Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Obama's Drone Problem

Question: What do Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ron Wyden and Glenn Greenwald all have in common? Besides belonging to the human race, the answer is nothing. But, thanks to Rand Paul's old-fashioned filibuster over John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA, all four have strangely joined forces in what has become for Barack Obama a rather awkward predicament.

The Administration's use of drones has had the unintended consequence of bringing Left and Right together in a common cause. Paul's filibuster has struck a nerve, not only among some of his fellow Republicans, who, let's face it, don't need much of a reason to oppose the President, but among the liberal base of the Democratic Party, as well.

Though it pains me to have to say it, Paul's stance is laudable on two fronts: For one thing, it was high time someone in the Senate actually conducted a filibuster the way it was meant to be done. The last such time this happened was back in 2010 when Bernie Sanders filibustered the extension of the Bush tax cuts during the lame duck session. Secondly, and most importantly, Paul and his filibuster cohorts have a valid point to make.

The idea that an American citizen, on American soil, is fair game for a drone strike should give pause to anyone regardless of political persuasion. But John Brennan seemed to suggest in his confirmation hearing that there were "no geographic limits" to what the Administration could or couldn't do with respect to the use of military actions.

"We do not view our authority to use military force against al-Qa'ida and associated forces as being limited to 'hot' battlefields like Afghanistan," Brennan said to the Senate Intelligence Committee. That admission and the one Eric Holder later gave have profound implications for libertarians and progressives alike. Put simply, both Brennan and Holder have implied that the United States government, in "an extraordinary circumstance," has the right to take out one of its citizens, if it deems that citizen a threat, even if he or she is on U.S. soil.

"To be bombed in your sleep? There's nothing American about that," Paul said. "There's nothing constitutional about that."

This may be the last time you ever hear me say this, but Rand Paul is right. No citizen living in this country, irrespective of threat level, should ever be the target of an assassination by the military. We have laws and civilian authorities charged with carrying them out.  The idea that the executive branch gets to decide who lives and dies without any checks and balances is deeply troubling.

Regardless of whether John Brennan gets confirmed or not - and the smart money is on him getting the necessary votes - the Obama Administration has a problem here. While drone strikes abroad may have popular appeal, most reasonable people will rightly draw the line at the specter of a government turning on its own citizens on native soil.


Links: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/22/obama-brennan-paul-assassinations-filibuster
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/06/rand-paul-filibuster_n_2819740.html
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/03/killing-americans-on-us-soil-eric-holders-evasive-manipulative-letter/273749/

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