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NATO airstrikes kill 12 children in Kunar, Afghanistan
April 22, 2013 2:19 AM   Subscribe

On April 7, an airstrike on a Taliban commander killed him and a total of 16 civilians, 12 of them children. Hamid Karzai condemns the attack and says that the CIA is carelessly planning these airstrikes that go awry far too often. Kunar district was the site of another airstrike that killed civilians in February.
When the 0-4 Unit members left the house and withdrew from the area, they told investigators, all of the women and children were still alive. Hours later, when villagers reached the scene, all but a few of the women were dead, the report said. The investigators said they determined that none of the bombs or rockets used in the air-support operation — which included drones, jets and attack helicopters, they said — hit the house where the victims were. But the concussion from the explosions made the upper floor of the mud-and-timber house collapse on top of the victims.

One of the investigators, Mr. Jalala, said that of the 12 children killed, all were the sons, daughters, nieces or nephews of the Taliban commander, Mr. Khan, who was among seven insurgents killed in the attack.
Karzai condemned the Taliban using human shields, but also condemned the strike: "As the reports confirm that armed Taliban were there in the area, we strongly condemn the use of civilians and their homes as shields by the Taliban, as well as we do not accept the conduct of any airstrike on residential areas under any name and for any purpose whatsoever."

Is the reaction to the events in Afghanistan proof that, as Middle Eastern commentator Ajiz Syed says, these people are unequal in both life and death?
While the world media obsessively follows the Boston tragedy and goes into the tiniest details about the victims, no one is interested in knowing the names and identity of those children killed in Afghanistan, or hundreds of others killed in Pakistan. Were they any less human?
posted by Sleeper (186 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Part of the NYT article was unclear:
The force was planning to arrest Taliban commanders suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda, and around 5 a.m. on April 7, it raided a house where one of them, Ali Khan, was believed to be living. But the only man present was a mentally ill man who could neither speak nor hear; he and about two dozen women and children were herded into one room of Mr. Khan’s house, the Afghans said.
Where were the women and children before this? Were they already in the house, or did the 0-4 Unit round them up and confine them in a house that they were going to use as a base? That is, were they being used as human shields?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:31 AM on April 22, 2013


It must be terrifying for the general public in Afghanistan with this threat of terror terrorizing their terrifically terrorized lives. I hope they find the perpetrators before they get the chance to do this again.
posted by Brian Lux at 2:39 AM on April 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


Many many more of these attacks kill civilians than the government admits.

This is the real policy, no kidding: any male killed by a drone strike is automatically declared to be a terrorist. Only if they can prove their innocence are they considered to be civilian.

And, of course, being dead, it's fairly hard to show up in court and give testimony about what you were doing that day.
posted by Malor at 2:48 AM on April 22, 2013 [15 favorites]


any male killed by a drone strike is automatically declared to be a terrorist.

Any male killed by any means whatsoever back in the Viet Nam war was automatically declared to be Viet Cong. And civilian casualties there were staggering. Business as usual. These are all the same old lies, rehashed over and over for successive generations, by a war machine that is out of control.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:54 AM on April 22, 2013 [43 favorites]


It's also lovely to see that policy drift into the entertainment sphere.

See: Homeland or Zero Dark Thirty. Reactionary propaganda masquerading as soap operas and hero quest stories, respectively.

Not to undermine the post, just to add another line under.
posted by converge at 3:13 AM on April 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


That is, were they being used as human shields?

This is somewhat besides the point - ultimately the US has indicated, through a repeated pattern of drone strikes, that it is prepared to have a certain level of collateral damage in order to achieve its tactical and strategic goals.

If human shields are a known, and they are a known, then the issue isn't "oops, we didn't mean to kills these civilians" but "we went ahead with the strike knowing we would or might kill civilians" where the risk of those deaths is judged by the decisionmaker to be acceptable relative to what the strike achieves.

One's government will nearly always place a higher premium on one's own citizens and military than those of the enemy. But drone strikes create a massive imbalance in that equation: risking nothing but hardware one one side but able to create high levels of deaths and injuries on the other. They are understood as a clear political statement that the price of a civilian life in Pakistan or Afghanistan is worth considerably less than than that of a US citizen or soldier.

This is powerful ordinance, whose blast range is not nearly as precise as one is led to believe. To put this in context, estimates place the number of deaths from drone strikes since 2004 in Pakistan alone at over three thousand people, of whom a fraction are combatants - more than the combined deaths in 9/11. Deaths in Afghanistan are higher again - more than 3,500 civilians killed by pro-government forces since 2007. These numbers understate the true impact, however, because they do not account for injuries. The Pakistan deaths are arguably more important to understand, however - civilian deaths are falling in Afghanistan but the focus of military actions has clearly moved northwards into Taliban strongholds.

In fairness, it should be noted that anti-government actions in Afghanistan kill 3x this number and the April 7 attack was preceded by a particularly nasty Taliban attack that killed 40+ civilians). But it still stands that, tactically as much as morally, two wrongs do not make a right.

I don't think it is hyperbole to state the impact of these strikes, whether in terms of increased extremism, long term political damage in Afghanistan and Pakistan or events like Pervez Musharraf's arrest, is likely to be both pervasive and ongoing.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:51 AM on April 22, 2013 [34 favorites]


One of the investigators, Mr. Jalala, said that of the 12 children killed, all were the sons, daughters, nieces or nephews of the Taliban commander, Mr. Khan, who was among seven insurgents killed in the attack.

I have the feeling that the CIA sees killing Mr. Khan's family not as a tragedy, but as nipping future problems in the bud.
posted by pracowity at 3:59 AM on April 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


You can't win the hearts and minds of the dead, can you?
posted by Coaticass at 4:30 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Drone strikes save American lives. There is no arguing that fact. While the loss of children is regrettable, we all know the insurgents use innocents as human shields. Luckily, the drones don't have feelings and their operators can psychologically distance themselves because it's not that much different from a video game from their point of view. As far as what the names of the children are, I bet the boys are also named Ali Khan or some minor variation thereof.
posted by Renoroc at 4:31 AM on April 22, 2013


Accepting a certain number of civilian deaths in pursuit of the enemy has always been a part of warfare, especially modern warfare--in grad school I learned that as the Germans pulled back after the Normandy invasions, Churchill was prepared to accept up to 10,000 civilian casualties in bombing them (the Germans).

We know the Taliban have no compunction about killing or maiming anyone, anywhere. I believe it is reasonable to accept a certain number of civilian casualties for a well-identified, high-value target, especially if there are few chances to eliminate that person. Unfortunately, it is not apparent at all that our government is undertaking that kind of analysis when ordering these strikes.
posted by oneironaut at 4:32 AM on April 22, 2013


If Russia had bombed the tsarneav brothers in a Boston neighborhood a month ago, killing a dozen people in the apartment building, telling us they were up to no good, I don't think we'd have been particularly thankful, even knowing they were planning on killing Americans.
posted by empath at 4:43 AM on April 22, 2013 [62 favorites]


You can't win the hearts and minds of the dead, can you?

Do you really need to?
posted by indubitable at 4:44 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Russia had bombed the tsarneav brothers in a Boston neighborhood a month ago, killing a dozen people in the apartment building, telling us they were up to no good, I don't think we'd have been particularly thankful, even knowing they were planning on killing Americans.

Boston is kind of sort of the opposite of BFE, Afghanistan.
posted by indubitable at 4:46 AM on April 22, 2013


Drone strikes save American lives. There is no arguing that fact.

Sure there is. Drone strikes and the attendant civilian casualties are radicalizing whole new swaths of people who vehemently despise America, and who are now more likely to want to retaliate for very real injustices committed against them and theirs. They also destabilize local regimes, who are shown to be unwilling or completely impotent to stop America from murdering their civilians.

You don't win hearts or minds with indestructible killer sky robots.

I believe it is reasonable to accept a certain number of civilian casualties for a well-identified, high-value target...

How nice for you.
posted by hamandcheese at 5:00 AM on April 22, 2013 [61 favorites]


Accepting a certain number of civilian deaths in pursuit of the enemy has always been a part of warfare, especially modern warfare--in grad school I learned that as the Germans pulled back after the Normandy invasions, Churchill was prepared to accept up to 10,000 civilian casualties in bombing them (the Germans).

That was during a War, a War against an invading enemy in the form of a nation state. The US vs Taliban villagers is not the same. Congratulations on grad school though.
posted by Brian Lux at 5:00 AM on April 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


It's also lovely to see that policy drift into the entertainment sphere.

See: Homeland or Zero Dark Thirty. Reactionary propaganda masquerading as soap operas and hero quest stories, respectively.


I don't know if Homeland really belongs with Zero Dark Thirty, there are a lot more mixed messages in Homeland. For instance, there is a big focus on the male lead becoming radicalized because of a drone strike that killed children more than his torture and brainwashing.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:03 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


There has been a trend for misapplied air-power since VietNam. You send out small patrols to get their asses kicked in an ambush, they call in the bombers and ground-attack craft who bomb the shit out of a wide area blindly hoping to get the hostiles. These aircraft and bombs have been designed to go after static infrastructure, or modern combat units like tanks or artillery. So, they wind up not getting highly mobile irregular forces, and do wind up blasting the hell out of uninvolved static infrastructure, like unarmed villages.

Now, we have whole new ways to misapply air power! You look at a situation from a mile up and 10,000 miles away, and try to match it with dodgy intel, and fire off a missile and hope who you want to kill is hiding out there, and not some otherwise uninvolved family.

One of the benefits of being a wealthy, industrialized country with a huge population is that you can get a few thousand infantry where you need them in one hell of a hurry. Capturing is always better than killing in a counterinsurgency, as you get better intelligence and can use those captured to negotiate with the enemy - because you're not going to get an unconditional surrender from a guerrilla outfit.

Instead of using ground intel to find and kill a target with a drone, a drone should be used to gather intel that can identify which village or farm needs to be surrounded by a battalion or two and searched for weapons and combatants. Killer drones need to be reserved for clear-case situations - technicals, sniper or machine gun emplacements, etc.

The beribboned masterminds at the pentagon are too in love with the toys to sit down and come up with an effective battlefield doctrine for them. They've been ignoring the political dimension of war... lots of people've read Von Clausewitz, and geek out at the technocratic stuff, and give lip service to "Politics by other means" as it sounds bad-ass rather than cautionary. Not many get that everything in the book, the fog of war, friction, culminating point - these are all social and psychological in nature. Fancier weapons aren't going to address them.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:03 AM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


The "good guys" always have a disadvantage in the fight against the "bad guys," right? I mean, the bad guys can fight dirty, can go after your eyes and your groin, but good guys don't do that... Even after the bad guys do it first? Right? I mean, I think that's right, that you lose the moral high ground if you use dirty tactics, even if your opponent is already using them, that you are not supposed to "sink to their level." So even if these are terrorists, in the sense that they are targeting our civilians, we must not kill theirs.

