Commentary Magazine


Topic: drone strikes

Our Ambivalent Commander-in-Chief

It has been fascinating to read reaction to President Obama’s counter-terrorism speech last week. Some commentators–including me—perceived no real change in a tough-on-terror policy inherited from the Bush administration. Others thought it was a sign of retreat and even defeat. In truth there is plenty of cause to support both viewpoints.

Those stressing continuity could point, as I did, to Obama’s robust defense of drone strikes, even on U.S. citizens, and the vagueness of his calls for limits on those strikes or for revising the authorization for the use of military force against Al Qaeda and associated elements. The president did talk about ending the war on terror, but he offered no timeline for doing so, and news reports suggest that for the foreseeable future even one of the most controversial aspects of that war—drone strikes on “signature” targets in Pakistan who are not identified by name but are attacked because they look like militants—will continue.

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It has been fascinating to read reaction to President Obama’s counter-terrorism speech last week. Some commentators–including me—perceived no real change in a tough-on-terror policy inherited from the Bush administration. Others thought it was a sign of retreat and even defeat. In truth there is plenty of cause to support both viewpoints.

Those stressing continuity could point, as I did, to Obama’s robust defense of drone strikes, even on U.S. citizens, and the vagueness of his calls for limits on those strikes or for revising the authorization for the use of military force against Al Qaeda and associated elements. The president did talk about ending the war on terror, but he offered no timeline for doing so, and news reports suggest that for the foreseeable future even one of the most controversial aspects of that war—drone strikes on “signature” targets in Pakistan who are not identified by name but are attacked because they look like militants—will continue.

Those who saw a message of defeat and retreat took Obama at his word that he really does want to wrap up the war on terrorism and declare victory—something that is wildly premature at a time when we have just seen horrifying terrorist attacks in Boston, Paris, and London, among other places. Perhaps the most worrisome thing that Obama said was his wistful embrace of a pre-9/11 world when we supposedly treated terrorism in its proper proportion:

In the 1980s, we lost Americans to terrorism at our Embassy in Beirut; at our Marine Barracks in Lebanon; on a cruise ship at sea; at a disco in Berlin; and on a Pan Am flight — Flight 103  — over Lockerbie.  In the 1990s, we lost Americans to terrorism at the World Trade Center; at our military facilities in Saudi Arabia; and at our Embassy in Kenya.  These attacks were all brutal; they were all deadly; and we learned that left unchecked, these threats can grow.  But if dealt with smartly and proportionally, these threats need not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11.

Actually, our lack of response to those earlier terrorist attacks in the 1980s and 1990s emboldened Al Qaeda to ramp up its violence by staging the worst terrorist attack of all time. That is not a precedent to be emulated, as Obama suggested—it is a mistake to be avoided.

The question is whether in fact Obama will take us back to the pre-9/11 policies. He may well do so in the future, but he did not so with his National Defense University speech which, significantly, contained no timeline for making such a change.

The most concrete and concerning action Obama has made in conjunction with the speech has been to limit drone strikes to targets that directly threaten US “persons” rather than “interests.” If this means the U.S. will stop targeting militants who seek to overthrow the governments of, say, Pakistan or Yemen, then this is a troubling development, given the grievous blow the U.S. and our allies would suffer if Al Qaeda-style extremists were to gain control of any country, much less a nuclear-armed state like Pakistan. But, while drone strikes have declined in recent months, they still seem to be going on at a higher level than during the Bush administration. How Obama’s decree will be implemented in practice remains to be seen. At this point, I think there is legitimate cause for concern but not for panic.

What Obama’s speech reveals more than anything else is the fundamental ambivalence that characterizes the cerebral law professor-turned-president over issues of war and peace. This is, after all, the president who surged troops to Afghanistan after a lengthy period of soul-searching but imposed a timeline on their deployment; the president who expressed willingness to keep troops in Iraq but who did little to negotiate away obstacles to a Status of Forces Agreement; the president who helped topple Moammar Qaddafi but did little to rebuild afterwards; and the president who has called for Bashar Assad’s overthrow but has refused to provide lethal aid or American airpower to Syrian rebels.

In keeping with this meme, as Peter Baker of the New York Times notes, “’Americans are deeply ambivalent about war,’ the president said in his speech, and he seemed to be talking about himself as well.”

Baker’s article reveals the long and tortuous gestation of the counter-terrorism speech, which was a compromise between Obama’s dovish instincts and the hawkish necessities of national securities urged on him by the CIA and other agencies. How those contradictions are resolved in the future is anyone’s guess, but, as Obama’s critics have rightly noted, there is something disquieting about such an ambivalent commander-in-chief.

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Obama Can’t Have It Both Ways on Terror

The basic conceit of President Obama’s approach to terrorism has been two-fold. On the one hand, he has always tried to pose as the sane, moderate alternative to what he depicted as the cowboy unilateralism of his predecessor that he claimed had destroyed America’s credibility in the world when he first ran for president in 2008. On the other, he also likes to play the tough-guy president who isn’t afraid to track down and kill terrorists, which was the main foreign-policy theme of his re-election campaign in which at times it seemed he mentioned Osama bin Laden as much as he did his running mate.

Both these elements were on display yesterday during his lengthy address at the National Defense University that seemed to combine a striking call for change with what also seemed to be a determination to keep using many of the same Bush administration policies that he had kept in place these last four and a half years. As our Max Boot said yesterday, the “balance between rhetorical versus substantive change” might be said to be tilting toward the rhetoric because of the president’s determination to keep using drone strikes to attack terrorists. The part of the speech defending the use of drones was well said and correct. But I think our John Podhoretz is also correct when he notes in today’s New York Post that other major elements of the speech undermine the president’s rationale for continuing those strikes. Obama’s promise to work for congressional repeal of the Authorization to Use Military Force that was passed on September 14, 2001 may please elements of his base, left-wing critics as well as Republican libertarians like Senator Rand Paul, who share the president’s distaste for the idea that we are locked in an “endless” war against Islamist terrorists. But unless the other side of this equation agrees that the war is over, the president’s declaration that it is finished and that we won it will continue to ring hollow.

