Drone strikes and bipartisan apathy
The most depressing part of all this is that you can’t just blame this on one guy, and hope that it might change once he’s out of office. Bush started it, and Obama has ramped it up. What’s more, there’s no partisan pushback at all. To repeat something I said last year, Republicans are in favor of anything that kills more bad guys, regardless of collateral damage, and Democrats are unwilling to make trouble for a president of their own party. Put those two things together, and drones have become stealth weapons both politically and technologically. Everybody is in favor of them.
It’s impossible to deny that partisanship plays a large role in shaping public opinion on this issue, but I don’t think Democrats being unwilling to make trouble for a Democratic president is the only dynamic at play here. Certainly they are more inclined to support their president’s policies, but I think there is a simpler reason why drones have broad bipartisan support. Republicans like killing bad guys and Democrats like killing bad guys too.
The Democratic Party was never a broad anti-war coalition, even during the height of the Iraq debacle. The general position was that one of many reasons why Iraq was such a disaster was that it was diverting energy and resources away from al-Qaeda. It’s not as though Democrats were opposed to targeting al-Qaeda under Bush and suddenly swung the other way under Obama. Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network made a few good points in an interview with David Shuster earlier this year – Americans are weary about land wars and drone strikes may seem like a better alternative than trying to fight terror groups with troops on the ground. Drones provide us with comfort that we are killing our enemies without the messiness of land warfare, and we aren’t exposed to many of the realities of drone warfare.
Additionally, it’s tough to be a high information voter on drone strikes. As Hurlburt points out, not only is there a large amount of secrecy surrounding the program, but it’s a new technology that has no real precedent and ambiguous long term consequences. This study is an important step, but a tiny fraction of the population is going to be exposed to Living With Drones. We see the headlines about dead terrorists without the images of war that brought the scenes in Iraq home to the United States. There is a broad consensus that killing more terrorists is a good thing and starting more land wars is maybe not such a good thing.
All of this is not to discount the role of partisanship in public opinion about drone strikes and other national security issues. Indeed, the amount that Americans trust in the federal government’s ability to handle international problems has clearly partisan swings. But it’s not the only thing determining the lack of outcry towards drone strikes.