Question of the Day

The QotD comes courtesy of Carla at Preemptive Karma, who, linking back through Michael Stickings to Kevin Drum, comes up with a question about the bombing last week in Pakistan.


For the sake of argument, let's assume that we had pretty good intelligence telling us that a bunch of al-Qaeda leaders were in the house we bombed. And let's also assume that we did indeed kill al-Masri and several other major al-Qaeda leaders. Finally, let's assume that the 18 civilians killed in the attack were genuinely innocent bystanders with no connection to terrorists.

Question: Under those assumptions, was the attack justified? I think the answer is pretty plainly yes, but I'd sure like to see the liberal blogosphere discuss it. And for those who answer no, I'm curious: under what circumstances would such an attack be justified.

An important question, to be sure. And what is the answer? I encourage you to come up with your own. For whatever the realities of the war on terror and the inevitable loss of civilian life, this is a profoundly personal issue that comes down to this: What means are justified by the end (the end of the war on terror, the end according to your own personal perspective of the war on terror)? How many deaths are worth it?

This is an important question. Is it worth killing 18 innocent civilians to possibly get one bad guy? Where does it cross the line? How many innocents must die before it becomes unacceptable?
I don’t actually know if I have a good answer to this question, mainly because I think it’s predicated on a belief that terrorism is best fought militarily (at least in part), which I’m not remotely convinced that it is. State-sponsored terrorism, e.g. the war in Afghanistan, I can understand (as James Woolsey noted, that was, in effect, a terrorist-sponsored state), but beyond that, I’d much rather see a comprehensive plan combining fuel independence, coalition-based diplomacy, working with willing governments of nations with high propensity for breeding terrorists to solve root problems like poverty, joblessness, and lack of education and opportunity, and a host of other nonviolent solutions, with military options a genuine last resort.

Because I believe that taking out 18 innocent civilians to get two terrorist operatives is likely to spawn at least two new terrorists in its wake, dealing with terrorism this way just seems utterly counterproductive to me—and, in fact, we’d be better off doing nothing at all aside from strengthening our intelligence operations than continue as we are.

So, I guess my answer is that I find it unacceptable, by virtue of its futility, to kill any number of innocents in the pursuit of the bad guys, if that’s essentially the plan in its entirety.

What do you think?

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