The Forever Drone
It's not entirely clear why Mr. Obama is so enamored of drones. To give the benefit of the doubt where none is due it's possible he's convinced himself that they are effective in our struggle against people we don't happen to like at any given time. More cynically, he's noticed that drones are very popular among the public, from the great unwashed right through to liberal intellectuals, and so he's calculated that it will be politically easier for him to carry on an expensive war (for Washington, expense being a good thing) with drones than without them. A typical middle-brow Obama masquerade. Drones, nevertheless, pose huge problems — but not for the reasons people think.
Drones kill all sorts of innocents, including many women and children. Drones tend to make the general population on the receiving end more hateful toward the U.S., though it is not entirely clear how much drones add in a material way to already existing levels of hatred due to U.S. military aggression. Drones almost certainly violate international law. Drones almost certainly violate the U.S. Constitution in all sorts of ways. The use of drones abroad has a blowback effect with increasing numbers of drones being used domestically for less than persuasive purposes. There are plenty of reasons, and lots of commentators ring the changes. Glenn Greenwald, for example, regularly carries on with stunning detail backed by faultless legal logic for many tens of thousands of words. And you can't criticize that. But it's mostly irrelevent.
To be fair, there is a chance that international courts will one day get around to putting American drone warriors on trial and, presumably, punishing them. But that day is a long way off. There's no chance, on the other hand, of American courts weighing in, certainly not in any way that declares the use of drones unconstitutional, say, in assassinating American citizens abroad (talk of finding due process for a secret assassination gives me the creeps and I cannot understand why some liberals think that that might be a solution of sorts). As for demonstrably negative effects on the battlefield, forget about it, they won't be an issue for this or any likely future administration.
People who object to drones are fighting the wrong fight. There's little to no traction in logical or legal arguments. But even if that weren't true, what isn't being fleshed out is much more important than what is: This is fundamentally a moral problem.
Nobody has the right to kill someone else just because they feel like it. When the political leader of a country asserts that right, and acts on it, the moral geography of the country changes, invisibly, in unpredictable ways. The social covenant begins to dissolve. Ordinary people begin to wonder what other previously unthinkable things are now OK, maybe for them, too. Boundaries of the impermissable shrink.
Historical evidence tells us that the logic of tyranny — and make no mistake about it, extra-judicial killing by a supreme leader is tyranny — always eventually turns on itself. But it would be neither wise nor pragmatic to plan to wait for that to happen before trying to fix things, because by then it may well be too late.
Moral arguments have been out of fashion for so long that we tend to lack an ability to make them. So here's a reality check. Are we up to the task of again imagining what's right and wrong?