the empirical consequence of 5 years of dramatic escalation in drone attacks? Yemen has gotten worse, but overall “jihadist” violence is down slightly. Pakistan violence is down from 2009-2010. Just saying, there may be a major radicalizing effect, but if it is out there it is really hard to document other than anecdotally.

    I’ll also note that talking about “drones” in an undifferentiated sense is a terrible mistake. It is not an easy issue regardless, but the issue of striking at “high value targets” is entirely different from the issue of so-called “signature strikes.”

    Anyway, I’ll leave the rest of my thoughts on this for later.

  54. 54
    Michael says:

    ..and maybe you’re not wrong to damn all war, ps, but I’m just saying, it doesn’t seem like from that post that you ARE damning all war.

  55. 55
    Lev says:

    @SatanicPanic: How about the 2006 Republican disaster, and the GOP’s tattered foreign policy reputation? Just because they’re in denial doesn’t mean public outrage didn’t work in turning them out.

  56. 56
    General Stuck says:

    @El Tiburon:

    When I make these same arguments I’m called every name in the book.

    LOL, now you are soulmates with Cole and Greenwald. Must make you all three very proud. This post doesn’t deserve a rebuttal. Smarmy passive aggressive crap, from a drunk blogger with a guilty conscience. There was actually some good discussion in Soonergrunts thread. Even some data instead of emo, shit like that. Just quit blogging Cole, at least about anything to do with foreign policy. Too much baggage not near unpacked enough to lecture on this topic. You can say you don’t approve of drones, and that would be honorable. Not this fatuous malarkey.

  57. 57
    MikeJ says:

    @Michael:

    but if you’re going to throw out a number like that as if its damning to drones, then you’re literally damning all war

    Which is a legitimate argument to make, just not one that most of the anti drone crowd ever try.

  58. 58
    LT says:

    @Michael:

    …would make drones basically the most accurate method of warfare ever.

    John – you’ve made this blog into a blog where people say shit like that.

    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.

  59. 59
    hilzoy says:

    I honestly think that the original sin, here, is the authorization to use military force against al Qaeda, which might a swell be a declaration of war against a non-state. When you declare war against a state, it normally has an end, a more or less defined battlefield, etc. (I mean, there’s a government that can end the war, and which will not go on fighting indefinitely; its armies will not be found sprouting wherever, and so on.)

    If, having declared war against a state, we use drones in that war, fine. They are not “surgical”, but then neither are bombs, smart or dumb. They produce civilian casualties: that’s a reason not to go to war, not a reason to specially dislike drones.

    One of the joys of not blogging any more is that I haven’t felt compelled to really work through the law of war before writing this, but: I am not at all clear that our drone strikes aren’t basically legal under the AUMF, at least when they’re used against al Qaeda. (Specific issues like double taps, maybe not, but the basic idea of attacking with drones, yes.) But that, it seems to me, is a reason to dislike the AUMF, and to really wish that someone, like, oh, THE CONGRESS, would actually try to come up with some laws governing hostilities against non-states. Because we should not have authorized an endless, boundary-less war, and should not do so again.

  60. 60
    Violet says:

    Good post, John. Thanks.

    The killing of innocent people by unmanned drones has to be one of the most horrible things about the whole situation. If it were happening here–people would be losing their shit. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why people might not like it in Pakistan and other places. And why it makes people hate us.

  61. 61
    The Tragically Flip says:

    As for me, I think “doing nothing” is not some unthinkable option. It is often the only Just option. So some bad guys are hiding in backcountry Yemen. What of it? What exactly is the clear and present danger that requires air strikes to preempt some great unspecified harm?

    The Laws of War are not such that you can just go around the world killing anyone who looks at you cross-eyed or whom you suspect may sometime try to do you harm.

    This shit needs justification. Every strike, not some general across the board hall pass to fucking bomb anywhere anytime and hide behind secrecy. If you can’t hit the bad guys clean, you don’t hit them.

  62. 62
    El Cid says:

    @LT:

    John – you’ve made this place into a complete shithole.

    How? Because there are some people who agree with you and some people who don’t?

    How is this any more of a shitty experience for you than at some other point in time?

    If you’re reading comments, why don’t you skip the ones you find tedious or annoying or whatever?

  63. 63
    Mandalay says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    We make fun of the fucking Village so much and then turn around and do the whole Sally Quinn bullshit for our own blogs.

    This a gazillion times over.

    The finest post I have ever seen on BJ.

  64. 64
    seaboogie says:

    @eemom: eemom smacks ruler on knuckles, because style is more important than content. Did you have an actual point there?

  65. 65
    Cacti says:

    @Violet:

    The killing of innocent people by unmanned drones has to be one of the most horrible things about the whole situation

    Isn’t that one of the fatuous arguments that our reformed warmonger bloghost said he wasn’t making.

  66. 66
    El Cid says:

    @LT:

    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.

    Do you feel like anyone who suggests this dynamic is advocating for the targeting of that location?

    Do you feel like no one else in the world has already considered such things?

    How is mentioning this some sort of controversial point? Does it mean that someone endorses this? And if someone fears that if the US (or any nation) uses some rationale for action that other nations (or the US if the first actor was another nation-state) which could serve as a harmful or dangerous precedent, is this some controversial thing?

    I guarantee you that the CIA has already been discussing this topic.

  67. 67
    The Tragically Flip says:

    @Cacti: No reply on the fact that you were wrong to hide the US’ harmful, unilateral and unjustified sanctions behind the UN’s limited and targeted sanctions?

    The sanctions on Iraq were a travesty and murdered hundreds of thousands of the poor, sick, young and old in Iraq and did nothing at all of note to dissuade Saddam. Must we do the same to Iran’s vulnerable people?

  68. 68
    gwangung says:

    @Violet: Really? I think you need to qualify that a lot more, because putting infantry on the ground and grinding up not only people, but everything else around them seems more terrible.

  69. 69
    Cacti says:

    @The Tragically Flip:

    No reply on the fact that I would only consider the UN Security Council legitimate if it resembled something in my fevered imagination

    It’s okay sparky, no one will hold it against you.

  70. 70
    BobS says:

    @seaboogie: As far as I can tell, her only point ever is the thrill she apparently gets from writing one or more of Carlin’s seven words.

  71. 71
    MikeJ says:

    @dollared:

    We do not have to be an imperial power.

    Drones are certainly the best way to deal with military situation without putting tens of thousands of troops in place, thus leading to more imperialism.

  72. 72
    Steeplejack says:

    @Michael:

    1. I was surprised to read that as many as 530 people have been killed by drones in Yemen alone. (It’s not said directly, but that seems to be the meaning of the context. But perhaps I’m wrong.)

    2. And if only 8.5 percent of those were “civilians,” I would like to know how the other 485 were determined to be “enemy combatants” or “terrorists.”

  73. 73
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Lev: Only because they made such a joke of the occupation and got caught blatantly lying about the reasons to go to war in the first place. I’m just not buying the “Americans care about soldiers.” Almost half the population is ready to vote for Romney- he’d have us in Iran within his first two years.

    If anything, I think switching to an all-volunteer army is where you want to look if you want the roots of why the public doesn’t really care that much.

  74. 74
    Chris says:

    @hilzoy:

    How were we supposed to take on al-Qaeda without invading the foreign soil it controlled, and how were we supposed to do that without military force? This isn’t the militia movement. The international dimension makes it impossible to deal with AQ through the normal police channels, preferable though that would be.

  75. 75
    LT says:

    @El Cid:

    How? Because there are some people who agree with you and some people who don’t?

    No, because he invited a bunch of people to blog as BJ bloggers whose existence is built around belittling anyone who dares criticize Obama. Regular balloon Juice discussion now feature how *faux-secret, civilian-killing drone attacks* are perfectly reasonable things for a government – any government – to take part in.

    There are no such thing as Democratic beliefs for this group. There are Obama supporter beliefs – and anyone who dares critique them are “EMOPROGS!”

    That’s the complete shithole I’m talking about.

  76. 76
    Cacti says:

    @General Stuck:

    Just quit blogging Cole, at least about anything to do with foreign policy. Too much baggage not near unpacked enough to lecture on this topic

    This.

    It’s just a bit gauche for a guy who probably rubbed one out when Dubya unfurled the “Mission Accomplished” banner to be tut-tutting about the perceived foreign-policy “sins” of the present Admin.