But while I think this is true, I think if we really followed through on that moral duty, we eventually would be the victims of a lot of terrorist attacks, because we are too strong to attack by conventional means, and because we would be prevented by our own ethics from retaliating effectively. Do we (I include myself) really have the courage of those convictions? Maybe this isn't the situation exactly, but hypothetically, would we accept more American civilian casualties to keep attacks like this from happening?
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:09 AM on April 22, 2013


If we followed through on being good guys, we would not have as many people angry enough to want to attack us. Most countries survive just fine without having to project the insanely strong military we do.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:14 AM on April 22, 2013 [20 favorites]


I don't know if Homeland really belongs with Zero Dark Thirty, there are a lot more mixed messages in Homeland.

A derail, but the first series of Homeland is more nuanced than the second in terms of who is good, bad and in between. By the second series most of the main characters are firmly on one side of the ledger or the other.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:14 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wrote: That is, were they being used as human shields?

Muffinman wrote: If human shields are a known, and they are a known, then the issue isn't "oops, we didn't mean to kills these civilians" but "we went ahead with the strike knowing we would or might kill civilians" where the risk of those deaths is judged by the decisionmaker to be acceptable relative to what the strike achieves.

I don't think I made myself clear. The article says that 75 USAn mercenaries plus four "advisers" raided Ali Khan's home, and that after finding out that he wasn't there "about two dozen women and children were herded into one room of Mr. Khan’s house ... A short time later, the house came under Taliban fire from all sides."

Where were these women and children initially? Were they all in Mr Khan's house, all two dozen of them? How big was this house? Or were they brought there by USAn mercenaries in order to serve as human shields? Come to that, why were they "herded into one room"? That's a lot of people to be in one room; was any provision made for their comfort? If you look at the photo of the dead kids, at least some of them were toddlers or babies. Was there any food or water in there? Why weren't they released? What the dickens was going on here, and why did the NYT not think to ask these questions?

After coming under fire the irregular USAn force was trapped until the morning:
The force that was pinned down in the house tried to withdraw, and the four Americans were hit by insurgent fire. Air support was called in to protect the retreat and to allow medical evacuation helicopters to rescue the wounded.
OK, air support, I understand that bit - but why was that house hit, a house which they knew had nobody in it but women and children, civilians who were there specifically because they had been captured by USAn forces? Was it just an accident, or was it retaliation? Surely these are questions that should have been asked.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:19 AM on April 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


Is this where the photo image in this photoshop job comes from?
posted by jeffburdges at 5:20 AM on April 22, 2013


Renorec - in regards to your comment that the drone operators are psychologically distant...there was a documentary on PBS, possibly a Frontline special, about the drone operators. Apparently they are just as much at risk for PTSD, if not more so, because they go into an office, kill people all day, and then go home to their wife and kids or whatever is their "normal.". It is NOT just like a video game and these people are under an intense amount of stress and pressure.
posted by sio42 at 5:27 AM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Churchill was prepared to accept up to 10,000 civilian casualties in bombing them...

Saddam Hussein or Winston Churchill, you decide:
"I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected."

posted by ennui.bz at 5:47 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Drone strikes save American lives. There is no arguing that fact.

This is perhaps the most arguable unsubstantiated claim that I have ever read on metafilter.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:47 AM on April 22, 2013 [33 favorites]


I was going to say the exact same thing, Seymour. He doesn't just make an extraordinary assertion, he also claims that it's indisputable truth.

Renoroc: what, specifically, are your qualifications to make that bare assertion? How do you know? What is your evidence, and what is the source of that evidence?
posted by Malor at 5:51 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


oneironaut : Accepting a certain number of civilian deaths in pursuit of the enemy has always been a part of warfare, especially modern warfare--in grad school I learned that as the Germans pulled back after the Normandy invasions, Churchill was prepared to accept up to 10,000 civilian casualties in bombing them (the Germans).

The bombing of Germany had nothing to do with troop movements in Europe - it was more directly connected to the destruction of infrastructure and morale. The comparable German actions would be the bombing of the UK from the air. I don't know when the bombing runs ended, but the last V2 rocket came over about a year after the Normandy landings.

The Normandy landings weren't the end of the war. They weren't even the moment we knew we would win...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 5:52 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is NOT just like a video game and these people are under an intense amount of stress and pressure.

OK so it's not literally a video game but having a conscience should not be labelled PTSD.

Of course they feel stress, everyone's telling them they're being brave soldiers while they know they're likely killing children and civilians and at the same time taking on no risk to their own personal safety. I don't see how a drone isn't like a car bomb with wings. Cowardly, y'know like terrorists.
posted by Brian Lux at 5:53 AM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Where were these women and children initially? Were they all in Mr Khan's house, all two dozen of them? How big was this house?

Fair question, but often articles like this use the term house to mean compound, where the wider family may also be living.

They would, I guess, be herded into one room so as to allow the soldiers to search the rest of the compound. Once the soldiers were engaged in fire, nobody was going to be allowed to leave that room and go elsewhere.

As for hitting the house - again, if the article confuses house with compound, then why the structure the children were gets affected, even if not directly targeted becomes clearer. But given that these are rudimentary constructions, hitting in or near the compound will still cause substantial damage to buildings within a certain range.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:55 AM on April 22, 2013


Both the weapons used by the MQ-9 Reaper are laser-guided. Whilst the Reaper is capable of self-lasing it often defaults to teams on the ground to provide target identification, designation and then Bomb Damage Assessment after the strike. In instances where this is not the case the on-board sensors (Day/Night TV, FLIR) of the MQ-9 Reaper are easily capable of providing visual confirmation of how many individuals there are around a target.

The choice to engage after that involves the choice between a guided missile (the AGM-114 Hellfire II) with a ~20lb HEAT/Frag* warhead or a ~500lb GP bomb (The GBU-12 Paveway II or GBU-38 JDAM). There is literally no way to avoid casualties with either of these although the type of target (vehicle, structure, open area) will define which weapon is used. The GBU-12 Paveway II has a Circular Error Probability (CEP) of a little over a yard but an area of effect of up to several hundred feet in an open area.

What this translates to in practice is that operators of the Reaper (and other armed UCAVs) have a full understanding of what their weapons will do to any target and what the likely casualties are before they pull the trigger. Within the armed forces there is much legal hoopla surrounding the use of lethal force both in and out of combat. The USAF has legal guidelines which must be followed when using armed UCAVs.

The CIA on the other hand has a lot more freedom to "aggressively prosecute suspected enemy combatants" i.e. launch explosive devices at groups of people. At some point there will have been some arithmetic as to what constitutes acceptable losses but if the chance to kill the 253rd Al Qaeda #3 man comes up then there's a good chance that that trigger is going to get pulled.

I kind of agree with Slap*Happy above. I think it would be better for boots on the ground to be in the village but I can totally understand the desire to do battle from several hundred arm's lengths to reduce the number of flag-draped boxes coming home on the news.

Drone strikes save American lives. There is no arguing that fact.

This is perhaps the most arguable unsubstantiated claim that I have ever read on metafilter.


There is a fair bit of evidence from most every land war since the introduction of airpower showing that this is the case. More recent examples would be Vietnam and Iraq as well as ongoing operations in Afghanistan. Going into a hostile built up environment with ground troops is clearly going to increase the danger to those troops than would an attack by an unmanned drone. This should be obvious.

*MQ-9's may also use the "N" variant with a Thermobaric warhead which is abso-fucking-lutely lethal. I don't know enough around this to say either way but the USAF have used TB warheads to clear caves, bunkers and buildings in Afghanistan before so wouldn't surprise me.
posted by longbaugh at 6:00 AM on April 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Renoroc: Drone strikes save American lives. There is no arguing that fact.

longbaugh: There is a fair bit of evidence from most every land war since the introduction of airpower showing that this is the case.


I think the point in dispute here is not that the use of drones saves the lives of American military personnel who might otherwise be flying planes or leading ground assaults, but whether the long term impact of bombing people with drones leads to measurably improved safety of Americans, defined, for example, as fewer deaths of Americans from actions perpetrated by the Taliban and those who associate with them.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:10 AM on April 22, 2013 [17 favorites]


I don't think it would make a difference to me if it was a man with a rifle or a drone with a missile that killed my immediate family, I would still be furious with the nation or group behind that act of violence. Were I to consider vengeance I cannot say that the method they used to perpetrate that violent act would make a difference in my desire to do so.

I will admit that my ability to strike back at drones would be limited so I might be more tempted to attack ground troops in it's place but overall, if I were to take matters into my own hands I do not think I am any more or less inclined to attack enemy soldiers based on the way in which my family or friends were killed.

To summarise a really badly worded post (mine obviously) - I think if US/Allied forces are to be attacked they will be attacked. Removing opportunity for them to make easy attacks on ground troops clearly reduces the threat to those troops there and then. Future attacks will happen either way so this would be a reduction in the threat to US/Allied forces.
posted by longbaugh at 6:22 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Russia had bombed the tsarneav brothers in a Boston neighborhood a month ago, killing a dozen people in the apartment building, telling us they were up to no good, I don't think we'd have been particularly thankful, even knowing they were planning on killing Americans.
posted by empath at 4:43 AM on April 22 [5 favorites]


OMG Are you really going to play that card?

The only true facts are that in Afghanistan, Taliban soldiers do not separate themselves from the civilian population. And that we cannot go bomb or invade their base and barracks because they don't exist. We know we have two options: door to door combat where Americans and civilians will become casualties, or precision bombing of known targets. The Taliban know this. The Taliban choose to exploit this, perhaps hoping to win the hearts and minds of the American People. The Obama administration chooses to continue drone strikes for the exact same reason...fewer flag draped coffins allow the government to continue to pursue the Taliban in what would, during a previous administration, have been called a quagmire.
posted by Gungho at 6:24 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


They also destabilize local regimes, who are shown to be unwilling or completely impotent to stop America from murdering their civilians.

Unwilling? Musharraf approved.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:26 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


But the thing about all of this is that the US lost in Afghanistan a year ago: we will never achieve the objective of neutralizing the "Taliban" much less building a stable nation state with a national army. Everyone recognizes this.

