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August 21, 2012 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Guardian/Greenwald: US drones are coming back after initial attacks to target first-responder rescuers.
posted by seanmpuckett (145 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting, but where is the strong evidence you'd like to see that they are intentionally targeting first responders, as opposed to, say, examining the intel after an attack, and launching a followup?
posted by markkraft at 12:32 PM on August 21, 2012


You go to war with the two-party system you have, not the democracy you might want or wish to have at a later time.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:32 PM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


The US government has long maintained, reasonably enough, that a defining tactic of terrorism is to launch a follow-up attack aimed at those who go to the scene of the original attack to rescue the wounded

Whereas the rest of the military community has merely referred to it as "drawing the enemy out from under cover" or "good tactics".
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:32 PM on August 21, 2012


I think it's great and noble how we have rules for what is the right way to kill other people and all.

None of this shit makes sense, and putting humans into a shitty situation like war, well, gee it dehumanizes them, doesn't it? Especially when it's as distanced from reality as it is. You get folks to club each other over the head with a branch, you might get them to see the reality of the actions. But you turn it into a video game and of course they come back to shoot the rescuers, it ups the max score for the level and maybe if they shoot enough civvies they get points towards an armor upgrade.

I don't know, sometimes I want to just give up on human civilization. We're doing a shit job of it apparently.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:46 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Interesting, but where is the strong evidence you'd like to see that they are intentionally targeting first responders, as opposed to, say, examining the intel after an attack, and launching a followup?

I would like to think that when somebody is killing civilians rescuing the wounded, the burden of proof of falls on the person killing the civilians.

Moreover, from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism article that Greenwald cites:
Naz Modirzadeh, Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University, said killing people at a rescue site may have no legal justification.

‘Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into the very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution’, she said. ‘We don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case.’
Also, one of the reasons why we feel especially compelled to wage war against terrorists is the particular cruelty of their tactics -- tactics like targeting first responders. From a purely self-interested standpoint, I doubt the usefulness of these strikes if they compel special resentment against us.
posted by compartment at 12:49 PM on August 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


Is this still OK because you're not really at war, and those aren't really soldiers, but brown people enemy combatants?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:49 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The question is whether the people doing the rescuing are civilians or combatants. If they are attacking civilians, or being reckless about who they're attacking, it's indefensible and needs to stop.
posted by Dasein at 12:50 PM on August 21, 2012


So we went past that point already then. Damn. I thought we had at least two administrations worth of war crimes to go until we going to that point.

So yeah, I'd be alright with whoever OK'd these attacks being arrested in whatever country they flew to, from the commanding officer of the drone C&C to Bush/Obama/whoever-the-next-guy-is-who-will-do-the-exact-same-shit.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:52 PM on August 21, 2012


No empire lasts forever, no terror can haunt you forever. Here's hoping that when the time comes to write history it isn't written by the victors but by the shameful truth.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Manned Apache gunships do the same thing. It's a tactics thing more than a drone-specific thing.

The question is how soon until they start targeting funerals.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


IANAL, but the Geneva Conventions protect those who care for the wounded only if they carry a visible insignia. One of the basic rules, though, is that you respect the wounded, no matter where they are (Article 10), so attacking those who are treating you with a drone (and thereby killing you) is maybe breaking the convention.
posted by swift at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2012


where is the strong evidence you'd like to see that they are intentionally targeting first responders

The evidence seems to be in the article, where attacks on first responders are documented as (deliberate) second responses to previous battles with enemy combatants, where those responders are not participating in battle and are helping the injured, and yet are still targeted as if they are combatants.

I don't know how much stronger the evidence could be. For example, WikiLeaks published video that showed Iraqi responders without weapons, who were not participants in battle, and yet were gunned down (along with their children) for helping wounded journalists, who were themselves noncombatants.

Usually, someone not involved in battle or providing medical aid in a time of war is considered a noncombatant. The definition of noncombatants explicitly includes civilians, journalists, medical personnel and anyone else who does not take part in hostilities.

Attacking noncombatants is a war crime, except that US lawyers found a loophole that considers terrorists stateless and therefore absolves Obama of any legal consequences, simply by calling noncombatants terrorists at his say-so. I hope those lawyers got paid well.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:54 PM on August 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


The question is whether the people doing the rescuing are civilians or combatants.

If there's no combat, how can they be combatants?
posted by mikelieman at 12:54 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


(and manned AC-130s, and loitering A-10s and F-18s, etc.)
posted by Burhanistan at 12:54 PM on August 21, 2012


The question of civilians or combatants has already been answered: if they're hit by a drone, by definition, they're combatants.

This is old news but it's okay because nobody gave a shit about it then, either.
posted by Legomancer at 12:54 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


To say nothing of the weak premises under which the initial attacks are launched. As I recall, most of the drone strike victims are alleged "terrorists" not "confirmed terrorists".

In any case, I'm sure our drone attacks will win their hearts and minds and usher in a new era of Islamic American-styled pseudodemocracy!
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:56 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The question is how soon until they start targeting funerals.

The article specifically mentions drone attacks on funerals.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:57 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


The big "my god we r the terrorists" reveal he's going for here is kind of silly only works if you fall for two moves:

The US government has long maintained, reasonably enough, that a defining tactic of terrorism is to launch a follow-up attack aimed at those who go to the scene of the original attack to rescue the wounded.

"defining tactic of terrorism?" Seems more like you found two U.S. reports over the past 7 years that suggest terrorists might try it, and one report of a domestic terrorist who had. Terrorism might include a double tap, and a double tap might be terrorism, but no one thinks terrorism is defined by the double tap.

and

"first responders." How do you define first responders. Are you thinking in your head of ambulances and fire trucks? What if they are actually co-combatants? We shouldn't kill them unless we have the intelligence to know the difference, and that's the serious problem and potential war crime.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:58 PM on August 21, 2012


It's cute how some people try to apply "morality" to "war." Once you've made the ethical determination that killing other people is OK, it's sort of ludicious to start drawing fine moral distinctions about what kinds of killing are better or worse.

That said, speaking purely from a pragmatic angle, I think the "double-tap" is a very bad idea. Most of the casualities from this policy are probably just civilians who find somebody bleeding on the street and assume there was some sort of accident. How are they to know that the person they're helping is a terrorist?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:00 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


"If there's no combat, how can they be combatants?"

Oh, once they discover they are in combat, it's already too late.

I prefer to believe the legal definition of "enemy combatant" isn't "an individual or group of individuals, whether mounted, on foot, or in vehicles, that has been sighted by coalition forces, agents, proxies, or imaging or sensing devices." Simply place the targeting reticle on them, and bam, instant combatant.
posted by Xoebe at 1:04 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would like to think that when somebody is killing civilians rescuing the wounded people, the burden of proof of falls on the person killing the civilians people.

But that's just me.
posted by gauche at 1:06 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


The big "my god we r the terrorists" reveal he's going for here is kind of silly

Maybe it's a stretch, but I think a condition where people live in fear of being randomly targeted for destruction by unmanned, silent, futuristic aircraft can safely be labeled "terror."
posted by swift at 1:06 PM on August 21, 2012 [32 favorites]


> The article specifically mentions drone attacks on funerals.

The article links an Al-Qaeda attack on a funeral and mentions some non-specific attacks by drones. I don't doubt that it's been done, but I do question whether or not the mission planners knew it was a funeral. Funeral prayers in the Muslim world, especially in poverty-stricken areas, are very much an impromptu sort of thing so the people tasked with reconnoitering targets might just have seen a gathering and then rushed to call in a strike.

Now, that's shameful and disturbing in its cavalier approach to slaughtering people, but I don't know if it's quite the same as deliberately targeting funerals, or if if has the same intention as Al-Qaeda (trying to completely demoralize rather than just pursuing tactical objectives). That's probably me being naive, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:06 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's cute how some people try to apply "morality" to "war." Once you've made the ethical determination that killing other people is OK, it's sort of ludicious to start drawing fine moral distinctions about what kinds of killing are better or worse.

Really? You actually think that once we enter into battle, there ought to be no limitation on conduct?
posted by gauche at 1:07 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


swift: "One of the basic rules, though, is that you respect the wounded, no matter where they are (Article 10)"

But, but, if there's one thing I've learned from the movies, it's that when a bad guy is wounded or possibly dead, he'll pull out a gun/knife/detonator/whatever the moment you turn your back, and he'll try to kill you!
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:08 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


> It's cute how some people try to apply "morality" to "war." Once you've made the ethical determination that killing other people is OK, it's sort of ludicious to start drawing fine moral distinctions about what kinds of killing are better or worse.

This is completely wrong, sorry. Having some kind of rules (on the books at least) is one of the means of de-escalation of hostilities.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:09 PM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


First off: I AM NOT DEFENDING THE PRACTICE OF KILLING FIRST RESPONDERS.

OK, now that that's out of the way, the premise of the article that Drone Strikes=Terrorism is a false equivalence. The tactics are not necessarily what define terrorists, it is the means and ends. For example, terrorists shoot people. Police shoot people. Using that as the basis to equate terrorists and cops would likewise be a false equivalence.

Again, I'm not arguing that an equivalence could not be made, just that in this case pointing to the specific tactic of drawing out your enemy is one that both sides share.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


2bucksplus: "What if they are actually co-combatants? "

Exactly who are we in combat with? All the drone strike reports I see, even statements from the US gov tend to say the victims are "suspected militants". As near as I can tell, the only reason to suspect they're militants is because they have the poor fortune to live in Waziristan.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey, remember when torture and indefinite detention without trial were too immoral to be considered by admitted to by the US? Those were the days.
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Little-by-little, I'm very afraid that these wars over oil+minerals+water, etc. + religious ideology are going to result in massive blowback. We are not going to change the implicit cultural imperative for revenge that is so deeply embedded within some of the places that our drones or war machines are able to reach.

Combat technologies spread. As they spread (look at atomic weapons, as just one example), more and more security is needed. That's "security", as in "we are going to take away a lot of your rights to protect you from those who would cause you harm". What happens down the road when the terrorists get hold of this stuff - i.e. drones, bio-weapons, etc. etc - because they will? Unless, of course, our "security apparatus", the one that "protects" us, and slowly constrains and delineates our "freedoms" keeps that from happening. There is a huge, scary subtext to all this; for some reason it seems more and more at the surface.

Add to that that so much of this terror is driven by heavily monied special interests in all the most powerful nations who have a role in these wars. Those monied interests get more and more embedded within the culture of the state, whether it be a totalitarian or so-called "democratic" society. End result? Surveillance; loss of individual rights and freedoms; external control by nameless bureaucracy, etc. This is all spreading, right underneath the nose of the daily laundry list of horrific headlines.

That said, there is strong, countervailing evidence that violence, worldwide, is on the decrease.. How do we reconcile this with what we see every day? And could it be that the decrease in mass overt violence is due to the imposition of societal controls that "keep us safe". I don't know the answer to these questions, but I'm starting to get a very ill feeling about how rotten to the core so much of the power structure of nations are - far more rotten (and hypocritical) than I had imagined. Could it be that the sheer transparencies of the media - informing us of every horror - makes it *seem* worse than it is? I don't know.

In all of this, I don't see conspiracy; rather, I see a tendency for the wired human impulse to dominate (i.e. status drives) at play, constantly morphing; constantly learning now ways to outsmart outside constraints. It's a new world, and may the gods help us all.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:14 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


IANAL, but the Geneva Conventions protect those who care for the wounded only if they carry a visible insignia.

