Philosophy, drone strikes, and conditional arguments

by Chris Bertram on August 8, 2012

There’s an article over at Al Jazeera by historian Mark LeVine about Bradley Strawser, the philosopher who has been making a stir with his arguments that drone warfare might be morally permissible, or even obligatory. There’s quite a lot in what LeVine says that’s going to grate with philosophers. I reacted to

“Most philosophers today accept the argument by the seminal inter-war philosopher Walter Benjamin that violence cannot be understood or judged except “in its relation to law and justice”.

Really? Has he done a survey? And what he says about Kant, well …

But what LeVine observes about Strawser’s conditional arguments is surely disturbing. Strawser claims that IF drones reduce civilian casualties compared to other means THEN the use of drones is justified (I’m simplifying). Philosophers will typically then say that the argument is merely conditional, and that therefore, if the antecedent is false then the conclusion doesn’t follow. Clearly that’s right. But does it get us off the hook in a world of propaganda, mass media, think tanks and the like? In the paper Levine links to, the principal evidence for the truth of the antecedent is a brochure from an Israeli arms manufacturer. And then there’s the matter of counting civilian casualties accurately, in a world in which the Obama adminstration has simply decreed that the dead males killed by drones are “bad guys”. Of course this kind problem, involving the escape of the argument from the seminar room into the wider world, isn’t limited to just war theory. So, for example, I’ve heard it argued by philosophers that IF sweatshops improve opportunities for poor people in poor countries THEN they are on-balance justified: so people shouldn’t campaign against sweatshop labour. This then gets supplemented with “evidence” that the antecedent is true, but by this time the casual listener has been inclined by the rhetoric to accept the conclusion. (That’s particularly likely if the listener, be they naval academy cadet or visitor to libertarian website is already ideologically predisposed to believe that the antecedent is true.) But where’s the evidence from? From Cato? From the AEI? From some “free-market” economist? As philosophers we claim innocence. “I wasn’t saying that drone strikes (or sweatshops) are justified, I was merely saying that IF they meet condition X, THEN they’re justified. My job is to assess the arguments, someone else can supply the facts.” That leaves me feeling uneasy.

ADDENDUM: it would be an interesting psychological experiment (which, for all I know someone has done) to test whether people who are exposed to conditional arguments in the total absence of evidence for the truth of the antecedent become more inclined to believe the consequent, perhaps especially for cases where the antecedent is some morally dubious policy. So, for example, are people exposed to the conditional “IF increased inequality ends up making the poorest better off THEN increased inequality is justified” more likely to believe that increased inequality is justified, even when no evidence that increased inequality benefits the poorest is presented?

{ 184 comments }

1

actio 08.08.12 at 7:36 am

The worst conditional in the world: IF animals where only treated and killed “humanely” THEN it would be permissible to eat animal products.

2

Marc 08.08.12 at 7:40 am

Isn’t the larger question whether force is justified? It certainly does appear that a majority of the objections to drones are really objections to the wars that they’re used in.

If you accept that, say, the Afghanistan war is justified, and that a given target is a legitimate military target, then I don’t see the problem with asserting that the tactic with the fewest civilian deaths is the one that should be preferred. If you don’t accept either of these things, any deaths are unjustified. So perhaps the role of philosophers might be to stress looking at the right questions?

3

otolaro 08.08.12 at 7:56 am

I think that a an honest Rawlsian would kill the Taliban. Drones or on-site assassination is small beer. One is not going to develop the two moral powers with those guys around, and one cannot be free with their crimping of the first p of j.

4

Phil 08.08.12 at 8:18 am

Nice to see somebody’s reading Benjamin. But considering that he was arguing in favour of (violent) soc1alist revolution – specifically, maintaining that revolutionary violence would be just, unlike any violence in defence of the status quo – the cite doesn’t seem particularly relevant.

There seem to be two arguments in that article, one more vacuous than the other – and they both proceed by bracketing the hard questions. One says

If (the justice of a war & its conduct is given by Just War theory)
then
If (a given war passes the ‘jus ad bellum’ and ‘jus in bello’ tests)
then
there are no reasons not to try to reduce casualties among the aggressors, and good utilitarian reasons to do so

The other’s even worse:

If (the justice of a war is given by the justice of its cause)
then
if (you are fighting in a just cause)
then
it’s a moral duty to try to reduce casualties among the aggressors, as well as there being good utilitarian reasons to do so

I guess a lot of philosophical reasoning works by reasoning backward from an intuition, but it seems particularly blatant in this case.

5

yabonn 08.08.12 at 8:20 am

New idea : glueing hip-contrarian, just sayin’, war-is-nice philosophers to drones before sending them in the air may be justified it enhance their accuracy.

Just sayin’.

6

Rakesh Bhandari 08.08.12 at 8:43 am

Strawser himself writes in the Guardian: ‘The best empirical evidence suggests that drones are more precise, result in fewer unintended deaths of civilian bystanders, and better protect their operators from risk than other weapons, such as manned aircraft, carrying out similar missions. Other things being equal, then, drones should be used in place of other less accurate and riskier weapons. But they should be used only for morally justified missions, in pursuit of a just cause.

Thus, my claim about drones is entirely conditional: they should be used only if the mission is just. As with all conditional claims, if the antecedent is false, then the entire claim is invalidated. In this case, if the current US policy being carried out by drones is unjust and wrong, then, of course, such drone use is morally wrong, even if it causes less harm than the use of some other weapon would.

Nothing I’ve said, therefore, endorses or supports the US policy of targeted killing. But saying there are significant potential upsides to a weapon when used justly is a far cry from saying there are “no downsides”.’

But of course if the lives of operators are not put at risk in war situations, will this not remove a powerful barrier against the attempt to resolve social problems through military means and make military “solutions” difficult to give up for other kinds of approaches?

There is an important discussion of military technologies such as cyborg insects, telepathic helmets and lethal autonomous robots (to which Strawser seems to be opposed) in Allenby and Sarewitz’s Techno-Human Condition.

7

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa 08.08.12 at 8:51 am

On the plausible assumptions that the antecedent is correctly assigned non-zero probability and the conditional was not already known, learning a conditional, even with no evidence of the antecedent, ought rationally to increase the credence in the consequent.

8

Chris Bertram 08.08.12 at 8:59 am

Rakesh: you might want to look at his paper to see what that “best empirical evidence” consists of.

9

GiT 08.08.12 at 9:04 am

Do we really need a philosopher to apply the rather insipid truism that “if doing X is better than what we’re doing now (Y), doing X instead of Y is justified”? (In other news, pareto improvements don’t make anyone worse off!)

It does present a rather pat rhetorical formula, “If X is good (or the best, or better than the possible alternatives, or is the pareto optimum, &etc), then X is justified.” This way you never actually have to say that something is good, just that if it were good, “it really would be good, wouldn’t it?”

It seems like the go to opening for anyone playing the contrarian. “Oh ho, you think abortions are bad? But what if abortions prevented crime?” “Oh ho, you think smoking is bad? But what if smoking reduced spending on end of life care?” “Oh ho you think local food is more energy efficient? But what if long distance imports are more efficient?” “Oh ho you think sweatshops are bad? But what if sweatshop work is better than agricultural work?”

In other words, “if the facts changed about what was good and what was bad, wouldn’t you change your mind about what was good and what was bad?”

This exercise seems useful if you’re actualy elaborating various factors by which we might evaluate a policy. “Ok, we think X is better than Y. But what does it mean for X to be better than Y? Well, it means A, B, & C. Ergo, if we’re wrong about A or B or C…”

But identifying the use also, perhaps, identifies the misuse: the conditional here is meant to frame the conditions which make X better than Y. So it’s an attempt to establish evaluative criteria.

Tacitly we have a proposition: X should be evaluated against Y on the basis of A, B, & C.

So I think Marc is on to something when he says the real issue is asking the right questions. The conditional here is an attempt to define the field of battle.

So drone strikes are about what produces more or less casualties, not about the process by which drone strikes are authorized or casualties are counted.

10

Chris Bertram 08.08.12 at 9:05 am

Jonathan, what hangs on your use of the words “learning” and “known” there? If I simply expose someone to the conditional

“IF eating lentils decreases the risk of cancer THEN you should eat lentils”

and some other person to the conditional

“IF eating lentils increases the risk of cancer THEN you should avoid lentils”

I take it it would be irrational for each of them to increase their degree of belief in the consequent.

11

John Quiggin 08.08.12 at 9:11 am

I haven’t followed the debate closely, but it seems to me that there is an unstated premise, namely “the availability of drones won’t affect the frequency of war”. Empirically, it seems clear this is false.

12

Hidari 08.08.12 at 10:19 am

This is one of these philosophical arguments that many academics seem to get terribly het up about for reasons that escape me (the ‘Collateral Murder’ video was another).

But isn’t the point made by Rakesh Bhandari the correct one? The key question is (surely): should the United States be killing anyone in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places? If the answer to that question is ‘no’, then whether or not the US should be not killing them with drones or not killing them with bombs dropped via planes is irrelevant. And if ‘yes’ then, obviously the US is under some kind of moral pressure to reduce civilian deaths (the question of whether or not drones do this is purely a scientific/empirical one, although, in any case, it’s all irrelevant because, of course, the US chooses to use drones for very different reasons than ‘humanitarian’ ones).

Obviously, I know that Bradley Strawser is full of shit (his career choices tell me that, as does his choice to write for the oxymoronic Journal of ‘Military Ethics’ (sic).). But if one takes his arguments seriously (and perhaps one shouldn’t) the legality of the American attacks on Yemen, Afghanistan etc. are the key issue. All the rest is just philosopher’s talk: scholasticism run wild.

13

Phil 08.08.12 at 10:42 am

The key question is (surely): should the United States be killing anyone in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places? If the answer to that question is ‘no’, then whether or not the US should be not killing them with drones or not killing them with bombs dropped via planes is irrelevant. And if ‘yes’ then, obviously the US is under some kind of moral pressure to reduce civilian deaths

It’s worse than that – Strawser assumes the war is just, assumes that drones can reduce civilian casualties and then asks the non-question of whether, these things being the case, the fact that drones also reduce US military casualties should lead to their being used.

14

Peter T 08.08.12 at 11:28 am

There’s another assumption here too: that war is about killing your enemies. That is certainly part of it, but war is about using violence (among other things) to obtain some desired relationship with the other party (cf Clauswitz). Some kinds of violence make it more difficult to achieve your goal. Since all drones (like planes) can do is kill, their use leads to more and more reliance on killing to achieve one’s aims, at the expense both of non-violent methods and other forms of violence. in short, their use redefines war in ways that make them harder to end.

15

Derek Bowman 08.08.12 at 11:51 am

I think John Quiggin gets it exactly right above: Under the ‘other things equal’ clause, the arguments presume that the frequency of wars (and, I think, something like the frequency of planned strikes) will be unaffected by the use of drones. I think this is a feature of the broader assumed background into which the conditional fits: that the actors we’re imagining engaging in drone attacks are largely motivated by humanitarian or liberatory aims, so that it would be good if they were able to successfully pursue more wars. Thus it is even more deeply conditional and even less applicable to actual drone campaigns.

I also think it’s a mistake to dismiss as irrelevant arguments against drones that would be arguments against a particular war (or any war). By starting with the assumption that drone strikes are immoral and learning that if they are immoral this whole war is immoral (or, perhaps, all war is immoral), one may indeed be led to reject that initial assumption in the face of overwhelming evidence for the justifiability of the war. But in the absence of such evidence, such an inquiry into the morality of drone strikes may be one’s way of finding out that the whole war (or the whole business of war) is morally unjustifiable.

I think the latter sort of inquiry is precisely what makes considering the morality of drone strikes, even under very ideal assumptions, a valuable philosophical enterprise. We see what it would take for drone strikes to be justified and then we see how far our actual practice deviates from that. But since we little no control over how those arguments find their way out of the seminar room and into the newspapers, how do we responsibly engage in those forms of inquiry?

16

tomslee 08.08.12 at 11:51 am

One way in which this argument is useful to warmongers, which I don’t think has been called out yet, is that it relocates the “real issue”.

The argument that IF drones reduce civilian casualties compared to other means THEN the use of drones is justified, can be an effective tool against “Stop drones” campaigns because it relocates the “real” problem. Obviously (one might say), drones are not the real problem because there exist possible worlds in which they are just fine and dandy. Your real problem is a technical one, of ensuring that they reduce civilian casualties (so shut up and go home and let us carry on building and using drones).

Many years ago I heard a similar case about cruise missiles, in a very large lecture theatre (yes, by a philosopher) who argued that cruise missiles, being slow, could be used as an effective deterrent. Not that they were, of course. But therefore they were not the “real problem”, and campaigns against cruise missiles “missed the point”.

Apologies for a “plethora” of “quotes”.

17

Plucky Underdog 08.08.12 at 12:01 pm

CB at 9:05 – sketch the thing out as a probabilistic graphical model. The note at the end of the OP contrasts the cases of “connection + affirmed antecedent” and “no connection”. (“Connection” can be causal, in probability, or something else). Now you’ve introduced a third possibility — “connection + negated antecedent”. That’s how it reads to this non-sophyphiler, anyway.

18

rea 08.08.12 at 12:27 pm

there is an unstated premise, namely “the availability of drones won’t affect the frequency of war”. Empirically, it seems clear this is false.

“It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise we would grow too fond of it.”–Robert E. Lee.

You seem to be arguing that we ought not to do things that make war less terrrible, because then we’ll fight more wars. I’m not sure it works that way. The decision to go to war is generally made for concrete reasons that have little to do with the prospect of mass casualties, particularly mass casualties suffered by the other side, or by bystanders. The Union disaster at Fredricksburg prompted Lee to make the remark I quoted, but did not cause him to rethink the idea of secession. The pospect of another couple of hundred thousand Iraqi civilians dead would not have deterred the invasion of Iraq.

19

George Berger 08.08.12 at 12:32 pm

I think that your use of the phrase ‘bad guys’ is correct but can mislead some readers. If I understand some articles on drones that I have read, this predicate can be applied posthumously, to anyone who for any reason was in some designated area of the person under attack. If I’m right, the issue of collateral damage (aka civilian casualties) becomes a non-issue, by a linguistic trick.

