Does Decapitating Terrorist Leaderships Work?

Killing their leaders doesn't seem to be impacting the ability of jihadi groups to recruit and motivate more terrorists.

terrorism-headlines

Anne Speckhard, a clinical psychologist specializing in post-traumatic stress, asks, “Does Decapitating Terrorist Leaderships Work?

According to many, the militant jihadi (or Al-Qa’ida-inspired) terrorist threat has been severely degraded – this due to over a thousand declared and covert US drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan over the past five years decapitating the operational and ideological leadership of Al-Qa’ida and affiliated groups.[1] With leaders from Bin Laden downwards killed or arrested, one might ask what might motivate today’s militant jihadi terrorist? And will decapitating the leadership work in the long-term?

To answer that questions one must look at the ‘lethal cocktail’ of terrorism that relies on the complex interaction of: 1) a group that is, by definition dedicated to attacking civilians on behalf of advancing its political cause; 2) the ideology the group uses to justify attacking civilians; 3) the social support that exists for the group and its ideology; and 4) the individual vulnerabilities of those who are exposed to these three. In the case of Al-Qa’ida inspired ideology-it has already found a firm foothold in the hearts and minds of many. Thus the ideology of Al-Qa’ida inspired terrorism might suffer little from decapitating the ideologues/instigators. Their words and teachings live on and continue to inspire, indoctrinate and teach their ideas and methods in the ‘virtual university of jihad’ existing on the Internet, (as Reuven Paz so aptly names it).[2]

Likewise for each leader that is killed by a drone strike, a ‘martyr’ lives on in the minds of his followers and many more may join the movement when angered by the so called ‘collateral damage’ occurring in the loss of civilian life – particularly when it’s women or children that are killed. Thus it is not so clear-cut what the long-term gains will be.

Her research seems to offer more questions than answers:

So what can we expect in the coming year? Given that we’ve seen an increasing trend for Al-Qa’ida central to call for attacks on Western targets, particularly in the US by so-called homegrown terrorists, it’s likely we will see more of these types of attacks – given they are low cost and rely at a minimum on vulnerable individuals interacting over the Internet.

It will be interesting to see, in the next year, if militant jihadi terrorist groups continue to focus on taking down airliners and blowing up large symbolic targets or if they will become more creative, going after equally crippling – but less dramatic targets – such as taking down electrical grids which could potentially cause the deaths of many (in hospital, on transit, etc.) as well as cause serious disruption on multiple levels.  Cyber attacks may in the end be far more devastating than attacking an airliner, but may not have the same fiery war-like action that draws many of today’s terrorists, so it remains to be seen if they will engage on those levels.

The Arab Spring, while opening up democratic hopes and aspirations for a better life, have left many in the Arab world still in search of leadership that can bring increased freedoms and economic possibilities.  Where, or if, they will find this leadership still remains to be seen. Likewise, conflicts such as we face now in Yemen, Mali and Syria leave openings for Al-Qa’ida inspired groups to flourish and to continue to showcase their fights against what they claim are non-true Islamic regimes while they also potentially create havens and militant training for terrorist cadres.  Swift and strong foreign policy actions to keep societies from disintegrating in conflicted areas may help to reduce terrorist threats in the coming year, although everywhere we place troops also has the potential for radicalising effects if things do not go smoothly.

The continued use of US drone attacks to decapitate terrorist leadership in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc. is doing significant damage to Al-Qa’ida central but is also likely to continue to fuel the militant jihadi practice of identifying with the secondary victims of such attacks and this will likely offset any positive boost we might have seen in countering militant jihadi propaganda from a US drawdown in Afghanistan.  Likewise as the US shifts its presence from Afghanistan more focus will likely shift back to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.  And Israel already finds itself facing uncertain allegiances due to the conflicts in Syria, the potential threats from Iran, the political changes in Egypt etc.  A leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in fact recently stated that he does not expect Israel to exist in the coming ten years.  Any Israeli heavy-handed response to the Palestinians or to any of its neighbours-whether justified or not-may act as a lightening rod in the region.

The EuroZone crisis is also important to watch, as it increases pressure on European Muslim immigrant communities already challenged with discrimination and marginalisation.  A growing group of well-educated Muslim second-generation immigrants potentially face long-term unemployment as their parents also face economic challenges.  This combined with the growth of far right groups upping societal tensions and a general feeling of hopelessness could create a substantial pool of disenfranchised, alienated and vulnerable individuals for terrorist recruiters. Shock austerity programs in the Euro Zone, while providing the answer for some, may increase vulnerabilities for others.

On the face of it, al Qaeda has conducted far fewer high profile attacks on Western targets since the Global War on Terror got underway than before. Then again, the flip side of fighting them there rather than fighting them here is that they don’t have to come here to fight us. Al Qaeda and their affiliates and fellow travelers have had plenty to do killing Americans and our allies and partners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, they’ve morphed from a centralized organization into a franchised one. Al Qaeda 1.0 is a shadow of its former self but Al Qaeda 2.0 has risen and, while maybe less capable to carrying off high profile attacks, they’re next to impossible to defeat because they’re everywhere.

She concludes:

Continued vigilance is called for and well thought out and well-informed policies that keep in mind all four levels of the terrorist cocktail – decreasing the political grievances that fuel the existence of groups as well as shutting them down, fighting the ideology of terrorism and social support for it and addressing individual vulnerabilities are going to be ever more important to keep us safe in the coming year.  Simply decapitating the leadership is not likely to be enough.

So, the old “drain the swamp” solution. Which is both almost certainly right and virtually impossible.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. cd6 says:

    Well once we track down the last few dozen or so of the hundreds of “Al Queda #2’s” out there, we’ll have this terrorist thing truly sorted out.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Drone warfare complicates the terrorist’s job. So does airport security, surveillance, cyber attacks, interruption of money transfers etc… They all work in limited ways. Taken together they seem pretty useful.

    I’ve never bought the “making more enemies” line of argument. Were that the case we’d have found ourselves hated by the German and Japanese people and we weren’t. Or if we were it didn’t matter.

    Jihad is, among other things, a career choice. In the 80’s and 90’s it was a pretty good one. You got paid, you got respect, you probably weren’t in much danger. Now the career’s looking a bit shakier. You join on Monday and Tuesday you’re saying Hello, Hellfire. Not everyone is suicidal, not everyone is in a hurry to be a martyr. Al Qaeda may still be able to recruit low-level guys, but I doubt smart boys like Zawahiri are joining in as large numbers as before.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Gloom, despair, agony on me. Deep dark depression, and excessive misery. If it weren’t for jihadi’s we’d have no jihad at all. Gloom. Despair. Agony on me.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “Does Decapitating Terrorist Leaderships Work?”

    At what?

    if you think killing the top jihadi’s is going to stop more from joining, you are an idiot. There is no end of willing martyrs waiting to suicide bomb the local target du juor. And why not? There lives are miserable with no economic future, and hence no marital future. If you have no future, what is to fear from dying? Especially when this guy over here speaks of Holy War and 72 virgins and $2500 dollars as the price of your life. $2500 can take your brother or sister a long ways towards a decent life.

    If however, your end goal is to stop any future 9/11s from happening, or embassy bombings, or transit bombings, etc etc… Let the evidence speak for itself.

  5. john personna says:

    More broadly, I like Daniel Larison’s How to Fix the GOP’s Foreign-Policy Problem

    I’m going to say Obama plays the war on terror as defensive politics. Take away the Republican demand for a war on terror and the Democrats will back off. It won’t be necessary for elections.

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The author of that underlying article nearly saved it at the very end (the closing graf was cogent and certainly not loopy), but ultimately that article as a whole reminded me of the prose we used to see out of the left in the late-1980’s and early-1990’s, when the media-academe in the Northeast got all verklempt about how then U.S. Attorneys Alito and Giuliani and then Chertoff used aggressive FBI tactics and then RICO to beat the snot out of organized crime. The refrain was that decapitating the Mafia’s leadership “wasn’t enough” and of course there was a lot of concerned trolling about all the money that was being spent on wiretaps, infiltrations, trials, etc. It was all a giant straw man. Nobody said that RICO trials against dons was enough to stop organized crime. It was part of a layered process. The cited article here in large part also is a game of hearts with a straw man.

