Monday, November 5, 2012

Why it matters that drones haven't been debated in this presidential race

Ramesh Ponnuru explains:

Neither side wants to look softer than the other on terrorists. Hence the bipartisan support for the strikes. Liberal groups that might be inclined to protest the policy have been quiet because Obama put it in place. The lack of debate about our reliance on drones is a shame, because there are both practical and moral objections to it.

A few conservatives have raised one practical concern: Killing terrorists is justified, they say, but we need to kill fewer and capture more to gain intelligence. You don’t have to support waterboarding, as some of these critics do, to agree with that point.

Another concern, raised by a few liberals, is that the strikes have increased anti-Americanism abroad. . . . The Pew Research Center has found strong opposition to drone strikes in almost every country.

But the morality of the policy is what most deserves scrutiny. . . . In January, Obama said, “I want to make sure that people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.” A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found hundreds of civilian casualties in Pakistan, including 176 children.

In May, the New York Times reported one possible explanation for the discrepancy in estimates: Obama “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” In other words, Obama has not found much evidence of civilian casualties because he’s not looking for any. . . .

The president’s aides told the Times that he is a “student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas” and can be trusted to make the right judgments. His practical definition of combatants as anyone we happened to kill suggests otherwise, although too much of the program is secret to say for sure. The fact that we have barely debated this issue makes it hard to believe that our political system is getting it right, either.
Read the whole article for more thoughts on how just-war theory applies to Obama's drone war.

Previously: What is President Obama's drone war in Pakistan doing?