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"From the ground, drones are terrifying weapons that can be heard circling overhead for hours at a time."
February 29, 2012 7:41 PM   Subscribe

"What's that buzzing sound?" Foreign Policy's third annual War Issue focuses on what it calls "Barack Obama's Secret Wars," including My Drone War, in which a Pakistani journalist for Newsday and the NYT describes what drone warfare looks and sounds like from the ground; The Obama Doctrine, which argues drone warfare is a failing strategy in both Yemen and Pakistan; The Evolution of Drone Warfare: A Photo History, 1917-2010, and more. The package also includes two takes on cyberwar - Cyberwar is still more hype than hazard and Cyberwar Is Already Upon Us - along with a lot of interesting links.
posted by mediareport (99 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can't recommend My Drone War enough; it's a sharp, concise ground-level look at the various effects of drone attacks, both positive and negative.
posted by mediareport at 7:48 PM on February 29, 2012


Love the photo of the V1
posted by atomicmedia at 7:54 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pakistan Drone War in Numbers

Total reported killed: 2,412 - 3,063
Civilians reported killed: 467 - 815
Children reported killed: 178
posted by Trurl at 7:58 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


It must be fun hearing a plane overhead wondering if this is the night a missile strikes your house.

Wait did I say be fun? I meant to say "make you hate America".

And freedom. UAVs flying overhead and freedom.
posted by Talez at 8:01 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


"My Drone War" actually cites The New America Foundation's study on drone warfare as "the most authoritative on the subject." It quotes a death toll thus far of "between 1,741 and 2,712 individuals," and has a lot of good data on the subject. It also claims that, while the overall death toll of civilians since 2004 has been 17% of casualties, by 2010 civilian deaths accounted for 5% of casualties.

"My Drone War" is indeed a fine piece of reportage.
posted by koeselitz at 8:07 PM on February 29, 2012


Our president sent killer robots to assassinate people.
posted by fuq at 8:12 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyone familiar with British Colonial history will attest to the fact that you cannot govern from an airplane.
posted by The White Hat at 8:14 PM on February 29, 2012


Talez: “It must be fun hearing a plane overhead wondering if this is the night a missile strikes your house. Wait did I say be fun? I meant to say ‘make you hate America’.”

According to "My Drone War," the hatred of America doesn't seem to be a universal reaction to drones in the region:
Taliban fighters speaking a Waziri dialect of Pashto call the drones bhungana -- "the one that produces a bee-like sound." Their local adversaries call them ababeel -- the name of a bird mentioned in the Quran, sent by God to defend the holy city of Mecca from an invading army by hurling small stones from its mouth.
From a military standpoint, it's hard not to be convinced of the effectiveness of drone war and the benefits it holds. The dream has always been to kill exactly the right people and leave everybody else alone. If drones really do make it possible to push the civilian casualty ratio down to 5%, then they are about twice as efficient as ordinary warfare, which since the mid 20th century has had a civilian casualty ratio of about 10%.
posted by koeselitz at 8:18 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]



There once was a thing called a V2
Which to pilot you did not need to
You just pushed a button
And it would leave nuttin'
But stiffs and big holes and debris too

posted by chrchr at 8:21 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Foreign Policy's third annual War Issue

Enough already.
posted by grounded at 8:29 PM on February 29, 2012


atomicmedia: you'd think they could so much as check Wikipedia before captioning something they apparently know nothing about, but I guess not...
posted by indubitable at 8:45 PM on February 29, 2012


I would put the "civilians killed" figure at more like 100%. We are not at war with Pakistan or Yemen. The people being assassinated are allegedly "terrorists," but none of them have been tried or convicted of anything.

Even if we count people who have borne arms against US/NATO troops as not civilians, I'd imagine they are much actually less than half of those killed. A very large number of the people killed are alleged to be "militants" with no evidence whatsoever, or just fingered by informants for any number of reasons. At the very least, the line between "civilian" and "not civilian" is a blurry one.

And 5% is ridiculous. I can't imagine anyone taking that seriously.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:46 PM on February 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


One of the longstanding ethical guidelines in waging war is minimizing civilian casualties. In World War II, the civilian casualty ratio was about 67 percent -- 3 out of every 5 people who died were civilians. In the Korean war? 36:10. In the Vietnam war? 2:1.

Drone attacks? There are different assessments. Daniel L. Byman from the Brookings Institution says its 10 civilians for every one combatant -- a huge assessment not reached by anyone else, and, looking at the original piece, seems to be a guess. The nonparisan New American Foundation figures 80 percent killed are militants, and, in 2010, 95 percent. The base this on press accounts, which is probably just a little better than guesswork. The CIA says there have been no civilian fatalities since May of 2010, but, then, they're not exactly known for fair and accurate reporting. The the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which probably investigated this more thoroughly than anybody, has the total fatalities at between 391 and 780, with 160 of the dead children. Total deaths? Between 1,658 and 2,597. So somewhere in the vicinity of 10 to 30 percent of the deaths are civilian.
10:1 to 10:3.

I don't know what to think about this. I am not in favor of war in general and especially of civilian causalities. But, if this is accurate, it's one of the ways we wage war that produces the smallest number of civilian casualties.

Compare this to Iraq, where we killed about 26,000 insurgents and more than 100,000 civilians.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:49 PM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't have the link, but there was a great New Yorker article about drone strikes which were used to kill an alleged "Al Qaeda leader." They eventually killed him after killing, I believe, around 560 other people.

Now even if you believe the claims that most of those other people were "militants" of some kind, that's a "hitting the target" success rate of something like 0.18%.

It would be far more moral and less of a war crime to send human assassins against the people the president happens to dislike, but I don't see that happening.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:52 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the difficulty of assessing casualties, from the My Drone War piece:

The Taliban started adapting, too. The militants had come to realize that the increasingly effective drone strikes made them look weak, and they began getting rid of the evidence as fast as they could. After every attack they would cordon off the area and remove the bodies of the dead, making it difficult to verify who and how many people had been killed. Going to the site of a drone attack became a futile exercise; only a very few local reporters known for their deference to the Taliban were given any meaningful access.
posted by mediareport at 8:54 PM on February 29, 2012


I am curious as to whether it is uniquely difficult to assess civilian casualties with drone strikes. Assessing causalities in a war zone is famously difficult.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:59 PM on February 29, 2012


If drones really do make it possible to push the civilian casualty ratio down to 5%, then they are about twice as efficient as ordinary warfare, which since the mid 20th century has had a civilian casualty ratio of about 10%.

