By fighting terrorism with covert CIA actions, President Obama deprives us of the ability to meaningfully evaluate American foreign policy.
The War in Iraq is mostly over. We're drawing down forces in Afghanistan. Barring an unexpected terrorist attack or another Libya-style troop deployment, Election 2012 will proceed in a world where the War on Terrorism is being waged by intelligence agencies making drone strikes in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and one in which we may be taking covert action inside Iran too.
In others words, much of American foreign policy will be a state secret.
Think about what that means for democracy.
The Iraq War was a major campaign issue in 2004 and 2006. President Obama owes his victory in 2008 partly to the fact that he opposed it, persuaded voters he'd exercise better judgment if faced with a "3 a.m. phone call," and vowed to double down on winning the War in Afghanistan.
But in 2012, Americans won't benefit from as freewheeling a debate about the War on Terror, nor will we be afforded the opportunity to make as informed a judgment about how it is being waged. There are no images from the front, reporters embedded with troops, or generals hauled before Congress. There are, rather, an unknown number of drone strikes and other covert activity in an unknown number of countries, where an unknown number of people have been killed based on secret evidence that may or may not be required to meet an unknown standard. Whether we are trying to kill militants in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, or perhaps assassinating nuclear scientists in Iran, official secrecy makes robust civic debate impossible.