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Wonderment
04-22-2011, 02:44 AM
In light of the rapid escalation of the (mostly NATO) war on Libya, (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/post/drone-attacks-in-libya-a-mistake/2011/03/04/AFtZrRKE_blog.html?hpid=z1)here's a good piece by David Ignatius in today's WAPO on why Obama's killer drones (Kaddafi must go!) are a very bad idea. Ignatius does not hestitate to call drones "an addictive tool of US national security strategy."

Armed with Hellfire missiles, the Predator drone is a tool for assassination from 10,000 feet. It has been used by the CIA, with a paper-thin veneer of deniability, to attack al-Qaeda operatives and related targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where other weapons do not reach.

... Obama “has approved the use of armed Predators” over Libya... the first mission was launched Thursday but aborted because of bad weather.

They [Pentagon] did not state what targets the Predator had been assigned to strike. But surely it’s likely that the goal was to kill Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi or other members of his inner circle.

My quick reaction, as a journalist who has chronicled the growing use of drones, is that this extension to the Libyan theater is a mistake. It brings a weapon that has become for many Muslims a symbol of the arrogance of U.S. power into a theater next door to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the most promising events in a generation. It projects American power in the most negative possible way.

bjkeefe
04-22-2011, 09:08 AM
In light of the rapid escalation of the (mostly NATO) war on Libya, (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/post/drone-attacks-in-libya-a-mistake/2011/03/04/AFtZrRKE_blog.html?hpid=z1)here's a good piece by David Ignatius in today's WAPO on why Obama's killer drones (Kaddafi must go!) are a very bad idea. Ignatius does not hestitate to call drones "an addictive tool of US national security strategy."

I don't agree. I think it's a mistake to conflate the two issues at hand here. The first question is whether we ought, in general, to be carrying out the aggressive actions that we are in Libya. Or in any other place, such as Afghanistan. It's a perfectly respectable view, to my mind at least, to say that we should not.

However, once it is accepted that we should be carrying out actions more aggressive than pure protection of civilians in a given location, then I believe the answer to the second question -- What should we not do, while we're in general lobbying high explosives, etc., around this location? -- there's no sense in ham-stringing oneself. We more or less have a global consensus that WMDs (NBC weapons) should not be used, and I'm happy to go along with that, but I don't see any practical difference between a drone strike, a bomb dropped from a crewed aircraft, a missile fired from same, bullets or grenade as propelled by a portable unit, artillery shells, etc.

The use of military force is a nasty business, and I'll be the first to agree that the US resorts to it all too often. But once it is stipulated that military force should be used, 'twere best done quickly.

P.S. In response to that quoted phrase about addiction, I'll say this: I do buy the notion that the ongoing effort to sanitize war is in a larger sense an objectionable thing. Whether it's ludicrously expensive gadgets so that our side can stand ever farther away while fighting, or the spinelessness of our media in refusing to print any war photos/run any war footage that Beaver Cleaver's mom would object to, I do think the apparent bloodlessness keeps average Americans from honestly grappling with the inescapable subtext of putting those yellow ribbon magnet stickers on their SUVs.

Wonderment
04-22-2011, 04:57 PM
The use of military force is a nasty business, and I'll be the first to agree that the US resorts to it all too often. But once it is stipulated that military force should be used, 'twere best done quickly.

The problem cited here is not whether or not to use force (I vote not, as you know), but rather mission creep and escalation addiction. The original mandate was to protect civilians primarily in the area of Bengazi. It's true that the text of the UN resolution was broad, but many UN member nations signed on with a no-bombing-of-people no-fly zone in mind. Soon target lists were expanded, geographical area was expanded (Arab League balked at this) and degree of engagement was expanded (several Western nations refused to go on the bombing missions).

Then we heard "no boots on the ground, no matter what," but it was soon revealed that CIA was on the ground, and they didn't count because they wore shoes , not boots.

Then we learned Britain, France and Italy would send "military advisers" (possible over 1000), which ARE boots on the ground and IS reminiscent of how we got involved in Vietnam.