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The basic conceit of President Obama’s approach to terrorism has been two-fold. On the one hand, he has always tried to pose as the sane, moderate alternative to what he depicted as the cowboy unilateralism of his predecessor that he claimed had destroyed America’s credibility in the world when he first ran for president in 2008. On the other, he also likes to play the tough-guy president who isn’t afraid to track down and kill terrorists, which was the main foreign-policy theme of his re-election campaign in which at times it seemed he mentioned Osama bin Laden as much as he did his running mate.

Both these elements were on display yesterday during his lengthy address at the National Defense University that seemed to combine a striking call for change with what also seemed to be a determination to keep using many of the same Bush administration policies that he had kept in place these last four and a half years. As our Max Boot said yesterday, the “balance between rhetorical versus substantive change” might be said to be tilting toward the rhetoric because of the president’s determination to keep using drone strikes to attack terrorists. The part of the speech defending the use of drones was well said and correct. But I think our John Podhoretz is also correct when he notes in today’s New York Post that other major elements of the speech undermine the president’s rationale for continuing those strikes. Obama’s promise to work for congressional repeal of the Authorization to Use Military Force that was passed on September 14, 2001 may please elements of his base, left-wing critics as well as Republican libertarians like Senator Rand Paul, who share the president’s distaste for the idea that we are locked in an “endless” war against Islamist terrorists. But unless the other side of this equation agrees that the war is over, the president’s declaration that it is finished and that we won it will continue to ring hollow.

The problem is that, like the president’s repeated declarations that the war in Afghanistan will end when he finished pulling out American troops, the end of the war on terror is not something that can be declared unilaterally. Far from the Afghan war coming to a close when the last U.S. soldier leaves, it is almost certain to heat up as our Taliban foes will view it as an opportunity to make advances that were impossible so long as U.S. and NATO coalition forces were there to stop them. We are entitled to hope that the heroic efforts of those forces will have sufficiently altered the balance of power in the country so as to make it impossible for it to ever revert to the pre-9/11 situation in which Afghanistan was a large Islamist terror base for al-Qaeda. But that is a hope, not a policy. The future there is, at best, uncertain even if Americans prefer not to think about it.

The same is true in Iraq where Obama’s haste to pull all American troops out—something made possible by the victory the U.S. had won there by the end of the Bush administration—has created the possibility that it, too, will sink back into the sectarian warfare that the surge had ended.

The president wants to act as if he has ended unpopular wars as well as unpopular elements of these wars like the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He also wants to reserve the right to keep fighting Islamist terrorists who continue to pop up both in the Middle East and in the West since Americans rightly believe it is his responsibility to keep them safe.

But without the broad, sweeping powers that Congress granted the executive branch and which the president wishes to repeal, it’s an open question as to whether the continued use of drones can be justified. After all, the only effective answer to the critique of the drone strikes articulated by Rand Paul and others is based is the fact that America is still at war with Islamist extremists that believe they are locked in a conflict with the West that will last for generations.

The president seems to think the threat level is sufficiently low that America can go back to a September 10, 2011 mentality where terrorism was treated primarily as police problem rather than a military one. Doing so might prove popular since Americans would prefer to think that ramping down security measures and aggressive counter-terror operations means they really are safe and that they can go back to ignoring the Islamist war on the West. But if the United States is to continue to defend its citizens and the West against an Islamist movement that seeks our destruction, it must continue to keep itself on a war footing with regard to terrorism.

The president may enjoy the praise he is getting today for the characteristically thoughtful nature of his speech in which he seems to be arguing both sides of every argument. But much as he’d like to, President Obama can’t have it both ways on these issues. He can and should continue to use drones to take out terrorists wherever that is feasible. But by beginning the process by which the legal props for that effort are discarded, he will further degrade the government’s ability to effectively defend the homeland. The West’s Islamist foes have been bloodied and weakened by American efforts in the last 11 years and eight months. But they are not yet defeated. Any policy shift based on that faulty assumption is bound to lead to tragedy as well as confusion.

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Why Rand’s Drone Flip-Flop Matters

Last month Rand Paul energized conservatives with a filibuster on the Senate floor that allowed a broad national audience to see him as a principled politician who was willing to fight for beliefs rather than go along with Washington’s business-as-usual culture. Some of us thought the rationale for his moment of glory—concerns about possible use of drones on U.S. soil as well as his general opposition to what he called a “perpetual war” against Islamist terrorists—were not justified. But even critics like myself thought his exhibition demonstrated that there is room for the sort of high-minded approach to public policy that was once considered normative in the U.S. Senate but which is now quite rare. But it didn’t take long for all of Paul’s speechifying about drones to be revealed as somewhat hypocritical.

Though the Kentucky senator spent 13 hours on his legs explaining to the Senate why there could be no conceivable justification for the use of government drones against American citizens on March 6, yesterday he took a position on Neil Cavuto’s show on Fox News that those of us who disagreed with him in the first place were advocating:

PAUL: Here’s the distinction, Neil. I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on. If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and 50 dollars in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him. But it’s different if they want to fly over your hot tub or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone and they want to watch your activities.

CAVUTO: What if, in pursuit of a crime, they discover something else that looks bad?

PAUL: We shouldn’t be willy-nilly looking into everyone’s back yard into what they’re doing. But if there is a killer on the loose in a neighborhood, I’m not against drones being used to search them out, heat-seeking devices being used, I’m all for law enforcement, I’m just not for surveillance when there’s not probable cause that a crime’s been committed. So, most of the time, you get a warrant, but if someone’s actively running around with a gun, you don’t need a warrant. That’s the way the system works.

That sounds reasonable. But it’s not what he was saying seven weeks ago, when he held up the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan because Attorney General Eric Holder would not foreswear the possibility that there was any circumstance under which the government would use a drone against an American in the United States.

