Monday, March 7, 2016

Drone On: A Retort to the LRB and Thomas Nagel

After reading a review on the LRB about drones, I found myself shaking my head. I've touted the LRB as a great magazine to read and expand one's mind. That still stands, but one must always read with a critical eye [1]. So what was it about this review that I found so inane? [2]

On one hand, Nagel brings up some good points: he notes that for drone operators, the mission isn't a sanitized one. Therefore, critic's complaints of killing from afar without any risk to themselves ring hollow [3]. But that isn't the only aspect of this complaint—that those doing the killing aren't suffering enough, don't have enough skin in the game, or aren't thinking through their consequences [4]—no, the main point is that it's politically sanitized. There is limited political consequence from carrying out such a war and this leads to more of the same in the future—with even less oversight.

Another point made is that the drones are "only" killing small numbers of people and in contrast to the two wars Obama inherited this was too small a number to be bothered with [5]. One cannot argue that it is killing a smaller number of people in terms of direct kills, but for the perceived threat, is it really doing minimal damage? [6] The destabilization of these methods cannot be brushed over. Nor should the fact that this morally reprehensible "war" is creating many more enemies. 

My main point of contention with the piece is that it tries to frame the basic argument of "what can we do? we must protect ourselves" in ornate language. It provides no other context and it washes over the work of many human rights activists who have worked hard to bring a better legal framework to the international scene, to say nothing of justice or morality. I wonder if Nagel feels that the same moral logic about "protecting ourselves" can be applied to those living under the terror of drones and continuously watch their loved ones killed? Of course he doesn't. [7]

The article ends with a note about how these drones could have decreased costs in Afghanistan—if we had used drones instead of troops. It doesn't bother to explain what exactly a drone-only policy could have achieved, or what the consequences of that would have been. [8]

So in the end, it's an article extolling the morality of might makes right, of us vs them. The only problem is it doesn't come out and say so. Instead it talks about people (those icky, bleeding heart activists, I suppose) being okay (?!) with the death of multitudes and not with a personal kill list—the one Obama apparently curates. Yes, this article borders on hagiography, for Obama, for military might. [9] 

What it doesn't come close to, however, is any sort of reasonable critique or analysis of the drone war or the war on terror and its causes or the morality behind it. This (the article and the war) is measured obfuscation. There is no plan, nor is there any idea of what the end game is. There is only cheerleading and highlighting of what evil figurehead needs to be killed. 

[1] Woe is me, because I really wanted a way to relax that critical eye and just read. Suppose, as my critics say, that's what fiction is for. 

[2] Mind that in any review one can take many stances—it's part of the beauty of the medium.

[3] Something that might happen when it comes to automated drones. Also note: there is ample history of this having happened in the past: those in politics wanting a more sanitized war, one with less consequences for them, will look to other ways to get what they want. Such as the bombing of Laos

[4] There's a running theme of good intentions throughout the article. A misplaced one, I might add.  

[5] Again, the lack of historical context is breathtaking. Many activists after the Vietnam war still took on the dirty wars in Central America and elsewhere. Numbers improving had nothing to do with it. 

[6] I noted before, in an essay, and alluded to in Ministry of Bombs, that the drone as policy is a childish and sell-serving one (with regard to those who sell it as a solution and profit from it, monetarily or politically). Note this latter profit is a win-win as our media try to frame the matter in simple numbers. Let's put aside the immorality of terrorizing entire regions for years. Let's even just focus on the efficacy of the method. What is it meant to accomplish? You'll hear no answers (other than the need for "kills" for the headlines) because there are none. 

What something like this will do is rip out the moral power of any colluding government (what little it had) and spread destabilization. It will also create more people who are willing to take arms against us. And yes, they'll go for soft targets, what do you expect? Think for a second if your region was being randomly rained upon with fire from above. What would you do? And those profits I mentioned earlier? Yup, privatized. The losses, those soft targets? Socialized. As it was, so shall it be. 

[7] Yes, I understand that post WWII international framework doesn't give any weight to such people and looks to simply maintain peace between the great powers, but let's pretend to use the same morality alluded to in the piece. 

[8] Even less is said about  possible talks with the Taliban. I know, this seems less plausible, but must be considered in the light of that administration's later lies. 

[9] I wonder if the benevolent one sleeps with the list under his pillow. I mean, who cares about that good intentioned aspect of this all?

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  1. No mention of what should happen to the terrorists at home here in the US?

    1. Not sure what you mean? Using (weaponized) drones here would be the logical step of any self-respecting war-monger, but I would be one to say that would make things worse (as they would in any nation).


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