Opinion: Justification for drone warfare is clear

February 16, 2013


— The nation’s vexation over the morality and legality of President Obama’s drone war has produced a salutary but hopelessly confused debate. Three categories of questions are being asked. They must be separated to be clearly understood.

  1. By what right does the president order the killing by drone of enemies abroad? What criteria justify assassination?

Answer: (a) imminent threat, under the doctrine of self-defense, and (b) affiliation with al-Qaida, under the laws of war.

Imminent threat is obvious. If we know a freelance jihadist cell in Yemen is actively plotting an attack, we don’t have to wait until after the fact. Elementary self-defense justifies attacking first.

Al-Qaida is a different matter. We are in a mutual state of war. Osama bin Laden issued his fatwa declaring war on the United States in 1996; we reciprocated three days after 9/11 with Congress’ Authorization for Use of Military Force — against al-Qaida and those who harbor and abet it.

Regarding al-Qaida, therefore, imminence is not required. Its members are legitimate targets, day or night, awake or asleep. Nothing new here. In World War II, we bombed German and Japanese barracks without hesitation.

Unfortunately, Obama’s Justice Department memos justifying the drone attacks are hopelessly muddled. They imply that the sole justification for drone attack is imminent threat — and whereas al-Qaida is plotting all the time, an al-Qaida honcho sleeping in his bed is therefore a legitimate target.

Nonsense. Slippery nonsense. It gives the impression of an administration making up criteria to fit the president’s kill list. No need to confuse categories. A sleeping Anwar al-Awlaki could lawfully be snuffed not because of imminence but because he was self-declared al-Qaida and thus an enemy combatant as defined by congressional resolution and the laws of war.

  1. But Awlaki was no ordinary enemy. He was a U.S. citizen. By what right does the president order the killing by drone of an American? Where’s the due process?

Answer: Once you take up arms against the United States, you become an enemy combatant, thereby forfeiting the privileges of citizenship and the protections of the Constitution, including due process. You retain only the protection of the laws of war — no more and no less than those of your foreign comrades-in-arms.

Lincoln steadfastly refused to recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation. The soldiers that his Union Army confronted at Antietam were American citizens (in rebellion) — killed without due process. Nor did the Americans storming German bunkers at Normandy inquire before firing if there were any German-Americans among them — to be excused for gentler treatment while the other Germans were mowed down.

  1. Who has the authority to decide life and death targeting?

In war, the ultimate authority is always the commander in chief and those in the lawful chain of command to whom he has delegated such authority.

This looks troubling. Obama sitting alone in the Oval Office deciding what individuals to kill. But how is that different from Lyndon Johnson sitting in his office choosing bombing targets in North Vietnam?

Moreover, we firebombed entire cities in World War II. Who chose? Commanders under the ultimate authority of the president. No judicial review, no outside legislative committee, no secret court, no authority above the president.

OK, you say. But today’s war is entirely different: no front line, no end in sight.

So what? It’s the jihadists who decided to make the world a battlefield and to wage war in perpetuity. Until they abandon the field, what choice do we have but to carry the fight to them?

We have our principles and precedents for lawful warmaking, and a growing body of case law for the more vexing complexities of the present war — for example, the treatment of suspected terrorists apprehended on U.S. soil. The courts having granted them varying degrees of habeas corpus protection, it is obvious that termination by drone is forbidden — unless Congress and the courts decide otherwise, which, short of a Taliban invasion from New Brunswick, is inconceivable.

Now, for those who believe that the war on terror is not war but law enforcement, (a) I concede that they will find the foregoing analysis to be useless and (b) I assert that they are living on a different and distant planet.

For us earthlings, on the other hand, the case for Obama’s drone war is clear. Pity that his Justice Department couldn’t make it.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


50YearResident 5 years, 1 month ago

I agree with this statement 100%.

