Several questions come readily to mind regarding the use of drones in the war on terror: is the intelligence used to identify targets valid? Does the use of drones entail an unacceptably high risk of killing innocent bystanders? Is the use of targeted drone strikes effective in bringing about a successful conclusion to the war on terror?
The answers to these questions, and to a plethora of others just like them, are difficult to ascertain from readily available information, and do not even begin to address the deeper and perhaps more important questions regarding the legality and morality of such tactics. It is not at all clear that terrorist organizations respond predictably to threats of death, or that their operational effectiveness is irreversibly degraded by serial assassinations of their leadership. Israel has eliminated multiple senior leaders of Hamas, yet the terror threat posed by that organization persists. Discussion of these issues certainly is beyond the scope of a simple blog post, but there is one point that should not be neglected in the hubbub.
Terrorism is, after all, a tactic of demoralization. Whether blowing up spectators at the Boston Marathon with a couple of pressure cookers, or obliterating an Al Qaeda commander with a hellfire missile has the greater effect on the opponent's morale depends not so much on the operational details, but upon the opponent's state of mind. The crucial point is this: the West is losing confidence in its institutions and the terrorists are not, and this fact is wholly independent of the violence that either side uses. The West is losing confidence in its institutions, not because they are being attacked by the Muslim world, but because they are being attacked from within. Liberal values such as freedom of speech, the dignity of human life and equality before the law are not succumbing to an alien invasion, they are being disparaged and degraded by self loathing elites, cynical opportunists, and anti-human nihilism.
Being able to incinerate a jihadist in the Hindu Kush or Yemeni desert is simply going through the motions of fighting a war on terror. The fact is that a terror war cannot be lost without the consent of the losing side. A terror war is won when resolve, rather than fighting ability, is overcome. One's resolve to defend something tends to flag when he does not value the thing being defended.
The lethal enemies in the clash between Western civilization and the Islamic world are not the bomb makers, or hijackers, or psychotic morons that celebrate the death of innocent children. The lethal agent is the one who, given the benefit of Western-style freedom, is disdainful of human dignity and who nurses an irrational resentment of the freedom of others.