30 Issues Election Year Series: Big Military

Editor’s Note: In an interview with Brian Lehrer on October 10, 2012, Noah Shachtman answers questions about emerging issues of modern warfare and the near future of the U.S. military in the run-up to the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Read an excerpt from the interview below and listen to the full show online.

Brian Lehrer: Is the use of drones more cost-effective?

Noah Shachtman: Absolutely not. It’s not in any way a cost savings; it’s not, in any way, a personnel savings either. All you’re really doing is transferring the personnel from the front lines to maybe a base back in Nevada. But it’s in no way a cost or personnel savings. In fact, the head of the Air Force has often said that his greatest manning issue is unmanned systems because it takes so many people to operate these drones and to analyze the intelligence coming from them.

Lehrer: That’s interesting, but isn’t it part of a larger view of a smaller military? Which is that in the post 9-11 era, if the enemy is essentially Al Qaeda, that there is so much waste in mounting these large ground wars, which have only been marginally successful in Iraq and Afghanistan, that it makes much more sense, from a military efficiency standpoint as well as a national security standpoint, to be smaller and flexible and go after individual terrorists or small groups of terrorists wherever they may be found?

Shachtman: Right. There is definitely a logic to that, but whether that can be accomplished solely through drone strikes is pretty questionable. The drones are only as good as the intelligence that drives them. And we’ve seen over and over again drone strikes go awry, which can only increase the support for militant groups. Drones are a mixed bag for sure.