The sorry truth about military drones

by on September 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm in Current Affairs, Law | Permalink

From Glenn Greenwald, a must-read:

A vitally important and thoroughly documented new report on the impact of Obama’s drone campaign has just been released by researchers at NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School. Entitled “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan”, the report details the terrorizing effects of Obama’s drone assaults as well as the numerous, highly misleading public statements from administration officials about that campaign. The study’s purpose was to conduct an “independent investigations into whether, and to what extent, drone strikes in Pakistan conformed to international law and caused harm and/or injury to civilians”.

There is much more at the link.  And there is this:

…American progressives cheered loudly when a similar question was posed by Al Gore in a widely celebrated 2006 speech he gave on the Washington mall denouncing the Bush/Cheney assault on civil liberties:

“‘If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can’t he do?’”

What has always amazed me about that is that, there, Gore was merely decrying Bush’s mere eavesdropping on Americans and his detention of them without judicial review. Yet here Obama is claiming the power to decide who should be killed without a shred of transparency, oversight, or due process – a power that is being continuously used to kill civilians, including children – and many of these same progressives now actually cheer for that.

I praise Kevin Drum for his good work on this, but too many others cannot bring themselves to utter much protest or, for that matter, defense, if that is indeed their view.

On foreign policy, here are some related points (too polemic for my tastes but still some good points) and no I am not trying to suggest Romney would be superior on these issues nor am I endorsing any other candidate.

dcdrone September 26, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Running an assassination campaign in Pakistan seems far more humane than the only long-term alternative-first strike!

Andrew' September 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Romney isn’t Obama. He could be one of Bryan Caplan’s stepford twins and he’d still be a different person.

Rich Berger September 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm

“..no I am not trying to suggest Romney would be superior on these issues nor am I endorsing any other candidate.”

Tyler – of course we know that. Because if you did, you might lose your street cred with Matt and Ezra, and maybe your occasional writing gig at Pravda on the Hudson.

Rest easy.

jeff September 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm

It’s of course impossible that Tyler holds that opinion without consideration of what Matt, Ezra, or Rich Berger think of it!

Anon. September 26, 2012 at 3:40 pm

No sir, I refuse to believe it!

BC September 28, 2012 at 6:26 am

In terms of actual results, one way in which Romney could be better than Obama would be that Democrats might actually oppose, constrain, or at least scrutinize such activities if they were carried out by a President Romney.

Currently, Democrats, at least those that still believe in civil liberties, face a conflict between human rights and entitlement state expansion. They don’t scrutinize Obama on these matters because he is their ally in expanding the entitlement state. If Romney were President, they would face no such conflict.

Kevin September 28, 2012 at 7:30 am

The political opposites theory, yes. It’s how we got detente with communist China via anti-communist Nixon, deregulated airline prices via Ted Kennedy, a near balanced budget via Bill Clinton, etc.

Matt September 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm

None of this can possibly be true, because we know from the Bush years that the Democrats are The Rational Party whose supporters run on principle and not team loyalty.

TMC September 27, 2012 at 8:32 am

Only comparitively.

Rahul September 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Yet here Obama is claiming the power to decide who should be killed without a shred of transparency, oversight, or due process

The author forgets a key distinction: Citizenship. The few times the US authorized a strike on an undesirable American abroad, it did cause a lot of uproar.

Technically, killing “enemies” (civilian or not) has never required due process.

Brandon September 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Due process is how we figure out who counts as an enemy. And yes, these protections extend even to non-citizens.

Rahul September 26, 2012 at 4:09 pm

So can the family of a collateral damage victim sue for compensation in a US court? I wonder. Has this been tried?

Any lawyers know?

Brandon September 26, 2012 at 4:19 pm

In these cases, Locke says you make your appeal to Heaven. We tend to react badly when they do that.

As to your question, it has been unsuccessfully tried by Iraqis. The best hope for non-resident aliens is probably Boumediene v. Bush. Resident aliens are generally extended 4th & 5th amendment protections.

Jim September 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Al Awlaki’s father tried and I forget how far he took his case, but he failed eventually.

Jim September 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Due process has nothing to do with who gets designated an enemy. The co7urts and the legal system paly no role whatever in that.

When Congress declares war on a nation, that action designates every citizen and operative of that nation as an enemy. But even that may not be necessary. Can someone tell us if the Unite Staes ever declared war on the confederacy? We killed a lot of rebels without eny particular due process.

mulp September 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Due process includes Congress declaring war, and in 2001, Congress declared war on individuals, specifically authorizing military force against any individual engaged in or supporting terrorism anywhere in the world.

That law has been upheld by the courts, so that is the mandate on the commander in chief of the US military, which operates under the rules that Congress established for the military, which includes the chain of command deciding which of the targets are enemy targets.

Truman ordered the near instant destruction of two cities and every person in them by due process. Even under a declaration of war that did not mention “individual” or “person”:

JOINT RESOLUTION Declaring that a state of war exists between the Imperial Government of Japan and the Government and the people of the United States and making provisions to prosecute the same.

Whereas the Imperial Government of Japan has committed unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America:

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial Government of Japan which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial Government of Japan; and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.

JWill September 26, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Indeed. The “legality” argument on this stuff is a red herring. When push comes to shove, the supreme court will decide that just about anything the executive branch does is/was legal, when national security is (allegedly) at stake. They almost always have, and given the current balance on the court it seems almost impossible to believe they would side with the leftists and paleocons on this issue.

But legal doesnt equal moral. Reasonable people (because they start with different assumptions) come to very different opinions on whether Hiroshima was moral. But it seems like anyone who opposed the Iraq war on moral grounds ought to be opposed to this.

TexasMom2012 September 27, 2012 at 8:08 am

I really only have a problem with the President issuing a death order for an individual US citizen with no judicial or congressional review. That just doesn’t seem constitutional. No balance of power. At least Bush had judicial oversight for FISA warrants. I think this current president has gone even further grabbing power. He even ignored the War Powers Act when bombing Libya, just how well has that worked out?

Bob from Ohio September 27, 2012 at 11:33 am

Very few opposed the Iraq War on “moral” grounds. Of course, they also opposed the No Fly Zone and sanctions. They also generally opposed the Gulf War.

In other words, they just oppose US policy.

Ricardo September 26, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Snipers have been a legitimate part of armed combat for almost a century now. I am unaware of any “due process” being given to people who are the designated targets of snipers. Drones are just one step further.

CBBB September 27, 2012 at 10:27 am

None of what Obama is doing could reasonably be said to fall under the description of “armed combat”. Remember the Obama administration defines “militants” to mean males above the age of 18. This entire operation has devolved into essentially in discriminant and random killings with no purpose or end-goal.
I mean REALLY 9-11 was 11 years ago – when does this end? In 30-40 years are we still going to be discussing the on-going strikes in (Insert-Central-Asian/North-African/Middle-Eastern Country Here)? Seems like that’s the way it’s going.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 2:11 am

The report that is the source of this discussion talks about inefectivenss, not of “in discriminant and random killings with no purpose or end-goal”. Taking it to the extreme that you do serves no constructive purpose to the argument.

Mike Hunter September 26, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Bingo! How is this any worse than lobbing a few cruise missiles at a target in a foreign country? I’ve heard very few people decrying that. I’d argue that using drones results in LESS collateral damage and civilian casualties then any of the other methods that were previously used.

Rahul September 26, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Interestingly the deaths-per-drone-strike has gone down from about 20-40 circa 2006-2007 to less than 10 for the latest years.

Progress?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drone_attacks_in_Pakistan

CBBB September 27, 2012 at 10:28 am

Or you could do neither…ever though of that?

msgkings September 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm

And yet the posters above using this as another stick to bash on Obama would be cheering like crazy with McCain doing the same things…which he absolutely would have been doing. So the left doesn’t like drones, unsurprisingly. Which shows further how centrist Obama truly is.