    Fighting a war against terrorism in a lot of respects is similar to fighting against crime in the sense that you can’t literally stop or prevent all terrorism. And there won’t be a formal, ornate surrender ceremony, a la the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

    Nobody is suggesting that offing terrorist leaders with drone strikes is the single panacea to deal with terrorism. The Bush administration never suggested that. The Obama administration never suggested that. Congress never has suggested that. It’s part of a layered process of what ultimately will be a never-ending effort to try to prevent another 9/11-style mass casualties attack on our soil. And it’ll be a never-ending process because there is no “root cause” that can be addressed with non-military measures; Islamic terrorists want to kill us, and always have wanted to kill us, and always will want to kill us. Period.

    Now, right there those specific points cause liberal and other milquetoast brains to get unplugged and total cognitive dissonance to set in. Wishing upon a star to make it all go away is not a viable option. That’s not how reality works. So the question is whether we prefer to invite them over here to kill us, en masse, or whether we prefer to make it as difficult for them as practicable and to have the fewest numbers of casualties and for those that unfortunately have to happen to be on foreign as opposed to domestic soil. Hopefully as the years go by and as new administrations are seated they’ll continue on those fronts to choose wisely.

  7. Rob in CT says:

    I think you dismiss the “making more enemies” thing too easily, Michael. We might not make more terrorists, I don’t know. But making more people hate our guts by bombing the sh!t out of the places they live seems pretty straightforward. The WWII analogy is foolish, considering the differences between a world war fought by governments and jihad, which is the domain of what are essentially criminal gangs (though Hamas winning elections in Gaza complicates that, sure).

    I agree that all of the things you listed have at least some utility. I have two big questions that I think are hard to answer:

    1) Does the positive outweigh the negative?
    2) What happens when, eventually, we stop or at least reduce our efforts? [or are we seriously talking about foreverwar?]

    #2 really bothers me. If the solution to the problem can never be stopped (because stopping allows a respite during which our enemies regroup), are we actually winning?

  8. Rob in CT says:

    The parallels between reactions to 9/11 and reactions to spree killings, btw, are pretty good.

    Outlier events that are shocking and result in a rash of policy proposals of dubious worth.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Rob in CT:

    There’s another question: If we stopped and allowed terrorists to carry out another high profile 9-11 attack, would that not energize Al Qaeda? Would that not drawn thousands more to their cause? People like a winner.

    One could argue it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” situation, but I prefer being damned for trying to stop them rather than the alternative.

    The truth is an enemy can force war upon you. That’s a fact of life. You don’t really have the ability to opt out. So we’re fighting this for as long as terrorist groups want to attack us. It could be a long, long time.

    The only alternative would be making peace with Al Qaeda. Given that their list of demands would begin with the elimination of the Saudi government and continue through the destruction of Israel, I don’t see a lot of room for negotiation. So, we keep blowing up their sh!t until the situation changes.

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’ve never bought the “making more enemies” line of argument. Were that the case we’d have found ourselves hated by the German and Japanese people and we weren’t. Or if we were it didn’t matter.

    On the other hand, the Israelis find themselves hated by the Arabs, and vice versa. The Japanese are still hated by the Chinese. The Russians are still hated by Eastern Europeans and many of the their former satellites. Etc. etc. etc.

    The reason we weren’t hated by the Germans and Japanese were that (a) we conducted ourselves relatively well in the war and didn’t as a practice torture prisoners or massacre civilians, (b) we committed ourselves to reconstructing those societies and weren’t vindictive in victory, and (c) they were even more scared of the Soviets and knew that we were keeping them safe from them.

  11. stonetools says:

    On the face of it, al Qaeda has conducted far fewer high profile attacks on Western targets since the Global War on Terror got underway than before. Then again, the flip side of fighting them there rather than fighting them here is that they don’t have to come here to fight us. Al Qaeda and their affiliates and fellow travelers have had plenty to do killing Americans and our allies and partners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, they’ve morphed from a centralized organization into a franchised one.

    James seems to be looking for a perfect solution that will definitely end The Long War-something like taking Berlin. There is no such finish line but that doesn’t mean we can’t make progress. I’m OK with them not slaughtering 3,000 American civilians at a time on American soil. That’s progress.
    I think the lady is right. We just have to keep on attacking along all four fronts, and hope that the next generation of Muslims won’t have these grievances.And if that sounds that we’ll hitting terrorist camps with drone strikes 10-15 years from now, well we have to be prepared to do that.

  12. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There’s another question: If we stopped and allowed terrorists to carry out another high profile 9-11 attack, would that not energize Al Qaeda? Would that not drawn thousands more to their cause? People like a winner.

    What would “stopping” involve? Would we no longer inspect passengers and baggage intended for the US? Would we no longer run dragnets to pick up “newbie” terrorists in the US?

    See … you are asking us to accept an assertion that stopping “distant efforts” is the same as stopping the whole thing.

    Of course not. You can stop drones, keep an intelligence network, intercede on operations, catch and prosecute active terrorists. You can do all kinds of things, without killings names on a list in mud huts in Yemen.

  13. john personna says:

    As an aside, I think michael’s position, more or less global policeman liberal, is pretty rare. Most people are fear driven, and susceptible to Republican fear based politics. Second to that group would be the newly skeptical of military adventures.

    The real political battle is between the fear group and the skeptical group.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    Stopping drone attacks accomplishes this: it means AQ can meet regularly, and that they can use cell phones and internet to organize, and that they can establish clear and durable chain of command. I fail to see why we want to make it easier for Al Qaeda to organize attacks.

  15. Rob in CT says:

    Just to be clear: I’m not actually arguing for a full stop to the air strikes. Let alone security measures and intel work!

    I view this as mainly an intelligence & law enforcement problem, with a side order of military operations (which we’ve apparently given to the CIA) when needed. And yeah, sometimes we will have to bomb.

    I get the “long war” argument. I remain wary, however, of foreverwar. Forgive me, but it worries me greatly.

    Also, too: continuing as we are and “hoping that the next generation of Muslims won’t have these grievances” strikes me as… well, kinda crazy unless you believe something can be done about those grievances. Back in 2002, when I used to argue about this stuff with more fervor, I was a surrendermonkey for even mentioning grievances.

  16. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    First of all, I really doubt your authority on that.

    Second, if it is true, all of that sounds like what we easily monitor.

    (But really the key is that AQ is not actually “an organization.” If you misunderstand that, you might misprescribe a remedy.)

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    The reason we weren’t hated by the Germans and Japanese were that (a) we conducted ourselves relatively well in the war and didn’t as a practice torture prisoners or massacre civilians,

    Just to point out, the fire bombings of Dresden, and Tokyo, as well as the nuclear bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were designed to inflict the highest civilian casualties possible, thus massacring civilians..

  18. john personna says:

    @Rob in CT:

    I view this as mainly an intelligence & law enforcement problem, with a side order of military operations (which we’ve apparently given to the CIA) when needed. And yeah, sometimes we will have to bomb.

    That relates to my “key” above. Neither terrorism nor the diverse AQ database are entities, with a single head. There is no military action which will eliminate “it.”

    On the other hand, military action does serve to unite “them.”

    Given diverse populations, any one of whom may choose to do crime, an intelligence & law enforcement view seems really appropriate.

  19. john personna says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The Germans and Japanese were cohesive nations who would follow their new, post-war, national governments in a new direction. Their citizens valued civil order.

    That Iraq and Afghanistan did not have that was pretty much ignored.

  20. stonetools says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    The Japanese are still hated by the Chinese. The Russians are still hated by Eastern Europeans and many of the their former satellites.