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Last month Rand Paul energized conservatives with a filibuster on the Senate floor that allowed a broad national audience to see him as a principled politician who was willing to fight for beliefs rather than go along with Washington’s business-as-usual culture. Some of us thought the rationale for his moment of glory—concerns about possible use of drones on U.S. soil as well as his general opposition to what he called a “perpetual war” against Islamist terrorists—were not justified. But even critics like myself thought his exhibition demonstrated that there is room for the sort of high-minded approach to public policy that was once considered normative in the U.S. Senate but which is now quite rare. But it didn’t take long for all of Paul’s speechifying about drones to be revealed as somewhat hypocritical.

Though the Kentucky senator spent 13 hours on his legs explaining to the Senate why there could be no conceivable justification for the use of government drones against American citizens on March 6, yesterday he took a position on Neil Cavuto’s show on Fox News that those of us who disagreed with him in the first place were advocating:

PAUL: Here’s the distinction, Neil. I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on. If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and 50 dollars in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him. But it’s different if they want to fly over your hot tub or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone and they want to watch your activities.

CAVUTO: What if, in pursuit of a crime, they discover something else that looks bad?

PAUL: We shouldn’t be willy-nilly looking into everyone’s back yard into what they’re doing. But if there is a killer on the loose in a neighborhood, I’m not against drones being used to search them out, heat-seeking devices being used, I’m all for law enforcement, I’m just not for surveillance when there’s not probable cause that a crime’s been committed. So, most of the time, you get a warrant, but if someone’s actively running around with a gun, you don’t need a warrant. That’s the way the system works.

That sounds reasonable. But it’s not what he was saying seven weeks ago, when he held up the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan because Attorney General Eric Holder would not foreswear the possibility that there was any circumstance under which the government would use a drone against an American in the United States.

Subsequent to his appearance on Cavuto, Paul’s office issued a statement that claimed that there had been no flip-flop. As Politico reports:

In his statement Tuesday, Paul clarified his remarks, saying that drones should only be “considered in extraordinary, lethal situations.”

“Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations. They only may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing, imminent threat. I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster. Additionally, surveillance drones should only be used with warrants and specific targets,” Paul said in the statement.

Paul may claim, and his legion of followers who think he can do or say no wrong will agree, that this does not contradict his filibuster stand. But it does.

The whole point of the filibuster, which he repeated many times on the floor of the Senate during the course of his memorable performance, was that though he didn’t believe the Obama administration would use its power to suppress dissent or kill innocent Americans, some future government might do so. That’s why he took the position that the use of drone attacks here was simply off the table as unconstitutional–no matter what the circumstances.

Though I am no fan of Eric Holder, it was precisely the possibility of an “ongoing, lethal situation” that caused him to be reluctant to say that drones could never be used against a U.S. citizen at home. Paul tried to distort that position into one that posed the possibility that a future U.S. government might use a drone to knock off its political opponents or a Jane Fonda-style dissident, but that was an absurd interpretation of an entirely reasonable unwillingness to rule out the use of lethal force against a dangerous terrorist or criminal.

Paul may pretend there is no parallel between what he endorsed on Cavuto and the use of government force that he declared in the Senate to be a threat to our liberties, but it is a distinction without a difference. Lulled by a desire to show how tough he was on terrorists and criminals to say something about Boston, Paul committed a gaffe that illustrated the inconsistency of his position.

This kerfuffle won’t necessarily impact his run for the presidency in 2016, but it does illustrate that his drone obsession had more to do with his foreign policy views than a defense of the rule of law. The idea of using a theoretical drone attack on Americans in the U.S. as the point of the filibuster was a brilliant tactical decision since it allowed him to take the moral high ground that even attracted the support of some liberals. But Paul’s willingness to admit that there are scenarios where government can or even must use this power demonstrates that his oratory was all for show.

Rand Paul’s real problem with drones isn’t about their use in legitimate law enforcement activities at home but about their employment overseas against al-Qaeda terrorists. In his neo-isolationist view, the “perpetual war” against Islamists isn’t a good idea, and he wants it shut down even if the other side isn’t necessarily willing to call a cease-fire. There is good reason to believe that such views are becoming more popular in our war-weary nation, even with some Republicans. But his drone flip-flop yesterday makes it clear that his attempt to link that critique with possible abuses of civil liberties at home is more the product of science fiction or conspiracy theories than practical politics.

If Paul wants to talk about drones in the future, he should limit his comments to his views about the conflict with Islamist terrorists, which unfortunately opened up a new front in Boston last week. But after his appearance on Cavuto, Americans should have no patience with any further attempts on his part to claim their use at home is a matter of any real dispute.

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Paul’s Real Beef Isn’t Domestic Drones

As of this writing, Senator Rand Paul is still on his feet filibustering the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the CIA. But as he eventually made clear, his goal is not so much to actually stop Brennan, as it is to make a meal of the comments made this morning by Attorney General Eric Holder when he was pressed about U.S. policies on drone strikes on terrorists during an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. When asked whether the government considered it had the right to use an armed drone on an American citizen within the borders of the United States, Holder didn’t give the senators a straight answer. They were entitled to such an answer, as well as to the documents they requested. But those who are now saying that the dustup over using drones in the United States is the sole point of Paul’s filibuster hasn’t been listening closely to him as he held the Senate floor.

Paul and other members of the Senate (including several Republicans and Democrat Ron Wyden) who assisted his filibuster by asking questions to give him brief breaks have a point when it comes to the possible use of drones on U.S. citizens in America. It is difficult to imagine the circumstances when using the same tactics being used on al-Qaeda operatives in the Middle East here at home would be justified. As I wrote earlier, invoking Adolf Hitler and George Orwell’s “Big Brother” in a discussion of current counter-terrorism strategies is inflammatory and misleading. But there is little doubt that operations in the homeland must be conducted differently, starting with the fact that the CIA is not empowered to act in the United States.

Yet even if we concede that, as we should, Paul’s real beef is something else. The attempt to shift the discussion about drones to the fanciful suggestion that the Justice Department might target Tea Party members is a red herring. Paul’s core objection to the drone program remains what he calls the “perpetual war” against Islamist terrorists.