Answer: Once you take up arms against the United States, you become an enemy combatant, thereby forfeiting the privileges of citizenship and the protections of the Constitution, including due process. You retain only the protection of the laws of war — no more and no less than those of your foreign comrades-in-arms

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

Krauthammer is a neocon warmonger. He believes any violence conducted by "his" team is justified by definition.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

'Let Us Not Be Deceived': Cornel West Names Obama as 'War Criminal' Like Nixon, Bush, and others the law is suspended for the president, but "applies for the rest of us"


Paul R Getto 5 years, 1 month ago

We fight people who send teenagers into stores to blow up babies and people are debating "war ethics?" Kill 'em. They made their choice to join America's enemies.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

Along with any women, children or other innocent bystanders who might be in the area, or mistakenly targeted?

Should other countries be allowed to use drones to kill people here that they don't like?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

"Should other countries ... " You are skirting around the main issue here. Should other countries send drones, then we would be in a state of war with those countries. Then all the rules of war would apply, along with the wide scale destruction that typically follows.

But no country is sending drones here because we are sending no drones against any other country. We are not sending drones after other countries, but after terrorist organizations that move from country to country. We are not sending drones after Pakistan, though we have sent drones into Pakistan. We have not sent drones after Yemen, though we send drones into Yemen. The main problem is that the terrorist organizations have blurred the lines of what is war and what is not. They have blurred the lines between who is a civilian and who is not. They blur all the lines of what has traditionally been known to be war, and then complain that we don't follow the rules of war when drones kill enemy combatants but also kill innocent bystanders.

Let those who want to wage war against the U.S. put on a uniform and take up arms against us. If it's war they want, fine, give it to them. But when they shoot at us and then retreat behind the skirts of women and children, it is they who put the innocents at risk.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

First, the "rules of war" is an oxymoronic concept, and the US Govt has been quite active in unilaterally ignoring and/or reinterpreting them whenever they find it convenient.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

You're the one who complained that women, children and innocent bystanders are getting killed. The very reason you complain is because those "rules of war" you suggest are an oxymoron were designed specifically to protect those people from being put in harms way. Combatants dressed like civilians are putting true civilians in harms way. Combatants living amongst civilians are putting true civilians in harms way. Combatants mingling with civilians puts true civilians in harms way. Storing arms amongst civilians, conducting operations, meetings designed for the purposes of strategy, all these things put civilians in harms way if they are conducted in apartment buildings, schools, places of worship, or any place where civilians might gather.

If you want to throw out the rules of war, you're throwing out your own argument that innocents are being killed.

And again, you miss the whole point. You asked if other countries could send in the drones. We aren't sending in the drones against other countries, so your question is without merit. Once we eliminate that, you're left with the question of who we are sending in the drones against and that, Bozo, is a question you really don't want to discuss.

msezdsit 5 years, 1 month ago

Great job of justifying our killing of the innocent. Its ok with jksf because in his/her comfort zone, killing innocent people is justifiable. If there were drone attacks landing around jnsf, you wouldn't have the time to sit around and pass judgement. You would be occupied with trying to dodge bombs and not becoming an innocent casualty.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

I would either be dodging missiles or I would be strongly encouraging those that are inviting the missiles to change their behavior, whether that's the government or the local al Qaeda fighters.

I've often said we have the government we deserve, either as the result of our actions or inactions. The same is true for all the peoples around the world.

msezdsit 5 years, 1 month ago

"We aren't sending in the drones against other countries," jksf

If I adequately defined this comment the ljw would come running to your rescue. Tell this to Pakistan while your over there attending funerals of innocent pakistani women and children. When another country starts attacking the US with drones and kills innocent american citizens I absolutely guarantee you the US will consider that an attack on the US.

Your scenario is absurd.

notaubermime 5 years, 1 month ago

I would be more than happy to inform Pakistan that the moment they wish to apprehend terrorists and turn them over to us, the drone strikes will no longer be necessary. How long was Pakistan giving safe haven to Osama bin Laden? The actions of the Pakistani government is what drew their citizens into the conflict.

msezdsit 5 years, 1 month ago

Well, they might be inclined to cooperate more if the drone attacks on their country stopped murdering innocent defenseless civilians. Most people around the world view the drone attacks as terrorism. It is only more sophisticated so we pretend that it is not terrorism. Terrorism begets terrorism. Blowback begets blowback. Chest beating and violence will continue to produce exactly that until someone says enough is enough and uses their brain instead of their violence.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

The Pakistanis are apparently not so aghast by our actions to refuse our offers of foreign aid. They are turning a blind eye because they don't want to see. They know there are terrorists within their country but they are unable or unwilling to deal with it. With a wink and a nod, with the occasional condemnation of the loss of innocent lives, they continue to allow us to do their dirty work. That said, it's still the combatants who mingle with those innocents that put them at risk. Put on a uniform, pick up a gun and fight or hide behind women and children.

notaubermime 5 years, 1 month ago

Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan well before the United States started drone attacks. Pakistan has other reasons why they harbor Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Ceasing the drone attacks will not change those reasons. The world may not like the drone strikes and I don't blame them. I don't like them either, but I acknowledge that it is the only way to prevent the much greater tragedies that Al Qaeda inflicts upon the world.

notaubermime 5 years, 1 month ago

Sometimes that is just life. Not every decision is going to be easy.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

The scenario that is absurd is the one Bozo mentioned, I disputed and now you're taking Bozo's argument. What you are choosing to do is ignore a very important element. Every country is expected to control the people within it's country. If they cannot, then they are a failed state, such as Somalia. Within Pakistan and within Yemen, there are regions and there are groups that those countries either cannot or will not control. To varying degrees, we're talking about failed states. Our attacks are not directed at Pakistan or Yemen, they are directed at those elements within those countries that are outside the control of their hosts.

If it's similar scenarios you want, imagine if dissident French speaking Canadians began attacks against English speaking Canadians with those attacks coming from within the U.S. It would be our obligation to control that behavior. If we couldn't or wouldn't, Canada would be well within their right to protect themselves from those attacks. Imagine two groups of Mexicans fighting each other with one group attacking from within the U.S. It would be either our obligation to end that or the Mexicans would be well within their rights to come here and end it.

msezdsit 5 years, 1 month ago

Regardless on how you want to spin and massage it, drone attacks create massive american dissent and therefore blowback and therefore continuation of the cycle of innocent deaths. Both american and foreign. That is the reality of the drone strikes. Other countries will have drones and they will use them on us and then we will beat our chest and use even more. What your arguing for is more innocent civilian deaths.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Msezdsit - I recall when Bush had decided to invade Iraq, he initially named the operation "Enduring Crusade". There was great outrage in the region at his use of the term "Crusade", it bringing up memories of the great Christian Crusade of centuries ago and we being the successors of the west and of Christianity. So Bush changed the name of the operation. The point is that there are people in that region who don't need an excuse to hate the U.S. Whether it's our support of Israel, our troops staying in their Holy Land of Saudi Arabia, our success, whatever. And if you want to add drones to that list, fine. But the U.S. still needs to define it's best interests in spite of what they think of us because quite frankly, some of their reasons are pretty far out there. That specifically includes their reasoning that harboring al Qaeda on their part is a situation that is not worthy of a U.S. response.

msezdsit 5 years, 1 month ago

The US needs to decide whether they have a moral compass or whether they are no better than the people and the regions they think they are better than. Your comfort zone with civilian deaths insulates you because your not the target and you don't know the people who are dying. It is really no more than rhetoric to you. You really don't have a sense of reality about innocent people dying. I maintain if you were on the ground in Pakistan in the streets with these innocent people you would be forced to have to reconsider while you had a 50/50 chance of being a casualty. As long as the shoe is on the other persons foot, your quite comfortable with it.

I agree, the Hollywood names we give these senseless slaughters of innocent people serve to incite these people for all the obvious reasons.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

You're correct about me not knowing the people killed in the drone attacks. Then again, I didn't know anyone killed on 9/11. I feel bad for those killed in those buildings and on the planes, but I do not feel bad about the hijackers who died. I feel bad for innocent bystanders killed in drone attacks, but not for the intended targets.

You keep talking about my comfort zone. Are you comfortable with not taking out the terrorists given their stated desire to wreak as much destruction upon the U.S. as they can? Given their history of doing just that? Because by not killing them, you're increasing the odds that that's exactly what they will do.

Liberty275 5 years, 1 month ago

Like the war or not, you know that America has gone far out it's way to protect civilians in the countries we are at war with. Think about this. If America played hardball, how many Iraqis or Afghans would be left in 30 years? They'd have all died suddenly or of radiation poisoning or cancer.

We can take the balance of the world in a good fight. Iraq and Afghanistan should appreciate our restraint.

As for rules of war, There is the Geneva convention and we are signatories.

50YearResident 5 years, 1 month ago

jhawkinsf, Great post, well written and factual. You explained it very well, Thanks.

Armstrong 5 years, 1 month ago

This is probably the only subject inwhich I whole heartedly support Barry. Anyone who actively takes up arms against the US/ joins our enemies should be targeted for elimination.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

And all the dead babies that result are irrelevant, because they have brown skin and aren't Christians.

Armstrong 5 years, 1 month ago

Obtuse does not begin to describe the content of that post Boz

Armstrong 5 years, 1 month ago

Yes, per the TOS I can't really express a more pin point verbage

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

All of those who carried out the attack died, almost all of them were from Saudi Arabia, who aren't being attacked by US drones, and none of them were women or babies. Apparently, you needed a reminder.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

That they were Saudi is irrelevant. They were not acting on behalf of the Saudi government. They were not acting on behalf of any government. They were acting on behalf of an organization that moves from country to country. Our reprisals are directed at that organization, which accordingly, goes from country to country as well.

That the organization chooses to hide behind the skirts of women and children while conducting acts of terror and war is most unfortunate. I'd feel much better if I heard a strong condemnation from you Bozo of that cowardly behavior.

50YearResident 5 years, 1 month ago

If women with children are harboring the enemy, then they are the ones putting their "babies" at risk.

msezdsit 5 years, 1 month ago

"Blowback" Blowback is unintended consequences of a covert operation that are suffered by the civil population of the aggressor government. To the civilians suffering the blowback of covert operations, the effect typically manifests itself as “random” acts of political violence without a discernible, direct cause; because the public—in whose name the intelligence agency acted—are ignorant of the effected secret attacks that provoked revenge (counter-attack) against them.[1] wikipedia

All the rhetoric and chest beating going on by posters on this subject does nothing to protect them from the blowback that these drone attacks will cause. When we suffer the blowback, then the chest beaters will call for more attacks in retaliation and the cycle will continue and continue to escalate. One thing you can count on is that more people will die.

Armstrong 5 years, 1 month ago

Ignoring the elephant in the room is a tried and tired liberal tactic

msezdsit 5 years, 1 month ago

Not knowing there is an elephant in the room is yours.

Alyosha 5 years, 1 month ago

Overly generalizing to the point of nonsense is a tried and tired human habit. It's a sign of sloppy and or non- thinking.

Using terms that have no functional meaning is a tried and tired human tactic. It's a sign of non-rigorous thought.

Making sure not to fall into habits of sloppy thinking and bad writing is, sadly, not a tired and tried tactic.

verity 5 years, 1 month ago

msezdsit, you are one of the few adults in the room. Thank you.

Armstrong 5 years, 1 month ago

Unfortunately age does not equal wisdom

verity 5 years, 1 month ago

Argue against what s/he said rather than taking potshots. Otherwise, you have no credibility.

Armstrong 5 years, 1 month ago

I have been taking a stance all through this thread, can't you read ?

verity 5 years, 1 month ago

Taking a stance doesn't equate a credible argument. I was replying to the post that I was replying to, but looking back at your other posts, you have done the same thing throughout.

Armstrong 5 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, credebility is only achieved when it fits your definition, got it.

notaubermime 5 years, 1 month ago

The blowback from leaving nAl Qaeda's leaders alive to continue to organize terrorist acts against the US, Europe, and really the rest of the world is greater than that which comes from a drone strike.

Alyosha 5 years, 1 month ago

Wow — who would've known that Krauthammer is also an international / war powers expert, along with being a political predictor (Romney by a landslide, recall)!

Surely he has all the same classified intelligence and information at hand that the Justice Department has access to. Of course Krauthammer would never make claims absent any real evidence or absent any good faith assumption that Justice department has sound reasons for its pronouncements.

Surely Krauthammer would never enter into a discussion absent all the facts.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

Seems to me that people are arguing two different questions without being clear about that.

