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These days, few liberals are willing to directly defend drones. This is a victory of sorts for opponents of drone warfare, whose work exposing its horror has made it difficult for any kind of liberal (Joe Klein, the neoliberal sociopath, doesn't count) to be triumphalist about American killing by remote control. It's tough to shake poms poms in the face of dead and maimed children. The truth is beginning to prevail over government propaganda.

That's not say, however, that there's been a surge in opposition from progressives and Democrats, only that expressions of support have become muted. The argument most commonly used to defend drones is some version of: Drones are no worse than other weapons, maybe even better, so what's the fuss about? Often this argument is preceded by a tentative objection, as in Hey, I don't like drones either.

When people depict drone warfare as a "humanitarian advance" or argue that it's no worse than other kinds, often their purpose is to try to normalize it and depict critics as eccentric and irrational, fetishists. Why're you so obsessed with the method of killing? I can't tell you how many times I've seen some variation of Scott Lemieux's comment:

[K]illing people with drones is a million times worse than killing them with conventional bombing operations, because…why was that again?
Oh, those silly critics of drone warfare. Never mind that not one of them has ever said killing someone with a drone is worse than killing her the old-fashioned way, it's a savvyish line of argument, because it allows Lemieux and his ilk to assume an antiwar pose while playing down a form of war. Call it the sophisticated dodge.

Sophistry like this calls for an extended response:

It's the government that has made drones a big issue.
Obama, even more than Bush, has made drones integral to U.S. "defense" policy. Drones are the primary killing tool in the U.S.'s dirty wars in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The U.S. used them extensively during NATO's regime change operation in Libya and drones are flying over Libya right now as part of the effort of the United States to bring the Benghazi attackers "to justice." They're set to be an integral part of the next phase of the U.S. War on Terror, which those in charge are creepily calling the "disposition matrix."

In response to expressions of outrage over drone attacks that kill children and other civilians, defenders say things like, would it matter if they'd been killed by sniper fire? Short answer: of course not. (Note, too, that with arguments like this, it's defenders, not opponents, who are changing the subject from killing to the method of killing.) If the United States were using nail-guns to kill people without due process, terrorize and kill civilians, violate international law, and wage dirty wars, then opponents of war would focus on nail-guns.  

In fact, one of the most widely discussed and lamented acts of violence during the Obama presidency is the attack that killed 40 plus civilians, including 21 children, in Yemen in December 2009. The weapon was not a hellfire missile shot from a drone but a cruise missile carrying cluster munitions shot from a aircraft carrier. Well-known drone fetishist Jeremy Scahill did nothing less than co-produce a film about this incident.

The very people speaking out against drones also speak out against other forms of American violence overseas. On the other hand -- and let me try to put this gently -- the people playing down drone attacks aren't generally well-known for their opposition to, say, the war in Afghanistan or militarism generally. Drone critic critic Bob Cesca says that the priorities in this debate should be "civil liberties and war powers," as if someone had argued otherwise. But Cesca hardly writes about civil liberties or war powers except in the context of complaining about what he calls "drone hysteria." There might be a well-known antiwar activist or writer chiding drone critics, but I'm not aware of one -- are you?

Opponents of war must talk about drones, because they're what's for breakfast:

Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence until he was fired in May 2010, said that discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al Qaeda were sidelined by the intense focus on strikes. “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only game in town’—reminded me of body counts in Vietnam,” said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who began his Navy service during that war.
Tell me again: who are the fetishists?

'More accurate' does not mean 'acceptable'
The notion that drone strikes are "surgical" is spin. Hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians have died in drone strikes. Reporting on drone strikes is notoriously difficult, but last year one credible source reported that as many as 881 civilians had died in Pakistan alone. A study by Stanford Law School and New York University's School of Law found that only 2% of casualties in Pakistan have been high-level targets.

But even if drones are more precise than other weapons, its relative accuracy wouldn't legitimize even a single strike, much less thousands. A knife is an accurate weapon, but a knife-stabbing could still be wrong and illegal.

Or consider this: A man who's had eleven bourbons "has to" drive home in the snow, so his friend offers him her brand new Suburu Outback, which is better in the snow than his '77 Gremlin with the bald tires. In the Outback, he would pose less of a threat to other drivers and to himself, but that fact doesn't make driving home wise or ethical. The man, his friend, and everyone else at the party need to challenge the assumption that he has to drive home.

To say that a drone strike is more accurate killing tool only works as a defense if it's a fact that the United States must go to great lengths to kill people all over the world in the name of fighting terrorism. As Greenwald says, drone defenders:

...tacitly embrace the unexamined assumption that the US is inevitably going to engage in aggression and kill Muslims, and then pat themselves on the back for cheering for the way that kills the fewest (I support drones because they're better than full-scale invasions; I support sanctions because they're better than air strikes). They are seemingly incapable of conceiving of a third alternative: that the US could or should refrain from killing innocent people in predominantly Muslim countries.
Chris Hayes has more:
This narrow choice between big violence and smaller violence shows, I think, just how fully we have all implicitly adopted the conceptual framework of the War on Terror, how much George W. Bush’s advisers continue to set the terms of our thinking years after they’d been dispatched from office. Because that argument presupposes that we are at war and must continue to be at war until an ill-defined enemy is vanquished. What, people ask, is the alternative to small war, if not big war? And the answer no one ever seems to even consider is: no war.

If the existence of people out in the world who are actively working to kill Americans means we are still at war, then it seems to me we will be at war forever, and will surrender control over whether that is the state we do in fact want to be in. There’s another alternative: we can be a nation that declares its war over, that declares itself at peace and goes about rigorously and energetically using intelligence and diplomacy and well-resourced police work to protect us from future attacks.

