Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Drone-Pandora Connection (and I'm not talking about music)

The headline today says "U.S. looks to export drone technology to allies." What's wrong with this picture?

As someone who looks on in amazement as the United States wrings its hands over the nuclear ambitions of small fry like Iran, I once again find it amazing that we don't recognize the problems we are creating as we open the door to yet another new technology.

No matter how you feel about the inherent challenges posed by drone technology . . . whether or not you recognize that drone attacks resulting in innocent deaths are an enormous ethical and practical problem . . . whether or not you are concerned that even "successful" drone attacks constitute extrajudicial executions (i.e. are war crimes) and are not "self-defense" as claimed by the Obama Administration . . . whether or not you care about the simple surveillance implications of drone use . . . doesn't it seem like a good idea to SLOW DOWN with the proliferation of drone technology? Lest we end up regretting it later?

We have a lot of headaches because of the Pandora's box we've opened with nuclear weapons technology. Shouldn't we avoid opening a Pandora's box with drone technology?

Related posts

Beyond recognizing the inherent contradictions of "pre-emptive violence," we must confront an urgent problem related to technology: the automation of "pre-emptive violence" -- e.g. via drone technology -- is leading to a spiral (or "loop" or "recursive process") that we may not be able to get out of.

(See When "Pre-emptive Violence" Is Automated ....)

Today, it may seem quaint to think about the role that trains played in the cataclysms of the 20th century. Could something as simple as a bunch of trains, once set in motion, possibly put people on a course they couldn't reverse? And yet . . . what if I told you that the hyper-organized planners of the U.S. government have a timetable to make 100 drone bases operational in our country in the near future?

(See War By (Drone Base) Timetable? )

The United States is very good at starting things . . . but seldom considers three moves ahead, much less how it will all end. Drones are a case in point. Now people are starting to talk about the problem of global drone proliferation.

(See GLOBAL DRONE PROLIFERATION: How does this end? )

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rahm to Constitution: Drop Dead

While the country is absorbed in "HCR" -- health care reform -- are we ignoring a patient that's dying on the emergency room table? I'm talking about the U.S. Constitution.

"We the people . . . "
The U.S. Constitution: still a priority?

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a long piece on Rahm Emmanuel and his role in the Obama Administration's progress (or lack thereof) in advancing its agenda. I have to confess that I'm not savvy about the complexities of advancing major legislation, and all the talk of arm-twisting and back-room deals left me at a bit of a loss.

And besides, I wanted to know about Rahm's role in holding back the Administration's promised actions to close Guantanamo, conduct civilian trials for accused terrorists, and take other steps to reverse the rights debacle of the Bush era. I waded through paragraph after paragraph about party strategy and special election headaches, until I got to the part about the Justice Department.

The article said that Rahm found himself pitted against AG Eric Holder (which I already knew) and White House counsel Greg Craig, who eventually resigned (which I didn't know). And then it said something about these issues that made the world stand still for me:
"Emmanuel is not particularly vested in the substantive merits or drawbacks of the specific plans. He sees them as politically problematic, wasting scarce capital and provoking unnecessary fights on what he regards as second-tier issues that distract from higher priorities."
Wasted capital? Unnecessary fights? Second-tier issues? Is this how we describe the fundamentals of government power and individual rights?

In other words, the U.S. Constitution has become a second class citizen in 2010 America; at least while there are more important things like health care reform to accomplish.

Health care reform is an important and vast and fascinating undertaking. But care and feeding of the Constitution has got to be our national leaders' No. 1 job. It's a matter of priorities.

President Gerald Ford rejects NYC pleas for aid.

Related posts

The story of the past decade-plus has been the story of the assertion by some that the conception of law that our society has is not sufficient.  Simply put, there are those who say that there is a third, "in-between" category of behavior -- and legal status -- that is not civilian (subject to criminal law) and not military (subject to military law and the laws of war). And since there are no rules about how to deal with that third category . . . .

(See Using the Good, Old Criminal Justice System: Worth a Try?)

We are allowed to know all about these killings, provided we're prepared to believe the statements of a person we can't confirm exists about a program which is not acknowledged to be happening. We are living in a nightmare that makes Philip K. Dick's dystopias look cozy in comparison.

(See Drones and Zero Accountability Government)

We all wish to be judged by our good intentions. But the way people know us is through our actions. So ... what do people in the Muslim world know about us here in the United States?

(See They'll Know Us By Our Actions)

Rahm appears to be turning what was supposed to be a prime Presidential Moment -- the May 2012 Chicago summit of NATO and G8, at which Obama will preside, in the President's own "home town" and headquarters of his 2012 re-election campaign, no less -- into a fiasco.

(See Does Obama have a Rahm Problem? )

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Unit Cohesion: What's Love Got To Do With It?

Homosexuality bad. Machismo good. At least that's what the former Air Force chief of staff says.

Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak, who represented the Air Force on the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1990 to 1994, was sounding off in The New York Times yesterday, letting us civilians know what it takes for members of the military to have courage under fire.

Gen. McPeak says "don't ask, don't tell" and the question of whether sexual orientation is relevant to military service should be subject to a simple test: does it impact unit cohesion?

I think that's a great idea.

Of course, that will require a way to measure unit cohesion and the factors that affect it. But anything important is important enough to measure.

By the way, according to Gen. McPeak, "We know, or ought to, that warriors are inspired by male bonding, by comradeship, by the knowledge that they survive only through relying on each other. To undermine cohesion is to endanger everyone."

Gen. McPeak continues:

"I know some will see these ingredients of the military lifestyle as a sort of absurd, tough-guy game played by overgrown boys. But to prepare warriors for a life of hardship, the military must remain a kind of adventure, apart from the civilian world and full of strange customs. To be a fighter pilot or a paratrooper or a submariner is to join a self-contained, resolutely idealistic society, largely unnoticed and surprisingly uncorrupted by the world at large."

That's a very nice opinion. However, I also have an opinion on this: unit cohesion has nothing to do with sexual orientation -- or gender -- or, for that matter, color or height or hometown or favorite rock group. It has to do with whether members of the unit have discovered reason to believe that their comrades can be counted on to do what they say they will do, and to dig deep to give their all in the service of shared beliefs.

Perhaps Gen. McPeak and I differ about what kind of "shared beliefs" rise to the level of being combat-worthy. (McPeak: Allman Brothers vs. Dire Straits? Rough sex vs. cuddling? Scarry: Fairness vs. Persecution. Liberty vs. Tyranny?) I tend to believe that I'm on the side of the angels on this one. (George Washington: "Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness.") But does it really matter what our individual opinions are?

Anything important is important enough to measure. Unit cohesion is important to the members of our armed services. Let's measure unit cohesion. And let's publish the results. The real "why we fight" will be as interesting to the international community as to the U.S. taxpayers who underwrite the efforts of our military.