Drone Wars, Contd.

I confess to being more than a little puzzled by some of the discussion about our Drone Wars. Just how is it at all relevant that when we drop a bomb on somebody, it’s different when there isn’t a person sitting in the airplane that drops the bomb? If somebody is sitting inside a bomb-laden aircraft and flies it into our country and blows stuff up, that’s an act of war. But if the same guy (or gal) is sitting in another country while flying the same bomb-laden aircraft, then it’s no big deal? It’s just fine? I don’t see the logic in that.

And suppose for the sake of argument that it is morally and legally correct to fly planes (oh, that’s right, drones) into another country with which we are not at war and kill people there. Well then, the definition of justice (same rules apply equally to all) means it has to be fine if others do it. So is it ok if Bashir Assad sends drones into the USA to blow up Syrian dissidents here (along with just a couple—not many, mind you, only a few) American passers-by? And by “ok” I mean that we have no legitimate legal or moral ground for protest.

Most all the support for the Drone Wars seems to revolve around the idea that these are bad people being killed and we’re all better off for it. Well, maybe (though see previous post “The Beatings Will Continue…” that the long-term consequences may well be very different from what we want and anticipate). But that assumes that we know for sure that the people being assassinated are in fact the people who are doing all those evil things. And how do we know that? Why, because the government tells us they have secret information that they are. The people who are doing both the deciding and the killing told us that what they’re doing is right. Trust us. Everyone seems perfectly happy when a secret government group, using secret information that cannot be questioned in a court of law takes it on themselves to be judge, jury and executioner. How is this any different from sheriff Jim Bob taking the suspected cattle rustler out behind the jailhouse and shooting him “while attempting to escape?” And for those of you nodding your head because you like that idea just fine too, how do you know the sheriff shot an actual rustler and not somebody who failed to pay his bribes on time? Oh, that’s right, the sheriff said it was a rustler. And sheriff Jim Bob would never abuse his unchallengeable powers of life and death. It’s amazing to me to have to actually point out to people that the whole reason we have courts, and checks and balances, and rules and laws and all that founding-father stuff is to prevent the government from abusing its power. And the power to decide life or death based on secret findings  that are never checked by an independent 3rd party (say, the courts) seems pretty ripe for abuse.

Now, I’m disturbed that there’s plenty of passive support for the drone programs by Democrats in Congress—I expect them to know better, but I’m not surprised that they lack the spine to confront the president. But I’m downright baffled that the far-right, Constitution-in-the-back-pocket crowd that doesn’t trust the government to set minimum standards for health insurance plans is happy to throw all our individual rights and freedoms down the crapper too. But maybe that’s only so long as the people being killed by the government have dark skin, beards and funny, non-Christian names. I bet they’d sing a different tune if the government started taking out middle-aged white men with buzz cuts and military service medals. “Trust us, they were plotting against democracy. Evidence? We don’t got to show you no stinkin’ evidence!”

And finally, if these drone assassinations are so legal, why are even the legal justifications behind them secret (see NYT article)? The Obama administration has refused to release the legal arguments their advisers have put forth defending the attacks. They must be really persuasive arguments, huh?

This is not doing us any good abroad, and it could well prove fatal to democracy and the rule of law in the country. The terrorists never could “destroy America,” but we might, if we don’t stop trying.

Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!

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.