In other words, don’t hate the player hate the game.

Andrew' September 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm

1. What posters above?
2. I think this is the only time I’ve personally recommended Romney for one single reason, if he is EXACTLY the same person as Obama then we’ll get to fire that fucker twice.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 2:14 am

“get to fire that fucker twice” I’m sorry Andrew’, the more intelligent the person, and I’ve read many of your post, the less respect I have for wanton ignorance. There’s a brattyness to westerners, the most pampered humans to have ever existed, that can be unberable to witness.

k September 26, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I’m sorry, but the President of the most powerful country in the world certainly can change the game.

Doug September 26, 2012 at 3:30 pm

There was only one candidate who would not have allowed this to go on. His supporters, who you seem to love to hate so much, are not the left, and certainly would not have been cheering McCain.

msgkings September 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I don’t hate anyone, least of all Ron Paul supporters. I have a hard time respecting the ‘Obama is a leftie commie pinko socialist ruining the country’ crowd, however.

Andrew' September 26, 2012 at 3:47 pm

It makes me wonder what a guy has to do to be a leftie commie pinko socialist ruining the country ’round here.

Andrew' September 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm

“Spread the wealth around”- socialist check
“you didn’t build that” – pinko check
New entitlement in the depths of a debt deflation – leftie check
Nothing on too big to fail – ruining the country check
Maybe for the commie part we’ll use the indiscriminate murdering part.

msgkings September 26, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Well, it’s easy to be a leftie commie pinko, but in this country you can’t ruin anything because you won’t be elected dogcatcher if you were really that. And a good thing too!

Now before you shout ‘Bernie Sanders!’, realize that as left as he is, he’s still far from an actual communist.

msgkings September 26, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Andrew’, really? I thought you were better than that….

Andrew' September 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_positions_of_Barack_Obama#cite_note-aap-12
The Almanac of American Politics (2008) rated Obama’s overall social policies in 2006 as more conservative than 21 percent of the Senate, and more liberal than 77 percent of the Senate (18 percent and 77 percent, respectively, in 2005)

Can you name any other policies other than belligerence that qualify him as centrist?

msgkings September 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Well, the left wanted him to nationalize the banks, which he didn’t. He took a Republican idea for healthcare reform and got it passed. He extended or got new tax cuts passed (and the taxes he wants to raise are only to get our tax code back more like it was in the late 90s when that other centrist Dem was in the WH).

I get that you are a rabid Libertarian Andrew’, but anyone that looks at an Obama, or a Clinton, and doesn’t see a centrist/center-left type is being silly.

Brian Donohue September 26, 2012 at 5:11 pm

I just don’t think we know about Obama yet. Many of my best friends/right wing nuts are convinced he’s a commie, and from his history, his books, and his rhetoric, there is support for this view.

Others view him as being, first and foremost, a pragmatic politician.

We’ll know for sure in a few months.

Clinton spent years before becoming President pulling his party to the right to make it relevant again. There is nothing in Obama’s history (jeez, I could prolly end the sentence right there) remotely similar.

I know the guy has a smooth jumper and extremely high self-regard, but for my money, he can’t carry Clinton’s jock just yet.

Jan September 26, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Obama Senator – kinda liberal.
Obama president – pretty much a centrist.

hey September 27, 2012 at 10:03 am

Andrew’: You’re saying Obama is more liberal than Congress? Weird. Hey, anyone got any statistics on whether Congress has gotten more conservative lately?!

msgkings: you never should have thought he was better than that.

Mark Thorson September 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Yeah, but that candiate would have us back on the gold standard, legalize crack, withdraw the U.S. military to our borders, and a basketful of other crackpot policies. He never had a chance.

Doc Merlin September 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm

“legalize crack”
You do realize that cocain is against /state/ laws, so he would have had no control over its legality?

JWill September 26, 2012 at 10:05 pm

There are plenty of federal laws against controlled substances. Presumably Paul would favor getting rid of them, or not enforcing them at the federal level. State laws could then make their own choices. And it does seem unlikely that any states would rush to legalize crack. But, even it a state wanted to, they could not as long as there were federal laws against it and a Department of Justice that favored enforcing those laws.

Eric Husman September 27, 2012 at 8:14 am

Actually, there have been three such candidates in the last few elections. Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Gary Johnson.

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msgkings September 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Now that’s some funny spam. Hope Obama is paying for his ‘drons’ with dollars not gold.

Anon. September 26, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I wonder if his name is actually Goldman. That’d be mildly interesting…

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Rahul September 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm

In any case, how are drones any worse than conventional alternatives? Does a ship-fired-missile cause any less collateral damage?

Is there any more ” transparency, oversight, and due process” in killing by bomb, bullet or grenade?

Brandon September 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Yeah, how come we don’t just firebomb Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and anywhere else we feel like it? What’s the big deal, anyway?

Andrew' September 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Those are instruments of war to be used in a declared war…ahahahahahahahahahahaahahaha…okay, but seriously…in a war. The drones are being used for assassinations. But a very special variety of assassination that only gets 2% of the targets. We can even assume that that is generous and the successful drone targets are the real 1% and the collateral damage the real 99%.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 2:34 am

That’s the first time, the “Where” has been asked on this thread. Everyone in this discussion, from all the report researchers, to the twerps on the BBC, and most of the commenteriat here in the U.S. are combing through the side they understand and relate too, postively or negatively.

The part that drives me nuts is that North West Frontier is only nominally in Packistan, but in reality it’s a non-state area. The Pakistani stae has NO control over much of Baluchistan, and particularly NWF. This is a place where a tribal malitia, whcih has vowed to, and succeded in attacking U.S. troops in Afghanistan, captured an entire brigade of Pakistani soldiers, beheaded dozens of them for show, disarmed the rest and sent them packing under a negotiated agreement to never to return.

Whatever your opinion of the rights and wrongs of the Afghan adventure, the fact is, an entire cadre tribal militias are using pakistani territory as cover to conduct warfare against American troops and our afghan allies, and hiding behind nominal international borders. So, what is a president to do, but also hide behind dubiuos legal codes to sustain tactical pressure upon our enemies command and control leadership.

What is true nonsense, is the idea that without America’s drone campaign, the Al Shabab, or the Hakani network will return to rasing goats and farming, with peace and tranquility breaking out. At the end of the day, Obama at the minimum has been signaling to the entire “terreffied population” of the NWF that they are consequences to harboring this movement, he’s invoicing them for the cost of supporting their agression in Afghanistan. Whether it is a self defeating strategy is another argument, but at least it is not cost free for them.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 2:36 am

actually it’s not in Packistan at all, it is part of PAKISTAN, but only on the map.

Cyrus September 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Suppose that in destroying a village through conventional aerial bombardament, policymakers estimate that 100 civilians would be killed for every combatant, call that unacceptable, and abstain.

Suppose that the drones reduce that ratio to 10 civilians for every combatant, and policymakers call that acceptable and use the drones.

Which technology is more dangerous to the civilian population?

CBBB September 27, 2012 at 10:41 am

Again WHY the dichotomy as if we HAVE TO BOMB? Think outside the militarist box people.

Martin-2 September 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Read Cyrus again. You’d probably agree with his point.

CBBB September 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Yeah I read it more carefully I see what he says – this is similar to the reason why I’m not a big fan of police using tasers either – it makes aggressive tactics more palatable and hence used more often.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 2:44 am

Then what would you do with the Al Shabab of somalia. There are very real negative consequences to both sides of the decision. Not acting does not spare lives. The Al Shabab actively thwarted famine releif resulting in death rates in the region they controlled to be tens of thousands higher. We could go on for hours on the consequences of Al Shabab on preventing nascent nation formation progressing. Only rabid anarchists-ones born and raised in the richest, politcally and socially stable 10% of the world- believe anarchy trumps the nations state.

