Sunday, October 23, 2011

Strategic Stupidity Incarnate?


Reaper Drone (aka Predator B)

On 8 October this month, FB Ali posted a thought provoking essay on the US use of drones and how that constituted "a new kind of war" . . . Please take the time to read FB Ali's essay which sets the initial stage for this discussion.

Coming from a Clausewitzian perspective of course I take a different view and don't see where war has changed at all . . . whereas warfare on the other hand goes through a constant process of change/innovation/reaction, the interplay of technology and technique. If it looks like war is changing, then it is the political glass we are attempting to gaze through that is distorting our vision, making it seem that the process of organized violence as a contest of wills has changed when in fact it is the politics/political relations which is/are simply confusing events, making us focus on the smoke, shadows, noise and flashes which distract us from realizing what is actually going on.

Military means used to achieve a military aim supporting a political purpose. Strategy - both in terms of decisions made and process experienced - can simply be defined as linking the military aim with the political purpose. Once the military aim has been achieved, or as Clausewitz tells us, military victory is the means to achieving the strategic end, we enter into the task of achieving peace, making it in the former enemy's interest to conclude peace through coercion/incentive and other non-military means available. War is the most serious undertaking a political community can take on and achieving the political purpose through the use of the military instrument is perhaps the most difficult undertaking in social relations, that is achieving a lasting peace with the political purpose attained.

I responded to FB Ali's post with this:

FB Ali-

Very much a thought-provoking post.

Just a few questions: First, are we not talking about "warfare" and not "war"? You use the terms interchangeably in your post but are they different concepts? War is the political instrument of organized violence of one political community at odds with another. Warfare is the utilization of the means of war for a particular epoch which is in turn influenced by the political conditions/characteristics of the entities involved.

Naval warfare is "without boundaries" and submarine warfare as practiced first in the First World War, expanded the dimensions possible even further. Could we see a parallel between the submarine of 1914-18 and the drones of today in that the machine/instrument achieves a level of autonomy which could endanger/run counter to the very political interests it is meant to serve?

Submarines at the time were considered "terror weapons", are drones by their very characteristics also "weapons of terror"?

Finally does not the employment of drones attack the legitimacy of the state the US is supposedly wishing to support? The basis of state legitimacy being its monopoly on the use of legitimate violence within its borders? By condoning the use of drones over its territory targeting its own citizens, does not the host state become by definition a "failed state"?


To which FB Ali was kind enough to respond:

Seydlitz89,

I think I used the two terms (war and warfare) discriminatingly. Space constraints prevented me from dealing with each separately.

The development of military robots will, in the future, create a new type of warfare, in which machines do the fighting and killing (and ‘dying’) instead of humans. To that limited extent, the development of this kind of warfare could be welcomed.

What I expressed concern about was the new type of war that these machines would make possible. Hitherto, the achievement of any significant results through military power required the exercise of considerable force across national borders, which also could not be concealed. The availability of highly capable, potent machines would tempt powerful countries to apply significant force against others without overtly violating borders, even secretly. This would invite a response in kind, if not degree, from states and even non-state entities.

If such a type of war were to become prevalent, it would tear up the present international order, and force even powerful countries to become ‘security states’.


To tie this all together allow me to make a series of statements which hopefully will indicate a coherent view:

First, drones are simply the latest and most advanced example of what technology has been able to achieve since around 1840. The development of steamships carrying cannon - the classic gunboat - and operating contrary to the elements and this type of weapon system since has provided political communities, specifically states, with this means of coercion for some time. These weapons systems allow the side with the technology to inflict pain and damage, but not to occupy or hold. There also exists a basic tension between this capacity and the achievement of the political purpose, since these systems can coerce and destroy, but only that. The British gunboat in China, the German Uboat in the mid Atlantic and the Reaper Drone over Yemen all share a basic autonomy which may or may not support the overriding political purpose. Thus there is a tendency for the capability to become the focus, not what this instrument is expected/suppose to achieve in terms of military aim/political purpose.

Second, due to this autonomy there is a tendency for this type of weapon to be seen as an instrument of terror. The simple fact that they apparently operate outside the norm reinforces this tendency. The negative propaganda associated with their presence has to be taken into consideration.

Third, the capability and character of these weapons invite inordinate responses from the side under attack from them.

For these reasons weapons of this type need to be deployed carefully with a clear intent in terms of strategy. There also exists the possibility that their employment actually creates more problems than are dealt with.

These above statements refer to these weapons as a class.

Specifically in regards to the drone wars currently being conducted by the present US administration, I have a series of specific questions:

First, specifically what military aim/political purpose are these weapons expected to achieve? How exactly?

Second, if the goal is simply national security, how does undermining the legitimacy of the host government where they are deployed, making them appear to be unable or unwilling to protect their own people, support US interests?

Third and finally in terms of evaluating effectiveness, it seems impossible to separate wishful thinking/endless claims of precision from operational security/legitimate secrecy, that is the line between foreign and domestic propaganda and/or actual reporting has been compromised. In other words, the spin is universal.

Fourth, drones are different from the other weapons of this type I mentioned above in that the future capacity for actual autonomy exists, that is there would be no human element at all. How exactly is this progress? Or is it rather hubris of a rather dangerous sort reflecting our political dysfunctions more than anything else? Given the possible flaws . . .

There is more I could add, but I'm interested first to know what ya'll think . . .

Postscript:

Seems that some US officials at least are worried about the unintended consequences of this weapon system . . .

79 comments:

  1. Remotely Piloted Vehicles, or "drones" are weapons. Weapons kill people and may destroy property.

    First, specifically what military aim/political purpose are these weapons expected to achieve? How exactly?
    They are expected to help control real estate, by killing or threatening to kill.

    Second: how does undermining the legitimacy of the host government where they are deployed, making them appear to be unable or unwilling to protect their own people, support US interests?
    Without control of contentious real estate from the unpopular but truculent fundamentalists aka the Taliban, the legitimacy of the host government becomes a farce in the eyes of the populace. The political costs due to "undermining" the host country's government may be cost-effective when the benefits of stability to local life, and things like the return of girls to school and music, because of this turf control of the area are considered.

    Third and finally in terms of evaluating effectiveness,: you actually might be right, but probably not for long, as we develop beyond the "Wiley Post" level of development. Point is, it's early days yet, for this.

    However desirable "precision" might be, the object of the exercise is to kill the target. Seems to work. The USAF faces an aging-airframe problem with its fighter fleet, and they need way more planes than the F-22/35 procurement acquires. The point is, RPV's offer a cost-effective way of building replacements for A-10's and Apaches and F-16's, so there is a powerful incentive to make the technology work, spin or no spin.
    My 2¢.

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  2. Great post, here's my take.

    First, specifically what military aim/political purpose are these weapons expected to achieve? How exactly?

    Pretty straight forward, I think, perhaps I am missing something. Surgical removal of HVTs. Attacking the COG when the COG is a personality. The drone strike on the Qadafi convoy didn't kill him, probably wasn't meant to, but it enabled his kill/capture by the forces that the politicians wanted to be credited with the k/c. Big political win, IMO.

    Military goals in Pakistan are tactical, but numerous. Instead of B-52s hitting supply lines in Cambodia, you have drones striking bomb making factories and key leaders.

    Second, I am not sure I agree the use of drones attacks the legitimacy of the host nation state. US is providing a capability that the host nation asked for. Sure, we could argue that the USG is coercing the HNG to accept the drone strikes, but that isn't always a valid assumption. Fact: If Pakistan didn't want US drones flying over Pakistan, the Pakistani Air Force has the capability to shoot down the drones. Therefore, we have to assume that either the PK government supports the strikes, or that they fear the consequences of saying "no" to the USG. If a government fears saying, "no", then I see your point. That may be the case in PK, but not everywhere.

    If US SOF is operating on the ground/air in a country such as Colombia for 3 decades, do we consider Colombia a failed state? (I am sure there would be drones there if it were a valid tool, but there is no requirement due to the dense jungles and the effective COLAF, Mexico may be another story, assuming the GoM doesn't change in 2012 and returns to a "live and let live" policy, which I see as a real possibility, but I digress)

    The 3rd question confused me a bit, but now I see the dilemma. We have to trust our elected officials, who get the full story, to determine effectiveness, but there is a vested interest for the elected officials to claim "effectiveness" to maintain their seat. No solution, I think this question is true of almost any military weapon, tactic or strategy.

