President Obama's defenders conveniently ignore all but one of these objections.
Andrew Sullivan -- again claiming, as if it matters, that Obama is morally superior to his predecessor -- says, "As to the drone war, what would Junod have Obama do? The alternatives are either long-term occupation of Jihadist-spawning countries, or a decision to end all military responses to Jihadist terror, or a more focused drone campaign that can minimize civilian casualties while taking out key enemies planning to kill Western and Muslim civilians. I harbor severe worries about the unintended consequences of the drone war, and deeply regret civilian casualties. But there were around 100,000 civilian casualties caused by the Iraq occupation."
I do not concede that America's alternatives are "cause mass casualties by invading foreign countries" or "conduct a widespread assassination program," and find it remarkable that Obama supporters have persuaded themselves that those are the only options available to America.
But say that frequent drone strikes were an imperative. That hypothetical hardly implies that the particular done campaign we are waging is prudent and lawful. Although Sullivan regularly evades this point, a world where drone strikes were imperative would still raise vital questions about the particular way that the drone war ought to be waged.
Should the criteria for being put on a kill list remain secret, or should there be consistent standards that are promulgated and debated? Does the Constitutional guarantee of due process and Article III treason provisions imply a judicial role when American citizens are placed on a kill list, or is the Obama Administration correct that intra-executive branch deliberations can satisfy the requirement of due process? Should the strikes be carried out by the U.S. military or the CIA? In determining how many of the people we kill are innocent civilians, should we presume that all dead males of military age were in fact enemies of the United States?
Most important of all, is it imprudent to give this president and all future presidents the unchecked power to kill in secret? Or does human nature and the framework of checks and balances devised by America's founders suggest that multiple layers of oversight is the wiser course?
The Obama Administration has answered these questions indefensibly, but the president's defenders go right on defending his drone program with the inadequate argument that it is theoretically justified.
"As to the drone war," Sullivan asks, "what would Junod have Obama do?" The essayist is on record with one proposal:
Barack Obama has created the Lethal Presidency by insisting he that
he has been given the power to kill, in secret, anyone who is plotting
against Americans or American interests, even if he or she is an
It will be very difficult to constrain that power, no matter who
is president. But if the Lethal Presidency is going to have any
accountability at all, we should demand that Congress pass a law stating
that if the administration kills an American citizen, it should not be
able to keep all the particulars secret. The administration should be
compelled to say who it killed and why.
I've got my own notions of what I'd have Obama do. If we're presuming a world where a widespread campaign of drone assassinations is a given, I'd have him build various safeguards into the program that limit the unchecked power he now recklessly claims as the executive's right. I'd have him anticipate the sorts of abuses that he worried about as a senator, demonstrating that he damn well understands them. I'd ask him to stop using the secrecy he has created to elevate defenders of his procedures and silence critics who express important misgivings.