I’ll begin today’s column with a serious disclaimer: this is not an April Fools’ Day prank. By now, you’ve probably already stumbled onto three or four prank tweets and Facebook posts, not to mention more than a few headlines, so I’ll spare you the silliness. With that out of the way, it’s with great relief and an equal degree of satisfaction that I can now report that neo-libertarian Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and I agree on drones.
I’m not entirely sure that he’d concur on this point because it’s simply not within his nature to concede to opponents who he considers to be “Obama lovers,” but he does, in fact, share my opinion on drones. And I hasten to add that it’s not necessarily due to my personal efforts at reaching some sort of détente. Colleague and fellow The Daily Banter writer Oliver Willis deserves the vast majority of the credit on this one.
Let’s review how all of this began last week.
On Thursday, Greenwald tweeted the following rather alarmist item, which began a chain reaction that eventually led to a major admission (forthcoming):
Oliver replied with this appropriately snarky tweet:
also black helicopters and chem trails https://t.co/l1AGhaAGso
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) March 28, 2013
To which, Greenwald hit back with this:
In response, Oliver followed up with a more thorough response in the form of a column on this site titled, “Jackbooted ACLU Thugs Support Drones.” It’s the sort of post that made me stand and applaud. Chez Pazienza and I have been talking about endeavoring as writers to construct that one salient point that breaks through the nonsense and totally changes the terms of the debate, often smashing through the other debater’s view and, in effect, utterly crushing it. It’s a process that justifies what might be seen by some observers as an exercise in futility — beating your face against a brick wall. But Oliver broke through with his “Jackbooted” post. If you notice in Greenwald’s “authoritarian” tweet above, he provided two links to posts about drones by the ACLU, so Oliver used the ACLU’s words from one of the Greenwald-endorsed links against Greenwald — and with laser precision. Specifically, Oliver posted the following blockquote from the ACLU:
Drones should never be used for indiscriminate mass surveillance, and police should never use them unless there are legitimate grounds to believe they will collect evidence related to a specific instance of criminal wrongdoing or in emergencies.
The emphasis is mine, but line catapults off the screen anyway. The ACLU conceded that drones do, in fact, have value in some circumstances: when used legitimately in cases off evidence-collection in a criminal investigation or in case of emergency. In Oliver’s words, the ACLU believes “there IS a use for drones.” If you review the news item about the Maveric drone that was purchased by the Monroe, North Carolina police department, its stated purpose is exactly in line with the ACLU’s parameters.
This blockquote from Oliver is the equivalent of a debating sonic boom. Especially on this issue in which the opposition to drones has been uncompromising and apoplectic — essentially screaming about how drones are an absolute evil and must be stopped without any room for compromise or rational discussion. In other words, there have more attacks on the technology itself (as well as anyone who sees nuance in the issue) rather than the potential for civil liberties and war powers abuses, both of which ought to be front and center rather than secondary.
At this point, we’ll skip ahead to Saturday when the debate resumed. This time, however, the back-and-forth was more direct and culminated with Oliver tweeting the following:
aclu: "Drones should be deployed by law enforcement only with a warrant, in an emergency" http://t.co/afaVUtP4z4 doesnt sound like a ban.
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) March 30, 2013
Almost right away, Greenwald replied with a tweet that I had to review several times because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
And there it is.
“Nobody is calling for a ban, including me.” —Glenn Greenwald
Re-reading that line simply astounds me. Glenn Greenwald, who’s widely regarded as the leading anti-drone writer and activist, admitted that he’s against banning drones. And he did so in an almost matter-of-fact way, as if everyone clearly knows that he’s against banning them. Silly us for not knowing. Of course Glenn Greenwald supports drones in some cases — how could we possibly not know that?!
By admitting that he doesn’t support a ban on drones, he admitted that he supports the use of drones by the government and law enforcement in some capacities, ostensibly in keeping with the ACLU’s parameters. And while he accused Oliver of being ignorant for not realizing that he supports drones, I’m not aware that Greenwald has ever written that he’s against banning drones. Put another way: it’s impossible for Oliver or anyone else to be ignorant of a point that Greenwald has never made. Regardless, it appears as if Greenwald’s view is the same as the ACLU’s view, which, if you boil away the hyperbole, is the same as my opinion. In brief: Greenwald’s view is that drones are useful, but ought to be regulated as evidenced by his inclusion of the Firedog Lake article.
And I agree. Drones need to be regulated due to a variety of potential abuses. I’ve written about this many times. Unlike manned vehicles and boots-on-the-ground, there’s no risk of losing government or police personnel when drones are deployed, so there’s a greater potential for abusing the technology due to its risk-free nature. Therefore, there ought to be systems in place restricting how and when drones should be used. This is the case with almost every form of technology, be it mechanical, medical or military. Thirty states and the U.S. Congress are in the process of examining drone regulations, and the effort is bipartisan. Furthermore, the war powers that have enabled drone attacks and targeted killings in the war on terrorism should be rescinded as soon as possible. David Sirota agreed with me on that point. But for some reason, anyone who expresses these views, including Oliver and I, have been hectored as “authoritarians” or “drone apologists.” Remarkable considering how Oliver went out of his way to underscore “honest concerns” about drones, not to mention the fact that every time I write about drones, it’s almost mandatory that I repeat my views on regulations and so forth otherwise I’m bombarded by “Obamabot” name-calling.
All of that said, there’s really no way to reverse course on drone technology. There will continue to be drones used in various capacities, and Greenwald knows it — to the point of admitting that he doesn’t support a ban on drones. It’s not a matter of drawing the line, as we have with nearly every new technology that’s been introduced.
So maybe it’s overly optimistic of me, but perhaps there’s a way we can all move forward in unison and concentrate on that which can be accomplished in a spirit of rational, reasonable cooperation between the so-called “Obamabots” and the so-called “Emo Progs.”
I really think it can be done.