Commentary Magazine


Topic: drone attacks

Iron Sharpening Iron

I wanted to associate myself with Jonathan’s insightful post on the response by Senators McCain and Graham to Rand Paul’s filibuster.

Although my views on national security are much closer to those of McCain and Graham, their sneering, bitter attacks on Senator Paul were not only misguided; they have done a great deal to help the Paul-ian cause.

Senators McCain and Graham could have–should have–offered a careful, measured response to Rand Paul’s argument. Instead, McCain in particular has gone on a petty, mocking rant, including referring to Paul and some who supported him as “wacko birds.” Perhaps this is what happens when a maverick is out-mavericked. Read More

I wanted to associate myself with Jonathan’s insightful post on the response by Senators McCain and Graham to Rand Paul’s filibuster.

Although my views on national security are much closer to those of McCain and Graham, their sneering, bitter attacks on Senator Paul were not only misguided; they have done a great deal to help the Paul-ian cause.

Senators McCain and Graham could have–should have–offered a careful, measured response to Rand Paul’s argument. Instead, McCain in particular has gone on a petty, mocking rant, including referring to Paul and some who supported him as “wacko birds.” Perhaps this is what happens when a maverick is out-mavericked.

Rand Paul, in a single stroke, has catapulted himself to near folk-hero status among large segments of the conservative movement and, in the process, two of his main substantive critics have sustained damaging, self-inflicted wounds.

That is, from my vantage point, something of a problem, since Rand Paul’s view of the world is substantially different than mine. But he showed what a skilled, alert, and creative politician could do to rearrange the political landscape.

The libertarian wing of the Republican Party has found its leader. It will be quite interesting to see who among the internationalist wing emerges as a counterweight. And rather than fear these kinds of debates, Republicans and conservatives should welcome them. A party that is off balance and out of power doesn’t need conformity; it needs the benefits of “iron sharpening iron.” Whether we like it or not, a serious intra-Republican and intra-conservative foreign policy debate is about to begin.  

Read Less

The Wrong Way to Answer Rand

Yesterday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham struck back at Rand Paul’s Wednesday filibuster with bitter attacks on his stand on drone attacks. McCain mocked Paul’s day in the spotlight as “a stunt aimed at firing up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Graham was so mad about it that he changed his mind and voted to confirm John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. just in order to send a statement about his support of the drone program that Paul had attacked.

Both McCain and Graham were correct to point out that the filibuster was fought on what is basically a non-issue. As I wrote on Wednesday, while Paul was conducting his filibuster, the Kentucky senator’s real beef is not with the imagined threat of the government ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen sitting in a café on U.S. soil. Rather, it is with the war the United States is fighting against Islamist terrorists who continue to pose a deadly threat to the homeland as well as to our friends and interests abroad. Paul’s goal is to withdraw from this conflict and to pretend that it is not one that is being forced upon us by our enemies. That is a dangerous position that deserved the censure of the two GOP amigos.

But it should also be understood that while McCain and Graham were right on the policy, they were dead wrong on the politics. It’s no use pretending that Paul is merely appealing to the margins of the political spectrum as his far more extreme and less politically adroit father Ron did during his presidential campaigns. That Paul’s filibuster was conducted on behalf of a bogus issue doesn’t change the fact that it was an act of political genius that captured the imagination of many Americans who might not ordinarily think much of the senator. Dismissing his achievement only made Paul’s critics look hopelessly out of touch.

Read More

Yesterday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham struck back at Rand Paul’s Wednesday filibuster with bitter attacks on his stand on drone attacks. McCain mocked Paul’s day in the spotlight as “a stunt aimed at firing up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Graham was so mad about it that he changed his mind and voted to confirm John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. just in order to send a statement about his support of the drone program that Paul had attacked.

Both McCain and Graham were correct to point out that the filibuster was fought on what is basically a non-issue. As I wrote on Wednesday, while Paul was conducting his filibuster, the Kentucky senator’s real beef is not with the imagined threat of the government ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen sitting in a café on U.S. soil. Rather, it is with the war the United States is fighting against Islamist terrorists who continue to pose a deadly threat to the homeland as well as to our friends and interests abroad. Paul’s goal is to withdraw from this conflict and to pretend that it is not one that is being forced upon us by our enemies. That is a dangerous position that deserved the censure of the two GOP amigos.

But it should also be understood that while McCain and Graham were right on the policy, they were dead wrong on the politics. It’s no use pretending that Paul is merely appealing to the margins of the political spectrum as his far more extreme and less politically adroit father Ron did during his presidential campaigns. That Paul’s filibuster was conducted on behalf of a bogus issue doesn’t change the fact that it was an act of political genius that captured the imagination of many Americans who might not ordinarily think much of the senator. Dismissing his achievement only made Paul’s critics look hopelessly out of touch.

