What did Rand Paul's Filibuster Mean?
When U.S. Senators are called "Whacko-birds" by Senator John McCain, you really want to know what is going on. What was this big Rand Paul/Ted Cruz filibuster all about last Wednesday?
First, no, it was not about drones -- not primarily. It was about the Obama administration arrogantly refusing to give a straight answer to questions from the U.S. Congress. In the "Fast and Furious" and Benghazi scandals, Eric Holder and Barack Obama got away with murder. But this time, when challenged, Obama backed down.
For a month and a half, the Obama Administration chose to give Rand Paul or Ted Cruz evasive answers. That conspicuous disrespect has been typical from Obama's team. That's what the fight was really about. Sometimes people use proxy issues to fight about a deeper principle.
Some ask "What did the filibuster really accomplish?" This: You will answer questions from Congress, Mr. President. Rand Paul clipped some of Obama's peacock wings. At least for one moment, Obama was forced to treat Congress as equal. Obama has been like the business executive who cuts down the chair legs so you feel shorter sitting across from his desk. A group of Senators refused to be played.
Second, why are guided-missile drones controversial? Proponents of missile drones argue that they are nothing new. The U.S. military and the CIA are doing the same thing they have always done, just with a different weapon. Those engaged in combat against our country have made themselves legitimate targets and forfeited any legal protection.
In World War II, U.S. military leaders launched "Operation Vengeance" to shoot down Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. He was flying near the Solomon Islands far away from any battle. Yamamoto planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. The mission was as much about revenge as any immediate impact it might have on a currently-unfolding battle. But it is still considered a great success as far back as April 18, 1943.
On the other hand, those worried about killer drones insist they are only bothered by a lack of clear standards and rules. Rand Paul insisted that he is in favor of blowing up Al Qaeda terrorists with a drone missile every chance we get. But the Obama Administration's waffling answers revealed that they don't have any clue themselves what the rules are. Those with their finger on the trigger don't have any clear policy.
John McCain and other Rand Paul skeptics were largely arguing "we don't believe you." They suspect Rand Paul of pushing his father Ron Paul's isolationism and undermining the entire drone program wholesale. Giving a Paul prominence, they fear, will spread an anti-military philosophy and weaken our war on terror.
Much ink has been spilled over missile drones killing U.S. citizens. This is a red herring, in this author's opinion. Anyone, U.S. citizen or not, engaged in violence or warfare against our country has chosen by their own initiative and will to enter into hostilities. They have forfeited any legal protection, whether citizens or not. But even then there are still limits.
Skeptics argue that Obama's approach is a genuine change in military policy. Now we are killing people who have suspended hostilities -- at least for the moment. Under Obama, weaponized drones have been used to kill people, including U.S. citizens, who were not at that moment doing anything hostile. Some were sleeping in their bed or eating in a restaurant.
For example, armed drones killed a U.S. citizen, Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, while he was sitting at an outdoor café in Yemen in 2011. He was 16 years old and born in Denver, Colorado. He was not actively involved in warfare. He was not found guilty by any court. Killing a U.S. citizen without due process of law has many concerned.
Convoys of cars leaving meetings with terrorists have been attacked without knowing who was in the cars. Maybe they were only tailors, caterers, or cleaning ladies. We don't know who was in the cars we blew up with missiles. And there was no opportunity given for them to surrender.
But obviously it is very likely that terrorists will resume hostilities again soon. Supporters of missile drones see no difference between a Nazi general who stops for a moment to have dinner or go home for the weekend and a terrorist caught in bed, eating dinner, or traveling in a car. The U.S. has every right to kill those who are engaged in warfare against us. Even way back in World War II, just because a Nazi soldier stopped to take a smoking break didn't mean we lost the authority to kill him. In fact, we often targeted the red glow of the cigarette.
But the problem is this: Missile drones dramatically expand the variety of situations in which we can reach our enemies. Therefore, killer drones now require a little careful thought and some new rules. In fact, targeting a specific individual instead of an army has historically been seen as controversial. Recall that Britain was outraged when Colonial militia selectively targeted British officers in battle rather than just shooting at the enemy army.
So Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul demanded clarification on whether the Obama Administration believes it has the constitutional authority, without due process, to kill American citizens inside the U.S.A. if they are not actively engaged in violence or attack. This would never have become an issue if the attorney general had just offered a clear, straight answer. Holder's waffling grew alarming because it indicated our military doesn't have any clear policy.
The U.S.A. is now part of the new battlefield according to the Obama Administration. So why couldn't that happen here? Nominee for CIA Director John Brennan and Attorney General Eric Holder answered, in effect, that we aren't planning on killing anyone inside the U.S. right now, but we might change our mind later.
Can we shoot missiles at people on the mere speculation that they will resume hostilities later? If we are making an assumption that a person hiding in civilian clothes, blending in with normal life is going to continue warfare in the future, should we have to apply any standards or guidelines? Some deeper thinking wouldn't hurt.
Finally, critics of Rand Paul's filibuster assume that it is nothing more than a value judgment on particular individuals in office. To conservatives, that is irrelevant. Having rules and standards are important no matter who is in office.
Our government did kill a family of U.S. citizens in their own home at Ruby Ridge. The Weavers were breaking several laws and should have been arrested. But they were never given the chance to surrender before snipers killed their mother holding an infant in her arms. So saying "Don't worry, you can trust your government" is not reassuring to some.
The fundamental design of our country is to discourage and restrain temptations for the government to over-step. It is the American way to make sure that abuses are unlikely, not to speculate about the future based on people's expected motives or whom we like and don't like.