Nick L September 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm

The relevant question is whether drone strikes are more dangerous to civilians relative to whatever other tactic would be used otherwise. Given civilian casualties in previous wars around the world, my guess is they are not.

Brandon September 26, 2012 at 3:12 pm

That is certainly the only relevant question here. It’s like I told the judge–”so what if I used a gun–would you rather I used a knife?!”

DL September 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm

+1 to both comments

j r September 27, 2012 at 4:42 am

Maybe I missed something, but when did we go to war with Pakistan?

CBBB September 27, 2012 at 11:07 am

In the minds of some of these commentors

We’re always been at war with Euras—uhh I mean Pakistan.

DL September 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm
k September 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm

(a) Okay, but what about Syria? Kashmir? North Korea? Iran?

(b) The only way to counter a terror outfit is to respond with the same – this is your defense? Don’t you ever think of the Gandhi notion of an eye for an eye?

(c) And, let’s get one fact clear. How was Osama assasinated? By drones? By clever policy? No, because one of his wives got jealous.

dearieme September 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm

You’re assuming Osama was assassinated. I dare say he was, but there must be a slight chance that he’s trussed up somewhere.

DL September 26, 2012 at 3:47 pm

A. When was the last time that one of those countries or regions attacked the United States? How about an organization being sheltered there?

B. Your pacifist fantasy is just that. The world recognizes the right to self defense and AQ isn’t going to think it’s cute and go home.

C. OBL was not killed in a drone strike and thus this “point” is irrelevant.

Doug September 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Point “c” is relevant because it gives lie to the absolutely ridiculous argument that the only ways to respond is to either give up, become a police state, launch a full scale conventional war, or use drones to terrorize civilian populations. There are plenty of other options, and its absurd to suggest otherwise.

JWatts September 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm

“There are plenty of other options, and its absurd to suggest otherwise.”

Yes, this is true. However, I haven’t seen anybody make a good argument for what else should be used.

And also, this issue really has nothing to do with drones specifically. It’s about using aerial bombing. Drones are just a delivery method. Whether the bombs are dropped by a manned or unmanned air craft is largely irrelevant.

Doug September 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm

“Yes, this is true. However, I haven’t seen anybody make a good argument for what else should be used.” Well, how about everything else we are already doing except drone strikes? How about everything else we are already doing combined with a more restained and judicious use of drone strikes?

Also, drones are not irrelevant at all. Unlike conventional airstrikes, drones hover over civilian population centers 24 hours a day, causing an atmosphere of continuous terror in the population below. It is a circumstance that most Americans would find utterly intolerable and would justly rise up against.

In fact, while we tolerate a police helicopter flying over our homes in pursuit of fleeing suspects, most people would be up in arms if an unmanned and unarmed drone simply sat above their house with a camera 24 hours a day.

DL September 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm

The raid against OBL was not something that could be done for every AQ member that the US finds hiding in a hut somewhere. That took months to organize logistically and was extremely high risk. If they botched it Americans could end up dead or captured, which is politically unacceptable. It’s hard to imagine pulling off that kind of a raid once or twice a week indefinitely, and AQ would probably catch on and set up ambushes for US Navy SEALs. Furthermore, you can’t loitor over a target with a SEAL team for days waiting for an opportunity, so even if you used high risk ground assets you’d still need advanced reconnaissance platforms which these days would mean drones would still be hovering overhead.

That being said, the process for target selection and decision making regarding strikes in populated areas should be formalized and subject to a separation of powers, as suggested in the above article that I posted.

Doug September 26, 2012 at 9:49 pm

The US does not need to kill every AQ member hiding in a hut in order to provide an effective self defense.

DL September 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Correct. However, killing as many of them as possible and/or sow a climate of fear in their organization hampers their operations.

JWatts September 27, 2012 at 9:07 am

“In fact, while we tolerate a police helicopter flying over our homes in pursuit of fleeing suspects, most people would be up in arms if an unmanned and unarmed drone simply sat above their house with a camera 24 hours a day.”

You mean like a surveillance satellite or a traffic camera?

And there is this:
“The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama reportedly signed, orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the licensing of commercial drones by 2013.

Privacy advocates say the measure will lead to widespread use of drones for electronic surveillance by police agencies across the country and eventually by private companies as well. They fear that law enforcement will actually use the drones in attacks against criminals in the U.S.”

Chris September 26, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Any criticism of drone warfare that completely fails to consider the alternative methods available is unserious and self-indulgent nonsense.

Speaking without reference to opportunity costs yields the same stupidities in foreign policy that it does in economics.

RG September 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Alternative methods like not bombing people?

Whats the opportunity cost of that?

Chris September 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Alternatives like using special forces, bribing local officials to do the dirty work, tolerating terrorist groups, sending in ground troops, waiting till things get out of hand, etc…

k September 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm

All those alternatives are being carried out as well.

dcdrone September 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm

they would kill us then. ask the hindus if you don’t believe me. we are being too restrained. i favor area bombing and a first-strike on Pakistan.

k September 26, 2012 at 3:26 pm

wow

Geoff Olynyk September 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm

You would say that, dcdrone. You just don’t want to be put out of a job if drone-assassination goes away.

Brandon September 26, 2012 at 3:14 pm

A devastating critique of economics!

Andrew' September 26, 2012 at 3:27 pm

If you were a soldier in a declared war with identified enemies and you were just shooting people and simply missed 98% of the time, not even considering killing civilians with each miss…you’d STOP shooting. We don’t have to get past the alternative of stopping doing something that is dumb.be

However, before we even got to this point we should have asked if we were fighting for our interest and security or maybe The Taliban could not even manage the country. Are we really fighting an Al Qaeda who can attack the US, or are we just fighting a proxy civil war in Afghanistan whose only purpose is to save face for politicians?

balasarius September 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Soldiers regularly miss 98% of the time, in Vietnam it was like 50000 rounds for every one enemy combatant killed. Part of modern squad tactics is just shooting at the general area where the enemy is. Can you really have an opinion when you’re this blatantly uniformed?

JWatts September 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm

+1, there have been numerous studies done and most soldiers use unaimed fire most of the time and never hit much of anything. Drones use precision guided munitions. There’s a reason it’s referred to as precision guided.

k September 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Rational Chris

The alternative would be to send American soldiers. Clearly that is costly compared to drones. Drones save American lives, and are equally adept at destroying others.

k

Jared September 26, 2012 at 3:42 pm

The alternative would to pick an actual strategy that could work, i.e. an open-ended commitment. Every single leader in the area has known from the very beginning that they would have to face the day that the Americans left. With that expectation at the center of everything, it’s blindingly obvious why local leaders would want to compromise with militias given that America has never been interested in paying the true costs of eradication and will one day soon stop paying the inadequate sum they do now.

The only possible justification for the drone campaign is that is a method by which the US can, at an acceptable cost to US taxpayers, exert open ended (necessary to stated goals) control over the regional balance of power. Somehow, I don’t think Democrats would sign off on such an endeavor promoted by anyone else.

dead serious September 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm

*An* alternative would be to do more black ops and send hit squads, kind of like we did to eradicate bin Laden.

Doug September 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm

“Any criticism of drone warfare that completely fails to consider the alternative methods available is unserious and self-indulgent nonsense.”

Any criticism of suicide bombing that completely fails to consider the alternative methods available is unserious and self-indulgent nonsense.

Any criticism of torture that completely fails to consider the alternative methods available is unserious and self-indulgent nonsense.

Any criticism of impressment that completely fails to consider the alternative methods available is unserious and self-indulgent nonsense.

Any criticism of slavery that completely fails to consider the alternative methods available is unserious and self-indulgent nonsense.

Any criticism of genocide that completely fails to consider the alternative methods available is unserious and self-indulgent nonsense.