But this comparison assumes that drone war is taking place in place of a of conventional war. Its opponents would argue it has opened up a new frontier, waging war where it would be otherwise impossible, the effects of which are as yet unknown (and not necessarily net positive). That's my most generous and kind response to your comment.
posted by mek at 9:00 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


In case folks missed it: in the middle of "The Obama Doctrine" (also a thought-provoking read) there's discussion of the difference between targeted "personality" strikes and less-restrictive "signature" strikes:

Established by the Bush administration and Musharraf in 2004, the covert CIA drone program initially carried out only "personality" strikes against a preapproved list of senior al Qaeda members. Pakistani officials were notified before many, but not all, attacks. Between 2004 and 2007, nine such attacks were carried out in Pakistan, according to the New America Foundation.

In 2008, the Bush administration authorized less-restrictive "signature" strikes in the tribal areas. Instead of basing attacks on intelligence regarding a specific person, CIA drone operators could carry out strikes based on the behavior of people on the ground. Operators could launch a drone strike if they saw a group, for example, crossing back and forth over the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In 2008, the Bush administration carried out 33 strikes.

Under Obama, the drone campaign has escalated rapidly. The number of strikes nearly doubled to 53 in 2009 and then doubled again to 118 in 2010. Former administration officials said the looser rules resulted in the killing of more civilians. Current administration officials insisted that Obama, in fact, tightened the rules on the use of drone strikes after taking office. They said strikes rose under Obama because improved technology and intelligence gathering created more opportunities for attacks than existed under Bush.

But as Pakistani public anger over the spiraling strikes grew, other diplomats expressed concern as well. The U.S. ambassador in Pakistan at the time, Anne Patterson, opposed several attacks, but the CIA ignored her objections.

posted by mediareport at 9:04 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the longstanding ethical guidelines in waging war is minimizing civilian casualties.

An even longer-standing one is not attacking countries that have not attacked you.
posted by Trurl at 9:08 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


BTW the Wikipedia article that koeselitz linked to above apparently as a citation that there has been "civilian casualty ratio of about 10%" in past wars actually says
According to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the civilian-to-soldier death ratio in wars fought since the mid-20th century has been 10:1, meaning ten civilian deaths for every soldier death.
unless I'm missing a 10% figure further down.
posted by XMLicious at 9:12 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't possibly believe the 5% figure. That would mean that drones attacking targets within a civilian area never kill, on average, more than a single civilian in twenty attacks.

Even if we take all the assurances about the US drone program at face value, what is the strategy here? What is the point at which the USA can say "OK, mission accomplished"? Is it when there are no more militants? Because I don't know how they define a "militant". Is it possible that any young man is a considered to be a militant, or any person carrying a weapon? And if the drone attacks are taking place in areas that US troops can't access, who are they being "militant" against?
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:57 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


drjimmy11: "I would put the "civilians killed" figure at more like 100%. We are not at war with Pakistan or Yemen. The people being assassinated are allegedly "terrorists," but none of them have been tried or convicted of anything. Even if we count people who have borne arms against US/NATO troops as not civilians, I'd imagine they are much actually less than half of those killed. A very large number of the people killed are alleged to be "militants" with no evidence whatsoever, or just fingered by informants for any number of reasons. At the very least, the line between "civilian" and "not civilian" is a blurry one. And 5% is ridiculous. I can't imagine anyone taking that seriously."

This is ridiculous. Read the article. It's by a Pakistani who has seen his home turned into a war zone in the past ten years. He says that the 5% figure is correct.

If you disagree with someone who has spent the past decade reporting on a war in his homeland, that's fine. Even war reporters with a lot at stake can be wrong. But please, at least give one citation supporting your notion that he and all the other good reporters we have on the subject that I cited above are wrong.

At least give me some excuse to believe that you're not just having an emotional reaction to something that seems wrong to you in some way. Drone wars seem wrong to me, too. In the article, the author describes the way he thinks Pakistanis are torn between the fact that drones are accomplishing what really needs to be done, and yet are an ominous reminder that a foreign nation is conducting a secret war on their soil. That's not a fact that I'm in love with, and if you make even a little effort to argue your case I think you'll find I'm quite open to the conclusion that the US is committing an(other) atrocity in this instance.
posted by koeselitz at 10:09 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't possibly believe the 5% figure. That would mean that drones attacking targets within a civilian area never kill, on average, more than a single civilian in twenty attacks.

How does that work? I think you have an error there.
posted by Anything at 10:10 PM on February 29, 2012


Joe in Australia: "I can't possibly believe the 5% figure. That would mean that drones attacking targets within a civilian area never kill, on average, more than a single civilian in twenty attacks."

If you don't believe it, again, look at the numbers. According to the conservative estimates for 2011 that I linked above (sorry, I'm on an ipad) the figure is more like 7% now. But even if it's twice that, it's an extraordinarily efficient method of warfare.

Besides, apparently Israel has claimed a much better rate - 1 in 30, according to the Wikipedia srticle I linked above.

Anything: "How does that work? I think you have an error there."

Where is the error? His math seems correct to me: out of twenty, one person is a civilian - 5%.
posted by koeselitz at 10:18 PM on February 29, 2012


One civilian in twenty attacks, not in twenty deaths.
posted by Anything at 10:20 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


So does koeselitz, who I think is seriously misunderstand his Wikipedia link.

Hey, koeselitz, can you explain what you meant by "ordinary warfare....since the mid 20th century has had a civilian casualty ratio of about 10%"? Are you suggesting that ordinary warfare had 1 civilian killed for every 10 soldiers? Because according to the NYT link that's the source for that statement in your Wikipedia link, it's actually the reverse:

Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Israel's claim of 1 civilian death for every 30 combatant deaths in Gaza in 2007 is quite an anomaly; the figures for the 1982 Lebanon invasion in your Wikipedia link cite the Red Cross claiming "a civilian-combatant fatality rate of 5:1." That's 5 civilians for each combatant..

