Tag: Bush

Drone Groaning

Young Master Poosh asked me yesterday to check out a new study on the wisdom and effectiveness of the US’s use of drone strikes in Pakistan and other places.  I had my doubts because it sounded like something a Soros-affiliated group would come up with, but I’m always up for a good read.  Or even a bad one (send me shit!  I need ideas!).

Anyhow, I was right.  It’s a left-wing academia thing assisted by Reprieve, known to me as a progressive grievance group.   But that got me more interested in reading it, not less.  After all, the Left has been pretty quiet about US tactics in the Global War on Terror (whatever that is) since, uh, well, I’m not entirely sure when they lost their curiosity about the appropriateness of our methods.   Weird.  At any rate, these fine liberals decided to start asking some questions that Congressional Democrats and their news media aren’t.

You can read all about it in this PDF called Living Under Drones.  It’s lengthy, but the major points are:

1. Drone strikes are killing civilians

2. They are terrorizing the civilians who don’t get killed

3. They don’t really work that well

4. They’re probably illegal

I think their research is actually quite good, assuming that their anonymous sources aren’t lying or fabricated.  I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt though.  At any rate, I am pleased to see that Obama and the press aren’t getting a pass from the same people who used to scream about Bush doing things like this.  On that basis alone, I take it on good faith.

If I have one problem with the report, it’s that it offers no alternatives to using drones to hunt militants in Pakistan.  The entire report criticizes their use, but spends no time saying what (if anything) might work better.   What they ironically failed to note is that the same reasons why drones are the only option for knocking off militants in Pakistan are the exact same problems that hindered their own research for the report.

Primary research in FATA is difficult for many reasons.

First, it is very difficult for foreigners physically to access FATA, partly due to the Pakistani government’s efforts to block access through heavily guarded checkpoints, and partly due to serious security risks.

Second, it is very difficult for residents of Waziristan to travel out of the region. Those we interviewed had to travel hundreds of kilometers by road to reach Islamabad or Peshawar, in journeys that could take anywhere from eight hours to several days, and which required passing through dozens of military and police checkpoint stops, as well as, in some cases, traveling through active fighting between armed non-state groups and Pakistani forces.

Third, mistrust, often justifiable, from many in FATA toward outsiders (particularly Westerners) inhibits ready access to individuals and communities.

Hmm.  It’s almost as if an area where the host government is uncooperative, road travel is insanely difficult, and the populace loathes outsiders might be ideal for covert, unmanned air operations.

What the authors really want is more transparency on this program, so they say.   How are targets being selected?  Who are we really killing?  How did the Administration come to the conclusion that this was allowed by international law?  Good questions, but there’s no way that either the Obama Administration or Pakistan’s government can answer those questions and still have the program work effectively since we’re officially not really doing it to begin with.

The drone program is one of those few things that the Obama Administration has done that I like.  When you blow the bad guys up, you get no messy problems that go with capturing them like indefinite detention, interrogation, and trials.  The same people who complained about those activities were either unaware of or willing to accept the fact that killing suspected terrorists on sight was the only thing that could be done if we were to keep the GWoT going.

Unfortunately, this method may be too perfect for the US government, you know?   Total secrecy, no risk of losing any pilots and having to explain why one is on Pakistan television with a gun to his head, no explanations of who was killed or why; just an assurance that “he was a militant and we totally didn’t kill any innocent people.”   Note that this has even been done to an American citizen (and total dirtbag, but still).  I don’t think we should give the Administration a complete license to kill on the soil of countries we’re not at war with (yet) with so little accountability or oversight.

Above all, I’ll say that the report has me convinced that the drone strikes probably have killed plenty of innocent people and are both legally and ethically questionable.  However, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to being able to stop doing them.  Americans approve of drone strikes–and the rest of Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy–in principle, like it when al Qaeda and Taliban guys get zilched out, and see no risk in doing any of it.   But at least somebody’s asking questions.  Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what we’re hoping to accomplish over there and how we’re doing it.  When you ask me to believe that this Administration should be trusted on terrorism matters, remember that Benghazi has shown us that it simply cannot.

The Rightness of Being Wrong

Last week, Politifact tackled the assertion of Mitt Romney (among others) that Barack Obama went on an “apology tour” criticizing America. I’ve already addressed the bullshit that Obama said he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism. But the apology tour is nonsense as well.

Here, we’re checking Romney’s statement that Obama “has apologized for what he deems to be American arrogance, dismissiveness, and derision” and a host of other reasons. If you think American presidents should never admit to any sort of error at any time, you might find yourself in philosophical agreement with Romney’s criticisms. We set out to discover whether Obama really had apologized in his speeches, and what he was apologizing for. But in our review of his words, we came up short. Yes, there is criticism in some of his speeches, but it’s typically leavened by praise for the United States and its ideals, and often he mentions other countries and how they have erred as well. There’s not a full-throated, sincere apology in the bunch. And so we rate Romney’s statement False.

The thing about the apology tour is that, if you read Obama’s speeches, he hasn’t been apologizing for America. He’s been acknowledging what he sees as mis-steps in language far less apologetic than that used by Bush or Clinton or Reagan. What pisses off his critics is that he’s been publicly refuting the policies of last Administration. But rather than address this head on or acknowledge that the last Administration screwed the pooch, they simply say he’s “apologizing for America”. It’s this season’s “not supporting the troops”. And it’s nonsense. Every single speech has been built around a vigorous defense and laudation of America’s virtues. To be frank, the Republicans’ recent tendency to side with Israel against the Administration is more of an “apology tour” than anything Obama has done.

