Obama’s Kill List: Does Anyone Care?

You have Martin Luther King's statue in your office, but you are sending these unmanned drones out, and bombs are dropping on innocent people.

One of the big stories that I missed covering while on vacation was the revelation of President Obama’s “kill list”–the process by which the Commander-in-Chief personally selects terrorist targets for drone strikes. This quote from the NYT piece (“Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will“) which broke the news is jarring:

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.

Cornell West provides a pithier statement* in an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates:

 You have Martin Luther King’s statue in your office, but you are sending these unmanned drones out, and bombs are dropping on innocent people. That’s not a small thing. That’s not a small thing. We know from historic examples that if you engage in a certain kind of foreign policy it eats at your soul on the domestic front.

The NYT story also contains this from former CIA Director Michael Hayden:

Mr. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director and now an adviser to Mr. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mr. Romney, commended the president’s aggressive counterterrorism record, which he said had a “Nixon to China” quality.
But, he said, “secrecy has its costs” and Mr. Obama should open the strike strategy up to public scrutiny. “This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that’s not sustainable,” Mr. Hayden said. “I have lived the life of someone taking action on the basis of secret O.L.C. memos, and it ain’t a good life. Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a D.O.J. safe.”

TNC concludes:

Has there ever been a point since America’s inception when someone, somewhere, wasn’t plotting our downfall? I have great difficulty perceiving a time when this won’t be true. And so drone strategy comes to self-replicate. We bomb your village. You declare war on us for the bombing. We deem you a terrorist and bomb again. Rinse. Repeat.
The Obama administration considers any military-age male in the vicinity of a bombing to  be a combatant. That is an amazing standard that shares an ugly synergy with the sort of broad-swath logic that we see employed in Stop and Frisk,  with NYPD national spy network, with the killer of Trayvon Martin.
Policy is informed by the morality of a country. I think the repercussions of this unending era of death by silver bird will be profound.

It’s amazing how little discussion, really, there has been about this escalating policy.

To be clear: This isn’t an attack on Obama per se. While there are some political incentives for a Democrat, in particular, to be seen as aggressive, there’s no reason to think that the policy would be radically different if President Bush were still in office or if John McCain had won in 2008. Or that a President Romney would alter course. There seems to be a bipartisan consensus at the elite level that taking out possible bad guys via drone strikes is a no-brainer, since it comes at little risk to American troops and is relatively cheap. There’s been some pushback on the strategic wisdom of the policy from foreign policy wonks, myself included (see, for example, “Why the Obama Administration’s Drone War May Soon Reach a Tipping Point,” in The New Republic). But the public at large seems completely unconcerned.

While direct presidential involvement in targeting would seem to ratchet up the caution level, the threshold seems to be rather low. But, of course, we really don’t know because presidents have taken this sort of decision onto themselves and decided that neither the public nor even Congress has a right to know when, why, or how they’re making them.

In theory, Hayden is quite right when he says “Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a D.O.J. safe.” In reality, though, ours does. And it’s not all that clear that it would matter even if the memos were posted for all to see. The American people seem willing to put up with pretty much anything so long as it’s done in the name of “security.”

*Which Matt Duss flagged via Twitter.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    No. We don’t care. As long as ” it comes at little risk to American troops and is relatively cheap” we won’t.

    This is known as “foreign policy realism”. Also, when the people whose families or neighbors we’ve been killing with drones come over here and blow up a building, we’ll be surprised.

  2. Hello World! says:

    Agreed, this is disturbing and has no place in a democratic republic. Republcs are based ona trial by peers, end of story.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    F’ yeah I care.
    This to me is one of the biggest disappointments of the Obama Administration.
    And the implications of this are far-reaching…imagine a fool like Romney exercising this sort of power, and a guy like…say Cheney…pulling his puppet-strings (or shaking his Etch-a-Sketch as the case may be).
    I suppose it is commendable that he is paying close attention to the specifics and taking personal responsibility for these decisions. The other side of that coin is Bush or Perry paying near-zero attention to the specifics of who (and why) the State of Texas is executing.
    But let me clear…that by no means excuses this in my mind.
    Security is important…but this is not who we are.

  4. Rob in CT says:

    Yes, I care. I just don’t know what to do about it. I find it depressing, and end up just throwing up my hands and moving on to other things.

    It’s sickening when you have one party that is terrible about this sort of thing, and the party that is supposed to be better is, at best, only marginally so. At best. You can make the argument that it’s worse, because the Dems have normalized the behavior. I dunno, but either way it’s depressing, like I said.