Instead what we have is a complete normalizing of Nixonism. Nothing would have changed in Vietnam if the US Army had left in 1970. Instead Nixon spent 3 years bombing anything that moved, moving across borders, with increasing ferocity, kicking off the Cambodian genocide and all the while looking for a politically opportune time to exit. It's a bloodthirstiness driven by nothing other than political expedience in D.C.

Even if you are 'hoorah' let's fuck up some Taliban, you are being used to save face by people who have nothing other than self-interest at stake.

Suckers.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:29 AM on April 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


We know we have two options: door to door combat where Americans and civilians will become casualties, or precision bombing of known targets.

Those precision bombs seem to be killing an awful lot of children.

Do you realise that those Americans are soldiers? There is a risk in that job, and that risk is death. They should be sent house to house to precision-kill their enemy rather than their kids and risk death doing so. Is there something specifically sacred about American soldiers' lives that they shouldn't be risking them?
posted by Brian Lux at 6:33 AM on April 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


While the world media obsessively follows the Boston tragedy and goes into the tiniest details about the victims, no one is interested in knowing the names and identity of those children killed in Afghanistan, or hundreds of others killed in Pakistan. Were they any less human?"

To be perfectly fair, the media does a poor enough job of covering our own war dead.

7 so far this month in Afghanistan. 3 were killed in a single attack on April 6 that targeted a group of state department officials who were delivering teaching supplies to a school.

The story was only picked up in local news outlets in the victims' hometowns. Zero coverage from national (or even regional) media.

We're not being willfully ignorant of drone strikes. We're being willfully ignorant of the entire war.
posted by schmod at 6:34 AM on April 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


Is there something specifically sacred about American soldiers' lives that they shouldn't be risking them?

Disregarding the fact that each of them has a family that are likely voters and sundry other social reasons there is the fact that each one represents a significant investment of time and money.
posted by longbaugh at 6:41 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


On preview (and not wanting to edit the comment) - I recommend The Long War Journal to those wishing to keep abreast of this sort of thing. It would be wonderful for everyone to keep seeking out information around the ongoing wars we find ourselves in but it is extremely depressing to do so. The study of historical events, be they ancient or modern can often seem this way. Watching them in real time certainly doesn't improve matters.
posted by longbaugh at 6:49 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


We know we have two options: door to door combat where Americans and civilians will become casualties, or precision bombing of known targets.

Or we could stop engaging militarily with them.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:56 AM on April 22, 2013 [14 favorites]


Renaroc, I'm going to be charitable and assume you're being sarcastic here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:07 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


each one represents a significant investment of time and money.

Yes indeed. Almost certainly more money than the average Afghan or Pakistani citizen, no doubt about that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:10 AM on April 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


The only true facts are that in Afghanistan, Taliban soldiers do not separate themselves from the civilian population. And that we cannot go bomb or invade their base and barracks because they don't exist. We know we have two options: door to door combat where Americans and civilians will become casualties, or precision bombing of known targets. The Taliban know this. The Taliban choose to exploit this, perhaps hoping to win the hearts and minds of the American People. The Obama administration chooses to continue drone strikes for the exact same reason...fewer flag draped coffins allow the government to continue to pursue the Taliban in what would, during a previous administration, have been called a quagmire.

It's a quagmire whether body bags are coming home or not.
posted by empath at 7:13 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm literally stunned how many people just flatly state that American soldiers lives are more important than afghani children.
posted by empath at 7:14 AM on April 22, 2013 [27 favorites]


Joe in Australia asked "OK, air support, I understand that bit - but why was that house hit, a house which they knew had nobody in it but women and children".

The very next paragraph under the one you quoted goes on to explain:
"The investigators said they determined that none of the bombs or rockets used in the air-support operation — which included drones, jets and attack helicopters, they said — hit the house where the victims were. But the concussion from the explosions made the upper floor of the mud-and-timber house collapse on top of the victims."

Taliban commanders and troops live with their families. If we cannot engage military personnel around civilians, they cannot engage the taliban in most circumstances. If a military doesn't want civilians to become casualties in attacks against them, they can organize and operate as a true military and not guerrilla force.

Asking the military to only engage Taliban forces when they're away from civilians is not something I think we should do. It amounts to only attacking the enemy when they're attempting to carry out an attack on you and is not a solid military plan.

War is hell, always has been and always will be. The problem is not how we're fighting, the problem is that we're fighting in the first place. America needs to understand military action is a bloody business, and not something we should be cavalier about. We should demand that military action not be used without congressional consent and we must hold our congress accountable for giving consent. In short, military action should be a last resort, not a foreign policy.
posted by Crash at 7:16 AM on April 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm literally stunned how many people just flatly state that American soldiers lives are more important than afghani children

Related: in the Year of the Pig film (FPP that's still up, here on the front page) one politician, (I forgot who exactly, but he was a real sad excuse for a human being), flat out said "I wouldn't trade one American life for 50 Chinamen" or something to that effect. Then of course one or two others were quoted along the lines of "The Oriental doesn't value life the way we do" or "doesn't care if he dies", that kind of thing. The old 'relative value of human lives' thing, and how it always seems to be a given that American's are more valuable than others, is a long standing tradition in America when warfare is discussed.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:40 AM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


When innocent people are used by violent people with guns as "human shields" in the U.S., we call those innocent people "hostages" and generally try our best to get them out of harm's way. It's only when innocent people are inconveniently in our soldiers' way in other countries that "hostages" suddenly get downgraded to "collateral damage."
posted by BlueJae at 7:44 AM on April 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm literally stunned how many people just flatly state that American soldiers lives are more important than afghani children.

Who has explicitly stated that? I might be missing it so a genuine question there.

As a secondary question - imagine that you are the commanding officer of a group of men who are currently under fire from opposition forces. They are calling for close air support and have advised you of the situation (i.e. likely civilian casualties, some of them children).

Do you

a) let them die
b) authorise the strike.

Why do you choose this course of action?
posted by longbaugh at 7:44 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


There may be multiple other choices and the proper reaction depends on a wide range of variables not presented in the question.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:54 AM on April 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Here's my test for people who like hypotheticals:

"A train is rolling down a railway track towards a junction. You want to violently murder every member of one of the following groups:

1) Babies
2) Innocents
3) Saints

Which group did you pick? Why? You're a monster, how could you pick that?"
posted by forgetful snow at 8:08 AM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I will happily accept a theoretical answer that isn't a) or b) Drinky Die but your decision making time is short and the information you have to go on is limited to that which can be reported over the radio by men in extreme stress or viewed on a camera from some distance. What else would you suggest?

forgetful snow - I choose Saints. If they are genuine Saints and true believers I'm sure that they'd sacrifice themselves willingly to save Babies or Innocents.

You have of course only given me the choice of violently murdering one of three groups whereas my hypothetical actually had a choice between whose lives to save. Perhaps an example where I am violently murdering a group to protect some Innocents from hordes of ravening Babies or even Babies from Saints-who-occasionally-sin-in-that-particular-way it would be a closer example? I don't really know.
posted by longbaugh at 8:21 AM on April 22, 2013


It is interesting how morality plays out in these scenarios where intention can be blurred or obfuscated when murdering by probability.

I actually gave up driving after running the numbers on the likelihood that I would someday hurt someone in collision (The odds of sending someone to the hospital during a lifetime of driving are pretty high). When I say this a lot of people look at me like I insane for refusing to roll the dice.
posted by srboisvert at 8:23 AM on April 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Obama lives with his wife and children.
posted by wrapper at 8:31 AM on April 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Are any of the babies going to grow up to be Hitler?
posted by thelonius at 8:32 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe eight. Maybe ten. Maybe nein.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:56 AM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


longbaugh - sorry! The real answer was scratch-away secret option 4), that when we extract the thorns of reality and context from our dilemmas, they become perfect and useless and perfectly useless. Proven by your good, justifiable answer to an absolutely meaningless question. The only way to judge your officers would be in the real world for the whole range of their actions and influences.

Are any of the babies going to grow up to be Hitler?

All of them, but in a nice way. They learn to funnel their zeal into macrame - it makes for an exceptionally strong weave - and become popular after-dinner speakers.
posted by forgetful snow at 9:00 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why are the Taliban the enemy and why are US troops fighting them. What the fuck.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:01 AM on April 22, 2013


How many little girls died trying to go to school at Mr Ali Khan's command? How many women were rapped by his soldiers? Did I miss something or did he not send truck bombs into civilian marketplaces, and kill innocent afghans? His wives should have slit this monsters throat in his sleep or turned him over to security forces for arrest. Instead they chose to keep this monster near their children and sleep under his roof. At some point the women and other adults need to take some responsibility for the monsters they keep company with.
posted by humanfont at 9:02 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


metafilter: victim blaming at its worst.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:08 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


His wives should have slit this monsters throat in his sleep or turned him over to security forces for arrest. Instead they chose to keep this monster near their children and sleep under his roof. At some point the women and other adults need to take some responsibility for the monsters they keep company with.

Personally, I find it difficult to identify the "some point" at which to locate the moral culpability of people kept in line through indoctrination and daily authoritarian abuse.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:10 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm literally stunned how many people just flatly state that American soldiers lives are more important than afghani children.
posted by empath at 7:14 AM on April 22
[5 favorites +] [!]


It really blows my mind when I realize that Metafilter is one of the most reliably liberal/leftist major aggregation blogs on the Internet. The average Mefite is a raving hippie compared to the average American, and we still blame Afghan civilians for their plight. Imagine how the rest of the country feels and you can understand how Obama has escalated the drone war without any real political consequences.
posted by Avenger at 9:13 AM on April 22, 2013 [27 favorites]


Wrapper -- the White House, like every other command and control facility, is unquestionably a legitimate military target. The 2013 Taliban are a hard example (because they are regarded as an illegal terrorist movement, not a legitimate state actor), but if, for example, the Iraqi Army, Air Force or Navy in the invasion phase of the war in 2003 had managed to carry out an otherwise legal* attack on the White House, none of the civilian casualties would have given rise to war crimes charges against them, and the men who carried out or commanded the action, if captured, would have been entitled to release from POW camps at the same time as any other Iraqi military.

*Otherwise legal: carried out by uniformed troops under command, or duly flagged combatant vessels or aircraft similarly under command.
posted by MattD at 9:26 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This begs the question: why kill Taliban commanders in the first place?
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 9:31 AM on April 22, 2013


*Otherwise legal: carried out by uniformed troops under command, or duly flagged combatant vessels or aircraft similarly under command.

Probably worth pointing out that CIA drone strikes are neither of those things.
posted by empath at 9:33 AM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


The U.S. has no standing to hide behind "legalities".
posted by wrapper at 9:36 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why do you choose this course of action?

