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Author Topic: Drone Wars
SenojRetep
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The US apparently keeps killing militants in Pakistan and Yemen using unmanned drones, but global opinion seems pretty strong against the practice. A recent NY Times Op-Ed argues the familiar case that the tactics are alienating local populaces and pushing ordinary Yemenis into the arms of al-Qaeda. Recently, a small but bipartisan group of House lawmakers requested legal justification from Obama for the strikes, and (somewhat relatedly) Rand Paul introduced legislation in the Senate to prevent the use of drones for domestic surveillance in the US.

My opinion on the issue: I'm nominally pro-drone and feel that the concerns raised aren't sufficient to justify curtailing the practice, but I feel ill-at-ease about the subject. Personally, I think the 'losing hearts and minds' argument is largely a chimera, and that 'world opinion' is only slightly predictive of world action. That said, I'm not so confident in those beliefs that I can fully reject the arguments of the Glenn Greenwalds of the world that the drone strikes are making us less secure rather than more.

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C3PO the Dragon Slayer
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Drones are going to forever change the political and military landscape.

They must have felt like a godsend to the Pentagon. Suddenly, you could have precise, targeted attacks that minimize collateral damage, remove all risk of American casualties, and are cheaper than the stealth bombers and high-performance aircraft that take billions of dollars to make. I think the military sees these unmanned aircraft as potentially the next great innovation in warfare. Drones are here to stay.

It must be terrifying to live in a country that is being targeted by drone strikes. As precise as the drones are, there have still been many civilian casualties. Living your life knowing that at any moment a missile can drop from the sky without warning and blow you or your family up, even if it wasn't aiming specifically for you? You can be completely innocent, and not be aware of terrorist activity in your neighborhood, but that means nothing when the bomb drops. It's like living during the Cold War, only more personal. So I can see where we might be getting a bad reputation wherever we're using drone strikes. Especially in countries that we're not officially at "war" in, e.g. Pakistan.

I really hate the obvious human rights violations that these drone strikes make. If you argue that it's a police action, then the targets of these drone strikes are essentially being executed by a country other than the one they're living in, without a trial, and without warning. If you argue it's a war operation, well, we're not at war with Pakistan or Yemen. As great as it is that we can kill Al-Qaeda leaders from the comfort of great distances without risking American lives, this sets an ugly precedent. I'm sure drone strikes will be remembered as fondly in the next generation's classrooms as McCarthyism in this generation's.

If any other country in the world were using drone strikes in other countries, causing as many civilian casualties as we are, there would be international outcry.

In regards to domestic use of drones (for spying, not bombing), that's a mixed bag. If you're using a spy plane to stalk someone you think might be a criminal, then the criminal must be really high-profile for you to resort to using a spy plane, and if so, why the heck don't you already have a search warrant? The lines between search and surveillance get blurred when you employ this technology. At any rate, I can see where Rand Paul et al are coming from with their concerns.

According to TIME magazine, the EPA is currently under fire for using drones to monitor waterways and farming practices. I don't really have a problem with the government using drones to enforce the Clean Water Act. It's not a violation of privacy if it's only checking your business practices, the same way an OSHA inspector doesn't need a warrant to check on a factory.

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Lyrhawn
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Like most things, there's nothing inherently wrong with the technology, only with how we choose to apply it.

I don't have a problem with drones monitoring the borders or enforcing EPA regulations etc. It's no different than sending regulators around in cars to test things by hand, except it's probably cheaper in the long run, and more efficient. So long as the watchers are being watched and this isn't a backdoor to use drones to spy on regular people, then fine. But the cat is already out the bag. If the government wants to know whatever they want to know about you, capability isn't stopping them, only laws and morals are. So I'm not particularly bothered by the capability aspect of this.

As far as the war argument goes, again, I don't see how this is any more troublesome than dropping a JDAM from a B1 Lancer. These attacks are a hell of a lot more precise and cause less collateral damage than where we were 25 years ago. We aren't carpet bombing and sending arc light strikes against cities and villages. The only acceptable number of civilian casualties is zero, and that's probably never going to happen.

