No risk ... physically
The recently retired Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, has an op-ed in the NY Times today in which he points out that continued use of drones in Pakistan and other countries where we aren't "at war" is not such a good idea. For one thing, as he notes
Our reliance on high-tech strikes that pose no risk to our soldiers is bitterly resented in a country that cannot duplicate such feats of warfare without cost to its own troops.It's a very bad idea for a lot of reasons. One he doesn't mention is this: As the Libyan conflict escalates into its sixth month (yes, month - how long will the media keep talking about "weeks" (let alone the ludicrous "days" we heard about in March)?), and the White House starts haranguing Assad, our propensity for getting involved in these regional conflicts just grows. And what's much worse, so is our propensity for lying to ourselves and saying it's not really a war, because there aren't American ground troops involved.
Guess what? When our drones kill people - particularly civilians, most especially children, but any people - then we're at war. We're at Endless War, and it's draining us financially and morally more and more every day. We can't summon the will to put people back to work, but we can fly unmanned drones into sovereign nations to kill people and kid ourselves that it's okay.
There may be no risk to American soldiers in Pakistan or Yemen or Libya now. But how long can we expect that to be true? And if we start pushing too hard in Syria or (I wish there was a god so I could ask him to forbid it) Iran, we'll pretty damn well quick discover that drones alone won't cut it. Just like they don't cut it in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just like, as the admiral says, they aren't really cutting it in Pakistan...
Here's Blair a couple of weeks ago:
“I just see us with that strategy walking out on a thinner and thinner ledge and if even we get to the far extent of it, we are not going to lower the fundamental threat to the U.S. any lower than we have it now.”That's because, he elaborated today,
Qaeda officials who are killed by drones will be replaced. The group’s structure will survive and it will still be able to inspire, finance and train individuals and teams to kill Americans. Drone strikes hinder Qaeda fighters while they move and hide, but they can endure the attacks and continue to function.So the only point of the drones is ... what? To make ourselves feel like we're doing something, while not actually doing what we can't afford to do: open a third (fourth, fifth) front with American soldiers on the ground. We can't afford it monetarily (why the heck did we have to raise the debt ceiling so much and so often in the last decade?), we can't afford it from a manpower standpoint (we barely have enough soldiers to fight the two wars we admit to fighting, and we're grinding them down doing it, and we sure as hell can't sell it to the public (hence Obama's "days not weeks" estimate on Libya and his insistence that no US ground troops are involved, though of course drones don't fly themselves, really, and air cover means all kinds of US forces somewhere in the vicinity), and we can't afford it morally, either.
For even if we manage to continue not sending ground troops in, how long can we continue to kill children and other civilians before someone else decides to bring the pain to our own ground? How long before the wars we pretend we aren't fighting become the one we can't pretend about?
And when that time comes, will we be willing to accept our share of the blame? Or will we still ask, in aggrieved tones, what did we ever do to them?