Monday, February 11, 2013

It Isn't About Drones

With the NBC's discovery last week of internal memos supporting the killing of American citizens abroad who have been determined to be an imminent threat to the security of the United States, we now know what we've known for a while - when it comes to waging war, Pres. Obama is little different from his predecessors, including the little-missed Pres. George W. Bush.  Roy Edroso at Alicublog says it well, quoting Chomsky that all American Presidents since Truman are deserving of war crimes trials.

Too much of the patter, however, has focused on the use of UAVs, or "drones" in popular parlance.  Duncan Black at Eschaton calls them "flying death robots", which they are not.  Like the President they are criticizing, the critics are a bit too enamored of these remotely-operated fighter-bombers.  I keep wondering if these same critics would approve of the use of Special Operations Forces to do the same things.  Of course, I'm guessing their answer is "No", but that just brings me back to the whole matter of focusing on the method of ordnance delivery rather than the underlying "legal" rationale.

My criticism not only of Obama but pretty much all Presidential actions like this going back, like Chomsky, to Truman, is simple: The Constitution just doesn't give the President the power to act in this way.  Truman tried to be cute, and all forward-looking, using the United Nations in Korea, calling it a "police action" so he could side-step the Constitutional requirement of a Congressional declaration of war.  It is odd, indeed, to find myself agreeing with the late Sen. Robert Taft, one of the few voices speaking out forcefully and prophetically against the kind of imperial Presidential power-grab Truman was performing.  Taft was just slightly to the right of Louis XVI, but at least on this matter his claim to be speaking on principle rings true, even sixty-three years later.  The whirlwind sowed in the windy Korean peninsula arrived with the whole lying business that was Vietnam; one would think Democrats of either party would have learned the simple lesson that, at the very least, if we're going to commit our troops to battle, they need the vocal support of the people's representatives in Congress.  The closest we have come to an actual declaration of war was the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  The fact is, it's been just over 71 years since the United States has formally declared war; in those decades tens of thousands of Americans have died in battle.

And the Executive always has an excuse and reasons ready at hand.  All they lack is the one necessary thing - the Constitutionally mandated declaration of war.  In 2003, I doubt Pres. Bush would have lost such a vote; yet, just as his war planners insisted on doing the war with as few troops as possible, and without paying for it (one would have thought the Roosevelt Administration's example would have been honored at least in name by these same people who compared 9/11 to Pearl Harbor and insisted al Qaeda was an big an existential threat as the combined Nazi and Japanese Empires; alas, they were too cowardly), so, too, did they see no need to get a formal declaration of war from Congress.

Were Pres. Obama really confident he had the authority to kill Americans overseas, he would ask Congress to declare war on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and wherever else our troops are currently engaged in conflict, then use that as his authority to act.

My problem with the whole business isn't "drones".  My problem is the unconstitutional action on the part of all Presidents since the Second World War who insist that using Congress is just too cumbersome, a problem FDR couldn't even have imagined when he went before Congress and asked for a declaration of war against the two greatest military powers the world had seen until that time.  If there are Americans who are aiding and abetting our formally declared enemies in a formally declared war, then I don't see where there are legal issues with him killing them as part of larger war efforts.  Focusing on "drones" is a bit like focusing on "tanks" as large, noisy things that might crush a soldier under its treads, or blow a soldier to pieces with a Sabot round.  Focusing on "drones" misses the point that the President wants to do this war both on the cheap and by-and-large out of the public's eye, instead of taking it to the people.

Virtual Tin Cup

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