Mark Davis

In conversations with those opposed to the notion of drone attacks against U.S. citizens, on or away from American soil, I ask a question as a consistency test:

Is your opposition based on a blanket principle that no President should have such power, or is it a spurred by a mistrust of the current administration?

In many cases I get the first answer, so I know I am engaged with a libertarian mindset, which I always respect and often share. We should always take great pause before empowering government to take bold action unilaterally that could result in loss of life or property.

But such examples abound.

We allow police to burst into homes, sometimes without warrants, under certain circumstances. We allow the military even greater latitude, since they are chasing enemy combatants and not street criminals.

But the drone era has sparked a raft of new concerns born of modern warfare. The death by drone of terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki in September 2011 in Yemen was met with some objection by those who argued that he was an American citizen and not an active combatant at the moment of his death.

I consider al-Awlaki’s citizenship to have dissolved the moment he took up arms against the United States. As for his combatant status, our security demands a broad definition. Limiting it to those who are actively aiming a weapon is insufficient.

In al-Awlaki’s case, we had an al Qaeda leader with links to two 9/11 hijackers, spending his days recruiting other Americans to join in his jihadist passions, among them Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan.

Surely we are able to target enemy leaders in wartime. But things get sticky when the prospect arises of an enemy that attracts attention on American soil.

Make the enemy an American citizen in that hypothetical, and you get 13 hours of filibuster the old-fashioned way, unfolding Wednesday afternoon and evening in the Senate.

Watching Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and other Senators I admire greatly, I was taken with the stark phraseology of “killing U.S. citizens on American soil.” Senator Paul made particular and repeated mention of an image involving a drone strike executed during what might be considered terror downtime, or as he put it, “eating dinner” or “with their families.”

Wow. One imagines a Hellfire missile obliterating a scene straight out of Norman Rockwell.

Clarity is elusive amid such imagery. When this issue is boiled down, shelving the hawkish passions of those who want to nuke every terrorist we can find from Pakistan to Peoria, as well as the libertarian scenarios of unwarranted drone strikes blowing away families at Denny’s, here’s the root question: