The Drone War

I doubt any of us thinks that fighting terrorists should be done more "symmetrically." The nasty truth is that that would entail leaving civilians to fight the terrorists. "Symmetrical" warfare for terrorists is attacking civilians. Similarly, the fight might be "fairer," and involve more "valor," if NATO troops in Afghanistan invariably exposed themselves to terrorist cells in order to fight them on-scene, instead of benefiting from the use of drones that take the terrorists out with less danger to our forces. But I wouldn't blame the troops for resisting that alternative approach (and if I had command, I would oppose it strenuously).

All of that said, I've long been critical of the regular use of drones, and I remain so. The real issue here is that we are fighting a war of ideas using lethal means so convenient and impersonal as to be quite cynical. Islamist radicals who turn to terrorism are not rabid animals; they are people, with a very different (certainly wrong) but passionate and highly-developed ideology about the nature of man and his future under God's rule.

Subsiding into a rut in this conflict—merely hunting the radicals down and killing them by rote—is not a winning strategy, and it certainly doesn't resonate with the Spirit inside us. We can't just kill all the Islamists, nor do we want to. That cannot be our grand strategy for dealing with radical Islamism.

The most effective approach actually begins with strengthening ourselves, spiritually as well as in other ways, and solidifying in our own minds why we love and want to preserve the life of Western freedom that we have. Societal strength is the key to meeting ideological challenges; merely killing radicals is dismissive, short-sighted, and ultimately weak. If freedom is stronger and more compelling to the human spirit, then it should come across that way. The "mystery," to use a Christian term, is that this expression of strength can't be forced. It can only be an unforced upwelling from the characters of the people.

In any case, our soldiers and airmen can't reset our strategic posture in the War on Terror. Most of them, given the conditions they've been handed, see the necessity for being efficient at keeping terrorists out of the fight—but that doesn't mean they're enthusiastic about highly efficient drone killings. They can't change the way we're fighting this war; they can only do what they're told, feel ambivalent about what they're doing, and see pundits being angry that they might get medals for it.

To say that that is discouraging for them is not to say that they're in it for the medals. But it does add weight to the question whether it's in our best interest to fight this way. If it's not—and I believe it isn't—changing our strategy for fighting terrorism has to be done from the Oval Office. The impetus for that will have to come from the American people.  

7/22/2012 4:00:00 AM