More Thoughts on Drones

William Saletan posted an interesting defense of President Obama’s drone warfare program this morning that’s worth reading. His argument — that drone warfare is a far less lethal option than the others available to the United States — received some ferocious criticism, including a hyperbolic comparison to torture by Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald also posted, however, an intriguing piece by Chris Hayes on what Hayes called the “no-alternative fallacy”:

What, people ask, is the alternative to small war, if not big war? And the answer no one ever seems to even consider is: no war. If the existence of people out in the world who are actively working to kill Americans means we are still at war, then it seems to me we will be at war forever, and will surrender control over whether that is the state we do in fact want to be in. There’s another alternative: we can be a nation that declares its war over, that declares itself at peace and goes about rigorously and energetically using intelligence and diplomacy and well-resourced police work to protect us from future attacks.

Two things strike me about Hayes’ argument. First, what he describes as a combination of intelligence, diplomacy, and law enforcement is virtually indistinguishable from what we’ve been doing all along to combat al-Qaeda, excluding the military’s soon-to-be-concluded counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan itself. Since the CIA has its own drone fleet, I’m not sure what exactly would change under Hayes’ plan. But in fairness, it’d be unfair to judge his position without further exposition of it on his part.

The second thing, and for me the most important, is that Hayes is essentially articulating the position that Greenwald has tried to argue all along — once we strip away the bellicosity and belligerence Greenwald exhibits towards any liberals who disagree with him, that is. Saletan noted this drone warfare critics are trying to make in a separate discussion on Twitter:

@AdrianChen IMO lots of people think or act as though they’re criticizing drones, when really they’re against war. Makes for clearer debate.

This explains why some commentators — Greenwald foremost among them — don’t understand why most liberals aren’t railing against Obama’s drone wars in Yemen and Pakistan like they railed against the Iraq War. I was 13 when the United States invaded Iraq. I wrote enthusiastic stories in my middle school English class that year calling George W. Bush a warmonger and comparing him to the Dark Lord Sauron (I was really into Lord of the Rings back then). Yet I am still able to distinguish between ongoing military operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates and an unnecessary, unjustified war started under false pretenses. For others, this distinction is either less obvious or less important.