war in Iraq came at a strange moment in technological history. The 21st century
saw mass proliferation of affordable cellular telephony, altering not simply
the way people kept in touch, but did business and waged war. For the U.S.
military, cell phones posed a potentially dangerous problem. In addition to
enabling a new generation of remotely-controlled IEDs, they helped insurgents
coordinate larger and more complex groups, extending mobile C3 to any group
with a tower in range and minutes bought.
Yet, as Jacob Shapiro and Nils Weidman argue in a fascinating study, booming cellphone use cut against insurgencies. Rather than enabling more IED attacks, they made it easier for civilians to inform on insurgents. Cellphones could even fill gaps in counterinsurgent communication networks while exposing insurgent communications to U.S. superiority in electronic warfare. Looking at a systemic level rather than narrowly at one actor’s applications of a technology, mobile telephony’s expansion more likely helped than hindered counterinsurgents.
The dynamic between new technology, conflict, and social systems frequently lends itself to oversimplification. Cell phones neither made nor broke U.S. operations in Iraq, and although the Taliban appears to recognize their threat, they do not determine the course of the war there either. Despite the rapidly proliferating quantity and falling price of many new technologies, technical military dominance remains and incredibly expensive affair.
While it is not incredibly difficult to probe the DoD’s cybersecurity or even penetrate its networks, launching computer network attacks sophisticated enough to significantly degrade the U.S.’s overwhelming strength requires not just a built-up IT infrastructure for computer network attack, but a wide spectrum of electronic warfare capabilities and enough conventional punch to exploit the gap. Even in these scenarios, states such as China, Russia, the U.S. and Israel continue to enjoy massive advantages over non-state groups and poor or weak states when it comes to information warfare. The costs in human and technological capital significantly mitigates the disruptive effects of the technology.
Similarly, with remotely-operated and robotic weapons, rudimentary capabilities vastly proliferated but constraints remain on their ability to substitute for or supplement inadequate conventional capability. Basic, cost-intensive issues of physics and logistics, such as size, payload, and the availability of military-grade air-launched munitions limit the lethality of “personal” aerial drones, while even state actors without adequate C4ISR infrastructure or the conventional means to enable drone operations will find it difficult to radically change their means.
It should be unsurprising that until the mid-20th century, a major narrative in Western thought was not technology getting the barbarians closer to crashing the gate, but fueling the rise of an ever vaster and more terrible Leviathan. Increasing technical complexity and costs to waging war indeed promoted the ascent of the modern state. As the trend continued, bureaucracies and state power grew even in the most liberal states, while the Soviet Union and fascist Europe pointed towards state power, economic advancement, and military-technical strength going hand in hand. Even before totalitarianism, fin de siècle Britons such as Halford Mackinder, Leo Amery, and H.G. Wells saw new technology militating towards stronger and larger states. This was a trend the experience of the World Wars and Cold War only seemed to reinforce, until the fall of the USSR and heightened concern with disruptive technologies, anarchic failed states, and the power of individuals.
Despite the obvious oversights of those who took the writings of Orwell and Burnham a bit too far to heart, it’s important to remember that many of the technologies thought to be rolling back state power came about through state action and operate most powerfully with the state’s resources behind them. The glut of small arms and light weapons in conflict zones are frequently legacy of state-backed mass production and proxy war supplies, or states toppled with the aid of conventional power.
Keil Lieber ably demonstrated the errors of confounding technical systems with undue political attributes in his dissection of offense-defense balance in IR theory. For issues of state-building and insurgency, a similar look at how disruptive technologies require enabling and support from a wider variety of social and political factors makes it much easier to explain why some technology erodes the power of one state while vastly bolstering another. At a broader, systemic level, though, asking whether this or that technology bolsters or erodes state authority is likely asking the wrong question.
To note the increasing sophistication of non-state groups is not to imply the erosion of the state or even an adverserial relationship between state authority and other forms. Instead, given that assemblages of state power remain the dominant territorial and political forms (even if they deviate from our expectations), investigating the parasitic, commensalist, and symbiotic relationships between them will likely be the best way both to assess the political impacts of proliferating technology and the emergent shape of world order.
The controversy of the American targeted-killing program, and especially the resurgence of covert paramilitary and military action, has inspired a great deal of concern about the accountability and oversight of America’s supposed new ways of war. Does the lack of risk they offer encourage the Congress, media, and public to stay silent? One of the most prominent scholars of military robotics, P.W. Singer, recently put out an article that reiterated an argument he makes about the decline in the accountability of American wars, as exemplified in the drone program:
In democracies, there have always been deep bonds between the public and its wars. Citizens have historically participated in decisions to take military action, through their elected representatives, helping to ensure broad support for wars and a willingness to share the costs, both human and economic, of enduring them.
In the U.S., our Constitution explicitly divided the president’s role as commander-in-chief in war from Congress’s role in declaring war. Yet, these links and this division of labour are now under siege as a result of a technology that our founding fathers never could have imagined.
We don’t have a draft anymore. Less than 0.5 per cent of Americans over 18 serve in the active-duty military. We do not declare war anymore. The last time Congress actually did so was in 1942 – against Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. We don’t buy war bonds or pay war taxes anymore. During the Second World War, 85 million Americans purchased war bonds that brought the government $185 billion. In the last decade, we bought none and instead gave the richest five per cent of Americans a tax break.
And now we possess a technology that removes the last political barriers to war. The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter – and the impact that military casualties have on voters and on the news media – they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way.
For the first 200 years of American democracy, engaging in combat and bearing risk – both personal and political – went hand in hand. In the age of drones, that is no longer the case.
This narrative exemplifies a civil mythology under final assault from the robotic barbarians at the gates. Unfortunately, history itself tells a far messier story. For one thing, the notion that there are always deep bonds between the public and the war-fighting effort is false. I have tackled the question of the draft previously on this blog, but the rest of the arguments merit further scrutiny.
For one, the Constitution’s demands on Congressional oversight in war have never been so clear, nor so linear in their erosion. The U.S. fought several wars without a formal declaration – and even without direct Congressional authorization – before it ever formally declared war in 1812. In some cases, such as the Quasi-War and the Barbary Wars, these were authorized by Congressional statutes short of a formal declaration. In 1801, Congress passed the Naval Peace Establishment Act, and Jefferson cited Congress’s funding of the military capacity as sufficient authorization for its use against hostile powers. A State Department directive told the U.S. Navy that if the Barbary states declared war on the U.S., then the Navy was to “protect our commerce & chastise their insolence – by sinking, burning, or destroying their ships & Vessels wherever you shall find them.”
Of course, Jefferson was hesitant to expand this further than defense and limited retaliation, but even he did not believe a formal declaration, nor, obviously, any kind of conscription, was necessary for waging offensive war. What he received was a series of Congressional statutes expanding the fleet and specifically authorizing expanded military action against the Barbary states.
The Indian wars were justified on much the same logic. At no point did the U.S. formally declare war against the Indians. By the period of the Seminole Wars it was well-established that Congress recognizing hostilities and appropriating resources to the combat established constitutional recognition of a conflict. Insofar as Congress receives statutory notification and continues to defray the costs of conflict, it legitimizes war as constitutional. The differences between a Congressional authorization for using force and a formal declaration are statutorily meaningful, but both are legitimate with respect to the Constitution.
The deep civic bonds have actually generally been quite shallow. State militias were called up in local wars for military geographical reasons, but the burning of the capital in 1814 failed to merit a draft. The AUMF, NDAA, and War Powers Resolution all constitute a system of Congressional compliance to Presidential military initiative, in which war is retroactively legitimized through post hoc defrayment.
The U.S. Navy, with its peacetime establishment and broad writ to conduct “small wars” and punitive expeditions (as well as a Marine Corps with similar advantages), did far more to undermine the political barriers to U.S. wars than drones have or likely will. Expeditionary warfare by forces inherently limited in their political costs of extraction is as old as the republic itself.
The very concept of covert action helped too, and the idea of a secret air force predates the CIA itself. Roosevelt’s Flying Tigers, approved before U.S. entry into WWII using government money laundered through a contractor and lend-lease, sought to secretly put dozens of aircraft into China to fight Japan. Manned aircraft, along with a PMC, and an extralegal or illegal authorization by a frustrated executive began what was planned to be a covert war. December 7, 1941, not deep civic responsibility, saved it from being remembered as such. Later, the CIA was flying secret air forces for Cubans and Congolese. WWII era aircraft flew secret wars, but covert action itself was the real mechanism for reducing political costs. That it now happens to employ robots rather than deniable pilots, foreign mercenaries, or nameless spooks allows changes in quantity more than essential quality.
Yet many insist that drones, by removing the threat of casualties, undermine oversight and accountability because politicians can avoid legislative backlash and media scrutiny. Even recent history does not bear this out.
For example, at least 17 Americans died in Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, including some in militant attacks and not simply accidents or other causes. Operation Enduring Freedom-Horn of Africa has its casualties too. The media noted their deaths but there was no backlash. Bemoaning the lack of media coverage of Afghanistan – Afghanistan! – is a cliché of war commentary that will be decade old before the drawdown. Relative to the number of U.S. personnel committed, I would wager the targeted killing campaign is far better covered than Afghanistan today, and it is certainly out of proportion in terms of the casualties that the personnel supporting the war suffer.
Indeed, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan themselves do not suggest that the link between perpetual war and lack of risk is so straightforward. What, exactly, has Congressional oversight there saved us from? For all the bemoaning of the “drone wars,” they have broad public approval, incredibly little Congressional criticism – by the cost-defrayment standard, continual support – and can we really say their consequences are so much more deleterious to the body politic and the public trust than the disaster that was the choice to invade Iraq? To ignore, escalate, and bungle in Afghanistan?
We can’t blame the drones for the U.S. war in Yemen, where US SOF and clandestine agents watched from the ground when 2002’s lethal drone strike came down, or where cruise missiles and most likely F-15Es take part in the bombardment. We can’t blame the drones for the U.S. war in Somalia, where naval guns, AC-130s and helicopters, along with JSOC, operated for years before the Predators and Reapers let loose missiles there. In any case, neither of these states really have the air defense capability, or the intention, to challenge U.S. airpower. Are we really to believe the risk of a plane crash is why policymakers switched to drone strikes?
As for Pakistan, the model of accountability that Singer holds up, the bin Laden raid, involved a lot of deliberation and careful consideration, to be sure – but it was done entirely in secret. That we even know of its deliberations so intimately is because, for basically everyone involved, it’s a good story. That we use drones there and not conventional aircraft is not because of American casualty aversion, but because it is what the Pakistani government appears to accept – and these strikes frequently cease or slacken when Pakistani and U.S. relations come too close to the brink. Political costs retain veto power, but in covert action, they are quiet and indirect.
The fault lies not in our drones, but in ourselves. The reason our wars – secret or no – are so poorly managed are because of the policy process itself and the goals it seeks, alongside the incredible capability of the U.S. military and federal government which lets them sustain the weight and persevere through so many missteps and failures. The draft does not stop failing wars, overt or covert, as we learned from Vietnam and the “secret wars” surrounding it. That the condolence letter of a pilot crashing his aircraft in Yemen might be the difference between peace and war seems proper, but what would make its power so much greater than those for the advisors and the spotters, or the vastly larger number of letters for the fallen of Afghanistan, which was sickeningly, but unsurprisingly, absent from the general election? The political silences that enable these processes are older than we care to admit. It is not just that we cannot turn back time, but that there is no extended length of time much better to turn back to. Before drones were, these kinds of wars were there, waiting for them.
Human Rights Watch recently put out a
demanding a ban on fully autonomous weapons system and more scrutiny, as well
as additional legal controls, to regulate the development and proliferation of
robotic weapons. Human Rights Watch wants an international treaty prohibiting
weapons that either “deliver force under the oversight of a human operator who
can override the robot’s actions,” and “robots that are capable of selecting
targets and delivering force without any human input or interaction.” In their
report, seeking to advance policy to prevent indiscriminate warfare, they
instead perpetuate a large degree of misperceptions about the way in which
militaries operate in addition to needless fear-mongering about fully
autonomous weapons which are highly unlikely to ever exist.
The first major problem is that HRW even has a category of “human-out-of-the-loop weapons” which are supposedly going to enter modern warfare. This is, needless to say, a logically ludicrous concept. No weapon is fully capable of taking humans out of the loop, unless it is part of its own command structure. The distinction HRW draws between “Human-on-the-Loop Weapons” and “Human-out-of-the-loop” weapons is totally arbitrary, particularly since one key criteria HRW draws is that “human-on-the-loop” weapons have human oversight which can override and veto their actions, and “human-out-of-the-loop” weapons do not.
Unless the U.S. were to design a weapon that, upon activation, simply began doing whatever its programming told it to do and nothing else, a “human-out-of-the-loop” weapon does not and will not exist. Furthermore, there is absolutely no reason for a human to want to deploy such a weapon. Correct me if I’m wrong, but what commanding officer wants to swap out his subordinates with a machine that is going to be less responsive to his orders?
Weapons fall into a command structure. Every weapon, regardless of its level of autonomy, will conduct missions designed by humans and carried out under human orders, supervised by humans with superior power over it. Indeed, comparable to human subordinates, a “human-on-the-loop” weapon gives a commander more opportunities to micromanage combat performance. If anything, a commander has fewer opportunities to scapegoat subordinates for the actions of an autonomous system.
HRW worries victims of “fully autonomous” weapons cannot confront those who have wronged them in court, which somehow obviates accountability through commanding officer. Supposedly, the entity pulling the trigger is essential to the aversion and prosecution of war crimes. But in this sense, robots do not change much of anything. Artillery gunners and their commanding officers, for example, frequently lack the information necessary to assess whether their fire mission is fully lawful or ethical. They are dependent on the wisdom of the people calling in and ordering the strike. The pilot of an F-16 flying at hundreds of miles an hour frequently lacks adequate ability to judge whether his target, particularly infrastructure targets, are legitimate or not. He relies, as a robotic aircraft would rely, on the wisdom of those who collected the intelligence on his targets, who have eyes on it from the ground who, if necessary, can correct how he deploys his munitions.
There is nothing inherently indiscriminate about an autonomous weapon, even if we assume it is going to face permanent inability to assess every single criterion of discriminate force vis-a-vis a human infantryman. An autonomous weapon using conventional munitions ought be assessed contextually. A weapon or munition that is discriminate for destroying a tank battalion in the open is probably not discriminate for clearing snipers out of a populated urban center.
Some weapons are so indiscriminate in a range of normal military contexts, and indeed without redeeming virtues of strategic efficacy that might justify them as proportional instruments, that banning them is relatively effective and prudent. There is very little discrimination possible with a chemical weapon whose physical nature makes selecting individual targets nigh impossible, or a biological weapon, which, once deployed, will continue operating fully autonomously with no possible human input. Not only that, but these weapons were so frequently operationally or strategically useless - and indeed, very dangerous to one’s own side - that it was entirely reasonable to put in place an outright prohibition. Even then, many militaries frequently commit violations of chemical weapons protocols by employing less-lethal gasses such as C-series agents and white phosphorous that have legitimate uses when it seems tactically prudent.
The attempt to blanket ban autonomous weapons relies on a blanket presumption of failure to discriminate that fails to take into account the way militaries operate. A commanding officer deploying autonomous weapons should know the limits of his system. An unmanned aerial system which can evade and engage hostile targets should not be allowed to select target types such as civilian vehicles or groups of individuals, nor should an autonomous weapon which cannot distinguish between civilians and soldiers with high enough reliability be emplaced in a city. This is just as we would not permit a jet attack aircraft to select and engage its own ground targets in a similarly populated area.
Autonomous weapons receive orders and can be programmed with rules of engagement. If these safeguards fail occasionally, this is not a particularly convincing argument. After all, look at the record of U.S. attempts to enforce roadblocks in Iraq. An infantryman may, seeing a civilian vehicle speeding towards his checkpoint, kill civilians in error because he is tried or concerned with protecting his life and those of his fellow soldiers. Humans disobey orders and make judgment calls about ROE or commander’s intent all the time, whether they are in or out of the loop of their CO. Indeed, we could select a great number of alternate scenarios where a robot that has no fear for its own life, and no programmed ability to refuse or deviate from orders, may be more willing to enforce a strict ROE to the letter. This is not to impugn human combatants or to praise robots, but to note that autonomous weapons, like all weapons, will have limits and advantages.
So what if a commander cannot discipline or punish a robot? He can do things that he cannot do to a human deviating from orders. He can override its actions. Even if that mechanism fails, he could remotely self-destruct or destroy the robot in the midst of its commission of war crimes. A robot Calley is, in many ways, easier to deal with than a human war criminal. It is much less ethically difficult to deactivate or destroy a malfunctioning robot than to kill one of your men or women. Not only that, but the information collected and stored by a robotic weapon would prove much more useful in the prosecution of a war crime committed by a robot-operating unit than the testimony of soldiers who must grapple with the limits of human sense, psyche, and loyalty to each other.
HRW’s argument, then, seems so overbroad as to likely be utterly ineffectual. Much as when Britain tried to ban submarines during the Washington Naval Treaty as being inherently indiscriminate and criminal because of the specific role they played in World War I, no power with the capability to take advantage of the huge military benefits of adopting these weapons is likely to forgo them for a blanket treaty, if they even buy into such a treaty at all.
One might justify HRW’s piece as starting a conversation - and I join that conversation by saying the specifics of their proposal and the view they adopt of autonomous technology are utterly ill-considered. There can and should be limitations on the way weapons can be used. But for the great majority of weapons in the human arsenal, these need to be thought of contextually rather than rigidly. Like it or not, autonomous weapons are already present, and states are going to use weapons with considerably efficacious attributes. But measuring the legality of autonomous weapons against higly specific scenarios against the standards that very often seem to ignore how militaries and the human beings in them behave on the battlefield is the wrong way to start this debate, and certainly not a sound foundation for credible regulations of their use. There are many reasons to start a debate. What HRW appears to aim to do is to strangle it in the crib on the basis of hyperbolic supposition. I strain to think of arms control beginning from such a premise which has had lasting or beneficial effect.
In tomorrow's New York Times Sunday Review, Lucian Truscott IV blasts General David Petraeus for failing to "conquer" Iraq and Afghanistan. Truscott unfavorably compares Petraeus to generals who "stormed the beaches of North Africa and southern France with blood in their eyes and military murder on their minds" and were "nearly psychotic in their drive to kill enemy soldiers and subjugate enemy nations." Yesterday at the venerable Halifax International Security Forum, Wolfgang Ischinger admonished Western policymakers to avoid "military solutions" for "political problems." The temporal juxtaposition of Truscott and Ischinger's comments is striking precisely because they represent the Platonic ideal of two similar--and conceptually misguided--approaches to understanding modern conflict.