So again, the problem isn't with drone strikes per se, it's with the fundamental aspect of how we're pursuing the "war on terror." Look at how many civilians died in the last country we invaded versus how many might potentially die from drone strikes in Yemen or Oman or wherever. Drone strikes look merciful by comparison. So long as we have a legal framework for deciding who gets on our kill lists, fine. I have serious problems with putting American citizens on those lists, which I think amounts to unconstitutional extrajudicial executions, but for non-American terrorists that have been vetted and under a process approved by SOME judicial authority? Fine.

We've invested a ton of money and pioneered the field of precision strikes not only to save on ordnance but to save bystanders from being killed. The problem is that the body count burden has shifted ever since we rolled this out during Gulf War I. If we'd managed to keep the death toll in Vietnam down to what it is from drone strikes, we'd be hailed as heroes. But that frame of mind has passed away, and the burden of life is much higher now.

I think this is largely motivated by politics. Obama has more or less destroyed Al Qaeda through aggressive drone strikes. He has rooted them out of Afghanistan in 3 years and done what Bush couldn't do in 8. It's a success. So it has to be attacked. I don't think we can have this discussion as a country without recognizing the politically motivated angle it sprang from.

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
The only acceptable number of civilian casualties is zero, and that's probably never going to happen.

This doesn't make much sense to me.

Maybe you're using a different definition of "acceptable" than I am.

Does this mean you oppose all military actions in history? Or consider them "unacceptable" in some fashion?

If you're saying: "Our target for civilian casualties should be zero." Then I agree. But deeming failure to meet that target "unacceptable" seems like an untenable position, regardless of your stance on this or any particular war.

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Lyrhawn
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It's not my acceptable number.

But in the eyes of world opinion and even national public opinion, when they bother to notice at all, even one is enough to merit a complaint.

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Dan_Frank
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Oh, I see.
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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by C3PO the Dragon Slayer:
If any other country in the world were using drone strikes in other countries, causing as many civilian casualties as we are, there would be international outcry.

Poppycock, I say!

I'm sure that people will be fine when China starts bombing Arkansas as long as they don't send in the PLA, don't kill any Chinese citizens, and have SOME legal system look over the list of terrorists. They'll recognize for sure that it will just be internal politics with one clique trying to make another look bad.

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Dan_Frank
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Mmm, I'll bet that moral equivalency is just delicious, isn't it Mucus?
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Jeff C.
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Wait....didn't this already happen? Oh, no, wait...that was something...a book called Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman. Anyone ever read that?
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Lyrhawn
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That only works if you consider the US government to have the same level of legitimacy and control as the governments of Yemen, Afghanistan and in the Horn of Africa.

Otherwise it falls apart pretty fast for reasons other than morality.

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Rakeesh
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quote:
Poppycock, I say!

I'm sure that people will be fine when China starts bombing Arkansas as long as they don't send in the PLA, don't kill any Chinese citizens, and have SOME legal system look over the list of terrorists. They'll recognize for sure that it will just be internal politics with one clique trying to make another look bad.

Just for a second, imagine the capability question doesn't exist. Are you claiming the government of China wouldn't use military force in a foreign nation in pursuit of its interests, if it thought that was the most effective way to go about them? If they could, I mean.

In 50 years, do you really think China won't have its own drone strikes on troublesome, dubiously neutral nations? I sure don't, but maybe you know better?

-------

I would love to hear from people who are so up in arms-pun intended-about drone strikes just what they would like us to do with a situation such as Pakistan. We know they're there, we know left alone they will certainly be killing someone's civilians, possibly ours, and we know there is every possibility that when they decide to do so, we will have incomplete at best knowledge on the who, how, when, what, where, but not really the why.