It's not necessary to oppose the so-called war on terror to oppose the way the U.S. is using drones -- more on that below -- but the plausible, or plausible-seeming, defenses of US "targeted killings" hinge on the premise that the U.S. global war against AQ and "associated forces" is legitimate. Which is why liberal defenders often liken the battle against AQ to World War II -- just the sort of Bushian rhetorical ploy liberals used to mock.

Under Bush, most liberals and many Democrats rejected the notion that the United States ought to fight an open-ended global war against AQ, and this view was hardly relegated to the hippie fringe. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic candidate for president, likened AQ to a criminal enterprise. He reversed himself in the face of criticism, but the criticism came from the right, not from liberals like Harold Koh, now a willing warrior in Bush's global war on terror.

The Method of Killing Does, In Fact, Matter

In response to critics of the U.S. drone wars in places like Pakistan and Yemen, liberals defenders are apt to say something like: It's better than a ground invasion. Or: would you prefer carpet bombing? If I haven't already made myself clear, listen up: I'D PREFER NO WAR!

Sure, if you accept that there must be war, then drones look OK by those sorry standards. But drones are really the only choice. The fact is, the United States isn't going to invade Yemen or unleash massive conventional air power on Somalia. Because drone warfare poses no immediate danger to Americans and no risk of a hostage crisis (there are no pilots to be shot down), because it is -- or perceived to be -- more accurate than other forms of killing, it's really the only option. (That, and, to a lesser degree, special ops.)

Which is to say that drones are enabling war.

There exists a danger that the political ease with which these systems can be deployed, and their future potential to deliver even more precise effect, might encourage the normalisation of the use of violence in response to crisis and conflict.
That grim future, I'd argue, has already arrived. And so would Rosa Brooks, who worked in the Defense Department from 2009 to 2011.
The trouble with drones is that they make it a little too tempting to use force. When you have a nifty tool that allows you to deniably knock off potential bad guys with no risk, why wouldn't you use it more and more? Thus, we've seen drone strikes evolve in the last decade, from a tool used in limited circumstances to go after specifically identified high-ranking al Qaeda officials to a tool relied on in an increasing number of countries to go after an eternally lengthening list of putative bad guys, some identified by name, others targeted on the basis of suspicious behavior patterns, with an increasingly tenuous link to grave or imminent threats to the United States.
So when defenders -- or, for that matter, opponents -- argue, as I have, that the kind of weapon used in an attack is irrelevant, that's true only in terms of the morality and legality of the attack. In terms of the overall level of violence and future of warfare, the rise of the drones is relevant indeed. It makes bloodshed more likely.

It's Not Drones; It's the Way The Government is Using Them

Whether a weapon can be intrinsically immoral (a nuclear bomb?) is an interesting philosophical question. Whatever the answer, there wouldn't be much opposition to drones if the U.S. government were storing them in hangar somewhere, or using them in extremely rare cases.

At issue, of course, is how the U.S is using them. Try to reconcile the following with the claim that the US drone program is humane.

Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school.
If a organization or some other non-state actor were doing this, its name would be obvious: terrorism. That's what Digby calls it:
[T]o the extent we talk about it in anything but hushed tones and without any detail, we are talking about how "careful" we are to only kill the "bad guys" with our precise hi-tech weapons. But how different is it, really, from an Islamic extremist setting off a bomb in a shopping center where a politician might be present? Would the effect on the civilian population be any different here than the drone attacks in Pakistan?
And to the extent that we talk about drone warfare, we focus on "targeted killings" in which the government attempts to whack a suspected terrorist on its kill list. But many, perhaps most, drone attacks have been "signature strikes." That's when the government tries to kill someone who seems like a terrorist because his behavior. That is, the government doesn't know who the target is. The best evidence suggests (government secrecy precludes definitive determinations) that many US signature strikes have violated international law. In any case, the high probability of killing civilians make them egregiously immoral.

President Obama reportedly had an initial aversion to signature strikes, but he nonetheless ordered them in Pakistan and then authorized them in Yemen.

One of the more disturbing recent revelations into White House foreign policy decision-making is that President Obama authorized targeted drone strikes while unaware that he had actually authorized signature strikes. According to Daniel Klaidman, when Obama was first made aware of signature strikes, the CIA’s deputy director clarified: “Mr. President, we can see that there are a lot of military-age males down there, men associated with terrorist activity, but we don’t necessarily know who they are.” Obama reacted sharply, “That’s not good enough for me.” According to one adviser describing the president’s unease: “‘He would squirm…he didn’t like the idea of kill ‘em and sort it out later.’” Like other controversial counterterrorism policies inherited by Obama, it did end up “good enough,” since he allowed the practice to stand in Pakistan, and in April authorized the CIA and JSOC to conduct signature strikes in Yemen as well.
"Kill ‘em and sort it out later." It's no wonder that, as McClatchy reported, U.S. drones have killed hundreds of Pakistani who posed no threat to the United States, revealing as a lie the Obama administration's claim that it's targeted only AQ leaders. But then the claim is, has always been, incompatible with signature strikes.

We can argue about the killing of high-level AQ via strikes that pose little threat to civilians, but the reality is that between signature strikes and the killing of funeralgoers and rescuers and attacks on groups that didn't even exist on 9-11, the War of Terror is a different kind of beast altogether. Rosa Brooks sums it up well when she writes of "unknown numbers of unnamed people executed by the United States for unspecified reasons in unacknowledged drone strikes, with no safeguard against abuse (or simple mistake) beyond the good faith and good sense of executive branch officials."

