What’s Next With U.S. Drones Policy

11 Mar

Drone Attack on the US ConstitutionActually, too much. Dan Drezner makes a good point: what is it about drones that makes me cringe. Is it, as Heather Hurlburt argues, the assassinations? Not specifically. The executive branch needs to do some explaining.

This is where a presidential speech could make a difference, as Singer says. The fact that Paul’s filibuster happened at all was a direct indictment of the administration’s own unwillingness to be forthcoming about many of the issues surrounding its counterterror policies. A direct response would allow the administration to move the conversation away from hypotheticals and explain what it is actually doing and where it sees the drone program and the broader “long war” going over the next several years.

Moreover, it would also play to Obama’s strengths as a speaker. He has often been at his best when critically examining specific issues in depth, as he did in his 2008 speech on race in Philadelphia and his 2009 Nobel Prize speech. After the Philadelphia speech, Jon Stewart noted in a rare moment of sincerity that the reason it was significant was that Obama “spoke to Americans about race as though they were adults.” It is time for a president to speak to us about drones, targeted killings and counterterrorism as though we were adults as well.

And, some of this is not necessarily evil. “Police use deadly force to kill Americans if they feel they are threatened, but it’s unclear if they could use a drone instead of, say, a sniper rifle to take out a hostage-taker if they felt it was the safest way to do so.” I’m not categorically opposed to this, but the decision to implement this policy cannot be done as secretly as the decision to assassinate a suspect would be. I would also hope that this policy change would involve reforming the judiciary to deal with this technological “reform”. There is considerable resistance to a drone assassination policy.

One scenario that has already been tabled was using “robo-snipers” against the Somali pirates. Less blowback, by not killing innocent bystanders, good.

But this is not what I want – expanding The War Against Everything”?

The Authorization for Use of Military Force, a joint resolution passed by Congress three days after the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, has served as the legal foundation for U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda over the past decade, including ongoing drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen that have killed thousands of people.

But U.S. officials said administration lawyers are increasingly concerned that the law is being stretched to its legal breaking point, just as new threats are emerging in countries including Syria, Libya and Mali.

“The farther we get away from 9/11 and what this legislation was initially focused upon,” a senior Obama administration official said, “we can see from both a theoretical but also a practical standpoint that groups that have arisen or morphed become more difficult to fit in.”

The waning relevance of the 2001 law, the official said, is “requiring a whole policy and legal look.” The official, like most others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.

The authorization law has already been expanded by federal courts beyond its original scope to apply to “associated forces” of al-Qaeda. But officials said legal advisers at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies are now weighing whether the law can be stretched to cover what one former official called “associates of associates.”

The debate has been driven by the emergence of groups in North Africa and the Middle East that may embrace aspects of al-Qaeda’s agenda but have no meaningful ties to its crumbling leadership base in Pakistan. Among them are the al-Nusra Front in Syria and Ansar al-Sharia, which was linked to the September attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. They could be exposed to drone strikes and kill-or-capture missions involving U.S. troops.

Officials said they have not ruled out seeking an updated authorization from Congress or relying on the president’s constitutional powers to protect the country. But they said those are unappealing alternatives.

How about a “War Against Pre-emptive Thinking”? Or, a “War On Magic Bullet Solutions”? How about hiring better diplomats and fewer lawyers?

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