20

Ray 08.08.12 at 12:35 pm

I haven’t followed the debate closely, but it seems to me that there is an unstated premise, namely “the availability of drones won’t affect the frequency of war”

Not just war, but even particular missions.
“If we sent a regular plane out to kill the target, we might kill 20 civilians too. This way, we only kill 10 civilians too. Therefore, we must send out as many drones as possible!”

Civilians. Lol.

21

Hidari 08.08.12 at 12:43 pm

CF the ‘ “the availability of drones won’t affect the frequency of war”. Empirically, it seems clear this is false.’

It is false, but not (of course) because of the hypothesis that drones reduce the number of Pakistani civilian deaths, but because of the fact that drones reduce the numbers of American military deaths.

Incidentally, despite what some commentators would appear to imply, the issue of Just War Theory is irrelevant to the (main thrust of) the argument about drone use. The United States has not declared war on Pakistan (or Yemen). Neither have these countries declared war on the United States. There is no “war” going on. This is one country bombing people in another country to further unclearly defined foreign policy objectives. Now you might approve of that, or disapprove of that, or whatever, but that’s what’s going on. Not ‘war’.

22

JW Mason 08.08.12 at 12:45 pm

Of course anything can be justified on the grounds that it leads to better outcomes than some alternative; and of course our rulers always always claim to be pursuing the best outcomes. The problem, from our point of view, is that it’s hard to monitor them. So we insist on formal rules, even when it would be simpler just to let them do whatever they decide is right.

Every act of war is justified on the grounds that it will save lives. Incinerating a hundred thousand civilians is a way to save more lives, in the minds of the men who order it. (Happy Hiroshima Day, y’all.) If a belief that some action will lead to a better outcome is sufficient to justify it, then we don’t need political philosophy, or law. The reason we debate this stuff in the first place is because Judge Dredd won’t do. We impose arbitrary limit on the sue of force because we don’t trust the people using it. But as others have said, if you assume that the US military only ever engages in just wars, then of course there’s no reason not to let them do so with whatever tools they think best.

23

Leigh Caldwell 08.08.12 at 12:46 pm

it would be an interesting psychological experiment (which, for all I know someone has done) to test whether people who are exposed to conditional arguments in the total absence of evidence for the truth of the antecedent become more inclined to believe the consequent

This has almost certainly been done and IF it has been done, THEN the proposition is, as you suspect, very likely to be true. Oh wait…

Seriously though, there is a whole subfield of psychology devoted to examining how people reason (see eg the International Conference on Thinking 2012 which just took place). If I can find a relevant paper I’ll post it here.

24

Stuart Armstrong 08.08.12 at 12:49 pm

>it would be an interesting psychological experiment (which, for all I know someone has done) to test whether people who are exposed to conditional arguments in the total absence of evidence for the truth of the antecedent become more inclined to believe the consequent

Bayesianly, unless you are certain that the antecedent is entirely false, this should increase your belief in the consequent.

Though that theoretical point has little relevance to how actual humans with limited processing power should (and do) behave.

25

bianca steele 08.08.12 at 1:29 pm

What’s going on, though? Is it a linguistic thing where some people have acquired a different definition of “if,” somehow? IOW, is it:

1) If sweatshops improve opportunities for poor people, then they are justified.

The preceding statement includes the statement, “Sweatshops improve opportunities for poor people.”

Therefore, sweatshops improve opportunities for poor people. (More generally, statements “if X then Y” are rhetorically clever ways of asserting X.)

or 2) Sweatshops improve opportunities for poor people.

If sweatshops improve opportunities for poor people, then they are justified.

My argument is entirely conditional.

Therefore, even if “sweatshops improve opportunities for poor people” turns out to be false, my argument remains valid.

Readers are free to judge the sufficiency of the evidence for “sweatshops improve opportunities for poor people” as I described it.

?

26

Guano 08.08.12 at 1:42 pm

In a world of propaganda, mass media, think tanks and the like, the antecedent will be continually adjusted and changed so that the conclusion remains true.

27

Anarcissie 08.08.12 at 1:58 pm

I thought it was curious that philosophers, in concocting arguments about the real world, were not morally obliged to attempt to ascertain the facts about the real world. The philosopher is not talking about killing unicorns on Neptune; what makes his arguments interesting is that drones actually kill real people.

28

Roger Gathman 08.08.12 at 2:07 pm

No. 6 – I was interested in this part of your paraphrase of Strawser’s argument: “better protect their operators from risk than other weapons.” I would make the argument that this is precisely what is wrong with drones – that they give one side an overwhelming advantage in war. Of course, this statement should be modified: give one side an overwhelming advantage in a certain type of war. In guerilla war, this is actually a disadvantage – counter-insurgency only works if the orthodox military side accepts taking a very high rate of casualties. Partly this is, indeed, to save civilian lives, since one is fighting for “hearts and minds”. Showing a too high regard for the life of your own people and a too low regard for the life of the enemy is exactly the way you lose “hearts and minds”. The whole development of American military technology is at odds with the reality of American military engagement – in as much as the latter is premised on something like winning. However, I have my doubts about that. Certainly it is premised on making American casualties light enough that Americans will go to war carelessly, and that is the truly vile and evil thing about the drones, the bombs, the cruise missiles, and all the rest of it.

This, then, should go into the equation. If using drones both makes it more likely that the drone using side will lose the war, and that it will do so while militarizing populations, then I would think you wouldn’t want to use drones for both practical and moral reasons. And if it makes it easier for a side to go to war and continue to be at war, then I think you wouldn’t want to countenance it for moral reasons. Because making war easy is immoral.

Of course, I take Tolstoy’s point that arguing about justified killing already means you have left the moral heights.

29

Patrick S. O'Donnell 08.08.12 at 2:08 pm

Hidari @ 12 Re: “Obviously, I know that Bradley Strawser is full of shit (his career choices tell me that, as does his choice to write for the oxymoronic Journal of ‘Military Ethics’ (sic).). But if one takes his arguments seriously (and perhaps one shouldn’t) the legality of the American attacks on Yemen, Afghanistan etc. are the key issue. All the rest is just philosopher’s talk: scholasticism run wild.”

Unfortunately, perhaps, I don’t know if Bradley Strawser is full of shit, and I certainly could not make such a determination based on his choice to write for the Journal of Military Ethics. And while my identification with much if not most of Buddhist ethics would probably put me, at least in theory (in practice, I’m sure I can imagine situations in which I, for various reasons, might resort to violence, or understand if not attempt to argue for its justification in a particular circumstance), within the tradition of pacifism (although like Gandhi, there are certain connotations associated with that term that I would not endorse), I do think it is better to live in a world in which there is something called “just war theory” (hence the existence of periodicals like the above journal) with its two branches of jus ad bellum and jus in bello, than a world in which such a thing does not exist. Of course one might plausibly argue that this ethical tradition has had little or no effect on the frequency of war or on its actual conduct. I happen to think that is not true, although I can cite no evidence for that belief and I’m not sure how one could definitively answer that question one way or another.

Given that we train soldiers to fight wars “for us,” it seems better that they learn something about “military ethics” rather than not; in other words, it would not be preferable that their training as soldiers is such that they come to believe that, so to speak, anything goes when it comes to their conduct in a war (this may seem often to be the case but I suspect that it is false). Given the nature of war, it is certainly understandable that some soldiers (or even those that lead them: like General Curtis LeMay in my country’s history of warfare) may come, in the heat of battle or as a result of their soldiering in general, to lose all sense of ethical perspective and self-restraint, to ignore any and all ethical rules or values (let alone those that have arisen in the just war tradition), to succumb to the most deleterious effects of anger and rage, the sorts of behavior we morally and legally categorize under the heading of “war crimes.” It seems clear that this is a generative reason behind the historical emergence of the notion of “soldier’s honor” that, as Larry May reminds us, “is as old as war chronicles going back at least as far as the Iliad:” “Socializing soldiers to view their honor as of paramount importance is the chief way that soldiers are motivated to restrain themselves according to the rules of war.”* May elaborates:

“A sense of honor offsets other emotions, especially anger, that can run so high in way. In ‘On Anger,’ Seneca rails against the sort of anger that he defines as ‘a burning desire to avenge a wrong.’ If States only instill a strict sense of justice—at least that form of justice that is based on what is owed to another because of what he or she has done—the violence of war can spiral out of control as we move from one angry episode of revenge taking to another. If soldiers see their own honor as requiring restraint toward their enemies, now seen as merely fellow soldiers, such a spiral can be broken. Both sides in a war should lead their soldiers to feel honor-bound to restrain themselves and instilling a code of honor for all soldiers enforced by rules of war is one of the best ways to do this.”

For more along these lines, see Martha Nussbaum’s chapter, “Seneca on Anger in Public Life,” which begins with her recounting of a visit to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to lecture on a required cadet ethics course on moral dilemmas, in The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (1994). The work of the philosopher Nancy Sherman is also invaluable for this discussion.

By the way (and this speaks to Hidari’s comment @ 21), while it is true that we’re typically not talking about a war with regard to the current use of drones and targeted killing, the legal language of international and non-international armed conflict as understood in humanitarian international law is relevant, and it is within that ethical and legal context that principles associated with either jus ad bellum or jus in bello are often discussed: see, for instance, the volume Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World, edited by Claire Finkelstein, Jens David Ohlin, and Andrew Altman (2012).

* See May’s War Crimes and Just War (2007).

30

Sandwichman 08.08.12 at 2:27 pm

Walter Benjamin also said (more relevantly):

“War and war only can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system. This is the political formula for the situation. The technological formula may be stated as follows: Only war makes it possible to mobilize all of today’s technological resources while maintaining the property system… If the natural utilization of productive forces is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, in speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilization, and this is found in war. The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces of society. The horrible features of imperialistic warfare are attributable to the discrepancy between the tremendous means of production and their inadequate utilization in the process of production — in other words, to unemployment and the lack of markets.”

31

Josh G. 08.08.12 at 2:30 pm

Philosophers will typically then say that the argument is merely conditional, and that therefore, if the antecedent is false then the conclusion doesn’t follow. Clearly that’s right. But does it get us off the hook in a world of propaganda, mass media, think tanks and the like? […] Of course this kind problem, involving the escape of the argument from the seminar room into the wider world, isn’t limited to just war theory.

One clear example of this, not mentioned in your original post, is the “ticking bomb” hypothetical. Philosophers and lawyers start discussing whether it would be justified to use torture in an imaginary case specifically designed to elicit that response, then export their pre-determined outcome back to the real world, resulting in the horrors of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

32

Patrick S. O'Donnell 08.08.12 at 2:32 pm

CT readers may find the following symposium at Opinio Juris on the material in the Targeted Killings book cited above of interest: http://opiniojuris.org/2012/06/04/targeted-killings-symposium-introduction/

There is also some very helpful material from a handful posts at EJIL: Talk! Put “drones” in its search engine for the list, some of the pieces more directly related to our discussion here than others. http://www.ejiltalk.org/

33

JW Mason 08.08.12 at 2:36 pm

Wow, Sandwichman, that’s a great quote. Time to reread “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” I think…

34

Josh G. 08.08.12 at 2:38 pm

rea @ 18: “The prospect of another couple of hundred thousand Iraqi civilians dead would not have deterred the invasion of Iraq.

No, but the prospect of a couple hundred thousand American servicemen dead might well have deterred it.
This is the fundamental problem with drones: it makes it far too easy and cheap for us to wage aggressive war. Sure, we can look back and say that it would have been great if we had all this whiz-bang technology during WWII and could have avoided the need for mass casualties by GIs storming beaches. But the very fact that so many American lives were at risk lent the whole endeavor an aura of moral seriousness. Vietnam was an unjust war, but the fact that so many American soldiers (many of them draftees) fought and died there meant that American civilians could not treat it as an abstract thing to be ignored: they had to take it seriously as a political issue. The transition from ground troops to air power, and then from manned air power to drones, caused the costs of war to fall further, and the moral seriousness to slip away. We saw the beginnings of this with Grenada, but it was the first Gulf War that really opened the floodgates. These wars taught Americans that we could invade other countries with no draft, no increased taxes, and very little loss of American life. In the Kosovo War, the US didn’t even send any ground troops into Serbia; we just bombed the hell out of them from the air. Now we don’t even have to send live pilots. When killing real people on the other side of the world is as easy as killing enemies in a video game, it becomes far too easy for politicians to pull the trigger.

35

JW Mason 08.08.12 at 2:55 pm

One clear example of this, not mentioned in your original post, is the “ticking bomb” hypothetical.

Jim Henley’s classic post on this is relevant here, too. These arguments always reason backwards from what the authorities want to do anyway.

Of course there’s a reason why the Strawser’s of the world focus on the trivial part of the argument: the hard part is hard! Do drone strikes reduce civilian deaths? Do sweatshops raise incomes for (some) poor people? These are very hard questions that can only be answered with both specialized empirical research and some strong ideas about how societies work. Better to leave them to the experts.

But it’s precisely because the question of whether drone strikes “work” is so hard to answer that we need clear ethical rules about (or better, against) them. A rule that assassination, torture, etc. should only be used when the benefits outweigh the costs (or even only when the benefits really, really outweigh the costs) is not operational, since the people who need to be restrained are precisely those who can claim privileged knowledge of the benefits and costs. (That Israeli press release, etc.) If ethics as such is going to contribute anything here, it can only be hard categorical rules: You may not torture. You may not assassinate.

(One of the specifically objectionable things about drones is that they seem almost designed for a campaign of assassinations. Which, as Hidari notes upthread, is a better description of the context than “war”.)

We’ve had these norms. They’re weaker now than a decade ago, but one wouldn’t want to be to exaggerate how much worse things are now — these norms have always been contested. What I’d like to see from political philosophy is some underpinning for these kinds of categorical prohibitions. Not because there can never be exceptions, but because categorical rules are the only kind that we can enforce on the authorities at all.

One good thing that seems to have been happening, a little, is increasing openness among liberals to the idea that we also need a categorical prohibition on war. I think if we were to take a poll of, say, CT regulars, we’d find far less support for the idea that the military is just another tool which government can use to pursue any desirable objective.

36

JW Mason 08.08.12 at 2:59 pm

Less support than a decade ago, I meant to say.