One question is whether or not these attacks are "justified", meaning that the actions of those targeted merit them.

The other is whether or not they're a good idea for any number of other reasons.

I'd say one can believe both that they're justified by the nature of the conflict we're in, and at the same time, that they may not be the best idea for those other reasons. Personally, I have a lot of trouble with civilian casualties, and would love it if we could find a way not to cause those.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Civilian casualties have always been a consequence of war and always will be. That's a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. The question is how to minimize that loss. There are things both sides in any conflict can do that will minimize civilian loss of life. The question is what should one side do when the other side takes specific actions that puts civilians in harms way? Is the other side obligated to not conduct what would otherwise be legitimate military operations just because it's adversary refuses to obey long held standards of war?

I'll say again, if groups out there believe they have a legitimate beef with the U.S., or any other country, let them put on uniforms, pick up a gun and fight their war. But the manner in which they fight that war "MUST" include moving their military operations away from civilians to minimize the chances of civilians being hurt during the fray. Should "they" not do that, it is "they' who will bear responsibility.

jonas_opines 5 years, 1 month ago

While I understand the sentiment in that final paragraph, it's also somewhat the equivalent of a fully armored knight on horseback coming into a peasant's village and saying that the peasant should grab a sword and attack him directly. It's pretty easy for us to say that, with the greatest military force By Far on the planet. But, of course, it's a recipe for the other side to simply lose.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Except that we've seen many examples of the far superior side losing wars. Our experience in Vietnam is an example. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is another. What has been shown again and again is that a highly motivated force can overcome a far superior, yet less motivated force.

Of course, there are also times when the superior force simply overwhelms the lesser force. That still does not excuse the inferior force from putting women and children in harms way.

msezdsit 5 years, 1 month ago

Again hawk, your awful comfortable with deciding these people have a lot of options to get out of the way. Your awful comfortable that these people even know they are in harms way. You think they can just jump into their cadilac and drive to another country? Part of the problem is that a lot of these people are quite poor and have very few options beyond just trying to eat and survive. Those drones don't send out a lot of warning before the explosion they cause.

I don't think we can play the David and Goliath card on this one. Thats being way to comfortable.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

I'm not at all comfortable with innocent civilians being killed. Then again, I'm not comfortable with planes flying into our buildings. And I'm not comfortable leaving justice in the hands of groups such as the Taliban or countries who don't seem to have the ability or desire to bring those individuals to justice. Frankly, there are no good options to be found. If you're suggesting there is a good solution, I'm all ears. But when the options are 1. very bad or 2. even worse, then I choose option 1.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

We could and should rather easily have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

That's the far better solution than anything we do after the fact, I think.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

No, Jafs, you are absolutely wrong. We could not have prevented the attacks of 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the killings in the school in Connecticut, the theater in Colorado, and on and on. I can't see into the future, you can't, no one can.

We are an ingenious species, and no matter what precautions we take today, someone can and will circumvent those precautions. As spectacular as watching the Twin Towers fall was, and that's exactly what al Qaeda was going for, those 19 hijackers could have purchased ordinary weapons, waited a couple of months until Christmas shopping was in full swing, and shot up 19 malls scattered abound the country. A coordinated attack at precisely the same moment, perhaps joined by an additional 19 participants would have been just as spectacular.

But easily prevented? No. How would you accomplish that? Take away every gun from every person. While suspending the Second Amendment, we may as well suspend the others as well. How about we build a giant wall around our country and kick out all foreigners while we're at it?

No, Jafs, it could not have been easily prevented any more than drone attacks can be limited to killing their intended targets only, with zero collateral loss of life. We're talking real world, no just wishful thinking.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

The way in which the folks who conducted the 9/11 attacks came into the country, stayed here, learned how to fly planes without learning how to land them, etc. could easily have been prevented with common sense precautions.

Most of the "school shootings" were also accompanied by obvious warning signs before the fact.