    As far as actual autonomy, couple of comments. No strikes on the ground will ever be truly effective without eyes on the ground. You will always need human enabled sensors. And no country, with any form of air force or air defense, will be subject to air breathing drones without tacit approval. Drones in the air and eyes on the ground requires a witting and approving host nation. What if strike approval wasn't unilateral, but required HNG concurrence before pulling the trigger? I think that is the most effective solution.

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  3. Thanks gentlemen for your thoughtful comments.

    Weapons kill, that's a truism, but when used in connection with a strategy, by the government of a state . . . We seem to be measuring effectiveness in terms of the means, but not the ends. Tactical success leading blindly to strategic failure, as I suspect?

    Controlling real estate could be the goal, and I have thought of that myself, but what would be the political purpose of that? Since we are controlling this system and thus controlling the real estate, whereas the host government is not?

    How does taking out a HVT achieve the military aim, which is . . .

    How does this military aim in turn provide a means for attaining the political purpose?

    bg mentions Libya which is the most unambiguous deployment currently. That is there is a clear military aim (supporting the military aim of the NTC) with the political purpose of attaining a stable Libyan government adequately representative of the Libyan people (both from a Libyan perspective) and not acting against NATO interests (our perspective). This works because the NTC is still consolidating, fighting against the former government's remnants, but I doubt if they will tolerate drone activity in Libya for much longer. The more stable the government the less they would be willing to tolerate this type of deployment, and should we pressure them into accepting it, we diminish their credibility even more, which was FB Ali's argument I think.

    The other deployments of drones are much more questionable and even obscure from a strategic theory perspective. I'm not talking about morality here, but strategic effectiveness . . .

    As to precision, say we attain a HVT kill rate of 75%, that is 3/4 of those liquidated by our drones are HVTs while the other 25% is collateral damage. Who we consider a HVT may not wash with the locals. Identification and targeting of HVTs is dependent on our intelligence assets. Also the forces/groups opposing us have a home field advantage in propaganda in how each attack is perceived . . .

    As a case study, what about the Al Awlaki affair . . . ?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/liveonline/01/nation/ramadan_awlaki1119.htm

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  4. Much to discuss in this topic, wish I had more time. Quick summary of my thoughts.

    Isn't destroying an HVT the way you target the COG? If you assume that strategic leadership (both in ideas and in methods) is the COG, then killing Al Awlaki, along with his website designer, and his chief weapon designer, all within a couple of weeks, that sounds like a good recipe to meeting the strategic goal of making AQAP a non-player in international terrorism.

    Your point about home field advantage is well taken, however, in the Al Awlaki case, they weren't local (also true with Arabs in the FATA). And there aren't many ways to spin these types of attacks in Yemen. A car driving through the desert gets incinerated by a dozen hellfires.

    Hope to be able to write more later, I think this is an important topic, but recognize that I have to challenge my assumptions. But I am seeing success in drone strikes in 3 different regions outside of AF/Iraq.

    To my previous point, Yemen demonstrates the need for a witting and supportive government, intelligence on the ground, and over 2 years of "strategic patience" enabling the Pred strike.

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  5. bg-

    Isn't the COG or Center of Gravity popular support in this type of unconventional war?

    Edstock-

    --"Without control of contentious real estate from the unpopular but truculent fundamentalists aka the Taliban, the legitimacy of the host government becomes a farce in the eyes of the populace. The political costs due to "undermining" the host country's government may be cost-effective when the benefits of stability to local life, and things like the return of girls to school and music, because of this turf control of the area are considered."--

    But does this not require us to in effect become the local government? Of course if the local government - established by us - is not as interested in establishing legitimacy as they are in looting foreign aide/the locals, then we have an unsustainable situation . . .

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  6. Sure, in COIN, popular support is the COG according to some. But we aren't talking COIN, we are talking Counter Terrorism. (I sense a trap, but I will walk into it anyway...)

    I am on record for a couple of years now saying we should stop confusing COIN with CT. Afghanistan missed a great oppurtunity a couple of years ago to transition to a pure CT fight, but we went down the COIN road anyway. In CT, the C2 of the nodal organizations, or more importantly, the ideas that link the nodal networks together, is the COG. You can't bomb an idea, so you go after those who create and spread the idea. That is what Yemen was all about, in the case study you cited. Blocking the idea is an entirely different line of operations that isn't really something the military does (or should do) well.

    Deny sanctuary from which the idea could be generated and spread, and where attacks could be planned. Drones help significantly with gaining access to these areas. Hate to say "mission accomplished" in Yemen, but it has been a pretty satisfying couple of weeks in a 2 year long fight. And back to my point, to attribute this to "drones" is a distraction from the real work. The drone is just one of many finishing tools, but it's loiter time does give it significant advantages. But it is just a tool that gives a technological edge and allows new tactics.

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  7. On the purely kinetic issue, Edstock pretty wells sums up the reality of drone attacks in Pakistan; the PAF could shoot these things down if it wanted to, if the government wanted them to. Pakistan has a fairly long history of making loud noises about Western imperialism whilst being perfectly happy to let the bloody ferenghis do the killing they'd rather not do. So if the USAF is killing people from the air, then it stand to reason that the bulk of these people are people that the Pakistani government either wants killed or has no problem with standing by whilst they get starched.

    But.

    "You can't bomb an idea, so you go after those who create and spread the idea" seems like a notion so fatuous as to almost defy parody. It works, providing you're willing to a) assume that there are some people so unique that killing them will change everything around them.

    While that may be true in some cases - kill George Washington at Ft. Necessity and you get a different North America - the problem is that you really have no idea AT THE TIME that the death of the officer you're killing would have the effect you think it would.

    Or timing - Hitler is killed in 1917, maybe 1939 comes out different. But the SOE/OSS looked long and hard at the notion of killing Hitler in 1943 and concluded that the gains from his death were likely to be offset by the ascendance of someone more competent and just as ruthless.

    And b) be willing to kill every fucking living thing that hates you...and then sow the ground with salt.

    The bottom line is that the U.S. has gone a long, long, LONG way to poisoning the well in the Middle East. From 1948 to 2011, we've been involved in bitchslapping a decent chunk of the region for one interest or another, from Partition to Mossadegh to Saddam to Mubarak and on and on. If we stopped this instant we'd be likely to be on the receiving end of various attempts by various individuals and groups to do us harm.

    Noodling around overhead dropping ordnance on individuals isn't going to change that. If we turned the sky BLACK with the damn things we couldn't kill everyone in the region who's pissed off at us. Seems to me that you have WAY too little faith in the lethal combination of human ingenuity and rage that makes new enemies spring up like Cadmus men from the craters you plow with aerial weaponry.

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  8. So, no, seydlitz, I don't think this is "strategic stupidity".

    Strategic stupidity was going into a place where we had no reason not to be a studious neutral and honest broker and siding with a bunch of outside invaders in 1948.

    You can argue the merits of those invaders all you want - I'll be the first one to accept that their manners, mores, politics, and general "westernness" made and makes them a lot more loveable than the scruffy natives of the joint - but that got us started on the binge of backing local bastards from the Shah to the Mubarak clan to the oil emirs and beyond.

    We need three things from the Middle East; petroleum, relative political quiet, and passage through Suez. Instead we picked the "side" that made it dead solid certain that we'd get neither. And then proceeded to do dumbfuck things like...back the Shah and then let him get overthrown...then back Saddam and let him go all grabby in Kuwait...then break Saddam and prove to every Tom, Dick, and Rasul that the secular Arab dictators were paper tigers and it was the Islamists like Hezbollah and AQ that offered a hope of pimpslapping the Western bitches...

    In short, the "strategic stupidity" goes back to our geopolitical choices all the way back to 1948.

    Drones?

    Just another tactic. Fifteen minutes of fame, another U-boat, another Maxim gun. At some point some Islamic Asdic-nerd will come up with a way to futz them, and we'll move on to the next gadget.

    But the geopolitical hole the U.S. has dug in the ME?

    Deeper than a well, wider than a church door; 'tis enough, 'twill serve.