Brian Donohue September 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm
DL September 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm

The false equivalency here is staggering. Pretending that the goals of disrupting a terrorist organization and the goals of torture, genocide, and slavery are equivalent is ridiculous.

Doug September 26, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Really? Is torture not simply a means, like drone strikes, that has been used in order to “disrupt terrorist organizations”? Like drone strikes, is genocide typically not justified by claims of self defense against an existential threat to a nation? Is slavery not born out of the notion that our own lives are more important than others?

DL September 26, 2012 at 10:50 pm

In certain situations, those can all be means, but the ones you listed are immoral in and of themselves, regardless of their ends. Sure, you could invent some preposterous scenario in which they might be deemed moral, but in real life, there aren’t any situations that arise in which genocide is a morally acceptable means to an end. On the other hand, the use of airstrikes can be moral in a large number of scenarios that actually do pertain to the real world.

Additionally, the phrase that “our own lives are more important than others” is obviously an operating assumption that everyone makes. If not, then you can’t possibly support self defense in any scenario. Otherwise, you’re positioning yourself in a dominant position within a value hierarchy. If you operated under the assumption that everyone else’s life was more important than yours, then you’d just sell all of your possessions and live in a box and donate 100% of your income to other people all day. Unless you do that, and are typing this from a library computer when taking time off from earning income all day for other people, then you obviously make that assumption as well, to some degree.

rpenm September 27, 2012 at 2:39 am

@DL

The immorality of those practices was non-obvious to our ancestors. Moral judgement does not descend whole from heaven – it evolves through trial and error, and the realization that the social costs of some deeds are too great. No deed is immoral regardless of ends; it is the bad outcomes that lead societies to forbid the deed.

On the value of other’s lives: Optimizing for the benefit of others still requires specialization, capital investment and respect for the power of incentive. Wearing sackcloth and ash in a cave probably does much less good for others than production in a factory, office or school. Additionally: while you may not believe in the egalitarian principle, our respect for the norm allows society to function.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 2:52 am

You like many others here keep pulling this argument back up into the refuge of abstraction. At the end of the day, non action has real consequences, there are no simple policy choices. That is what DL pointed out.

DL September 27, 2012 at 1:11 pm

One can still believe in egalitarianism and also defend oneself. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, arguments that we might look back on this in the future and find it immoral could be applied to just about anything. A far more convincing argument would be one that establishes why the use of unmanned aircraft is immoral at the present time.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 2:47 am

Well said.

Andrew L September 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm

The issue with these drone strikes is that they are being used to carry out assassinations in countries that we have not declared war on. Pakistan is supposed to be an “ally”. We *shouldn’t be* flying drones and launching missiles into whatever country we please.

If the US feels a country is a threat, ie. harboring terrorists, stockpiling weapons and making threats, then the US should first approach the issue diplomatically, then bring the issue to the world’s attention (UN), get some UN sanctions/resolutions etc. then gather a coalition of allies to stand with you, and if all of that dosn’t work, then you have to convince congress that it is in the best interest of the US to declare war and remove the threat.

You just can’t throw drones around and strike peoples countries however you please.

any holes in the thought process?

Rahul September 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm

How come Pakistan isn’t objecting any more vociferously, then?

It’s a delusion if you believe these strikes don’t have Pakistan’s tacit approval.

Andrew L September 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Just because we got Pakistan by the balls does not make it right.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 3:07 am

What the hell is Pakistan, sorry to be rude, but are you trying to claim that North West Frontier or baluchistan is the same Pakistan, that has a government, and an Army, and Civil society etc. This is the ignorance gap in the debate. There is Pakistan the country, and then there is the Northern Frontier of Pakistan the country, which is only part of Pakistan due to english cartography. Nobody there considers themselves Pakistani, they have for centuries existed in their own tribal enclave, fiercely defending their independence. There is no administrative control over them and the pakistani state has no presence their. After the advent of the Afghan war and the alliance between these deeply religious pashtun tribesmen and their Taliban kin next door, We convinced the Pakistani military to try and make this region “nominally” Pakistan, into actual Pakistan, that is, part of a nation state, with internal control over it’s external actions. The Pakistani army was embroiled in a vicious guerrilla war in the mountains that saw whole platoons of it’s soldiers captured and publicly beheaded. So they got the fuck out, with a negotiated withdrawal that said, we wont interfere with your attacks on American and Afghan troops, and you don’t bother us in Actual pakistan.

So the question is how can you have both ways. If Pakistan is not willing or able to control militants within it’s territory-the Hakani network for one, put 3,000 men into a single battle against the army- then how does Actual Pakistan then complain bitterly, when someone else on the receiving end of those militants acts to combat them.

Joe Smith September 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm

“any holes in the thought process?”

I think the problem is that the strikes inside “Pakistan” are in the so called tribal areas where the central government is not in control and has little say as to what happens on the ground.

k September 26, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Okay, I’m spamming a bit here but this defense – drones are a necessary evil, and relatively speaking, the most humane thing to do.

Really sticks in my craw. Read this, o opportunity cost thinkers, from the report: “evidence suggests that US strikes have…motivated further violent attacks”

Think about it. You’re a beginning terrorist. What is a worse way to go – your local politician selling you out, or some random strike from an American drone (random, by the way, is used intentionally)? By worse, I mean in terms of that beloved opportunity cost.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 3:16 am

The entire Tribal area of Northern Pakistan, is an recruiting and training center for Taliban foot soldiers, to suicide bombers for use elsewhere, to Command and Control HQ for Al Qaeda. The idea that removing pressure from that systemic process will somehow break a vicious cycle was proven utterly false time and time again, in Columbia, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, where policies of negotiated “peace zones” only produced better armed and better trained militants.

Turing Test September 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Aside from their legality (yawn — after all, who has the power to enforce norms of international law against the United States?), drones also pose a difficult emprical question: do they really make “us” safer, or do they make “us” less safe? A good argument can be made either way.

Mark Thorson September 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Thanks like applying a test of whether we’re getting enough science per dollar from the NASA budget. We don’t spend money on NASA for the science. We spend money on NASA because it makes us feel good. Same thing with drone strikes.

The question I want asked is why we, the American public, can’t see the video from these drone strikes in real-time? I want a government website where on the left side of the screen I see a summary of the data justifying the strike, and on the right side I see the video from the camera in the drone. Brother-in-law of a suspected terrorist? Sounds good to me. Direct hit! Good work, guys!

mw September 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm

again it makes no sense to analyze this issue in a vacuum. drone strikes suck, but they’re a spectacular alternative to war, and it’s irrational to assume that if we stopped drone strikes we wouldn’t have some other cowboy president swinging his sack across the country to get us to make another ground invasion of a random country with much more devastating consequences than anything the drones have produced.

Brandon September 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Yes, agreed. Drones are a good terrorism deterrent, but an even better Republican president deterrent.

Andrew' September 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Okay, we’ll deal with this “alternative to war” trope. If you subtract the obvious agitation of more enemies, had we had a policy of drone attacks prior to 9/11 these type of attacks would not have killed any of the hijackers.

We are in Afghanistan because they couldn’t control the country. Now we are encroaching into Pakistan because we cannot control the country and Pakistan cannot control the country. And people think that the only relevant alternative is war with Pakistan? How ’bout just stop playing globetrotting tripwire?

dead serious September 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Agree, but you have to admit that there are terrorist cell leaders who we do know about, who are holed up in foreign jurisdictions, and who oftentimes the national government and certainly local civilians either don’t know about or can’t do anything about.

I say we do the Israeli thing and send in unmarked assassination teams. Let the locals wonder if it was us, Israelis, or rival factions. Mostly they won’t care – anything beats not being bombed.

Joe Smith September 26, 2012 at 8:53 pm

“had we had a policy of drone attacks prior to 9/11 these type of attacks would not have killed any of the hijackers.”

