Michael Maiello's picture

    Drones -- Making War Safer!

    At Slate William Saletan has long defended drone warfare because it minimizes both civilian and military casualties.  Drone are preferable, certainly, to high altitude bombing.  From the U.S. military perspective, only the equipment is at risk.  From the perspective of civilians, drone strikes are more carefully targeted than bombs from 50,000 feet or cruise missiles launched from hundreds of miles away.

    What Saletan doesn't consider, though, is whether or not drones make war-making too easy and therefore too casual a choice.  You can take any one strike and say, "Okay, two civilians died there but if we had used a cruise missile, twenty people would have died."  But what we don't know is whether or not the potential cruise missile civilian deaths would have persuaded those in charge to simply not act.

    Certainly, in cases where drone strikes are a substitute for putting U.S. ground forces in peril, the existence of remote control flying death robots makes the choice of violence a lot easier.  If it had been necessary to wage a ground war in Yemen, I think a lot of what was accomplished with drones would probably have been deemed not worth it.

    Making war easier to wage is not a good formula for saving lives.



    By your logic, wars should only be fought hand-to-hand,  without weapons.

    You left out . . .

    "...by old pasty white and red-eyed drunks in Congress."


    Or not at all!

    Drones are a symmetric response to the asymmetric warfare of terrorist organizations. Terrorists use cheap bombs and expendable people to kill and terrorize. We use surveillance and expendable drones to kill them.

    Before drones the secretive terrorist leaders were safe in heavily defended mountain hideouts. They send indoctrinated kids or committed Jihadists with suicide vests or car bombs to kill, creating fear and lawlessness.

    Drones make the leadership running the terror group suddenly and pointedly at risk. Concerned about their own safety for a change.  Drones have been effective at taking scores of them out.

    Drones dispense a rough type of justice to those for whom justice is dispensed from the barrel of a gun. Drones are a cheap delivery system effective at hitting leadership, run by people who are not at risk.

    I love listening to Americans talk about drones. MAN, these things are so cheap! So smart! So fair! Such a great idea.

    I donno, folks. I really do think it worthwhile to sit down and imagine wave after wave after endless wave of these things coming in and hitting Americans. Knowing that the leaders on the other end had to get no clearance, no democratic approval, nothing before launching these things. And watching 000's of your elders and kids and so on get whacked. 

    See, it's a great thing to be whacking terrorists. It is. I mean that. Some bastard that's all whooped up and aiming to kill you, and maybe taking steps to actually do it... hell, I've got very few qualms about whacking those bastards. 

    The only problem is, not so much with him... but with the rest of his countrymen. Because nobody REALLY likes to see their fellow citizens - even the psychotic terrorist bastards amongst 'em - get whacked by the bigwigs of another country. In secret. Without possibility of recompense. [And with lots of collateral murder.]

    And yet, the US seems to have gone in whole hog. How many countries have now been hit by these weapons? 1? 2? 3? 4? 5? Shit, nobody's even really keeping count of THAT, are they?

    And how many of you - and do try to be honest here - think the Republicans will be MORE restrained than the existing President? Will whack FEWER countries? 

    It's as shit-fest, kids. And yes, I'll go on record here and now as saying that when the splashback comes - as it must - it'll be ugggggly. And what are people gonna say then? "They hates our freedoms?" 

    P.S. Also, you know, just looking at it from 10,000 feet, how're these strategies looking in the Middle East and the region? Things unfolding pretty well? That little "terrorism" problem moving under control? No. Hmmmm. Might be a message in that. Just sayin'.

    If you recollect, the Middle East was set aflame by the GW Bush shock and awe ground invasion, occupation and regime change in Iraq.

    Drones are not capable of, and have never been tasked with achieving 'regime change'.

    Well to be fair, it was several embassy and WTC acts with Saudi financing that provoked our stupid overreaction. Still, I thought we elected our hopey and changey guy to improve how we deal with that, not just improve drones. So what exactly is the purpose or end game of drones? Keep the sand n*****s down on the farm? Let em know who's boss? US 3rd world marketing? Tasers as other means? (Clauswitz?) As Q notes it's assymetrical US only tactic - something we only had a short while with A-bombs to great effect - but since drones aren't as complicated as building nukes, there won't be a nonproliferation treaty. Fly the friendly skies? Will get brutal. If NORAD couldn't handle 4 commercial airliners, thousands of internal zones will be manic...

    If those working to create an international order that would compel all nations to do what is agreed is necessary to be a part of it also allows one or more of those nations to simply kill all they see as deserving such a fate, no matter where they are on the globe, will fail to achieve their stated goals.

    Many of the drone attacks have been war crimes.http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/ 


    Even so, the U.S. government deserves a moderate level of sympathy for the predicament it is  in.  The enemy is scattered all over the Middle East and East Africa, often a good distance away from what could be called a battlefield. Probably not more than a handful of them could be extradited, and many of them haven't killed anyone yet, but plan to.

