Squash star takes on the Taliban

James Montague at CNN:

Art.pakay.cnnChingaiz Khan was an unknown quantity when he arrived for a junior weightlifting tournament in South Waziristan nine years ago.

Chaotic and intensely religious, the Pakistani region is known by locals as “the most dangerous place in the world.”

The 12-year-old Chingaiz, with his short, jet-black hair and smooth, unblemished skin, looked younger than the other boys. But, despite it being his first ever tournament, he was still stronger than everyone else.

For his father Shams-Ul Wazir, a local college lecturer, the decision to register his son for the tournament paid off handsomely.

Chingaiz was crowned the junior boys' weightlifting champion, the first step on a journey that would take him into the world of professional sport.

Except Chingaiz wasn't really his name.

Chingaiz was actually called Maria Toor Pakay.

Chingaiz was a girl.

“I suggested the name of Chingaiz Khan for her since she had always been like a boy,” explained Al Wazir in an interview with HBO. “She liked the name very much.”

This isn't a story of deception, but rather a tale of necessity.

Maria Toor Pakay is Pakistan's number one squash player, ranked 49th in the world. She also comes from an ultra conservative region in Pakistan that is home to the Taliban.

More here.

Transcending Matter

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

ID_IC_MEIS_ASHCA_AP_001Human history is written from the perspective of the winners. But it is also the case that the winners are, more often than not, assholes. Looking back over the wreckage of past ages, losers can come off looking pretty good in comparison. The story of what-could-have-been sometimes beats the story of what-actually-was.

One scenario for meditations upon history's winners and losers took place in New York City, 1913 when a group of painters decided to put on a show at the Armory building. The idea behind the show was simple. One of the organizers, John Quinn, expressed it in his opening address, “The members of this association have shown you that American artists — young American artists, that is — do not dread, and have no need to dread, the ideas or the culture of Europe.”

America was ready to confront the big boys (and a couple of girls) of European art. American art would no longer be perceived as the mostly provincial, second-order stuff of a colonial backwater. The Armory exhibit would display American artists like Oscar Bluemner, Patrick H. Bruce, James Earle Fraser, and Henry Twachtman alongside Cezanne, Redon, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, and Duchamp. Likewise, art enthusiasts in the U.S. would get their first glimpse of Continental art movements: Neo-Impressionism, Futurism, Fauvism, Abstraction, and Cubism.

Viewers of the exhibit were also going to see the newest creations of those American artists who had come to be known as The Ashcan School. Painters like William Glackens, Robert Henri, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and a young Edward Hopper.

More here.


Christine M. Korsgaard in The Point:

ScreenHunter_122 Feb. 26 16.54What sorts of philosophical problems do we face because of the existence of non-human animals? Most humane people would agree that their existence presents us with some moral and legal quandaries. And recently, but only recently, philosophers have taken a serious interest in the character of animal minds. But I have come to think that animals present us with a philosophical problem deeper than either of those—that the existence of non-human animals is the source of a profound disturbance in the way that human beings conceptualize the world. It is almost as if we—I’m using “we” to mean “us human beings” here—are unable to get them firmly into view, to see them for what they really are.

Many people, to take one small example, find nothing odd about the sentence, “I live alone with a cat.” Okay, granted, someone might also say, “I live alone with a child,” at least so long as the child was a very small one.[1] But “I live alone with four children” would be starting to put the language under stress, even if they were all toddlers, while “I live alone with four cats” would not. Here’s another example: People wondering about whether there might be life on other planets sometimes ask, “Are we alone in the universe?” Just look around! Well, you may reply, they mean to ask whether there is any other intelligent life in the universe. Right. Just look around!

Animals also seem to pop in and out of our moral view. Most people would agree that it is wrong to hurt or kill a non-human animal without a good reason, but then it turns out that any reason, short of malicious pleasure, is reason enough.

More here.


Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:

Divided-brain-reportIain McGilchrist has written a response to my post about his book The Master and his Emissary and about the RSA workshop that discussed it. Since it is a long reply, Iain asked me whether I could publish it as a post, rather than as a comment, which I am happy to do. I have appended my own response at the end. (And just to avoid any confusion, while I have set up the discussion in the form of two open letters, Iain’s piece was written as a straightforward essay, not in letter form.) I am slightly puzzled, as I observe in my reply, by the tone of Iain’s piece. He seems to suggest in places that my original was written in bad faith and that I seem not to have not read his book or the RSA document. Whether I have adequately understood either is, of course, a matter for debate. But my post was written in good faith, and while critical of Iain’s thesis was also, in my eyes at least, respectful of his work. I wrote it to engage in the kind of debate for which I had hoped that Iain himself had written his book, and the RSA had held its workshop. I am publishing Iain’s essay in the spirit of such debate, I have written my response to it in that spirit, and I hope that people will engage in that spirit with both sets of arguments.

More here.

The Gatekeepers


Will the film become a watershed in Israeli life? Will Israeli audiences walk out of the theaters re-thinking what they thought they knew about Israel’s albatross? The inauspicious answer begins with the fact that for Israelis, there is little that is new or revelatory about the chiefs’ confessions, nor the basic dilemmas in general. Most know that some Shin Bet chiefs criticize the state’s security policies after leaving office, that Ami Ayalon has a conflict resolution initiative with Al-Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh, and that Yaacov Peri is active in center-left political circles (he has now entered Knesset with Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid’s centrist party). The film must also be considered in a context where the occupation is a paradigm that rules Israeli life. Historic empires drew legitimacy from heaven; by contrast, paradigms are supposed to rest on empirical truths that are nearly unquestionable and can withstand disagreements over their finer points. For example, most Israelis believe that “there’s no Palestinian partner,” and that this is why the occupation continues. Israelis are convinced that they themselves want peace (nearly 60 percent in the December 2012 Peace Index survey support a two-state solution), but that Palestinians continue to hate and refuse to recognize Israel.

more from Dahlia Scheindlin at Dissent here.

his kine Drop milky udders


The white liquid sold in jugs across America is not, in the truest and fullest sense of the term, milk. It is pasteurized milk, and often pasteurized milk that has been homogenized and adulterated with various chemicals; referring to it as real milk is an act of ontological promiscuity. This beverage is a dairy product, to be sure, and one that bears a striking resemblance to real milk, but it is quite different from the milk that nourished farmers around the world for millennia. Pasteurization breaks apart the enzyme lactase, which is crucial for the digestion of lactose. Pasteurized milk also lacks lacto-bacilli and other “good” bacteria that help preserve milk, slowly souring it and producing yogurt. These probiotic bacteria exist in harmonious ratios in milk from healthy cows. Because of the presence of lactase and probiotics, many have concluded that real milk is much healthier than pasteurized milk. However, I will not hold forth on the debate over milk’s healthfulness because, like the Senator from Florida, I’m not a scientist, man.

more from Skyler Reidy at Front Porch Republic here.

is the circus art?


The power of the circus to conjure this mood is captured beautifully by Emily Dickinson in a letter to a friend: “Friday I tasted life. It was a vast morsel. A Circus passed the house—still I feel the red in my mind though the drums are out.” Wall does not include this in his book or many other examples of the circus’s wide-ranging cultural impact, but if he had, it could only strengthen his case for the circus as an art form. He could also have mentioned the recognition thatnouveau cirque has been gaining more recently among followers of other arts: late last year, Robert Lepage, who has created shows for Cirque du Soleil, produced Thomas Adès’s opera The Tempest at the Metropolitan Opera. His production opens with dramatic trapeze-work, as Ariel swoops and whirls from a spinning chandelier.3 It could be easier for circus acts to gain recognition by presenting themselves as a sub-genre of experimental theatre, but there have always been important differences between the stage and the big top.

more from Laura Marsh at TNR here.

The Owl Comes Into Its Own

Natalie Angier in The New York Times:

OwlOwls are a staple of children’s books and cultural kitsch — here wooing pussycats in pea-green boats and delivering mail to the Harry Potter crew, there raising a dubiously Wise eyebrow in the service of snack food. Yet for all this apparent familiarity, only lately have scientists begun to understand the birds in any detail, and to puzzle out the subtleties of behavior, biology and sensory prowess that set them apart from all other avian tribes.

