Wednesday, March 6, 2013



I don’t feel comfortable at this time condemning drone strikes given the real possibility that it is actually the best of bad options.  I don’t want to heap scorn on our elected leaders for having to make the necessary morally ugly decisions from the comfort of not having been put in that situation myself.  I may very well have made the same decisions even if those decisions turned out to be inept.  

I also don’t feel comfortable blanketly condoning the drone strikes and going about my merry way as though perhaps our government is not exercising the best judgment and needs to be held more accountable.  Perhaps that uncomfortable middle is where one should be at.  

Everyone in these debates, when it comes down to it, seems to agree we lack information and that putting pressure on the executive branch of government for as much transparency and oversight as possible is what we should at least be doing.  Hopefully, the release of more information just recently is a step in that direction.  We want everything that should be on the table to be above table and we want only the things that should be secrets kept secret.  Nothing more.  

I have not meticulously followed the debate and have not rigorously Googled all these questions.  I’m just airing where I currently happen to be with these 5 basic questions.

First question: What is a realistic appraisal of the effectiveness of drone strikes in terms of actually killing terrorists versus innocent civilians?

Is it the implausible 100 percent as though anyone vaguely associated with a known terrorist is guilty by association as the Obama administration seems to want to defend? 

Or is it the equally implausible mere 4 percent as though our government (Obama specifically) is that incompetent or wildly negligent that they would kill 96 percent innocent civilians just to get a mere 4 percent of terrorists?

Question 2, (and this is related to question 1): I believe Barack Obama is a morally competent, intelligent person that generally is going to side with the most liberal side of these debates if he can. But he's obviously a pragmatist who will not let the perfect be the enemy of the good even if that means making the most of evil options. That will not satisfy many liberals who have no problem with the perfect being the enemy of the good and who will not tolerate any deviation from their ideal.  I’m not going to address that particular attitude here.

But for the rest of us, the question still remains is there any evidence to suggest that Barack Obama has gone off the deep end on this particular issue and fallen prey to an unfortunate continuation of the same fear based train of self justifications that the Bush administration left us with? That is aside from the obvious that there is a moral and legal conclusion that we don't like. Evidence of this nature might entail Obama using flagrantly irrational arguments when addressing the issue of drone strikes.  Although we might run into the issue that he may have other justifications that are not popularly well received and so he may be guarding his actual rationale which may actually technically be a legitimate moral case.

Which leads to my next question (#3). Is it actually the case that sending in SEAL Team 6 or some other task force to take out the same terrorist targets would entail many of the same casualties and moral difficulties that we'd be faced with in terms of targeted drone strikes? Might drone strikes actually be a better option, all things considered? I could imagine this being the case however I don't think I have enough information to properly judge at this time. It does seem though that there is an irrational aversion to the “robot death from the sky” motif even if it just so happens to be that more evil is actually caused by putting boots on the ground.  A painful, cold metal needle stuck in your arm may actually produce better results than surrounding yourself with the warm fuzzies of your family praying for your health.  

Which leads to my next question about blow back (#4).  I happened to be a conservative Christian during the first half of the Bush years but eventually I came to the conclusion along with many liberals that we were creating more terrorists than we were killing by invading nations.  That’s what all our government agencies who’d actually studied the matter seemed to be consistently reporting and it seemed like a great argument to do something else that’s much more efficient.  Is that option targeted drone strikes?

There's still an issue with blow back when it comes to drone strikes, however one wonders if it is as bad. Is it actually an analogous situation or are there important differences?  The Obama administration seems to think that they're stuck in a position where they don't have a choice.  That this blow back is just part of the negative column on the moral and national security balance sheet that we have to accept.  Are we really in a situation where short term necessities force us to keep kicking an ever growing can down the road until future administrations inherit a tidal wave so big something really horrible happens later?

It may well be the case that full scale war is a necessary evil and that targeted drone strikes are also a necessary evil.  It's just the drones are a much lesser necessary evil. However it's worth noting that war set a really low bar to begin with. At the end of the day it’s still an evil in the world that our government is perpetrating on our behalf and of course the people directly affected are not necessarily going to sympathize.  How could they?

And last question (#5):  Are critics of drone strikes really suggesting that perhaps we just shouldn't be doing anything at all? Or is there some other tried and true method that we're just simply not implementing and if that's the case why is that? Why would someone like Obama opt out of a better option? 

Closing thoughts:  

I’m not going to be hysterical over this.  Would it be technically legal for Obama to label Donald Trump’s hair a threat to national security and send a drone after it (with Trump as an “unfortunate” casualty of merely being associated with his hair)?  Maybe the legal language at this point is vague enough to include that possibility.  But I’m also not afraid Obama’s going on random killing rampages for personal vendettas (otherwise Fox News would be a hole in the ground in more than just ideological terms) and that in all likelihood, it just means the language needs to be codified properly, even if that is technically difficult to do.  Sometimes we can play the game much more skillfully than we can articulate the rules.  The job probably needs to be done in some way and it’s just a matter of balancing the leeway to actually get the job done with a fair measure of responsibility according to our other values.
If it really was illegal and immoral our government would probably just be doing it anyway under our noses and no one would have the power to stop them.  We would know even less and there’d be even more abuses to the system.  At least, on these terms, we have the opportunity to possibly make adjustments through the sloth of our democracy.  We should make the most of it for our sake and for the sake of the lives of foreign people we are drastically affecting.

1 comment:

The Nerd said...

I think some of it comes down to what we actually think would be happening in place of drones. Not what we think should be happening, because of course let's just stop killing everone, yay! But of course a lot of liberals aren't allowed to admit that they'd settle for less death when their goal is no death, as that feels a bit too evil, like they've just admitted to being pro-death. It's kind of an ideological mirror, where you can figure out a lot about how people see the world by asking this question of them. Like you - you'll produce this blog post.