But if we had had the drone technology in 1998 – Clinton would have gotten bin Laden with a drone rather than missing him with cruise missiles. You strike at the head of the snake.

john September 26, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I thought the quote by Gore was from a talk he gave at one of the Lincoln Historical Society meetings.

Bill September 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Funny you didn’t mention the other news item: Northrup and Boeing are seeking export permission to sell drones to other countries.

It’s a bird

It’s a plane

Oops, it’s drone.

Take cover.

Bill September 26, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Isn’t the question that should be asked about a drone strike that doesn’t kill the terrorist but does kill civilians the following:

Is there a failure of intelligence.

ds September 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I have thought this for a while… that although Republicans are possibly WORSE offenders against many liberties & and executive power grabbing, having a Republican in office may actually be BETTER when it comes to these problems, because you have the loud left yelling and pointing out every offence.

When the Democrats are in charge, who is there to yell against their offences? Certainly not their own party, especially not in an election year. And certainly not the Republicans, who preach the greatness of these things.

dead serious September 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm

There are plenty of left-leaning folks criticizing Obama about these things. Colbert has been deriding Obama’s Gitmo policy from day 1, and here’s a clip on the drone strike policy:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/414703/may-31-2012/barack-obama-s-righteous-drone-strikes

RPLong September 26, 2012 at 4:07 pm

It’s like I always say: The great thing about the two-party system is that it’s ALWAYS four more years!”

Ian Maitland September 26, 2012 at 4:12 pm

OK, I have not followed the issue as closely as I should have. But to call the Stanford/NYU study an “independent investigation” when its findings were a foregone conclusion seems to be a stretch. Maybe it’s right and maybe it’s wrong, but it is an advocacy document or brief. I am not sure I know what “mood affiliation” is, but isn’t that what is going on here?

Brandon September 26, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Uh, I think we call it “independent” because it wasn’t produced–like most other reports on drone usage–by the people actually propagating the drone war.

Ian Maitland September 26, 2012 at 9:11 pm

I don’t think so: (1) it was not a true investigation if the investigators had already made up their minds, and (2) it was hardly independent if it came from partisans of one side. “Independent” connotes, to my ear at least, impartiality, fair-mindedness, no dog in the fight.
Shall we just agree that the wording cobeyed the impression it was open-minded and impartial when it was neither of those things?

Andrew' September 27, 2012 at 7:26 am

Well, how could the findings not be a foregone conclusion when they are utterly common sense?

We have robot planes launching missiles into a place BECAUSE we can’t get troops in there. What follows is the only thing that can follow.

We shouldn’t need such reports, except that for Americans and politicians to see what is right in front of ther nose is a constant struggle.

Bob from Ohio September 27, 2012 at 11:27 am

No, just by people who oppose the drones before they even started their “investigation”.

They didn’t go to the area, they observed no drone strikes, they only interviewed people selected (“cherry picked”?) by the Pakistani partner.

Its a brief pretending to be a judicial opinion.

collin September 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm

It makes you wonder why the R’s back in ~January did not take more seriously the polls showing Ron Paul had the highest percentage against Obama than any other R candidate. Frankly, the current MIddle East protest have incorrectly helped Obama because his opponent is spending all foreign speeches making Tom Bolton feel good. Listening to Romney the question is when there is a war versus Obama’s current blundering.

Had Ron Paul been running then the Middle East protest would look really bad right now.

The Original D September 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Very true. Unfortunately foreign policy debates basically consist of “I’m tougher!” “No, I’m tougher”!

Remember W’s “humble” foreign policy?

MikeDC September 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm

They didn’t because the public at large supports an aggressive stance on foreign policy. Hell, Obama is running on the perception that he’s aggressive in his foreign policy.

Now, to be a little more nuanced, the public likes an aggressive stance, but this is balanced by the fact they generally don’t like war and people dying. Thus, the ideal foreign policy stance is one of strength and deterrence.

Which, to me, seems to be the more pragmatic approach I see with Romney.

With Obama, I see strength combined with ambiguity about when and where it will be used. Which, unfortunately, seems to lead to it being used too much.

rjs September 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm

As many as six drones will circle over one location, often for 24 hours a day. Waiting. And the people on the ground can hear them, see them. Every day. Every night. They never know when death will slam into them from the sky, but they know it could. Perhaps it will not kill them, today. Or their children, tonight.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 3:34 am

Maybe they should ask the Militants to leave, or begin to organize to expel them. The pashtuns of the area, and the other tribesmen are known to be notoriously tough and well armed people on a household level. I love the idea, that a people who could so violently repel the Pakistani army, is utterly unable to affect the scourge of Militants or Al Queda amongst them.

Maybe it cognitive dissonance that prevents them tying together the cause and effect of Drones in the sky above. this is not an unarmed passive population dominated by a controlling state. Cause and effect.

John September 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm
Jim September 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm

In other words they have plenty of time to consider the cost of harboring these people.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 3:35 am

+1

Yancey Ward September 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Had Obama put an end to such things, or ended the war in Afghanistan, he would have seemed weak, and probably been portrayed as even weaker than he is portrayed today. I think such policies were continued precisely to foreclose/attenuate such a political attack, not because the administration actually believed them beneficial in the WoT. It doesn’t make Obama look any better in my eyes, but like Cowen, I doubt Romney is better.

Ape Man September 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm

The problems raised in this post are only minor issues compared to the greater problem and I think the way that Professor Cowen approached this issue only adds to the real problem.

Anyone with even a little bit of brains knows that a nation cannot offer due process to all people all the time and still survive as a nation. Anyone with even a little bit of brains knows that no nation can ever avoid all civilian causalities in pursuit of its own survival. The founding fathers of this country (not that I am one deify them by any stretch) had a little bit of brains. That is why they allowed for this thing called “declaring War.”

The problem I have with Cowen approach to the issue is that it might lead one to think that Cowen believes that if only we did things the “right way” we could have our cake and eat it to. But there are very real costs to following the rule of law. If there were not, everyone would follow the rule of law. In a corrupt country like Pakistan, you are never going to be legal and be effective at getting people like Bin-Laden. And there are very real costs to declaring war on Pakistan. If there was no cost to declaring war on Pakistan, Bush would have done it a long time ago.

But few people who dislike the “war on terror” are willing to face up to the fact that the “rule of law” has very real costs. And few people who support the “war on terror” are truly willing to argue for war because they want to pretend that they can have their “war on terror” and still have rule of law. But war has always curtailed liberty. So we kill people in manner that we hope is short of war but is far from the rule of law and hope that we can have the best of both worlds. What we have forgotten is that sometimes you have to make real choices with real costs.

Michael Sullivan September 27, 2012 at 1:53 am

I suppose that in a reductionist sense, I might believe that there is some truth to the statement that “a nation cannot offer due process to all people all the time and still survive as a nation.”

But I’m pretty goddamn sure that whatever theoretical truth that statement has, it has absolutely no bearing on the situation at hand. The idea that the only thing halting the destruction of the US as a nation is a continuous campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan is fatuous beyond belief. Anyone who believes it is an idiot. I’ll generously assume that Ape Man is merely evil, and not a total cretin.

Ape Man September 27, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Thank you for your generosity.

However, I am afraid that you have the wrong idea about what I was arguing as I was not coherent enough. I have tried to clarify elsewhere.

Tyler Cowen September 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm

In the absence of imminent danger, surely a bit more of Constitution and democratic discourse would not go askew…?

Michael September 26, 2012 at 8:43 pm

I know it might be an unpopular opinion but I think that all of the focus on the assassination of Al Awlaki was a counterproductive way to move US public opinion against drone strikes.

It reminds me of the debate around torture. Most Americans turned against Guantanamo and torture when military psychologists started arguing that torture was ineffective.

