October 31, 2012

As someone who once monitored drone operations, I am troubled by Ambassador Kurt Volker’s critique of them [“The risks of relying on drones,” op-ed, Oct. 28]. Mr. Volker seemingly condemned them: “People go to the office, launch a few kill shots.” But rather than calling for a ban, he essentially applied the Powell Doctrine — including such requirements as a strict cost-benefit analysis; the support of Congress, the public and allies; a clear endgame — to their use.

Let’s start with the alleged immorality: Drones have specific political and operational costs and benefits, but they are just another form of force. As one who has sent people into danger, and been the target of rockets launched by people from relative safety, I have a different view of the morality of drones vs. piloted aircraft or ranger platoons.

Once drones are accepted as a form of force, we can apply rules to them. Mr. Volker tried this; he just picked the wrong rule. For major “conventional” (his word) operations, the Powell Doctrine is spot on, but it is not helpful for raids and special operations against rogue states and non-state actors, such as rescuing Americans from pirates, the Osama bin Laden raid or the 1986 bombing of Libya. These short-of-war uses of force have their own risks and rules. Drone operations should adhere to them. Nothing less, nothing more. 

James F. Jeffrey, Washington

The writer, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served as ambassador to Iraq and to Turkey in the Obama administration. He was deputy national security adviser and ambassador to Albania in the George W. Bush administration.

Let’s enjoy those drone aircraft that let us kill with impunity while we can, because, as military history tells us, advantages gained through new technology don’t last long. There are plenty of examples. When the British Navy built the HMS Dreadnought, the first all-big-gun battleship, the ship was soon copied and a naval arms race ensued. The United States built and demonstrated the first atomic bomb; now numerous countries have them or want them. When the Philistines saw what David did to Goliath, they probably created a slingshot corps that fired even bigger rocks.

Crashed drones are surely being reverse-engineered right now. More seriously, every major power is no doubt investigating drone technology. Because of that, war, when it comes, will be ever more dreadful.

Paul Mahany, Bethesda

Ambassador Volker made a cogent and balanced case, particularly from a moral standpoint, for more circumspection in the United States’ reliance on the use of drone strikes to degrade or eliminate terrorist capabilities. However, he neglected one critical argument. 

By killing terrorists instead of capturing them, admittedly a significantly more difficult task, the United States deprives itself of vital intelligence that could help disrupt future acts of terrorism. Former senior CIA official JoséRodriguez and others have made this case very eloquently. The moral argument against an over-reliance on the use of drones notwithstanding, our country would derive much greater benefit from capturing and interrogating these individuals instead of simply killing them.

David Parker, Waterford, Va.

The writer is a former operations officer with the CIA from 1985 to 1993.

Although I have long been a strong supporter of President Obama, I have watched with growing concern his use of military might and, especially, his increasing dependence on drones. Those of us who believed Mr. Obama to be a person of peace are having to rethink our position.

This concern was confirmed by the Oct. 24 front-page story “U.S. set to keep kill lists for years.” If the headline wasn’t enough to send chills up one’s spine, the story went on to report: “The number of militants and civilians killed in the drone campaign over the past 10 years will soon exceed 3,000 by some estimates, surpassing the number of people al-Qaeda killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.”

How in good conscience can those of us bitterly opposed to targeted assassinations (read “premeditated murder”) that also maim and kill innocent bystanders vote for Mr. Obama? I have stood by a president whose life experience has demonstrated understanding of those less privileged, but will my vote now also signify total approval of a militaristic policy?

Meanwhile, I have no faith in Mitt Romney’s ability to serve as commander in chief and will not cast my vote for him, but must I compromise my beliefs in the voting booth? I face a dilemma of conscience as I vote for Mr. Obama while trusting that he is true to his.

Laura Nell Obaugh, Alexandria

Every day men with evil intent wake up and plan on ways to kill Americans. Thank goodness our government has the drone program designed to thwart them. I hope, and expect, that we have many additional capabilities that are not being reported on. Remember, our enemies read newspapers, too.

Ronald Glaser, Haymarket