4. Targeted killings are creepy.
Many critics of drone strikes are also broadly uncomfortable with targeted killings, viewing them as little more than assassinations or simple murder. In targeted killings, lethal force is aimed at specific, named individuals. (Not all targeted killings involve drone strikes, just as not all drone strikes are targeted killings.)
Last week, I wrote that whether targeted killings are lawful depends entirely on whether you think the law of war applies in a given situation. But assuming it does apply -- which is surely true in Afghanistan, at least-- it's hard to see the problem with targeted killing. Should we prefer untargeted killing?
Going after a named, specifically identifiable individual we know to be a bad guy may make us uncomfortable, but it's surely better -- assuming our intelligence is solid -- than, say, lobbing grenades into a compound filled with unnamed probable bad guys.
None of this means we should feel sanguine about the way drone strikes are used by the United States. In next week's column, I'll focus on reasons we should worry about drone strikes. Current U.S. practice presents glaring rule of law problems, and unmanned technologies also provide the executive branch with a new means of circumventing the War Powers Act, increasing the temptation to use force. Perhaps even more ominously, the increased use of drones by the U.S. also risks completely unsettling the precarious collective security structures created by the U.N. Charter.
There's plenty not to like about drone warfare. But if we're going to critique it, we should do so for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.