  77. 77
    eemom says:

    @seaboogie:

    Did you have an actual point there?

    couple of. couple of. couple fucking OF.

    We’re all gonna die anyway, and I can’t STAND it anymore.

  78. 78
    Alex SL says:

    First, again, I am not an American. From my perspective there are two things to consider here:

    The dealbreaker vs. lesser evil debate, which is of course independent of the specific topic, in this case drone wars. You can have the same conundrum with any topic. And the issue is simply that there is a dealbreaker for everybody at some point. You are surely right that on the topics that American liberals care about, and in this situation, Obama is an acceptable lesser evil, and that voting for Romney is counterproductive. But the principle of the dealbreaker is undeniable; there must be some point where even you simply say “we have to change the whole system”. Surely you would not still vote for the lesser evil if, say, one candidate in a two party system promoted genocide against all non-whites on the planet and the other promoted genocide against all non-whites on the planet and building more public libraries? Yes, that is a deliberately over the top example. Just saying that even if I disagree with third partiers in this particular situation, I can understand how other people encounter their dealbreaker much sooner than I would, especially if we are talking about policies that kill civilians.

    The second is this. As an outsider, it depresses me to no end how many self-professed liberals in the USA, also on this site, have swallowed hook, line and sinker the notion that the answer to terrorist attacks is to kill terrorists, and to involve the military, and then to merely discuss what weapons should be used for the killing. Anything else is not even contemplated. I am just going to put a few words out here, maybe somebody remembers them dimly: Police. Extradition. Trial. Prison time. (Or maybe death penalty if you are still living in that age; again, not an American, so sorry for that snark.)

  79. 79
    Soonergrunt says:

    I suppose that asking you to actually read what I wrote, which was questions about what the commentariat here thinks about these subjects–the use of military force in pursuit of national security objectives, what constitutes an valid national security objective (again, in the eyes of the commenters), and whether or not there’s a “continuum of operations” upon which reasonable persons can agree, is a fool’s errand.
    I also asked (again, asking the commenters for THEIR opinions because I was and am genuinely interested), what their opinion was about attacking “enemy” personnel, using my own opinion, formed from my experiences(how opinions are sometimes formed) as a reference point. I even allowed that perhaps that question was too limiting and the better question was what should constitute a use of military force at all?
    Now, I did bring it back to drones, because that was the actual basis of the original comments and questions in the preceding thread that spurred my post in the first place, but again I asked questions.
    I thought I had pretty clear made my intent to discover the opinions of the commenters in regards to these subjects, and I even reiterated that in comments.
    I’m sorry you didn’t get that.

  80. 80
    LT says:

    @El Cid: Goddamnit. The dumbass thing I was talking about was ABOVE my comment, not BELOW it. the BELOW was the response.

  81. 81
    Chris says:

    @SatanicPanic:

    YES. Agree completely. Not a fan of the all volunteer force for various reasons including that one.

  82. 82
    Narcissus says:

    Hey man, Zyklon B is just a chemical

  83. 83
    El Cid says:

    @Chris:

    The international dimension makes it impossible to deal with AQ through the normal police channels…

    In many ways, no, but that’s the sort of work (if “police work” can be expanded to include national and international intelligence cooperation) which would have avoided the 9/11 attacks.

    For that matter, much of actual military action is justified under rationales of basic law enforcement — often the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions.

  84. 84
    El Cid says:

    @LT: Well, hell, now you’ve ruined my plans to build an entire political convention around my mistaken interpretation of the relative pronoun “that”. You didn’t condemn that!

  85. 85
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Lev:

    But sending in troops is a check of sorts on using military power—the public does actually care that our troops don’t die unnecessarily, it bothers them.

    The public didn’t seem to mind one bit when Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq for reasons that a bright twelve year old would have dismissed. Nonetheless, he was re-elected.

    The all volunteer army has insulated most Americans from enduring the consequences of having a friend, relative, or loved one go off to war. It has also insulated them from what happens when that combatant comes home.

    Obama seems to be trying to bring the troops home and he seems to be trying to narrow the extent of warfare. As much as I’d love for him to declare that we ain’t gonna study war no more he can’t because he’s the inheritor of at least one hundred years of mistakes both here and abroad as well as a toxic political climate. If another Republican president is elected then people in the ME will likely be nostalgic for the days when drone strikes were all that they had to endure.

    Sometimes unpalatable is as good as it can get.

  86. 86
    tomvox1 says:

    The real debate on extraterritorial militarized drones is this:*

    Stop utilizing them completely in the regions where we execute drone strikes because they are not in our national strategic defense interests and/or by so engaging in these drone strikes we are harming our national interests

    OR:

    Continue to execute drone strikes in said regions because they are in our national defense interests and it is a way to minimize U.S. Armed Forces casualties while still achieving our tactical & strategic objectives.

    Every other way of parsing it, however nobly phrased, is sophistry…unless you are a complete pacifist or you believe the militarized drone is a weapon somehow outside the accepted norms of modern warfare.

    *I could also add the caveat that some kind of expanded oversight on drone warfare should be pursued except for the fact that no air power campaign in US history has been subject to any such oversight outside of the military purview. However, if the consensus is that these strikes are being initiated via the Intelligence community, then theoretically greater Congressional oversight could be warranted/mandated.

  87. 87
    LT says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    I suppose that asking you to actually read what I wrote, which was questions…

    That’s especially weak, since if you read this post you’d see where John quoted you directly making what were not questions but statements.

  88. 88
    WJS says:

    @General Stuck:

    Even some data instead of emo, shit like that.

    And your data means what? That it is 27% more effective than it was a year ago? That the ability to strike with more precision means that 56% fewer incidental casualties are expected in the months ahead? Please.

    Wrong is wrong. And we have introduced a ethics-free aspect of warmaking that will result in a counter to the use of drones that we’re not ready to deal with.

    If you subject someone who is your enemy (individuals engaged in terrorism) and someone who is sort of your enemy (the people who don’t disapprove of the terrorists) and a vast number of people who don’t give a shit either way (everyone else) to a weapon that kills indiscriminately, cannot be held accountable for what it does, and has no effective means of being countered, you can be damned sure they’re going to figure out a way to counter that weapon. That’s human history, 101.

    What do you do then? What happens when your superweapon starts falling from the sky? Because, at some point, they are going to figure out how to knock those things down, either by jamming them, hitting them with some sort of ground-fired weapon, or through some other means which will force us to build something else. Every weapon has a shelf life, and the drone has a rapidly expiring shelf life. The problem is, all of our chips are on that table now, and the next step is where few people want to discuss going. The use of Fuel-AIr Explosives, and things of that nature, are what likely follows an inability to get close to a target in order to kill effectively. Are you cool with dropping MOABs on villages? I hope so, because the drone lets you get close; eliminating that means you have to bring something else. Good luck justifying the escalation of tactics.

    Should “something else” be completely unethical, such as a biological agent deployed in small amounts, and involve countermeasures that kill even more people or result in less accuracy because of having to fly at greater heights, your data is useless in justifying the use of a weapon we can’t justify using.

    The American way of waging war has been rather successful for about 200 years or so, give or take one or two things like Vietnam. We succeeded in many cases because we weren’t afraid of taking casualties. The drone is simply and elimination of risk, and without risk, you aren’t winning anything.

    And I fucking can’t stand Greenwald, so don’t go there.

  89. 89
    LT says:

    @Alex SL:

    The second is this. As an outsider, it depresses me to no end how many self-professed liberals in the USA, also on this site, have swallowed hook, line and sinker the notion that the answer to terrorist attacks is to kill terrorists, and to involve the military, and then to merely discuss what weapons should be used for the killing. Anything else is not even contemplated. I am just going to put a few words out here, maybe somebody remembers them dimly: Police. Extradition. Trial. Prison time. (Or maybe death penalty if you are still living in that age; again, not an American, so sorry for that snark.)

    Democratic thinking like this used to *be* Ballon Juice. (I mean after the conversion…)

    (Okay, Balloon Juice always sucked in one way or another – that’s what commenters are for. But still…)

  90. 90
    General Stuck says:

    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.

    You are aware that Peter Bergen and his New American Foundation is nothing more than a paid propaganda arm of the Obama Imperium, according to your buddy Greenwald. Not to mention the fact that the NAF did a study that civilian deaths have dropped to near zero the last year in Pakistan. What does that do for your propeller head thesis?