37

Anderson 08.08.12 at 3:27 pm

his career choices tell me that, as does his choice to write for the oxymoronic Journal of ‘Military Ethics’

That’s just nasty. Do you support expunging ethical behavior from the armed forces? Do you seriously deny that military practice involves ethical considerations? You were just fine with Abu Ghraib, because hey, there’s no such thing as military ethics?

38

Anderson 08.08.12 at 3:29 pm

we also need a categorical prohibition on war

Been there, done that.

39

JW Mason 08.08.12 at 3:35 pm

It was a good idea then too.

40

Rakesh Bhandari 08.08.12 at 3:42 pm

To the extent that drones radically reduce the risks to which their operators are exposed and thus remove powerful barriers to the use of military force, we may find ourselves constantly at war, as Allenby and Sarewitz suggest; but the unintended consequences do not end there. The targeted populations are put beyond the pale of common humanity, and even people at home identified by hate mongers as belonging to the targeted population in virtue of being religious brown people will find themselves subjected to discrimination and violence.

41

Rakesh Bhandari 08.08.12 at 3:50 pm

I do think that Straswer is probably right about the claim that drones are more precise, result in fewer unintended deaths of civilian bystanders than other weapons, such as manned aircraft, carrying out similar missions. And this could become even more true of cyborg insect warfare in which individual robot insects could be controlled to kill single individuals.

42

rea 08.08.12 at 4:01 pm

Well, the use of drones does not simply reduce casualties on the part of the party using drones. It also seems fairly clear that targeted killing of individuals via drones results in less mass civilian casualties than conventional airstrikes or invasion by ground forces.

You can’t use drones to invade Normany, but you might use them to ambush Hitler’s motorcade, and if ambushing Hitler’s motorcade leads to the same result as invading Normandy, then you’ve saved a good many lives on both sides, including a lot of civilian bystanders.

43

heckblazer 08.08.12 at 4:02 pm

Hidari @21
We do have declared war in Afghanistan though (or at least as declared as they get nowadays), and the attacks inside Pakistan are aimed at people who keep crossing the border into Afghanistan to fight.

To the best of my knowledge drone attacks do cause fewer unintended casualties compared to other forms of attack. The big problem is with intended casualties caused by misidentifying a target as hostile, which is a general problem with air power used in isolation.

44

Ron 08.08.12 at 4:22 pm

In response to your question about a study about people “exposed to conditional arguments in the total absence of evidence for the truth of the antecedent become more inclined to believe the consequent”, there is more than apt to be some relevance to discussion about the “conjunction fallacy” in the book “Thinking, Fast & Slow.”

45

Wonks Anonymous 08.08.12 at 5:04 pm

I actually think Henley is wrong in his old post. Torture didn’t become a method of interrogation merely because lots of people enjoy torturing, but because it actually has some effectiveness (his honest pervert terrorist is far less plausible than numerous instances of suspects giving up under duress). Even if you made sure everyone in charge was a “good guy” who possibly hated torture, and you made great demands that they get results, they could wind up torturing. As with much of the justice system, I think the argument for prohibiting torture is not that it can never contribute to the properly formulated social good or whatnot, but that by permitting it at all you will almost assuredly wind up with abuse. That is a rule-utilitarian argument, which I understand not everyone accepts.

46

js. 08.08.12 at 5:14 pm

Lots of problems with Strawser’s argument of course, but I’m not sure I’d have honed in the conditional structure of the claim. Because here’s the kind of prescription I don’t want to see:

When philosophers discuss topics or forward arguments about topics that can have drastic real-world consequences, they should avoid conditional claims/arguments–esp. where the truth of the antecedent is at best uncertain/contested/etc.

This seems like a disaster to me actually. Because of course conditional arguments can be hugely helpful in thinking through the consequences & implications of proposed policies, etc. And philosophers at least should be well-placed to carry out this sort of inquiry.

The really nasty work, it seems to me, is going on elsewhere. Relying on questionable data from sources with vested interests; framing the topic in such a way implicitly preclude other, highly relevant questions; etc. But it’s neither necessary nor sufficient to employ conditional arguments to do any of this.

47

JW Mason 08.08.12 at 5:55 pm

I actually think Henley is wrong in his old post. Torture didn’t become a method of interrogation merely because lots of people enjoy torturing

I suggest reading it again.

48

JW Mason 08.08.12 at 5:59 pm

You can’t use drones to invade Normany, but you might use them to ambush Hitler’s motorcade

Exactly — drones are well-suited for the replacement of war by assassination. And since the US state can be trusted only to assassinate known hitlers, no problem.

49

Jonathan Dresner 08.08.12 at 6:02 pm

I’m struck by the juxtaposition of this discussion with the annual Atomic Bomb reconsiderations. “If it saved [Japanese/American/both] lives, then the bomb was justified, even necessary” is still pretty much the state of discussion, though the symposium linked there is much heavier on the “should not have been used” side (where I also fall, still) than usual.

50

Substance McGravitas 08.08.12 at 6:07 pm

As you know, you go to war with the Hitlers you have – not the Hitlers you might want or wish to have at a later time.

51

Downpuppy 08.08.12 at 6:09 pm

In addition to all the good points regarding the limitations of drone warfare in strategic terms – we are all arguing it from the safe side.

If somebody ever managed to redirect drones towards, say, KStreet, the wailing & retaliation would be beyond hideous.

52

Anderson 08.08.12 at 6:14 pm

Torture didn’t become a method of interrogation merely because lots of people enjoy torturing, but because it actually has some effectiveness

No, it became a method of interrogation because (1) lots of people enjoy torturing and (2) people had little idea how else to interrogate someone.

The subject is too well documented to require much explanation, but see Rejali’s op-ed “Five Myths About Torture and Truth.” And ponder that, when Frederick the Great banned torture in nearly all instances, the Prussian legal establishment sent up a great howl, because without torture, how could they ever get convictions?

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Bruce Wilder 08.08.12 at 6:19 pm

Analyzing argument as hypnosis rather than, say, logical proof, and the rhetorical structure of particular arguments as hypnotic trance induction followed by suggestions to the unconscious, is a sadly neglected topic.

It is well-known to students of hypnosis that the unconscious mind, for example, is incapable of processing a negation as exclusionary. The classic illustration is telling a person, “do not think of a pink elephant!” Logical exclusion may absolve the speaker of moral responsibility for the command to think of a pink elephant (“but, I told you, don’t do it!”, but it doesn’t reduce the effectiveness of the imperative one iota.

There are other hypnotic techniques commonly used in propaganda and salesmanship, such as deliberately distracting the conscious mind with some imponderable dichotomy. “There are two kinds of people . . . ” It works as well as the cinematic shiny pocket watch swinging as a pendulum, to increase suggestability.

A third is to transfer emotional associations from one already established trigger to one desired by the hypnotist, using the phenomenon discovered by Pavlov with his dog’s dinner bell (the dogs would naturally salivate when they smelled food, but from association, they began to salivate when they heard the dinner bell). So, a car salesman may ask you about your best memories of cars, and subtly touch your should or elbow, while you recall the enjoyable experience; then, later on, when he wants you to have those feelings about the lemon car he’s about to sell you, he’ll touch you again and, like Pavlov’s dogs, you will feel an echo of those good feelings, but associate them with what’s in front of you.

I don’t think you have to be an analytic philosopher to recognize that strong emotional associations are sometimes tasked to do a lot of work, even in purportedly dry academic exposition.

54

mpowell 08.08.12 at 6:51 pm

I think the problem with drones is pretty clear: they will lead to more civilians being killed because the United States is happy to kill civilians in foreign countries if it does not get US soldiers killed. But the problem isn’t with the drones, it’s with the country that is using them. Maybe the best thing to do is to campaign against drones from a practical standpoint (and I don’t think I agree with that; this fight is hopeless), but it seems a little odd to be spending energy trying to get drones classified as ‘not just war’ instruments when the whole problem is the party using them is completely willing to wage war unjustly.

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Bruce Wilder 08.08.12 at 7:25 pm

At its best, “just war” analysis has always struck me as a clumsy way to go about thinking about strategic and tactical effectiveness of war as policy. But, maybe, there’s no graceful way to think about war as a means to an end or a way to control a process productive of some desired good. War is, by its nature, a clumsy way of persuading others to cooperate. Still, watching documentaries on WWII, I am struck by how the sheer scale of the thing required enormous rationalizing effort, both to choose what to do, why to do it, and then to carry it out, logistically and administratively. Because of the documentary trail of that rationalizing effort, historians are able to document the many strategic and tactical errors — errors that the generals and politicians were, mostly, acutely aware of, at the time, again because of the rationalizing effort that created specific expectations before, and measured results after.

What strikes me about Obama’s Terrorist Tuesdays is just how unconcerned everyone is, about feedback. They do not really know, or apparently care very much, about who they are targetting or why they are targetting them. There’s no indication that they are working off a social theory (let alone a moral theory) of how these strikes are supposed to further state security interests.

It occurs to me that the elite likes the fake “war” of the Global War on Terror, precisely because it creates a dramatic framework, like a Hollywood screenplay, which frees leaders from the tedious constraints of exercising institutional power, which might entail deliberation and persuasion. War by drone strike is “war” and therefore empowering to the executive, in accordance with Shock Doctrine and authoritarian politics in general, in the sense that people are willing to accept massive accretions to the exercise of unconstrained authority, and it is also, in a weird way (since it does require a huge technological infrastructure), “small-scale”, and satisfies the well-known preference of executive committees to spend all their meeting time on trivial questions and issues.

These technical toys seem to accelerate a degenerate spiral of some kind, not just morally, in the ability of the elite to lead or manage affairs of state.

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rea 08.08.12 at 7:39 pm

And since the US state can be trusted only to assassinate known hitlers, no problem.
You’re rather missing the point. Better we don’t fight wars, but given that we are going to fight them, better that we use means that aren’t as likely to inflict massive casualties on bystanders.

(And, I suspect, the US monopoly on drones is going to be rather short-lived).

57

Stephen 08.08.12 at 7:44 pm

JQ@11: “there is an unstated premise, namely “the availability of drones won’t affect the frequency of war”. Empirically, it seems clear this is false.”

Very probably so. But you have to ask: are the wars that would have been prevented by the unavailability of drones those that were inherently unjustified, or those that while in themselves justified would not without drones have been accepted by the public on account of the casualties involved, both innocent civilians and our own soldiers?

There is a difference, you know: unless you believe all US wars are unjustified.

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Bruce Wilder 08.08.12 at 7:55 pm

“better that we use means that aren’t as likely to inflict massive casualties on bystanders.”

I suppose if you are one of the bystanders, “massive” is subjective.

But, really, are these drone strikes actually an effective means of making war, or simply a terror tactic? What’s the expected effect of this terror tactic, and how would we know the actual effect?

Is it all our alleged thinking on the subject going to dueling counterfactual fantasy?

59

piglet 08.08.12 at 8:00 pm

Is there already a name for the fallacy proposed by Jonathan 7?

60

Bruce Wilder 08.08.12 at 8:03 pm

Since there’s no actual war (an armed conflict between states or with belligerent powers aspiring to become states), maybe we could dispense with reasoning about drone attacks as a means of waging war, altogether.

Instead, we could talk about them as terror tactics, aimed at . . . what? Substituting for expensive institution or state-building in the territory of failed states, these tactics enable us to contain, and prolong, the chaos across increasingly large swathes of remote and extremely poor territory and populations. And, this is going to turn out well in the long-run, because . . . ???

61

Anderson 08.08.12 at 8:11 pm

Substituting for expensive institution or state-building in the territory of failed states

Bruce, I look forward to your plan for “expensive institution or state-building” in Pakistan. Just the executive summary will do. Thanks!

62

Josh G. 08.08.12 at 8:11 pm

Stephen @ 57: “Very probably so. But you have to ask: are the wars that would have been prevented by the unavailability of drones those that were inherently unjustified, or those that while in themselves justified would not without drones have been accepted by the public on account of the casualties involved, both innocent civilians and our own soldiers?

Has there ever been a time in American history when the American public was too slow to jump on the war bandwagon? The only possible case I can think of is World War II, and that war (the European portion, at any rate) would never even have happened if the US hadn’t foolishly gotten involved in World War I.

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JW Mason 08.08.12 at 8:18 pm

You’re rather missing the point. Better we don’t fight wars, but given that we are going to fight them, better that we use means that aren’t as likely to inflict massive casualties on bystanders.

And I think you’re the one missing the point: “given that we are going to fight them” is not a good assumption to make. The counterfactual to the US carrying out a campaign of assassination in Pakistan, Yemen, etc., is not full-scale invasion of those countries.

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Sebastian H 08.08.12 at 8:38 pm

[Irrelevant thread derail attempt deleted. CB]

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piglet 08.08.12 at 8:41 pm

“Since there’s no actual war (an armed conflict between states or with belligerent powers aspiring to become states), maybe we could dispense with reasoning about drone attacks as a means of waging war, altogether.”

I wonder whether there’s a cottage industry of philosophers debating whether IED are, on moral grounds, preferable to suicide bombings. That is really the kind of question being debated here.

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Bruce Wilder 08.08.12 at 9:09 pm

Anderson @ 61

Well, gee, the billions given to fund the Pakistani military establishment as virtually the sole element of the Pakistani state, while leaving the funding of education to the Saudis and their madrassas has worked out so well, I wouldn’t want to even consider an alternative course of action.

In Vietnam, a hostile Russia and China supplied and funded the other side in a civil war, in which the U.S. had no recognizable interest, but in Afganistan, not only do we have no recognizable interest, but we get to fund a war that costs more than the entire Afganistan GDP, and, with the help of our great good friends in Pakistan, supply and fund all sides, including the Taliban. What could be better? Oh, I know! Let’s have Pakistan give North Korea nuclear weapons, that’ll be such fun.