Again, koeselitz, I think you've seriously misread something here.
posted by mediareport at 10:23 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quoting the New America Foundation's study - again, I'm totally open to the possibility that this is not a good source, and only use it because it was mentioned favorably in the links - here is the summary of the casualties:
Our study shows that the 288 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 5 in 2012, from 2004 to the present have killed approximately between 1,741 and 2,712 individuals, of whom around 1,448 to 2,241 were described as militants in reliable press accounts. Thus, the true non-militant fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 17 percent. In 2010, it was more like five percent.
They also note that this is a running tally and has been updated as of the 15th of February, 2012.
posted by koeselitz at 10:24 PM on February 29, 2012


mediareport: "Again, koeselitz, I think you've seriously misread something here."

Indeed. I apologize; I really did misread that link.

It would appear that drone warfare is vastly more effective than conventional warfare.
posted by koeselitz at 10:27 PM on February 29, 2012


Also, yes, Anything. I agree. We're talking about deaths, not attacks. Though pt Joe caught that, but on reflection I guess he didn't.
posted by koeselitz at 10:29 PM on February 29, 2012


I think your focus on the percentages is interesting but your certainty terribly misplaced. I'm not sure how you could read the linked articles and *not* come away thinking that it's extremely difficult to get accurate numbers about civilian vs. "militant" deaths after drone strikes. Seriously, check this recent AP investigation into some of the deadliest drone strikes of the past year and a half. What are we to make of things like this:

March 17, 2011: Missiles hit a community meeting, or jirga, being held in Shiga village to resolve a local mining dispute, killing 42 people, including four Pakistani Taliban militants, six tribal policemen and 32 other tribesmen. U.S. officials said the death toll was roughly half of what locals reported and claimed they were all militants.

Seriously, koeselitz, dial down the certainty a few hundred notches, would you?
posted by mediareport at 10:34 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


This 5% number is the purest and most unadulterated garbage.

How can they possibly even claim to measure this number with the slightest degree of accuracy? The people actually running the drones are hundreds or thousands of miles away!

The US simply announces this number. There's no possible way for anyone to check it. The fact that there's a lot of evidence of a lot more deaths is not even mentioned. The fact that even sources in favor of these drone murders put the rate at 20% is not even considered.

Or check this out: from the New York Times:
On May 6, a Central Intelligence Agency drone fired a volley of missiles at a pickup truck carrying nine militants and bomb materials through a desolate stretch of Pakistan near the Afghan border. It killed all the militants — a clean strike with no civilian casualties, extending what is now a yearlong perfect record of avoiding collateral deaths.
If you continue reading this article, the CIA claims that in over 600 drone kills, not one single civilian was killed. Only a fool could possibly believe such a blatant lie - they've given up even pretending to be reasonable.

These official sources have lied to us continuously for years. There's no need for us to treat this as anything more than further lies in the ongoing series - particularly since they can neither provide us any documentation whatsoever, or indeed, bother to keep their stories straight.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:35 PM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Drone attacks are definitely creepy, and anyone who has read science fiction can easily imagine robots going crazy and mowing down thousands of innocent people. I'd be surprised if someone wasn't making this movie right now.

But -- there are hundreds of fields where technology has increased precision, from something as mundane as lasik eye surgery (no one wants scalpels on eyeballs) to IBM scientists spelling things with atoms. I don't have see why bombing would be any different.

When soldiers attack an area -- as Pakistan did in South Waziristan, and that is the alternative here -- thousands die. Guaranteed. No dispute over numbers. So I don't understand the hate on drones. Seems if you're going to attack, it's more immoral not to use them and have many more die, civilians as well as soldiers.
posted by msalt at 10:40 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and let me repeat one thing that is mentioned above.

Considering that the US is not at war with Pakistan and never bothers to provide the slightest evidence of the guilt of the people it kills, in fact 100% of these deaths are of people who are innocent.

The US has no moral, ethical or legal justification whatsoever for simply killing random people "just because they say so." Perhaps some of these people are "bad" - this doesn't give the US the right to be judge, jury and executioner, all in secret.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:44 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


But -- there are hundreds of fields where technology has increased precision, from something as mundane as lasik eye surgery (no wants scalpels on eyeballs) to IBM scientists spelling things with atoms. I don't have see why bombing would be any different.

Good analogy. Let's follow through. As screening for cancer has become increasingly common, and sensor equipment increasingly adept at catching smaller and smaller tumours, we've seen a backlash from medical associations: many experts have come out against mammogram and prostate screening for people under 50, because they argue that the tests catch relatively harmless tumours, which leads to invasive surgery which has worse outcomes than leaving the tumours alone.

Increasing accuracy in warfare is the same: before, we had to actually be relatively certain people posed an imminent threat to our security before committed ourselves to war. Now we can shoot down every possible threat via remotely-controlled drones, so why not? Any one of those militants could be the next Osama bin Laden, and we have the technology to terminate them with little to no risk to ourselves. What we haven't yet realized as far as drones go, is that the cure may be worse than the disease. (Especially in terms of total body count, nationality notwithstanding.)
posted by mek at 10:45 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


> When soldiers attack an area -- as Pakistan did in South Waziristan, and that is the alternative here

In your world, these random strangers must die, one way or the other - there's not the slightest proof they've done anything wrong, the US is not at war with them, but we are simply told they are bad people and they most be killed.

Why is it so hard for you to see that there's another alternative - which is not to kill people in countries we aren't at war with?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:47 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy: "These official sources have lied to us continuously for years."

i wanted to note that these sources are not in any sense official; the US has barely even acknowledged this war, much less released any numbers at all.

But mediareport us right; and in quoting these figures, I don't mean to suggest that there's any kind of certainty inany assessment if what's going on. My point was that it's really quite silly to act as though this war is obviously killing nobody but civilians; the truth is that we don't know. And that's a huge part of the problem.

Frankly, it would be nice if there were official numbers - or at least a really substantial openness about even just the fact that this war is going on.
posted by koeselitz at 10:48 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"168 children [were] credibly reported as killed and identified by the Bureau [during the past 7 years]. ... The highest number of child deaths occurred during the Bush presidency, with 112 children reportedly killed. More than a third of all Bush drone strikes appear to have resulted in the deaths of children."