Researchers have discovered, for example, that young barn owls can be impressively generous toward one another, regularly donating portions of their food to smaller, hungrier siblings — a display of altruism that is thought to be rare among nonhuman animals, and one that many a small human sibling might envy. The scientists also discovered that barn owls express their needs and desires to each other through a complex, rule-based series of calls, trills, barks and hoots, a language the researchers are now seeking to decipher. “They talk all night long and make a huge noise,” said Alexandre Roulin of the University of Lausanne, who recently reported on barn owl altruism in the journal Animal Behaviour with his colleague Charlene A. Ruppli, and Arnaud Da Silva of the University of Burgundy. “We would never put our nest boxes in front of a farmer’s bedroom, or the person wouldn’t be able to sleep.”

More here.

History of Swing Dancing

From CentralHome:

Lhop-bwThe history of swing dates back to the 1920's, where the black community, while dancing to contemporary Jazz music, discovered the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. On March 26, 1926, the Savoy Ballroom opened its doors in New York. The Savoy was an immediate success with its block-long dance floor and a raised double bandstand. Nightly dancing attracted most of the best dancers in the New York area. Stimulated by the presence of great dancers and the best black bands, music at the Savoy was largely Swinging Jazz. One evening in 1927, following Lindbergh's flight to Paris, a local dance enthusiast named “Shorty George” Snowden was watching some of the dancing couples. A newspaper reporter asked him what dance they were doing, and it just so happened that there was a newspaper with an article about Lindbergh's flight sitting on the bench next to them. The title of the article read, “Lindy Hops The Atlantic,” and George just sort of read that and said, “Lindy Hop” and the name stuck.

In the mid 1930's, a bouncy six beat variant was named the Jitterbug by the band leader Cab Calloway when he introduced a tune in 1934 entitled “Jitterbug“.

More here. (Note: At least one daily post throughout February will be devoted to African American History Month)

The Quarterly DAG-3QD Peace and Justice Symposium: Drones

Header online symposium-09

Dear Reader,

We are very pleased to collaborate with the Amsterdam-based Dialogue Advisory Group (DAG) to bring to you quarterly online symposia on topics of international peace and justice. This is the third in this series of symposia; the first two can be seen here and here.

DAG is an organization which discreetly assists government, inter-government and other actors to confidentially manage national and international mediation efforts. Among their publicly known activities is DAG’s involvement in verifying the ETA ceasefire in Basque Country and the decommissioning of the weapons of INLA, a dissident Republican armed group in Northern Ireland.

DAG is directed by Ram Manikkalingam who also teaches politics at the University of Amsterdam. He advised the previous President of Sri Lanka during the peace process with the Tamil Tigers and prior to that advised the Rockefeller Foundation’s program in international peace and security.

In the DAG-3QD Peace and Justice Symposia internationally recognized figures will debate challenges in conflict resolution and human rights. One (or more) author(s) will present a thesis in the form of a short essay and then the others will present critiques of that point of view. Finally, the initial author(s) will also have an opportunity to present a rebuttal to the critiques.

The topic this time is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in situations of war and conflict.

The distinguished participants in this symposium:

  • Bradley Jay Strawser is an assistant professor in the Defense Analysis Department at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and a research associate at Oxford’s Institute for Ethics, Law, and Armed Conflict (ELAC) in Oxford, UK. He has written frequently about drones for the press, including for The Guardian and the New York Times. He also has a book forthcoming from Oxford University Press entitled Killing By Remote Control: The Ethics of an Unmanned Military. It is an edited volume on the ethical questions surrounding the employment of UAVs.
  • John Fabian Witt is a professor of law at Yale Law School and the author of Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012).
  • Steven Levine is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Massachussettes, Boston.
  • Feisal H. Naqvi is a partner at the law firm Bhandari, Naqvi & Riaz and an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, as well as a columnist for The Express Tribune.
  • Lisa Hajjar is an associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Her research and writing focus on the laws of war and conflict, human rights and torture. She is the author of Torture: A Sociology of Violence and Human Rights.

I would like to thank the participants as well as Ram Manikkalingam, Fleur Ravensbergen, Michelle Gehrig, and the indefatigable Amanda Beugeling of the Dialogue Advisory Group for working closely with me in organizing these symposia. The logo for the symposia has also been designed by Amanda Beugeling.

We look forward to your comments and feedback.


S. Abbas Raza

NOTE: DAG and 3QD wish to acknowledge the generous contribution of the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO, the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research) toward these symposia, as well as the support of our readers.


