They are a turning point because, once we engage in war, we must assume that there aregoing to be a considerable number of casualties on all sides and that these will includeinnocent civilians. Often discussions of war—and calls for carefully targeted, “surgical”killings—strike me as though they have been written by people who yearn for a nice, cleanwar—one in which only “the enemy” will be killed with little, if any, collateral damage. Thefact is that very few armed confrontations unfold in this way. Hence, when we deliberatewhether to ﬁght, we should assume that once we step onto this escalator, it is likely tocarry us to places we would rather not go. The drones are but a step on this woeful journey.Indeed, if kill we must, drones have a major advantage over bombers, missiles andSpecial Forces: drones can linger for hours over their target before they take it out. Thisunique attribute allows the military to sort out whether it found the right target and whetherthe resulting collateral damage is tolerable. There is even time for lawyers to reviewtroublesome cases.The U.S. military developed a set of criteria that must be met before a drone strike can beauthorized. Less reliable intelligence about the target and greater potential collateraldamage trigger more extensive reviews of the information by higher-ranking militaryofﬁcers before a strike is approved. The reviews may go all the way up to the commanderin chief.Drones are said to antagonize the population, create martyrs, invite retaliatory attacks andundermine the legitimacy of the local government (for cooperating with Americans). All thisis true, but the same holds for other means of warfare. Using bombers often generateseven more collateral damage and resentment. Attacks by Special Forces—as we sawwhen bin Laden was killed—are considered more alienating than strikes by dronesbecause they entail an even more blatant violation of sovereignty. Nor are there fewermistaken targets or less collateral damage when Special Forces or regular forces areused.Finally, drones are criticized on the grounds that they are manned by people sitting inair-conditioned trailers in Nevada and Florida, playing with joysticks, before they go homefor dinner and to coach Little League. Their victims remain faceless, and the damagecaused by the drones remains unseen. It makes killing too easy and entices people to goto war.This kind of pop sociology does not stand up to minimal critical examination. Would we orthe people of Afghanistan and Pakistan—or, for that matter, the terrorists—be better off ifthey were killed in close combat? Say, knifed by Special Forces, blood splashing in theirfaces?Granted, if all or most ﬁghting were done in a cold-blooded, push-button way, it might havethe feared effects. However, we are talking about a few hundred drone drivers; what theyfeel or don’t feel has no discernible effects on the nation or the leaders who declare war ormake it drag on. There is no evidence that the expanded use of drones (and before that,high-level bombing and cruise missiles, which were criticized on similar grounds) hasdeepened the United States’ commitment to stay the course in Afghanistan. On thecontrary—it was followed by the unveiling of a plan to leave by 2014.If ﬁght we must, then bring them on. Make more drones.
The Great Drone Debatehttp://nationalinterest.org/print/commentary/the-drone-debate-59452 of 310/6/11 8:44 PM