    And yes, I’m aware of the Libertarians and the Greens. When I have the opportunity to vote for them in local contests, I often do. I will probably toss a vote to the Libertarians in the general, despite not being a libertarian. But that doesn’t do much. Ok, so I donate to the ACLU. What else? Shall I march in a protest and be lumped in with DFHs? WHAT?

    Regarding blowback: do you remember when people tried to bring that up in the wake of 9/11? Do you remember the reaction? Holy sheet, Batman. Anyone who so much as referenced US foreign policy in the ME pre-9/11 while discussing 9/11 was branded as a “blame America firster” or worse. That reaction makes discussing this stuff hard. I do it with people anyway, but I’m under no illusions about how many people’s minds I’ve changed (likely zero. Possibly 1 or 2).

  5. Dean Esmay says:

    It is with a strange sense of intellectual whiplash (a term I find myself using a lot of late) that I read about stuff like this. Were Bush doing this, there’s no doubt the howls of protest against him on the left would be loud and vehement; much as I predicted, most of Obama’s supporters were insincere in their concerns about things like this or Guantanamo Bay and all that, and that as soon as he was in office they’d stop worrying about things like this. My cynicism was correct: other than an honorable few, most Democrats don’t care about this and quietly support the President’s policy or at least are content to look the other way.

    I further predict that if Romney should win in November, and he continues these policies (which is highly likely), suddenly many Democrats and those on the nebulous “Left” will again be vehemently opposed to this. It won’t be OK for a Republican to do it, only a Democrat.

    That said, it’s hard not to note Obama’s cynicism. Or to note the oddity here: the President declared the War On Terror over last month. Policies like this used to be used under the rubric of said WOT. Well if that doesn’t exist anymore, then what is this but an open-ended policy of just killing people whenever the President feels it appropriate, and under a veil of secrecy at that?

    Perhaps it has always been so; CIA involvement in foreign affairs during the Cold War was hardly without its morally questionable events. Nevertheless it really should worry us, long-term.

  6. Rob in CT says:

    most of Obama’s supporters were insincere in their concerns about things like this or Guantanamo Bay and all that, and that as soon as he was in office they’d stop worrying about things like this

    True for some. But many are just disillusioned. Remember, an attempt was made to close Gitmo. It failed, because of Congress.

    There is a strong sense that it doesn’t even matter if we vote in people who promise to do what we want on civil liberties/national securities issues, because they will either betray us or be blocked. So sure, many of us are upset. But what’s to be done? Vote for Romney? Please.

    The best thing that could be done is to elect better congresscritters. But that too is an elusive goal.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    I’m personally not very considered about executives making these types of decisions, and being accountable to the American people for their judgment. I would like, however, to have some better sense of the judgement being exercised. In particular, two points in the article:

    “One guy gets knocked off, and the guy’s driver, who’s No. 21, becomes 20?” Mr. [William] Daley said, describing the internal discussion. “At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?”

    Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

    The article paints Obama as a student of Augustine and Aquinas in applying just war theory, but he’s playing definitional games and engaged in burden shifting. I have no problem with the concept of war may unfortunately create civilian casualties, but I do have a problem with denying the existence of civilians unless they prove otherwise. And all for the advantage of getting an anti-American chauffeur?

    The balance here is being struck quite severely.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    @Rob in CT: The NY TImes article points out that Obama screwed up Gitmo because he failed to plan and exercise leadership, to which Congress responded:

    Walking out of the Archives, the president turned to his national security adviser at the time, Gen. James L. Jones, and admitted that he had never devised a plan to persuade Congress to shut down the prison.

    “We’re never going to make that mistake again,” Mr. Obama told the retired Marine general.

    General Jones said the president and his aides had assumed that closing the prison was “a no-brainer — the United States will look good around the world.” The trouble was, he added, “nobody asked, ‘O.K., let’s assume it’s a good idea, how are you going to do this?’ “

    It was not only Mr. Obama’s distaste for legislative backslapping and arm-twisting, but also part of a deeper pattern, said an administration official who has watched him closely: the president seemed to have “a sense that if he sketches a vision, it will happen — without his really having thought through the mechanism by which it will happen.”