Brooks touches on the secrecy of the drone war. The call for transparency may seem like a sideshow, a demand of establishment "opponents" and good government types who don't want to directly oppose the war, and it can be that. But the secrecy cloaking the drone-based dirty wars helps to sustain them and, as Charles Pierce points out, poses a particularly insidious threat to the country.

...[S]ecret wars, waged by the Executive branch beyond the reach of congressional oversight, inevitably lead to a deep and abiding corruption in the government of this country. It is unavoidable now. It was unavoidable in the 1980's, when Reagan and his band of geopolitical fantasts were running amok in Central America...

Secret war is anathema to free government. Period. Now, you can argue that it's necessary, that the world has changed, that dangers come upon us too quickly, that the length and breadth of the evil in the world has made the perils Madison described quaint and irrelevant. You can do all that and people will applaud you and elect you president. But you cannot make the argument that secret wars conducted by the Executive are consonant with constitutional government, because they are not, and they never will be, and because, sooner or later, you wind up lying about the rape and murder of nuns.

The drone wars have gotten so out of hand that even many tuffonterra types who basically support the war on terror, including members of the military, believe that the U.S. relies on them too heavily.
During his confirmation hearing to become the director of central intelligence, John Brennan repeated his prior pledge regarding al Qaeda -- "We will destroy that organization" -- which, according to the latest State Department estimates, is growing to thousands of individuals among its various "affiliates." This current U.S. counterterrorism strategy of "mowing the grass" (as it's indelicately called) through indefinite drone strikes, without thinking through the likely second- and third-order effects, will never achieve its strategic objectives. This highlights the question military planning staffs will pose to civilian policymakers who ask about bombing a target or individual: "And then what?" In the case of a campaign of drone strikes, the answer these military planners see is more drone strikes.
Mowing the grass: how disturbingly apt. And now a number of former military leaders are making like Susan Sontag or Chalmers Johnson and pointing out that drone attacks are breeding terrorism. They've come to realize the obvious: that there's no such thing as risk-free war, and that there's no form of American violence that won't produce anti-American violence.

Opposition to the drone war from Serious Members of the Establishment offers a less-bad-than-usual chance to roll back the U.S. killing machine. "Antiwar" liberals who depict opposition to it as irrational aren't helping.

Originally posted to david mizner on Fri May 03, 2013 at 12:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Group W: Resisting War.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Some of the stuff is bit (19+ / 0-)

    cuz I started this a while ago and then picked it up again.

    My attempt to respond to the "liberal" drone defenses in something like a comprehensive fashion (for a blog I mean.) Obviously this topic could take up a library.

  •  I think it's pretty safe to say (17+ / 0-)

    we're on the downward slide of empire.  We've already lost our soul.

  •  Uh, are drones good or bad or what? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    enhydra lutris

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Fri May 03, 2013 at 01:24:01 PM PDT

    •  That is like asking if people are good or bad, (5+ / 0-)

      or bears. The answer in all cases is that some are bad and some are good. A well-maintained modern drone in capable (American) hands is probably good, while a drone in the hands of a nefarious band of terrorists, or in the hands of North Korea, is obviously bad.

    •  killing innocent people is bad... (24+ / 0-)

      drones make it easy to do that.  they are now the weapon of choice, apparently, for the sorts of "wars" that we are fighting.  a lot of innocent people are being killed by drones along with quite a lot of people that nobody can either identify before they squeeze the joystick (?) nor make a credible case that they are an imminent threat to the united states.  (assuming that the phrase "imminent threat" is to have any meaning that a normal person might recognize.)

      drones are being used badly.  drones are being used to commit what are arguably war crimes.  you decide if they are bad or not.

      i'm part of the 99% - america's largest minority

      by joe shikspack on Fri May 03, 2013 at 01:33:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The point is that the CIA is trying to (4+ / 0-)

        use them to kill terrorists in places we cannot access with troops. Say that one of those dead terrorists would, if not killed, kill your family. Despite all your reservations, would you not be glad if a drone strike saved you and your children?

        That's the point really. Using lethal weapons is an ugly business. But the alternative can be even uglier. I'm glad I don't have to point drones at houses in Yemen or wherever. But I'm glad someone is willing to do that job. As a lifelong and proud liberal (ACLU member for over 30 years), I'm more sensitive to the needs of innocent Americans than murderous religious zealots on the other side of the world.

        •  What if (14+ / 0-)

          in the process of trying to kill one terrorist, you kill 10 civilians, including women and children, and as a result, you create a dozen new terrorists?

          Is that a good thing?

          How about if you drone strike a whole jirga and 40 people are killed?  And it gets reported, and you create a hundred new terrorists immediately, and a thousand more as the news spreads across the tribal areas of Pakistan, and three generations of terrorists in the long run?  We even have a name for that now.  "Generational enemies".

          "Justice is a commodity"

          by joanneleon on Fri May 03, 2013 at 02:54:19 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  If we think terrorists are meeting to (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            johnny wurster

            plan an attack that will kill random innocent people, it is very easy to say that we shouldn't hit them because a) the intelligence may be wrong or b) there may be children there or c) this may piss off future terrorists.

            But what if the intelligence were that instead of random innocents being targeted, it is specifically you and the rest of your family? Are you still inclined to say "thou shall not kill", or are you on the phone with your Congressman demanding a drone strike right fucking now?

            All of your concerns are valid, and win the day if the potential victims on our side are nameless and faceless. Maybe it is because I knew so many that died in 911 (I worked at WTC 1) that I always imagine that the intended drone targets just might have been planning my death. It makes me view drones differently than people who think terrorism is only going to happen to other people.

