Friday, April 24, 2015


American hostage killed in drone attack.
        Today’s announcement by President Obama that Dr. Warren Weinstein, a 73-year-old U.S. aid worker, who was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian social worker who had been a captive since 2012, had been killed in a January drone strike against an Al Qaida compound near the Afghan-Pakistan border has evoked the deep sympathy of the free world for the families of the two men. What a tragic outcome to the families’ long-suffering wait and agonizing hope for the rescue of their loved ones from their terrorist captors.
        Now comes the second-guessing and the predictable blame game. How could we have made such a mistake? Why didn’t our intelligence network know that the two men were being held prisoner in that compound? What went wrong and who was responsible for it?
        And of course, the Obama haters will point to the incident as another example of the failed leadership of “this president” and the incompetency of his administration.

        The use of drones as weapons of war has long been a matter of debate, but my focus here is not on the moral issues involved in drone warfare. Rather I want to offer a few comments on this particular incident in anticipation of the heated discussion that is about to begin.
         First, we should be wary of those who are too quick to play the blame game, instead of entering into a constructive dialogue about what actually went wrong and how can we prevent it from happening again.
         Second, as we listen to politicians express their opinions, we need to discriminate between the second-guessers, who always know what to do after the fact, and the more reasonable commentators, who understand the complexities of the wars in which we are engaged. In any kind of bombing or unmanned drone attack, no matter how carefully targeted, there is always the possibility if not the likelihood of civilian casualties. Who knows how many Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraqi civilians, and those of other countries we have bombed, have been killed by our drone strikes?
        Third, we must measure that risk against the number of American lives that have been saved by the use of drone warfare, which has been a very effective substitute for the much more costly alternative of putting of thousands of troops on the ground and in harm's way.  
        Fourth, there will always be the challenge of minimizing the risk of harm to civilian personnel, American as well as those of other nations, friendly or hostile. That is the devastating nature of warfare, made all the more complex by the scourge of terrorist groups like ISIS, that have no scruples whatsoever about killing innocent men, women, and children. Today’s announcement and the awareness that seven American lives have now been lost in this and similar attacks underscore the necessity of taking whatever steps are possible, including especially those relating to our intelligence gathering, to identify and to fix the problem.
        Fifth, at the same time, we have to realize what a difficult if not impossible problem it is to know where all the hostages are being hidden at any given moment. The terrorists are getting smarter all the time and learning from all the information that is available to them from our free press and other media. They are undoubtedly taking greater precautions to hide the whereabouts of their captives. That our intelligence network should have that information is much easier said than done.
        Sixth, while we sympathize completely with every and any captive taken by the terrorists, those wonderful individuals who are doing humanitarian work among the desperate peoples of those troubled areas must know they are doing so at the risk of their lives. Their families know it as well. They are in harm’s way the moment they set foot in any nation where extremist Muslim groups are operative.At the same time, they have every right to expect that our nation will use every means at their disposal to try to rescue them.
        Seventh, the ultimate blame for their deaths lies not with those who ordered the drone strikes that took their lives, but with those who took and were holding them captive. As Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces President Obama in his announcement this morning took full responsibility for the unintentional but tragic deaths of Dr. Weinstein and Senor Lo Porto, even though he did not specifically authorize that drone attack. He apologized and voiced his deep regrets to the families of the victims, but he should not be blamed for the attack. Politicians who do so are being hypocritical, unless they themselves are utterly opposed to the use of drones.
        Finally, it is to be hoped that this incident will spark a good debate on that very issue. As General George Sherman put it quite bluntly, “War is hell!”  His words are even truer today, and every diplomatic means should be tried before resorting to open conflict of any kind. We have used economic sanctions to great effect, but they too can cause great hardship and suffering to the common people, while their well-fed government officials pursue their belligerent policies. The complicating factor is that we are engaged in a different kind of conflict. Can you negotiate diplomatically with terrorists?
        What would General Sherman have to say about the war on terrorism?

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