Togane, Japan
December 31
I'm teaching English in foreign countries as a way to see the world. I lived in Germany for three years and have been in Japan since August of 2011.


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FEBRUARY 14, 2013 1:15AM

Destroying America with Drones

Rate: 8 Flag

This will probably be the last piece I post on Open Salon, so I want to make it count by writing about something I consider far more important than most Americans realize: our disastrous drone policy.  Most Americans support this policy because--I believe--they don't fully understand what's going on or haven't considered it carefully enough.

My argument against the United States’ use of drone-strikes is two-pronged, the first having to do with efficacy and the second with morality.  I’ll start with the claim that President Obama is using drone-strikes in a way that is counter-productive to the goal of weakening the terrorists, followed by the claim that his use of drone-strikes against American citizens violates not just the Constitution but the very principles this nation was founded on.


Drone-strikes harm American interests.

Let me start by clearing up the most common misunderstanding about those of us who are opposed to drone-strikes.  Most of us have no problem with the technology itself but with how the technology is being used.  When they ask us, “Would you rather put our soldiers at risk by having them fly the planes manually?” the answer is “Of course not.”  That’s beside the point.  The fact that the drones are unmanned and remotely piloted is only relevant insofar as it encourages more casual use of them.  But we’d be just as opposed to what these drones are doing if they did contain living pilots.

Thanks mostly to our pitiful mainstream media, most Americans are unaware of how drone-strikes are actually being employed, believing they are used only to make pinpoint precision strikes against high-ranking members of Al Qaeda.  If this were actually the case, only the most radically left-wing lefties would be opposed to it.  I would be in favor of them and almost every rational person would, which is why the majority of the American public still expresses support for our drone policy.  But this support is based on a misperception which those in Washington and the establishment media are happy to let endure.

How many people know that there are two main categories of drone-strikes?  There are “personality strikes” and “signature strikes”.  Everyone knows about personality strikes—a drone drops a bomb on an identified Al Qaeda terrorist, something almost no one has any qualms with.  But very few people know about signature strikes—a drone drops a bomb on a group of unidentified people who may or may not be terrorists but who appear to be engaging in suspicious activity.  “Suspicious activity” could be nothing more than a handful of military-age males standing around together.  Our drone bomb might have stopped them from plotting the next 9/11, or it might have just stopped them from chatting about last night’s soccer game.

There’s also a drone-tactic called a “double-tap” which would (or at least should) make most people sick if they knew about it.  In a double-tap, after a drone-strike hits and people rush in to help the victims, a drone drops a second bomb to wipe out the responders.  The justification behind this brilliant idea is that any people rushing in to help terrorists are probably terrorists themselves.  If not, at least it discourages anyone from attempting to help drone-strike victims, thus increasing the likelihood that the victims will die.  Maybe you’re just a good Samaritan and didn’t even know that the victims were Al Qaeda, but what could we do?  We’re trying to defend our Christian Nation from you Muslim extremists, after all, and I’m sure Jesus would approve of the “double-tap” strategy if it were explained to him.

Those who continue to approve of the drone strategy even with the knowledge of how it’s actually being executed will argue that the United States is at war, and there is always collateral damage in war.  You just have to keep killing the bad guys until there are so few of them left that the enemy is forced to surrender.  If civilians are killed in the process it’s unfortunate but unavoidable.

This argument might be valid in a conventional war, but it doesn’t hold water when it comes to our operations in places like Pakistan and Yemen.  We’re not at war with Pakistan or Yemen.  We’re not fighting a nation-state capable of surrender.  We’re fighting against an ideology—that America is evil and must be destroyed at all costs—that can either grow and spread or shrink and decline but never be rooted out entirely.  It’s a gross oversimplification to imagine a finite number of “bad guys” out there, and believe that if we just keep killing them we keep subtracting from that number until it eventually becomes negligible.  If executed intelligently and carefully, drone-strikes could reduce the total number of terrorists in the world, but if done recklessly the strikes will cause that number to multiply.

The question we must be asking is whether the way in which the president is employing the use of drones is reducing the number of terrorists or creating more of them.  I believe common sense alone suggests that our current strategy is making more terrorists.  All you have to do is imagine yourself in the other man’s shoes.  If a foreign military power had drones buzzing about your skies all day and occasionally dropping bombs that occasionally kill innocent people, you’d be in a constant state of fear.  Of course you’d be more receptive to anyone preaching that the nation responsible for the drones is evil and must be stopped.  Even if you understood intellectually that they were doing it for their own protection, your constant state of fear would trump that understanding.  If one of those drone-strikes then happened to kill someone you cared about, perhaps a family member, it wouldn’t matter at all what that foreign power’s justifications were—you’d want revenge.

