Jeffrey LewisGuest Post: Droning On

A friend and colleague who for some reason wishes to remain nameless offers some thoughts on the uses and abuses of unmanned aerial vehicles. -Jeffrey

If we’ve learned anything from Sen. Rand Paul’s Senate-floor soliloquy, it’s that equal parts bluster and bladder are the makings of modern cultural heroism.

Actually, we’ve learned that the Obama Administration doesn’t plan to kill Americans at random on the street. Jane Fonda, don’t sweat the Hellfire missiles. Who knew?

As for you, Green Card holders, you are on your own. I am sorry.

Meanwhile, the story has emerged in New York Times of how the Administration decided it could whack a blogger who happened not to be on home soil. Tough call, because, you know, citizenship and stuff.

(As it says in Sen. Paul’s beloved Fifth Amendment, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, besides a foreigner, who doubtless has it coming.”)

To make a long story short — you don’t think I actually read this stuff, do you? — the deliberative process did not involve some irregular scheme in which an Administration lawyer like Attorney General Eric Holder dashes off a snotty little note to Capitol Hill’s current speechifyin’ champeen. No, no, no. Goodness me, no! It involved two Administration lawyers swapping drafts of a memo, which no one else is allowed to read.

Well, I know what you are going to say. Wasn’t there supposed to be something over and above even that? Funny you ask. Art. I of the U.S. Constitution provides for a body that, faced with novel or ambiguous circumstances — law enforcement? warfare? floor wax? dessert topping? — has the power to address them. This “Congress,” or the “legislative branch,” as it is also known, once was accustomed to making “legislation” concerning, inter alia, the “common defense and general welfare of the United States.” But that may have been before its members discovered the advantages of focusing more on creative forms of blackmail. Olden times.

Someday, perhaps, Sen. Paul and his ilk will see fit to resume their former practices, and we’ll have our “checks” and “balances” back. Or, if that’s too much like work, they could make some more 13-hour speeches instead. If it’s ever necessary to get the Attorney General to say what the law is, I know just the man for the job.

Jeffrey adds: There’s a free tutorial online.


  1. Juuso (History)

    This is off topic, but it looks like the DF-31 series ICBM’s have finally gotten more mobile TEL.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Amazing! This appears to be the second photo of the sucker. Thanks!

    • Juuso (History)

      Jeffrey, do you think that this is going to make it harder to spot and count DF-31 deployment locations via commercial satellites? I would assume Chinese are now (already have?) going to deploy ICBM’s in new more remote locations.

    • sineva (History)

      Now they`ve got a sixteen wheel tel as well,I wonder whos is bigger theirs or the dprks

  2. George William Herbert (History)

    Correction – Blogger was at the scene when Al Awlaki was intentionally targeted. He was collateral damage, not the target.

    The problem of what happens when US citizens stand next to legitimate targets in a “grey zone” where some drone strikes are authorized is real, but very different than the intentional targeting problem.

    Collateral damage happens. Being a US citizen does not protect you from becoming such.

    • Anon (History)

      Perhaps you are thinking of someone else. Awlaki was both a U.S. citizen and a blogger. Other things, too.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      I assumed the reference was to Khan, the non-actively-terroristic blogger who was kille with Awlaki.

      If the reference was to Awlaki, he had clearly crossed the line into directing and directly encouraging combatant / terrorist activity by the time he was killed. Calling him “a blogger” without referring to his then-current profession is negligent.

    • anon (History)

      It wasn’t my intention to debate the merits of the decision but rather the piss-poor process. We need some rules that aren’t made up on the fly. Laws, they used to be called.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      I think it is clear that the old “laws of war” and how one conducted oneself as a nation, are right out the window. We’re conducting publicly opposed (but perhaps privately accepted, though not notified and approved) drone strikes in several friendly countries. We have a Congressional finding for the ongoing actions but no specific authorizations for working against militants in given countries. International Law is at least 50 years out of date on this.

      Despite numerous examples of “Hey, the national and international law and norms are broken on unconventional conflicts” from the 1950s onwards, there has been little effort to define norms or laws for dealing with terrorism or insurgency.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      Somebody breaks the law, therefore the law is broken?

    • George William Herbert (History)

      I think that the better description is that the old law didn’t cover this state of affairs.

      Everyone’s making some show of “comporting with what they assert the law says” but the law doesn’t really say that. Enemy Combatants, drone strikes outside obvious combat areas, etc.

      A drone strike in direct support of a US platoon under attack in Khandahar province is clearly covered by existing law (and legal, absent negligent targeting of a civilian building that’s not being used for the fighting). A drone strike on an identified militant combatant sleeping in a civilian house overnight, away from from immediate combat, in Khandahar province, is probably still covered, as a combatant quartering onesself in a civilian building renders that a legitimate target, and civilians present are not protected under the law, though minimizing collateral damage is required both under international law and US rules of engagement.

      Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia… Existing laws don’t adequately cover those situations.

  3. A. Reader (History)

    I remember when this used to be a blog on arms control. If you’re irked with Ron Paul or Barack or …, please take it to one of the numerous media outlets panting for your rant and leave us to enjoy our missile porn.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      This is my favorite comment in a long, long time.

    • anon (History)

      Funny. Biting! Also wrong.

      Armed UAVs are, well, arms. Even if just conventional arms.

  4. J House (History)

    Someone once said, ‘if you play in the middle of the road, expect to get run over’.

    • krepon (History)

      J House:

      “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” — Mark Twain


  5. Maj. Variola (History)

    Its all good fun until some governor’s daughter is dating a peta member, peta having been declared a terrorist organization ca. 2016, and disappears in pink mist.