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As of this writing, Senator Rand Paul is still on his feet filibustering the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the CIA. But as he eventually made clear, his goal is not so much to actually stop Brennan, as it is to make a meal of the comments made this morning by Attorney General Eric Holder when he was pressed about U.S. policies on drone strikes on terrorists during an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. When asked whether the government considered it had the right to use an armed drone on an American citizen within the borders of the United States, Holder didn’t give the senators a straight answer. They were entitled to such an answer, as well as to the documents they requested. But those who are now saying that the dustup over using drones in the United States is the sole point of Paul’s filibuster hasn’t been listening closely to him as he held the Senate floor.

Paul and other members of the Senate (including several Republicans and Democrat Ron Wyden) who assisted his filibuster by asking questions to give him brief breaks have a point when it comes to the possible use of drones on U.S. citizens in America. It is difficult to imagine the circumstances when using the same tactics being used on al-Qaeda operatives in the Middle East here at home would be justified. As I wrote earlier, invoking Adolf Hitler and George Orwell’s “Big Brother” in a discussion of current counter-terrorism strategies is inflammatory and misleading. But there is little doubt that operations in the homeland must be conducted differently, starting with the fact that the CIA is not empowered to act in the United States.

Yet even if we concede that, as we should, Paul’s real beef is something else. The attempt to shift the discussion about drones to the fanciful suggestion that the Justice Department might target Tea Party members is a red herring. Paul’s core objection to the drone program remains what he calls the “perpetual war” against Islamist terrorists.

Most Americans understand that limiting American attacks on terrorists to those actively in the field shooting at American soldiers in Afghanistan or those caught in the act of carrying out an attack on other targets anywhere else is not sensible. Al-Qaeda operatives must be hunted down and, if possible, killed wherever they are, be it in their hideouts, while driving a car or sitting in a public venue. Most also have no problem with such tactics being applied to U.S. citizens who have joined al-Qaeda and are actively taking part in a war on America.

But Paul does seem to oppose the drone strikes. Indeed, anyone who heard all or most of his several hours of talk on the subject heard a great deal that shows he thinks the “perpetual war” against the Islamists is the real problem.

The unfortunate fact is that Americans will have to continue fighting al-Qaeda. This is not because our leaders lust for war or are enraptured with drone technology, but because our enemies believe they are engaged in war that will go on for generations until we succumb. Winning that struggle will require patience and endurance as well as the will to seek out these enemies wherever they may be plotting. Targeted killings of these terrorists are necessary and effective. But Paul’s core critique of the administration is not about a theoretical drone attack in the United States but about this very tactic.

Those who worry about Barack Obama’s fast and loose approach to the Constitution do well to keep close tabs on what the government is up to. But the president’s drone use against al-Qaeda is both constitutional and necessary. Conflating this policy with a plan to kill American dissidents or non-combatants sleeping in their beds here is merely a tactic aimed at transforming the debate about drones in a way that will make the curtailment of foreign strikes possible.

We can all take pride in the willingness of members of the U.S. Senate to stand up for the Bill of Rights and against the unchecked expansion of government power. But today’s filibuster is rooted in Paul’s unhappiness with American counter-terrorism tactics abroad, not those that have never been used at home.

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Rand Paul, Brennan and the Rule of Law

Senator Rand Paul is at this moment on his feet in the U.S. Senate rekindling memories of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra. The Kentucky senator is doing a filibuster the old fashioned way: non-stop talking and refusing to yield the floor in order to delay a vote on the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. Like the fictional Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s classic film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Paul will keep going until he literally drops. The C-Span feed from the Senate does not show the apple and the thermos of coffee that Mr. Smith relied upon to keep going but I imagine if, as Stewart did in the movie, the Kentuckian starts reading the Constitution of the United States very slowly, Majority Leader Harry Reid will forget about getting the Senate back to business anytime soon.

Whether you consider this is an edifying spectacle or merely a political sideshow may depend up on your point of view about the reason why Paul has decided to prevent a vote on Brennan. There are good reasons for senators to oppose his bid to run the intelligence agency. But Paul’s belief that the president’s determination to carry the fight against Al Qaeda via drone strikes is a threat to American civil liberties is misplaced. Attempting to hamstring the ability of the government to carry on a foreign war is not defending the rule of law.

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Senator Rand Paul is at this moment on his feet in the U.S. Senate rekindling memories of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra. The Kentucky senator is doing a filibuster the old fashioned way: non-stop talking and refusing to yield the floor in order to delay a vote on the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. Like the fictional Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s classic film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Paul will keep going until he literally drops. The C-Span feed from the Senate does not show the apple and the thermos of coffee that Mr. Smith relied upon to keep going but I imagine if, as Stewart did in the movie, the Kentuckian starts reading the Constitution of the United States very slowly, Majority Leader Harry Reid will forget about getting the Senate back to business anytime soon.

Whether you consider this is an edifying spectacle or merely a political sideshow may depend up on your point of view about the reason why Paul has decided to prevent a vote on Brennan. There are good reasons for senators to oppose his bid to run the intelligence agency. But Paul’s belief that the president’s determination to carry the fight against Al Qaeda via drone strikes is a threat to American civil liberties is misplaced. Attempting to hamstring the ability of the government to carry on a foreign war is not defending the rule of law.

Paul’s argument is that granting the president the ability to launch drone strikes on enemy combatants without first going through a legal process threatens our freedoms. Though he has been at pains to say that he doesn’t question the motives of the president, he worries that this power could be used wrongly in the future. The principle he is defending is a good one but he is confused about what is happening in the war against Islamist terrorism. It is not a police action or a civil investigation but a war that must be conducted and judged by very different standards that we would apply to criminal activity at home.

To buttress his view during his nonstop stream of rhetoric, Paul cited the experience of Weimar Germany as an example of an evil leader being democratically elected. Though he was careful not to call anyone in this debate a Hitler, he still claimed that the principle at stake is one in which our freedoms could be lost in a similar manner.

The mere mention of Hitler or of George Orwell’s “Big Brother” (as he did later in his speech) even with disclaimers is both foolish and inflammatory. The executive branch of the government has the responsibility to defend the people of the United States against their enemies. It would be nice if those tasked with fighting Al Qaeda could do so as if they were detectives on the beat, but such an expectation betrays a lack of understanding of this conflict.