            •  You are exhibit A of a GWOT enthusiast. (3+ / 0-)

              A fine illustration of exactly what the diarist points out. There's no convincing you since drones aren't the question.

              NO CE/CW. NO UNION BUSTING

              by Aeolos on Fri May 03, 2013 at 07:36:45 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  The targets are not proven terrorists, they are (4+ / 0-)

              targeted by rumor and so called intelligence. These people deserve due process before they are slaughtered. If there is evidence against them, their own country should arrest them.

              How about the USA tracks down the terrorists living within its borders instead of killing people in sovereign countries.

              To thine ownself be true

              by Agathena on Fri May 03, 2013 at 09:15:22 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  The evidence is based on illegally obtained (0+ / 0-)

                wiretaps and other illegal surveillance. So even if these countries had courts and cooperated with us, the evidence wouldn't be admissible. You know, we need people in our government that understand that American lives are at stake and are willing to do the ugly things necessary to protect the rest of us. So we can survive so that we can go on liberal blogs and talk about how morally ambivalent about this we all are. But we all know that there are people who are willing to go do these ugly deeds in our name, and we all sleep better at night because of it.

                •   "we all know" speak for yourself (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  truong son traveler

                  Your national security didn't protect Boston. They interviewed a terrorist (suspected) and dropped the ball. They can't recognize a terrorist in a real life interview how do you suppose they are accurate about terrorists (suspected) on a computer screen.

                  To thine ownself be true

                  by Agathena on Fri May 03, 2013 at 11:08:19 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  Clearly (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              truong son traveler

              you don't read, or you only read propaganda and never read the information from first hand witnesses, etc.  That jirga was not planning a terrorist attack. They were settling a land dispute between tribes. It was a form of a court of law.

              "Justice is a commodity"

              by joanneleon on Fri May 03, 2013 at 10:24:54 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  But they aren't going to kill my family (8+ / 0-)

          That's all but myth.  How many times do we have to see the stats on how much more likely we are to be killed by virtually anything than terrorism?  In the meantime, we cut NIH research, we cut cancer treatments, we let gun violence go on unabated, but no matter how many Americans we casually let die on roads we don't repair or whatever, we alone among nations have the right to kill anyone anywhere based on what we aren't allowed to even know.

          But hey, the technology is sooooo awesome cooooool.

          •  We're talking about terrorists (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            johnny wurster

            actually planning attacks on Americans. You are right that it is almost certainly not going to be you personally that is killed in the attack should we not stop it. It will be somebody else's family.

            But that is not the right way of looking at this IMO. It is Barack Obama's job, and the job of the CIA personnel sworn to protect us, to view every attack as if it is an attack on them personally.

            Question for you - if we did know that you, greenbell, is the target of the terrorist action, is your aggressiveness level altered?

          •  More likely to be killed by armed neighbors (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            truong son traveler

            My husband dimed them out for GTA (grand theft auto).  

            Or drunk drivers, unsafe infrastructure (failed gas pipelines, crappy bridge bolts), toxic wastes in the soil, etc.  Life and death in East Oakland.

            OTOH I've been to the Middle East three times and never had a problem.  

            "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity" -W.B. Yeats

            by LucyandByron on Fri May 03, 2013 at 10:14:16 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  False dilemma. War mongers have used that (9+ / 0-)

          argument since the dawn of time.

          That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

          by enhydra lutris on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:42:06 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Drones kill many people at once in the most (2+ / 0-)

        horribly way leaving survivors to pick the pieces of their family members' bodies. That if the survivors are not hit with the second follow-up drones aimed at them.

        To thine ownself be true

        by Agathena on Fri May 03, 2013 at 09:04:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Well as I said-- (14+ / 0-)

      There are several ways to answer the question; in one sense, they're no worse than other killing tools.

      The central immediate problem is not drones themselves but a) the war in which they're being used b) the reckless way the U.S. is using them

      Because they pose little immediate to the force employing them, drones make killing more likely.

      •  They make action on our part more likely. (6+ / 0-)

        But whether or not they result in more killing is doubtful. Barack Obama's intention whenever he uses these things is to kill people who are killers themselves, in order to reduce terrorism. He may misfire at times, but if it is always our intention to kill killers, the use of drones should in the long run reduce murder, not increase it.

      •  They are worse (7+ / 0-)

        because it's easy to wage war with them without going through the normal military and/or Joint Chiefs of Staff channels where you actually have to consult with people who have many years of experience in actual wars, instead of sending out CIA paramilitaries or having your own "TCCC" directed straight from the White House, no reporting to the Congressional oversight committees, no bothersome military brass in the Joint Chiefs to interfere, etc.

        TCCC, from Scahill's book "Dirty Wars" is how a career Navy counterterrorist specialist described the way that Cheney and Rumsfeld and the neocons operated when they did everything possible to bypass the normal channels in order to wage their wars and operations.  This man, Malcolm Vance, said that he "watched as experienced military figures within the administration were sidelined by Cheney, Rumsfeld and their militia of ideologues.  'No one amongst those people had served in combat... and the civilian ideologues were put over into the Pentagon and they were the people who came up with what we call TCCC, 'Tom Clancy Combat Concepts.'"

        Eventually Rumsfeld was able to cut the CIA out of the middle in some operations and just direct special forces, a Cheney army, right out of the White House.

        From what we know about the operations John Brennan was operating in total secrecy out of the White House, with no oversight, using his own dedicated special forces, it sounds quite a bit like TCCC there too.

        Drones make all of that easier to do.