[Click the links below to read the essays.]

  1. More Heat Than Light: The Vexing Complexities of the Drone Debate by Bradley Jay Strawser
  2. On Adopting a Posture of Moral Neutrality by John Fabian Witt
  3. Drones Threaten Democratic Decision-Making by Steven Levine
  4. Even War Has Limits by Feisal H. Naqvi
  5. Is Targeted Killing War? by Lisa Hajjar
  6. Reply to Critics: No Easy Answers by Bradley Jay Strawser





Please leave comments about any of the essays in the symposium in the comments area of this post. Thank you.

More heat than light: The vexing complexities of the drone debate

by Bradley Jay Strawser


“Cynicism is what passes for insight among the mediocre.” Joe Klein delivered this gem while discussing how difficult it has become for Washington journalists to write a positive story on a politician these days.[1] Something similar could be said regarding the debate over the morality, legality, and prudence of our most recent weapon of war: the unmanned aerial drone. Critics and supporters alike tend to oversimplify the moral complexities that any reasonable assessment of drones should acknowledge. Worse, both critics and supporters often take a rigid position one way or the other with drones – enthusiastic embrace or passionate condemnation – without admitting to the deep-seated moral tension found at the heart of this fractious issue. The overconfident claims of moral surety on either side of the drone debate should give us pause.

Perhaps such conclusions are understandable. After all, each side in the debate can lay claim to a piece of the truth about drones. Given the stakes, it makes sense that we find ourselves wanting to say something – to rightly shine a light on the tragedies wrought by drone warfare or to rightly praise a weapon that has the ability to be far more accurate than alternatives, thereby saving innocent lives. There is, however, a troubling paucity of consistent data on the drone strikes themselves and a considerable lack of transparency from the U.S. government regarding its drone operations. Reaching an absolutist position on either side of the drone divide is thus both too quick and too simplistic given the issue’s complexities and unknowns. When it comes to unmanned weapons, we far too often hear vociferous condemnation or unqualified justification, when nuance and an admittedly frustrating ambivalence would be more apt. For both critics and defenders of drones alike we could say, parsing Klein, that “overconfidence is what passes for discernment among those who should be more apprehensive.”

To highlight this difficulty, it is worth noting that my own work on drones has been accused of falling into the very kind of one-sided certainty I’m here criticizing. This is because some have portrayed me as a staunch, unflinching defender of drones.[2] But this is a false portrayal; I view myself as neither a pro-drone advocate nor an anti-drone detractor. This is because, again, any comprehensive position on drones must account for the many moral complexities, both good and bad, in both theory and in practice, that this new weapon system portends.


One cause of confusion in this debate stems from a failure to recognize a crucial distinction: the theoretical analysis of the morality of drones as separate from discourse over the morality of actual policies carried out today. Some complain that it is useless to investigate whether drones pose any intrinsic moral problems in the abstract, or have any inherent moral gains in theory, apart from how they are actually being used. As one commenter memorably put it, “Agreeing with the drone wars ‘in theory’ is like agreeing with the Iraq war ‘in theory.’”[3] Rather, this view insists, we should look solely at the ways in which these weapons are presently being used, and base our moral conclusions on those facts alone. Nick Scott gives this kind of argument in his critique of my work. Writing for Foreign Policy, Scott argues that “the abstract moral issues surrounding drone strikes are of no importance when divorced from the policy that calls for their usage. Without the context in which U.S. drone policy is executed, there is no meaningful framework through which to examine these abstract questions.”[4]

But is Scott mistaken? It seems it is not only possible to do so, but that there are good reasons to scrutinize drones distinct from their actual employment. I believe it would be rash to dismiss the importance of analyzing drones in the abstract and to instead focus only on present policy. I see at least three reasons why the present and future debate over lethal drones should maintain this distinction.

