Jonah Goldberg wrote another column today, which means, as Roy over at Alicublog is so fond of pointing out, that it's the dumbest thing ever written. In his column at the National Review dated "America's moral compass"* Jonah asks if it would be moral to deploy super drones to kill every member of Boko Haram.
Jonah's little 'thought experiment' reveals far more about himself than it could possibly reveal about the morality of drone warfare. Even his modified version where the members of Boko Haram are paralyzed until they can be apprehended is less credible than the thought experiment most of us learned in nursery school about the three magic beans. In his concluding paragraph he pulls out 'with great power comes great responsibility' cliche, he handwaves away the fact that we don't actually have super drones capable of paralyzing specific evildoers, and that they are roughly as likely as Mars colonies in our lifetime.
So let's change his thought experiment to reflect reality. If our informants and allies of wildly varying reliablility and with agendas of their own, point out a group which may or may not be Boko Haram, do we have the responsibility to take that information, and, hours later, try to kill them with an airstrike or with ground forces that would also kill anyone in the area, and knock over most of the buildings nearby?
And now, we have a thought experiment that is worth considering. But it cuts to the heart of the real problem, which is lack of information. A shit load of questions need to be answered before one even thinks about taking the dust covers off the drones. Who are our allies and informants? Can they identify Boko Haram? Can they be trusted not to finger their rivals in an attempt to have the US eliminate them? How old is their information? Have they moved in the intervening time? Are the kidnapped girls held separately or would an attack endanger the hostages? How fast can military assets be deployed? Do we have sufficient forces available to handle an ambush? How many causalities are we willing to suffer in this attack? Can they distinguish Boko Haram from hostages and bystanders? How will the hostages receive medical care and evacuation? How will our forces return from this engagement? What will be done with prisoners? To whom do we hand off any rescued hostages? How can we prevent similar occurrences in the future?
Life or death isn't flipping a switch. Condemning people to death from halfway across the world is cheap, lazy, bloodlust. Jonah's "thought experiment" is about as fleshed out as one would be that starts with "consider a frictionless spherical terrorist of uniform density". Not a goddamn thing has stopped Jonah from enlisting his flabby ass in the USMC or Army since the most recent round of pointless wars began back in 1991, or again in 2001 when it was obvious to anyone with eyes to see that we would be at war again and soon. Bizarro Jonah who joined the USMC or Army in 1991 would have fought at a minimum in Kuwait and Iraq, the former Yugoslav republics, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq again, and possibly Libya. Bizarro Jonah would have had the opportunity to have his ass shot off or blown up by a roadside bomb for more than 10 of the last 20+ years. Biazarro Jonah would have had an informed opinion on the use of force and its limitations.
But pointing out his complete lack of combat experience doesn't mean that this public ignoramus is shooting his mouth off again about matters which he doesn't understand, it just strongly implies it. Just like the fact that he has publicly advocated for the use of force in every major political crisis since forever, doesn't mean that the use of force in this instance is wrong, but what it does mean, is that he is the last person one should turn to for accurate and carefully reasoned opinion on this matter. He is like the proverbial stopped clock, right twice a day by sheerest coincidence but without additional sources of information, you'll never know when that happy event occurs. Jonah Goldberg doesn't have a moral compass, he has a finger-painted arrow that points to war.
*I really hate linking to that cretin, but I want to make it easy for anyone who cares to, check my work and verify for themselves that I'm not exaggerating the depths of his ignorance and laziness.