Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale

The Drones of Fall


“War is not nice.” –Barbara Bush

Drones don’t kill people; we have people for that!

There’s been much ado about the purported moral hazards of drones. Much of it has come from the Left, but there have been some conservative reservations. As you may recall, I addressed liberal compunctions on this topic not too long ago, reminding the Left of its moral and political complicity in the Obama status quo. But on this occasion, we’re going to discuss the practical validity of drones in our defense strategy.

For this second discussion we thank my friend Leah Libresco over at Unequally Yoked. In detailing her key political qualms with this election, Libresco described the morality of the use of drones as follows:

“We are endorsing an indiscriminate, terrifying way to prosecute a war that is above all inhumane because it leaves the humans in each side of it in isolation.  Death from above robs the killer and their target of the mutual recognition and love that is their natural relationship.  It’s not only murder, it’s murder that fosters a lie.”

The crux of this argument—an essentially Catholic rendering of familiar secular reservations—is the conviction that deploying troops into the path of harm is a moral requirement of war. In other words, it is wrong to deny an enemy combatant the opportunity—which Libresco calls love and other liberals deem “due process”—to face down his would-be killer. To put it more charitably, opponents of drones seem to believe that such remote targeting results, perhaps inevitably, in greater civilian casualties than conventional troop deployment would cause, and these greater casualties are exacerbating ill will toward the U.S. and our allies.

To clarify something up front, this issue is not about whether you’re for or against the war in Afghanistan or what you think about the 2014 withdrawal date favored by both President Obama and Governor Romney. This discussion is about the moral and practical realities of war. The primary question here is how to minimize collateral damage and protect our allies while successfully fulfilling goals and eliminating enemies.

In the last several years, the Taliban and their terror networks have aggressively increased killing sprees throughout the country. For the sake of undermining the civilian government & attacking NATO troops—to the end of repressively commandeering the country—terrorists are willfully injuring and killing thousands of innocent people. For NATO, a shift in strategy from troop deployment to drones allows for, among other things, less danger to civilians who would be harmed through the kind of broad targeting of troops that produces heavy civilian casualties. In short and against the reigning criticisms, drones allow for less—not “no”—combat among innocents.

According to the United Nations, civilian death from terrorist attacks has sharply increased since 2006, whereas casualties from coalition forces declined. Any nonzero number of innocent dead is a vicious tragedy, and many would argue that the current numbers could and should be lower. I’m not disagreeing with that analysis. But as it stands, civilian deaths from pro-government forces are believed—by the U.N.—to be at their lowest levels in half a decade. By contrast, terrorists murdered more civilians in 2011—nearly six times as many killed by American allies—than in the last six years. This comes even as casualties from aerial attacks, which do account for the bulk of deaths, are down.

Are there problems with U.S. drone policy? Absolutely. But given the numerical trends in casualties and the reality of a protracted war, drone critics must do more than enumerate flaws. The opposition ought to promote and defend a better way to defeat our enemies and keep our allies safe.

I commend our military leaders for continuing to defend us from enemies we may never see, even as the chattering classes drone.


Author: Rek

A gay Southern conservative with a fondness for God, guns, and gridiron. I'm a veritable pocket full of sunshine.

2 thoughts on “The Drones of Fall

  1. Showing up in person to kill your enemies isn’t *itself* a mitzvah or something that makes the accidental (or wanton) killing of innocent people any less horrible. But showing up in person on the battlefield is a costly signal that we have people who care enough about the mission they’re on to put their lives on the line. For example, in October 2001, had anyone tried to recruit me (I was 16 years old), I would have been happy to volunteer to strafe al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, even if it put me at significant risk. By contrast, in March 2003, when Bush invaded Iraq, I would *not* have been willing to fight overseas, because I thought the war was a stupid idea and I didn’t want to die for a mistake. If enough Americans share those views, it’s some evidence that the latter war isn’t worth fighting.

    That kind of evidence is precious. Humans and governments often make mistakes, and military mistakes are some of the most tragic and irreversible gaffes around. If something out there — like dissent or a silent unwillingness to enlist — can alert us that we’re making a mistake, then we should be grateful. We should seek to encourage and protect the source of that kind of information.

    Shifting over to drone-based warfare destroys our access to information about dissent. Many people who aren’t willing to die for a cause will nevertheless be willing to kill for it, especially at a suitably antiseptic distance. If drones are so much better at minimizing unwanted casualties (our soldiers and/or their civilians), it might make sense to use drones anyway. But if the military rationale is a close call, then prudence demands that we leave drone warfare on the shelf. Heaven forbid that we should be led into a conflict that’s not actually worth fighting because we were using a form of killing that’s too cheap, too easy.

    You talk about the need to protect our allies, pursue our enemies, etc, as if we had a fixed, static agenda. But who, exactly, are our allies here? Petty warlords in Afghanistan that have been marginally more friendly to our soldiers than their neighbors? Pakistan, where the government has been ruled by a military junta for 36 out of the 57 years since they abolished their monarchy? An avowedly fundamentalist sect in Egypt dedicated to “combating the US-led war against Islamic culture and identity?” And who are our enemies? Disgruntled or desperate yokels who are nominally affiliated with a terror group that, over 10 years ago, managed to kill 10% as many Americans as die in car crashes every year? This same group having had, according to Forbes, that bastion of liberal pacifism, all of its top leadership killed to the point where all it can manage now is botched lone wolf attacks using hacked-together bombs the size of a printer cartridge? Maybe we don’t have any business in Central Asia right now. Maybe we should stop killing people — with drones or otherwise — and just come home as fast as we can safely evacuate our troops. Maybe drones are helping us postpone and avoid that uncomfortable truth.

  2. Pingback: Voter Fraud & Wisconsin « Token Dissonance

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