To Truscott IV, what matters in war is violence, and only one kind of violence. In this reading, the worth of a general derives only from his enthusiasm for pursuing decisive battle of the kind seen in popular "drums and trumpets" military history. But that kind of warfare is only one small slice of human history. That is why the Prussians were so confused by French resistance that continued long after her main armies were crushed on the field in 1870. It is also why German dreams of a second Cannae--on a battlefield that dwarfed any ancient engagement in size and intensity--foundered in 1914. In war, violence is ideally used to advance the dictates of policy, not for its own sake. Violence for the purpose of aesthetic should be left to Quentin Tarantino films, not the real world of war. Indeed, words like "conquer" and "subjugate" imply that Truscott IV imagines that the US should have executed an OPLAN derived from a certain major operation in CENTCOM's AOR that took place in 1258.
Truscott IV's rather Mongolian reading of American strategy's purpose brings to mind the confusion inherent in hard-boiled critiques of modern counterinsurgency that idealize tools such as the destructive raid, targeted killing, or collective punishment rather than analyze how they were actually used to further a political community's desired future condition. Phrased differently: does it really matter if Patton or Truscott IV's grandpappy were nail-chewing, "nearly psychotic" go-getters if such "military murder" was inappropriate for the policy? Warfare in all eras of history is characterized by political and material constraints. These constraints were intimately familiar to American commanders in World War II, who had to balance operational necessity with keeping an unlikely worldwide coalition together. Breaking the will of the enemy was of paramount importance, but the manner in which it was done also had implications for the peace that would follow.
There will always be people that point out what ideally could be done with a certain military tool, like those that called on the US to utilize an "elastic defense" in Western Europe during the late Cold War. That had a superficial plausibility to it--why not trade space for time, bleeding out the Soviet army as reinforcements streamed into Europe? The problem with that approach is that the West German government would not tolerate a strategy that explicitly allowed much of its territory to be ravaged. Like it or not, the US had to fight with rules the Germans defined if we hoped to keep NATO united against the Red hordes.
Ischinger's confusion is the product of a similar focus on tools rather than purpose. Indeed, to be fair, the idea has a long intellectual pedigree. But the argument that there are separate "political" and "military" problems with bifurcated solutions ignores the time-tested concept that the purpose of the military is to break the will of the violent objector to the policy. Hence by creating new political realities, the military is also a "political solution." Admiral Mike Mullen's now-famous dictum that "we can't kill our way to victory" is often repeated but is also empirically unfounded. If the policy is correct, the strategy is sound, and the tactics are appropriate for the task one can often do precisely that. Indeed, recent academic research confirms Clausewitz's hypothesis that it is precisely the nature of the war aims that weighs highest in questions of victory and defeat. Because an objective definition of "victory' has never existed above the level of tactics, the way a state defines victory is key to whether it can achieve it through organized violence.
But that's a rather long chain of "ifs" that a strategist must keep track of. Making good policy is hard. Crafting good strategy to break the enemy's will and executing it is simple in conception but fiendishly difficult in practice. And there's an entire military innovation literature about the problems of correctly judging military trends and developing appropriate tactics. That said, we shouldn't confuse periodic failure of the military instrument with the idea that the utility of force itself has somehow universally declined. Some political objectives are genuinely unresolvable through force. But the reasons why matter. Maybe the enemy's military power is too strong. Perhaps defeating the opponent is not worth the cost. The nature of the military instrument could be too blunt and imprecise to deliver the desired effects. The political community in question might normatively oppose a certain kind of violence and thus take it off the list of possible solutions.
Explaining precisely why the use of force would be ineffective is all more useful and helpful than a blanket statement that military solutions are inappropriate for a "political problem"---because the idea of a solely "military problem" defies thousands of years of history and most of what we know of strategic theory. There are only political problems, and they are decided through combinations of force and statecraft. And when someone criticizes a supposed "military solution" it is often a veiled way of stating that they disagree with an envisioned political end that differs from their own.
Unfortunately, the idea that tools are ends is common in most discussions of modern security topics. The depressing result of tool-fixation is that those ends remain unquestioned. That's why "drone war" remains the topic of conversation rather than the fact that the United States has become an active participant in internal conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Shouldn't the casualness with which we inject ourselves into local political disputes be cause for concern, flying robots or not? Tools are sexy, but how they actually advance (or don't) policy most surely isn't.
* Some apologies to readers unfamiliar with the show that inspired the title.
America’s past and emergent counterterrorism strategies frequently raise
concerns about unilateralism, the multilateral and cooperative aspects remain
relatively low in visibility. Actual or merely perceived unilateral acts, such
as JSOC direct action raids and drone strikes capture much of America’s
attention, while the role of host governments, proxies, and third parties of
all kinds retains a relative background role. In reality, the inclusion of a
wide variety of consenting foreign actors, ranging from militias to militaries,
play a supporting and prerequisite role that is as troubling as it is vital.
Take, for example, the cases of drone strikes in Pakistan. As the infamous Drunken Predator Drone explains in this excellent post, the covert and lightly-publicized quid pro quo between Washington and Islamabad over American counterterrorism efforts in South and Central Asia complicates the policies of both. Noting the wide ranging problems within Pakistan, he notes:
The Pakistani political class is much happier to instead see the nation’s outrage, ink and airtime dedicated to a safer topic. Like sovereignty violations.
And by cooperating with our counterterrorism efforts (including drone strikes,) the influential Pakistani military gets access to some of the choicest American defense hardware...
As has been obvious for 10 years, U.S. counterterrorism assistance represents a golden opportunity for Pakistan’s armed forces to gear up for war with India. Ending drone strikes would derail a $4.3-billion gravy train. And that’s far from the only American aid in the mix; development groups receive billions of dollars for education, shelter and basic nutrition in Pakistan. (Of course, many Pakistanis have no idea. American markings are often removed from aid shipments out of fear that they will become targets for militants.)
The elected, legitimate government of Pakistan has weighed costs and benefits, and made a clear decision. Granting permission (however grudging or tacit it may be) for drone strikes represents a better option than risking a strategic break with America.
from being a simple trampling of Pakistan’s will, the U.S. and Pakistan play a
delicate - and relatively obscure - game which buys permission for America’s
counterterrorism initiatives while bolstering some of the core objectives of
the Pakistani deep state. Unfortunately, for too long American policymakers and
publics have assumed American aid will engender a more comprehensive confluence
of moral values, political principles, and strategic interests between them.
