Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 | 2 a.m.
I believe in baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, the American dream, Jack Bauer, the U.S. Constitution and, yes, drones.
And I believe there is a place for all of those things, those people, those aspirations and the responsibilities that come with having all of them in the lives of decent, responsible, law-abiding Americans.
And therein lies the problem I believe this country is currently having in trying to understand and figure out whether there is a place for the latest weapons technology — drones. They are becoming more prevalent not only on the 21st century battlefield but, perhaps, in our daily lives in this country.
The place drones do or should have in our society is a discussion worth having. So, at the risk of being labeled a conservative — once again — let me weigh in. By the way, I am a conservative because I believe in conserving the concepts and promises of our Constitution. You know the ones: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
There is a fundamental issue to resolve when it comes to the growing use of drones. The discussion that has so many people hopped up about is whether the president, as the commander in chief of the armed forces, can order deadly force against the enemy — including U.S. citizens — without the due process that is afforded Americans.
There are people of good intentions on both sides of the argument when it comes to killing U.S. citizens abroad or even spying on them at home. That should be easily and transparently resolved within the dictates of the Constitution and the requirements of national security. We do it all the time.
So let’s tackle the tough question. What to do about U.S. citizens who wind up in the cross hairs of a drone while he is participating in that which he shouldn’t be or associating with those who would do us harm. For that I have to go back to my childhood.
For instance, when I was a boy, we learned that the policeman on the corner was our friend and that he would help us if we needed it. I also learned that, because he has a badge of authority and a gun on his hip, that when he tells us to “stop” and put our hands up that we better do just that or risk getting shot. That was not the kind of lesson we needed to get taught more than once.
Today, we hear all the time that people aren’t stopping, aren’t raising their hands and, consequently, are getting shot.
I am sure there may be some societal reasons that have created a sense of distrust that causes people to react differently to those commands, but the fact remains that not stopping, not putting your hands up and not doing what we are told by a police officer will still get us shot. And there is little room in society for any argument that starts out, “But…”
So, let’s take that lesson to the battlefield. There are some who want to argue that you can’t tell where the battlefield of the 21st century is and, therefore, we shouldn’t conduct drone strikes in what have been traditionally civilian environs. I think they have a point but not a very persuasive one.
Terrorists don’t wear uniforms, they don’t meet on traditional battlefields and they often are not state actors in the sense that a standing army would be. In short, they act apart from states and in ways that take maximum advantage of civilian populations.
I am glad that Congress is asking questions about the government’s use of drones and the policies surrounding the attacks on what could be U.S. citizens. The reason is simple. Whatever policy we settle on — and I hope it is to get bad guys wherever, whenever and with whomever they keep company — the notice to the population cannot be overdone.
In much the same way our parents warned us about how to act when confronted by a police officer with a gun, our fellow countrymen being warned that associating with or being part of al-Qaida could have deadly consequences is about as much lesson-learning as we can or should provide. If you are with or part of the bad guys, you will be treated like a bad guy. And bad guys get droned in today’s modern world of terrorism warfare.
Wars are different today than they were just a few decades ago. We no longer can tell the enemy by a uniform, and we can no longer easily hold a state responsible for the actions of its citizens which are not government condoned — although we should.
By the same token, we are not afforded the luxury of throwing our hands up in the air and doing nothing out of fear of doing the wrong thing. We owe it to our citizens to protect them — the best way we can.
And that brings us back to drones. They can be very accurate in choosing their targets. They don’t risk American lives because they don’t require boots on the ground. They do produce some collateral damage, but compared with a 1,000-pound bomb from 30,000 feet, they are very effective. And they can be manipulated in such a way that the damage they inflict can be justified against the hundreds and thousands of lives that could be lost if those bad guys continued to plot against us.
So, Congress, have your hearings and publish the guidelines that make it clear who can get popped for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And if anyone, citizen or not, decides to ignore the warnings or, worse, joins the forces of evil that yearn to make us dead, then what happens next is on them and not on those who are trying to keep Americans safe. Just like the warnings from the policeman to “stop,” the new warning must be to stay away from al-Qaida and other terrorists because to ignore it is to risk your life.
In the meantime, make sure that those who vet this program and others like it give proper credit and thanks to the men and women in the drone program and the armed forces who do all they can to keep us safe.
One thing is very clear. The world is a very dangerous place because those who would kill us don’t play by our rules. So we need to meet them on their battlefield — wherever that is — and on the same terms.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.