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Drones are here, many more are coming and there’s no going back.
June 19, 2012 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Al Jazeera: 'US admits ops in Yemen and Somalia: White House formally acknowledges "direct action", believed to mean drone strikes, against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.'

But the War Powers Report is perhaps less clear than many would have hoped. And the CIA refuses to confirm or deny any involement in drone warfare. The National Review complains: 'Something peculiar happens to people who cherish their liberty when machines effect its abridgement: They cease caring.' . Drone warfare is part of the future of American military strategy, along with the innocuosly-named 'pivot.'

Reason asks: Are Drone Strikes and Kill Lists The New Normal?(video). And American drones are becoming more and more advanced, with the usual players in military aviation hard at work on them. Command and control technology is repidly changing, independant of airframe development. But drones aren't perfect.

Of course, the United States isn't the only country in the drone game: Iran and Venezuela are as well. And drones are entering the civilian world as well. And not only for law enforcement.

Tom Engelhardt, on Guernica, contrasts 'police action' as performed in Afghanistan and the United States. And Asia Times Online reviews Engelhardt's book Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 .
posted by the man of twists and turns (98 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hooray for drones!

That said, I thought US forces operating in the Gulf of Aden was common knowledge, special forces, drones, spies. That sort of thing.
posted by Mezentian at 7:04 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, I also had this filed under "Duh".
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:04 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do these drone operators get medals for essentially playing Starcraft in uniform?

I think our future is bcoming very Ender's Game-y and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

On one hand, remote drones prevent combat deaths on our side, but the life of the enemy and of non-combatants suddenly becomes much much cheaper.
posted by Renoroc at 7:07 AM on June 19, 2012


And they're pretty cheap already, given that this is one of the world's richest countries against one of the poorest. Bradbury and Orwell would have struggled to come up with something so bleak.
posted by iotic at 7:14 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


As Renoroc says, Bradbury and Orwell would have struggled to come up with something so bleak, but we have a fully operational Orson Scott Card.

Tremble before him!

(If we haven't reached the point where computer games are exactly like killing folks me must be getting close, and then we will have legions of little Enders.)

'Something peculiar happens to people who cherish their liberty when machines effect its abridgement: They cease caring.'

Pretty good quote there. Might not be true. They might care if they knew they were bombing a family of 60 at a wedding, but they're so divorced it's all pixels.

And I suspect the brass have never cared that much, else we might never have had a Dresden or Hiroshima.
posted by Mezentian at 7:19 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


the life of the enemy and of non-combatants suddenly becomes much much cheaper.

The case for drones on our side is pretty much a slam-dunk; anything that brings the number of "we regret to inform you" letters down is good, right? I assume that's the reasoning. Plus, y'know. Cheaper, I assume.

But it's always impressed me as weirdly insulting to the other guys, like we don't care enough to bother risking actual American lives, so we're going to send these robots in to shoot at you from altitude.

It strikes me as a total disaster from a hearts-and-minds perspective, insofar as it's pretty hard to convince a population that you're not a horrible faceless machine of oppression and death when you're sending actually faceless machines of death in to fight your wars.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:24 AM on June 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


This is common knowledge. Of course they are droning Yemen.
posted by amazingstill at 7:30 AM on June 19, 2012


I believe the White House's definition of "direct action" is very different from mine...
posted by corb at 7:33 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


US strikes in Yemen. The Long War Journal brings us this chart.
posted by adamvasco at 7:46 AM on June 19, 2012


I love me some drones. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a terrorist group bragging and taking "credit" for a recent bombing followed by a news story on how a drone took out the king of hearts on the terrorist deck of cards. I like Adam Carolla's take on the subject on how in one news story you would hear an interview with a terrorist leader saying "Our infedels blood will fill our rivers!" smash cutting to an A-10 Warthog shredding down a convoy of terrorists.

And for Sokka Shot First "But it's always impressed me as weirdly insulting to the other guys, like we don't care enough to bother risking actual American lives, so we're going to send these robots in to shoot at you from altitude."

It's not insulting, its called being smart. Why should we care enough about terrorist to risk American lives? These are the people who beheaded American soldiers on video. A terrorist would say its insulting because they have no means of defending against such technology. The same way someone shouldn't have to "dumb" down to someone else's intelligence level to make them feel better. You have the means you use it to your advantage. Drone on baby.
posted by amazingstill at 7:47 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"These are the people who beheaded American soldiers on video."

Along with dozens/hundreds/thousands/who knows? innocent men, women and children.
posted by Eyebeams at 7:57 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love me some drones. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a terrorist group bragging and taking "credit" for a recent bombing followed by a news story on how a drone took out the king of hearts on the terrorist deck of cards.

Assuming you're not trolling, when have you seen this occur in a verifiable manner outside of your (clearly disturbed) fantasy life?
posted by lalochezia at 8:00 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Drones are common knowledge on the ground in Somalia as well. There's even a lot of talk about a downed one somewhere in south-central Somalia, although its never been actually verified.

Its kind of funny how your average Somali can be more educated about what the American military is up to in the horn of Africa than the average American.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:00 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing makes me happier than seeing a terrorist group bragging and taking "credit" for a recent bombing followed by a news story on how a drone took out the king of hearts on the terrorist deck of cards

How do you feel when a drone takes out children and innocent people?
posted by empath at 8:01 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love me some drones. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a terrorist group bragging and taking "credit" for a recent bombing followed by a news story on how a drone took out the king of hearts on the terrorist deck of cards. I like Adam Carolla's take on the subject on how in one news story you would hear an interview with a terrorist leader saying "Our infedels blood will fill our rivers!" smash cutting to an A-10 Warthog shredding down a convoy of terrorists.