    Anyway, I think it is time to call off the war, and perhaps time to abolish the U.S. military, which does more harm than good.

    "moderate" meaning if we just followed your advice and came home, most of our "enemy" would be powerless to hit us and for the most part wouldn't have much to be bitter about (except "Israel/Palestine, I/P, I/P...)

    Recent experience belies any claim that drones are making us safer.  The countries - Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia - which we have targeted most frequently have in no sense been "tamed".  Quite the contrary, the killing of civilians and the casual laying waste of villages has probably increased the number of terrorists determined to harm Americans.

    And the vast majority of those people radicalized by our violence are, in fact, people with bad intentions but without means to act on them.

    Michael - I take issue with the contention that the people radicalized by American terror have "bad intentions".  From their perspective, we are the ones with bad intentions and Al Qaeda and its progeny are fighting to repel an imperial overlord.

    Understand your point, but I think in general we say "going off to slaughter innocent people" is a "bad intention", whatever the cause.

    Your comment implies that the "radicalized" folks may have had bad intentions before we killed family members, neighbors, or destroyed their village.  I don't think that's fair.

    No,IT doesnr imply that - you just choae to read it that way

    Hal has a Garden of Eden philosophy of terrorism.

    Muslims of the Middle East and Africa were simple goat herders since the dawn of creation until the forbidden fruit of drones came....creating bad intentions where none before had ever existed.

    Of course, terrorists don't pop up out of tunnels in the backyards of Californians like Hal, they don't slaughter scores in malls in Monterey, or kidnap girls into slavery from the schools, so it's ripe ground for broadcasting such naive theories.

    No.  I view the people in the Middle East as human beings who don't like the people who are blowing up their villages.

    Hal you view terrorists as human beings, so do I. The difference is I also view victims of terrorism as human beings.

    That is why whether it is the Chadian Army entering northern Nigeria to rid the border area of Boko Haram, the French Army driving back Tuareg Islamists in Mali and forcing an end to a conflict, the African Union serving to end violence anywhere in northern Africa, the State of Israel defending itself against HAMAS terrorists, or the US using drones to target those involved with massacres in Kenya, Somali terrorists hunting Christians across the Kenyan border, or Taliban leadership on the Afghan border, I support the forces using lethal force against those responsible for these heinous acts.

    And if you are so concerned about 'villages being destroyed' it is groups like Boko Haram who have slaughtered, kidnapped or enslaved entire village populations.

    You ascribe two opinions to me in your opening paragraph: 1) I view terrorists as human beings.  2) I do not consider their victims to be human beings.  What have I written that causes you to have either one of those two opinions?

    In fact, I oppose our military use of drones in the Middle East because 1) we are killing innocent people with them http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/25/world/asia/pakistan-us-drone-strikes/ and 2) in so doing we are making the world less safe. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/how-drones-create-more-terrorists/278743/


    By the way, there's plenty of domestic terrorism.  Ask the folks around Gabby Giffords when she was shot or parents in New Town, Connecticut, or well you get the idea.  But, I guess it's easier to pretend that there's something innately sinister about people with slightly darker skin who speak Arabic.  They've bad intentions doncha know?

    I don't know if the domestic shooting sprees should be compared to international terrorism, because the killers didn't do it for ideological reasons, and they weren't part of a movement. And three thousand weren't killed in New Town. Better to compare the terrorism to the killing of kids by our military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

    Point very well taken Aaron.  Thanks for making it.  I realized after I posted that the mass shootings are very different than the terrorist attacks in the Middle East.  In some ways, the Oklahoma City bombing is more akin to what some terrorists are doing in the Middle East but there's no American analog to groups like Boko Haram and Isis.

    If you compare Shiite vs Sunni retribution, there's quite a lot of Hutus vs. Tutsis going on. Not all of the Mideast terrorists and militias are simply freedom fighters. The US didn't *create* the Iran-Iraq war, whatever we did to exacerbate it. The US didn't create the Taliban, awful enough for other Afghan factions to fight them for 20 years. We did create the mujahideen, which was one of the greatest military strategic actions ever. Too bad we're foolishly letting others run our own playbook now, but Brzezinski was probably our last really clever diplomat.

    NCD, your comment makes it seem that folks out there have not already known adversity when it fact it is no longer permitted for them to sleep on the mall promenades overnight and centers of learning such as U.C. Santa Cruz have ended the practice of pass/fail grading.

    The sleeping thing should have been brought up before a commission, or the UN could have taken over the campus.

    The original comment was: "And the vast majority of those people radicalized by our violence are, in fact, people with bad intentions but without means to act on them." 

