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After the #StandwithRand: A Not-so-anti-drone Bill

Posted on the 09 March 2013 by Kzawadzki @kzawadzki
English: United States Senate candidate , at a...

Sen. Rand Paul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Days after an epic 13-hour filibuster which made even me #StandwithRand, even if fleetingly (one glance at his official website reminded me how on almost everything else, we still disagree, but on this one I thought he was right – or did I?), Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have now drafted a bill to put the White House’s answer about using drones domestically into federal law (no, they can’t, they said).

Their bill includes a definition of drones, what constitutes as U.S. territory according to existing code, and what constitutes as “serious bodily injury” as defined by existing code.

Then, it gets to the prohibition part:

The Federal Government may not use a drone to kill a citizen of the United States who is located in the United States. The prohibition under this subsection shall not apply to an individual who poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to another individual. Nothing in this section section shall be construed to suggest that the Constitution would otherwise allow the killing of a citizen of the United States in the United States without due process of law.

Umm, maybe I’m missing something, here, and maybe it will be revised to include this but this bill seems to me to suggest that the Obama administration‘s use of drones has actually been well within reasonable limitations. After reading that, I’m tempted to say “well, duh!”

After all, as far as I’m aware at least, President Barack Obama’s drone war has been applied exclusively abroad in areas suspected for good reason to harbor terrorists. No, Obama is not lobbing drones willy-nilly here at the family sitting down to enjoy a nice home-cooked meal or the businessman or woman stopping for breakfast and coffee in a cafe. I mean this omits entirely the use of drones on people, and in very rare cases, U.S. citizens, abroad. Which is how the issue first came about after the 2011 assassination by drone of al-Qaida member Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, who was suspected to have masterminded several attempted terror attacks but, get this, was a U.S. citizen.

I mean, while I think that al-Awlaki got what was coming to him, that was the genesis of concerns of the executive using drones to kill American citizens. And critics of President Barack Obama, including many on the left, are concerned over the use of drones to kill in general, no matter if they’re here on U.S. territory or abroad. That’s why when Sen. Paul went off on his 13-hour filibuster this week, he got praise not only from libertarians and Tea Partyers who were already in love with him and his father but also from many of my fellows on the progressive left who suddenly found common cause with a man who’s otherwise our polar opposite.

Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

And all that just for this. Not only does this not demand the clarification and codification of drone policy worldwide but it just completely omits that issue as if it doesn’t exist. That’s simply not satisfactory to the leftists who oppose drone killings on principle. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks lamented the muddled debate on drones and his criticisms of drone warfare included but were not limited to the killing of U.S. citizens.

Furthermore, while, again, I support the idea of codifying our domestic drone policy, by the definition of this bill, the Obama administration hasn’t done anything wrong. So why the intense condemnation of “King Obama,” as Sen. Paul has called our president? What was the point of the epic filibuster?

For all the fearmongering about a dystopian future where our fair democracy accidentally elects a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler (because even when he makes a genuinely passionate and very principled stand even I can agree with, Rand Paul is still Rand Paul and he just has to throw in Hitler references) and demand that we act to prevent such a future nightmare, there is apparently no willingness to even address the actual, existing reality of drone warfare.

As Jon Stewart quipped a few weeks ago (in a clip about Fox News tyranny hysteria in regards to gun control), Republicans of the libertarian Tea Party tinge and on the extreme right are still more apt to warn and sound apocalyptic alarms about a future that is purely hypothetical, instead of dealing with the world and reality as it actually is. Turns out, that’s all Rand Paul was really doing. Invoking phantoms that aren’t there now and quite arguably may never be there (that’s kind of the give-and-take of hypothetical what-if scenarios – it may happen but it also may not happen) rather than addressing an issue that actually exists.

That’s pretty damn sad. Perhaps conservative commentator David Frum was right when he said we shouldn’t #StandwithRand.

Opponents of drone warfare are unlikely to be satisfied by this bill, because while it comes from a good place and does address and limit domestic use, it completely ignores the application of drone warfare abroad. Which, again, is how the administration has been using drones.

Al-Awlaki was a suspected terrorist plotter and known as part of al-Qaida, and even if he didn’t himself build a bomb or press a trigger, he’d been preaching death and destruction upon the country he was on paper a citizen of. And he was not on U.S. soil. He was in Yemen. By the standards of the Paul-Cruz bill put forth today, the Obama administration was well within its bounds to order a drone strike to kill the terrorist.

I happen to think the assassination of al-Awlaki was justified. Perhaps so does Rand Paul. He just didn’t mention that part during his 13-hour filibuster. It wouldn’t fit quite as neatly with his narrative of himself as a constitutional hero and defender of liberty. It makes me cynical about my #StandwithRand earlier this week.

Was it truly something to be proud of, a sign I can give credit across the aisle regardless of party. Or was it simply a moment of absurd naivete, driven more by emotion and less by actual facts and reality? Suddenly, I’m not so sure.

These are questions we might all ask ourselves once the emotion of witnessing a such a rare 13-hour principled stand subsides. They’re also questions pundits might consider before they crown Paul as the one person that can and has united the progressive left I consider myself to be a part of and the libertarian right he flaunts. He is not. At best, it was a one-night #StandwithRand. And for good reason.

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