Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Contra Greenwald, The Drone Campaign Is not Terrorism


Two relevant facts:

1. I can't stand Glenn Greenwald's spittle-flecked, sanctimonious horseshit.

2. I'm worried sick about the use of armed drones.

I sometimes learn things when I read Greenwald, though I can seldom read him because of his overbearing, dogmatic, hyperbolic, sanctimonious bullshit. I do think that he often makes good points. However, his evidence is often far less strong than he thinks it is, and his points less obvious than he is convinced. It's really too bad that he's so annoying, because he does sometimes have important things to say. I can usually hold my nose and read someone obnoxious if I think I can benefit from it. Greenwald is a little too much for me, however.

Consider this, for example:
In other words, the people in the areas targeted by Obama's drone campaign are being systematically terrorized. There's just no other word for it. It is a campaign of terror - highly effective terror - regardless of what noble progressive sentiments one wishes to believe reside in the heart of the leader ordering it. And that's precisely why the report, to its great credit, uses that term to describe the Obama policy: the drone campaign "terrorizes men, women, and children".

Which is not to say that this is not bad--and perhaps even terrible--policy.

But it isn't a "campaign of terror."

And to say that it is is hogwash. To call it a campaign of terror--which is tantamount to calling it terrorism--is to say that the goal is to terrorize the civilian population. Anyone who believes that this is the goal is a fool or a loon. The goal of this campaign is to take out terrorists, not to terrorize civilians. One might argue that the two things are equally morally bad--and I'd be willing to listen to that argument. But they are not the same action, and are prima facie in different moral categories.

Oh, and don't miss: "...the people in the areas targeted by Obama's drone campaign are being systematically terrorized. There's just no other word for it." [my emphasis] Well, actually there are lots of other words for it. In fact, 'terrified' seems to be much more accurate. They are being terrified. And, unfortunately, we are terrifying them. That in itself is awful enough.They are terrified--and who wouldn't be? But to say that they are being terrorized is to strongly suggest that that's what we've set out to accomplish, and it isn't. Does any sane person seriously believe that we want to have this affect on civilians? Can anyone doubt that Obama would snap his fingers and make the terrorists, and only the terrorists, evaporate, leaving innocents unharmed, were this in his power?

I do think that it's important to take a broader view here. We are in something resembling a war. When that happens, innocent people are going to be killed--and terrified, and sometimes even terrorized. Given that never engaging in military action is simply not an option, the question that faces us is not "does this form of military action harm the innocent?", but, rather, "Does this form of military action harm the innocent less than the relevant alternatives?"

Greenwald is filled with anti-Obama vitriol. One can speculate about the sources of that, but I'll pass. Of course, if we're able, the thing to do is to try to focus on the specifics of the various arguments without regard to the personalities involved. I do not agree with everything Obama has done, and I am particularly concerned about the drone war. But it is rather hard to be dispassionate about the disagreement when there' spittle all over everything...


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