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June 14, 2012

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Given the choice between bombing and using a drone, I would think that using a drone is morally better almost all of the time.

The alternative to using a drone is using an F-16. F-16s can (and do) destroy targets with hellfire missiles, just like predator and reaper drones. F-16s also carry laser guided bombs, but so do reaper drones. So I'm not sure the distinction you're drawing is coherent.

I think ideally I would want to have the military analyze...

One really nice property that F-16s have is that they are all under the control of the military, so the pilots and ground staff that make targeting decisions all fall under the UCMJ and have some (notional -- please don't laugh) accountability. In contrast, some of our drone attacks are operated/targeted by the military, but some seem to be run by the CIA using contractors.

Can anyone defend that practice? Has anyone looked at USAF bombing runs in the past and said to themselves "Self, you know what we need? Less accountability when bombing...the USAF is way too cautious...we need a legal grey zone where people making targeting decisions can never be prosecuted no matter what"?

I was under the impression that the rationale for using drones was not that they were more accurate, but that they had become accurate enough to be worth using when compared to the possibility of having a pilot killed or captured, and cheaper to produce than a piloted aircraft.

It's important to understand that drone aircraft's original mission was surveillance and that remains the primary mission of the Predator. Drone aircraft can hang around for long periods of time, observing and confirming the identity of targets before taking action.

A piloted aircraft like an F-16 would have to coordinate with someone on the ground or a surveillance drone to have similar effectiveness, obviously putting more military personnel at risk.

Sorry, no. F-16s do not carry Hellfire missiles.

putting more military personnel at risk.

What risk would that be? As I understand it, we have complete air superiority in areas where drones are operating, so in terms of risk to pilots, there is none. Now, drones have much longer loiter time, so it is cheaper to operate a drone than an F-16....

Ah thanks for that correction Slarti, I was thinking of Maverick missiles. Unless someone can point out a relevant difference between the two precision guided air to ground missile systems, I think all my points stand.

so in terms of risk to pilots, there is none.

There is always a risk to pilots, even to commercial pilots. In any hostile situation, there is more risk to pilots. Just because there's "superiority" doesn't mean that there's no risk.

I think it's the right thing to ask questions about the morality of a "war." Once you answer the question that there is a war, you ask questions about how to win with minimum civilian, and then military, casualties. If drones help to minimize casualties while helping win a war, I'm in favor of using them. Obviously the "war" question is the threshold. What it means to "win" is also relevant.

As to accountability, that's a separate issue. Making the government accountable for its actions doesn't depend on the technology being used. It depends on Congress's willingness to exercise oversight, and thereby share the political fallout for decisions made. That's not what's happening now. Congress now says: "We authorize you, Mr. President, to do whatever it takes. And you'd better do a lot, because if a terrorist attack occurs, it's on you. If what you do is ugly, and politically unpopular, it's on you. We have nothing whatsoever at stake."

I don't see accountability as a bunch of people in Washington sharing responsibility--in practice that means nobody is accountable. That'll be true whether it is Obama or Obama + Congress.

Accountability would be something like, I don't know, an international criminal court examining whether or not war crimes have been committed. I say "international criminal court" because it's not going to happen in a domestic court and certainly nobody is going to be impeached for something silly like war crimes. It's also not going to happen in the ICC either, because laws are only for the non-powerful.

In short, there's no such thing as accountability, unless you believe in an afterlife. Not for Americans and not for their allies (unless they make the mistake of no longer being our allies).

So setting aside the whole accountability thing, it's a question of whether we should be a little more careful about who we kill and I'd say yes. The NYT had a piece on this today, cited by Greenwald of course, but you can go to it directly--

Some guy from Yemen who actually has an opinion on this

Also the apparent accuracy leads to problematic situations that may not have existed with bombing strikes. The idea of using a bombing strike to kill a 'bad' American citizen doesn't seem very likely. But a drone strike? Apparently the administration thinks that is different.

If an American citizen had been working for the Nazis or the Japanese during the various bombing strikes that were conducted against those countries, that American would very well have been bombed to smitherenes along with a huge host of other people whose individual responsibilities would probably not have been questioned as long as the target was a legitimate military target (or not - a whole couple of cities, for example).

The fact is, people get killed in wars. My saying that doesn't mean that I approve of any people getting killed in any wars, but you do have to go through the analysis. Is it a war? People are going to get killed without the kind of "due process" that assures that the right people are going to get killed. Is it a criminal prosecution? People really shouldn't get killed without due process (notice, hearing, right to confront witnesses, counsel), in other words, people are identified as wrongdoers.

War is sad, ugly and definitely something to be avoided. But once people decide that war is necessary, then wars need to be fought to win - again, attempting to kill "legitimate targets".

I don't doubt that if a drone strike (or bomb, or gun) kills a child (or a civilian, or even a "legitimate target" person), that the dead person's relatives will become enemies of the country controlling the drone. That's a consideration that a country has to make when it goes to war. And it's a consideration that a country at war has to make in determining how to fight the war. This isn't a novel thought or a revelation. There's not been a moment in the 20th or 21st century when war wasn't prominently in the news. None of this is new. The same old questions: Should we be fighting a war? If we are, and we shouldn't, how do we stop it? If we should be fighting it, how do we accomplish more good than evil?

These are hard and eternal questions, and they have nothing to do with the technology we're using.

Sure, your point stands, Turb. But Maverick is to Hellfire about what a 500 lb bomb is to Maverick. Just a smidgen difference in size.

"These are hard and eternal questions, and they have nothing to do with the technology we're using."

You are wrong because the cost-benefit analysis is powerfully effected, maybe even determined, by the expense, lethality, and reliability of the technology we use.

Or maybe you were trying to say that these questions of morality will always be with us regardless of technological advancement, which is also not necessarily true - what if we figure out how to accurately knock enemy forces unconscious safely?

I'm not 100% positive on what what you were trying to say. War is bad, that's sad, but we need to suck it up?

There is always a risk to pilots, even to commercial pilots. In any hostile situation, there is more risk to pilots. Just because there's "superiority" doesn't mean that there's no risk.

Sure, there's always a risk, but you know what F-16 pilots who aren't deployed to Afghanistan are doing right now? Flying training missions to get their flight time in. So, in the absence of any documented anti air capability in Pakistan, its not clear that there's any significant extra risk.

Making the government accountable for its actions doesn't depend on the technology being used.

But it does depend on institutions and their unique culture within the government. I mean, isn't this why civil libertarians are complaining about the militarization of police forces? Surely one does not respond to such objections by saying "meh, we trust the military (read: government) with tactical nuclear weapons so we should also trust the LAPD (read: government) with the same weapons".

The fact is that the US military, despite it secrecy, offers a level of transparency that the CIA doesn't and transparency is related to competence. For example, every year, the US Navy publishes a list of captains whose commands have been terminated because they fucked up. It is not clear that anyone has ever been fired from CIA because of incompetence. Certainly, they never publicize it. From what we know though, the CIA is rife with incompetence; in fact, it appears to have cultivated a culture of incompetence.

Just a smidgen difference in size.

Yeah, wikipedia says the difference is between 20 pounds and 125 pounds of high explosive. What's an extra 100 pounds of high explosives between friends?

Actually, the technology does matter to some degree, since the illusion of precision allows people to think that certain forms of killing are clean, so if civilians get killed we did the best we could even if we really didn't. The precision of the weapon doesn't mean much if you don't know who you are shooting at, and the government's definition of who deserves to die can be flexible when applied to Arabs, because it's not going to be an election issue. (The leaking about it might, but that's a typically stupid Washington posturing thing on both sides. Oh my God, someone let out the secret that we are killing people with drones. What will the people in Yemen say when they find out?) Also, the sheer beauty of this drone thing is that there is no end to it. We can kill people forever, so long as there is someone somewhere who might be defined as a terrorist, which seems likely enough and so long as we have heroic philosopher princes in the WH willing to make the oh-so-solemn decision to blow this person or that person up, after reading up on his Aquinas and Augustine. We might stop doing this if other countries acquire drones and start using them in our airspace, picking out bad Americans and blowing them up, sometimes hitting the wrong people, but war is hell and it's sad and tragic and so on and so forth. But I can't really see that happening--we won't let it happen, the rules we use aren't applicable to others and besides, how likely is it that there are Americans who might strike a foreigner as being in any way evil? Foreigners can be very silly in their judgments, but surely not that silly. Thank God. No, the sad burden of killing bad people rests squarely on our shoulders.