People can get so caught up arguing against the “evil” of “necessary evils” that they ignore the necessary part. The American people already are tired of the war in Afghanistan so stories like this one and the revelation that all non-verified civilians are claimed as enemy combatants are the best rhetorical weapons against ineffective and morally wrong foreign policy actions.

Nigel September 27, 2012 at 6:09 am

That’s a sensible approach.
It might even get through to some of the sociopaths who post here.

CBBB September 27, 2012 at 10:32 am

Not likely

Joe Smith September 26, 2012 at 9:02 pm

When someone has declared a personal war against the United States and may at any moment set in motion an attack (which could come to fruition months later) how do you define “imminent danger”.

CBBB September 27, 2012 at 10:33 am

Who declared personal war against the United States? Every random male over the age of 18 in Northern Pakistan? That’s news to me.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 3:47 am

“Every random male” is a straw man to hide from the argument that there are actual Militants, actually planning AND conducting warfare against American troops in neighbouring Pakistan. The only reason U.S. troops never got to this area to bring the war to some culminating point of either success or failure, is the real existence of an Pakistani border on an imaginary line a little to the North West. Without that Borderline, the Afghan war would have played out differently, as they would be now sanctuary for Taliban command and control during the height of the war and surge. But with that Border, there was sanctuary from state control, both by Pakistan and Afghanistan, and so we now have the consequences upon these people of their unfortunate history. They have benefited from being de-facto stateless, BUT they have also used that statelessness to interfere in the affairs of others. Unluckily on the reciving end of those who use them as a refuge, was one of the few global states who can act without impunity across state lines world wide. And now consequence is occurring.

prior_approval September 27, 2012 at 3:45 am

Like the discussion surrounding the secret bombing of Cambodia?

‘Operation Menu was the codename of a covert United States Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombing campaign conducted in eastern Cambodia and Laos from 18 March 1969 until 26 May 1970, during the Vietnam War. The targets of these attacks were sanctuaries and Base Areas of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and forces of the Viet Cong, which utilized them for resupply, training, and resting between campaigns across the border in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The effects of the bombing campaign are disputed by historians.

An official United States Air Force record of US bombing activity over Indochina from 1964 to 1973 was declassified by US president Bill Clinton in 2000. The report gives details of the extent of the bombing of Cambodia, as well as of Laos and Vietnam. According to the data, the Air Force began bombing the rural regions of Cambodia along its South Vietnam border in 1965 under the Johnson administration. This was four years earlier than previously believed. The Menu bombings were an escalation of these air attacks. Nixon authorized the use of long-range B-52 bombers to carpet bomb the region.’

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Menu

The whole article shows just how far we have gone from using B-52s to carpet bomb nations we aren’t at war with to using drones to kill people we aren’t at war with.

I seem to have missed the discussion – my memories are of how enthusiastically the military backed precision munitions and their delivery systems all through those decades, and how we kept using them – cruise missiles in Sudan, Hellfires in Iraqi border regions, and continuing to today’s panoply of names and systems, deployed on a global basis, ready to slaughter whoever it is we deem necessary to slaughter.

Just like back in the bad old days of Nixon and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kissinger.

This is illiuminating, particularly the very first sentence and the last paragraph -

‘In his diary in March 1969, Nixon’s chief of staff, HR Haldemann, noted that the final decision to carpet bomb Cambodia ‘was made at a meeting in the Oval Office Sunday afternoon, after the church service’.

In his diary on 17 March 1969, Haldemann wrote:

Historic day. K[issinger]’s “Operation Breakfast” finally came off at 2:00 pm our time. K really excited, as is P[resident].

And the next day:

K’s “Operation Breakfast” a great success. He came beaming in with the report, very productive. A lot more secondaries than had been expected. Confirmed early intelligence. Probably no reaction for a few days, if ever.

The bombing began on the night of 18 March with a raid by 60 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, based at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The target was Base Area 353, the supposed location of COSVN in the Fishhook.[13] Although the aircrews were briefed that their mission was to take place in South Vietnam, 48 of the bombers were diverted across the Cambodian border and dropped 2,400 tons of bombs.[14] The mission was designated Breakfast, after the morning Pentagon planning session at which it was devised.[citation needed]

Breakfast was so successful (in US terms) that General Abrams provided a list of 15 more known Base Areas for targeting.[15] The five remaining missions and targets were: Lunch (Base Area 609), Snack (Base Area 351), Dinner (Base Area 352), Supper (Base Area 740), and Dessert (Base Area 350). SAC flew 3,800 B-52 sorties against these targets, and dropped 108,823 tons of ordnance during the missions.[16] Due to the continued reference to gastronomic situations in the codenames, the entire series of missions was referred to as Operation Menu. Studies and Observations Group forward air controllers of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam provided 70 percent of the Menu bomb damage intelligence[17]

Nixon and Kissinger went to great lengths to keep the missions secret. The expansion of the US effort into “neutral” Cambodia was sure to cause serious debate in the US Congress, negative criticism in the media, and were sure to spark anti-war protests on US college campuses. In order to prevent this, an elaborate dual reporting system covering the missions had been formulated during the Brussels meeting between Nixon, Haig, and Colonel Sitton.’

Because just like with the drones slaughtering families, when something is carpet bombed, plausible deniability is a major goal of the American way. Along with really clever code names – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper carpet bombing being on America’s menu. Along with an extra sweet portion of dessert, chock full of B-52 delivered delights.

txslr September 28, 2012 at 7:29 pm

The army of North Vietnam invaded Cambodia and occupied large tracts of the eastern part of that country. They also underwrote an insurgency of Cambodia through a proxy called the Khmer Rouge. The government of Cambodia was helpless to defend itself against the more powerful Vietnamese and so it approved the U.S. bombing of the North Vietnamese bases in Cambodia from which operations were being launched against South Vietnam. One condition the Cambodian government put on their approval was that the bombing campaign and the approval be kept secret in order to, to the extent possible, avoid a Chinese and Russian response.

So your fable of Cambodia is wrong. We were not bombing a country we were not at war with. We were bombing an enemy with whom we were at war, in a country that they had invaded, and only at the invitation of that country.

Whether it worked or not is another question. In one sense it did work; we inflicted significant damage on the army that had invaded Cambodia and was using bases there to launch attacks on a neighboring country. On the other hand, eventually the North Vietnamese proxy overran Cambodia with results too horrific to be contemplated.

So who is more to blame? The North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge who invaded and overran Cambodia, or the U.S. that tried to stop them?

Ape Man September 27, 2012 at 6:42 am

Professor Cowen,

Not sure if that comment was direct at me or just a re-statement of you general point. But regardless, I agree.

I am not a supporter of the drone strikes and I don’t think we should go to war with Pakistan. My point (which seems to have gotten lost in the way that I phrased the last sentancet) is that by focusing on the how we “should” do it obscures to my mind what should be the real debate. There should be a stark contrast offered to the American people. We go to war or we leave other nations alone. My problem with how most anti-drone people argue is that they seem to imply there is a way of messing around in other nations short of war that would work. Looking for that kind of solution is what got us in the drone business to begin with.

Andrew' September 27, 2012 at 7:17 am

YES!

But what anti-drone people are you talking to? Not deez.

Drones are just weapons. Let’s kill fewer non-enemies with all weapons. That is all.

Ape Man September 27, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Andrew,

Your comment perfectly encapsulates the problem I have with Cowen’s post and the anti-drone people in general. To my mind, the entire problem with most anti-drone arguments is that they are based on facts over which reasonable people may disagree. Anti-drone people will grab on to any claim of civilians deaths in an effort to prove to the American people how evil the drone war is . They never rarely acknowledge the fact there is just as many people with an incentive to exaggerate claims of civilian deaths as there are people who want to minimize them. Your talk of killing fewer non-enemies is standard boiler plate for people who don’t want to acknowledge that they may not be right about who the drones are killing. What you have done by talking like that is change the argument from one over whether the President should have the power to extrajudicialy kill people in peace time to one about the nature and character of people in Pakistan.