I’m sorry to say, I think sarcasm may be the only proper response. We are talking about some of the poorest, least developed parts of the world, where the violence and anarchy is the product, directly or indirectly, of the poverty and the absence of a well-functioning state. There’s something really perverse going on, when the only action our foreign policy establishment appears capable of contemplating is taking potshots at emergent leadership. We spend remarkable amounts of money blowing up things in places where there’s scarcely one brick mortared on top of another, as it is. And, when we do bestir ourselves to do something sensible, as in the Iraqi Reconstruction, we mire it in hopeless corruption and incompetence, completely losing track of billions, and wasting billions more, while focusing most of our attention in the perpetual equipping and training of “security forces”, which never achieve readiness. Or, as in supplying even tiny rations of oil and wheat to North Korea, we let ourselves be paralyzed by the insane chest-thumping of a talk-show prima donna in his dotage.

This is the idiocy, for which speculative fiction about whether drone attacks are “just”, is a smokescreen.

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Alex SL 08.08.12 at 9:41 pm

Aha. If me punching a random guy on the street into the face does less damage than me shooting him into the face, then I am justified to punch him. Ooookay.

That kind of reasoning is philosophy in the same way that leeches are medicine.

68

Substance McGravitas 08.08.12 at 9:48 pm

while leaving the funding of education to the Saudis and their madrassas has worked out so well

Minor nitpick: Madrassa students are a minority. The ministry website appears to be messed up, but this 2008 “Pakistan: Country Gender Profile” has some details.

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Rlaing 08.08.12 at 9:57 pm

In Vietnam, a hostile Russia and China supplied and funded the other side in a civil war, in which the U.S. had no recognizable interest

Wow.

Ignorance like this is a real achievement–the Pentagon Papers were published something like 40 years ago. Congratulations, Bruce!

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js. 08.08.12 at 10:02 pm

Minor nitpick: Madrassa students are a minority.

I’m not sure how exactly Pakistan classifies things, but “madrassa” can just mean “school” in Urdu, which may be part of the problem. In fact, I’m not sure there’s another Urdu word that simply means school, though I may be wrong about this.

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John Quiggin 08.08.12 at 10:03 pm

@Stephen: Given that most of the drone wars currently under way wouldn’t be fought at all otherwise (at least not by US forces), we now have pretty much the opposite of Strawson’s claim, namely that the civilian casualties caused by drones are sufficiently limited that their deaths are justified by the opportunity to kill bad people who would otherwise survive.

As you say, this might be true, since not all US wars are unjustified, but in practice the drone wars appear to me to be among the great majority of US wars that aren’t justified either because they directly do more harm than good or because any net benefit is outweighed by the undermining of the general sanction against wars of choice (undertaken both by the US and other powers).

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Rakesh Bhandari 08.08.12 at 10:22 pm

Dilip Hiro’s Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia just came out from Yale University Press, and appears detailed and informative.

73

Patrick S. O'Donnell 08.08.12 at 10:24 pm

Chris writes, “There’s quite a lot in what LeVine says that’s going to grate with philosophers.” It rather seems non-philosophers have found an occasion for which to prattle on about philosophy and philosophers, to wit:

“I guess a lot of philosophical reasoning works by reasoning backward from an intuition….”—A rather strong inference and corresponding blunt generalization based on one article (setting aside how accurate the synopsis of arguments in fact is), is it not?

“All the rest is just philosopher’s talk: scholasticism run wild.” Hmm: a constitutional animus against philosophy? Philosophy as scholasticism? Of course this assumes the term is purely pejorative, but assuming it refers to something like scholarly conservativism or pedantry, or some sort of sectarian narrow-mindedness, how accurate is that as a characterization of “philosophers’ talk?” One begins to taste a bit of sour grapes.

“I thought it was curious that philosophers, in concocting arguments about the real world, were not morally obliged to attempt to ascertain the facts about the real world. The philosopher is not talking about killing unicorns on Neptune; what makes his arguments interesting is that drones actually kill real people.” Res ipsa loquitur.

“I wonder whether there’s a cottage industry of philosophers debating whether IED are, on moral grounds, preferable to suicide bombings. That is really the kind of question being debated here.” Evidence of never having taken a philosophy course? Of having read works of philosophy? Of lacking a disposition for philosophical argument?

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Rlaing 08.08.12 at 10:26 pm

Wars are justified any time the leaders think there is something to be gained from violence. They are normally correct–violence is a terrific way for one party to advance its interests at the expense of another, and often the only way. They are frequently wrong about the efficacy of ‘our’ violence as opposed to the violence of others; but that is a separate issue.

Certainly if the leaders have not made a determination that violence will advance at the very least their interests. the public will not hear arguments in favor or violence, true or false, reasonable or ridiculous, philosophically sound or unsound. No debate about their validity will arise.

If, on the other hand, the leaders have made a determination that violence will advance their (and sometimes even ‘our’) interests, the public will be inundated with arguments in favor of violence, true and false, reasonable and ridiculous, philosophically sound and unsound. Then, and only then, can we have these splendid little debates about which particular instruments of violence are moral and which are not.

75

Salem 08.09.12 at 12:00 am

@JQ:

“Given that most of the drone wars currently under way wouldn’t be fought at all otherwise (at least not by US forces)…”

Obviously counterfactuals are difficult, but I really don’t see it. ISTM that in the absence of drones, the US would still be fighting these “wars” but doing so by 90s-style aerial bombardment and the occasional helicopter gunship, which would (1) lead to more civilian casualties (2) eventually lead to escalation into something even worse. Just look at US conduct before getting drones. The primary driver seems to be the wish to be seen to be “doing something”; civilian casualties (and maybe even operational success) are minor factors compared to that. Like Bruce Wilder, I don’t see feedback loops here – as long as people are being blown up, it’s “success.”

We have a crazy man running around stabbing people for his own ineffable reasons. Given that, I’m pleased that he’s decided to stop using a rusty dagger and switch to a sterilised scalpel. Yes, it would be nice if the stabbings would stop, but this is still a positive development.

76

Rakesh Bhandari 08.09.12 at 12:28 am

I think Salem may be right about this. In the absence of drones, there may have been an increased reliance on special ops. It seems that Dilip Hiro has begun to piece together what McChrystal’s units were carrying out. Moreover, President Obama boxed himself into a military presence in Afghanistan by comparing this as a war of necessity as compared to the occupation of Iraq as a war of choice.

77

Sandwichman 08.09.12 at 12:37 am

I’m disappointed that only JW Mason has responded to the Benjamin quote I posted. What that suggests to me is that people are thinking of “war” as some kind of eternal, unchanging aspect of human nature that has nothing to do with what Kalecki called “The Political Aspects of Full Employment.” Meanwhile, over at Mark Thoma’s Economist’s View, the good people will grind on impotently about how somebody’s just gotta do sumpin’ about unemployment and not breath a whisper about the philosophy of drones.

I got news for you, folks. The real target of the drones is not the brown people they turn to grease stains. Just like the object of torture is not the poor schmuck with the electrodes attached to his testicles. It’s theatre, ladies and gents. A very special kind of theatre designed to keep the masses in their nationalistic seats while the vultures of finance pick their boneses clean. “[Mankind’s] alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”

War debt is the mother of sovereign credit money. Unemployment is the lubricant and shock absorber that prevents capital from grinding itself to a seize-up. Credit money is only admissible remedy for excessive unemployment (all the rest is “LoL”).

That’s the way the money goes.
Pop! Goes the weasel.

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Anderson 08.09.12 at 1:39 am

The primary driver seems to be the wish to be seen to be “doing something”

So is it a given, then, that there are no terrorist-sponsoring groups in Afghanistan or the NW Province, and that the rest of the world has no rational basis to fear terrorist attacks originating from that quarter?

Because I would find that really reassuring, personally.

I am skeptical that the U.S.’s targets have all been valid — it would be the first time in human history, surely, that anyone had been so careful, or lucky. But is the argument really that there’s no threat whatsoever?

79

Marc 08.09.12 at 1:39 am

@71: Drones are mostly used in Afghanistan, and their increased usage coincided with a steep drop in the rate of bombing campaigns in that war. I don’t see the working assumptions in this thread as being justified in an objective sense.

I also am not seeing the evidence that US policy was moved much, if at all, by military casualties in a volunteer force – how long did it take to leave Iraq, where there were substantial risks for soldiers over many years? How long have NATO forces been in Afghanistan?

80

John Quiggin 08.09.12 at 1:57 am

“Just look at US conduct before getting drones”

Was there a time when the US was conducting air wars in at least six different countries?

81

Bruce Wilder 08.09.12 at 2:10 am

Rlaing: “violence is a terrific way for one party to advance its interests at the expense of another, and often the only way”

Wow, just . . . wow.

82

etc. 08.09.12 at 3:39 am

Easy war by definition is not just.
War at no risk to one side is not just.

But you don’t have to use the terminology of the just in relation to the victims.
Lazy killing is unhealthy for the body politic of the attacking nation. And we are the attacking nation.

Remember that the spread of religious fundamentalism is a reaction to perceived agression, that the US helped invent al qaeda and helped stifle reform in Saudi going back 50 years. And now Saudi and Israel are united.

83

JW Mason 08.09.12 at 3:48 am

So is it a given, then, that there are no terrorist-sponsoring groups in Afghanistan or the NW Province, and that the rest of the world has no rational basis to fear terrorist attacks originating from that quarter?

That’s right. If terrorist attacks originating in northwest Afghanistan are anywhere among the top 500 things you’re afraid of, you’re being irrational.

84

JW Mason 08.09.12 at 3:52 am

Plus obvs inflicting our own drone-based terrorism on Afghanis is hardly the best way to reduce the tiny probability of Afghanistan-based attacks on the US.

85

K. Williams 08.09.12 at 5:08 am

“That’s right. If terrorist attacks originating in northwest Afghanistan are anywhere among the top 500 things you’re afraid of, you’re being irrational.”

A sentence you undoubtedly would have written, with just as much self-satisfied brio, on 9/10/01.

86

K. Williams 08.09.12 at 5:25 am

” If terrorist attacks originating in northwest Afghanistan are anywhere among the top 500 things you’re afraid of, you’re being irrational.”

Of course, since the drone attacks are targeting the Taliban in northeast Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan, this sentence is technically correct. But somehow I don’t think that’s what you meant.

87

JW Mason 08.09.12 at 5:29 am

A sentence you undoubtedly would have written, with just as much self-satisfied brio, on 9/10/01.

Ah, the old argument a 9/11, don’t see that so much these days.

So, lets see, in the last 100 years, 3,000 Americans killed in attacks originating in Afghanistan, that’s about 30 a year. About the same as the number of deaths from dog bites, and one-tenth the death rate from falls in bathtubs. No doubt you believe that the President must immediately assume dictatorial powers to ensure that all Americans install those no-slip rubber flower thingies in their tubs. Right?

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JW Mason 08.09.12 at 5:30 am

since the drone attacks are targeting the Taliban in northeast Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan, this sentence is technically correct. But somehow I don’t think that’s what you meant.

You got me, I conflated “Afghanistan and the NW provinces” into “NW Afghanistan.” That changes everything! (Wait, no it doesn’t.)

89

js. 08.09.12 at 5:48 am

So is it a given, then, that there are no terrorist-sponsoring groups in Afghanistan or the NW Province, and that the rest of the world has no rational basis to fear terrorist attacks originating from that quarter?

If I were in, say, South Korea, I think it’d pretty safe to say that I’d have “no rational basis to fear terrorist attacks originating from that quarter”. But you must mean something else by “the rest of the world”?

90

Hidden Heart 08.09.12 at 6:11 am

859 children died by drowning in 2001, in the US, and the rate’s been fairly constant since then – two and a half 9/11s every decade, but it’s not like we’re spending the amount we are on Iraq, Aghanistan, et al, to fix the problems that lead to child drowning.

Some recent studies suggest that beyond the 100-180 or so people identified as victims of serial killers each year in the US, the total annual death toll may be as high as 1800. That would be a 9/11 every couple-three years; even the lower figures add up to a third of a 9/11 event in the course of a decae. But it’s not like we’re spending etc etc.

We transgendered women get murdered at nine times the rate American adults in general do. Data on murders of trans men are scarce, but it’s likely comparable and could well be even worse for them. As with the others, spending etc etc.

The list of things that kills or harms Americans and wastes our money, time, and effort more than terrorists who used to hang out in Afghanistan really is very, very long.

91

Charles Peterson 08.09.12 at 6:24 am

If the use of drones reduces civilian casualties compared to what? Going home and declaring victory? Leaving as somebody else’s problem (e.g. Russia, Iran, Pakistan)? Negotiation? International police work? Applying rules that limit warfare to what is obviously defensive, such as national guard? Testing original offer by Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden? Not funding Mujahideen? Meeting Osama’s three demands (haven’t we pulled out of Saudi Arabia anyway)? Not diplomatically blocking Palestinian statehood with Security Council vetoes since the 1970’s?

And there’s another logical problem here… A long lasting war converts civilians and inactive forces into combatants. So perhaps what needs to be counted is total increased or forced deaths?

Finally, there’s a future question. What will this lead to in the future? I suspect the answer is not less terror (from the skies and otherwise), death, and violence. And with the funds used for drone strikes, how many lives could be saved by other means?

92

Salient 08.09.12 at 6:54 am

If most people interpret “if X, then Y” as “since X, Y” when discussing present practices and alternatives rather than more explicitly hypothetical alternate-reality future scenarios, then it’s irresponsible to propose and promote conditional statements that rely on antecedents you don’t intend to accept and defend.

If someone proposes a statement of the form “if X, then Y” with the intent to exploit the misinterpretation noted above by eliding a thorough defense of assertion X, then we should roundly mock them and crack jokes at their expense.

If Bradley Jay Strawser ever produces a respectable contribution to a discussion of just state aggression, or for that matter accomplishes any contribution to human welfare respectable enough to excuse his ‘contribution’ to the philosophy of state aggression, I’ll be floored.

If the foregoing is read as an inappropriate insult or unduly hyperbolic slight, neener neener I turned around the rhetorical trick by not saying anything about whether its consequent is true; for all you know I might very well be genuinely floored.

93

gordon 08.09.12 at 7:57 am

There are a lot more antecedents than that. In relation to drone strikes, you need to accept that killing people is OK. With sweatshops, you need to accept that paying workers as little as you can get away with (which includes the use of force and fraud) is OK. And that’s only scratching the surface.

94

Charles Peterson 08.09.12 at 2:56 pm

Re: JJI#7 the number of possible logically sound arguments is infinite, so to have one made explicit changes no estimation of truth. I believe this is elementary logic. No one goes around counting syllogisms to determine probabilities of truth.

