The Reality That Matters

C. Christine Fair claims that we are not killing as many Pakistani civilians as drone critics claim. Andrew Exum fumes:

I do not care how many civilians drone strikes actually kill. And I do not care how many civilians Americans think drone strikes in Pakistan kill.

I care only about how many civilians Pakistanis think drone strikes kill. As one of the world's experts on Pakistani public opinion, you should be able to provide that number to me, right? Because all you can tell me right now is the Pakistani press is dutifully reporting whatever the Taliban tells them ... and I already know that. I don't care in the slightest about what Pakistani generals or the CIA is telling you behind closed doors. It does not matter. I care about what those Pakistani generals are telling their public. I care, in other words, less about reality as defined by verifiable facts and figures and more about reality as it is interpreted in Pakistan and within Pakistani diaspora communities.

But the Taliban would make this stuff up regardless. To my mind, it does matter how many civilians get killed in such raids, because it changes the moral equation. It appears we have been very successful in taking out the enemy, but with so many collateral deaths the result is both morally compromised and counter-productive.

It's particularly important to see how well the drones can work, because they may, in fact, be the only weapon in our arsenal once the deranged attempt to do counter-insurgency in Afghanistan becomes too obvious a failure to continue. The drones, in other words, may be the key to our withdrawal.