Read more »

On Adopting a Posture of Moral Neutrality

by John Fabian Witt

For at least a millennium, human beings in the western tradition have been objecting on moral grounds to new technologies of warfare. Pope Innocent II condemned the crossbow and the longbow alike in the Second Lateran Council of 1139. Centuries later, some objected that rifled weapons – which were vastly more accurate over far longer distances than their smoothbore predecessors – should be prohibited lest warfare become more like assassination from afar than like chivalrous combat. So-called “dum-dum” bullets – projectiles designed to explode on impact — drew the criticism of humanitarians in the middle of the nineteenth century. By World War I, attention had turned to chemical weapons. In the wake of the Second World War, nuclear weapons and biological warfare were added to the list of hotly controversial new technologies of combat. Closer to our own time, we see protests against anti-personnel landmines, munitions with undetectable fragments, incendiaries, and blinding laser weapons.

Even to set forth the list is to see the pattern: relatively few protests against weapons as such are successful. And when such objections do come to fruition, either in the formulation of legal prohibitions or diminished usage or both, it is almost always for weapons whose strategic usefulness to powerful states is quite low. The ban on chemical weapons after World War I, for example, came only after it became clear that the winds could blow both ways — and only after it was readily apparent that armies equipped with gas masks could withstand chemical attacks no matter how the wind blew. By contrast, objections to strategic game-changers such as the crossbow or rifled muskets have been fleeting and powerless in the sweep of history.

If further evidence of the uphill battle faced by critics of powerful new weapons is needed, the International Court of Justice provided it fifteen years ago when it took up the question of whether nuclear weapons were permissible. Faced with powerful pressure from the strongest states of the world, the ICJ found that it could not condemn nuclear weapons. For under some conditions – where, for example, small states aimed to defend their very existence against powerful enemies – the ICJ could not say that resort to nuclear weapons would never be lawful.

* * *

The newest entrant into this time-honored (if morally dubious) tradition is the unmanned armed aerial vehicle: the drone. I find much to sympathize with in Bradley Jay Strawser’s energetic and analytically lucid essay. Strawser argues that properly understood, the drone is a technology that may, under the right circumstances, be used. It follows, he says, that all evaluations of the drone as a weapon must be situation specific. We need to know how it is being used and to what end. In principle, I agree. But I suspect that this argument will persuade relatively few who are inclined to disagree with him, and it is worth making sense of why exactly it is that this is so.

Read more »

Drones Threaten Democratic Decision-Making

by Steven Levine

As the only philosopher among the respondents to Bradley Jay Strawser in this symposium, it would be reasonable for me to be expected to examine the question of whether drones are morally permissible or impermissible. Straswer argues that their use is not only permissible but in many cases morally obligatory. I therefore might be expected to argue that they are not permissible, much less obligatory. But this approach in my view obscures as much as it illuminates. For I think there is a prior philosophical task with respect to drones, namely, to make explicit to ourselves their character, nature, and likely use, and the challenge their use poses for our moral and political life.

We begin with the question: is there anything unique about drone technology? I think the answer is yes. While on a continuum with prior technologies (long-range guided missiles, for example), drones are unique because, in a context where there is no physical threat to their operator, they are not only extremely accurate but guided, in real-time, by the practical decision making of a human agent. For Strawser these features of drone use are moral goods and therefore part of their philosophical justification. In being accurate and subject to real-time human decision making the unintended death of non-combatants is avoided far more than with other technologies, while in shielding the operator of the drone one avoids subjecting one’s soldiers to unnecessary risk. What I want to show is that both of these features, which are seemingly good, are precisely what make drone warfare so dangerous to our moral and political life.

But how could using a weapon that dramatically reduces collateral damage not be good? The problem is that drones, in being so accurate, are suited to be not only weapons of traditional war but also instruments of targeted assassinations and intelligence actions. In this sense, the drone is the perfect weapon for a world in which the primary division is not between states but between states and non-state actors and where the distinction between the military and intelligence has all but collapsed. While drones could be used in traditional war, they have until now been used as weapons in what we could call, contentiously but I think accurately, imperial border control (The U.S.’ imperial borders not being contiguous with its landmass). They have been used not against states with which we are at war, but against threatening persons who have taken shelter (or are sheltered) in failed states. This changes the status of the civilians who are collaterally killed in drone attacks. They are not citizens of a state with whom the U.S. is at war, but unlucky citizens of a state that is unable to monopolize the means of violence. One could imagine a person in the Pakistani tribal regions thinking: ‘even though my country is not at war with the US, I could be eviscerated at any moment by one of their bombs from the sky’. Here we could ask what is hopefully not taken to be a cynical question: why is this not a form of terrorizing a population? Is it relevant that drone strikes are not intended to terrorize the population but they do all the same?