Can we prevent all tragedies and acts of violence? Of course not, but we can and should prevent more than we do.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

I think you're very wrong about that, Jafs. Think about Columbine. Sure, those teens behaved strangely, given 20/20 hindsight. But not strange enough that their parents were concerned. Not strange enough that the teachers they interacted with on a daily basis saw this coming. Those are trained professionals who deal with teens every day. Their behavior didn't set off any alarm bells. No one in Newtown saw it coming. To a person, everyone seemed genuinely surprised. The warning signs you speak of came only after the fact, not before. Doesn't common sense tell you that because of that, maybe those warning signs weren't so obvious after all.

So some flight instructor comes across people wanting to fly planes like it's a video game of some sort. Well, I was shocked when I saw those planes enter the Twin Towers. I was shocked people could just get on the plane knowing that that was going to happen. I'm still shocked. But they did. Shocking things happen and there is little we can do to prevent people from behaving in some very strange ways. What we can't do is lock up every person who behaves strange. There'd be no one left on the outside, you and I included. What we can't do is force treatment upon people who don't want it, except in some very extreme situations. But it's precisely those extreme situations that are the hardest to predict, even for trained professionals. And of course, the 9/11 hijackers weren't seen by trained professionals. So predicting and preventing their behavior was and is a near impossibility.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

Most of the school shootings, and the one in Newtown, involved kids who were obviously unstable, some of whom had been seen by mental health professionals, etc. Even to the point that one such professional had referred information to the school's "threat assessment" group or some such.

The mom in the Newtown tragedy knew her son was unstable and was going to try to have him committed.

When kids are obviously unstable, and use a lot of violent imagery and prose, etc. it's something to be concerned about. The fact that many parents are out of touch with what's going on with their kids isn't a good excuse for me.

Reasonable precautions involving immigration would probably have prevented those folks, as would flight instructors not teaching them to fly planes if they weren't interested in learning how to land them.

This is an interesting discussion, and reflective of our general disagreement - I think we can and should do a much better job of preventing these tragedies, and you think we have a choice between bad and worse options, and prefer to pick the bad one.

In military terms, that's called AOS, and once you get there, you're screwed no matter what you do. Do you really live in a world composed mostly of AOS situations? If so, that's a pretty dark and depressing place, I'd say.

By the way, the bipartisan 9/11 commission made a number of excellent recommendations for improving our security - I think it's outrageous that we haven't implemented them yet.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Sure the school shooters were unstable. That's my point. There are thousands of unstable out there. What we can't do, at least not with any level of reliability, is predict which of the .001% of those unstable individuals will become mass murderers. Would you force all of those unstable people into treatment on the off chance that they will become mass murderers? That's an awful lot of civil liberties you'll be taking away from people.

"The bipartisan 9/11 commission ... " I applaud their help. The problem is, the military is always fighting the last war. We're an adaptable species. Al Qaeda's next attack won't be to fly planes into skyscrapers. it will be ... well, we don't know, do we? But if we assume it will be something, and that's a safe assumption in my opinion, then the proactive steps we're taking seem reasonable to me.

You know, Anne Frank's concluded her writings by insisting her faith in mankind was still strong. How did that work for her? Idealism of our youth is fine, but it should be tempered with the wisdom of our age. I'm not saying we always have to be in a state of war, or that mankind can't overcome some of our killing tendencies. But I'm not willing to stick my head in the sand and ignore reality either. Like with many issues, I walk a middle ground. No, I don't want to nuke every country that might harbor enemies who would do us harm. Nor do I want to ignore those enemies either. No, I don't want to kill innocent civilians for no good reason. Nor am I naive enough to think that military actions can be conducted without the risk to civilians. I see it more as a common sense approach, rather than the extremes of unrealistic dreams or giving in to pure hatred.

notaubermime 5 years, 1 month ago

Perhaps the problem is in waging war in the first place?

Nonviolence was used very successfully by Gandhi and MLK.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

I'd say that our moral responsibilities don't change based on what others do, if we have moral and ethical guidelines that aren't "situational ethics".

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Few people have moral guidelines so fixed that they hold to them, no matter what. I've been known to behave quite differently when staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

Moral principles don't change based on circumstances - if they do, then they're not moral principles.

And, anything can be justified based on "ends justify the means" thinking. Is that really where we want to go as a nation?

