Posts tagged ‘Andrew Sullivan’

Moral Hazard in the Drone War

I missed Tom Junod's original article on targeted killing, but his response to Andrew Sullivan's defense of the Obama Administration is terrific:

I did not -- and do not -- condone the use of torture any more than Sullivan does. But the moral risk of torture is not so different from the moral risk of targeted killing. Indeed, the moral risk of torture provides a template for the moral risk of targeted killing. What was introduced as an option of last resort becomes the option of first resort, then the only option. Sullivan always understood that torture was a temptation, and that the day would come when it was applied not in emergency, "ticking-clock" situations, but as a matter of routine. Well, that day has come, only now with targeted killing, where the option of first resort meets the court of no appeal.

Yes, killing is a part of war, and torture isn't. But what if the the kind of militant who was captured and tortured under Bush is the kind of militant who is simply being killed under President Obama? The Obama Administration vigorously denies this, just as it vigorously denies that it is combating terrorism by practicing a policy of extermination against terrorists. But the numbers -- the thousands killed by drone and raid against the single high-value asset captured and interrogated outside the theater of war in Afghanistan -- tell a story that can't simply be shrugged off. Interrogation has been replaced by assassination.

Moreover, I talked to a source familiar with the targeting process who told me that the people involved in the life-or-death decisions of the Obama administration often do not know the credibility of intelligence sources. This was a highly informed and involved source who, when asked the most essential question -- "how good is the intelligence?" -- paused and finally couldn't answer. In fact, when I raised the question of whether those who were once captured are now being killed, the source suggested that it was the wrong question:

"It's not at all clear that we'd be sending our people into Yemen to capture the people we're targeting. But it's not at all clear that we'd be targeting them if the technology wasn't so advanced. What's happening is that we're using the technology to target people we never would have bothered to capture."

Unfortunately, I think targeting killing is here to stay, by the "only Nixon could go to China" logic.  By having a Democrat start this policy, it has avoided a lot of critique from the usual defenders of humanity against arbitrary power, for the simple reason that many of these folks consider Obama to be "on their team."  Just look at Andrew Sullivan, for God sakes, defending the practice.   The Left spent more time criticizing Bush over looting at the Bagdad museum than it has over Obama's targeted killing (Glen Greenwald being a notable exception).  Having set the precedent under Obama, there will be no going back under either party in the future.

Wherein I Agree With Glenn Greenwald

Greenwald on the ability of Presidents to have Americans assassinated:

During the Bush-era torture debates, I was never able to get past my initial incredulity that we were even having a "debate" over whether the President has the authority to torture peopleAndrew Sullivan has responded to some of the questions I posed about his defense of Obama's assassination program, and I realize now that throughout this whole assassination debate, specific legal and factual issues aside, my overarching reaction is quite similar:  I actually can't believe that there is even a "debate" over whether an American President -- without a shred of due process or oversight -- has the power to compile hit lists of American citizens whom he orders the CIA to kill far away from any battlefield.  The notion that the President has such an unconstrained, unchecked power is such a blatant distortion of everything our political system is supposed to be -- such a pure embodiment of the very definition of tyrannical power -- that, no matter how many times I see it, it's still hard for me to believe there are people willing to expressly defend it.

The whole post is an excellent defense of Constitutional protections and limited government.  If only he would treat the government's taking the product of peoples' labor with the same logic.

Why We May Be Stuck With Joe Arpaio

Conor Friedersdorf at Andrew Sullivan's blog has a number of comments from Arizona readers about why, despite all his nuttiness and outright hostility to civil rights, Joe Arpaio just keeps on getting elected here in Phoenix.

One sample:

...Arpaio is media-savvy, and picks his enemies well.  By this I don't mean his foes in county government or in the media, I mean the groups on whom he concentrates the resources of his office.  Last night, as every year about this time, all of the TV stations showed footage from this year's deadbeat dad roundup, along with the smirking Sheriff talking about how terrible it was that kids were going to have a lousy Xmas because these deadbeat dads hadn't been paying child support.  He also goes after animal cruelty cases with a vengeance.  I think he has a finely-tuned sense of which "others' are particularly viewed with scorn by his target supporters, and goes after them with a vengeance.  There is no doubt that many Maricopa county residents feel safer as a result of his policies, but also equally that his policies are never designed to impact negatively those supporters who see themselves as law-abiding (and hence won't ever be in jail), are white (and hence will never be racially profiled), and don't fit into any of the other classes that he has singled out for opprobrium.

On a side topic, one commenter does take this out of context:

But let's not forget we're in a state that effectively voted by referendum NOT to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the 90's

The issue as I remember it was not of honoring Martin Luther King Jr. but of adding another paid holiday for state workers.  As I recall, Republicans readily agreed to a state holiday for MLK as long as government workers gave up one somewhere else on the calendar, so it wasn't about MLK per se but about whether government employees should be allowed an extra paid day off.