Now it's US drone attacks, even though Obama assured us that the US mission was basically over and that NATO would be in charge.

Also, we were assured that the mission was not to "take out" Kaddafi, but the drones suggest, to Ignatius at least, that assassination of political leadership is the purpose.

I am increasingly convinced that this was a bullshit war from the beginning and that more prudent nations than ours (those who abstained at the SC) recognized the pitfalls, the costs and the potential for vast unintended consequences. I think we got played by the "boy who cried Rwanda," and we are especially susceptible to getting played because we habitually resort to war and intimidation. We are all John McCain (http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2008/08/mccain_we_are_a.html) now, including Obama.

bjkeefe
04-22-2011, 05:08 PM
[...]

I'm sorry, but you seem only to be addressing the first of the two questions, as I laid them out in my previous reply. I already know you're against war.

I am unpersuaded by mere assertion that using drones is indicative of a sudden new interest in targeting Gaddafi, given how many other ways the US military has of targeting individuals. Think of Saddam Hussein's sons, for example, not to mention the attempts to take out Saddam himself.

Again, whether one thinks targeting the leader of another country is acceptable as part of a military strategy is a question that can be argued reasonably for or against. But it doesn't (necessarily) have anything to do with drones, as I see it.

Wonderment
04-22-2011, 06:00 PM
I am unpersuaded by mere assertion that using drones is indicative of a sudden new interest in targeting Gaddafi, given how many other ways the US military has of targeting individuals. Think of Saddam Hussein's sons, for example, not to mention the attempts to take out Saddam himself.

Maybe not. Ignatius may be wrong. But President Obama's Predator Drone authorization clearly is an escalation of the war by the USA. The LA Times has reported it as follows, emphasizing that the drones are a surrogate for ground troops;

The decision marks a resumption of a direct combat role for U.S. aircraft in Libya and represents a shift for the White House. It follows decisions by France, Italy and Britain this week to send military advisors to assist the poorly armed, inexperienced and disorganized rebel force based in eastern Libya.

The first Predator mission was launched Thursday, but the pilotless plane was forced to turn back because of poor weather conditions, said Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He said two drones would fly 24 hours a day and focus initially on targets around Misurata, Libya's third-largest city and the focal point of resistance in western Libya, where the outgunned and outnumbered opposition forces have held out against relentless attacks by Kadafi's forces.

"What they will bring that is unique to the conflict is their ability to get down lower, therefore to be able to get better visibility on targets," Cartwright said. "They are uniquely suited for urban areas."

As the siege has deepened, high-flying NATO fighter planes have struggled to find and attack the military squads that have fired mortars and other weapons into Misurata, killing dozens of people. Mortars are small, portable weapons that can be easily hidden and quickly moved after being fired.

U.S. Army units are equipped with radar that tracks the trajectory of incoming mortar shells and allows U.S. forces to swiftly return fire. But NATO has no troops or radar units on the ground in Libya. The Predators could help fill the gap, however.

bjkeefe
04-22-2011, 06:27 PM
Maybe not. Ignatius may be wrong. But President Obama's Predator Drone authorization clearly is an escalation of the war by the USA. The LA Times has reported it as follows, emphasizing that the drones are a surrogate for ground troops;

[Added: here is a link (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-gates-libya-20110422,0,6275441.story) for the material you quoted, in case anyone wants it.]

If you want to say that using drones can be a stealth way to escalate a given military effort, I can probably agree with that possibility, in the abstract.

I am not well-enough informed about the particulars of the Libyan situation to say whether I agree or disagree with that in this instance.

I would also say, however, that use of drones can in some situations be far less of an escalation than using ground troops. Think of the hunt for bad guys in the wilds of northwest Pakistan, for example. Now, I know you are opposed to this, and it's even more certain that the people of Pakistan don't like it, but again, whether we should use our military in this area is a separate issue. Once we stipulate that military force is going to be used against Taliban and al Qaeda militants in that area, then on the matter of the drones themselves, they are, compared to a full-scale occupation, appreciably easier to tolerate; i.e., considerably less of an escalation than invading troops would be. This must be true, at least in this case, since it's been going on for seven years and produced little but grumbling.