For both a) and b): Because your military leadership has completely failed you, and keeps trying to win the war by remote control or with superior deck-chair shuffling, and your diplomats are useless hand-wringers or credulous tools and the two are not working together adequately, if at all.

Restrepo is a must-watch. Just the one scene where the gung-ho captain is "negotiating" with the tribal elders. I wince every time I think of it. That's why I'm calling down airstrikes - I'm covering failure with more failure.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:48 AM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder when the lockdown will be over and they can bring these perpetrators to justice...oops, wrong thread.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:49 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Drone strikes save American lives. There is no arguing that fact.

Assuming that "fact" (unsubstantiated assertion, really) is true, the long-term cost may be more than bargained for.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:53 AM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


3 points of clarification:

1) I meant that drone strikes save American lives in the context of military personnel. Sending our soldiers into harms way is automatically more dangerous than having a remote controlled machine do it.

2) I did see the Frontline docu about the drones. The interviewees admirably stated what their commanding officer probably told them to say. (It is pretty naïve to think one can just waltz onto a military base and get a soldier to tell the truth when everybody they work with and answer to is right there, behind the camera. I'm sure there was still stuff the military objected to that wound up excised.

3) No one has explicitly stated that an American life is more important than an Afghani life
posted by Renoroc at 9:55 AM on April 22, 2013


Drone strikes save American lives. There is no arguing that fact [citation needed]
Watch me.
Please tell me the last time an Afghan or Yemini tried to kill you or any of your family, friends or aquaintances, indeed any American who was not part of an invading force. About the only people benefit from these murders are the drone manufacturers.
$12,548,710.60 will get you one MQ-9 Reaper. Roughly $5 million will get you a Predator.
(via Drones: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Always Afraid to Ask). People in San Diego may want to talk to their Politicians.
posted by adamvasco at 9:59 AM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:06 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


At some point the women and other adults need to take some responsibility for the monsters they keep company with.

Did you also feel this was the case for Hedda Nussbaum?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:09 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


At any time a "leader" can step forward and state 'violence needs to stop' and order the Military to stop such violence.

Instead the 'leader' blames members of Congress for no action on 'gun violence issues' while leading a nation in the top 10 for exporting actual violence and exporting the tools of violence.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:21 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


At some point the women and other adults need to take some responsibility for the monsters they keep company with.

This is the kind of logic that leads terrorists to justify attacking civilian targets, as well.
posted by empath at 10:26 AM on April 22, 2013 [14 favorites]


And you may say that there is a significant difference between intentionally targeting civilians and just killing civilians as a side effect, and I would say that it doesn't make much difference to the civilians.
posted by empath at 10:27 AM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is a natural tendency to tie the recent events in Boston to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, so here's my take.
One word that was used to express anger at the bombers (in Boston) was 'Coward' and I think that it is applicable to both situations.
My belief is that the use of drones and the inherent collateral damage that they inflict is cowardly on the part of our military and our government. We want to take and keep the moral high ground in this (as all) conflicts, and yet we accept innocent civilians as part of the cost. This is cowardly. Our soldiers are volunteers, and paid professionals. Unlike the civilians, they know the risks of what they do as do their commanders. If the work to do is dirty then so be it, accept that there is risk to the soldiers and get on with it, or get out.
I disagree with our reasons for being in the conflict to begin with, and feel a giant sense of disappointment in the man I voted for for not getting us out of there sooner, so I won't even begin to try to defend this 'war' on any level; but I will say that if we are going be there and stand for something, as we say we do, then we should be well above accepting collateral civilians casualties caused by remotely engaged ordinance.
History will ultimately decide who the good guys and bad guys are, but I feel only shame that our country has not yet evolved beyond the need for might to prove right.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:36 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


You know, our military could project force much more precisely and with far less collateral damage if instead of using drones designed like aircraft, we equipped quadrotor drones with some type of projectile weapon and used them as hunter-killer units. (See this artist's conception of how such a unit might look.) Things like this are almost certainly in the future of drone warfare and could probably even be built today: the main limitation to surpass is simply flight range.

Then again, if our government had lightning-fast, incredibly manuverable drones that could slip in through an open window, gun down anybody in the apartment, and then zip right out again, leaving no trace of their presence... would anybody here really feel comforted by that?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

It's not just for Cathars anymore.
posted by Justinian at 11:51 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Drone strikes and the attendant civilian casualties are radicalizing whole new swaths of people who vehemently despise America

The problem with this argument is that, before there were ever drone strikes, there was something else that was radicalizing people against America, and there always will be so long as America is engaged with the world. Drone strikes didn't come out of nowhere; they are an alternative to invading and occupying territory in order to locate terrorists.

There were no drone strikes before 9/11, but that didn't stop plenty of jihadists from hating America. Right after 9/11, the left was happy to point to root causes: the sanctions against Saddam, for instance. Bin Laden was particularly angered by American troops in Saudi Arabia. Both of those existed to protect other Arab states from the threat posed by Saddam; but the fact that Arab governments wanted the American military presence didn't stop it from being a radicalizing influence. So what could the U.S. have done? Let Saddam re-amass weapons and take over Kuwait again? Would that have been the right response to the radicalization of some al Qaeda memebers?

What about now? The U.S. might be able to to remove itself as a presence in the lives of Afghans, but at what cost? Would it be a net benefit for world peace if the Taliban were able to increase their war against the Pakistani government? How many people will be murdered if the Taliban took over Afghanistan again? Is it supporting Afghans' human rights to accede to a group of people that murder girls who want to go to school? And if the U.S. did stop fighting the Taliban, would they lay down their arms and accept the outcome of elections? Well, we know from recent history exactly what they would do: take over the country and host terrorists as they plot attacks against America, based on a pre-existing religious ideology that is not going to change. Rinse, repeat. (Hey, why DID we stop fighting the Taliban in 2014 only to see a repeat of 9/11 and another invasion, followed by PATRIOT III?) The Obama administration seems able to learn from history than its critics on the left. Drone strikes are one of the few things standing between the Taliban and their quest to enslave Afghanistan and Pakistan to a religious fascism. If they're successful, a lot more civilians will die - from repression and impoverishment - than are being killed in drone strikes.

And you may say that there is a significant difference between intentionally targeting civilians and just killing civilians as a side effect, and I would say that it doesn't make much difference to the civilians.

This is a great philosophy if what you want to do is give all the power in the world to people who want to kill civilians. They will have no compunction about killing as many as possible, and we will die in as great numbers as they can manage, because if we defend ourselves, there will inevitably be some civilian casualties. You may wish to take that chance with your life; a government has no right to sacrifice the lives of its citizens on the altar of pacifism and moral self-righteousness.
posted by Dasein at 11:57 AM on April 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Dasein: You may wish to take that chance with your life; a government has no right to sacrifice the lives of its citizens on the altar of pacifism and moral self-righteousness.

Which is exactly what led to My Lai -- being absolutely certain.
posted by Malor at 11:58 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


That fpsrussia link wolfsdreams01 posted is freaking awesome. The #2 google search result for fpsrussia is the BATF searching his property for illegal explosives.

The guy has 109 youtube videos so far.
posted by bukvich at 12:02 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and:

Right after 9/11, the left was happy to point to root causes: the sanctions against Saddam, for instance. Bin Laden was particularly angered by American troops in Saudi Arabia. Both of those existed to protect other Arab states from the threat posed by Saddam

You are conveniently completely ignoring fifty years of U.S. meddling in the Middle East, including the installation of governments we like, the overthrow of governments we don't, and a continued military presence. This presence exists to make absolutely certain, for instance, that the horrific Saudi government stays in power, and that the people living there absolutely cannot evict them, and elect their own leaders. To this day, Iran is a horrible place, directly because of our assassination of a peacefully elected leader, and the installation of a brutal dictator. We caused that revolution; we turned what could have been our greatest ally in the region, the single area that was the most advanced of any Arab country at the time, and turned them into mortal enemies.

The list of reasons for people all across the Middle East to hate the US is legion. Anyone making arguments like yours, more or less insisting that they just hate our freedoms, should be barred from further discussion on the matter until they've educated themselves at least a little.
posted by Malor at 12:07 PM on April 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


The problem with this argument is that, before there were ever drone strikes, there was something else that was radicalizing people against America, and there always will be so long as America is engaged with the world.

If you define "engaged with" as "swinging our military dicks around in". Plenty of countries survive just fine without acting as world police. It remains a choice we can make as well.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:07 PM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Which is exactly what led to My Lai -- being absolutely certain.

This is, frankly, moronic. Being willing to fight back and accept civilian casualties that are proportional to a military objective while trying to minimize them as much as possible does not mean you're okay with lining civilians up against a wall and executing them.

You are conveniently completely ignoring fifty years of U.S. meddling in the Middle East, including the installation of governments we like, the overthrow of governments we don't, and a continued military presence.

No, that's actually precisely my point: there's always something further back in time that's a reason for someone to now try to murder civilians. If a terrorist wants to blow up Times Square, it's not the fault of America because Eisenhower had the CIA depose Mossadegh.

And it seems to me that you are conveniently ignoring the Cold War, wherein the Soviets would have been all too happy to secure the world's supply of oil if the U.S. wasn't willing to have a military presence in the Middle East.
posted by Dasein at 12:11 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a great philosophy if what you want to do is give all the power in the world to people who want to kill civilians. They will have no compunction about killing as many as possible, and we will die in as great numbers as they can manage, because if we defend ourselves, there will inevitably be some civilian casualties. You may wish to take that chance with your life; a government has no right to sacrifice the lives of its citizens on the altar of pacifism and moral self-righteousness.

They're not people who just want to kill civilians. They don't kill people for giggles or as an end in itself. They, generally, have coherent political or military goals that they seek to achieve through those attacks on civilians. The Taliban wouldn't be attacking American targets if America wasn't in Afghanistan, and the afghan government wouldn't be bombing taliban targets this way, if we weren't there, as Karzai has said repeatedly.

And further, there is absolutely zero evidence that these drone attacks are protecting American lives, so your whole argument falls apart. This whole program strikes me as the usual government thing where a program needs to justify its budget, so it finds targets to explode. And if you don't think a government beaurocrat will invent military targets for budget reasons, you probably haven't worked in government.
posted by empath at 12:13 PM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


The problem with this argument is that, before there were ever drone strikes, there was something else that was radicalizing people against America, and there always will be so long as America is engaged with the world.

