Friday Puzzler: The Silence of the Drones
The most recent national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that over fifty percent of Americans support the United States’ use of drone strikes. This support is bi-partisan, and hasn’t really changed over the last 12 months. American support for drone strikes, in other words, is much higher than you would expect given the recent grilling of John Brennan over the use of drones by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
If you ask Americans what their biggest concern is regarding drones, it’s not whether drone strike are employed legally, damage America’s reputation, or lead to retaliation by extremists. Instead, their major concern is that these strikes endanger civilian lives. This attitude is surprising, because one of the main benefits of drone strikes is that they significantly reduce collateral damage compared with other methods of targeting extremists. Some estimates put drone-inflicted civilian casualties at a fraction of what would occur if the US employed conventional strike capabilities more frequently.
So today’s puzzler is this: If the Obama administration knows that most Americans support drones but worry about civilian deaths, why has it been silent about the ability of drones to limit collateral damage? Why keep the information classified when it would help the administration’s cause?
Answer to Last Week’s Puzzler
Last week we asked why Iran does such an amateurish job faking technological and military accomplishments. This is a story we can’t seem to stay on top of: not only is Iran’s recently unveiled F-313 “stealth fighter” a fiberglass mockup, this week Iran released a badly-Photoshopped image of the aircraft in flight over an obvious stock-image background. Again, this fake was quickly detected by international audiences.
The gap between the ambitions and skill of Iran’s Photoshop-wielding propagandists is puzzling. What’s particularly interesting is the confidence these counterfeits’ architects appear to have in their quality. After all, Iran didn’t release fuzzy images of its fake fighter aircraft; instead, it showcased the F-313 in clear, revealing photos. Readers provided some possible answers to this puzzle. Brian Forst judged that the regime’s autocratic insularity causes it to underestimate the intelligence of outside observers. Commenter fb suggested that the regime needs to juggle the need to satisfy internal supporters while avoiding legitimate technical achievements that would raise America or Israel’s threat perception of Iran, potentially triggering a preemptive strike on the country. Thus the regime showcases fake achievements — for example, potentially dual-use rocket technology — convincing to relatively unsophisticated domestic nationalists, but unthreatening to the outside world. Finally, contributor Oliver Kaplan offered a humorous answer: perhaps the Stuxnet worm “keeps messing up their Photoshop.”