In Yemen, drones can work if they're part of a larger strategy, but not if they are the strategy.
U.S. military handout image of a predator drone. (Reuters)
The public debate about the American use of drones continues unabated, focused mostly on the morality of drone warfare. Sunday, for example, the New York Times ran one stories on the moral case for drones and one on the moral hazard they represent.
These two angles to the debate -- whether drones impose an intolerable moral hazard, or whether they allow policymakers to counter terrorism while minimizing harm -- are important. The morality of decisions that our leaders make is important, especially when there is a question of whether those decisions clash with our values. And when drones are widely reported to result in unintended civilian casualties (how many is disputed) the moral case cannot be ignored.
Apart from morality, the other side of the debate about drones is their effectiveness. There is a reasonably strong case to be made that the zealous use of drones in Pakistan has made U.S.-Pakistani relations far worse, though whether that change matters in the long run is an open question. In Yemen, too, the use of drones has carried some evidence of political blowback -- though, again, whether that matters in the long run is unclear.
If innocent people are being killed, then the drones program needs to be effective at reducing the terror threat. Otherwise, too many innocent people are being killed for dubious results.
The effectiveness of the drones program, however, is not easy to determine. How do you assess the damage? According to some analysis, only about 500 of the reported 2500 targets of drone strikes in Pakistan have been positively identified. Many residents in Pakistan and Yemen claim that far more civilians die in drone strikes than is reported in the West; However, when PBS sent a reporter to Yemen to investigate, in part, the drone campaign, they found that many residents just assume all air strikes on suspected terrorist sites come from drones (at least some of those strikes come from Yemeni aircraft, not drones).
Broader effects about terrorism can be measured, though that kind of analysis is limited. In Yemen, analysts dispute whether or not the drone campaign itself has contributed to the expansion of al-Qaeda there. Iona Craig, a journalist based in Yemen, has reported through interviews that drones have "swelled al-Qaeda's ranks." Yemeni politicians also argue that drones help al-Qaeda, as does the Washington Post. Christopher Swift, a lawyer and academic based in DC, interviewed local elders in Yemen in May; he categorically argues that drones do not have any negative social effects there.
While Swift's report (disclosure: he is a friend) is a minority view among reports out of Yemen, it cannot be discounted out of hand: he is accurately reporting that the Yemenis he spoke to believe there are no negative effects of the drone campaign. But can the overall behavior of al-Qaeda in Yemen give us lessons?
Over the last three years, the reported size of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has about tripled. AQAP has successfully stormed and occupied entire towns (through its clever rebranding as Ansar al-Shariah). The long-serving dictatorship more or less collapsed under the weight of mass protests, though the dictator's replacement is more of a stooge than a real change.
Yemen has faced increasing challenges and upheaval, in other words. During this same period of time, U.S. drones, as well as Yemeni and American aircraft, pounded the desert towns where AQAP thrives, killing dozens of suspected militants and fewer (though no one knows how many fewer) civilians. It is difficult to make the case that -- whatever the ultimate mixture of militants and civilians, and whatever the effects on Yemeni society -- the use of drones has contributed meaningfully to Yemen's stability or to neutralizing AQAP. (There is a counterfactual that, without drones, the problem with be worse, but it's impossible to really say.)
In recent months, however, Yemen has seen some of its fortunes shift. The Yemeni army retook the AQAP-occupied towns of Ja'ar and Zinjibar, which AQAP had held up to PBS as an example of its reach and power. While AQAP has responded with a new wave of violence, the Yemeni army is, for the time being at least, holding onto its territory.
No one knows whether the defeat of AQAP's territorial ambitions is permanent. But what the recent offensives in Yemen's south do show is that, whatever the effects of drones, they require effective forces on the ground to deny territory to terrorist groups.
This, then, is the lesson about how drones can be effective: they must serve a strategy. They cannot be the strategy, as they sometimes are. For too long, it seemed, the only possible response to a terrorism threat in Yemen was a drone strike (or cruise missile or air strike). U.S. intelligence agencies managed to unravel some plots if the Saudis or Brits gave them a heads up. But the only tool in the American arsenal seemed to be a drone strike: lobbing missiles at unknown people in the belief that it would lessen the threat.
What seems to have really lessened the threat, though, is ground combat: the difficult, dangerous, and expensive work of clearing towns and areas of militants and restoring legitimate government control. There is clearly a role for drones in this process of rebuilding control of an area -- most drone strikes in Afghanistan, for example, are used as close air support (though even Afghan officials do not want too many drones in their territory). Where drones become problematic is when they substitute for a broader policy of engagement: where they become the strategy, rather than serving the strategy.
The current U.S. policy in Yemen is not very strongly articulated. It is often a list of aspirations ("helping the government confront the immediate security threat represented by Al Qaida, and mitigating serious political, economic and governance issues that the country faces over the long terms, the drivers of instability") that so far has not resulted in comprehensive action from the U.S. As Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright fellow in Yemen and currently a PhD candidate at Princeton wrote last year, "U.S. policy bounced from one crisis to the next without an overarching structure."