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  9. Maybe I'm missing something here, but no one has yet made a credible link between military aim (supported by this particular weapon system) and political purpose (whatever that my be in our War on Terror). I'm not really interested in getting into the grand politics of this thing, rather where weapons/tactics/technique and strategy meet and promote the achievement of the political purpose, that is theory not so much history. Not that Chief doesn't make good points . . .

    bg's comment is in the right direction, but there's a catch. He wrote:

    --In CT, the C2 of the nodal organizations, or more importantly, the ideas that link the nodal networks together, is the COG. You can't bomb an idea, so you go after those who create and spread the idea. That is what Yemen was all about, in the case study you cited. Blocking the idea is an entirely different line of operations that isn't really something the military does (or should do) well. --

    Consider the case of Al Awlaki again. Here's what the WashPost had to say about his biography:

    -Imam Al-Awlaki of Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia is also the Muslim Chaplain at George Washington University. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University, a M.A. in Education Leadership from San Diego State University and is currently working on a Doctorate degree in Human Resource Development at George Washington University.--

    After 9/11 he condemned the terrorist attacks as well as condemning Taliban policies in Afghanistan. What he thought was that we shouldn't have invaded Afghanistan to get bin Laden. He also had contacts with the DoD at this time. The turning point seems to have been his arrest and 18 months in a Yemeni jail on charges that he felt had been concocted by the US government. There's also this (from this interview . . . http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2010/02/2010271074776870.html):

    -And in my tribe too, US missiles have killed 17 women and 23 children-

    As to US influence in Yemen:

    -Do you think Yemen's government would facilitate your assassination?

    The Yemeni government sells its citizens to the United States, to earn the ill-gotten funds it begs the West for in return for their blood. The Yemeni officials tell the Americans to strike whatever they want and ask them not to announce responsibility for the attacks to avoid people's rage, and then the Yemeni government shamelessly adopt these attacks.

    For example, the people of Shabwa, Abyan and Arhab have seen the Cruz missiles, and some people saw cluster bombs that did not explode. The state lies when it claims responsibility, and it does so to deny collaboration. US drones continuously fly over Yemen. What state is that which allows its enemy to spy on its people and then considers it as "accepted cooperation".-

    --

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  10. So, what has this all to do with this subject?

    I wonder if Al Awlaki was not a product of our own actions. He was a natural to state our side to the Muslim world, to be a voice to state our idea. Yet, he ends up in Yemen essentially as a propagandist against the US. The argument that he was a "leader of AQAP" comes from the US government. The BBC background article on AQAP from June of this year makes no mention of him. After his death, the "proof" of his connection was that AQAP announced his death. I wonder if whatever guilt he had was more by association (he was a cleric after all) than any operational nature at all. Did we execute German Chaplains captured during WWII? Just wondering . . . The US government never presented any proof of guilt at all as far as I know.

    Could this be the international version of the typical FBI anti-terror sting "success" which has become so popular lately?

    Was he a "terrorist mastermind" of our own creation, used to justify the continued waging of this war, but also a tragically missed opportunity? The cleric from Falls Church Virginia . . . I wonder if in fact he was allowed no way out politically in the sense of what a citizen can do, other then to submit to what he saw as murderous betrayal? After we killed him we killed his kid.

    So, we have a technique/weapon system creating possible blowback due to its very nature which is then used to "take care of" the problem it helped create? By employing violence we create our own idea which can than be used against us, as this incident seemingly indicates . . . ?

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  11. Anyone done any strategic thinking about what happens when those little brown people obtain drone technology?

    After all, they *did* eventually get machine guns and bombs.

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  12. seydlitz,
    A lot of this discussion is about the military , but the CIA is a major player in this weapon use. They ain't military.They ain't got the right to kill people.
    What is the legality of the CIA running around the world popping people? This is mafia behavior.
    I'm rather challenged to come up with the difference of flying a commercial airplane into a building as a bomb, and flying drones around the world killing people with bombs. If 1 is wrong then isn't the other wrong?
    It isn't war and it isn't law enforcement , so what's left-criminality.
    jim

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  13. jim-

    Imo one could also see it as perhaps a massive info op.

    Reading Al Awlaki's bio yon can't help but think that he had lots of help getting to that particular point in road . . . Our help? Who's to tell. The propaganda effort behind his demise was impressive and sustained. What could that all mean? Not like many care.

    So I'm thinking weapons systems . . . in this case drones . . . that link with purpose attaining strategy . . . or vice-versa. Not soooooo surprising from a strategic theorist . . .

    The first question comes to mind. Why exactly wasn't this guy our guy?

    CIA?

    Second question . . . are ya'll doing anything interesting for Halloween?

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  14. Ael-

    Did you read the last link in my post?

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  15. "I wonder if Al Awlaki was not a product of our own actions."

    We need three things from the Middle East; petroleum, relative political quiet, and passage through Suez. Instead we picked the "side" that made it dead solid certain that we'd get neither. And then proceeded to do dumbfuck things like...back the Shah and then let him get overthrown...then back Saddam and let him go all grabby in Kuwait...then break Saddam and prove to every Tom, Dick, and Rasul that the secular Arab dictators were paper tigers and it was the Islamists like Hezbollah and AQ that offered a hope of pimpslapping the Western bitches...

    In short, the "strategic stupidity" goes back to our geopolitical choices all the way back to 1948.


    So, in a word: yes.

    It doesn't really matter whether we blow these guys up with missiles from roboplanes, with arty, shoot them with bullets, or slit their throats (though Vann would have said that we have it perfectly backwards and the last should be first...). Our geopolitical actions in the ME have had the effect of making enemies as quickly as we can slot them.

    Even if we stopped this very instant - as I said - we've poisoned that well so completely that we have no hope of evading continual harassment from the Muslim Middle East for another generation or two.

    I'm sure that the means - since air attacks are, I understand, considered "cowardly" in the Arab ME - has a way of inflating that backlash. But the original enmity comes not from the drones, or the checkpoint shootings, or the random GI murderers - which, I should add, are inevitable as a cat licking the butter dish when you invade a completely foreign nation and give your knucklehead troops absolute power in a lawless failed-state - but from the entire structure we've built in the ME since 1945. Support and arms for Israel, support and arms for compliant dictators from Tunisia to Tehran...we've been our own worst enemy.

    In 1948 the old State Department Middle East hands warned Truman that siding with Israel would lose the rest of the Middle East indefinitely. Sadly for us, they were right.

    There may be a case that supporting Israel is worth it, that all the other stuff that flowed from that - support for people like the Shah and Mubarak, tacit support for the invasion of Lebanon in '82...but the cost is and always will be a continual low-grade conflict with the irredentist Muslim factions unwilling to make peace.

    The drones are a pimple on that elephant's ass; a minor spike in the irritant level, creator of a relative handful of new jihadis...compared to the generations of irritants we've sprayed over the Arab ME like tear gas in a Gaza street...

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  16. seydlitz,

    I don't know enough about Al Alawki's psych profile to guess whether or not he could have been a US spokesman to the Arab world. But what I do know is that he inspired attacks against the US (MAJ Hassan, for example). No, he wasn't the leader of AQAP, he was an American hiding in Yemen under the protection of AQAP.

    Killing Alwaki was a symbol, it was a message the President wanted sent. But the real success was the guy who built his websites, who was also in the car. And the guy who was killed a couple of weeks ago, the guy who designed the improvised explosives. (Despite the epic failures, the stuff was really, really good). Has the whole expedition been worth the cost? Well, I will say this, hellfires from drones are a hell of a lot less expensive than TLAMs. And a small force of intel operatives and some guys in Nevada flying in air conditioning is a lot cheaper than a couple of Tank Divisions and KBR in tow.

    Say what you want about military purpose, strategy and all that jazz, we have found the most economical way to sleigh some dudes. And that is all the drones are. A tool in the bag. Great loiter time, high success rate, relatively low cost and no risk of casualties. Who could ask for more?

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  17. FDChief-

    Disagree. You paint it all in decidedly deterministic tones since 1948. But the historical record is much more complex than that. How do you explain our relationship with Iraq prior to August 1990, or the coalition Bush I was able to put together for DS/DS? If our polices had been so hopelessly lop sided as you portray them then history would reflect it which it does not. There was a "tendency toward" Israel, which tempered but did not determine in every case, and different Arab countries prompted different approaches, at least up until 2001 . . .

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  18. bg-

    -"Say what you want about military purpose, strategy and all that jazz, we have found the most economical way to sleigh some dudes. And that is all the drones are. A tool in the bag. Great loiter time, high success rate, relatively low cost and no risk of casualties. Who could ask for more?"-

    Most economical in terms of means, but not even considered in terms of ends, which I am attempting here. I think it prudent to ask not only what military aim/political purpose this tool in the bag is meant to aid, but also what is the overall political effect of its deployment and use in host countries. I suspect that in 10 years time, with the Arab Spring in the rearview mirror, we'll be looking at this much differently than today.

    So much of this is US strategic culture isn't it? How we as a group look at war, and what we see and don't see associated with it . . .

    Finally, what do you think the message was that Obama was attempting to send with this kill?

