Dialogue About Drones

A. You know, I’m sick and tired of how bleeding heart liberals complain about the drone program. After all, we are at war with al-Qaeda — a war they declared when they flew planes into the Twin Towers. Basically, they asked for it and if we can save American lives by killing off the leaders of al-Qaeda so much the better.

B. I don’t know. We really aren’t at war with al-Qaeda, which isn’t a country after all; it’s a religious group. But religious fanatics certainly did fly planes into the Twin Towers and killed something like 3000 innocent people. In retaliation we have killed an estimated 4500 according to recent reports.  But as Jimmy Carter said, “Instead of making the world safer, America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends.” We need to think about this. I’m not sure it’s right to send the drones into crowded population centers.

A. What’s “right” got to do with it? It’s a question of getting them before they get us.

B. I read somewhere the odds of anyone in this country actually getting killed by another terrorist strike is about the same as the odds of winning the lottery. I’m not sure we have grounds for attacking people, especially since there are so many unknowns.

A. What do you mean “unknowns”?

B. Well, are we sure that only al-Qaeda leaders are getting killed? (Could there really be 4500 of them?) Isn’t it possible that the information that leads to the strikes is faulty? People do make mistakes, after all. And remember these are the same people giving us information now who failed to see the attacks coming in Benghazi, not to mention the Twin Towers.

A. Well, I have confidence in people the President and the military rely on. They wouldn’t order a drone strike against someone unless they were sure it was a viable target.

B. Perhaps, but then there are the innocent people who have been killed.

A. Well, sure. But that’s because the terrorists hide among the civilians: someone is bound to get killed by mistake.

B. And you’re OK with that? The U.N. thinks this country might be guilty of war crimes and have started an investigation. Here, read this from the Manchester Guardian where it quotes Ben Emmerson a U.N. special rapporteur who says that “The global war paradigm has done immense damage to a previously shared international consensus on the legal framework underlying both international human rights law and international humanitarian law. It has also given a spurious justification to a range of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations.
“The [global] war paradigm was always based on the flimsiest of reasoning, and was not supported even by close allies of the US.  …” If I read that right, this means that people looking at this country are beginning to regard the U.S. as the bully on the block.

A. Oh gimme a break! Nobody pays any attention to the U.N. any more. It’s just a group of motor mouths who sit around and beat their gums but never get anything done. Anyway, I would rather be the bully on the block than the kid everyone picks on. I am willing to accept the so-called “mistakes” if it means that the ones who are planning to attack this country can no longer pose a threat.

B. The question is do they really pose a threat? Or are we becoming paranoid and living in fear of something that is unlikely to happen? Couldn’t we just beef up security and use the CIA and other such groups to just collect information about possible attacks — and then prepare to defend against those actual attacks, and not just some imaginary ones?

A. The attacks on the Twin Towers weren’t imaginary.

B. True, but that was one attack and we are killing innocent people on the supposition that there will be future attacks, which may just be a fiction in the minds of military brass who love to play with their new toys and aren’t known for their restraint and humanitarian concerns. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be on our guard. But we are killing people because we are told they might attack us. Anyway, an attack on this country would be very complicated, given our distance from the Middle East and the cost of mounting it.

A. That’s pure speculation. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Anyway, I hope you and Jimmy Carter are happy in your make-believe world where everything is peaches and cream. I prefer it here in the real world where you try to be prepared for the bad things that happen.

B. It’s not clear whose world is “make-believe”: mine where people try to do the right thing or yours where you spend your life hiding under a desk worrying about an attack that almost certainly will never come.

A. Ahhh nuts! I’ve had enough of this. I’m going out to buy another Power Ball ticket.

Who Cares?

I have blogged about the drone kills before, though the posts have not been overly popular. I don’t think people like to think about these anti-terrorist tactics that may strike some as in themselves terroristic. This is especially so since mistakes have been made in the past and a number of innocent lives, estimated at the end of last year to be around 145, have been lost in those attacks. And it has been revealed recently that even the targeting of American citizens anywhere in the world (except the United States) has been approved — if they are suspected of terrorist tendencies. At what point do we balk?

A poll recently revealed that 77% of the Democrats polled approve of the drone kills. That number astounded me, and it makes me wonder if that many Democrats would approve of the flights if they were ordered by a Republican president. It doesn’t seem to me that any citizen should simply approve of what his or her President does simply because they happen to be of the same political party. If something is wrong, it is wrong no matter who orders it.

But, speaking of wrong, in a recent speech  in his home state of South Carolina covered by Yahoo News, Senator Lindsey Graham seemed to be bragging as he had the following interesting remark to make about these drone attacks:

“We’ve killed 4,700,” the lawmaker said. “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al-Qaeda.”

Graham’s dismissive aside about the innocent lives that have been taken is extremely offensive. And I hesitate to point out the fact that the same intelligence community that is providing information about who are and who are not “very senior members of Al-Qaeda” failed to provide adequate information to this government about the attacks on the Twin Towers or the more recent terrorist attacks on the American Embassy in Benghazi. So we don’t really know how many innocent lives have been lost in these strikes.