Because if history has taught us anything, it's that killing people solves all your problems. I wonder when Adam Carolla will finally gain his place among our generation's greatest philosophers? It's a damn shame he's not there yet. A damn shame. I'm sure that if the voting was restricted to only those who are wearing baseball caps and cargo shorts, he'd be there.
posted by item at 8:03 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I find the weird games the White House is playing WRT drones to be, well, weird.

On the one hand they officially deny the drones.

Then they brag about drone kills.

Then they say that to confirm or deny the drones would be a horrible victory for "the terrorists".

Then they "leak" stuff about all the people the drones have killed.

Then they talk explicitly about how great and widespread the drone program is.

Then they say that the drone program may or may not exist, but in any event to even discuss it would be a horrible blow for the War on Terror.

Is there actually any point to all the denials followed by bragging? Or is the Obama administration just gaslighting us for grins?

As for the program itself, it's not just wrong, not just evil, it's really fucking stupid. When American drones kill children, the parents and relatives of those children will become our bitter enemies. When American drones are used to kill first responders, or mourners at funerals, all who see it become our bitter enemies.

The USA is now mass producing people who hate us with a burning passion and feel the need to strike back somehow, and often (due to our actions) those people have nothing to lose. It's almost as if the program were designed with the goal in mind of making sure that in the future there will be plenty of terrorists out to kill Americans.
posted by sotonohito at 8:10 AM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Why should we care enough about terrorist to risk American lives? These are the people who beheaded American soldiers on video.

Are they those people? What is a terrorist? If you know someone who plots terror attacks are you a terrorist? What about if you're hired as their driver? What about if you're the nanny to their children? If you're a teenager who talks big because you're young and angry?

It's easy to think of terrorists as a bunch of militants out in the desert. Cobra plotting their next move until they get exploded by GI Joe. I imagine there is some of that. But we would be fools to think there aren't also cases that aren't so clear cut, that we're not killing children and innocents. And maybe that's worth it, but that's a question that should be addressed with sober and informed debate, not cheerleading because the home team is kicking ass.
posted by ghharr at 8:13 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


sotonohito: When American drones kill children, the parents and relatives of those children will become our bitter enemies. When American drones are used to kill first responders, or mourners at funerals, all who see it become our bitter enemies.
posted by Fizz at 8:16 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


how a drone took out the king of hearts on the terrorist deck of cards

The important thing to remember here, of course, is that many drone attacks do not take out the king of hearts, but the 3 of clubs. And her children. And it's almost impossible to sort out how many innocent bystanders are killed, given

And people like you don't seem to care at all about that. That's horrific.
posted by mediareport at 8:19 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oops, "given that the same administration that authorizes drone strikes is reporting the results to us."
posted by mediareport at 8:19 AM on June 19, 2012


I love me some drones.

Fuck yeah.

Fuckin' A.

Extreme prejudice.

Ultimate sanction.

Hard target.

Collateral damage.

Depleted uranium.

*lights cigarette*
posted by lord_wolf at 8:20 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ever since the Mongols mastered the stirrup, the secret of successful warfare is to have the enemy in range before the enemy has you in range.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:26 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's just stunning to see the mindset, which a lot of us remember well from 2002 on, rearing its head here again. War gets results!!

It's like recent history never happened.
posted by mediareport at 8:27 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love me some drones. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a terrorist group bragging and taking "credit" for a recent bombing followed by a news story on how a drone took out the king of hearts on the terrorist deck of cards.

You must have loved the 9/11 attacks.


Why should we care enough about terrorist to risk American lives?

Why should Arabs people risk fighting in their own countries?


These are the people who beheaded American soldiers on video.

Americans continually supported oppressive governments, and have overthrown multiple democracies.


You have the means you use it to your advantage.

America being a fairly open society provides lot of opportunities for domestic terror. We really can't blame the 9/11 guys for using it to their advantage.

(BTW, I don't actually believe all of that. I just wanted to point out the symmetry. Apologies if it only comes off as "that's offensive? this is offensive".)
posted by benito.strauss at 8:31 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: "that's offensive? this is offensive"
posted by Fizz at 8:39 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


♫♪♫
But where are the drones?
Quick, send in the drones.
Don't bother, they're he...........
posted by Thorzdad at 8:55 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


We have always been at war with Eastafrica.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:58 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


We have always been 'at war' with Eastafrica.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:02 AM on June 19, 2012


"Its kind of funny how your average Somali can be more educated about what the American military is up to in the horn of Africa than the average American."

Really? I would expect that the average Somali would be more educated about what's going on in Somalia than the average American.
posted by MikeMc at 9:06 AM on June 19, 2012


One problem I have with drone warfare is that to truly strike back, the enemy's only real recourse is to attack the people running the drones -- who are here in the US. This will require them to take their fighting here -- either against our citizens as retaliation, but militarily that's just going to make us angrier, or to target and neutralize either the pilots or the infrastructure that lets them pilot drones from half a planet away.

But, someday, hopefully not soon, we're going to piss someone off who can do something about it. Mass assassination of our pilots? Infrastructure attacks on the cables, switches, and equipment that the data travels over? If they have a nuke, perhaps an EMP centered so it knocks out the maximum number of US cities? If they don't have a nuke, but can wrangle a satellite launch, can you imagine the damage done if they can start a Kessler syndrome, rendering LEO or even GEO orbits useless for the foreseeable future -- all it takes is a payload of marbles or even sand going the wrong way, and we can kiss orbital access goodbye for a very long time.

