POSTED ON JANUARY 9, 2013:
Equating drone policy and Newtown is outrageous
Not On My Turf. Comparing a school shooting to the presidentís policy is bizarre.
GINA JACOBS / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
Gross simplifications and vapid comparisons make me crazy.
Ted Rall, a syndicated columnist for UTW, recently wrote a piece on the Newtown killing and aftermath. In the piece, Rall said that none of us, whether ordinary folks, the American left, or public media, absolutely nobody, has a right to be angry about our latest instance of rampage killing in Newtown, Conn. because, wait for it, U.S. national policy -- our drone/counter-terrorism campaign -- entails killing lots of innocent people as well.
Empirically even the most detached studies suggest that the bulk of killings over the entire eight year history of the US drone counterterrorism campaign have been documented "combatants": estimates of noncombatant deaths range from about 15 to 23 percent of all strikes -- a number well short of the 3,100 "murders" that Rall posits in his piece.
The great storyteller Isaac Bashevis Singer once opined that the death of a single person is the end of a whole universe. There can be little argument about this, but sometimes, sadly, protecting life or an entire society means dropping an epic diplomatic initiative (assuming that the other side will take negotiations) and resolving to roll evil back. I'm glad Rall wasn't Abe Lincoln's military advisor -- I might still be a slave. And I wonder if he would have supported the drone-centric Libyan action last year: a U.S. humanitarian intervention that forestalled as many as 750,000 deaths in Benghazi.
As readers may know, Rall is an award-winning cartoonist/graphic novelist in addition to being a nationally syndicated columnist. He's also widely traveled. And while the world of the graphic novel certainly has brilliant works with enormous intellectual/artistic power -- Art Spiegelman's Maus comes to mind -- seeing the world from this flat one-dimensional vantage can be limiting. Rall's portrayal of Barack Obama and his national security team as cold-eyed participants who are willingly engaged in a murderous campaign via our drone counterterrorism effort, is not only an outrage, it may also be an artifact of his role as a cartoonist -- someone with a flat conception of morality and the world.
For Rall, it's hypocritical to mourn the children killed in Newtown. In one of his loopiest essays that I've seen, he posits a stunning moral equivalency by proclaiming: "Until we start caring about other people's dead kids and adults -- kids and adults made dead by American weapons -- we don't have the right to mourn our own."
What Rall does not or maybe doesn't want to understand is this: Barack Obama's ascension to power sparked a fevered search for less brutal, more nuanced ways of rolling back al-Qaida's many-sided terror campaign. The search for a strategy with fewer civilian casualties and a lighter impact on the Afghan -- and later the Pakistani -- countryside, was the signal rationale for the elevated use of drones and special forces in the president's counterterrorism campaign.
Al-Qaida and its sister organizations and the people who run its killing logistics have decided that Americans are to be targeted and killed at the pace and with a timing of their choosing -- a function of their lurid work program. One of the singular obligations of an American president is to protect our shores, American embassies, consulates, and our extended overseas diplomatic community and to have the capacity to support military folks when they are under attack or in battle.
We also have the "little" example of 9/11 and myriad other instances where al-Qaida and its sister organizations have attacked Americans whenever the opportunity arose and when they thought they could prevail.
Here is what one of the most serious scholars of drone policy says about the outsized ethical logic of using drones, quoting from Scott Shane's "The Moral Case for Drones" in The New York Times:
"'I had ethical doubts and concerns when I started looking into this,' said Bradley J. Strawser, a former Air Force officer and an assistant professor of philosophy at the Naval Postgraduate School. But after a concentrated study of remotely piloted vehicles, he said, he concluded that using them to go after terrorists not only was ethically permissible but also might be ethically obligatory, because of their advantages in identifying targets and striking with precision."
The Other Path
In the Second Iraq War, we witnessed a turn away from the total war notions at play in World War II and the carpet-bombing tactics that defined a big part of our Indochina/Vietnam war. So-called precision munitions and tightly defined rules of engagement helped topple the Hussein regime while obviating the use of some indiscriminate killing in densely packed Iraqi cities, even after the Sunni insurgency erupted.
Even so, a rigorous study conducted by the renowned Bloomberg Public Health School/John Hopkins, in partnership with the national Iraq Health Ministry, came to a shocking conclusion:
"We estimate that through July 2006, there have been 654,965 "excess deaths" -- fatalities above the pre-invasion death rate -- in Iraq as a consequence of the war. Of post-invasion deaths, 601,027 were due to violent causes. Non-violent deaths rose above the pre-invasion level only in 2006. Since March 2003, an additional 2.5 percent of Iraq's population have died above what would have occurred without conflict."
Rall went on to write: "[A]nd in any case the offed "militants" are not threats to the American people."
So, the people who executed the 9/11 plane takedowns and who blew up U.S. embassies in Kenya, elsewhere in Africa (pre-9/11), and did a myriad of big civilians kills in Western Europe: are they simply, as Mr. Rall would have us believe, aggrieved? That is, are they merely political opponents, as he says of "oppressive regimes allied with United States"?
To say, as Rall does, that terrorist operatives associated with al-Qaida and allies are not a threat to the U.S. is very troubling. Interestingly, a wide spectrum of evidence suggests that our fevered attempts to separate terrorist organization from the world financial sector, airports and other civil "hardening" efforts, and yes, the sometimes morally vexing, drone-driven campaign to decapitate al-Qaida are, wait for it, working.
If, as Rall's forcefully suggests, the president and his national security team have no concerns -- that is, "do not care" -- about innocent victims of drone attacks, why do they take elaborate precautions before attacks are ordered to minimize noncombatant casualties? Why does the president personally review, according to writer Michael Lewis and a blizzard of other diplomatic, national security, and foreign policy writers, these strikes and try to ascertain that due diligence -- that is, high level, earnest efforts have been made to avoid strikes that will be problematic given the closeness of schools, religious buildings, residential areas, ambiguity about individual targets, and so forth?
Does Rall know about the strategic review under way to reconsider our decade-plus "War on Terror" -- a high-tempo effort being pushed by top Obama national aides who are crafting new policies that what would substantially end our counterterrorism campaign or at least ratchet it down in dramatic ways? The Daily Beast reported in December:
"[B]ehind the scenes Obama has led a persistent internal conversation about whether America should remain engaged in a permanent, ever-expanding state of war, one that has pushed the limits of the law, stretched dwindling budgets, and at times strained relations with our allies. 'This has always been a concern of the president's,' says a former military adviser to Obama. 'He's uncomfortable with the idea of war without end.'"
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