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Friday, February 22, 2013

To drone or not to drone isn't the question

Paddy Ashdown, a highly respected British politician whose philosophy lies somewhere between Teddy Kennedy and Leon Trotsky, wrote an op-ed piece in The Times recently that he sees nothing wrong with the use of drones to suppress terrorism. Note that Ashdown is a former Royal Marine.

I agree with him. Given that a state of de facto war exists between the U.S. and certain terrorist organizations, I see the use of drones as justified within that context. Drones are simply a delivery device for bombs, substituting for smart bombs that must be launched from aircraft whose pilots would be at risk in an attack mission. Drones and smart bombs reduce collateral damage in war, and that's good.

Charles Krauthammer, whose politics are not easily classified, subsequently wrote a column that it's alright for the U.S. to send drones after U.S. citizens who collaborate with terrorist groups. I agree with him too, within the context that a de facto state of war exists between the U.S. and those terrorist groups. Assassination of U.S. citizens who are at war with us is justified and has plenty of precedent, although I favor a due process beyond what's currently used as I wrote fourteen months ago.

But the more fundamental question obscured by the discussion of drones is whether this de facto state of war, having existed for decades now, is getting us anywhere. The war has punished some of those who perpetrated terrorist attacks, and it has made it more difficult for terrorist attacks to be perpetrated. On the other hand, the war has cost hundreds of thousands of lives -- mostly civilian -- and it has cumulatively cost the U.S. trillions of dollars that are badly needed elsewhere. Moreover, the war is hardening the hearts of an entire generation in the Middle East. We may have to continue this war indefinitely unless we revisit our strategy. Whether one's perspective is common sense, humanistic ethics, or religious love of neighbor, the prospect of another 50 years at war with part of the Islamic world is totally unacceptable.