Also bear in mind that when civilians die in drone-strikes, Al Qaeda gives money to the victims’ families.  It’s impossible to imagine that doesn’t have a powerful effect on their thinking.

If common sense isn’t enough to sway you, perhaps you’d be more inclined to trust Robert Grenier, former top counter-terrorism official for the CIA, who witnessed firsthand the counter-productive nature of drone-strikes in Pakistan and is speaking out about it now.

Or you could simply trust the numbers.  When Obama launched his first strike in Yemen in 2009, there were estimated to be about 300 members of Al Qaeda in that country.  After several years of continued strikes, that number has already swelled to 700.  You don’t have to be a military expert to realize that something isn’t working.

Barack Obama once famously said that he’s not against all wars—he’s just against “dumb wars”.  I’m not against all drone-strikes, Mr. President, but yours seem pretty dumb.


Drone-strikes destroy American ideals.

The United States of America began as a loose conglomeration of British colonies and remained that way until declaring independence in 1776.  In his famous declaration, Thomas Jefferson enumerated our reasons for breaking free of the monarchy.

One of the grievances against the King was this: “He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

Another was this: “For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.”

When drawing up a Constitution for this new nation, the framers considered the right of due process to be sacrosanct, and they made it the sixth amendment to the Bill of Rights:  “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”

It’s no secret that the Obama administration has used drone-strikes to take out American citizens suspected of engaging in terrorism.  Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son are the most high-profile examples that we know about, but there are almost certainly many we don’t.  Awlaki might have been a “bad guy”, but he was a citizen and was therefore protected by the same constitutional rights as the rest of us.  That’s just a fact—whether or not you believe he ought to have had those rights, he did have them and the president knowingly and deliberately violated them.  Not only that, but he violated the rights of his 16-year-old son, whom it’s a lot harder to argue didn’t deserve them.

Awlaki was an advocate of jihad against the United States, but there was no evidence that he had ever actually carried out a terrorist attack or even been responsible for the loss of a single American life.  We usually reserve Capital Punishment for those guilty of the most heinous murders, but in this case the president handed down the death penalty to a citizen for spouting propaganda the government didn’t like.

Most drone supporters don’t care about the civil liberties issue because they believe it could never happen to them.  Any citizen the government decides to execute without a trial must be the worst kind of terrorist scum, an imminent threat to national security.  But in a memo released last week we learned that the White House’s definition of “imminent” doesn’t actually mean “imminent”.  It means that an “informed” official within the U.S. government has reason to believe that the suspect has recently been involved in activities that might pose a threat to the United States at some point in the future.  Basically, if the government doesn’t like you and thinks you’re up to no good, it has all the authority it needs to drop a bomb on your head without consulting a single judge.

Still, most people don’t care as long as the activities the government doesn’t like involve words like “Allah” and “jihad” but once you start stripping people of their constitutional rights there’s nothing to stop the floodgates from tearing apart altogether.  Next those “threatening activities” will include selling drugs, buying too many guns, not paying your taxes, and so on.  An awful lot of “activities” can be considered “threatening” and if that’s all the executive branch needs to justify murdering you then we might as well just declare the president a King and be done with it.

You might not have a problem with what the president has done specifically in executing American citizens with ties to terrorism, but only the most willfully blind Obama supporters or willfully blind war hawks could possibly fail to have a problem with what the president has done in principle.

Twice now President Obama has placed his hand on the Bible and sworn to protect and defend the Constitution.  By depriving U.S. citizens of the right to a trial by jury he has violated that oath and violated the principles this country was founded on—the principles that are a part of the very reason this country exists in the first place.  It sounds like hyperbolic rhetoric to call this treason but that’s exactly what it is.  If our representatives were men of principle they would be calling for his impeachment.

If President Bush had executed American citizens without a trial, the left would have been in an uproar, but because it’s Obama and Obama is “on their side” they remain silent.  If President Obama had executed right-wing extremists without a trial, the right would have been in an uproar, but because it’s been Muslims and those are “the bad guys” they remain silent.  It’s a tragically perfect formula for the destruction of the moral core of America.

Concerns over liberty are often in conflict with concerns over security, but the way we’re currently using drone-strikes is diminishing both.