But what is especially disturbing about Graham’s remarks is his claim that we are at war. We are not at war, though we have coined the phrase “war on terror” to hide our shame. Indeed, we are the best protected nation in the world with 300,000 troops stationed overseas and oceans on either side of this continent. But even if we were in a war declared as such by this Congress, we should hesitate to approve of tactics that are known to have “residual effects,” as they say, in taking the lives of innocent people.

How would we feel about this if these drone attacks were ordered by, say, Iran, and they targeted the Secretary of Defense (or Senator Graham for that matter) and they happened to “take out” several dozen innocent American lives at the same time? I dare say there would be outrage and cries for retaliation — as well there should be. What we would not want done to ourselves we should not want done to others.There is simply no way these attacks can be defended on ethical grounds.

But if you are keeping score, “they” killed 3000 people in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers; we have now apparently killed 4,700 of them. We’re ahead. How sickening.

Like Minds

I sat captivated by the sights and sounds of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton being interviewed on “60 Minutes” the other night. The two are most impressive and their artful dance away from some most interesting questions was fascinating to watch. It was a lesson in the art of political palaver at its best. A follow-up news story from HuffPost gives us the gist of the interview and it begins as follows:

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama lauded Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as one of his closest advisers and said their shared vision for America’s role in the world persuaded his one-time rival – and potential successor – to be his top diplomat while he dealt with the shattered economy at home.

During a joint interview that aired Sunday, Obama and Clinton chuckled as they described their partnership and stoked speculation that Obama may prefer Clinton to succeed him in the White House after the 2016 elections. Clinton is leaving Obama’s Cabinet soon, and speculation about the former first lady and senator has only grown more intense after a heated appearance last week on Capitol Hill.

The contrast between Hillary’s relaxed, almost off-the-cuff demeanor and the President’s careful, guarded approach to the good questions asked of them both was most interesting — as was the body language of the two main characters. The President sat cross-legged with his hands carefully folded on his lap, for the most part — clearly a man who knows that anything he says can and will be used against him. Hillary sat in a relaxed posture with a smile on her face much of the time, seemingly in the company of good friends and unconcerned that something she might say could come back to bite her.

The two are most impressive and despite the fact that the President smiled his way around the question of whether or not he was endorsing Hillary Clinton for the next run at the White House, the format and the obvious friendship between the two sent a clear message: if Hillary wants to run, she’s got the President’s full support.

The woman is solid, no question. She handles herself well in the public eye — though I did have reason to question one of her outbursts recently before the Senate Committee that was pushing her for evidence of spilled milk over the death of four Americans in Benghazi not long ago. She had reason to lose her cool momentarily as Republican Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin was relentless in his determination to find fault with the Obama Administration and the way it handled a dangerous situation. The Republicans are determined to show that this Administration is weak and unable to respond properly to an international crisis. They seem to prefer the approach of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood: shoot first and ask questions afterwards. Freud would have a field day with some of those people.

In any event, Hillary has come through her last weeks as Secretary of State with shining colors and has emerged as a very strong contender for the Presidency the next time around — should she choose to run. I dare say there will be considerable pressure brought to bear to see to it that this happens, including pressure from Barack Obama who clearly admires and respects the woman who gave him a run for his money in his early attempts to gain the White House himself. Here’s hoping!

Sorry, Hillary

Please understand that I am a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter. I think she is a bright and very capable woman and I would dearly love to see her take a run at the Presidency in 2016. At the same time, as a teacher of logic for 42 years and a responsible blogger who tries hard to see both sides of complex issues, I must point out that Hillary wasn’t thinking clearly earlier this week when she testified to a Senate committee about the killings in Benghazi last September. Facing an angry Republican Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, Hillary apparently lost her cool and pounded the table as she said:

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton responded, suggesting that Johnson was focused on unimportant semantics. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”

Now think about it: if we want to “figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again,” don’t we have to think about the possible causes? It does matter whether the cause was a planned attack or a simple, spontaneous outburst over a low-budget film on U-tube that angered Muslims all over the world. That is, it does matter whether it was a “protest or…because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans.” What matters is why this happened, and Johnson was right to pursue this line of questioning and Hillary seems to have lost her presence of mind (and her cool) in the heat of the moment. I don’t judge her in this case because I can only imagine the pressure she was under, but I do point out that her response makes no sense. Figuring out why it happened requires an examination of possible causes. It’s simple logic.

What happened in Benghazi was terrible and it does demand answers to the question why. This is especially so given the current unrest in that part of the world — and the attitude of the radicals in Libya toward all Westerners. And if that answer suggests that the State Department was remiss in not responding to requests for increased security, or if perhaps it was indeed a spontaneous outburst over a  hateful movie, we need to know. The Republicans typically tend to make hay even when the fields are wet  (it’s hard not to look for hidden agendas), and during the campaign when this story broke I thought it was just another political ploy designed to garner votes for candidate Romney. But in this case they are right to seek answers so that, as Hillary correctly points out, this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.