Saturday, May 29, 2010

Death from Above: Good or Bad? [updated]

Christine Fair, a relatively new acquaintance of mine, has posted this at, arguing that the Drone War is mis-understood.  It is more than bit controversial as a quick set of tweets and links to rebuttals have appeared. She argues essentially that the Drones are confused with the air campaign over Afghanistan, with the latter causing far more collateral damage than the former.  She does blame the CIA and the Pentagon for a doing a poor job of clarifying the outcomes in the drone campaign.

Her major and most convincing point is the absence of decent alternatives.  Doing nothing is bad and having the Pakistanis do COIN is bad.  So, what are we left with?  The question really is whether killing the various targets in Pakistan really disrupts the Afghan and Pakistan Talibans.  If it is an endless game of Hydra decapitation, I am not sure it is worth the bad PR (even if Fair is right that the PR is not as bad as often claimed).  On the other hand, perhaps this is really disruptive.  I just cannot say.  As Fair rightly argues, it is difficult to assess stuff covered in secret sauce.

Then again, if the operators screw up, bad things happen [to be fair, most investigations blame the guys and not the system]. Is that a risk worth taking?

1 comment:

Christine Fair said...

Steve: Agree with you on the question of whether or not drone operations are worth the strategic costs they impose BECAUSE of the bogus information about them and the durability of these fictions at home and abroad--and especially in Pakistan beyond the FATA.

As I argue in the FP piece, we can't know until the USG comes clean with 1) who was killed and 2) what their importance was and 3) how and/or to what extent did the strike degrade AF/AF TB/Pak TB capabilities.

However, that said, killing Baitullah Mehsood wasn't to help us, it was to help the Pakistanis and was a long overdue, good faith effort to signal to Pakistan military and intelligence that we care about their interests as much as ours. So drone strikes are also useful within the context of US-Pakistan security cooperation even if they don't advance US interests directly.

As I say in my article, the US and Pakistani publics deserve more information such that we can make informed decisions about the relative costs and benefits of this tool rather falling victim to a bunch of nonsense propagated by folks who should know better as well as those who don't.