It's not reasonable to expect the government of Pakistan, our nominal allies, to deal with this problem within their own borders. Even if they were totally willing it's hardly an easy matter. The people being bombed by drones, are there no people we may kill with military force for posing a threat to us without magically capturing them and putting them on trial?

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Lyrhawn
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I think Pakistan would at least pay better lip service to cooperation if we stopped accidentally killing their soldiers and brushing off at least an apology because of Republican posturing.

Really though, screw Pakistan. I'm okay with just enough cooperation to secure nuclear safety and then hitching our cart to India.

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Rakeesh
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Oh, don't get me wrong, we could be doing much better on the diplomacy scene with Pakistan. The choices aren't 'do nothing' and 'unrestricted drone strikes'. I just mean there is simply going to have to be some of that in Pakistan for the near future.

Also, I would love if we really did hitch up to India, in really serious ways, over the long haul. Doesn't seem likely, though.

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
In 50 years, do you really think China won't have its own drone strikes on troublesome, dubiously neutral nations? I sure don't, but maybe you know better?

Maybe, maybe not.
I don't really know, and I don't think anyone else really knows. But in the meantime I'm just saying I'm really writing down these very convincing justifications because I'm very confident that they'll remain so!

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
I would love to hear from people who are so up in arms-pun intended-about drone strikes just what they would like us to do with a situation such as Pakistan.

(To be clear, I'm not one of them. Please continue. Just sayin')
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Rakeesh
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quote:
Maybe, maybe not.
I don't really know, and I don't think anyone else really knows. But in the meantime I'm just saying I'm really writing down these very convincing justifications because I'm very confident that they'll remain so!

*snort* Alright, in 50 years, if China doesn't have such strikes, do you think it will be because of ethical concerns and respect for the sovereignty of other nations?

But, for the record, if the state government of Arkansas was financing, harboring, giving information to and training people who were later going forth and killing Chinese civilians and those of China's allies...

For the record? And you'll just have to take my word for it, if they could get away with bombing those Arkansas training camps and assassinating Arkansas intelligence officers and staging strikes on other related activities? My objections certainly wouldn't be based in moral outraged victimhood. They would be tied strictly to partisanship and national feeling, and I would be much angrier at Arkansas for inviting a military response than China for delivering it.

Oh. And as for whether they'll have them or not...drones are certainly going to become a larger part of every technologically advanced military in the world, and China undeniably aims to be a serious contender in the military capability arena. Nobody can credibly argue that. That means that as their economy grows and their international interests grow, so will their military. Necessarily there will be more situations that will call for forceful responses, whether military or otherwise.

What is China going to do with that magnificent military they're building, when they meet or even exceed America's economic presence throughout the world? You're welcome to give me an example of a nation which has a military and a world presence like China is building towards (which isn't objectionable, to me, people gotta try for the top) and doesn't get up to shenanigans. I don't think you'll be able to, though.

---------

Just in case there is a misunderstanding, please take note that I wasn't the one who brought up China. Not really for you, Mucus, just putting that out there.

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
Necessarily there will be more situations that will call for forceful responses, whether military or otherwise.

quote:
... drones are certainly going to become a larger part of every technologically advanced military in the world
Will there be? Will they be? In 50 years?
On both counts, I'd say that's a bit of a shot in the dark.

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Kwea
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Not really. There will almost for sure be other opportunities for violence in the future, and judging by our history as a race I'd doubt we will suddenly just stop using it.

And Drones, or whatever replaces them, will most assuredly become more of a factor, simply because they have been so effective. Other countries are already aggressively building their own versions of them simply for cost effectiveness.

We've only scratched the surface of their possible uses, militarily and otherwise. Do you really doubt their use will continue to grow in the next 10-20 years?

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Kwea
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Just noticed you said 50 years.......but I bet it still holds true.


Unless we go completely biological.

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Rakeesh
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quote:
Will there be? Will they be? In 50 years?
On both counts, I'd say that's a bit of a shot in the dark.