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  19. seydlitz: I think it prudent to ask not only what military aim/political purpose this tool in the bag is meant to aid

    Well, it makes ignoring another nation's sovereignty a bit less obvious. Or less obstreperous? Since it is "surgical", it's nicer, or more dignified?

    However, it is, in many applications in the GWOT, the application of US domestic "law" outside the jurisdiction of the US, without declaring the sovereign state upon whose territory we use such weapons an opposing belligerent. We shouldn't be surprised. Hasn't the NYPD been caught conducting legally questionable intelligence gathering outside the legal limits of NYC?

    We Americans have an interesting notion of sovereignty. Only our own is inviolate, and even at that, if one considers the far right, champion of "states' rights", and how they see the need for Constitutional amendments to curb selected state's rights (abortion, same sex marriage), it's clear that our domestic version of quasi-sovereignty of states is only a dream. Are not the Koch Brothers regularly and routinely raising and spending money to influence local elections in states where they have no right to vote?

    We are Empire. We set the rules for others.

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  20. bg,
    the msg the potus sent was that the us is now under presidential edict and the constiution be damned.
    Seyditz,my question on alwaki is-if he was so dangerous then why did we allow him to go oconus?
    did we want him in a kill zone outside the law?
    Why hasn't ksm been tried in a fair trial?
    The how's are always what guys like bg hang their hats on, whereas the why is more important.
    nobody bothered to answer my question re; the cia not being military.what allows them to run around killing people?intel agencies gather intel and the mil uses it to then kill people.
    jim

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  21. Seyditz,

    Sorry, I've got a brain misfire.

    What does a link to a compromised control system have to do with the "other guy" inevitably obtaining the same weapons as us? (and thus having whatever legal and moral precedents we have established in this weapon's use, being applied to us)

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  22. Al-

    You're bringing up some of the points from my Empire thread . . .

    Ael-

    What's the difference between a Uboot and a Drone in terms of capture? I ask since I've put both weapons in this general type. One has to physically neutralize the crew of the Uboot, which happened once I think in WWII, as opposed to accepting the surrender of a Uboot or sinking one.

    The article mentions how a virus has got into the control computers for the drones, but nobody knows how it got there and they can't get rid of it . . . so what would be the easiest way of "inevitably obtaining the same weapons as us?"

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  23. jim-

    What was your experience with the CIA in Vietnam? Were they only involved in intelligence collection?

    I welcome bg's contributions to this discussion and have something to learn from his perspective . . .

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  24. Sorry in advance if this comment is a bit disjointed - I'm trying to cover a lot of ground.


    As a lot of you probably know, I work with these "drones" as part of my job. For the record, I hate the term "drones" - they are more accurately called "remotely piloted aircraft" or "RPA."


    First off, RPA's are a tool, nothing more – as was already mentioned. Secondly, we need to make an important distinction between RPA's operated by military forces, subject to the military chain of command, and RPA's owned and operated by "other government agencies" (OGA). The aircraft that are killing AQ personnel in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere are not military aircraft and do not fall under military command.


    So, it seems self-evident that RPA's under military control fall under the rubric of "warfare" since they are considered a military asset. But what about those owned by OGA's? Is that warfare? Is that using, to quote Seydlitz above, "[m]ilitary means used to achieve a military aim supporting a political purpose?" I'm not so sure - is this considered covert action or war, or what?


    Given that distinction, I can only speak to how these aircraft are used to support the military instrument. I have no knowledge of the other half and even if I did, I'm quite sure that I couldn't say anything about it here.


    A lot of people seem to think this is "robot" warfare - that's the sense I got from FB Ali and many who commented on the thread over at Pat Lang’s place. The reality is pretty much the opposite - it's warfare by committee. These vehicles are not autonomous - they have a crew that flies the aircraft and is responsible for the weapons system plus there are many people who watch the live video feed or the command-and-control chat system. That kind of micromanagement/oversight potential is something you don't get with manned aircraft.


    Seydlitz, you mentioned the submarine in comparison to RPA’s over at Pat Lang’s place. I think that’s a good comparison. I would also add in snipers. The psychological effect on the enemy is similar in that these are “stealthy” capabilities that can kill without warning. I’ve watched my share of guys we killed who never saw it coming. That said, I think the military uses these RPA’s legitimately. They primarily provide support to other military forces using mission-sets that are not new (overwatch, route reconnaissance, fire support, covert surveillance, etc.)

    The question of sovereignty frequently comes up and I really don’t understand why people think we are violating anyone’s sovereignty. We know that predators are based in Pakistan at a Pakistani air base (thanks Sen. Feinstein!). How can anyone argue that these attacks don’t have the sanction of the Pakistani government? The same with Yemen - it was leaked to number of media outlets by "senior officials" back in Dec. 2010 that preds were deploying to Yemen. How are we violating either nation’s sovereignty when our aircraft are based withint their borders with the knowledge and support of the government?

    Ael,

    You mean this? "Drones" are a booming industry and everyone who doesn't have them will soon enough. Arming them is more difficult, though, and is something that will be difficult for most countries in the near term.

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  25. Oh, forgot to add this. On the question of al Alwaki, here's what he had to say on that topic.

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  26. Andy-

    Excellent comments. You introduce some very clear distinctions which lead to yet more questions . . . Also I never mentioned "sovereignty", but "legitimacy" which is a different concept, more how the political community/people view their government/state . . .

    Let me think about what you've brought up.

    I do think your link, Alwaki's statement, answers my question as to what message Obama was trying to communicate . . .

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  27. seydlitz-

    Your "sovereignty" and "legitimacy" bring up a good point. How can an external nation determine "how the political community/people view their government/state" in reference to another state? If that isn't a minefield, I don't know what is.

    Calls to mind the pleadings of a Brit dinner guest the other night. Knowing that another guest was a criminal attorney (Canada), she began going on and on about how the "murderers of MQ should be captured and tried" for their crime. Phil, the attorney, asked her under who's law and jurisdiction. She said that if the Libyans wouldn't do it, the the World Court or some other "civilized body" has to step in. Again, Phil asked, "Based on what jurisdiction?", and we discussed that we didn't really know who the government was yet, and if the "rebels" take control, why would they prosecute? She said, "To prove to the world that they are civilized". I said, have you never seen an occasion where a government did not choose to prosecute as a result of internal political reasons? For example, in war, the winners rarely, if ever, prosecute war crimes by those on the winning side." Phil added, "For all practical purposes, whether or not the government is firmly identified, Libya is a sovereign state, and we have no 'civilized' legal standing to interfere in their internal affairs. Assisting one side in the dispute does not nullify their sovereignty."

    She was left totally frustrated that the Libyans are free to do as they please in the matter. As Phil put it, "Capturing and trying the persons involved, if indeed there is sufficient probable cause, would be a nice statement to the world, and a totally dangerous one to the bulk of the rebel population. Win the international PR battle and lose the country?"

    We tend to define "legitimacy" as it suits our purposes more often than how it suits the purposes of the people of another country.

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  28. Seydlitz,

    We may be undermining the legitimacy of the Yemeni and Pakistani governments, but that's a choice those governments made and reflects the fact that those governments do not exercise control over all of their territory (or, perhaps, choose not to try to enforce that control for various reasons). Perhaps they are miscalculating, but it seems to me that since we are there with government approval then they believed the benefits of cooperating with us outweigh the downsides like decreased legitimacy. And we see, particularly with Pakistan, that these governments are playing double-games with both us and their populations.

    Al,

    Interesting anecdote. Sounds like your Brit friend would love the so-called "responsibility to protect" doctrine.

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  29. Andy-

    Actually, based on other topics, the dinner guest appeared to have held to the "Empire Still Exists Doctrine", as a Brit friend labels it. That doctrine holds that all other cultures are inferior to "civilized" British culture (a hangover pipe dream from Colonial days) and therefore do not deserve sovereignty until they behave like proper British people behave.

    As far as "legitimacy" is concerned, exactly what does that mean? That a government is malfunctioning or dysfunctional in no way tells us whether or not they are "legitimate". If dysfunction negates "legitimacy", then the US government has not been legitimate for a few years.

    When all is said and done, the determination of a "legitimate" government is in the eyes of the beholder.

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  30. To all,
    i wonder if the job description of the cia drone guys AND related analysts state that they have the right to declare the death sentence and kill people-even if by committee.Same question for the military side.
    Andy,
    we are becoming a failed state and you are worried about shit holes over seas. I don't get it.
    Killing is not the goal of warfare, but rather bending the enemy to your will, and drones are not doing it.
    BTW AND,
    To me the drones are the people running these extra jurisdictional killings.
    jim

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  31. Jim,

    i wonder if the job description of the cia drone guys AND related analysts state that they have the right to declare the death sentence and kill people-even if by committee.Same question for the military side.

