Ten more years of the drone war

The war in Iraq is pretty much over and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, bringing to an end our wars sparked by 9/11–right?  Well, not exactly.  It turns out the drone war may go on for at least another ten years.  The Obama administration has put together a systematic, on-going kill list.  But in an Orwellian touch, it’s not called a kill list; rather, it’s called a “disposition matrix.”  From Greg Miller of the Washington Post:

Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.”

The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.

Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years.

Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight.

“We can’t possibly kill everyone who wants to harm us,” a senior administration official said. “It’s a necessary part of what we do. . . . We’re not going to wind up in 10 years in a world of everybody holding hands and saying, ‘We love America.’ ”

That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism. Targeting lists that were regarded as finite emergency measures after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are now fixtures of the national security apparatus. The rosters expand and contract with the pace of drone strikes but never go to zero.

Meanwhile, a significant milestone looms: The number of militants and civilians killed in the drone campaign over the past 10 years will soon exceed 3,000 by certain estimates, surpassing the number of people al-Qaeda killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

via Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists – The Washington Post.

With that milestone, if we practiced the old “eye-for-an-eye” collectivist revenge codes, we could call it even and declare peace.  But the killings are going to go on and on for another ten years!  I am astonished that it’s liberal Democrats who are doing this.  George McGovern, who passed away this week, took the Democratic party, for better or for worse, in the direction of peace.  Aren’t any of you Democrats bothered by Obama’s drone war?  I wish the moderator at the last debate had asked about this topic.  I’d be curious if Romney would continue this “disposition matrix” or if he really is the peace candidate.  I mean, it’s good to protect America against our enemies and all, and drone strikes don’t put our military men and women in danger.  But while we are attacking people overseas with these weapons, we are at war and not peace.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • BW

    The drone war is one of the reasons I can’t vote for either major party candidate. To kill American citizens in Yemen without charging them and without due process of the law, I think is scary. The fact that there is no oversight to this program, just the president having the final say is an abuse. What disappointed me about Romney was that in the debates his comment was basically, “Well, I like what the president has done with drones.”

    The U.S. doesn’t even always know who they are killing with so called “signature strikes”, just that the targets exhibit suspicious patterns of behaviour. To do this in the airspace of another sovereign nation sets a bad precedent. Plus the study by Stanford and NYU on the effects of drones in Northern Pakistan shows that the people there, knowing drones are overhead all the time, are suffering from psychological trauma, wondering if they’ll be next.

    I am not against drones nor the use of them per se, but they must be used better than they are being used by now.

  • BW

    The drone war is one of the reasons I can’t vote for either major party candidate. To kill American citizens in Yemen without charging them and without due process of the law, I think is scary. The fact that there is no oversight to this program, just the president having the final say is an abuse. What disappointed me about Romney was that in the debates his comment was basically, “Well, I like what the president has done with drones.”

    The U.S. doesn’t even always know who they are killing with so called “signature strikes”, just that the targets exhibit suspicious patterns of behaviour. To do this in the airspace of another sovereign nation sets a bad precedent. Plus the study by Stanford and NYU on the effects of drones in Northern Pakistan shows that the people there, knowing drones are overhead all the time, are suffering from psychological trauma, wondering if they’ll be next.

    I am not against drones nor the use of them per se, but they must be used better than they are being used by now.

  • MarkB

    I find it interesting on many levels. First the idea that we are not putting our people into harms way with these strikes. What in the world makes anyone think that way. If you were on the other end of this would this not force you to think up ways to get back at the power that is doing this? This therefore will breed more and more contempt for the US, with that contempt will come attacks against all American citizens. If they cannot get at the operators of the drones they will go after anyone even tenously connected by citizenship.

    Also the idea that some how the liberal Democrats are peace loving makes me laugh. Certainly there was George McGovern who was called a peace candidate when he was in office. However, Liberal Democrats are statists, if you look at history you will find that statists are not peaceful, they will force their view on others inside of their country and outside of their country.

  • MarkB

    I find it interesting on many levels. First the idea that we are not putting our people into harms way with these strikes. What in the world makes anyone think that way. If you were on the other end of this would this not force you to think up ways to get back at the power that is doing this? This therefore will breed more and more contempt for the US, with that contempt will come attacks against all American citizens. If they cannot get at the operators of the drones they will go after anyone even tenously connected by citizenship.