I...well I suppose it's possible human nature will radically change in the next three generation, leading towards a world power government eschewing violence as a tool in their problem solving toolbox. I don't know why you would possibly regard that as a 'shot in the dark', though.

It feels like you're screwing with me. If so, it's gone over my head, fine, but could you let me know one way or another?

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BlackBlade
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You need to remember for China the memory is still quite keen of just about everybody busting their way into China, breaking their stuff, and them being powerless to stop them.

As long as there is any military, especially one that is as mobile as ours, that could in theory do it to them again, they are going to want to at least match them. What does that mean for everybody else? Well, if you share a border with them probably a lot. If you don't, not so much. At least the Chinese don't have some sort of make the world safe for Communism agenda anymore.

edit: I don't think the same can be said for us.

[ June 15, 2012, 11:26 AM: Message edited by: BlackBlade ]

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Rakeesh
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Exactly. I'm not saying it's wrong for them to want a robust, world-power level military. I may not be happy with what ends they might eventually put it to, but then it's not up to me anyway.

It's just the kind of history you describe, Chinese history of grievance with much of the world, a (justified) sense of past victimization...I don't see how with any nation, that would make it less likely that when the shoe was on the other foot, they would do some stepping of their own.

There really aren't very many people who, when they get some really excellent footwear, won't realize they can walk places and get to stepping-and of those people, not many go to the trouble of getting them shoes in the first place.

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Stone_Wolf_
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I wonder what these countries which are being droned have to say about it.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Stone_Wolf_:
I wonder what these countries which are being droned have to say about it.

"On second thought let's just have the marriage indoors"
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Rakeesh
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Geeze, man. Pretty crass.

------

We don't really have to guess, they're not exactly keeping it a secret. They're pretty pissed about it...though generally not quite so angry as to root out the targets themselves, either because they don't want to, it would be extremely difficult, or both.

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Lyrhawn
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In the case of places like Yemen and the Horn of Africa, I think it's far more the latter than the former.

They barely have a government there.

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Stone_Wolf_
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I've heard of outdoor weddings before, but never outdoor marriages.
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kmbboots
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Stone_Wolf, sometimes people use "marriage" and "wedding" interchangeably. I am sure that Samprimary meant "wedding". Does that clarify it for you?
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Stone_Wolf_
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Boots, it's clear...but not as funny.
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Stone_Wolf_:
I've heard of outdoor weddings before, but never outdoor marriages.

You clearly don't watch enough reality TV.
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Rakeesh
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quote:
In the case of places like Yemen and the Horn of Africa, I think it's far more the latter than the former.

They barely have a government there.

No doubt. There's a reason people go there to hide and train, after all. When the going rate for bribes is so much lower because the ability to do anything is so much less, well.
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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
quote:
Will there be? Will they be? In 50 years?
On both counts, I'd say that's a bit of a shot in the dark.

I...well I suppose it's possible human nature will radically change in the next three generation, leading towards a world power government eschewing violence as a tool in their problem solving toolbox.
I don't think we need radical.

The last fifty years have seen a very big decrease in the amount of armed conflict, I don't think its inconceivable that the next fifty will continue that trend and there will be less rather than "more situations that will call for forceful responses." Especially if developing countries continue to narrow the gap with the leading powers and nuclear proliferation continues.

Or it could go the other way and some pissed off Muslims from some drone-infested country will finally nuke some American cities. *shrug* That might work too.

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Rakeesh
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quote:
The last fifty years have seen a very big decrease in the amount of armed conflict, I don't think its inconceivable that the next fifty will continue that trend and there will be less rather than "more situations that will call for forceful responses." Especially if developing countries continue to narrow the gap with the leading powers and nuclear proliferation continues.
It depends on what sort of armed conflict, and between whom. It's not simply an across-the-board drop on all fronts. Body counts from military conflicts are dropping, it's true, but there are many reasons for that. One being lack of major warfare between world powers-which doesn't come into this.

