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Why Drones Fail

When Tactics Drive Strategy

Don’t drone me, bro! Pakistani tribesmen hold pieces of a missile, January 2009 Courtesy Reuters

The war-weary United States, for which the phrase “boots on the ground” has become politically toxic, prefers to eliminate its terrorist foes from the skies. The tool of choice: unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones. In Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen -- often far away from any battlefield where American troops are engaged -- Washington has responded to budding threats with targeted killings.

Like any other weapon, armed drones can be tactically useful. But are they helping advance the strategic goals of U.S. counterterrorism? Although terrorism is a tactic, it can succeed only on the strategic level, by leveraging a shocking event for political gain. To be effective, counterterrorism must itself respond with a coherent strategy. The problem for Washington today is that its drone program has taken on a life of its own, to the point where tactics are driving strategy rather than the other way around.

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