Sunday June 2, 2013

RICHMOND

President Barack Obama and I have been pondering the same problem for the past several months and although he seems to have sort of arrived at a decision about it, I am still at sixes and sevens. Maybe even eighths.

The president faces multiple situations each morning, some of them with lethal significance, while my big deal is how I am going to have my egg prepared. He has pressure put on him by various constituencies while I just check my wife's face to judge reaction to my senile ruminations.

What I'm talking about here is drones that are capable of lethal injection, or explosion, guided by technicians from nearby or thousands of miles away.

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Anyone seeing these drones in action know they are weird-looking airplanes that could have been developed by an MIT student group, but there is quite a bit of history to their development and use.

Their first use involved unmanned balloons carrying explosives. By World War I, our army had developed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles of a sort, but the war ended before anything really usable in combat was developed.

However, the seeds had been sown and UAVs were developed as aerial targets and training tools. In World War II, the Germans created their V-1 bombs that caused such havoc in England. When the war ended, the U.S. corralled several German scientists and brought them to the U.S. to work on space programs and UAVs.

In the Vietnam War, UAVs were mostly utilized for intelligence gathering, but the military was inspired to broaden their capabilities, and other nations, especially Israel, began their own development of the machines. The U.S. and Israel began a careful amalgamation that gave each nation a jump on all the others. Right now many nations are working on developing UAVs for a variety of reasons, mostly military, but some as monitors of the environment, or for scanning national boundaries or observing areas unreachable by regular means.

The thing about UAVs is that they can be as big as our Helios with a 246-foot wingspan, they can stay up in the air for lengths of time, such as Israel's Heron which did 56 hours, they can fly great distances, such as our Global Hawk when it flew 8,580 miles, and at the same time they can be manufactured small enough to fit in your hand.

When I first heard about them, I was thrilled by their ability to perform combat missions without risking one American life. I wondered if wars of the future would involve soldiers doing their job 8 to 5 and sleeping in their own beds. The thought of being able to blow up your enemy while not risking lives or limbs was enthralling.

Of, course it was all pie in the sky because the enemy would also have UAVs that could bring missiles to your mother's back yard. We saw all those pictures from Iraq and Afghanistan with whole compounds being reduced to rubble in that split second when the missile hit.

I'm sure that President Obama was first taken in by such glamorous possibilities. He supposedly had a death list of enemies in hideouts throughout Iraq and Afghanistan with orders to take them out when feasible.

It was especially useful in Pakistan, purportedly a friendly nation to us with unfriendly terrorists in secure hiding places. When sufficient intelligence was obtained, missions were planned with the "help" of the CIA.

But when it was used to kill an American citizen who had become a spokesman for our enemies, constitutionalists began to have second thoughts. What if someday we had a president who decided to use the weapon against other Americans he thought were being disloyal?

Luckily, we have a president who thinks about such things. His greatest personal insult so far is being compared to the late Richard Nixon. Whoa, Nellie. In a recent speech, he implied that drone strikes would be curtailed and designed by military rather than CIA operatives. He also said that presidents should slow down in using war privileges, adding we would rather capture terrorists than kill them.

According to polls, a majority of Americans, like me, approve of drone strikes outside the U.S. But we aren't so sure of any drone strikes within our borders. Obama inherited the use of drone strikes and used them liberally, especially in Yemen, during his first term. But now he is cautiously taking another approach.

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Drone strikes are not as precise as the pictures that were furnished by the government. Remember the so-called "smart bombs" from the first Iraq War? The generals loved to show them to the public as some Iraqi truck was blown to smithereens. It wasn't until after the war that we found out that only 50 percent of the bombs were effective.

It's the same with the drones. Too many innocent bystanders, including children, have been taken out forever. And ever. We must not become so accustomed to perpetual war, to the death and devastation of others, that it seems the only way to settle problems.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle contributor.