‘Everything Libertarians and Liberals Get Wrong About Drones’ Wrong About Drones, Everything

46th_Expeditionary_Reconnaissance_Squadron_MQ-1B_Predator_Balad_AB_IraqIn the past few days, two different Atlantic writers have worried that drones are a “sexy” subject which often overshadow other issues. Now, Andrew Cohen’s article isn’t really about war or drones. It’s a reminder that it’s not only Anwar al-Awlaki who didn’t get due process. Thousands of other Americans aren’t getting theirs either. (It’s well worth reading.)

Amitai Etzioni, sociologist and former adviser to Jimmy Carter, wrote a different sort of piece — “Everything Libertarians and Liberals Get Wrong About Drones” — in which he scornfully dubs drones “the new cause célèbre” of certain folks who are missing the point and worrying about the wrong things.

Troubled that there’s no presidential authority for drone strikes? Etzioni offers up the Authorization for Use of Military Force, as if that disturbingly-broad document is the answer to executive and legislative excess, as opposed to one of its strongest mechanisms. No Congressional oversight for the program? Congress is “regularly briefed.” (Some members of Congress get limited information about the program.)

Concerned that the Department of Justice’s lethal force mandate of “imminent threat” is incredibly vague? Well, terrorists don’t wear uniforms!!! Some people, writes Etzioni, actually think that terrorists deserve some kind of judicial justice, not just a Hellfire missile. But “why should terrorist suspects be granted all the gold-plated protections available to Americans”? (Cohen must have cringed there.)

What if drone strikes provoke hostility abroad? “[T]hose who are inclined towards terrorism already loathe the United States for a thousand other reasons.” Stories of Pakistani and Yemeni citizens frightened to leave the house because of drones? Well, “we often have to rely upon reports from locals, who are notoriously unreliable.”

Do drones make war easier? No, long ago, bombs and airplanes were thought to be cold, clinical methods of killing that would make bloodshed easier. (Well — aren’t they? How did World War II manage to wipe out 60 million people, if not in great part to the ease of death from thousands of feet above?) And, asks Etzioni:

Would the people involved in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and now in Africa be better-off if terrorists were killed in “hot” blood — say, knifed by Special Forces, blood and brain matter splashing in their faces? Would the world be better off if our troops, in order to reach the terrorists, had to endure improvised explosive devices blowing up their legs and arms and gauntlets of fire from AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers — traumatic experiences that turn some of them into psychopath-like killers?

Is it really just IEDs that lead to epidemic levels of Post-Traumatic Stress in veterans? Nothing soldiers do in war, or are trained to do, have anything to do with their often-fractured mental state? That deeply disingenuous paragraph is followed by another:

Beyond such considerations, there is so far no evidence that the extensive use of drones has made going to war more likely or its extension more acceptable. Anybody who has followed the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq despite the recent increase in drone strikes should know better.

Anyone who just wrote the words “Pakistan, Yemen, and now Africa” should know better as well. What exactly does Etzioni think is happening in those nations?

Near the end, Etzioni stumbles over a few shards of good point. Drones are not in themselves the same as a bad foreign policy. They’re morally neutral technology. Generally more important than how wars are fought is whether they should happen at all. Boots on the ground are always worst. But just because drones are currently a popular, convenient shorthand for war — the journalist, activist, and occasional politician’s hook for worrying about foreign adventures — doesn’t mean that the new technology doesn’t itself raise new worries. Regardless, let drones be the segue we use to talk about war, as long as we’re talking.

76 thoughts on “‘Everything Libertarians and Liberals Get Wrong About Drones’ Wrong About Drones, Everything”

  1. "Drones are not in themselves the same as a bad foreign policy. They’re morally neutral technology."

    Are you insane? Such a person saying such a thing is shocking on a website called "antiwar" because it means the author has lost all contact with reality and has no moral compass whatsoever.

    1. It's hard to imagine how the victims of drone strikes would have a moral preference for their killer sitting in the cockpit of a helicopter instead of remote controlling a drone.

  2. in a way i do at least agree in part that focusing on drones is sort of missing the point, similarly to how the gun control debates go, the point is that the particular devices or technology is irrelevant, but the basic rights and powers invoked in their use and justification.

  3. Etzioni, who is an Israeli-American, also argued for the invasion of Iraq. Just another "liberal Zionist".

    1. You state that I advocated the invasion of Iraq and that I am a Zionist liberal. I strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq and surely not a liberal. The rest is true.

      1. Mr. Etzioni, my apologies. Perhaps you could post a link to something you published during the 2002 marketing of the Iraq war, so readers could judge your position for themselves?

  4. @James

    Such a statement indicates you are not a libertarian, nor a liberal.

    There is BIG MONEY out there to make propaganda to condition the American people to drone use. It is all business. The American people are not demanding government use drones.

    Have you considered how much technology is being used to invade the life of the Individual and ruin the natural world?

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  9. Etzioni is a consistent advocate for "communitarianism" AKA yuppie communism. He's always been a loathsome twit.

  10. The special quality of Drone Wars is that they make permanent state of war quite feasible, and put a permanent end to any mass based peace movements, by eliminating the casualties of the drone-armed side. In fact, they guaranty that when retaliation finally des come, it must be against civilian targets. This terrorism will then be met with mass public demands for increasing the drone war dramatically, an action dear to the hearts of the Raytheons of the world.

    1. Yes, I think you're right about that. That's the major difference between unmanned and manned aircraft. Why ever stop intervening, when it's so easy, and when your troops are safe in basements in Colorado?

  11. In the 1960s Etzioni was giving a talk about his then fashionable sociopolitical nostrums (sorry, nostra – good pun,eh?!) – he is a weathercock indeed. It was at Nuffield College, Oxford, England – a real Bilderberg or Uriage type postgrad center that personally and directly fawns on the powerful. Of course these authoritarian liberals regard/ed themselves as the cat's whiskers of knowledge in that cause. As a mild-mannered US prof in a tweed jacket, Etzioni was denounced by some leftish friends of mine as ignorant of the real world. HIs riposte? "With this right hand I have killed more than a few Arabs". I can still remember the astonished gasps from the Brits. Second only to the similar seminar when Samuel P Huntington Jr was argued (by S. A. Hussein, now Professor at the Suntory Centre, London School of Economics)into admitting that he would advocate the use of H-bombs on Northern Vietnam…..

    1. When the white mans burden needs H-weapons to suppress the natives in far flung colonial endeavors to separate the locals from their land and resources, the end of life, as it was, is near.

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