Rather than simply presenting tactical and pragmatic ways to mitigate U.S.
coercive potential, cash in on its immense political-military resources, and
use them to advance prior objectives, America has for too long relied on a
notion that America could strongly influence or control a country’s political
will without actually exerting control.
The political benefits of such an indirect approach are as apparent in the American public arena as they are in Pakistan. While the consequences of dysfunctional clientelism are made more and more apparent with each insider attack in Afghanistan, where America’s force posture puts conventional boots on the ground and lives on the line, the clandestine assets in Pakistan elicit no such public attention or outcry because they create no similar degree of risk. Yet this basic crack in the policy assumptions of clientelism-enabled counterterrorism remains. C. Christine Fair has outlined a plausible way forward: acknowledging the two countries will sometimes have irreconcilable aims and mitigating the negative effects accordingly. But Pakistan is hardly the only country where we see the same problems.
In Yemen, the elite units which received U.S. military aid were redirected to regime preservation rather than counterterrorism. But aid to the Yemeni regime was the cost of political acquiescence to U.S. strikes, helping to foster a Yemeni deep state (even if Saleh is gone) with interests that may tolerate anti-American radicalization, so long as its existence and internal power remains secure.
While U.S. aid has had varying degrees of success in making military forces more organizationally cohesive, operational proficient, and generally professional, it has faltered when it comes to changing the policy objectives that guide the militaries and the regimes they serve themselves. Just as many rightly call for more scrutiny of the consequences of drone strikes, they are just the latest privilege the U.S. has purchased from regimes and militaries in exchange for enhancing their military power and political longevity. Distressingly, many alternatives proposed to drone strikes fail to solve this deeper problem. An effective capture program nearing the scale of the drone program would require similar, if not greater U.S. concessions to local regimes, while a policy of promoting partnership, training, and advisory roles for the U.S. necessitates capacity building for regimes even if their intentions remain in many respects malignant towards U.S. interests.
Complicating this matter, few of the local regimes where the U.S. wages its counterterrorism campaigns (and assists in the counterinsurgency campaigns of others) have Huntingtonian security forces. The evolution of the “deep state” in many of our former Third World partners gave security forces and their partners and proxies a political, social, and economic role alien to the Weberian ideal or the misleading state/non-state typology. Given the known and possible radicalizing and destabilizing roles of harsh imprisonment regimes, brutal local security forces, and the political machinations of rentier states and their proxy forces, devising a policy that tackles the essential principal-agent problem in current U.S. counterterrorism operations is as essential a task as finding alternatives to the strategies such as targeted killing themselves. Even if the targeted killing strategy were to give way, the dangerous game that enabled it may yet persist.
While cheap precision weapons, supposedly expendable drones, and invulnerable standoff fires continue to fascinate publics and intrigue policy makers, we should be careful before subsuming these developments into a coming “new way of war.” As a recent RAND study points out, in a comparison between reusable platforms (think strategic bombers and strike aircraft) and expendable weapons (think cruise missiles), expendable weapons become less cost-effective during prolonged conflict. As Thomas Hamilton explains:
The conflict duration at which exclusive reliance on expendable platforms becomes prohibitive depends on a number of assumptions about the cost, availability, and utilization rates of weapon systems, but for any realistic possibilities, expendable platforms become costly for conflicts persisting on the order of ten days.
Of course, no war uses purely expendable weapons, and no expendable weapon is purely expendable – weapons such as the TLAM are incredibly dependent on the presence of naval vessels which costs enormous sums and must be made to stick around for a long while. But the limitations of expendable weapons have important implications for thinking about future warfare.
For example, despite the proliferation of cheap precision-guided munitions, as my co-blogger pointed out in a recent post, these payloads are still extremely dependent upon reliable platforms to deliver them. The greatest recent advances have not been in expendable long-range weapons (U.S. efforts to develop hypersonic weapons and Prompt Global Strike munitions have been marred with difficulty lately), but with small, inexpensive missiles or bombs that tactical attack aircraft can carry. Colombia’s Super Tucanos and America’s relatively small Predator and Reaper drones are so feared by their insurgent targets because precision weapons, when loaded on such platforms, allow for sortie generations to attack insurgent groups and other irregulars that were too mobile and dispersed to target before.
When the U.S. chooses to conduct combat operations in countries such as Kosovo and Libya, strategic bombers must still make an appearance alongside expendable weapons such as TLAMs. Strategic bombers played a significant role in target servicing over Kosovo, and B-1s had record-breaking persistence during their deployment in Afghanistan. But reusable platforms are aging, expensive, and save for B-2s, very dependent on SEAD sorties to clear the way for their operation.
One concern frequently leveled against armed drones is that they make wars easier, because they are inexpensive, and since they are remotely piloted, morally expendable too. Of course, if drones made war easier to conduct, they would hardly be the first system to enhance the margin of superiority of the U.S. over its opponent. But how credible of a claim is expendability, and how much does the low price of blood and treasure in drones shift the paradigm for warfare? Not so much, it should seem.
While there is no blood price to shooting down a drone, the cost is still hefty, and it comes atop a high accident rate. It is telling the U.S. secures permission or acquiescence from countries such as Pakistan and Yemen when it flies armed drones, and in the case of Libya, waited out the destruction of its air defenses by conventional means. If completely expendable Tomahawk missiles do not drastically reduce costs of prolonged strike operations, armed drones, which are fundamentally reusable platforms by nature, are even less likely to do so.
Another question this study suggests is how the U.S. and its allies will keep up with the logistical costs of future conflicts. Even the relatively low-intensity period of sustained strikes in Libya early on taxed the resources of NATO allies. Campaigns such as Iraq required 800 cruise missiles, and Syria might take up to 700. While standoff expendable systems such as the TLAM and ALCMs allowed NATO countries to support U.S. counterparts in the way Europe’s lack of strategic bombing capability cannot, ultimately it is America’s vastly superior stocks and financial resources for warfighting that allow it to conduct such sustained bombardments.
Preventing the overstrain of that logistical chain is increasingly important, and ultimately, it will severely limit the ability to treat remotely piloted systems as expendable assets like cruise missiles, and ensure a continued role for larger and costlier platforms in the vein of B-2s, F-16CJs, and EA-18Gs that help make operating environments safe for drones fulfilling the strike roles of their manned counterparts.
Similarly, the pervasive role of dispersal and deception in countering U.S. fire superiority demands the persistence of ISR assets that standoff expendable systems simply cannot provide on their own. Though “shoot and scoot” weapons are becoming more advanced, putting enough of them into a theater at a reasonable price requires reusable platforms if only to defend non-expendable C3I and ISR assets.
The logistical challenges of keeping future offshore warfare cheap will likely pose a significant problem in future conflicts. As the fiscal sinews of American war power weaken, maintaining meeting voluminous sortie generation demands will get more challenging, even cheaper PGMs will remain largely dependent on a host of platforms to find, fix, and finish targets, while expendable standoff munitions, let alone exepndable UAVs, will be unable to take a central role in conflicts of longer duration. While covert wars and conflicts such as Libya seem within U.S. limits, even prolonged periods of high-intensity strikes will ensure that the “old way” of air warfare will remain quite persistent.
Marisa Porges has a forceful op-ed in today's NYT making the case for beefing up the capture component of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Read the whole thing:
At the moment, the United States has nowhere to hold and interrogate newly captured terrorists. America just handed over control of its detention facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, a significant step toward transferring security operations to Afghans. And while Guantánamo Bay remains home to nearly 170 men that the United States believes are still a threat, no captured terrorist has been transferred there since August 2008. Yet in the past four years, drone strikes and airstrikes targeting Al Qaeda affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have increased dramatically.
Since 2010, there have been about 2,000 such strikes in Pakistan alone, with hundreds more in Yemen and North Africa. Meanwhile, only one alleged terrorist outside of Afghanistan — a Somali named Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame — was captured, held and interrogated. He was later flown to New York to stand trial.
The fact that the United States now has nowhere to hold a terrorist — and no policy to deal with him once captured — means that a dangerous suspect might very well be let go. At present, there is no standard course of action approved by the president and relevant government agencies for what to do in the days and months following capture.
This situation creates disturbing incentives for troops on the battlefield. It encourages soldiers and policy makers in Washington to opt for the “five-cent solution” — a bullet. Rather than shooting people, we should be exercising due process, and bringing transnational terrorists to justice. That’s an approach that would help America maintain the moral high ground in the ongoing fight against Al Qaeda.
That there needs to be more human intelligence collection in U.S. CT is beyond dispute. So too are the issues currently wracking American detention policy. Warsame, for example, spent a good deal of time onboard the USS Boxer, which Spencer Ackerman fairly described as a "floating Gitmo" when put to this use. But that's not the worst of it. Warsame was lucky enough to make it to a U.S. courtroom, but as Jeremy Scahill has documented, Somalia's NSA and the CIA run some dreadful sounding facilities where not just fighters found in Somalia, but alleged terrorists from Kenya face interrogation and detention. If U.S. detention policy ultimately ends up relying on building Bagrams and Guantanamos across AFRICOM and CENTCOM, or else employing the U.S. Navy to this end, counterterrorism with a human face might not turn out all it's cracked up to be.
But even leaving aside navigating the legal and logistical issue of where to put terrorists once we capture them - an issue that Porges readily acknowledges - there is an issue of how to bring back warm bodies from where we currently have drones buzzing overhead. This is a critical question, because the means the U.S. employs to capture terrorists and suspected terrorists will have a great impact on the costs, benefits, and relative merits and demerits of capturing HVTs as opposed to the current targeted killing campaign.
In Afghanistan, the massive conventional presence of U.S. forces was and still is a significant enabler for capture operations. Afghanistan's infamous night raids, now under the control of the Afghan military or specialized CIA-trained elements, are a prime example. Yet many familiar issues emerged. Civilians resented property damage, casualties, mistaken targets, lack of transparency or accountable due process, and increasing the role of the ANSF may not have significantly improved the situation.
In many respects though, Afghan night raids are easy. Special operations enjoy significant legal and operational freedom of movement. Large amounts of on-the-ground intelligence and conventional forces enable better targeting and mitigate the risks of raids. Try to pick up targets in, say, Somalia, and things get much harder. JSOC raids into that country required air and naval fire support, while the enabling conventional force in question was the Ethiopian military, which did not do much to win Somali hearts or minds. Penetrating Somalia has required a patchwork of often unsavory partner military forces, militia proxies, private contractors, and covert operations. While America has learned much from 1993's most infamous attempt to conduct HVT capture, its foes in Somalia continue to pose stiff security challenges - though fortunately Shabaab seems to be losing ground.
In Yemen, the U.S. has a number of options for conducting capture operations, none of them particularly appealing. It can rely on Yemen's government and U.S.-trained troops, whose political loyalty and human rights credentials are not great. Though drone strikes are destructive, so are smash-and-grab expeditions into ungoverned or hostile space, particularly with a partner state's less, well, delicate touch (this is the country that named its counterinsurgency against the Houthis Operation Scorched Earth, after all). While we should always remember that U.S. airstrikes - manned or unmanned - rely on significant theater basing and local covert ground presence, capture missions would likely increase the footprint of U.S. operations. In Yemen, geography is favorable enough to allow sea-based raiding, but maintaining raids at the tempo of drone strikes would likely mean a vastly expanded U.S. military presence in the area. Or else it might rely on the Yemeni government, the prisons of which helped radicalize an earlier generation of al Qaeda.
In Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, too, we see similarly pressing problems. As C. Christine Fair rightfully points out, it's been Pakistani conventional offensives (which would provide the presumed enabling element for an increased tempo of capture raids) that have done the most damage and displacement to the region's population. A law enforcement approach's outlook is bleak because the entire region, whether the U.S. likes it or not, falls under the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a colonial piece of legislation which makes playing by host rules and occupying the moral high ground an ethical gymnastics act. While Pakistan is willing to tolerate, to some extent, drone strikes on its soil, will it be so willing to replace them with more cross-border activity from JSOC, the CIA-trained Counterterrorism Pursuit Team, or let the U.S. direct its own security forces to a degree amenable to U.S. interests?
In areas where government capacity is strong and politically pliant, using the FBI to capture terrorist suspects will likely remain viable. When the U.S. tried to capture the 1993 CIA headquarter shooter, Aimal Kasi, the FBI worked with the Pakistani government to render him to the U.S. But they could not capture him until he entered Punjab province, and even then the U.S. initially hid the extent of Pakistani government involvement due to the controversy of the extradition. This was one arrest in 1997 - conducting arrests and renditions at a high tempo today simultaneously demands a much larger host government role while straining the political space for it to participate.
