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A progressive defense of drones

In Thursday’s speech before the National Defense University, President Obama reflected on the concerns about “morality and accountability” raised by drone strikes. Emphasizing the importance of “clear guidelines” and intelligence gathering to properly “constrain” the use of drones, the president also maintained a firm stance on their necessity: Even though drone strikes sometimes result in civilian casualties, in many circumstances they remain the most effective option for realizing specific military objectives.

As a liberal, I’m against drones essentially by reflex. At least, I used to be. Recently, I’ve begun to reconsider that view; and I’m no longer sure where I come down on the morality of drone strikes. Disturbing as I find state-sponsored violence, when drones do the killing instead of soldiers, it seems apparent that we have an easier time recognizing the violence as horrific. War, in its traditional form, distorts our moral reasoning. Drones do not. And as much it grates against my broader political commitments to say so, this is plainly a benefit of drone warfare, other shortcomings notwithstanding.

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