I grew up in the 1970's, a time when a lot of Americans post-Vietnam were questioning the value, even the sanity, of war. Opinions were certainly split on the subject, but one thing I remember is that the concept of "punitive bombing" was widely mocked and disdained. Which is why I find it amazing to see bipartisan, multi-country support for exactly this tired old idea as applied to Syria. Has bombing ever done anything but radicalize the bombed civilian population against the bombers? The reaction to the London Blitz was not to have the English suddenly decide that they had been wrong in supporting Poland. Nor did Germans or Japanese generally reprimand their leaders for the past policies as as result of our firebombing Tokyo or Dresden. Or look at drone strikes in Afghanistan -- do you get the sense anyone there is saying, "Boy, have we ever been taught a lesson."
In the comments, readers are welcome to contribute examples of countries who "learned their lesson" from punitive air strikes and changed their behavior.
PS- Apparently the reason we "must" have at least air strikes is that we have established a policy that we will "do something" if countries use chemical weapons. And if we don't have air strikes, the world will think we are weak, right? But the problem is that this logic never ends. If the country then ignores our air strikes and behaves as before, or perhaps performs an FU of their own by using chemical weapons openly, then what? Aren't we obligated to do something more drastic, else the world will think we are weak?
Barack Obama is the worst possible thing that could have happened for civil liberties in this country. Not necessarily because he promotes the worst possible policies -- As bad as he has been (drone strikes, domestic spying, aggressive prosecuting of whistle blowers, indefinite detentions, executive orders, arbitrarily ignoring legislation, cutting myriad special favors, and overturning the rule of law in the auto bankruptcies), I could imagine others being worse (Lindsey Graham -- eek!).
But Obama is the worst because he is beloved almost unconditionally by the very factions who are the natural defenders on the Left of civil liberties and opponents of creeping (non-economic) state control. With all this insane cr*p coming from Obama, the opposition one would expect to these policies has been slow and muted. The anti-war movement, for example, effectively dissolved once George Bush was in office -- the ACLU and a few others continue to public reports on civilian drone deaths but the stories don't make the front page now that Obama is President. Only recently, with the press itself under attack, has anyone woken up, but even with recent revelations about the NSA and harassing leakers, the last press conference was still dominated by softballs everyone in the room would have been embarrassed to have asked George Bush.
The Left seems to believe that this is all OK as long as their guy wields the power, but that cannot last forever. And you can be damn sure that neither President Hillary or the next Republican in the White House is going to eschew or reverse the precedents established by Obama. We have to end them right now, or we are stuck with them forever. It may be too late already.
** The title refers to the idea that only Nixon, an anti-communist Republican, could have opened up relations with Communist China in the early 1970's and defused opposition to the move by the Right, the natural opponents of such a move at the time. A President McGovern would have been skewered. In the same way, Republican President Bush was rightly attacked whole-heartedly by the Left for intrusions on civil liberties and military activities. On the other hand, having these same type of actions taken -- really much worse actions -- taken by a Liberal President has mostly diffused the opposition.
President Obama argued that he should be trusted with the (in the US at least) nearly unprecedented power to order anyone he wants killed -- military or civilian, American or foreign-born -- sending a drone after them. He claimed to have this really detailed and careful process -- heck, they even had a spreadsheet.
Most of us expressed skepticism, and several folks in the know have expressed fear that, as with most such powers, its use has been creeping from an extraordinary measure against uniquely qualified targets to an almost casual use against rank and file targets. Turns out this fear was justified:
The CIA did not always know who it was targeting and killing in drone strikes in Pakistan over a 14-month period, an NBC News review of classified intelligence reports shows.
About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as "other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.
The uncertainty appears to arise from the use of so-called “signature” strikes to eliminate suspected terrorists -- picking targets based in part on their behavior and associates. A former White House official said the U.S. sometimes executes people based on “circumstantial evidence.”
Not sure this even requires further comment.
Scott Lemieux, via Kevin Drum, argues that people are getting way too worked up about the targeted killing memo. Everything's fine"
Much of the coverage of the memo, including Isikoff's story, focuses on the justifications offered by the Obama administration for killing American citizens, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan (two alleged Al Qaeda operatives killed by a 2011 airstrike in Yemen.) In some respects, this focus is misplaced. If military action is truly justified, then it can be exercised against American citizens (an American fighting for the Nazis on the battlefield would not have been entitled to due process.) Conversely, if military action is not justified, extrajudicial killings of non-Americans should hardly be less disturbing than the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen. The crucial question is whether the safeguards that determine when military action is justified are adequate
As I wrote in his comments section to this:
There is an immense chasm of difference between killing an American on the battlefield dressed in a Luftwaffe uniform in the Battle of the Bulge and authorizing assassination of American civilians without any sort of due process (Please don't tell me that presidential conferences and an excel spreadsheet constitute due process). The donning of an enemy uniform is a sort of admission of guilt, to which there is no parallel here. A better comparison would be: Would it have been right for FDR to have, say, Charles Lindberg killed for supporting the nazis and nazi-style eugenics? How about having a Congressman killed who refused to fund the war on terror - after all, there are plenty of people who would argue that person is abetting terrorism and appeasing Al Qaeda by not voting for the funds.
Before the election, when asked to post possible reasons to vote for Romney, the best one I could think of was that at least under a President Romney, the natural opponents on the Left of targeted killing and drone strikes and warrant-less wiretapping and prosecuting whistle-blowers under treason laws would find their voice, rather than remaining on the sidelines in fear of hurting "their guy" in the White House.
By the way, I know this puts me out of the mainstream, but Presidential targeted killing and drone strikes on civilian targets bothers me whether or not Americans are targeted. I don't accept the implicit notion that "foreigners" have fewer due process rights than Americans vis a vis our government. I believe the flaw goes all the way back to the AUMF that was directed against a multinational civilian organization rather against a country and its uniformed military. I don't believe this is even a valid definition of war, but even if it were, there is no way the traditional rules of war can apply to such a conflict. But here we are, still trying to apply the old rules of war, and it is amazing to me to see denizens of the Left leading us down this slippery slope.
Update: As usual, Glenn Greenwald seems to have the definitive editorial on the targeted killing memo. It is outstanding, top to bottom. Read it, particularly if you are on the fence about this.
Obama Secretary of State John Kerry, in his famous Winter Solider remarks to Congress about the Vietnam War:
... it seems the Government of this country is more concerned with the legality of where men sleep than it is with the legality of where they drop bombs.
Obama Spokeman Jay Carney, today:
these [drone] strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise
Remember, Jay Carney is talking about the President's claimed right to bomb US citizens, as well as anyone else he thinks (but can't necessarily prove in a court) might kind of sort of have something to do with a terrorist group. And civilian casualties, so much a part of Kerry's concerns back in the 1970's? They are just asking for it.
Anyway, I have not had a chance to digest the Administration's white paper on targeted killing (I can't even believe I am writing that phrase -- our Constitution specifically banned bills of attainder but now the executive claims the ability to kill at whim). Jacob Sullum has some thoughts at the link. I will write more if and when I have a chance to read it, but I am sure I will find it horrifying.