All this said, on balance the U.S. still must reorient its HVT program towards collecting HUMINT. For pragmatic and ethical reasons, the U.S. also must do something to fix the current legal and logistical morass of its detention policy. Yet assessing the proper role of capturing terrorists, and the likely degree of practical and moral surplus derived from it, demands a frank assessment about the demands of substituting captures for kills, and the capacity and willpower of the U.S. to undertake such operations. Even with the legal problems sorted out, and a system of prisons without the lingering insidious reputation of Guantanamo, Bagram, or CIA black sites, we still have the matter of kicking down the doors of suspected terrorists in well-armed and unfriendly neighborhoods and spiriting them away to a host or foreign prison. This is a process that will still likely get civilians killed, families unjustly torn apart, and put armed men and military hardware in places where they are not wanted. Dealing in such generalities, it is extremely hard to say whether this would appear, to the broader population, more moral, more desirable, or less encouraging of radicalism than drone strikes, in part because it is already so difficult to accurately measure very much about drone strikes in these regions to begin with.
Just look at the Phoenix Program, the massive effort to capture suspected foes in Vietnam to dismantle VC infrastructure. As William Rosenau and Austin Long explain in their invaluable report on its relevance for modern operations, the Phoenix Program unduly gained a lasting reputation as an "assassination" campaign of marauding "death squads" - a reputation so widespread that even President Nixon thought this was what the CIA-handled Provincial Reconnaissance Units were really aiming for. Whether using local governments, proxy forces, special operations, or some other element, snatching somebody from their home at night at gunpoint is a risky proposition for seeking political kudos. Particularly when placed alongside host governments that engage in disappearing opponents, brutal methods of counterinsurgency, and generally repressive practices, the perceptual and counter-radicalization benefits of a similar-tempo capture campaign might rapidly wane.
Doubtlessly, expecting all of this from an op-ed is a curmudgeon's (and a blogger's) game, but shifting the frame somewhat is necessary from a policy perspective. We must at least broach the question of what kind of force commitments and operational guidelines we need to effectively conduct a capture campaign is essential, as well as when and where we ought to employ such means. While it's undeniable the HUMINT value of capture operations are higher, the costs of undertaking them may well reduce or even eliminate the presumed ancillary benefits.
One of the most misleading ideas in
commentary on modern weapons and warfare is that of the karmic theory of new
weapons technology, particularly with regard to drones. Despite the many legitimate concerns about the legality, morality, and efficacy of targeted killing programs, commentators and analysts all too often engage in threatmongering about unmanned systems proliferation. We see it most often in
articles like this one by
Michael Ignatieff, or this
by Steve Clemons asking ominous questions such as “What Happens When
They Get Drones?” Adam has
noted similar veins of commentary about cyberweapons. These arguments are
doubly aggravating because they misunderstand both the nature of the platforms
they discuss and the logic of strategic behavior in international relations,
leading to a conclusion that cannot distinguish blowback or proliferation from karma, replacing what should be a debate centered on policy and empirical assessment with prophecy centered on instruments and unrealistic hypotheticals.
Many - and not just Clemons or Ignatieff - have worried about the proliferation of military technologies, and for good reasons. Some advantages are structural, but technological advantages are dynamic and impossible to preserve. In the case of drones, commentators and analysts have feared a coming “drone arms race” where someday Americans might face rival fleets of foreign drones, and concerns that U.S. policies policies of using drones to conduct targeted killings might somehow result in rival powers unleashing it on us.
But what does the U.S. really have to fear from Russian or Chinese drones, or a new norm of targeted killing? Whatever it does, it certainly won’t resemble what we’ve meted out to the rest of the world in the past decade, contrary to Ignatieff’s and others’ portentous warnings. I’ll venture a bold prediction here: in our lifetimes, no foreign power will ever deploy drones in a targeted killing campaign against the United States as it has employed drones in Pakistan or Yemen. To believe they would first requires misunderstanding the technology.
Firstly, drones capable of launching armed attacks from over-the-horizon are not extremely cheap, they are about as expensive as manned strike craft, as Winslow Wheeler has noted. Why AQ would want to spend dozens or hundreds of millions of dollars on a drone when they could furnish a martyr with a Cessna or bring in enormous quantities of operatives, firearms, or explosives in for the same price is completely beyond me. We’ve seen the face of the day when “the enemy has drones,” and it’s a nincompoop who thinks he can collapse the Pentagon with RC planes, not a technothriller antihero.
Secondly, when rival states get drones, they still won’t be able to conduct a targeted killing campaign in the U.S. without massively enhancing their conventional power projection. American drones operate from airbases in-theater, and they’ve never operated in airspace that wasn’t either cleared of hostile air defenses or under the control of a government granting tacit acquiescence to the strike program. The U.S. would have no compunctions shooting down hostile drones or laying waste to whatever facilities and governments were hosting or commanding them. In other words, outside of the context of a broader conventional operation against U.S. forces, it’s difficult to see the logic in another country launching drone strikes against the U.S.
Even in areas where the geographic and logistical constraints were conquerable, under what kind of scenario would a hostile state be able to launch drone strikes against U.S. interests and simply sit idly by and take it? To prevent America from retaliating would require destroying its conventional military capability, which means a general war. Drones do not create impunity. Diplomatic and military power to deter retaliation or noncompliance create impunity
Nor is there really a sensible reason a hostile power would need drones to conduct assassinations or bombings inside the U.S., if they chose that policy. As for the norm of “targeted killing,” many countries have used assassination as a method of dealing with enemies of the state - whether they be terrorists, criminals, or even just dissidents. Targeted killings predated drones, after all, and so have covert attacks inside U.S. borders. Proxy, terrorist, and criminal groups have already pioneered technologies and TTPs for killing Americans in foreign borders without a conventional ground invasion - they’re the ones that al Qaeda, the IRGC and Qods Force, the Soviet-era intelligence services, and others have been using for decades.