Read more »

Even War Has Limits

by Feisal H. Naqvi

Bradley Strawser’s much-disclaimered defense of the use of drones ultimately obscures more than it illuminates. That he chose to title his essay “More Heat than Light,” is thus unwittingly ironic.

Mr. Strawser defends the use of drones both as a matter of principle and as a matter of policy. He argues that the use of drones is neither immoral per se (unlike, for example, the use of nuclear weapons) nor is it immoral within the specific context of strikes by the United States in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (FATA).

By making this argument, Mr. Strawser deliberately ducks the single most important issue with respect to drones – that is, the legality under international law of US drone strikes in FATA. This omission is curious because Mr. Strawser specifically notes in the first paragraph of his essay that the debate over drones is with respect to their “morality, legality and prudence.”

So far as I can see, Mr. Strawser’s failure to discuss “legality” is deliberate because US drone strikes in FATA are a gross violation of the law of nations. Mr. Strawser’s decision to ignore his nation’s illegalities and instead concentrate on either ab initio philosophical musings or a utilitarian calculus that devalues the rights of Pakistanis only underscores this point.

International law provides in categorical terms that no nation can violate the sovereignty of another except in certain limited circumstances (see Article 2(4) of the UN Charter). Given that US-operated machines are flying in Pakistani air space and killing Pakistani citizens, the first question that needs to be examined is whether the US has any legal basis for its violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

There are two relevant exceptions to Article 2(4) that the US can cite as justification. The first is the consent of the host state. The second is when the use of force is in self-defence (either in response to an armed attack or in response to an imminent threat) and where the host state is unwilling or unable to take appropriate action. Neither of these two exceptions is applicable to US drone strikes in Pakistan.

Read more »

Is Targeted Killing War?

by Lisa Hajjar

Bradley Jay Strawser begins his essay by positing that the debate over drones is prone to rigid and oversimplified pro and con arguments which are unsuited to grappling with the “deep-seated moral tension” manifest in the rise of unmanned aerial vehicles armed with missiles. He argues that there is a pressing need and value in assessing drones as an object of moral theory distinct from their actual use. He uses as an empirical example the area where drones actually have been used most, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, to illustrate a moral abstraction and draw a conclusion: If the war in FATA is a just war worth fighting and the targets of drone strikes worth killing, then “a relatively strong (but highly conditional) case can be made that drones are the best option (or least bad option) presently available with which to engage this fight.”

To set up the abstract moral argument about drones as a weapons technology, Strawser recruits nuclear weapons as a comparative example. What makes nukes patently immoral “in accordance with just war theory constraints” is their inherent (technological) incapacity to discriminate between legitimate and illegitimate targets (i.e., combatants and civilians) as well as their inherently disproportionate effects (i.e., total destruction and long-term devastation). But nuclear weapons are neither technologically nor morally comparable to drones. The only thing they have in common is that both are weapons. Rather, drones are like tanks or helicopter gunships or fighter planes, all of which—unlike nukes—have the capacity to kill with discrimination and in ways that are proportional to the value of the target. Thus, in abstract terms if the purpose to which drones or tanks or helicopter gunships or fighter planes are used is “just,” then there is nothing inherently immoral in using any of them.

However, if we want to make an abstract moral argument about drones specifically, we have to isolate what distinguishes drones from other similar killing technologies: drones are unmanned. Here Strawser makes a rather rigid claim: “In fact, drones offer clear normative advantages by better protecting their operators from harm and by being more accurate in hitting their intended targets than other weapon platforms…” Leaving aside the accuracy assertion (which is debatable[1]), if drones offer a clear advantage to their operators, it is an advantage that compares to the combatant who perfidiously disguises himself to approach and kill his target unawares or the sniper who kills from a distance. Perfidy in the context of war is a war crime because the advantage the combatant gains from disguised sneak attack is illegal, and sniping is at the outer margins of what we would call “battle” because distance and camouflage offer degrees of protection to the shooter that those who engage their enemies directly do not enjoy. Being present in or proximate to the battle, or even flying manned crafts above targets and risking being shot down are the kinds of “disadvantages” that unmanned lethal technology eliminates.

