The question of the legitimacy of drone strikes has occasionally bubbled up
in media over the years. As with most international news, the media and the
public have a short attention span for the issue. On September 30, the
BBC published a survey on whether drone strikes “work.” Answering were a
professor “who advised the government on counter-terrorism policy”, a linguist
named Brian Glyn Williams who was with the CIA, a senior fellow at a research
institute, and a Pakistani journalist named Ahmed Rashid.
Most of the answers are semi-critical, but not enough so. Williams
writes that Osama Bin Laden was observed by a drone that was unarmed, which
makes even a staunch antiwarrior blanch. But it is intended to. No matter that
that’s a pity Bin Laden was seen, but couldn’t be killed, two wars before Bin
Laden was taken out were unnecessary and immoral. And the fact that Bin Laden
could have been killed then if only we’d armed American drones earlier does
not say anything positive about today’s policy.
Rashid correctly notes, “There’s no doubt that drones, even if they just kill one civilian, are very
easy to use as a propaganda tool to recruit young people, impressionable people.”
And he writes that there was never any concerted attempt to change minds in
the Tribal Region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Drones were the only option.
And they alienate.
Even a fairly sensible responder like Rashid is responding to
what can only be described as a dubious question. Do drone strikes “work”? Well,
is that the point? What is their goal? If it is to occasionally kill bad men,
then they work. If they are a sustainable policy that America will not regret
later is another question. Unasked and unanswered by the BBC is the question
of whether America has the right to kill people in its uneasy hybrid of warfare
and covert assassination. Especially given what we know about how it’s been
done so far.