        "Justice is a commodity"

        by joanneleon on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:03:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  2 months of "Shock and Awe" alone killed 7,400 (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sir Roderick, jdsnebraska

        people in Iraq, according to some estimates. This was because there were tons of bombs dropped over the country.

        Are we really discussing the deaths of innocents here? If so, can anyone produce any evidence that, in the conducting of this war in Afghanistan, drones have killed as many people as just two months of the bombing campaign in Iraq?

        Incidentally the non-drone bombing campaign in Iraq has seen the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people from 2003 to 2007. According to certain estimates figures range from a half a million to more than a million deaths in only 4 years of the Iraq war.

        Anyone care to venture an opinion on whether drone usage has killed as many people in the same amount of time?

        What are we talking about here? Are we talking about saving lives or are we talking about being anti-drone? Perhaps then being anti-technology.

        If we are talking about saving lives then the utilization of drones has prevented more from dying in Afghanistan than bombing campaigns dubbed "Shock and Awe" in Iraq.

        There would be a better argument made to end all hostilities entirely across the world (and I hope you would be able to convince groups like Al-Qaeda of this) than to argue that somehow the utilization of drones is the evil of all evils as some seem to be arguing.

        •  "It's not as bad as Shock and Awe." (3+ / 0-)

          That's a good one!

          I'm going to have to remember that excuse.

          You never know when it might come in handy. Maybe I could have talked my way out of that speeding ticket last month, had I been prepared.

          •  No, you probably could have talked your way (0+ / 0-)

            out of that speeding ticket by accepting to the officer that your speeding could have  caused the deaths of yourself and other motorist on the roadway (I thought you anti-drone people were for saving lives) and that automobiles probably kill more people than drones any given month of the year, hmmmn?

            But I think it might also do you better to come up with a reason to be against drones than simply because Obama is using it.

            And in terms of drones not being as bad as "shock and awe"? Try drones not being as bad as dropping bombs willy nilly across Afghanistan.

            •  How about, "But, officer, at least I didn't... (0+ / 0-)

              ...nuke anybody"?

              And in terms of drones not being as bad as "shock and awe"? Try drones not being as bad as dropping bombs willy nilly across Afghanistan.
              •  "But officer at least I didn't nuke anybody"?? And (0+ / 0-)

                this is your argument for not getting a ticket? Hmmm. I see why the argument you folk employ against drones is so weak. No wonder 70 percent of the country disagrees with ya'll.

                Please allow me the permission to use your quote the next time I want to be arrested for something....

                •  Well, that does indeed seem to be your arguement. (0+ / 0-)

                  When the defenders of something themselves start comparing that which they are defending with horrendous acts of terrorism, that tells me quite a lot.

                  I'm not so much interested in how the comparison comes out, but in how far they had to reach for something comparable in their own minds.

                  You chose the comparison, not me.

                  Your comparison of drones with "Shock and Awe" or with dropping bombs on the people of another nation like Afghanistan as if it were a marathon in Boston or an elementary school in Newtown speaks volumes to me.

                  •  Still don't hear a point to your folks argument. (0+ / 0-)
                    •  I haven't made an arguement. (0+ / 0-)

                      If I, as an opponent of drones, were to compare them with a heinous act of terrorism like "Shock and Awe", it would be dismissed as an exercise in rhetorical hyperbole.

                      But when you, as a proponent of drones, make that very same comparison, it is much more revealing as to your true inner feelings about drones.

                      The comparison carries much more weight when made by a proponent such as yourself, than when made by an opponent such as myself.

                      I have no reason to step on your argument when you are arguing my case for me.

                      •  I wish I could make more sense of that, but glad (0+ / 0-)

                        to hear you say you are not arguing that "drones are bad because...." According to what I think you're saying, you have no “because”. If that's the case, I'm glad to hear you admit that in a roundabout way.

                        As for me, I'm not hiding my point, and oh yes, I will continue to make the point that bombing campaigns and the dropping of bombs over whole territories, indiscriminately, kill more people than drones. I'll make the point again so you can repeat that I have made it.

                        Bombing campaigns kill far more people than a targeted drone strikes do. Yes, here it comes.... Campaigns such as "Shock and Awe" is estimated to have killed over 7400 people in just two months in Iraq during 2003.

                        I don't think any of the anti-drone critics can say targeted drone strikes have killed as many in the many years that it has been utilized in the war against Al-Qaeda. Did you hear it? If you'd like I can repeat it again.

        •  This is more or less my attitude. (0+ / 0-)

          Yes, I'm aware of some of the ugliness caused by drone attacks.  I know about the double taps, the funeral, etc.  It's awful, and it would be better to transition away from the 2001 AUMF.  But there are degrees of awfulness.  In terms of death toll, we're talking 2-3 orders of magnitude less than our bombing campaign in Iraq.  To me, that matters significantly.

  •  I like them. (3+ / 0-)

    I've heard most of the arguments for and against them, and I'm not even sure how I feel about all of those arguments. I have a positive view of them mostly I think because they are a very cool technology and I am always attracted to neat new gizmos that can do things our ancestors couldn't have dreamt. The idea that a person in Washington sitting at a computer terminal can guide a weapon (or camera, or whatever) right into the house of a person living in Botswana or whatever is, you have to admit, very cool. I just have the feeling that on balance these things are going to be helpful to us and will end up saving lives, net net.

      •  What difference does it make anyhow (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Deep Texan, doroma, johnny wurster

        whether you or I think drones are cool or not? They exist, we use them, and their use is growing (as well as the number of countries and people with access to them). All that is happening, and will continue to happen, no matter what we here at Dkos say about them in these diaries. We're chitchatting about something important, but remember, we are just chitchatting. The decision on whether or not these things should proliferate is not ours to make.