    On the other hand, they’re not fighting one another. I’ll settle for peace, even a cold peace, over war.

    The reason we weren’t hated by the Germans and Japanese were that (a) we conducted ourselves relatively well in the war and didn’t as a practice torture prisoners or massacre civilians,

    You might want to re-read your WW2. The Soviets did rape the hell out of German women as they pushed into Germany, the Allied bomber offensive did kill hundreds of thousands of German civilians, and USAAF did incinerate one Japanese city after another in fire raids. It wasn’t all just chivalry and honor on our side.
    Try reading this article on one of the fire raids. An excerpt :
    <

    Wherever there was a canal, people hurled themselves into the water; in shallow places, people waited, half sunk in noxious muck, mouths just above the surface of the water. Hundreds of them were later found dead; not drowned, but asphyxiated by the burning air and smoke. In other places, the water got so hot that the luckless bathers were simply boiled alive. Some of the canals ran directly into the Sumida; when the tide rose, people huddled in them drowned. In Asakusa and Honjo, people crowded onto the bridges, but the spans were made of steel that gradually heated; human clusters clinging to the white-hot railings finally let go, fell into the water and were carried off on the current. Thousands jammed the parks and gardens that lined both banks of the Sumida. As panic brought ever fresh waves of people pressing into the narrow strips of land, those in front were pushed irresistibly toward the river; whole walls of screaming humanity toppled over and disappeared in the deep water. Thousands of drowned bodies were later recovered from the Sumida estuary.

    Compared to that, the drone strikes are a model of humane treatment. One of the reasons that the Germans and the Japanese didn’t continue to resist after WWW2 is that we beat the living sh!t out of them. We don’t play that reason up a lot, but it’s there.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john personna:

    Given diverse populations, any one of whom may choose to do crime, an intelligence & law enforcement view seems really appropriate.

    For the record, I would emphasize these 2, while cutting back on drone strikes, maybe quite a bit(I don’t have any intel on the relevant characters), but not ending them.

    Drones are a tool, and like all tools they can be misused. I didn’t get rid of all my circular saws after I cut the tip of my finger off, I just became more careful in my use of them.

  22. Rob in CT says:

    Stonetools: I think nearly everything you say about WWII is true. The one thing I disagree with is your reason for which the Japanense and Germans didn’t go the guerilla/partisan/terrorist route. I favor the reason JP gives.

    Us being “humane” wasn’t the reason. Neither was the totality of the destruction we wrought. It was the fact that Germany and Japan were real, functioning nations.

    Why do we utilize air strikes in the first place? Because the places these terrorists hide out are failed states, right? The state has little or no authority in the area (or is recalcitrant, which you can argue is the case with Pakistan), so we can’t have the proper authorities move against the terrorists.

    This is a law enforcement problem that, when there is no law enforcement, slides over to the military side of the ledger.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john personna:

    The Germans and Japanese were cohesive nations who would follow their new, post-war, national governments in a new direction. Their citizens valued civil order.

    That Iraq and Afghanistan did not have that was pretty much ignored.

    Yes, I was just pointing out that history is complex and who was wearing the white hats depended on your own choice of millinery.

  24. stonetools says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Also, too: continuing as we are and “hoping that the next generation of Muslims won’t have these grievances” strikes me as… well, kinda crazy unless you believe something can be done about those grievances.

    About some of those grievances, nothing can be done. There are those who will never be satisfied until Israel is wiped off the map, every infidel has been driven from sacred Arab soil, and even until everyone worships the Islamic God in orthodox Sunni fashion. Those are few though. We can stop propping up despotic regimes, we can encourage the spread of democracy and civil society in Islamic areas, and we can treat Muslims and their religion with respect. If we do that, then over time (I’m thinking a generation) we can reduce the level of anti Americanism. There will still be jihadists, but there will be much fewer.

  25. anjin-san says:

    But making more people hate our guts by bombing the sh!t out of the places they live seems pretty straightforward.

    Except we are not “bombing the shit” out of them with drone strikes – a drone strike is highly selective. I am not sure what our options are – simply saying “we are going to leave you guys alone now” does not seem like a great idea.

  26. stonetools says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Japanense and Germans didn’t go the guerilla/partisan/terrorist route. I favor the reason JP gives.

    Us being “humane” wasn’t the reason. Neither was the totality of the destruction we wrought. It was the fact that Germany and Japan were real, functioning natiions.

    All of these reasons play a part. But we’re not fighting WW2: we’re fighting THIS war-which actually IS a war.
    From the comments here , I see a nostalgia for a WW2 type of war, where the lines were so sharp and clear and we were purely the “good guys” , there was a battlefield and a home front, there was a Berlin to conquer, etc. We don’t live there anymore, folks: time to move on.
    This particular war is messy, long, and doesn’t have any clear victory marker. Its equal parts law enforcement, counterinsurgency, traditional war, and assassination, depending on where and when we’re fighting. That’s just how it is, and we need to stop pretending its 1944.

  27. john personna says:

    When I put myself in the shoes (sandals) of a law abiding guy like me, who hears that a house in the next village was blown up in the night by a powerful nation from the other side of the earth (with only “a few” women and children killed) … my feeling is not love for the “predator.”

    Maybe I’m not going to go out and become a terrorist, but I’m not really going to be a friend.

  28. michael reynolds says:

    Either terrorists are looking over their shoulders expecting the next Hellfire or they are not. Arguing about the precise nature of AQ or being concerned about a forever war or whether to call it law enforcement are all interesting but beside the point.

    Yes or no, bomb or don’t. At this point I see no sensible alternative.

  29. Rob in CT says:

    I’m not pretending it’s 1944. Really, I’m not.

    Neither do I believe that the right answer is to say “we’re going to leave you alone now.” Why would you infer that from my comments?

    Again, my 2 big questions (as Michael points out, there are other questions): #1 is a cost-benefit thing. I recognize the benefit. I worry about the cost.

    About some of those grievances, nothing can be done.

    Agreed. Nothing reasonable, certainly. The goal isn’t to appease jihadis so they stop trying to blow people up. The goal is to make it harder and harder for the jihadis to recruit. The hardened jihadi is lost. The folks who aren’t yet but might someday join – that’s where the battle is fought. And that’s where I think “my aunt, uncle and niece were blown up by an American bomb” might – just might – factor in.

  30. stonetools says:

    @john personna:

    Maybe I’m not going to go out and become a terrorist, but I’m not really going to be a friend.

    I don’t want you to be my friend, I’ll just settle for you not attacking me. That might sound a little misanthropic, but that’s my goal.

  31. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    So you have seen no downside to “generally bad feelings” from the Muslim world toward America, the west, democracy, and the like?

    What killed Amb. Stevens?

    Militants in Libya are only weakly linked to global AQ. But essentially seeing them as a common enemy reinforces for them that they are a common enemy.

    American warmongers create their own enemy, just as bin Laden created the enemy he wanted.

  32. stonetools says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Again, my 2 big questions (as Michael points out, there are other questions): #1 is a cost-benefit thing. I recognize the benefit. I worry about the cost.

    It would be great if it were cheap or free, but, again, we don’t live there. Cheaper than conquering and occupying the Middle East, though.

    The folks who aren’t yet but might someday join – that’s where the battle is fought. And that’s where I think “my aunt, uncle and niece were blown up by an American bomb” might – just might – factor in.

    I might be blown up up by an American bomb is also a factor , which would be decisive for someone like me

  33. gVOR08 says:

    @Rob in CT:

    2) What happens when, eventually, we stop or at least reduce our efforts? [or are we seriously talking about foreverwar?]

    Worries me,too. As much for the slow erosion of civil liberties as for concern about terror attacks. But we are in a forever war against robbery. If we can keep the level of activity below some low threshold, it becomes acceptable. (Or, let’s be honest, at least keep it out of our neighborhoods.)