So even though Obama has increased the number of drone strikes what, 5-10 times over Bush, the number of children killed has dropped 50%. That fits the idea that accuracy is increasing a lot.
posted by msalt at 10:49 PM on February 29, 2012


Oops, here's the NY Times CIA drone story link.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:50 PM on February 29, 2012


It would appear that drone warfare is vastly more effective than conventional warfare.

Yeah, this would literally be two hundred times fewer civilian casualties if it were true.

This reminds me of people talking about the first Gulf War and earnestly saying, "You don't understand, we used smart bombs, only the bad guys died!"

There's a reason why the U.S. military intentionally does not do its own casualty counts and leaves it for organizations with names like "The New America Foundation" to do.
posted by XMLicious at 10:52 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


"The number of children killed has dropped 50%." USA! USA! USA!
posted by mek at 10:52 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I guess I feel like this - drone warfare, I would imagine, could possibly be at least remotely more efficient than conventional warfare. If so, wouldn't that make it a good idea? People tend to talk as though there is simply no possibility that drone war could be efficient at all, but I'm not really convinced.

Do people feel like conventional warfare would be a better alternative? I guess I can see some points in its favor; at least it is harder for a conventional war to remain secret for very long. Or maybe people think we should nit be involved in any way whatsoever, and we should leave Pakistan to fight it out amongst themselves. That position seems to have its own strengths and weaknesses.
posted by koeselitz at 10:54 PM on February 29, 2012


Increasing accuracy in warfare is the same: before, we had to actually be relatively certain people posed an imminent threat to our security before committed ourselves to war.

You mean like Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq again?
posted by msalt at 10:55 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Conventional warfare or drone warfare" is a false dilemma. A pretty obvious one, at that.
posted by mek at 10:56 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


XMLicious: "Yeah, this would literally be two hundred times fewer civilian casualties if it were true."

It was a oretty big mistake for me to act as though any numbers here are certain or set in stone or necessarily impartial.
posted by koeselitz at 10:56 PM on February 29, 2012


There's a deeper question here, too: Is the drone-heavy strategy actually *working*?

For me, the bottom line is that both [the U.S. & Pakistani] approaches are failing. Pakistan's economy is dismal. Its military continues to shelter Taliban fighters it sees as proxies to thwart Indian encroachment in Afghanistan. And the percentage of Pakistanis supporting the use of the Pakistani Army to fight extremists in the tribal areas -- the key to eradicating militancy -- dropped from a 53 percent majority in 2009 to 37 percent last year. Pakistan is more unstable today than it was when Obama took office.

A similar dynamic is creating even worse results on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula...A failed December 2009 attempt by a militant trained in Yemen to detonate a bomb on a Detroit-bound airliner focused Obama's attention on the country. Over the next two years, the United States carried out an estimated 20 airstrikes in Yemen, most in 2011. In addition to killing al Qaeda-linked militants, the strikes killed dozens of civilians, according to Yemenis. Instead of decimating the organization, the Obama strikes have increased the ranks of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from 300 fighters in 2009 to more than 1,000 today....

"They think they've won because of this approach," the former administration official said, referring to the administration's drone-heavy strategy. "A lot of us think there is going to be a lot bigger problems in the future."

posted by mediareport at 10:56 PM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Link for that quote.
posted by mediareport at 10:57 PM on February 29, 2012


mek: "'Conventional warfare or drone warfare' is a false dilemma. A pretty obvious one, at that."

Yep. I agree completely.
posted by koeselitz at 10:58 PM on February 29, 2012


There's a reason why the U.S. military intentionally does not do its own casualty counts and leaves it for organizations with names like "The New America Foundation" to do.

This is a vague sentence. I wonder if you are suggesting that the New American Foundation, which is an independently funded, nonprofit, non-partisan think tank with the former managing editor of The Washington Post as its president, is a front group for the government, and its extensive research is actually trumped up for the sake of covering the number of actual dead civilians?

If that's the case, do you have any evidence for this?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:05 PM on February 29, 2012


mediareport: having read both articles, the on-the-ground report by the Pakistani is much more compelling and fact-based than Rohde's, which you quote. I'm sorry he was kidnapped, but his criticisms are thin and largely based on Bush administration officials with an obvious axe to grind.

Rohde says: "When they do attack, they kill as brutally as any weapon of war." Uh, yeah. They're supposed to. "Pakistan is more unstable today than in 2008." Sure, with Bhutto assassinated and a weak, corrupt elected leader instead of a brutally effective army general dictator. No particular link to drone strikes, though.

"My Drone War" makes it clear that the drones are very effective in disrupting the Taliban.
posted by msalt at 11:20 PM on February 29, 2012


No, he's suggesting that the fact that the US makes zero attempt to keep track of how many people it kills means the task is left to unofficial sources like the New America Foundation, working from third-hand information that's primarily provided - and redacted - by the government, and as a result we have no idea in the world how accurate their results are.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:20 PM on February 29, 2012


I am suggesting that fabulous war-only-hurts-bad-guys numbers concerning the new American way of fighting war sounds really great coming from an independent presumably-impartial group called the "The New America Foundation". I think that things like that are inevitably going to happen if the actual military - which I would expect has far more, far more accurate data about this stuff than third-party groups - intentionally avoids keeping track of casualty data themselves, whether or not this particular group is really making an impartial intensive effort to be accurate and comprehensive.

On preview, what lupus_yonderboy said.
posted by XMLicious at 11:26 PM on February 29, 2012


"Conventional warfare or drone warfare" is a false dilemma. A pretty obvious one, at that.

Would that that were true.

The US is going to try to kill those people. Would you rather it's with a plane in the sky or by putting more boots on the ground and going door to door with a fucking tank?

If you'd like to have a conversation about whether or not we should try to kill those people, that isn't a conversation so much as it is a sermon, and it's one I'm pretty sure a vast majority of people here would shout amen at the end of, with me being the loudest, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that the choice is between drone war and no war.
posted by incessant at 12:16 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The USA is not a monolithic entity, and the current administration is not eternal.
posted by mek at 12:23 AM on March 1, 2012


If at first you killed a civilian, redefine 'militant'.
posted by Malor at 1:07 AM on March 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Even if we take all the assurances about the US drone program at face value, what is the strategy here? What is the point at which the USA can say "OK, mission accomplished"?