    Also the idea that some how the liberal Democrats are peace loving makes me laugh. Certainly there was George McGovern who was called a peace candidate when he was in office. However, Liberal Democrats are statists, if you look at history you will find that statists are not peaceful, they will force their view on others inside of their country and outside of their country.

  • Jason

    I think most Americans have no idea we have conducted military strikes against six different nations, just this year.

    On this issue, I’m on board with someone like George McGovern, who I disagree with a lot, and completely opposed to the major party candidates.

  • Jason

    I think most Americans have no idea we have conducted military strikes against six different nations, just this year.

    On this issue, I’m on board with someone like George McGovern, who I disagree with a lot, and completely opposed to the major party candidates.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    However, Liberal Democrats are statists, if you look at history you will find that statists are not peaceful, they will force their view on others inside of their country and outside of their country.

    So, once again the label, Liberal, is a misnomer. They aren’t liberal.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    However, Liberal Democrats are statists, if you look at history you will find that statists are not peaceful, they will force their view on others inside of their country and outside of their country.

    So, once again the label, Liberal, is a misnomer. They aren’t liberal.

  • fjsteve

    Haven’t we been doing this for decades? Albeit, with different technology and varying degrees of public knowledge at the time. But both Democrat and Republican administrations have been ordering or at least sanctioning unilateral strikes against foreign targets at least since the 50′s. Drones or not, I don’t see this practice ending any time soon. But I do see the use of drones being broadened to the point of being commonplace as part of domestic law enforcement strategies.

  • fjsteve

    Haven’t we been doing this for decades? Albeit, with different technology and varying degrees of public knowledge at the time. But both Democrat and Republican administrations have been ordering or at least sanctioning unilateral strikes against foreign targets at least since the 50′s. Drones or not, I don’t see this practice ending any time soon. But I do see the use of drones being broadened to the point of being commonplace as part of domestic law enforcement strategies.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    If you look at history, the difference between drones and other “quiet killings” done in the name of espionage lies mostly in how close the killer is to the killed, no? There have always been such quiet killings by nations.

    I am wondering if our big problem as a nation is that we’re spending far too little time letting the world know what’s special about being an American, honestly.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    If you look at history, the difference between drones and other “quiet killings” done in the name of espionage lies mostly in how close the killer is to the killed, no? There have always been such quiet killings by nations.

    I am wondering if our big problem as a nation is that we’re spending far too little time letting the world know what’s special about being an American, honestly.

  • Jon H.

    The drone war is very troubling, and I’m discouraged that it was not even talked about at the last, foreign policy debate.

    But doesn’t that signal that Romney would not
    change things?

  • Jon H.

    The drone war is very troubling, and I’m discouraged that it was not even talked about at the last, foreign policy debate.

    But doesn’t that signal that Romney would not
    change things?

  • http://Www.gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    A deep problem is that the polemic nature of our political discourse ceases to serve truth when a lie (or an injustice) flatters both sides.

  • http://Www.gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    A deep problem is that the polemic nature of our political discourse ceases to serve truth when a lie (or an injustice) flatters both sides.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    This article can’t be right. Why, I heard on AM radio just this morning that Obama is a terrorist himself who, like all Democrats, coddles other terrorists. So obviously he’s not trying to stop any terrorists anywhere.

    And, um, yeah. There will always be terrorists. Duh. And, as someone else mentioned, this approach to targeting terrorists will almost certainly engender some terrorists itself. As did, you know, our big wars. Killing people — especially civilians, perhaps most especially from the sky — has a way of doing that.

    Anyhow, to conclude, there’s a great deal of difference between Romney and Obama, and this topic is just one example of many of why you must only pick between the two of them and not consider anyone else, because there’s a wide enough variety of approaches simply between the two candidates.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    This article can’t be right. Why, I heard on AM radio just this morning that Obama is a terrorist himself who, like all Democrats, coddles other terrorists. So obviously he’s not trying to stop any terrorists anywhere.

    And, um, yeah. There will always be terrorists. Duh. And, as someone else mentioned, this approach to targeting terrorists will almost certainly engender some terrorists itself. As did, you know, our big wars. Killing people — especially civilians, perhaps most especially from the sky — has a way of doing that.