As an engineer and fan of technology and science, I understand how fragile the house of cards our society is built on is, and how easily, if someone really wanted to mess with it regardless of the consequences, how little effort it would take to cause catastrophe. I view the indiscriminate use of drones as a challenge to the rest of the world to take us down through any means necessary. If we keep it up, people will take on that challenge, and they only have to succeed once, and we can kiss the current golden age goodbye.
posted by Blackanvil at 9:31 AM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Drones are great as long as they aren't pointed at you.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:40 AM on June 19, 2012


Blackanvil: I acknowledge that the drone program is giving its victims actual reasons to hate the USA, but some of the USA's enemies are motivated by theological or symbolic considerations (e.g., the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula half a millennium ago, the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia) that aren't up for negotiation. There are lots of reasons why the War on Terror should be reassessed, but ending drone strikes will not make the USA safe from terrorist attacks.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:42 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia No, but continuing the drone strikes will make the USA more likely to suffer terrorist attacks.

No one is going to claim that ending the drone strikes will make America safe from terrorism. We're just claiming that the drone strikes are making the problem worse. The problem will continue to exist if we end the strikes today, but at least we won't be making it worse.

Besides, do you think the drone strikes are actually doing anything useful? To me it looks like the next iteration of the (failed) Vietnam approach to asymmetric warfare. Then, as now, they killed a lot of people and claimed that the rising body count meant success.

If (as I argue) the strikes are producing more terrorists than they kill then, completely disregarding all moral and legal arguments, they are an incredibly bad idea. A rising body count does not lead to victory, it leads only to ever more people willing to do absolutely anything to pay America back for the grief it has created.

I'll also argue that some of what you label as non-negotiable is perfeclty negotiable. We shouldn't have any American soldiers propping up the evil dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. And, frankly, I really doubt the average Muslim cares in the slightest about Iberia. They do care about doctors, family members, first responders, etc getting killed randomly by American drones though.

And anyway, when and how does it end? When can we say "well that's enough randomly killing people in the middle east, we can stop spending money on drones now"?
posted by sotonohito at 9:55 AM on June 19, 2012


Two words: Jeremy Scahill
posted by cynicalidealist at 10:03 AM on June 19, 2012


If they kill innocent children and call them al Qaeda, then we are all al Qaeda.
posted by Eyebeams at 10:08 AM on June 19, 2012


Tom Engelhardt, on Guernica, contrasts...

[sadly shakes head at the dreadful irony and gets back to work]
posted by Currer Belfry at 10:22 AM on June 19, 2012


But if we stop shares will go down.
posted by adamvasco at 10:48 AM on June 19, 2012


Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

I was unaware that it was possible for a person to prove themselves innocent if accused of being a terrorist. Setting that aside, what conclusions can we draw from this?

The Obama administration believes that
- the US has the right to kill any Yemeni/Somali boy over the age of 16
- there are no female terrorists
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:54 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was unaware that it was possible for a person to prove themselves innocent if accused of being a terrorist. Setting that aside, what conclusions can we draw from this?

Some prior MeFi discussion on that topic here.
posted by mykescipark at 11:00 AM on June 19, 2012


Anyone who thinks that anti-Americanism is caused by drone strikes hasn't been awake for the last 20 years.
posted by Dasein at 11:00 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


How Drones Help Al Qaeda
posted by homunculus at 11:05 AM on June 19, 2012


Anyone who thinks that anti-Americanism is caused by drone strikes hasn't been awake for the last 20 years.

It's pretty clear anti-Americanism is caused by U.S. foreign policy, though. Drone strikes are but one of the many facets of our culture's outward projection that cause problems.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:05 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


US strikes in Yemen. The Long War Journal brings us this chart.
posted by adamvasco at 10:46 AM on June 19 [+] [!]


The LWJ is a neo-con propaganda site and not to be trusted.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:08 AM on June 19, 2012


U.N. rights chief calls for drone probe: Civilian victims are due compensation, says top official; Panetta says strikes will continue
posted by homunculus at 11:08 AM on June 19, 2012


Winning hearts and minds: building schools and blowing them up.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:10 AM on June 19, 2012


Obama Administration’s Drone Death Figures Don’t Add Up
posted by homunculus at 11:13 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


How Drone Strikes Don't Help Al Qaeda
posted by amazingstill at 11:14 AM on June 19, 2012


FDL: ...prior to the escalation of the drone campaign, the Administration’s counterterrorism tzar John Brennan argued that there were “several hundred” al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. Since then, this number has apparently grown to “more than a thousand,” according to Mr. Brennan.

Now, I don't want to get too tinfoily here. But has anyone considered that maybe the drones are dropping in terrorists to Yemen paratrooper style rather than blowing them up? I can't think of any other reason such an effective anti-terrorist tactic could be increasing the number of terrorists.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:22 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your drones are very impressive. You must be very proud.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:22 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


... terrorist group bragging and taking "credit" for a recent bombing followed by a news story on how a drone took out the king of hearts on the terrorist deck of cards. ... shredding down a convoy of terrorists.