If nuclear proliferation continues, that's another thing...but then that wouldn't be an ethical inhibition due to respecting sovereignty either, we'd be back to 'don't do it because they can't'. Like I said.

And yes, very carefully targeted drone strikes will be what is the trigger for nuclear terrorism. Right. *rolleyes*

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Mucus
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Fundamental disagreement on that last I'm afraid: For example, I'm not sure that saying all military age males in a strike zone are combatants really counts as "careful."

Or you know ...
quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
"On second thought let's just have the marriage indoors"


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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
... that's another thing...but then that wouldn't be an ethical inhibition ...

Not sure why you're going on about ethics either. You've mentioned that at least twice and I'm not sure why you think I'm talking about ethics.
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aspectre
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http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/47846841/ns/us_news-christian_science_monitor/
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:

What is China going to do with that magnificent military they're building, when they meet or even exceed America's economic presence throughout the world? You're welcome to give me an example of a nation which has a military and a world presence like China is building towards (which isn't objectionable, to me, people gotta try for the top) and doesn't get up to shenanigans. I don't think you'll be able to, though.
.

China won't exceed America economically in the next century, or probably ever. Predictions that it will are usually just linear extrapolations of trends that cannot continue for various reasons.

Having said that, the American navy dominates the worlds oceans today, and that also is unlikely to change for a century hence. This talk about China exceeding the US, much less what they would *do* in place of the US (despite the fact that they peruse a very differently motivated foreign policy), seems overblown to me.

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Rakeesh
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quote:
Fundamental disagreement on that last I'm afraid: For example, I'm not sure that saying all military age males in a strike zone are combatants really counts as "careful."
*sigh* Because that is, of course, the standard that is used, yes? 'Kill every adult male you can'. Right.

As for ethics, you've avoided talking about it, but it was a key part of the discussion initially. You were contrasting America's use of drones and those of other potential powers, and in doing so outright stating a moral deficiency. The question of why others would or wouldn't use them thus comes up, and if the answer is that other parties wouldn't use them because they couldn't, it's certainly relevant.

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MrSquicky
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quote:
*sigh* Because that is, of course, the standard that is used, yes? 'Kill every adult male you can'. Right.
...That's the Obama administration policy in regards to classifying casualties from drone strikes. Unless they have very strong evidence that any military age male killed by a drone strike was innocent, he is classified as an enemy combatant.
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Rakeesh
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Any military age male anywhere, anytime?
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
Any military age male anywhere, anytime?

Right now yes, that is the doctrine they are presenting as justification for regular drone strikes. It allows them to kill a few innocent civilians here and there without having to deal with the icky legal precedent. I doubt they will refine it until a situation comes up where it must be done (drone strikes on combatants in a nation that is in the first world) or until there's enough pressure from groups here to change it.

The more I think about what would likely happen if we fought a war here, whether that be another nation invading, or our own government turning on us, it's increasingly horrifying. There was an good article in The Economist about the issues of using drones, and I think I agree the military should be doing it, not the CIA, else why should we cry foul if Al-Qaeda starts assassinating agents in their home if they can figure out which ones are pushing the button?

Especially in the case of American citizens being killed, there must be due process. On the issue of foreigners, there needs to be a chain of command that transparently decides these things, and whose evidence if it's classified is reviewed by a body empowered to discipline shoddy use of our killing ability.

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
(drone strikes on combatants in a nation that is in the first world)

Or just, y'know, drone strikes on combatants that aren't quite so good at hiding behind/masquerading as innocent civilians.
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:

What is China going to do with that magnificent military they're building, when they meet or even exceed America's economic presence throughout the world? You're welcome to give me an example of a nation which has a military and a world presence like China is building towards (which isn't objectionable, to me, people gotta try for the top) and doesn't get up to shenanigans. I don't think you'll be able to, though.
.