I'd be interested in more details about your loaded gun incident, if it's a real one.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Well, to be fair, I don't "know" the gun was loaded. That's just an assumption on my part. It fact, I don't "know" it was a real gun. Perhaps it was a very real looking facsimile. Another assumption. But yes, it was pointed at me during the commission of a robbery at my place of business. Do you think I am wrong with my assumptions?

Here's the point, Jafs. Despite all these assumptions on my part, the real world makes a habit of intruding on whatever moral guidelines we have. That's true for individuals and for countries. We may not like wars that we've fought in the past, especially the loss of civilian lives, but there have been times when we've had guns pointed at us, forcing us to compromise those moral guidelines. After 9/11, we've made assumptions, just like the assumptions I made. We've felt that guns have been pointed at us by an organization dedicated to causing as much damage to us as they can. We've responded in the way we've responded. Once again we are appalled by our own actions that have resulted in the loss of civilian lives, but we are not appalled at the loss of lives of those who would do harm to us. Unfortunately, war always produces these results. War always produces those moral dilemmas.

Above I asked if my assumptions pertaining to the gun were wrong in your opinion. That was really a rhetorical question, because while I'm 99% certain it was a real gun, whether it was real or not doesn't change reality. It was real to me and that's all that is needed. As for the assumptions our country makes when we conduct these types of operations is that if left unchecked, these bad guys would continue to wreak havoc upon this country. It doesn't matter whether or not we can prove that is true, that's something for a soothsayer to decide. That it's true for us is sufficient for us to act in the way we are acting.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

And, how did that affect your moral guidelines? What are they, and how did you fail to live up to them in that situation?

Also, your blithe dismissal of whether or not there's a real threat is disturbing to me - I think it's rather important for us to determine that before killing lots of people indiscriminately.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

I'm generally opposed to simply giving away my money to complete and total strangers. Yet I did on that occasion. Not the greatest compromise, but a compromise nonetheless. My infant child was beside me when this happened, strapped into a car seat, those kind that can be removed and carried. If I felt my child might be endangered, might I have made additional compromises, such as hurting or killing that person? You're darn right I would have.

I certainly would not characterize my dismissal as "blithe". Given past events and given their actions, I think future attacks are extremely likely. Exactly when the attacks will come might be unknown, but they are coming. Exactly where is unknown, but they are coming. Exactly what methods they will use is unknown, but they are coming. But that's exactly why I disagree with you about preventing future attacks. All we know is that they are coming. All the rest is unknown and sometimes unknowable. Given their statements that they will attack us, and given that I believe those statements, I believe sending in the drones to kill them beforehand is a reasonable response to the reality we live in.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

That's not the kind of thing I mean when I discuss moral guidelines - I mean things like integrity, commitment, kindness, generosity, refraining from harming others, etc.

If you had pulled out a semi automatic weapon and mowed the guy down along with 15 other bystanders, I'd consider that a violation of moral guidelines, if it wasn't absolutely necessary to defend yourself or another. And, given that you could just shoot him, I can't really imagine it would be necessary.

At least that's an analysis of the threat and the reality of it, rather than "if it's true for us, that's all that matters". I still think there are probably better ways to defend ourselves that don't involve killing lots of noncombatants, and we should look for them.

Given the massive amount of intelligence gathering and information we have, the situation isn't likely to be as unknown and unknowable as you suggest.

If a guy down the street says he's going to beat you up someday, and you go to his house and kill him, is that justifiable self defense or not?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

"Given the massive amount of intelligence ... " Yet we didn't see 9/11 happening.

You keep overlooking the obvious, Jafs. Those hijackers behaved oddly, yet not so odd that well meaning American citizens who interacted with them for months didn't report them to the authorities. The Columbine shooters interacted with literally hundreds of people in the months leading up to the shootings, yet no one saw what was coming. Newtown, the same. The Colorado theater shooting, much the same.

What you are suggesting should be very easy is in fact exceedingly difficult. Sure, with the benefit of hindsight, we see. But without that, we don't. Hundreds don't see what you think is obvious. Thousands don't see what you think should be obvious. Those in intelligence don't see it and trained professionals don't see it. Until it happens. Then we're all Monday morning quarterbacks. And it happens again and again. Why?

