Drones Are Better Than All-Out War So Obama is Okay


At The San Francisco Chronicle, moderate liberal columnist Jon Carroll writes paragraphs of criticism towards the very Obama-heavy system of drone strikes detailed in The New York Times a few days ago. Carroll calls the program "assassinations." He admits they are "not strictly legal." He calls them "creepy." And he (correctly) identifies that yes, full-out war is much, much worse. And so:

And I don't see any way around it. We're not going to war with or in Yemen; we're not going to go to war with or in Pakistan. There is a real enemy out there, even though worries about that enemy have been ginned up to allow for various policies, like airport pat-downs and secret police surveillance of mosques.

(It should not go unnoted that the whole Homeland Security infrastructure puts bread on the table of a lot of U.S. corporations, and there is no financial incentive at all to "win" the war on terror any time soon. It's a permanent war; what will happen when the al Qaeda list runs out? My guess: More will be created. We always have enemies somewhere.)

So we have a paradox. We have a president trying to do it right, trying to protect the nation he governs and to take personal responsibility for the lethal decisions his administration makes, serving the greater bad of an American dialogue drenched in fear.

So the relevant question becomes: How much do we trust Barack Obama? We elected him, those of us who voted for him, to rescue us from corruption and despair. The corruption continues and the despair escalates. What do we do now?

I am left with the image of Obama poring over the "baseball cards" he gets listing every possible target's personal information, suspected crimes, current whereabouts and family affiliation; sitting late at night in the Oval Office looking at photos of the pre-dead. It's not a heroic vision, but it may be the one we're stuck with.

Modern warfare is non-heroic, which is probably a good thing—too many heroes are dead.

Ah, the war and "hero" problem. 

Sure, targeting people faraway certainly does not require the bravery that traditional fighting does. And yes, George "the decider" Bush started two boots-on-the-ground wars and that is undeniably worse than what is happening now. Even for pure body counts, there is no comparison. But then, it's awfully hard to compare with any accuracy when the U.S. figures for deaths from drones are so lacking in credibility. Death counts are definitely higher than the U.S's timid estimates and this was confirmed moreso recently, since Obama turns out to dub any soldier-aged males killed by missiles as "combatants". That should offend anyone who objects to war on moral grounds, so should the utter lack of transparency. So, indeed, should the whole narrative of Obama supposedly weighed down by the seriousness of this obligation (drone strikes aren't a joke!). How comforting! Carroll writes "The president's insistence on seeing the faces and hearing the personal details of the people he may order killed strikes me as admirable." 

So to people like Carroll, who can identify all the things wrong with what Obama is doing, and yet still end up with this meek, vague summation that the world is difficult and so Obama is doing his best, just say it; say when it's wrong, even if it's a lesser wrong than what came before. Why it it so hard to fully condemn Obama? The people who should be held to the highest standards, presidents, are excused because they are on your team or because the last guy was even worse. Just say it. Say it's not okay to wage a secret campaign, justified by secret memos, to assassinate people in countries that the U.S. is not even at war with. Say targeting 17-year-olds is not okay. Say killing American citizens without trial isn't okay.

Why can't they just say it?

The New York Times article has the same problem as Carroll's banal little column: the critique of Obama is withering, the details harsh, yet the takeaway is still forgiving and respectful. The headline says it all "Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will." It's all about him: how difficult it is to possess such powers over the rest of us.

Reason on drones

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  1. Ummmm, Steve Chapman believes the very same thing, and he’s a prominently featured contributor here at Reason!

  2. We know he doesn’t pore over cards in the Oval Office, because he’s never their. Maybe he does it on Air Force One. Of course the idea of him poring over these cards begs the question, concerned President or psychopath.

    1. Yeah, I’ll guess the latter. The grandiosity, sense of entitlement, and lack of remorse for anything pretty much sums it all up.

  3. It isn’t about how much we trust Obama; it’s about how much we trust the executive, whoever he/she is, and those drawing up the new rules of combat involved with this technology. Even those schmucks who wholeheartedly trust Obama’s judgment should be worried about this.

    1. It isn’t about how much we trust Obama; it’s about how much we trust the executive, whoever he/she is, and those drawing up the new rules of combat involved with this technology. Even those schmucks who wholeheartedly trust Obama’s judgment should be worried about this.


      The problem is that it isn’t government that concerns them, but people from the other team. They WANT their guy to have this power, but not the other guy. Because they are authoritarian hypocrites.

  4. Why can’t they condemn him?

    Why can’t the power-worshiping lewinsky press condemn a dorm-room bullshit artist for hurling his thunderbolts of Nobel Peace Drones?

    Let me think….

    1. “thunderbolts of Nobel Peace Drones”


    2. I’m printing up the Peace Drone? bumper stickers in my basement right now.

      1. ‘Nobel Peace Drone’ is a great phrase.

    3. “Nobel Peace Drones”

      New metal band name?

  5. They all have so much of their own reputations committed to have propped him up as this brilliant strategist and wonderful human being that they can’t really reverse course and save face at the same time. Also, he is still considered popular among the “young, hip, and cool” that they try so hard to be accepted by. They don’t want to invoke the wrath of their own kind as they know how capricious and ruthless they can be.

  6. Why can’t they condemn him?

    He’s black. And he means well.

    1. “Why can’t they condemn him?”

      He’s so well-spoken (and clean)

    2. “He’s a bastard…”

  7. Yeah, it’s a problem to the people who voted him in as well. Sure, he isn’t causing more wars like the right want him to be doing, but he isn’t exactly the pacifist the left wanted him to be, either.

    It’s amazing the guy on the left has taken out all the guys the right have been gunning for since Reagan was in office. It’s bizzaro world. Osama, Gaddafi? Next week it’ll probably be Kim Jong-un.

    Maybe it’s a secret plot so the right has no one to go after anymore, so no more war mongering.

  8. “moderate liberal columnist Jon Carroll”

    I read the Chomical daily; a habit that goes with coffee. Not sure how you find Carroll a “moderate liberal”. There is no progressive cause that he won’t pitch, and when called on his BS (of which there is no lack), his answer is (per Jon Stewart) ‘I’m a humorist’.
    He’s a progressive ignoramus and a liar. That’s all.

    1. clown nose on, clown nose off


    And that’s still true

  10. OT: George Lopez is now on the Comedy Central, and he’s STILL not funny. Why do they have this asshole and NEVER – OK, once every 5 years or so – Pablo Francisco? THAT guy is funny.

    1. Are you saying that you didn’t like his late night talk show with a “Party-in-the-street” atsmosphere?

      For shame.

  11. Another fear I have with drones is the potentially bipartisan support they may receive for a “faster, smaller, cheaper” modern military. I can envision drones being cheaper for fighting wars, and with budget cuts looming, they may be an easy point of agreement between parties. It’s so hard to argue against drones, because they probably will save our soldiers lives and our wallets, but if something gets cheaper you risk consuming more of it. We’re somewhat lucky the word “drone” has a slightly suicidal submissiveness to it, the nasally transition into the “n” similar to the buzz it might make outside your Lebanese neighbor’s window. Which just makes it easier to stop talking about it.

    1. Drones (not to mention the missiles they use) are much more expensive than human cannon fodder. This is all about waging the war invisibly, not about saving money.

      1. I’ve heard estimates that go both ways; Panetta, that bastion of honesty, claims they’ll save money, and used that as part of his justification for the defense budget. And it may not matter if they actually cost less, so long as everyone claims they do.

  12. What I find most disturbing is the number of Americans willing to carry out these obviously criminal acts.

    1. I said this last week in a thread, but one of my co-worker’s sons flies drones. He recommitted so that he can get his pension and buy a house; those factors outweighed whatever reservations he had about his participation in the system. So long as you can break actions down into bite-sized pieces that make it onto a pros and cons list, people can just rationalize away behavior once Life comes knocking. When you’re just a brick in the wall with little individual consequence, you forget that every brick is necessary to make the wall function as it should. It would be a lot easier to be the mechanic that services the universal gear that makes the pulley lower the guillotine blade than the executioner swinging the axe.

      1. Reminds me way too much of the Star Trek episode A Taste of Armageddon

        The crew of the USS Enterprise visits a planet whose people fight a computer simulated war with a neighboring enemy planet. The crew finds that although the war is fought via computer simulation, the citizens of each planet have to submit to real executions inside “disintegration booths” based on the results of simulated attacks. The crew of the Enterprise is caught in the middle and are told to submit themselves voluntarily for execution after being “killed” in an “enemy attack.”

        If you’re not familiar, the basic summary is that both planets had forgotten the terrors and horrors of actual war, much like Bro of I’s not being the axe-swinger. Kirk forced real attacks (obviously, in direct violation of the Prime Directive – isn’t that almost every episode tho?) for the first time in 500 years of “war”.

        Moral, much like the one in this story is that war sucks sooooooo badly that it should be avoided at almost all costs. I wonder if TOTUS has ever seen that episode.

        The more tech we apply to the war, the more we lose sight of the fact that real people – and not nearly limited to just our enemies (whatever that means…) – are on the receiving end of the Peace Drones? (?wef 1 Jun 2012)

        1. “It is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it.”

          Robert E. Lee

          1. Right, said just months before he sent his men to the slaughter in offensive operations against the strong Union defenses at Gettysburg.

      2. What’s wrong with using pro con lists for decision making? Your objection would seem to have to be the weighting of elements on the lists, not the use of lists per se. But all values are subjective.

