This U.S. drone war certainly is cowardly

It may be true, as the US air force says, that because a drone can circle and study a target for hours before it strikes, its missiles are less likely to kill civilians than those launched from a piloted plane. (The air force has yet to explain how it reconciles this with its boast that drones “greatly shorten decision time”.) But it must also be true that the easier and less risky a deployment is, the more likely it is to happen.

This danger is acknowledged in a remarkably candid assessment published by the UK’s Ministry of Defence, which also deploys drones, and has also used them to kill civilians. It maintains that the undeclared air war in Pakistan and Yemen “is totally a function of the existence of an unmanned capability – it is unlikely a similar scale of force would be used if this capability were not available”. Citing the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, it warns that the brutality of war seldom escalates to its absolute form, partly because of the risk faced by one’s own forces. Without risk, there’s less restraint. With these unmanned craft, governments can fight a coward’s war, a god’s war, harming only the unnamed…

The danger to democracy, and not just in Pakistan but one day perhaps everywhere, should be evident. Yet, as fatalistic as the ancient Greeks, we drift into this with scarcely a murmur of debate, leaving the gods to decide.