Perhaps I'll do a post on 4th and 5th generation war, asymmetrical conflict, and non-state-actors in the post-Westphalian environment.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:40 AM on June 19, 2012


If we really were just killing terrorists, I'd be all for it. Fuck 'em if they don't get a chance to shoot back. They're terrorists. The problem is that is demonstrably not always just the terrorists, and we keep seeing evidence to show that the bar for "too much collateral damage" is awfully high.

I hate to see how casually people assume that the guys in the drone pilot chairs stateside just don't give a shit. I haven't really studied the ins and outs of how it's all done and how much they see, but really, does that "pilot" have much time to determine what's really going on before hitting the "fire" button? Who makes that decision? Does the "pilot" just get his instructions and say, "Zoom in and kill these guys," and all he really sees is pixels?

I imagine quite a few of those guys have gone home from their day in the pilot's chair feeling awfully shitty. And I wonder what their training is like, and how much they're told over and over again not to worry about collateral damage, or how it's justified to them, or who makes the calls. It's just plain too easy to presume that it's all just a video game to these guys. I have to wonder what they're being told day in and day out.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:41 AM on June 19, 2012


The other thing I wonder is this:

Drone pilot isn't getting shot at, knows he's going home safe tonight, but has more limited sensory information.

"Boot on the ground" can actually see and hear what's going on, can differentiate between child/woman/elderly and, more importantly, who's got a gun and who doesn't have one, and has that chance to make that decision--and isn't always using weapons that blow up everything in a given radius... but he has to worry about being shot.

Which of these two guys can make the better snap fire/no-fire decision?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:44 AM on June 19, 2012


And I wonder what their training is like, and how much they're told over and over again not to worry about collateral damage, or how it's justified to them, or who makes the calls.

And to complicate matters further, some of the people involved are civilian contractors rather than military: Contractors' Role Grows in Drone Missions, Worrying Some in the Military
posted by homunculus at 11:50 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Two things that I expect:
1. Automated strikes. Pilots apparently do suffer some PTSD type symptoms, big surprise. Also, automated strikes will allow more drones to kill more targets, more easily.
2. Weaponized drones over the USA.

Add that up and you've got Skynet. Let's just hope that John Connor made it through his young adult life without fatally crashing his dirtbike.
posted by wuwei at 12:06 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that there's a lot of emphasis placed on the "drone" aspect that maybe doesn't need to be. Because really, is there a single person here who is okay with the people killed in drone strikes being killed, as long as they're killed by actual American soldiers, in person?

Drones are used to spare American lives. That is the sum and total of their utility. Because the leaders want X people dead, and there are two ways to do it: the unmanned (drone) way, and the human way. And the human way is more risky to American soldiers. Either way, the same people are going to be killed.

I imagine quite a few of those guys have gone home from their day in the pilot's chair feeling awfully shitty. And I wonder what their training is like, and how much they're told over and over again not to worry about collateral damage, or how it's justified to them, or who makes the calls. It's just plain too easy to presume that it's all just a video game to these guys. I have to wonder what they're being told day in and day out.

I know and worked with some of these guys. So I can tell you what they're being told: that hitting the targets is the way to protect their brother soldiers. That collateral damage is unavoidable. And almost never do they make the calls. That's above their paygrade. It is in no way whatsoever "like a video game" to them. It's a race where if they fuck up one way, innocent people die, and if they fuck up the other way, their brothers get killed. It's a really shitty job, and yes, it does come with a kind of PTSD, particularly when people show them the pictures of the results.
posted by corb at 12:26 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Douglas Rushkoff (Mefi's own) "Taking out the Taliban, Home for Dinner" a 2009 Frontline video on pilots who fly unmanned Predator and Reaper planes over Iraq and Afghanistan. The planes are in the war zones; the pilots are at an Air Force base in the desert north of Las Vegas.
posted by adamvasco at 12:34 PM on June 19, 2012


How Drone Strikes Don't Help Al Qaeda
posted by amazingstill at 1:14 PM on June 19 [+] [!]

That "story" in the NYT assumes several things:

1) That the person killed is really the person the CIA planned on killing. It isn't all that uncommon for a person declared dead in a drone strike to turn up living later.

2) That the person killed really was important to Al-Qaeda. How many "second in commands", "deputies", and "Number 2 men" has the USA killed over the years? We keep seeing strutting, crowing, bragging, "news" stories about killing this or that Al-Qaeda leader and yet, despite all that we keep fighting more and more and killing more and more and the war drags on with no end in sight.

3) It doesn't mention how many others were killed, or where he was when he was killed. If the CIA killed him at a wedding and several other people (especially women and children) died in the attack, then taking out yet another "second in command", assuming the schmuck in question really was such a thing, at that cost may very well have made things worse by upping enrollment in various terrorist outfits.

Again, look at Iraq. Before hte USA invaded Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups were all but non-existent in Iraq. Today they're major forces. Look at Yemen. Before the US started its drone attacks the CIA estimated that there were, possibly, as many as 100 Al-Qaeda members there, and they controlled no territory. Today the CIA claims there are thousands of Al-Qaeda members in Yemen and that they control large swathes of territory.

If the objective is to reduce the threat of terrorism, then drone attacks are doing the exact opposite of that.

I'm not sure if the tinfoil hat crowd is right and the US government actually does want to increase terrorism because it likes having a convenient enemy, or if we're looking more at a case of institutional inertia, stupidity, and the inevitable result of "git tuff" talk and beliefs on the US political climate. I'm more inclined to the latter, while there are people profiting from all this, I think stupidity is still the more likely explanation.
posted by sotonohito at 12:54 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Suspending the entire issue of the soundness of the ideology that we can effectively "cut out the cancers" in problematic foreign populations...

