Droning On About Drones

Kelsey Atherton refocuses the debate over the “targeted killing” memo:

The paper hardly mentions drones. It just sets out rules for a targeted killing policy and lists “pilotless aircraft or so-called smart bombs” as possible tools for carrying out those killings. The policy itself is not technology-specific. Yet somehow drones have become shorthand for targeted killing. Why? While it’s true that drones are the best-known tool for carrying out targeted strikes, they are only one of many methods by which the United States attacks individual terrorists from afar.  …

[I]t’s natural to conflate the two, but most drones are used for other purposes, such as surveillance and scouting, and non-drone means have been used for targeted killings. … We may talk about the “drone war” and debate the drone memo, but we’re not really looking at the use of a specific technology. Instead, the “drone debate” is about policy, and how the United States chooses to attack its enemies in the War on Terror. Fancy as modern drones may be, it’s the policy that makes this kind of war new.