Since 2008, the U.S. has launched more than 100 strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas; U.S. officials, speaking on background, claim the strikes have killed more than 400 militants. The Pakistanis have professed outrage over the strikes, saying they infringe on their sovereignty and lead to civilian deaths.
Of course, there's been no such uproar in the U.S. Should we be surprised? Traditionally, when a nation went to war, it had to invest its blood and treasure, but today's joystick-wielding drone pilots can launch a missile strike from here at home, then hop in the minivan to meet the wife and kids for dinner. War couldn't get any more impersonal.
CIA Director Leon Panetta, without acknowledging the extent of the program, has called it "very effective." But despite the drones' appeal (except among fighter pilots, one of whom recently asked me, "How would you feel if you were being replaced by robots?"), they do not offer a grand strategy for defeating al-Qaeda. As former CIA officer Bruce Riedel cautions, "The drones are a lot like attacking a beehive, one bee at a time. You can kill some very important bees, but the hive is going to remain."
The uncertain variable: what kind of blow-back will there be?