Quote of the Day for Tuesday, September 27th, 2011:
J.E. Dyer, posting over at HotAir’s Green Room, on the implications of the increasing and expanding reliance of the United States’ military efforts in the Middle East on assassination via drone strike:
To use this kind of force, the implication is that you don’t need to have a traditional-warfare justification. Alternatively, you could say that this kind of force – drone-targeting; anti-personnel tactics untethered to the idea of securing a “better peace” – is now a way war can be defined.
In either case, these suppositions raise questions in terms of the Geneva Conventions and the law of armed conflict. More fundamentally, they raise questions as to what we are, in effect, doing. It’s one thing if drones are used as an adjunct to an overarching strategy of closing in on militant jihadism by denying it territory and transforming the political conditions in which it has thrived. But it’s something else when drones become the go-to tool, for a go-to method of simply killing as many jihadis as possible.
The latter model begins to resemble the methods of guerrilleros and the bloody conflicts of crime syndicates. What those models presuppose is the absence of a possibility of strategic resolution: a felt need to keep killing because, when baseline conditions aren’t expected to change, it’s the only option for harassing, culling, and deterring the enemy pack. Is that the light in which we see this “war on terror” conflict?
Accountable nations fighting to win – fighting for what B.H. Liddell-Hart called a “better peace” – fight differently. Their objective is not to kill as many people as possible but to transform the conditions of people on the territory they inhabit. Bill Roggio is right: if you don’t transform what’s going on on territory, the important things – the things that produced the need to fight in the first place – will not change. That transformation need not involve forcibly changing foreign regimes, but it unquestionably involves changing foreign regimes’ will and intentions.
As usual, Dyer has produced a well-thought-out piece, and she asks some very important questions. It’s worth reading the entire (short) piece. Even the discussion in the combox is worth reading – and I don’t find myself able to say that too often!
Myself, I’ve been troubled for quite some time, from a strictly moral perspective, by this administration’s clear preference for using assassination techniques – whether by unmanned drones or more conventional tactics – to achieve its goals. I’ve been reluctant to say anything publicly because I don’t want to come across as a partisan hypocrite. A partisan, maybe; a hypocrite, sure; but not a partisan hypocrite, please.
It’s true that the Obama administration can pretty much do no good in my eyes, but the simple fact that this drone issue might be just another platform from which to clobber Obama with fault does not change the fact that it is so for morally valid reasons – perhaps especially since it appears to me to be of a piece with his overall approach to moral reasoning. One could reasonably ask why I didn’t similarly criticize George Bush for similar techniques, but the truth is, I can’t remember how drones and such were used during the Bush administration, and I haven’t bothered to find out. I simply don’t remember what I thought – assuming I paid attention. Beyond that, I will only make three brief points: (1) If I had said anything at all, I would have been similarly critical of their use by Bush in similar circumstances, though regarding circumstances, see Dyer’s main point on the strategic imperative, and also my following point. (2) For all his failures and mistakes, I understood Bush to be a fundamentally good, decent, and moral man who grappled deeply with the moral implications of his decisions, whereas I understand Obama to be the most cynical, calculating, and utilitarian politician to occupy the White House since Richard Nixon. I trusted Bush; I don’t trust Obama, and so my antennae are up – what can I say… (3) Neither Bush nor his supporters ever tried to pass him off as a “peace candidate” – talk about partisan hypocrisy!
Anyway, getting back to Dyer, she hits the nail on the head when she reminds her readers that, regardless of what they may think, either strategically or morally, of the use of this tactic in the current crises, it is behavior that is opening up a Pandora’s box of payback and proliferation of pre-moral, savage violence, untethered to anything remotely resembling just war.