    Anyhow, to conclude, there’s a great deal of difference between Romney and Obama, and this topic is just one example of many of why you must only pick between the two of them and not consider anyone else, because there’s a wide enough variety of approaches simply between the two candidates.

  • Lou G.

    Challies had a link to this equally fascinating article the other day about drones and the Obama administration:
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/05/27/drones-the-silent-killers.html

    Actually it’s a book excerpt rather than an article, but truly fascinating, imo.

  • Lou G.

    Challies had a link to this equally fascinating article the other day about drones and the Obama administration:
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/05/27/drones-the-silent-killers.html

    Actually it’s a book excerpt rather than an article, but truly fascinating, imo.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Can’t you just hear the inspiring battle hymn
    that goes on and on and on and on and on and…

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Can’t you just hear the inspiring battle hymn
    that goes on and on and on and on and on and…

  • helen

    Anybody here think that “Bring ‘em on!” Bush wouldn’t have used drones if he’d had them.
    [Or didn't, if he did?]
    I’m beginning to wonder what’s special about America and I was born here.
    It’s certainly not the country my grandparents emigrated to, for a better life!

    Are we really better off because the slaves who provide us with cheap “everything” are out of sight in foreign countries, where we don’t have to see the children chained to their machines and sleeping on the floor under them (and the profits for the 1% are infinitely greater?)
    Are we a better country because thousands of main streets even in fair sized towns are reduced to junk shops labeled “Antiques and Collectibles” so that one family can be filthy rich? (Meanwhile their employees have no benefits and qualify for food stamps!)
    Where is justice when we can be robbed by stealth by manipulating the money supply and the interest rates, so that the rich become richer as our small savings are worth less and less?

    This is America!?

    Which one of these self serving/PAC serving puppets will change anything?

  • helen

    Anybody here think that “Bring ‘em on!” Bush wouldn’t have used drones if he’d had them.
    [Or didn't, if he did?]
    I’m beginning to wonder what’s special about America and I was born here.
    It’s certainly not the country my grandparents emigrated to, for a better life!

    Are we really better off because the slaves who provide us with cheap “everything” are out of sight in foreign countries, where we don’t have to see the children chained to their machines and sleeping on the floor under them (and the profits for the 1% are infinitely greater?)
    Are we a better country because thousands of main streets even in fair sized towns are reduced to junk shops labeled “Antiques and Collectibles” so that one family can be filthy rich? (Meanwhile their employees have no benefits and qualify for food stamps!)
    Where is justice when we can be robbed by stealth by manipulating the money supply and the interest rates, so that the rich become richer as our small savings are worth less and less?

    This is America!?

    Which one of these self serving/PAC serving puppets will change anything?

  • BW

    Bush did have drones and did use them. But, Obama has far and away expanded the use of them and the amount of strikes. Romney has given no indication he’d do anything differently with them.

    These aren’t quiet or hushed killings, they are unmanned airstrikes sometimes against unidentified individuals. Sometimes even on first responders.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/20/us-drones-strikes-target-rescuers-pakistan

  • BW

    Bush did have drones and did use them. But, Obama has far and away expanded the use of them and the amount of strikes. Romney has given no indication he’d do anything differently with them.

    These aren’t quiet or hushed killings, they are unmanned airstrikes sometimes against unidentified individuals. Sometimes even on first responders.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/20/us-drones-strikes-target-rescuers-pakistan

  • Norman Teigen

    I think that if we are going to be involved in war, that we should maximize our destructive power with the least possible exposure for the American soldier. I would rather that we kill those whom we consider our enemies than allow American soldiers to be unduly at risk. Drones reduce the exposure of the American combat soldier to enemy fire. Of course warfare always involves death and killing, even to our own. The idea is to kill as many of the enemy at the lowest possible risk to our own.

    The larger question is a consideration of what wars we should involve ourselves in. These questions have been going on for a long time and do not resolve themselves to easy answers.

    I am a Vietnam veteran who was not a combat soldier.

  • Norman Teigen

    I think that if we are going to be involved in war, that we should maximize our destructive power with the least possible exposure for the American soldier. I would rather that we kill those whom we consider our enemies than allow American soldiers to be unduly at risk. Drones reduce the exposure of the American combat soldier to enemy fire. Of course warfare always involves death and killing, even to our own. The idea is to kill as many of the enemy at the lowest possible risk to our own.

