At a moment of soaring energy for the Republican Party… after a performance that drew support from not only up-and-coming young GOP stars but also Democrat Ron Wyden and no small number of liberal pundits concerned about civil liberties… with President Obama rocked back on his heels from his second messaging debacle in as many weeks, following the Sequestration Terror… can Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) expect some of his worst criticism to come from fellow Republicans?
First up: Senator Lindsey Graham, who appears near the end of this clip to declare, “The drone program as utilized overseas has made us safer… This idea that we’re going to use a drone to attack American citizens in a cafe in America is ridiculous, and I think the American people need to understand the threat we face.”
The benefits of the drone program overseas are not the topic of conversation, and have absolutely nothing to do with the propriety of using such weapons against American citizens without due process. There are lots of other weapons keeping us safe overseas that shouldn’t be dropped on American citizens without a trial, either. It’s an almost bizarre non sequitur for Graham (and as you’ll see in a moment, John McCain) to hammer that point. Do they worry that we’re going to hurt the drones’ feelings by questioning their cybernetic patriotism, so they have to step up and defend the service records of the robots? Do they think it’s somehow logistically impossible to re-deploy unmanned aerial vehicles from the Middle East to the United States, or build new ones to deploy here?
As for the hypothetical Hellfire missile slamming into a Starbucks, well, sure, that sounds pretty outrageous. So why won’t the Administration simply say that it cannot every happen, and would be illegal? That would have saved Senator Paul a lot of trouble.
Graham also accused Paul’s supporters of political hypocrisy. “To my Republican colleagues, I don’t remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone.” So… that disqualifies all Republicans from ever raising the issue? Including those who were not in Congress when George Bush was President?
Then Graham held up a sign showing the count of Americans killed by al-Qaeda versus those killed by drones, 2,958 to zero. So if the drones kill less than 2,957 people it’s cool? Or is he saying we shouldn’t discuss this at all, until the first coffee shop gets wiped out by a Predator?
Here’s McCain lighting into Paul in the most patronizing and insulting terms: “Calm down, Senator, Mr. Holder is right, even if he doesn’t explain the law very well.” There’s a great sound bite coming from a Republican! Do you suppose we should perhaps consider insisting upon having an Attorney General who can explain the law very well, Senator McCain?
I can offer Senator McCain a tip of the cap for his witticisms about Jane Fonda, but a lot of what he’s saying here is missing the point. How did Hanoi Jane get mixed up in all this? It’s because of a column from Kevin Williamson of National Review, which was quoted by Senator Paul during his filibuster. Williamson was talking about the role of Anwar al-Awlaki as “first and foremost an al-Qaeda propagandist,” rather than an operational planner directly involved in designing and executing terrorist attacks:
If sympathizing with our enemies and propagandizing on their behalf is the equivalent of making war on the country, then the Johnson and Nixon administrations should have bombed every elite college campus in the country during the 1960s. And as satisfying as putting Jane Fonda on a kill list might have been, I do not think that our understanding of the law of war would encourage such a thing, even though she did give priceless aid to the Communist aggressors in Vietnam. Students in Ann Arbor, Mich., were actively and openly raising funds for the Viet Cong throughout the war. Would it have been proper to put them on kill lists? I do not think that it would. There is a difference between sympathizing with our enemies and taking up arms against the country; there is even a difference between actively aiding our enemies and taking up arms against the country, which is why we have treason trials rather than summary execution.
Or, to use another example I’ve seen kicked around the Internet: if drones had been available in the Sixties, would it have been OK to use one against Obama’s mentor, domestic terrorist Bill Ayers? Does the answer change depending on whether the kill list would have been drawn up by the sainted JFK or the demonic Richard Nixon?
Nothing about McCain’s answer suggests he has pondered the questions Williamson asked at any great length, or done Rand Paul the courtesy of acknowledging that he wants a firm answer of “no” to the question, “Can we send a Predator to take out Jane Fonda while she’s sipping a latte in Beverly Hills, without first affording her due process?”
McCain accused Paul of stoking needless fear among the dorm-room libertarian set, a charge echoed by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, who said Paul’s line of questioning “provokes needless fear and detracts attention from the real threats facing the country.”
So, while the old GOP bulls were busy trying to pull defeat from the fires of victory, Rand Paul got that victory. Just a few minutes before this post was written, CNN reported that Attorney General Holder sent a new letter to Paul in the wake of his filibuster:
“It has come to my attention,” the letter states “That you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”
Paul said he was satisfied with the response.
“I’m quite happy with the answer,” the senator from Kentucky said on CNN. “I’m disappointed it took a month and a half and a root canal to get it, but we did get the answer.”
No thanks to Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who are evidently very nervous about these trips to the political dentist.