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[r] this is so well-expressed and reasoned. thanks so much for writing it. i am sorry you are leaving! ????

i knew about signature strikes, but I didn't know the other was called "personality" strike and did not know the label "double-tap" though have read about it and it horrifies me. I think "US intelligence" is an oxymoron!! I think political arbitrariness totally rules with gamesman Obama and Cheney was on Charlie Rose tonight saying what a wimp Obama is and NOT tough enough. What an ethical freakshow with both party's collection of sociopaths. I agree, Obama should be impeached for trashing our bill of rights and assuming dictatorial power! Congress should be impeached for letting him. Media is proving totally amoral, and citizenry choosing to play ostriches, most of it. 50 countries are supposedly developing drones. What a bigger mess that will be and how will Americans feel when they get to be collateral damage or an enemy for expressing an independent thought? best, libby
this a clear explanation of what's going on, but the problem isn't ignorance, it is a moral depravity which has always been present in a nation built on slavery and ethnic cleansing.
"most Americans ... believ(e drones) are used only to make pinpoint precision strikes against high-ranking members of Al Qaeda. If this were actually the case, only the most radically left-wing lefties would be opposed to it. I would be in favor of them and almost every rational person would".

Thank you. LaaLaaLibby, SafeButchAmy, and others may need to reread these sentences in your blog again.

In terms of precision, would you agree that it's only going to get better? And that all nations, throughout time, used the most advanced technology available to them (except WMDs) in combat?

It's unfortunate that (for all we know) there isn't personalized markers able to be implanted into known terrorists to make drone-kills 100%-success in personality strikes.

But let me ask you this -- the typical progressive rants about the almighty dollar and profits being the driving-force behind almost all government-sanctioned actions. Do you honestly believe that with each killer drone costing millions-of-dollars, they are being used to break-up a soccer match discussion?

And (as evidenced by the recovery of a drone in Iran) don't you think that there's significant risk of malfunctioning drones being collected and their technology copied by others? That would erode the profits of the big defense contractors, right?

Why would those greedy corporations (with politicians in their backpockets) looking to protect their profits, allow these drones be flown for frivolous reasons?

Too much of a stretch for most Americans to believe that killer-drone usage isn't uber-judicious.
Marshal Ferdinand Foch who was the anti Sun Tzu (it was his job to actually fight wars not fetch the emperors slippers and write books) once said “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” He went on to say if you want to win a war you have to put boots on the ground. Just like when he predicted to the year how long the armistice would last between WWI and WWII history has once again proved the great Field Marshall correct. As America found out in WWII against the Japanese you are never going to force an enemy to their knees with air power unless you use something as extreme as an atomic bomb.The Vietnamese won and the Taliban (which is really nothing more than a pseudonym for the Pashtun Tribe) are winning which will eventually prove disastrous to the entire Indian sub continent. America needs to take a bull dozer to West Point and start all over again producing generals who understand their job not politicians with medals pinned on them. Sneaky tactics like drones only strengthen the enemy's resolve.
JS -- drone use as "uber judicious". yeah uber is a german word right? at *least* as uber judicious as nazi germany. heil obama!
ps to call him a dictator as libby does is a crazy overstatement of course. he's a new breed, beyond hitler. drones were not his idea. its the ultimate in a passive ENABLER. he's the assassin in chief, but only by proxy. hes really more the ENABLER IN CHIEF.
see also death to drones-- mission creep to execution nirvana...
ps why are you leaving? they finally fixed the interface. you're one of the better writers on here dude. if you feel overloaded, just take a long break.
hairsplitting for the sake of cronyism, vzn?

"to call him a dictator as libby does is a crazy overstatement of course"
hey libby we both know you're a crazy liberal, just like I am, wink :p
seriously though I think dictator is just not the right term. he's not dictating the terms of the drone. the War Machine is dictating its terms to OBAMA. the warmachine says it needs it for national security, that it will increase the drone strikes, that it will engage in signature strikes and "double taps", and what does obama say?
and then he signs on the dotted line.
simple right?
I just sure hope I didnt puncture anybody's illusions by saying that.
see, we havent seen the long powerpoint presentations by shadowy Warmachine players to obama.... so we just dont really have the knowledge to judge whats right and whats wrong do we? thats @#%& classified information, isnt it? you dont have the security clearance to see it, so what's your problem? hell, even OBAMA barely has the security clearance to see most of it. you think Im joking? Im @#%& serious.
I'm more concerned about your leaving than anything else. What's that story?
Joisey Shore asks:

“But let me ask you this -- the typical progressive rants about the almighty dollar and profits being the driving-force behind almost all government-sanctioned actions. Do you honestly believe that with each killer drone costing millions-of-dollars, they are being used to break-up a soccer match discussion?”

This point is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the profit motive works when it comes to the defense industry.

The more weapons they build, the more money they make. The dirty little secret behind the “war on terror” is that the bulk of it is entirely unnecessary. The average American is more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than in a terrorist attack, and small-scale low-cost intelligence operations could keep that risk to us negligible.

