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Where is the Left's Uproar Over Obama's Secret Warmongering Drone Policy?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Who would have guessed that one of the most warmongering presidents would be a liberal Democrat who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize? Obama has gotten away with a secret escalating drone war because the left and their fifth column in the media have mostly turned a blind eye, just like they have with Obama's expanded ground war in Afghanistan, not wanting to criticize a fellow leftist in power. Obama is not the pacifist he pretends to be. The executive branch's escalating drone strike program has been taking place in secret now for over 10 years, all ostensibly justified by a war on terror that began on 9/11.


The problem lies not so much in using drones, which avoids the casualties of using U.S. troops, but the lack of any checks and balances on the executive branch. Oliver North made daily headlines and was forced to resign under President Reagan because of the executive branch's unilateral foreign policy of selling arms to Iran and sending the proceeds to Nicaraguan contras. Obama is not facing the same kind of scrutiny. Sadly, even many Republicans in Congress are giving him a free pass. Liberal Republican Lindsey Graham, whose rating from the American Conservative Union in 2011 was only a 75, seems to have no problem with the executive branch unilaterally bypassing Congress.

The Obama administration claims that the September 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act gives the president the power to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against enemies connected to the 9/11 attacks. Yet Obama no longer uses the phrase “war on terror.” Is there an indefinite war that began with 9/11 or not? Obama wants the American public to think there is no longer a war on terror; meanwhile, he secretly continues and expands it. Congress is granted the power by the U.S. Constitution to declare war. If we are not at war, then there needs to be checks and balances between the two branches to conduct foreign policy

Drone strikes increased from 52 drone strikes in Pakistan under Bush to 311 under Obama. The Obama administration ordered an additional 61 others in Somalia and Yemen. The rate of drone strikes in Yemen is accelerating this year, killing at least 24 people since January. It is estimated that 95% of targeted killings since 9/11 have been conducted by drones, an estimated 3,000 casualties. 261 to 891 civilians have died in drone strikes. The drones are launched from the U.S. and secret bases around the world. A new secret drone base was set up in Saudi Arabia and used to kill American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in September 2011. There have been more suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members killed by drones than imprisoned at Guantanomo Bay, yet there is more outrage over Bush setting up Guantanamo Bay – where those captured are still alive – than over Obama's increased drone killings.


Some of these drone strikes have resulted in the deaths of key figures who opposed al-Qaeda and could have been helpful to us. Stanley McChrystal, the retired General who led the Joint Special Operations Command which oversees the military's drone strikes, has raised concerns that the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are increasingly targeting low-level militants who do not present a direct threat to the U.S. The killings may be needlessly stirring up anti-Americanism in those countries.

Juan Williams is one of the few media voices on the left who has exposed the hypocritical lack of outrage over Obama's drone policy. If a Republican president had been discovered secretly increasing drone strikes for years, without Congressional oversight and directed at American citizens, there would be incensed front-page headlines all over the country for months.

The policy gives the president the authority to immediately launch a drone attack against al-Qaeda or its associated forces. There is no oversight by Congress nor restriction against targeting a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. There is no requirement to declare war first. What constitutes an “imminent threat of violence” is left to the discretion of the president and his senior officials. Reason magazine calls the policy a “license to kill.” Former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, says it makes one branch of government the “judge, jury and executioner.” Charles Krauthammer calls Obama a “Drone Warrior” as well as “Obama-slayer” for taking out Osama bin Laden.


The secret drone policy finally started getting a little attention after NBC News Investigative Reporter Michael Isikoff obtained a copy of it and Obama nominated Chief Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan for CIA director. Brennan directed many of the drone attacks over the past few years. The administration has been reluctant to provide Congress with information about the drone attacks, not wanting any Congressional oversight. The Senate Intelligence Committee has yet to be given the full list of countries where drone strikes have taken place.

After intense pressure from Congress, Obama agreed to release a few memos from the Department of Justice. However, critics contend the memos are more to provide legal cover for his actions than reveal anything about the drone strikes. The administration refuses to give the Congressional committee's lawyers and staff access to them.

While it is commendable the administration is trying to avert American casualties by avoiding the ground wars of the Bush administration, it should not be conducting the war on terror in secret without Congressional checks and balances. Hoekstra has it right about what Obama needs to do, “He ought to deliver the message from the president to the Congress that they will share the information and that they will let the Congress do the oversight that is necessary. The threat is real. We need to be firm — and I’m fine with the use of drones. I’m fine with targeting Americans, as long as there is an articulated process and as long as there is a check on the executive branch’s ability to do that the entire war.”


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