Droning On To a New Way of War

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A Predator drone

So the U.S. government — if not the military, then the CIA — is now using drones to kill suspected terrorists in at least six different countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Congress — the entity charged with declaring war, according to the Constitution — has basically green-lighted only the attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. So how come the U.S. is waging war in your name in at least four other nations without approval from your elected representatives?

What’s we’ve got here is a new kind of war married with a new kind of weapon. When the Constitution was written, wars were primarily between states, with all the legal decorum that connoted. Massed armies in uniform moved against massed armies in uniform — or navies flying the flags of their respective countries. War was more or less a deadly game played by rules, complete with signed instruments of surrender.

But terrorists play by different rules, and we see nations feeling their way along in terms of how to deal with it. President Obama, in his recent letter to Congress about the War Powers Act, said the following about the 100-day-old Libyan campaign:

U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.

While that June 15 passage dealt only with Libya, make no mistake about it: its tenets apply to the expanding U.S. use of drones across the planet. We are entering a new, easier way of waging war, with all sorts of related questions and issues we can only barely begin to understand.