A couple months ago, when drones were the hot topic, I wrote that: “President Obama has been consistent in practicing what I call ‘politically correct warfare’ — which is to say that for most Americans, these drone strikes are out-of-sight, out-of-mind.”
My point was that drones are an obvious tool for a modern president to use. As I argued:
Americans, it turns out, don’t really have the stomach for the unseemly business of taking prisoners, extracting information from prisoners, and then (maybe) going through the emotional, time consuming, and costly business of a trial.
American citizens want someone who will make the big, bad world disappear.
Today’s New York Times seems to confirm my thesis. According to the report, just as the CIA was negotiating a secret deal to roam the skies over Pakistan,
“the C.I.A.’s inspector general, John L. Helgerson, had just finished a searing report about the abuse of detainees in the C.I.A.’s secret prisons. The report kicked out the foundation upon which the C.I.A. detention and interrogation program had rested. It was perhaps the single most important reason for the C.I.A.’s shift from capturing to killing terrorism suspects.
… Mr. Helgerson raised questions about whether C.I.A. officers might face criminal prosecution for the interrogations carried out in the secret prisons, and he suggested that interrogation methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the exploiting of the phobias of prisoners — like confining them in a small box with live bugs — violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture.”
As the Times notes, that was the “beginning of the end” of the prison program. Counterterrorism officials began to “rethink the strategy for a secret war.”
It’s much easier and safer to just have a robot kill somebody than to engage in the unseemly business of apprehension, interrogation, and detention.
But the key here is that — just as I thought — our strategic military decisions are driven more and more by public relations at home. Americans aren’t against war or killing, we just don’t want to be troubled by it.