Obama's drone use attracts wrong allies
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Here's a tip for future Democratic presidents: If your drone program is enthusiastically embraced by the likes of GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and "Fox & Friends" host Gretchen Carlson, you're probably doing something horribly wrong.
President Barack Obama, as pointed out in a Wall Street Journal editorial Thursday, "has embraced the unilateral, even pre-emptive powers that George W. Bush used in prosecuting the war against al-Qaida."
This description of Mr. Obama's evolution was not meant as a put-down by the conservative editorial page as much as a recognition of how a once-zealous critic of the black arts of modern warfare has become such an advocate when it comes to drones.
Under mounting pressure that the White House feared could jeopardize the nomination of John Brennan as the new CIA director, the Obama administration has finally briefed members of Congress with the information it has consistently withheld from the American public about its drone program.
While not as obvious a Sith Lord as Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama has shown a disturbing willingness to go beyond constitutional boundaries when it comes to prosecuting the war against a non-state entity like al-Qaida. The Obama administration long failed to explain its claim that it has the legal right to assassinate American citizens on foreign soil without due process, under something Attorney General Eric Holder called a "broader concept of imminence."
"Yes, this crowd doesn't arrest and interrogate suspected terrorists," the WSJ editorial clucked, referring to what it calls the Obama administration's moral preening over enhanced interrogation techniques under its predecessor. "It merely blows them away with missiles from the sky."
When the nicest thing a strange -- but supportive -- bedfellow can say about you is that you're a murderous hypocrite, it's probably time to ask how you ended up in that particular hammock in the first place. The public deserves to know what the moral, legal and military criteria is for landing on the so-called "kill list" that Mr. Obama personally approves before a drone takes out the target, along with an unknown number of people unlucky enough to be in the area at the time.
The assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. born al-Qaida leader and cleric who was killed by a CIA drone in Yemen in September 2011,won't prompt many tears here, but it raises fundamental questions about the circumstances in which an American president can order the execution of a citizen -- even a traitorous one -- without trial.
As for collateral damage, is it logical to assume that all military-age males in a drone's strike zone are enemy collaborators? The killing of al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son a few weeks later is even more problematic for the Obama drone policy. We have no idea what a "broader concept of imminence" means, once it is conceded that the danger represented by the teenager wasn't imminent.
As it turns out, the Obama administration claims it doesn't need the excuse of a plot, a ticking bomb or actionable intelligence to kill perceived foreign terrorist threats or Americans abroad. All the president needs is the stomach to pull the trigger. No need to consult the Constitution, Congress or the public for guidance.
When his supporters were worried he would lose the 2008 Democratic primary race against Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama answered their mounting anxiety with the laconic boast: "I got this." When it looked as if Sen. John McCain would maintain a slight lead against him coming out of the 2008 Republican convention, Mr. Obama was fond of saying, "Chill, I got this."
After former Gov. Mitt Romney cleaned Mr. Obama's clock during their first debate last fall, the president told his panicked supporters, "I got this." Now, Mr. Obama is trying to assure the American people that when it comes to the moral complexity of drone warfare, he's "got this" -- and we shouldn't sweat the constitutional details.
With all due respect, Mr. President, you don't "got this." We, the people, are supposed to "get this" in consultation with you and some antiquated thing called congressional oversight. In order to "get this," we have to know what it is that we got ourselves into. It isn't enough to simply say "trust me" when it comes to any administration's claims that Americans or foreigners can be legally killed abroad because they look suspicious.
Mr. Obama is inviting the kind of comparisons to George W. Bush that should cause the president to lose more than just a little sleep.
First Published February 8, 2013 12:00 am