I gather some keenly observant Israelis call this sort of talk "shooting and crying". A really brilliant phrase, I think.

Okay, I'm going to cut the sarcasm, though really, sarcasm is all I feel like using tonight. The whole "war is hell" justification for why it's okay to use this or that tactic against civilians is a major blot against General Sherman's record and as for WWII, there ought to be an extension of Godwin's Law that predicts that any discussion about wartime ethics invariably leads to someone invoking some action taken by the Allies against civilians in what was generally a just and necessary war as an excuse for something we do now. In fact, all WWII analogies everywhere should cease immediately. Munich, Hiroshima, strafing and bombing civilians, etc... If you can't make your point without referring to them, you lose.

The fact is that the US military, despite it secrecy, offers a level of transparency that the CIA doesn't and transparency is related to competence.

That's because the law requires transparency in the military, not because the military is inherently more transparent or because drone technology is inherently secretive. Someone can change this: Congress.

If you can't make your point without referring to them, you lose.

If you have to ignore history in order to make your argument, you lose. I'm not glorifying war, but there are situations where war is legitimate. If you disagree, you're a pacifist and that's fine, but it's a different issue than whether drone technology is appropriate.

If an American citizen had been working for the Nazis or the Japanese during the various bombing strikes that were conducted against those countries,

Yes, well, "if" seems to be a very, very big question in many of these cases, the answer to which is, "Trust us!"

If you have to ignore history in order to make your argument, you lose.

Some things really are sui generis and as such are not useful for future decision making.

"That's because the law requires transparency in the military, not because the military is inherently more transparent or because drone technology is inherently secretive. Someone can change this: Congress."

As far as I can tell no one claimed that "the military is inherently more transparent" or "drone technology is inherently secretive," so your point is yet again irrelevant. The fact that Congress can theoretically revamp the CIA into a more accountable organization is not an argument against having the military do drone strikes. If you can choose between me and a doctor to treat your cough, you don't keep using me just because I could theoretically become a doctor. You fly drones with the accountable professionals you have, not the accountable professionals you'd like to have, etc etc.

Also, you haven't provided a reason that the CIA is better at running the drones than the military.

"If you have to ignore history in order to make your argument, you lose. I'm not glorifying war, but there are situations where war is legitimate."

Who said we should ignore history?

Please, please stop making the solemn "sometimes war is justified, guys ... read a book srsly" argument. I agree. Everyone agrees.

The real argument is whether drones strikes run secretly by the CIA (in the way in which they're currently run) fall within the category of justified means of waging war. And even if they do - could we do it better?

You keep reiterating the same argument (which no one disputes) to avoid making the harder one. But please be reassured, everyone agrees with your blindingly obvious point. And feel free to engage on the less obvious ones.

Julian, to answer your earlier question, which I hadn't seen, whether I think War is bad, that's sad, but we need to suck it up? my answer is yes - if a war is justified.

As to whether the CIA or the military should do the piloting, I think the comments by Chuchundra and Priest are relevant. What's your view? I don't see that it makes a difference who executes an operation that the President authorizes with Congressional approval.

Is there really any argument that we don't know what's happening?

I don't understand how Chuchundra'a or Priest's comments are relevant specifically to the CIA/military question. They seem to me to be addressing the piloted-aircraft/drone question. Certainly, once you come down on the drone side, the CIA comes into play, since they don't pilot aircraft. But that's the point at which the institutional differences between the CIA and military have to be considered.

That the president authorizes the actions of either with congressional approval doesn't wash away the differences in the risks between the CIA's and the military's initial advocacy and subsequent execution of a given action. Just because the president and (supposedly) congress can and does give approval in either case, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are equally good ideas.

I don't think it's a matter of people not knowing what's happening so much as that, from what we do know, it looks like the CIA is a lot more screwed up than the military. And the fact that the CIA gets to blow people up from the air results from the existence of pilotless drones, which is why we're talking about their relative screwed-up-edness under the subject topic.

Am I missing something?

I don't see that it makes a difference who executes an operation that the President authorizes with Congressional approval.

Exactly. On to Baghdad! And none of this fncking complaining, see approval, Congressional.

Am I missing something?

Yes. Whether the CIA (which has a long history, some of which involves exceeding its lawful authority, etc.) carries out drone attacks under the supervision of the President, or the military (which has a long history, some of which involves exceeding its lawful authority, etc.) does it, the issue is whether drone attacks are an appropriate tool of war.

What is striking to me is that most of the people here who object to our use of drones would also object to the characterization of this conflict as "war". They object to using any military (as well as CIA) action against people in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. They basically believe that we should find a way to arrest people and bring them to trial (and, of course, without any kind of "kidnapping" or rendition). In other words, they don't really want to do anything about the people who are plotting terrorist attacks and training people to carry them out. I think the conversation would be different if everyone here were assuming that we should be, somehow, at war with these people, which is why I think it's silly to talk about drones when we're not really stipulating to many of the threshold questions.

Ugh, never change.

I think the argument would be much simpler if we did not have such a recent history of deception. Tim Wilkinson states it well here.

http://crookedtimber.org/2012/06/08/international-law-and-drone-strikes/#comment-418181

"If you have to ignore history in order to make your argument, you lose."

Insert string of expletives.

Look, the problem with the moronic WWII analogies is that there are endless details you have to go into in order to discuss what happened back then and then to apply it to today requires arguing about whether the strafing of civilians that Chuck Yeager described in his autobiography is analogous to drone strikes in Yemen, or whether the bombing of Hiroshima is more justifiable or less justifiable than Nagasaki or Tokyo...

Historical analogies can be useful if the two events are very similar. I don't see a great deal of similarity in what Obama is doing in Yemen and what the US and GB did in taking Western Europe back from the Nazis. I don't think the people we are bombing in Yemen are similar in any significant way to the Nazis. The threat level seems a bit different too.

But by all means, sapient, go ahead and claim the mantle of historical authority if it makes you feel better.

Yama001, the comment was interesting as far as it applied to the Bush administration, and its tendency to use the war on terror to justify all kinds of things having nothing to do with the terrorist attack of September 11. I quit reading though when it seemed like Tim Wilkinson didn't want to move on a bit further.

The September 11 attack was real, and had been predicted. The country that was harboring al Qaeda was Afghanistan, a country we had little to do with at the time. The attack on the U.S. justified a response. I'm happy to discuss the quality of our response: I didn't vote for Bush. I didn't think he was elected properly. I thought at the time that he was an incompetent and untrustworthy President, and I didn't want him to lead the country into military actions. All of this proved to true. But if Osama bin Laden had been killed in a drone attack before 9/11, arguably millions of lives would have been spared (or maybe Bush would have found another reason to do what he did, but he would have had to dream up a different justification).

Donald, I didn't say that WWII was the same as what's happening today. But there are some parallels, and in terms of the damage done within our borders, al Qaeda did more damage. And their "movement" (or whatever the hell it is) is nothing but destructive and evil. Their policy is to recruit young people to kill themselves and take as many other people with them as possible. Do you disagree? And they succeed quite often, killing many, and destabilizing and terrorizing huge numbers of people. Maybe we should just let them keep at it.

I find our reliance on drones as weapons disturbing, because they would be such effective weapons when used against us. When our technological advantage in this area is dissipated, we will find it hard to justify why this is unacceptable to a world full of those who have condemned our use of drones.

