Monday, February 25, 2013

It's not the drones, dammit!

This is bit of a rant about how the peace movement and liberals more generally are tying ourselves in knots by failing to speak and think clearly about the administration's drone war. Don't get me wrong; I think most everyone who is appalled by what is being done in our names understands most of what I am going say here -- but that hasn't kept us from using short hand that fails to clarify and may sometimes lead us off in useless directions.
  • Drones are just a newfangled weapon. What's wrong with them is their use, not the things themselves.
    This should be obvious, but it hasn't always been. I get there is something video-game spooky about the idea that some guy (or girl?) is sitting in Nevada shooting people on the other side of the world. The physical distance may -- or may not -- lead to new forms of post-traumatic stress for the soldiers; the targets, on the other hand, are simply dead.

    But drones are just a fancy weapon for trying to maintain an empire on the cheap. Since the citizens on the home front are resistant to suffering casualties during military adventures, the drones look like an answer to our rulers' constraints. If the wars are wrong, the drones are just another weapon in the arsenal of dumb, immoral wars.
  • We shouldn't be arguing about whether a president can legally use drone strikes to kill US citizens without a court order; we should be discussing whether we want a president ordering targeted killings of any person all over the globe.
    That's a no-brainer for me: all I have to do is ask how I'd feel if some foreign government were knocking off their enemies here. It's not like the US has a monopoly on the technology; every moderately developed country can have these things if they want them (or we sell them to them.) The Israelis are using drones vigorously over the Palestinian territories.

    There are international criminals who are hard to catch (or who enjoy the protection of rogue governments) but creating the context for apprehending, trying and incapacitating them is the opposite of unilateral targeted assassinations in random countries. This real problem requires that we work patiently for international extension of the rule of law, not that we demonstrate our technological prowess.

    A lawyer who uses the name Armando recently took a swing at laying out a framework for such an effort -- just a beginning, but a worthwhile project. Since the neocons took the US off the rails with élan in the terrorized aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, we've stopped even trying to figure out how to operate as anything but a pariah rogue state that destroys at will. We won't return to the family of civilized nations until we get over it.
  • The real problem of which drones are the symbol is the ubiquity of technical means of surveillance now available -- to governments, spooks, and who knows what other entities.
    Privacy and anonymity are ancient history, over. Is it possible to have a participatory, reasonably egalitarian, relatively happy democracy without them? We are going to find out. The means exist to track us pretty much all the time.Only a strengthened regime of respect for legal constraints on what can be done with available information can protect us in this world we are making. Are we building those constraints? Not that I see.

1 comment:

Michael Strickland said...

Great rant, and agreed on all points.

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