Week In News: U.S. Drones Strike Libya

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The U.S. has once again entered the air campaign against Moammar Gadhafi in Libya; this time by sending in drone strikes. Host Linda Wertheimer speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about that story and others from the past week.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (United States Department of Defense): The president has said that where we have some unique capabilities, he is willing to use those. And, in fact, he has approved the use of armed Predators.

WERTHEIMER: That's Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaking from the Pentagon about the U.S. adding drone attacks to the NATO's air support of rebels in Libya. And, in fact, those drones are already at work in the vicinity of Misrata.

James Fallows at The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays.

Hello, Jim.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Hello, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the U.S. had handed military control of the operation in Libya over to NATO. Now, it appears the U.S. is back in it, if in a rather impersonal way through the drones.

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes. In a way, I think this was inevitable or at least predictable early on, because the disproportion of military force within NATO is so great that the U.S., in the long run, is going to have to pick up the slack in this way.

The point I would like to make is sort of abstracting from Libya in particular just to recognize this moment in America's military place in the world. Early in our country's history, we were involved in a lot of smallish wars, if you want. The Marine Corps talks about the shores of Tripoli, because the Marines were fighting there during the Barbary Wars in the early 1800s.

But in the 20th century, the U.S. got used to having wars being big things. There were declarations of war. There was a draft. There were often war taxes, et cetera, et cetera. And since the end of the draft and the end of the Vietnam War, we've very, very frequently, almost constantly, been in combat, but not in a formal way.

There were not these formal declarations of war. There's certainly not a draft. And with the drones, there's kind of one more degree of separation between all of the American feedback loops that would go into the consciousness of being at war and the actual wars we are committed to and the things we are doing around the world.

WERTHEIMER: But on the other hand, Jim, when you look at the Predators and at the bombing missions that the U.S. was involved in in the Balkans, there are far fewer American casualties with this kind of war at a distance.

Mr. FALLOWS: Sure. And this is the good and potentially the bad of this kind of war. I say potentially the bad in two ways. One is a point that David Ignatius of The Washington Post made in a very strong column this week when he pointed out that within the Muslim world, this very removed and distance of American troops, of having controllers in Nevada sending a hell fire of missiles down to Muslim countries, that it become a very significant PR problem, if you will, for the U.S. in the Muslim world.

Moreover, I would argue that in the long run, while it's useful for a big military power to have a range of options, it probably is not good for a republic in the very long run to have such distance between the things it is doing and the people it is blowing up, you know, for arguably good reasons around the world and the domestic awareness of that fact.

WERTHEIMER: Finally, Jim, this week, Amazon.com's venture into the brave new world of cloud computing hit a little bump. An outage at Amazon Cloud knocked popular websites like Foursquare and reddit off the Web. So, what, are we looking at a cloud very soon?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes, indeed, with a wonderfully named EC2 or Elastic Compute Cloud that Amazon has been running. And I think this certainly is not the end of cloud computing, because this is a fundamental technology, which will become more and more important.

But I think this is a moment of loss of innocence about it, where people, I think, will kind of recognize some of the cumbersome practicalities of the old age - the need for fallbacks, the need for redundancy, the need for extra security system and all the rest, which they thought that going to the cloud might spare them, that these unglamorous practicalities will come back into view.

WERTHEIMER: James Fallows is national correspondent for The Atlantic. And you can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.

Jim, thank you.

Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Linda.

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