There is a difference between F-16 pilots lying training missions over friendly territory and bombing mission sover hostile. If something bad happens, the pilot in the first case just has to get out and land safely. in the latter case he risks to be captured by people who a) are really mad at him and b) probably do not care about legal niceties. In the World Wars downed bomber pilots have been killed on occasion by civilians in countries where civilians usually are not of the type doing that (unlike some countries the US operate in).
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Having none-military state employees kill in war (in our case by remote-controlled drone) is almost certainly a violation of international law the US are signatory to. Having it done by people that are not even directly employed by the state (i.e. contractors) is definitely so.
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Another 'advantage' of the drones is to put even more of a psychological distance between killer and victim. Even in the early days of aerial warfare (or even before that the use of long range artillery) 'detachment' was noticed, the targets turned from living human beings to abstract concepts. But the actors were still to a degree physically there. The plane could get shot down, that battery overrun etc. These days it has become a video game even in the helicopters (cf. the infamous video) where the only thing missing is a score counter. One of these days a drone 'pilot' will complain that he can get a more realistic experience from a commercial video game and that the state should invest some extra bucks to improve the graphics and add a rousing score (not to forget that access to the cheat codes would be appreciated).
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For the victims and their relatives a drone may make them even more angry than a manned bomber or a flesh-and-blood infantryman coming to them with lethal force. See argument above about killed downed bomber pilots. Somehow humans want some respect, personal effort and involvement even from their murderers and get angry when denied that. There would imo be far less hatred against the US if US actions were not so notoriously callous.
aka http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ButForMeItWasTuesday>But for me it was Tuesday.

Tsam: When our technological advantage in this area is dissipated, we will find it hard to justify why this is unacceptable to a world full of those who have condemned our use of drones.

We have a particular formula for the use of drones. 1) that we have a legitimate target (someone who is a legitimate threat to the nation), 2) that the person we're targeting is in an area of the world whose government either can't or won't surrender the person to a system of justice. If we can't or won't surrender a legitimate enemy target to another nation, perhaps that nation does have the right to use a drone. That's when diplomacy, etc., comes in handy. It's not that we're racing around the world killing whatever unkind people we think are around. We're acting in those particular areas because they are failed states. (Pakistan is not technically a "failed state" but it's close, and its border with Afghanistan would be considered such. I think the whole idea of "somebody would be justified in doing the same thing to the U.S." is a little bit far-fetched. Of course, if the country continues to be dominated by people who are intent on destroying government, we may well get there.

Hartmut: "notoriously callous"? Evidence? Or is it just "general knowledge" of German people that Americans are notoriously callous? Because the stereotype could certainly be reversed.

We have a particular formula for the use of drones...I think the whole idea of "somebody would be justified in doing the same thing to the U.S." is a little bit far-fetched.

Cough. Sputter. What?

According to your formula, the UK would have been completely justified in bombing whole neighborhoods in Boston back in the day when large numbers of Irish folk in Boston where funneling money, guns, and explosives to the IRA while the US government knew about it and did nothing, despite myriad complaints from the UK. I'm not talking about something in the distant past, but something that happened less than 20 years ago, in my neighborhood.

So, let's be absolutely clear: are you OK with saying that the UK government would have been perfectly justified in bombing parts of Boston in order to eliminate terrorist support and funding?

Hartmut: "notoriously callous"? Evidence?

You know, when I compare the percentage of children who go hungry or without medical care in the US versus the corresponding percentage in Germany, the idea that Americans are notoriously callous is probably the best possible spin I can come up with.

In other words, they don't really want to do anything about the people who are plotting terrorist attacks and training people to carry them out.

I guess I was missing something. But thanks for clearing that up!

Our use of drones seems reasonable from the viewpoint in the US, but assuming that everyone else in the world will agree with our perception of what is "reasonable" and what is not -- and that this will limit everyone's behavior -- feels to me like something that will blow up in our faces someday, when drones can be bought elsewhere.
Many in the world regard recent US officials as having captives mistreated or tortured. Assuming that we know what others will judge beyond the pale doesn't make everyone everywhere think that.
I can see why we are using the tools that we currently have a monopoly on at the present. Refusing to do this probably would not make us much safer. But no monopoly on technology lasts very long. Nuclear weapons have mostly been kept in the hands of a few nations. Drones will be much easier to duplicate in a world where our electronic capabilities are not that unusual.

You know, when I compare the percentage of children who go hungry or without medical care in the US versus the corresponding percentage in Germany, the idea that Americans are notoriously callous is probably the best possible spin I can come up with.

Stats, Turbulence? I'm not suggesting that our health care system is as good as the German model, but children are covered under CHIP. Not sure about the "hunger" element, but I do know that in Germany as well as the U.S., poverty rates among children exceed those of adults.

I admire a lot of things about Europe, including their health systems, public transportation, etc., but I think you're pretty much wrong if you think they are "more compassionate" as a population. It's pretty tricky to try to assess people's level of compassion on the basis of their national origin (tends towards racism, IMO), so it's my practice not to buy into those kinds of stereotypes.

So, let's be absolutely clear: are you OK with saying that the UK government would have been perfectly justified in bombing parts of Boston in order to eliminate terrorist support and funding?

Bombing parts of Boston? Have we been sending drones to densely populated areas? Please provide examples.

Would it have been justified? Perhaps - I don't know the details about how much the U.S. government "knew about it and did nothing". Would it have been smart? No, of course not. It helps us that we have an organized government and strong military.

... continued from my previous comment:

*** It helps us that we have an organized government and strong military. It's also nice that the U.S. has strong diplomatic, military, social and economic ties with the UK. There's no real parallel. But sure, if Britain felt that its security was hugely threatened by people operating in the U.S., and the U.S. did nothing about it, they would be "justified" (not necessarily smart, but "justified") in taking measures against those people.

Sapient: "That's because the law requires transparency in the military, not because the military is inherently more transparent or because drone technology is inherently secretive. Someone can change this: Congress."


Or me. Or the commenters on OW, assembled into the form of a giant mech.


All three are about as likely.

So we're currently at war with Yemen? Guess I missed the part where Congress declared war, or the President even said a word about it. Apparently wars are now declared secretly.

Or are you saying we're currently "at war" with terrorists (everywhere, foreign and domestic, for eternity?) Again, when was that declared? And if we're at war, then certainly bombing rescue workers and mourners is a war crime. So I assume you'll be pressing for prosecution at the Hague of Obama, Axelrod, and the rest of the folks who authorized and carried out such bombings.

What is striking to me is that most of the people here who object to our use of drones would also object to the characterization of this conflict as "war".

What's so striking about it? I'd wager that some here are deeply uneasy with our role as the world's hegemon and the foreign policies we implement in order to maintain that position. This "war", as you call it, is a direct result of those policies, policies consciously adopted to insure we stay on top (ongoing support for the thugs running Saudi Arabia which see).

The fact that we have found an incredibly cheap way to wage the current "war" against our "enemies" must come as a great deal of relief to those who never even think to question our hegemony and seek to maintain it. Think of the resources saved!

Tom Allen, see the AUMF. Perhaps you don't interpret it the way the President and Congress seem to (and the Supreme Court, so far as they've seen fit to comment), but it is a de facto declaration of war, and certainly Constitutional. (In other words, that dog - the dog that no war was declared - won't hunt.)

bobbyp, what's striking about it is that the argument isn't really about drones, now, is it? I certainly agree with you that our foreign policy has had its flaws, and that our position as the world's most powerful nation has its downside. If we resigned from that role, I don't have any confidence that a better, more compassionate superpower would take our place. I, frankly, don't mind the fact that the United States is powerful. It has a huge responsibility not to use its power unwisely. It did so in Iraq (for example). I don't think that its actions against al Qaeda operatives (its war, if you will) is similarly unwise.

sapient, it is to a large degree because I am German that I feel justified to call American leaders (and a significant portion of the population) callous as far as force against non-(real)-Americans is concerned. When I get the impression that US speechwriters make ample use of translated Nazi material* (and sometimes going back to old Willy II and his gang) I cringe. I have spotted some Stalin quotes too out of the mouth of RWers but that's far less common. When I hear (or read) Rummy and Chain-Eye I feel right at home in a very unpleasant way. Or if you want more concrete Godwin-free examples look at the official reactions to the countless blown up weddings (such a regular event that it has become a running gag worldwide).
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There are quite a lot of US politicians that have to be careful about travelling abroad because they risk to get arrested and charged with war crimes etc. Rummy, while still SecDef, almost cancelled a trip to a NATO meeting in Europe because there was an actual motion to have him arrested at the airport, and it took an official order from the executive branch to the police to not act on the arrest warrant and a personal guarantee of safe conduct for Rummy to take the trip after all. The US have clearly stated that US citizens (implied: of rank) will not be rendered to foreign courts for crimes committed (Congress even discussed the possibility of invading the Netherlands to free US citizens from the clutches of the ICC) but clearly has no intention either to prosecute them at home. Essentially the situation that the US use as justification for drone strikes. So, unless one subscribes to the idea of American exceptionalism as expressed by GOPsters (and some but far fewer Dems), I see no legal-logical reason for other states not to send drones to Florida (where anti-Castro terrorists are sheltered) or Washington to get the guys. Fear of retaliation is no legal reason.
Oh, I nearly forgot, The US have an official list enumerating the value of citizens of different states, in case that some collateral damage has to be compensated (it made some minor headlines when the list got leaked a few years ago).