Wonderment
04-22-2011, 06:46 PM
I would also say, however, that use of drones can in some situations be far less of an escalation than using ground troops.

Yes, I agree with that.

This must be true, at least in this case, since it's been going on for seven years and produced little but grumbling.

The lack of grumbling is, in large measure, because of minimal American casualties. There is no one to kill in a drone. But the lack of grumbling can also be because people are too oblivious of the costs of well-protected troops on the ground and too indifferent to the loss of foreign civilian life. It may be several years down the road until we realize that the civilians themselves have been grumbling all along. I hope it doesn't take terrorist attacks on us to call our attention to outrage against America.

I also hope we can learn something from Israel's asymmetric warfare mistakes. The Israelis slaughter a high number of Palestinians (and Lebanese) and use up a fortune in military resources in pursuit of a zero-tolerance for Israeli losses strategy. They use white phosphorous, cluster bombs and now drones as well, but as long as IDF losses are minimal, no one "grumbles." When the Palestinians extremists, however, get angry enough with this treatment, they resort to terror attacks, which gets everyone grumbling.

This was also part of Ignatius' point: even if drones are not a major escalation, they are a symbol of much that is wrong with US militarism.

bjkeefe
04-22-2011, 07:18 PM
Yes, I agree with that.

Okay.

The lack of grumbling is, in large measure, because of minimal American casualties. [...]

I should have been more clear. When I said (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=205343#post205343), "... it's been going on for seven years and produced little but grumbling," I meant from Pakistan, in contrast to what we can imagine would be their reaction if US troops marched across their border.

As to the rest of what you go on to say, (1) I'm sorry, but I remain unpersuaded that there is any practical difference between drone strikes and high explosives being delivered -- on or off target -- by any other means; and (2), of course we are in agreement about the many problems of American militarism writ large.

Wonderment
04-25-2011, 01:43 AM
Here's an interesting article on the ethics of Predator Drones. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/are-predator-drones-a-technological-tipping-point-in-warfare/2011/04/19/AFmC6PdE_story.html?hpid=z2):

....a new study by the British Defense Ministry questioning whether advances in their capabilities will lead future decision-makers to “resort to war as a policy option far sooner than previously.”

bjkeefe
04-25-2011, 09:56 AM
Here's an interesting article on the ethics of Predator Drones. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/are-predator-drones-a-technological-tipping-point-in-warfare/2011/04/19/AFmC6PdE_story.html?hpid=z2):....a new study by the British Defense Ministry questioning whether advances in their capabilities will lead future decision-makers to “resort to war as a policy option far sooner than previously.”

Saw that when I was over on the WaPo's site (looking for more dish on John Ensign, I have to admit), thanks to your FB recommendation.

The part you quoted seems like a reasonable concern, I suppose, although I am hard-pressed to say that there's much holding back the US's kneejerk instinct to use military force as a policy option as it is.

Here's the part that scared me more:

The British study noted that drones are becoming increasingly automated. With minor technical advances, it said, a drone could soon be able to “fire a weapon based solely on its own sensors, or shared information, and without recourse to higher, human authority.”

What could possibly go wrong with that?

Wonderment
04-25-2011, 03:58 PM
What could possibly go wrong with that?

Maybe a bit of collateral damage once in a blue moon, like when a sprinkler system erroneously goes off in a building and soaks the carpet, but think of the upside: secure borders at last.

Wonderment
04-25-2011, 04:03 PM
NATO war broadened to include non-military targets:

NYT: (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/world/africa/26libya.html)

NATO warplanes struck Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s compound here early Monday and bombed a state television facility in an escalation of the air campaign...

The attack on the compound was the third since air raids began in mid-March, but the strike at the television facility was the most significant broadening yet of the NATO air campaign, suggesting that nonmilitary targets would be hit in an effort to break down the instruments of Colonel Qaddafi’s broader control