  34. Rob in CT says:

    gVOR08,

    And poverty and disease and many other things. Granted.

    stonetools,

    I’m really not clear on the deterrance factor for a jihadi. Certainly for someone who signs on to be a suicide terrorist, that seems pretty weak. For leadership… maybe, but I have my doubts.

  35. stonetools says:

    @john personna:

    o you have seen no downside to “generally bad feelings” from the Muslim world toward America, the west, democracy, and the like?

    What killed Amb. Stevens?

    Well, you need to balance these things. You have the stick of drone warfare and the carrot of positive actions to help the Arab people toward democracy and a modern society.
    Like most people, you forget what happened after the Death of Stevens. The Libyan people, who were grateful for US help overthrowing Gaddafi, rose up and drove the militants out of Benghazi. We reaped the good will sown by our successful, targeted intervention on behalf of an Arab democratic movement . That’s why it has to be a four front war- not just drones only.

  36. stonetools says:

    @Rob in CT:

    I’m really not clear on the deterrance factor for a jihadi. Certainly for someone who signs on to be a suicide terrorist, that seems pretty weak. For leadership… maybe, but I have my doubts.

    Well, if nothing is going to deter the suicide, then let’s blow him up over there so he doesn’t blow himself up over here.
    Again, I think positive action by the US will also help to reduce recruitment.

  37. stonetools says:

    As for the danger of foreverwar, the Cold War was another type of war that we fought for a long time and looked like it would last forever-till it didn’t. Long wars happen, but they aren’t forever. There’s no universal law where wars have to be short, much as we would love that.
    There have been Thirty Years Wars and Hundred Years Wars and three Punic Wars, spread over 118 years (264 BC-146BC). Ain’t history depressing ?

  38. george says:

    I suspect terrorist leaders, like CEO’s, are overrated in terms of the scarcity of top level skills. Get rid of one, and another will pop up. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying, but you’re not going to see much difference in the overall organization (whether a corporation or terrorist organization).

    Using drone strikes to weed them out on the other hand seem to be generating more hatred for us then anything else – they’re arguably very immoral in terms of collateral damage (more children have died from them than from school shootings), and their net result is probably making recruiting of terrorists easier.

    Trying to kill their leaders makes sense. Using drones to do so doesn’t.

  39. Rob in CT says:

    Well, if nothing is going to deter the suicide, then let’s blow him up over there so he doesn’t blow himself up over here

    Right, and that’s a rationale that makes sense to me. I was simply responding to your other rationale: that it deters, which doesn’t.

  40. swbarnes2 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Either terrorists are looking over their shoulders expecting the next Hellfire or they are not.

    What percentage of terrorist meetings do you claim are interrupted by drone attacks, and where do you get those stats? If a low level recruiter talks to a guy in a coffee shop whose niece’s wedding was blown up, I don’t think that guy is worried about a drone attack.

    Either innocent wedding guests are looking over their shoulders expecting the next Hellfire, or they are not. Basically, America routinely inflicts Sally Hook massacres, but since its on other countries, this is not a cause for moral outrage?

  41. C. Clavin says:

    Gee, I’m not sure. Let’s ask the leaders. Oh…wait…

  42. JohnMcC says:

    Interesting that the original post was about ‘decapitating’ terrorist networks but every comment seems to be about so-called-drones. The premier ‘decapitation’ was of course the killing of OBL and there were ‘collateral’ casualties during that operation.

    If Al Qaida is in any sense an effective organization then there are ways that leaders have to emerge from the ranks and for the more skilled rising to positions of greater authority. Seems reasonable. We are able to deny these leaders the use of the digital world (as we apparently had denied it to OBL; there was no internet access at his compound in Islamabad, we’re told) and satellite phones and cell phones. We are able to find inventive ways to actually obtain DNA samples! Makes conducting a war, even a Jahad, pretty difficult.

    The argument against deep strikes into Yemen or the “Federally Administred Tribal Areas” of Pakistan whether by SOF or CIA Predator/Hellfire systems that really does make sense to me is the ‘sowing the dragon’s teeth’ analogy. Even without the ability to book an airline ticket or send an email or make a phone call, a large population that is dedicated to our demise is a bad thing.
    But if a village in the FATA region has had one missle strike, how happy are they to see the next likely target arrive to take up residence?

    I don’t imagine that drone strikes have made it easier for AQ leaders, such as they are, to rent houses anywhere in the world.

    And I would add, that Mr Robb from the nutmeg state sums up my greatest reservation: Foreverwar. We have to hope that the time will come to stop this. Sadly, we will probably do so only to find that someone else in the world badly needs killing.

  43. stonetools says:

    @george:

    Trying to kill their leaders makes sense. Using drones to do so doesn’t.

    If there is some other better way to do it, by all means present it. Otherwise, I’m going to continue to believe that drones represent the imperfect best option.

  44. stonetools says:

    Either innocent wedding guests are looking over their shoulders expecting the next Hellfire, or they are not. Basically, America routinely inflicts Sally Hook massacres, but since its on other countries, this is not a cause for moral outrage?

    The solution is not no drone strikes, but better targeted strikes. I would go along with that . Drone war is not all or nothing; it can be calibrated. There will never be a zero innocent casualties point, though. Mistakes will happen, and if the Al Queda leaders gathering at a wedding, we might still decide to strike. War often means picking the least evil option.

  45. anjin-san says:

    Why would you infer that from my comments?

    Well, I am engaging it a bit of hyperbole. Personally, I think we need to take the battle to AQ. This country is simply too target rich, and we saw how a handful of guys with box cutters were able to do almost incalculable damage to it – far beyond the loss of life and property on 9.11.

    So how do we take the battle to the enemy without large scale traditional military action? I think drones are better than tomahawk or B2 strategic strikes, and both are far better than “shock & awe” type actions.

    I worry about the cost.

    I do too. We all should. But I don’t see a better option.

  46. anjin-san says:

    this is not a cause for moral outrage?

    All war is a cause for moral outrage. Sadly, human beings have been slaughtering each other since the first time a caveman figured out he could conk his neighbor on the head with a rock and take his stuff. It’s the human condition, and it is a fundamental part of the world we live in – we have to deal with it as best we can.

    We don’t have to kill people to give Muslims a reason to hate us – all they have to do is read what people like bithead say about them.

  47. george says:

    @stonetools:

    If there is some other better way to do it, by all means present it. Otherwise, I’m going to continue to believe that drones represent the imperfect best option.

    No, I don’t no know of a better way of doing it. However, I’d argue that the collateral damage caused by drones (and the recruitment that comes with it, along with the hatred that kind of attack generates in general) outweighs the benefits of killing leaders. As I said, the leaders seem to be quite replaceable, and I’d bet heavily that the drone attacks are creating new ones (and terrorists in general) simply because almost everybody reacts with hatred when they hear of their children being murdered in large numbers by foreigners.

    Now if the drone attacks can become more accurate, so that collateral damage is eliminated, I have nothing against them – what I find immoral is that they’re indiscriminate (as the number of dead children will testify). At this point, I think they’re counter productive.

    Ask yourself how’d react if it was another country bombing your kids? Would it make you less or more likely to want to avenge yourself on them? I think most folks can understand adults being killed (not like it, but understand it). But a targetted attack which hits weddings or school kids are sure fire hate generators.

  48. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @stonetools: Sometimes I think people have been conditioned by video games and the first Gulf War to think that a bomb that hits it’s target only hurts it’s target. The newest drones can carry 500 lb bombs. Those can have a lethal radius of 200 feet. You drop it in a village it doesn’t matter if you hit the target on his literal head, others are going to die (current best guess at Hellfire accuracy seems to be 10 feet or so, though truly accurate numbers aren’t reliably available on Google for obvious reasons; it’s blast radius is heavily dependent on fuse type). Better targeting won’t help, and it’s not even a matter of mistakes. The simple truth is that when it comes to explosives, there is no such thing as a surgical strike–collateral damage will ALWAYS occur. Talking heads try and pretend otherwise, but it’s the truth. It may or may not be the least bad option for now, but I wonder, like others, if we aren’t creating as many people who hate us as we kill our enemies in this manner.