And how big does it need to be seen when the insignia is in Afghanistan and the viewer is in Nevada?
posted by rough ashlar at 1:15 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


.

oh, and Eid Mubarak to you, too. I am so tired of my country being torn apart.
posted by bardophile at 1:20 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's cute how some people try to apply "morality" to "war."

The idea of a just war because otherwise you'd have to preach on Sunday that such is not cool bro.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:21 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


You actually think that once we enter into battle, there ought to be no limitation on conduct?

Paul Harvey thinks so. Consider that end-point advocated for a moment. "we sent men with rifles into Afghanistan and Iraq and kept our best weapons in their silos"
posted by rough ashlar at 1:26 PM on August 21, 2012


Vibrissae: "That said, there is strong, countervailing evidence that violence, worldwide, is on the decrease."

GREAT. But you know that now the warhawks in the administration will simply use this as proof their approach is working.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:28 PM on August 21, 2012


Really? You actually think that once we enter into battle, there ought to be no limitation on conduct?

Not at all. I think that there definitely should be limitations on conduct, but those limitations should stem from practicality rather than morality.

I happen to feel that killing people is wrong. So if a country finds itself in a situation where it decides it has to kill people (whether that situation is "war" or a "peacekeeping action") then my opinion is that the highest moral imperative should be to do whatever it takes to end the violence as quickly as possible. If you have to make a horrible example of a few people, but the end result saves many lives, then ethical calculus suggests that this is not only right but necessary. Choosing not to do something is as much a choice a choice as choosing to do something, and if your failure to do something that would end hostilities results in a prolonged war that costs many more lives, then those lost lives are your responsibility and should burden your conscience. (Assuming of course that you subscribe to the belief that we have a moral imperative to improve the world, which I do.) In other words, sometimes the higher moral crime is not in being too ruthless, but rather in not being ruthless enough.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Apologies for the typos)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:32 PM on August 21, 2012


From Vibrissae's link: There is little discussion in “The Better Angels of Our Nature” about trends in violence in Asia or Africa or South America. Indeed, even the United States poses difficulties for him. There is much in “The Better Angels of Our Nature” that is confounding. Those developments which might seem to fit into his schema are treated in detail. Yet other episodes that one would think are more relevant to a history of violence are simply glossed over.



posted by bardophile at 1:32 PM on August 21, 2012


Well, bold for emphasis notwithstanding, the pattern is usually that violence creates alienation and collateral damage, and perpetuates the cycle. Unless you're going to say that things like carpet bombing Laos were a net good.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:32 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


have to make a horrible example of a few people, but the end result saves many lives

And are we really great judges of how likely it is that many lives will be saved?
posted by bardophile at 1:34 PM on August 21, 2012


If you have to make a horrible example of a few people, but the end result saves many lives, then ethical calculus suggests that this is not only right but necessary.

So actions can only be approved of in the benefit of hindsight? That doesn't seem particularly practical to me.

Or do you just run the odds? And in running those odds, do you take into account the likelihood that "making examples of an unlucky few" will enrage, rather than pacify, the rest?

I'm not trying to cherry-pick out what you say: the above quote seems to me to be the nut of what you're saying.
posted by gauche at 1:42 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


"If you have to make a horrible example of a few people, but the end result saves many lives, then ethical calculus suggests that this is not only right but necessary."

I'll take your word on it. Even then, assuming this formula is correct, shouldn't it change a bit when the violence levied against our nation is ostensibly due to our nation's violent interventionist foreign policy that prioritizes oil prices over the rights of foreign nationals?

Our military is making martyrs -- exemplars, not examples.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:43 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


do you take into account the likelihood that "making examples of an unlucky few" will enrage, rather than pacify, the rest?

Anything we do will enrage 'the rest', because we've occupied their country and continue to occupy it. Whether or not we kill first responders seems to be a red herring, and it seems so shortsighted to focus on drone attacks when we have been bombing civilians in Afghanistan with regular old manned planes for the last decade.

War is fucking terrible. War crimes are integral to war. Let's stop war to solve our problems with war crimes.
posted by muddgirl at 1:47 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


bardophile: There is little discussion in “The Better Angels of Our Nature” about trends in violence in Asia or Africa or South America. Indeed, even the United States poses difficulties for him. There is much in “The Better Angels of Our Nature” that is confounding. Those developments which might seem to fit into his schema are treated in detail. Yet other episodes that one would think are more relevant to a history of violence are simply glossed over.

Thanks for that, bardophile. If you have a few minutes, can you briefly delineate one or two examples? I will follow up, in any case, but a starter would be helpful.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:51 PM on August 21, 2012


In other words, sometimes the higher moral crime is not in being too ruthless, but rather in not being ruthless enough.

This is one of the most disgraceful statements I have ever read.
posted by deanklear at 1:51 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Once you've made the ethical determination that killing other people is OK, it's sort of ludicious to start drawing fine moral distinctions about what kinds of killing are better or worse.

So if a policeman shoots an armed bank robber he might as well go on killing everyone else at the scene?
posted by biffa at 1:52 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Vibrissae: I'm unfamiliar with the work. I was quoting from the review that you linked. Sorry I can't be more helpful.
posted by bardophile at 1:53 PM on August 21, 2012


I'll take your word on it. Even then, assuming this formula is correct, shouldn't it change a bit when the violence levied against our nation is ostensibly due to our nation's violent interventionist foreign policy that prioritizes oil prices over the rights of foreign nationals?

Our military is making martyrs -- exemplars, not examples.


I agree entirely. That's a crime against practicality, and wouldn't be tolerated according to my "formula."

I'm not sure why you're trying to put me in the role of justifying American interventionism, when I never said anything to that effect. My only point is that when we do interfene, we have to be willing to do whatever it takes to win as quickly and efficiently as possible. (And "whatever it takes" doesn't necessarily mean brutality - often, psychology and diplomacy can have a much better impact.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:53 PM on August 21, 2012


Once the police force has decided as an institution that anyone leaving a bank after a robbery is an armed bank robber, then there is little moral distinction preventing them from shooting anyone who happens to arrive at the bank after the robbery.
posted by muddgirl at 1:54 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners
From: On the Questions of Drones, First Responders and Collective Punishment in Pakistan.
Not hearing much about illegal killing in your election campaign so far.
posted by adamvasco at 1:55 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would recommend people who are interested in the fundamental questions of ethics & war (both the starting of them and the conduct within them) read Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars. I'm about halfway through and it is a really nice systematic look at why it makes sense to talk about things like war crimes rather than just throwing up our hands and saying "war is horrible", and how to go about doing so.

(I'm sure people who actually study this stuff will have other recommendations, and may have problems with Walzer's book, but it has been extremely helpful to me & my thinking about these issues so far).
posted by feckless at 1:55 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


the premise of the article that Drone Strikes=Terrorism

The premise of the article is not that Drone Strikes = Terrorism. The premise is that attacking the rescuers responding to a drone attack = terrorism.

Which, as far as I can tell, it is. Literally the only purpose I can imagine of doing such a thing is to instill terror.

God. Long rant deleted. Fuck it. I just cannot believe that we have come so far so quickly down this goddamn slippery slope that we are honestly debating whether this sort of shit is okay.
posted by ook at 1:56 PM on August 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


Whether or not we kill first responders seems to be a red herring, and it seems so shortsighted to focus on drone attacks when we have been bombing civilians in Afghanistan with regular old manned planes for the last decade.

War is fucking terrible. War crimes are integral to war. Let's stop war to solve our problems with war crimes.


Okay, that I agree with, but here's the thing: any major moral framework for talking about war also agrees with you. John Q Evangelical on the street doesn't, because he doesn't know the moral teachings of his tradition, but the serious moral thinkers in any major religious tradition will come down somewhere in the neighborhood of where you are coming down on this issue.

I was curious about the off-handed dismissal of morality with which you opened your argument, and am now actually even more curious about it.
posted by gauche at 1:58 PM on August 21, 2012


"I'm not sure why you're trying to put me in the role of justifying American interventionism, when I never said anything to that effect."

You seemed to be defending interventionism broadly, so I figured, why not ground that out in real examples of the nation-in-question's interventionism? Politics, strategy and war don't happen in a void, after all, they happen in real life and affect real people.

Your general defense of interventionism, in the context of this conversation on American interventionism, is rather hard to distinguish from "defending American interventionism".

I don't really see you drawing a bright line between your idealized interventionism and the facts of American interventionism (other than calling it impractical). Apologies if it seemed to you as if I was imposing content in your remarks you didn't believe present, but that's how I read you.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:59 PM on August 21, 2012


That said, there is strong, countervailing evidence that violence, worldwide, is on the decrease.. How do we reconcile this with what we see every day? And could it be that the decrease in mass overt violence is due to the imposition of societal controls that "keep us safe".

I'd say it's a combination of far more precise killing technology, and an ethical reluctance to go the "total war" route. Back in the day the attack method would be carpet bombing the area. Before that, it would be burning all the villages in the area and salting the earth. Eventually the drone attacks will be precise enough that they will only kill specific targeted individuals. This is completely aside from the ethical aspects, which have led to fewer and more limited wars.
posted by happyroach at 2:03 PM on August 21, 2012


I'm even more confused, reading through again:

Once you've made the ethical determination that killing other people is OK, it's sort of ludicious to start drawing fine moral distinctions about what kinds of killing are better or worse.

But it's preferable to draw fine practical distinctions about what kinds of killing are better or worse. Do I have that right? That your argument is merely that the distinctions moral people are drawing are not sufficiently rooted in whatever it is you would define as practicality?
posted by gauche at 2:04 PM on August 21, 2012


I was curious about the off-handed dismissal of morality with which you opened your argument, and am now actually even more curious about it.

You're confusing me with someone else. My point is tangential to wolfsdreams01 and I don't know whether or not they would agree with it
posted by muddgirl at 2:08 PM on August 21, 2012


Oh, you are right. My mistake.
posted by gauche at 2:10 PM on August 21, 2012


And how big does it need to be seen when the insignia is in Afghanistan and the viewer is in Nevada?

The same size as the insignia on our uniforms is probably fine; the drones' camera systems are designed to be able to allow the operator to make friend/foe decisions so that would be a safe standard, if you were a Taliban medical corpsman interested in such things.

Of course, we know that the Taliban and other militants don't wear uniforms, in part because they want to preserve the advantage of being able to blend into the civilian population. That has been frowned upon for centuries, and the tradeoff of refusing to wear uniforms is that you lose many of the graces that two uniformed armies fighting a more traditional war grant each other.

Although I think in many cases, our idea of what conduct was acceptable in even those traditional, uniformed-armies with POW camps and medical staff and the rest, is hideously biased by selective reporting. The public wasn't privy to exactly what their soldiers were up to at the front in past wars, and if they had been they might not have liked what they saw. I doubt very strongly -- given the evidence that Vibrissae posted above, which points to a world in which violence is far less common than it was in past generations (and this is certainly strongest in countries which have rapidly industrialized, like the US) -- that our soldiers have suddenly become more brutal or less inclined to follow rules than in the past. But in the past, if someone pissed on an enemy corpse or wounded an enemy in order to draw out his comrades and shoot them too, it was never, ever going to be reported on back home. Our perceptions of those wars, and the "standard" that they have set in the mind of the public as to how a war should be conducted, are largely the result of carefully-honed propaganda, not reality.

Ironically, the success of past propaganda campaigns to sanitize war and paint our soldiers as saints who would never engage in atrocities -- who did not, in all likelihood, routinely engage in repulsive behavior when it was expedient, as all soldiers throughout history have -- has painted the modern military into a corner. Their predecessors created the expectation that victory would not only be achieved, but it would be achieved with morally clean hands; this expectation has never been realistic.

The closest that a foreign power has come to conquering Afghanistan was arguably the Soviets, and they did so with a range of brute-force tactics that even some of the more hawkish Senators in the U.S. might blanch at. (In particular, they solved the un-uniformed combatants problem by just herding the civilian population in unrestive locales into fenced villages, making themselves the exclusive suppliers of food and other necessities. Anyone outside the wire could be assumed to be a militant, and killed. Until their helicopter gunships started falling to Stingers, this was a fairly successful strategy and one that is arguably more effective in its brutality than COIN or anything else the West has tried.) Unless we are willing to take the gloves off and venture down that road -- and I think our experience in Vietnam shows that when the results are on TV, we are not -- we are doomed, and should leave before we sacrifice more lives at the altar of our own self-image.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:13 PM on August 21, 2012


"Really? You actually think that once we enter into battle, there ought to be no limitation on conduct?"

I think we shouldn't enter into battle. Especially with desperately poor and war-torn countries with only rudimentary technology.
posted by docgonzo at 2:17 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


docgonzo, I think that too, but I also think that, if we do enter into battle, we don't somehow stop being people who owe one another a modicum of dignity and respect as humans.
posted by gauche at 2:21 PM on August 21, 2012


Shame old Osama isn't about to see how successful his plan to get the scorpion to sting itself to death has been.
posted by davemee at 2:27 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


C'mon, USA, cut that shit out. Either declare war on Pakistan, or stop using your bullying drones.
posted by scruss at 2:29 PM on August 21, 2012


I don't see much point in posting any more to this thread since (regardless of whether it is agreed with or not) my point appears to have been generally understood, and posting too much could become a derail. So I'll do one last comment to respond to people who were responding to me, and then if anyones want to discuss it further you're more than welcome to memail.

Or do you just run the odds? And in running those odds, do you take into account the likelihood that "making examples of an unlucky few" will enrage, rather than pacify, the rest?

Yes, exactly - you run the odds. (Life itself is a process of running the odds.) And obviously, you should try to factor in all known probabilities in your equation. Sometimes you'll be wrong and your actions will end up incurring a greater karmic debt that you need to pay off later. However, I'd like to point out that sitting passively by - simply because you're not 100% sure about your own righteousness - can itself be a reprehensible thing. (As an example of the loathsomeness of inaction, you need to look no farther than 1942-1943, when many nations turned a blind eye to the treatment of the Jews because they didn't feel morally justified in going to war.) I think that if you believe you have the ability to improve the world, it's wrong not to try.

So if a policeman shoots an armed bank robber he might as well go on killing everyone else at the scene?

No, that's completely irrelevant and draws a false equivalence. Where is the practicality in that? How does shooting everyone else at the bank do anything to minimize crime?

Apologies if it seemed to you as if I was imposing content in your remarks you didn't believe present, but that's how I read you.

Well, that was most definitely not what I meant. I accept your apology, however, and I would also like to apologize to you for having erroneously giving that impression - I should have articulated myself better, so I share part of the blame for the misunderstanding.

Do I have that right? That your argument is merely that the distinctions "moral" people are drawing are not sufficiently rooted in whatever it is you would define as practicality?

Right - that pretty much covers it. I added quotations to the word "moral" though because I believe their morality is false, due to the fact that they seem to judge the "wrongness" of their actions only by the damage they inflict, while completely disregarding collateral damage that could have been prevented if they had only had the courage to act more decisively.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:34 PM on August 21, 2012


However, I'd like to point out that sitting passively by - simply because you're not 100% sure about your own righteousness - can itself be a reprehensible thing. (As an example of the loathsomeness of inaction, you need to look no farther than 1942-1943, when many nations turned a blind eye to the treatment of the Jews because they didn't feel morally justified in going to war.) I think that if you believe you have the ability to improve the world, it's wrong not to try.

And how do you rate the self-righteousness of the political entity that rounded those Jews up?
posted by deanklear at 2:50 PM on August 21, 2012


ook: I just cannot believe that we have come so far so quickly down this goddamn slippery slope that we are honestly debating whether this sort of shit is okay.
This is what happened in the First World War. Things very quickly went from a state of "internationalism means there will be no more wars ever" to "it's perfectly OK to use poison gas on our opponents" and "let's make an example of these 5000 Belgian civilians for (actually non-existent) franc tireurs activity" and "we are perfectly justified in starving enemy prisoners of war and making them do military support work under their own shellfire." Both sides did it, each thinking they were conducting reprisals against the other. Alan Kramer calls this the "dynamic of destruction."
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:58 PM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


WWI is a great example because it was so horrible that we got together and actually agreed to some rules about war, also known as the Geneva convention, and when Bush decided the Geneva convention did not apply in the war on terror or against terrorists it is what got us here.

Do people really believe it is also to fire mustard gas into a crowded shopping mall? Because that is the direction we are going when we talk about war without rules.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:05 PM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


My god. This is appalling. These people are already at the mercy of your whims. Show some restraint goddammit, if you absolutely must assert yourself by force.
posted by deo rei at 3:12 PM on August 21, 2012


I am not normally one to underestimate the evil deeds done by a military during wartime, but some of the eyewitness accounts of "double tap" attacks by U.S. drones come from Taliban representatives, agents of the Pakistani government, etc. -- not the most reliable of narrators.

The Wikileaks footage speaks for itself, but some of the reporting Greenwald links to seems a bit thinly-sourced. I don't find it hard to believe the U.S. is doing this kind of thing, and I realize that you write stories with the eyewitnesses and evidence you have and not the HD video recordings you wish you had, but I do think it's important to place these reports in their proper context and consider the possibility that the accounts are embellished or entirely made up for propaganda / psy-ops purposes.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:27 PM on August 21, 2012


Greenwald does have a tendency to move things that are thinly sourced into "this is a fact" territory, and portray things done by the U.S. government in the worst possible light. If more reporters and news institutions reported on the things he reports on as consistently, I'd probably start ignoring him.

But they don't, so I can't, because this shit is important and he is one of the few who keeps banging on the drum which needs to be banged on. I wish he were more careful and measured, though, b/c the worse your government is acting, the more you have to make sure your reporting is flawless.

*sigh*
posted by feckless at 3:33 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Show some restraint goddammit, if you absolutely must assert yourself by force.

Sadly, this IS showing some restraint. Unrestrained warfare would be a different thing entirely.
posted by happyroach at 3:38 PM on August 21, 2012


The question is whether the people doing the rescuing are civilians or combatants.

If there's no combat, how can they be combatants?


mikelieman, that's pretty damned naive. If a US soldier is in Iraq, he IS a combatant. Similarly, if a Hamas/Al Qaeda fighter is on the scene, he IS a combatant.

Let's not reduce this discussion to "they're all innocent until proven guilty in a court of law!!!" nonsense. The drone strikes are egregious violations of decency, but that doesn't mean that no one is a combatant unless they are actively firing a weapon.


On the other side,

I am not normally one to underestimate the evil deeds done by a military during wartime, but some of the eyewitness accounts of "double tap" attacks by U.S. drones come from Taliban representatives, agents of the Pakistani government, etc. -- not the most reliable of narrators.

The Wikileaks footage speaks for itself...


tonycpsu, if the Wikileaks footage is plausible to you as well, why the question? Maybe it doesn't happen as often as the US' enemies claim... but it clearly does happen, and as a policy (there was no suggestion from their higher-ups that an investigation was needed, or that this appeared to violate orders in any way).
posted by IAmBroom at 3:41 PM on August 21, 2012


it clearly does happen, and as a policy (there was no suggestion from their higher-ups that an investigation was needed, or that this appeared to violate orders in any way).

No. There is an important difference between having a policy of attacking noncombatants and habitually covering it up when your forces do so not-by-policy. Both are bad, but the difference is important.

The wikileaks footage (and the non-response to it) are evidence only of the first. To prove the second, you'd need to demonstrate either a consistent pattern of behavior (which is what Greenwald is trying to do in this article) or have proof of the policy itself.
posted by feckless at 3:50 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


when Bush decided the Geneva convention did not apply in the war on terror or against terrorists it is what got us here.

And who/what is keeping "us" "here"?

WWI and spiral of violence

And yet when the troops stopped fighting the reaction of the top brass was to punish and make sure the shelling was kept up for the next Christmas season.


How many of the 'gunslingers' of the old west were 'broken' people due to their time as soldiers?
What about the ex-military people who've been at the center of various shootings - were they 'broken' people before the military trained them to be killers? And when these trained killers kill within the borders of the nation - will you accept porno scanners on the street? How about ex-soldier Brandon Raub? Is his detention 'for the public good' or is it as he claims in a telephone interview with the Times-Dispatch. “[Authorities] were concerned about me calling for the arrest of government officials.” (How many of The Blue called for the arrest of the last guy in charge? )

The greased slope doesn't just include a drone - the policy that gets you the drone gets you a few other things. How many of you who are comfortable with the drone strikes are comfortable with the other add-ons?.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:52 PM on August 21, 2012


but some of the eyewitness accounts of "double tap" attacks by U.S. drones come from Taliban representatives, agents of the Pakistani government, etc. -- not the most reliable of narrators.

And who are the 'reliable narrators' in this matter?
posted by rough ashlar at 3:53 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


feckless: " But they don't, so I can't, because this shit is important and he is one of the few who keeps banging on the drum which needs to be banged on. I wish he were more careful and measured, though, b/c the worse your government is acting, the more you have to make sure your reporting is flawless."

Right. We definitely need gadflies like Glenn Greenwald to keep our politicians and military honest, but at some point, I can't place any more belief in his sources than I can in the U.S. denials.

IAmBroom: "if the Wikileaks footage is plausible to you as well, why the question?"

Because Greenwald's not only making the case that the U.S. military is killing first responders, but that it's part of the playbook. The Wikileaks tape shows the "what" but not the "why." (On preview, feckless made the same point I was going to make about the helicopter video.)
posted by tonycpsu at 3:54 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


rough ashlar: " And who are the 'reliable narrators' in this matter?"

There are none -- sometimes you don't have the definitive answers you want. I'm glad these reports are out there, and they're an important part of finding out what's really going on, but I think Greenwald's overselling the case a bit.
posted by tonycpsu at 4:02 PM on August 21, 2012


We're addressing the question of whether this "double tap" tactic is morally acceptable and we should. But another useful question would be: why would the U.S. military have any desire to do this in the first place? It's morally unacceptable to rob banks, but it's not hard to see the percentage in it. It's morally unacceptable to cut the tails off of dogs and sell them for 20 bucks apiece on the side of the road, but who the fuck would want to try? There's zero percentage in that, so no one does it. What's the percentage in double tapping civilians?

The simple truth of the matter is that this is probably going to prove to be a very effective tactic for winning this particular colonial war.

Colonial wars are fought thusly: You take your vastly superior military force to another country, ally yourselves with one particular faction, take over, then crush the people who shoot back at you. Then you have to crush the people who support the people who shoot back at you, because if that support continues, there'll just be more shooting back . Then you have to crush the people who want to avenge the first two groups, because it won't be long before they're shooting back too. And on and on it goes.

