School of Foreign Service professor Christine Fair came under criticism from media outlets after advocating for the continued use of drones in civilian-inhabited environments in a televised discussion on Al Jazeera on Oct. 23.
Fair, a professor in the security studies program, debated the effectiveness of drone strikes in Pakistan with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Glenn Greenwald on Al Jazeera’s “The Arena” program.
Following her Al Jazeera appearance, Fair received criticism mainly from social media and from an article in Salon saying she had a “lack of etiquette” and “advocates for a belligerent foreign policy.”
In response to Twitter complaints that Fair would not give Greenwald the opportunity to speak during the debate, Fair tweeted, “Yep. Shut that lying clown down. I don’t care if I you think I’m a rambo bitch. Do you know why? I AM a rambo bitch.”
Fair, who advocates for the continued use of drone strikes against high-profile targets, debated against Greenwald, who opposes drone strikes due to their high percentage of alleged civilian casualties.
The discussion emerged in light of the release of classified government documents indicating that drones may not be effective in counterterrorism by The Intercept, an online publication co-founded by Greenwald and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
“What [the documents] do primarily is confirm what the people in the regions where the drones have been killing people have been saying, which is that far more often than not they’re killing people not who are the targets, but who are innocent,” Greenwald said.
Greenwald pointed to documents and surveys conducted in affected regions to support his belief that drones are not effective and may do more harm than good.
“You’ve heard this from people in Afghanistan and Pakistan continuously, you’ve heard it from researchers and scientists. … The reason we’re constantly turning more people into terrorists than we’re killing is because the anger and rage from these innocent victims is what then causes people to want to bring violence to the United States,” Greenwald said.
In response to Greenwald’s claims, Fair raised concerns with the documents themselves. She argued that the data are untrustworthy, making it unethical for Greenwald to say that drones are not effective, as the data do not represent the majority of drone strikes.
“So let’s imagine that you have a fishbowl full of 10,000 distinct marbles,” Fair said. “If they’re randomly drawn you can make some limited statements about what those 10,000 marbles look like. But if those 87 are not drawn randomly, maybe they’re the smallest, maybe they’re the biggest. … You can’t make any generalizations.”
Fair and Greenwald then argued over the validity of Greenwald’s claims and the success of the drone program itself. As both attempted to speak over the other, Fair argued that she was the only one bringing substantial points to the discussion.
“I actually bring nuance to this, I’m sorry,” Fair said. “This is not ranked propaganda, you don’t know data. Are you capable of being truthful?”
While Fair continues to comment on the lack of evidence presented during the Al Jazeera debate, she said events like the debate do not impact her work.
“Quite frankly I’m in a security studies program where people like Glenn Greenwald don’t really have a lot of credibility,” Fair said. “Many of the people in our program are military personnel, State Department personnel, CIA personnel. … We have people all over the government.”
According to Fair, Greenwald was misinformed and presented little evidence.
“It takes a while to unpack someone’s nonsense with data,” Fair said. “You can say any outrageous claim and not have to back it up. But from my point of view, I had to unpack his dubious claims and that’s harder to do than him just spewing out nonsense.”
In an article in The Huffington Post following the debate, Fair continued to defend her stance and criticized the debate format.
“Oddly, the show was largely focused on Pakistan,” Fair wrote. “However, the ‘Drone Papers’ were not about Pakistan at all — they were about Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. And drone strikes in these countries are actually quite different.”
In the article, Fair presented her own data to support her claim that drone strikes do indeed effectively kill militants.
“Villagers claimed that, according to the AP report, ‘at least 194 people killed in the attacks, about 70 percent — at least 138 — were militants,” Fair wrote. “The remaining 56 were either civilians or tribal police, and 38 of them were killed in a single attack on March 17, 2011. Excluding [one catastrophically disastrous strike] … nearly 90 percent of the people killed were militants.’”
Professor in the Security Studies Program Paul Sullivan wrote in an email to The Hoya that the debate about how best to tackle terrorism should move to discussing its root causes instead of focusing on military solutions.
“Military operations are not sufficient to reduce terrorism,” Sullivan wrote. “They can sometimes incite it. Economic, political, diplomatic, informational, cyber and other operations need to be combined in a long term grand strategic manner, not just in tactical, short run manners for any long term solution or mitigation of terrorism to occur.”
According to Fair, the format of and questions asked in the debate were not fair to begin with, necessitating her response.
“It was very clear that these two were going to conspire to make it difficult for me to back up with data my reasons for discounting virtually everything that he said,” Fair said. “I said, ‘Fine, I’m going to do what you’re doing.’ This isn’t a fair fight, and I’m not going to act like it is one.”
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.