How Much Can We Trust A President To Kill?
The drone/targeted killing debate is not as simplistic as either side of it would have you believe. I’m not even sure that there are clear and defined “sides” to this as we usually define such things.
I’m largely in favor of the policy, though I believe the administration does need more transparency and possibly more oversight. For what its worth, my perspective hasn’t changed from what it was during the Bush years. I favor a strong executive branch, with appropriate oversight from Congress no matter the party in charge.
My biggest quarrel with the Bush administration wasn’t necessarily over civil liberties, but that administration’s faltering efforts to fight terrorism. I felt that the invasion of Afghanistan was necessary, but the invasion of Iraq took time and resources away from the wider war against Al Qaeda-based terrorism.
I also felt it was a huge dodge of the Bush administration to claim that the goal in Afghanistan was more oriented around opening schools for girls and the like. It was about killing and capturing Al Qaeda, and not much else. (The inability to find WMD in Iraq also ushered in rounds of “but look, they’re voting” stories as well.)
In addition to being the cause of the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, the Iraq War took away from the wider fight against Al Qaeda.
It’s impossible to go back and do this, but a lot of these questions would have been easily resolved if we had simply made a formal declaration of war against Al Qaeda after 9/11. We’ve gone to war against stateless entities before – The Barbary Wars – and had we formally declared war, many of the civil liberties issues are much clearer distinctions.
For instance, an American allied with Al Qaeda would very clearly be part of an enemy army and what we can and can’t do would be clearly defined. That didn’t happen, and its not going to happen now, 12 years later.
So we end up with drones and targeted killings and it becomes very messy, to say the least.
When I support something like this, I always have to think — would I also trust George W. Bush with this power? As I consider him one of the worst leaders in world history, it turns out to be a pretty good litmus test.
But I did, in fact, support policies like this under Bush. The fight to destroy Al Qaeda has, and should, transcend party while also adhering to our rules of law.
I also feel like one of the arguments against Obama doing this is based on wishful thinking. I often hear people describe Obama as “anti-war” but that’s patently incorrect. Obama was against the Iraq War, but not the concept of war. He said it himself in 2002 as he opposed the Iraq War at a rally in Illinois:
Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances. The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars.
My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain. I don’t oppose all wars.
After Sept. 11, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again. I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism.
What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
This is very clear. This is not ambiguous and yet some people were reaching for the fainting couch as Obama increased our presence in Afghanistan — even as he ended the war in Iraq, as promised. I still don’t understand how people just heard what the heck they wanted to hear.
For me, the question of drone warfare and targeted killing comes down to this: Do we expend American lives and engage in long wars with an enemy who will never sit down at a table to sign a treaty? Or do we use technology and do what we can — accepting the loss of innocent lives that comes along with this uncertainty — to eliminate the members of the organization who wants to destroy us and our allies?
That’s why I would support that type of warfare, under leadership of either party. Under this president we’ve eliminated more Al Qaeda than ever. Their capacity to do us harm has considerably diminished and we aren’t involved in military distractions that lead to loss of life and security. It isn’t perfect, and whenever we can do better we should. But given the choice, this is the best path to be on.