That's one reason why, historically, you get such insanely high body counts in colonial wars proportional to the population; just about everyone's against you in some sense or another. Innocent people, ultimately, are the enemy because they're resisting our rule. Or, at least, not supporting it sufficiently to suit us. The kids who attend an anti-drone demonstration are resisting our rule about as effectively as (if not more effectively than) someone who sets off a bomb on a military base, so they're equally dangerous. Bombers and demonstrators both constitute resistance.

So, yeah, there's a massive amount of resistance to our conquest. And an important element in that resistance is community; the feeling among these people that they're part of a group, that their brethren will back them. A cohesive, organized group of twenty guys with machine guns, who share a common goal and can rely on one another, are far more effective than fifty loners with machine guns, all of whom distrust one another and act independently. And a cohesive community of 200 civilians who can rely on one another is a lot less likely to cave in to outside rule than 500 lone wolves who can't depend on one another for support. Perhaps more to the point here; the cohesive group and the cohesive community satisfy some very basic human needs, particularly when there's a huge threat looming. So they're going to grow as more people join or they're going to serve as examples for others to copy. Pretty soon there are seventy guys in that armed band, and there are sixteen like it in the surrounding area. Pretty soon, twenty seven other villages have copied the first one. A bunch of lone wolves, on the other hand, isn't going to grow into much of anything.

So community is dangerous. It gives people hope, makes them feel like they can fight back, helps them to resist. So you have to crush it. First responders, paramedics, hospitals; these are all concrete expressions of community support. Their existence doesn't even make any sense at all unless you first assume that people live together in groups and help each other out some of the time. If you destroy such institutions, you can, ultimately, destroy those communities. You can turn effective group resistance into a bunch of ineffective lone wolves.

Viet Nam is an excellent example of this. There, the Viet Cong was pretty good at supplying the kind of community people needed (or at least, managed to not destroy, in the course of accomplishing their goals, the communities which already existed ). And that's probably one of the reasons why there was such a massive death toll and such insane amounts of destruction in Viet Nam; that sense of community had to be eradicated before people would finally give in.

So if we're going to rule the middle east - which is our stated goal - then resistance has to be crushed and in order for resistance to be crushed, this sense of community has to go. And in order for that to happen, we're probably going to have to kill a lot more people, including paramedics, kids, and non-combatants of every description.
posted by Clay201 at 4:04 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


"The evidence seems to be in the article, where attacks on first responders are documented as (deliberate) second responses to previous battles with enemy combatants"

The problem being, how do you distinguish first responders from survivors or collaborators, especially when the first responders don't have, for example, Red Crescent or ambulance markings, which are visible from the air.

Here's the Pakistan Red Crescent Facebook page, btw. Perhaps you'll notice a complete lack of stories about their people being targeted by US drones. Likewise, a quick Google search shows no mention of the US targeting ambulances in Northern Pakistan.

A big part of the reason for all this, of course, is that much of Northern Pakistan is Pakistan is name only, and isn't actually safe for Pakistan's troops.

That, frankly, is a big part of the reason we are doing these drone strikes. The Government of Pakistan either isn't able or lacks the political will to take control of the area, which is the prime regional base and training ground for religious extremists. However, there is documented evidence clearly showing the Pakistan government's tacit support for these attacks, regardless of what they feel politically compelled to say in public.

Pakistan is supposed to be our ally in the war on terrorism, right? We even help to train their military. Well, what if our ally wants us to attack these insurgents... regardless of what they tell their own people? And what if they are providing us with intel to go after the right targets, who are arguably just as prone to attacking Pakistanis as they are to crossing the border and attacking US troops? Doesn't it seem a bit odd that Pakistani intelligence agents are able to tell journalists -- on a condition of anonymity -- that our missiles are striking known militant targets? Is it coincidental that the Pakistani troops we train happen to be especially well-suited to be the eyes and ears on the ground we might want in order to infiltrate Northern Pakistan and target insurgents?

In short, if Pakistan, as our ally, is approving these operations -- overtly or covertly -- well, no harm, no foul.

Here's are the forgotten facts when it comes to our drone attacks against militants:
1> They're working. Especially when it comes to decreasing IED and suicide attacks. The militant's command structure in Pakistan is now weak and divided, with dwindling resources. Coalition fatalities in Afghanistan are at their lowest levels since 2008, despite having many times the number of troops potentially at risk.
2> The militants have been weakened, to the point that Pakistan is now ready to sweep them out from another large swath of their territory.
3> Drone strikes have already decreased very significantly... Agence France Presse recently reported that civilian deaths from drones in Pakistan are at the lowest level since the Bush administration. Juan Cole, who is very much a rational, peaceful progressive, reports the same sharp decrease, btw. The worst of the drone war is essentially over, even though the outrage has ramped up to extreme levels, without appreciating why the US government has done what it's done.

In short, the outrage is higher than ever, but the actual positive outcome is also much clearer than ever.

"I don't know how much stronger the evidence could be."

Copies of orders that support the targeting of known medical personnel, multiple cases showing that they have been using drones to target emergency response vehicles, clear evidence that they have targeted civilians intentionally after drone attacks, etc.

"In any case, I'm sure our drone attacks will win their hearts and minds"

Well, no, the process doesn't make most people in Pakistan happy... but the outcome -- that of less violent religious extremism -- does... as does having the military control more of the country, facilitating its integration into something approaching the modern world. And that is what's starting to happen, really.

In a few years, drone attacks will be few and far between, just like our military presence. The religious radicals in northern Pakistan will largely be rooted out and crushed, or integrated peacefully into Afghan and Pakistani society. The real world will start to creep in. Isolated regions like Waziristan will start to get roads and television, trains and Chinese mining operations. The militant's ability -- and interest -- in profiting from the drug trade will be diminished. Things will calm down.

Gradually, the genie will start to go back into the bottle again. But, yes, anyone associating too closely with the extremists will risk getting zapped, so the general public will tend to push them away. Which, incidentally, is what the people calling the shots want.

I guess the question I would ask is which do you want... the trendlines going in the right way on all fronts (fewer attacks, fewer deaths, reduced resistance from militant religious extremists)... or "clean" yet abject failure, followed by the return of the Taliban?
posted by markkraft at 4:04 PM on August 21, 2012


No, that's completely irrelevant and draws a false equivalence. Where is the practicality in that? How does shooting everyone else at the bank do anything to minimize crime?

They might be bank robbers, in the same way that people rocking up at drone strikes might be ambulance drivers. The argument you presented was that once you've made the decision to kill that any further ethical decision was moot. You did not qualify this as to practicality.
posted by biffa at 4:07 PM on August 21, 2012


US 'should hand over footage of drone strikes or face UN inquiry': The UN special rapporteur on human rights to urge establishing a mechanism to investigate such killings

Ben Emmerson QC: The bête noire of the right wing press with a 'leviathan intellect'. The human rights lawyer's liberal stance makes him a divisive figure, says Terri Judd
posted by homunculus at 4:21 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The question is whether the people doing the rescuing are civilians or combatants.

“Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties. . . . 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.”
posted by homunculus at 4:24 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The problem being, how do you distinguish first responders from survivors or collaborators, especially when the first responders don't have, for example, Red Crescent or ambulance markings, which are visible from the air.

markraft, there is no need to distinguish first responders collaborators. Let's be clear here: (1) there is an attack (2) new personnel are observed at the site (3) the new personnel are not responding to the attack (more often than not they are aiding survivors). At this point it doesn't matter if the new personnel are demons from mars, they are generally classified as non-combatants and are not to be attacked. This is really basic ROE and I don't know of any legitimate military force that does not recognizing that does not prohibit using the wounded to draw out the enemy.

In short, if Pakistan, as our ally, is approving these operations -- overtly or covertly -- well, no harm, no foul.

The rest of your comment is so illogical that it's hard to tell if you're being serious or not. How does the fact that Pakistan is ok with the attacks make mass murder okay? What a fantastically stupid and completely morally bankrupt thing to say. Is this what you actually believe?

As for the rest of the nonsense on the magical effectiveness of drones the source of virtually all such data on drone attacks is the American or Pakistan military. Do you expect them to publicly admit that the attacks are useless? There is absolutely zero transparency and zero accountability into such attacks. Organizations like the UN can provide estimates but until there is an official investigation nobody knows much of anything. What is required required, at least initially, is for the US to disclose time/location data for all such attacks. Then we can at least begin to understand how frequent such attacks are and what the final consequences (ie the cost) of the attacks in real terms ie body count. Until then you're just spouting bullshit like so many other war mongerers who rush to defend a war they know nothing about.
posted by nixerman at 4:25 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


why would the U.S. military have any desire to do this in the first place?

Maybe to crush morale. Maybe to kill witnesses. Maybe guilt-by-association -- those rushing to help them were maybe accompanying them but had taken cover. Lots of "practical" possibilities. No moral ones.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:39 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clay201 that comment floored me. I can't subscribe fully but you make a devastating argument.
posted by deo rei at 4:49 PM on August 21, 2012


Copies of orders that support the targeting of known medical personnel, multiple cases showing that they have been using drones to target emergency response vehicles, clear evidence that they have targeted civilians intentionally after drone attacks, etc.

Why don't you submit an FOIA request and see what their response is?

"Dear Pentagon, are you killing innocent civilians? If so, please provide proof."
posted by deanklear at 4:59 PM on August 21, 2012


this sense of community has to go. And in order for that to happen, we're probably going to have to kill a lot more people, including paramedics, kids, and non-combatants of every description.

That's taking a divided community (combatants, and the people who want nothing to do with them) and uniting them through hate, showing them that they're all in the same boat. Which sounds exactly like Viet Nam, but not in the way you describe.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:01 PM on August 21, 2012


Viet Nam is an excellent example of this.

It is an excellent example of how power corrupts and how people like Kissinger begin to believe themselves to be above any accountability and any law. Also, if you recall, after lots and lots of death on both sides we left Vietnam, so I don't see how it is an example to follow.
posted by Shit Parade at 5:19 PM on August 21, 2012


"I can't subscribe fully but you make a devastating argument."

Yes, and no.

Yes, it is in the best interest of the US to drive a wedge between the extremists and the civilian population. That means that if extremists are allowed to operate in their midst, it's in our best interest to kill said extremists... even if it disturbs -- or sometimes kills -- the locals. Especially if the locals go out of their way to help the extremists.

Don't want the drone missile attacks? Don't let your neighborhood be a haven for the extremists.

This, of course, is *really* tough love. Especially since it's no simple thing for locals in generally lawless regions to kick out the militants.

That said...

"So if we're going to rule the middle east - which is our stated goal"

Citations from the current administration, please.

"we're probably going to have to kill a lot more people, including paramedics..."

Citations, please.

Intentions mean a lot. And the simple fact is, the US has launched aerial sortees for the better part of 100 years now, only to access intelligence, determine the level of mission success, and, oftentimes, strike again... especially if it sees potential combatants still on site.

In the recent past, the ordinance used was *MUCH* stronger and more indiscriminate. The average bomb during Vietnam was about 500-1000 lbs. Usually 2-4 would be dropped on the target, with an average accuracy of about 430 feet. And the turnaround time between the initial attack and reviewing the intel for a second, third, etc. sortee was much longer and, arguably, more methodical.