    Ever since air power was invented it’s proponents (including Obama these days) get enamored of the idea that you can safely destroy and kill targets from the air without risking our own people, and it’s easy to ignore the collateral damage while believing you are winning the war. With the exception of nuking Japan however–which was basically threatening genocide and proving we could carry it out–air strikes (even the horrific fire bombing and carpet bombing of WW II) have never convinced an enemy to stop fighting.

    Sometimes I wonder if, in terms of their mental effect on the targets, if there is much difference between drone strikes and the terrorist’s IED’s (obviously we are targeting much more carefully than they are, I’m talking about the effect on the survivor’s state of mind). Do we surrender because we’re being hit by an unseen enemy, an enemy who makes us feel helpless by striking with surprise? No, it pisses us off and we try and find ways to strike back as well as protect ourselves. If you came home to find your house destroyed, possibly family members killed, because some drone dropped a bomb on someone’s else house 150 feet away because a government that is not yours and that you don’t trust *says* a terrorist was hiding there (but you don’t know if they were or not), how would you react? People don’t get intimidated and quit by what hurts them when they can’t strike back or when they feel they were helpless to stop it because it explodes at the side of the road or drops from the sky as a surprise, they get angry.

  49. stonetools says:

    It may or may not be the least bad option for now, but I wonder, like others, if we aren’t creating as many people who hate us as we kill our enemies in this manner.

    Well, with all due respect, we don’t go to war to make people like us; we go to war to make people not attack us. ” Let them hate, so long as they fear” may not be politically correct, but its an acceptable minimum goal of war.
    As the lady said, hitting the leaders is only one front in a four front war. If all the people in the village knew about Americans were that we were bombing them, we would be making enemies. If they also knew that we were responding to an attack made on us by the bastard who is now hiding among them and using them as shields, then maybe they may think of kicking the bastard out. Also too, if we were seen as a force for spreading democracy and good government in the Arab world, that gives them additional reasons for shunning the jihadists. The idea should be to give them as many reasons as possible NOT to make the jihadists welcome, one of which is no more bombs. .

  50. george says:

    @stonetools:

    The idea should be to give them as many reasons as possible NOT to make the jihadists welcome, one of which is no more bombs. .

    I’m no military expert, but what I’ve read suggests that dropping bombs is far more likely to stiffen rather than weaken resolve.

  51. Rob in CT says:

    Good point about air power… I remember being taught that the Luftwaffe’s original battle plan in the “Battle of Britain” was to destroy the RAF as a fighting force. Apparently, unbeknownst to them, they came close to accomplishing this. But then they switched to trying to beat the British civilian into submission via bombing cities, and the RAF recovered. I’m not sure if that’s at all accurate, but it makes sense to me.

    Thing is, that doesn’t match up with the present state of the WoT (man, I hate that term): our military/CIA is focused on beating up on the enemy directly, not inflicting collective punishment on the civilian population in the hope that they will give up. The idea is that the civilian population isn’t the enemy in the first place (though a certain portion of it may be, or may be sympathetic to the enemy). That strikes me as tracking pretty well with the original LW strategy: bomb the RAF airfields, kill their pilots, etc.

  52. swbarnes2 says:

    @stonetools:

    The solution is not no drone strikes, but better targeted strikes.

    Is this something we can actually do, or is this just wishful thinking? Can we kill a roomful of terrorists and not kill the innocent family sleeping one room away?

    Mistakes will happen, and if the Al Queda leaders gathering at a wedding, we might still decide to strike.

    And if there are no Al-Queda leaders gathering at the wedding, we might still decide to strike. People know that.

    War often means picking the least evil option.

    Okay, so where is the evidence that blowing up the occasional wedding is a net positive for anyone’s safety? (No one seems to think it’s worthwhile or feasible to argue that our bombings make the locals safer)

    If they also knew that we were responding to an attack made on us by the bastard who is now hiding among them and using them as shields, then maybe they may think of kicking the bastard out.

    And then if the guy won’t leave, and Americans bomb where they now know he is? Or the guy leaves, and his buddies decide to raze the village and rape the women, will the Americans protect them from that? Would you take that risk with your family?

  53. stonetools says:

    @george:

    OK, you don’t like any form of warfare that results in collateral damage, and would prefer that we abandon drone strikes. As I see it, doing that risks the possibility that they reform their networks and bomb our civilians, a la 9/11, 5/11, etc. You may think accepting that risk is worth it to preserve moral purity, possibly lower recruitment, etc. My calculus is different, possibly because I live a few miles from a likely terrorist target, the Pentagon, and Washington, DC in general. I and the President privilege the lives of Americans over Yemenis and Pakistanis .
    I can live with that.

  54. stonetools says:

    @swbarnes2:

    What can I say?
    Hiroshima, Dresden,Sherman’s march through Georgia, and Grant’s siege of Vicksburg were all evil options that truly screwed up the locals. The drone campaign is kindlier than any of those, but the people at that time accepted those morally dreadful events as necessary for the winning of those wars.
    ” War is cruelty, you cannot refine it. ”

    Well, you can a little bit, but its still going to be cruel to someone

  55. anjin-san says:

    I’m not sure if that’s at all accurate, but it makes sense to me.

    It’s accurate. Attacks on RAF airfields and C and C facilities had them at the brink of defeat. Georing then changed the strategy to terror bombings of civilian targets. It was a critical mistake and a turning point in the war.

  56. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    Well, you can a little bit, but its still going to be cruel to someone

    So … how similar is this to an argument that I should carry a handgun, and shoot it when I feel threatened?

    Sure, I might occasionally hit a bystander, but eggs must be broken!

  57. anjin-san says:

    what I’ve read suggests that dropping bombs is far more likely to stiffen rather than weaken resolve.

    There is no one size fits all rule here. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki crushed Japan’s will to continue the war.

  58. john personna says:

    (The answer is, of course, that drone bystanders are “only” (at best) “foreigners.” At worst, there is some racism involved.)

  59. stonetools says:

    @john personna:

    So … how similar is this to an argument that I should carry a handgun, and shoot it when I feel threatened?

    Sure, I might occasionally hit a bystander, but eggs must be broken!

    Its not similar at all, because we are talking about war. War by definition is legal mass murder. The rules are different.
    Notice you just skipped over the rest of my comment. Again, I understand the desire to be morally pure, and to be sympathetic to people caught up to the conflict, but there is really no kind of air war that doesn’t involve the possibility of collateral damage (or killing innocent civilians, if you prefer). If there was transporter beam technology that could beam al-Queda leaders into an American court room, I would be totally in favor of it. However, we are not in the Star Trek universe: we are here on Earth Prime . We can get at Al-Queda leadership is by drone strike, commando raid, or manned aircraft strike. Otherwise, we have to leave them alone and trust to faith and prayer that they don’t do another 9/11. I don’t think we should do that.

  60. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @stonetools: I don’t care at all about political correctness and I’m not trying to make friends (though I am trying to stop making enemies)–I’m arguing that your philosophy simply doesn’t work. After all, the Jihadists are still hiding out there, aren’t they? And also refer to what I already pointed out–historically, air power has NEVER caused anyone to surrender (again, excepting the nuking of Japan). The idea that we make them fear bombs enough to get them to do what we want sounds great, but can you point to examples of it working? Not in Vietnam or Korea or WW II, both Gulf Wars involved ground troops in the end. Hell, we had to put troops on the ground in such “triumphs” (and I use the term loosely) as Grenada and Panama.