I prefer this one: #2 If unjust war is constrained by costs, and some new technology reduces the cost of war, there will be more unjust war.

This the reversing the old MAD doctrine, which has some merit and even evidence, but for which the problem is that eventually someone who attains command may be irrational enough to deploy a doomsday machine. Prior to such doomsday weapons, every weapon created has eventually been used, so this looks dangerous.

Now there are infinite corollaries to #2. Consider this: if unjust war is mostly constrained by deaths on the perpetrator’s side, and some technology reduces deaths on the perpetrator’s side relative to combatant and civilian deaths on the other side, there will be more of the latter.

95

Steven 08.09.12 at 3:04 pm

There are two repugnant forces that kill innocent people in the name of an indefensible religious radicalism, forces which, by their very existence, degrade the very ideas of human cooperation and human dignity. They are the Taliban, and the swimming pool.

There are two benign pastimes that sometimes result in a tragic fatality. They are the Taliban, and swimming.

I am tired of people making the wrong and lazy argument that so long as there exists a thing that causes as much or more harm than another thing, we are wrong in some (financial, moral, etc.) way for devoting more resources to one than the other.

96

Rakesh Bhandari 08.09.12 at 3:05 pm

The Pakistani legal system has not and will not act against Hafiz Muhammed Saeed and LeT, yet drone attacks which violate Pakistani sovereignty seem to be strengthening his and other terrorists’ hands. So what can be done?

One way forward is to convince ourselves that there is no real security threat in Pakistan.

Dilip Hiro: “there are an estimated 120 nuclear bombs in the arsenal of a nation that has more Islamist jihadists per million people than any other country in the world. From October 2007 to October 2009, there were at least four attacks by extremists on Pakistani army bases known to be storing nuclear weapons.”

97

Charles Peterson 08.09.12 at 3:07 pm

Correction to my post #94, the main conceded problem with doomsday weapons is accidents including technical failures.

98

Steven 08.09.12 at 3:07 pm

“If terrorist attacks originating in northwest Afghanistan are anywhere among the top 500 things you’re afraid of, you’re being irrational.”

What if these terrorist attacks are among the top 500 things I object to on moral grounds, however unafraid of them I may be?

99

Hidari 08.09.12 at 3:27 pm

Indeed. And what about the (many) terrorist attacks that have their origin in Washington, D.C.? What are we to feel/do about them?

100

Charles Peterson 08.09.12 at 3:30 pm

For tinpots, the Taliban are sure getting a lot of bad words here. I see the USA as the major perpetrator of violence and terror in the world since at least 1945, through military, covert, and supported actions, whose deaths, mostly civilian, total in the 10’s of millions. None of it actually having to do with protecting the lives of US citizens, rather oriented to protection of international capital–which itself is another form of terror. The last justly-engaged war being the Civil War, and before that, 1812. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say US involvement in WWII was wrong, as Pat Buchanan does, other than perhaps the ways WWII was conducted–including the Bomb, US was clearly violating solid notions if not laws of neutrality, and was warned about that, prior to being attacked at Pearl Harbor. And following that, we had been heavily involved in supporting unjust war and repression in the middle east prior to the 9/11 attack on the US, so giving an allowance for the necessity of asymmetric warfare, the 9/11 attack on the US was justified.

101

Zamfir 08.09.12 at 3:42 pm

What if these terrorist attacks are among the top 500 things I object to on moral grounds, however unafraid of them I may be?
Then you are accepting innocent deaths as part of your moral crusade, even though no real threat is forcing your actions.

102

Watson Ladd 08.09.12 at 3:45 pm

JQ: If we include the allies, then WWII definitely counts.

Everyone: It’s been 40 years since Munich, about 4 since the bus bombings in Western Europe, a few weeks since someone in Bulgaria blew up a bus carrying tourists. During the entire course of this time Mossad has carried out assassinations of persons known to be planning and carrying out terrorist attacks, with great success in reducing the frequency and severity of terrorism. The US policy of drone strikes is nothing more then a continuation of what has become accepted by the international community: when nations refuse to act against terrorists operating within their borders, assassination by those targeted is legitimate.

103

Steven 08.09.12 at 4:00 pm

“What if these terrorist attacks are among the top 500 things I object to on moral grounds, however unafraid of them I may be?”

“Then you are accepting innocent deaths as part of your moral crusade, even though no real threat is forcing your actions.”

Yes, I accept that. I believe that certain things cannot be allowed to go on, even if they are no real threat to me, personally. That is the essence of certain liberal conceptions of justice that I believe in. By all means, tell some person stoned to death by the Taliban for asserting her basic freedoms that she a had a greater chance of drowing in a swimming pool, or that you weren’t going to intercede because ther stoning death was no real threat to you.

So yes, again, I accept that.

This is a question for the people above who know who they are: based on your logic, you seem to support the Taliban’s use of drones against the US. Is that true?

104

AF 08.09.12 at 4:00 pm

Do we really need a lot of empirical evidence to show that drone strikes result in fewer civilian casualties than the alternatives such as conventional air strikes? Isn’t it rather obvious?

Needless to say, if the use of force isn’t justified, then drone strikes aren’t justified, either. Also, drone strikes may kill some civilians, so if killing civilians is unjustified, drone strikes are also unjustified. But these questions seem separate from the question of drone strikes, which are a method of applying force once the decision to apply force has been made. If the question is drone strikes v. other methods of using of force, it seems pretty apparent that drone strikes kill fewer civilians.

105

Bruce Wilder 08.09.12 at 4:08 pm

WL: “. . . with great success in reducing the frequency and severity of terrorism.”

And, you know that . . . how?

106

Andrew F. 08.09.12 at 4:13 pm

Chris, you seem to be saying that an individual should consider the possible misuse of an argument that assumes certain premises which may be controversial before making the argument.

But, such arguments can help clarify our thinking and thereby direct us to the empirical research that is of higher priority in answering whatever questions are at issue. Not raising, and vigorously discussing, such arguments because they might be “misused” by some parties seems like a high price to pay, particularly given that the salutary effect on public discourse of such restraint seems dubious at best.

107

Uncle Kvetch 08.09.12 at 5:35 pm

And, you know that . . . how?

“I don’t see any tigers around, do you?”

108

William Timberman 08.09.12 at 5:42 pm

As with so many of the other horrors justified by our various forms of ethical engineering, ancient and modern, the horror of drone assassinations is rooted in a fundamental failure of the imagination. Imagine yourself and your children under Hellfire missile-equipped drones for the rest of their lives, and there’s no way you can accept drone strikes simply as a tool for managing recalcitrant others, or accept it as no more unethical or immoral than using a cattle-prod.

I don’t know that I would call evil banal, but the idea that some people must be actors and others the acted-upon, and that these roles are not interchangeable, is definitely a commonplace. Every time Hillary Clinton, speaking ex cathedra, announces What (insert wog-of-the-moment) MUST understand is…. I wince, and cross myself — and I’m not even a Catholic.

109

Substance McGravitas 08.09.12 at 5:45 pm

Bomb attacks always decrease bomb attacks. DO THE MATH.

110

Watson Ladd 08.09.12 at 6:42 pm

Let’s see: Black September and the PFLP both were dismantled when key personel were eliminated, ending a string of hijackings and bombings. Hezbollah wasn’t. Al-Queda has been badly beating: they remain planning attacks, but the infrastructure they used to have is completely gone. So assassination and invasion is effective.

111

LFC 08.09.12 at 7:16 pm

@109
The PFLP still exists.
(google or wikipedia it)

112

Stephen 08.09.12 at 7:39 pm

Charles Peterson @100
“The last justly-engaged war being the Civil War, and before that, 1812″
Objective of 1812: invade and conquer Canada, against wishes of Canadian citizens.
Obviously infinitely more just than fighting against aggressive anti-democratic autocracy in 1917, or Nazi dictatorship in 1941.
Strewth.

113

Stephen 08.09.12 at 8:00 pm

Retrospective analysis. Consider various actual wars since 1945, and decide if unhistoric availability of drones would have helped the more technologically advanced and generally but not always pro-US side. (Not worth considering it otherwise; yes, with drones Geronimo might have defeated the US Army, but so what?) Possible examples:

Wars that would have been lost anyway even with drones: US in Vietnam, given corruption and incompetence of Saigon regime. Lost with fewer civilian casualties, though.

Wars that were lost but might have been won with drones: maybe French in Algeria, Russians in Afghanistan. CIA vs. Fidel Castro, if you count that as a war.

Wars where drones would have made little difference: Falklands, and not entirely clear which was (or now is) the pro-US side. Guevara’s doomed effort in Bolivia.

Wars that would have been won faster with drones: Oman? Russians in Chechnya ? First anti-Iraq war?

Wars where drones would have retarded victory: British vs. IRA in Ireland? Given outcry against unspeakably evil alleged British shoot-to-kill policy…

Further examples, and reflections on the morality/immorality of drones, welcome.

114

Adam 08.09.12 at 10:57 pm

Drones as they are currently used aren’t really a tool of war at all. We’re not at war and Al Qaeda and whatever other terror groups we’re after aren’t really combatants in a war, either. They’re international criminals. You can debate whether the U.S. really needs to police the entire world, but there is no international law enforcement agency that can do it and the places in which these people gain sanctuary have no effective domestic law enforcement.

You may as well accept that we are going to attempt to combat this ourselves in one way or another. That has been consistent American behavior across the ideologically mainstream spectrum of leadership. Under Bush early on, our policy was to invade nations we felt failed their own duty, install new leadership, and train local law enforcement and militaries to eventually police international criminal behavior themselves. I’m not sure anyone at this point would argue this is still a good idea. Regime change and international defense assistance combined with counter-insurgency is extremely expensive, takes forever, rarely works, and results in far more deaths than any other alternative.

Later on under Bush, we moved (outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, since it’s fairly easy for stateless criminal organizations to simply move when you occupy a particular country they were once in) to a policy of arresting these people. That involved surgical raids by highly-trained special forces teams. Since raids in hostile territory typically result in gunfights, these resulted in plenty of civilian deaths, bad press, local blowback, and occasionally deaths to U.S. operators. They also resulted in the conundrum of what to do with the people who technically broke no laws since they based themselves out of places without a rule of law, where half the population locally didn’t want them at Guantanamo, and the other half didn’t want them moved to regular prisons.

Under Obama, we’ve avoided U.S. deaths and the question of where to store and how to try these people by simply killing them with drone strikes. On the other hand, we still get civilian deaths (probably more than with surgical raids aimed at arrest) and we still get blowback.

Is this progress? I’m not sure, though it’s better than occupation, regime change, and trying to build local intelligence and law enforcement agencies basically from scratch in the face of uncooperative local leadership and uninterested local populations. Even if we succeed, there’s always another failed state the defeated can move to.

I personally think the best means of achieving anti-terrorism objectives is simply to build and maintain the most effective possible intelligence networks of our own and to police the hell out of our own country. If Al Qaeda wants to strike Madrid, let the Spanish fight that, but we’ll at least tell them if we find out about the plot.

You have to evaluate drone policy for what it actually is, though. It doesn’t replace war. It’s not a means of waging war. We’re not using drones to further political objectives, rewrite international boundaries, take cities, or change who owns what piece of land. We’re using them to police international criminals beyond the reach of local rule of law. You have to evaluate them in terms of how well they achieve this objective versus other methods, or, of course, in terms of whether we should even attempt to do this at all.

115

Bruce Wilder 08.09.12 at 11:20 pm

Adam @ 114

Why not simply assassinate criminals domestically? Is it a makework program for investigators and lawyers and judges, to give the accused due process?

116

Bruce Wilder 08.09.12 at 11:25 pm

“the conundrum of what to do with the people who technically broke no laws”

Yes, that often comes up with your “international criminal” class.

117

Watson Ladd 08.09.12 at 11:58 pm

Stephen, by definition having a capability always helps. At worse you don’t use it, assuming you aren’t General Bragg. The ethical issues of drones as compared to sending people with knives to knife people aren’t any different. I think you are barking up the wrong tree here.

Fundamentally we are in a new era where all democratic states face threats from countries without the means to control their territory. This means controlling it for them. If Pakistan wants to stop the drone attacks, they can invade the Northwest Territories and make it free of Taliban and al-Queda, just as European countries could arrest and imprison members of terrorist groups in the 1970’s.

If not drones, then what?

118

Donald Johnson 08.10.12 at 12:28 am

Watson, the Western governments don’t prosecute their own war criminals, some guilty of torture or starting unnecessary wars. Shouldn’t the jihad to rid the world of evil begin at home? I mean, we have that rule of law thing going for us, you know. In theory anyway.

119

Donald Johnson 08.10.12 at 12:31 am

“During the entire course of this time Mossad has carried out assassinations of persons known to be planning and carrying out terrorist attacks, with great success in reducing the frequency and severity of terrorism. “

This is actually funny. Israel is being held up as a model for how to deal with terrorism.

120

gordon 08.10.12 at 12:34 am

Here is a short extract from N.Guyatt’s “Another American Century?” published in 2000:

“I have been tracing the curious ways in which American technological and military power has allowed many in the US to be simultaneously engaged with and isolated from the world… It seems prudent then to note that many people around the world are frustrated by the complacency and impenetrability of the US and that the apparent absence of political solutions to this (such as a genuinely independent and multilateral United Nations) is likely to drive many to more radical and extreme measures…In a genuinely multilateral world, the isolation of supposed ‘rogue states’ would not produce this intense anger on the part of the civilian population of a ‘rogue’, and wouldn’t focus this rage onto a particular country; but given the overwhelming US influence in political and economic terms, and the relative marginalisation of the UN, such emotions are inevitable. This has created large and dangerous pockets of resentment towards the US around the world, grounded not in fundamentalism or insanity, but in a real perception of the imbalance of power, and a real frustration at the impotence of the poltical means of change”.

Things have only got worse since Guyatt wrote that. The US is more isolated than ever, yet also more engaged in forcing foreigners to dance to its tune. Armed force, immiserating sanctions and violent threats are routinely deployed to enforce obedience to the US ruling class, now apparently within as well as outside the US.

