You did notice that the President avoided using the word “drone” last night, didn’t you? While there was verbiage about “no one taking his word” for certain national security activities, actually uttering “drone” would have jarred the primary thrust of the night. That would be: Squeezing Republicans into an ever-tighter corner from which their only option is to actually put their names on a vote, yea or nay, on dozens of ideas that make abundantly good sense to a majority of the public.
The drone controversy flared up again last week at a news conference Attorney General Eric Holder staged to discuss … at long, long last … actual legal action against the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s for cooking data that enabled the giant banks to foist flagrantly crap mortgages as super deals for their customers. Given a choice, I’d demand for the most avid, intense media attention to be devoted to the Standard & Poor matter, given the urgent need to stop our financial cowboys from getting all likkered up again on bonus money and blasting the hell out of main street.
But Standard & Poor is numbers. Bankers are (or were) dull. Drones are sci-fi, hi-techy and morbidly sexy. What do you think will better hold a TV audience?
Clearly, even Obama knows he has to come up with a legal framework for drone strikes more coherent than what he has now. But he also knows the public isn’t much concerned about the rights of homicidal citizen-fanatics (or even fanatics’ relatives) erased by a thunderbolt out of the blue. Broadly speaking, the attitude is, “It’s their cost of doing business.”
What the general population does and doesn’t care about, or can’t be bothered to think about at a given moment is never a good criteria for judicial attention. But it certainly is a political reality, that in this case gives Obama quite a bit of time before handing a non-policy off to his successor.
Obama also seems to know that his most serious opposition on this one is with his most ardently liberal base. The irony here — just guessing now — is that many of that crowd, like myself, are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt they never would give a Republican, especially if the next Republican is anywhere close to as reckless and inept as Dick Cheney, who threw back his crypt stone a couple days ago almost as if he wanted to remind people of what real untrustworthiness looks like. It’s a raw double standard, no doubt about it.
I have no idea at all what the perfect solution is here. But the idea of a FISA-like court seems unwieldy in the extreme, unless the idea is only to ID the target and present the known facts against him in preparation for taking him out whenever he next shows his head. But as the FISA system was gamed by the Bushies on domestic wire taps, (simultaneous with their bungling/cooking intelligence on the Iraq invasion, gaming the US Attorneys process, etc.) so we all have to assume it can be gamed by Obama and anyone else holding all the cards of intelligence and doling out only what they need to make their case.
The dilemma for liberals is in the cold assessment of cost-benefit of drone vs. all out “shock and awe” warfare. The legality here is beneath just murky, but drone warfare is both uncharted territory and by all appearances and accounts strategically effective and exponentially cheaper, both financially and diplomatically, than either ground or manned overflight. The influence of the left intelligentsia on this is valuable and should be encouraged, because I suspect it will lead Obama to a develop a more coherent template for attack … juuuuust before he leaves DC.
But until then, i.e. for at least another three years, I can live with his final authority on the button where as I would be shrieking like a banshee if a cynical incompetent like Dick Cheney were calling the shots.