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There's Evidently No Room for Nuance on Drones

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They say if you move far enough to the left, you end up on the right. As such, throughout the last four or five years I've witnessed this phenomenon on way too many occasions, the most recent one being yesterday's reactions to the article I wrote about the Justice Department's white paper regarding the targeted killing of American citizens suspected of being high level al-Qaida operatives.

I discovered quite quickly that one of the common traits among the far-right and the far-left is a total inability to accept compromise -- or even concessions to their point of view.

To recap, I essentially called for one or both of the following actions. 1) The elimination of drone missions against U.S. citizens who happen to be enemy combatants via ending the war on terror and rescinding the disgusting Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). And, 2) the strict regulation of drones and how they're used by establishing law enforcement-style rules and oversight.

Not good enough.

My reasoning was based on the fact that the white paper made its case based on the president's war powers, which were established in the 2001 post-9/11 AUMF. No AUMF, no war powers, no legal justification for the targeted killing of suspected terrorists born in the U.S. However, if the war continues, the president or the next president could continue the policy based on the wartime precedent exploited by Lincoln and FDR who presided over the killing of American citizens in wartime (more elaboration on this presently). But if it's impossible to rescind the AUMF, then Congress needs to exercise its authority by regulating how the president can use the drone technology and to ban the targeted killing of Americans without due process.

While I accept the existence of the technology as a weapon of war, it's critical that we get a handle on its usage before it's too late because its unmanned, risk-free capability presents new moral territory for American warfare. Furthermore, drones or not, the AUMF has to be rescinded and the war on terrorism has to end. President Obama, who earned anti-terrorism capital by getting Bin Laden and crushing al-Qaida, is in a unique position to do so.

Unless I'm way off base, this is a reasonable, rational approach.

But evidently there's no room for reason or rationality because it's much easier for certain politically ignorant, selectively outraged liberals to scream "baby killer!" while waving photos of dead children not unlike the worst zealots in the anti-choice movement. These people believe the drone program as a kind of political singularity -- gravitationally absorbing and crushing every other issue, positive or negative, within its inescapable vortex. No accomplishment is big enough to outweigh the worse-than-Bush trespass of killing Anwar al-Awlaki and using drone strikes in Pakistan.

If you don't screech about drones, you're apparently with the drones. You're an Obamabot. Come to think of it, I learned yesterday in the comments section here that if you haven't been screeching about drones since January 20, 2009, you're not allowed to write anything negative about them either.

I'm not sure how that makes any sense. When I don't write about drones, I'm an Obamabot. When I write about drones and call for the elimination or regulation of the program, I'm an Obamabot who's somehow not awesome enough to oppose drones. I couldn't help but to think about those hipster d-bags in high school who, when you'd tell them you liked a particular band, would reply in an aloof hipster d-bag tone of voice that they've been listening to the same band from the beginning, before it was popular, and now that everyone is listening to the band, the band sucks.

I'd often fantasize about elbowing those insufferable bastards in the throat. That's certainly not the case with the commenters I encountered yesterday, of course.

There's an obvious and understandable emotionalism that goes along with the phrase "targeted killing of American citizens without due process." It's a scary idea and one which, taken at face value, should be loudly opposed by, you know, everyone. But throughout the day, I debated with several people about that phrase in the context of warfare, and there is, in fact, precedent for it. In my article I noted that Lincoln killed 250,000 American citizens without due process who had taken up arms in a massive act of treason against the United States. American citizens were killed when Allied bombers attacked various European cities. And there were at least eight American citizens killed by Allied forces after they joined the Nazi army. (There were countless other Americans who fought for the Nazi army but who weren't killed.) Agree or disagree, the American government, Congress and the president, believe we're engaged in a hot war against al-Qaida and thus it's a matter of wartime prerogative to kill anyone in al-Qaida who's taken up arms against the United States, regardless of origins.

So yes, it's the "targeted killing of American citizens without due process," but there's not due process in war, except when a combatant is captured, and then there's minimal due process (military commissions are a topic for a different time). And whether a combatant is killed or captured is up to the discretion of the commander-in-chief and his subcommanders. In a general sense, what's happening now, specifically the killing of enemy combatants irrespective of origin, isn't unprecedented. Lincoln and FDR are members of the Pantheon of great liberal presidents in spite of it.

However, what's unprecedented is the scope of this so-called war on terrorism. There doesn't appear to be a defined goal. When does end? What does an ending look like? If it's endless (there will always be terrorism), then there's no way we can allow the commander-in-chief to continue this drone policy in perpetuity. Therefore, it's imperative that Congress either repeals the AUMF or amends it with a sunset provision so, at some point soon, the president is stripped of his additional post-9/11 war powers. If this can't be done, and the government believes the war on terror must go on, then there needs to be checks on the process and the elimination of the targeted killing program against American-born combatants. It simply can't become a matter of ongoing policy. It's too dangerous and if it should fall into the wrong hands, it could get much worse.

Yeah. That's a lot of nuance. More nuance than accusing the president of being a bloody executioner of American citizens without cause or precedent. But war is complicated and morally shaky, especially when the enemy isn't dressed in military uniforms and has blended seamlessly into civilian populations. It's worth noting, too, that this white paper policy isn't like torture, which is illegal, ineffective and morally wrong. It's much more complicated than that, which is why we need to either strongly regulate it or totally wrap it up immediately -- or both. The alternative is too dark and disturbing to imagine.

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