Killing anyone "justifiably" is a prickly subject, but I don't necessarily begrudge the death of thoroughly vetted "bad guys" in a hypothetical (or actual I guess) "surgical" strike. The problem, as many here have pointed out - is at the margins in the form of collateral damage. The costs of collateral damage are real and drastic enough, I think, to give pause to gung-ho droning and at some point become large enough to question the larger picture of our policy in general.

Drones are used to spare American lives.

And yet sometimes I can't help but think we are mortgaging those lives now in lieu of thousands of Americans killed later on in a retaliatory homeland attack. Unfortunately you can't kill an ideology - which will spread exponentially so long as it has sufficient reason to exist. Collateral damage is the perfect catalyst for anti-American ideology in the mid-east...
posted by jnnla at 1:04 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Either way, the same people are going to be killed.

What a ridiculous thing to say. Different weapons lead to different results.

For one thing, the lowered risk means that they can be used more often. For another thing the nature of drones, the munitions they use, and the distance of the people doing the shooting from the actual scene seems likely to kill more innocent bystanders.
posted by cdward at 2:15 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


For another thing the nature of drones, the munitions they use, and the distance of the people doing the shooting from the actual scene seems likely to kill more innocent bystanders.

This is totally unsupported by the evidence. Drones give operators an ability to observe targets for long periods of time, verify the identity of the targets (as much as possible), and choose a chance to strike when there aren't civilians around (or fewer). While mistakes will still be made, this sort of ability is vastly improved over what's available with manned aircraft, which have much less loiter time, and totally absent with ground troops, who are conspicuous, politically incendiary, vulnerable, and a lot more likely to kill civilians when protecting themselves.

Drones are the most important military tool being used against al Qaeda. I get the feeling that a lot of the criticism of drones comes from people who would prefer that no military force was used against al Qaeda under any circumstances. And if that's wrong, I'd like to know the alternatives - invade Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia with ground troops? Issue an Interpol warrant and wait around for the next attack?
posted by Dasein at 2:55 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Drones are the most important military tool being used against al Qaeda. I get the feeling that a lot of the criticism of drones comes from people who would prefer that no military force was used against al Qaeda under any circumstances. And if that's wrong, I'd like to know the alternatives - invade Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia with ground troops? Issue an Interpol warrant and wait around for the next attack?

The answer to stopping terrorism is to stop responding to terrorism with more terrorism. The chance of any nation like Pakistan or Iran harming the US is literally zero, but that's not what we're afraid of. The United States is afraid of any nation other than us controlling oil resources in the Middle East. That's why we have several hundred thousand troops, hundreds of military bases, and of course, the Fifth Fleet based out of Bahrain. That massive and enormously expensive military apparatus makes sure our oil gets to our allies and our businesses.

Even so, I don't disagree with the drones because I think there should be zero military action against terrorism. I think drones are morally repugnant because I would feel that way if China were picking off American citizens who they suspected of terrorism against China. It removes very fundamental parts of our civil liberties, and it cheapens human life, and paves the way for other nations to act outside of all legal norms and assassinate anyone, anywhere whom they consider to be a problem.

When the CIA was turning over people to be tortured to death along with native political prisoners in Egypt, at least we could say that was the work of an organization that has no judicial oversight demonstrating their decades long love affair with violence, secrecy, and a blatant disregard for the value of human life. Now the President of the United States is signing documents authorizing the extra judicial assassinations of anyone he doesn't like.

Maybe you agree with who the president has decided to murder tonight. Will you agree tomorrow? In a year? In ten years? And after those people are dead, is that when you want the legal process to begin? We're basically creating a perfect environment to turn our country to in absolute tyranny if the wrong person wins the Presidency. It's why I was against the expansion of the executive branch in the Bush years, and why I will oppose it regardless of who is in the White House.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I don't want anyone to have it, let alone the leader of the world's largest military. I thought Bush should have been impeached for disregarding the letter and spirit of the laws we are supposed to follow according to the Geneva Convention, and I think Obama should be impeached for the same.
posted by deanklear at 3:35 PM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Drones are the most important military tool being used against al Qaeda. I get the feeling that a lot of the criticism of drones comes from people who would prefer that no military force was used against al Qaeda under any circumstances. And if that's wrong, I'd like to know the alternatives - invade Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia with ground troops? Issue an Interpol warrant and wait around for the next attack?

I criticize drones, and I'm part of the military force that gets used. But we, I think, do it in a better, more effective way: phase zero operations.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:16 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eh, sort of got garbled, but the underlining point I was trying to make is that the purpose of drone strikes are not to protect American citizens or make a more just or peaceful world. The purpose of drone strikes are to make it easier for the United States to continue our current military occupation throughout the Middle East.
posted by deanklear at 4:17 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


And if that's wrong, I'd like to know the alternatives

Stop supporting dictatorships, occupying countries and overthrowing democratically elected governments would be a good start.
posted by empath at 4:29 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


That doesn't seem like a very realistic option. We kind of need that oil to make enough fertilizer to keep from starving.
posted by humanfont at 5:20 PM on June 19, 2012


The answer to stopping terrorism is to stop responding to terrorism with more terrorism.

This is doublespeak. You might as well say that arresting criminals is responding to crime with more crime. Terrorists aren't civilians; killing them isn't terrorism.

Maybe you agree with who the president has decided to murder tonight.