But look at the ordinance we're using nowadays for drones. We're still thinking that they are incredibly indiscriminate, but in truth, they're more incredibly accurate. Their size and weight? About 2 feet long, and about 5.5 lbs. And the turnaround time for the intel? Nowadays, much of it is done in real time.

So, yes, if they have solid intel on an important target, and see a potentially survivable level of damage from above -- which is easy to imagine, when you have relatively small missiles doing the job -- combined with lots of people around a target, with an absence of vehicles with big red crosses or crescents on top, what decision do you expect an analyst in a room many miles away to make, when asked if they are *sure* that the attack was successful and the targets have been killed?

Yes, death from above is a horrible thing. War *is* a horrible thing. It should be avoided, whenever possible, because once it is started, it unleashes serious chaos and death... and, in the case of insurgencies, the worst risks tend to be what the people of a given country are willing to do to each other once all hell is unleashed, and one side is supported against another.

But really, which is worse? Double-tapping with precision-guided 5 lb. rockets from an OAV, with an explosive charge little larger than a single cluster bomblet? Or flying a sortee and dropping a couple not-so-smart bombs on the neighborhood? Because we've done a lot of that in Afghanistan, and used cluster munitions, which are infamously prone to killing civilians, even long after the fact... but I didn't see the same level of outrage.

I tend to view history from a longer arc than most. And, despite how terrible these little missiles of targeted death are... and how very cold and terrifying they can be, specifically because they are so intentionally targeted... I can't help but feel a sense of relief that this isn't 1972 and we aren't launching a "secret" bombing war against Laos, where over 20,000 have died so far as a result of unexploded ordinance, and an estimated 75 million unexploded bombs still remain for the farmers and their kids to discover, at some, as yet undetermined, point in the future.

There's something reassuring about people getting rabidly upset about a few dozen dead civilians in Pakistan this year. It's still horrible, but it kind of gives me hope for the future.

I just don't want people to forget that when you consider the overall objective -- freeing about 45 million people from direct control of radical Islamic extremists and removing a safe haven for worldwide terrorism -- and the horrible downpayment on that objective that has already been paid... and the general trend of winding down this conflict anyway...

Well, clearly, we've already gone in for a pound. I can understand why this administration isn't scrimping on the final pennies. Drone warfare is a horrible decision to have to make, but it's arguably the most humane decision, considering the alternatives.
posted by markkraft at 6:11 PM on August 21, 2012


Have we no morals? Have we no decency?
posted by Renoroc at 6:14 PM on August 21, 2012


Wow, lots of nonsense and inexperience. Let me try to dispels some.

1. Having an hands on experience of anything will change the way you think, possibly forever, regardless of what you think now. Have you ever been under a bombardment?

When I was conscripted, I spent some time on a firing ground for shooting and hand grenade throwing training. Fewer and fewer people are throwing grenades these days, so let me tell you a thing or two: it's a messy business. It's not just as easy as throwing a rock. Possibly, it's more dangerous that firing a gun.

The first thing the instructors are extremely worried of is that you'll blow yourself or somebody else up; that's why you are given training grenades - almost the same weight, if my memory serves, but far less powerful, altough still pretty dangerous. And often of shit quality.

Shit quality meaning they don't always explode. Alas, the batch of grenades we were given were cream of the crop shit, many didn't explode. Now you may think "why is that a problem"? The problem is -unexploded grenades - can still pretty much explode, much like any bomb, you can't just leave them on the ground.

So I was carrying my rifle (without ammo, of course, no sensible instructor will give you ammo at that stage), my backpack, and marching with my unit to the firing range....
SNAP ...BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM
... I was startled, I guess my heart stopped beating for a second. I trembled. My hears ringed for a few seconds, it was like time had stopped.

We all freezed. All I saw in the direction of the explosion was a little deep black, thin mushroom cloud. Not as big as a nuke, but a mushroom cloud for sure.

The next thing I heard is the leutenant, with a pale face, a wide open mouth. That may have lasteda second or an hour. He snapped an insult on top of his lung, unrestricted hate in his voice, running toward the site of the explosion. What did just happen, we wondered?

"Fucking idiot" ..said the Sergent...."some idiot just denotated an unexploded grenade with some explosives. The leutenant is going to hand his ass to the colonel, for sure. Fucking idiot".

Then I said something like "shit that was scary". The Sergent, with a jackass half smile on his face "Ehehe. Naaah. Remember, this is an artillery unit. That NOTHING compared to an artillery training shooting. It deafens you, you shake inside yourself, you tremble and never really get used to it. Still a fucking idiot tho, he should have warned that a detonation was about to happen. And this close. Fucking fucking idiot."

The Sergent clearly wasn't shocked, but he wasn't exactly relaxed either. He was much about-face trying not to look scared. No wonder, as that probably was the closest he got to an UNEXPECTED explosion.

Now if you have ever experienced that, you'll NEVER ever want to be close to any explosive in your life, period. Multiply that for 1000x and you have a bombardment.

Experience that, feel that shear fear running through you, and now tell me how would you like to be under that. Do that or shut the fuck up about secondary tertiary surgical strike, we should send troops, that drone aint is the best to conquer this and that, TERROR is the only way to win this war! And similar armchair general bullshit. The strike one wishes to inflict upon others so nonchalantly, one should experience first.

And read this.
posted by elpapacito at 6:23 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, clearly, we've already gone in for a pound. I can understand why this administration isn't scrimping on the final pennies. Drone warfare is a horrible decision to have to make, but it's arguably the most humane decision, considering the alternatives.

Like doing police work work and arresting people?
posted by empath at 6:59 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, it is in the best interest of the US to drive a wedge between the extremists and the civilian population.

First, it depends on what you mean by "US interests." If you mean the people who control the major resources in this country and want to control the resources in the middle east too, then absolutely, it's in their best interest. But those people are a tiny percentage of the U.S. population. If you mean "the majority of human beings in the US," then no, it's obviously not in our best interest. It's just going to create more instability, blood shed, and horror. Oh, and more American casualties somewhere along the line.

Second, we need to firm up the definition of "drive a wedge between." In this instance, we're talking about ambulance drivers not being allowed to pick up injured people and take them to hospitals. Yeah, that definitely drives a wedge. It creates a situation where people are not allowed to take care of one another, to treat each other as human beings. It destroys civilization, when you get right down to it.

Just wanted to be clear that that's what you meant when you said "drive a wedge."

Third, I we also need to tighten up the definition of "extremist." That's the term we use to mean "anyone who uses force to defend his country against us."

Again, I just wanted to be clear.

But really, which is worse? Double-tapping with precision-guided 5 lb. rockets from an OAV, with an explosive charge little larger than a single cluster bomblet? Or flying a sortee and dropping a couple not-so-smart bombs on the neighborhood?

I'll tell you what's worse; permitting ourselves to see only those two options. How about this one; we leave these countries entirely. We allow them to rule themselves and support democratic reform in a peaceful and respectful manner. After we pay them reparations for the insane war crimes we've inflicted on them, of course. That's not worse. That's much better.

One of the points in my previous comment - and I apoligize if I didn't get it across - was that there is no morally acceptable way to conduct this war. None. Zero. You either inflict horrible suffering on a bunch of innocent people or you pack up and go home. Either you rule through terror and violence or you don't rule at all. You have a whole country full of people who don't want you there and only brutality is going to bend them to your will.

It's morally repulsive to suggest that greater targeting accuracy should allow us to worry less about the morality of our actions. Because, in the end, it's not lack of accuracy that leads to civilian deaths. That's just an excuse. Civilian deaths are a result of the need to crush resistance of all kinds and everything that might support future resistance. If advancing technology means we can't count on collateral damage to take care of this task, we'll accomplish it some other way. When you're the most powerful military force in history facing off against unarmed people, it's not an enormous challenge.

"So if we're going to rule the middle east - which is our stated goal"

Citations from the current administration, please.

The current administration is just as dedicated to controlling the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq as any previous administration. There is no doubt about this. As proof, I cite...

...everything the US has done in the middle east in the last 35 years.
posted by Clay201 at 7:00 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I just don't want people to forget that when you consider the overall objective -- freeing about 45 million people from direct control of radical Islamic extremists and removing a safe haven for worldwide terrorism

For the dead and their families, safety is what happens when the US stops attacking them with drones. The crucial aspect to always keep sight of is that there is little to no legal nor democratic legitimacy for the US presence in Afghanistan - no security council resolution and no say for the people who are actually affected by these attacks. The use of force might be justified for a limited time by pressing security concerns or even to restore the balance of power, but the conflict in Afghanistan has been drawing blood for over a decade and in any case you forfeit all legitimacy when you start shooting at ambulances.
posted by deo rei at 7:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this still OK because you're not really at war?

This is what I am talking about. Regardless of the morality of the actions, the constitutionality of the actions are severely in question. When did we declare war on Pakistan (Yemen, Eritrea, Somalia, Ecuadorian embassies, etc.)? Why are we allowed to kill people (either Enemy Combatants or civilians, or suspected combatants, or terror list suspects) in countries without a declaration of war by Congress? I think I used to know the answer, but the hopelessness of real CHANGE at the top has steered me away from the question. This is Schmittian power invention of the highest order and I would love to see a criminal prosecution of the war criminals in charge of illegal attacks.
posted by Roger_Mexico at 7:23 PM on August 21, 2012


"Drone warfare is a horrible decision to have to make, but it's arguably the most humane decision, considering the alternatives.

Like doing police work work and arresting people?"


Unfortunately, that is a decision we no longer have available to us. Treating Afghanistan as a worldwide police effort was actually one I was in favor of before the invasion, and one we should've pursued for a longer amount of time, largely because there were indications that the Taliban might've been willing to turn OBL over to a 3rd party, such as The Hague, for trial.

That wasn't something Bush was willing to accept or pursue, however. He turned the kind of goodwill, sympathy, and cooperation we could've harnessed into a series of conflicts where we insulted and distanced ourselves from even our closest allies.

Basically, it's the pottery barn rule... you break it, you own it. We kicked the Taliban out... we need to make sure that there's something better in its place. And I would be the first to agree with you that Afghanistan's current leader sucks. But here's the thing... he's being termed out right about the time when we are scheduled to leave. And even a somewhat corrupt democratic election that leads to a transition of power is still infinitely preferable to a theocratic dictatorship. It's not ideal, but it's a huge step towards something better.

Let's be honest about the Taliban. Not only did they harbor OBL, and then refuse to extradite him after 9/11, they allied with him, and aided Al Qaeda's terrorist activities. And before 9/11, they were no picnic either. A decade of civil war, with widespread bloodshed. A scorched earth policy, where they destroyed houses, crops, and intentionally created an estimated 600,000 to 1 million refugees. Systemic massacres. Denial of UN food supplies to 160,000 starving civilians. Even now, they are responsible for over 90% of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan, largely due to their indiscriminate use of IEDs and their indiscriminate terrorist bombings.

So, yes, if I had to pick the shitty alternative between hunting down the religious militants in a lawless regions where they live, even at the cost of some local civilians... or letting the religious militants spend the next decade bombing and killing their way back into power over 40 million people in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan... I choose to side with the 40 million and their futures, even at the cost of hundreds of innocent people.