  9. Hey Norm says:

    @ Dean Esmay…

    “…most of Obama’s supporters were insincere in their concerns about things like this or Guantanamo Bay and all that, and that as soon as he was in office they’d stop worrying about things like this…”

    Well yeah…except that Obama tried to close Gitmo and was thwarted by Congress. In addition many on the left are not happy about this…not just “an honorable few”. In addition the notion that

    “…the President declared the War On Terror over last month…”

    is simply the far-rights distortion of what was actually said. So…in short… the facts aren’t really in alignment with your ideology.

  10. MBunge says:

    @PD Shaw: “Obama screwed up Gitmo because he failed to plan and exercise leadership”

    Given the flat out hysterical reaction in Congress to closing Gitmo, I sincerely doubt any Presidential leadership initiative would have made a bit of difference.

    Mike

  11. Dean Esmay says:

    Gitmo didn’t close “because of Congress?” I don’t think so. The President has it in his power to release every man in Gitmo with the stroke of a pen. He also has it within his power to send everyone there to other countries.

    The problem with that is the same one that the Bush administration noted: the only countries willing to take them are countries where they’ll likely be killed. Or might wind up rejoining terrorist causes. And in the meantime, not a single state in the Union wants those prisoners moved into their jurisdiction.

    The bottom line is that the President *can* release everyone in Gitmo right now and Congress can’t do anything to stop him. They can put all the money they want into Gitmo and it won’t matter if those men are no longer there, and he can order them out of there any time he wants. He doesn’t do so, and the reasons he gives are the same ones Bush did. I think that reality should be acknowledged.

  12. MBunge says:

    I’ve got my own qualms about drone-killing, but let’s be clear about one thing.

    Is the U.S. still in a state of war or not? Is radial Islamic terrorism in the form of Al-Qaeda and other organizations a serious threat to U.S. national security or not? A lot of this complaining seems to be based in an assumption that the threat is no longer serious enough to warrant the kind of aggressive action being taken by the Obama Administration. That may be a correct assumption, but it needs to stop being an assumption and become a declared position.

    Mike

  13. Rob in CT says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I readily concede that Obama did not do a good job on that. It reminds me of his spat with Netanyahu over (some of) the settlements: I thought he was right on substance, but he hadn’t built up a base of support for his position and, therefore, he got beat rather easily. It’s not enough to be right…

    … though it helps if more people in Congress are also right in the first place and thus don’t need convincing/arm twisting to back the right policy. Which brings me back to my comment about electing better congresscritters.

  14. Rob in CT says:

    By the way: there is one thing that bothers me about all the worry over drones…

    There is no moral difference between a bombing attack executed via drone and a bombing attack executed by a manned aircraft. It’s the same damned thing. The problem is the kill list, and the scope of the WoT. The OMG! drones part is a distraction.

  15. anjin-san says:

    it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

    It’s a difficult question. The buck has to stop somewhere – as it is, apparently it is stopping with the President. Is that not what he gets paid for? Should he sluff it off to a committee or let Biden take care of it? How would things be different if we were attacking with conventional aircraft or tomahawks? People would still be getting blown up, and innocents would still be dying. Should we just give up on talking out terrorist leaders because it is a bloody business?

    During WW2, Germany developed the ability to level a city block by pushing a button. Then we developed the ability to destroy an entire city by pushing a button. Now we can blow up a specific house by pushing a button. Its all killing, and its all terrifying. But it is not surprising. Technology keeps opening these these Pandora’s boxes, and killing and destruction seem to be hardwired into human nature. We do with the tools at hand, as we always have done.

  16. Rob in CT says:

    @MBunge:

    Terrorism is a law enforcement + intelligence problem. War are not at war. We have a problem with some jihadies. For what it’s worth, that’s been my position since 9/11. Unfortunately, that’s the road not taken.

  17. Did you also see that the Obama administration has found a suitably Kafkaesque solution to the inncoent bystander problem? Dying in a drone attack is now, by itself, prima facie proof that you were a terrorist:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/29/drone-attacks-innocent-civilians_n_1554380.html?1338333870

  18. Rob in CT says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Seems to me that’s basically admitting what was already policy. Whenever we bomb something, by drone or not, the people who die are “militants” unless really clear proof to the contrary arises (and even then, we tend to deny deny deny).

    It sucks. I’m just not sure it’s at all new.

  19. CB says:

    mr schuler says it all.

    i also couldnt help but think of LBJ personally planning bombing routes in vietnam. not exactly our finest hour, then or now.

  20. @Rob in CT:

    Oh, it’s not new, but it’s sad they feel comfortable enough to just come out and say it.