Maybe because odd behavior isn't so odd. Maybe it's so common that we overlook it. Take a walk down Mass. St. today and you will see some pretty odd people. I might be one of them. Go to the shelter and see some homeless mentally ill person. Go to any large city and see the odd behavior. Then pick out the one person who in five years will go on a massive killing spree. Sure, when he does, you'll say we should have seen the signs. The problem is, we're all wearing a sign.

"If the guy down the street ... " Not the greatest analogy, because in this country, we assume there are other remedies available. But suppose he does say he intends to inflict upon me great bodily harm and there are zero other remedies, such as calling the police or even fleeing. Would I then be justified?

With members of known terrorist organizations that have committed acts of terror against us and have stated they will continue to do so, and without the benefit of a remedy such as their host country arresting them and bringing them to justice, either here or there, then is our attack justified to prevent the future carnage they promise?

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

We can and should do better.

One problem pre 9/11 is that intelligence agencies were notoriously bad and sharing information, instead preferring to operate in a competitive and secretive manner - is that something we should just accept, or can we do better?

The Colombine shooters exhibited a rather shocking amount of violent imagery and prose in their projects, which were seen by others, I believe, if I remember that correctly.

The Newtown shooters mother was planning to have her son committed.

There are clear warning signs, and despite any little quirks on your part (or mine, for that matter), I'm comfortable that we're not exhibiting them. If/when you isolate yourself from your family, appear depressed and angry, write stories involving graphic violence, play violent video games for hours on end, etc. then I'll conclude you are a very possible danger to others.

In our country, the threat must be imminent and there must be no other way of protecting oneself to justify violence in self defense. Women have been convicted when they killed their abusive husbands while asleep - even though they had a reasonable fear for their safety in the future, the threat wasn't imminent.

I say there are better ways to defend ourselves, and we should find them. First of all, we should immediately implement all of the 9/11 commission's recommendations. Then, you should decide whether you're interested in self defense or vengeance.

msezdsit 5 years, 1 month ago

"One question is whether or not these attacks are "justified", meaning that the actions of those targeted merit them."

Whether the actions of those targeted merit drone attacks does not automatically justify the merits of the drone attacks. What exactly merits considerable innocent civilian deaths? It seems that most of those in favor of drone attacks think they merit civilian casualties so long as they aren't the ones dying. Its ok, it was someone else that died.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

Re-read my post, and you'll see that I was saying pretty much the same thing you did.

Liberty275 5 years, 1 month ago

Drone attacks are designed to reduce civilian deaths. While horrible accidents still occur, we are using the best technology available and are able to circle for hours identifying targets and doing our utmost to only hit the heads of the snake,

It is never OK to kill civilians. I expect every such death is scrutinized so the next tragedy can be avoided.

You have two choices, Drone strikes or carpet bombing with waves of B52s. Take your pick. Lacking perfection is a horrible excuse to not improve.

Liberty275 5 years, 1 month ago

"Answer: Once you take up arms against the United States, you become an enemy combatant, thereby forfeiting the privileges of citizenship and the protections of the Constitution, including due process. "

That isn't true. The American kid taken in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban was afforded his constitutional rights, as was McVeigh.

Nowhere have I seen in the constitution that The Nation can punish any citizen without due process. As for what Lincoln thought, that doesn't matter. During the war he had no control of the south and could not make the decision if they were American or not. That would be like me calling Bozo a republican. I can say it but it isn't my decision to make.

Drone program - good. Killing Americans without due process - unconstitutional. Get it right Krauthammer.

ThePilgrim 5 years, 1 month ago

Everyone should be demanding that Obama give back his Nobel Peace Prize. Period.

notajayhawk 5 years ago

"The soldiers that his Union Army confronted at Antietam were American citizens (in rebellion) — killed without due process. "

Was Awlaki shooting at the drone?

It's not quite so clear cut, Mr. Krauthammer. When an armed force of uniformed men are shooting at you, they pretty much by definition ARE "enemy combatants". Determination by an intelligence agency (who, after all, never get things wrong - just like weather forecasters) that a person is "affiliated" with a terrorist organization is a far cry from such black-and-white evidence.

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