When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates revealed yesterday that the U.S. would be deploying Predator drones--the unmanned aircraft we use to target militants in Pakistan's tribal areas--in Libya, he claimed the contribution didn't amount to "mission creep." The drones are needed "because of the humanitarian situation" in Libya, Gates and General James Cartwright explained, and the low-flying, Hellfire missile-equipped aircraft will more precisely strike entrenched urban targets than anti-tank aircraft or ground attack aircraft. In the wake of the announcement, however, a number of analysts are strongly disagreeing with the military officials, even as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, warns today that the conflict in Libya is headed toward a stalemate.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones warns that the "mission continues to creep in Libya," pointing out that Britain, France, and Italy are now dispatching military advisers to Libya while the U.S. sends the rebels $25 million in "non-lethal aid." Matt Drudge also labeled Gates' announcement "MISSION CREEP," only to remove those two words an hour or so ago and shorten his headline to, "Obama sends armed drones into Libya."

But wait, why the worry about military escalation? Why are drones any different from the other armed aircraft the coalition is currently deploying in Libya? Allahpundit at Hot Air suggests the drones could be used to target Muammar Qaddafi and members of his inner circle. "Obama's sworn up and down, remember, that the U.S. won't use military means to dislodge Qaddafi," he writes, but "does anyone think we won't take a shot if he decides to make a public appearance in Tripoli in full view of a Predator?" The Washington Post's David Ignatius agrees, calling the Predator drone "a tool for assassination from 10,000 feet." And he thinks using them imperils America's reputation in the region:

It brings a weapon that has become for many Muslims a symbol of the arrogance of U.S. power into a theater next door to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the most promising events in a generation. It projects American power in the most negative possible way.