    Again, I don't know how it works on the other side, but on the military side drones are subject to the ROE just like anything else. There are specific criteria from when we can engage and under what circumstances, all subject to the approval by whomever is in command at the time. Military drone crews are not acting as judge, jury and executioner and these are not "extra jurisdictional" killings in my experience.

    we are becoming a failed state and you are worried about shit holes over seas.

    Please don't confuse my explanations as advocacy. I'm well aware of the problems here at home and don't think we can accomplish much militarily in Afghanistan.

    As far as bending the enemy too our will, I don't think any single weapons-system can do that (except maybe nukes). On the military side drones are a support element in a larger strategy, as flawed as that strategy is.

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  32. Andy,
    ROE IS BULLSHIT.
    if it were a real war there would be NO ROE.
    Did you see roe in ww2 or korea?
    Is roe based on any law? It's ajoke to have roe to kill people extra judicially.
    Don't we get it , if we kill every mother fucker in AFGH we're still gonna lose.
    jim
    jim

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  33. This is great reading and kudos to all for these remarkable posts.

    I've seen the ads on TV and Movie Theater screens showing the general theme of "this isn't Sci Fi, this is what we do".

    One in particular that showed a RPA flying about in a foreign land and then the operator driving home to wife and kids after having terminated a couple dozen folk he's never met.

    Somehow, that seems heinous. Amoral.

    bb

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  34. Jim,

    ROE are based in law, mainly the laws of war, that serve as the baseline guidance. Commanders can add restrictions on top of these.

    bb,

    Do you have a link for that commercial? This is the only one I'm aware of.

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  35. "You paint it all in decidedly deterministic tones since 1948. But the historical record is much more complex than that. How do you explain our relationship with Iraq prior to August 1990, or the coalition Bush I was able to put together for DS/DS? If our polices had been so hopelessly lop sided as you portray them then history would reflect it which it does not."

    Don't confuse the acts of various Middle Eastern governments with the general tenor of Arab opinion.

    The government of Iraq needed help against Iran. At that moment their dislike for us was outweighed by their need to beat the mullahs. Prior to that they we not our particular friends, and they were and have not been since.

    Likewise the Hashemite kings of Jordan have been U.S. allies for a long time. But if you had genuine democracy in Jordan - as we're finding now in places as different as Tunisia and Egypt - we might find that the locals have a much lower opinion of us than their rulers.

    Obviously I was painting with a broad brush; local politics, the needs of particular individual rulers, bribery, chicanery, outright deception...all of these have moved Middle Eastern polities as well as peoples in directions not directly contrary to U.S. interests.

    But...in general, and writ large, we have been our own worst enemies in this region. From our "Israel-leaning" to our support of unpopular dictators to our overall cluelessness in imitating the 19th and early 20th Century colonial rulers we've gone a long way towards making enemies where there need not have been any.

    In the Forties many Arab peoples and rulers welcomed the U.S. as an "untainted body", free of the noxious record of the European imperialists.

    What non-Kurd Arab in the Middle East not on a U.S. payroll would say that now?

    Compared to that...what's a few drones - wait, "RPAs" - between friends?

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  36. Hi all,

    At work, "union" stuff. Have a response including more on "legitimacy" . . . will comment probably tomorrow.

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  37. Andy,
    i don't know if i should barf, laugh or cry when you talk of international law and the rules of war.
    Could you quote a reference.?You usually like to use definitions-try looking up war.
    Have you converted to Bushism?
    jim

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  38. Andy,
    do we have to go back to square 1?
    your strikes whether mil or cia are counter terrorism.
    terrorism is criminality- ergo rules of evidence apply. not rules of intel analysis.what us law allows non-judicial murder?
    If it's war as u claim then why are the prisoners in that war afforded GC protection? Oh, i get it- kill them and they don't need protections.
    also back to square 1-why are we doing all this killing? how is the Amurican taxpayer benefiting?
    jim

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  39. Andy,
    correction-change to-NOT afforded gc protections.
    jim

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  40. Jim,

    ROE is required for any military operation whether that is "war" or counter-terrorism or anything other mission the military participates in. They are the rules we have to follow regarding the use of force. If you think that our military can just kill anyone for any reason, then you are mistaken.

    Here's a link the old CJCS standing ROE (the current version is not publicly releasable). The laws of war do underlie the ROE. Google "LOAC" for more.

    your strikes whether mil or cia are counter terrorism.
    terrorism is criminality- ergo rules of evidence apply. not rules of intel analysis.what us law allows non-judicial murder?


    What do you think I should tell my commander when we find a group of Taliban mortaring or attacking our troops with RPG's and small-arms fire? Serious question.

    If it's war as u claim then why [aren't] the prisoners in that war afforded GC protection?

    That's something different from ROE, which governs the use of force, which is what I'm talking about here. The status of captured personnel is a different matter from ROE.

    But we are getting off on a tangent here. The point I'm trying to make is that drones under military control are merely a support element no different from any other. A military drone which kills a Taliban fighters isn't somehow special or different from an infantryman, manned aircraft, or artillery from killing that same Taliban fighter. Drones are simply a means, nothing more. Drones operated by "other government agencies" follow a different set of rules that I'm not privy to.

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  41. jim: Not to pile on, but I think Andy's point is pretty key here, and it's what I've been wrestling with seydlitz about here; that the means and methods are secondary to the politics.

    And the politics are such that we've pretty thoroughly screwed the Middle Eastern pooch. That alone is going to put us in the position of having to face up to another generation (at least) that's going to produce reams of potential suicide bombers, jihadis, and assorted badmashes. I don't think killing these mooks is an "answer"; figuring out why we're spawning them is an answer. But...there's a VERY good likelihood that when we DO reach the "why"...we're going to find that we're not ready to change that why. We're not going to step away from Israel, or the House of Saud, or stop supporting complaint dictators, or crushing popular movements that threaten the above.

    I'll post a longer discussion of this, but we're basically facing a revolt of our own making. We - us and the Israelis between us - showed the Arab peoples and their nations that the secular governments they inherited from the post-colonial devolution were a toxic combination of venal, corrupt, and - most damning - incompetent. Whenever they confronted us, or our proxy, they got handed their ass.

    But the Islamists! Ho, ho, different story. We helped them give the Soviets their conge' and then stood around whilst they drove the Israelis out of Lebanon and fought the fight in the Occupied Territories, Afghanistan, and Iraq (to some extent). We helped make the Islamists the New Model Army of the Middle East...and ISTM that we're not stuck with them.

    If we stopped the killings right now, this instant, it will be too late. The water is poisoned, and we're going to be drinking it for the next several generations.

    I honestly don't know whether the drone strikes help or harm the "Middle East Grand Strategy" at this point simply because given what I see that we are doing I don't really see ANY good solution.

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  42. chief,
    andy,
    ok i'm outta here.
    that's my rule of disengagement.
    andy,
    it's all so simple.If the Taliban is mortaring our people then tell your no combat time boss it's time for our troops to mortar them back.
    duh.!
    jim

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  43. jim, no, that's isn't the ad I mentioned, although the one you refer to is similar. I'm sure I saw an add about the drone doing its business overseas controlled by a fellow in Nevada and then the guy going home to wife and kids for the night.

    Maybe they pulled it, I can't find it.

    My take on it is that it shows the civvies at home that war is fun, and why let those good video game skills go to waste when you can do the damage for real, but not risk the butt.

    But Andy is correct to say that it is an effective tool to improve the efficiency and safety of our combat forces in the field.

    Of course, as long as "we" have them and "they" don't.

    bb

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  44. Chief:

    If we stopped the killings right now, this instant, it will be too late. The water is poisoned, and we're going to be drinking it for the next several generations.

    It's never too late to do good. But as long as the poor survivor sees the piece of steel that blew up his house or tore his family and friends to shreds labelled "proudly made in the USA", we'll have no peace.

    One immediate good, I believe, would be to help Gaza back on her feet and stiff-arm Israel if need be.

    Gaza is a continuing atrocity, one that the Israelis should be very familiar with.

    bb

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  45. Publius-

    I think we could use your perspective on this . . .

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  46. Andy: Again, I don't know how it works on the other side, but on the military side drones are subject to the ROE just like anything else.

    Doesn't matter how it works on either "side". Both are implementing US policy. It's the underlying policy that is flawed, and the slippery issue of waging "war" on a non-state actor. Not enough thought has been invested in jim's point - is it "war" or "law enforcement" that is the principal approach to terrorism?