*btw, there was serious discussion whether John Yoo used an actual Nazi regulatory document on torture for his infamouzs memo since parts looked like almost literal translation.

"We have a particular formula for the use of drones. 1) that we have a legitimate target (someone who is a legitimate threat to the nation)"

Such touching faith in the wisdom and good intentions of our government--the same one that tried to pretend an air strike that killed women and children in Yemen was carried out by the government there. And you sound as though you didn't even read the recent NYT story on this. Sure, the Obama people claim they are being careful--and John Brennan even claimed that we hadn't killed any civilians at one point. And then there's their criteria for judging guilt--if you are a military aged male killed by one of our strikes then you are assumed to be a "militant" until proven guilty.

"I think the whole idea of "somebody would be justified in doing the same thing to the U.S." is a little bit far-fetched. Of course, if the country continues to be dominated by people who are intent on destroying government, we may well get there."

Spoken like a citizen of a superpower who takes it for granted that his government has the right to use force and others don't. The US for decades under both Democrats and Republicans has supported dictators and violent groups (that we'd call terrorists if they were on the other side) and we've committed war crimes ourselves and nobody is held accountable for it (except for a few low-ranking scapegoats). Obviously there is no penalty for US government officials to continue to act this way. That's the benefit of being a superpower--you get to set the rules and you apply the moral standards that are convenient and that you can get away with. It's depressing to see some "liberals" adopting this viewpoint, but it's nothing new. It always seemed likely that much (not all) of the outrage directed at Bush's crimes was motivated by partisanship.

It's farfetched that anyone would use drones against the US because we would react forcefully. It's that superpower factor I just mentioned. Otherwise, of course they would. They'd use them against us and some of our allies and in some cases their reasons would be as valid as ours. That's how things are when there is no such thing as a rule of law that applies equally to everyone.


" Do you disagree? And they succeed quite often, killing many, and destabilizing and terrorizing huge numbers of people. Maybe we should just let them keep at it."

Maybe we should recognize that our policies over there, under both Democrats and Republicans, contribute to an atmosphere where extremist hate groups can gain popularity. Maybe we shouldn't dismiss the words of a person who lives in Yemen and tells us that this is happening. Or maybe not.


"ombing parts of Boston? Have we been sending drones to densely populated areas? Please provide examples."

This is fatuous. Drone warheads aren't very big, so the collateral damage is limited to people in the vicinity. You don't have to be living in a metropolitan area of millions to kill bystanders. All it takes is a village, and maybe not even that. Plus I gather there are air strikes aimed at rescue parties.

"his right"

BTW, apologies for the gender assumption. His or her. (I was called out on this at another blog recently.)

Hartmut, we're not talking about the Bush administration here.
We're talking about the current policy of trying to use surgical strikes (and, I know, they aren't always that) to kill specific people who are in an organized effort to destroy civilians who live in populations they don't like.

And Donald, that means the U.S. That means Spain. That means England. That means Somalia. That means Nigeria. These people aren't just complaining because they don't like United States policy as to Israel or Saudi Arabia. They're fundamentalist jerks who hate the West (in part because women are aloud to run around showing their faces here). And I'm sure they have a lot of other gripes.

Look, I already acknowledged that the reason people wouldn't use drones against people here is because we'd retaliate. This is beside the point.

We had "actionable intelligence" that al Qaeda intended to do something, and they did. Let's just ignore them and let them do it again. Or maybe not such a big thing - maybe let's just let them take down airplanes. Or maybe let them bring in some loose nuke. It's crazy not to stop these jerks. It's sad they hang around with their families while they're training other people's teenagers to blow themselves up. We should definitely try to avoid hitting the civilians. But we shouldn't avoid killing them. They don't have an argument - they just have hate.

Plus I gather there are air strikes aimed at rescue parties.

It certainly would be nice if you would provide a credible link to such accusations.

The Obama administration is a wee bit better at avoiding public embarassments but I think a good number of them would also qualify for a trip to the ICC. Iirc Clinton started the extraordinary renditions and also dabbled in 'surgical strikes' (then still carried out by manned planes). Imo GOPsters are just more blatant.

"women are aloud" ...

Editors, where are you?

Anyway, women are allowed to show their faces in this society. This royally pisses the al Qaeda types off. And, yes, you don't need to school me on the fact that some enemies of al Qaeda also hate [oppress] women. But the purist religious fundamentalists, resenting the possibility that our world community doesn't easily accommodate their ridiculous crap: this is their argument, that we can see women's faces, and we shouldn't. If that's not their argument, Donald, what is their argument? Their argument isn't what might be your legitimate argument that, in the past, we've acted as imperialists. They're not with you, Donald, that the world should be a place that values civil liberties and human rights. I'm the one who is with you on that, Donald. Not the al Qaeda teenage suicide-bomber/civilian murderer trainers.

Some of us are reflexively against war, and that's better than being reflexively for war. But it's the right thing to do to stop these people. If they want to rethink their strategy (suicide bombing civilians), and they have a real point (other than enslaving women), maybe I'll march right with them. But their agenda is crap.

Iirc Clinton started the extraordinary renditions and also dabbled in 'surgical strikes' (then still carried out by manned planes). Imo GOPsters are just more blatant.

Again, this is perfectly okay. Argue that it isn't instead of assuming it. The kinds of "extraordinary renditions" in places where there was no possibility of legal extraditions: Hartmut, is it cool with you that people can camp out in places with no effective governments (the libertarians' dream) and plot horrible murder and mayhem on the rest of humanity? I'm totally in favor of renditions (not extraditions) where that is the case. Likewise "surgical strikes". Sue me: I'm a liberal Democrat, and I hate people who train teenagers to be suicide bombers.

...maybe I'll march right with them.

When they were fighting the Russians, you did.

Even if we leave out legal questions for a moment, it does not look like sending drones is a net reducer of people willing to do stuff that displeases us. That's one point Rummy got right: the question is, do we kill them faster than they can regrow?
Does not look like that to me. And the general US attitude does not help either.
Of course under the premise that there will be killing (which seems unnegotiable), drones are the means of choice until the first Terminators come off the assembly line.
---
As an aside, we will (almost) all pray for the return of the current situation when John Bolton becomes US SecState, a move Romney is seriously considering.

bobbyp, yep - I realize that, but they weren't training teenagers to go suicide bomb people; they were trying to get the Russians out of Afghanistan. (And, yes, I also realize that the Russians had the intention of bringing about a more humane government, and that we weren't on their side in that.)

Our foreign policy is complicated, but I don't see any ulterior motive that we have with regard to our fight against these particular people at this particular time. So unless people think that we should be doing penance for all of our previous foreign policy mistakes, allowing them to go forward with their random violence doesn't really make sense.

Hartmut, I'm not persuaded that the current drone program is spawning more terrorism, but maybe it is. Again, I don't think that ignoring those people is a valid alternative. And you're right, the thought of Republicans gaining back the power to do what they do is hugely upsetting.

Someone is actually on Obsidian Wings making the argument that we have to commit drone strikes because of TEH FEMINISM and it's going unchallenged. #smdh

Phil, actually, no. But, of course, you know that wasn't my point (as I stated - there are plenty of anti-feminists in cultures embracing "traditional religion" and they aren't targets of drones). My point is that these particular women haters are so full of bile that they train boys of high school student age (not their own sons, probably) to blow themselves up and take as many other people down with them. Nice. I don't care whether they're freaking suffragettes. They don't have a political movement other than to terrorize everyone around them.