And no, I shouldn't have to have my house bombed in order to personally support bringing an end to these people's activities, using whatever methods are likely to be most effective with the lowest civilian cost at any given time, while gradually reducing our presence and seeing the conflict scaled down to something that Afghanistan and Pakistan can handle thenselves.
posted by markkraft at 8:30 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because war and killing and terror are the best tools for the job, eh, markkraft? No other options avail themselves? There are no loving, kind, or peaceful methods that might give us the same (or better) result? Nothing?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:20 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


if I had to pick...I choose to side with the 40 million and their futures, even at the cost of hundreds of innocent people.

Much less that there is no such obligation, what gives you the authority to decide on this in the first place? Why should the families of the "hundreds of innocent people" who are dead be satisfied with your explanation this will benefit "40 million and their futures"?
posted by deo rei at 9:38 PM on August 21, 2012


So, yes, if I had to pick the shitty alternative between hunting down the religious militants in a lawless regions where they live, even at the cost of some local civilians... or letting the religious militants spend the next decade bombing and killing their way back into power over 40 million people in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan... I choose to side with the 40 million and their futures, even at the cost of hundreds of innocent people.

Since you have no dates attached to this statement, it is somewhat impossible to tell the difference between your support of the US in 2001 and a snippet from Pravda supporting the Soviets in 1979.

What happened next?

Well, we removed the secular socialist government from Afghanistan and installed religious fundamentalists in their place. Then our puppet government in Iran fell apart, so we propped up Saddam, helped him plan and finance the Iran-Iraq War, which killed one million and displaced about two million. We helped Saddam through the red tape so he could buy chemical weapons, and then we watched him use it at Halabja, and blocked a resolution condemning the act in the UN. Because we have morals.

(Small footnote: we briefly had to sell weapons to Iran while we were aiding Iraq because Congress outlawed the Reagan Administration from participating in terrorist funding activities in Central America. So we used that money to buy and smuggle drugs into the United States to pay for terrorist training and aid in Central America that ended up killing a hundred thousand people and setting the entire region back 20 years when compared to their neighbors that weren't lucky enough to have our help in finding Democracy.)

After our successful orchestration to leave neither Iran nor Iraq as a dominant power in the region, and our invasion of the Nutmeg Capital of the World, we turned our attention to Iraq where our old friend decided to follow our lead and invade something. We had to remind him that the United States reserves that right exclusively for us and no one else, so obviously we invaded.

After inciting a revolution to overthrow Saddam, we decided it would probably be too expensive and hard to manage, so we watched him gun down our supporters in helicopter gunships as we left Baghdad surrounded by air bases and conducted daily air strikes. The Vice President at the time, Dick Cheney, said there wasn't any exit strategy from Baghdad and an Iraq without Saddam. So instead of pursuing Saddam, we instituted an embargo that Unicef claims, along with the effects of the war, lead to the early deaths of half a million children until the end of the 90s.

Then, when Saudi Arabians led by a Saudi Arabian with funding from Saudi Arabian citizens attacked the United States, we invaded Afghanistan to remove religious fundamentalists from power and install a government with secular (non-socialist!) values. Then, because the UN Weapons Inspection team said Saddam did not have any program to create WMDs, we invaded Iraq because Saddam had programs to create WMDs. But it turns out that he didn't have WMDs, so we decided we had invaded for Liberty instead.

Details get murky here: the Pentagon doesn't bother with body counts, so only the rest of the world will be able to look at all of the studies and know that at least 150,000 people were killed, and 2.5 million displaced in one of the largest humanitarian disasters to hit the area since the last time we started a war there. Given the destruction of their education system, vast parts of their electrical grid and water treatment systems, a huge uptick in grinding poverty, illiteracy, the end of equal rights for women, widespread corruption, unprecedented sectarian violence, unprecedented terrorist activity, and the continuation of the same torture chambers we had (sort of) invaded to close, we considered our invasion of Iraq a total success. After all, coming in at only 3.3 trillion dollars over budget and 9 years longer than promised, it's hard to believe what a stunning success it has been.

Just remember that in order to fulfill our manifest destiny, the death toll will be in the millions, not the hundreds. It's okay, though: just imagine how many people would be dead if we didn't have the courage and the decency to heed our morality.
posted by deanklear at 10:39 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Yes, it is in the best interest of the US to drive a wedge between the extremists and the civilian population.

If you mean "the majority of human beings in the US," then no, it's obviously not in our best interest. It's just going to create more instability, blood shed, and horror."


Despite what the actual stats say. Damn stats.

"virtually all such data on drone attacks is the American or Pakistan military. Do you expect them to publicly admit that the attacks are useless?"

Actually, a group independent Pakistan journalists and researchers that focus exclusively on the tribal regions to the north believe the attacks have been successful, too.

"Drone attacks have clearly unnerved both al Qaeda and Pakistani insurgents in the tribal areas,” said Ashraf Ali, who heads Islamabad-based FATA Research Center. “What we have observed [is] that these hits have compelled insurgents to limit the use of communication gadgets, like satellite phones, etc. . . So with limited meetings and squeezing personal and impersonal communication, the coordination of insurgents has suffered a lot."

Or how about Christine Fair, who is with the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown? She was on record as being against the use of drones, until she was provided plentiful evidence from various Pakistani sources -- including that of civilians on the ground -- that indicated that they were far more effective -- and less indiscriminately lethal -- than claimed... maybe a tenth of what is claimed. In fact, the same locals that you claim are innocent victims are oftentimes the ones responsible for guiding the weapons right to the target, minimizing collateral damage.

She even specifically documents that these attacks are often launched from Pakistani bases with Pakistani intel, with the Pakistan government's support. They are, in most cases, a far better alternative for difficult targets in the tribal region than airstrikes from their own planes, which they do on a regular basis.

Or how about this poll done by The Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy of the region near the drone attacks?

– Do you see drone attacks bringing about fear and terror in the common people? (Yes 45%, No 55%)

– Do you think the drones are accurate in their strikes? (Yes 52%, No 48%)

– Do you think anti-American feelings in the area increased due to drone attacks recently? (Yes 42%, No 58%)

– Should Pakistan military carry out targeted strikes at the militant organisations? (Yes 70%, No 30%)

– Do the militant organisations get damaged due to drone attacks? (Yes 60%, No 40%)

Or Farhat Taj, a female reporter originally from Waziristan who works for the University of Oslo, who claims that when the US invaded Afghanistan, Taliban militants fled across the border with full support of the ISI, Pakistan's military, and their madrassa proxies that they had been using for years to influence Afghan politics. The Taliban essentially became an outside occupying force of those in Waziristan, many of whom now view the drone attacks as beneficial. Only after the Taliban started controlling the madrassas, targeting those resisting their control, and turning the insurgents against the Pakistani people did the military start to take them seriously.

"Second, we need to firm up the definition of "drive a wedge between."

Between the people in the FATA region and the Taliban. Many of the locals don't need much incentive in that regard.

"After the great increase in American drone attacks, we could see very few fighters, particularly foreign militants. Previously, they used to roam around in large numbers fearlessly." - shopkeeper Aslam Wazir from Mir Ali

There's a reason why journalists from Waziristan and Pashtun regions, and those researchers with a deep interest in those regions, are talking about what is going on there in very different terms than the Western narrative we see from gay civil rights lawyer / blogger journalist Glenn Greenwald. It's because Greenwald is all about a rather restrictive interpretation of constitutionality. Unfortunately, he's citing casualty figures indirectly provided to him by the Taliban, as opposed to a credible, verifiable source.

The reason for that is obvious, of course. If Glenn Greenwald went into the territory in question, he would be threatened with death by the Taliban, who aren't exactly known for their compassion towards homosexuals. In fact, they are on record as toppling walls on top of them.

Even Greenwald's cited pro-Islamic Pakistani cricketer politician Imran Khan should know better. He's been cozying up with the Taliban and with Islamic nationalists, trying to develop a national appeal, but he's playing a dangerous game... especially since the Taliban are now threatening his life too.
posted by markkraft at 12:12 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Because war and killing and terror are the best tools for the job, eh, markkraft? No other options avail themselves? There are no loving, kind, or peaceful methods that might give us the same (or better) result? Nothing?"

By all means, fivefreshfish... join Imran and march to Taliban territory in order to show your support for an end to drone attacks on their leaders. Bring flowers and kind words. I'm sure you'll be just as appreciated by the Taliban as an adulterous playboy cricketer marching all over their turf. Just don't expect the locals who have been trying to get out from under the Taliban to feel quite the same way you do.

If you have any loving, kind, peaceful suggestions on how to root out desperate, determined terrorist thugs, by all means, let the people of Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan know. Until that day, though, I can live with the US working with Pakistan and local Taliban opposition to fly little missiles into their homes.
posted by markkraft at 12:22 AM on August 22, 2012


letting the religious militants spend the next decade bombing and killing their way back into power over 40 million people in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan... I choose to side with the 40 million and their futures, even at the cost of hundreds of innocent people.

And what if we kill hundreds of innocent people and the Taliban still ends up in charge?

You are familiar with Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, and so on, yes?
posted by empath at 12:54 AM on August 22, 2012


Mark, have you ever spent time in a country the us intervened in? Talked to the people that the US were supposedly freeing from tyranny and/or terrorists? I highly suggest you spend some time talking to someone whose family members were massacred by us backed death squads or us made bombs sometime before you so cavalierly dismiss civilian 'collateral damage'. People don't forget. And they won't thank us for it later.
posted by empath at 12:58 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


"And what if we kill hundreds of innocent people and the Taliban still ends up in charge?"

We will have given it our best shot... which was pretty good, really.

"You are familiar with Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, and so on, yes?"

Yes, and the Philippines, Japan, Germany, etc. Not that Afghanistan and northern Pakistan are any of the above.

I could go into great detail as to why Afghanistan has got a good shot, but I'll whittle it down to about three main reasons:
1> They aren't opposed by a truly popular leader or movement.
2> The Afghan military has exceeded recruiting goals, and has shown a significant increase in ability and willingness to fight over the past few years vs. the Taliban. Their influence and popularity has spread. US forces have bought an adequate amount of time for this to happen, to the point that Afghan forces now have a good shot at being able to eventually force the Taliban to some sort of peace, largely on the government's terms.
3> Largely as a result of #2, the Taliban shy away from large formation combat, and from direct combat in general, preferring to use standoff weapons... especially IEDs. This is a losing proposition, as it kills civilians in vastly greater numbers than US air strikes ever did, and distances an insurgency from the people they need to support them.
4> The promises of billions of dollars in military support, combined with financial support and a rapidly growing GDP. Afghanistan has opened its doors to all sorts of inexpensive foreign imports. People get hooked on that kind of thing, to the point that they aren't so willing to pick up arms against it. In fact, they're likely to defend it.

A lot of the reasons above have to do with the research of Prof. James Fearon of UC Berkeley, who is a foremost expert when it comes to studying the statistical success / failure of insurgencies... what makes them likely to succeed or fail.

"Mark, have you ever spent time in a country the us intervened in? Talked to the people that the US were supposedly freeing from tyranny and/or terrorists?"

Yes and yes. It's a toss up, with winners and losers. Some obvious resentments, but a significant amount of support too.

The key, of course, is to not start any wars unnecessarily... but that doesn't mean that you should f*ck everything up and then bug out either. I know plenty of Vietnamese who love the US, but are deeply resentful of our departure. I don't agree with them, mind you... largely because I think that Vietnam was largely a war with the intent of denying a popular Vietnamese leader the democratic election we promised in the first place.