        •  Not really apropos. (4+ / 0-)

          Drones are pinpoint accurate missiles, while H-bombs kill people over many square miles. Kind of opposites, actually, as far as munitions are concerned.

          •  Tell that to the jirga (10+ / 0-)

            or the kids walking along the road who were blown to bits by a missile from a drone aimed at a car on the road.

            But I give you credit for at least discussing your views honestly.  I suspect that most are too cowardly to come and defend their positive views about drones here.

            I also wonder how much you have read about the actual reports of how they are being used, especially the first hand accounts of people living under drones, or witnesses to the aftermath when civilians are killed (which is most of the time) or perhaps families of those killed by signature strikes when we don't even have any idea of the identity of the people we are killing.  It's guesswork.  They seem like they might be terrorists or they are in a certain geographical location, so we kill them.

            "Justice is a commodity"

            by joanneleon on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:08:01 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  We've made mistakes I'm sure. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              johnny wurster

              None of us want to fire drones at innocents. But when the intelligence is solid, we have little choice but to kill the perpetrators before they can act. It is the president's sworn duty, actually. And if unlucky innocents walking down the street are killed, that is a horrible but necessary cost of protecting ourselves. If those terrorists were planning the murder of people you love, you would push the button to take them out. You'd feel terrible about the innocent bystander, but not as bad as you'd feel if your children died in the terrorist attack you were able to break up.

              These are hard decisions, and I don't think enough people on this site are being honest with themselves in terms of their willingness to die at the hands of terrorists due to moral problems with drone warfare. It is because most here assume that in a country of over 300 million it will not be them that are the victims in the ensuing attack.

              •   98% of the deaths (7+ / 0-)

                were not high-value targets.  Many of those are civilians.

                But I think perhaps the most damning bit of evidence here is, most of the focus and, in the first clip that you played, the discussion centers on which individuals are placed on target lists, and I think that diverts attention from where, unfortunately, most of the killing has occurred, which is in the signature strikes. So, let me go to the numbers. Something on the order of 2 percent of those who have been killed have been identified as, quote-unquote, "high-value" targets, which means that 98 percent are not. So those who are being killed on a routine basis, unfortunately, are either low-level combatants or civilians.


                "Justice is a commodity"

                by joanneleon on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:44:15 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Given the clandestine nature of this (0+ / 0-)

                  business, and the lack of perfect information, I wouldn't put too much credence in those stats. If they are true, we all agree that 2% is too low and we need to do better. If the numbers were 98% the other way, you'd be okay with the program?

                •  whether they were high value or low level (0+ / 0-)

                  doesn't matter.  not a lot of people - reasonable people - will object to a strike just because it killed a midlevel al-Qaeda or taliban operative rather than a high level one.

                  •  Are we just going to ignore (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    truong son traveler

                    all the civilians in those numbers?

                    Are you still operating on the assumption that we even know who half the people who were killed were or what they were?  With signature strikes, we don't know who they are at all, they just look like a terrorist to us, or they are in the wrong area.

                    I will tell you this -- a lot of reasonable people will object to killing women and children and men who are not combatants, people who are first responders hit by double tap strikes, people who are not a threat or not even identified.

                    Reasonable people have designated those things as war crimes.

                    "Justice is a commodity"

                    by joanneleon on Fri May 03, 2013 at 10:08:32 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

              •  Myth. (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                joanneleon, truong son traveler

                That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

                by enhydra lutris on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:48:52 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  I, personally, would indeed rather be killed (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Aunt Martha, Agathena

                by a terrorist attack in Chicago than to authorize by my silence our criminal effort to "stop them over there so we don't have to stop them here."

                When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

                by PhilJD on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:04:50 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I don't believe you for a second. (0+ / 0-)

                  If someone put a gun up to your temple and told you that if a drone weren't launched you were going to die, you'd call in the strike yourself. You can't expect anyone to believe that you'd speak out against the drone and take a real bullet to your real head.

                  •  Now we are adding (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    truong son traveler, PhilJD

                    the detail of someone putting a gun up to his temple and saying "let me do this drone strike or you're going to die?"

                    Your arguments get more and more bizarre.

                    I'm not sure I'd make the same sacrifice that Phil would make, if I knew my family was going to be killed by a terrorist attack.  It's not a very plausible situation in the real world, but he's making a point that I understand very well.  New Hampshire even has something like that on their license plates "Live free or die".  So all Americans understand that concept, or did at one time anyway.  We are founded on concepts like that.  Many Americans have made statements about the trade offs between freedom and security. But a lot now seem to be willing to trade off their own rights and liberties, and everybody else's too, for some fig leaf of security.  

                    "Justice is a commodity"

                    by joanneleon on Fri May 03, 2013 at 10:19:14 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

    •  Well maybe one day (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      maryabein, LucyandByron

      when everybody has drones all warfare will just be our drones killing their drones.

      Of course, the Call Of Duty games of the future would suck then. Just a player in a chair controlling a character in a chair controlling a drone fighting against another drone controlled by a character in a chair controlled by a player in a chair somewhere. But maybe it'll be 3D or something.

      Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

      by NMDad on Fri May 03, 2013 at 01:42:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That would actually be wonderful if (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Deep Texan, NedSparks, doroma

        you think about it. War would be countries destroying each others' weapons, with people left out of it. Less death and destruction is always a good thing.

      •  Interesting thought (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Deep Texan, buddabelly, doroma

        Years and years ago I read a sci fi story in which that was the premise. People were conscripted to spend some period of months or years (don't remember that detail) at a console "battling" the other side at their consoles. Thing was, depending on the outcome of the battle, each side had to kill a certain number of their own folks. Having some "actual skin in the game" being necessary in order for the battles to have any "meaning".