And, they're not popular even among people with similar religious orientation.

But sure, let them do their thing.

Have you made an argument yet that's not nearly fully comprised of straw men? (e.g., "But sure, let them do their thing." If not, can you let me know when you plan to get around to that?

I don't care whether they're freaking suffragettes.

Then bringing up their attitudes towards and treatment of women in this thread repeatedly is relevant because . . .? At least as recently as 15 hours ago, it was a major lynchpin of your argument here, or at least you were willing to pretend it was:

Anyway, women are allowed to show their faces in this society. This royally pisses the al Qaeda types off. . . . this is their argument, that we can see women's faces, and we shouldn't. If that's not their argument, Donald, what is their argument? Their argument isn't what might be your legitimate argument that, in the past, we've acted as imperialists.
I mean, you make it clear here that your positions is, "Blab all you want about imperialism, but the real issue is TEH FEMINISM."

So which is it? Pick one. You can't have both.

Yeah, wikipedia says the difference is between 20 pounds and 125 pounds of high explosive. What's an extra 100 pounds of high explosives between friends?

It's not a matter of "between friends"; it's a matter of being correct vs. being incorrect. Also: I've been around guys who have been doing test-firings of Hellfire from an A-10, and the difficulty encountered through that jump in airpseed from e.g. Apache to A-10 resulted in nontrivial problems.

And not intending to threadjack.

So which is it? Pick one. You can't have both.

I can have whatever reasons I wish. I haven't seen anyone argue that these people who are using teenaged boys to blow themselves and a bunch of other civilians up have any kind of worthwhile agenda. All they have is hate, murder and to top it off, enslavement of women.

I have one question that no one here seems to want to address: do we just let them have at it, even though we have the means to stop them? If not, what's your plan?

"It certainly would be nice if you would provide a credible link to such accusations."

I think it shows you're not really following the issue if that accusation came as news. And you could google it yourself--

google search

Here's one particular article from that list--

link


Anyway, it seems your position boils down to two things--

1. We gotta kill Al Qaeda before it kills us. But maybe it'd be smart to fight Al Qaeda in ways that doesn't alienate people. Or at least try a little harder. I can't see how anyone who read the NYT piece on Obama's drone policy could think that we are doing that currently.

2. Classic white man's burden stuff, the same arguments that conservatives and liberal hawks use to justify all of our stupid wars--We have to go overseas and kill bad people. Yeah, sure, very convincing. It's worked so well over the centuries. Why don't we first start with holding ourselves and our own allies accountable for our own crimes? That would go a long way towards winning the support of the people whose good will we'd need if we wanted to fight extremists in an intelligent way. I know this argument means absolutely nothing to you, but that's the problem I have with your position.

From the article:

"The bureau’s findings are based on interviews with witnesses to strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area, where reporting is often dangerous and difficult. American officials have questioned the accuracy of such claims, asserting that accounts might be concocted by militants or falsely confirmed by residents who fear retaliation."

But you immediately believe the worst about Americans and the best about the people who we are fighting against, just as in Afghanistan, the Taliban is responsible for the huge majority of civilian casualties, but their people believe the propaganda that we are. I think it's important to scrutinize our actions, but automatically buying into unreliable stories spread by people who might either sympathize or be intimidated with the enemy is as bad as believing that none of our military is capable of war crimes.

I don't doubt that ugly crimes occur, but they aren't policy and I don't believe every unreliable account. Thank God you're not a defense attorney (or maybe you are, which would be unfortunate).

When we're dealing with people plotting against us, it's not "white man's burden". It's self defense. It would be an example of "white man's burden" to, say, gratuitously decide to free the women of Pakistan from honor killings. We're not doing that. We're killing people who are planning to bomb us (who also happen to be hateful people). Big difference.

We know that US officials have lied on a regular base about the effects of strikes and I did not get the impression that the Obama people are more truthful there than the Bush people. Although the truthfulness of locals in the struck areas should not be taken as a given, I have yet to see proof that they lie or if they do that it is the default option (as it clearly is for the US military* and has been about as long as there is a US military).
Even if the notorious screw-up-ity of US intelligence services is discounted, it defies all probability that there is not significant 'collateral damage' and wrong targeting regularly given the extent of the program (that was one major reason to go after bin Laden in the oldfashioned way with boots and Mk.I eyeballs on the ground and not bombs or missiles).

*to be more precise: those that speak for the military in an official position. And the target can be the civilian leadership as well as the public.

Okay, all of the Americans are liars, and the people who train teenagers to blow themselves up (and their friends) are all truthful. Fine.

Do nothing about these people. Let them keep doing things like this:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/al-qaeda/9062825/Al-Qaedas-hand-in-Boko-Harams-deadly-Nigerian-attacks.html

or this:

http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=172300

Nice:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/al-qaeda-linked-al-shabab-radicals-shut-down-red-cross-food-aid-to-famine-hit-somalia/

But whatever. Their friends probably never lie or are misled.

Wow, reading sapient's posts, they're nearly indistinguishable from reading some right-wing chickenhawk warblogger circa 2003. Countdown to "Why do you hate America?" in 3 … 2 …

Sorry. Why don't you argue the substance, Phil? Do you dispute that al Qaeda killed thousands of civilian Americans? Do you dispute that they're killing people of various nations in Africa? They attacked Spain. They attacked London.

I don't suggest that we invade and occupy countries that have nothing to do with al Qaeda as Bush did. But ignore them? No - I don't think I'm a "chickenhawk" for suggesting that we shouldn't ignore people who are plotting the deaths of massive numbers of civilians by equipping teenagers to blow themselves up. I know it's absolutely fine with you that they do that. And I know that, in your opinion, they have the moral high ground. I guess we'll just have to disagree about that.

Sapient,

When you assert that it is OK to violate a nation's sovereignty (drone strikes, armed raids), that is to OK to take out the innocent because the havoc you wreak is for the 'greater good', when you demonstrate a total obliviousness to the politics of the middle east, the role our "interests" play and it factional squabbles, and most egregiously, when you say it's OK for us to do these things, but having them done to us is "simply inconceivable", you are exhibiting all the classic syndromes of "white man's burden".

But no, it's all about hysterical BS about teen age suicide bombers.

And you challenge others to engage you with SUBSTANCE? You must be kidding.

We are the hegemon.
Therefore, we define our interests pretty much as we wish.
We kill our assigned enemies as mercilessly as they, in their pitiful and without real resources way they attempt to kill a very, I repeat very few of us.
We unquestionably support a racist illegitimate regime in Israel.
We sell arms to and support the fundamentalist women hating MONARCHIST thugs who rule Saudi Arabia.
We played footsie with Quadaffi until we decided the time was ripe to take him out.
We have re-pounded the rubble left in Afghanistan by the Russians for the upteenth time to no apparent avail.
All this at a cost of hundreds of billions. To us...a pittance. To them, everything.

....but no, it's all about a few teen age suicide bombers. How many times you gonna' bring that up?

A plan you want? Here's one: Cease all aid to Israel. Send drone strikes to pound Ridyah's corrupt palaces to dust. Abjure the Carter Doctrine. Pull all of our troops out of the Middle East. Increase economic development aid to these countries a hundred fold.

Perhaps you will respond that such a plan is totally unrealistic and not "in our best interests". Well, OK. Now we can have a discussion. With this understanding as a start, there will be no need to bring up "teenage suicide bombers" (all two dozen of them).

It's very similar to arming police with tasers. Yes, it's great that they have a non-lethal alternative to guns, but the result isn't that they tase people they would previously have shot, it's that they tase people they would previously have yelled at.

we shouldn't ignore people who are plotting the deaths of massive numbers of civilians by equipping teenagers to blow themselves up. I know it's absolutely fine with you that they do that. And I know that, in your opinion, they have the moral high ground. I guess we'll just have to disagree about that.

Oh, piss off, you tendentious little person.