Other countries have even assassinated targets on American soil before - Pinochet’s DINA car bombed a Chilean dissident in Washington, DC, and revolutionary Iran had a counterrevolutionary activist shot in Bethesda. Why use drones when these simpler and more effective methods exist? The era of irregular assassinations and bombings against U.S. interests isn’t coming - it’s come and gone and come again, because drones are just a means to targeted killing that happened to be convenient for a wealthy superpower to employ against soft targets in permissive airspace, not the sine qua non of targeted killing itself.
The same conventional, geographical, and logistical constraints that prevent hostile aircraft from running rampant across the Western world, and the same prudential considerations that discourage rival powers from wantonly assassinating American citizens inside U.S. borders, will prevent drones from doing the same. Russia and China are far more likely to employ these aircraft against hostile non-state actors rather than fruitlessly dispatching them against the U.S. or its allies, except as part of a broader conventional conflict. Drones could proliferate to Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and whatever other states and Americans would never need to fear Ignatieff’s ludicrous threat of “the same heaven-sent vengeance” it inflicts upon foreign populations, because no power will ever have the geographical and strategic superiority the U.S. maintains over weak states and the militants operating within them.
There are merits to creating legal frameworks that clarify the use of targeted killings, but framing the problem as controlling the technology is absurd. An arms control framework on drones is a hollow thing, it protects Americans from weapons our enemies neither need nor would use in any plausible scenario. Threat assessments from technology proliferation should be based on plausible scenarios and strategic logic, not Kantian assumptions of moral equivalence divorced from the context of how the technology is actually used.
Drones and cyber weapons are not the same thing, as Tim Stevens notes. Yet they are both popularly perceived as political weapons---specialized capabilities employed at the discretion of the President. Executive control of deadly weapons, the meme goes, are part of a growing centralization of potent force that is inherently anti-democratic. Aside from the inconvenient parts of the narrative---drone attacks are politically popular and conducted under the auspices of an Authoritization of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress has declined to challenge because it reflects such public desires---there is reason to believe that political weapons will be less of a potent force than their critics imagine.
Covert operations--political warfare, propaganda, and military support to paramilitary groups--were the first modern political weapon. Contrary to the myth of out-of-control intelligence agencies, covert operations were mostly presidential projects. Presidents searched for flexibility in a Cold War whose alliance structures and nuclear dangers firmly challenged executive freedom of action. They also occured within a Cold War framework that generated broad public support for non-military measures to counter Soviet influence at home and abroad. The Marshall Plan, for example, was only one half the benign aid project as popularly remembered. It was nested within an overall plan for the defense of Europe that included strategic influence operations, covert operations, and the creation of paramilitary stay-behind networks.
Covert operations, however, did not deliver the Presidential flexibility intelligence agencies promised. In order for covert operations to be successful, infrastructure had to be developed and unruly local clients contracted. The classic example is the Bay of Pigs, as the United States generated a private army that could not be successfully utilized without direct American air support. Faced with a choice between sending them to fight an hopeless battle on the Cuban beaches or let them dissipate back into the US and reveal the covert preparations, the US let tactical matters determine policy. Sometimes covert operations paid dividends, but usually out of proportion to their costs.
Similarly, require host nation political agreements to deploy. They are weak against air defenses and require an intelligence, surveillence, and command and control human and technical infrastructure. As Dan has blogged, their weaknesses force them to be supplemented by manned aircraft, special operations forces, and missiles. Cyber computer network weapons like the Stuxnet attack require detailed development and highly specific kinds of target intelligence, and have yet to achieve a serious political objective. Merely by deploying Stuxnet, the United States has rendered itself unable to use it again. As Thomas Rid notes, the present generation of strategically useful cyber weapons are effectively single-shot tools.
Covert operations, drones, and cyber weapons are most successfully employed within the context of larger strategic efforts rather than standalone political weapons. But the process of creating a strategy for their use, paradoxically, reduces their utility as option-maximizers because it widens the span of institutional actors involved. The successful employment of information warfare tools against Iraqi air defenses in 1991 occured within the context of large-scale warfare. The covert defense of Europe was tied to the overall American containment and rollback policies in that theater. Finally, covert operations in Afghanistan were also, as any viewer of Charlie Wilson's War knows, hardly confined to secret White House deliberations.
Finally, Iran-Contra, the most significant case in which the executive tried to develop a political weapon that bypassed the legislature and the wider public, resulted in substantial scandal and blowback. Iran-Contra is not necessarily proof that the "system worked," but what it does demonstrate is how difficult it is in America for a President to carry out large-scale covert operations without legislative and public acceptance. Political weapons certainly give Presidents new capabilities, but also constrain them.
I just finished Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann's essay on drone strikes in Foreign Affairs and recommend it. I especially agreed with the concluding recommendations, which address the two things that bother me most about the drone program thus far: perceptions and accountability.
Few in the U.S. government -- because the drone program has been, in the words of our new secretary of defense, "the only game in town" when it comes to targeting militants in Pakistan* -- have been willing to admit that the program could have second- and third-order effects that might off-set tactical gains. There is some evidence to suggest the drone strikes are not unpopular within the tribal areas themselves, but they are highly unpopular in Pakistan as a whole and in, one suspects, the Pakistani diaspora community. If we kill bad guys in the tribal areas, great. But if killing bad guys in the tribal areas makes people in Walthamstow or Connecticut want to blow themselves up**, not great. It seems to me that we have been willfully ignorant of the ways in which the program might be radicalizing militants outside the places where we can kill them and that what is a great CT platform is, in the absence of a broader strategy, a crappy CVE platform.
Bergen and Tiedemann suggest ways to make the program more transparent, which might address popular grievances. Bergen and Tiedemann also recommend transferring control of the program over from the intelligence community to the Department of Defense. Again, I think this makes a lot of sense because it would make the program both more transparent and also subject to more robust chains of accountability. Bergen and Tiedemann argue such a transfer of control would have other advantages, and they make a strong case.
Not that I think this will ever happen. The drone program has been, if nothing else, a great way for the intelligence community to justify its budget since 9/11, and various agencies will be reluctant to surrender control for both substantive reasons and budgetary reasons.
Contrary to popular belief, I have never been an anti-drone fundamentalist. But I do think the drone program has been a tactic executed in the absence of a strategy and without proper transparency and oversight. Bergen and Tiedemann's recommendations would go a long way toward addressing some of my main concerns.
*Aside from, apparently, Seal Team 6.
**Or lead someone to plant a bomb in Times Square, which is a total hypothetical, of course, and would never happen in real life.