The liberty that Rand Paul wants to defend is sacred. He does well to worry about the growth of government and the accretion of power in the hands of the executive without checks and balances provided by the law. But preserving that liberty requires an active defense. Stopping our armed forces and the president from killing the enemy wherever they can be found cannot preserve the rule of law.

There is good reason to fear that President Obama doesn’t have sufficient respect for the limits that the Constitution places on his power to act. But whatever we might think about his domestic power grabs, his willingness to order strikes on those plotting to kill Americans is not a threat to freedom. To use the example the senator repeatedly invoked, the president can’t wait until a plane is about to hit an American target. Waiting until the threat is imminent in that manner would be a dereliction of duty on the president’s part, not a defense of liberty.

 The only real analogy to Hitler and totalitarianism in this debate is to the ideology of those Islamists that the administration has targeted. Paul has every right to keep talking and Brennan is not a good choice to run the CIA but using this nomination to stop drone strikes abroad is ill advised.

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A Drone Court is a Terrible Idea

With controversy growing over the Obama administration’s use of drones to kill suspected terrorists—even, on a few occasions American citizens—interest appears to be growing in some kind of “drone court” modeled on the court authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to authorize national-security wiretaps. Even Bob Gates, the former secretary of defense who is as centrist as they come, appeared to indicate on CNN yesterday that he was in favor of more oversight of the drone strikes, possibly from such a court.

There is no doubt that putting judicial imprimatur on such strikes would help to dissipate growing opposition to the use of drones and could help to rein in capricious decision-making by this administration or a future administration. This proposal is sure to gain traction on both the antiwar left and the anti-government right—as well as among many in the general public who have a certain unease about the idea of presidentially ordered “assassinations” a la fictional characters like Jason Bourne.

Nevertheless creating such a court would be a very bad idea because it would constitute a dangerous infringement on the president’s authority as commander-in-chief.

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With controversy growing over the Obama administration’s use of drones to kill suspected terrorists—even, on a few occasions American citizens—interest appears to be growing in some kind of “drone court” modeled on the court authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to authorize national-security wiretaps. Even Bob Gates, the former secretary of defense who is as centrist as they come, appeared to indicate on CNN yesterday that he was in favor of more oversight of the drone strikes, possibly from such a court.

There is no doubt that putting judicial imprimatur on such strikes would help to dissipate growing opposition to the use of drones and could help to rein in capricious decision-making by this administration or a future administration. This proposal is sure to gain traction on both the antiwar left and the anti-government right—as well as among many in the general public who have a certain unease about the idea of presidentially ordered “assassinations” a la fictional characters like Jason Bourne.

Nevertheless creating such a court would be a very bad idea because it would constitute a dangerous infringement on the president’s authority as commander-in-chief.

To be sure, there are few cases of drone strikes involving American citizens such as Anwar al-Awlaki and it would probably not be any great burden in the war on terror to have those instances reviewed by a court. The danger is that this would be the establishment of a dangerous precedent, with judges soon being called upon to approve all drone strikes, whether the targets are American citizens or not. There is already a fair amount of bureaucracy to vet such strikes and minimize collateral damage, which sometimes results in the suspects making an escape before approval to fire a Hellfire missile can be obtained. Introducing judges into the mix would make such operations intolerably slow and unwieldy.

If judges were given power to review military or CIA strikes taking place outside the country, where would this trend end? With troops having to read detainees on a foreign battlefield their Miranda rights? With judges having to approve in advance all military plans—including armored offensives and artillery barrages—to make sure they don’t infringe on someone’s civil rights?

Such scenarios are not as crazy as they sound. Civil liberties lawyers have already been trying to get the U.S. courts to assume oversight of detainees held in Afghanistan—one federal judge even ruled that these detainees had a right to a hearing before being overruled by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Constitutional guarantees of rights are the bedrock of our democracy—but they don’t apply to foreign combatants. Not even if they happen to be citizens—as the entire Confederate Army was during the Civil War. The FISA court is well and good but it only operates on our soil. It doesn’t limit the National Security Agency from carrying out wiretaps abroad. So, too, no “drone court” should be established to judicially regulate the use of lethal force abroad by the military or covert forces of the United States government.

This is not to say that such operations should be above any outside review. Congress has the right to step in and, if it so desires, cut off funding for the drone program. Or it can rescind or narrow the Authorization for the Use of Force that was passed on September 14, 2001, and is the legal basis for the drone strikes against Al Qaeda and its affiliates. What Congress cannot do—because I suspect the appeals courts and the Supreme Court would not allow it—is to try to delegate to the judiciary the job of making decisions on the use of military force abroad.

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Obama Drone Memo is a Careful, Responsible Document

Pete Wehner makes a fair point in dinging President Obama for hypocrisy because Obama once expressed outrage over the Bush administration’s use of torture (euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques”) while now defending the legality of his own policy of ordering the targeted killing of al-Qaeda members even if they’re U.S. citizens. There is no judicial review in either policy–and the latter results in death rather than discomfort.

But I’d much rather that the president be hypocritical than wrong on the issue of targeted killings. In this case I think he deserves applause for taking the right stance in spite of the criticism from some of his own supporters in the “human rights” lobby. (I use quote marks because groups like Amnesty International seldom if ever recognize that actions taken by Western states to defend themselves against terrorist attacks are a defense of the basic right to live without fear of assault.)

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Pete Wehner makes a fair point in dinging President Obama for hypocrisy because Obama once expressed outrage over the Bush administration’s use of torture (euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques”) while now defending the legality of his own policy of ordering the targeted killing of al-Qaeda members even if they’re U.S. citizens. There is no judicial review in either policy–and the latter results in death rather than discomfort.

But I’d much rather that the president be hypocritical than wrong on the issue of targeted killings. In this case I think he deserves applause for taking the right stance in spite of the criticism from some of his own supporters in the “human rights” lobby. (I use quote marks because groups like Amnesty International seldom if ever recognize that actions taken by Western states to defend themselves against terrorist attacks are a defense of the basic right to live without fear of assault.)