Normally I would have upbraided Phil for that last, but seeing as how sapient is engaging in some backhanded smear rhetorical ploy, I'd say he brought it on himself. Still: both of you try and play nice, please.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/world/middleeast/military-commander-in-yemen-is-assassinated.html?hp

Hmmm. All 24 suicide bombers? Is that count made before or after they committed suicide? I wonder what that Somali man might have done if he hadn't been recruited to kill himself.

And, yes, bobbyp, your plan is unrealistic. Do you really think that we are responsible for everything bad that goes on in the world?

Hard to say, Mike Schilling. Since 9/11/2001, no president will allow people who are plotting terrorist attacks to stick around and do that undisturbed. If there weren't drones, there'd be bigger bombs. And frankly that's what national defense is for.

In what way, Slartibartfast, was I smearing people? Apparently, the prevalent argument here is that suicide bombing training is 1) not much of a problem, and 2) our own fault for supporting Israel and Saudi Arabia.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/world/middleeast/military-commander-in-yemen-is-assassinated.html?hp

Yes, but was the Somali bomber a teenager? That seems to be some kind of vital benchmark for your moral outrage. Perhaps you could also provide us with some deep analysis of the civil war in Yemen. You've heard of that I'm sure. But no, it's all about US.

Do you really think that we are responsible for everything bad that goes on in the world?

Seriously? So when did you stop beating your wife?

In what way, Slartibartfast, was I smearing people?
Apparently, the prevalent argument here is that suicide bombing training is 1) not much of a problem, and 2) our own fault for supporting Israel and Saudi Arabia.

You've answered yourself. But that's not all; here's a direct quote from you, upthread:

I don't think I'm a "chickenhawk" for suggesting that we shouldn't ignore people who are plotting the deaths of massive numbers of civilians by equipping teenagers to blow themselves up. I know it's absolutely fine with you that they do that. And I know that, in your opinion, they have the moral high ground.

Insultingly, baselessly mindreading bits in italics. You know, do you, that Phil thinks that it's fine that suicide bombers blow up civilians? You know that Phil believes that they are morally correct for doing that? You really need to read your own words, sapient.

"Okay, all of the Americans are liars, and the people who train teenagers to blow themselves up (and their friends) are all truthful. Fine."

That's the sort of sarcasm one commonly encounters from people who defend US violence overseas. So all the people over there who complain about drone strikes are training terrorists and none of what they say is to be trusted? Good to know. I guess John Brenner is right--there hasn't been a single civilian casualty and it makes perfect sense to assume that any military-aged male that our drones kill is a militant.

BTW, I don't lump all "Americans" into the same category when it comes to truthfulness, any more than I would lump all people in Yemen or Pakistan into the same group. But people who run wars or terrorist campaigns do tend to lie about their own crimes, no matter what the nationality.

"When you assert that it is OK to violate a nation's sovereignty (drone strikes, armed raids), that is to OK to take out the innocent because the havoc you wreak is for the 'greater good', when you demonstrate a total obliviousness to the politics of the middle east, the role our "interests" play and it factional squabbles, and most egregiously, when you say it's OK for us to do these things, but having them done to us is "simply inconceivable", you are exhibiting all the classic syndromes of "white man's burden".

That's pretty much what I had in mind, but you expressed it better.

Also, sapient, I wouldn't be comfortable with drone strikes even if the program were very well run and didn't have the problems outlined in the NYT piece a few weeks back, but if it were well run my objections would be narrower in scope. There would still be the hypocrisy problem. I don't understand why a liberal would pass over this so lightly. The US is clearly a country which does not arrest its own war criminals (not at the higher levels anyway) and doesn't allow anyone else to do so, and we've also been known to harbor foreign terrorists or terrorist supporters in places like Boston and Miami, yet you don't seem to think it would be okay for some foreign group or government to send drones in here and start blasting away. Also, where is the line where support justifies a targeted killing? What kind of support? Is advocacy enough? If someone advocates torture or an unjust war or war crimes, does that justify a targeted killing?

But we're not really in a position where one even needs to object to the drone program in that way--it seems clear from what the NYT piece said that the program is run by people who shoot on the basis of poor evidence and rationalize away the civilian casualties. You ought to be bothered by that, but you don't seem to be.

Sapient: "Tom Allen, see the AUMF. Perhaps you don't interpret it the way the President and Congress seem to (and the Supreme Court, so far as they've seen fit to comment), but it is a de facto declaration of war, and certainly Constitutional. (In other words, that dog - the dog that no war was declared - won't hunt."

This is actually the frightening, because (from memory, and summarizing) it authorizes the President to take military action against any persons or organizations which the President has determined to have participated or aided in various attacks or groups, with no geographic or temporal limitations.

If that isn't the sort of declaration of Total War forever which justifies a dictatorship, then what would be?

I just wish that Obama would use his powers of the Unitary Executive to deal with some right-wingers..........................

Slart, thanks for letting Sapient know that he was over the line.

And could you say anything more about transitioning the Hellfire to the A-10?
I imagine that the A-10's top speed matches the
Hellfire.

Donald, I'm bothered by war - no sane person would not be bothered by war because there isn't in the history of the world a war that didn't have horribly unfair things happen in it. On the other hand, I don't think we should, or can, ignore people bent on attacking us.

This article from the NYTimes is one I find interesting, especially the last portion.

When I think of how this country might have addressed the same issues as 9/11 and its aftermath 50 years ago, before drone technology, I can only imagine that we would have been invading, bombing and occupying countries, resulting in way more casualties on both sides. Drones are better.

This is actually the frightening, because (from memory, and summarizing) it authorizes the President to take military action against any persons or organizations which the President has determined to have participated or aided in various attacks or groups, with no geographic or temporal limitations.

Barry, I agree that the authorization is too broad. But any executive with that power would be crucified if he didn't use it and there were another large terrorist attack. Unlike the "power grab by the executive" which Obama is so often accused of, it's a cowardly dereliction of duty by Congress not to use its constitutional authority to place limits on the executive.

Still, imagine, if someone could have stopped 9/11 with drone warfare how much would be different now.

I don't know whether putting Hellfires on A-10s is still on the to-do list, Barry. I don't recall the exact nature of the problem, but would guess ir had something to do with control stability in the turbulent post-launch region around the aircraft. But it could equally well have been a problem with adapting Hellfire conops to a platform that moves along more smartly than an Apache.

Launching Hellfires from a C-130 turned out to be rather easy, I have heard. If you're wondering how that could possibly be useful, Google "Harvest Hawk".

Iirc it was deliberate negligence that made 9/11 possible. If Clinton had not been so stupid to tell Bush the Lesser that Osama bin Laden was a problem, Dubya might have done something. It would not have taken much. But it was simply inconceivable to do something Clinton favored or considered important. Bill should have put bin Laden on the Medal of Freedom waiting list and explicitly forbidden the Intelligence services to do anything that could inconvenience him. That should have guaranteed the end of Al Qaeda in half a year or so. Don't believe me? Just check how Bush reacted to messages of the Bearded One himself post 9/11. Even after secret communications got intercepted that the name of the game was reverse psychology, Bush still acted with 100% predictability.

Hartmut, I totally agree. I wish I knew you in real life - I would love to talk about a lot of stuff.

In the meantime, the real world, as I am part of the Axis of Evil on ObWi, I will maintain this point of view unless someone convinces me otherwise: al Qaeda is a malevolent force in the world. It shouldn't be countenanced by the international community. The United States, for better or for worse, for all practical purposes, is the Superpower. It can fight al Qaeda. It should. I agree (and I'm a lawyer who believes in due process), IT"S NOT DUE PROCESS. It's war. I simply don't have a problem with that.

I do have the problem with this: there needs to be an end (or a point of review) to the Executive's authority to do things under the auspices of "war." But the Executive shouldn't be expected to turn that off alone. If Obama did that, and there was a terrorist attack, he would be crucified. It's simply not reasonable for him to do that unilaterally. (And, by the way, I'm not sure that it's a good idea to quit fighting the "terrorists" with drones at this point. Please, again, take a look at the 8/12/2012 NYT article that I linked to before. A skeptical expert on Pakistan decided that drones were not a bad idea, with the caveat that the attacks be more subject to scrutiny. I agree with her.

I do have the problem with this: there needs to be an end (or a point of review) to the Executive's authority to do things under the auspices of "war."

