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The Changing Face of War
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There is a new normal in warfare developing as drone technology becomes more widespread. The downing of a CIA drone is the most recent episode in the secret war against Iran and it is to be presumed that American drones are also flying out of Turkish bases to monitor developments in Syria. In the past, the use of drones both to monitor and to kill has been justified by Washington in situations where the local government presumably does not have the resources to police its own territory. As least that has been a major part of the argument in Pakistan and Yemen, where it has been claimed that terrorists would proliferate if they were not under siege by the drones. But that is clearly not the case with either Iran or Syria, so the presumption has to be that drones are now being used as a weapon of choice to intervene in those situations where there is neither war nor peace. Shooting down a drone does not produce a Francis Gary Powers U-2 type incident and it can always be claimed that the pilotless vehicle was off course for technical reasons, a form of the plausible denial always sought in covert operations. But intrusion into someone else’s airspace is nevertheless an act of war and can have unintended consequences when things go wrong. CIA briefly considered launching a rescue mission for its downed drone in Iran in an attempt to keep its high tech avionics, surveillance capabilities, and stealth technology from falling into Tehran’s hands. If that option had been pursued, it might well have resulted in a shooting war.

The question of how and when America should send its sons and daughters into armed conflict is answered in the Constitution of the United States, which stipulates that only Congress has the power to declare war. Since World War 2, however, the executive has been the decider, involving the nation in one undeclared war after another. The use of drones, which lower the threshold for becoming engaged aggressively with a foreign power, makes it all too easy to enter into conflicts that are essentially bloodless for a high tech Washington therefore requiring little in the way of justification or explanation. They also tend to be invisible, fought largely in secret and making it impossible for the American public to know what is going on in its name.

One of the most discouraging aspects of the current Republican presidential candidate debates is the discussion of drone warfare, or rather the fact that it is not being discussed at all except to approve of the practice. Only Congressman Ron Paul has disagreed. There is clearly an underlying assumption, shared by Republican and Democrat alike, that the United States has the freedom to use its high tech armed forces to attack anywhere and at any time whenever there is any perception of an emerging threat. That assumption challenges efforts made over the past hundred years to make wars less frequent and more humane and it creates a new principal of world disorder in which the United States is judge, jury, and executioner whenever a foreign nation, group, or individual steps out of line. It is not a development that anyone should necessarily welcome.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Drones 
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  1. Nick K. says:

    What America’s warmongering elites want is the ability wage discretionary war with little to no accountability. This was partially achieved with the end of conscription, and after that, with the fading of the memory of Vietnam from the mass consciousness. In the post-911 era, the elites have successfully maneuvered America into a position where war can be waged with almost no accountability whatsoever, thanks not only to drone, but also to a black/spec ops budget that has grown to unprecedented levels. Drones are an enabler for the discretionary, needless, anywhere, anytime warfare that the masters of the empire seek.

  2. Pax americana

    The ability to project force anywhere, anytime without any domestic meddling.

  3. What I want to know is this: Once they perfect micro-drones the size of a hummingbird, will it be a horrible federal crime to shoot one with a BB gun or bring one down with a fly-swatter (in an honest mistake, no doubt)? Will some legal genius with a foreign-sounding name write it up as ‘assault on an officer’?

    Ah, the Great Nation of Futility. Our four bears would be proud of us.

  4. TomB says:

    Phil Giraldi wrote:

    “One of the most discouraging aspects of the current Republican presidential candidate debates is the discussion of drone warfare…”

    And one of the most amazing (and dangerous) things amongst Americans at large is that I suspect most don’t really even *recognize* it as warfare.

  5. Presidential findings that engage us in war and specialized drone warfare at the instance of a tenuous operational chain of command raise moral questions for individuals in, or contemplating, government service that, to my knowledge at least, are not being addressed. Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media,Challenge and Collapse, references the idea of Emile Durkheim that the specialized task always escapes the action of social conscience. The usual institutions we look to for guidance on moral questions have been at best completely missing in action on these questions. Although I am a veteran, I have serious doubts whether it is possible in good conscience to place oneself in the service under such fluid circumstances.

  6. Tony M says:

    But intrusion into someone else’s airspace is nevertheless an act of war and can have unintended consequences when things go wrong.

    Intrusion into someone else’s airspace is an unfriendly act, but not all unfriendly acts are acts of war. The use of an unarmed recon drone near (but over) the border is at one and the same time, technically a violation of international rules; and in practice, a reasonable stretching of the political art when you are dealing with nearly-failed nations such as Syria.

    The problem is not that Americans did something that technically violates a rule, it is that this happened without clear oversight by those who have the only authority to address both the act and the potential consequences if something goes wrong. In reality, the potential downside if a country like Syria ascertains that we have done an unfriendly act by putting a recon drone 10 miles over the border, we can live with the consequences, so as a political decision such a choice can be legitimate.