    The author blames those "radicalized" by "our violence" for being "people with bad intentions".   Anybody think there's a decent chance that  fellow human beings, who were not radicalized until they saw their daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, wife or husband, blown up weren't "people with bad intentions"?

    Being "radicalized" means *getting* "bad intentions". Please stop adding to it prior art that neither I nor Maiello posited.

    Yeah, was going to let this go but "radicalized by our violence," places responsibility with us.

    I think Hal doesn't like my use of the term "bad intentions," and would prefer that I'd said something like, "understandable motivations."  But I understand the grievances of a lot of people who do bad things.  For example, when somebody freaks out at the IRS and does something violent I can understand that the person in question has been subjected to all sorts of stress, powerlessness and feelings of victimization.  But knowing why somebody did something doesn't mean I can't make a value judgment about their actions.

    What's funny is that Hal and I would seem to agree here -- If the U.S. were less forceful in the region, there would be fewer radicals to fight.

    Are the "intentions" of those our violence has "radicalized" bad, i.e., to kill innocent people or good, i.e., to stop bloodshed, or mixed? 

    Please give an example of these radicalized attempts to stop bloodshed - as far as I know they're rarer than buffalo-head nickels or simply non-existent. Khomenei took advantage of the Persian revolution to shatter perceived opponents' windpipes so he could walk them off rooftops without hearing them scream. The Taliban spent its free time blowing up 1000 year old heritage pieces and abusing local women. Iraqis spent a lot more of their energy on Shiite-Sunni retribution than in fighting Americans. The Syrian rebels we helped arm seem to have committed as many atrocities as the Syrian government, and the Benghazi rights protests we supported turned into another murderous civil war. Al Qaeda of course did more to suck us into the region than push us out, e.g. more "radicalizing" moments, while ISIS is the antithesis of "stopping bloodshed". In the US & the west, all I see are ugly Danish & Charlie Hebdo murders, London Tube bombings, bombings in Turkey & Spain, Boston marathon explosions, and stupid shoe-bombing/gas-releasing attacks on innocent people. Maybe you get a different newspaper than I do - please share.

    Malala says the killing by the Taliban in Pakistan should stop and we should stop droning.  We can certainly call her a radical can't we.  Does she have bad intent?  Sixteen-Year-Old Malala Yousafzai Warns Obama: ‘Drone Attacks Are Fueling Terrorism’  Radical: "a person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform; a member of a political party or part of a party pursuing such aims."

    But they're not radicalized, are they? Do they have bad intentions? Don't seem to - so what exactly is your point?

    And you understand that words can have several meanings, that "radicalized" isn't talking about a radical who thinks drugs should be legalized - it's talking about people grabbing bombs or guns or chemicals for water supplies or airborne biological weapons or various kinds of sabotage - people encouraging the like-minded to go kill people and destroy property. Yes, it's possible to do this in a goal-oriented path to freedom, to achieve a purpose - I asked you to give an example where this has actually happened, and you can't even agree what "radicalize" means. Useless debates.

    "Radicalized: to become radical or more radical, especially in politics."  My point is that the folks radicalized because of "our violence" didn't necessarily have bad intentions before they were droned or start having them after the fact.

    The idea that a person could be “radicalized” seems both easily understood as a concept and obvious as a likely outcome when, for instance, that person’d family is turned to “pink mist” by a rocket fired from a war machine whose droning presence they had heard from above for years and who knew exactly who had built it and put it into the sky over their families heads and had pulled the trigger that killed their loved ones of all ages and then they had been forced to listen through the lonely rage filled nights of their grief to more damned droning in the otherwise deathly quiet of an empty house.

    I would be willing to bet and give long odds that some family members of victims of 9-11 who had always led peaceful lives not strongly affected by a strong wish for revenge against anybody or any group for any reason, and who had always before lived with a comfortable belief in live and let live, were enraged to the point of wishing death to those they believed responsible. Some of those would have done it with their bare hands if given the chance. If attempting to characterize the change in their mentality I might say thy had been ‘radicalized’. I would be surprised if anyone went to any big effort to argue otherwise.

    You have shown well the two sides of the coin.

    Everybody thinks their intentions are unblemished.

    Yes Michael.  We agree.  Thanks for a good piece.  I regret that my somewhat nit-picky response obscured my overall admiration for your work.

    Yes our violence "radicalized" them per the author's words but those self-same words don't imply that the violence also caused them to have "bad intentions".  In fact, one can just as easily read the sentence to mean that they had "bad intentions" before the violence.

    Sigh. If they had "bad intentions" before the violence, how can they be "radicalized"? They're already radical. Bad intentions squared?

    Sigh.  Being radicalized  doesn't mean having bad intentions.  Gandhi, MLK, and Mandela were all radicals.  Frederick Douglass described being radicalized after a master beat him.  The four men mentioned above all had good intentions.  Dick Cheney is no radical but I doubt anybody has worse intentions.

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