  91. 91
    burnspbesq says:

    @hilzoy:

    Bingo, 100 percent, across the board. Asymmetrical war doesn’t fit into any of the existing analytical frameworks, and that’s a big problem.

    One of the things that frosts me about the terms on which this conversation is carried out is that the folks for whom “civilian casualties” has become a shibboleth don’t seem terribly interested in looking at the full range of reasons why those civilian casualties occur. Under historical law-of-war principles, combatants aren’t supposed to make themselves indistinguishable from the civilian population. In fact, that’s a violation of the Geneva Conventions. But it happens all day every day in the Afghan theater.

    I don’t know what the best answer to that problem is. I don’t know that there are any good answers. But I am clear in my mind that moral responsibility for those civilian casualties is largely on the other side. We’re at least making an effort, the effort that is required under law-of-war principles, to minimize civilian casualties (whether we’re succeeding is an open question). The other side could care fuck-all about the civilian populations in which they hide.

  92. 92
    Cacti says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    The public didn’t seem to mind one bit when Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq for reasons that a bright twelve year old would have dismissed

    I remember the breathless excitement from the librul media on Invasion Eve. America’s bloodlust was palpable, and we were ready to get our war on.

    Just a few short years and tens of thousands of lives later, they began to have second thoughts.

  93. 93
    Violet says:

    @Cacti: That’s my opinion. If it were happening here, people would go apeshit.

    @gwangung: I’m of the opinion that we don’t have to go to those places at all, drones, conventional warfare or whatever. However, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know enough about the situation to make a fully educated comment about whether or not we should be there and if so, in what form. So my comment is just my opinion. There’s a lot I don’t know.

  94. 94
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Chris: No one will say this outloud, but the underlying thinking is “hey, they knew what could happen when they signed up.” It’s like asking NFL fans what they think about head injuries.

    ETA- callous NFL fans. I know it’s a real moral quandry for a lot of people.

  95. 95
    Michael says:

    @LT: The combo of your ignorance, your lack of reading comprehension, and your sanctimony is quite precious.

    Here’s what I wrote, once again:

    Look, I’m not a fan of the drone warfare, but I have to say, if true, this:

    I didn’t say it WAS true. I made a simple proposition: IF

    8.5 percent

    (John’s number, not mine) of drone deaths are civilian, THEN that would “basically [be] the most accurate method of warfare ever.”

    Do you debate that? Do you think there are methods of war that kill fewer civilians than 1 out of 12? Here’s context for other methods of war:

    Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10......html?_r=2

  96. 96
    John Cole says:

    @Soonergrunt: Dude… I quoted you. At length. And then responded. And then answered some of the questions you hypothetically asked in the first blockquote.

  97. 97
    FuriousPhil says:

    @El Cid:

    I’m saying that I would rather see pressure for policy change put on someone who shares most of my beliefs, rather than someone who shares virtually none. Is it likely that the policy is going to change if the President is re-elected? No, but it’s a possibility. I’m not putting my fingers in my ears and singing ‘la la la’ but I’m not naive either. I’ve had too many ‘progressives’ tell me about NDAA, and Obama’s ties to big banks, etc. and then follow up with some apathetic diatribe of how they’re not even bothering to vote, or voting for some inconsequential third party candidate out of some ideological purity motivation, and it just irritates me.

  98. 98
    John Cole says:

    @eemom:

    couple of. couple of. couple fucking OF.

    There are a couple OF very bitter people who I wish would just DIAF.

    Feel better?

  99. 99
    hilzoy says:

    I didn’t mean that it should be impossible to use military force against al Qaeda; just that we really, really need to actually think about what a war against a non-state actor should be like. Do we fight until the very last al Qaeda fighter is dead? Can we launch attacks against any country where one might be found? (In practice, I think we’ve largely done so with the permission of the countries in question, but would the AUMF have covered, say, invading Canada if some al Qaeda people had been found there? We wouldn’t have done that, since Canada is an ally with a functioning police force, but did we mean to authorize such a thing in principle. and should we have given permission if we didn’t mean to?)

    We need clarity. One of the many, many reasons why I wish we had a sane opposition party is that this ought to be done on a bipartisan basis, and for the foreseeable future it can’t be.

  100. 100
    burnspbesq says:

    @The Tragically Flip:

    If you can’t hit the bad guys clean, you don’t hit them.

    That’s a legitimate moral argument, but it’s not an accurate statement of the law of war as it currently exists.

  101. 101
    Narcissus says:

    Phosgene Gas: Just a chemical.

  102. 102
    General Stuck says:

    @WJS:

    Wrong is wrong

    Why is it wrong? That is a generic question in context of sanctioned warfare. If you are saying that all war is wrong, then your answer need not be lengthy. Otherwise, please expound why this particular tactic in this particular war is wrong. And I have had a lot of problems with the civilian casualties going back to Bush and early Obama admin., but I am now convinced that the powers that be are and have done a lot to reduce civilian casualties to almost nil. According to Cole’s own sources. And near all drone attacks are done now in Pak against the Taliban that are moving into Afghan to kill American troops. That is enough justification for me, for now, along with the safeguards in place, that are working.

  103. 103
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    So much hate, John.

    When did we trash the Sharing, Caring tagline?

  104. 104
    Michael says:

    I will also point out that I explicit did NOT weigh in AT ALL about the wisdom of waging the war in the first place. However, the point of the snippet John quoted did not seem to be “war is awful, let’s not go to war,” it seemed to me to be, “drones are ineffective; they kill too many civilians.” I am simply making the point that, empirically, is not supported by the numbers quoted. Whether or not those numbers are correct, and whether or not we ought to be waging war in the first place, did not enter into my post, AT ALL. And, in fact, I explicit followed it up with:

    maybe you’re not wrong to damn all war, ps, but I’m just saying, it doesn’t seem like from that post that you ARE damning all war.

    But apparently it’s too much to ask you to actually read and comprehend what I wrote, because everything drone is awful always and shut up if you disagree

  105. 105
    Mandalay says:

    @Steeplejack:

    And if only 8.5 percent of those were “civilians,” I would like to know how the other 485 were determined to be “enemy combatants” or “terrorists.”

    It’s easy to cook the books and come up with those numbers when you employ the Administration’s mind boggling criteria for determining a “combatant”…

    …Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05.....&_r=1

    Of course anyone killed in an attack may present evidence of their innocence to the Administration at their earliest convenience and I am sure that a heartfelt apology will be issued.

  106. 106
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Alex SL:

    Police. Extradition. Trial. Prison time.

    These are good points. I wish we would do more of this. I don’t imagine it’s easy though either.

  107. 107
    General Stuck says:

    @WJS:

    What do you do then? What happens when your superweapon starts falling from the sky? Because, at some point, they are going to figure out how to knock those things down, either by jamming them, hitting them with some sort of ground-fired weapon, or through some other means which will force us to build something else. Every weapon has a shelf life, and the drone has a rapidly expiring shelf life. The problem is, all of our chips are on that table now, and the next step is where few people want to discuss going. The use of Fuel-AIr Explosives, and things of that nature, are what likely follows an inability to get close to a target in order to kill effectively. Are you cool with dropping MOABs on villages? I hope so, because the drone lets you get close; eliminating that means you have to bring something else. Good luck justifying the escalation of tactics.

    You can take this hyperbolic bullshit and shove it so far up your ass the sun will never touch it.

  108. 108
    tomvox1 says:

    And just to add to the differing perspectives, not everyone buys into the “Living Under Drones” report that is being so widely quoted (by Conor, Greenwald, John Cole, etc) as unassailable fact:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/int.....an/262862/

  109. 109
    gwangung says:

    @Violet: I think it’s our responsibility to get as informed an opinion as possible.

    I also think it’s our responsibility to unpack our own assumptions as much as possible and not simply presume them as given. From where I sit, we are over “there” partially for reason of empire, partially for political/non-power reasons, partially for economic reasons (and I’m being over simplistic here). Matters are complex enough that we are always tripping over the law of unintended consequences—it’s never a matter of “we must simply do this.”

