Follow up this morning while at breakfast (they're showing Fox News at the hotel): I happen to sit down at the exact same time they are reporting on this AGAIN. Despite it really being a non-story. But then they had Madeleine Albright on and she made them look like absolute idiots for thinking the statement is an issue.
The big point that Fox and Friends cast of dumb seem to miss is that the anonymous official (who wasn't speaking in an official capacity for the Obama Administration, btw) said that there is a legitimate Islamism and they think that's a problem. But there IS a legitimate Islamism because Islam is a religion. The guy never said anything about there not being a radical Islam anymore. Just that it's loosing steam in the face of the majority of Muslims who are not, in fact, terrorists.
Drone strikes in general are something I have trouble with, especially when they target unknown people based on age and gender. For all the military knows, they could be targeting soccer games that have just wrapped up or haven't started yet, it is almost morally indistinguishable from serial killing blond women wearing glasses.
To be clear, the above is not hyperbole, it is not exaggeration for effect. American military policy on this matter bears a disturbing resemblance to the psychopathy that causes serial killers to murder people at random.
I'm not entirely sure that follows from the articles or other sources I've seen discussing the program. The 'signature' strikes are shown as somewhat more narrow than that and require high level clearance. Given the views of those involved at that level (as discussed in the second article) I'm doubtful that that clearance is especially easily granted.
If the 'signature' is any group of military aged men in the wrong place at the wrong time, that standard exhibits a depraved indifference to who it is the ordered strike is killing. The redefinition of 'militants' is nothing but a propaganda move to obscure civilian casualties, because for some odd reason, people have a problem with having random strangers killed for having the misfortune to live at the wrong address.
Again, this seems to be confusing the CIA's counting method (where any adult male in the strike zone was assumed to have been a valid target) and the signature criteria, which are not public to my knowledge. None of the articles I've read, speeches given on the topic or legal memos that have been released have revealed exactly what the 'signature' requires. It wouldn't make sense to reveal what the criteria are from a security viewpoint.
One of my biggest problems with this issue is that there are serious criticisms to make and serious debates to be had, but most of the discussion seems to be taking place from positions that don't reflect reality. The Obama administration has been almost strangely open about what could well be it's greatest legal and humanitarian crisis, and is becoming more open by the week. It should make valid criticism and informed debate easy. Yet somehow it isn't.
I doubt that the administration are going to pay attention to groups that misrepresent the processes they are calling to stop. As always you need to confront the strongest form of your opponents argument, in a form recognisable to them as their actual beliefs and actions. I've been working to build a model of the administrations views on this topic for a while and think I'm just about there now, but having to push back hard against a lot of exaggeration from outside groups.
Read the NYT piece yesterday, just read the daily beast piece. Both are some seriously good political reporting, might be Pulitzer worthy. Someone spent a lot of time cultivating and getting very close to sources in the white house for that.
A couple things jumped out at me.
“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.
That sounds distinctly Obama in a lot of ways.
About four months into his presidency, as Republicans accused him of reckless naïveté on terrorism, Mr. Obama quickly pulled together a speech defending his policies. Standing before the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington, he mentioned Guantánamo 28 times, repeating his campaign pledge to close the prison.
But it was too late, and his defensive tone suggested that Mr. Obama knew it. Though President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate, had supported closing the Guantánamo prison, Republicans in Congress had reversed course and discovered they could use the issue to portray Mr. Obama as soft on terrorism.
Walking out of the Archives, the president turned to his national security adviser at the time, Gen. James L. Jones, and admitted that he had never devised a plan to persuade Congress to shut down the prison.
“We’re never going to make that mistake again,” Mr. Obama told the retired Marine general.
General Jones said the president and his aides had assumed that closing the prison was “a no-brainer — the United States will look good around the world.” The trouble was, he added, “nobody asked, ‘O.K., let’s assume it’s a good idea, how are you going to do this?’ “
It was not only Mr. Obama’s distaste for legislative backslapping and arm-twisting, but also part of a deeper pattern, said an administration official who has watched him closely: the president seemed to have “a sense that if he sketches a vision, it will happen — without his really having thought through the mechanism by which it will happen.”
This also seems to be a very concise indictment of some of the things that's been wrong with Obama's presidency. He may be a visionary thinker, but very rarely seems to take an active interest in the political nitty gritty details of getting things done.
Finally, the bit about Anwar al-awlaki
In Barack Obama’s mind, Anwar al-Awlaki was threat No. 1. The Yemen-based leader of AQAP had grown up in the United States, spoke fluent American-accented English, and had a charisma similar to that of Osama bin Laden: soft eyes, a mastery of language, and a sickening capacity for terror.
that frames the issue very nicely.
You have a US Citizen who is living in an unfriendly although not actively hostile foreign country and actively participating in planning attacks against the United States and attempting to carry them out.
If he were a combatant in a foreign army there wouldn't be any question at all, the attacks would be causus belli and we could retaliate or launch a pre-emptive strike if necessary. But he's a member of a non-governmental organization.
That's the problem, without transparency about what justifies the killing of unknown people, without stating openly what qualifies as a "signature", there's no way of knowing US drone strikes aren't just serving as unmanned hit squads for the Pakistani government, or some other shady purpose. The "National Security" defense is pure bullshit, tribal nomads in the middle of nowhere gathering together do not present any kind of credible thread to America's national security, they are just in the way of America's interests.
Best case scenario, every one of the people killed in these strikes was an al Queda operative, plotting to kill Americans. If this really were the case, it would still be a problem, because policy decisions like who you kill and why are still the sort of thing that needs to be discussed openly.
