Whatever the result tonight, one thing is certain: America’s embrace of drone attacks will go on unimpeded. Social conservatives have increasingly lined up to express reservations about the policy, with Princeton’s Robert P. George writing against President Obama’s “wholesale and indiscriminate use of drones” on our site in June and Ramesh Ponnuru critiquing it this week in a column at Bloomberg View.
The White House’s refusal to explain its own policy means that any critiques of the policy must be qualified—we just don’t know all the details—but the broad outline is quite clear: Under President Obama, the incidence of drone strikes has increased five-fold. Civilian casualties are plausibly estimated to number in the hundreds. Targets have no opportunity to surrender, and we have no opportunity to gather intelligence from them.
An analyst quoted by Ponnuru suggests that “we should authorize drone strikes only if we would be willing to send in a pilot or soldier to do the job if a drone were not available.” He has a point. The invention of a new technology does not change the calculus of killing, nor will exchanging Thomas Aquinas for Thomas Edison abolish moral difficulty. My holding a bow rather than a club does not give me a greater right to kill a man. The fact that we can now avail ourselves of drones does not somehow expand the number of cases in which lethal acts are licit.
President Obama holds particular blame for expanding the use of drone attacks, but a President Romney would be no better. Amid ceaseless talk of “surgical” operations, a terribly blunt instrument has become our favored tool.