Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday Links

  • Automation and globalization central to US middle class decline.  These issues have been much discussed on this blog; good to see them becoming more accepted in mainstream publications like the NYT.
  • UK economy post great recession is underperforming historical expectation, while US is outperforming (slightly).
  • The US infrastructure for managing drone kill lists.  (FWIW, I think this program is unjust and immoral and sets a terrible example to the rest of the world.   I think upending eight hundred years of Anglo-American legal tradition is a terrible idea - back in the 1200s King John was obligated to agree to the Magna Carta which included this text: "No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land." The 14th amendment of the US constitution encodes very similar ideas.  I don't believe Presidents Bush, Obama, et al, should be held to a lesser standard).
  • Greek universal healthcare has been reversed due to the crisis.


Burk said...

Hi, Stuart-

The drone program, as all kinds of warfare, is morally hard to stomach. But quoting the Magna Carta isn't going to help, really. If you can bring the Taliban and Al Qaeda people who terrorize Afghans and others around the world to a US court house, I am sure that the US government and people would be quite appreciative. Otherwise, you might want to consider the history and practices of war, which are not civilian due process rules.

The Magna Carta was a negotiated agreement between the state executive and his subjects, principally other high-ranking royals in the system. It had nothing to do with how the King or Royals for that matter, were going to treat, say, the French when they went to war with them, or the Saracens, in ensuing Crusades. They would kill without quarter, and rarely take prisoners either. In any case, they wouldn't dream of setting up courts, lawyers for the defendents, etc.. Making the parallel is laughable.

Now, in this world that is getting rapidly smaller, where the US is laying claim to some kind of legitimate world policeman role, it might make more sense to set up a commensurately legitimate process whereby we define who the bad guys are in some joint way with the larger world community, and define what kind of force is permissible to use against them.. the would be all to the good. But this would be a big step away from past practices, to world government. That would be great, but the precedent of the Hague is not promising at all on the efficiency or comprehensiveness of such justice. It has been a disaster.

But basically, the drone program is completely just and moral insofar as war is just and moral. Our definitions may be changing on that front, but one should be explicit about that. And having one superpower with the capacity to make war all over the world surely is corrosive, both internally in the US and vs everyone else in the world. This is a reason to beef up the UN and create truly legitimate world governance, with effective military capability.

Robert Hurst said...

Habeas Corpses.

Robert Hurst said...

"But basically, the drone program is completely just and moral insofar as war is just and moral...."

Basically, under the traditional laws of war, the entire 'drone program' is a war crime.

Seth said...

On the morality (or lack thereof) of kill lists, I highly recommend "The Fog of War" in which Robert McNamara reflects searchingly on his own role in the fire bombing of Japan.

This particular segment ends with his 'confession' to war crimes.

Kill lists might or might not be justifiable in extreme circumstances, but what makes it most shocking to me is the lack of meaningful 'proportionality' (the term McNamara uses in the clip above). As a country we have collectively "wet our pants" over terrorism. It's pathetic.

9/11 was NOT Pearl Harbor. Roughly the same number of casualties *on the day*, but otherwise the situation was just dramatically ... dramatically ... different. Six months after 9/11, Al Qaeda had followed up it's sucker punch with what? Bombing a nightclub in Indonesia, maybe? Six months after Pearl Harbor, Imperial Japan had overrun Dutch and UK colonies in South East Asia and was on the point of invading Australia. AUSTRALIA. The US Marine Corps' desperate stand at Guadalcanal was about all that kept Australia from Japanese invasion and likely conquest.

Erik Poole said...

Aside from the morality and ethical aspects, drone-bombs are clearly the scariest strategic development to come along in years. They are far scarier than nuclear weapons.

Israel has now exported drone-bomb technology to Russia. In a few years resource-poor states and non-state actors will be able to use drone bombs.

Americans and Israelis have to ask themselves if the task of establishing facts on the ground in conquered 1967 territories is really worth the inevitable blood shed that will result.

Dan said...

The biggest problem with our drone policy, and our torture policy for that matter, is that they are evil. So, they are seen by our enemies, allies, and our own men as evil. Our enemies get to raise funds, recruit, open new fronts and expand existing ones while we are constantly dealing with rifts in our alliances because our allies don't want to be associated with evil. Furthermore the men we need to serve are repulsed by it while the men we don't want are drawn to it like moths to a flame. Without these disasterous policies Al Quida would be likely be all but done for, instead they are on the march. The moral trumps the physical or kenetec.

Furthermore, at the start of the at the start of the Vietnam war the military realized they weren't going to win the war with men riding around in the back of trucks, so they put them in copters. Then focused on body counts and kill ratios. The drone policy is the latest interation of that same lack of strategy.

HalFiore said...

Burke's argument makes sense except for a few instances. First, he is arguing that essentially anything is legal in war. This is not true, and the US is signatory to treaties that specifically outlaw the targeting of civilians during war. Second, that this is even an issue of war. Many of these attacks (well, all of them if you want to get technical) are being carried out in countries with which the US does not happen to be at war. Third, war is only a concept that applies between sovereign nation-states. If the US or any other country can unilaterally declare itself at war with any individuals within whatever nation it chooses because it feels threatened by them, there is no limit to the damage it can to to any nation or people.

Finally, outside of the subject of war, the argument that the Magna Carta and subsequent guarantees of rights only apply to citizens would only be of use if the US had not actually targeted, on more than one occasion, US citizens.

Other than those, Burke, your arguments are rock-solid.

Tom Bennion said...

US superiority in drones wont last and its current programme means it will have little standing to argue for international rules to be enforced when US citizens start to get targetted in odd spots around the world. Say a retired senior politician and family on holiday - no thought seems to be given to these possibilities. The rules of war should be enforced. Drone strikes beyond very limited parameters in immediate battle are illegal.

James said...

I agree with Stuart 100%. I'm not sure that Burk fully understands that some of the issues are about how a government should treat its own citizens, rather than how they should fight an enemy in wartime.

Should a government be able to kill or imprison its own citizens without trial? Would any of us want to live under a government run by Bashir Al Asad or Joseph Stalin that had such powers? Saying, "oh but I trust Obama so I think Obama should be given such powers" misses the point and indicates and inability to think abstractly. If Obama is given such powers then legal precedence will give the same powers to future US presidents who may or may not abuse them.

There are other ways to deal with these problems. The international standard is "Security Certificates" - a system used in the UK, Canada, and Israel. It is not a perfect system but it is better than the completely unchecked system that the Obama administration is trying to put in place and with which they will evicerate the protections enshrined in the US bill of rights.

It is human nature to give up ones civil rights in wartime - but as the Germans, the Serbs, and the South Africans can attest ... it is a bad bargain in the long run.

It is especially crazy that the US news media is not covering this important legal battle and that one is left to visit Russian news sites to read about this very important legal battle: