Friday, February 08, 2013

Obama and the Drones

Michael Gerson has a defense of President Obama's use of drones to kill Americans involved with al Qaeda. He puts this into perspective against other US presidents who justified the use of preemptive force. He has several good points but there are still some issues that are specific to Obama.

First, using drones to kill Americans involved with terrorist organizations is justifiable in a war on terror but Obama has buried that term. The Left in general has maintained that the proper reaction to 9-11 should have been to treat it as a crime instead of an act of war. The Obama Administration has supported that position. At one point it planned to try 9-11 mastermind KSM in the civil courts. Even the mission that killed Osama bin Laden was supposed to have been given the option to capture him for trial. If foreign nationals are going to be treated as international criminals with the right to due process then why aren't American citizens being given the same rights?

The bigger issue is transparency. The Obama Administration promised to be totally transparent on this issue. Instead it has been totally opaque. One big sticking point is the question of how it is determined who is high enough in al Qaeda to be involved in planning. This is critical. The whole justification for the drone strikes is imminent threat. The strikes are supposed to be confined to people who are high enough to be involved in planning future strikes against the US. Other strikes have included people as "top al Qaeda officials" when they only had two or three people reporting to them. Is someone actually reviewing documentation showing that the targets are involved in planning or is it simply assumed that any American in al Qaeda is automatically a top official?

Two other factors should be taken into consideration. The first is that the drone strikes in general are causing tremendous ill will against us in the Muslim world. The second is that we may be violating international law by operating drones in neutral countries like Pakistan.

The President's top priority has to be protecting the country but if that means that Obama has reversed himself on means and methods used by the Bush Administration then he needs to say so. Instead his administration seems to be straddling the fence, rejecting the War on Terror while using war as an excuse for extra-legal activities.

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