Step 1: Get a minivan and a rifle. Step 2: Go to a mall and shoot a few people. Step 3: Get the hell out of there and leave a note explaining your actions. Step 4, Rinse and repeat until you're finally caught and put on public trial where you can state your message of hatred for the US in open court. Planning done.
The James Bond scenarios these guys are supposed to be hatching are ridiculously complicated in view of how easy it would be to actually carry out a terror campaign on American soil. The fact that the above plan isn't carried out by international terror cells but by high school students and mentally unstable loners is all the proof anyone should need to see that there's a whole lot of bullshit and propaganda being sold to the public in order to keep this thing going. The ease with which people can obtain their own personal arsenals is pretty much legendary, there is no reason to believe terrorists are stereotypical movie villains plotting complicated attacks on a par with Ocean's 11.
Now, if they're getting together to plan and coordinate attacks on American military bases in the Middle East, I have a simple way to keep them from killing more Americans: Get the American military bases out of the Middle East and stop killing people for shady reasons you won't share with anyone.
I'm not sure this example is the best moral mole hill to be climbing. Anwar was a shitbird and deserved no less than being rendered a blackened stain on the earth. From an American perspective, for someone like him to be actively plotting attacks on American populaces, I can't shed a tear for his expulsion from Yemen be it in handcuffs or a matchbox.
I'm talking about the policy, not the particular case. Yes, he was a shitbird, and yes, he probably just reaped what he was sowing. However, taking one particular case and building a general policy of launching Hellfire missiles at imperfectly identified people and calling them "militants" to keep reports of civilian casualties down is utter bullshit.
The justification of the strike on Anwar was questionable at best, justifying a blanket death warrant with even less detail is flat out depraved indifference.
It's more that they won't explain why they're killing people, or even who they're killing, which is unjustifiable. You want to kill enemies, that's kind of government's thing, but with no public oversight on who your government is killing, no proof that any of the killing is warranted, how can we accept that? Simply saying, "That guy was up to no good, trust me!" as a justification for ending someone's life is why George Zimmerman is on trial right now, and I don't agree with basing war policy on similar grounds.
If they want to claim the moral high ground against terrorists, government policy makers need to walk the walk, and a campaign of sending drones to wipe out groups of vaguely identified people in a country you're not at war with does not look like the actions of the good guys, it looks like a bully stomping people without much regard for who gets hurt. This is exactly why people out there hate America and want to kill Americans, and it's exactly why this war will never end. That this conclusion is so obvious leads me to believe that the people setting policy actually want the war to continue, and why not? With drone strikes, you get to "leak" footage of strikes that look like video games, without any risk of losing your own soldiers and the bad press that comes with casualties. So a few villagers get blown up? So what? Do you know how much one hellfire missile costs? Dude, the money to be made off this sort of thing is huge, never mind the fact that it makes it even easier to push people into line with your foreign policy.
Step 1: Get a minivan and a rifle. Step 2: Go to a mall and shoot a few people. Step 3: Get the hell out of there and leave a note explaining your actions. Step 4, Rinse and repeat until you're finally caught and put on public trial where you can state your message of hatred for the US in open court. Planning done. .
I don't think that's correct, because Terrorism isn't about just getting a platform, it's about causing a psychological impact.
Look at the Palestinian situation. If the Palestinians wanted to, they could have easily just done what you're arguing, send random gunmen to Israeli malls, shoot a couple people and jet. They did this occasionally, but most of the time they didn't. They used suicide bombers and car bombs and rockets. These are all things designed to to do more than just a little bit of damage, they're designed to cause a psychological impact. An enemy who is willing to blow themselves up to kill 50 people is a lot more scary than an enemy that might shoot a view. Likewise, an enemy that blows up a plane and kills 300 is going to cause a lot more consternation than one who shoots 3 or 4 at a mall and runs.
a campaign of sending drones to wipe out groups of vaguely identified people in a country you're not at war with does not look like the actions of the good guys
That's the thing though: because they haven't told us what their criteria are, we have no way of knowing whether it's vague, or incredibly specific. You're assuming it's vague solely on the grounds that they've never told us, and that's a mistake.
No, you misunderstand me, I'm saying that them not telling anyone their criteria is a problem all on its own. Saying "They're bad guys, trust me." is not proper justification for killing someone, and certainly not when you're not even 100% sure who it is you're targeting in your IR display. The vagueness comes from my disbelief that you can positively identify someone from an IR signature on a computer screen from a drone flying at 20,000 feet, and be sure that you're not targeting a wedding or a soccer game.
The issue here is that having public criteria would make such strikes significantly less effective. You could push for retroactive accountability and openness (which I think are greatly required, including shifting away from the CIA casualty count methods), but demanding that there be explicit standards published for everyone to see would be a really bad idea.
Having a publicly understood process - with the people making the calls and their oversight powers know - is probably the closest you will get to knowing the criteria, and these two new articles go pretty far in that direction. In a sense it makes me sleep better knowing the people who make these calls are sleeping worse.
And no, I'm still not entirely comfortable with many aspects of the drone strike program. I think a lot of your criticisms are at least potentially valid. I'm just trying to work out which are actually applicable and which aren't, which can actually be addressed and which can't.
It's an expediency argument, and fair enough, you probably can't kill people as effectively if you actually say what it is they're doing that makes you target them. However, expedience is not an ethical grounding, I can't buy it as a justification for policy. If you can't do it clean, then maybe just don't do it, because you become the monster you're fighting otherwise.