    I’ll also note that thinking we can bomb them into understanding that we’re doing it just as a response to others actions and really if they’d just do what we want then the bombs would all stop, is very easy to invert and in my opinion a dead end. From their point of view if Americans knew that Al Qaeda was attacking us, we’d just be the enemy. But (various groups have argued), if Americans knew that we’re only being attacked because of the actions of the Israelis killing Palestinians, or to avenge the Iraqi innocents killed in our invasion, then maybe America and Israel would stop what they were doing. That thinking hasn’t really worked for their side, has it? It just leads to us talking about how we’re just responding to 9/11 and Israel is responding to suicide bombers and mortars, then we head back to 1967 (and dozens of incidents in between), and back and back. Justifying an attack by saying we’re just responding to the other guy, so maybe they’ll think twice, sounds great–but the evidence is overwhelming it pretty much doesn’t work.

    We have what, 50 years of history staring us in the face with the Israelis and Palestinians that a cycle of bombing each other isn’t convincing either side to surrender, so why think it will work for us with drones and villages in Pakistan and Sudan and god knows where else? There was a great Doonesbury cartoon about the concept I’m trying to get at a while back, though I can’t find a link. An Iraqi tries to explain to an American that he can’t help another Iraqi right now, because “his cousin killed my cousin.” “When did that happen.” “1382.” “What is wrong with you people?!?!”

    Ask yourself this, would another 9/11 get you to stop supporting drone strikes, or would it make you more likely to try and hit back even harder? It reminds me of one of (many) torture fallacies–torture proponents always assume that the other guy will break, while heroes like Jack Bauer never fold. You seem to think that if we just keep bombing them a little bit more, they’ll stop helping the terrorists, even though you know, viscerally and in your gut, that every terrorist bomb that hits this country would just make you more determined to fight, not quit.

    I’m not saying we should just give up, quit or anything else. I’m just saying I’m not convinced drone attacks are the best choice we have, because they not only hurt the terrorists, they hurt everyone around the terrorists, many of whom don’t care for either side, and probably feel quite helpless when it comes to deciding if the village elders or their neighbors are harboring people we call terrorists. It’s easy to say “they” should just decide to stop harboring the bad guys, but do the “they” in question really have the power to make that decision? How much control do YOU have over what your neighbors or the city council/village elders decide to do? We can at least call the cops if we think there is a meth lab or something illegal going on next door, comfortable that the cops will investigate without getting me killed (not that there aren’t exceptions to all that–the number of drug busts that manage to raid the wrong house in this country is mind-boggling), but at least they are trying. Who would you call in the wilds of Pakistan to report “there’s a terrorist two huts down”, when even the Pakistani army doesn’t venture out there in less than squad strength, and it’s quite possible the Pakistani army or ISI intelligence service actually have an agreement with the guy you want to turn in? How helpless would you feel? Then we show up and bomb the bad guys, incidentally taking out a bunch of others nearby (people and/or possessions)? At best that might get our helpless villager to say “the hell with you all”, but he still has to LIVE there. Who is he more likely to support, the terrorist group who didn’t actually hurt him but was living down the street, or the guys that dropped a bomb on his family and/or possessions and/or livelihood?

    The Navy Seals only killed people in Bin Laden’s house–pretty hard to argue they weren’t aware of who they were living with. I think that difference matters in the long run.

  61. Rafer Janders says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Just to point out, the fire bombings of Dresden, and Tokyo, as well as the nuclear bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were designed to inflict the highest civilian casualties possible, thus massacring civilians..

    True, but the goal was not sadism. Kill a hundred thousand civilians in a bombing raid by uniformed airmen and people will forgive you. Torture a hundred civilians to death one by one with knives and clubs and people won’t. I know many, many war survivors, and they always seem to make those distinctions with regard to which grudges they hold and which ones they let go of.

  62. stonetools says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    I don’t care at all about political correctness and I’m not trying to make friends (though I am trying to stop making enemies)–I’m arguing that your philosophy simply doesn’t work. After all, the Jihadists are still hiding out there, aren’t they? And also refer to what I already pointed out–historically, air power has NEVER caused anyone to surrender (again, excepting the nuking of Japan). The idea that we make them fear bombs enough to get them to do what we want sounds great, but can you point to examples of it working? Not in Vietnam or Korea or WW II, both Gulf Wars involved ground troops in the end. Hell, we had to put troops on the ground in such “triumphs” (and I use the term loosely) as Grenada and Panama.

    You misunderstand. The purpose of the drone strikes is to strike at the al-Queda leadership, not to bomb the villagers into submission. Positive action to help Arabs, etc and the other steps mentioned in the final paragraph of the OP is what will help convince the ordinary Muslim that we are not the “enemy”.
    Again, we’re not in fricking WW2, where in any case we killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, Hollywood movies notwithstanding.Al-Queda is not going to form up in ranks on a battlefield in which there are no civilians, and “fight fair”. If that’s your standard for attacking Al-Queda, we are not going to be attacking Al-queda.

    The Navy Seals only killed people in Bin Laden’s house–pretty hard to argue they weren’t aware of who they were living with. I think that difference matters in the long run.

    It would be great if we could do those kind of commando raids all the time , but just about everyone understands this was a rare circumstance

  63. Rafer Janders says:

    @stonetools:

    You might want to re-read your WW2. The Soviets did rape the hell out of German women as they pushed into Germany, the Allied bomber offensive did kill hundreds of thousands of German civilians, and USAAF did incinerate one Japanese city after another in fire raids. It wasn’t all just chivalry and honor on our side.

    I’m German, I hardly have to re-read the history. I have a lot of family who grew up being bombed by the Army Air Corps. I have relatives who fought the Soviets, and who spent time in US Army POW camps. And there’s a hell of a lot of difference in how Germans regard Americans, whom they think very well of, and Russians, whom…they don’t. Every single German I know, military and civilian, who was within reach of the Red Army in 1945 did everything they could to get the hell away and be captured by the Americans instead.

  64. Rafer Janders says:

    @stonetools:

    Try reading this article on one of the fire raids.

    I don’t really need to read an article on one of the fire raids. I can just ask my aunt and uncle who survived one in Hamburg when they were little children.

  65. Rafer Janders says:

    @stonetools:

    One of the reasons that the Germans and the Japanese didn’t continue to resist after WWW2 is that we beat the living sh!t out of them.

    Nah, that’s not really it. After all, Germany beat the living hell out of Poland, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union, and yet the continued to resist. Japan beat the living hell out of China, and China continued to resist.

    The reasons why the occupied do or don’t resist the occupiers are complex, but in this case are due more to exhaustion, a realization by the populace that they’d been fooled by their leaders, moral horror and, perhaps most important of all, cold certain knowledge that the Americans were the only thing holding back the Soviets, so it was a lot better to become friends with the Americans rather than to be left to the tender mercies of Stalin.

  66. swbarnes2 says:

    @stonetools:

    Hiroshima, Dresden,Sherman’s march through Georgia, and Grant’s siege of Vicksburg were all evil options that truly screwed up the locals. The drone campaign is kindlier than any of those,

    Of course. You are an American, so obviously your feelings on that are more relevant and important than the feelings of the parents of blown-up children, who after all, aren’t American.

    Do you really not get that you aren’t allowed to sit safe and sound, supporting violence against other people’s families by saying that their murders are “kindlier” than they could have been?

    The choice isn’t between firebombing and blowing up weddings. It’s between blowing up weddings and not blowing up weddings, and sorry, but I’m pretty sure the locals will pick “not blowing up weddings” every time.

    but the people at that time accepted those morally dreadful events as necessary for the winning of those wars.

    Which “people”? Are you speaking on behalf of the victims of Nagasaki when you say that? Or do they not count as “people” here?

  67. stonetools says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I don’t really need to read an article on one of the fire raids. I can just ask my aunt and uncle who survived one in Hamburg when they were little children.

    Well, great, so you understand that WW2 wasn’t a morally pure war in which we never took action that could cause innocent civilian casualties. And that was the “good war”.
    Also too, there is a reason why al-Queda lives among civilians and tries to blend in with the villagers. They understand we won’t just carpet bomb the villages into ashes and that we want to minimize civilian casualties.They do that out of cold calculation, not necessity.