  21. neil says:

    It seems like a nothingburger to me. We’ve known for years that the government is doing targeted killings. Targeted implies the existence of a list.

    Frankly, it would be more disturbing if they were doing targeted strikes without a list.

  22. rodney dill says:

    @Dean Esmay: Good to see you drop by.

  23. Console says:

    My problem is mostly that there is no endgame here. This war is forever. The civilian thing is bad but that’s too generic to me. If you don’t want to kill civilians then don’t wage war. You can’t really be angry about collateral damage in one sense but not in another. What there needs to be is a plan to not be at war in the first place. If we can’t even see a way out of this war on terror then of course we are going to find excuses to wage it on our terms.

  24. J-Dub says:

    @neil: They could just choose randomly from the phone book…”Johnson, Navin R… sounds like a typical bastard”

  25. michael reynolds says:

    Just to remind everyone who seems to have forgotten: Obama ran on MORE use of drones. MORE. Not less.

    It was MCCain who attacked Obama on Obama’s threat to use drones to go after AQ in Pakistan.

    So, no, Dean Esmay et al, there is no hypocrisy. I voted for Obama in part because he promised to go after Bin Laden. And when I disagreed vehemently with Mr. Bush it was because he had failed to do what he set out to do: destroy Al Qaeda and kill Bin Laden.

    So, setting aside all that nonsense. . . We have a right and an obligation to take measures to protect the US. In areas where law pertains we should use legal means. If we know there’s a terrorist in France, we work through the French legal system.

    But in large parts of the world there is no law and no real national sovereignty. In those areas we use whatever means necessary. It’s not our fault that Yemen has no real government in much of its territory. We don’t have to throw up our hands and allow AQ a sanctuary just because the people of Yemen cannot get their act together.

    Should our strategy be discussed openly? Um. . . what part of hitting AQ targets in lawless areas is a mystery? Is someone unclear on this? Look! There’s a bad guy, let’s kill the bad guy.

    Do we sometimes create new enemies? Yes. Is that a reason to stop? I don’t think so. What would be the rationale? We have to let AQ attack us because if we stop them they’ll get pissed off and attack us? Hello?

    Yes, there are large issues to consider, and dangers down the road. WE should have those discussions and we should guard against those dangers. In the meanime, we should continue blowing up AQ operatives wherever we find them.

  26. An Interested Party says:

    It won’t be OK for a Republican to do it, only a Democrat.

    Of course that works both ways, like how Republicans in general and the Tea Party crowd in particular weren’t howling about spending and deficits until there was a Democrat in the White House (and Democrats in power in Congress)…apparently all that was ok when Bush, Delay, and the rest of that crowd were doing those things…

    CIA involvement in foreign affairs during the Cold War was hardly without its morally questionable events. Nevertheless it really should worry us, long-term.

    If such events didn’t worry most people during the Cold War it is hardly likely to worry most people now…

  27. Rob in CT says:

    Do we sometimes create new enemies? Yes. Is that a reason to stop? I don’t think so. What would be the rationale?

    That we create more enemies than we are killing, because of the “collateral damage.” Of course, that’s a totally subjective judgment that I cannot prove (and you cannot disprove).

  28. Tom Carter says:

    This begins to feel uncomfortably like the attrition warfare we practiced after Tet 1968. It gives the home team something to cheer about on occasion, but probably creates more terrorists than it eliminates once “the list” degenerates down to the assistant water boy of village XYZ. No matter the stripe of the president calling the shots.

    TC

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @Rob in CT:
    To be utterly cold-blooded about it, a terrorist is a hardcore killer, a soldier. Only a tiny percentage of any population is willing or capable of taking on that, er, lifestyle. So killing a terrorist is unlikely to create two new terrorists. They aren’t all that easily replaceable. If that were the case we’d never win wars, especially wars that kill lots of civilians — WW2, for example. In fact we’re on good terms with Japan and Germany, two countries where we killed one hell of a lot of innocent civilians.

    I don’t really think it’s whack-a-mole with an endless supply of moles. Bin Laden seemed rather upset by the success of our drone attacks, he wasn’t rejoicing. And he was having a very hard time with recruiting. It’s very hard to organize major terrorist attacks when any time you assign a job to a guy he gets blown up on his way out of the meeting.

  30. Rob in CT says:

    I don’t object to whacking jihadis, Michael. Nobody does. That’s not the argument.