And here's the problem. This is never going to end. There's always going to be more militants, there's always going to be another country and, apparently, there's always going to be an American defense-industrial-congressional complex benefiting from the whole affair. The question almost certainly isn't "Where does this end?" but "Where does this go next"?

I'd mention unintended consequences here too but I don't think thoughts of those have ever stopped anyone, anywhere, from doing anything so it's a bit of a moot point.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 2:12 AM on March 1, 2012


The USA is not a monolithic entity, and the current administration is not eternal.

You're right. Much more hawkish opponents, who are not nearly as concerned about civilian casualties, are clamoring to replace Obama and re-invade Iraq. They also want to attack and probably invade Iran. With boots on the ground, not drones. THAT is the alternative. Not peace & Kucinich/Nader 2012.
posted by msalt at 2:13 AM on March 1, 2012


You're right. Much more hawkish opponents, who are not nearly as concerned about civilian casualties, are clamoring to replace Obama and re-invade Iraq. They also want to attack and probably invade Iran. With boots on the ground, not drones. THAT is the alternative. Not peace & Kucinich/Nader 2012.

There HAS to be another alternative. When your only options are war and more war, you're not headed anyplace good. Search me for what that third way is though. Considering the effectiveness of endless drone warfare versus endless ground warfare is depressing the hell outta me and makes me think that substance abuse is a good option for the moment.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 2:27 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Conventional warfare or drone warfare" is a false dilemma*.

It's much the same as 'less-lethal' vs. lead projectile weapon use by police forces and paramilitaries. It may seem better (and arguably is, in many of the more clear-cut definitely this-or-that cases), but the lower cost of use (in terms of repercussions etc.,) leads to them being used in far broader scope and frequency: and overall control, and the acceptance--the Overton Window--of control is actually increased.

I find the idea that one day states may indeed be able 'disappear' threats and undesirables with 100% accuracy pretty terrifying. This isn't because I am pro collateral damage.


* I always picture a dilemma as being a bit like a llama version of the pushmi-pullyu, frequently sneaky.
posted by titus-g at 2:56 AM on March 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


And then of course there's also the charming detail that the drones often stay around to "terminate" rescuers or anyone who shows up at the scene of the initial drone strike, and sometimes the funerals of "militants" killed in drone strikes as well.
The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals, an investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times has revealed.
So yeah. Going to a funeral or trying to rescue an injured victim is apparently a sure sign of "militancy" too. It's like Ayn Rand is piloting these things.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:43 AM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


of whom around 1,448 to 2,241 were described as militants in reliable press accounts.

Reliable press accounts -- reporting that someone said that they were militants, because it wouldn't be fair to belive just the person who said they weren't.

Naming "the press" isn't a source, it is one of the the standard lies you tell to cover up your lie. The New York Times is a source. Al Jarreza is a source. God help me, even Fox News is a source.

"The press">

[citation still needed]
posted by eriko at 3:49 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


If so, wouldn't that make it a good idea? People tend to talk as though there is simply no possibility that drone war could be efficient at all, but I'm not really convinced.

It works when you have complete air superiority, and there is little to no ground anti-aircraft weaponry. But then again, you could use DC-3s and 737s as bombers when you have that. I suspect that in a modern hot combat zone where air superiority isn't certain, they'd be falling out of the skies rapidly -- and, of course, if I find that the other side is using drones, finding and jamming the control frequencies becomes a critical job for my electronic warfare teams.

It's certainly cheaper on pilots, and I suspect, given the cost of modern warplanes, it's cheaper than the planes as well. But I wonder *how* much cheaper. Training the pilots takes roughly the same amount of time. Yes, you can build vastly cheaper drones -- heck, there's a growing homebrew UAV movement -- but the ones being used aren't that much cheaper. A General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper* costs about $30M per aircraft, an F18-E is about $55M (both are flyaway costs.)

We've spent about $14B on these things. The question is -- are we saving money, or are we pissing money down the drain because we can use these things, so we do?





* How's that for a name. Hearts and minds, kids, hearts and minds.
posted by eriko at 4:06 AM on March 1, 2012


Love the photo of the V1

Looking at the slide show, it looks like it's broken. Every picture I saw was labeled as the Sperry Air Torpedo.

So, either the caption writer is spectacularly dumb, or the slide show is broken. Given the choice of an incompetent writer or an incompetent web developers, I've got to go with the latter -- however, as a former senior sysadmin now in infrastructure design, the phrase "selection bias" leaps to mind.
posted by eriko at 4:10 AM on March 1, 2012


I got it to work after disabling noscript.

And that is clearly not a V1.
posted by knapah at 5:02 AM on March 1, 2012


msalt: "Pakistan is more unstable today than in 2008." Sure, with Bhutto assassinated and a weak, corrupt elected leader instead of a brutally effective army general dictator. No particular link to drone strikes, though....

Shah seems to see at least one "particular link" in the article you liked:

In reality, the country's worsening anti-Americanism is driven more by the portrayal of the drones in the Pakistani media, which paints them as a scourge targeting innocent civilians, than by the drones themselves....Until the United States and Pakistan come clean about the program, though, it is an image that will persist, worsening the frictions within Pakistan's already divided society and between the United States and Pakistan.

Also, it's worth remembering a bit of detail about that March 17 strike that CIA director Panetta ordered over the objections of the US ambassador to Pakistan - the one that killed 42 people, most of whom, according to Pakistanis, had gathered to resolve a local mining dispute:

At about 11 a.m., two pairs of missiles were fired three minutes apart, hitting several dozen tribesmen meeting in the open in Shiga village near the Afghan border. Pakistani officials and local tribesmen said four Taliban fighters and 38 innocent people were killed. The CIA claimed they were all militants, but villagers and Pakistani officials said the group was holding a community meeting, or jirga, to resolve a local mining dispute.

A tribal elder, Malik Dawood, had purchased rights to cut down and sell a large tract of oak trees, said 40-year-old farmer Gul Ahmed. But he subsequently realized the land contained chromite and argued with the landowner about whether he could mine it, he said. Four Pakistani Taliban militants were attending the jirga to guarantee any decision made because of their control over the area, said the villagers and Pakistani officials.