As long as good people such as yourself go along with this claptrap, you implicitly provide support for this "problem", and you will just have to live with it, because the justification has been laid. The policy can only be expanded. Containing it is not an option. This is, unfortunately, an outcome all to easy to take as a (I presume) reasonably well off citizen of the most powerful nation on the planet. That's the reality, a term that is flung about rather casually I see.

Thank you.

That's the reality, a term that is flung about rather casually I see.

Don't know what you mean by that, bobbyp. I do know this: I am a reasonably well of citizen of the most powerful nation on the planet. (Not so well off that I don't worry about the next day, etc., but certainly well enough off that I didn't have to worry about today). And I am grateful to be in that position.

I have visited places where people don't have the luxuries that I take for granted (working indoor toilets). But al Qaeda isn't about figuring out how to make the world sustainable and more egalitarian. Or is it? Maybe they've got a convert if you can convince me of that.

From what I read, I believe this: al Qaeda is a group of thugs that is preventing many areas of the world from developing functioning governments. The Obama administration supported the Libyan rebels, an indigenous pro-democracy movement that wouldn't necessarily have evolved into a U.S. client state.

When is the current administration going to get some credit? It's likely to lose the election. At that point, I will be too depressed to be discussing anything here on ObWi. It's been happening to me lately, even now.

"But al Qaeda isn't about figuring out how to make the world sustainable and more egalitarian. Or is it? Maybe they've got a convert if you can convince me of that."

After all the discussion you still can't seem to wrap your head around the fact that nobody here thinks al Qaeda is a progressive organization. I assume you cling to this strawman because it makes you feel better about your position. The argument we're making is that drone strikes create anger at the US and support for al Qaeda. It's the same argument that presumably you understand when Obama's honor isn't at stake. Some Bush defenders thought the way you do--either we are with the US government or we are defending al Qaeda. I can remember the Reagan people claiming that the human rights groups that criticized their policies in Central America were commie dupes. Israel defenders commonly claim that all victims of Israeli violence are either militants or civilians used as human shields and if you criticize Israel then you are aligning yourself with the people who send suicide bombers into crowded buses and pizza parlors and fire rockets at Sderot.

I did read your NYT link--last year. I skimmed it today. Your preferred expert said she believes civilian casualties are very low. So does the White House and we know why--they count military aged males who die in the strikes as militants. Perhaps the expert could supply them with her data on the results of their strikes and they could make a better argument.

Not only does sapient continue with this (as far as I can tell, unfounded) notion that there's some kind of Al Qaeda admiration society at work, here, he refuses to respond to any suggestions that this notion of his might just be all of: wrong-headed and highly insulting.

I'm not sure where he expects to progress to, rhetorically, but these tactics have got no traction over here. And it sounds as if Donald Johnson and Phil are less than convinced.

some kind of Al Qaeda admiration society at work, here

Since apparently there's some confusion about this, I'm not accusing anyone here of being an al Qaeda admirer. What I do believe is that there is a real problem with the fact that people are seeking refuge in regions without a functioning government who are actively trying to create massive civilian casualties elsewhere in the world. Most of the people here don't seem to think there is enough of a problem to warrant specific action against these people (perhaps I'm misunderstanding?).

If the people here do think that there's a problem because of these people, they don't offer any specific action, other than to immediately transform the entire political landscape in the Middle East, a landscape that has taken centuries to develop (and has had the participation of the entire world, including but not limited to the United States).

I agree with the desire to transform the political landscape, although I think it is complicated. Obama's response to Libya and the Arab Spring indicates that he would like to transform it as well. Who wouldn't like to change our policy towards Israel?

But that doesn't solve the immediate problem (to the extent that anyone believes that there is one). There is no way that any President of the United States can ignore terrorists. If and when the next attack occurs, a President will have to demonstrate that every action was taken to have prevented it. Is anything I'm saying here false?

By the way, Donald, all of the other examples you mention (Reagan in central America, etc.) are situations that I strongly opposed. For one thing, the people there hadn't attacked our country and killed thousands of people. I think it's more important to pay attention to people who have demonstrated the ability and desire to do harm to our people. There's a huge difference between that and people in Central American fighting for the right to a more equitable distribution of wealth. Although I'm certainly not accusing you of being an "admirer", you seem (just my observation, no insult intended!) to see these people as run of the mill political opponents.

As to drone strikes creating support for al Qaeda, perhaps that's true, although to what extent it's true I don't know. I've read that in Yemen, al Qaeda has terrorized surrounding populations to the extent that there is massive relocation from their vicinity. I'm not sure that I would be moved to hate people who were taking out my enemy - obviously that would depend on the extent of civilian casualties. I don't blindly trust the government, but the people who are in charge right now are intelligent people (and Obama's experience living in Indonesia would allow him to avoid seeing Middle East cultures as "other"), and they know and have stated that civilian casualties are damaging. They don't have any reason not to try to minimize them. Even in Afghanistan, where everyone agrees there is a war, the troops have taken greater casualties in order to minimize civilian casualties. These policies mean something about Obama's direction.

Since apparently there's some confusion about this, I'm not accusing anyone here of being an al Qaeda admirer.

Please do not pretend that we are illiterate.

No - I don't think I'm a "chickenhawk" for suggesting that we shouldn't ignore people who are plotting the deaths of massive numbers of civilians by equipping teenagers to blow themselves up. I know it's absolutely fine with you that they do that. And I know that, in your opinion, they have the moral high ground.

I mean, really.

Thanks for the update, Slart!

Sapient:

"I will maintain this point of view unless someone convinces me otherwise: al Qaeda is a malevolent force in the world."

Sapient, the only people who disagree with you are disembodied voices which only you can hear.


" It shouldn't be countenanced by the international community. The United States, for better or for worse, for all practical purposes, is the Superpower. It can fight al Qaeda. It should. "

Nobody else disagrees with you here, either (except for the Voices........).

"I agree (and I'm a lawyer who believes in due process), IT"S NOT DUE PROCESS. It's war. I simply don't have a problem with that. "

The point that people are making is that it's 'war', with no geographical limits, temporal limits or human limits (i.e., anybody can be accused of supporting Al Qaida on secret info).

That's a 'war' which is a recipe for a nasty government and society.

As for you being a lawyer, there were a whole cadre of Bush administration criminals who signed off on whatever Cheney wanted. (note that *now* there seems to be actual limitations on Presidential powers, when the office is held by the other party).

That doesn't mean that they were right, that means that they have no excuse for their crimes.

Phil, caught me in some hyperbole! Sorry for any feelings hurt!

The point that people are making is that it's 'war', with no geographical limits, temporal limits or human limits (i.e., anybody can be accused of supporting Al Qaida on secret info).

I have worries about that too, Bary, as I've stated before. It's up to Congress though to correct that - the AUMF is way too open ended. That said, the Executive would be crazy not to pursue his powers to avoid a terrorist attack.

Sapient, if there was real intelligence that a specific group was planning another 9/11 or something equally horrific and there was no way to stop them except by killing them, then maybe a drone attack would be justifiable. I say "maybe" because in practice I don't know what counts as real evidence in such cases. I suspect that in the real world the Administration is covering its butt by killing anyone it can that it thinks might be al Qaeda and rationalizing that whoever it kills is guilty unless proven innocent. I'd defer to experts on international law on what would constitute a justifiable case for a drone attack. My vague understanding is that, yes, there is this self-defense clause one can invoke, but I think the requirements that have to be met before you can start killing are pretty stringent.

I'd still wonder in that case why the same argument couldn't be used to justify drone strikes against some Americans. I don't advocate that, but it's a serious question. We don't hold ourselves accountable for our actions and we do have people who advocate various sorts of war crimes and first strikes or who support terrorists and nobody high ranking is investigated or dragged into court. The fact that we are a democracy rather than a failed state doesn't seem to matter on this particular issue because on this issue we are a failed state, if states are supposed to enforce the law.

And surely there are all sorts of people all around the world who could make a case for sending drones over borders to take out bad people in other places. The technology will presumably spread. Does everyone have the right to do this? Is this the direction we want to see the world take?

