Politicking the Drones

“I spent a couple years training soldiers to go and die in Vietnam. I know more names on the wall than ones that didn’t end up in granite from those classrooms. Now, I build things to keep soldiers alive.”

My father said those words more than a few times during my life, when explaining why he worked where he did – he was a systems analyst for a company that made safety equipment. His major projects for the military toward the end of his career involved detecting chemical and biological weapons in the field, and were built for installation on primarily Naval aircraft.

Predator Drone

NOAA imagery: Predator Drone

I knew what my dad did for a living because we would often joke that he had never been introduced to a textbook on basic English Grammar. His writing was atrocious, and it was obvious very early on that I was the absolute opposite. So, he’d write his reports, and hand them to me to cover with red pencil lines and notations. While a great deal of the technical information was way over my head, I did understand that my dad’s work was saving lives of not only Naval personnel, but also many troops on the ground. That was definitely a good thing.

When this whole issue of drones being used to kill Americans overseas came up, I couldn’t help but think of what my father would have said. Of course, being an old Army man, I know he would have been furious at anyone that was suggesting that there is a problem with this. I can almost hear him saying that the real problem isn’t the drones, but the fact that people are granting the title “American” to people that have chosen to engage in terrorist activities against the U.S. He would be furious with our government for not immediately stripping citizenship rights and privileges from Americans that choose to become enemy combatants, by joining terrorist organizations.

And that is what this all boils down to – it is a matter of semantics. It is a misguided notion to consider these people as U.S. citizens anymore. And if they officially weren’t, there wouldn’t be a single word of protest against killing them. So it begs the question, why hasn’t our government set a hard and fast rule that once a U.S. citizen has been identified as a willing participant in a terrorist organization, that person is no longer considered a U.S. citizen? Argue about rights to due process, or whatever you like, but before speaking, consider what would be said if the person in question didn’t happen to be a U.S. citizen at some point.

There is an uncomfortable reality here. First, there is the political situation, and the fact that this policy would have been attacked severely by the left if it had been a Republican president setting it. It’s unfair, but true. However, while it might feel nice to point this out, that righteous indignation is hollow, because as conservatives, we would have been defending this policy on behalf of a president from our side of the aisle. For those that are a little slow on the uptake, that means the problem isn’t with the policy, but with the party affiliation of the president that created it. That doesn’t cut it.

Second, there is a huge contextual issue on the horizon here. Obviously, the use of drones by the U.S. military overseas is something that the people should be able to agree is a good thing. Unmanned aircraft make it possible to save the lives of our military personnel, and no matter which side of the aisle one is on, that should be considered a major asset. The real argument lies in the use of these aircraft over U.S. soil, and rightfully so. With the noted exception of use of drones by our Border Patrol, their use should be highly limited – primarily using them for search and rescue, and perhaps for apprehending a fleeing criminal. Drones should not become “Big Brother’s eye in the sky.” But, in spite of some states and localities choosing to make laws governing the use of drones now, that isn’t the issue at hand. And straight military use over foreign soil should not be a bone of contention.

Bottom line is, fight the fight that’s worth fighting. Stop arguing over the merits (or demerits) of using drones to attack enemy combatants, regardless of their citizenship status. Focus on preventing the misuse of them over U.S. soil – that’s where the real battle will be.