A reliably right-wing friend was sharing a beer with us recently, and the talk naturally turned to the topic of drone strikes. Our pal confessed that he was initially opposed to the president’s claim to a legal right to order the death of any American living abroad who is suspected of terrorist activities, mainly because of an instinct honed over the past four years to oppose any Obama policy, but that he had since reconsidered his position. He had always supported even the most vigorous protocols in the war against Islamist terrorism in the past, our friend said, and “You don’t want to stop thinking.”
The ensuing conversation didn’t allay all of our concerns about the policy, and we wound up agreeing only that it made Obama’s endless moral preening about the dark days of the lawless and bloodthirsty Bush administration all the more insufferable, but our friend’s determination to think through an issue with intellectual consistency and disregard for partisan politics impressed us nonetheless. That’s a rare trait these days, on both the left and the right, and the lack of it is largely responsible for the currently sorry state of the country and the world. Perhaps it is our own partisan prejudice at play, but the left seems especially prone to knee-jerk reactions against anything their enemies are doing at a given moment, no matter what contortions of logic are required.
Obama and his entire administration have this very tendency, and it has left them with a foreign policy that is both morally incoherent and strategically ineffective. Eight long years of self-righteous denunciations of Bush’s anti-terrorism protocols compelled Obama to promise an end to indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay and harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, but doing has forced him to embrace Bush’s formerly controversial drone policies with a gusto his cowboy predecessor would have never dared. Although Obama has quietly abandoned his efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp he can’t afford the political embarrassment of adding to its population, nor can he extract any information from the prisoners that they aren’t willing to divulge when asked nicely, and by being so meticulously moral he is left with no option but to incinerate any suspected bad guys along with whomever happens to be standing nearby when the Hellfire missile arrives. We’ll leave it to the leftists to lament the fate of these poor terrorists, who would probably have preferred the sunny climes of Cuba and a brisk round or two of waterboarding, but our objection is that the policy doesn’t work as well as the old method of going in with special forces unit and nabbing the terrorists.
In one case, according to a story in The New York Times, it was a brave anti-al Qaeda cleric in Yemen who happened to be standing nearby when the Hellfire missile arrived. The blast took out several terrorists, along with whatever information they might have possessed, but it seems unlikely to advance the large project of turning the Muslim world against terrorism. There were no doubt many cases where drone strikes achieved a more unmitigated good, during both the Bush and Obama administrations, but it would be better to limit their use to those occasions.
Similar inconsistencies bedevil other aspects of the Obama foreign policy, such as its sanctimonious demands for congressional and approval when a Republican is in office and its utter disregard for both once a Democrat is installed. Sen. John Kerry’s confirmation hearings for the Secretary of State post didn’t get the same amount of publicity as former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s disastrous performance when applying for Secretary of Defense, but we were amused by an exchange between Kerry and Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul, who demanded to know why the famous former anti-war activist had so loudly denounced Nixon’s decision to bomb Cambodia without explicit congressional approval yet applauded Obama’s decision to bomb Libya with the same lack of legal authorization. Kerry mumbled some ahistorical nonsense about how presidents now have to respond to situations quickly, as Nixon were delivering his bombs by horse and buggy, but one gets the sense that he yearned to come right out and say that in one case it was a Republican president, and not just any Republican, but Nixon, and in the other it was a Democrat, and not just any Democrat, but Obama.
Paul is impressively conservative on domestic issues and a welcome member of the Republican party, but he has many of the isolationist views of his father, the peacenik libertarian Ron Paul, and he’s therefore free to critique the administration without party loyalty or intellectual inconsistency. Such neo-conservative standard-bearers as John Bolton are rising to the defense of Obama’s drone policy, even as they remain staunch critics of almost everything else he’s doing, and a few intellectually honest lefties have dared to defy their beloved president by sticking to their bleeding-heart guns. Most of the country seems willing to support or oppose anything Obama does, however, and it seems likely that the drone policy will continue without much controversy until another Republican happens to get into the White House.
– Bud Norman