The Consequences and Ethics of Obama’s Drone Wars
Here is some documentation showing why some of us are always talking about the way that our use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere is resulting in the deaths of far more innocents than is acceptable. Unfortunately Mitt Romney has given every indication that he will continue the same (and more) so there is little hope that this violence will end any time soon. And yes, as some are quick to point out, the destruction is far less than what we’ve seen with traditional aerial attacks on civilian populations, but we don’t do ethics by comparison. Fire bombing Dresden and Tokyo was worse than dropping conventional bombs on civilian populations in terms of raw carnage, but it’s not as if that makes bombing civilians with traditional bombs okay.
The video at the top of this page does a pretty good job of helping to show how what we are doing is actually extremely self-destructive in that it gives people who had no feelings about the U.S. whatsoever reasons to have extremely hostile feelings about the U.S. that can then be exploited by terrorists and other who promote violence. One has to wonder if the politicians can really be unaware of this. Blowback is not a complicated concept. Indeed, as even that noted leftist of a former generation, Randolph Bourne famously quipped in the title of his essay, “war is the health of the state.”
There’s also this website which has a lot of easily accessible numbers, etc., but may appear a little less academic and more sensational, although it’s certainly no more so (actually less) than sites like Drudge, the Blaze, or even Fox News.
Finally there’s this with some fairly in-depth analysis of the numbers, although it doesn’t have a substantial amount of analysis beyond just trying to calculate the numbers, and some critique of the governments lack of transparency and cooperation.
The concerns that many of us have about the use of drones, the lack of reporting and transparency from the government, and the high ratio of civilian to combatant deaths (including many women and children) can be substantiated at levels much more rigorous and academically thorough than just the stories that we often see or even share from websites like InfoWars, Lew Rockwell and AntiWar. In fact these websites are frequently drawing from, and putting into popularly accessible format information from sources like those cited above. Of course it is sometimes sensationalized in the process. But if conservatives can laud Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and appreciate Drudge, and if liberals can can cite the Huffington Post with enthusiasm, I don’t think we can act like sensationalism immediately invalidates a source.
Finally, there’s also all the problems with the drone wars that don’t require substantiation because they are plainly true on the surface of them. We have no declarations of war in these countries; in fact, Pakistan is allegedly an ally, even though we are violating their sovereign airspace and killing their citizens on a near daily basis. The wars are being conducted not primarily by the U.S. military, but by the CIA which means that the program does not even officially exist– that makes denying FOIA requests easy. You can’t request information about a program that is officially not official. Finally, there are flagrant violations of just war theory embedded into the very nature of the drone wars. In fact, just looking at a list of the basic principles of just war one could make a case that the drone wars don’t actually meet any of these criteria.
- A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
- A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
- A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient–see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
- A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
- The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
- The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
- The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.
Caveat: Yes George Bush was the first to use drones, and it was just as wrong when he did it, but Obama has increased the program drastically, being responsible for some 298 out of an estimated 350 strikes in just his first four years.