You know, if our politics were in any way sane, this piece, about how the Obama Administration decides on drone strikes, would be a big fucking deal. It came out two weeks ago and I’ve been tossing it around in my head while I waited for the liberal explosion of rage that would accompany an article indicating Mitt Romney was even planning something like it. I’m still waiting.
Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.
“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”
Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.
You really really should read the whole thing. It’s not just about the drone strikes, although that is the heart of the article. It shows how Obama addresses almost every aspect of the War on Terror. It talks about how he left loopholes in his “bold” closing off of Bush policies, how they keep civilian casualties down in drone strikes*, and how they have navigated the legal waters. It is an absolute must-read if you are going to debate the War on Terror.
(*They, no kidding, conclude that any male of military age near a terrorist target is also a terrorist. By that standard, if Ted Kaczynski has decided to revisit his old haunts at Berkeley, any professors killed in a drone strike … well, we won’t go there. But I’m reminded of cops questioning and arresting people in the wee hours because they must be up to something if they’re out at that hour.)
On the one hand, I’m encouraged that the President knows what’s going on and is making decisions based on pragmatics, not on ideology. It’s nice to know that there is a process to this and the President ultimately is taking responsibility. On the other hand, this “pragmatic” approach has led us to a point where the President of the United State and a Noble Prize Winner now has an enemies list from which he designates people for assassination. It has expanded the executive power of the President even further into regions that, according to an excellent piece by Andrew Napolitano, are unconstitutional and dangerous.
It’s important to remember, in this discussion, that evil is not usually done by people rubbing their hands together and cackling insanely. It is done by people who think their actions are justified and for the best. And for all the Obamaites who read this and are impressed by the process … imagine that process in the hands of someone else. Imagine Sarah Palin making these decisions.
This is not about Obama. It’s never about Obama. It’s about the process. People like me focus on process — sometimes obsessively — because we believe that a good process will, in the long run, produce better results. When a President assumes this kind of power, you never know what will happen five, ten, twenty years down the road.
There’s one other thing that bothered me about the article and it took me a week to put my finger on it. It’s the overwhelmingly positive spin. We get sentences like this:
Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.
Student of Augustine and Aquinas. Nicely done. This frankly reads like a piece written by Obama’s staff. There is little, if any, criticism. And much of the information comes from classified, unnamed sources — the kind of sources Obama would come down on like a ton of bricks if they were leaking something he didn’t want coming out. So in the end, this is not a hard-bitten piece of investigative journalism. It’s a puff piece aimed at re-election.
Look, taking out terrorists is a nasty business. They hide in crowds and among innocents. They claim the mantle of God and declare holy wars. Their biggest leaders don’t strap on bombs themselves but inspire younger dumber people to do so while they surround themselves with women and children. No on ever said this was going to be pretty.
But I’m not convinced it has to be quite this ugly.
Update: All you need to know about the Left wing response to this: Democratic Hub’s list of Obama accomplishments? Half of it consists of people he killed.