Cliff May

Wars of the future will be very different from wars of the past. Everyone gets that. What many do not grasp: The present war also is very different from wars of the past.

Among the ways: Those defending the West try hard to abide by the laws of war. Those attacking the West say clearly that they will not be bound by any “infidel” rules. They are committed to what they call a “Koranic concept of war.”

That provides them with an advantage. The West’s advantages include sophisticated and continually advancing technologies. We can now track and kill enemy combatants without boots on the ground or pilots in the skies. Such missions can be accomplished using unmanned aerial vehicles: drones, of course, but there’s also a kind of blimp that can achieve dominance on a battlefield — if we’d only deploy it. (More on that in a moment.)

Meanwhile, the “age of cyberwar” is not ahead of us — it is “upon us,” as former foreign correspondent and Pentagon official David Jackson recently wrote. Curiously, these historic changes are causing confusion, not least among those tasked with understanding them.

For example, last week, I found myself on an al-Jazeera television show defending President Obama’s use of drones to eliminate al-Qaeda commanders. Both Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst and a man of the Left, and Shihab Rattansi, the show’s BBC-style host, took the view that the use of such weapons in the ungoverned areas of Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia violates international law and fundamental morality. They presented no evidence, much less proof: They simply asserted that those killed — most recently Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaeda’s number two — are entitled to more “due process” than a Hellfire missile delivers.

Meanwhile, The Diane Rehm Show on NPR last week featured Matt Frei of Britain’s Channel 4 News who said that most Europeans find it “quite appalling, actually” that President Obama maintains a “kill list.” He did not say what policy most Europeans would prefer when it comes to such terrorists as al-Libi. Should Obama be sending strongly worded letters instead?

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.