China won't exceed America economically in the next century, or probably ever. Predictions that it will are usually just linear extrapolations of trends that cannot continue for various reasons.

Having said that, the American navy dominates the worlds oceans today, and that also is unlikely to change for a century hence. This talk about China exceeding the US, much less what they would *do* in place of the US (despite the fact that they peruse a very differently motivated foreign policy), seems overblown to me.

That seems highly unlikely. Most economists are guessing China will overtake the United States within the next DECADE, not the next century. Their military spending is also rising faster than any other country in the world, and they're looking to field aircraft carriers in the near future as well, which puts them in a very exclusive club. Even the Europeans are barely still in that game, and only a couple of them with tiny jump carriers.

Talk about another century of American dominance strikes me as rather underblown.

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Szymon
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Lyrhawn, but I think both US and UE will try to balance that. I can't imagine them not trying, although I already read that the US are saying the carrier is built to be able to fight India, not US. As if they are already making excuses.
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Szymon
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And Orincoro has a point- it is believed that growing wealth will make "social-democratic" changes irreversible and more dynamic, thus creating social expenditures, higher wages, thus creating unemployment, thus slowing the whole country down, westernizing it in the process.
I hope.
For now, China remains one of the few genuinely freemarket states and because of that can't be beaten.

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
... You were contrasting America's use of drones and those of other potential powers, and in doing so outright stating a moral deficiency.

I was?
Surely you could quote such an outright statement since I don't see how you got that.

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Szymon:
For now, China remains one of the few genuinely freemarket states and because of that can't be beaten.

Also, no.
Probably on both counts, but definitely the first.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:

What is China going to do with that magnificent military they're building, when they meet or even exceed America's economic presence throughout the world? You're welcome to give me an example of a nation which has a military and a world presence like China is building towards (which isn't objectionable, to me, people gotta try for the top) and doesn't get up to shenanigans. I don't think you'll be able to, though.
.

China won't exceed America economically in the next century, or probably ever. Predictions that it will are usually just linear extrapolations of trends that cannot continue for various reasons.

Having said that, the American navy dominates the worlds oceans today, and that also is unlikely to change for a century hence. This talk about China exceeding the US, much less what they would *do* in place of the US (despite the fact that they peruse a very differently motivated foreign policy), seems overblown to me.

That seems highly unlikely. Most economists are guessing China will overtake the United States within the next DECADE, not the next century. Their military spending is also rising faster than any other country in the world, and they're looking to field aircraft carriers in the near future as well, which puts them in a very exclusive club. Even the Europeans are barely still in that game, and only a couple of them with tiny jump carriers.

Talk about another century of American dominance strikes me as rather underblown.

Not likely, really. If only for a principle weakness, in that China's growth is bound to the American consumer market. Were China to actually approach the US in consumption, the basis of its economic growth would consequently collapse- they are in a position where their growth is dependent upon *not* consuming what is produced. They don't have the infrastructure they would need to secure resources and distribute them at a level above that of the US.

And as for their navy, again, I am highly skeptical. The US is decades ahead of China militarily, and the US, forma geopolitical perspective, is better placed to control the seas. If China's internal consumption were to exceed tht of the US, and it's economy to grow to match the rise, the US could easily curtail the advance through a change in its trade policies. We control the oceans, and China can't change that fact. They are growing now because the US lets their economy grow, because it is still to our benefit. We're it not, we could easily change that dynamic.

The chief mistaken predicting future developments is o extrapolate current trends, and take as faith that military and political orientation will stay the same, even if the extension of such trends does not benefit the parties in a position to alter them. The US occupies a position in which we can alter these trends radically, if we wish to. We do not yet wish to, but if China grew to be a serious threat to us in any way, we would, and we could. The mistake is to assume that growth in China is somehow bad for the US: it isn't. A China with a larger economy than ours could be, but we would react very differently if growth in China could actually hurt us. the fact that we don't react now, is indicitive of the benefit to us of the current state of affairs.

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