        “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

        by Catte Nappe on Fri May 03, 2013 at 02:18:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wasn't that a star trek episode? (nt) (0+ / 0-)
          •  They could have done such a plot too (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            buddabelly, dream weaver

            I've watched a fair number of STs, but not all by any means. My memory on this story though is very distinctly printed page. Wish the memory was good enough to call up a title or author, but I am miserable at that. I might have read the most exciting book 6 months ago and can tell you the plot in detail; but not the title of the book or who wrote it.

            “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

            by Catte Nappe on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:08:02 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  "A Taste of Armageddon" (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Catte Nappe

              It's been a long time, but this is the Star Trek episode that I was thinking of.

              "A Taste of Armageddon" is a first-season episode of the original science fiction television series Star Trek. First broadcast on February 23, 1967 and repeated July 20, 1967, episode #23, production #23, written by Robert Hamner and Gene L. Coon, and directed by Joseph Pevney.

              In this episode, the crew of the USS Enterprise visits a planet whose people fight a computer simulated war with a neighboring enemy planet. The crew finds that although the war is fought via computer simulation, the citizens of each planet have to submit to real executions inside "disintegration booths" based on the results of simulated attacks. The crew of the Enterprise is caught in the middle and are told to submit themselves voluntarily for execution after being "killed" in an "enemy attack".

    • don't have to admit that, actually. (8+ / 0-)
      The idea that a person in Washington sitting at a computer terminal can guide a weapon (or camera, or whatever) right into the house of a person living in Botswana or whatever is, you have to admit, very cool.
    •  So far, the evidence is that they have taken (0+ / 0-)

      lives, net, net, net.

      That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

      by enhydra lutris on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:47:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'll bet you find... (0+ / 0-)

      ...this stuff pretty cool, too, huh?

    •  Disgusting comment, one of the worst ever (2+ / 0-)

      To thine ownself be true

      by Agathena on Fri May 03, 2013 at 09:25:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Killing people is bad for the killers, just as (6+ / 0-)

    torturing people is bad for the torturers. It dehumanizes them.
    Ordering people to kill is cowardly. Ordering an assassination by remote control is doubly cowardly.

    However......Given that Congress has ordered terrorists or suspected terrorists to be dealt with by the military and given that Congress refuses to have military on the ground, the Pentagon has little choice but to go through the air with a manned or unmanned vehicle.

    Congress is the culprit. They haven't repealed the AUMF yet, either.

    Yes, when the orders are the same, the execution tends to be the same -- more or less competent.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Fri May 03, 2013 at 01:59:01 PM PDT

    •  Yes, firing a drone from behind (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      johnny wurster

      a desk is indeed more cowardly than parachuting into hostile territory and entering the house on foot. But so what? Since when is it bad for us to want to protect ourselves and our troops, just because it is less bold and risky? Perhaps we should require that all assassinations be done using bare hands only, as that is the most honorable way of doing it.

      •  So what?! (6+ / 0-)

        So if there is no risk to us, we're a lot more likely to not much bother about who we kill.  If you have to kill someone up close and personal you might think about the risk to yourself or you might even have to see, hear, feel, or smell the person you kill.  Instead, it's a video game.

        •  There are some really bad people (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          johnny wurster

          out there, who want to kill you and I. That is the reason that drones make some sense. You may favor using them less than Obama does, but if you are saying that if you were president you would never ever use them, you would be derelict in your duty. You cannot have zero tolerance for killing and at the same time protect us from killers.

      •  It would increase the negligible odds that only (0+ / 0-)

        bad guys are killed. significantly.

        A) Bad guy john goes into pizza joint. Assassin enters and snuffs him - old school mafia movie style. John & only John is dead. If not John, no killing transpires.

        B) A guy somewhat resembling Bad guy john goes into pizza joint. We take out the city block where it is located. US style circa Iraq, etc. Very many dead, not sure if John is among them.

        C) A guy somewhat resembling Bad guy john goes into pizza joint.  We use a drone to take out the pizza joint. Many dead, not sure if John is among them. Fewer dead than in case B. Hurrah!!

        That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

        by enhydra lutris on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:01:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Note: Obama has used more drones than Bush (4+ / 0-)

    because he has far more available. The technology has improved a great deal over the last decade, and production has scaled up by an enormous factor.

    Bush used every drone he could.

    "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

    by Bob Love on Fri May 03, 2013 at 02:22:55 PM PDT

    •  You're probably right. But... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      truong son traveler

      Mr. Obama is not really worse than Bush...

      is a pretty low bar, wouldn't you say?

      When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

      by PhilJD on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:10:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's your bar. I'm merely offering a fact (0+ / 0-)

        that is omitted every time someone writes "Obama is using more drones than Bush." Bush used more drones than Hoover. Hoover used more airplanes than McKinley.

        Believe me, I've heard the gamut of talking points on this topic. I was only offering the one that is never mentioned. You're welcome.

        "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

        by Bob Love on Fri May 03, 2013 at 06:21:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary, david mizner! (4+ / 0-)

    Allow me to illustrate it.

    Our government has blood on its hands and it's not OK. Drone strikes kill many innocent civilians. Even former General Stanley McCrystal said so and he's not a lefty.

    I don't negotiate grand bargains with deficit terrorists!

    by priceman on Fri May 03, 2013 at 02:42:27 PM PDT

  •  Bug splat (10+ / 0-)

    "Bug splat" is a term that has actually been used by drone operators.  And they aren't the only ones.