U.S. officials said the CIA tracked the militants driving to the meeting and decided rather than targeting just the car, they would wait to get the entire assembled party. The strike killed the militants, along with six tribal policemen and 32 other tribesmen, according to Ahmed, who provided the names of the dead and attended their mass funeral. A senior official in the area confirmed the death toll.

In a rare public statement, Pakistan's powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said the jirga "was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life."

U.S. intelligence officials brusquely dismissed the Pakistani claims. "There's every indication that this was a group of terrorists, not a charity car wash in the Pakistani hinterlands," said one official at the time.

posted by mediareport at 5:08 AM on March 1, 2012


* How's that for a name. Hearts and minds, kids, hearts and minds.

To be fair, the average Pakistani probably wouldn't care what we decide call our spades/shovels but he would like to ask us to stop hitting him over the head with them.
posted by quosimosaur at 5:30 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've not seen any objections to the 178 dead children figure. So let us assume for the sake of argument that the number is accurate.

Will it be considered "manipulative" or "inflammatory" if I invite you to imagine their actual bodies - or rather, what pieces are left of them? The corpses are real, after all. And we are supposed to be the reality-based ones, yes?

All right then. Here we have the corpses of 178 children neatly laid out, prior to being put to rest in the soil of their homeland. It is plausible that their assembled relatives will be at least somewhat grief-stricken - despite our remarkably efficient 5% civilian casualty rate. Among the women, there may even be tears.

Those of you who, despite your general discomfort with war and your most definite objection to civilian casualties, are still prepared to accept the drone program as a regrettable necessity to keep our homeland safe, are invited - as a thought experiment - to approach one of them, lay a consoling hand on their shoulder, and explain why, in Ms. Albright's immortal words, it was "worth it".
posted by Trurl at 5:51 AM on March 1, 2012


Those of you who, despite your general discomfort with war and your most definite objection to civilian casualties, are still prepared to accept the drone program as a regrettable necessity to keep our homeland safe, are invited - as a thought experiment - to approach one of them, lay a consoling hand on their shoulder, and explain why, in Ms. Albright's immortal words, it was "worth it".

What about those of us who don't think it's worth it, abhor killing and slaughter, yet acknowledge that we have been a bloody nation for our entire existence and that these atrocities, while atrocious, are not particularly unique in their atrociousness? That, in terms of dead bodies, this is actually quite an improvement over the hundred thousand civilian count of the Iraq war?

I would love to live in an idealistic world where pacifist candidates run and succeed, but not only is that impossible at the moment, it has not been possible in nearly the entirety of American history. If the reported civilian death count is 1,000 I consider that pretty tiny in the scale of utterly abhorrent crimes – that is, it's abhorrent, but I find myself capable of sleeping at night, even as now I try to visualize two hundred child bodies being ripped to pieces and burnt and charred with family members crying or else themselves no longer able to cry.

We are a savage species to whom civilization comes slowly and unnaturally. I prefer drone combat to the similarly bloody alternatives. One day I hope the bloodiness stops altogether, but I wouldn't bet on that day coming in my lifetime. I can't speak to how effective politically or militaristically drone combat is, and for all I know it's fucking shit up, but if it is then that's what I'd take issue with, not the death toll you cited.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:55 AM on March 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Trurl: “Those of you who, despite your general discomfort with war and your most definite objection to civilian casualties, are still prepared to accept the drone program as a regrettable necessity to keep our homeland safe, are invited - as a thought experiment - to approach one of them, lay a consoling hand on their shoulder, and explain why, in Ms. Albright's immortal words, it was ‘worth it’.”

I don't really think appeals to sentiment are the best way to go here. You're making a pure pacifist argument, and while that has merits you have to understand that there are those of us who believe that there are times when war becomes necessary. You appear to believe that war is never necessary and is always the worst of all available options. Again, some of us don't agree.

And, to make explicit my objection to your implications, that doesn't mean we enjoy the idea of children dying.
posted by koeselitz at 7:30 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Drones for the win. Love em'. Nothing like some kid growing up on video games getting to sip coffee while he unleashes missles on the King of Hearts from the terrorist deck of cards.
posted by amazingstill at 7:34 AM on March 1, 2012


I don't really think appeals to sentiment are the best way to go here.

Another losing argument is getting caught up in the details of whether this form of warfare or that is more or less efficient or effective or whatever. From an anti-war perspective, when your only options are illegal controversial invasions and occupations or illegal controversial drone strikes (and don't forget the special ops strikes, which I could believe are actually pretty precise for what it's worth), you've already lost. The apparent fact that there actually isn't much of a controversy in the United States over the drone strikes should be proof of that. So, sure, Predator drones are preferable to B-52 bombers or the invasion of Iraq but making the comparison at all is a just a distraction questions of whether these sorts of secretive and dubiously legal attacks should be going on at all.

Despite what I just wrote, I've already broken the seal and made the comparison between a Predator drone and a B-52 bomber so let me add that, as titus-g stated better than I will earlier, the lower impact of a Predator drone attack isn't unreservedly a good thing, especially in a situation where there is no political cost at home to discourage their use.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 9:41 AM on March 1, 2012


The problem is that Metafilter opinion represents the 5% leftward edge of US opinion. There is no mainstream politician other than Ron Paul who does not advocate fighting in Afghanistan, and Obama is pretty much the left end of the spectrum. Everyone else wants to fight harder. So politically, in the US, it really is a choice of what tool you will use to conduct the fight.
posted by msalt at 11:03 AM on March 1, 2012


there are those of us who believe that there are times when war becomes necessary

I am not discussing "war" in general. I am discussing this specific bombing campaign, which has resulted in these specific dead children - each of whom had a name, a caregiver, and a favorite food.

Noting for the record that you are not happy about their deaths, you are nevertheless countenancing it. Because you believe that some reason makes it indeed "worth it".

I submit that if you could not, without a sense of shame, present that reason to the real victims of our real violence, that reason is not as valid as you think.
posted by Trurl at 2:49 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


...and all those insurance monsters with their heartless actuarial tables, they shouldn't sleep at night, as well as anyone who buys into their system or ever thinks of any death in terms of numbers and not in sweet little individual life histories, you ought to be ashamed, ASHAMED I TELL YOU!