Does anybody seriously think that the outcome of such behaviour will be peace and security?

121

LFC 08.10.12 at 12:57 am

Watson Ladd @117:
Fundamentally we are in a new era where all democratic states face threats from countries without the means to control their territory. This means controlling it for them.

W/r/t Pakistan, it actually does have the means to control its territory in the relevant respects, I think. What it (meaning the Pakistan govt and military) lacks, for various reasonably well-documented reasons, is the will to do so. The Pakistan govt/military has been much more aggressive w/r/t, e.g., the Pakistani Taliban than w groups, such as the Haqqani network, whose main targets have been NATO/ISAF and Afghan govt forces in Afghanistan.

It helps to be a bit specific, b/c situations vary from place to place, rather than announcing the advent of a “new era” in which “democratic states” must “control” the territory of countries who cannot control their own.

122

Salient 08.10.12 at 6:03 am

We’re using them to police international criminals beyond the reach of local rule of law.

You know, even my most cynical self was hoping I would be fucking dead and lost to oblivion before anybody started asserting the flying killer death robots are performing a policing function. Phooey. I’ll spare you any “let me google ‘police’ for you” type antics, but hey, doesn’t rereading what you wrote make you shudder a little? Like, oh, wait, it’s not the job of police to go rocket-bomb a gathering of people in which a person of interest is present? Even people who are really obviously guilty of heinous crimes aren’t supposed to get shot by police (blah, blah, unless the criminal is still in the process of illegal threatening or endangering people’s lives at that very moment that the cop is there; that’s not relevant).

Also I really don’t know what to make of the idea that “law enforcement” drone-agents are locally enforcing laws in places where there’s no effective local laws, or enforcing an international law whose constitute body has not authorized their presence as law enforcement on its behalf.

123

js. 08.10.12 at 6:07 am

If not drones, then what?

If you’re talking about Pakistan, the answer is actually fairly simple. You resolve India-Pakistan relations. Maybe the status of Kashmir has to change, though I’m not sure that’s as relevant now as it was, say, 15–20 years ago. In any case, if you want to take the primary motivation Pakistan has for tolerating/supporting fundamentalist Muslim militants, that’s the way to go.

(N.B. I’m going to go ahead and naively assume that you e.g. know the history of US-Pakistan relations, say in the 80’s.)

124

Salient 08.10.12 at 6:13 am

Consider various actual wars since 1945, and decide if unhistoric availability of drones would have helped the more technologically advanced and generally but not always pro-US side.

You’re playing right into the trap. The whole point of the exercise is, the conditional statement is getting us to argue about something other than the antecedent. You can sneak the truth of your antecedents (both stated and unstated) into a discussion that seems to be mostly about the conditional, the same way we might debate whether getting your foot or your hand cut off is worse, and debate which punishment is more appropriate for thieves ~whoofcourse needtobephysciallypunished inawaythatcausesphysicalloss becauseeyeforaneyeistherightthingtodo andthethieftooksomethingpreciousfromtheirvictim soobviouslythethiefneedstoloosesomepartoftheirbody~ ok so if blahblah, then ok now which body part should a convicted thief be liable to forfeit, would a hand or a foot be more humane?

125

Hidari 08.10.12 at 7:16 am

‘Fundamentally we are in a new era where all democratic states face threats from countries without the means to control their territory.’

America is a plutocracy. Freedom House has long published a comprehensive international index of formal democracy, which the U.S. State Department found extremely convenient during the Cold War. If anyone today published a similarly careful and thorough index of effective democracy — a measure of the degree to which governments solicited and responded to public sentiment rather than money in the formation of law and policy — the United States would surely rank as low as many Communist tyrannies ranked on the Freedom House index.’

126

Anderson 08.10.12 at 12:48 pm

“the answer is actually fairly simple. You resolve India-Pakistan relations. “

Oh goody! I was afraid the answer might be something difficult!

Between the cynicism of the Obama regime and the naïveté of this thread, I will pick the cynics.

127

James 08.10.12 at 3:19 pm

The drone killings seem to me an extension of the new model of war- Assassination. The fact that the US has moved from fighters to drones seems rather irrelevant in discussing if this war is justified. That drones cause less civilian death and are more effective for the task at hand should be seen as good if your supporting the US/UK alliance. If your supporting the Taliban/AQ alliance not so much.

128

js. 08.10.12 at 4:29 pm

Oh goody! I was afraid the answer might be something difficult!

I didn’t say it was easy. But look, it’s now become standard to talk about “Af-Pak” or something as a “problem”, and leave India-Pakistan relations entirely out of the equation—which is madness. Given the actual shape of the problem, all the “surgical strikes” in the world aren’t going to do a single thing to help solve it (and of course, they may do a whole lot to help worsen it).

129

indian 08.10.12 at 5:16 pm

Maybe the status of Kashmir has to change
——————

I know, when the hell is Pakistan going to stop occupying half of Kashmir? China has a piece too. Very few in the international community are willing to help India regain her patrimony. But, we shall overcome.

130

Purple Platypus 08.10.12 at 8:40 pm

Forgive me if I’m overlooking something obvious, but I don’t understand one of the pro-drone side’s basic premises. What exactly do drones do to minimize civilian casualties that manned aircraft couldn’t do (maybe better)? It’s easy to see how the operators are safer, but I don’t see why they’re any less of a threat to civilians than any other way of bombing the crap out of people.

(Of course, I’m not sure there are any specifically anti-drone arguments I find plausible, either, as distinct from arguments against the US’ current international adventures in general, which happen to mention drones because that’s a prominent form those adventures currently take.)

131

Substance McGravitas 08.10.12 at 8:53 pm

What exactly do drones do to minimize civilian casualties that manned aircraft couldn’t do (maybe better)?

How about giving everyone a bag with a million dollars in it and a plane ticket to anywhere?

132

LFC 08.10.12 at 9:03 pm

js.@128:
it’s now become standard to talk about “Af-Pak” or something as a “problem”, and leave India-Pakistan relations entirely out of the equation

No one who knows the first thing about the region and who writes, pronounces, pontificates or otherwise expounds on this — and for that matter, almost certainly no one in the US govt charged w policy — leaves India-Pakistan relations out of the equation. Way back in Dec. ’08, B.Rubin and A.Rashid, writing in no less an establishment outlet than Foreign Affairs, proposed a UN-authorized ‘contact group’ to facilitate dialogue betw. India and Pakistan on Kashmir and Afghanistan, among other issues. I blogged about that article here. Why hasn’t it happened? Well, it’s a difficult problem, the mistrust on both sides is considerable, the Mumbai attacks didn’t help etc, and maybe it hasn’t been given enough of a priority in the relevant capitals and intl. orgs., but very few people who follow this leave India-Pakistan relations ‘out of the equation’.

133

Collateral Damage 08.10.12 at 9:18 pm

Chris, your question about conditional arguments persuading people without evidence of the premise is surely partly supported by recent research showing that people believe a news story more often if accompanied by a photograph.

Even when the photograph presents no evidence for the truth of the story.

134

Bruce Wilder 08.10.12 at 11:00 pm

PP @ 129 “What exactly do drones do to minimize civilian casualties that manned aircraft couldn’t do (maybe better)?”

You might as well ask how spending more money at Kroger’s, or J.C. Penney or Home Depot will “save” consumers money, but those retailers, and others like them, regularly do make that argument to potential customers. It is testimony to the plasticity of the human mind that anyone finds such arguments even superficially plausible, let alone persuasive; nevertheless, they are the stuff of salesmanship and propaganda. The implied counterfactual, I suppose, are war-like attacks, which are either less narrowly targeted or of greater scale, or both. Carpet-bombing a city to destroy industrial capacity, de-moralize and de-mobilize civilian support for an enemy state, and thus disable a state’s moral and material capacity to resist, and, by that means, to induce unconditional surrender — the combination of strategies and tactics, used in World War II — that might be the imagined alternative. (In the Second World War, allied leadership was more or less agreed that unconditional surrender was necessary to a reconstruction of society and institutions, under direct Allied supervision, to ensure that Germany and Japan would no longer be volatile and aggressively ambitious Powers in international affairs — an almost unimaginably sophisticated theory of society compared to the amateur playground sociology practiced by the younger Bush’s Administration.)

LFC: “. . . very few people who follow this leave India-Pakistan relations ‘out of the equation’ “

Perhaps, but those, who do leave India-Pakistan relations ‘out of the equation’, so to speak, may very well include much of policy-making leadership in the U.S. government, and drone-attacks may very well be an appealing policy alternative, precisely because that leadership does not want to wade through academic expositions of ” it’s complicated ” and various tales of the paralysis of analysis, before confronting the reality of their limited range of options, and the need for patient, persistent execution of a long-term policy aimed at squishy cultural attitudes and diffuse problems of economic development.

Is it ethical to wantonly kill strangers, as long as someone, somewhere says that it furthers the interest of a state to do so and/or denies the innocence of those killed? Does killing them by remote control make it moreethical?

It seems to me that the law of war is invoked, primarily to bring these acts into a context, in which collateral killing is not murder. It’s in the context of the law of war, that fine-toothed considerations of intention and alternatives with regard to collateral killing make any sense at all. But, the main event is invoking war as the moral context, not the premise detailing counterfactual claims with regard to rates of casualty.

The alternative context would the policing of violent criminal activity, which some in conmments have invoked, only to make a mishmash of contradictory and unfounded claims, to “justify” ruthless stupidity as a method.

Winston Ladd is certainly right, “we are in a new era” — a new era in which hierarchy has available, for the first time in human history, cheap means of surveillance and control. Many traditional theories of constraint on power, from the 1st and 4th amendments on down, which rest on the resource costs of, or technical limitations on, the ability to observe and monitor, will have to be revised in the light of (bad) experience with the novelty of cheap control, but, first, apparently, we must have the bad experiences.

It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that these drone aircraft are simply modifications of the remote-control aircraft, which hobbyists have been playing with for years. They’ve been developed from the technologies pioneered by hobbyists, and DoD’s minor advances will migrate back into civilian policing, civilian commerce and, finally, civilian hobbyists, faster than genetically-modified seed contaminates the fields of the just and unjust alike.

Obama’s policy of murdering people he knows little or nothing about, and answering to no one for the offense, is certainy an ethical breach; and, it is also certainly a breakdown of political institutions and norms. It will not remain isolated to the remote wastes of Yemen or Pakistan.

135

Moni 08.11.12 at 12:10 am

I just read a few initial comments and completely agree with Marc above. The question “are drone strikes morally justifiable?” considered in isolation from the larger political and historical context is artificial and trivial. Morally justified compared to what? Nuclear bombing? The proper object of moral inquiry and justification is not a mere tactic considered in isolation but rather all that a “conditional argument” brackets with the “IF.”

136

Watson Ladd 08.11.12 at 1:07 am

Purple Platypus: A drone can linger over an area, waiting for the optimum time to strike. A manned aircraft has much shorter range.

As for the novelty of war to return or kill criminals, let me point out that Shubria was destroyed for failing to return claimants to the Assyrian throne. 3,000 years of practice by states is quite some time for a norm to be established.

The question of isolation can be answered by looking at Israel. Despite the Mossad actively combating terrorism domestic politics remains untouched since the departure of ben Gurion. I think there are many ways in which a terrorist group operating outside the US is not analogous to a domestic opposition or a petty criminal, and I’m sure that any erasure of those boundaries will be met with indignation by federal judges and the general public. In the midst of the Civil War an election was held with one side arguing for laying down arms. I think the record speaks for itself.

137

Andrew Cady 08.11.12 at 4:31 am

To me, the most interesting thing about drones is that there is no realistic defense against them but terrorism.

We should probably look at the introduction of drones as not altogether unlike the introduction of the crossbow. A certain element of “fair play” has been removed from war. I guess that is the best way to win. But expect an escalation of brutality from the other side.

138

Donald Johnson 08.11.12 at 4:32 am

A somewhat different view of Mossad can be found here It’s a long rant, but worth reading.

I wonder about someone who thinks Israel has a good record on combating terrorism. They have a good record of maintaining a cycle of violence, while continuing policies that make them hated. In general it’s hard to tell who is retaliating towards whom and innocent people bear the brunt of it. But hey, Mossad only kills Arabs (and the occasional Norwegian waiter), so it’s all good. This is the model Watson thinks we should follow.

139

JW Mason 08.11.12 at 5:29 am

To me, the most interesting thing about drones is that there is no realistic defense against them but terrorism.

Indeed. Our various armchair warriors’ arguments here all work, almost verbatim, as argument in support of 9/11-type attacks. If you live in Afghanistan, you face a very substantial risk of death at the hands of the United States government. Are you really supposed to forego the only tactics that give you some chance of striking back?

140

js. 08.11.12 at 6:46 am

almost certainly no one in the US govt charged w policy—leaves India-Pakistan relations out of the equation.

I’ll grant you that people talk about it. I don’t think it changes the fact that US policy re Pakistan is essentially predicated on studiously trying to ignore the problem and on throwing money at bombs and the military instead (US and Pakistani military both of course).

Also, I’m not sure how much we disagree really. I agree that Indo-Pak relations are remarkably intractable, and I don’t see any easy way out. But at least to me, it seems obvious that if you were actually trying to solve the problem of fundamentalist Muslim militancy in Pakistan, you’d pursue radically different policies. (“You” here is the US govt., give or take.)

141

Tim Wilkinson 08.11.12 at 8:18 am

Strawser does reference this paper whose title follows my own preferred terminology. It contains the intriguing statement, at fn17, that existing UAVs and UCAVs rely, for at least some of their operations, on a human operator piloting them remotely via satellite data link.,/i> (emph. mine)

The AJ piece says, of Strawser’s academic paper, that the second [sic.] argument is that the use of drones is ethical, both because they reduce the risk to the “just war fighters” involved in operating them and, as important, lower the number of innocent civilians killed in strikes compared with other forms of attack. (emph mine).

But the paper cited in the AJ article is all about the obligation to protect one’s own combatants. The mention of civilians comes in an appended bit of objection/rebuttal business, the objection being that flying killer robots (FKRs) are less good at discriminating civilians from evil bastard who needs to be killed than their human equivalents would be (I admit I find it hard to do so in these cases too, and have to rely on the USG). The issue of failure of discrimination is addressed in the main body of argument, but only as a matter of technical efficiency.