Thus, one key question that drone warfare raises is whether it is moral (or legal) to be in war and be able to kill surreptitiously and systematically without the risk of being killed. Strawser blends a jus in bello contention that drones are moral because they are capable of proportionate violence, and a jus ad bellum argument that fighting militants in FATA is a just war. Thus, he piggybacks the contention that the use of drone technology to wage the war in FATA is just because the war is just. The insight we might draw from his reasoning is that battle-less wars and surprise attacks are moral.

The use of drones, at least in the ways they are so hotly debated, is a technological innovation to the practice of targeted killing. To contemplate the abstract morality of drones, we must deal with the question of whether targeted killing is moral, and this begs a more complicated question: Is targeted killing “war” and if so, what kind of war is it?

Read more »

Reply to Critics: No Easy Answers

by Bradley Jay Strawser

I wish to thank the Dialog Advisory Group and 3 Quarks Daily for hosting this symposium.[1] I also thank the four commenters, John Fabian Witt, Steven Levine, Feisal Naqvi, and Lisa Hajjar. Each essay raises important points which deserve thorough discussion for which I am grateful.

Before I respond, however, I’ll note that in the intervening time since I wrote the opening essay, the now infamous Department of Justice (DOJ) White Paper on drones was released.[2] This was followed shortly thereafter by the Obama administration agreeing to divulge further memos to congress regarding the killing of US citizens overseas via drone.[3] Needless to say, this is a significant development in the broader drone debate, although much of the release itself can be chalked up to Washington political theater.[4] In terms of substance, the White Paper does not provide much new information regarding the administration’s legal and moral reasoning behind US drone operations – they have made similar overtures defending the practice in other venues.[5] The DOJ argument is that lethal drone strikes, to be justified, must meet a three part test which they claim the strikes carried out by the US do meet. First, the individual in question must be reasonably deemed to pose an imminent threat; second, capture must be infeasible; and, third, the killing must be carried out according to standard “law of war principles,” such as proportionality, distinction, and the like.[6]

The pressing moral issue for present drone operations, then, is not the principle of such action, as it is claimed and represented in this White Paper. For, in principle, the killing of a liable person who poses an imminent threat to innocents in order to block his or her threat, when the strictures of necessity and proportionality have been met, is perfectly legitimate. This is simply the traditional claim of justifiable defensive killing. Surprisingly, some of the authors responding to my initial essay in this symposium seem to not understand this point when they claim that all drone strikes fail to give their targets “due process” and are “extra-judicial executions.” This misunderstands the moral reasoning behind the drone strikes – at least so far as it is claimed by the administration. I am not here thereby suggesting that the US drone operations necessarily meet their claimed justification – that’s another matter – but simply that some of the authors for this symposium are not even responding to the justification as it is claimed. Instead they are asserting that US takes itself to have the right to commit “extra-judicial executions,” which is not at all what the US claims for its drone operations. So I must take a moment and review this basic justification for defensive killing.

The first choice for blocking any unjust threat is the least harmful option available (such as capture), but there are times when necessity demands lethal action be taken as the best or only means to thwart the threat. In such cases, the person posing the unjust threat has made herself liable to the defensive harm in question, and her rights are not transgressed. Such killing is thus not violating that person’s due process rights, nor her right to not be harmed unjustly (for she is being harmed justly). In such a scenario, the person’s actions have made her liable to be killed as the only or best means to block her unjust threat.[7] Again, in principle, this kind of moral justification for killing is nothing new. Such a justification is given on a daily basis when law enforcement officers kill a criminal in the act of threating innocents. If the criminal was posing an imminent threat such that he was liable to be harmed to thwart that threat, none of his rights were violated by the cops when they shoot him.

Of course, the very notion that a threat can be justifiably blocked by killing, while sound in principle and sometimes in practice, is ripe for abuse and misuse. So the pressing moral issue for the drone campaign is how the notion of “imminent threat” is being evaluated, measured, and properly understood.

Read more »

New Drone Base in Niger Builds U.S. Presence in Africa

Eric Schmitt and Scott Sayare in the New York Times:

Drones-web-map-popupOpening a new front in the drone wars against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, President Obama announced on Friday that about 100 American troops had been sent to Niger in West Africa to help set up a new base from which unarmed Predator aircraft would conduct surveillance in the region.