  7. Yet the ability to fight wars with few or no losses to Americans is a good thing and cannot be rationally argued against.

  8. It’s curious that this drone didn’t seem to have some self destruct device to protect the technology.

  9. The use of the drone will only further legitimize all forms of asymmetrical warfare (including but not limited to terrorism) against powerful states (such as the United States) who use drones against any and all who oppose it’s policies in foreign lands.

    In other words if I am a goat herder in the Middle East and I return home to find out that a powerful nation state using drone technology has bombed my village, destroying my home and killing my wife and children then hell yes I would be willing to use terrorist tactics to fight such a power. I’ll go a step further and say that I believe the Provisional Irish Republican Army was justified in it’s 30 plus year war against British occupation forces and their Loyalist allies in the six occupied counties known as Northern Ireland. I don’t doubt for a second that if “The Troubles” were to flare up again that the Brits wouldn’t hesitate to employ drone technology to combat the IRA. They probably would avoid the use of missiles and bombs, but I don’t doubt that they would use the drones to track IRA members for British agents on the ground to intercept and or execute. Even American law enforcement wants to get their hands on the drones.

  10. tbraton says:

    “Ah, the Great Nation of Futility. Our four bears would be proud of us”

    Four bears? I am familiar with Pappa Bear and Momma Bear and Baby Bear, but the identity of the fourth bear escapes me.

  11. tbraton says:

    “It’s curious that this drone didn’t seem to have some self destruct device to protect the technology.”

    That brings to mind the high tech heliocopter that crashed during the Osama Bin Ladin assassination mission. Even though the Seals made efforts to blow up the damaged craft, the efforts were less than complete, and the unique tail section remained largely intact. I’m sure our good friends, the Pakistanis, got a good price from the Chinese for allowing a peek at that item.

  12. My suspicion is that the drone is a poison pill of some sort, or part of an initiative to make the US look chastened and guilty and to show it as pulling back from the field of battle. This is about as much decoupling as is possible at this late date: when Israel finally acts, the US will be seen as enablers only, if not active participants.

  13. The ability to fight wars with few or no losses to Americans is definitely not a good thing. To be able to kill with no fear of retaliation simply enables the sociopaths at the heights of government by giving them a god-like power which they are already using to wage permanent war against foreigners 24/7. Truthfully this can no longer even be called war; it’s massacre. Ordinary Americans who think this is good should be asked again in a few years when the drones are routinely used against them.

  14. “CIA briefly considered launching a rescue mission for its downed drone in Iran in an attempt to keep its high tech avionics, surveillance capabilities, and stealth technology from falling into Tehran’s hands. ”

    A retrieval mission would only have kept it out of Tehran’s hands briefly. And there is always the chance that the drone was lost intentionally.

    Of course Israel (aka “our best friend in the Middle East”) has been been peddling our drone technology to China and other states since the late 90s, so the genie is long since out of the bottle.

  15. Having a Maxim gun when you’re up against 10,000 spear-wielding tribesmen in the Sudan may seem a real advantage. But why be in Sudan in the first place? Especially if success there leads you to be in twelve other places you didn’t need to be in.

    In any case, absolute advantage would seem to undermine any serious warrior ethic. Those who care about such things might want to ponder the matter. Rationally.

  16. tbraton says:

    “Of course Israel (aka “our best friend in the Middle East”) ”

    Your downgrade of “America’s greatest ally” to “our best friend in the Middle East” clearly reveals your anti-Semitism, notwithstanding the fact that we have no treaty of alliance with Israel. The fact that they deign to accept the $3+ billion a year from U.S. taxpayers establishes beyond any dispute why so many American politicians regard Israel as “America’s greatest ally.” Can you imagine the harm to the U.S. economy and the U.S. treasury that would result if Israel suddenly refused to accept such aid from us?

  17. AndrewH says:

    It’s a shame Mr Giraldi’s thoughtful post has been proceeded by the hateful bigotry and calls for the murder of civilians as proposed by Dimitry Aleksandrovich:

    I’ll go a step further and say that I believe the Provisional Irish Republican Army was justified in it’s 30 plus year war against British occupation forces and their Loyalist allies

    No British government from 1969 treated the Ulster-Scots population as allies but as a nuisance population getting in the way of Britain’s desire to leave Northern Ireland. It’s like claiming today’s pro-American government in Belgrade sees the Serbs of Kosovo as its loyalist allies when in reality Belgrade wishes they would disappear as they are in the way of the government’s ambitious objectives.

