The leaked DOJ memo outlining the Obama administration’s legal justification for assassinating American born citizens on foreign soil has divided lawmakers in Washington, and the public at large. But the use of the drone strikes generally is actually quite popular, at least according to a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center (via The Washington Times):
"While U.S. drone strikes have faced new scrutiny in recent weeks, a majority of the public continues to support the program. Overall, 56 percent approve of the U.S. conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; just 26 percent say they disapprove," notes a survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
Amazingly enough, the political parties almost agree on this. Almost.
The pollsters found that 68 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats approve of the strikes.
Partisan opinion diverges elsewhere in the survey:
53 percent of Americans overall are concerned the strikes could endanger civilians; 37 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats agree.
32 percent overall are concerned the strikes could lead to retaliation from extremists; 22 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats agree.
Most Americans -- more than half, in fact, according to the poll -- presumably support the program because it allows the U.S. government to kill enemy combatants without risking American lives. But does the program need greater oversight? Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates certainly thinks so:
"And so I think -- I think this idea of being able to execute, in effect, an American citizen, no matter how awful, having some third party being ... having a say in it or perhaps some -- informing the Congress or the intelligence committees or something like that ... I think some check on the ability of the president to do this has merit, as we look to the longer term future."
This sounds reasonable to me. After all, the current policy gives the president of the United States and his top advisors a “license to kill” -- that is to say, the administration can effectively assassinate any American citizen they deem a national security threat to the United States in part because there's no government oversight or accountability whatsoever. If anything, this is precisely what the Founding Fathers feared: concentrated and unchecked power in the hands of one man (or a group of men). Checks and balances and the separation of powers are staples of American democracy. We’d do well to remember that.