Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Obama Doctrine

While all the emoprogs out there are running around howling about Obama the mass murderer, a story by NPR's Ari Shapiro suggests he thinks he's earning that Nobel Prize by a "shift in the way the U.S. wages war." This is what's signaled by the three big national security nominations of Kerry to State, Hagel to Defense, and Brennan to the CIA—two Vietnam vets and a crypto-Jesuit. In the less than happy phrasing of Karen Greenberg, director of the National Security Program at the Fordham University Law School,
"Remember, President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize by saying war is necessary... He's somebody who understands, to his mind, what he sees as the need of war to create peace."
(I would say most people are people who understand, to their minds, what they see themselves as understanding, whether they indeed understand it or not, and whether the reader understands it or not too.)
Via Chitramala.
In any case, it's about the Drone Wars, and other such "targeted and surgical" operations, and the general End of Big War as We Know It. Obama really means it, as I have been speculating, as a way of making war less grievous and less cruel, and above all smaller:
The White House emphasizes that both Kerry and Hagel understand the full cost of war — in money and in lives. Obama says he believes that makes them the right men for this moment, as the administration shifts its approach following a decade of big, expensive, bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, puts it: "I don't think we can necessarily say without a doubt that there will never be a large war again. However, certainly we've moved conceptually toward a more targeted, surgical approach that focuses on al-Qaida."
The argument as I imagine it—certainly not the way Father Brennan would make it—is like this:

1. There's no such thing as a just war. No matter how unavoidable it may, after a certain point, have become, no matter how much in the right one side may be, it's always the result of a failure.

No, I don't know what could have been done short of war to stop Hitler and the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, or for that matter what the Pandavas could have done to avoid slaughtering the Kauravas, as Arjuna wished he might do when he paused, before the ultimate battle, for a conversation with his charioteer, who happened to be a god and could thus explain a good deal. All I claim to know is that it follows directly from the existence of a state of war that people are going to be doing things they know to be morally wrong, taking those Tough Decisions, committing unjustifiable homicide.

Soldiers (including sailors, marines, etc.; I do not use the phony-glorifying terms "warrior" and "warfighter") know this. Marine captain Timothy Kudo has recently written eloquently about it:

While I don’t know why individual veterans resort to suicide, I can say that the ethical damage of war may be worse than the physical injuries we sustain. To properly wage war, you have to recalibrate your moral compass. Once you return from the battlefield, it is difficult or impossible to repair it. 
VA has started calling this problem “moral injury,” but that’s as deceptive a euphemism as “collateral damage.” This isn’t the kind of injury you recover from with rest, physical therapy and pain medication. War makes us killers. We must confront this horror directly if we’re to be honest about the true costs of war.

2. Nothing can mitigate this—not grace and gallantry, not the wickedness of the enemy—except reducing it: seeing that fewer people get killed, in particular fewer of those that are not directly trying to kill you, or "civilians". And that's not good enough either, but it's all you can do. And it can take distinctly ungraceful and ungallant forms.

3. Drone warfare is very ungallant. In terms of traditional military gallantry it is downright cowardly, probably more so than any form of fighting previously invented. (That's only true for the shooter: I would imagine the confederates on the ground calling in the strike may need to be very brave indeed.) It is also very efficient, especially in contrast to such methods as carpet bombing and poison gas: potentially, it allows you to kill only those persons who are trying to kill you. According to NPR,

There is wide uncertainty about how many civilians have been killed in U.S. drone strikes. One estimate from the New America Foundation says around 300 civilians were killed in Pakistan from 2004 to the beginning of this year.
There is at least one case where U.S. officials, including Panetta, knew that a woman was present at a possible strike site, and the attack was ordered anyway. A U.S. official told NPR a strike with non-combatants in the area would only happen in "exceptional circumstances against very high-level terrorists."
Incidentally, Father Brennan walked back the lie, or incredibly naive assertion, that there had been no civilian deaths for 12 months up to June 2011; now he says,
there had been a period of time where the U.S. "had no information about a single civilian being killed." But, he added, "unfortunately in war there are casualties, including among the civilian population." He said "sometimes you have to take life to save lives."
And you know what "the U.S. had no information" means: it means the information had no official status as it floated up and down the hierarchy.

It's amazing how freely they've suddenly begun talking about it:

As head of the CIA, Panetta oversaw the U.S. drone campaign against al-Qaida. When the intelligence identified the location of a particular target, Panetta often had to decide whether to fire.
"As a Catholic, suddenly realizing I had the responsibility of saying, 'We're going to go after somebody,' it was something I did not take lightly," he says. "It's a lot of responsibility."
Panetta justifies the use of drones as a necessary tool to "keep the country safe," which he says was his mission both as head of the CIA and as defense secretary.
"I felt they were legitimate if we followed the law, and did what we had to do under our law, to make sure that we were being true to the American people with regard to our responsibility," he says.
Is Panetta sure that's not going to get him jailed? And why not?

In any event it's really ugly and being carried out by people who are not entirely to be trusted, and I may add that I don't think it's winning any hearts and minds, but no, Obama is not a mass murderer. As yet. Just a second-rate theologian, which makes him an order of magnitude better than most of the theologians on the case.

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