        1. There are objective moral values. Liberty for one. Humans are either free from the use of force or they aren’t.

        2. You’re right, the weighting is key, but that someone would even balance it in a pros and cons list shows just how digestible distanced actions can be. I would hope “burning faces off Pakistani girls with fire from the sky” would be a litmus test for whether or not I apply for a job.

          1. I would hope “burning faces off Pakistani girls with fire from the sky” would be a litmus test whether or not I apply for a job.

            I suspect that that’s why some people actually like doing it.


  13. Drones, huh, what are they good for?

  14. Obama’s battin’ a thousand on the reckless warmonger front.

    What shit-heel.

    1. Yeah, he’s basically eliminating plausible deniability and unveiling state secrets to bolster his own re-election campaign (by appearing like a stronger leader) and his own ego. What an ass.

  15. Unintended consequence: As drones become more sophisticated and widespread, and those who can’t afford drones begin employing the simpler methods of assassination, the people who make the decisions to go to war may find themselves in as much or more danger than the grunts they send.

    When the president announced he was the one who approved every kill, I bet the Secret Service was – uh – thrilled.

  16. People dream of making the virtuous powerful, so they can depend on them. Since they cannot do that, people choose to make the powerful virtuous, glorifying in becoming victimized by them.–Thomas Szasz

    Saw it here yesterday, still fits.

  17. Just love those laser guided bombs
    They’re really great
    For righting wrongs
    You hit the target
    And win the game
    From bars 3,000 miles away
    3,000 miles away
    We play the game
    With the bravery of being out of range
    We zap and maim
    With the bravery of being out of range
    We strafe the train
    With the bravery of being out of range
    We gain terrain
    With the bravery of being out of range
    With the bravery of being out of range
    We play the game
    With the bravery of being out of range

  18. He admits they are “not strictly legal.”

    Is that like not strictly pregnant?

    1. It’s sort of like how, if you’re accused of statutory rape, you can just say to the judge that she was “not strictly legal”, and he’ll just give a quick shrug and let you off.

  19. So the relevant question becomes: How much do we trust Barack Obama? We elected him, those of us who voted for him, to rescue us from corruption and despair. The corruption continues and the despair escalates. What do we do now?

    An honest man would stay the fuck home on election day, or vote for someone else (like Gary Johnson), but these guys just can’t bring themselves to betray The Team?.

    That people like this KNOW that Obama is just as bad as BOOSCH, yet still find themselves in some moral dilemma when it comes to continuing his power shows just how fucked up their moral compass is.

  20. I still don’t understand why we just didn’t just officially declare war on “Al-Qaeda and its allies” and do this sort of thing “legally.”

  21. Our species is so fucked.


    I guess I’m lucky. I have a front row seat to this 24 news cycle hour gladiator by proxy cluster fuck. I can watch C grade glitterati attempt to dance, no bodies sing shitty tunes no one ever fucking listened to in the first place, and down load all the free porn I want. Meanwhile some no nothing kid in some know nothing place who never got to be cool gets blown to smitherins and is just a bi-line back ground noise from some anachronistic network only fat lazy slobs watch before they watch their C grade gliterratie.

    Fuck this species. Since Euthyphro (or the categorical imperative if I feel judicious), it’s been down hill. Fuck this species.

    1. “Fuck this species”

      Uh, another is doing a better job?

      1. Tursiops truncatus?

  22. Well done, Lucy. And at the risk of discussing a serious topic more than once and being labeled a “one trick pony” by some halfwit war-monger like John, I’ll say the cognitive dissonance from lefties that decried Bush’s techniques but contort like a human pretzel to support Obama’s much more illegal techniques is just striking.

    Just one nit to pick, however: Bush started two boots on the ground wars and that is undeniably worse than what is happening now.

    How was it worse? We’re still entangled in both of those wars and have expanded them far beyond the borders of Afghanistan and Iraq, we have abandoned due process and are killing even American citizens from 30,000 ft and have also had more of our rights at home stripped away with the passage of NDAA and other Intel laws.

    1. thumbs up. Boots on the ground wars are only worse in the sense that they involve more of our guys being killed; the results for civilians unfortunate enough to have been squeezed out of their moms in a hostile country are usually worse with these Zeus attacks.

    2. That’s a good point. Removal of those boots on the ground is at least a benchmark for scaling down a war. I actually liked the phrase “kinetic military action” because it showed just how vague and indefinite these “wars” have become. It was probably more accurate than calling it a “war”, and that isn’t necessarily better.

      1. Removal of those boots on the ground is at least a benchmark for scaling down a war.

        Tell that to my brother in law that’s getting deployed to Iraq in 4 weeks.

        1. As long as he doesn’t have boots, Obama didn’t lie.

  23. So the relevant question becomes: How much do we trust Barack Obama?

    About on the same level that I trust my rectal polyps.

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