Your argument is so mind-boggling stupid--it literally can only have some semblance of coherence if you think that people are outraged at drone strikes qua drone strikes and not because drone strikes kill innocent people. Before there were drone strikes there was more indiscriminate bombing. And assassinations. And aerial strikes. And invasions. And occupations. And coups.

What do they have in common? Killing innocent people. Do you honestly think that people are outraged for some other reason? That everyone has a separate and distinct reason for hating each one of these things that has nothing to do with what is common between them?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:14 PM on April 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


And it seems to me that you are conveniently ignoring the Cold War, wherein the Soviets would have been all too happy to secure the world's supply of oil if the U.S. wasn't willing to have a military presence in the Middle East.

Fuck, its not like people can buy oil from other places.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:16 PM on April 22, 2013


And it seems to me that you are conveniently ignoring the Cold War, wherein the Soviets would have been all too happy to secure the world's supply of oil if the U.S. wasn't willing to have a military presence in the Middle East.

That doesn't matter to the people that live there. They didn't care about the Cold War, and they don't today. They just want to organize their societies and live their lives how they see fit, and we are a major force in making sure they can't.

So of course they hate us.
posted by Malor at 12:17 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


If a terrorist wants to blow up Times Square, it's not the fault of America because Eisenhower had the CIA depose Mossadegh.

They don't have to reach back that far, because the us is giving them new reasons every day.
posted by empath at 12:18 PM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


"..before there were ever drone strikes, there was something else that was radicalizing people against America..."

Among those things was our twin subsidies of apartheid against Muslims on the West Bank and economic strangulation against Muslims in Gaza.
posted by wrapper at 12:21 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I highly recommend that people visit one of these countries that the US has intervened in. Standing on ground where people were massacred with US made weapons paid for with American money, and directly hearing from people about their family members that were killed is an eye opening experience. We're lucky that our ventures in Southeast Asia and Latin America didn't produce as many terrorists as the Middle East did, frankly.
posted by empath at 12:22 PM on April 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


there always will be so long as America is engaged with the world.

If you described a relationship like America's relationship with the world in an askme and called it an engagement you would be buried under an avalanche of screams of DTMFA.
posted by srboisvert at 12:30 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


And they wonder why people keep setting off bombs in their streets.

STOP IT.
posted by New England Cultist at 12:41 PM on April 22, 2013


New England Cultist, it appears you are obliquely referring to the Boston attacks. We don't know the motives behind the bombings yet, but based on the suspects' background, revenge for drone attacks seems unlikely.

MisantropicPainforest: its not like people can buy oil from other places

The oil market is global. The United States already gets most of its oil from non-Persian Gulf sources. But that doesn't mean we can just "buy oil somewhere else" if a hostile power is able to dominante Gulf supplies. You would more countries vying for the oil not locked up, causing shortages and huge price spikes.
posted by spaltavian at 12:59 PM on April 22, 2013


The United States already gets most of its oil from non-Persian Gulf sources. But that doesn't mean we can just "buy oil somewhere else" if a hostile power is able to dominante Gulf supplies. You would more countries vying for the oil not locked up, causing shortages and huge price spikes.

There is no threat to a shortage at all. The oil companies are already restricting output, and in the case of any shortage, all they need to do is to operate as any other industry would and produce as much as they can sell. But they're not in the oil business, their in the creating demand for oil business, that to do that they restrict their output.

Moreover, it would be nearly impossible for any power to dominate Gulf supplies. The US didn't 'dominate' Gulf oil--the only real threat is closing off the straight of Hormuz.

And speculation, not shortages, cause huge price spikes.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:12 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


...the horrific Saudi government stays in power, and that the people living there absolutely cannot evict them

Isn't it just always the stuff that we NEVER talk about that's most interesting. All that "Arab Spring" stuff, and not a peep out of Saudi Arabia. Not a peep. (And not a peep over here about the FACT that there wasn't a peep.) And yet, if you check out the bios of almost all of these extremists, there will be a paragraph that says something like: "Then he spent four years being beaten and tortured in a Saudi prison."

Our pals.
posted by Trochanter at 1:15 PM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm not against targeted killings and drone strikes in principle, btw. I think there is a place for them, in taking out terrorists who actively planned attacks against Americans in places where American law enforcement or military has no reach, or would be extremely difficult to deploy. I don't think that applies in Afghanistan. It's perhaps politically difficult to deploy American troops to get this guy, but it doesn't at all seem to me to be logistically difficult. We have a big footprint on the ground and active cooperation with the local military and police. Using drone strikes seems kind of inexcusable.
posted by empath at 1:15 PM on April 22, 2013


It really blows my mind when I realize that Metafilter is one of the most reliably liberal/leftist major aggregation blogs on the Internet. The average Mefite is a raving hippie compared to the average American, and we still blame Afghan civilians for their plight. Imagine how the rest of the country feels and you can understand how Obama has escalated the drone war without any real political consequences.
I would like to point out that one needn't be raving or a hippy or a liberal/progressive/democrat/etc. or a pacifist or anything else you might like to throw in. I would call myself none of those things and am still able to recognize the atrocity of drone warfare as it is practiced by the American military.

A pretty simple rule of thumb is if you are doing something that kills innocent children and you don't stop then you cannot call yourself the good guy. Somehow or another, many people seem to want to resist this principle, for reasons that I cannot comprehend. Presumably it is because they view the other side as being the bad guy, which may well be true (that is, the targets in the drone strikes) but is irrelevant to the moral calculus of killing children as collateral damage.
posted by pdq at 1:16 PM on April 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest There is no threat to a shortage at all.

Your earlier comment was in response to someone positing what would happen if the Soviets did dominate Middle East oil supplies during the Cold War. In that case, there absoultely would be an imposed shortage, unless you think the Soviets would have been super nice. Telling me there isn't a shortage now is a non sequitur.

And speculation, not shortages, cause huge price spikes.

Uh, yeah, now in the real world, where there is no shortage. In the conversation we were actually having, a single power dominating Persian Gulf reserves could inflict embargoes that would cause price spikes that would dwarf what speculators can do today. We already know this, because of OPEC's actions in the 1970s.

You can argue that American action was not needed to prevent the Soviets securing Persian Gulf oil, but you can't argue that today's real world conditions mean the Soviet domination of the Middle East wouldn't have been a big deal.
posted by spaltavian at 1:27 PM on April 22, 2013


Uh, yeah, now in the real world, where there is no shortage.

There is a shortage of $5 and $10 a barrel oil.

There is no shortage of $200 a barrel oil.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:37 PM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


There has never been a threat to the worlds supply of oil that warrants the wanton destruction, occupation, and bombardment by the US on the Middle East. Any of the US' goals could easily be achieved by any number of limited military engagements, rather than occupation and war against any number of countries. For over 35 years, every major disruption in the oil market has seen a quick adjustment by other oil producers to stabilize the oil market.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:44 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


A pretty simple rule of thumb is if you are doing something that kills innocent children and you don't stop then you cannot call yourself the good guy.

I think maybe one problem with that point of view is that we want to call ourselves the good guys in the first place. Personally, I don't care about whether I'm the good guy - I care about whether my friends can walk down the street without being killed in a terrorist action. At the end of the day, good and evil doesn't really matter - what matters is who's alive in the final reckoning, since those people will just rewrite history to call themselves the good guys. If the best way to accomplish Americans staying alive is to help the people of the Middle East prosper, then I'm all for that. If a more successful strategy is to have people in the Middle East live in a state of perpetual terror so that they are too busy watching their backs to go after ours, then I would regretfully sign off on that too. I call this the "Survival Principle."

Unfortunately, Hollywood has brainwashed people with a lot of nonsense about how good guys always win, so now in order to sell any policy that is purely based on the Survival Principle to the American people, it has to come wrapped in some gooey nonsense that frames us as the Good Guys and somebody else as the Bad Guys. I feel this is childish and I would like it if instead of focusing on the "goodness" or "badness" of a policy, we could focus more on whether or not it keeps our nation safe.

This is not to say that I support drone strikes. It's quite possible that the pacifists have the right of things and that in the long term it would be objectively more effective to take a more peaceful foreign policy in order to engender less hate. However, when people talk about the morality of our nation's policy, it makes me a little bit frustrated, because I feel like they're advocating risking my life and the life of my friends for the sake of their own subjective morality. It would be great if we could confine this conversation to historical data on "what works to keep us safe" rather than emotional appeals about "what's the right thing to do." America was awash in innocent blood ever since the first Puritans landed and said "Hey, this place looks great, except for all the red people," and it's sort of naive to suggest that we have any sort of moral high ground. We need to come to grips with the fact that the ship of morality and pure intent sailed long ago, and a fresh coat of whitewash over our nation's history probably isn't going to redeem us in anybody's eyes.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:07 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dasein there is so much I find wrong with your statement that it is difficult to know where to start.
before there were ever drone strikes, there was something else that was radicalizing people against America
America has been pissing people off for the last x years by its intervening in their politics and their lives. You can choose from any number of Central American, East Asian and Middle East nations. Try condsidering that the problem is America and not the other nations.
Arab governments wanted the American military presence
I think it could be better said that the Arab states wanted the American hardware and know how for their own nefarious ends.
if the Taliban were able to increase their war against the Pakistani government.
According to many sources the Taliban are being greatly aided by the ISI which is a branch of the Pakistani Armed forces.
Much of the rest of your argument is supposition.
a government has no right to sacrifice the lives of its citizens on the altar of pacifism and moral self-righteousness.
A government has no right to murder the citizens of other countries to benefit the bank accounts of its military industrial complex whilest pretending otherwise.
posted by adamvasco at 2:14 PM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


wofldreams01,

Do you have an argument as to why American lives should be privileged over the lives of those people in the Middle East?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:15 PM on April 22, 2013


That's a trick question. I would expect American lives to be privileged over the lives of those people in the Middle East by the American government, just as I would expect, say, Syrian lives to be privileged over the lives of Americans by the Syrian government. And so on. That's the whole point of a government.

It's trivially easy to demonstrate that essentially everyone believes this to be both true and desirable. Any government which decided to privilege all lives equally would be compelled to send the vast majority of their tax receipts overseas to improve the lives of those outside their borders. No nation on earth does this and any government which attempted to do so would be immediately removed. As it should be.

So "why should American lives be privileged over the lives of those people in the Middle East" is a meaningless question. You must state by whom.
posted by Justinian at 2:19 PM on April 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Note that I think this drone bullshit is awful. But that's a different question.
posted by Justinian at 2:20 PM on April 22, 2013


Do you have an argument as to why American lives should be privileged over the lives of those people in the Middle East?