    How do we handle violent street gangs? There have been a few thousand gang related homicides in the period since 9/11. Does the LAPD use RPAs to patrol and shoot down identified gang members? Do they employ a "shoot first, ask questions later" "warfare" approach? Does the LAPD operate RPAs in San Francisco to target C&C elements of gangs operating in LA? If not, why not?

    I'm not arguing against your weapon system in any way. But, the employment is what makes me wonder what we are accomplishing. Has it enabled us to reduce spending on anti-terror security at home and use the monies saved to reduce the deficit or provide health care to some of the 50 million uninsured? Have we reduced the numbers of people who wish us ill and are willing to lift a finger to hurt us?

    Or are we just being seduced by something so very sexy?

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  47. Not enough thought has been invested in jim's point - is it "war" or "law enforcement" that is the principal approach to terrorism?

    I see two different things going on which are related. There is the so-called GWOT which is what the CIA, JSOC and others are fighting - a not-very-covert counter-terrorism "war" against AQ. Then there is Afghanistan which is related to the GWOT, but is really a war. Yes, it is a war that doesn't make much sense, but wars don't have to make sense for them to be wars.

    It doesn't make much sense to me to put both these things together and then try to figure out if the whole is "law enforcement" or "war."

    Whatever anyone thinks of the wisdom of our current effort in Afghanistan (and my opinion was first given here two years ago and more recently here), from my perspective it is a war and the means is "warfare" not law enforcement.

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  48. Andy: You're right in that the U.S. has chosen to TREAT it as war. Calling a dog a duck doesn't make it a duck, and calling "terrorism" a "war" doesn't make it one. IMO the beating tar heart of the tar baby we've stuck ourselves into is our insistence in treating this sort of anti-U.S. politico/guerrilla actions as "war" of the "force-the-bastards-to-surrender-on-the-deck-of-the-Missouri" sort.

    That goes to the heart of the "wisdom of our current effort in Afghanistan" - and IRaq, and Yemen. Instead of bolstering the locals in their attempt to conduct what amounts to local law enforcement we neuter the locals by intervening directly with airborne and related direct-action.

    Note the difference, say, between Sri Lanka and Pakistan; we, India, and everyone else treated the LTTE as a Sri Lankan problem. We lent them technical assistance, moral support, and hands-off. They had the political and moral authority to kill thousands of innocents in pursuit of the Tigers and succeeded.

    Meanwhile every swinging richard we kill in error from the sky, or in a night raid, is another kick to our head.

    You'd think by now we'd have recognized the geopolitical blind alley the Bushies led us down (and the Obamites have continued to pursue). WE are the ones who have chosen to treat these mooks as "soldiers" and this criminal enterprise as "war". And having made that choice we have then chosen the means. And you can see how well that has worked...

    I'm sure that all the participants in the Thirty Years' War thought that they were doing the right thing because THEIR religion really WAS the One True Faith. But the results were disastrous, and our conviction that this is "war" looks like it's heading the same way.

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  49. Are we forgetting that the Military is sworn to follow the "lawful orders", not just the "enlightened orders"? Two very different issues.

    The employment of RPAs (or BB guns) in a lawful manner need not be enlightened. There is, however, no law against ruinous tactics or strategy, other than Darwin's, which is almost always ex post facto.

    Where I get a bit ruffled is using the term "war" loosely for actions taken against things like "terror", "drugs" and "poverty", because it tends to result in an "Anything Goes" mentality seeking "Total and Unconditional Surrender", which is a bit preposterous (if not impossible) to expect in the cited objectives. Thus, "endless war".

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  50. Sunny Sunday morning here in the north of Portugal. Been thinking about the many interesting and thought-provoking comments and would like to make several points. There are undoubtedly others I could make, but here goes:

    First off, my purpose behind this thread was to think about how the employment of a new weapon system (deployed to achieve strategic effect) can support the achievement of the military aim and thus the political purpose. It is this connection between military aim and political purpose which most interests me in strategic theory. In this thread I was attempting to think from the tactical/weapons side of the equation, looking at the problem from a (for me) different perspective.

    In effect that was what I was attempting to prompt everyone else to do as well . . . look at this from a different perspective in order to get a different insight. Each one of you can ask yourselves how effective I was in prompting it and how effective you each were in achieving it.

    Looking at in from the long-term political context (Chief), or looking at it from the context of what is "war" (Al and Andy) are both clearly Clausewitzian perspectives. Looking at it from a moral or legal perspective is not so Clausewitzian, or rather part of the larger realm of political relations between political communities. All of these are valid, but they are not the same as considering what a weapon does (cause or threaten violence), what strategic effect a specific weapon or class of weapons can achieve, what is the military aim and how does it support the political purpose: military victory as a means of achieving the political purpose, which is essentially the return to peace with that purpose more or less achieved.

    All this is theory, but it is more than that, it is also an important element in strategic thinking . . . and should be looked at as a whole or Gestalt . . . so that was the purpose of this thread gentlemen, to promote the looking at this problem, however inadequately, in terms of a whole . . .

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  51. Second, I think we have lost the basic idea that violence as a means ushers in a whole series of associated conditions/reactions which we simply don't take into our calculations (speaking of US policy makers/the military/OGAs). Violence employed at the tactical level can have completely unintended effects, even strategically.

    We have essentially a Hollywood view of violence as a means to all ends (kill the bad guys, walk off into the sunset) . . .

    I think it interesting to consider how an earlier, more thoughtful president dealt with the question of how a new type of weapon system fit within a larger national strategy. This is from President Eisenhower's press conference of January 12, 1955:

    -"Q. Mr. Harsch: Do you contemplate their using tactical atomic weapons, sir?

    THE PRESIDENT. I would say, normally no, because I can't conceive of an atomic weapon as being a police weapon, and we were talking really more police action. Police are to protect and stop trouble, not just to cause destruction.

    Now, nothing can be precluded in a military thing. Remember this: when you resort to force as the arbiter of human difficulty, you don't know where you are going; but, generally speaking, if you get deeper and deeper, there is just no limit except what is imposed by the limitations of force itself. But I would say, normally no, would be my answer."-

    And this:

    "-Q. Mr. Roberts: Sir, may I ask, as a military man would you say that it is possible to draw a distinction between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons?

    THE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, I don't think it's possible to draw a sharp line even between strategy and tactics. I don't believe it is possible.

    Every expert, everybody that has ever written on this subject, has had his own definition of strategy and his own definition of tactics.

    They do merge, there is no sharp line. But I would say this: every military problem finally brings forward its own logical way of solving what you have to apply, when.

    Now, war is a political act, so politics--that is, world politics--are just as important in making your decisions as is the character of the weapon you use.

    I can't possibly stand here and, unless we take the world, construct for ourselves a logical military problem, could I give you my solution to that problem. I can't do it in the abstract. It is just impossible. But I do say you can draw no sharp line between tactical use of atomic weapons and strategic use.-"

    http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=10232#axzz1cGWNwfkW

    Of course atomic weapons were something quite different from drones or RPAs, but it is the level of assumed effectiveness which links them theoretically and in terms of strategy. Above Andy put snipers in the same category, but this would only fit if the snipers in question could neutralize the political or strategic leadership, would not include the usual employment of snipers on the battlefield. Gunboats, Uboots and RPAs all have the capacity of this strategic "reach" . . .

    Still, a lot to ponder in Ike's words: Nature of violence as a means, strategy and tactics being difficult to separate, war as a political act, policy operating within a political context (what the other political communities think and do really does matter as well as the current state of those relations), and contingency planning is extremely difficult since the actual situation which presents itself could be quite different from what was anticipated . . . strategy as more a systemic sequencing of expedients . . . and ambiguity as to intention being important in a highly fluid geo-strategic situation . . .

    In other words, has US national defense policy, specifically the Global War on Terror become confused, self-defeating, "one size fits all", "anti-strategic", hamfistedly violent, and very predictable?

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  52. Third, let's consider the difference, as I mentioned above, between Sovereignty and Legitimacy. The former is seen today as primarily a legal concept associated with questions of jurisdiction/formation/application of the law. The latter is a Weberian sociological concept linked with domination. One could look at the deployment/employment of US RPAs in terms of both concepts, but the one that interests me is the latter, Weberian legitimacy.