The problem is defense contractors like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin need a justification to keep appropriating money from the government now that the Cold War is over. The more drones they say we need, the more money they can justify taking from the taxpayers. That means they’ll put all the pressure they can on the Pentagon and the White House to order as many drone-strikes as they can, even if it’s not “über-judicious”.

If the million-dollar drones get shot down, all the better for them because that’s a million more dollars they get to build another drone and keep that war machine rolling. THEY don’t lose the money—WE do.
Regarding my leaving Open Salon, it was predicated by a “probably” which is now in some doubt. When I posted this piece I was surprised at how quickly it went up, as the last few times I posted it took forever and I barely received any response at all, so it hardly seemed worth it.

I also haven’t been doing nearly as much political writing as I once did, and I don’t expect my frequency to pick up much in the near future. Ever since I started teaching in Japan, I’ve devoted most of my free time to planning lessons and studying the language. I love my current job a lot more than I love politics.

Finally, I’ve always felt a little guilty for posting my own writing here when I hardly ever read anybody else’s pieces. If I’m not giving, why should I do any receiving?

Appreciate the attempt at an economics lesson about the "fundamentals" in the defense industry; however, you are wrong because what you describe is only applicable to unsmart armaments or other commodity-type weapons.

Any cutting-edge technology will be used judiciously simply because there's significant risk (to both national security and economically) if those items were to fall into enemy hands.

The military (thankfully) is operating more-and-more like a business where there are budgets and a tremendous pressure on maximizing efficiency and minimizing waste.

So again, one would more likely believe that any drone mission has a significant amount of checks & balances concerning risk & reward calculations.
Joisy Shore:

Your argument is an assumption based on an assumption. You believe the government is acting judiciously with drone strikes because you believe they’re concerned about the technology falling into enemy hands. There’s far too much evidence to the contrary to support this belief.

First of all, there are the many examples of clearly NON-judicious drone strikes: Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, the strike that killed Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber while he was arguing with Al Qaeda members as to why their cause was unjust (way to make the enemy’s case for them), the strike that killed Saleem Hussein Jamal and Ali Ali Nasser Jamal because they picked up hitch-hikers who happened to be low-ranking members of Al Qaeda, the numerous weddings and funerals we’ve struck with drones because there might have been Al Qaeda members in attendance, and the list goes on and on.

Second of all, there’s the fact that we don’t launch drones only when we have the intention of making a calculated strike, but that we’re flying drones over “enemy territory” every single day, mostly for reconnaissance and only occasionally to make a strike. We don’t seem too concerned about the technology getting into enemy hands.

And with good reason. Al Qaeda is already weakened to the point of almost total impotence. They don’t have the resources to duplicate the drone technology and use it against us. And we’re not concerned with the governments of Yemen or Pakistan getting their hands on a drone because those are nation-states, rational actors who know how suicidal it would be to attack us.

Finally, even if the military IS acting more like a business with pressure on maximizing efficiency, it’s the CIA that’s conducting most of the drone war. Like defense contractors, the Pentagon also wants to stay relevant in a post-Cold War world, so if their actions create more terrorists and give them more “bad guys” to go after, that’s all the better for them.
Kemstone writes "Al Qaeda is already weakened to the point of almost total impotence."

Thank you. That is the second excellent sentence/assertion made throughout your post and comments.

Most would think that the conclusion that "Al Qaeda is weakened ... " is the result of judicious and effective military/CIA action, including drone surveillance and kills. So perhaps they are doing something right, right?

Sorry, your drone-warfare-is-counterproductive isn't going to get any traction with the American public. That technology is going to be developed and expanded across the world in the coming decade so why shouldn't the U.S. lead all nations in that regard. We do, we will, and it is what it is.
Lastly, to your point about my argument being based on an assumption of an assumption, do you have first-hand knowledge or were you an eyewitness to the killing of the 16 year old in order to assert the circumstances surrounding his death?

If not, then I guess your argument is based on an assumption that the sources you reference are accurate, correct? That's quite an assumption. deliver a very opinionated piece here that I would have dismissed if I hadn't seen your address. It's amazing how much a change in world perspective flavors what we believe and how we are heard. By now you have seen that OS is making some strides to normalcy. I hope you'll stay. J
hi K you've researched this thoroughly more than almost anyone. americans are not aware of the real stories behind the scenes [partly due to the enabling MSM] but they can be found with concerted personal investigation. which reminds me of that saying, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.
It is true that most of us don't keep up with O.S. but I ask you to stay on. You do present a well-reasoned opinion, and benefit the finite group of us who bother to visit at all.

OS is a community, albeit one of intellectual narcissists, but we need each other to keep the hope of a sane world alive. Hang on Kemstone, as long as OS stays up, your mind is a welcome neighbor.