The U.S. Drone Program is Fatally Flawed

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Illustration by Thomas James

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, have been the centerpiece of America’s counterterrorism toolkit since the start of the Obama presidency, and the benefits have been clear.  Their use has significantly weakened al Qaeda and the Taliban while keeping American troops out of harm’s way.  But critics of drone strikes argue that the short-term gains do not outweigh the long-term consequences—among them, radicalization of a public outraged over civilian deaths.  Is our drone program hurting, or helping, in the fight against terrorism?

  • Ahemd Rashid official 90

    For

    Ahmed Rashid

    Pakistan-based Journalist & Author

  • JKWeston 90

    For

    John Kael Weston

    Fmr. State Dept. Political Adviser to Marine Units, Iraq & Afghanistan

  • Dennis Blair hi res 90 px

    Against

    Admiral Dennis Blair (USN, Ret.)

    Former Director of National Intelligence

  • Norty Schwartz 90PX

    Against

    General Norton Schwartz (USAF, Ret.)

    Former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force


    • Moderator Image

      MODERATOR

      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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Ahemd Rashid official 90

For The Motion

Ahmed Rashid

Pakistan-based Journalist & Author

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore. He presently writes for Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, The New York Review of Books, BBC Online, The National Interest, and several other academic and foreign affairs journals. Previously, Rashid was the Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review for 22 years. He is also the author of four books, including the recently updated second edition of the bestselling Taliban (2000, 2010). He appears regularly on NPR, CNN, and the BBC World Service. Rashid was educated at Malvern College in England, Government College in Lahore, and at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University. His latest book is Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (2013).

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JKWeston 90

For The Motion

John Kael Weston

Fmr. State Dept. Political Adviser to Marine Units, Iraq & Afghanistan

John Kael Weston represented the United States for over a decade as a State Department official and political adviser. Prior to his war-time service—seven consecutive years in Iraq and Afghanistan (2003-2010) alongside U.S. Marines and soldiers in Fallujah, Khost, Sadr City, and Helmand—Weston led American efforts in the UN Security Council to freeze and block al Qaida-linked assets. Washington acknowledged his multi-year service in Fallujah with the marines by awarding him one of its highest honors, the Secretary of State’s Medal for Heroism. He has worked closely with a dozen general officers, one-star to four-star in rank. Since leaving government service in 2010, Weston has been a regular contributor to The Daily Beast. He is writing a book on his experience in both wars, including a section on drone warfare, scheduled to be published by Knopf in 2014.

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Dennis Blair hi res 90 px

Against The Motion

Admiral Dennis Blair (USN, Ret.)

Former Director of National Intelligence

Dennis Blair was Director of National Intelligence from January 2009 to May 2010, leading sixteen national intelligence agencies and administering a budget of $50 billion. From 2003 to 2006, he was the president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Defense Analyses. During his 34-year Navy career, Admiral Blair served as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command, served on guided missile destroyers in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, and commanded the Kitty Hawk Battle Group. Ashore, he served as Director of the Joint Staff and held budget and policy positions on the National Security Council. Blair is a member of the Energy Security Leadership Council of Securing America's Future Energy and of the Aspen Homeland Security Council. His latest book is Military Engagement: Influencing Armed Forces Worldwide to Support Democratic Transitions (2013).

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Norty Schwartz 90PX

Against The Motion

General Norton Schwartz (USAF, Ret.)

Former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force

Norton ("Norty") Schwartz retired as the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force (CSAF) in 2012, after serving for over 39 years in the Air Force. Schwartz began his service as a pilot with the airlift out of Vietnam in 1975. He helped lead a joint special operations task force during the Gulf War in 1991 and served as the strategic planner for the Air Force, the second-in-command of the U.S. Special Operations Command and the senior operations officer for the U.S. Armed Forces. He was head of U.S. Transportation Command, and was appointed CSAF in 2008. Schwartz made a number of innovations as Chief, including shifting emphasis from traditional aircraft to remotely piloted vehicle missions, strengthening execution and oversight of nuclear deterrence activities, as well as a range of still classified efforts. Schwartz is the president and CEO of Business Executives for National Security.

