Does a Chickenhawk Nation Invite Terrorism?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Predator drone, first line of defense  (Wikipedia)

After President Obama’s speech on ISIS last night, I argued that he was making a least-bad, sane, shrewd case about a long-term U.S. strategy, notwithstanding cable-news scolding about his “distance” and “dispassion.”

Now two reader responses worth noting. First from a partner at a major law firm on the East Coast. He argues that as long as the United States relies on a drone-strike strategy, it cannot be surprised if people who lack conventional military strength react with the tools available to them. Namely, retail-level terrorism.

Additionally this reader says that the era of San Bernardino-scale terrorism may bring the Chickenhawk Nation era to its logical culmination. Only a tiny handful of Americans will ever see the battlefield, but larger and larger numbers could feel exposed to the blowback effects of their nation’s wars. Over to the reader:

It is the policy of the United States that it may kill anyone it wants in certain areas of the Middle East; the executive branch decides and kills. The claimed entitlement to kill includes not just those targeted but also anyone who happens to be nearby. The United States seeks to minimize this “collateral damage,” but accepts however much of it is necessary to achieve its killing objectives.

As a result, everyone in the affected areas of the Middle East has for a long time lived in peril of a sudden deadly attack by the United States. Reports on how many we actually have killed vary, but the number appears certainly to be in the hundreds and likely to be in the thousands.

This policy comes with a cost: the people who are subject to it and their sympathizers will seek to retaliate by such means as are available, even as we would do if a foreign country’s drones were hovering over Connecticut and killing people in the same fashion. The idea that such retaliation can be willed or persuaded out of existence is a fantasy. Retaliation might be forestalled by resort to the level of force used against Germany and Japan in WWII, but our country is not prepared to do that or pay for it.

Given that the people subject to U.S. violence will retaliate “by such means as are available,” what are we in for?  It appears that their capabilities are limited, for now, to relatively small-scale random killings by suicidal attackers such as those in San Bernardino.  U.S. authorities can prevent some of these attacks, but not all.  At least so long as the U.S. pursues the discretionary killing policy described above, every American must bear the risk of being killed or maimed in the occasional retaliatory San Bernardino.

This state of affairs represents a possible exception to your “Chickenhawk Nation” diagnosis.  Americans have persuaded themselves that their country can wage war on foreigners at no personal cost to them, but only because they refuse to see the connection between such wars and the desire of those subject to them to retaliate.  They are persuaded by propagandists such as Fox News that what is really retaliation occurs because attackers “hate us for our freedoms.”  We in fact are the front-line soldiers in the drone war.

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And from an American reader who now lives in Asia, how the spectacle looks from there — and the underlying reasons why Obama’s opponents may dismiss his arguments.

Tthe following may be in poor taste or easily twisted in a direction that is opposite of my intent, but here goes: As an addition to your analysis of how Obama may not inspire some, the birthers are wrong that the logical Mr. Obama is from another country.

He is from another planet: Vulcan.

Actually, Mr. Spock may have had an easier time to get the group to follow. I think hard to overstate the inability for a significant number of Americans to accept being lectured to by a black man … an alien from outer space, okay, he comes from above. But me being told what to do by a black guy?

Just writing the words feels really, really crude but a reality that only those from the privileged class can blithely ignore.