And you might also remember that it won't always be someone you like in the WH controlling the drone joystick. (Incidentally, I will probably be as depressed as you if Romney wins. Where our reactions will differ is in how we will feel if Obama wins. Relief mixed with disgust in my case.)

Sapient: "Phil, caught me in some hyperbole! Sorry for any feelings hurt!"

No, they caught you in deliberate insults. And IIRC, you are a lawyer, aren't you? In which case you know better.

Donald Johnson: "I suspect that in the real world the Administration is covering its butt by killing anyone it can that it thinks might be al Qaeda and rationalizing that whoever it kills is guilty unless proven innocent."

Considering the new policy of classifying as 'combatants' all military-age males who are killed, I firmly believe that your suspicions are correct.

Sapient, this is an example of what people are worried about - the sort of 'war' where we just classify the dead as 'combatants'.

Ever hear the saying 'if it's dead and Vietnamese, then it's Viet Cong'?

I'd still wonder in that case why the same argument couldn't be used to justify drone strikes against some Americans.

The fact that we are a democracy rather than a failed state doesn't seem to matter on this particular issue because on this issue we are a failed state, if states are supposed to enforce the law.

It's not just that we are a democracy; it's that we're a fairly functional state (not entirely, I agree) with a fairly functional legal system, including a diplomatic system. I'm certain that every state is a "failed state" in one matter or another, but there are very few states where we're launching drones.

People have brought up the Irish gunrunning operations, and how the UK might have some interest in drone attacking people in Boston. Well, maybe, but there are tons of reasons why they wouldn't do it because our nation functions well enough that our relationship with Britain is worth preserving from their standpoint. (Besides, who facilitated the peace negotiations between Northern Ireland and Britain, but our own George Mitchell.)

I think that drone attacks are a "last resort option" for the terrorist threat. When there are no other realistic options to get to specific people that we know are plotting terrorism without risking the lives of our military people, I don't see the problem with using drones. Obviously, if there's a bad President, this is a dangerous power. But when there have been bad Presidents, they haven't needed "precedent". Presidents have a huge amount of power, so it's important to elect someone whose worthy.

All that said, I wish the procedure for determining targets, and ascertaining the "mistake" rate (civilian casualties), were more transparent. I don't have any confidence that people would be more satisfied that they were getting the truth in any case.

Considering the new policy of classifying as 'combatants' all military-age males who are killed, I firmly believe that your suspicions are correct.

From the oft-cited New York Times article: "Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program."

Again, because this is a "war", this makes sense. If you're hitting an operational al Qaeda target, why wouldn't you think a known terrorist is with his cohorts when you attack? Certainly if we were bombing operational targets in a traditional war, we'd expect that people in the same building would be fellow soldiers or comrades in arms, and would be killed.

In Pakistan (the areas we're targeting), Yemen and Somalia, it's reasonable to believe that women and children have no choice whom to hang with. That's not true of men. Presumably we're not targeting people for what's going on in their mind - these people are building bombs and doing stuff. They have accomplices and colleagues.

People have brought up the Irish gunrunning operations, and how the UK might have some interest in drone attacking people in Boston. Well, maybe, but there are tons of reasons why they wouldn't do it because our nation functions well enough that our relationship with Britain is worth preserving from their standpoint.

I have to agree with Sapient on the UK-IRA situation in Boston. The UK also had a wide range of options available to it other than drone attacks because of their diplomatic ties with the US and a functioning US justice system. The US simply doesn't most of those options in Yemen, Somalia or Afghanistan. (Not that I think that justifies our drone attacks, just that I don't think that particular comparison is apt.)

Cuba might be a different story, but I don't know how many terrorist attacks in Cuba or against Cuban interests were planned from the US.

"It's not just that we are a democracy; it's that we're a fairly functional state (not entirely, I agree) with a fairly functional legal system, including a diplomatic system. I'm certain that every state is a "failed state" in one matter or another, but there are very few states where we're launching drones.

People have brought up the Irish gunrunning operations, and how the UK might have some interest in drone attacking people in Boston. Well, maybe, but there are tons of reasons why they wouldn't do it because our nation functions well enough that our relationship with Britain is worth preserving from their standpoint. "

You keep missing the point. It's not just support for Irish terrorism in Boston by private citizens or anti-Cuban terrorism (which at one point was run by our government, but not always)--it's also officials in our own government. They plan and execute unjust wars, they run what we'd call terrorist plots in other countries if it were done to us, they torture, and if you tell me we have a functioning legal system in this context then I don't think we have anything to talk about. There is no accountability for Western officials who engage in war crimes--they cover for each other and they have to, because if any of them are prosecuted it would set a precedent that none of them would want to see.


So no, we don't have a functioning legal system when it comes to war crimes. There is no penalty and we don't even do truth commissions. Do you see the problem here? It's not just that there is no justice--there's also no deterrent. Torture isn't a crime--it's a policy choice and people have different opinions. The unjustified invasion of a country isn't a crime--it's just maybe a mistake, but we don't criminalize policy differences. That would be un-American. Assassinations, support for terrorist groups, dictators, etc---policy choices. None of these things are crimes when we do them, there's no punishment except losing an election if the policy hurts us, and people are always free to do it again.


Your response is that Britain wants to maintain good relations with us, so they won't send any drones into Boston. So we're back to what seems to be your basic point, that thank God the US currently can send drones after its enemies and nobody with any sense would do the same to us. I don't think you have to be an al Qaeda sympathizer to find that position arrogant. But maybe you do. Maybe that's why the US is so unpopular in the Middle East. In fact, there's polling data to that effect--

link

As drone technology spreads, I expect we'll see other countries using it, not necessarily against us because we'd call it terrorism if our own war criminals were blown up, but it will be used elsewhere. And the US won't have any grounds for condemning this, not that hypocrisy will ever stop us.

As for your defense of the military age male reasoning, I'm glad that you understand the situation on the ground and culture so well that you can feel comfortable assuming that any male we kill is guilty of something. Using terms like "operational al Qaeda target" makes me think of some James Bond scene where Spectre has one of those huge underground bases someplace. If that's what we're going after we may need bigger drones. My impression is that we've hit weddings and funerals and houses and there's no particular reason to imagine any great competence goes into the decision making, especially not when Brennan had the gall to claim that for a long period of time there were no civilian casualties. How could you trust anything he says after that? It's such an outlandish claim .

Anyway, I think I'm done here.

Somewhat off topic and deliberately ironic, Slashdot reports that a website has been established as a national do-not-kill registry, for the benefit of drone pilots.

" I don't think you have to be an al Qaeda sympathizer to find that position arrogant. But maybe you do"

Clarifying--the "maybe you do" was sarcasm. I do not mean to imply that all those people in the Middle East who dislike our drone policy are al Qaeda sympathizers. Though it could go that way in some cases.

There's probably some other badly worded statements in my previous harangue, but I don't want to rewrite it.

This is one of those situations where I say I'm going and keep coming back. Anyway, here's a link to an anti-drone group--

reprieve

I agree that the failure of our government to hold people accountable for war crimes is wrong. I would completely support it. Do you see any possible way that could happen in this political climate?

No, I don' know enough about the culture where drone attacks are occuring to make assumptions about anything. That's why, when I vote, I assess the relative merits of each candidate, and figure out who is better equipped to make decisions about foreign policy. That's why we have experts. Citizens (like you and me) certainly have a responsibility to be well-informed, but it's unrealistic to be an expert on everything, every place, every strategy, etc. I "trust" (no not blind faith in every word) the fact that there are people who do spend their lives learning stuff, and some of them end up in government. Some of them know what they're doing. And the person I voted for has a lifetime of honorable work behind him. And he's had some cultural experiences that should help him make decisions.

There are problems with drone technology, but do you really think that when the technology spreads our use of it will have anything to do with other people's use of it? I realize you don't want to converse anymore, but we do have power and technology. We can use it wisely or yield it to somebody else. Who is going to do better?

Another thing (regarding truth commissions and war criminal prosecutions): Has anyone noticed what "they" are trying to do to Eric Holder? Or what every attempt Obama has made to do the right thing with regard to the Bush era?

Look, I agree that the United States isn't functioning well. It didn't start with 9/11, but the attacks that day didn't help. We can't afford another one.

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