  110. 110
    Soonergrunt says:

    @LT: I can’t help that you’re a fucking moron with the attention span of gnat and the reading comprehension to match. Really. I’m sorry about that in the same way I’m sorry about roadkill.
    But I should hope that someone who actually takes time to compose column-length posts of varying degrees of seriousness on many and varied subjects would have a basic understanding that frequently the point is made over multiple sentences that form paragraphs, and that these paragraphs are clustered together to form a (semi)coherent whole, and that when a large number of those sentences are written as questions, complete with question marks, that perhaps there were questions being asked as the main thrust of the piece. The commenters in that posting got that idea pretty easily.

    Jesus H. Christ on a Popsicle stick, but Matoko Chan (who sent me an email) even got what I was trying to do while not entirely agreeing with everything I said or asked. BTW–she doesn’t miss any of us.

  111. 111
    Michael says:

    @hilzoy: I agree that the AUMF is way too broad, and the DC Circuit has also interpreted it quite broadly. But the Supreme Court linked its authorization directly the military conflict in Afghanistan, and suggested that they did not read it to authorize indefinite warfare, in, IIRC Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. I’ll look for the exact quote.

    So, its possible that the AUMF will basically sunset with the draw-down of troops in Afghanistan. If so, a debate over to what extent, if at all, Congress should reauthorize the use of drones could be a chance for lefties to put some restraints on exec power.

    Also, the “co-belligerent” theory under which the gov’t can go after AQ-like groups is getting more and more attenuated as new groups come to prominence that didn’t even exist 11 years ago. I don’t think the AUMF’s shelf-life is much longer, thankfully.

  112. 112
    LT says:

    @Michael:

    THEN that would “basically [be] the most accurate method of warfare ever.”
    __
    Do you debate that?

    Did you not get my point that comparing “warfare” to “secret warfare” is bizarre, wrong, unDemocratic, immoral and weird? And that it ignores a lot of what you yourself probably call your own moral foundations?

    Your numbers don’t mean anything in that light. Even in there’s an “if” in front of them.

  113. 113
    WJS says:

    @General Stuck:

    Why is it wrong? That is a generic question in context of sanctioned warfare. If you are saying that all war is wrong, then your answer need not be length. Otherwise, please expound why this particular tactic in this particular is wrong.

    You answered your own question:

    And I have had a lot of problems with the civilian casualties going back to Bush and early Obama admin., but I am now convinced that the powers that be are and have done a lot to reduce civilian casualties to almost nil.

    The countermeasure of drone strikes is centered around hiding amongst non-combatants. Since we know this, instead of sending troops in to take the risk of killing high-value targets (we took that risk to get Bin Laden, we don’t with the rotating #2 man in his former organization), we continue to kill civilians. I would argue that the next phase of this will involve keeping Americans who have been taken hostage near any possible target of drone strikes. The answer then will be–what? Pull the trigger and kill the hostage? What then? Because, politically, that answer will never wash with the American people.

    According to Cole’s own sources.

    And near all drone attacks are done now in Pak against the Taliban that are moving into Afghan to kill American troops. That is enough justification for me, for now, along with the safeguards in place, that are working.

    Wrong. Drones are being used all throughout the horn of Africa, Northern Africa, Yemen, and who knows where else. The American footprint in Africa has increased dramatically. The areas where drones are being used is expanding because it is a cheap way to kill people. Again, when someone in Mali figures out that a handful of Westerners kept near anyone who might be a drone target is an effective countermeasure, they’ll place a premium on taking hostages. That is, if they can’t afford to pay someone to come up with something that will jam or take over control of a military drone.

    If you’re cool with killing hostages, you’ll fall for anything. Because THEN we might start having a serious debate about this issue.

  114. 114
    LT says:

    @Soonergrunt:

    Already answered:

    John Cole Says:
    __
    @Soonergrunt: Dude… I quoted you. At length. And then responded. And then answered some of the questions you hypothetically asked in the first blockquote.

    EDIT: And you act like you have no history here on this subject. You’ve made it more than clear on several occasions how we’re all just so emo about this.

  115. 115
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @tomvox1:
    Excellent catch and very relevant to this thread. Highly recommended.

  116. 116
    General Stuck says:

    @WJS:

    Go to hell you whack job motherfucker. I got nothing to say to your psycho ass.

  117. 117
    WJS says:

    @General Stuck:

    You can take this hyperbolic bullshit and shove it so far up your ass the sun will never touch it.

    Go to hell you whack job motherfucker. I got nothing to say to your psycho ass.

    That’s a great way to win a debate. I think you have a disconnect between what you believe works and what it actually means. You cannot go to war without having a basic understanding of ethics. If you do, you are not going to war–you are going on a killing spree. The American people sanction wars, not killing sprees.

    However, you should consider this:

    Medical units will have to practice triage in treating thermobaric casualties. Thermobaric detonations will create three “zones” of injury. The first is the central zone where most will die immediately from blast overpressure and thermal injuries. Casualties in the second zone will survive the initial blast and burns, but will have extensive burns and those internal injuries listed above. From a medical stand point, some second zone casualties might be able to be saved with extensive care and sufficient resources, but, in reality, between the resources required and the low salvage rate, little can be done beyond providing morphine and other pain relief. In the third zone, patients will have had some protection from flying debris, but may have experienced some blast effect. Kevlar armor may protect soldiers from lethal missile injuries, but not from the blast effect. Surprisingly, many of the patients with internal injuries will survive and do reasonably well providing that acute hemorrhaging is stopped, perforated bowels are sealed off and long-term care provided. Although eardrum examination is not part of a typical field medic/corpsmen exam, looking at the eardrums can tell a lot. If there is fluid or blood behind the eardrums, it is a very good clinical predictor of late pulmonary complications from blast injuries. Most of the injuries are caused from the pressure wave passing a tissue/fluid-air interface. That’s why the bulk of the thermobaric injuries are pulmonary or gut (air filled viscous organs).

    You can find this here.

    http://fmso.leavenworth.army.m.....uelair.htm

    What else you got?

  118. 118
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @SatanicPanic:

    These are good points. I wish we would do more of this. I don’t imagine it’s easy though either.

    Aren’t we already doing the large part of this to determine who should be blowed up?

  119. 119
    Mandalay says:

    @The Tragically Flip:

    As for me, I think “doing nothing” is not some unthinkable option.

    Agreed. And not only is is not an unthinkable option. It should be the default option.

    The rule for doctors is first do no harm, and I think it would apply well to our use of drones as well. Before you do anything, make damn sure that you are not going to make things worse.

    Never mind the Afghan wedding parties and the Pakistani children that are killed….we have already had US soldiers killed by friendly fire in done attacks!

  120. 120
    burnspbesq says:

    @Michael:

    So, its possible that the AUMF will basically sunset with the draw-down of troops in Afghanistan. If so, a debate over to what extent, if at all, Congress should reauthorize the use of drones could be a chance for lefties to put some restraints on exec power.

    That makes perfect sense, which means that the chances of it happening, given the current makeup of Congress, are approximately zero. Nobody in Washington, in either party or in any branch of government, wants to be in a position to be blamed for the next 9/11.

  121. 121
    General Stuck says:

    @WJS:

    That’s a great way to win a debate

    Debate? what makes you think we are debating. I want you to DIAF. There now, Debate over

  122. 122
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead: I hope we are. But it would be an improvement if we could bring them in instead of executing them. I’m not going to try to make the case that it would be easy though.

  123. 123
    WJS says:

    @General Stuck:

    I want you to DIAF.

    Aw, I been defeated again!

  124. 124
    Michael says:

    @LT: No, I think you’re just conflating things. If you think that there needs to be more transparency, I agree! If you think there needs to be more oversight, I agree! I am on record in another thread saying I’d prefer some sort of FISA-style courts to be required to approve drone strikes if we are to continue them indefinitely, but I’d rather we simply didn’t continue them indefinitely, and if we do continue them, only under a far-more-constrained authorization.

    I’m just able to separate those issues from whether or not drones are actually accurate. I don’t see how there’s a moral component to that aspect of the argument.

  125. 125
    burnspbesq says:

    @WJS:

    The countermeasure of drone strikes is centered around hiding amongst non-combatants

    You’ve got it backwards. See post 91.

