Drones: 10 Thoughts

By EDITORIAL  |  February 20, 2013


1. Foreign drone attacks are almost (but not quite yet) as American as apple pie.

2. Flying death robots have become the Obama administration's weapon of choice in its iteration of the war on terror.

3. Drones satisfy the bloodlust of neocons who see the world as America's playground, without worrying middle-of-the-road voters who tend to fret when their sons and daughters and husbands and wives are killed or wounded overseas.

4. Drone attacks have created a new psycho-political reality that has insulated President Obama from a good deal of right-wing nuttery while he has withdrawn uniformed troops from Iraq and continues to do the same in Afghanistan.

5. In the larger scheme of things, this has had benefits. But those have come with a hefty price tag.

6. The cost of Obama's intermediate drone success has been clear for some time. In terms of domestic impact, it is unconstitutional, mething up the already steroid-fueled exercise of executive power known as the war on terror: warrantless wiretaps, indefinite detention, rendition, torture, and all the rest. In regard to the conduct of foreign policy, drone attacks over time may create more terror sympathizers and terrorists than they kill. As a result of civilian deaths and outrage over violations of sovereignty, the specter of intensified radicalization in the Muslim world is impossible to ignore.

7. Very few in Washington public life have wanted to confront — or even recognize — the constitutional, policy, and moral implications that drone warfare entails. The mainstream media reacted with predictable shock and awe when a very discrete set of particulars emerged as a result of the Senate Intelligence Committee's tepid questioning of CIA Director-designate John Brennan two weeks ago. However, principled conservative journals such as First Things and the American Conservative and thoughtful left-leaning publications such as the New York Review of Books and the New Republic have examined in painful detail the hazards of Obama's drone policy. The political middle, including the bulk of the president's supporters, has maintained a convenient silence. It is difficult to imagine that this would be the case if the drone Svengali were George W. Bush.

8. To be fair, the Obama administration has been more forthcoming on the issue of drones than the media or the American Civil Liberties Union (perhaps the most persistent critic on the left) would have you believe. Officials, including Brennan, have spoken publically and in detail about policy. And those details, more or less, are contained in the white paper the Justice Department recently released to Congress.

9. It is not that the White House has not worked to develop a legal justification. As the white paper shows, it has. The problem is two-fold. As is almost always the case, the process was shrouded in secrecy so obsessive as to be deemed obscene. The paper was never classified and should have been made public long ago. But process aside, the legal reasoning is deeply flawed. Like the Bush administration's attempts to justify torture, the Obama administration's attempt to justify the directed assassination of Americans overseas flies in the face of the US Constitution.

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