    There are of course other concepts of legitimacy, but being a Clausewitzian I go for the "descriptive" rather than the "normative", what "is" rather than what "should be":

    -"If legitimacy is interpreted descriptively, it refers to people's beliefs about political authority and, sometimes, political obligations. In his sociology, Max Weber put forward a very influential account of legitimacy that excludes any recourse to normative criteria (Mommsen 1989: 20). According to Weber, that a political regime is legitimate means that its participants have certain beliefs or faith (“Legitimitätsglaube”) in regard to it: “the basis of every system of authority, and correspondingly of every kind of willingness to obey, is a belief, a belief by virtue of which persons exercising authority are lent prestige” (Weber 1964: 382). As is well known, Weber distinguishes among three main sources of legitimacy—understood as both the acceptance of authority and of the need to obey its commands. People may have faith in a particular political or social order because it has been there for a long time (tradition), because they have faith in the rulers (charisma), or because they trust its legality—specifically the rationality of the rule of law (Weber 1990 [1918]; 1964). Weber identifies legitimacy as an important explanatory category for social science, because faith in a particular social order produces social regularities that are more stable than those that result from the pursuit of self-interest or from habitual rule-following (Weber 1964: 124)."-

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/legitimacy/

    Legitimacy is all about how a specific political community views the apparatus of rule/rulers who exercise domination over them. Political relations are ultimately based on the use of violence/coercion from this perspective, because all political power rests in the end on the potential use of violence/force to maintain its control/impose its will.

    The use of naked force over the long-term is a very unstable means of maintaining control over a political group. Resentment grows and eventually the tyrants/occupation are overthrown. Violence begets violence.

    A ruling apparatus (state) and rulership who are seen as legitimate on the other hand enjoy a stability that the illegitimate rulers never have. As stated above this legitimacy can be based on different grounds: legality, tradition, the leader's supposed charisma, but also ends/means rationality (a weak motivation), or even affection (love of the King). The last two motives borrowed from Weberian social action.

    Now, one of the basic duties of the state is the protection of its citizens. An attribute of the state is the monopoly of the use of legitimate violence within its borders. RPAs bring both these traits into question. The citizenry in question enjoys no protection from the ravages of RPA attacks, or rather this perspective is easy to stir up among the populace by those domestic groups under RPA attack. Second, the host government passes the use of legitimate violence to the US since it doesn't actually control, deploy or fire the RPAs flying over its own airspace and inflicting violence on its own population. Since legitimacy is faith, it deals primarily with appearances.

    . . .

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  53. The host government appears increasingly to the populace as a puppet of the US, selling out its own citizens for US compensation, which was Al Awlaki's view of the Yemeni government.

    This is a basic result of the use of this weapon system, part of its very nature, although it is an unintended consequence, we would assume . . .

    I like to conceive of this concept as a sliding scale. The level of legitimacy that a political leadership enjoys can vary greatly over time, but there is a point when it could hover near "zero" and when that happens the political rulers have to solely rely on force/coercion to maintain themselves, which is extremely unstable over the long term.

    I would think it in US interests to promote the legitimacy of allied/friendly governments . . . not instead to destroy that legitimacy.

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  54. Seydlitz: I would think it in US interests to promote the legitimacy of allied/friendly governments . . . not instead to destroy that legitimacy.

    We tend to promote, demand or solicit the friendliness of governments without regard to their internal domestic "legitimacy". Remember GWB's "diplomacy offensive" in the run up to his invasion of Iraq? "You are either with us or against us". It wasn't the use of "diplomacy" to avoid war, but to suck more nations into his war of choice. Still unable to get my head around his use of the word in that context.

    Would you classify the government of Germany in 1933 to, say, 1943 "legitimate"?

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  55. Al-

    No, what the locals actually think of their respective government would seemingly not interest us in the least, rather how well they can "deliver" in regards to our "interests".

    I would add that during the Cold War there was a rational argument for this. By keeping the local kleptocrats happy we kept them in our column in stead of letting that particular real estate slip into the Soviet orbit. Today, with us being all about "spreading democracy" there's no logic to our policies at all . . .

    In regards to Germany 1933-43, think of legitimacy as a sliding scale, beginning with a lower level (there was much the feeling of a "Nazi coup" in 1933 and with the political executions of June 1934 it probably reached something of a low point. After 1935 with an improving economy and Hitler's foreign policy triumphs rising steadily, with a dip in September 1939, since the war with France and Britain took the German people by surprise. It probably reached a high point in June/July 1940 with the victory over France, Legitimacy in this case would be tied with Hitler's charisma as a leader, one of the ideal types of Weberian legitimacy.

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  56. So does it require the people to be "happy" with the government, or just not seriously "unhappy"?

    One could use Weber to say that the current US government is not quite legitimate. The form may be acceptable to the "masses" but the function surely isn't - by a long shot.

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  57. seydlitz,
    i too value bg's input. sorry if i implied, or said otherwise.
    jim

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  58. seydlitz,
    i too value bg's input. sorry if i implied, or said otherwise.
    jim

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  59. Al-

    Think of it as a "snap shot" of a political community going through its own process/evolution/dissolution of political existence. It always varies, is never the same. What makes it interesting for a specific point in time and historical context regards in most cases the decisions pertaining to going to war. At least it used to be that way. Decisionism if you will?

    Happiness, where does that fit in, considering that life is a long hard slog? Happiness is chance, being lucky, probably a lot of conviction and steadfastness through adversity, or simply being stupid. I see many stupid people who are very happy. Strong-willed, but reflective people, I know not nor see many.

    jim-

    Everything's fine imo.

    Going to do a Halloween thread . . .

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  60. seydlitz-

    Wasn't addressing "happiness" as in the human condition, but rather "pleased with". A populace may not be "pleased with" their government, yet not be "dis-pleased".

    I think the slippery slope is where a nation decides that the government of another nation is or is not legitimate, as for all intents and purposes, this is also a determination of whether than nation is worthy of being treated as a sovereign state. In 1991, we returned Kuwait to the legitimate government while still recognizing the sovereignty of Iraq. In 2002, GWB decided that Saddam's Iraq was not "legitimate" and sought "regime change", resulting in an invasion.

    If China decided that the Bush administration was "illegitimate" because it was allowing and encouraging financial practices that threatened the well being of the world.........? Or that any financial actions of the Bush administration were null and void?

    The whole issue of "legitimacy" is defined by whoever holds the better hand.

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  61. Al-

    But what you're talking about wouldn't be "legitimacy" the way I have described the concept. It doesn't matter what those outside of the political community think or say, rather exclusively the attitudes/opinions and especially social action orientations of the political community itself in regards to its rulers/their apparatus of domination.

    Calling Iraq a "failed state" or "illegitimate" in 2002 was simply US (mostly domestic) propaganda.

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  62. To follow up on that last comment . . .

    RPAs operating over the host country and taking out HVTs would directly affect the legitimacy of the host country as seen by the political community it rules . . .

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  63. seydlitz-

    OK, we agree. As to the effect of RPAs, their use by the US on another nation's soil to pursue US objectives indeed weakens the legitimacy of the "host nation", unless the host nation is directly involved. Otherwise, it is a relinquishing of "sovereignty" to a significant degree, and I can see how it dilutes internal "legitimacy".

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  64. I would offer that there is a bit of confusion over what it is that we claim we are doing in Afghanistan. We claim to be conducting a "war" on terrorists, specifically AQ and the Taliban. We are using military means as part of this "war". However, we are not affording the "rights" normally accorded to opposing forces to AQ or the Taliban, but instead, a newly minted form of criminal law.

    Similarly, in Pakistan, we are causing "collateral damages" on non-involved civilians. Not citizens of the opposing state, but citizens of an allegedly "allied" state. All because we expect them to pick up arms against a non-state actor with whom they might very well not agree, but are simply victims of proximity. It's GWB's "either with us or against us" model. During WWII, there were surely collateral damage to French civilians by Allied forces, but it was done in the name of "liberating" them. Paki innocents are victims without any claim of greater benefit to them.

    We seem to be making up the rules as we go along. Kind of reminds me of what a friend told a novice about the rules of a bar dice game, "Just roll the dice. I'll tell you when you lose."

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  65. Al-

    -"We seem to be making up the rules as we go along. Kind of reminds me of what a friend told a novice about the rules of a bar dice game, "Just roll the dice. I'll tell you when you lose.""-

    Nice.

    And definitely making up the rules as we go along . . . makes you wonder how much longer it's going to hold together . . .

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  66. US drone strike victims in Pakistan plan legal action

    Chris Rogers of Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict wrote:

    Imagine, for a second, that the US were to permit Mexico to use fighter jets to bomb American gun dealers that sold arms to Mexican drug cartels--a hypothetical fairly analogous to the situation in Pakistan. Never mind issues of state sovereignty; how could the US--and thus Pakistan--ever allow another country to come on to its territory and extrajudicially kill its citizens?