  68. Rafer Janders says:

    @stonetools:

    It wasn’t all just chivalry and honor on our side.

    As I said above, I have relatives who spent time in US POW camps after the war. When I was younger, I once asked my grandfather and great uncle about this, and they said that they came out of the camps not only admiring, but actually actively liking, their former enemies. I’m paraphrasing, but my uncle said something like “what impressed me about the Americans was that they had no hatred. We fought them for years, but they didn’t really hate us, they treated us very well, and were always fair.” The memory of this, multiplied among millions of Germans, forged years of friendship between Germany and the US.

    Couldn’t ask the same question to survivors of the Russian POW camps, because there weren’t any. None of those guys ever came home.

    So yes, compared to what it could have been, there was actually a fair bit of honor on our side.

  69. stonetools says:

    @swbarnes2:

    The choice isn’t between firebombing and blowing up weddings. It’s between blowing up weddings and not blowing up weddings, and sorry, but I’m pretty sure the locals will pick “not blowing up weddings” every time.

    AFAIK the US isn’t deliberately targeting weddings, or indeed innocent civilians. These are intelligence mistakes, which happen in every war.Now I am no fan of of killing innocent civilians , but in any kind of air war, there is no way of avoiding killing innocent civilians, particularly if the targets deliberately make a practice of living among such civilians.
    If your position is that you can’t countenance any form of warfare that results in innocent civilians dying, then that’s a good, morally pure stance to take .It may not seem so pure , though, if a reformed al -Queda use the respite to bomb and kill innocent American civilians. They have a right to live too, even if they are just Americans.

  70. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @stonetools:

    You misunderstand. The purpose of the drone strikes is to strike at the al-Queda leadership, not to bomb the villagers into submission. Positive action to help Arabs, etc and the other steps mentioned in the final paragraph of the OP is what will help convince the ordinary Muslim that we are not the “enemy”.

    Sigh. I think we’re just talking past each other. You believe our good intentions excuse the side effects, and that the side effects are less harmful than the good obtained by killing terrorists in drone strikes. I believe the collateral damage causes more harm than the good that is obtained, especially since we’ve so expanded use of the drone program. You think the positive actions we can take with other (presumably un-bombed) Muslims outweigh the affects of the radicalized Muslims directly affected by the bottom, and I think the opposite.

    I think part of the reason this conversation bugs me (I hardly ever post–I think this is the first time I’ve commented on a thread more than once), is that in many ways I agree with you. War is hell, and really bad nasty things happen during it. That’s why idiots like Cheney and Bush should have been a LOT more careful about starting them in the first place. I also don’t think modern “limited” war makes any sense, at all. You win wars when the other side is hammered into submission and exhaustion, and fears total annihilation. Compare Germany after WW I and after WW II. In the later case they KNEW they had lost (and I agree, were terrified of the Russians, because Germany and Russia had been committing virtual genocide for years against each other, there WAS the fear of annihilation in that case), in the former Germany proper was basically untouched and it was easy for a certain firebrand to argue “the politicians stole the war from the military” (among MANY other factors Hitler used in his rise).

    Basically, I think that if we, as a society, aren’t willing to do the things necessary to win a WAR, (which means willing to do things that are borderline genocidal until the other side screams for mercy) then we need to find ways to deal with groups like Al-Qaeda differently. Limited war (like drone strikes, or arming the Northern Alliance and expecting them to defeat the Taliban and hold the country) is really just half-assed fighting dreamed up by idealists who think we can somehow win with moral purity (as you very accurately framed it) and without endangering ourselves (much), and the simple fact is it doesn’t work. It doesn’t kill them faster than they can recruit (their recruiting helped by our bombing), it doesn’t exhaust the enemy as you rightly point out is necessary, whatever fear it generates is countered by the anger it causes, there is no other enemy they are more afraid of…so what are we accomplishing and why are we doing it? Preventing them from rebuilding their networks and bombing us over here? Some of the conversation in this thread makes it seem like people think that’s an easy thing for them to do–it’s most emphatically not, drone strikes or no. And there are ways to deal with their attempts to do so–the modern surveillance state is a lot better equipped to monitor these things than it was 15 years ago (with all the civil liberties violations that go along with it, I might add), and I think it’s pretty shaky logic to think that the reason we haven’t had a repeat of 9/11 here is because we’re bombing them with drones over there, which leads me to think we can prevent 9/11 repeats without all the negatives associated with drone bombings.

    I just can’t help but fall back on the logic I’ve referenced a couple times before: every time a terrorist attacks us, we don’t surrender or get more peaceful, we get angrier and more determined to fight. What makes you think bombing them causes any different of a reaction? And even if we are disrupting the ability of that anger to mobilize for now (by continuous bombing), it leads to nothing but the forever war that has been talked about. It’s a dead end.

  71. stonetools says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    So yes, compared to what it could have been, there was actually a fair bit of honor on our side.

    There was some honor in our war with the Germans. There was very little honor in our war with the Japanese. And there was no honor at all in the REAL war-the war between the Germans and the Soviets. That was just a death struggle , in both sides committed atrocities that even Genghis Khan would have flinched at.

  72. Rafer Janders says:

    @stonetools:

    And there was no honor at all in the REAL war-the war between the Germans and the Soviets. That was just a death struggle , in both sides committed atrocities that even Genghis Khan would have flinched at.

    Again, this was the war my relatives were in. That’s why they spent the last few days of the war racing towards the American lines.

  73. stonetools says:

    Sigh. I think we’re just talking past each other. Yous believe our good intentions excuse the side effects, and that the side effects are less harmful than the good obtained by killing terrorists in drone strikes. I believe the collateral damage causes more harm than the good that is obtained, especially since we’ve so expanded use of the drone program. You think the positive actions we can take with other (presumably un-bombed) Muslims outweigh the affects of the radicalized Muslims directly affected by the bottom, and I think the opposite.

    I understand your frustration, and I share it. I think there are no pure options here. Even suspending the drone attacks isn’t a pure option, since it will embolden al-Queda and give them a chance to rebuild. . You can take it to bank that they won’t thank us for our compassion, and call off the war, as some here seem to think.
    It seems to me we tried the “splendid isolation” approach in the 1990s and it didn’t work for us. I don’t trust that our intelligence is good enough to catch all the efforts of a revived and rested al Queda. I don’t think we can penetrate their networks worth a d@mn.
    Again, we should think of this war not like WW2 or WW1, but like the Cold War- a generation long struggle across the face of the globe that will surge back and forth and that will be fought mostly in shadows ,within civilian populations, and toward inconclusive results. Americans to their credit don’t like that kind of war. But you go with the war you’ve got.

  74. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @stonetools: I don’t disagree with your assessment at all that this is more Cold War like than WW1 or 2, and I’ll note we didn’t spend most of the Cold War regularly bombing the civilians we’re trying to win over. A certain segment will always hate us of course, but if we’re out to prove our way of life is better, I don’t think regular drone strikes that appear capricious and random to the victims are the way to go. In fact I’m now really confused about your position–if this is going to be a more Cold War like struggle, what possible good are the drone strikes? Is Al-Qaeda more energized and better able to build a network to infiltrate the US than the KGB was?

    I don’t think we can catch all the efforts of Al Qaeda either, but the quest for perfect security is impossible anyways. The question is do drone strikes help the long term effort or not.