    I don’t doubt for a second that if “The Troubles” were to flare up again that the Brits wouldn’t hesitate to employ drone technology to combat the IRA. They probably would avoid the use of missiles and bombs, but I don’t doubt that they would use the drones to track IRA members for British agents on the ground to intercept and or execute.>

    You’re talking about Britain as if it were Russia levelling Grozny. Why did successive British governments refuse to defeat the IRA when they could’ve easily been done at any time during the Troubles? Not only that but British troops under orders from London actively prevented the Ulster-Scots from defeating the IRA before the situation got out of hand. The first people killed by British troops were were not IRA men but members of the population that Dimitry charmingly calls “British agents”. I guess that made the entire Serbian population of Krajina Serbian agents and thus legitimate targets.

    Dimitry, by referring to entire ethnic groups as “agents”, has the same mindset as those neocons who don’t worry about the civilian death toll in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories. Once you dehumanise an entire population it becomes much easier to support, or at the very least, ignore violence against them.

  18. AndrewH says:

    BTW Dimitry, the Provisional IRA you love so much saw the Serbian population of Krajina as the Balkan equivalent of the Ulster Loyalists. Since it is OT I’ll just leave a link with no further comments on the subject:

    Outpost People

  19. Judging by the images purported to be of the captured drone, it seems to have landed itself. There are only a few small dents visible in the wing-section. Did they catch it in a net?

    It’s puzzling.

  20. Thomas- The drone is programmed to circle until low on fuel, and then land itself in a likely spot if communication is lost. I am wondering if there was some sort of “Flight 93” scenario where US controllers and hackers were fighting for control.

  21. tbraton says:

    I heard one of the female panelists on the second hour of the Diane Rehm Show on NPR (weekly roundup dealing wth international affairs) state that the type of drone lost over Iran was designed to self-destruct in the event of mishap. A caller to the show, who claimed to have a background as a pilot, insisted that the drone put on display by the Iranians (and pictured on the front page of today’s NY Times) was a mockup and not the real thing, fwiw.

  22. AndrewH…the PIRA never advocated the ethnic cleansing of Protestants in the north all though many Orangemen advocated the ethnic cleansing of Catholics from the six occupied territories. When I said Loyalist allies I was not referring to the entire Protestant population of the north but instead to the Loyalist paramilitaries that were indeed at war with the IRA. Andrew you call me a bigot but what about the inherent anti-Catholic bigotry of the Orange Order and the scores of innocent Catholics murdered by Loyalist Paras simply because they may have blessed themselves infront of a Catholic Church? I am not advocating the sectarian cleansing of Protestants from the north and I doubt that you will find very few Catholics in the six occupied territories who would adovcate such a thing…I cannot say the same thing for the Loyalists. As for the Brits and drones you can see clearly that I do not believe the Brits would carry out “drone strikes” in the north should the troubles spark up again, but I do believe they would be used to surveill known Irish Republicans and probably the Catholic population centers in the north as a whole.

    As for Orthodox Serbs in Krajina. The Serbs of the Balkan region have a lot more in common with Irish Catholics in the six occupied counties than do Croats, or Bosniaks (who are Serbs who converted to Roman Catholicism or Islam while under occupation of foreign empires. The same can be said in Kosovo where Ottoman Turks and later Tito’s (who was Croat) Communists encouraged the predominantly Muslim Albanians to settle in Kosovo not to mention those who came from Albania to occupy Serbian homes in the wake of the NATO bombing campaign in the late 90’s.

    As for Chechnya. Twenty years ago the Kremlin gave up the largest empire on earth leaving millions of ethnic Russians in foreign countries at the mercy of foreign governments. What Russia did do however was hold onto the territories that it deemed vital to its national security. The South Caucasus is one of those regions

    If you look at the politics of the region it is usually divided along sectarian lines. Ossetians who are Caucasian just like the Chechens are largely Orthodox Christian and pro-Moscow as are the Cossacks in the region. Whereas the Muslims of the region (Chechens, Ingush and Dagestani’s were largely allied with the Ottoman Empire during the Russian-Turkish wars).

    I am no neo-con Andrew, not by a longshot. However ones personal loyalties will always be biased. My support of the Irish Republican movement began when I was a teenager and a Catholic, but cemented with the many close friendships I have had with Irish from the north. During the Clinton/EU war against Yugoslavia in the late 90’s I began to find similarities between the Irish Catholic population of the six occupied counties and the Orthodox Christian Serbs of Kosovo. Eventually I converted to Orthodoxy and took a Belarusian patron saint and began to look to the resurgent Orthodox Russia to be the voice, the shield and sometimes even the sword for Orthodox Christians of the region. The Russian Empire was once the Defender of the Orthodox Faith and I look for Russia to take that role again because unlike most Western Christians…the Orthodox usually reside in a much rougher neighborhood.

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