  126. 126
    El Cid says:

    Given that these are non-nation-state actors, there are multiple motives within the states within which drones are firing their missiles:

    About once a month the Central Intelligence Agency sends a fax to a general at Pakistan’s intelligence service outlining broad areas where the US intends to conduct strikes with drone aircraft, according to US officials.
    __
    The Pakistanis, who in public oppose the program, don’t respond.
    __
    This was stated in a report published by the Wall Street Journal.
    __
    The fax would not mention any specific target but outline the boundaries of the airspace the drones would use—large areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border referred to as flight “boxes” because they are shaped like three-dimensional rectangles in the sky, the report stated.
    __
    On this basis, plus the fact that Pakistan continues to clear airspace in the targeted areas, the US government assumes it has tacit consent to conduct strikes within the borders of a sovereign nation, according to officials familiar with the program…
    __
    …Some in the US also worry about the possibility of Pakistan playing both sides as a lack of a Pakistani response to US notifications might be a way for Pakistan to meet seemingly contradictory goals i.e on one hand it lets the CIA continue using its airspace but on the other hand also distancing the government of Pakistan from the program, which is deeply unpopular among Pakistanis…
    __
    …[I]n US eyes the fax response [which used to be sent from the ISI acknowledging receipt of the CIA fax] combined with the continued clearing of airspace to avoid midair collisions —- a process known as “de-confliction” —- represented Pakistan’s tacit consent to the program but after the OBL raid the ISI stopped acknowledgement receipt of the drone notifications.
    __
    According to the report, US officials believe that the ISI chose that option knowing an outright denial of drone permission would spark a confrontation, and also believing that withdrawing consent wouldn’t end the strikes.

    “De-confliction”?

  127. 127
    Or something like that.Suffern Ace says:

    @WJS: Ok I need a source for the assertion that we are using air power outside of Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan at the moment.

  128. 128
    Violet says:

    @gwangung: I agree that it’s incumbent upon us as citizens to learn as much as possible about things so that we can make the best decisions when we elect the people who actually vote on those things.

    I agree that the situation is complex and there are multiple reasons we are “over there”. If al Quaeda were in some area we didn’t care about, with no oil or other interesting resources anywhere near by, I don’t think we’d be as interested in them. But who knows. The whole 9/11 thing did a number on people’s psyches in this country and we seem to be fighting al Quaeda endlessly. When will that end.

    @hilzoy: Exactly. We don’t have rules for fighting a non-state enemy. How do we do that? When is the “war” over?

  129. 129
    LT says:

    @Michael:

    First, thanks for the toned-down response – I will reciprocate.

    I don’t just sort of feel – I find it inarguable that just bringing those numbers up IS speaking about the moral side of this. I cannot see how you could argue that that saying “…would make drones basically the most accurate method of warfare ever” doesn’t imply some morality. Why would the number exist if not for that?

  130. 130
    Michael says:

    Justice O’Connor:

    Further, we understand Congress’ grant of authority for the use of “necessary and appropriate force” to include the authority to detain for the duration of the relevant conflict, and our understanding is based on longstanding law-of-war principles. If the practical circumstances of a given conflict are entirely unlike those of the conflicts that informed the development of the law of war, that understanding may unravel. But that is not the situation we face as of this date. Active combat operations against Taliban fighters apparently are ongoing in Afghanistan.

    Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 521 (2004)

    Granted, the bolded is dicta, but the holding was limited to Afghan battlefield captures as well. There’s a pretty good argument that the AUMF will sunset with the troop drawdown.

  131. 131
    Brachiator says:

    @Lev:

    But sending in troops is a check of sorts on using military power

    Pakistan will not let us send troops into their country. They lie when they say that they are sending forces into areas where terrorists are supposedly hiding. They refuse to extradite suspected terrorists or give them warning and let them escape.

    So, now what do you do?

    The continuing argument over drones is phoney and goes nowhere because ultimately the opponents of drones are against any military action in the region. I have no problem with this. I just wish people were honest about it.

    The other part of the argument, that the US is the prime mover in world affairs is equally wrongheaded, but even liberals cannot give up the myth of American exceptionalism. And so we have the fairy tale that terrorism against the US would cease if we would only stop killing people. This, despite what terrorists actually say about their aims. We never learn because we never listen.

  132. 132
    piratedan says:

    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.

    ahem…. the people that we’re currently engaged in this struggle with, Al Qeida, believe that anyplace where there is a congregation of Americans (or Westerners) is at, is a legit military target, be it the world trade center in New York or a nightclub in Bali.

    Then there was this line from a different poster

    As for me, I think “doing nothing” is not some unthinkable option. It is often the only Just option. So some bad guys are hiding in backcountry Yemen. What of it?

    The reason that these guys are hiding in backcountry Yemen is BECAUSE of the reach of the drones and the capabilities of American Intelligence services.

    Like most folks, I’m queasy about the use of drones, it’s incredibly easy to depersonalize it, out of sight, out of mind. Yet in a way it makes the collateral damage worse, it’s worse to think of a wedding or a funeral being bombed when compared to an entire neighborhood or village, town or city being wiped out by a strategic air strike. In this case, it puts that twist on that old Stalin quote, “One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic”.

    Otherwise, we have to remember that it isn’t as easy as “just leaving” because I really don’t believe that just because we leave, the same cockroaches that have their axes to grind with us won’t come scuttling back out into the light. With as corrupt as the current government of Afghanistan is, once our pipeline of cash stops the folks currently grifting from it they’re gonna look for another spigot. I imagine that Al Qeida and more than a few folks interested in resuming the heroin trade with fewer interruptions will fill the power vacuum as we extricate ourselves from the area.

    How we leave is important, if we can do what we can where we can, leaving a few ideas, a few roads, a few schools and clinics in our wake then maybe that will eventually make a difference but just like in business, you gotta have someone willing to buy what you have to sell. I also think its important that we do what we can to foster good ties in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. Perhaps attempting to make friends with new governments (and not bombing them) would be an indication of a change on how we deal with Islam but we have a LOT of work to do in that area.

    There are problems inherent to having boots on the ground like we do in Afghanistan and having a dodgy ally like Pakistan (which have their own issues with militant Islam, a fractured military and a ongoing rivalry with India and who knows if Russia and China are involved with stirring the pot (not that it would take much)) locking down our logistical pipeline of supplies to the troops and playing us off against their own populace when it comes to trying to cope with their own militants. So I understand why drones are being used instead of airstrikes and a why dialing up a seal team for every OP isn’t exactly a realistic option when it comes to maintaining the thin veneer of Pakistani sovereignty while also making sure that the troops get the gas, ordinance and food that they need.

    I just want to know, from our current and likely future administration if they are gonna dial this shit back once we get all the boys and girls back home again. So perhaps the point will become moot.

  133. 133
    eemom says:

    @John Cole:

    There are a couple OF very bitter people who I wish would just DIAF.
    Feel better?

    If you’d just get it right permanently, I’ll die happily OF whatever knowing that there’s one less third-grade challenged fucktard occupying a prominent place in the blogosphere.

  134. 134
    Michael says:

    @LT: No problem. I suspect that while we all want to tear each other apart, we agree on most issues.

    I think the moral considerations you’re talking about are bundled up in the rationale for war writ large, and are best addressed separate entirely from the effectiveness of the tactics employed in the war.

    I get that my post could’ve come off as “this is a more just war because we are killing so few civilians,” but that’s not what was intended. It was literally a rhetorical critique – I was just trying to say that I don’t think John’s argument is effective/persuasive on that one specific point, because it cites to statistics that would tend to recommend drones for anyone who already accepts the moral rationale for war.

  135. 135
    MikeJ says:

    @Violet:

    We don’t have rules for fighting a non-state enemy. How do we do that?

    Ask Edward Teach.

  136. 136
    WJS says:

    @Or something like that.Suffern Ace: I’ll give you two of them:

    Since 2007, Predator drones and the larger, more powerful Reapers — reinforced by Ravens and Scan Eagle UAVs and Fire Scout robot helicopters plus a small number of huge, high-flying Global Hawks — have hunted Somali jihadists on scores of occasions. It’s part of a broader campaign of jet bombing runs, naval gun bombardment, cruise-missile attacks, raids by Special Operations Forces and assistance to regional armies such as Uganda’s.

    The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials said. One of the installations is being established in Ethi­o­pia, a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Shabab, the Somali militant group that controls much of that country. Another base is in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, where a small fleet of “hunter-killer” drones resumed operations this month after an experimental mission demonstrated that the unmanned aircraft could effectively patrol Somalia from there.

    And, from that same article:

    The aim in assembling a constellation of bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula is to create overlapping circles of surveillance in a region where al-Qaeda offshoots could emerge for years to come, U.S. officials said.