    Very thought provoking analogy.

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  67. Admittedly the drone war is a somewhat new take on the notion of "strategic bombing"...but does that make the drone itself a sort of "strategic corporal"? I'm not so sure.

    The example of U-boats was brought up as a "tactic-that-had-strategic-implications"...but let's think about that for a moment. The issue that made the U-boats "strategic" was that they played a big role into bringing the U.S. into WW1 on the Entente side. But what brought them in wasn't the vessel, or even the tactic (sinking without warning) but a strategic decision by the Imperial GHQ that the benefits of a general blockade and the sinking of "neutral" (i.e. U.S.) vessels was worth the potential cost of a U.S. declaration of war.

    Wrong decision, IMO...but the strategic impact was because of the strategy, not the tactics or the weapon.

    Same-same w/ the drone strikes. The problems they cause aren't so much because of the tactics or the weapon - they were used in Iraq in FID with no more outcry than after the usual mistaken-identity/collateral-damage mistakes - but because of the strategic/geopolitical decision to use them in supposedly sovereign "allied" nations...supposedly "without the permission" of the local government.

    But I come back again to the point that if the Pakistanis REALLY didn't like these things they have the air assets to shoot them down. Same-same in Yemen; they have a little air force with enough attack A/C to knock down a damn model airplane. The fast is, they don't, and so the questions the locals are asking should be not "is my government 'legitimate'?" but "Why is my government LETTING the U.S. fly around killing people from the sky?"

    As Al points out, if another government did this in U.S. territory we'd consider it an act of war - hell, a group DID it in 2001 and we went to war all over hell.

    So - again - I don't think that this is a case of a weapon, or a tactic, driving strategy a place that the user didn't intend for it - or anticipate for it - to go. I think it's a case of a strategy being executed that some of us believe is counterproductive; we're trying to convince the Kaiser that the unrestricted U-boat war will bring the U.S. in on the enemy side and that result will be worse than the benefit of the blockade on Britain's war effort. The problem isn't the U-boat, but how it's being used...

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  68. And it'd be the same problem if these guys were being killed by ninjas!

    It's not that people are being killed. It's not HOW they're being killed. It's that they're being killed in an "illegal" (i.e. under the laws of war) way, and that often the "wrong" people (innocents, women and kids) are being killed.

    So the Pakistanis and Yemenis are having the same "problem" the U.S. had with the U-boats in 1917 - that we're "breaking the law".

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  69. FDChief-

    -"So - again - I don't think that this is a case of a weapon, or a tactic, driving strategy a place that the user didn't intend for it - or anticipate for it - to go."-

    That's exactly the problem as you have described it. The German High Command saw the Uboot as a weapon capable of achieving strategic effect (starving Britain out of the war) but the actual effect was quite different . . . ditto RPAs. You can't separate the weapon from the strategic effect either intended or unintended, which we are in the rather slow process of contemplating . . .

    Why don't Pakistan or Yemen shoot down the RPAs? Because those with the authority to order such action are the same who allowed these weapons in in the first place. Their interest was in giving the US what we wanted and that remains the case. Since they assume they have sovereignty they don't think they need legitimacy . . . but that attitude was common elsewhere as well . . Tunisia, Egypt, Libya . . . time will tell.

    You really get the impression that we are on the wrong side all down the line. How high would you put the survival instincts of the current Pakistani government? Yemen is hanging by a thread . . .

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  70. There's an important difference with the Mexico analogy though. The US has control over all it's territory and it has the capability to exercise that control - there's no reason for Mexico to need to base fighter jets in the US because the US has the capability to arrest the gun dealers. That's not the case in Pakistan and Yemen. Predators are not conducting strikes in areas those governments control. If al Alawki was hiding out in Sana'a, we wouldn't have sent a predator to kill him. And the reason he was in the Yemeni hinterlands and not in Sana'a is because he knew the government didn't have any actual authority where he was.

    In short, the borders of the nation-states of Pakistan and Yemen don't reflect the reality on the ground and the reality is that those governments simply don't exercise actual authority over what much of their territory. So the areas where we are conducting strikes are areas that don't consider the current governments of Yemen and Pakistan legitimate anyway - so much so that the people living in these areas will attack government forces that do try to exercise control. That situation is a bit different in terms of legitimacy and sovereignty from the Mexico gun dealer scenario.

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  71. andy,
    So the areas where we are conducting strikes are areas that don't consider .....yadi yadi..
    And what gives us the right or legality to make these decisions? Who cares what we consider?
    Can you show me a treaty?
    jim

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  72. Jim,

    These areas are legally the responsibility of the governments of Yemen and Pakistan respectively. We are there, operating in those areas with the support of those governments. How is that illegal?

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  73. Gee Andy,
    thanks for the clarification.
    I seem to remember that South VN was the supposed legal gov't that we supported.We know how that worked out.
    Legal doesn't mean smart,tactical or strategic which is the point of this thread.Likewise being strategic doesn't imply legality. Or long term smart.
    Screw all the legal gov'ts that thrills your little joystick.
    jim

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  74. Andy: There's an important difference with the Mexico analogy though. The US has control over all it's territory and it has the capability to exercise that control - there's no reason for Mexico to need to base fighter jets in the US because the US has the capability to arrest the gun dealers.

    But we haven't put a dent in the gun traffic. In the end, it's no different than the situation in the border regions of Pakistan. We say we have "control" of our border with Mexico, even if weapons flow across the border. Perhaps the Pakistanis feel they have sufficient control of their border regions for Pakistani purposes. If we are free to operate on sovereign Pakistani soil, then why shouldn't Mexico claim the same privilege?

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  75. Jim,

    Well, you asked...

    Legal doesn't mean smart,tactical or strategic which is the point of this thread.

    Never said it was - I was simply trying to answer your question from your previous comment: "And what gives us the right or legality to make these decisions?"

    In fact, if you've read anything I've written here on Afghanistan over the past couple of years you'd know that I don't think Afghanistan is "long term smart."

    Screw all the legal gov'ts that thrills your little joystick.

    You asked a question, I answered and somehow you've concluded I'm getting off on this?

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  76. Al,

    Perhaps the Pakistanis feel they have sufficient control of their border regions for Pakistani purposes.

    That's certainly how the Pakistani military and intelligence services see it. They oppose making turning the FATA into an actual province because then they'd be a lot more subject to oversight from the civilian government (such as it is). As it stands, they "run" things in those areas but they can't really exercise control in the way or nearly to the extent that we can in the US. Those areas are still administered under the colonial system established by the British, which hasn't really changed much at all. Those areas are, essentially, colonies of Pakistan. I don't see how that is comparable to the US. The reasons we can't crack down on the gun running are not the same reasons the Pakistanis can't crack down on AQ and affiliated militant groups in tribal region.

    And Yemen is basically in a civil war. The Yemeni military is breaking sieges and retaking cities.

    Regardless, we are there because both countries allowed us to be there. Theoretically, however, I suppose you're right that we could allow the Mexican's to operate here. I say theoretically because I don't see how such a scheme could pass constitutional muster.

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  77. Andy-

    Reasons aside, we don't crack down on gun running to benefit Mexico and Pakistan doesn't establish what we see as sufficient "control" for our benefit. Yet we expect Pakistan to cede sovereignty for our benefit, yet would go ballistic if Mexico wanted us to cede sovereignty for their benefit. Do our operations in Pakistan pass Pakistani Constitutional muster, or is that even a worthy question for "Exceptional" America? We support trying other nation's citizens by the World Court, but not our own.

    Just roll the dice and we will tell you when you lose.

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  78. In spite of some great commenting and with 78 comments we still haven't been able to come up with any rational political purpose for the employment of these weapons. The military aim is simply destruction/violence, but there is no link to any achievable political purpose I see. Rather it has to do with certain self-deluding assumptions. For instance the "terrorists" (we're not engaged in "acts of terror" because we are both sovereign and legitimate) have no political goals, just religious ones which exclude us, thus they form an existential threat to the US. Since they constitute such a dangerous threat, any means available - which all come down to destruction/liquidation - are suitable. Also due to the existential nature of the threat to the US, all host nations are "either with us or with the terrorists" to use Bush's simple-minded formulation.

    Very simple logic. To which I would answer: The "terrorists" have a political agenda and our actions promote their achievement of it. The means we used can be seen by the targeted populations as "terror". The "terrorists" are not an existential threat to the US, far from it in fact. I could go on . . .

    Thanks to all for commenting, it has been a very interesting discussion.

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