Calling killing that you disagree with murder doesn't make it murder, any more than war you disagree with is a war crime. The President is discharging his primary duty to Americans: to keep them safe. War's changed; you, along with a lot of people, are apparently stuck in the past. The fact that the West's enemies don't wear military uniforms and drive in tanks doesn't make them any less legitimate targets. They look at themselves as warriors, not criminals; they're being treated accordingly.

The purpose of drone strikes are to make it easier for the United States to continue our current military occupation throughout the Middle East.

Exactly backwards. The drone strikes are enabling the withdrawal from Afghanistan. They're forestalling need for military intervention in Yemen and Somalia. They dramatically reduce, not increase, the U.S. military's footprint. In so doing, they stave off quite a bit of anti-Americanism.
posted by Dasein at 5:50 PM on June 19, 2012


“We all hate the empire,” said an attendee. “It’s the only thing that we agree on.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:55 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


They reduce the size of the military's logistical footprint, but knowing that the American government is in the sky watching everything I do, and that they have the power to murder my family with the push of a button doesn't seem like it's a vast improvement over dealing with soldiers face to face as human beings.
posted by empath at 5:56 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The President is discharging his primary duty to Americans: to keep them safe.

Some Americans don't want the president to "keep them safe" as we feel pretty safe already given that the chances of dying in a terrorist attack are less than the chances of getting struck by lightning. This small chance of some Americans somewhere being unsafe does not give the U.S. military the legal or moral right to bomb whoever it thinks need bombing.

War's changed; you, along with a lot of people, are apparently stuck in the past. The fact that the West's enemies don't wear military uniforms and drive in tanks doesn't make them any less legitimate targets. They look at themselves as warriors, not criminals; they're being treated accordingly.

How has war changed exactly? And when did it change? This bullshit you are spewing seems to not be very well though out. COIN is COIN is COIN no matter how many fancy names you want to slap on it. See the US is good at this because we've actually been doing this for quite a while in places like Nicaragua and The Philipines. So your assertion that "war has changed" is actually quite ignorant and uninformed. Not to mention a neocon talking point. It's surprising how many liberals are using neocon talking points these days. Must have something to do with their "leader" engaging in shadow wars.

Exactly backwards. The drone strikes are enabling the withdrawal from Afghanistan. They're forestalling need for military intervention in Yemen and Somalia. They dramatically reduce, not increase, the U.S. military's footprint. In so doing, they stave off quite a bit of anti-Americanism.

Again with the neocon logic fail. Come on dude try harder. Also it's comical when you assert that American intervention in Yemen and Somalia is forestalling the need for American intervention in Yemen and Somalia. That's Orwellian doublespeak if I've ever seen it. I guess fascism is hardly ever self consistent.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:16 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is doublespeak. You might as well say that arresting criminals is responding to crime with more crime. Terrorists aren't civilians; killing them isn't terrorism.

The Army's definition of terrorism is "calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear. It is intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies ... [for] political, religious, or ideological goals." According to many international law experts, drone assassinations are illegal. That's why the White House and the CIA will continue to pay lip service to denial of what they are up to. They maintain plausible deniability because they know it's probably illegal. Yet the assassinations continue.

Calling killing that you disagree with murder doesn't make it murder, any more than war you disagree with is a war crime. The President is discharging his primary duty to Americans: to keep them safe. War's changed; you, along with a lot of people, are apparently stuck in the past. The fact that the West's enemies don't wear military uniforms and drive in tanks doesn't make them any less legitimate targets. They look at themselves as warriors, not criminals; they're being treated accordingly.

The problem is that the US government is trying to have it both ways. Either they are enemies in a war, which makes them subject to the restrictions of the rules of the Geneva convention, or they are not. The Bush Administration invented a new category of combatant so they could torture and assassinate people in blatant disregard of the Geneva Convention treaties that we have signed, and the Obama Administration has escalated that policy.

It's interesting that you sidestep the moral qualms because you like the results. Would you support Iranian drone strikes killing suspected members of the CIA that also ended the lives of innocent civilians? Wouldn't you consider it terrorism if Iran stated that their violation of US air space and sovereignty would continue unless the United States obeyed the demands of the government of Tehran?

To me, the issue couldn't be any clearer. Either you support the international laws put into place to stop war crimes, or you don't. The problem is that once you "render quaint" the basic protections of those laws, you lay the foundation for the enemy to do the same thing to your population and soldiers without any recourse. It's a policy predicated on our continued military supremacy, or as Nixon would put it, "When America does it, it's not a war crime." You may think respect for the law during war is some sort of historical novelty, but I think after tens of millions of people lost their lives and we almost destroyed the planet during WWII, the rules created in the aftermath have a larger and much more important purpose than any short sighted foreign policy coming out of Washington, DC.

Drone strikes exist to support our hegemony of the Middle East, period. If we cared about American lives, we could have dumped a tiny fraction into securing airlines and inspecting incoming containers. Instead, we've spent the last decade building more military bases, and now we're ratcheting up the propaganda against Iran. Why? Because they are the last nation in the area that doesn't tolerate a US military presence. Their opposition to our ownership of the region is unacceptable, and until we overthrow their government and install someone friendly to our interests, they will remain an enemy regardless of how they treat their citizens.

The drone strikes are enabling the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is being abandoned because we are losing the war, and we have been for a long time. Just the other day we found out they downplayed another major attack:
A June 1 attack on a U.S. outpost near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was much worse than originally disclosed by the military as insurgents pounded the base with a truck bomb, killing two Americans and seriously wounding about three dozen troops, officials acknowledged Saturday.

