These remarks were delivered Wednesday evening at the University of Richmond in a debate on drones. Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution took the opposing side. I'll link his arguments when a recording of the event is available. For now, much of his position can be gleaned from his remarks at Oxford Union.
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What if I told you all that an armed Predator drone is circling above us right now? It isn't. So don't worry. But if an armed drone was there, would it make you feel anxious? If we could hear the buzz of its engine, would that change the tenor of our time together? Now let's imagine that this drone is hovering overhead because there's a terrorist hanging out 100 yards away from this building. We're often told how precise drone strikes are. Obama Administration officials have called them surgical. If a surgery were happening in the building next door I wouldn't be worried about getting nicked by the scalpel. Would you be worried for your safety if you were 100 yards away from drone strike? Say you're laying in bed one night, and in the house next door, a terrorist is laying in his bed.
Would you want a drone strike to take him out?
If next door is too close for comfort, do you think the U.S. military or the CIA should be allowed to carry out drone strikes on terrorists with innocent people next door?
Thankfully, the fear that drones bring to innocent people in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen isn't something that any of us is likely to experience first-hand—especially (if the drones know what's good for them) in the presence of this esteemed scholar from the Brookings Institution. In seriousness, I want to thank Ben Wittes for sharing the stage with me tonight. On so many subjects, we look at the world in very different ways, but I've always appreciated his commitment to participating in public discourse, and I aspire to his command of what he calls lawfare. Thank you, as well, to the organizers of this event, and to everyone who came out to watch.