Foreign Policy

A View of U.S. Drone Policy from the Ground

Based on some of my discussions with people who tend to support U.S. foreign policy in general and the drone policy in particular, there seems to be a lack of empathy for those who have been victims of errant bombs (I’m told these people “hate us for our freedoms”). I think sometimes we Americans have no idea what it must be like to live anywhere in the third world as opposed to a superpower. It’s difficult for me to imagine what it must be like to live any place the U.S. is hunting terrorists with soldiers or drones. Would I be worried that my friends or family might be killed by mistake?

This isn’t to say that the U.S. should not hunt terrorists, drones or otherwise, but I do think it’s time for a serious debate about when and how drones should be used. The drones in of themselves are not the problem, it’s the drone policy. What is the cost/benefit of using drones in targeting these people? Can this be done without harming innocent bystanders? Are drones being used when less destructive means are available? Is this policy counterproductive in “winning the hearts and minds” of people who might otherwise fight against Islamic fundamentalists?

The video clip below is from the testimony of one individual who has experienced the reality of U.S. drone policy first hand. Despite this, Farea al-Muslimi is otherwise grateful for his experiences with America, Americans, and American generosity. His heart and mind seems to be on the side of America. His testimony offers a perspective we would all do well to consider when thinking about these questions.

Rand Paul on Drones: “Only the Beginning”

Last week, in his historic filibuster, Senator Rand Paul provoked Attorney General Eric Holder to relinquish the right to assassinate American citizens on American soil - a claim previously made in a Department of Justice White Paper. In so doing, we have established the first real boundary for the use of drones in American foreign policy. Senator Paul has since stated the drone debate “isn’t over” and that this victory is “just the beginning.” Senator Paul is pioneering a winning strategy to incrementally advance freedom within a broader liberty movement.

Drones: Legal, Ethical, and Wise?

Since the first armed drone strike in Yemen 2002, the United States has been leveraging the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, signed on September 18, 2001, presumably for use in Afghanistan, to justify the use of drone warfare in numerous countries.  Drones have since been used in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Mali, but mostly in Pakistan, where strikes began in 2004, and accelerated in 2009; with more than 300 strikes, there have been six times more drone strikes in Pakistan under Obama than under Bush.

Ted Cruz Questions Chuck Hagel’s Patriotism

After hours of debate yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmed former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, along strict party lines, with a 14-11 vote.  Hagel is expected to narrowly be confirmed by a full vote in the Senate as soon as Minority Ranking Member Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) says all holds placed on the nomination are cleared.   While reasons such as financial disclosure and – in the case of Senator Graham - information on Benghazi have been given for holding Hagel’s nomination, such holds are essentially due to Hagel’s heterodoxy on foreign policy.

No, don’t skip the drone debate

drones

Erick Erickson, master of the conservative blogging site RedState.com, has just penned a FoxNews column where he says we should just totally skip the drone debate and just kill the terrorists before they kill us. He goes through a series of so-called “justifications” for this terrible idea, before ending with this very chilling conclusion:

Just kill them before they kill us. At some point, we must trust that the president and his advisers, when they see a gathering of Al Qaeda from the watchful eye of a drone, are going to make the right call and use appropriate restraint and appropriate force to keep us safe.

Frankly, it should be American policy that any American collaborating with Al Qaeda is better off dead than alive.  Richard Nixon and Dick Cheney should be proud.

First off, let’s get one thing straight—Richard Nixon and Dick Cheney are not people to celebrate or emulate. Nixon engaged in dirty, underhanded tactics to keep his presidency, tactics which when exposed led to the largest case of political corruption in modern American history. And Cheney, well, he’s just a jerk. A jerk who was beholden to his old company, Halliburton, and was not exactly in line with the Constitution on several issues. Erickson should not be looking to either with praise and approval, but the exact opposite.

The Inexcusable Brennan Hearing

In light of a Department of Justice memo laying out the general rules for assassinating American citizens with drones via a presidential “kill list” - and consequently, without Due Process - it was believed yesterday’s confirmation hearing for John Brennan as Central Intelligence Agency Director, the architect of these strikes, would be contentious.  It sadly was not, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s failure to press him on the assassinations of American citizens is nothing short of inexcusable.

As I stated in a post earlier this week, I did not expect the U.S. Senate to check the power it collectively usurped with the CIA; after all, they had a hand in constructing the legal framework for the extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens.  The precedence set by this policy endangers the checks-and-balances inherent within a typical constitutional republic.

Senate Confirmations: An Opportunity Squandered

President Obama’s foreign policy team is undergoing a makeover, with the nominations of Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State, former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, and the Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan as CIA Director.  All three gentlemen are expected to be confirmed; Kerry already has, Hagel will likely be confirmed (following an abysmal hearing) later this week, and Brennan faces his confirmation hearing this Thursday, which will essentially be the GOP’s final chance to hold Obama accountable for broken national security policies.

The GOP squandered two opportunities to ask proper questions of Kerry and Hagel.  The Kerry confirmation hearing was a jovial affair for one of the first advocates on intervention in the Libyan civil war in 2011, which, by the way, received no congressional authorization.  When Kerry was questioned about congressional authorization, he essentially bragged about his history of support for unilateral Executive action in Grenada, Panama, Kosovo, Bosnia, and yes, Libya.

The Drone Dilemma

Yesterday, I read an article from the Council on Foreign Relations called “Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies.” The opening paragraph read:

Over the last ten years, drones have become a critical tool in the war against terrorist and militant organizations worldwide. Their advantages over other weapons and intelligence systems are well known. They can silently observe an individual, group, or location for hours on end, but take immediate action should a strike opportunity become available—all without putting a pilot at risk. This combination of capabilities is unique and has allowed the United States to decimate the leadership of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and disrupt the activities of many other militant groups.

The paragraph seems to be a wholehearted endorsement of drones. But everyone knows what happens when you start peeling the layers of an onion. What appear to be reasons for drone strikes also happen to be reasons against them.

Real Defense Budget Alternatives

With the “fiscal cliff” behind us, it’s important to remember that in less than two months, the Congress will be dealing with another manufactured crisis: The budget cuts of the 2011 Budget Control Act known as “sequestration.”  The Department of Defense will bear 41% of the prescribed cuts, eliminating an additional $492 billion over 10 years.  Although entitlement spending will also be on the table, the initial fight will be over cuts to the Defense budget.

A new study by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation concludes that the defense budget cuts cannot be taken without altering our overall defense strategy, and that “the department should modify defense strategy to fit the new resource constraints and prepare its course of action sooner rather than later.”

The authors highlight three alternative strategies, which anyone interested in this topic should read and consider.  An accompanying article by the authors states, “Reductions of the magnitude implied by sequestration—some $500 billion over the coming decade—cannot be accommodated without a re-examination of current defense strategy.”

United States is meddling in a Civil War

Before Christmas, amid the drama of the fiscal cliff, and before the horrible shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama announced that our government would recognize the Syrian opposition as the legitimate representative of the country’s people, stating:

“The Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, and is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime.”


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