Response to Article on #Drone Attack in #Yemen

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In Conor Friedersdorf’s recent article in the Atlantic, he proposed several questions regarding the recent air strike that reportedly hit a wedding party in Yemen killing several innocent civilians. However, he fails to provide any answers or actual analysis outside of his version of arm-chair foreign policy. This method of ‘journalism’ predominantly found in the international relations realm has rapidly become the standard as opposed to the exception. I will now answer some of Conor’s questions from the standpoint of someone who actually works in the international security business and currently resides in Yemen…unlike Conor…on both accounts.

Can you imagine the wall-to-wall press coverage, the outrage, and the empathy for the victims that would follow if an American wedding were attacked in this fashion?

Here in Yemen there was a ton of outrage in the news, and in other international outlets. If the author did not see much in the US news about it perhaps he needs to broaden his news consumption parameters. As per the US “droning” domestic weddings please see my next point.

Or how you’d feel about a foreign power that attacked your wedding in this fashion?

Perhaps it would be more understandable if 1) American terrorist groups planned, plotted and executed terrorist attacks from the United States targeting other countries. 2) If our weddings consisted of Hilluxes filled with gun toting Tribesmen. Conor, have you ever even seen a Yemeni wedding?

How many actual al-Qaeda terrorists would we have to kill with drones in Yemen to make the benefits of our drone war there outweigh the costs of this single catastrophic strike?

One. That is the answer. Consider for a moment (because clearly you like rhetorical questions with no answers) if this strike successfully targeted those planning the AQAP 5 December attack on the Ministry of Defense Hospital. We could conceivable say that the 15 +/- potentially innocent people’s lives saved 50+ not counting the wounded, property damage and window rattling of my building when it went off here in Sana’a (as opposed to your isolated Venice life)

If U.S. drone strikes put American wedding parties similarly at risk would we tolerate our targeted-killing program for a single day more?

If the risk of the wedding party possibly being a convoy of AQAP soldiers then the answer is yes. You should know how far America is willing to go to feel safe – you seem to cover the topic extensively.

Our policy persists because we put little value on the lives of foreign innocents.

To the contrary the US goes through extensive efforts to avoid civilian casualties. Having actually watched artillery strikes checked and checked again to avoid possible civilian casualties I can vouch for that. If we did not care about civilian casualties we would have just dropped a JDAM on the town and called it a day. Frankly, when was the last time you have actually been in a position to be the one making the decision of “I can probably kill that bad guy, but I may kill potential innocent people…what do I do?” Judging from your bio, never. So no, you do not know where people in my business place our value. In fact we generally cherish human life so greatly that we are willing to make the hard decisions because in the long run far more lives are saved. I find the people who cherish life more, are the ones who witnessed it lost so many times and have to deal with the nightmares for the rest of their lives if they make a bad decision. What happened when you make a bad decision? Low site-hits?

Even putting them through the most horrific scene imaginable on their wedding day is but a blip on our media radar, easily eclipsed by a new Beyonce album. 

Perhaps you are watching the wrong news. Re-evaluate yourself. Here in Yemen I didn’t even know Beyoncé came out with a new album until I read your ‘article’.

Is attempting to pick off alleged militants while in a wedding convoy with innocents the highest standard we can set to avoid civilian deaths?

Yes. Yes it is. And if you knew anything about war (or arguably the rest of the world outside of your bubble) you would know that the alternatives are far worst. JDAM? Cruise Missile? Battalion of Marines? Delta or SEAL Team? Yeah it is the highest standard. The armed UAV program is the lowest form of engagement besides doing nothing. Also, if you are going to refer to them as “alleged” militants then you rightfully so need to refer to the innocent as “alleged” innocents.

Does anyone believe that, if not for our lethal drone program, the United States would’ve sent the Air Force or ground troops to fire on this wedding party?

No. Of course not. But if we did you would be writing an article critiquing those operations too. It is a lose-lose with critics like you who profess nothing but commentary with no solutions nor experience in the field. Armed UAVs are far more delicate than Air Force resources and there is no chance of a downed US pilot. As with ground troops we cannot send them (we tried years back) because the Yemeni government rejected the idea. Seriously, stop proposing these random rhetorical hypothetical questions with no purpose but to produce drama.

Is anyone else skeptical that the targets in this wedding convoy would be immenently attacking us right now if not for those Hellfire missiles?

You in Venice at your Starbucks? Probably not. They wouldn’t be able to get through Border Patrol. However, they could very easily attack our Aid workers here, our Embassy, our allies’ embassies, our citizens in Yemen (like me), our allies’ citizens, or in case you have forgotten – those foreign citizens from our ally state of Yemen. Do not be naïve about this and try to draw grand conclusion using this logic. It is deeply flawed. Or go ask that question to any family member of the victims of the USS Cole, 11 September attacks or the myriad assortment of other attacks.

The moral course, if we must have a drone program that puts civilians at risk, would be to apologize for any terrible mistakes that we make, pay reparations to the wronged survivors, and explain what steps will be taken to insure nothing like this will ever happen again. Instead, according to CNN, “U.S. officials declined to comment on the report.”

  1. We cannot apologize (nor comment) because the program is technically classified. Duh.
  2. Reparations were paid. On that topic how much is a human life worth to you? How much is enough? How do you calculate that? Now there would be a decent article you could write from your Starbucks table and be probably accurate with just facts you find online. Hell, I would even help you with it. It would make for a great assigned reading in a Philosophy of Ethics class.
  3. They have explained steps to be taken and Obama has been sure to assure that there is more careful analysis to be done for the decision to strike or not. The armed UAV program has scaled back a number of operations however it is still delicate work and yet it must be done. So despite the countless strikes that were highly successful with little to no civilian casualties (I challenge you to even define “civilian” in asymmetrical warfare) there is still a chance that things can go wrong.
  4. More so, the verdict is yet fully in on the exact numbers of those killed and who was who. Being that you will never step foot at the site nor will ever be on the side where you need to make the decision to fire or not, perhaps you should avoid articles on the topic. It would be like if I wrote an article critiquing life in Venice considering I have never been there nor have any involvement in the city.

This is not journalism. You are a guy who felt guilty with his privileged life and decided to draft up a list of rhetorical questions that he makes no effort to answer – and masquerades it as journalism. This is amateur work. I am confident you can do better,

Also, you misspelled “imminently”. 

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