What Justinian said.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:22 PM on April 22, 2013


In light of that, wolfdreams01, do you have an argument as to why you should privilege American lives over the lives of those people in the Middle East?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:24 PM on April 22, 2013


I'm not wolfdreams01 but I would assume he is American and thus, in the general human manner, privileges the lives of those closest to him over those further away.
posted by Justinian at 2:26 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


A government has no right to murder the citizens of other countries to benefit the bank accounts of its military industrial complex whilest pretending otherwise.

Is this official ROE or other one of those assertions I keep seeing called out?
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:30 PM on April 22, 2013


In light of that, wolfdreams01, do you have an argument as to why you should privilege American lives over the lives of those people in the Middle East?

What Justinian said.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:38 PM on April 22, 2013


Go me!
posted by Justinian at 2:40 PM on April 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


There has never been a threat to the worlds supply of oil that warrants the wanton destruction, occupation, and bombardment by the US on the Middle East.

I never said there has been. Again, I was responding narrowly to your contention that if a hostile power did dominate Persian Gulf reserves that the West could just "buy it somewhere else".

You keep responding to me as if you said the threat was overblown, but you actually said that the threat would not be bad even if it happened.
posted by spaltavian at 2:48 PM on April 22, 2013


ACLU Appeals Ruling Allowing Feds to Stay Mum on Drone Targeted Killings
posted by homunculus at 2:55 PM on April 22, 2013


It would be great if we could confine this conversation to historical data on "what works to keep us safe" rather than emotional appeals about "what's the right thing to do."

There have to be some limits to that. Genocide probably works pretty well, in some circumstances, at keeping a country safe, but I would give my own life to stop my country from committing genocide, or at least I like to think I would.

But would I give the lives of thirteen random American children to save the lives of thirteen random Afghani children? No, I don't think I could. Would I give the lives of my two children to save the lives of anyone else's, however many? No, I don't think I could.

These are abstract hypotheticals, but they are also the kinds of decisions that real commanders in the field really think they are making. They believe, even if we don't, that they are saving the lives of American civilians and American children by doing these things. That's your "survival principle" (except they're not maximizing their own chances of surviving, actually, so it's an abstract kind of selfishness...).

I don't know if they're right or not. I don't know enough about the politics, the classified threats, etc, etc. Probably it's not a binary like that. Maybe they make us (and by "us" I include "our children, my children") a little safer, but not that much safer, at the cost of these children's lives. So how much safer do they have to make us, our children, for it to be "worth it" to kill someone else's children? I don't think that's an academic question. I think that's exactly the terrible question our policy makers and military have to engage with. It's what haunts me when I see these stories.

I've read "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." But "walking away" isn't so simple in real life, when you have your own children to bring with. And what country could I go to which never sacrifices foreign children to save its own (or wrongly thinking it will save its own) -- or which does not let the US do so on their behalf?
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:56 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you have to try to do the right thing. In a trillion years, when the universe is in heat death, it won't matter for shit and yet it will be the only thing that matters. You saw what was right and you tried to do it. Because it was right.

"... no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
posted by Trochanter at 2:57 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the kind of logic that leads terrorists to justify attacking civilian targets, as well.

Does the same logic that allows the police to arrest a suspect justify a terrorist kidnapping? It might justify it in the mind if the terrorist, but objectively it doesn't follow that we should assign a moral equivalency.
posted by humanfont at 3:04 PM on April 22, 2013


"While the world media obsessively follows the Boston tragedy and goes into the tiniest details about the victims, no one is interested in knowing the names and identity of those children killed in Afghanistan, or hundreds of others killed in Pakistan. Were they any less human?"

Rafia Zakaria: The Tragedies of Other Places. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, a columnist for Pakistan’s largest English newspaper reflects on why violent attacks leave a more lasting impression if they happen on American soil.

Juan Cole: Can the Boston Bombings increase our Sympathy for Iraq and Syria, for all such Victims?
posted by homunculus at 3:10 PM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think you have to try to do the right thing. In a trillion years, when the universe is in heat death, it won't matter for shit and yet it will be the only thing that matters. You saw what was right and you tried to do it. Because it was right.

Like I said upthread, that's great for you, but please don't gamble my friends lives on your personal ethics about "having to do the right thing."

An ethical belief system is like a penis - it's great to have, and you're entitled to be proud of it, but I'd appreciate if you didn't wave yours in other people's faces without their explicit consent.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:13 PM on April 22, 2013


I am reading the thread above and I'm getting the impression that a lot of people think the powers that be in the American government wake up every day and ask themselves this question," Hm...who do we want to fuck over today?"

It's easy to judge with hindsight but for the boots on the ground, we have to see it through their eyes. I'm responding in particular to Iran and the Cold War.
Yes - we did meddle in Iran. To great detriment at the moment.

But at the time?

1. We were 10 years or so away from World War 2 - where 50 MILLION people perished. The level of carnage was beyond imagining. Direct conflict would need to be avoided and the rest would turn into strategical positioning moves. Iran was one of the chess pieces.
2. Soviet Union was the foe. It was an incredibly ruthless and powerful state. It vanquished the greatest power of the old world virtually single handedly. Oh yes - we helped. But to put things in perspective, the number of soldiers we lost in total is less than the number of second lieutenants lost by Soviet Union.
3. China - the most populous country in the world - just turned communist.
4. Domino theory was the accepted theory and Asia was a hot breeding ground for communism.
5. USA had virtually no strong allies left. Britain had just lost its world dominion and been relinquished to second grade power status. France and Germany were in shambles. So was Japan.

Yes - it was not fair to Iran. Whether or not it was a smart move is also debatable. And it has a detrimental effect 50 years in the future. But to not try to position yourself into a better strategic position at the moment was suicidal.

Am I trying to justify our current conduct? No - definitely not. There is a distinct possibility that we are on the wrong path. But just like how we are judging our behavior with Iran 50 years ago where we tend to forget the context of that behavior, we seem to be doing the same thing with regard to the drone war. Dasein above has attempted to do the analysis of what would happen if we discontinue and people are just too eager to shoot it down without accepting the merit or even the possibility of a merit of the analysis.
posted by 7life at 3:28 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is NOT just like a video game and these people are under an intense amount of stress and pressure.

Drone Pilots Are Found to Get Stress Disorders Much as Those in Combat Do

Previously.
posted by homunculus at 3:41 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


An ethical belief system is like a penis - it's great to have, and you're entitled to be proud of it, but I'd appreciate if you didn't wave yours in other people's faces without their explicit consent.

Offhand, wolfdreams, I'd say killing people because they might be a threat someday is a lot more intrusive infliction of morality.

You are arguing that, in essence, because we are strong, we should feel free to kill anyone we like. That is the heart of the definition of an evil society.

Would it be okay to nuke Lahore, if it kept your family alive? How about Tokyo? Would it be okay to blow up the entire US, if it would save your relatives? Where do you draw the line for who it's acceptable to kill, in order to feel a little safer?

I assume you must draw it somewhere -- or is anyone fair game for your violence if you're afraid of them?
posted by Malor at 4:19 PM on April 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Would it be okay to nuke Lahore, if it kept your family alive?

You mean, with certainty? Most people would gladly take that trade off, whether they would admit it or not.
posted by spaltavian at 4:28 PM on April 22, 2013


Most people would gladly take that trade off

Just because a lot of people would do an evil thing doesn't make the thing less evil.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:31 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another way of putting that: one of the main functions of civilization to keep people from killing each other.

So people are telling you, wolfdreams, that you shouldn't kill people who haven't done you any harm. And you're characterizing this as them waving their penis in your face. Well, I'm here to tell ya, that is what civilization is for. That's probably the single biggest reason we have it.

And, it would appear, you need some serious penis-waving.
posted by Malor at 4:33 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Britain had just lost its world dominion and been relinquished to second grade power status.

Only by some yardsticks. Despite tremendous domestic deprivation, war debt and the collapse of their colonial empire the UK kept spending on their military at ridiculous levels and still does. Post WWII the UK was still a pretty damn strong military ally.
posted by srboisvert at 5:06 PM on April 22, 2013


You can't win the hearts and minds of the dead, can you?


No. But you sure as hell can make determined enemies, for generations to come, of those family members you did not succeed in killing.
posted by notreally at 5:30 PM on April 22, 2013


Are you suggesting it it better to kill the whole family to avoid any future generations of retaliation ? That sounds grim.
posted by humanfont at 5:37 PM on April 22, 2013


Quite the opposite. I fear for our future generations who I believe will someday have to deal with the repercussions of what we are doing today.
posted by notreally at 5:47 PM on April 22, 2013


This thread is absolutely horrifying. I can't believe so many people here are sincerely arguing that "our" lives are worth more than "their" lives. This is the same attitude that justifies terrorism in the first place. We're doomed.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:54 PM on April 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


To be clear, I think an Afghan life is worth exactly the same as an American life. However, I think it is the job of the American government to primarily look after American (and to an extent allies) lives. That's not at all saying that one life is worth more than others.

I can't speak for other people in the thread, though.
posted by Justinian at 6:01 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


But you're kind of making the argument that one collateral killing of one Afghan child equals one American child saved. And we're stupidly far from that.
posted by Trochanter at 6:18 PM on April 22, 2013


This thread is absolutely horrifying. I can't believe so many people here are sincerely arguing that "our" lives are worth more than "their" lives.

Exactly no one is arguing that, but don't let that get in the way to tsk-tsking everyone.
posted by spaltavian at 6:20 PM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


But you're kind of making the argument that one collateral killing of one Afghan child equals one American child saved. And we're stupidly far from that.

I never made that argument at all.
posted by Justinian at 6:32 PM on April 22, 2013


I think it is the job of the American government to primarily look after American (and to an extent allies) lives.

