A truly phenomenal essay on the drone, replete with helpful context and detail, and worth reading every word of this long article.
The writer (Mark Bowden) presents a fair and nuanced portrayal. Basically, drones allow us to more accurately, quickly, and cheaply target bad actors such as high value terrorist targets. They are less likely to cause collateral damage (death of innocent people) than ground force combat, except perhaps by an elite unit, and even then the outcome is hard to predict (and certainly the risk to those troops is high)–the bin Laden raid is one such example. They are proven to be effective, something that the disintegration of Al Qaeda attests; high level terrorist leaders echo the same sentiment, the article points out.
The downside? The use of drones provides fodder for terrorist leaders to indoctrinate impressionable youth into their ranks.
The solution, according to Bowden (and I conceptually agree)…
In our struggle against terrorist networks like al-Qaeda, the distinction between armed conflict and law enforcement matters a great deal. Terrorism embraces lawlessness. It seeks to disrupt. It targets civilians deliberately. So why restrain our response? Why subject ourselves to the rule of law? Because abiding by the law is the point—especially with a weapon like the drone. No act is more final than killing. Drones distill war to its essence. Abiding carefully by the law [and] making judgments carefully, making them transparent and subject to review, is the only way to invest them with moral authority, and the only way to clearly define the terrorist as an enemy of civilization.
Transparency and review are the key points here; I’ll add accountability. The same measures could apply to any number of things: tactics, weapons, agencies, secret courts, etc, and it’s equally pertinent to the use of drones.