Thursday, February 7, 2013

Drone Murder 2: The Memo

If you were watching the Super Bowl commercials you probably saw the Audi ad where the can't-get-a-date high school kid takes his dad's cool car, becomes a rebel, and kisses the prom queen without permission (she clearly likes it)--then gets a black eye from the prom king--but drives home a winner ... in his Audi.

In the room I was in, it got chuckles from just about everyone--but online? WAR. Here is the Twitchy link which is started by someone suggesting that the Left will hate the ad and the Right will defend it. While clearly most people both in the world--and online--didn't care (or felt the ad was funny and that's it), in fact, predictably, the responses from both sides were, indeed, predictable.

Is it that Republicans just can't help defending a rape story even after Akin? No. Its it that Audi is a force for conservative good and needs to be defended by Real Americans? No. Is it that they were kinda preemptively attacked and rallied in defense? Kinda. The real deal though is this: Right now no one on either side of the aisle is gonna agree on anything. It's partisan politics up to 11. Basically as soon as there was any kind of blood in the water people wearing the jersey from each side lined up.

Which brings us to the very, very dangerous Drone Memo.

The Drone Memo works thusly:
  1. Drones can be sent to kill an American if a top U.S. official (presumably pulled off studying The Lost Ark) determines that the person " poses imminent threat of violet attack against the United States" and they cannot be captured.
  2. If the person does not seem to be immediately engaged but is operational in such a plan and there is no evidence they've given it up ... they can still be hit.
This is deemed disturbing by both the right--and the ACLU. It's nice to see bi-partisanship somewhere. Why is this so disturbing? Here are things I have heard:
  1. It could be a slippery slope to Obama using drones in the US ... to kill people without due process--like Waco! With the military--like Waco! And Ruby Ridge (the 80's want their conspiracy theories back)
  2. The administration is not required to provide definite proof. This seems to be adverse to due process and the rule of law.
  3. It's hypocritical!
That last one is the big one:

Are these real concerns? Mostly: No.

The Slippery Slope (Fallacy)
Of all of these, the idea that Obama might someday decide to use drones armed with hellfire missiles against targets inside the US without judicial review (i.e. against Paul Ryan) is the most absurd. There is simply nothing linking the situations: in the US there is rule of law and if we can find Ryan with a drone we can find him with the police. The lack of judicial rigor in the memo has to do with people operating outside the US and beyond the reach of any real government. In short, there is no connection between here (the memo) and there (the hypothetical Drones-vs-Republicans) scenario.

(Note: We are going to see drones used in the US for surveillance--we already do--but these will be used by private citizens to take naked pictures of celebrities sun bathing as often as used for taking potentially right-to-privacy violating pictures of normal people. We already drive through streets covered with security and traffic cameras--this will not be much different. Even if you think this is bad, it has not been the end of the world).

The Rule of Law
This is a real concern. The problem is that we are already deeply in a huge gray zone. We are at war with an enemy that does not fit into normal rules of the conduct of warfare. We are already committed to operating in zones where there is no governmental control, where evidence collection must sometimes happen on active battlefields, and where our enemies are known only through intelligence sources which sometimes cannot be revealed.

The question here is two fold: What is the harm and what happens going forward.
  1. The Harm: The harm is, in the short term, probably minimal. So far what we have seen happen in this space is the Al Awaki kill. While philosophically problematic the facts we have indicate strongly that he was a moral recruiting and driving force for AQ. The fact of his American citizenship is only of minor interest. Was he entitled to full American courts of law? Yes--but he'd have to surrender himself first which he clearly wasn't going to do.
  2. Going Forward: Will this lead to more and more power grabs? I doubt it. Just as water-boarding didn't lead to using industrial drills on subject's knees and hands, this is more about justifying what is already being done than a real expansion. 
It's Hypocritical!
Kinda. The problem with this is that (a) conservatives didn't seem concerned overmuch about the treatment of Americans (Jose Padilla, Bradley, etc.) when they came up against the war on terror under Bush and (b) there are plenty of liberals who do hate the president's drone program today. The fact is that Obama has always been on the record as being drone friendly (remember him saying he'd attack in Pakistan if he had a high value target and the Pakistanis wouldn't get them? McCain--and Republicans--mocked him--but today the Bin Laden raid is something any president would have done, right? So Obama's not special?)

What Do I Think?
I don't think the memo changes anything--it just sort of re-states the problem again more clearly and in better language. This, again, stirs up a hornet's nest on the left ... and is an opening for another round of partisan disdain on the right. I also think that there is a lasting wound in the GOP around Obama's (and, to a degree's Clinton's) co-opting of the National Security Issue. 

I remember when Republicans were upset about Democrats running pro-life socially conservative "Democrats" in the south and taking House seats. These Blue Dogs were a major source of concern (as well as Clinton's 'Triangulation'). It seems that Democrats going further Right is "as bad" as them going further in terms of drawing ire. It's also a strategic hit: most voters probably react better to drone strikes than to arguments about the law and right now any incumbent administration will have that edge. 

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