    The locations “are based on potential target sets,” said a senior U.S. military official. “If you look at it geographically, it makes sense — you get out a ruler and draw the distances [drones] can fly and where they take off from.”

    A “constellation” of bases. Sure sounds like an emphasis on expanding the program to me.

  137. 137
    Mandalay says:

    @Bernard Finel:

    while I am in general agreement with John here, his point 4 about turning people against us has surprisingly little evidence to support it

    While you may be right that there is not any hard evidence, what actual evidence could we want or expect? Also, while you mentioned Yemen and Pakistan, you skipped over Afghanistan where “enemy” is doing pretty well. Could that not partly be due to drone attacks fueling the anti US resentment?

    Regardless, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that drones have caused severe problems for the relations with the US regardless of the “success” of the attacks. See Impacts on Community Trust (http://livingunderdrones.org/report/)

    Consider as a comparison the demonstrable radicalizing effect of the Iraq war.

    I don’t accept the comparison. You are comparing the resentment caused by drone attacks with the resentment caused by the military invasion and conquest of Iraq that resulted in the deaths of at least 100,000 civilians. Apples and oranges.

  138. 138
    LT says:

    @Michael: Okay, I get where you were coming from.

    I think part of the confusion was that John was making a point about the supposed “surgical” capability of drones. Nobody makes that about general warfare, yeah? So the comeback didn’t quite fit. This is exactly about how drones supposedly change warfare. (And now even I’m ignoring that secret, executive-driven-only warfare a very different than what we normally think of as “warfare.”)

  139. 139
    sharl says:

    @tomvox1:

    And just to add to the differing perspectives, not everyone buys into the “Living Under Drones” report that is being so widely quoted (by Conor, Greenwald, John Cole, etc) as unassailable fact:
    {link to Joshua Foust post at the Atlantic}

    Just to demonstrate that it’s angry snapping turtles all the way down, Mr. Foust has a critic or two of his own – see here and here. For bonus fun, go to comment #83 in that first link – the circle is completed!

  140. 140
    El Cid says:

    @piratedan:

    The reason that these guys are hiding in backcountry Yemen is BECAUSE of the reach of the drones and the capabilities of American Intelligence services.

    There was a Yemeni civil war going on, with Islamic fundamentalist struggle as well as separatist elements, before U.S. drone use, even if you’re just counting the latest Shi’a uprising which began in 2004.

    The sort of armed and ground-acting terrorist organizations seek the sort of chaos and lawlessness and central-state-free zones such as these because of the multiple defensive and recruitment advantages, not as a reaction to drone activities.

    The sorts of terrorists who carry out 9/11, though, work in European and US cities.

  141. 141
    Mnemosyne says:

    @LT:

    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.

    Wait, since when has the CIA not been a legitimate military target? Yes, they’re technically civilians, but they’re obviously going to be one of the first things any attacking force tries to take out.

    @Alex SL:

    Police. Extradition. Trial. Prison time.

    The US does not have an extradition treaty with Yemen, and you cannot legally extradite people without one.

    It is also illegal to try people in absentia under US law — the suspect must appear in court in person to be arraigned and charged.

    So now what’s the plan with someone like al-Awlaki?

  142. 142
    piratedan says:

    @El Cid: granted, it helps to have english speakers for 9/11 but these folks don’t confine themselves to flying airplanes, they’ll use boats, personal kamaikazis whatever is handy for whatever target comes to mind. If we’re taking them out in their recruiting grounds, maybe that sends a message too.

  143. 143
    El Cid says:

    @piratedan: Depends, obviously, on how the locals view the terrorist groups. Israel wasn’t exactly gentle on Southern Lebanon, and not only did Hezbollah drive the Israelis out in 2006, it’s now a part of the Lebanese government given the way governing roles are apportioned there. And it’s not going away.

    Actually, though, it might be noted that though there are an extreme plethora of weak and vulnerable targets and presumably sufficient people of one or another type to be potential terrorists, it’s actually surprising how little terrorism there is here.

    It wouldn’t take a lot of financing or planning in Yemen or the tribal areas of Pakistan for lone wolf “Al Qa’ida” types (i.e., anything from having had actual AQ contact to just using the name) to throw dynamite into banks, or what have you.

  144. 144
    Michael says:

    @LT: That seems totally fair to me

  145. 145
    El Cid says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    they’re obviously going to be one of the first things any attacking force tries to take out.

    Yeah, but the CIA doesn’t particularly need an armory or central headquarters or whatever to have one or two empowered agency heads get so & so to send weapons to whomever or turn over intelligence to whats-his-face.

  146. 146
    FlipYrWhig says:

    To characterize this debate about drone strikes as nothing more than manic progressives looking for some way to attack Obama is silly and pointless.

    There is a debate about drones. There is also a segment of the readership, and of the blogosphere, who use that debate to pule and whine about how raising questions about raising questions about drones can only be pro-Obama hackery.

    I mean, if John were to go so far as to, perhaps, read the fucking thread resulting from Soonergrunt’s questions, he might see a whole bunch of things being discussed reasonably intelligently even between people who disagree around here a lot. Or he could trot out the same old tired bullshit and get the same old shitshow for the 97th time. Well played, John.

  147. 147
    MikeJ says:

    @El Cid: The CIA does need a HQ to do what the vast majority of its employees do. Most people who work there read and analyse stuff. Most of them aren’t flirting with Moneypenny and cracking jokes with Q.

  148. 148
    Or something like that.Suffern Ace says:

    @WJS: Yes. But both articles are about Somalia. Where are you getting Mali? I’m would not be shocked about either south Sudan or Mali. But I’ve not seen reports of their expanded use. Just because there are bases?

  149. 149
    seaboogie says:

    @eemom: Settle down dear, and take some meds if you have them. Grammar rage is quite beside the point. I loathe the gratuitous apostrophes used in plural v. possessive that is rampant everywhere, but it is not germane to this argument either. Maybe pay attention to the content and comment on that.

  150. 150
    Mnemosyne says:

    @El Cid:

    I am confused by your reply. Does the fact that the CIA is more diffuse than an army base mean that they’re not a legitimate military target?

    Let’s face it, if al-Qaeda had hit the Pentagon and Langley on 9/11 instead of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, people would not have freaked out nearly as much, because soldiers and spies are always legitimate wartime targets.

  151. 151
    LT says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Let’s face it, if al-Qaeda had hit the Pentagon and Langley on 9/11 instead of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, people would not have freaked out nearly as much, because soldiers and spies are always legitimate wartime targets.

    Does it have to be explained how dense that comment is?

  152. 152
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Or something like that.Suffern Ace:

    IIRC, the US has been using drones in Somalia since at least 2002, so it’s not a very good example of Obama “expanding” the drone program to new areas. Increasing the frequency within that country, maybe, but Somalia is definitely not a new territory that’s only been targeted under Obama’s watch.

  153. 153
    Mnemosyne says:

    @LT:

    Since you seem to think that the CIA is not a legitimate military target then, yes, you do have to explain why saying they’re a legitimate military target is “dense.”

  154. 154
    Or something like that.Suffern Ace says:

    @Mnemosyne: I thought the whole quote made no sense. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that the issue was with the reporter and that we were left out of the part of the conversation. What enemies? Who is making arguments where? Does she think that if someone were to blow up Langley we would be persuaded by their arguments?

  155. 155
    LT says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Aside from the fact that the sheer numbers killed in the Twin Tower attacks – there were soldiers and spies killed in those attacks.

    And there are civilians employed at both the Pentagon and Langley.

    There’s also daycare at the Pentagon.

    “…people would not have freaked out nearly as much” Is what I was responding to.

  156. 156
    eemom says:

    @seaboogie:

    Maybe pay attention to the content and comment on that.

    Yeah, maybe. But considering your sole contribution to the thread — and to the blog in general, as far as I can tell — consists of bitching at me for bitching about grammar, I’d say, you know, pot, kettle, ‘n all that.

  157. 157
    Soonergrunt says:

    @John Cole: If you quoted me at length, how did you come to miss the parts that actually made of the thrust of my statement?
    Here, let me help you with that:

    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.

    And when we include the part you failed to quote at length, we have:

    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.

    And you say I’m the one that built a strawman? The irony–it burns.
    And then there was this:

    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.