The question is not whether the grass roots of the Republican Party were inspired by his stand. They were. How could they not want to cheer a man who took a courageous stand in that manner while so many of their party’s leaders have lacked the guts or the skill to confront the president on many big issues? The question is what those who understand that Paul is wrong on the issue and that he is poised to drag the party down a path that will lead it to abandon its traditional support for a strong America will do about it. If they don’t think of something, it will be the end of the Republican Party’s long-held consensus on foreign policy.

The lesson of the filibuster is that people want to follow a person who leads publicly and courageously. Irrespective of the wisdom of his stand, that is just what Paul did. The willingness of so many other conservative senators—including those like Marco Rubio who don’t agree with Paul’s approach to foreign policy—to flock to the Senate floor while he spoke and offer him support shows they understood what McCain and Graham haven’t figured out. For the pair to manifest disrespect for Paul’s achievement is political stupidity of the highest order. It also makes their gentlemanly decision to forgo a filibuster on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense look all the more pusillanimous.

Yet the irony here is that while Republicans are excited by Paul’s stand, any decision to change the direction of the party’s take on foreign policy would contradict their desire to improve their electability after their defeat last November.

As much as Paul’s stand inspired Republicans and even generated respect from Democrats, they need to remember that most Americans support the drone policy. They may be sick of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they don’t share Paul’s disinterest in fighting the “perpetual war” against Islamists because they know the threat is real. They also know that the idea that the only legitimate fighting is being conducted on battlefields between soldiers is hopelessly outmoded.

Obama won re-election in part by bragging about killing Osama bin Laden and chiding Mitt Romney for his disinterest in the hunt for the arch terrorist. Moreover, if Republicans are foolish enough to follow Paul down the road toward embracing a form of isolationism, they will be branded as the weak party on defense and concede foreign policy as an issue to the Democrats for a generation.

Those who wish to save the GOP from this fate can’t let Paul speak for the party on these issues. But if they are to do it they will have to show at least as much guts as he did this week and avoid sounding, as McCain and Graham did yesterday, like cranky old men telling the kids to get off their lawn.

Read Less

Should Democrats Always Lead During War? Part One

Tina Brown stated the obvious when she observed on Bill Maher’s show that had George W. Bush used drone attacks in the same manner as Barack Obama has done he would have been impeached a long time ago. As Pete Wehner wrote last week in a post that both Max Boot and I agreed with, a thick stench of hypocrisy hangs over the Obama administration. The president who came into office decrying Bush’s actions against terrorists as a disgrace not only later carried out many of the same policies but also doubled down on them in many respects. The large number of drone attacks in which the United States has carried out targeted assassinations of terrorists, including at least one American citizen, as well as many of their family members and bystanders, makes the enhanced interrogations and the prison at Guantanamo that so outraged liberals look like child’s play. Yet most Democrats are not rushing to the barricades the way they did when Bush and Vice President Cheney were widely said to have subverted our constitutional liberties. To the extent that any have articulated a rationale for this turnaround, the best they seem capable of doing is to assert that while Obama can be trusted to use this power, Republicans like Bush and Cheney could not.

This has conservatives fuming and rightly so. But that has not caused most of them to play the same game. Though some of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party led by Rand Paul have attacked Obama for exceeding his power, most in the GOP are backing up the president on his right to carry out the drone attacks even while grousing about his hypocrisy. But after we acknowledge the unfairness of this situation, this is hardly the first time this double standard has raised its head. It is a pattern that has held true for the past half century. Though it is a bitter pill for conservatives to swallow, perhaps its time for them to acknowledge that during prolonged wars the country is always better off if a Democrat is in the White House.

Read More

Tina Brown stated the obvious when she observed on Bill Maher’s show that had George W. Bush used drone attacks in the same manner as Barack Obama has done he would have been impeached a long time ago. As Pete Wehner wrote last week in a post that both Max Boot and I agreed with, a thick stench of hypocrisy hangs over the Obama administration. The president who came into office decrying Bush’s actions against terrorists as a disgrace not only later carried out many of the same policies but also doubled down on them in many respects. The large number of drone attacks in which the United States has carried out targeted assassinations of terrorists, including at least one American citizen, as well as many of their family members and bystanders, makes the enhanced interrogations and the prison at Guantanamo that so outraged liberals look like child’s play. Yet most Democrats are not rushing to the barricades the way they did when Bush and Vice President Cheney were widely said to have subverted our constitutional liberties. To the extent that any have articulated a rationale for this turnaround, the best they seem capable of doing is to assert that while Obama can be trusted to use this power, Republicans like Bush and Cheney could not.

This has conservatives fuming and rightly so. But that has not caused most of them to play the same game. Though some of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party led by Rand Paul have attacked Obama for exceeding his power, most in the GOP are backing up the president on his right to carry out the drone attacks even while grousing about his hypocrisy. But after we acknowledge the unfairness of this situation, this is hardly the first time this double standard has raised its head. It is a pattern that has held true for the past half century. Though it is a bitter pill for conservatives to swallow, perhaps its time for them to acknowledge that during prolonged wars the country is always better off if a Democrat is in the White House.

The idea that partisan affiliation determines an individual’s position on war and peace issues seems to go against the grain in an era in which we have been led to believe that partisan affiliation is declining. Yet there is no way to avoid the conclusion that party labels have more to do with whether there is widespread dissension about American wars than many of us would like to think. Democrats and liberals can only be counted on to support wars that are launched by a member of their party. Yet while Republicans are no slouches when it comes to trashing Democratic presidents, they can generally be counted on to follow the flag and back any war effort no matter who is sitting in the White House.

The roots of the current phenomenon can be traced backed to the Vietnam War. Though the anti-war movement began during the Lyndon Johnson administration and led to his decision not to seek re-election, one of the myths about that conflict is the idea that partisanship had nothing to do with the protests. Throughout Johnson’s presidency and even during the fateful year of 1968 when the campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and then Robert Kennedy exploited anti-war sentiments, polls showed that Johnson’s policies and the war were still supported by comfortable majorities of the American public. Campus protests against the war shocked the nation but the idea that most Americans shared their sentiments at that time was untrue even if there was little enthusiasm for the struggle in Southeast Asia. Republicans backed the war as did a sizeable portion if not a majority of Democrats who still saw the world through the Cold War prism of the need to “bear any burden” in the struggle against Communism that John F. Kennedy had articulated.

It was only after November 1968 that most Democrats, who despised the newly elected Richard Nixon, felt free to join in the anti-war movement. After that point, anti-war demonstrations were no longer limited to college campuses but went mainstream in a way that would have been unimaginable a year earlier. What followed was the conversion of the Democrats from a party that was primarily composed of Cold Warriors to one that would cut off funds to South Vietnam even after Nixon had withdrawn U.S. combat troops.

Democrats may argue that the first Gulf War fought by President George H.W. Bush and the initial popularity of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars under his son disproves this thesis. Though many Democrats voted against the authorization of force against Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the country was united in support of the troops that won the swift victory in Kuwait. The carping from the left after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was minimal. There were massive anti-war demonstrations against the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 though when Saddam fell quickly and the coalition forces were initially greeted as liberators, there was silence from the anti-war crowd.

But, as was the case in Vietnam, Democratic willingness to go along with a war that could not be easily concluded in days and weeks was limited. The first President Bush avoided this problem when he shut down the conflict and allowed Saddam Hussein to massacre Iraqi Shiites and dissidents while American forces stood by in liberated Kuwait. But George W. Bush’s decision not to cut and run in either Afghanistan or Iraq led most Democrats to oppose those wars.

It’s important to remember that Bill Clinton authorized missile strikes on terror targets and made terrible mistakes about intelligence such as the milk factory in Sudan that was leveled by an American attack because it was thought to be a terror target without so much as a peep of protest from liberals. Clinton even launched an air war in the Balkans to support the cause of independence for Kosovo without fear of much criticism.

It should be specified that there was much to criticize about the administration’s conduct of the Iraq War but the idea that America was swindled into backing the conflict was always more about partisanship than Bush’s alleged deceptions. Most Democrats had believed in the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Many also understood that removing Saddam was in America’s interests for other strategic reasons. But it was only when the war proved costly and messy that they bailed on it as neo-liberals who supported the war on terror soon became its critics. Not even the U.S. victory won by the Iraq surge that liberals opposed, was enough to change the minds of most Democrats about Bush’s war. Though many, including Barack Obama, said at the time that Afghanistan was the “good war” America should be fighting rather than Iraq, the enthusiasm on the left for that war disappeared when it was no longer a useful cudgel to be employed against Bush and Cheney. But the main conclusion to be drawn from the transition from a Republican-led war to one led by a Democrat was that the latter had the latitude to carry out his policies without fear of much criticism from the mainstream media or the left that had taken to the streets to defame his predecessor.

In part two of this post, I will further explore the implications of this partisan divide about war and discuss whether it will impact America’s efforts to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.