There’s a lot of talk about the Drone Wars this week, and rightly so given that we had the confirmation hearings for John Brennan, CIA Director nominee. Can’t resist adding my 2 cents. There are 3 separate issues involved:
- Is it moral/just?
- Is it legal?
- Does it work?
You can probably approach these in any order. If something’s not moral, then maybe you shouldn’t do it, even if it works. OTOH, if something doesn’t work, perhaps it’s not worth unending debate about legal technicalities. If something’s illegal—well, who gives a shit, that’s why we classify documents; this is American security we’re talking about!
Anyway, there are some issues related to “does it work?” that don’t seem to have gotten a lot of hot-airtime, so I want to start with that. The underlying unarticulated premise of the drone bombers is that we can kill our way out of this problem. Now, killing people who piss you off has a long and venerable tradition in humanity. The earliest villages excavated by archaeologists all had walls, which, it is speculated, were NOT there to keep soccer balls from rolling into the Euphrates. And clearly, some problems are quite solvable by killing. Let’s take Bernie Madoff, he of the decades-long Ponzi scheme that separated numerous 1 percenters from their hardly earned cash. I think it’s pretty likely that if early in his career, SEC Team 6 had sent a squad of crack auditors to bludgeon him to death with copies of the tax code, problem solved! No more Bernie = no more Ponzi scheme. Nobody’s thinking that “Well, you took out Bernie, but some other con man with close personal relationships with wealthy upper East-siders will just step in and continue fleecing. Why, even more morally bankrupt investment advisors will be drawn to a life of crime!” Hardly, right?
So is it just the same with Islamic fundamentalist terrorists? Are they just like Bernie (except for the expensive haircut, suits and Jewish friends)? All we have to do is kill the ones that are making trouble, hold a parade and call it a day? That would be the unspoken assumption. Now of course the specific individual who was killed is not going to make any more trouble (by-by Osama), but does it stop there like it would with Bernie? Well, I think likely not. Why? Motivation. Unlike Bernie, the fundamentalists aren’t motivated by personal greed. Instead, they are angry at us. And no, they’re not blowing themselves up because we have titty bars, homosexual legislators, and let girls go to school. They’re angry at our unreserved support for Israel against the Palestinians. They’re angry that we’ve invaded and occupied Muslim countries. And they’re angry that we’ve been bombing other Muslim countries with our drones—sometimes killing people who are not evildoers*. Is it really likely that “bomb them until they stop hating us” is a recipe for long term success? Many seem to think so, and I guess the beatings will, in fact, continue until morale improves.
*Yes, I know we have our reasons for our actions in the Middle East (some of them even not involving AIPAC!), and many believe that Muslims are not justified in their anger and resentment. But be that as it may, if such anger leads to more people willing and eager to attack the US, and stopping such attacks is our ultimate (not short term) goal, we need to reevaluate what we’re doing.