The new drone base, located for now in the capital, Niamey, is an indication of the priority Africa has become in American antiterrorism efforts. The United States military has a limited presence in Africa, with only one permanent base, in Djibouti, more than 3,000 miles from Mali, where insurgents had taken over half the country until repelled by a French-led force.

In a letter to Congress, Mr. Obama said about 40 United States military service members arrived in Niger on Wednesday, bringing the total number of those deployed in the country to about 100 people. A military official said the troops were largely Air Force logistics specialists, intelligence analysts and security officers.

Mr. Obama said the troops, who are armed for self-protection, would support the French-led operation that last month drove the Qaeda and affiliated fighters out of a desert refuge the size of Texas in neighboring Mali.

Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, signed a status-of-forces agreement last month with the United States that has cleared the way for greater American military involvement in the country and has provided legal protection to American troops there.

More here.

Players Club


Rebecca Lemon in Lapham's Quarterly:

On a June day in 1598, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, nearly three thousand patrons file into The Curtain, a London playhouse on the outskirts of the city, along the Shoreditch road. They wait for the actors of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to take the stage for a hotly anticipated new play by William Shakespeare, the sequel to his enormously popular Henry IV. An instant hit in 1596 and one of the playwright’s most performed in the four hundred years following its premiere, the first part of Henry IV stages the history of England before the Wars of the Roses. King Henry IV struggles to hold on to his throne, in part because of political rebellion, but also because of concerns about his rogue son and heir, Prince Hal. While the play’s historical insights no doubt appealed to Shakespeare’s audience, the real reason for the play’s success lies with Sir John Falstaff, a “villainous, abominable misleader of youth” and Shakespeare’s best-loved comic creation. Falstaff, a portly, drunken knight, is corrupter of the young Prince Hal and hero of the play’s tavern underworld.

Known for his drunken antics, Falstaff eventually attracted as much scholarly attention as the solemn and tragic Hamlet. In the 1590s, though, his humor earned him royal, rather than scholarly, notice: Queen Elizabeth, captivated by the knight in Henry IV, Part 1, purportedly asked to see a play that showed Falstaff in love. Shakespeare spent the next year writing and producing The Merry Wives of Windsor to satisfy Her Majesty, delaying the appearance of a sequel to Henry IV. The wait has made this summer afternoon in 1598 all the sweeter. As the performance begins, the audience once again revels in Falstaff and the heir apparent avoiding the battlefield for the bar. In both plays, Hal initially shirks his princely duties to drink with Falstaff at his favorite haunt, the Boar’s Head Tavern. The audience relishes this cheeky rebellion, raising their pints in unison.

Don’t be Beguiled by Orwell: Using Plain and Clear Language is Not Always a Moral Virtue


Ed Smith in The New Statesman:

Orwell season has led me back to his famous essay “Politics and the English Language”, first published in 1946. It is written with enviable clarity. But is it true? Orwell argues that “the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words.”

I suspect the opposite is now true. When politicians or corporate front men have to bridge a gap between what they are saying and what they know to be true, their preferred technique is to convey authenticity by speaking with misleading simplicity. The ubiquitous injunction “Let’s be clear”, followed by a list of five bogus bullet-points, is a much more common refuge than the Latinate diction and Byzantine sentence structure that Orwell deplored.

We live in a self-consciously plain-spoken political era. But Orwell’s advice, ironically, has not elevated the substance of debate; it has merely helped the political class to avoid the subject more skilfully. The art of spin is not (quite) supplanting truth with lies. It aspires to replace awkward complexities with catchy simplicity. Successful spin does not leave the effect of skilful persuasiveness; it creates the impression of unavoidable common sense. Hence the artifice becomes invisible – just as a truly charming person is considered nice rather than “charming”.

There is a new puritanism about the way we use words, as though someone with a broad vocabulary or the ability to sustain a complex sentence is innately untrustworthy. Out with mandarin obfuscation and donnish paradoxes, in with lists and bullet points. But one method of avoiding awkward truths has been replaced by another. The political class now speaks as it dresses: in matt navy suits and open-necked white shirts. Elaborate adjectives have suffered the same fate as flowery ties. But this is not moral progress, it is just fashion.