If you're anything like me, you've gotten your fill of irresponsible, extremist rhetoric over the past few weeks. I think it's high time we put all that aside, so that we can consider -- as dispassionately as possible -- the necessity of exterminating Evildoers with drones.
As Danger Room notes, NPR's Neal Conan recently presided over a chinwag on this very topic. Given how déclassé our national discourse has been lately, I can't tell you how pleasant it was to hear this matter discussed politely and rationally, as befits civilized adults in The Greatest Country on Earth.
First, Conan gives us a timely lesson on military history:
PAUL (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen. I'm a former Marine, and I work in law enforcement, and so while I can't say that I perfectly understand all of the costs and all of the factors that are involved in this, I do support the drone strikes because that I feel that some of the alternatives, as one of your speakers just pointed out, are much bloodier, whether it would be a Dresden-style, you know, aerial rolling bombardment, artillery...Perhaps I'm reading Conan uncharitably — which is easy to do, since he's the main reason I'd rather chew thumbtacks than listen to NPR — but it sounds as though he thinks the mass incineration of civilians in Dresden resulted from the inaccuracy of our weapons, rather than from the Allies' decision to drop several hundred tons of incendiary bombs in and around the city center, while using conventional explosives to destroy water mains and block evacuation routes.
CONAN: Well, nobody bombs like that. The United States doesn't bomb like that anymore. They are JDAMs that are dropped with geo-positioning satellites that are quite accurate.
The fact that replicas of German apartments were built at Dugway Proving Ground, complete with typical working-class furniture, in order to make sure that the firebombing campaign would produce the requisite shock and awe, also suggests that the raids on Dresden were "quite accurate," in their own little way.
Nitpicking aside, everyone agrees that drones sometimes kill bystanders who may or may not be innocent. Prof. Peter Alston, who is the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, expresses the misgivings of the average filthy hippie:
You can't simply say that any civilians who are killed are collateral damage, but that's too bad. You can't say that, one, because international law prohibits it, and two, because...you are dramatically turning off the people of Pakistan and making the war far harder for the United States to win.Which prompts Prof. Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University to leap up and slap the hash pipe from Alston's teeth:
This phrase, international law doesn't permit, makes it sound that there's a world government, and there's a world court, and all these players out there behave, and this bad United States gets out of line.Speaking as one of those schmucks who assumed not only that there is a world court, but also that treaties signed by the United States have some sort of legal and ethical force, I can't tell you how liberating it is to know that we actually get to do whatever the fuck we want 'cause nature is red in tooth and claw. I guess we should be grateful to the Islamofascists for impressing this point on us so forcefully.
There's a jungle out there, and the law of the jungle prevails....
Etzioni goes on to claim that there's no such thing as "a clean, lovely war." Which is quite accurate, as strawman arguments go. I myself have argued that our condemnation of chemical weapons may simply be an attempt to make conventional weapons seem civilized. I've even been known to sneer at environmentally friendly munitions.
And yet. It's one thing to acknowledge that killing is killing, whether it's done with phosgene or thermobaric shells. But the claim that international law must play second fiddle, at best, to "the law of the jungle" has legal and moral implications that go very far beyond the issue of drone operations in Pakistan.
The funny thing about Etzioni's position is that drones appeal to him because "the drone can linger hours over the target making sure lawyers can look at it." Obviously, he believes that war is cleaner and lovelier with drones than without. But when questions arise about the legality of (certain) drone attacks, citing the law apparently becomes "legalistic" and "simplistic." When confronting barbarians, you can't let the laws that supposedly distinguish you from barbarians tie your hands: if the Evildoers are unmanly enough to hide among civilians, it makes killing them that much more of a duty.
The argument that America is wonderfully judicious in its use of force, and that the law of the jungle prevails in any case, is either becoming more common, or I'm noticing it more. Either way, I'm pretty sure that laws are supposed to apply even to people who are quite certain that their intentions are good.