The Logic of Drone Strikes

by Joshua Foust on 5/18/2009 · 1 comment

Spencer Ackerman wonders what some conservative perspectives on the drone strikes might be. He’s asking in response to a Kilcullen-Exum op-ed in the New York Times, which argues a point I have argued many times before.

I am not exactly a conservative, but I did find their op-ed curious. I would argue with the assertion that the drone war is why the people of the FATA feel beseiged, just as I would argue that it is NOT exactly like how the U.S. handled the ICU when they swept through Mogadishu. Given the level of local anger towards the U.S. after the invasion of Afghanistan—and before the start of the “drone war”—I would question just how much the drone strikes have created new problems, rather than simply making existing problems with Pakistan’s people worse. Last, I’m not sure how IO (which they seem to confuse with STRATCOM) and “understanding the tribes” will make it okay to kill lots of non-combattants to get a few combattants.

These are arguments on the margins. I agree with their broad point: the drones focus on killing bad guys, instead of addressing why there are bad guys in the first place (but can we PLEASE stop comparing Pashtuns to Algerians?). But what is with this?

Having Osama bin Laden in one’s sights is one thing. Devoting precious resources to his capture or death, rather than focusing on protecting the Afghan and Pakistani populations, is another. The goal should be to isolate extremists from the communities in which they live. The best way to do this is to adopt policies that build local partnerships.

That sounds pretty, but USAID has been trying to do that for years. It’s too dangerous, and right now white people have an unfortunate habit of being abducted if they stray too closely to Quetta. What do you do when the extremists come from the communities in which they live? “Local partnerships” don’t get you much there.

This kind of reminds me of my complaint yesterday about Nick Dowling’s dispatches from Afghanistan. There is a tremendous fluency with the military in these think tankers going around and making their grand pronouncements… but there is precious little aside from the military, even when they say it can’t be a mil-first solution. That’s when there is a resort into platitudes: oh, let’s just have development! It is not that easy, not by a long shot.

Update: Then again, when the military actually does control the civilian aid we’re sending into conflict zones… well, I just don’t know what to say about that.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

David M May 19, 2009 at 9:09 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/19/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

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