Friday, March 15, 2013

The Drone Debate


I admit to being conflicted by the ongoing drone debate.  Do we need them, when, where, who?

And land mines are fearsome things.  The world would be better without them.  Like war.  But when I was in a war I appreciated them.  They protected me from ground attack and that was all I needed to know.  I never thought about the ethics involved until Soviet land mines became controversial during their Afghan invasion.  

Then the repugnant reality of their indiscriminate killing made me stop and reconsider.... and I'm still conflicted.  I understand their need and use to protect troops, as I was once protected.  But the Soviets also dropped and placed little mines that were particularly attractive to little kids, especially little kids who had never seen a toy in their lives.  

That's the Soviet "butterfly mine' up above.  Those make me a little queasy.  The anticipated effect of these small mines was to demoralize the Afghans so much that they would stop fighting.  Victory through grief over dead and maimed children.  The actual effect was to strengthen their resolve, recruit more to their cause and reinforce their pitiless treatment of POWs. 

What are we getting for our drone attacks?  Well, we're killing a lot of al-Qaeda, Taliban and affiliated bad guys.  I'm for that, in general, if that is the purpose of our warBut is it?   

I have completely forgotten the reason for continuing the war and simultaneously planning our exit from it.  How does that work and how do you explain it to the parents of the last soldier killed on the way out?  "Your son died a hero's death in defense of the Karzai opium crop."

When do we use drones to kill people?  Well, that's a hot topic right now.   The CIA won't even admit to the existence of a drone program and the Prez says he has the authority to, you know, kill people.  Says it's in a memo.  Won't show us the memo, though.  It's a secret.  We can't be trusted.  (Could I make this stuff up?)  Showed it to a few congressmen yesterday, after stonewalling for two years.  After all, congressmen can be trusted.  We can't be trusted.

Where are we killing the alleged baddies?  Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Mali, Yemen and God only knows where else.  God and the Prez and John Brennan, and none of them is talking to us.  We can't be trusted.

Who are we killing?  The administration has a curious policy:  "if you're standing near them, you must be a terrorist."  So pretty much anyone we think is a danger to us, whoever "us" is at the moment and what you mean by danger, and whomever is close by - kids, women, grocery clerks, doesn't matter.  No need for a battlefield, formation, weapon, uniform, Congressional oversight or... anything.  It's really none of our business, though.  We can't be trusted.

We have a secret army for secretly killing secret peopleWe say you're on the list, you're goin' down.  Don't piss us off, bearded turban people.  Prez won't tell us who's on the list, who makes the list, why they made it or if it's possible to get off the list once you're on it.  We can't be trusted.

We are killing a lot of civilian non-combatants, but they don't really matter.  Here's the first bit of an anecdote from a CNN story that ran today:
Farmers are on their way to tend their crops when a missile slams into their midst, thrusting shrapnel in all directions.
A CIA drone, flying so high that the farmers can't see it, has killed most of them. None of them were militants.
"Just because I have a beard and wear a turban, does that make me part of the Taliban?" asked Malik Jalaluddin.

CIA director John Brennan has said that only in "exceedingly rare" cases have civilians been "accidentally injured, or worse, killed in these strikes."

John, have you met Malik?

And speaking of the Prez, he said about himself the other day, in reference to the non-transparency of the drone program:
"This is not Dick Cheney we're talking about here"
 Translation:  "It's Bush's fault."

"The president noted that he would have 'probably objected' over the White House’s handling of this issue if he were still a senator, they said. But, according to the sources, he noted his viewpoint changed now that he occupies the Oval Office — not a room in a Senate office building." (Credit Politico for both quotes.)
 So where are your principles, Prez?  Looks like you were against drones before you were for them.  Our current SecState used that line about the Iraq War once.  What it means is that political expediency is the only thing that matters in DC.  But they want us to trust them anyway.  To quote the Prez, "Hey, I won."

Makes you miss Dick Cheney, doesn't it?

* * * * *

There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.
-- Sun Tzu


  1. I have the same mixed feelings. If we use drones can the time when they are used against us be far behind??

  2. I agree with most of what you're saying here - Obama needs transparency in his drone program, and right now his policies are problematic, controversial, and perhaps unethical. But I do believe you mis-interpreted the president when he said, in reference to the non-transparency of the drone program: "This is not Dick Cheney we're talking about here." I don't think he is saying "It's Bush's fault."

    This article states that Obama's Cheney quip was a reference to how he's more open to oversight and transparency than the previous administration.

    I find that almost laughable because he's being so secretive, but there you have it. A different interpretation.

  3. Hello and Welcome, Anonymous

    I read your article a couple of times and I don't see that we disagree. My reference to "Bush's fault" was meant to characterize the prez's statement as a lame response to charges that he's doing exactly what he accuses others of doing, government in secret, but somehow it's different if HE does it. Absent credible denial, I attribute every major policy decision and direction to the prez, not the person who stated or carried out the action or policy in question. It is the president, not the subordinate or even his predecessor, who is ultimately responsible today. That's why the buck stops there, according to Harry Truman.

    I can't think of a prior example of a long-term refusal to disclose non-classified information to Congress. Well, there is that pesky Operation Fast and Furious debacle. Who needs to obey a Congressional subpoena? Just you... and me... and everyone else but the administration. We can't be trusted.

    We have a right to know what our government is doing, absent national security concerns which haven't been claimed here. Failure to inform us leads to the erosion of confidence in our government, loss of international prestige and the execution of national policies in direct opposition to the will of Congress and the American people. I give you, for example, Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra disaster. Hint: Ollie North is not a hero.

    Government in the open is ALWAYS in our best interest. Lacking demonstrable national security reasons, EVERYTHING that government does belongs in the open, with the exception of ongoing criminal investigations. That's why it's always the coverup, not the incident, that brings the most condemnation. When you and I know what government is doing then we can fix what's wrong. When we don't, government becomes the uncontained offender.

    Stop by and comment any time.