    Good. You kind of answered the actual supposition. You didn’t bother to say what you though should be done, but at least you were somewhere in the vicinity of the actual fucking point.

    As for the rest of your posting, thank you for a well thought, well articulated argument. Which was all I was after in the first place.

  158. 158
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    @Michael:

    Look, I’m not a fan of the drone warfare, but I have to say, if true, this:

    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.

    …would make drones basically the most accurate method of warfare ever

    And if it were true that Saddam was sitting on a mass of WMDs able to strike American and UK cities in 15 minutes, I might reconsider the morality of invading Iraq. It wasn’t, and I don’t have to.

    http://www.salon.com/2011/07/19/drones/

    —-
    In late June, President Obama’s chief Terrorism adviser, John Brennan, made an extraordinary claim about drone attacks in Pakistan: “in the last year, ‘there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.” He added: ”if there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger.” The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism had heard similar claims from Obama officials over the past several months, and thus set out to examine the relevant evidence to determine if those claims are true.

    Last night, they issued the findings of their study which, simply put, definitively establish that the administration’s claim about civilian deaths is patently false. Contrary to Brennan’s public assertions, “a detailed examination by the Bureau of 116 CIA ‘secret’ drone strikes in Pakistan since August 2010 has uncovered at least 10 individual attacks in which 45 or more civilians appear to have died.” That count — which includes numerous children — covers only the civilian deaths which the Bureau could definitively establish by identifying the victims by name. Given how conservative their methodology was, these findings almost certainly under-count, probably dramatically, the number of civilian deaths at U.S. hands during the period about which Brennan made his claim: ”at least 15 additional strikes warrant urgent investigation, with many more civilian deaths possible.”

    Other data similarly establish how false and misleading are Brennan’s claims. A British photojournalist providing on-the-scene reporting of the aftermath of drone strikes in Waziristan documented this week that “far more civilians are being injured or dying than the Americans and Pakistanis admit” and “for every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant.” To describe Brennan’s claims as merely “inaccurate” or “untrue” is to be unduly generous.
    —-

  159. 159
    Mnemosyne says:

    @LT:

    Aside from the fact that the sheer numbers killed in the Twin Tower attacks – there were soldiers and spies killed in those attacks.

    Really? How many Army units were stationed at the WTC? How many CIA agents worked in the satellite office there?

    And there are civilians employed at both the Pentagon and Langley.

    The CIA is entirely civilian. That doesn’t change the fact that their agency is a legitimate military target.

    There’s also daycare at the Pentagon.

    There are child care centers on 800 military bases. Are those no longer considered military bases and thus not legitimate military targets because there are child care centers located on them?

    “…people would not have freaked out nearly as much” Is what I was responding to.

    So your contention is that an attack on a military installation is equally as frightening to ordinary civilians as an attack on a landmark office building in downtown New York?

  160. 160
    seaboogie says:

    @eemom: I was engaging you where you live, and it was a distraction from a philosophical discussion that you introduced….”squirrel”! Cole smacked you down on that too.

  161. 161
    Brachiator says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Let’s face it, if al-Qaeda had hit the Pentagon and Langley on 9/11 instead of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, people would not have freaked out nearly as much, because soldiers and spies are always legitimate wartime targets.

    Were we in an actual declared war against al Qaeda prior to 9/11? Did everyone understand and accept the rules of engagement?

    I have a feeling that people would have freaked out no matter what because the attack would have been on US soil. And the White House was also, I believe, a target.

    And of course, there’s that thing about a plane full of ordinary people being turned into a missile.

  162. 162
    Or something like that.Suffern Ace says:

    @Mnemosyne: Ok. I would let this one go. We would have freaked regardless because civilian planes were used.

  163. 163
    Mandalay says:

    @Michael:

    I’m just able to separate those issues from whether or not drones are actually accurate.

    I have never seen the claim that drones are not highly accurate; they hit their intended target. Rather, the concern is that the target selection may be indiscriminate.

    I know nothing about drone technology, and what follows may not be true, but there is an allegation that drone targets may be selected based on tracking devices. What could possibly go wrong?….

    Hayatullah Ayoub Khan similarly explained that “drones [select] their targets with the help of chips which are dropped in homes or cars by informants.” Many other residents of North Waziristan gave similar accounts. Policy analyst Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group also noted this widespread belief, explaining that many have told her that the Americans have “got people who throw parchiz [a local word for chips] into a car, or at the side of a house, and then the drone comes and it attacks that target.”
    These beliefs have bred a great deal of mistrust within the community, as neighbors suspect neighbors of spying for US, Pakistani, or Taliban intelligence, and of using drone strikes to settle feuds. As one resident of a drone-affected community explained: “People have internal enemies and conflicts with each other. [T]o get revenge [on] another party, they put chips on that house,” which then signals to the drones that the house is a target.

    http://livingunderdrones.org/report/

  164. 164
    ploeg says:

    @Soonergrunt: He’ll sober up tomorrow.

    I mean, the whole bit about “chemicals” being a problem. After WWI they decided that mustard gas (which is a chemical) was a problem surpassing the problem of all these other chemicals, so they decided that it shouldn’t be used from that point on. Everybody stockpiled mustard gas and worse, but with notable rare exceptions, we don’t use those chemicals anymore. There are movements to limit or ban the use of certain other chemicals, and even if one doesn’t agree with the goals of such movements, one can appreciate the problems that certain chemicals pose.

  165. 165
    eemom says:

    @seaboogie:

    Hi there, Cole’s sister. I’m sure he was the bestest bro.

  166. 166
    Adam says:

    I was originally going to post angrily how WP is a chemical weapon and that it differs from the other examples suggested by John because the chemicals used were methods of delivery not what was actually doing the harm.

    But then I googled ‘Is WP a chemical weapon’. And it’s not.

    It doesn’t fall anywhere in the charter of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

    So what is a chemical weapon? opcw.org had this definition: The term chemical weapon is applied to any toxic chemical or its precursor that can cause death, injury, temporary incapacitation or sensory irritation through its chemical action.

    So then what is White Phosphorous. Quite simply, it is an incendiary. It burns.

    It’s why the people who handle the large artillery munitions of WP keep large bathes of water on standby in case of emergencies. To stop the burn you need to remove the oxygen. You don’t splash water on the wound, you submerge it in water.

    White Phosphorous isn’t a chemical weapon and it’s closet analogy is napalm which means you’re still a c*** for using it on troops.

  167. 167
    Hypnos says:

    I think the question is very simple.

    The American population accounts for 5% of the global population and consumes about a third of the global resources. This state of things exists because the US maintains a global empire, sustained by the most extensive network of military bases and power projection capabilities the world has ever seen; the purpose of this empire is to extract resources from the rest of the world and funnel them towards the US (and, to a lesser extent, to its “Tier 1” allies in Europe, which is why Europeans would also get the shaft if US military power receded).

    This state of things is currently being called into question by several resistance movements across the world – this is obviously intertwined with local power struggles and political confrontations, but if these disparate movements can be described as having a common goal, it is resistance to the US empire.

    This is no different from the British empire, with the exception that the modern globalized world sometimes provides these resistance movements with the opportunity to strike on US soil, despite their limited military resources. If the Zulus could have magically teleported to London and blown up the Bank of England, they would have gladly done so – they showed no restraint in massacring Boer civilians on their home soil, after all. If that had been the case, I doubt there would be plaques celebrating the brave warriors who fell defending the Old Zulu Order, much like there won’t be plaques to the brave Taliban warriors who fell in Afghanistan if America ever wins there.

    The moniker “terrorist” is useful to America because it soothes the cognitive dissonance of fighting for its global empire while denying it has an empire at all – and thus denying the legitimacy of the resistance movements fighting against said empire.

    As an anti-colonialist, I obviously cheer for the defeat of the American empire – albeit as a European, I must recognize that I benefit from its existence. This cognitive dissonance does make it very difficult to assess the situation objectively, so I empathize (and its telling that the only two commenters who brought up something resembling a critique of empire are not American, unless I missed something).

    So the question is not whether drones are legitimate; it is whether you think the American empire is legitimate. Keeping in mind that giving up empire means giving up wealth – albeit how much and how quickly depends on how well you manage the transition. Britain’s strategy of becoming the loyal puppet of the new global hegemon worked quite well.

    Also, so much of the wealth from empire goes to a tiny minority of Americans, that with proper redistribution in place you could probably still give it up and see most of the American population maintain most of its current wealth. You don’t seem to be very good at restraining your aristocrats, unfortunately.