Drone strikes are by no means risk free, the biggest risk being that by killing innocent civilians they will cause a backlash and thereby create more enemies for the U.S. than they eliminate. There is no doubt that some of these strikes have killed the wrong people–as the New York Times account highlights in one incident in Yemen. There is also little doubt, moreover, that drone strikes are no substitute for a comprehensive counterinsurgency and state-building policy designed to permanently safeguard vulnerable countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Mali from the incursions of radical jihadists. But drone strikes have been effective in disrupting al-Qaeda operations and they have been conducted with less collateral damage and more precision than in the past.

It is hard to assess what impact they have had on public opinion in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan, but there is at least as much evidence that these strikes are applauded by locals who are terrorized by al-Qaeda thugs as there is evidence that the strikes are reviled for killing fellow clansmen. As the Times notes: “Although most Yemenis are reluctant to admit it publicly, there does appear to be widespread support for the American drone strikes that hit substantial Qaeda figures like Mr. Shihri, a Saudi and the affiliate’s deputy leader, who died in January of wounds received in a drone strike late last year.”

Given the need to continue these drone strikes, it would be silly and self-destructive to grant certain al-Qaeda figures immunity just because they happen to have American citizenship. In past wars such as the U.S. Civil War and World War II the U.S. military never hesitated to kill or capture enemy combatants simply because they happened to hold American citizenship. Why should today be any different?

Obviously the U.S. government is not going to engage in targeted killings on our home soil, and there is no need to do so–al-Qaeda operatives in the U.S. can always be arrested. That’s not the case in Pakistan or Yemen, where the alternative is typically either to let them go or kill them in a drone strike. The Justice Department memo leaked to NBC News, which justifies such attacks, seems to me a model of careful legal reasoning which preserves the commander-in-chief’s authority to wage war on our enemies without trampling on civil liberties at home.

“This is a chilling document,” says an ACLU lawyer (predictably). No, it’s not. It’s an encouraging document. It shows that, however committed Obama may be to a policy of retrenchment abroad and to dangerous cuts in defense spending, he is still willing to doing what it takes to defend us from al-Qaeda and its ilk.

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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.

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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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FBI Can’t Get to Benghazi Because of “Security Fears”

President Obama has promised to bring the perpetrators of the Benghazi terrorist attack to justice, but over two weeks after the attack the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi. According to the New York Times, it’s because the security situation in Benghazi is too unstable:

Sixteen days after the death of four Americans in an attack on a United States diplomatic mission here, fears about the near-total lack of security have kept F.B.I. agents from visiting the scene of the killings and forced them to try to piece together the complicated crime from Tripoli, more than 400 miles away.

Investigators are so worried about the tenuous security, people involved in the investigation say, that they have been unwilling to risk taking some potential Libyan witnesses into the American Embassy in Tripoli. Instead, the investigators have resorted to the awkward solution of questioning some witnesses in cars outside the embassy, which is operating under emergency staffing and was evacuated of even more diplomats on Thursday because of a heightened security alert.

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President Obama has promised to bring the perpetrators of the Benghazi terrorist attack to justice, but over two weeks after the attack the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi. According to the New York Times, it’s because the security situation in Benghazi is too unstable:

Sixteen days after the death of four Americans in an attack on a United States diplomatic mission here, fears about the near-total lack of security have kept F.B.I. agents from visiting the scene of the killings and forced them to try to piece together the complicated crime from Tripoli, more than 400 miles away.

Investigators are so worried about the tenuous security, people involved in the investigation say, that they have been unwilling to risk taking some potential Libyan witnesses into the American Embassy in Tripoli. Instead, the investigators have resorted to the awkward solution of questioning some witnesses in cars outside the embassy, which is operating under emergency staffing and was evacuated of even more diplomats on Thursday because of a heightened security alert.

This is mind-boggling. We are talking about a terrorist attack, carried out on American soil, on the anniversary of 9/11. And yet the FBI can’t even carry out a full investigation. The Times reports that even if law enforcement officials are eventually able to make it to the consulate, the unsecured “crime scene” has been so badly trampled that it may be impossible to collect evidence to use against the terrorists.

Why has this failed to register as a major scandal with the political media? There is ample evidence that the Obama administration intentionally misled the public in the days after the attack — while it designated it as a terrorist attack almost immediately, the administration insisted for over a week that it was a spontaneous uprising. The White House vowed bring the perpetrators to justice, and yet they’re slow-walking an FBI investigation that’s hampered by security restrictions and a lack of access to physical evidence.

Then there’s this:

President Obama has said the United States will bring to justice those responsible for the attacks. But there is little appetite in the White House to launch drone strikes or a Special Operations raid, like the one that killed Osama bin Laden, in yet another Muslim country.

American officials would prefer that Libyan officials lead any military or paramilitary operation, or work alongside American investigators, to arrest any suspects. But the transitional Libyan government still does not command a meaningful national army or national police force.

In other words, there’s a good chance many of the perpetrators will walk free. Instead of sending the FBI to sit around in Tripoli and wait for the transitional Libyan government to get its act together, perhaps what is needed is to send in the drones to pick these guys off. By the time the Libyans act, any chance of pinpointing the terrorists (and any evidence that could be used to try them in court) will likely be long gone.

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Entire Haqqani Network Should Be Designated as Terrorists

There are conflicting reports about whether Badruddin Haqqani, a senior commander in the Haqqani network founded by his father Jalaluddin and led by his elder brother Sirajuddin, has been killed in a CIA drone strike in North Waziristan. Afghan and Pakistani intelligence officials believe he is dead, and so does at least one Taliban commander, but another Taliban spokesman denies it. We will see if there is more definitive evidence forthcoming soon.

If he is indeed dead, it is a small but significant victory against the most malign terrorist organization operating in Afghanistan–a group responsible for the worst attacks in Kabul itself. The Long War Journal reports: “Badruddin was also one of several handlers for the fighters involved in the June 28, 2011 assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. Badruddin was recorded while he issued instructions to one of the fighters, and was heard laughing during the attack that killed 11 civilians and two Afghan policemen as well as nine members of the attack team.”

