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Obama Is Hypocritical but Right on Drones

I agree completely with Pete about the rank hypocrisy of President Obama when it comes to using his powers to fight terrorism. Liberals and Democrats accused President Bush, Vice President Cheney and those associated with conducting the war on terror of being immoral lawbreakers–but now hold their tongues when it is Obama and his colleagues who have asserted the power to hold prisoners in indefinite captivity or order the deaths of terror suspects. Everyone on the left, up to and including the president, owes Bush, Cheney and company an abject apology on this score, though I’m afraid it will never be forthcoming.

But it is important to note that those on the right who are inclined to give Obama a taste of his own medicine on the issue of drone strikes against al-Qaeda figures should take a deep breath and think more about what is good for the country as opposed to what the president deserves. It may be, as Pete noted, that the used of “enhanced interrogation” was nothing when compared to the brutality and casualties incurred as a result of Obama’s drone strikes, but that is no excuse for any Congressional action aimed at restricting the executive branch’s ability to wage war against America’s foes. Even in the cases of American citizens who have been marked for death via drones without benefit of a judicial process, conservatives and civil libertarians alike should understand that these are reasonable measures taken to defend against those seeking to murder American citizens.

Let’s understand that the discussion about drone strikes is not a matter of the government seeking to stifle dissent. Those who have joined al-Qaeda and become part of its leadership are not trying to change America; they are waging war on it. Thus, even in the absence of what the Justice Department memo on such strikes referred to as an “imminent threat” of a specific terror attack, there is no question that any al-Qaeda leader is in the business of killing Americans in any way and at any time or place possible.

The power to designate a person an enemy combatant is fearful and should be used with caution. But when such persons do exist, it is the duty of the U.S. government to either capture or kill them in an expeditious manner. To ask the commander-in-chief and those charged with our defense to treat this conflict as a police matter is absurd. Subjecting each such decision to court review in advance of action would hamper the ability of our forces to effectively fight terrorism. Though our current conflicts are legally murkier than declared wars, killing al-Qaeda leaders is morally equivalent to attacks launched by U.S. forces on enemies during World War II. The U.S. Navy didn’t need a court order to assassinate Admiral Yamamoto as they did in 1943. The president and his team shouldn’t need one to kill any al-Qaeda functionary no matter his country of origin or who is with him at the time of the strike. The administration is correct when it argues that the laws of war give them the right to act in this manner.

The administration’s conversion to this point of view from the president’s previous stands against Bush’s policies may be hypocritical. But it is nonetheless correct. I expect John Brennan, the president’s nominee to head the CIA, to be asked about these issues at his confirmation hearing tomorrow. But let’s hope that Republicans who defended the Bush policies will not become as hypocritical as their Democratic colleagues on this point. There are many points on which the Obama administration may be faulted, but their willingness to kill al-Qaeda leaders is not one of them.



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