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Declared Winner: Against The Motion

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Voting Breakdown:
 

51% voted the same way in BOTH pre- and post-debate votes (10% voted FOR twice, 31% voted AGAINST twice, 9% voted UNDECIDED twice). 49% changed their minds (10% voted FOR then changed to AGAINST, 4% voted FOR then changed to UNDECIDED, 2% voted AGAINST then changed to FOR, 1% voted AGAINST then changed to UNDECIDED, 8% voted UNDECIDED then changed to FOR, 24% voted UNDECIDED then changed to AGAINST)*breakdown for those voting the same way twice does not add up to 51% due to rounding | Breakdown Graphic

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    15 comments

    • Comment Link Bruce Wednesday, 04 September 2013 17:33 posted by Bruce

      The biggest problem I can see is that it would take the human, personal, factor out of combat. As many bomber pilots can attest. Once they actually saw a battle field they had a much different perspective on their missions. It is easy to drop a bomb and fly away never seeing the effect of your actions. The comment about using it against the mafia and drug cartels would be ludicrous as many civilians may be killed without trial or even being implicated in a crime. They are a great tool for the military on military targets such as tanks etc. but entering civilian areas must never be an option.

    • Comment Link By Muhammad Tuesday, 03 September 2013 13:37 posted by By Muhammad

      I (We) most tried to have independently learned from miscellaneous individuals about (Drones) using tecnics particularly its negative aspect.
      General ideology circa (Drones) using where ever is that – despite pales civilians casualties as killing ; psychoneuroses and climbing to mountains area –
      For prevention of modicum said casualties – I (We) respectfully demand from (Drone). Remoter to fix covert target intensively before(Drone) use.
      Flawing to (Drone)using technics

    • Comment Link Ziaullah Safi Monday, 26 August 2013 07:35 posted by Ziaullah Safi

      this is the fact the drone is the latest technology and the most effective weapon in war but it should also be understand that" Men and Nation Falls due to factors on which they rose up". The U.S forces are using drone against Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen but U.S politician should understand that they should beat these states as much as they can afford for themselves. because it will be a history and will be a loan over Pakistan, Afghans and YEMENIS and these states will pay these loans back to US and Allies one day.
      So being positively, US should make a policy that these drone should not be used against the civilians of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and YEMEN ETC. I think If US use the drone against drug dealers and Mafia group inside America, America will save alot than to spend on other security agencies for countering drug dealer and Mafia.

    • Comment Link Utpal Thursday, 22 August 2013 15:08 posted by Utpal

      What's the difference between you and them if you kill innocents? It's only going to increase the terrorism. Also, they will develop the same tool and use it in another 15-20 years. What then?

      Over here US violeted the international rule first.

    • Comment Link Michael Deal Wednesday, 21 August 2013 13:27 posted by Michael Deal

      There is nothing in international law which inherently prohibits the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

      The problem is not the weapon, the problem is the set of rules of engagement under which they are used.

      The problem with drones is the same as any use of aircraft instead of troops, the difference is only a matter of degree. Airmen since Bomber Brown in WWII have always claimed that that airpower can replace troops, and since the success of Desert Storm and the Balkans air campaigns, many civilian political leaders have looked to airpower as suitable alternative to well trained troops.

      The perfect weapon to take out a target without harming innocent civilians is always going to be a Ranger with a knife, but enemy defenses, distance, terrain, weather, and civilian populations who may either interfere or be in the way often prevent the use of soldiers with contact close enough to eliminate the fear of innocent loss.

      The use of drones actually permits closer, more accurate contact than high altitude bombing, but the rules of engagement must be redrawn to require more definite identification, the warheads used must be small, and better optics must be developed and deployed.

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