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There are conflicting reports about whether Badruddin Haqqani, a senior commander in the Haqqani network founded by his father Jalaluddin and led by his elder brother Sirajuddin, has been killed in a CIA drone strike in North Waziristan. Afghan and Pakistani intelligence officials believe he is dead, and so does at least one Taliban commander, but another Taliban spokesman denies it. We will see if there is more definitive evidence forthcoming soon.

If he is indeed dead, it is a small but significant victory against the most malign terrorist organization operating in Afghanistan–a group responsible for the worst attacks in Kabul itself. The Long War Journal reports: “Badruddin was also one of several handlers for the fighters involved in the June 28, 2011 assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. Badruddin was recorded while he issued instructions to one of the fighters, and was heard laughing during the attack that killed 11 civilians and two Afghan policemen as well as nine members of the attack team.”

There is also more than a bit of irony in the whole affair. For while Badruddin and eight other Haqqani family members have been individually designated as global terrorists by the U.S., and they are now apparently being actively hunted by Reaper drones (a very positive and overdue development), the Obama administration still refuses to designate the Haqqani Network as a whole as a terrorist entity, apparently because it hopes to pursue peace talks with the Haqqanis. (Why the terrorist designation can’t simply be lifted if talks get somewhere–a very unlikely eventuality–remains a mystery.)

Congress got so frustrated with this nonsensical state of affairs–how can the U.S. government kill senior Haqqanis but not call their organization a terrorist entity?–that it passed legislation, signed by President Obama on August 10, that gives the administration 30 days to either designate the Haqqanis or explain why it refuses to do so. Those 30 days will expire soon so we can hope to have some greater clarity on the U.S. position vis a vis the Haqqanis. There is quite simply no excuse not to call the Haqqanis by their rightful name: terrorists.

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Decline in Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes

The major criticism of drone strikes–the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy especially in Pakistan and Yemen–is that they cause too many civilian casualties, thereby creating more militants than they eliminate. A new study from the New America Foundation disputes that conclusion.

Authors Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland write: “The estimated civilian death rate in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan has declined dramatically since 2008, when it was at its peak of almost 50 percent. Today, for the first time, the estimated civilian death rate is at or close to zero.” Their finding is based on analyzing three years’ worth of data in news sources ranging from Reuters and the New York Times to the Express Tribune and Dawn in Pakistan.

Any compilation based on such open-source materials must necessarily be suspect. But then counting casualties from the drone strikes is necessarily an inexact science–Washington has an interest in minimizing the figures while jihadists have an interest in maximizing them. Perhaps there is a better count out there, but I’m not aware of it. If the New America Foundation’s conclusion is accurate, the reduction in collateral damage is a tribute to better technology (e.g., drones that can linger longer over their targets and use better sensors to identify them), better intelligence gathering, and better controls over these strikes.

This is yet another reason why the strikes cannot be stopped–they are the most effective tool to combat Islamist terrorism in areas such as Pakistan and Yemen where U.S. troops are not deployed en masse. Indeed, far from curtailing them, I believe it is imperative to extend the strikes to towns such as Chaman, located near the border with Afghanistan, which is a major staging point for the Taliban–but has been off bounds so far for the drone strikes because it is located outside the tribal areas of Pakistan. That needs to change if the U.S. is going to sufficiently degrade the insurgency to allow U.S. troop numbers to be reduced by 2014 without a catastrophic collapse in security.

The major criticism of drone strikes–the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy especially in Pakistan and Yemen–is that they cause too many civilian casualties, thereby creating more militants than they eliminate. A new study from the New America Foundation disputes that conclusion.

Authors Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland write: “The estimated civilian death rate in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan has declined dramatically since 2008, when it was at its peak of almost 50 percent. Today, for the first time, the estimated civilian death rate is at or close to zero.” Their finding is based on analyzing three years’ worth of data in news sources ranging from Reuters and the New York Times to the Express Tribune and Dawn in Pakistan.

Any compilation based on such open-source materials must necessarily be suspect. But then counting casualties from the drone strikes is necessarily an inexact science–Washington has an interest in minimizing the figures while jihadists have an interest in maximizing them. Perhaps there is a better count out there, but I’m not aware of it. If the New America Foundation’s conclusion is accurate, the reduction in collateral damage is a tribute to better technology (e.g., drones that can linger longer over their targets and use better sensors to identify them), better intelligence gathering, and better controls over these strikes.

This is yet another reason why the strikes cannot be stopped–they are the most effective tool to combat Islamist terrorism in areas such as Pakistan and Yemen where U.S. troops are not deployed en masse. Indeed, far from curtailing them, I believe it is imperative to extend the strikes to towns such as Chaman, located near the border with Afghanistan, which is a major staging point for the Taliban–but has been off bounds so far for the drone strikes because it is located outside the tribal areas of Pakistan. That needs to change if the U.S. is going to sufficiently degrade the insurgency to allow U.S. troop numbers to be reduced by 2014 without a catastrophic collapse in security.

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Taliban Consign Children to Polio Risk

“Taliban to Kids: Drop Dead.” That would be the headline in the NY Daily News or some other tabloid. The New York Times has a more staid approach: “Taliban Block Vaccinations in Pakistan.” But the news contained therein is no less shocking and contemptible: the Pakistani Taliban are going to block UNICEF-administered polo vaccinations in North Waziristan until the U.S. stops its drone attacks in Pakistan which have been heavily focused on North Waziristan.

The Taliban have some small shred of cover for this move due to the fact that the CIA recruited a doctor undertaking vaccinations to try to locate Osama bin Laden’s hideout. (That doctor, Shakil Afridi, is now languishing in a Pakistani jail for the “crime” of helping to uncover a mass murderer.) This fact, along with many others, underlines how deeply intertwined al-Qaeda is with other Pakistan-based radical groups, from the Pakistani Taliban to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. And it also shows how heartless these groups are.