In the little appendix, Strawser only says that FKRs must kill no more civilians than the equivalent manned vehicle (oh, and bellorum bellis bellis and all that – of course). All the ‘interestingly, they may actually be better’ stuff is, in the context of the paper itself, a bit of bonus contrarianism just thrown in and not relied on in any way – so in this context, he can get away with using quite inadequate evidence and still get through peer review/not have to put his name to rankly mendacious claims.

re: addendum. There is some similarity to the rhetorical device of ‘correctio’ (or metanoia), in which a bold claim is made then subsequently moderated or denied. Unobtrusive caveats which are there to protect a text on close reading but are effectively ignored by the general thrust of an argument are a closely related phenomenon, and the above section describes something similar. The status of the claim on a careful, literal reading of the text is that of a throwaway aside, but the quantity of verbiage expended on it and the appearance of making a serious point belie that reading. Also cf. the mad assumptions of neoclassical economics, which have blended into the background so that categorical claims can be made as though not dependent on such assumptions. Acknowledgment that these are unrealistic, along with a sheaf of disjointed research based on relaxing some of them (which research is thus not readily integrable into the dominant paradigm) is available in the bottom drawer to fend off criticism should it prove necessary.

In modern psychology, the foot in the door phenomenon is closely related. First a modest claim is made to gain assent, then the claim is ramped up, in slippery slope or sorites fashion.

Also, a classic study from the 90s, You Can’t Not Believe Everything You Read, might be relevant.

In the case of Stawser’s conditionals, it’s worth noting that these are made in what looks like the indicative mood, most obviously interpreted as material conditionals. The status of material conds with false antecedents is the topic of some philosophical debate – the classical and intuitionistic approaches would find that such a conditional comes out true as a whole, regardless of the truth or falsity of the consequent. But when the conversational or pragmatuic import of such statements is considered, such a conditional may have very low assertibility, or fail to be ‘robust’. For example, ‘if he’s an expert, I’m a Dutchman’ is intended to support modus tollens – denying an obviously false consequent is intended to convey the falsity of the antecedent. But it is not intended to support modus ponens: it is not robust to the truth of the antecedent. If it turns out that he is indeed an expert, one is not supposed to conclude that I am in fact a Dutchman.

Strawser seems to clumsily attempt an acknowledgement of something along these lines in his Graun piece: As with all conditional claims, if the antecedent is false, then the entire claim is invalidated.

This is not his general approach though – in the paper, he repeatedly says things like: It could, of course, very well turn out that OP is only vacuously true because the antecedent is false.

And immediately after that, he adds This paper will not primarily be arguing for or against the truth of OP’s antecedent, but instead assume it is true and argue that the normative consequent follows. Which caveat is (a) couched in relatively obscure terms (b) itself caveated with the term ‘primarily’ {c} makes explicit that we are talking about an assumption of truth – with the conversational implicature that such an assumption is reasonable – and (d) is premised on the preceding statement that the whole conditional is true in either case.

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LFC 08.11.12 at 12:25 pm

To js. and B. Wilder (among others):

Some different issues have gotten tangled up here. There is an argument going on about drones and an argument about broader aspects of US policy toward Pakistan. The two are connected but not identical. Part of the reason the US has resorted to drones (it has been overusing them, in my opinion) is that the Pakistan govt has been unwilling to move strongly against the Haqqani network and similar groups in N. Wazirstan and other border areas. Why? B.c elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services believe they will need those groups to secure Pakistani interests in Afghanistan after the US/NATO/ISAF departs. What are those perceived interests? Ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a base from which India can operate against Pakistan, encouraging the Baluchistan insurgents and generally stirring up other trouble against the Pakistan govt. Is there a way to alter these perceptions, given the deep-rooted, longstanding mistrust and hostility betw. India and Pakistan? Maybe, but it would take a concerted effort to negotiate a regional agreement among India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Why hasn’t this been done? Partly b.c the leaders in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are not sufficiently willing to make the necessary mutual concessions. But it’s not that officials in the US govt are unaware of what I’ve just said. Whatever you thought of Richard Holbrooke, he was not stupid. Neither is his successor and his staff. Sometimes problems don’t get solved not b.c people don’t recognize them but b.c they are difficult.

In June, Panetta was in New Delhi urging India to become more involved in Afghanistan including “training Afghan security forces on a larger scale” (see William Wan, “Panetta urges a wider Afghan role for India,” Wash. Post, June 7, 2012, from which the quote is drawn). This perhaps makes sense from one angle — the more help w training the better — but from another angle it will only increase, one might suppose, the fears/anxieties of the Pakistani ISI and military mentioned above. Is Panetta aware of that? Almost certainly he is, but has decided that “with the US-Pakistan relationship at an all-time low” (as the WaPo article puts it), the benefits of India becoming more involved in Afghanistan outweigh the costs. Is he right? I don’t know.

Finally, it’s worth noting that US aid to Pakistan has not been only military. The Kerry-Lugar bill, signed by Obama, appropriated $750 million, iirc, over 5 years for education and development assistance etc. The last I heard most of the funds had not been spent b.c they come attached w various conditions (in terms of accountability and oversight) that the Pakistan govt has been unable or unwilling to meet. I have not followed it closely, however, so perhaps this situation has changed. (But don’t bet on it.)

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LFC 08.11.12 at 12:37 pm

P.s. to js.:
The specific problem against which drones are directed (or misdirected, depending on one’s view) is not “fundamentalist Muslim militancy in Pakistan” but the presence of groups in the Pakistan border regions which have been carrying out attacks in Afghanistan and using their bases in Pakistan to do that w relative impunity. The Pakistan govt has been unwilling to move against them for reasons I mentioned above. Undoubtedly drones cause civilian casualties — I am sure that, among other things, innocent people (including children and adolescents) have been killed b.c. they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — and undoubtedly the drone strikes have thereby created some new militants. The strikes have also killed a number of people who were completely legitimate targets.

144

LFC 08.11.12 at 12:55 pm

Last p.s.
I haven’t closely followed the debates about the ratio of civilian to non-civilian casualties caused by drones.

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Watson Ladd 08.11.12 at 12:55 pm

Andrew Cady: not so. One could attack the operating bases from which the drones take off, use electronic warfare, shoot down the drones, or send commandos deep into Utah with orders to completely destroy the buildings used for drone operations and kill everyone inside. Killing civilians has nothing to do with any of these.

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chris 08.11.12 at 1:21 pm

To me, the most interesting thing about drones is that there is no realistic defense against them but terrorism.

Well, maybe with no budget or tech base, there’s no realistic defense. I think I’d wait to remove those qualifiers until I’ve seen a wealthy, high-tech country try to defend against drones and fail. Jamming, burning out the drone’s communications equipment, surface-to-air missiles, and antisatellite warfare all seem to have promise. (And of course the drone control center is a perfectly legitimate military target, if you have something like submarine-launched cruise missiles or ICBMs so that you can hit it without invading and occupying all the intervening territory.)

Sure, the Taliban doesn’t have the means to try those things, but if they were tried, who knows if they would succeed? (Well, probably someone in the DoD is thinking right now about “what if some enemy of the US gets drones and starts attacking Americans with them?” — at least, I certainly hope that question has occurred to someone over there — and maybe they know which of those countermeasures might work. But they’re not telling.)

The fact that you can’t defend against drones with an AK-47 doesn’t mean you can’t defend against them at all.

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Salient 08.11.12 at 1:25 pm

This line of argument inevitably eventually devolves into that ‘stick rule’ attributed to Socrates.

“Drones are more intuitively acceptable than older forms of targeted killing!”

“Sure; that’s what makes them worse. They make state assassination seem palatable and reasonable, by cosmetically improving on something that manages to be even more idiotic and repugnant. Sending in drones is bad, sending in tanks is bad, the word ‘worse’ doesn’t even need to enter into it.”

“Gasp! How can you say that? Drones are more targeted and focused! This means they result in fewer incidental casualties! That’s better!

“The state could pursue an assassination strategy that results in zero incidental casualties. One such strategy is: don’t assassinate people. If they’re unwilling to accept that course of action and feel some sort of assassination is absolutely necessary to advance their goals, well, uh, they should consider what this implies that their most disgruntled citizens should do in protest. After all, assassinating the politicians who endorse and enable an assassination program would result in far fewer incidental casualties over the long haul.”

“So what you’re saying is you could care less if we continue with massive wars that kill thousands rather than drone attacks that only kill dozens. Are you willing to commit to that?”

“Just to be clear, in any scenario where we find the latter any slightest bit more acceptable because it’s better than the former, we’re also finding domestic assassination acceptable. Are you willing to commit to that?”

“No, I’m just asking you to find the former comparatively acceptable.”

“I refuse. The whole notion of ‘comparatively acceptable’ is so idiotic and repugnant that I can’t believe you’re adopting it. You can take any state action whatsoever and note it’s ‘comparatively acceptable’ to something even worse atrocity that the state has committed or considered committing. I could stand here and hit you with a stick for hours, and then point out it’s comparatively acceptable to me cutting off your arms. Does that mean anything? Does it prompt you to be any more accepting of my whacking you with a stick policy?”

“Well, I’d prefer it to you maiming me, obviously.”

“Well, if you’re willing to let that comparison be meaningful and relevant, then you’re stipulating that it’s alright for me to believe that my only options here are beating you or maiming you, so I guess I’d better get started with the beating. After all, I’d really hate to have to maim you.”

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Salient 08.11.12 at 1:30 pm

Blast it, the last two lines got clipped, and they were fun:

“…I guess I’d better get started with the beating. After all, I’d really hate to have to maim you.”

“That’s absurd! There’s no reason for me to accept that course of action!”

“Look, I’m not saying you should be happy about it, but don’t you think you should be comparatively happy?”

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LFC 08.11.12 at 2:01 pm

chris @146
Sure, the Taliban doesn’t have the means to try those things

While drones have no doubt been used against the Taliban, I don’t think the latter has been the main target. In Pakistan, the main target has been the Haqqani network and related groups. In Yemen, AQAP. Doesn’t alter chris’s point, but “Taliban” is not a synonym for “all groups vs which the US is using drones,” since these groups are somewhat distinct even when, in effect, allied.

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Watson Ladd 08.11.12 at 2:33 pm

Salient, the problem with that counterargument is it presupposes the use of military force against terrorists is illegitimate. That’s a tough position to hold.

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Antoni Jaume 08.11.12 at 4:59 pm

«[…] it presupposes the use of military force against terrorists is illegitimate. That’s a tough position to hold.»

I do not think so. In fact it is the position that military force is needed that need justification.

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Andrew Cady 08.11.12 at 8:05 pm

It’s true that there are some defenses against drones, but the idea of attacking the drones themselves misses the point. No one is killed if a drone is destroyed. Thus, one side of the conflict risks no casualties. In order to induce casualties, the side attacked by the drones must retaliate in some unrelated form. Another battle field has to be sought out somewhere else. I suppose does not have to be terrorism, necessarily — but I’m not sure I find these suggested alternatives particularly realistic either.

153

Adam 08.11.12 at 8:21 pm

Well, shit, my earlier point was pretty casually dismissed. I still don’t see how unless you’re seriously willing to take the position that plotting to kill innocent people isn’t criminal behavior or that attempting to stop people who are plotting to kill innocent people is itself morally impermissible.

Since I can’t see anyone seriously taking either of those positions, I think objections to drone use has to come from one of two directions. First, you think the strikes are directed toward the wrong people, who are in fact innocent. That may be the case. I have no idea, which may be another good objection, that it leaves us in the position of not really knowing whether the people our government is targeting to kill are really guilty of anything. However, that is the case regardless of whether drones or some other means is used to target these people.

The other direction is that drones make assassination the new normal, which is an argument I’m very sympathetic to. Reducing the monetary cost and also putting the operator at no risk certainly makes it easier to kill people, but then again, so does every other advance in defense and police technology. That hardly seems like a good argument that we shouldn’t develop or use better body armor, more accurate long-range rifles, intercontinental cruise missiles and smart bombs, or anything else that makes killing more discriminate and less risky.

But back to the main point, I just don’t see how you can look at the current use of drones as anything other than police action. You can consider it illegitimate police action, but that isn’t the same as saying it isn’t police action. Drones are a tool used to stop people who are engaged in criminal conspiracies. How you can take this simple statement of the way they are actually used as me arguing we should assassinate American criminals rather than prosecute them, I don’t know, but that’s at least the right way to frame the debate.

We have at least four options in how to actually deal with terror groups in foreign nations that don’t themselves police or prosecute the behavior. The first is to ignore them. The second is to attempt to arrest them and afford them due process rights. The third is to arrest them and not afford them due process rights. The fourth is simply to kill them, with drones being the cheapest way to do it.

It’s pretty clear to me why Obama has chosen the fourth. Doing the first would make it very easy for his political opponents to accuse him of being soft on terror and weak on defense, plus he may very well consider these people to be a legitimate threat, if not to actual domestic lives, then to foreign military objectives he still hopes to achieve. He won’t do the second or third because Bush tried those and they were too hard, cost too much, and are extremely risky.

But again, to be extremely clear, saying I understand why Obama would do this isn’t the same as saying it’s my personal first choice. I think option #1 is the best option: do nothing. Bolster domestic efforts and stop these people from carrying out any plots within the U.S. and I’m happy. I don’t really care if the Haqqani network destabilizes Afghanistan. I don’t think it would be stable if we completely removed Pakistan from the map. So please, at least argue with me on the basis of what I actually support, not some ridiculous assertion that I think we should assassinate all American criminals.

On a side note, on the question of whether drones reduce collateral death relative to manned aircraft, the answer is without a doubt yes. Drones can linger over and surveil a target for days, waiting for the best time to strike. They also have the advantage of being much, much cheaper than manned aircraft. Lack of operator risk is not the only advantage. To be clear, nobody in Yemen has any realistic chance of shooting an A-10 out of the sky, either.

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Antoni Jaume 08.11.12 at 9:09 pm

Adam 08.11.12 at 8:21 pm
«Well, shit, my earlier point was pretty casually dismissed.»

Because it is the only moral option. Frankly what you call police action is simply oppression in a supreme degree.