    The blowback argument is about whacking the terrorist AND some other people, which riles up their families, friends and wider communities. Likely those folks didn’t particularly care for us beforehand, but now they’ve got a real personal reason that may motivate them to join that tiny group that is motivated to kill. More moles, for whack-a-mole.

    Again, I cannot prove that the downside outweighs the upside of killing the jihadis. I worry that the more bombing we do, the less bang-for-the-buck we’re getting, so to speak. More targets likely means lower value targets, which means the collateral damage is more harmful in comparison.

    Christ, that sounds like a fucking mathematical equation. I feel like I’m channeling Robert McNamara here…

  31. @michael reynolds:

    So basically Colonel Cathcart here thinks we have to right to kill anyone we want without due process because they have no way of making us stop.

  32. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The “kill list” strikes me as too much akin to LBJ picking bomb targets (I would prefer that Panetta and Petraeus be pulling those triggers), but that aside Team Obama’s drone program has been excellent, by far it’s the finest feature of his presidency, and on that basis alone I would make the case that Obama already is the second greatest Democrat president since 1900, save only for Truman.

    It’s not surprising to me that academics and journalists are verklempt about this, but in truth the academe/media cabal is of no consequence out the real world and that’s a good thing.

    As far as Hayden goes, obviously his opinions are worthy of respect and study but here his rationales are far off base and if that quote of his is accurate and in context then he’s being astonishingly naive and historically ignorant too. In strategic matters of war and national security democracy matters very little. Nobody of sound mind would have suggested that FDR consult Congress before offing Yamamoto in that assassination by air attack. Nobody with a functioning cerebrum would have suggested that Truman obtain Senate approval to drop the atomic bombs. Should Lincoln have apologized publicly or received advance Congressional approval for Sherman’s scorched earth policy? Of course not. Give me a break.

    Team Obama is 100% correct to be engaging in this sort of war.

  33. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: But if in your attempt to kill the terrorist you end up taking out ten innocent people, you may, in fact, inspire their families and relations to become terrorists.

    That’s the problem. Especially when you can just push a button 2000 miles away and send a robot to do the job–badly.

    Hell, I think personal assassinations would be more ethical.

  34. @grumpy realist:

    But if in your attempt to kill the terrorist you end up taking out ten innocent people, you may, in fact, inspire their families and relations to become terrorists.

    Even if it didn’t, killing random innocents to get a terrorist (assuming they are actually a terrorist, since the selection process isn’t anywhere near as infalliable as they’d like us to believe) is wrong in and of itself, even if it never comes back to harm us directly.

  35. anjin-san says:

    killing random innocents to get a terrorist is wrong in and of itself, even if it never comes back to harm us directly.

    Perhaps. But what is the alternative? Al-Qaeda has shown it has the will and means to do us great harm. Shall we simply disengage and leave them free to rebuild and plan another attack?

    Innocents always die in war, and it is always wrong. This is a war, it’s just not the kind we grew up on. WW2 provided us with a lot of moral clarity, but what of the countless innocents that were killed when we bombed Germany and Japan?

    I am curious as to what our alternatives are. Granted, the power that drones give us is scary and open to abuse, but so is the power of conventional bombers and strike aircraft.

  36. Rob in CT says:

    A-Q caught us with our pants down once, and killed 3000 people. In a country of 300 million. Yes, it was spectacular and scary and tragic. I was furious. But step back a minute. How much harm was done by that attack (direct harm, not the self-inflicted harm that followed)? What was a proper response to that harm?

    They can’t pull that trick again, because now people on airlines know the drill: the old paradigm of cooperate and be ransomed/released is dead. Yes, they can come up with new tricks (the big worry being getting their grubby paws on a nuke). Yes, we need to try and thwart them. I question the wisdom, however, of bombing in perpetuity.

  37. michael reynolds says:

    @Rob in CT:

    But what you’re missing is the dog that didn’t bark: what would have happened if AQ had managed a second and third attack? Attacks they might well have managed had we not immediately gotten busy denying them real estate and killing their leaders? (Not to mention unintentionally dragging them into Iraq where they destroyed much of their credibility.)

    It doesn’t have to be airliners into buildings. They could have followed up with bombs in malls or sniper attacks or IED’s on American freeways. All of that didn’t happen because we forced them to relocate and we took security measures and we killed them. So in calculating the net effect, don’t forget what might have been.