And if you think that's a hyperbolic appeal to sentiment WELL SAY IT TO THEIR FACES YOU STONE-HEARTED GHOUL!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:03 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Trurl: “I am not discussing 'war' in general...”

Ah. So you only support those magical fairy tale wars where no children die.

The shit that happens in war is terrible. It is horrific.

I don't like stooping to this level, but:

Are you really prepared to go to the parents of all the children who die in Taliban suicide bombings and tell them it was "worth it" for the US to withdraw and leave Pakistan to deal with this shit on their own?

The point is that, in this situation, somebody is going to have to explain what happens to somebody's parents. There is no avoiding that at this point.
posted by koeselitz at 3:17 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The world where smart bombs and drones just kill the bad guys and make war oh-so-much-cleaner, or where any opposition to war at all is "pure pacifism" and no one but you understands how war can be necessary sometimes, seem much more like a magical fairy tale to me than what Trurl is articulating.
posted by XMLicious at 3:37 PM on March 1, 2012


XMLicious: “The world where smart bombs and drones just kill the bad guys and make war oh-so-much-cleaner, or where any opposition to war at all is "pure pacifism" and no one but you understands how war can be necessary sometimes, seem much more like a magical fairy tale to me than what Trurl is articulating.”

I never said that smart bombs and drones only kill the bad guys and never kill children.

Look, I've been trying to express this, but basically it's really fucking obnoxious the way that suddenly anybody who even wants to discuss the possibility that drone warfare might be better than certain alternatives is labeled a child murderer who must be made to apologize.

So fine. I'm a fairytale idiot who likes to kill children in his spare time. It's just fine that you think that of me. I don't really give a flying fuck what you think, is the thing.
posted by koeselitz at 3:45 PM on March 1, 2012


Dude, you're the one who started talking about people believing fairy tales.

I realize it was a mistake but you started off estimating civilian casualties from war as somewhere around a hundred times less than what they actually are. If you can do that so readily I don't think it's unreasonable to think that your enthusiasm for drone warfare might not be totally founded in sober perspective and rationality about the realities of war.

Regardless of whether or not there are lower civilian casualty rates among the people being bombed, one thing that's sure about drone warfare is that it lets us avoid putting even American military personnel in harm's way to wage war. The American people's disconnection from the horrors of war you mention is a major factor in what lets us open up new conflicts again and again every few years: it's always someone else's children paying the price for these wars that are "worth it". You don't have to be a pacifist at all to think that it's a really bad thing to take this new even-more-painless-to-use tool of violence and sugar-coat it as a much nicer way to be bombed because appeals to sentiment aren't the best way to go.

Yeah, maybe - maybe, if distant third-party civilian organizations are accurately able to calculate the casualty figures that the U.S. military intentionally does not calculate itself - some smaller fraction of civilian casualties result from drone bombings. (Though I wouldn't mind hearing what the mechanism for that actually being the case would be.) But even if it's true, what people are saying is that it's pretty far from any reason to be happier or more optimistic about how war is going to go in the future.
posted by XMLicious at 5:07 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't like stooping to this level, but: Are you really prepared to go to the parents of all the children who die in Taliban suicide bombings and tell them it was "worth it" for the US to withdraw and leave Pakistan to deal with this shit on their own?

I forget when the Af-Pak war became a humanitarian intervention to protect civilians from the Taliban. Was it after even the US government admitted that there were less than 100 Al Qaeda remaining in the region?

But even if we posit this fantasy, I am morally culpable for the violence committed by my government. I am not morally culpable for the violence committed by the Taliban.

The idea that America has a white man's burden to use military force to protect Pakistanis from themselves is one that can only emerge from a sense of American Exceptionalism that I suspect few of those parents share. So if we each have to take our chances with them, I like my odds better than yours.
posted by Trurl at 5:11 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


XMlicious: Regardless of whether or not there are lower civilian casualty rates among the people being bombed, one thing that's sure about drone warfare is that it lets us avoid putting even American military personnel in harm's way to wage war. The American people's disconnection from the horrors of war you mention is a major factor in what lets us open up new conflicts again and again every few years

So, therefore, we should use weapons that kill as many of our own soldiers as possible, even if they cause more civilian casualties, because that will discourage war. Good logic.
posted by msalt at 8:27 PM on March 1, 2012


Fantasy and reality in Afghanistan
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:42 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Uh, no - we should NOT START WARS EVERY FEW YEARS and neither kill our own soldiers nor anyone else. Or if we start a war to accomplish some geopolitical goal it should be a war that we bear the consequences of rather than foisting those costs on millions of people off in remote places.
posted by XMLicious at 8:43 PM on March 1, 2012


XMLicious: "Uh, no - we should NOT START WARS EVERY FEW YEARS and neither kill our own soldiers nor anyone else."

Do you sincerely believe any sane person disagrees with you on this?

Like most arguments about war, this has pretty much devolved into a shouting match where we caricature each other's opinions.
posted by koeselitz at 9:05 PM on March 1, 2012


No, I think that some of us are making salient points. Looking at what has been said in the last few comments and calling it just "a shouting match" seems like a cop-out to me.
posted by XMLicious at 9:34 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


koeselitz, if you've got any ideas as to how or why or when these admittedly lower impact but seemingly never ending drones strikes are going to draw to a close some day then I'd love to hear them. Because when I read something like three quarters of liberal Democrats are on board with these things, I just don't see it.

I could deal with the warmongers and defense contractors advocating a global campaign of secretive, unilateral and probably illegal aerial assassinations. I mean, that's just what they do, right? It's when the sane, intelligent, well meaning people start doing the same that I want to reach for a bottle of the hard stuff. So, if you're game, please reassure me that America's drone wars aren't a recipe for perpetual war and a trajectory for the development of more precise and more efficient systems of control and power.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 11:05 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


When Did the United States Last Kill an Al-Qaeda Fighter in Afghanistan?
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 11:35 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


please reassure me that America's drone wars aren't a recipe for perpetual war and a trajectory for the development of more precise and more efficient systems of control and power.