The blast flattened the dining hall and post exchange at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province, a frequent target of insurgents in the past. Five Afghan civilians were killed and more than 100 other U.S. troops were treated for minor injuries. U.S. officials estimated that the truck was carrying 1,500 pounds of explosives.
...
In a clipped, one-paragraph news release on June 1, the military said U.S. and Afghan forces "successfully repelled the attack and secured the base."
They're forestalling need for military intervention in Yemen and Somalia. They dramatically reduce, not increase, the U.S. military's footprint. In so doing, they stave off quite a bit of anti-Americanism.

Expanding the role of the US military to assassinate anyone in the world at any time does not decrease our military footprint. It expands it and increases anti-Americanism because it's the very definition of imperialist military strategy. We've told everyone that we have the right to kill anyone we care to inside of any country because we say so. If you think that's reducing Anti-Americanism, I don't think you're reading what people in other countries are writing.

The bottom line is I don't want Pakistan or Iran or China or Russia to fly a drone over our territory and assassinate any Americans, so I don't think we should be doing the same over their airspace. We will eventually reap what we sow, and the fact that people don't understand that approach to foreign affairs really does boggle my mind sometimes. Technology is making that kind of warfare less expensive, and someday soon even small nations will have the capability to launch small drones over our airspace. America should be taking the lead and working with the UN to craft laws to protect everyone from drone terrorism, but instead we're ensuring that there will be more violence because it benefits us in the short term.

Once every nation has drones in the air, equipped with semi-autonomous instructions to execute attacks when certain conditions are met, it's only a matter of time before it drags the world into another major conflict. That's far more dangerous than a few hundred lunatics in the Yemeni desert who wouldn't even have an audience if we'd stay out of their country.
posted by deanklear at 8:02 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


[Previously - the ultimate drone, coming soon to wherever you are.]
posted by cenoxo at 10:28 PM on June 19, 2012


I know and worked with some of these guys. So I can tell you what they're being told: that hitting the targets is the way to protect their brother soldiers. That collateral damage is unavoidable. And almost never do they make the calls. That's above their paygrade. It is in no way whatsoever "like a video game" to them. It's a race where if they fuck up one way, innocent people die, and if they fuck up the other way, their brothers get killed. It's a really shitty job, and yes, it does come with a kind of PTSD, particularly when people show them the pictures of the results.
posted by corb


The use of a drone is analogous to the use of an air or artillery strike. You do it to save the boots on the ground from needless casualties. Civilians die in war, along with soldiers. Calling them collateral damage is insulting, both to the dead and those who killed them. The best use of military force is not to protect and serve, it's to search and destroy. The real issue is whether we ought to be killing these people at all. In this respect the waters get muddy quickly.

Discretionary war is immoral on any level, but more to the point, it's a stupid tactic. Stateless terrorists can be effectively treated as criminals they are, not the soldiers they pose themselves to be. Militant terrorists can be handled by state police, and when necessary, augmented with special teams, for example SAS or SEAL units, and any of their several counterparts. Attacking them militarily helps them achieve international solidarity in a way that they could never achieve under their own steam. Better to portion out the struggle to the various countries where they congregate, and hunt them down as individuals. Let each country execute justice in their own way, but provide them with an overarching intelligence effort, which coordinates the police units on an international scale.

But our main problem isn't in having, or using these tools. We cloak ourselves in institutional opacity, hubris, naked greed, and blind chauvinism, treating other nations as if they were simply Americans in funny clothes, believing that they'd do things our way if only they weren't so backward or ignorant. When that fails we use our propaganda machine to reduce them into collateral damage, rather than victims caught between warring factions. In asymmetrical warfare, this is how we lose. Education and enlightenment do have a way causing disparate peoples to notice their similarities rather than wallowing in their differences. Enlightenment in American thinking was always fragmented, but the ideals, at least the buzzwords, filter down to the various versions of "the average man." I don't really know what the average man is, but I suspect that our nation can be viewed as having some sort of conglomerate, aggregate will, even if it's being manipulated by clever hands and sleazy minds.

I spend eight years in the US Army. I am proud of my service, though I'm not so keen about many of the political forces that steer the decisions my government makes. The American soldier is an excellent killer, perhaps among the best in the world. No war has ever existed where the terms just war and justly-fought war have ever been perfectly balanced. We have destroyed countries who unjustly waged war, and we have hanged men who have committed crimes in the prosecution of their duties as soldiers. We also pin medals on the brave who've killed on our behalf, while shoving returning, often wounded, veterans aside as if they were trash. This is the muddy water I mentioned.

Pre-emptive warfare? Discretionary warfare? I spit on this confusion. It dishonors those who are willing to put their lives on the line in what they perceive as being the defense of their country. When you fight a war without noticing the enemy dead you dishonor those who killed them. You can be sure that you've forfeited your honor, your ethical grounding, perhaps your soul.

At some point our weapons will fail to save us from our folly. At some point our young people will not be able to kill all the enemies for us. I'm pretty sure we will never run out of those who are willing to kill, but I think we'll lose the ability to distinguish among the featureless blips the valid targets and collateral damage. Might as well go to the nukes and get it over with.
posted by mule98J at 12:03 AM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


The bottom line is I don't want Pakistan or Iran or China or Russia to fly a drone over our territory and assassinate any Americans, so I don't think we should be doing the same over their airspace. We will eventually reap what we sow, and the fact that people don't understand that approach to foreign affairs really does boggle my mind sometimes. Technology is making that kind of warfare less expensive, and someday soon even small nations will have the capability to launch small drones over our airspace. America should be taking the lead and working with the UN to craft laws to protect everyone from drone terrorism, but instead we're ensuring that there will be more violence because it benefits us in the short term.


