A drone strike is the term for the assassination or killing of a military or civilian leader by an unmanned aircraft. There is currently a large, secretive campaign of drone strikes by The United States of America, carried out through either military or paramilitary organizations, primarily using the MQ-1 Predator.
The current campaign of drone strikes is somewhat easy to write about, because I can excuse my own ignorance of the matter because just about everyone who is not a high-ranking national security official is ignorant of the extent and purposes of the drone strike campaign. It is carried out mostly in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, but also in Yemen, and possibly other areas where Al-Qaida and its affiliates reside. The weaponry that can be carried by the Predator drone is currently restricted to "light" weapons, such as the Hellfire missile. Although light in terms of military weaponry, these weapons can still be devastating when used amongst civilian areas, and there has been many civilian casualities from suspected drone strikes. Another issue is that some of the people killed or believed killed in drone strikes were American citizens, meaning that the drones can become a way to inflict "extrajudicial killings", which is a troubling thought.
Beyond the actual usage of drones, I have noticed the concept of drone strikes becoming a rallying cry on social media platforms. Amongst the libertarian minded, the presence of a silent army of airplanes ready to kill opponents of that government is an obviously unpleasant scenarios, sometimes up to apocalyptic levels.
And while it is obviously problematic, I also wonder why it is "drone strikes" that are so frightening to people.
Imagine that you have just broken the glass of a jewelry store and are running away with a handful of diamonds. A police officer sees you committing a crime, orders you to stop, and when you don't, shoots you. You have not been convicted of a crime. You haven't even been accused of a crime. But based on suspected and obvious behavior of illegal activity, it is normal for a law enforcement officer to use lethal force. In fact, such killings don't cause a stir except when it is obvious that the people involved were wrongly targeted. Even then, we have cases such as the case of Jose Mejia, where a man's absence seizure on a bus led to his killing by police, or the story of Jim Chasse, who was beaten to death by police after urinating publicly. (Both of these stories are ones I am familiar with since they took place in Portland, Oregon.) Looking back at the past and present history of the United States, there were and are a number of people who would be easy targets for "extra-judicial killings" by law enforcement based merely on saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. So why does the targeted killing of the leader of a terrorist organization raise such a constitutional crisis, while the killing of non-violent criminals in the act of escape is just a matter of course for law enforcement?
In addition, while killings by drones have created civilian causalities, they are probably minuscule by the standards of some other aerial campaigns entered into by the United States: World War II in both Germany and Japan and the Vietnam War led to the destruction of entire cities as an afterthought. The recent war in Iraq also led to many deaths through "conventional" aircraft. Compared to the bomb load of a B-52 Stratofortress, the possibilities for death and destruction of the Predator's one or two heat seeking missiles is hardly worth mentioning.
As far as I can tell, most of the reaction to drone strikes is based on one of two things: that it seems like such a futuristic way to die that it brings up fears of dystopia and government control, and the fact that the plane is controlled remotely, meaning that the pilot is under no risk themselves. Both of these are fair things to be afraid of: the omnipresence of surveillance and violence does seem like a step into dystopia, and the depersonalization of war by having the operators of the drones being half a world away is a frightening thoughts. However, it should also be remembered that an American citizen still has a much more likely chance of having an "extra judicial killing" by a police officer then by a drone aircraft, and that the chivalry of having an airplane pilot putting himself at some risk is probably not a large consolation if you are, say, having your city bombed by manned bombers.
So there are many reasons for being concerned about drone strikes, and to be concerned about the excesses of state power. It is also true that many liberals have been much more forgiving of Obama's program of covert warfare than they would ever have been of Bush's. But I think that some of the reaction against drone strikes is for reasons that are more about what drones represent than about what they do.