This is what I don't get. Of course every improvement in technology is used to create more precise and efficient systems of control and power. When has this ever not been true? What is your alternative?

You can argue war is always bad. Sure. But then drones aren't any worrse.
You can argue that some weapons are qualitatively horrible and should be banned (nukes, chemical weapons). But drones don't seem to qualify under any definition.

Arguing that weapons which kill fewer civilians should be avoided lest that improvement encourages war? Seems kind of ridiculous. Are you going to hold the hands of the parents of the extra children killed to deter war?
posted by msalt at 12:57 AM on March 2, 2012


This is what I don't get. Of course every improvement in technology is used to create more precise and efficient systems of control and power. When has this ever not been true? What is your alternative?

For what it's worth, I agree with this. I don't know what the answer is. Hence the repeated half jokes about substance abuse in my previous posts.

I do happen to believe that shrugging your shoulders is a pretty lame response though.

You can argue war is always bad. Sure. But then drones aren't any worse.

Not an argument I've made and a pretty poor caricature of some of the posts other people have made IMO.

You can argue that some weapons are qualitatively horrible and should be banned (nukes, chemical weapons). But drones don't seem to qualify under any definition.

Not an argument I or anyone else in this thread has made.

What I and few other people have, apparently very poorly, been trying to get at is that the lower impact of drone strikes and secret special ops missions perhaps pose their own special risks that deserve a little more consideration than "Hey, the ONLY alternatives are Operation Menu or Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom/Overseas Contingency Operations so drones are a doubleplusgood development".

Arguing that weapons which kill fewer civilians should be avoided lest that improvement encourages war?

This is sorta, kinda, not really what I'm trying to get at in a 'not at all what I said' kinda way.

The key point I'm trying to make here is that this post isn't about drone warfare in the abstract. We're talking about the US drone war in Pakistan and elsewhere which, by all accounts, seems to expanding even though Osama bin Laden is dead and even the CIA admits that Al-Qaeda is effectively spent.

Defend the continuation of drone strikes in Pakistan. Tell me why the expansion of the drone war to other parts of Central Asia, the Horn of Africa and, most lately, the Phillipines is a good idea. Explain to me why the executive branch of my government maintaining secret and unreviewable kill lists is something I shouldn't be too concerned about.

THAT is what we are talking about. Or, at least, it's what I suggest we should be talking about.

The apparent fact that only fringe anti-war leftists like myself and neo-Confederate assholes like Ron Paul are the only people in the US interested in having that conversation worries the hell outta me.

Which means, you guessed it, time for another drink.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 2:19 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good and interesting points, Galaxie500, though I think several people in this thread ARE arguing straight pacificism as the alternative to drone-fueled war, and others are clearly creeped out by drones and want them gone as a tool of war in general.

Seems to me that your point is really, do we need to engage and attack jihadi terrorists in failed states around the globe? I'm not an advocate of the GWOT, but I can tell what the argument behind it is, and I can tell you that the American people overwhelmingly support it.

The argument is that jihadis are actively involved in trying to kill Americans, and they make bases in failed states such as Yemem and the tribal areas of Pakistan and Somalia. And there are many true, factual examples that these people are continuing to launch attacks against Americans, both US soldiers in Aghanistan (the target of most of the terrorists in Waziristan &c) and US civilians (as in several attacks launched from Yemen and a few from the Horn of Africa.)

If we think these people need to be stopped, then it seems pretty clear cut that drones are a better tool than a land invasion. I doubt you disagreed. So drones are really tangential to the discussion IMHO, because the US is a democracy and its citizens will not accept the argument that "Yeah, I know these guys are trying to kill us, but troops are too difficult a way to stop them and drones are too easy, so we're going to leave them alone."
posted by msalt at 5:22 PM on March 2, 2012


The claim in one of the linked articles that "the Obama strikes have increased the ranks of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from 300 fighters in 2009 to more than 1,000 today" is worth thinking about again.
posted by mediareport at 9:21 AM on March 4, 2012


Yes, worth thinking about -- but how exactly, does the author knows that it was Obama's strikes that led to an increase, rather than say ideology or the collapse of Yemen's government or the hateful repression of its people by the 40-year dictator or the charisma of certain jihadi leaders or tribal antagonism?
posted by msalt at 1:19 PM on March 4, 2012


He doesn't, of course. The complexity of factors in that kind of situation is obvious. But surely the increase in terror group numbers during an increase in drone attacks counts as a piece of counter-evidence to your claim about the effectiveness of drones. (And drones vs. land attacks aren't the only two options, of course.)
posted by mediareport at 8:48 PM on March 4, 2012


surely the increase in terror group numbers during an increase in drone attacks counts as a piece of counter-evidence to your claim about the effectiveness of drones

They count in the same way that Republican arguments count, when they say that the economy's weakness proves that Obama's stimulus package was completely worthless and didn't help at all. With the exception that we have reliable statistics on the US economy, unlike those on the number of terror group members in Yemen.
posted by msalt at 12:37 AM on March 5, 2012


Fom Counterpunch Drone Strikes? What’s To Feel Bad About?
To read the New York Times you’d think the only American offence that truly riles people up after ten years of war is book burning.
posted by adamvasco at 4:07 AM on March 5, 2012


Remotely Piloted War: How Drone War Became The American Way of Life
posted by homunculus at 12:35 PM on March 5, 2012


In other drone news: Police Drone Crashes into Police
posted by homunculus at 12:35 PM on March 5, 2012


Holder: Targeted killings legal
“Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate,” Holder said. “Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, it does not guarantee judicial process.”
posted by XMLicious at 2:09 AM on March 6, 2012


I'm surprised that Holder is taking that line. I thought the Administration's position was that this is war and due process doesn't apply. If he's saying that due process does apply then he's opening a whole can of worms.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2012


Glenn Greenwald: Attorney General Holder defends execution without charges
posted by homunculus at 11:30 AM on March 6, 2012


Just came across the near-future sci-fi short film Whistle (2002) which is about a guy who's an operator of assassin drones. It was a half-hour special feature on the DVD for Moon. Worth watching if you get hold of the disc or find it streaming somewhere and the main feature is good too.
posted by XMLicious at 5:10 PM on March 21, 2012


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