Whether you want to admit to it or not, a very strong case can be made that lots of enemies of the US and of Western civilization in genera are being killed in the drone strikes. To believe otherwise, is to believe that everyone in the military and Obama’s administration is evil and stupid. This is the kind of mindset that Cowen at least claims to abhor in other contexts. I don’t think that you or most of the other drone opponents are that much smarter than the people who support these strikes. Governments have a track record of covering things up, but “independent” studies such as the one that Cowen quoted don’t exactly have a good record either (the Lancet study in Iraq comes to mind, but there is a long history of such advocacy studies being shown to be false/overblown in retrospect).

To me, this does not matter. I don’t care if every drone strike is killing a crazy fanatic who just can’t wait to blow up Americans. It is fundamentally dangerous to America to kill anyone extrajudicialy unless and until you think they are a big enough threat to declare war (or never if you believe that war is always wrong). To say otherwise is to argue that central idea behind the American experiment is wrong and it really is okay to give one man unlimited power because he will use it wisely.

I know the standard argument against this idea from some conservatives is that it is all right for the President to throw checks and balances out the window as long as it is not done in this country. But I don’t understand the point saying that Congress has to declare war if the President can just do what he pleases as long as it is not in this country. Either checks and balances is a valid principle for governance (in which case is should be applied to all areas of governance) or it is an invalid, in which case why not get rid of it in the states as well?

txslr September 28, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Of course the constitutional issue of war declaration is much more nuanced and complex than many people know or are willing to acknowledge. The Constitution merely says that the Congress has the power to declare war. It does not say that in the absence of such a declaration no military action outside the borders of the U.S. can be undertaken. It also does not call for an act specifically called a “Declaration of War” nor for an act that includes those words. So Congress’ authorization is perfectly acceptable from a constitutional perspective.

Furthermore, the constitution grants the executive the responsibility for foreign affairs and names the president Commander and Chief. Presidents since Washington have held that this fact provides the executive with the authority to, effectively, wage war without the explicit approval of Congress. Note that this still leaves with Congress the ability to end any military action undertaken by the executive by refusing to fund it.

The War Power Resolution attempted to limit this implied power of the executive, although the issue of its Constitutionality has never been submitted to the Supreme Court. Interestingly, even the War Powers Resolution recognizes some authority of the executive to wage war without a “declaration” in any form – for 60-days with another 30-days for withdrawal.

So there is nothing extra-legal or unconstitutional about the “drone war”. If Congress doesn’t like it they can withdraw the authorization or refuse to fund it. There are checks and balances, and they are operating. Many people don’t like the outcome, but the system is not broken.

CIP September 26, 2012 at 7:51 pm

We shouldn’t forget that the only obvious alternative to drone strikes that kill some innocents is invasion or mass aerial bombing that kills tens or hundreds of thousands – as in Iraq.

NAME REDACTED September 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm

How about not getting entangled in foreign affairs, instead?
Your false dilemma is both idiotic and insulting.

Andrew' September 27, 2012 at 7:20 am

Or just move our troops away from the Pakistani border so that Al Qaeda, if that is even what this is about, has to move across our border (well, Afghanistan’s).

No, our only options are not invade Pakistan with troops or with robots.

We aren’t even doing it right militarily.

If it was a border with China, noone would claim with a straight face we have to keep bombing into China so as not to invade China. Asinine.

kmn329 September 26, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Pakistan delenda est.

rpenm September 27, 2012 at 2:51 am

Um seriously? You know that’s essentially a call to genocide, right?

glenn September 26, 2012 at 9:38 pm

The main reason the body count has gone down on drone stikes is that a body count above 15 requires a special report and nobody wants to report that . So the counting stops before that. I wonder what the US would do if the Mexican government used a drone strike to take out a drug king that is in the US but wanted for murder and terrorist activities against the Mexican government.

bunker brown September 27, 2012 at 3:05 am

I for one would applaud. One less case to ram through our clogged justice system.

dead serious September 27, 2012 at 8:53 am

You wouldn’t applaud if they missed and hit your house instead.

Nyongesa September 29, 2012 at 3:56 am

If the Mexican Cartel controlled a region stretching from the Pacific ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, called let’s say California, Arizona New Mexico and Texas, and was using this region., for which no American troops dared enter, and the American Government had no effective presence whatsoever, to launch operations into Mexico to attack mexican soldiers, police and civilian Government, then no, I as an American citzen would have no right to complain to Mexico for there actions.

Andrew' September 27, 2012 at 7:32 am

The whole idea that we MUST use robots (nevermind that we don’t have to stay in Afghanistan to make sure our troops are a tripwire for anti-occupation forces, we could just guard our borders for ONE thing) so the don’t lose any of our boys while killing 50 to 1 civilians to designated targets kind of sums up the entire flawed concept.

If we assume our lives are so much more important than their children’s lives (nevermind that we don’t have to put ourselves in harm’s way to begin with) that we have to kill them indiscriminately so our people can do it from a video game then this war will never end.

R.Mutt September 27, 2012 at 7:56 am

Imran Khan is worth listening to on this subject (discussion of the tribal areas start 7:40, drones from 11:55).

The Anti-Gnostic September 27, 2012 at 9:14 am

If you invite the world, you have to invade the world. And we don’t have the Roman army to provide a huge footprint over entire regions, so drones are the next best thing.

CBBB September 27, 2012 at 10:21 am

Obama’s various policies with respect to anti-terrorism and national security have been one of the biggest disgraces of his presidency. It was not long ago that many of these so-called “progressive” (not revealed to be little more than Democratic Party hacks) bloggers would be screaming until they were red in the face when Bush conducted his administration in a similar fashion. Now that it’s Obama they turn a blind eye (or even cheer him on) and they echo the exact same lines that they used to ridicule Republicans for using.
What makes it extra shameful is that Obama has normalized these policies by making them bipartisan and hence effectively removing them from debate in the US.
This extends well past drone strikes – he’s had an abysmal record on civil liberties in general and transparency within his administration.

prior_approval September 27, 2012 at 10:29 am

Barbarism is bipartisan.

prior_approval September 27, 2012 at 10:49 am

And here are some statistics to back that assertion up -

‘To be honest, I threw in the nuclear bomb question on a lark, not expecting to find much. Boy, was I wrong. Aside from learning that 25 percent of Americans would stop the next terrorist plot with a several-hundred-kiloton atomic bomb, the poll numbers suggest that Americans have become more hawkish on counterterrorism policy since Barack Obama became president.

Consider this: In an October 2007 Rasmussen poll, 27 percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should torture prisoners captured in the fight against terrorism, while 53 percent said it should not. In my YouGov poll, 41 percent said they would be willing to use torture — a gain of 14 points — while 34 percent would not, a decline of 19 points.

Sure, the devil is in the details. Poll responses are highly susceptible to question wording. So I had the pollsters ask some of the exact same questions in the exact same way that appeared in a January 2005 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, the most detailed pre-Obama poll on interrogation techniques that I could find. It turns out that Americans don’t just like the general idea of torture more now. They like specific torture techniques more too.

Respondents in 2012 are more pro-waterboarding, pro-threatening prisoners with dogs, pro-religious humiliation, and pro-forcing-prisoners-to-remain-naked-and-chained-in-uncomfortable-positions-in-cold-rooms. In 2005, 18 percent said they believed the naked chaining approach was OK, while 79 percent thought it was wrong. In 2012, 30 percent of Americans thought this technique was right, an increase of 12 points, while just 51 percent thought it was wrong, a drop of 28 points. In 2005, only 16 percent approved of waterboarding suspected terrorists, while an overwhelming majority (82 percent) thought it was wrong to strap people on boards and force their heads underwater to simulate drowning. Now, 25 percent of Americans believe in waterboarding terrorists, and only 55 percent think it’s wrong. The only specific interrogation technique that is less popular now than in 2005, strangely enough, is prolonged sleep deprivation.’