But if you do start a war, by all means, wind it down with something non-disasterous, if possible. In the case of Vietnam, that probably should've been a popular election *much* earlier, followed by a quick departure.

But the real problem with Iraq and Afghanistan? The Pottery Barn rule. If you break it, you buy it.

Clearly, there are times when it becomes a matter of political expediency for a POTUS to act. But I would argue that we need to change the rule. If we break it, we break it... ideally from a distance, and in a way that minimizes civilian casualties. We don't send in troops and buy it. Ultimately, our military is a lot better at breaking things than fixing them. They should be used accordingly.... which is to say, they should be used rather infrequently.
posted by markkraft at 1:46 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you mean "the majority of human beings in the US," then no, it's obviously not in our best interest. It's just going to create more instability, blood shed, and horror."

Despite what the actual stats say. Damn stats.

It's easy to see it that way when you only consider the violence committed by others to be a problem. You forget that out bullets kill people too.

The linked study specifically discusses "militant violence," meaning the violence perpetrated by the people who fight back against us. It doesn't attempt to tally all the violence we commit against them. Nor does it attempt to consider the logical consequences of our actions. Crushing all this resistance will, ultimately, require an enormous body count, much like Iraq. And as our grip on the region tightens, more and more conflicts will arise, so that count will multiply. When Obama took office, we were fighting two wars. Now it's how many? I've lost count.

If you have any loving, kind, peaceful suggestions on how to root out desperate, determined terrorist thugs,

No problem. We just stop voting them into office.

Oh, you meant in *other* countries. Sorry. Yeah, the first way to stop the terrorist thugs in those other countries is to stop sending them money and weapons and stop training their military leaders.

Oh, sorry. You meant the small group of terrorists who we've labeled enemies. A group we consider separate and distinct from the terrorists we support. Ah. No problem.

See, every country has its maniacs and warmongers, its thugs and its fanatics. You're never going to wipe them out entirely. Even in the U.S. we have people who'll blow up a building with a day care center in it to make a point or set their compound on fire rather than be arrested. And yeah, they find a few followers here and there and sometimes they kill some folks, but for the most part they just post crazy shit on the internet and annoy people. That's because they don't have support. I mean, they get some donations and what not here and there, but no one gives them, say, F-16s or shoulder mounted rocket launchers. No one funnels hundreds of millions of dollars into their accounts. No government gives them a base to train their fighters. Why is that? Because we don't need these people. Even the right wing nut jobs have little use for our domestic terrorists. If you hate the government or you hate taxes or you think the godless heathens are destroying our culture, you have organizations you can join which attempt to influence politics. You join up with the tea baggers, the right-to-lifers, or the god-hates-fags crowd and you can participate in politics and possibly influence their outcome.

But what if things changed. Suppose China invaded us? (This can't happen, obviously, but let's suppose it could, for the sake of argument.) Suppose they obliterated our government and took over our military. Suppose all the institutions which were supposed to protect us had failed miserably and then collapsed. The Chinese would be free to take our resources, control our foreign policy, and leave most of us to starve to death slowly. What would we do? Well, we'd fight. How would we fight? We'd find some people who were (a) armed, (b) willing to die (c) batshit insane and (d) aggressive to the point of fanatacism. If many of them had military experience or at least knew their way around an M-16, that'd be a huge plus. We'd give them money, weapons, tactical support, intelligence, supplies, doctors; whatever we could lay our hands on. And we'd let them lead the charge against the Chinese.

Of course, they couldn't confront the Chinese army head-on. They'd have to use hit and run tactics, sneak attacks, and subterfuge. They'd sneak bombs onto Chinese bases, improvise explosive devices in cars, send suicide bombers to board buses, and so on.

I trust you see the parrallels.

The crazed fanatics in the middle east are the only ones who can put up an effective resistance against governments which have sold out to the U.S. and/or to a direct U.S. invasion. Al Quedans are fascists to the core and the world would be in horrible trouble if they ever got their hands on nukes, but you've got to admit that they do a better job of standing up to U.S. domination than any other entity in the middle east.

Imagine if the crazy American fringe dwellers in my above hypothetical managed to knock down a couple of massive sky scrapers in Bejing. Most of the U.S. population would cheer. Those fringers would be heroes. They'd get more support than ever before.

And it's that support which is the key. Without it, the fringers can do little or nothing. Without it, they're once again living in the backwoods and hoping a few people subscribe to their newsletter. And without that massive invading power to piss people off and scare them senseless, that support disappears.

If we stop threatening the middle east, Al Queda deflates almost instantly. When people have the option of actually participating in the political system, they do so. Look at Egypt. The people there thought they might get to elect someone who would represent their interests. (This didn't happen, but there was real hope that it would). For the most part, they didn't grab guns and start shooting one another. They grabbed twitter accounts and started talking about how they were going to run their country. Al Queda starves to death in that environment. When people in the middle east *don't* have freedom to participate in the political system in a meaningful way, that's when Al Queda gets fed.

It's the US's objective to make sure the people in the middle east do not get to participate in the political system in any meaningful way, and we've been very effective in carrying this out. Voting is allowed, but it's not permitted to interefere with U.S. control of their oil or with foreign policy decisions; the stuff we care about. Even Egypt, despite their revolution, is still under our control. If the people there lose hope of participating in the political system, then Al Queda will get a huge boost.

So. Here's the loving, kind way to get rid of Al Queda and all the groups like them; Take away their support. Stop threatening the middle east and their support dries up.
posted by Clay201 at 1:58 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


mark, I supported both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars after the 9/11 attacks. I felt that it was politically necessary and morally justifiable to go after Bin Laden and the Taliban and even, at some distance, expedient to take out Saddam. I recognize myself in some of the arguments you now make. I didn't expect a clean war. When the photos from Abu Ghraib appeared, I accepted with regret and resignation that that was something my support enabled. When they began shipping people to Guantanamo, I accepted with regret and resignation that that was something my support enabled. When a wedding was bombed in some remote region of Afghanistan, I accepted that. Now ten years on, making up the tally, I am disgusted by the brutality my supported has enabled. The protesters were right. The slope is a lot slipperier than I thought. This is an endless war conducted on terms that make it unwinnable and encourages almost limitless abuse of power. The "terrorists" aren't, the "end in sight" isn't, the "regional support" is thinly veiled political maneuvering by pragmatic opportunists who are milking the coalition for their own interests. Whatever little good came out of the wars was long ago eclipsed by the costs in human, moral and economic terms. The war needs to stop and reparations need to be made. I regret supporting it.
posted by deo rei at 4:45 AM on August 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


But the real problem with Iraq and Afghanistan? The Pottery Barn rule. If you break it, you buy it.

Well I'm sure glad we have the pottery barn rule to clarify things for us when international law and basic human decency cause us to question our actions.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:41 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think those sales reps at Pottery Barn would make you buy something you broke anyway.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:53 AM on August 22, 2012


"mark, I supported both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars after the 9/11 attacks. . . Now ten years on . . . This is an endless war conducted on terms that make it unwinnable . . . The "terrorists" aren't, the "end in sight" isn't,"

So, what you're saying then is that you're bad at analyzing the details all the way around, then.

Endless? Really?!

"It is in the nature of war that both sides dream of victory. But the balance of power in the Afghan conflict is obvious. It would take some kind of divine intervention for the Taliban to win this war." - Taleban commander

The thing is, you don't even believe this war is endless yourself. You seem to feel that it should end in a rapid withdrawal, and reparation payments to the Taliban... I believe it will end with the withdrawal of combat troops in fifteen months, followed by a gradual withdrawal of trainers, air force pilots, etc.

The thing we both agree upon, though, is that this war should and will end. I'd just prefer that it end on terms that the Afghan people can live with.

Such support comes at a heavy price... but you've already indicated you are willing to pay. It just seems to me that you are willing to pay the wrong people.
posted by markkraft at 10:11 AM on August 22, 2012


So, what you're saying then is that you're bad at analyzing the details all the way around, then.

I think I understand where you're coming from so I don't fault you this insult. Sometimes analysis of the details obscures the larger picture.
posted by deo rei at 1:54 PM on August 22, 2012


I'd just prefer that it end on terms that the Afghan people can live with.
...on almost all key indicators the population is hostile towards the international presence and NATO-ISAF forces.
...

Are the NATO military operations good or bad for the Afghan people?

NORTH
76% Bad
15% Good
09% No Answer

SOUTH
87% Bad
12% Good
01% No Answer


Do you think that working with foreign forces is right or wrong?

NORTH
45% Right
38% Wrong
17% Not Sure

SOUTH
86% Wrong
13% Right
01% Not Sure


Compared to one year ago, is your opinion of the foreign forces more positive or more negative?

NORTH
37% More Negative
36% More Positive
27% No Answer

SOUTH
56% More Negative
27% More Positive
16% No Answer
posted by deanklear at 3:46 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is most frustrating to me is that the decisions are all made by people most distant from the immediate effects. US government, NATO, Pakistani government. Why the US and NATO are distant is self-evident.

The Pakistani government is comprised almost entirely of an extremely corrupt elite. When the pushback comes from militants, the government is hiding behind barbed wire, sand bags, cement blocks AND bulletproof glass. Of COURSE they're happy to have the American and NATO forces decimate the population of FATA.

I've never been to Waziristan, or indeed, much of the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). So I won't begin to presume to speak for the impact on people who are there.

The people who die in the urban Pakistan I know are ordinary soldiers, standing at the now ubiquitous roadblocks, children who are trying to go to school, the parents who are trying to get them there, the teachers who are trying to educate them. People who have gone to mosques for Friday prayers, people who have gone to the market to buy clothes for Eid. There is no question of them being combatants, but increasingly, the battle is being brought to them. I am fortunate, in that no one I know has died yet, in all of this. But an aunt's father died in an attack on a mosque, another aunt's house had all the windows break from a close by explosion, a colleague's house was severely damaged in a similar explosion. My direct cost, so far, has been waking up to the rattling windows of my home, losing however much time on a regular basis because of the aforementioned roadblocks, having to walk through barricades to enter any school. Small stuff, given that I know people who have lost dear ones, or their homes. And I'm talking about the city of Lahore, arguably the cultural center of Pakistan.

So when you do your armchair cost-benefit analysis, do spare a thought for the very real people who end up caught in the cross-fire.
posted by bardophile at 9:03 PM on August 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


US 'should hand over footage of drone strikes or face UN inquiry'
posted by bardophile at 7:54 AM on August 23, 2012


Top U.S. General: We Don’t Know Why Afghan Troops Are Killing Us
posted by homunculus at 10:52 AM on August 23, 2012


How Drones Reinforce Failure
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:06 PM on August 25, 2012


"...on almost all key indicators the population is hostile towards the international presence and NATO-ISAF forces."

Hostile? Well, according to this snapshot from about a year and a half ago, yes they are in the south... Kandahar and Helmand, which was previously held by the Taliban, and where their support base existed until NATO troops kicked them out.

Of course, in the north, a plurality approved of helping NATO forces.

The real question I would ask is "has this changed since the surge began"? And there is some pretty good information showing that it has changed, and has been changing quite rapidly, actually.

Here's the Asia Foundation's survey from the middle of last year, for example.

