Everything Amitai Etzioni Gets Wrong about Liberals, Libertarians, and Drones


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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13 Responses

  1. Avatar Barry says:

    More and more I’m of the opinion that the Atlantic should simply be shut down. There’s some good stuff, but so much bad stuff that it’s a net negative.

    BTW, ‘The piece is a #SlatePitch masquerading as intellectual analysis.’. I think that we all need to mock Slate with ‘#SlatePitch’ more and more, since they oh so much deserve it.

    I think that if Kinsley ever get forgiveness for working for Peretz, he will still go to hell for starting up one of the early ‘big time’ webzines, and making it all about the same contrarianism and lying that the New Republic made so famous.Report

  2. Avatar George Turner says:

    I hate to disagree, but drones allow us to kill roughly the same number of people at a wedding or coffee shop while emitting far less CO2 than a conventional attack aircraft would, which helps lessen our impact on the environment.

    From an economic perspective, they allow us to kill more Middle Easterners per barrel of oil we buy from Middle Easterners.

    *insert two rows of graphics with black cylinders juxtaposed against black silhouettes from mens room doors to illustrate terrorist corpses per barrel*

    Drone pilots and maintenance crews also get to work in more controlled environments so they don’t get as sweaty, which reduces the amount of precious fresh water resources the military has to consume for laundry services, along with environmentally damaging phosphate detergents.

    I’m sure there are many other reasons to favor the use of drones, but I think I’ve touched on some of the biggest.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to George Turner says:

      Argument by mockery is a cheap tactic. If you think that environmental concerns aren’t important, than make an actual claim that this is so–and prepare to get shot down in comments, because any argument you could make on this topic would be laughable. Alternatively, remain silent on the topic, or adopt a more reasonable viewpoint.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

      Mockery may be cheap, but it’s often the most effective tactic, not to mention quite entertaining in skillful hands. Mark Twain was a master of it. ^_^

      Fuel efficiency in war is only important regarding impacts on logistics, which can easily become critical (Rommel in the desert, Japan’s lack of strategic petroleum, etc). The difference in emissions between a drone and a jet, per pound of payload delivered, would probably be swamped by all the people driving cars to an anti-drone protest.

      However, drones have only a narrow range of usefulness. In a big war they require establishing absolute air superiority or they become target drones for enemy pilots and AA crews. In a small war where we have established a ground footprint, it would be just as easy to just park cameras on the ground to continuously monitor hot spots and supply routes. A camera in a treetop and an extended-range mortar with a guided munition can do the same job. They’ve proven useful in the very odd terrorist hunt we’re engaged in, but that usefulness is probably a reflection of politics and fighting in failed states with no effective government and police forces (Libya, Waziristan, Yemen). So the geo-political area where drone warfare is viable and useful is probably pretty narrow.

      The time window between when drones first became workable and when advances in cheap semi-conductor lasers will turn drone-zapping into a sport is probably not that wide. They’re small, generally slow, subject to jamming and spoofing, carry only a tiny payload (one or two small target’s worth), and are packed with fuel behind a very thin airframe, usually a plastic composite. They don’t fly self-protective formations and aren’t packed with radar jamming, chaf, and flares, nor do they hug the ground and fly nap of the earth (which would render them almost useless for observation). They’re laser or SAM bait.

      BTW, the Navy is testing new anti-drone lasers because it’s not cost effective to shoot a multi-million dollar anti-aircraft missile at a cheap drone built out of foam and fiberglass and powered by a glorified model airplane engine.Report

  3. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    Etzioni’s criticism number two is absolutely right (and by extension points one and six are stronger than you offer). Critics of the drone program frequently make their case by claiming that there is not congressional oversight. Glenn Greenwald writes of “no checks of oversight of any kind”, “zero transparency and zero accountability”, “The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark”. The League’s own Jason Kuznicki wrote, “We know that no one gets to review [the President’s] decision. Ever.” Were Greenwald and Kuznicki’s claims true then critics of the drone program would have a much stronger case on the “imperial presidency” front. But the claim of no oversight is false; the LA Times reports, “The lawmakers and aides with the intelligence oversight committees have a level of access shared only by President Obama, his top aides and a small number of CIA officials.” In writing,

    the potential for greater review is not the same thing as actually being more reviewed, or of those reviews being made available to the public, or even their elected representatives. Boots leave a footprint, drones do not, which is why the latter is infinitely more easily kept secret whereas transparency has a way of finding the former.