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/09/25/torture_creep

Nuke armed drones? Well, at least a quarter of Prof. Cowen’s fellow citizens would apparently be on board.

Bob from Ohio September 27, 2012 at 11:46 am

By “disgraces” you mean “successes”, I assume?

You should vote for Romney if you feel this way. At least some liberals will stop supporting drones if the GOP is at the trigger.

prior_approval September 27, 2012 at 12:05 pm

‘The truth about drones is’ –

Double tapping –

‘Late in the evening on 6 June this year an unmanned drone was flying high above the Pakistani village of Datta Khel in north Waziristan.

The buzz emitted by America’s fleet of Predators and Reapers are a familiar sound for the inhabitants of the dusty hamlet, which lies next to a riverbed close to Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and is a stronghold for the Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

As the drone circled it let off the first of its Hellfire missiles, slamming into a small house and reducing it to rubble. When residents rushed to the scene of the attack to see if they could help they were struck again.

According to reports at the time, three local rescuers were killed by a second missile whilst a further strike killed another three people five minutes later. In all, somewhere between 17 and 24 people are thought to have been killed in the attack.

The Datta Khel assault was just one of the more than 345 strikes that have hit Pakistan’s tribal areas in the past eight years but it reveals an increasingly common tactic now being used in America’s covert drone wars – the “double-tap” strike.’

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/outrage-at-cias-deadly-double-tap-drone-attacks-8174771.html

And what sort of tactic is double tapping – well, lets see who has used it in the past – ‘In a 2007 report, entitled Underlying Reasons for Success and Failure of Terrorist Attacks (pdf) and prepared for Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate by Homeland Security Institute (and recently scrubbed from their web site, here) notes: “a favorite tactic of Hamas, the “double tap;” a device is set off, and when police and other first responders arrive, a second, larger device is set off to inflict more casualties and spread panic.”’

http://jonathanturley.org/2012/06/09/the-obama-double-tap/

But if we listen to a certain segment of the American population, we could just start nuking anywhere that might have terrorists. After all, you just can’t be too thorough when slaughtering people, it seems.

Bob from Ohio September 27, 2012 at 11:41 am

The truth about drones is not “sorry”.

Combatants who hide among the civilian population are responsible for injury and death to the civilians.

The people of Anwar province in Iraq got tired of fellow Muslims bring death and turned on the terrorists. The death soon subsided.

The people of Pakistan need to stop harboring or tolerating terrorists and they will be left alone.

CBBB September 27, 2012 at 12:15 pm

“The people of Pakistan need to stop harboring or tolerating terrorists and they will be left alone.”

Is that so? And how do we know they’re habouring terrorists? Obama Says so? You do realize the working definition of a militant target for the Obama administration is any male over the age of 18? So should the Pakistanis kill their first born men?

Bob from Ohio September 27, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Are you denying that there are armed fighters in these areas of Pakistan who cross the border and kill Americans?

Robert September 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm

It’s awful how Obama is doing this completely unilaterally. It would be one thing if congress authorized the broad use of military force against the people who helped aid the 9/11 attackers, including the taliban now hiding in Pakistan, but obviously that never happened or Cowen would have mentioned it. Clearly Obama must have claimed authority to kill anyone he wants, not the authority to kill a small subset of people when acting with congressional authorization.

On a more serious note, this is my least favorite trope in libertarian circles. Congress authorized the president to kill some people (albeit a decade ago) and he’s killing them. That’s how quasi-war type military actions work, and this country has been fighting quasi-wars since 1798. To conflate clearly legal military actions with arguably illegal civil liberties violations is stupid. The law is what it is, and advocating for terrorists based on rule of law principles (a good thing to do!) works better when you actually take time to learn the rules and law you are boosting for.

Ape Man September 27, 2012 at 7:23 pm

I understand what you are saying, I am just not sure it holds water.

It is true that in 1798 Congress never formally declared war against the pirates but they did lay out a very narrow scope of action for the President to follow and there was a clear endpoint. And it is true that “a” Congress a long time ago authorized a President to take action against those who helped aid 9/11 attackers. I am just not convinced that power is narrow or limited to small subset of people. Contrary to the 1798 bill, the current authorized quasi-war is not very well defined. I could make a reasonable case that the bill authorize the killing of one third of worlds Muslims since they contributed to charities that contributed to the jihad in Afghanistan against the soviets and some of that money found its way to those we now call the Taliban.

The bottom line is that if Congress passes a law to make the President above the law, does that therefore become all right just because it was authorized? I understand that war sometimes has to be carried out if nations want to survive. I just don’t think that the current “authorization” is meaningfully distinguishable from a permanent grant of power.

Robert September 27, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Yes, congress authorizing the use of military force against horrible people makes the use of military force against horrible people justified, or at the very least prevents slippery slope, “if the US can blow up some pashtun war lord what it can’t it do to our liberties?” type arguments. To me those arguments hold as much water as complaining in 1944 that the US is still killing nazis, years after Pear Harbor (albeit many less years than in the current situation) with no clear end in sight. Is the longer time frame here significant? Well, maybe, if you accept a “after a certain amount of time AUMFs automatically stop applying, even if the enemy hasn’t been defeated” arguments. But those are dumb arguments! If Congress wants an AUMF to stop applying there is a real easy solution: pass a law saying that or defund the war.

Don’t get me wrong here, I think the AUMF has been abused. This just isn’t an example of that. Congress was clearly authorizing force against the Taliban when it passed that law. This is force against the Taliban. It may be a bad policy, but it’s not a slippery slope to tyranny and it is categorically different from alleged human rights abuses with a less clear constitutional pedigree. The president gets to blow up foreigners when congress gives him permission. No one has to declare war or anything. That’s been accepted in this country for over 200 years. And that is what is happening here.

As an aside, I would argue that if their are multiple interpretations of a law, the one that justifies genocide against Muslims is by definition the unreasonable one.

Doug September 27, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Congress authorizing an act does not justify it. The act is either justified or it is not, and congressmen should vote to authorize or not it based on their judgments of its justification. Sometimes they get it wrong, but that does not justify an unjust act.

Robert September 28, 2012 at 7:02 am

Agreed. “Legal” or “constitutional” would have been a better choice of terms than “justfied.”

My point was this: Cowen’s quote says that liberals got angry at Bush eavesdropping on Americans, but not this, with he implication being they are hypocrites. But there is a big difference! it’s pretty settled law that when congress authorizes the use of military force and the president then uses military force, that is constitutional and legal. It was less clear that Bush’s eaves dropping was constitutional and legal. There were significant rule of law issues in the one case that don’t exist in the other.

I am not saying it’s as simple as AUMF + killing people = legal. Again, there are clear problems with the things people have done in the name of that AUMF, and a very broad interpretation of an authorization to use military force can raise constitutional issues. But that’s not what is happening here. After 9/11 congress authorized the use of military force against governments and organisations that aided the terrorists, pretty clearly meaning “the Taliban.” Now we are using military force against the Taliban and those allied with them. So constitutional! So legal! It may be a stupid policy, but it’s not a policy that abuses the rule of law and shouldn’t be analogized to policies that abuse the rule of law.

Duracomm September 28, 2012 at 8:55 am

Obama is a civil liberties disaster. It would be nice if that fact got more coverage and less excuse making from his supporters.

Obama ‘Even Worse’ Than Bush On Secret Wiretapping Case, Says S.F. Lawyer

Just as significant as the ruling, however, may be what the case demonstrates about the Obama Justice Department’s approach to surveillance of suspected terrorists.

Eisenberg told SF Weekly that government lawyers working for Obama had been “more strident” than those working for Bush, refusing to let him see important federal documents related to the case even after he was approved for a top-secret security clearance.

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