In Yemen, we've seen that allowing the government to retake areas from AQAP can be effective at addressing the terrorist threat; the U.S. should make effective Yemeni governance its next priority. The recently announced influx of aid to Yemen is being directed almost exclusively to Yemen's security services, which have already proved capable of removing AQAP from its territory. What's missing is everything else that isn't security: immediately countering the growing malnutrition there, strengthening and expanding the good governance programs groups like NED run, and establishing a long term commitment to fortifying Yemen's shaky economy.
As a part of a comprehensive strategy to both physically and politically secure the country, there is a definite role for drones to play: one that is moral, effective, and constrained. Assuming drones are the counterterrorism strategy -- an impression one can get reading some of the coverage of the drones program -- would be a mistake.
19 Kids and Counting built its reputation on preaching family values, but the mass-media platforms that made the family famous might also be their undoing.
On Thursday, news broke that Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family's 19 children, had, as a teenager, allegedly molested five underage girls. Four of them, allegedly, were his sisters.
The information came to light because, in 2006—two years before 17 Kids and Counting first aired on TLC, and thus two years before the Duggars became reality-TV celebrities—the family recorded an appearance on TheOprah Winfrey Show. Before the taping, an anonymous source sent an email to Harpo warning the production company Josh’s alleged molestation. Harpo forwarded the email to authorities, triggering a police investigation (the Oprah appearance never aired). The news was reported this week by In Touch Weekly—after the magazine filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the police report on the case—and then confirmed by the Duggars in a statement posted on Facebook.
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
In an interview, the U.S. president ties his legacy to a pact with Tehran, argues ISIS is not winning, warns Saudi Arabia not to pursue a nuclear-weapons program, and anguishes about Israel.
On Tuesday afternoon, as President Obama was bringing an occasionally contentious but often illuminating hour-long conversation about the Middle East to an end, I brought up a persistent worry. “A majority of American Jews want to support the Iran deal,” I said, “but a lot of people are anxiety-ridden about this, as am I.” Like many Jews—and also, by the way, many non-Jews—I believe that it is prudent to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of anti-Semitic regimes. Obama, who earlier in the discussion had explicitly labeled the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an anti-Semite, responded with an argument I had not heard him make before.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”
Who is Jeb’s wife, what effect will she have on his campaign—and what effect will his campaign have on their marriage?
Now and then in an otherwise unmemorable speech, Jeb Bush will drop a mention of his wife, like a sudden pop of color. At an event in Nevada this March, one of his first speeches of this campaign season, before a crowd of what The Washington Post called “everyday Americans,” Bush opened with a husband-still-in-thrall routine. His life, he said, can be divided into two parts: “b.c. and a.c.—before Columba and after Columba,” referring to Columba Garnica de Gallo, the woman he fell madly in love with while on a high-school trip to Mexico and then married 41 years ago.
The crowd, full of seniors and some Spanish speakers, awwwed and cheered. Columba herself was not in attendance. Perhaps because he hadn’t officially declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, she felt no hurry to claim her title as candidate’s wife.
Advocates say that a guaranteed basic income can lead to more creative, fulfilling work. The question is how to fund it.
Scott Santens has been thinking a lot about fish lately. Specifically, he’s been reflecting on the aphorism, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” What Santens wants to know is this: “If you build a robot to fish, do all men starve, or do all men eat?”
Santens is 37 years old, and he’s a leader in the basic income movement—a worldwide network of thousands of advocates (26,000 on Reddit alone) who believe that governments should provide every citizen with a monthly stipend big enough to cover life’s basic necessities. The idea of a basic income has been around for decades, and it once drew support from leaders as different as Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon. But rather than waiting for governments to act, Santens has started crowdfunding his own basic income of $1,000 per month. He’s nearly halfway to his his goal.
A major innovator in 1999’s money-transfer landscape was PayPal, which started its money transfer service that year (Back then, websites looked like this.) Currently, PayPal reports that it has 165 million users around the world, and that it moved $46 billion in 2014. PayPal, once a small arm of its parent company, eBay, is soon going to be spun off, after which it plans to go public on Nasdaq.
A majority of Senators wanted to stop a spy program that they never approved. They failed despite having more votes. And it only gets more bizarre from there.
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the U.S. Senate played host to a moment that took mass surveillance on the phone records of Americans from outrage to farce.
The NSA’s phone dragnet had already been declared illegal.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that while the surveillance agency has long claimed to be acting in accordance with Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the text of that law in fact authorizes no such program. The Obama Administration has been executing a policy that the legislature never passed into being.
But the law that doesn’t even authorize the program is set to expire at the end of the month. And so the court reasoned that Congress could let it expire or vote to change it. For this reason, the court declined to issue an order shutting the program down.
Why agriculture may someday take place in towers, not fields
A couple of Octobers ago, I found myself standing on a 5,000-acre cotton crop in the outskirts of Lubbock, Texas, shoulder-to-shoulder with a third-generation cotton farmer. He swept his arm across the flat, brown horizon of his field, which was at that moment being plowed by an industrial-sized picker—a toothy machine as tall as a house and operated by one man. The picker’s yields were being dropped into a giant pod to be delivered late that night to the local gin. And far beneath our feet, the Ogallala aquifer dwindled away at its frighteningly swift pace. When asked about this, the farmer spoke of reverse osmosis—the process of desalinating water—which he seemed to put his faith in, and which kept him unafraid of famine and permanent drought.