Thursday, August 4, 2011

Drone Warfare

Christianity Today features a piece in which Paul Zahl, Daniel Bell, and Brian Stiltner consider the question whether it's moral to use Predator drone strikes to kill terrorists.

Zahl's contribution is puzzling, to put it charitably. He makes two points, both of which are hard to take seriously.

First, it's wrong, he claims, to conduct war when one side in the fight doesn't see the effects of their actions. The United States Air Force and the CIA operate predator drones thousands of miles away from the intended targets. There's no possibility of making eye contact with the enemy and fully realizing the human cost of the attack. If we could see the carnage we caused we'd be much more judicious in our use of force.

Be all that as it may, where does it say in just war theory, or anywhere else, that a conflict is waged morally only if the consequences are visible? Zahl acknowledges that his criterion would rule out aerial bombing and artillery strikes, and believes these are also wrong. Apparently, for him the only acceptable warfare is hand to hand combat.

His second reason for thinking that the use of drone aircraft is wrong is that unmanned predator drones prevent war from being "a fair fight". Here's why:
They emasculate the enemy. I use emasculate intentionally, because our victims live in societies where male humiliation is a fate almost worse than death. This method of fighting reduces people on the ground to a condition of absolute helplessness, because they cannot fight back against unmanned drones.

This reduction of the enemy to absolute helplessness is good for us, you may say. It means we can't lose! But it also creates resentment in the people we are fighting.
Well, yes, but war does that. People resent it when they're being shot at, even if accidentally. It's a little odd of Zahl to take the position that we'd be better off sending troops into Pakistan to fight and die than to use missiles. Wouldn't the presence of U.S. troops cause at least as much resentment as do drone strikes? What guarantee is there that combat troops would cause fewer inadvertent casualties than missiles do?

It's also strange that Zahl thinks war has to be a "fair fight" in order to be moral. How could there ever be a completely fair fight? One side will always have an advantage over the other and if they didn't the conflict would result only in a standoff. Is it unfair that our troops are better trained and equipped than the enemy? Is it unfair that our military uses satellites and aircraft for reconnaissance?

The other contributions in the column seem more reasonable than Dr. Zahl's. Indeed, Bell makes the point that it's not the technology of war that is at issue in determining the morality of its execution, but the virtue of the combatants.

I'm with him.

New Tone

I was going to do a post on the utter hypocrisy of the liberal left in the wake of the debt-ceiling debate - you know, all the name-calling directed at the Tea Party "terrorists", "hostage-takers", and "traitors" and how they wanted to "end life on earth as we know it". I had planned to write about how, in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, the left-leaning media exploded at alleged incivility on the right and how conservatives were poisoning our national discourse and how Sarah Palin was to blame for the lunatic in Arizona who shot Ms Giffords, and how liberals all demanded a new, more respectful tone in our politics, but how they're in fact blind to their own sordid, incendiary, and fatuous rhetoric.

I was going to write about all this, but then I read Jonah Goldberg's column at National Review, and I knew I couldn't say it as well as he does.

Here's his opening:
Look, I am past exhausted talking about liberal media bias. It’s real, we all know it, and people who deny it aren’t even fooling themselves. But some things just have to be pointed out. This morning I watched the first 15 minutes of the Today Show. I don’t particularly love or even like the program, but I find it useful to see what the producers think is the big news of the day. And sometimes Chuck Todd is on, and I like him. If I sound defensive about watching the show it’s only because I am.

Anyway, the first ten minutes was about Gabby Giffords’ return to the House yesterday. I’m not sure it merited the full ten minutes or trumped the hard news that later followed, but it’s a great story and everyone is rooting for the lady, so I’m fine with it.

But think about this for a second. The Giffords shooting sent the media elite in this country into a bout of St. Vitus’s dance that would have warranted an army of exorcists in previous ages. Sarah Palin’s Facebook map was an evil totem that forced some guy to go on a shooting spree. The New York Times, the Washington Post, all three broadcast networks — particularly NBC whose senior foreign-affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, devotes, by my rough reckoning, ten times as much air time to whining about Sarah Palin as she does about anything having to do with foreign affairs — flooded the zone with “Have you no shame” finger wagging. A memo went forth demanding that everyone at MSNBC get their dresses over their heads about the evil “tone” from the right. Media Matters went into overdrive working the interns 24/7 to “prove” that Republicans deliberately foment violence with their evil targets on their evil congressional maps.

Everyone “knew” the shooter was a tea partier. Except he wasn’t. He wasn’t even a conservative. He was a sick, demented, nutball. And it still didn’t matter! More bleating and caterwauling about the “tone” followed. More chin stroking and tut-tutting from Meet the Press roundtables and “very special segments” on the Today Show. More pizzas were ordered for the Media Matters galley slaves.
The rest of Goldberg's column is very much worth reading and I urge you to give it the two minutes it'll take to finish it.

It's sad that people whose economic policies are making day to day life in America purgatorial for millions, whose refusal to drill for domestic energy has delayed, directly or indirectly, the employment of tens of thousands, whose adamantine support for an industry that slaughters over a million babies a year is non-negotiable, and whose policies enable unions to hold taxpayers hostage all across the country, would have the chutzpah to stigmatize as "terrorists" and "hostage-takers" the very people who oppose all of this.

Maybe it's not chutzpah, maybe they just lack elementary thinking skills.