The Role of Ideology in Public Support for Drone Strikes

According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, support among the U.S. public for drone strikes against militants in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia remains at high, and similar to the level of support last year (n = 1,004).

Given the controversy surrounding John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director, one may have assumed that support for targeted killings would have fallen. Not so:  55% of Americans approve of drone attacks, with only 26% disapproving. With these numbers, the level of disapproval has actually decreased compared to a similar study conducted by Pew in July 2012.

There is moderate partisan variation. 68% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats approve U.S. drone strikes. More significant variation falls between men and women: while 68% of men support the strikes, “only” 44% of women do.

Finally, there is actually a high level of concern that innocent lives may be endangered – 81% of people are either very or somewhat concerned about what the military refers to as “collateral damage”.

On Ideology

The figures are unsurprising. Drone warfare is presented as as clean, ethical, lawful war that targets al-Qaeda militants that threaten the safety of the U.S. homeland. But the ideological terrain is rigged: the opposition is not between “drone strikes” and “terrorist metastasization” (to use the cancerous metaphors frequently used).

Indeed, this very opposition is itself an ideological construction that needs careful examination. There are, and I mean this quite literally, a potentially infinite amount of responses to what is constructed as a “terrorist threat”. There is no moral imperative located within a particular state of affairs – one cannot get an “ought” from an “is”. 

The expanding Predator Empire is based on this faulty opposition, where democracy and drones oppose terrorism and barbarism. This ideological terrain is the foundation for a permanent planetary war, and legitimizes the knee-jerk response to “Hellfire a territory”.

What we need is a thought, or a thinking, that stands outside of what is perceived as “common sense” and can unthink the ideological terrain that is entrenched within the Washington bureaucracy and wider American public.

Such an unthinking would start by examining whether killer drones enhance our humanity or pollute it. I am sceptical of a detached neutrality towards this particular technology given the geopolitical “push” it generates, and the general “darkening of the world” it inaugurates.

I think that the things matter, and that humanity’s co-existence with these machines is a grave cause for concern.

Of that, I am 100% certain.

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