In a thread titled: "NATO airstrikes kill 12 children in Kunar, Afghanistan"

What bloody point are you making?
posted by Trochanter at 6:40 PM on April 22, 2013


Try reading the thread. He was responding to the previous posters, not the the title. Or you can do a little more outrage chest thumping, whatever.
posted by spaltavian at 6:54 PM on April 22, 2013


Thanks friend!
posted by Trochanter at 6:57 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The American way of life is not negotiable." George H. W. Bush
posted by lordaych at 7:15 PM on April 22, 2013


"The American way of life is not negotiable." George H. W. Bush

Heh. Don'tcha just *love* it when some crazy rich son of some elite, 1-percenter family at the epicenter of power and privilege says something about 'the American way of life'? Surely he speaks for *all* of us, yes, of course! Right down to the mother in line at the soup kitchen and the laid-off factory worker who just got evicted and is wondering exactly where he's going to sleep tonight.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:25 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also cognitive dissonance and doublethink thrive in the crevices of complex re-interpretation, re-contextualization, etc. I think it's ultimately a necessary blowoff valve that allows the ignorant to quickly embrace any thought that feels comfortable at the time even if you just got them to express the opposite, and gives the intellectual breathing room to craft together a narrative that allows an objectionable principle to become normalized. Ultimately we all use our perspective, knowledge, beliefs, preconceptions, and raw emotion in varying proportions to sign off on "truth" before we trust any information. But context sets us free from the realization that we live as hypocrites perhaps by necessity, but with hope that the mere awareness of such gives us the potential to convert other unwashed heathens to the world of feeling bad and overwhelmed and ashamed unless you participate in entertaining, stimulating yet numbing trappings of the machine. I'm trying to switch from surfing all night to writing music.
posted by lordaych at 7:26 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


An ethical belief system is like a penis - it's great to have, and you're entitled to be proud of it, but I'd appreciate if you didn't wave yours in other people's faces without their explicit consent.

This is one of the grossest statements I've ever seen on metafilter.
posted by empath at 7:28 PM on April 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


Bonus points for being kinda gross on both the literal and metaphorical axes.
posted by Justinian at 9:44 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


[A few comments deleted. Gross metaphor aside, this needs to not become a discussion about any particular person in the thread; everyone can help in that. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:40 PM on April 22, 2013


I don't find it absurd or silly to consider the value of love and empathy when looking for solutions to other forms of violence, such as violence in my neighbourhood, murder, bullying, spousal assault, rape, etc.

So why is war any different?

Perhaps it sounds trite to talk of "love" when hearing it in pop songs equating love and peace, but I don't think love and compassion and empathy are actually absurd suggestions in a discussion about ending either war or terrorism.
posted by chapps at 10:50 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Love for your fellow man is a core concept in Christianity, and three quarters of Americans (and 100% of the political class) self-identify as Christians, so I think it's quite relevant to the discussion.
posted by Harald74 at 10:53 PM on April 22, 2013


Has it been mentioned that the choices available to the USA regarding combatting terrorism was not simply "ground troops or drones", but a whole slew of different options from America's rather large and expensive toolkit for diplomacy and security. When hit by a major terrorist attack, you don't have to invade anywhere. Even doing nothing is an option, which i recognize would not be politically possible domestically, but I can't help thinking that overall the world would be in better shape today if that would have been the line the US chose.

They could also have chosen to act diplomatically, even stoop to bribing "target nation" officials. International law enforcment cooperation was also an option. Sending in small spec ops teams backed by air power as well. Limited raids with conventional military forces could have been tried. Or a combination of the beforementioned.

In short, two major ground invations followed by a campaign longer than WW II was perhaps not the best or even only option. So when discussing the "drone strikes save soldier lives" concept, remember that the US doesn't have to deploy troops to these places.
posted by Harald74 at 11:13 PM on April 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Taliban responsible for 77% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, U.N. says

Talk of peace with Pakistan Taliban angers victims
Since 9/11, about 30,000 civilians and 4,000 soldiers have died in terrorist attacks in Pakistan
Taliban and civilian casualties – losing a media war?
If the Taliban got into the business of admitting mistakes, investigating, apologising, compensating, if they started liaising with eg UN, Red Cross and other recognised Afghan or international institutions on the welfare of civilians they might improve their media image. And they might start realising that some of their more extreme actions were working against them. Then, they might actually slowly have moved towards a more coherent, approachable and, crucially, politically-recognisable movement.
I think the international community should want to see Afghanistan and all countries in a position to succeed - meaning they have security, a stable government, civil rights, competent military and police, an education system, and some sort of ability to compete in the global economy and engage in free trade, blah, blah. Recent history seems to indicate this results in a decline in violent conflict overall. And this would make it difficult for terrorists to find a safe place to exist. Unfortunately, some of these goals seem to be in direct conflict with the wishes of the Taliban and possibly a large percentage of the population of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would hope the primary intention of drone strikes is to prevent the Taliban from taking back control of most of Afghanistan. I would also hope the U.S. did not know they were targeting 13 civilians with this strike. If Taliban commanders are using children as human shields that complicates things. At a minimum, it seems to me Afghan leadership should have a veto on any drone strike.

Pakistani youth 'cool on democracy'
More Pakistani youth would prefer Islamic law or military rule than democracy, a survey suggests.
[...]
Approval ratings for the military were about 70% compared with just 13% for the government.
[...]
The greatest concern for most was rising prices, not terrorism: Almost 70% said they were worse off now than five years ago.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:26 PM on April 22, 2013


Approval ratings for the military were about 70% compared with just 13% for the government.
Eerily similar to the situation in the US:

Gallup.com: Congress Approval Holding Steady at 15%

Gallup.com: Americans Most Satisfied With Military, Least With Economy (74% satisfied with the nation's military strength and preparedness)
posted by Harald74 at 11:35 PM on April 22, 2013


4. Domino theory was the accepted theory and Asia was a hot breeding ground for communism.

It might have been stopped if we'd have just stayed buddies with Ho Chi Minh and Giap. They sought independence after the war against Japan and if the US had applied sufficient pressure to France then maybe the Vietnam conflict would never have happened.
posted by longbaugh at 12:13 AM on April 23, 2013


To be clear, I think an Afghan life is worth exactly the same as an American life. However, I think it is the job of the American government to primarily look after American (and to an extent allies) lives.

But is it the job of the American government to kill lots of innocent foreign people in the process of looking after American (etc.) lives?

I like the simple idea that you should treat civilians abroad like you treat civilians at home. When attempting to stop a crime, you accept that you might occasionally kill some civilians by accident, but you know you must try very hard not to and that you must sometimes let the bad guy get away rather than kill civilians. The US military killing a terrorist's family in Afghanistan should be as undesirable and unacceptable as a US police force killing a murderer's family in the US. You don't blow up everyone in the house just to get one bad guy.
posted by pracowity at 12:34 AM on April 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Of course in spite of all the horrors in Vietnam war. We don't have a bunch of Vietnamese terrorists calling for our annihilation, training bombers or making attacks on us. In fact Vietnam and the US are now on pretty good terms. I hear at become quite the tourist destination.
posted by humanfont at 5:27 AM on April 23, 2013


The Vietnamese did in fact engage in terrorism against us troops, but stopped after we left Vietnam. Why would they keep fighting a war after they won it?
posted by empath at 5:56 AM on April 23, 2013


My apologies for the gross metaphor. It actually wasn't mine - I basically just took the "Religion is like a penis" viral meme that's going around and simply adapted it, substituting "ethical belief system" for "religion." I find it interesting (and slightly hypocritical) how people who will fight tooth and nail to avoid other people shoving religion down their throats nevertheless feel completely comfortable forcing their own ethical belief systems on other people.

In any case, my overall point is that it's ridiculous to debate the right and wrong of different courses of action when you don't have any measurement metrics to be able to weigh them properly. Does anybody have any data on the average number of American deaths that a Taliban commander of that rank is indirectly responsible for over the course of their career? Does anybody know the average number of Afghans radicalized for each innocent Afghan killed? Has anybody even tried to calculate these numbers? How do you ever expect to reach an objective resolution about the right and wrong course of action if you're arguing about entirely subjective concepts like "The Right Thing To Do" instead of gathering hard data?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:50 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


None of those numbers are the relevant metrics for ethical decisions. Numbers and metrics in general don't apply very well to ethics, though people have tried to incorporate them into utilitarian approaches at times. But however much it maybe should, it seems the human response to trajedy does not scale linearly with the number of victims, so ethical calculus is more like comparing infinities.

You act like you're the first person to ever consider the question of how to make an ethical decision in the absense of perfect information, or when loyalty to your own family and nation, or self-preservation, must be weighed against the value of human life in general. Just because it's a hard problem doesn't mean you get to escape the necessity of making these decisions, or the consequences of having made them. You must do the best you can even knowing that it may be impossible to know for sure that you're doing the right thing, if there even is a right thing.

Fortunately a lot of other human beings over the years have thought a lot harder than you apparently have about these questions, and have come up with some approaches to thinking about this stuff that at least have the virtue of some degree of self-consistency.

You may think you don't have an ethical system, but the choice to put self-preservation first, or, as it seems you actually advocate, putting your own family/tribe/nation ahead of both self and un-affiliated strangers, are actually ethical choices. You do have an ethical system too, but since you haven't thought very hard about it, it's probably full of contraditions, and is likely to lead you to do things that most other humans will condemn and hate you for, if you actually get put in a position to act on these "survival principles" of yours. I very much hope, for your sake and everyone else's, that you never are.
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:04 AM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


tragedy, not trajedy
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:16 AM on April 23, 2013


How do you ever expect to reach an objective resolution about the right and wrong course of action if you're arguing about entirely subjective concepts like "The Right Thing To Do" instead of gathering hard data?

"Is the bombing campaign in South Asia
a success, or a stain on our soul?
You may call it 'atrocious' or 'murder' -
I'll decide when I've finished my poll."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:24 AM on April 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Vietnamese did in fact engage in terrorism against us troops, but stopped after we left Vietnam. Why would they keep fighting a war after they won it?

Not to split hairs, but fighting on a battlefield is not "terrorism", although it can be argued that attacking noncombatants most certainly is. On the other hand, Viet Cong sympathizers never underwent training in the Iron Triangle, jumped on a flight to the US, and set off bombs in a public space as part of some muddled war against the imperialists.

While I think the million and change people the US killed in Indochina over ten years is horrible and in many ways a crime, you have to think that the people living in South Vietnam did not particularly want to come under the rule of a Stalinist dictatorship. Look at how many people fled from the advance of Northern troops in 1975, and fled on boats for the US fleet. I suppose there were practical reasons (fear of reprisals) but I'm not sure, given the historical north/south dynamic in Vietnam (for example, the South Vietnam leadership was dominated by many "hard men" from the North), southerners were not at all enthusiastic about reuniting with their brothers in the north.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:03 AM on April 23, 2013


You may think you don't have an ethical system, but the choice to put self-preservation first, or, as it seems you actually advocate, putting your own family/tribe/nation ahead of both self and un-affiliated strangers, are actually ethical choices. You do have an ethical system too, but since you haven't thought very hard about it, it's probably full of contraditions, and is likely to lead you to do things that most other humans will condemn and hate you for, if you actually get put in a position to act on these "survival principles" of yours. I very much hope, for your sake and everyone else's, that you never are.

