A Quick Follow-Up On Tony Stark And Drones

Because I’m traveling, I didn’t get a chance to get around to the comments on my post on Tony Stark and drone warfare for a while, and so I’m just now getting to an argument some of you are making that I’ve mixed up Tony Stark and War Machine based on a trailer for Iron Man 3.* That’s entirely possible! Hollywood movie trailers are frequently cut to be confusing so as to conceal plot points, etc. But I don’t actually think it changes the point I was trying to make, which is that the Iron Man technology, which combines extremely precise targeting, a human judgement in closer proximity to targets than is the case behind a computer screen, and a near-zero risk of injury or death to the person pulling the trigger, is a fantasy of how we’d like to solve the problem that drone warfare ws intended to address. Whether it’s Tony in the relevant suit or not, it’s still a fantasy.

Even if Tony isn’t the person in the fancy armor, the Iron Man franchise raises scary questions for me about the role our assessment of other people’s judgement plays in how willing we are to accept drone warfare. If the president of the United States is deploying Iron Man technology badly, I don’t actually think it makes it a solution for Tony to have continued access to that technology just because we’re fond of him as a character. It’s the reason conservatives have a point when they say that if George W. Bush was the person leading an enormous expansion of our targeted killing program, the reaction to that program would be very different among liberal Senators. You don’t get to expand the powers of an office, or let a technology out into the world and then do a take-backsies when there’s a risk that it will be used in a way that you don’t like.

And if Tony isn’t working for the government, that just increases the extrajudiciality of his use of Iron Man technology, as was the case in the first Iron Man movie when he jaunted back to the Middle East to dispatch his former tormenters without regard for either the legality of his actions or the impact on diplomatic relations and local military operations. The escalation of drone possession of states is always going to be limited in its impact by the balance of power: the U.S. will probably be protected by the lack of nearby states who would let other countries stage drone strikes on America from their territory. But getting enamoured of Tony Stark’s possession of the ability to jaunt off and kill people people because we happen to trust him is a road that makes me pretty queasy.

*NB: As with grammar and spelling, if you think I’ve made a mistake, email me directly! That’s the quickest and most reliable way to reach me, and much more effective than leaving comments or yelling at me vaguely on social media.