    The larger question is a consideration of what wars we should involve ourselves in. These questions have been going on for a long time and do not resolve themselves to easy answers.

    I am a Vietnam veteran who was not a combat soldier.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    Maximizing destructive power while minimizing exposure of American soldiers makes good sense in a von Clausewitz sort of way. I think the problem is that Just War Theory gives us other criteria to consider. Like the killing of civilians. Otherwise nuclear weapons would fit the criteria. And with drones you have another problem. While they CAN be used effectively, and CAN be limited by appropriate criteria, they can easily be abused as well, and secretly. If the public approves them in principle, then how do we prevent their abuse?

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    Maximizing destructive power while minimizing exposure of American soldiers makes good sense in a von Clausewitz sort of way. I think the problem is that Just War Theory gives us other criteria to consider. Like the killing of civilians. Otherwise nuclear weapons would fit the criteria. And with drones you have another problem. While they CAN be used effectively, and CAN be limited by appropriate criteria, they can easily be abused as well, and secretly. If the public approves them in principle, then how do we prevent their abuse?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    The willingness to use nuclear weapons underscores to the target population the fact that the enemy is willing to destroy the whole lot of them to stop the war/harassment/etc. Imagine that there were some sort of terrorist group in the US that was bombing Iran’s embassy or Libya’s embassy. Our government would go after them. That is our gripe with these nations that harbor terrorists. Some of them are allowing them to operate. They would get over that in a big hurry if they believed we would completely destroy them.

    As for drones, I agree with Teigen. It is immoral to put our soldiers at risk if we don’t have to. If other countries don’t want us killing terrorists with drones, then they can kill them themselves before we do. Personally, I think the leaders like it better when we do it because they don’t have the courage to execute them themselves. Our involvement allows the foreign leaders to play both sides of the street.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    The willingness to use nuclear weapons underscores to the target population the fact that the enemy is willing to destroy the whole lot of them to stop the war/harassment/etc. Imagine that there were some sort of terrorist group in the US that was bombing Iran’s embassy or Libya’s embassy. Our government would go after them. That is our gripe with these nations that harbor terrorists. Some of them are allowing them to operate. They would get over that in a big hurry if they believed we would completely destroy them.

    As for drones, I agree with Teigen. It is immoral to put our soldiers at risk if we don’t have to. If other countries don’t want us killing terrorists with drones, then they can kill them themselves before we do. Personally, I think the leaders like it better when we do it because they don’t have the courage to execute them themselves. Our involvement allows the foreign leaders to play both sides of the street.

  • Tom Hering

    That is our gripe with these nations that harbor terrorists. Some of them are allowing them to operate. They would get over that in a big hurry if they believed we would completely destroy them. (@ 16)

    Libya? Really? The brand-new government of a nation that has just been through a revolution – and still has pro-Gaddafi, anti-Gaddafi, and other armed groups all over the place – would suddenly become able to control all these groups if we threatened nuclear retaliation? Really? I want to buy some of whatever it is you’re smoking, sg. ;-)

  • Tom Hering

    That is our gripe with these nations that harbor terrorists. Some of them are allowing them to operate. They would get over that in a big hurry if they believed we would completely destroy them. (@ 16)

    Libya? Really? The brand-new government of a nation that has just been through a revolution – and still has pro-Gaddafi, anti-Gaddafi, and other armed groups all over the place – would suddenly become able to control all these groups if we threatened nuclear retaliation? Really? I want to buy some of whatever it is you’re smoking, sg. ;-)

  • Tom Hering

    I wish the moderator at the last debate had asked about this topic. I’d be curious if Romney would continue this “disposition matrix” or if he really is the peace candidate. (Dr. Veith)

    … when asked about drones by moderator Bob Schieffer, Romney enthusiastically endorsed Obama’s position. “I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends,” Romney said. (HuffPost)

  • Tom Hering

    I wish the moderator at the last debate had asked about this topic. I’d be curious if Romney would continue this “disposition matrix” or if he really is the peace candidate. (Dr. Veith)

    … when asked about drones by moderator Bob Schieffer, Romney enthusiastically endorsed Obama’s position. “I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends,” Romney said. (HuffPost)

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    1) It is probably not accurate to say that Obama has expanded drone use. It is probably more accurate to say that our drone technology has been growing sufficiently enough to make them a viable means of targeted executive force. Obama has taken advantage of this new capability, but not without the strong recommendation of the Pentagon.

