A conversation between two Joes brings the debate over drones out in the open

US Politics
on 6 Comments

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Have you noticed there have been several Mondoweiss articles on drones lately? This isn’t just because we’re trying to get your attention.  Drones are finally starting to garner the attention they deserve and it’s not for lack of effort on several fronts. Lots of people have been working very diligently to expose the truth about drones. The recent emergence of reports from Stanford and New York University law schools and Columbia University Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, (highlighted by the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism) coinciding with Code Pink activists traveling to the region to join up with Imran Khan’s march in the Waziristan region in Pakistan, a region under constant drone surveillance, is finally breaking thru to the main stream media.

The U.S. policy of CIA drone strikes is getting global attention. Albeit, still not enough and it’s been a long time coming. This media blackout is about to change big time.

Drones are not a popular topic with the media and the US government is secretive about the CIA drone program and claims it has “tacit consent” to conduct drone strikes within the borders sovereign nations. Drones are also a cash cow for federal defense contracts (the explosive expansion of the drone industry is spelled out in the opening chapters of Medea Benjamin’s must read page turner Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control).

New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan critiques the Times coverage in her Op-ed Questions on Drones, Unanswered Still :

But The Times has not been without fault. Since the article in May, its reporting has not aggressively challenged the administration’s description of those killed as “militants” — itself an undefined term. And it has been criticized for giving administration officials the cover of anonymity when they suggest that critics of drones are terrorist sympathizers.

Americans, according to polls, have a positive view of drones, but critics say that’s because the news media have not informed them well. The use of drones is deepening the resentment of the United States in volatile parts of the world and potentially undermining fragile democracies, said Naureen Shah, who directs the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia University’s law school.

“It’s portrayed as picking off the bad guys from a plane,” she said. “But it’s actually surveilling entire communities, locating behavior that might be suspicious and striking groups of unknown individuals based on video data that may or may not be corroborated by eyeballing it on the ground.”


“It’s very narrow,” said David Rohde, a columnist for Reuters who was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008 when he was a Times reporter. “What’s missing is the human cost and the big strategic picture.”

Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer who has written extensively on this subject for Salon and now for The Guardian, told me he sees “a Western media aversion to focusing on the victims of U.S. militarism. As long as you keep the victims dehumanized it’s somehow all right.”
Mr. Rohde raised another objection: “If a Republican president had been carrying out this many drone strikes in such a secretive way, it would get much more scrutiny,” he said. Scott Shane, the Times reporter, finds the topic knotty and the secrecy hard to penetrate. “This is a category of public yet classified information,” he told me. “It’s impossible to keep the strikes themselves secret, but you’ve never had a serious public debate by Congress on it.” Last month, ProPublica admirably framed the issue in an article titled “How the Government Talks About a Drone Problem It Won’t Acknowledge Exists.”

How can I tell it’s broken through? A conversation between Joe Scarborough and Joe Klein on Morning Joe (beginning around 7:20 in the video above). Klein justifies drone strikes and the resulting deaths of children because he believes they will keep people safer in the U.S. Klein says:

But: the bottom line in the end is – whose 4-year-old get killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.

Glenn Greenwald called it “the most nakedly sociopathic defenses yet heard of these killings.”

Scarborough distinguishes himself here (and note the backhanded recognition of Code Pink’s diligent activism around drone strikes). First the exchange and then a smidgen of Greenwald’s seethings.

 The Guardian:

Time Magazine’s Joe Klein, a stalwart Obama supporter, offered one of the most nakedly sociopathic defenses yet heard of these killings. This exchange, which begins at roughly the 7:00 minute mark on the video embedded below, is quite revealing in several respects.


SCARBOROUGH: “What we’re doing with drones is remarkable: the fact that over the past eight years during the Bush years – when a lot of people brought up some legitimate questions about international law – my God, those lines have been completely eradicated by a drone policy that says: if you’re between 17 and 30, and within a half-mile of a suspect, we can blow you up, and that’s exactly what’s happening . . . . They are focused on killing the bad guys, but it is indiscriminate as to other people who are around them at the same time . . . . it is something that will cause us problems in the coming years” . . . .

KLEIN: “I completely disagree with you. . . . It has been remarkably successful” —

SCARBOROUGH: “at killing people” —

KLEIN: “At decimating bad people, taking out a lot of bad people – and saving Americans lives as well, because our troops don’t have to do this . . . You don’t need pilots any more because you do it with a joystick in California.”

SCARBOROUGH: “This is offensive to me, though. Because you do it with a joystick in California – and it seems so antiseptic – it seems so clean – and yet you have 4-year-old girls being blown to bits because we have a policy that now says: ‘you know what? Instead of trying to go in and take the risk and get the terrorists out of hiding in a Karachi suburb, we’re just going to blow up everyone around them.’