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David 08.11.12 at 10:03 pm

A lot of fascinating discussion about the philosophy of using drone strikes. Has anyone actually seen ( personally) a drone strike? Understand why they are used in practicality? Surely this has to matter…

Drones ARE PRIMAILY a tool of surveillance. Only when the INTELLIGENCE service noticed that they could hook up a missile to this pervasive INTELLIGENCE asset, did they become strikers.

Current operations tends to align with ongoing surveillance operations. The strike shortens the action time peuod between identification of some “threat” to action. Historically, the time between intelligence on a target and the ability to act was comparitively long. Now, not necessarily so much

But why use them at all? Because they are easier to risk than US troops. Period.

Those in favor of drone strikes won’t be quite so happy when a foreign “criminal” is killed on US soil by a foreign drone. Not a police action… When you scrutinize the ease of employing a drone strike, I don’t get a sense of much restraint at all. I have the shot… Take it.

Finally drone strikes and the relayed policy of assassination fail to appreciate that the “cut off the head of the snake” theory doesn’t seem to hold.

156

UserGoogol 08.11.12 at 10:20 pm

Can we stop acting like if consequentialism is accepted as true, we’ll all be doomed to eternal war? There are perfectly fine consequentialist arguments to be made for why the drones argument is “simplistic,” and deontology is not a free lunch to getting the things we like declared obligatory and the things we don’t like forbidden. Consequentialism is, if I do say so myself, a totally awesome system of ethics, and one which has been applied quite nicely to liberal aims.

157

LFC 08.11.12 at 11:56 pm

Adam @153

I’d say two things in response:
A side point: Bush didn’t give any due process to any captured/arrested ‘enemy combatant’ until the Sup Ct forced him (and Congress) to do so. And even so it hasn’t amounted to all that much.

Main point: Your preferred option #1 does have something to recommend it; I’m not positive it would be my preferred option, though it might be. But it’s somewhat beside the point, since the current situation is that there is a war going on in Afghanistan in which the US is heavily involved. US soldiers continue to be killed: the number so far this month is 15, I believe. Other NATO soldiers are being killed. Afghans continue to die in larger numbers. Most Afghan civilians — not all, but most — are being killed by the Taliban and allies, whether inadvertently or deliberately. Thus the question or problem is not whether the Haqqani network “destabilizes Afghanistan”. The problem is: there is a war going on in Afghanistan, groups based in Pakistan have been participating in this war and killing people, including Afghan civilians and NATO soldiers, and have been using their bases in Pakistan as a way to fight in Afghanistan while avoiding (to some extent) the costs they would incur if they were based in Afghanistan, all while the Pakistan govt has mostly looked the other way.

Would everything in Afghanistan be fine if the Pakistani havens didn’t exist? Of course everything wouldn’t be fine. There would still be a destructive war going on. There would still be a weak and corrupt central government. But that doesn’t mean removing the havens, or more realistically harming the groups operating from them, makes no difference. This is not necessarily to say the current level of drone strikes is justified, or that drones on balance have done more good than harm: I think it may well be the other way around. I can’t imagine how frightening and alienating it must be to have these things constantly hovering above the area where one lives, even if one is not directly targeted. So I am not at all an enthusiast of drones. My point is only that the context in which they are being used has to be taken into account. On that general statement, at least, we probably agree.

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LFC 08.12.12 at 12:12 am

p.s.
The whole business about whether drones are ‘police action’ is also, ISTM, somewhat beside the point. Some of the individuals being targeted have not only been plotting terrorist acts but, as I said, also have been participating in ongoing wars, namely the ones in Afghanistan and (to a lesser extent) Yemen.

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Moni 08.12.12 at 12:54 am

A clarification to my earlier comment: Of course, we can and should judge tactics from a moral point of view (and the use of drones is a purely tactical course of action). My argument is NOT that once the decision to wage war has been made the choice of tactics is only a question of efficacy and not morality. However, while we can reasonably make an analytic distinction between the narrower context of choosing tactics and the larger moral-political context for the purpose of judging their efficacy, we cannot do the same for the purpose of judging their morality.

The question of the morality of a given tactic among a range of alternatives is addressed by a simple conditional argument: IF the given tactic achieves the same purpose with killing less people compared to the alternatives THEN it is morally justifiable. This means that the issue of moral justification really hinges on the said purpose, which takes us back into the more tangled political context. It also means that, theoretically speaking, the proper range of comparison for a given tactic includes courses of action that could achieve the said purpose without killing anyone.

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Linda J 08.12.12 at 3:03 am

“And while my identification with much if not most of Buddhist ethics…”

Patrick, do you wonder about the ethics are of the Buddhists who are decimating the Royhingya Muslims in Burma?

161

Salient 08.12.12 at 4:08 pm

Well, shit, my earlier point was pretty casually dismissed.

I don’t think a workable solution to your problem involves writing inflammatory paragraphs that catastrophically misrepresent what people have already said in response to you, couched in insulting positioning rhetoric and laden with ‘troll tells’ (the derogatory use of the word ‘seriously’ for example). What are you wanting to get out of the more through and less ‘casual’ discussion of your point that you are attempting to initiate? Or was that follow-up comment just meant to burn the place down while you walk away looking all cool?

162

etc. 08.12.12 at 4:46 pm

As I said above (#83 so far ignored), war with little risk to one side is not just. Shooting a bankrobber in the back is not just.
a government may say it requires secrecy to wage a war, and that the a free press puts victory at risk. If the choice is between victory or democracy I’ll choose democracy. And with a fully informed electorate (meaning also an electorate who saw it as their responsibility to inform themselves – something we lack) how many wars would we be fighting now? I’d say none since 1945.
Push-button warriors know as much about killing as actors is slasher movies or kids playing world of warcraft.
What is the cost for our society if our virtual war is people’s reality. How can they be expected to respond? Idealistically and practically (take your pick) drones are a mistake and a crime.

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Watson Ladd 08.12.12 at 5:19 pm

etc: I think after 9/11 we would be fighting a war. There was widespread support for expelling the Taliban and al-Queda from Afghanistan. What is injust about shooting a bankrobber in the back is just as injust when he is shot in the front. When force is required, why should the police give a scoundrel the opportunity to pull one over on them?

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etc. 08.12.12 at 5:40 pm

The above was still too simple.
If assassination is problematic, what is war carried out only by assassination?

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etc. 08.12.12 at 6:05 pm

We helped create Al Qaeda.
And they were at their weakest about one month after 9-11. The world was in shock; they had almost no friends. Within 3 years we made them millions. They’ve faded again, but now we’re fomenting sectarian war throughout the region, on the side of Saudi Arabia and Israel.
What could go wrong?

You all need to get out more. Too much time in the library is not healthy.

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Watson Ladd 08.12.12 at 7:41 pm

Assassination is not problematic when it comes to war! Operation Arthropod, Yammamoto’s death, etc. were all carried out to secure the deaths of particular individuals. So why don’t you explain to me how to eliminate al-Queda from Afghanistan without invading it?

167

LFC 08.12.12 at 7:51 pm

to etc.:

Someone who asserts that Saudi Arabia and Israel are “united” (comment #82 above) [you didn’t say the govts have certain convergent interests, you said united]; and that “we’re [i.e. the US?] fomenting sectarian war throughout the region, on the side of Saudi Arabia and Israel” (comment #163) is hardly in a good position to tell others that they are out of touch with reality. If Saudi Arabia and Israel are united, why doesn’t, e.g., Saudi Arabia propose that Israel be given observer status to attend the next meeting of the Arab League (oh, it has? sorry, my oversight). Why didn’t Saudi Arabia walk out of UNESCO when the PA was seated as a full member there (sorry, I also missed that).

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LFC 08.12.12 at 8:00 pm

I do, however, agree with you (etc.) that ‘virtual’ war and remote killing come w/ problems (moral and other) attached.

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etc. 08.12.12 at 8:46 pm

http://mondoweiss.net/2011/05/the-only-democracy-israel-has-urged-us-to-intervene-to-prop-up-saudi-monarchy.html
Cut and paste below.
english.al-akhbar.com/node/4839

There’s more if you want it.

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etc. 08.12.12 at 9:00 pm

I called assassination problematic. I didn’t condemn it outright. But what’s the difference between American assassins and Saudi or Iranian?

Mondoweiss again

http://mondoweiss.net/2012/07/state-dept-says-it-is-not-consistent-on-human-rights-violations-involving-israel-and-neighbors.html

We need a more politically educated populace and one more aware of the responsibilities of self-government. There was an article in the NYT a few weeks ago that interviewed a drone operator. A col. Who operates out of upstate NY.
Not someone who understands much about the world, or cares to.

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Salient 08.12.12 at 10:39 pm

When force is required, why should the police give a scoundrel the opportunity to pull one over on them?

Watson, dear, you’ve fallen prey here to the exact error that the original post was about.

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Watson Ladd 08.12.12 at 10:43 pm

Not so. etc. says it is unsporting to shoot robbers in the back, I point out he probably objects to shooting them in the front as well.

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etc. 08.12.12 at 10:59 pm

You point out nothing. You assume.

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etc. 08.12.12 at 11:14 pm

And when force is required, according to whom, John Foster Dulles?
He would have loved drones.

How would you describe the difference between a man raised in poverty and war who knew pain before he knew hate, and a suburban father of 3 who spends his workdays at a computer station raining death from the above while complaining about the lousy coffee at the cafeteria down the hall and bragging about his son’s football scholarship? Of the two of them which one understands war?

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gordon 08.13.12 at 12:06 am

This all reminds me so very much of the arguments about bombing, napalm and defoliants in Vietnam all those years ago. The weirdness, the horror.

176

JW Mason 08.13.12 at 1:19 am

In the perhaps inordinate time I’ve spent reading Crooked Timber, I’ve leaned one thing for sure: Once people start talking to Watson Ladd, it’s time to turn off the lights, close the thread and go home.

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Rakesh 08.13.12 at 1:45 am

Haven’t followed discussion above…

To win the election Obama defined the Taliban rather than the Baathist party as his constitutive other, the Schmittian enemy in contradistinction to which he defined American identity.
With the nativists and birthers breathing down his neck, each drone strike was meant to Americanize Barack Hussein Obama and, in a way, America too in the sense of giving it an identity along the friend/enemy axis. I do not say this entirely as a criticism. At any rate, Obama is trapped by politics to prosecute the war against the Taliban, but he has already begun to step away from it. First came the offer to give a place to Afghani Taliban in a coalition government. Second was the attempt to specify the enemy not as the Taliban but the Taliban only insofar as it was a proxy of the Haqqani network.
But this creates problems. The ISI seems to trust the Haqqani network only to secure its interests in Afghanistan, and the concern is that if the Pakistani military cannot succeed in Afghanistan given its failure in Kashmir and the existential questions that raises about Pakistan itself, it will face increasingly violent attacks from jihadis at home as well as from within the military.
But the international community cannot be happy about giving the Haqqani-controlled Taliban power within Afghanistan as that will turn a country the size of France into a safe haven for terrorists from around the world and undermine its sovereignty.
It seems clear that any sovereign or autonomous government in Afghanistan will not be acceptable to the ISI as such a government would find it rational to seek out diplomatic and economic relations with India.

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LFC 08.13.12 at 10:20 pm

Rakesh — see my comments (on matters related to your comment) @ 132, 142, 157

179

Timothy Scriven 08.14.12 at 7:51 am

Exposure to conditional arguments, even without exposure to evidence for the antecedent, should, rationally increase belief (the exact proof is left to the reader/less tired Scriven)

180

Chris Bertram 08.14.12 at 8:06 am

Timothy Scriven – I can quite see that, for the case where the conditional argument asserts some genuine relationship, but where we don’t know whether then antecedent is true.

So if I learn that

IF _ car tyres are worn_ THEN _the car is more likely to crash_

then I’ll rationally come to be concerned about the consequent coming to pass, just in case I assign any positive probability to the antecedent (in the absence of evidence).

BUT …. surely you wouldn’t say that belief should increase where the conditional argument is merely asserted invented bs, such as

IF _you step on the cracks in the pavement_ THEN _the bears will get you_

?

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etc. 08.14.12 at 1:27 pm

An extension of the point that propositions carry more rhetorical weight than questions: presentation, oratory, poetry, etc.

See also, leading questions in court procedure.

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Watson Ladd 08.14.12 at 2:06 pm

Chris: If you have evidence for the causation, then the conclusion should be more likely. We want to consider P(B)=P(B|A)P(A)+P(B|\not A)P(\not A). Evidence for a conditional increase P(B|A), so increase our estimate if we think A has nonzero probability. How much it increases depends on how likely the anteceedent is.

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Ed Marshall 08.14.12 at 8:33 pm

So what happens if these guys are moving around HEU or VX gas or something? I don’t know what they are doing. Maybe the U.S. is just picking people out of a hat to waste hellfire missiles for all I know. It would seem to make a huge amount of difference.

184

Ragweed 08.15.12 at 6:22 pm

“You can’t use drones to invade Normany, but you might use them to ambush Hitler’s motorcade, and if ambushing Hitler’s motorcade leads to the same result as invading Normandy, then you’ve saved a good many lives on both sides, including a lot of civilian bystanders.”

But there, again, we have the big “if”. What if ambushing Hitler’s motorcade causes the German military and German populace to get even more incensed by the “cowardly” attack on their leader and become more motivated to continue the war? Assassination of a leader, even an unpopular one, by an outside force has, historically, probably inflamed more wars than it has ended.

Wars tend to be fought by (large numbers of) people in large organizations with substantial institutional structures to maintain the material and ideological support for the war. Once started there is an organizational momentum that will keep wars going even after removal of a key leader*. In some cases you might assassinate a particularly competent military leader, then their replacement by a less competent leader may increase the chance of victory for one side – but even then there are huge unknowns that might lead to more rather than fewer casulties.

This is, incidentally, exactly the point the OP was making.

(*in the specific case of Hitler and WWII you can make a case that there was a point where the military leadership was ready to negotiate an end to the war, while Hitler was bent on prolonging it, and an assassination might have saved some lives . But that was very late in the war, after Normandy and after an upwards of 10 million people had already been killed – the army had to be defeated before the generals were willing to end the war)

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