    2) Might does not make right. Just because we can kill people – even dangerous people does not make this ethical or a good idea.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    1) It is probably not accurate to say that Obama has expanded drone use. It is probably more accurate to say that our drone technology has been growing sufficiently enough to make them a viable means of targeted executive force. Obama has taken advantage of this new capability, but not without the strong recommendation of the Pentagon.

    2) Might does not make right. Just because we can kill people – even dangerous people does not make this ethical or a good idea.

  • Norman Teigen

    John – if we are in war we kill the people that are in the opposition. If we do not have grounds to go into battle, then we shouldn’t go into battle and we don’t kill. As an American soldier sent to war by a legitimate government against a hostile foe, I had the moral obligation to make, if circumstances required it, to die. I expect that as the other part of the bargain that my government would do everything possible to kill the enemy. Your use of the term ‘ethical’ makes me uneasy.

  • Norman Teigen

    John – if we are in war we kill the people that are in the opposition. If we do not have grounds to go into battle, then we shouldn’t go into battle and we don’t kill. As an American soldier sent to war by a legitimate government against a hostile foe, I had the moral obligation to make, if circumstances required it, to die. I expect that as the other part of the bargain that my government would do everything possible to kill the enemy. Your use of the term ‘ethical’ makes me uneasy.

  • BW

    I recognize drones are a tool of war, and that they can be used to save American lives and strike targets in difficult to get to areas.

    But the US isn’t always sure who they are hitting with these strikes. “Signature” strikes are done based upon suspicious patterns of behavior which resemble that of terrorists. And the fact that drones were used on Americans, without charging them or any due process is scary.

  • BW

    I recognize drones are a tool of war, and that they can be used to save American lives and strike targets in difficult to get to areas.

    But the US isn’t always sure who they are hitting with these strikes. “Signature” strikes are done based upon suspicious patterns of behavior which resemble that of terrorists. And the fact that drones were used on Americans, without charging them or any due process is scary.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “But the US isn’t always sure who they are hitting with these strikes.”

    True, but that is always true. Even in a situation where your own soldiers are right there in person, you will have situations of uncertainty about whom or what you are shooting at. Surely the many cases of friendly fire illustrate the fact that a soldier can’t always know a target with absolute certainty. I would guess drones could actually do better because the operator is removed from immediate danger and can more carefully size up the targets than a soldier who feels he must shoot or die.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “But the US isn’t always sure who they are hitting with these strikes.”

    True, but that is always true. Even in a situation where your own soldiers are right there in person, you will have situations of uncertainty about whom or what you are shooting at. Surely the many cases of friendly fire illustrate the fact that a soldier can’t always know a target with absolute certainty. I would guess drones could actually do better because the operator is removed from immediate danger and can more carefully size up the targets than a soldier who feels he must shoot or die.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    @17

    I think you misunderstand what I said. Japan gave up when their survival as a country was credibly threatened. When you promise up front not to destroy your enemy, then why should they stop attacking you? I don’t think you can totally control people, but you can get them to stop attacking and harassing you.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    @17

    I think you misunderstand what I said. Japan gave up when their survival as a country was credibly threatened. When you promise up front not to destroy your enemy, then why should they stop attacking you? I don’t think you can totally control people, but you can get them to stop attacking and harassing you.

  • Andrew

    would america tolerate another country flying drones over continental USA to identify and eliminate threats to another sovereign nation?
    is it solely because it is perceived that the “host” nations are complicit in harbouring these people and cannot be trusted to bring them to justice? What happens when china decides that its natioanl interest is served in assassinating a dissident who fled to america, and america is treating as an asylum seeker?

    independent of the guilt or horribleness of the crimes, it does feel like you are living in a robo-cop type dystopia.

  • Andrew

    would america tolerate another country flying drones over continental USA to identify and eliminate threats to another sovereign nation?
    is it solely because it is perceived that the “host” nations are complicit in harbouring these people and cannot be trusted to bring them to justice? What happens when china decides that its natioanl interest is served in assassinating a dissident who fled to america, and america is treating as an asylum seeker?

    independent of the guilt or horribleness of the crimes, it does feel like you are living in a robo-cop type dystopia.


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