“This is what bothers me. . . . We don’t detain people any more: we kill them, and we kill everyone around them. . . . I hate to sound like a Code Pink guy here. I’m telling you this quote ‘collateral damage’ – it seems so clean with a joystick from California – this is going to cause the US problems in the future.”

KLEIN: “If it is misused, and there is a really major possibility of abuse if you have the wrong people running the government. But: the bottom line in the end is – whose 4-year-old get killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.”


The only difference between the Joe Kleins of the world and Osama bin Laden is that they’re on different sides. To the extent one wanted to distinguish them, one could say that the violence and aggression brought by the US to the Muslim world vastly exceeds – vastly – the violence and aggression brought by the Muslim world to the US. That’s just a fact.

(2) Leaving aside the sociopathic, morally grotesque defense of killing 4-year-olds with a “joystick from California”. Klein’s claims are completely false on pragmatic grounds. Slaughtering Muslim children does not protect American children from terrorism. The opposite is true. That is precisely what causes the anti-American hatred that fuels and sustains terrorism aimed at Americans in the first place, as even a study commissioned by the Rumsfeld-era Pentagon recognized almost a decade ago.

The reason American 4-year-olds are in danger from terrorism – to the very limited extent they are – is precisely because those empowered in US government and media circles think like Joe Klein does. Soulless cheerleaders for indiscriminate killing like Joe Klein – who once went on national television and advocated that the US should preserve the right to launch a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran in order to stop their nuclear program, prompting host George Stephanopoulos to label that statement “insane” – are the reason there is a terrorism risk to Americans, not the solution for that risk.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

Other posts by .

Posted In:

6 Responses

  1. seafoid
    October 23, 2012, 3:43 pm

    Greenwald is doing a great job at the Guardian.

    Klein is a disgrace. Blowing up much loved Pakistani children just engenders hatred of Americans. Freedom my ass.

    Imagine a unipolar world 50 years hence where the Chinese are in charge and control the skies over Wisconsin and pick off American 4 year olds walking to school and label them terrorists.

  2. ToivoS
    October 23, 2012, 4:36 pm

    From Greenwald: ” the sociopathic, morally grotesque defense of killing 4-year-olds with a “joystick from California”.” to characterize Joe Klein has the kind of ring to it that could, and hopefully will, be Joe’s epitaph. If there is justice, it will ring like Madeline “it was worth it” Albright.

    Glen is a real treasure. I heard him last week in a minisymposium with a conservative (Bruce Klein) and a libertarian (Hornblower..sp?) discuss civil liberties and US foreign policy. That was a very good demonstration that the old left-right dichotomy in politics really deserves to be erased. There are many intelligent voices on the right that were as appalled by last nights clown show as we were. It would be interesting to see a real political coalition develop from this. It was clear from some of Glen’s comments that this is something he not only desires but thinks is possible.

    It will be a tough road. I tried arguing in support of Ron Paul at TPM early during the primaries. My and a few other voices were drowned out by a chorus of protest from activist Democrats that only saw threats to our social well being and to the multicultural US nation.

  3. Bill in Maryland
    October 23, 2012, 4:48 pm

    Thanks Annie. Unfortunately Obama brandishes his record of drone attacks as a shield to protect himself against the usual Republican charges that Democrats are “weak” on security and defense, encouraged to do so no doubt by the defense industry and their highly paid retired military consultants. A short-sighted, doomed effort that, as many have pointed out, simply sows the seeds for future anti-American terrorism by those motivated by revenge for the senseless and arbitrary murder of their loved ones. How about American moral leadership for a change?

  4. MRW
    October 23, 2012, 5:52 pm

    And they wonder why there’s cyberbullying. Kids mimic their elders.

    Pakistan, which used to look like this, is now virulently anti-American, according to a Pakistani General I know who used to run the Army and now has the largest security firm in the country. The disaffection is greatest among the youth, rich and poor, who formerly loved anything American. He said an American now cannot walk the streets alone outside of downtown hotel-laden Karachi, much less venture outside of the city. The hatred for the indiscriminate use of American drones has reached Imran Khan’s political platform, and if he gets in (which I hope) there are going to be some Come to Jesus moments for the US President delivered by an Oxford-educated Pakistani President (if he wins) who can crush Romney mentally in a nanosecond and is more than Obama’s match. Khan also has the balls to take it to the ICJ.

  5. Nevada Ned
    October 24, 2012, 1:49 am

    Joe Scarborough is aware of the dangers of using drones? That’s a great insight, especially coming from a conservative Republican.

    Joe Klein will be totally surprised when other people (Taliban? whoever…) start using drones against US troops and other US targets (business executives).

Leave a Reply