    And, according to a 2003 Washington Post story, it's the name of a Defense Department computer program for calculating collateral damage, as well as, apparently, casual terminology among Pentagon operation planners and the like to refer to the collateral damage itself ... you know, the dead civilians. CIA drone operators talk about bugsplat. The British organization Reprieve calls its effort to track the number of people killed by U.S. drone strikes — in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen — Project Bugsplat.
    "But even when they're not targeting civilians, which is probably most of the time, they end up killing massive numbers of civilians," journalist Allan Nairn told Amy Goodman in a "Democracy Now!" interview last year.

    "The Pentagon has a word for that, too," he went on. "They call it 'bugsplat.' In the opening days of the invasion of Iraq, they ran computer programs, and they called the program the Bugsplat program, estimating how many civilians they would kill with a given bombing raid. On the opening day, the printouts presented to General Tommy Franks indicated that 22 of the projected bombing attacks on Iraq would produce what they defined as heavy bugsplat — that is, more than 30 civilian deaths per raid. Franks said, 'Go ahead. We're doing all 22.'"

    "Justice is a commodity"

    by joanneleon on Fri May 03, 2013 at 02:46:19 PM PDT

  •  Personally, I wouldn't want weaponized drones (5+ / 0-)

    flying around over my neighborhood, keeping an eye on things. Not even if they only just took out bad guys. Or people who hang around with bad guys. Or sometimes people they think are bad guys, but actually aren't.

    But hey, that could never happen here, right?

    •  The pro-surveillance argument is sooooo (5+ / 0-)


      If you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have to worry.
      Sounds reasonable on the face of it to most people. But here's the catch: Who gets to decide what constitutes  "wrong"? Unless you're living in complete denial with absolutely no clue about history or what's going on in the present, you should bloody well know that any sort of dissent that is Pro-Peace and Justice, no matter how peaceful or Constitutional, is considered "wrong".

      “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”

      by Oaktown Girl on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:34:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Republished to Group W. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:39:57 PM PDT

  •  No offense but there is some context missing..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    johnny wurster, jdsnebraska

    ... about war in general.

    The fact is conducting actions like this, whether it's a drone or an F15, is light years more "humane" than WWII.

    In WWII we would send 500 B17's and level entire cities to neutralize an objective. We killed 5+ MILLION German civilians in the conduct of bombing in WWII. Millions more Japanese.

    Clearly you would prefer there be no military action and no bombs, but there is an actual enemy who has clearly taken the fight TO US and so we fight.

    If we were the 21st century version of Genghis Khan, we'd just use anthrax and slaughter the entire population of "the tribal areas", etc, etc.

    Arguing over the tool is kind of pointless. You're real issue is with the fight itself.

    If we had an Orbital Death Ray (tm) that could make the specific bad guy's head explode, would that be ok? Or is it killing the target in the first place that is the problem?

    Oh, and I assume "Top Men" are in the lab as we speak, working on the whole Orbital Death Ray (tm) thing. ;P

  •  majority of dems support drones. (0+ / 0-)

    the opening to this diary is reminiscent of the "but I didn't know a single person that voted for Reagan" cry.

  •  "The Eye of the Drone" (2+ / 0-)
    I am approximately forty-six years old, though I do not know the exact date of my birth. I am a malice of my tribe, meaning that I am a man of responsibility among my people. One of my brother’s sons, Din Mohammed, whom I was very fond of, was killed by a drone missile on March 17, 2011. He was one of about forty people who died in this strike. Din Mohammed was twenty-five years old when he died. These men were gathered together for a jirga, a gathering of tribal elders to solve disputes. This particular jirga was to solve a disagreement over chromite, a mineral mined in Waziristan. My nephew was attending the jirga because he was involved in the transport and sale of this mineral. My brother, Din Mohammed’s father, arrived at the scene of the strike shortly following the attack. He saw death all around him, and then he found his own son. My brother had to bring his son back home in pieces. That was all that remained of Din Mohammed.
    from Harpers june 2012
    From statements made in February by the families of victims and survivors of a March 17, 2011, drone attack in the village of Datta Khel in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan. The statements were collected by the British human rights group Reprieve and were included in their lawsuit challenging the legal right of the British government to aid the United States in its drone campaign. More than half of all deaths from U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan have occurred in North Waziristan
    so humane

    To thine ownself be true

    by Agathena on Fri May 03, 2013 at 08:30:56 PM PDT

  •  The good news is someday the Chinese will stop (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    truong son traveler

    bankrolling all of this and it will be over finally. We can't be trusted to stop ourselves...

  •  Thank you for this thoughtful diary, David. (0+ / 0-)

    We're on the same page regarding the insanity of war.  I'm not sure what the solution is given the fact that killing something seems to be humanity's default position.  Perhaps that's the reason so many SF writers fall back on threats from outside the solar system as a uniting factor.  They've thought it through and realize we're not an advanced enough species to come to peaceful coexistence any other way.  

    I don't see drones as a solution to terrorism or war, they're a high-tech IED, another way to kill without high personal risk.  We'll have more of those in the near future unless we miraculously evolve beyond the control of our limbic systems.

    What's the solution, short of miraculous intervention?  Perhaps this will be our way of destroying ourselves and allowing room for another species to have a shot at the top of the food chain.  After weeks of Gunz and more gridlock on any effective change on serious issues, I'm pretty okay with saying human beings are NOT the product of intelligent design and the experiment should end before we kill every living creature.  

    I'm not looking for a love that will lift me up and carry me away. A love that will stroll alongside and make a few amusing comments will suffice.

    by I love OCD on Fri May 03, 2013 at 10:49:54 PM PDT

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