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“Taliban to Kids: Drop Dead.” That would be the headline in the NY Daily News or some other tabloid. The New York Times has a more staid approach: “Taliban Block Vaccinations in Pakistan.” But the news contained therein is no less shocking and contemptible: the Pakistani Taliban are going to block UNICEF-administered polo vaccinations in North Waziristan until the U.S. stops its drone attacks in Pakistan which have been heavily focused on North Waziristan.

The Taliban have some small shred of cover for this move due to the fact that the CIA recruited a doctor undertaking vaccinations to try to locate Osama bin Laden’s hideout. (That doctor, Shakil Afridi, is now languishing in a Pakistani jail for the “crime” of helping to uncover a mass murderer.) This fact, along with many others, underlines how deeply intertwined al-Qaeda is with other Pakistan-based radical groups, from the Pakistani Taliban to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. And it also shows how heartless these groups are.

The Pakistani Taliban are, in effect, consigning 160,000 children to the risk of getting polio because of their war with the United States. Nothing could make more clear the barbarous nature of such groups–and the need for them to be defeated. Pakistan’s generals should, at the very least, toss and turn a little at night as they think about their own role in fostering and promoting these monsters.

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Changes on the Global Battlefield

News that the CIA had foiled yet another attempt by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to bomb U.S. airliners using some sort of new “underwear bomb” further confirms the big shift that has occurred in terrorist circles during the past decade: al-Qaeda “central,” based in Pakistan, has gotten less and less important even as its fellow travelers and affiliates have gotten more sophisticated and dangerous.

AQAP is at the forefront of these off-shoots in trying to attack the American homeland, but it is hardly alone–the Pakistan Taliban, a group sympathetic to al-Qaeda but not formally allied with it, was also discovered trying to attack Times Square with a car bomb. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in Iraq piled up carnage on a level undreamt of by other terrorist groups–so much killing that even Osama bin Laden thought it was counterproductive because most of the victims were fellow Muslims. AQI now appears to be expanding its sphere of operations into Syria.

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News that the CIA had foiled yet another attempt by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to bomb U.S. airliners using some sort of new “underwear bomb” further confirms the big shift that has occurred in terrorist circles during the past decade: al-Qaeda “central,” based in Pakistan, has gotten less and less important even as its fellow travelers and affiliates have gotten more sophisticated and dangerous.

AQAP is at the forefront of these off-shoots in trying to attack the American homeland, but it is hardly alone–the Pakistan Taliban, a group sympathetic to al-Qaeda but not formally allied with it, was also discovered trying to attack Times Square with a car bomb. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in Iraq piled up carnage on a level undreamt of by other terrorist groups–so much killing that even Osama bin Laden thought it was counterproductive because most of the victims were fellow Muslims. AQI now appears to be expanding its sphere of operations into Syria.

This is symptomatic of the ability of jihadist groups to adapt and survive on a changing global battlefield where certain avenues of attack may be closed off to them (it seems unlikely anyone will ever again hijack an American airliner with a box cutter), but other opportunities are presenting themselves, especially as political turmoil spreads across the Middle East. Jihadist groups are parasites that breed in areas where no lawful authority is established; thus it is not surprising to see them operating in places like the tribal regions of Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.

We will see more threats from this direction in the future, which is why it is imperative that the CIA and Special Operations Forces continue their drone strikes and commando raids to keep the terrorists off balance. The “global war on terror” may have been banished from the official lexicon under the Obama administration, but in the field it continues to be waged with ferocity as great as ever–on both sides.

 

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Time to Take Action in Pakistan

David Ignatius has a good column today pointing out that Pakistan has a lot to answer for in its relationship with al-Qaeda. As he notes: “Osama bin Laden lived in five houses in Pakistan, fathered four children there, kept three wives who took dictation for his rambling directives to his terror network, had two children born in public hospitals — and through it all, the Pakistani government did not know one single thing about his whereabouts?” That strains credulity as does the fact that numerous other senior al-Qaeda leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad were able to live in Pakistan for years.

Of course, Pakistan’s links with terrorists hardly end with al-Qaeda. The Pakistani state, and specifically its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, has notoriously close ties with such groups as the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban, who are responsible for the deaths of numerous American and Afghan soldiers as well as Afghan civilians, and Lashkar e Taiba, which was responsible for the 2008 murder spree in Mumbai and whose founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, now has a $10 million American bounty on his head. Saeed, by the way, lives and travels quite openly in Pakistan; he must know he has nothing to fear from his confederates in the Pakistani security establishment.

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David Ignatius has a good column today pointing out that Pakistan has a lot to answer for in its relationship with al-Qaeda. As he notes: “Osama bin Laden lived in five houses in Pakistan, fathered four children there, kept three wives who took dictation for his rambling directives to his terror network, had two children born in public hospitals — and through it all, the Pakistani government did not know one single thing about his whereabouts?” That strains credulity as does the fact that numerous other senior al-Qaeda leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad were able to live in Pakistan for years.

Of course, Pakistan’s links with terrorists hardly end with al-Qaeda. The Pakistani state, and specifically its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, has notoriously close ties with such groups as the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban, who are responsible for the deaths of numerous American and Afghan soldiers as well as Afghan civilians, and Lashkar e Taiba, which was responsible for the 2008 murder spree in Mumbai and whose founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, now has a $10 million American bounty on his head. Saeed, by the way, lives and travels quite openly in Pakistan; he must know he has nothing to fear from his confederates in the Pakistani security establishment.

Yet why does the U.S. still insist on treating Pakistan as a wayward ally—a difficult friend but a friend nevertheless? It is well past time to wake up from this delusion and start to take actions the Pakistani army may adamantly oppose—such as using drone strikes to target Haqqani and Afghan Taliban leaders living in Pakistan—but that are essential to protect our troops in Afghanistan and our interests in the region.

Instead, we continue to subsidize the very Pakistani state which is making war on us and our friends. As commentator Sarah Chayes noted in an article about Afghanistan (which I took some exception with): “Imagine Washington openly financing North Vietnam in 1970.”

 

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