  168. 168
    El Cid says:

    @Mnemosyne: No, just that the CIA isn’t as dependent for its operations on any particular base or set of bases as perhaps military operations tend to be.

  169. 169
    Debbie(Aussie) says:

    Thanks for this, John
    Being an outsider it’s hard to know when/if to comment. I like al the front pagers and read everything, often too late to get in the discussion tho. I believe that you have hard decisions to make come November. It is easier having a parliamentary system. I can and have voted Green in our last two sate and one federal elections. We hopefully have a chance of bringing in some ideas from the ‘left’as our supposedly left leaning Labor Party has shifted way over to right on almost everything. Keep up the great work all of you , you are an interesting bunch of people who can make me laugh, cry and most importantly, think.
    Debs

  170. 170

    […] John Cole piece on how to think about the drone war without turning into an idiot about voting for Obama is very good–perhaps especially because […]

  171. 171
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    The CIA is entirely civilian. That doesn’t change the fact that their agency is a legitimate military target.

    I know you’re following-up on an earlier comment, but I think one has to be careful here.

    In 1993 CIA employees were attacked and several were killed while sitting at a traffic light waiting to drive into work – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1.....adquarters

    When does that type of action become “legitimate”? There was no state of war declared between the US and Pakistan at the time. Is that what’s necessary to make it legitimate?

    When did the colonies declare war on Great Britain? They didn’t exactly. There is the Declaration of Independence, of course, but the war had been underway for at least a year already.

    There have always been gray areas, but there has to be an additional step of a legal framework for active hostilities against “military targets” or chaos (and vastly more deaths and destruction) will result. There must be agreed upon rules of war.

    Our laws haven’t been updated sufficiently to give a satisfactory legal framework for military actions against non-state actors, IMHO. I hope that hilzoy (and others) are right above and the AUMF will wind down once we’re out of Afghanistan.

    On the subject of drones, I don’t regard them as especially heinous. They reduce, but do not eliminate, civilian casualties. Ending hostilities will be necessary to end civilian casualties, but who knows when that day will come. I think we need to remember that there are lots of foreign policy machinations going on with Yemen and elsewhere (“plausible deniability”) so public transparency on drones and “kill lists” and so forth is unlikely to improve, but I do believe that Obama (at least) takes these decisions very seriously…

    FWIW.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  172. 172
    hep kitty says:

    Why don’t we apply the drone money to CIA intelligence instead?

  173. 173
    brantl says:

    White phosphorus wssn’t suddenly a “chamical weapon” because it was chemical, it was a chemical weapon when they dropped it deliberately on people, instead of as a light source, as they had done previously. It’s a Geneva War Crime to drop it deliberately on people, or as is obvious, to drop it in a place where it is very likely to hit people. You’re wrong about this, Cole.

  174. 174
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    The only legitimate complaint about drone warfare (and it’s Cole’s 5th point) is that drones make targeted attacks easy, maybe too easy, and we’re using them in situations where they’re not appropriate, resulting in unnecessary collateral damage. That’s the root of the argument, and it’s one I (mostly) agree with. God knows we’re less likely to want to go to war if we know we’re going to get blood on our own shoes, and such high-tech warfare removes us from the horror of it. That’s been a problem since at least the advent of the Gatling gun, if not before.

    IMO, all the other arguments are distractions, and just opportunities for people to dance around the real problem.

    I particularly see the argument about Langley becoming a legitimate military target because of the use of drones as pretty weak, because the chain of command *always* ends on American soil; the President ultimately bears responsibility for the actions of the military and intelligence agencies under his command.

    Put another way, Langley’s always been a legitimate military target pretty much since the inception of the CIA, as has been the Pentagon and the White House.

    Even so, the argument shouldn’t be about the technology, it should be about the policy. Why are we still fighting in Afghanistan? What’s the victory condition (likely spelled out in the AUMF)?

    What is the appropriate response for fighting non-state actors? Hindsight being 20/20, a full-scale military invasion of Afghanistan with the goal of toppling the government probably wasn’t the right idea (and we won’t even talk about Iraq); but by that same token, the Taliban was providing support to Al Queda, and we simply cannot ignore that.

    Of course, it doesn’t help to have millions of Americans screaming for blood. We’ve been spoiled by not having to fight an enemy on US soil.

  175. 175
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet:

    When does that type of action become “legitimate”? There was no state of war declared between the US and Pakistan at the time. Is that what’s necessary to make it legitimate?

    If that’s your argument, then how can it be legitimate to use drones on Pakistanis?

  176. 176
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    White phosphorus wssn’t suddenly a “chamical weapon” because it was chemical, it was a chemical weapon when they dropped it deliberately on people, instead of as a light source, as they had done previously. It’s a Geneva War Crime to drop it deliberately on people, or as is obvious, to drop it in a place where it is very likely to hit people. You’re wrong about this, Cole.

    I would suggest that Cole apply the “reciprocity” test; would he be appalled if a WP bomb went off in an American mall over and above his horror at bombing per se, if pieces of burning hell clung to Americans, melting their skin and causing second and third degree burns, if Americans suffered multiple organ failures as a result, and if American soccer mums and children died screaming in agony as a result.

    Because there sure as hell seems to be a tendency to abstractness and disinterested assessment around here when the casualties are non-American that doesn’t seem to apply when US citizens are under the gun.

  177. 177
    Paul in KY says:

    @eemom: You are wrong there. The sentence you showed was acceptable.

  178. 178
    Paul in KY says:

    @burnspbesq: Because they had more of a chance to see what was coming & to get the Hell out of the way.

    When the heavily armed terrorists arrive at your hovel & demand hospitality, you would have no idea that a Hellfire missle will soon enter the premises. I would think a lawyer would have thought of that.

  179. 179
    Paul in KY says:

    @Michael: No he is not. The 8.5 percent likely had no fucking idea that they were in the presence of people who were about to be blown up.

  180. 180
    Paul in KY says:

    @gwangung: You can see the infantry coming & if sane, get the Hell away from them. That is not possible with the drones, as you have no idea you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  181. 181
    LanceThruster says:

    @Phoenician in a time of Romans:

    How would any of us respond if this was what was happening to our neighbors, children, and loved ones?

    [WARNING – graphic images]

  182. 182
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    @LanceThruster:

    I imagine, Lance, that we’d want to pick up a gun or get a bomb and make the bastards who did it pay.

  183. 183
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Phoenician in a time of Romans: Um, those are questions. My views were in the following sentences.

    HTH.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  184. 184
    brantl says:

    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 have a much greater obligation that this, we must do our best to not engage in a war that can be solved better, in another way. We can’t send people to war for selfish, nationalistic goals, as Cheney did. Establishing a footprint on the ground in the Middle East was not a valid goal, for what we paid for it, nor was it in any way morally defensible to lie our way into the war, as Cheney defintitely did. If you don’t make these distinctions clear, at the outset, sons of bitches like Cheney will lie us into more wars. If we had we been invited, should we have gone in? Maybe, and even yet, what else would it have cost? It still wouldn’t have been bright, but it would have at least been more defensible. “National goals”, “clear goals” isn’t enough. Moral decency needs to be a requirement, before someone’s family member should be sent to potentially die, or kill.

  185. 185
    Joey Giraud says:

    In related news, on March 3, 2022, President Soonergrunt announced the successful deployment of SkyNet; an AI controlled drone system that will kill all bad guys everywhere with no human interaction required.

    Liberals everywhere cheer our new age of total safety.

  186. 186
    John Rohan says:

    @brantl:

    No, that is not true. It’s not a war crime to drop WP on people any more than it’s a war crime to drop bombs on people.

    It IS a war crime to use it indiscriminately or on non-combatants, but that holds true for any weapon. WP is not special in this regard.

  187. 187
    Draylon Hogg says:

    Your gung ho military has slaughtered indiscriminately for over ten years and occupied two countries that, militarily, posed absolutely no threat to you whatsoever and Mr. John Cole, war cheerleader thinks that America needs to find the best way to protect the troops. If you don’t want your troops to die then don’t send them to war. And if you don’t want to risk dying in a war then don’t sign up. And here you all are, comfortably off debating whether white phosphorus that sticks to the skin and burns to the bone is an acceptable weapon of war. Inhuman wretches.

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