    You come awfully close to repeating the very error Etzioni points out.Report

    • http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/05/us-cia-killlist-idUSTRE79475C20111005

      I don’t have time to read the LA Times piece (but will once I get home)–can you confirm whether it specifically references the Obama’s “Kill List” which is what Greenwald is talking about? (Also see above link and give me your thoughts).Report

      • I don’t think it is reducible to just targeting, here’s the Times again (emphasis mine),

        In addition to watching video, the legislative aides review intelligence that was used to justify each drone strike.

        They also sometimes examine telephone intercepts and after-the-fact evidence, such as the CIA’s assessment of who was hit.

        “We receive notification with key details shortly after every strike, and we hold regular briefings and hearings on these operations,” Feinstein wrote…

        “Committee staff has held 28 monthly in-depth oversight meetings to review strike records and question every aspect of the program including legality, effectiveness, precision, foreign policy implications and the care taken to minimize noncombatant casualties.”

        It is hard to see how legislators and their aides looking at the intelligence used to justify a strike possibly matches up with the idea Greenwald offers of “zero transparency and zero accountability”. There is both transparency and accountability for targeting to the intelligence committees.

        As for the Reuters piece, it seems that more has come out since then, the Washington Post’s “Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists” comes to mind, and ProPublica’s “Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes” also an excellent jumping off point to other resources. This was my comment to Jason’s piece and I haven’t seen anything that’s spectacularly upset my position,

        The organic process of presidential claims of power, Supreme Court and congressional checks, or lack of checks, then partial checks… it is disconcerting. Personally, I’d like a blue ribbon commission with pretty open terms of reference to take stock of the AUMF, post-9/11 US behavior, and offer advice as to where to go from here. Put a great deal of the processes that’ve gone before and are ongoing under greater scrutiny and explicit legal footing that has been congressionally approved. But as things stand, it doesn’t serve to totally overlook a series of developments that have occurred thus far that gesture in the direction of the kind of oversight you’d prefer.

        For you, apparently, these steps still fall well short of the mark. Fair enough. They fall so far short as to disqualify Obama from receiving your vote. Also, fair enough. But I do want to put into the discussion the fact that the people involved, Obama, the Intel Committee, bureaucrats in the security services, they aren’t oblivious to the concerns outlined. They too are familiar with the principles of the republic, and I’d guess that subverting the republic isn’t their goal. They’re professionals dealing with difficult questions, the defense of the realm and civil liberties are hard stuff. They don’t deserve rapturous applause but they don’t deserve a shower of rotten vegetables either.


    • I also assume you disagree with these people from the LA Times article:

      “The lawmakers expressed concern that signature strikes could kill civilians. They added: “Our drone campaigns already have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight.”Report

      • Yes, it is safe to say I disagree with Dennis Kucinich on foreign policy / national security issues; he organized that letter. Signature strikes may be questionable, but I definitely disagree with the statement, “Our drone campaigns already have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight.” For what its worth, maybe not much at all, quickly looking over the other signatories of the letter, I think only Luis Gutierrez is on an intelligence committee.Report

  4. Avatar George Turner says:

    Somewhat off topic (other than airplanes and Afghanistan), but here’s a dash cam Youtube video of a cargo 747 that crashed today taking off from Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, killing seven. Witnesses suspect the cargo shifted rearward on takeoff. Seeing an out of control climb and deep stall is something that probably haunts the nightmares of people who live near airports.

    I now return you to our regular programming.Report

  5. Avatar James K says:

    This is a great piece Ethan.Report

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