Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The cost of drones

Are estimated here, based on various reports (HT - Andrew Sullivan). The people who put this interactive graphic together highlight the inconsistency of some of the reports (and there are a couple that clearly don't fit in with the rest of the estimates), but what struck me is that given how hard this is to estimate, how consistent these estimates actually were. Are basically looking at repeated claims of sixty civilian deaths, tops, with about half under Obama and half under Bush for the given date ranges. Ballparking is probably the best we can do on a covert program like this, and these multiple ballparks seem to give you roughly that answer (we can ignore the guy who said their have been zero civilian casualties as being simply wrong). We can make allowances for the fact that these estimates don't bring us completely up to date, and therefore it probably makes sense to tack some more civilian deaths onto that tally (although the accuracy of the strikes has almost certainly gone up over time).

By my count, this indicates that we've had 307 drone strikes. Let's suppose they're almost all legitimate targets (I know we disagree on al Awlaki, for example, but most of these guys aren't U.S. citizens and I assume even the harshest critics will grant that we're not just flipping a coin when we target people). That's 300 or so high value targets with - at most - 100 civilian casualties.

Beats the hell out of bombing Baghdad, if you ask me.

Can you imagine how different things would be if, after the invasion of Afghanistan, we had a fleet of these available to chase the guys that got away into the Pakistani mountains back in 2002, before we the blunder of invading Iraq? If we successfully prosecuted an extensive drone-based followup to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 Bush would have had much less evidence to stand on invading Iraq in 2003. He might have still gone forward, part of the reason why many people found that as palatable as they did was the fact that they still felt like the threat was at large.


  1. My understanding is that the Obama administration classifies all military-age males as combatants for the purposes of counting civilian casualties. (I have no idea about what GWB did) So those numbers are probably nowhere near accurate.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. NOTE: The rules are easy people. Don't accuse me or others of celebrating murdering children or other things like that, and your comments will stay up. The civility bar here is really, really, really low.

    1. Okay Daniel, understood.

      But perhaps you could acknowledge the Obama administration's weak criteria for judging who are civilians in comparison to militants.

  3. Hi,

    Here are some numbers from Wikipedia that appear plausible:

    Total reported killed: 2,479 – 3,180
    Civilians reported killed: 482 – 832
    Children reported killed: 175
    Total reported injured: 1,192–1,308
    Strikes under the Bush Administration: 52
    Strikes under the Obama Administration: 278
    Total strikes: 330

    Wonderful Wikipedia

    As pointed out by James (in a most unfortunate way) the main problem with the drone attacks is that they are *illegal*. There is nothing in the Constitution that authorizes a President to execute civilians without a trial.

    We are not at war with Pakistan. The fact that the Barack Obama is ordering the extrajudicial killing of Pakistani citizens makes us *less* safe, not more safe.

    He should be attempting to get them extradited to stand trial. If that's not possible, he should be demanding the extradition of the people who are *protecting* the people he thinks are guilty of crimes.

    And if that's not possible, he should remove all diplomatic personnel from Pakistan and expel all Pakistani diplomatic personnel from the U.S.

    Killing civilians is illegal. We are not at war with Pakistan. It makes us *less* safe when the President kills Pakistani citizens without trial, because it makes the Pakistani government *less* likely to extradite people whom the President suspects to be criminals to the U.S. to stand trial.

  4. We are not at war with Pakistan . . .

    This comment would win the Nobel Prize for nativity.

    There ought to be a federal statute that prohibits comments on blogs from people who have not read and do not understand Shakespeare.

    From Anthony and Cleopatra:


    These three world-sharers, these competitors,
    Are in thy vessel: let me cut the cable;
    And, when we are put off, fall to their throats:
    All there is thine.


    Ah, this thou shouldst have done,
    And not have spoke on't! In me 'tis villany;
    In thee't had been good service. Thou must know,
    'Tis not my profit that does lead mine honour;
    Mine honour, it. Repent that e'er thy tongue
    Hath so betray'd thine act: being done unknown,
    I should have found it afterwards well done;
    But must condemn it now. Desist, and drink.

    The entire point of the War in Pakistan is that it is being conducted without our having spoken on it, by a declaration of War, for in us it would be villany to declare War but, by conducting the drone campaign, Obama is engaged in good service (at least to those not troubled that we are using drones instead of troops).

  5. "We are not at war with Pakistan . . ."

    "This comment would win the Nobel Prize for nativity."

    I don't see how a Nobel Prize for "nativity" could be awarded for a statement that I'm confident that 99+ percent of legal scholars would agree is an obvious fact.

    We are not at war with the government of Pakistan. It is both illegal and not in U.S. security interests to kill Pakistani civilians. It is a particularly bad idea to kill children. The Wikipedia estimate I provided previously estimates that far more children have been killed by drone strikes than were killed in the 9/11 attacks.

    "...for in us it would be villany to declare War but, by conducting the drone campaign, Obama is engaged in good service (at least to those not troubled that we are using drones instead of troops)."

    Whether drones or troops are used is completely irrelevant to important matters at hand:

    1) Are drone strikes (or troops) used to kill Pakistani civilians legal? (Answer: No, they are not.)

    2) Do drone strikes (or troops) that kill Pakistani civilians enhance U.S. security? (Answer: No, they do not, because they encourage the government of Pakistan *not* to cooperate with the U.S. government.)


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.