The Drone Debate, Encapsulated

When I went to Georgetown University over 20 years ago, I felt the standards for hiring and retaining faculty were relatively high. If you need any evidence that they’ve slipped–badly–you need only read this piece by GU faculty member Christine Fair:

Finally, no forensic experts have been employed to verify claims about injuries to discern if they comport with ballistics and weapon effects associated with drone-delivered munitions. Given that trauma, injury and death can be attributed to terrorist attacks and Pakistani conventional military operations, this form of verification is critical. But we can conclude for several reasons that drones are the best alternative, once the United States (with the collusion of Pakistan agencies in many cases) decides that a person is to be killed.

Try as I might after a lengthy search, I just couldn’t come up with any “ballistics and weapon effects” reports from WWII, Korea, Vietnam or Desert Storm to verify that casaulties caused by “alleged” US military action were, in fact, caused by US military action…so I guess we’ll just have to list the hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries from those wars as being “Cause unknown”.

I also love how she never talks about the Obama administration’s employment of so-called “signature strikes”, which are this war’s equivalent of the Vietnam-era “free fire zone”.

The level of intellectual and academic dishonesty in this and other such drivel written by Fair should cause her to lose her job…but I’m not holding my breath.

Conor Friedersdorf over at the Atlantic has a more clear-headed view of what’s going on here:

The phrase “surgical drone strike” is handy for naming U.S. actions without calling up images of dead, limb-torn innocents with flesh scorched from the missile that destroyed the home where they slept or burned up the car in which they rode. The New America Foundation, which systematically under-counts these innocents, says there have been at least 152 and many as 192 killed since 2004. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism puts the civilian death figure at between 474 and 881 killed. Either way, would “surgical” strikes kill innocents on that scale in a region with just 2 percent of Pakistan’s population? Using data that undercounts innocents killed, The New America Foundation reports that 85 percent of Pakistanis killed in drone strikes are “militants,” while 15 percent are civilians or unknown. What do you think would happen to a surgeon that accidentally killed 15 in 100 patients? Would colleagues would call him “surgical” in his precision?

I was a CIA military analyst for many years, and I did bomb damage assessment during Desert Storm and military targeting support packages for other operations. So unlike Fair, I actually know something about this business. So here are some facts.

The journalists, human rights experts and others she and a small coterie of inside-the-Beltway “Drone War” proponents denigrate on a daily basis are in fact the only ones who’ve made a real, reasonably systematic effort to document the effects–human and political–of America’s drone strikes in the region. They use the same techniques to interview witnesses that NGO’s have used for decades–including the UN. The same techniques, by the way, that the CIA and other intelligence agencies routinely use to get information from defectors and emigres.

Fair also claims that drones are “the best alternative” in the region. Best alternative to what? The “best alternative to actually coming up with a CT strategy that actually works? Maybe one that would stop a future Nidal Hassan or Najibullah Zazi?


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