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16 May 2013

Drone warfare isn’t very nice, but that’s mainly because of the warfare not the drones

The American sociologist Amitai Etzioni was once a familiar name in British politics, thanks to his status as an academic guru to Tony Blair.

Etzioni’s key idea was ‘communitarianism’ – a non-socialist alternative to the individualism of the 1980s. As such it was seized upon by New Labour as an all-purpose intellectual gap-filler. It was – and is – an interesting idea, but upon winning power, Tony Blair pursued it with all the attention to detail and unwavering commitment shown by David Cameron in implementing the Big Society.

In an op-ed for UPI, Etzioni writes on a completely different subject (though one still connected with Tony Blair) – America’s military actions in the Middle East and Afghanistan/Pakistan. His focus is on the use of unmanned aircraft, known as drones, to target and destroy the enemy – which, in the US, is a matter of increasing controversy:

  • “Attacking drones, the most effective counter-terrorism tool the United States has found thus far, is a new cause celebre among progressive public intellectuals and major segments of the media…
  • “One argument that is repeated again and again is that killing terrorists with drones generates resentment from Pakistan to Yemen.”

Etzioni is less than impressed:

  • “Their arguments would deserve more of a hearing if, instead of declaring their contentions as fact, they instead coughed up some evidence to support their claims.”
  • “One may at first consider it obvious that, when American drones kill terrorists who are members of a tribe or family, other members will resent the United States. And hence if the United States would stop targeting people from the skies, that resentment would abet and ultimately vanish.
  • “In reality, ample evidence shows that large parts of the population of several Muslim countries resent the United States for numerous and profound reasons, unrelated to drone attacks.”

Indeed, there appears to be no clear correlation between anti-American sentiment and the use of drones:

  • “These feelings, data show, are rampant in countries in which no drones attacks have occurred, were common in those countries in which the drones have been employed well before any attacks took place, and continue unabated, even when drone attacks are greatly scaled back.”

In any case, what’s the alternative? Conventional air strikes? Boots on the ground? Are these forms of military actions more or less likely to stir-up local anger?

  • “If the United States couldn't draw on drones in Yemen and the other new theaters of the counterterrorism campaign, the nation might well have been forced to rely more on conventional troops, a choice that would greatly increase our casualties as well as the resentment by the locals, who particularly object to the presence of foreign troops.”

Perhaps, the only real alternative is complete disengagement – to leave countries like Yemen and Pakistan entirely to their own devices and to concentrate our efforts on protecting the home front against terrorism. Certainly, this would be a far more important and meaningful debate.


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