I'm sorry, but this is nonsense.

A country that wants to kill people in the US will use drones if they think it'll be effective. Whether we're doing it or not will have zero impact on their decision, and UN prohibitions will have even less effect. The USSR was developing and deploying chemical weapons for decades, in defiance of the UN treaty. Pakistan cared very little about non-proliferation treaties when they developed nukes and sold the technology to North Korea. To say "If we don't use drones, no one else will; if we use drones, everyone will" is hubris. The US is not all powerful; among other things, this means that other countries do not choose their method of warfare based on what we're doing.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:43 AM on June 21, 2012


Drone strikes threaten 50 years of international law, says UN rapporteur: US policy of using drone strikes to carry out targeted killings 'may encourage other states to flout international law'
posted by homunculus at 11:15 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


TPM: In the official view of the Obama administration, it’s totally possible that the drone that killed Anwar al-Awlaki was owned and operated by the Yemen government.

As absurd as it might sound, that’s the possibility the Justice Department is using as one of its justifications for withholding documents related to the targeted killing of U.S. citizens and individuals alleged affiliated with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The justification comes in a briefing filed just before a midnight deadline in response to a lawsuit filed by The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the government, that alleges they improperly withheld documents in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The federal government argues that it has never officially acknowledged the existence of a drone program, claiming that recent public nods by high-ranking administration officials to a targeted killing program do not amount to disclosure about particular operations.


Well, in that case I no longer have any problem with the strike. Yemen is free to bomb their own country with their own drone whenever they like.

I bet everyone who argued with me that the US had to kill their own citizen because the Yemeni military didn't have the capability to get him feels pretty silly now.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:22 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


How I Accidentally Kickstarted the Domestic Drone Boom
posted by homunculus at 1:40 PM on June 22, 2012


Drones At Work

This month's WIRED is all about the drones. Worth a look, if you're interested.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:52 AM on June 24, 2012


I'm of the school of thought that the US upping the ante with drones was a really dumb precedent to set.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:37 AM on June 24, 2012


Quadcopter drone group held in London airport on suspicion of terrorism
posted by homunculus at 12:55 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


An embassy asks, Drones or diplomacy?

Drone Intel Complex Clobbers Strategists & Diplomats
posted by homunculus at 3:55 PM on June 25, 2012


Rachel Maddow: Victims of secretive US drone strikes gain voice in Pakistani lawyer
posted by homunculus at 8:34 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Drone makers urge U.S. to let them sell more overseas: U.S. firms such as Northrop are eager to tap foreign countries' growing appetite for drones, which some nations already sell. Arms control advocates fear the weapons could fall into enemy hands.
posted by homunculus at 11:47 AM on July 1, 2012


FT: The Drone Blowback Fallacy
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:01 AM on July 2, 2012


Calling killing that you disagree with murder doesn't make it murder, any more than war you disagree with is a war crime. The President is discharging his primary duty to Americans: to keep them safe.

Terrorists about to strike, maybe tonight

Yeah right

posted by dunkadunc at 10:35 AM on July 2, 2012


TNI: A Game Of Drones
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:57 PM on July 2, 2012


EFF and MuckRock Partner Up to See How Your Local Police Are Using Drones
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:06 PM on July 3, 2012


Just Trust Us, Say Manufacturers of Killer Robots
posted by homunculus at 3:08 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here Comes Skynet: Army Drones Almost Ready To Share Sky With Airlines
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:04 PM on July 5, 2012


Homeland security expands use of drones on the border.
Also The Drone Makers And Their Friends In Washington.
posted by adamvasco at 8:15 AM on July 6, 2012


Drone hijacking is just the beginning of problems with GPS
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:50 AM on July 6, 2012


NYTimes: The Drone Zone
Today many of the pilots at Holloman never get off the ground. The base has been converted into the U.S. Air Force’s primary training center for drone operators, where pilots spend their days in sand-colored trailers near a runway from which their planes take off without them. Inside each trailer, a pilot flies his plane from a padded chair, using a joystick and throttle, as his partner, the “sensor operator,” focuses on the grainy images moving across a video screen, directing missiles to their targets with a laser.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:25 PM on July 7, 2012


A Retired Brigadier General on How Drones Misidentify Targets
posted by homunculus at 1:06 PM on July 7, 2012


CNN's Bogus Drone-Deaths Graphic
posted by homunculus at 1:10 PM on July 7, 2012


Al Jazeera: Many dead in triple Pakistan drone strike: At least 21 killed in North Waziristan by first US drone attack since Pakistan agreed to reopen NATO supply routes.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:36 PM on July 7, 2012


Contrary Brin: On the Transparency Front: Secrecy, Drones and War
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:43 PM on July 7, 2012


WorldNetDaily founder cries ‘Obama’s killer drones are after me!’
posted by homunculus at 12:35 PM on July 9, 2012


RoboCop is Back, and Less Far-Fetched Than Ever
posted by homunculus at 3:58 PM on July 9, 2012


FAA Releases Thousands of Pages of Drone Records
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:50 PM on July 14, 2012


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