Rand Paul declared victory Thursday when his 13-hour filibuster forced Attorney General Eric Holder to answer his question of whether the government can kill by drone an American citizen not engaged in combat on American soil. ("The answer to that question is no," Holder said.) On Fox News, Paul celebrated, literally saying, "Hurray!" John Brennan was confirmed as CIA chief. But Paul's victory is small. His question was quite narrow, a hypothetical about American droning a civilian in Starbucks. But the reason people should be nervous about drones is because of a real thing that is actually happening. Drones ease the expansion of our permanent post-9/11 war into countries that we're not officially at war with. Those countries include Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan.
What’s in a name? Of the several wars that Obama inherited, the war against Al Qaeda is the only one that he has not promised to end. The conflict presents a problem of definition: as long as there are bands of violent Islamic radicals anywhere in the world who find it attractive to call themselves Al Qaeda, a formal state of war may exist between Al Qaeda and America. The Hundred Years War could seem a brief skirmish in comparison.
Paul skillfully got the attention of tweeters and Limbaugh with visions of Obama droning Americans with relatives in the Middle East or "people who like to pay in cash, people who have weatherized ammunition, and more than seven days of food." But even in his post-filibuster victory lap, Paul hinted he had concerns with the larger war on terror. "I think there's some debatable things overseas," he said.
Despite his political skills, you can see Paul struggling to balance what conservative voters want with what the bigger problem with World War Drone. When Paul talked about Anwar al Awlaki, the American killed by drone in Yemen in 2011, he was careful not to sound like a sissy terrorist coddler:
Overseas, my preference with al-Awlaki would be to have a fairly expeditious trial for treason. Not one with multiple appeals. One at the highest court level and then I would do the drone strike after convicting him of treason.
Yes, that makes lots of sense. First a trial in the U.S. criminal justice system that doesn't follow the rules of the U.S. criminal justice system, and then a cool ass-kicking drone. But this is how a Republican senator from Kentucky elected in 2010 has to sell an anti-drone campaign to a guy like Rush Limbaugh. Assert your anti-terrorist bona fides, and then float the idea of drones in the hands of someone even worse than Obama: "I am worried about them doing surveillance without warrants, flying over my farm, watching where I hunt, things like that. Looking at my farmland with the EPA, there's all kinds of potential abuses, but it's not the technology."