    Really of course I don’t think anyone has yet figured out how to fight a modern asymetrical opponent like we now face. I can say I always thought the Iraq invasion was a bullshit mistake, but hindsight being 20/20, I wish we had handled Afghanistan very differently as well. These days I think Colin Powell might have been wrong when he advocated the “you break it, you buy it” approach to invasions (which I understood and supported at the time). That truly was WW2 thinking-that after we invade we’re responsible for the aftermath and rebuilding. But of course, part of those wars involved destroying the governments of those nations. I wonder, since organizations like Al Qaeda love to hide in societies willing to shelter them, if a better “lesson” for our long-term security might have been taught by smashing Afghanistan then leaving, letting whatever was left of the government (and quite a bit of the Taliban survived) deal with the aftermath. It would have been brutally cruel to the citizens of Afghanistan, but in sticking around (and in invading Iraq) we energized the enemy, gave them a cause, and showed them just how effective things like IED’s can be against a country that tries to stick to the accepted rules of war. If we’d left, other nation states (like Iran or Pakistan), might have seen the government of Afghanistan smashed, and maybe decided that harboring terrorists wouldn’t be good for their long term health either. Instead they saw the Afghans get blasted, but then also saw us get trapped and en-meshed and bled (not only physically but financially) in that infamous graveyard of empires (and Iraq–damn you to hell forever Bush!). Instead of being able to tell Pakistan today: clean up those enclaves or else, they know instead we’re stuck and aren’t really in a position (certainly with the US public, even if the military was up to it) to invade yet another Muslim country. I really wonder if we would be better off if we’d crushed Afghanistan directly (none of this Northern Alliance crap), left (being willing to provide humanitarian aid but that’s about it), never invaded Iraq, and told the nation’s of the world: This is what happens when you harbor these non-state combatants that commit atrocities like 9/11 against us. That moves at least part of the “battlefield” back to traditional (and far better understood) nation-state actors. In the short term I’m sure it would have hurt our interests (Europe would have been appalled if we hit and ran, even if did provide humanitarian aid afterwards), but I think the overall cost in blood, treasure, and future threats might just have been a lot lower today if we had.

    None of which matters, because now we’re stuck. Even so, I think drone attacks are seductive, and short term effective, but long term useless at best (they will never end the conflict) or counter-productive (as they stand the real chance of extending it).

  75. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t think anyone is claiming that drone warfare is fun or good or happy times. All war is awful. Every death is awful. We make orphans and widows. Sometimes we kill people who have no business being killed. It’s a terrible, nasty situation all the way around. But it is sometimes unavoidable.

    And here’s the cold-blooded reality: better them than us. That’s the moral basis of every war. Better them than us. Make orphans there rather than here. You want to tell me that’s despicable? I’ll agree. But that’s the calculus: better them than us. Shouldn’t any human life be the equal of any other human life? In theory, sure. In practice, no.

    Tomorrow or the next day we’re going to kill someone’s innocent little child because we believe that the man standing next to that innocent little child intends to kill our innocent children.

    I’m not sugar-coating or refusing to acknowledge the vile nature of this business. But there it is. And yes, better them than us.

  76. anjin-san says:

    I don’t think anyone is claiming that drone warfare is fun or good or happy times.

    Bingo. We are not going to be getting out of the killing business any time soon. Nor is anyone else. Drones seem like the least awful way to prosecute this war.

  77. swbarnes2 says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    I just can’t help but fall back on the logic I’ve referenced a couple times before: every time a terrorist attacks us, we don’t surrender or get more peaceful, we get angrier and more determined to fight. What makes you think bombing them causes any different of a reaction?

    The deep down belief that really, they aren’t people like we Americans are. So of course they won’t react the way we real people would react. They”ll react like the inferior beings they ought to see themselves as would react. Funny how women/racial minorities/gay people/poor people/foreigners rarely cooperate.

    It’s tribalistic sickness.

    @stonetools:

    I think there are no pure options here.

    Ugg. Stop harping on “pure”. That’s not the issue. Seatbelts do not prevent every single highway fatality. But they are very effective. Can you demonstrate with evidence that throwing drones into civilian populations is an effective counter-terrorist strategy? For starters, what are you claiming is the ratio of genuine threats killed versus the numbers of innocent people killed, versus the numbers of people radicalized watching their friends and family blown to bits? And what is your evidence for those numbers? For instance, if that third number is higher than the first, that wouldn’t be a very good thing, would it? But how can you be sure that’s not the case? Maybe when deciding whether or not to make a habit of risking the lives of toddlers, one ought to be pessimistic on those figures, yes?

  78. george says:

    @stonetools:

    As I said, I don’t think the bombing is achieving more than a minor disruption in their leadership, and at the cost of creating many new enemies to take their place. I suspect bombing innocents is one of the best recruiting tools they have. We’ve been doing it for five years, with no results other than no repeat of 9-11 (and that can and typically is attributed to many things, including the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, airport security etc).

    Ignoring morals completely, I don’t think its doing what its supposed to be doing – and that is getting the terrorists to give up. Bombing has never been able to get anyone to quit (except for dropping nukes), why do you expect this to be the one exception? In fact, it almost always has the exact opposite affect – making people who were unsure about the wisdom of the fight certain that the enemy was evil and had to be fought to the end.

  79. Barry says:

    @anjin-san: “Except we are not “bombing the shit” out of them with drone strikes – a drone strike is highly selective. ”

    It’s so highly selective that (a) the US has declared any dead male over age 12 to be a terrorist, and (b) the US is doing ‘double taps’, where a second missile is sent in to kill anybody going to the aid of whomever was injured in the first strike.

  80. stonetools says:

    @swbarnes2: @george:

    As the effectiveness of the drone strikes, Al-queda thinks its effective:

    Messages recovered from Osama bin Laden’s home after his death in 2011, including one from then al Qaeda No. 3, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman reportedly, according to the Agence France-Presse and the Washington Post, expressed frustration with the drone strikes in Pakistan. According to an unnamed U.S. Government official, in his message al-Rahman complained that drone-launched missiles were killing al Qaeda operatives faster than they could be replaced.

    As to the drone strikes being a recruitment tool, well, here is a report from the people of Waziristan, where the drone strikes are happening:

    In an analysis published in Daily Times (Pakistan) on 2 January 2010 Farhat Taj, a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy discussed the issue of drone attacks with hundreds of people of Waziristan. She claims that they see the US drone attacks as their liberators from the clutches of Islamist militiants into which, they say, their state has wilfully thrown them. She claims that estimates about civilian casualties in the US and Pakistani media are wrong because after every attack Islamist militiants cordon off the area and no one, including the local villagers, is allowed to come even near the targeted place. The militants themselves collect the bodies, bury the dead and then issue the statement that all of them were innocent civilians. However, according to the people of Waziristan, the only civilians who have been killed so far in the drone attacks are women or children of the militants in whose houses/compounds they hold meetings. But that used to happen in the past and now they don’t hold meetings at places where women and children of the militants reside. In one case when the funeral procession of an Islamist commander was hit and some civilians were killed. But after the attack people got the excuse of not attending the funeral of slain militants or offering them food.

    Farhat Taj claims that locals usually appreciate drone attacks when they compare it with the Pakistan Army’s attacks, which always result in collateral damage. People said that when a drone would hover over the skies, they wouldn’t be disturbed and would carry on their usual business because they would be sure that it does not target the civilians, but the same people would run for shelter when a Pakistani jet would appear in the skies because of its indiscriminate firing. They say that even in the same compound only the exact room – where a high value target (HVT) is present – is targeted and others in the same compound are spared.[99]

    It may be we might be just “thinking Western ” on this. Sure, if you are sitting in a Western country, and you are happy with the government and society, you would think drone attacks in your neighborhood to be an unalloyed evil. But if you are being oppressed by a band of tyrannical religious overlords, and the drones are killing those overlords, then you might see an upside to drone attacks. Just sayin’.
    I have yet to hear of any reports of people joining up with Al-queda over drone attacks, so I think it not proven that drone attacks contribute to recruitment. In light of the above report, I think we need positive evidence that it does, as opposed to just a claim based on how we would feel.

  81. anjin-san says:

    @ Barry

    As long as our country engages in military actions, innocents ARE going to be killed. What do you suggest? That we refrain from any further military action?

    In a perfect world, that would be great. In the world we live in, I am not sure it would work out so well.

  82. george says:

    @stonetools:

    Interesting. If that’s true (especially the part about the people of Warizstan), then drone attacks might be the least harmful of a bad assortment of options (doing nothing being one of those options).