  38. @anjin-san:

    Perhaps. But what is the alternative? Al-Qaeda has shown it has the will and means to do us great harm. Shall we simply disengage and leave them free to rebuild and plan another attack?

    Innocents always die in war, and it is always wrong. This is a war, it’s just not the kind we grew up on. WW2 provided us with a lot of moral clarity, but what of the countless innocents that were killed when we bombed Germany and Japan?

    How is this difference from Dick Cheney? That’s been my biggest disappointment with the Obama administration, how many Democrats turned out to be neo-cons on foreign policy just because the Unitary Executive is now a D instead of an R.

  39. Rob in CT says:

    what would have happened if AQ had managed a second and third attack?

    A bunch of Americans would have, once again, pissed their pants in terror?

  40. Rob in CT says:

    Ok, ok, that was glib.

    We don’t know if we’ve thwarted a bunch of attacks, Michael. We just don’t. It’s a counterfactual. But here’s what I do know: we’ve suffered thousands of casualties, spent a ton of money, and killed a whole lot of people (some jihadis, some not) in order to prevent further attacks.

    Ok. When does it end? If the only thing preventing attacks is bombing strikes, then we can never stop, can we?

    My position is that we cannot ever be totally safe. There is always going to be the risk of some pyschotic ahole blowing up/shooting/gassing or even nuking people, even if you turn your society into a police state in an attempt to stop it. I agree that “denying them real estate” and targetting their leaders likely thwarted further attacks. However, we’re 11 years in. When does it end?

    I cannot shake the suspicion that we did pretty much what they wanted us to do: we decided to fight some land wars in Asia. We’ve killed lots of Muslims and are complicit to some degree in the deaths of many more. AQs hope is to use that as a recruitment tool. I think we’ve helped them a fair amount on that score, but they’ve also shot themselves in the foot (as you note, in Iraq in particular).

  41. michael reynolds says:

    Ok. When does it end? If the only thing preventing attacks is bombing strikes, then we can never stop, can we?

    If people are going to commit rape and murder when do we stop arresting them? When does it end?

    As long as people want to blow up airliners or whatever, yeah, we have to stop them. Eventually, if we are effective enough, the terrorist tactics will lose some appeal. And the extremist ideologies may change or shift target. People said the cold war would never end, and then it did. They said the IRA war with Britain would never end, then it did. But some wars are long-term affairs. We can’t surrender just because we’re impatient. As wars go, this one is really pretty cheap in terms of both dollars and US lives.

  42. @michael reynolds:

    If people are going to commit rape and murder when do we stop arresting them? When does it end?

    Notice we arrest them, then have a trial to determine whether they’re responsible for the act we’re accusing them of, and only then do we punish them.

    We don’t respond to the rape by shooting everyone within a certain radius of the crime scene.

  43. anjin-san says:

    How is this difference from Dick Cheney?

    That does not answer my question. What are our alternatives?

  44. Carson says:

    “Go ahead. Make my day!”

  45. SteveJ says:

    For whatever reason, there does not seem to be an appreciation of the fact that Conservatives have been fed up with the Republican Party for some time — particularly at the Presidential level. And they were particularly upset with the administration of George W. Bush. And they were upset with BOTH his domestic policy and foreign affairs policy.

    As a result, Republican Presidential candidates have had pitiful electoral returns for over 20 years now — and will continue to experience weakness at the Presidential level as a result.

    If you would like real Conservative analysis regarding the so-called War on Terror, read the writings of General William Odom, an original founder of the Hudson Institute. Or Lawrence Korb — Assistant Secretary of Defense for Ronald Reagan.

    Also, the following web site gives proper Conservative perspectives on current issues. It is what the National Review used to be like when it was run by William F. Buckley Jr.

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/

  46. MBunge says:

    @Stormy Dragon: “Notice we arrest them, then have a trial to determine whether they’re responsible for the act we’re accusing them of, and only then do we punish them.”

    I’ll pay the airfare and hotel expenses if you’d like to fly to any of these places and conduct a citizen’s arrest instead of a drone attack.

    This topic is a great reminder of why liberals spent decades getting the holy hell beat out of them on national security issues.

    Mike

  47. @SteveJ:

    And they were particularly upset with the administration of George W. Bush. And they were upset with BOTH his domestic policy and foreign affairs policy.

    So upset they couldn’t find a single person to run against him in 2004.

  48. Carson says:

    “Release the Kraken!”

  49. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Notice we arrest them, then have a trial to determine whether they’re responsible for the act we’re accusing them of, and only then do we punish them.

