A stunning report in the New York Times depicted President Obama poring over the equivalent of terrorist baseball cards, deciding who on a “kill list” would be targeted for elimination by drone attack. The revelations — as well as those in Daniel Klaidman’s recent book — sparked public outrage and calls for congressional inquiry.
Yet bizarrely, the fury is targeted at the messengers, not the message. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed dismay that presidential aides were leaking national security information to bolster the president’s foreign policy credentials. (Shocking? Think gambling, Casablanca). Republican and Democratic senators joined in condemning the leaks. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. — AWOL in the prosecution of rampant bank fraud — roused himself to name two prosecutors to track down the leakers.
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.
Please. Al-Qaeda knows that U.S. drones are hunting them. The Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Afghanis and others know the U.S. is behind the drones that strike suddenly from above. The only people aided by these revelations are the American people who have an overriding right and need to know.
The problem isn’t the leaks, it’s the policy. It’s the assertion of a presidential prerogative that the administration can target for death people it decides are terrorists — even American citizens — anywhere in the world, at any time, on secret evidence with no review.
It is a policy driven largely by the new technological capacity of pilotless aircraft. Drone strikes have rapidly expanded, becoming a centerpiece of the Obama strategy. Over the last three years, the Obama administration has carried out at least 239 covert drone strikes, more than five times the 44 approved under George W. Bush.
Drones are enormously seductive and widely popular. Video games made real, they are relatively cheap, risk no U.S. casualties, claim to be exactly targeted and, according to the administration, have been lethal in eliminating al-Qaeda’s operatives. As Adm. Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence for the Obama administration before being pushed out, notes, “It plays well domestically and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”
Drones are also alarming. As a recent congressional letter of inquiry notes, “They are faceless ambassadors that cause civilian deaths . . . They can generate powerful and enduring anti-American sentiment.” The drone attacks may generate as many terrorists as they dispatch. They seduce the U.S. into literally policing the world, an intrusive presence that surely will generate hostility and retribution.
Moreover, the president’s claim offends the spirit and letter of the Constitution and shreds the global laws of war. Our founders were eager to curb the prerogative of kings to wage war and foreign adventures. That is why the Constitution gave Congress the power to declare war. Yet the president now claims the right to attack anywhere in the world in an apparently endless war against terrorism.