While even that report is somewhat mixed, considerably more Afghanis think that the country is going in the right direction than the wrong direction, and only 29% of those polled have sympathy with the motivations of the armed opposition groups. This is down from 56% in 2009. Perhaps best of all, it shows greatly increasing levels of trust in Afghan police and army personnel for resolving disputes. Despite continued frustration with corruption, 73% of respondents say that their government is doing a good job, with especially strong ratings for education, healthcare, and security.

"The 2011 survey records the highest levels of confidence recorded to date in a range of public institutions..."

What's trailing most, frankly, is jobs and the economy.

I don't think anyone who is serious expects the Afghan people to be all that happy about having foreigners patrolling their country... especially when it leads to firefights in their backyards. However, what NATO troops have done is bought precious time for the Afghan government to begin to work, and to extend its influence along new, much faster highways to the key cities in the south. Important, populous, relatively prosperous regions of Afghanistan are now denied to the Taliban, and the Afghan troops are in a much better position to stop fighters coming across the border.

I think Afghan woman politician Fawzia Koofi is right when she says that the development of the government, police, and military really didn't begin in any serious way until 2009. I have friends who worked for NGOs in Kabul who have basically told me the same things. They used to call Kabul "Kabubble", because NATO simply sat on bases getting mortared and dealing with IEDs laid right outside their bases, rather than actually patrolling and holding territory. Even when they did patrol, they relied on their vehicles, and did not actually extend influence and security into the community. Army and police were underpaid, retention was a joke, recruitment quotas weren't met... the whole thing was on the verge of failing.

And I think bardophile has a big point when he talks about all the Pakistanis who have died from terrorist attacks. By all estimates, it's about 30,000 people! What I do dispute though is the idea that the militants are pushing back, because "the American and NATO forces decimate the population of FATA."

Decimate?! That is plain out BS... but it's the kind of BS that the militants have been organized in pushing, from their position of dictatorship over the FATA territories, and its also the kind of crap that opportunists like Imran Khan have been promoting.

The simple facts are, the Pakistani government kills infinitely more people in FATA through far more explosive airstrikes and artillery strikes than highly targeted drone strikes do. Reports are that drone targets are meticulously chosen, after reviewing numerous sources of intelligence. The Air Force even uses software called FAST to estimate and reduce the potential for civilian casualties. They can literally plan out their strikes using data from satellite maps to generate a 3D map of the local neighborhood buildings, and selecting the best time and/or direction of the attack in order to minimize casualties. The increased usage of this tech is likely part of the reason why some journalists have questioned the administration's reports of very low civilian casualties for drone strikes this year.

I'm not saying that I agree with the DoD's figures, but it does make it pretty clear that the targets are selected and reviewed in a serious way so as to minimize civilian deaths, and that even at the worst, we are talking about relatively few civilian casualties. Hardly a decimation of the local population.

The real problem that bardophile points out is that he is a Pakistani, and yet hasn't been to Waziristan. That is not the least bit surprising, given that the militants control it, and the borders are a war zone. That said, the Taliban are quite capable of sending terrorists into Pakistan, posing as refugees. They also shape and control the news that comes in and out of Waziristan, which is part of the reason why they screamed "civilian casualties!" just a few days ago when drones took out a compound in Waziristan.

Of course, it's now known that the target was Badruddin Haqqani, the head of operations for the Haqqani network.

Attacks they are suspected of involvement in include the bombing of the Indian Embassy, which killed 58 innocent people and wounded 141, the bombing of the Serena Hotel, and the attack on Hotel Intercontinental, as well as numerous attacks upon UN and Afghani forces.

This attack wasn't any kind of surprise. In September 2011 the Obama administration warned Pakistan that it must do more to cut ties with the Haqqani network and help eliminate its leaders, adding that "the United States will act unilaterally if Pakistan does not comply." On Aug. 11th, just a few weeks ago, President Obama designated them a terrorist organization.

So, no... I have a problem with the earlier statement that the "terrorists" aren't.

The terrorists really are terrorists, at least when it comes to the drone attacks.
posted by markkraft at 3:59 PM on August 26, 2012


That's a lot of words for saying so little.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:13 PM on August 29, 2012


The real problem that bardophile points out is that he is a Pakistani, and yet hasn't been to Waziristan.

a) You have wrongly assumed that I am a man.
b) Really? The "real problem" you see in my description is that I haven't been to Waziristan, even though I am Pakistani? How many people of any country have visited every part of that country? I have not been to Waziristan myself, which means I don't feel qualified to speak for the people there. I DO know people who have gone there, and continue to go there, even now. I used the term 'decimate' incorrectly, had no intention of suggesting that the population has been reduced to one-tenth of it's original size, but stand by the rest of my point, which is:

Militants from FATA push back against US, NATO, and Pakistani military action by targeting urban Pakistani targets, many of them civilian. Further, that the policy decisions that result in military action are made by people who have no real fear that they will suffer the fallout. These people include foreign politicians and generals, as well as members of the extremely corrupt Pakistani elite.

I'm not sure why I even bother engaging in these threads.
posted by bardophile at 10:58 AM on August 30, 2012


bardophile; your local knowledge and input are most appreciated and I think markkraft should acknowledge that as such your information in many aspects is much better than his.
America unfortunately has spent the last 10 years or so telling the world it's rather nuanced version of what goes on and I suspect that you like many others would rather they picked up their ball and went home.
posted by adamvasco at 11:48 AM on August 30, 2012


Apple Repeatedly Rejects Drone Attack Notification App
posted by odinsdream at 12:53 PM on August 30, 2012


Obama's justice department grants final immunity to Bush's CIA torturers: By closing two cases of detainees tortured to death, Obama has put the US beyond any accountability under the rule of law
posted by homunculus at 1:13 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't disagree with bardophile's local knowledge of militant attacks on Pakistani civilians at all, nor do I disagree that the people who make those decisions in question are largely insulated from the repercussions of those decisions, with many of them being corrupt politicians and the like.

I just don't see much of her knowledge as extending into Waziristan, which is basically under the control of the same militants that choose to attack Pakistani civilians.

What these militants have done to the Pakistani people is, in total, is a huge act of terrorism, with thousands dying every year and huge sums in damages. But the thing is, they tried appeasing these militants, only to find that the militants kept killing innocent civilians, killing more than beforehand.

The simple fact is, the Pakistani government used these militants for decades as their proxies, but now finds that they gave birth to a monster. We can choose to run away from it ourselves, but the Pakistani people have to either live with it, or weaken it so badly that it won't be a threat.

There is evidence that suggests it can be weakened... albeit at considerable cost... but I haven't seen any compelling evidence that it can be appeased or negotiated with, except from a position of strength.
posted by markkraft at 2:59 PM on September 1, 2012


It?

You mean they? They are actual human beings, you know, no matter what you think of their politics.

And revolutionary movements in dictatorships and corrupt governments can actually be bargained with. It happens all the time.
posted by empath at 5:51 AM on September 2, 2012


Designed for Death: Helen Caldicott interviews Hugh Gusterson. As we grapple with the legal, political, and cultural implications of drone warfare and targeted killing, the renowned anthropologist draws on an older turning point in military ethics—weapons design at Los Alamos.
posted by homunculus at 9:39 PM on September 3, 2012


empath: It?

You mean they? They are actual human beings, you know, no matter what you think of their politics.
"[T]he Pakistani government" is an "it", the same as the Coca-Cola Company or the United Nations. "They" is acceptable, but so is "it".
posted by IAmBroom at 9:22 AM on September 4, 2012


Afghanistan’s Base Bonanza: Total Tops Iraq at That War’s Height
posted by homunculus at 5:25 PM on September 4, 2012


No Way Out? Fear of Dying Among Afghanistan's Professional Class
posted by homunculus at 5:29 PM on September 4, 2012


Yemen probes civilian deaths in apparent US drone strike
posted by homunculus at 9:24 AM on September 5, 2012


29 Dead in 8 Days as U.S. Puts Yemen Drone War in Overdrive
posted by homunculus at 8:18 PM on September 5, 2012


How Terrified Should We Be of the Pentagon's Plan to Automize Drones?
posted by homunculus at 8:19 PM on September 5, 2012


29 Dead in 8 Days as U.S. Puts Yemen Drone War in Overdrive

Could you fucking imagine the shitstorm if any other country dared to remotely kill people on U.S. territory? Even if they were convicted felons inside a prison, I'd imagine the uproar would be insane.
posted by odinsdream at 5:50 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obama Talks Drone Strikes
posted by homunculus at 1:04 PM on September 6, 2012


"revolutionary movements in dictatorships and corrupt governments can actually be bargained with. It happens all the time."

So, what you're saying then is that you believe that the Taliban can be appeased, if only we try hard enough?

You're overlooking the facts:
1> Pakistan tried appeasing them... only to see terrorist strikes on their people continue practically unabated.

2> Statistically, such a position is unlikely to succeed, as it implies power sharing... which usually doesn't work. I would recommend the work of Prof. James W. Fearon on the statistical analysis of war. Here's a good summary of the relevant bits. Successful power sharing agreements are usually ones imposed by a victor on the vanquished.

3> The Taliban are deeply religious fundamentalists. They, as an institution, are dognatically opposed to making a deal, even though factions within them have tried to do so. They are not only disinterested in deals, but also actively threatening those who would make such deals.

"If you're going to make a deal with a religious son-of-a-bitch, get it in writing. His word isn't worth shit. Not with the good lord telling him how to fuck you on the deal." - Wm. Burroughs.
posted by markkraft at 4:12 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your number 3 describes Al Qaeda, not the Afghan Taliban who are indeed interested in political power and practical deals. And sealing your comment with a Burroughs quote is just weird.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:49 AM on September 7, 2012


Have you any personal experience with Talibanis that you are basing these assertions on? I bet they're people like everyone else, and can be argued with and bargained with like everyone else. You are asserting that they are like no human beings who have ever lived. I am skeptical that this is so.
posted by empath at 8:18 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, no. They are evil bogeyman that we must destroy with robots!
posted by Burhanistan at 8:19 AM on September 7, 2012


And, btw, this is the society were supposedly protecting from the Taliban
posted by empath at 8:31 AM on September 7, 2012


Could you fucking imagine the shitstorm if any other country dared to remotely kill people on U.S. territory?

It would be so insane we might even go so far as to place a small memorial plaque at the site.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:12 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Terrifying Reaper That Shoots Hellfire from 50,000 Feet
posted by homunculus at 3:35 PM on September 7, 2012


Former CIA Chief: Obama’s War on Terror Same as Bush’s, But With More Killing
posted by homunculus at 1:44 PM on September 11, 2012


Army Wants Tiny Suicidal Drone to Kill From 6 Miles Away
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:57 PM on September 11, 2012


Take Two Drones and Call Me in the Morning: The perils of our addiction to remote-controlled war.
posted by homunculus at 7:36 PM on September 12, 2012


US Tactics Threaten NATO
The heads of Britain’s foreign and domestic intelligence services have been surprisingly open about the “inhibitions” that this growing divergence has caused the transatlantic special relationship, telling Parliament that it has become an obstacle to intelligence sharing. European attitudes are not going to change—the European Court of Human Rights is now deeply embedded in European life, and individual European governments cannot escape its oversight no matter how well disposed they are to assist the United States.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:24 PM on September 16, 2012


Robots at War: Scholars Debate the Ethical Issues
posted by homunculus at 11:05 AM on September 17, 2012


The Seven Deadly Sins of John Brennan: What Obama's high priest of targeted killings doesn't want you to know.
posted by homunculus at 1:20 PM on September 20, 2012


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