I never said I didn't have an ethical system. Obviously I have one, and it's pretty simple and easy to remember: "People I care about ought to be helped, and people I hate ought to be harmed." If I don't have any strong feelings either way, I try to assume a vaguely positive disposition and err on the side of helping people. You may not like that ethical system, but there's certainly no contradictions in it.

The important thing about my ethical system though is that I don't try to force others to abide by it, and consequently I resent when others try to force their own ethical systems on me. If you want to do some "brotherhood and love for all things" schtick, that's entirely your business, but it's arrogant of you to presume that your way is the right way and mine is wrong. My point (as it relates to this thread) is that it's impossible to ever reach complete agreement on ethical conduct because of this innate subjectivity, so when we're discussing national policy (such as bombing other countries), we ought to leave our individual ethical systems at the door, and focus on the practical goals everyone can agree on. I presume that the main thing we are in agreement on is that it's important to minimize the total number of casualties, right? Or am I off-base here?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:31 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I presume that the main thing we can agree on is that it's important to minimize the total number of casualties, right? Or am I off-base here?


"Know my system has no contradictions;
your compunctions can get off my lawn.
We must try not to kill anybody,
but the killing must surely go on."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:36 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


[I strongly suggest that further discussion of users' personal worldviews take place over email unless they are directly related to the topic at hand.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:38 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Inside America's Dirty Wars

There's a feeling, a sentiment that the movement to drone strikes represents a new phase in the American way of war. Tied in the SF teams, smaller, more bases and a shift in fleet deployments. I think that this is not the case, and I think it's a return to the "small wars" that have traditionally been overlooked in US history. The only difference is the technology we use, and the speed and ubiquity of reporting.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:15 AM on April 23, 2013


After U.S. Troops Leave, Armed Drones Will Patrol Afghanistan’s Skies
posted by homunculus at 1:54 PM on April 23, 2013


The Vietnamese did in fact engage in terrorism against us troops, but stopped after we left Vietnam. Why would they keep fighting a war after they won it?

The suggestion was that the horrors of Afghanistan would follow us to the US for generations. My point is that this did not happen in Vietnam. The suggestion that there would be generations long enmity does not seem to matchup to historic precedent.
posted by humanfont at 2:03 PM on April 23, 2013


The worldview conversation is relevant IMO, but if we're going to deconstruct that far I don't see where valuing life or minimizing casualties come to play. Rather, we deconstruct our house and fall in the sewer.
posted by lordaych at 4:49 PM on April 23, 2013


Drone Strikes: Misunderstanding Asymmetry
posted by homunculus at 8:21 PM on April 23, 2013


Another one from Wired's Danger Room:

Yemeni Tells Senators About ‘Fear and Terror’ Caused by U.S. Drones
posted by Harald74 at 12:20 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


wolfdreams01: The important thing about my ethical system though is that I don't try to force others to abide by it, and consequently I resent when others try to force their own ethical systems on me.

Look, when your ethical system has you killing innocent people, then we absolutely must intervene. We must. You are wrong to want those people dead, and we are right to stop you from killing them.

Your opinion is pretty much irrelevant.
posted by Malor at 9:43 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


As Obama Shuns Hearing, Yemeni Says U.S. Drone War Terrifying Civilians, Empowering Militants

The World Is a Battlefield: Jeremy Scahill on "Dirty Wars" and Obama’s Expanding Drone Attacks
posted by homunculus at 9:44 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not like, after all, something you're doing in the privacy of your own home. There, you have a strong expectation that we need to butt the fuck out of how you run your life and what you believe.

But when your beliefs involve people's actual deaths, you get no space whatsoever.
posted by Malor at 9:45 AM on April 24, 2013


Look, when your ethical system has you killing innocent people, then we absolutely must intervene. We must. You are wrong to want those people dead, and we are right to stop you from killing them.

Who said I wanted innocent people dead? I have no grudge against the Afghan people in general: the only people I want dead are the terrorists. I'm not sure what you're talking about, but in your effort to straw-man me, you've strayed pretty far from my premise, and attributed some pretty outlandish statements to me that I never said. Look, innocent people can get killed either way in this situation. They get killed if you abort the attack and leave the terrorist alive to minimize collateral damage to Afghans, because then he can plan future attacks against American civilians. (I assume that the lives of American civilians matter to you also, right? You are factoring them into your "innocent victim" total, correct? Because sometimes it doesn't seem that way to me.) On the other hand, if you give the green light to take out the terrorist, you risk innocent Afghans getting killed as happened here.

There are numerous options between the extremes of "leave the terrorists alone" and "wipe them out no matter the cost" but none of them substantially minimize the risk. For example, if you use Afghan police to attempt to take out the terrorist, you have a much lower chance of collateral damage to innocent Afghans but a much higher chance that the terrorist will be tipped off by people within their (highly corrupt) police force and get away.

My frustration here is that instead of trying to use factual data to chart a course of action which minimizes innocent deaths (both Afghan and American), we have lots of people on this thread babbling about "right" and "wrong" as if that somehow matters to the dead. Good intentions like yours don't save lives at all, they just confuse the issue by introducing highly charged emotional nonsense into a situation where it does not belong. Look at it this way: if you were going to have surgery for a risky medical procedure, would you want an emotionally cold surgeon who has studied past surgeries and has carefully calculated the odds of success of any given procedure in order to pick the option that minimizes risk to his patient? Or would you prefer a deeply empathetic surgeon who doesn't calculate risk, but cares about you deeply and worries about your health? Because this "sharing and caring" tripe is most definitely the latter.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:40 AM on April 24, 2013


wolfdreams01 in all this you are making the big assumption that this Afghan leader who probably cannot identify Idaho on a map let alone Boston is wanting to kill American civilians.
The Afghans, just about all of them want America and their allied forces to fuck off home and leave them to their internal tribal power squabbles in Afghanistan and in the Pastun tribal homelands which cross over into Pakistan
I would seriously question that those labelled Terrorists are wanting to actually invade America and are thus not terrorists in the traditional sense. Mr Bush and his sucessor Mr Obama are involved in a war without end because there is no clear stated objective. There seem to be however several unstated objectives and all this is being done with US taxpayers money and without the consent of the American people.
posted by adamvasco at 12:15 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Afghans, just about all of them want America and their allied forces to fuck off home and leave them to their internal tribal power squabbles in Afghanistan and in the Pastun tribal homelands which cross over into Pakistan

citation needed.


Afghanistan War: Afghans Optimistic About Future, Poll Finds
Most Afghans believe their country is headed in the right direction but still worry about the lack of security resulting from the 11-year war, a public opinion survey by a major international nonprofit group said Wednesday.

The poll by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation also found that an overwhelming majority of Afghans back the government's efforts to negotiate and reconcile with armed insurgent groups.
[...]
Only 30 percent of respondents in the poll expressed sympathy for the insurgents, while nearly two-thirds said they did not support them.
[...]
Despite their opposition to the Taliban, many respondents also said they were also afraid of the troops from the U.S.-led NATO coalition and government's security forces. Nearly three-quarters said they felt fear when meeting international troops, while just under half said they had the same reaction when encountering the Afghan army or police.
[...]
However, since the pollsters could not reach some areas of the country because of security concerns, Asia Foundation said those likely to be more pessimistic about the overall direction of the country were probably underrepresented in the survey.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:55 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do not think the Asia Foundation is without considerable bias.
Also the government does not mean the American government and this is telling:
also said they were also afraid of the troops from the U.S.-led NATO coalition
Asia Foundation said those likely to be more pessimistic about the overall direction of the country were probably underrepresented in the survey which is a pretty crap statement with zero back up.
posted by adamvasco at 1:26 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Before the invasion Afghanistan was an unstable state whose government was fought over by a number of armed factions, one of which is the Taliban. Had those factions not been armed and egged on by various outside forces over many decades it might have been a functioning state rather than a basket case ruled over by a bunch of dicks with a medieval reading of the Koran or the current soon-to-be-toppled regime.

It creeps me out every time people whose government has sent an invading force into Afghanistan dubs people who attacks their army as "terrorists" and gets all lachrymose about saving American Lives (aka Consenting Adults In An Army Invading Another Country) while indiscriminately drone striking the their kids . Do you think these goatherders would be setting off pressure cooker bombs in your home town?
posted by Brian Lux at 2:25 PM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I do not think the Asia Foundation is without considerable bias.

Yikes. Very dubious indeed. It seems there have been other opinion polls, but not very recent.

Neither Fact Nor Fiction: The Validity of Opinion Polling in Afghanistan

Hmm, this "Small Wars Journal" seems kind of interesting.

The Pakistani Godfather: The Inter-Services Intelligence and the Afghan Taliban 1994-2010
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:06 PM on April 24, 2013


The U.S. Droned His Village, And The White House Wants to Meet
posted by homunculus at 5:17 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Congratulations on grad school, though.

Thanks!
posted by oneironaut at 5:48 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because Alex can't be right I present the 'Congressional committee says Bush/Obama are war criminals'

The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment is an independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel charged with examining the federal government’s policies and actions related to the capture, detention and treatment of suspected terrorists during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. The project was undertaken with the belief that it was important to provide an account as authoritative and accurate as possible of how the United States treated, and continues to treat, people held in our custody as the nation mobilized to deal with a global terrorist threat.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:39 PM on April 24, 2013


Neither the Constitution Project nor the Detainee Task force are congressional committees. Nor is either chartered by the US Congress.
posted by humanfont at 8:21 PM on April 24, 2013


George W. Bush Is 'Very Comfortable' With His Decision to Invade Iraq
posted by homunculus at 9:04 PM on April 24, 2013


George W. Bush Is 'Very Comfortable' With His Decision to Invade Iraq

Oh, great. Thanks, homunculus. Now I'll never get this vomit off my keyboard.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:20 AM on April 25, 2013


Golden Eternity thanks for reminding me about The Small Wars Journal, I should check it more often. Also of interest is The Long War Journal which recently updated covert US air campaign in Pakistan and covert US air campaign in Yemen.
Mefi has discussed ISI before most notably here and here.
In my mind one of the best indepth writers on Af/Pak for insight and consistancy is the Pakistani writer and journalist Ahmed Rashid.
posted by adamvasco at 4:31 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


WIRED: Welcome To The Age Of Big Drone Data
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:51 AM on April 25, 2013


With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan

First They Look At The Purse
posted by homunculus at 12:34 PM on April 29, 2013


Yemeni activist: U.S. strikes “kerosene for insurgency”. At Capitol Hill hearing on lethal drone killings, testimonies urge American accountability, legal precision
posted by homunculus at 9:27 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Will New Pakistani Government Ban US Drone Strikes in Light of Court Ruling?
posted by homunculus at 3:09 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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