    Yes, as we should, wherever we can. But in lawless areas of the world there is no arresting and trying. The incompetence or corruption of local governments around the world does not obligate us to sit passively and wait to be killed. If they had their sh*t together, if they had laws, if they had control over their country we wouldn’t be blowing people up with expensive Hellfire missiles, we’d be calling a tip into local cops.

    I’m sure you’ve noticed we don’t Hellfire anyone in Canada or Japan or Brazil.

  50. FWIW, I don’t like kill lists, and consider them immoral, an evil.

    I could see though, a President approached by advisers who argued that they were the lesser evil, and that the human cost of 9/11 proved that. It is the worst sort of moral calculus, but that doesn’t mean it can be avoided.

    … and I’m not sure the American people are really ready to accept the other deal, that they will send no drones, and accept the higher cost of “principled war.”

  51. SteveJ says:

    Mr. Bunge does not understand the entire landscape of the liberal mentality.

    And he probably doesn’t understand Conservative foreign policy. Unfortunately, that means he has plenty of company in the modern day Republican Party.

    There is a group of Wilsonian liberals who ruined Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. They are not McGovernites. But that does NOT make them right of center. It actually does not even make them to the right of the McGovernites. They use our military in much the same way as the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, ad nauseum down the list.

    And, unbelievably, they now reside in the Republican Party.

    The fact is that Ronald Reagan would never have invaded Iraq, nor would he have had a kill list.

    Nor would Ronald Reagan have created nebulous war aims creating indefinite warfare. A 10 plus year war would have been unimaginable to him.

    It simply is not possible to support Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. You must choose. The current crop support Bush. It is a losing strategy.

  52. Ron Beasley says:

    @john personna: I fear you are right. As a lefty I hate it and think it is unconstitutional and immoral. But a majority of US citizens see it as a painless, for them, solution to a perceived problem. I think they are wrong. Even if one ignores the the morality or constitutionality of the actions the blow back is likely to make us less safe which is true of most of out middle east policy.
    A democratically elected and secular government in Iran was overthrown buy the CIA and MI6 to put their puppet the Shah in place so the profits of Iranian oil would continue to flow into British Petroleum. . How did that work out? Really undesirable blow back has been the result of most Middle East policy since WWII.

  53. @Ron Beasley:

    Blowback is definitely an issue. Keeping the list short, and the strikes few, should help make the argument that “those were bad guys, not people like you.” One hopes that our architects of clandestine war are keeping that in mind, every day.

    Related: I hate those polls that show the average Afghan doesn’t even know why we are in their country. Re. blowback, the main reason we should get out.

  54. SteveJ says:

    Ha! Stormy Dragon writes:

    “And they were particularly upset with the administration of George W. Bush. And they were upset with BOTH his domestic policy and foreign affairs policy.

    “So upset they couldn’t find a single person to run against him in 2004.”

    This is a phony argument. You are assuming Conservatives have pull in the modern day Republican Party. They do not — at least not at the Presidential level. Republicans just are not that interested in Conservative principles. And by Conservative, I mean people seeking truly limited government. Not only was there no Conservative candidate in 2004, there wasn’t one in 2008, nor was there one this year.

  55. anjin-san says:

    The fact is that Ronald Reagan would never have invaded Iraq, nor would he have had a kill list.

    Nor would Ronald Reagan have created nebulous war aims creating indefinite warfare. A 10 plus year war would have been unimaginable to him.

    Well, the Real Ronald Reagan screwed up pretty badly in Lebanon. And he had Iran Contra on his watch. The Real Reagan, not the fantasy superhero the right has deified.

  56. Ron Beasley says:

    @john personna: As a former member of the “architects of clandestine war” club I have zero confidence that they are thinking about blow back. I know these people and the ones who do care end up leaving the club.

  57. SteveJ says:

    @anjin-san

    Ronald Reagan came to the conclusion that he should never have deployed the Marines to Lebanon in the first place.

    A 12 year old child would have doubled down — unable to admit his mistake. Fortunately, Ronald Reagan was an adult.

    It is interesting to note that Reagan realized that a certain group of advisers within his administration, the group of advisers who argued for the Lebanon deployment, was wrong.

    That same group of people was allowed to run rampant in the George W. Bush administration. A still has a stranglehold on modern day Republican Party foreign policy.

  58. michael reynolds says:

    @anjin-san:
    And don’t forget Granada.

