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President Obama and the morality of war

2012-05-31

There are currently several hundred people (mostly extreme Islamist) who are committed to waging war on the United States by means of “terrorist attacks”: bombings, shootings, and the like.  Airplanes have been a favorite target.  Most of the people who declare themselves to be our enemies live in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  They advertise by logging on to the Internet, and they make many threats, some of which they carry out.  There is no question that these people have a lot to be angry about, but they are not attacking soldiers, they are deliberately killing innocent civilians.

One of the most famous was an American citizen who had converted to Islam and was living in Yemen, broadcasting sermons that called on fellow extremists to carry out bombings and other attacks.  He was the inspiration for the Islamic military psychiatrist who went over the edge after listening to his sermons and shot a number of fellow American soldiers in cold blood.  It would have been extremely difficult to mount an operation to capture this preacher, as dangerous as the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.  Instead, a drone aircraft fired a missile at the vehicle the preacher was riding in and killed him as well as the other occupant of the vehicle.  His son, only sixteen years old, began to preach in the same way and was dispatched with another missile.

Most of us know that there has been a dramatic increase in drone missile attacks over the last few years against people labelled as terrorists.  Few of us know that, unlike the Bush administration, the Obama administration has not captured any terrorist suspects (well, one.)  The current administration has instead killed several hundred with missiles fired from drones.

The Pentagon and the CIA have entire departments that follow individual suspects and determine whether they are terrorists, eventually selecting some of them for death.  A missile fired from a drone can destroy a car and all its occupants.  The drones have been operating over large areas, identifying numerous targets.

The problem that Obama has is that there are people out there actively trying to kill Americans, and unless the federal government does something to stop them, they will eventually succeed again as they did on September 11, 2001.  It is moral in war to kill someone if he is trying to kill you and there is no other way to stop him (negotiation is impossible and capture is extremely dangerous.)  Drones have evolved as the most effective weapon against individuals who want to kill us and who live in inaccessible areas.

The end result of this logical evolution of force is that there are now two government agencies that fly drones equipped with missiles, the CIA and the Pentagon, and both agencies have lists of people who are marked for death.  President Obama has taken responsibility for personally approving each kill.  He has been very aggressive about limiting collateral deaths and has instituted strict rules of engagement that have greatly reduced the number of people killed in each strike.  Obama has been an aggressive, hands on leader in the “fight against terrorism.”

The problem with this strategy of drone missile attacks is that it stimulates intense negative reactions from the civilians in the target areas, especially those directly affected by strikes.  Those traumatized civilians, who are already not fans of America, quickly become outraged enemies.  They will have few nearby targets on which to vent their wrath but they have long memories.

The US, using a dramatic technological advance which is difficult to counter, has eliminated the top leadership of most of the groups dedicated to waging war against us, and the new leaders of these groups have strong popular support but no way to fight back.  Inevitably, these groups will evolve their strategy and tactics to meet this new threat from America.

What does this evolution of terrorists tell us?  That something  is going on that is deeper than anyone involved realizes.  The secret is that “terrorism” cannot be eliminated, and it can never succeed in destroying society.   All this sincere effort will never end terrorism, only hold it back for a while.

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