A Time for Plans by Stephen Babb

Even those who find themselves skeptical of plan usage in LD should reconsider their positions when a topic like March/April’s “targeted killing” comes along.
First, there’s no unique advantage to broadening the scope of a particular debate on this topic. Anything that can be learned in the abstract about targeted killing can just as easily be learned through concrete examination of a proposed targeted killing.

Conversely, failure to address the specific dimensions of the targeted killings has the potential to create absurd and tangential discussions. Sure, there may be some value to imagining targeted killing as a tool to be used by anyone for virtually any reason, but there’s more value to assessing its realistic, short-term applications. There’s nothing revolutionary about this kind of prioritization—we encourage students to think through their college plans before taking up questions about their retirement.

If there are indeed broad philosophical or theoretical concerns with the use of targeted killing, then that scrutiny should apply equally to any specific policy (e.g. targeting a particular terrorist, Iranian nuclear scientists, etc.). To the extent broader concerns are irrelevant to these specific policies, all the more reason to save them for another day. Therein lies the double-bind for those insisting on a “whole-res” approach: the topic literature at risk is either so significant that it remains germane to a plan debate or it is insignificant enough to justify transcending the scope of the plan.

Aside from the benefits to students, a plan-based debate just makes sense in this case.

Targeted killing may be widely used within the parameters of certain national security threats, but it is still practiced on a case-by-case basis. It may be a systemic operation, but recourse to targeted killing in any given instance is still subject to separate cost-benefit analyses. Rather than resting upon the vacuous assertion that targeted killing is merely a ” tool in the toolbox,” a plan gives the 1AC both strategic ground and commensurate responsibility. When the 1N runs a disadvantage, the 1AR can’t shift ground and say, “Well, targeted killing wouldn’t be used in that instance.”

A plan requires the 1AR to defend something. Assuming that something is of reasonable broad scope, then there should still be excellent negative ground.

Note that this probably means defending more than a lone targeted killing. It should defend a policy that reflects a category of scenarios in which targeted killing is justified. In this case, the 1N can describe disadvantages, and it can reject the identifiable logic of the policy. This is also consistent with empirical implementation—targeted killings aren’t entirely one-off events. They’re justified as components of a policy, not as isolated and exceptional circumstances.

The idea that a plan circumvents the foundational tenets of LD is also troublesome. There’s absolutely no reason a plan debate can’t incorporate important philosophical premises: the legitimacy of anticipatory self-defense, the use of realist foreign policy, the dominance of Western interests, etc.

To be clear, these aren’t just reasons it would be permissible for 1ACs to run plans—they’re reasons they actually should.

It isn’t an accident this topic was written and selected at this particular juncture in history. Our debates should reflect that.

  • And this is why topics about foreign policy issues are awesome.

  • Anonymous

    If its undesirable to discuss the topic in the abstract, then does the negative have a right to run a disadvantage with zero link to the plan and still have it count as offense? This seems to capture all of the benefits of the reasons that "Case-by-case" discussions are good, and still assesses targeted killing in "its realistic, short-term applications".

    • Personally, I don't think so. If there's no good lit against the AC plan, that's probably indicative of a theoretical problem with the plan. If there is good lit against it, then why run a separate DA?

      • Anonymous

        I wasnt concerned with running dis-ads with no link because there were none with a link to the plan. If you have an air-tight disad that references a very specific scenario in which targeted killing is used, then your reasons that specificity is good in the article vis-a-vis case by case discussions seem to justify running a disad with no link because it forces specification.

        • Well, I think specificity is important within reason, but I also caution against using tiny plans. I still think there are logical and equity-based limits to what you can run.