  59. michael reynolds says:

    I do not get the moral argument against the drone war in Yemen and Pakistan. Which was the moral war? World War 2 where we unabashedly burned entire cities to the ground? War is hell, as General Sherman pointed out. He also said,

    My aim, then, was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us. Fear is the beginning of wisdom.

    That’s the drone war. We are humbling their pride, following them to their inmost recesses and making them fear us.

    There’s a certain sentimentality about war, and on the part of liberals a desire to deny that it can ever work. Well, the truth is, it works pretty well. Ask Carthage how well it works. What? There is no Carthage? Exactly.

  60. SteveJ says:

    “There’s a certain sentimentality about war, and on the part of liberals a desire to deny that it can ever work.”

    Which liberals are you talking about? The overwhelming history of the Democrat party has been one of Wilsonian Interventionism and a complete disregard for the Constitution.

    Obama continues that tradition.

  61. anjin-san says:

    The overwhelming history of the Democrat party

    The overwhelming history of dittoheads who use the expression “Democrat party” is to gibber like idiots.

  62. anjin-san says:

    @ SteveJ

    Blame the underlings, eh? The buck stops… somewhere.

  63. SteveJ says:

    @anjin-san

    Blame the underlings? The buck stops with the President. In the case of targeted assassinations without due process that means Obama. In the case of the Marine deployment in Lebanon, that means Reagan.

    I don’t see how anything in my comment says otherwise.

    Of course Reagan, unlike Obama, came to grips with the fact he was mistaken.

    Obama strikes me as someone similar in ego to George W. Bush — he doesn’t make mistakes.

  64. anjin-san says:

    targeted assassinations

    Interesting. In my lifetime this country has dropped so many bombs and killed so many people, countless innocents among them, there is no way you could possibly count them all.

    But when Obama actually kills our enemies, the right is pissed.

    Maybe there is a “Justice for Bin Laden” group you could join.

  65. Rob in CT says:

    They use our military in much the same way as the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, ad nauseum down the list.

    And, unbelievably, they now reside in the Republican Party.

    There is some truth to this. Neocons (who don’t just reside in the GOP, but have taken over its FP stance) and Liberal Interventionists look, from my viewpoint, remarkably similar. They both want to change the world through the use of American military power.

    I find myself agreeing with almost everything Dan Larison says. Which is why I maintain that I’m a foreign policy conservative, whereas I’m a liberal on domestic policy. I see a distinction between the two. This may strike you as inconsistent. I think it’s sensible, but of course I would think that, wouldn’t I? 😉

  66. SteveJ says:

    @Rob

    “Neocons and Liberal Interventionists look, from my viewpoint, remarkably similar.”

    They are not just similar. They are the same group. They just like to use different names depending on how they wish to misrepresent themselves.

    And they pursue an international version of Lyndon Johnson’s great society programs that cannot possibly work.

    What annoys me to no end are the excuses they make about military operations like Vietnam and Iraq. They would have you believe that WWII was fought properly — which is why we
    “won”. There were military problems with Vietnam and Iraq — which is why why we “had problems.”

    THIS JUST ISN’T SO.

    Complete military tactical victory was achieved in Vietnam, in very impressive fashion I might add, every bit as much as it was achieved in post war Germany or post war Japan.

    But there was no consolidated entity to turn the land over to. Vietnam was a political tribal area. So you had no loyalty in the army or police forces and you had constant infiltration from within and without. You have the same problem in Iraq. To the extent they have security forces that operate with any degree of cohesiveness, it is a collection of Shiite militias.

    It is not the job of our military to create nation states. You know Japan and Germany used to be tribal areas, in about 700 a.d. or so. They formed into nation states over a period of hundreds of years.

    And a lot or people seem to be completely unaware that Japan and Germany backslid into dictatorships. They had histories of constitutional development, most notably land reform. They are not models for Vietnam, Iraq or the rest of the Middle East.

    Anyone who has read the federalist papers ought to know that creating democracies in places that have no history of property rights is worse than dictatorship. But the liberals insist on doing so nonetheless. I expect this from the liberals. They don’t appreciate the role private property plays in constitutional government. But it’s the last thing I expected to hear from people calling themselves Republicans.

  67. SteveJ says:

    @anjin-san

    “But when Obama actually kills our enemies, the right is pissed.”

    What rubbish. The problem is your blind faith in the Bush/Obama politburo. And your complete disregard for our Constitution.