So why do I bring this up? Who give a shit? Well, something about the whole “apology tour” nonsense has bothered me since it slithered into talk radio and then GOP talking points. And I think the trivial events of the last week — Weiner’s wiener and Sarah Palin’s muffing of the Paul Revere story — have helped me finally put my finger on what bothers me so much about it. Easterbrook:

These are merely the last week’s examples of a troubling tendency among public figures — refusal to admit being wrong. Just as lying about what you did may be worse than what you did, refusing to admit an error may be worse than the error itself.

All human beings occasionally are wrong — trust me, I’ve had plenty of experience! Honest admission of error makes a person upright and sympathetic. Refusing to admit error, by contrast, suggests deviousness or even megalomania. The sort of person who huffs and puffs and refuses to admit a mistake does not belong in a leadership position.

In the era of YouTube and Twitter, it’s often easy to obtain the evidence of public error. That makes it all the more creepy when politicians stare into the camera and deny that they’ve made a mistake.

Yet we’re surrounded by politicians who deny their mistakes. In recent history, presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton denied significant personal errors: one lost the White House as a result, the other nearly did. (I will skip the many instances in which public leaders would not admit to mistakes because they believed, rightly or wrongly, that refusal was in the national interest.)

Anthony Weiner could have made most of his problems go away by simply admitting that he’d done something dumb. Sarah Palin could have just said she was tired and flustered by the media pestering her in a line instead of doubling down with more historical inaccuracy. And the same applies to every other politician — from Tony Blair to Chris Christie — who tries to pretend that he hasn’t fucked up.

And that’s what bothers me about the apology tour meme. It’s an encapsulation of our national refusal to acknowledge mistakes — personal, party or national. It’s so rare that a politician owns up to stupidity that it’s notable when it happens. In the first GOP debate, one of the more remarkable moments was Pawlenty’s mea culpa on cap and trade.

This Orwellian mentality — of never admitting mistakes, never acknowledging errors, always saying you were really right even when you were clearly wrong is not just annoying — it’s dangerous. One of the biggest obstacles to fixing our political system is the refusal to admit that a policy has failed. We make bad decisions and then we compound our mistakes with a ridiculous stubbornness — a belief that sticking to bad decisions somehow proves our manliness and stepping back from them is a sign of weakness.

During the early 90’s, when welfare reform was being debated, a huge obstacle to fixing the system was the absolute refusal of liberals to believe that giving people money can’t erase poverty. Welfare had to be underfunded or undermined by evil Republicans — they simply couldn’t admit that it had been a bad idea. The biggest problem with our public schools is a stubborn refusal to admit that a politically-run, union-controlled education system is fundamentally dysfunctional. Our War on Drugs continues because of the refusal of the drug warriors to admit that you can’t get people off the shit by tossing them in jail. The War in Iraq almost reeled out of control because of the Administration’s refusal — until they lost an election — to admit that we didn’t have enough boots on the ground. Our attempts to fix Medicare and Social Security are running aground on the ridiculous belief that we can’t change a system simply because we’ve had it around for 75 years.

This mentality has been enhanced by the “us against them” media cycle. Admitting to mistakes also means admitting that your evil evil opponents were right about something and then hearing them crow about it on MSNBC and the blogosphere for the next week. Anything but that!

Admitting errors is not a sign of weakness; it’s refusing to do so that’s a sign of weakness. Totalitarian regimes are constantly revising history, flushing old policies down the memory hole and editing pictures to show that they have always been right, they have never erred, they have always been at war with Oceania and Trotsky never existed. It is a fundamental strength of our Republic that we don’t flush failed policies away, we don’t pretend the past never happened, that we don’t pretend we’re perfect and always have been. We admit that slavery was mistake, that the massacre of Native Americans was terrible, that Jim Crowe was crime and that the welfare state was a failure.

One of the key moments that ended our disastrous experiment in prohibition was a letter from John Rockefeller acknowledging that the policy he had fought so hard for was a mistake. The turning point of the Civil War happened because Lincoln abandoned the generals who’d failed him. The Iraq War turned because Bush finally admitted we needed more troops. Reagan began tackling the deficit by admitting he’d lowered taxes too much. American history has been defined by people acknowledging mistakes and changing course.

I would have thought more of Weiner if he’d immediately copped to the pictures and admitted it was a stupid thing to do. I would have thought more of Palin if she’d just admitted she flubbed the Revere story and shrugged it off. This is what serious people do when confronted with their mistakes, especially mistakes so trivial. If they can’t acknowledge such trivial errors, what are they going to do when faced with massive multi-trillion dollar mistakes like Obamacare?

I disagreed with some of what Obama said on the “apology tour” but because I thought he was wrong, not because I thought it was unmanly to admit to failed policy. Had he apologized for dropping the atomic bomb, as was once rumored, I would have been furious, not because of the apology but because I think dropping the bomb was absolutely the right thing to do.

Apologies don’t hurt us. It’s bad policy that hurts us. And it’s bad policy compounded by a stubborn refusal to admit it that is ruining us. I’ll take all the apology tours Obama’s teleprompter can cope with if it means we start undoing some of the dumb idiotic policies we’ve been pursuing for decades.