Below I pose a definitional question, "what is post-Westphalian war?" Definitions look for essences, a finite list of necessary and sufficient conditions for membership in a class. A provisional defintion would then be defeated by a counterexample, a case that fits the proposed conditions but does not (seem) to belong to the class, or which is an accepted member of the class but does not meet the proposed conditions. [UPDATE: Catarina's post earlier today discusses essential definitions as well.]
Deleuze proposed replacing "what is" questions -- essential definitions -- with "who" or "how" questions -- the search for "dramatizations" or actualizations of a virtual multiplicity, that is, the patterns of a set of dynamic processes linked in such a way so that when the relations of the processes hit a threshold a qualitative change in the system occurs. In my favorite example, events are hurricanes: they should not be seen as instanciations of a form or members of a species but as singular integrations of a differential field of processes whose patterns form a multiplicity. That is, when linked air and water currents hit a threshold in their relation, a qualitatively novel system, the hurricane, emerges.
So the Deleuzean question in the al-Awlaki case would be "how did it come about?" What were the linked processes or conflictual forces which hit a threshold triggering the event of the drone strike? Some of them are:
- the increasing technological prowess of the drone team: accuracy of targeting and delivery of the warhead, etc.
- the continual gathering of intelligence: the information assembled by informants as to the movement patterns of al-Awlaki and the others killed with him
- the increase or decrease in the strategic importance of killing al-Awlaki and the others (some of whom may in fact have been judged to be more important)
- the docility of the US press and public: what is the likelihood of a reaction and what strength reaction can be expected? What are abilities of the administration to fight the reaction? What are the outlets they have to get their message out there and to dilute the focus of the reaction?
- the potential international reaction by states and publics
- the potential for retaliation by those hurt by the killings
- the potential US electoral effects
- the decision-making process of Obama and his team: who has input to the POTUS? what is his decision-making "personality" if I can put it like that?
The factors marked "potential" here are themselves amenable to "dramatization" analysis, that is, they are themselves differential fields of linked processes.