Taking up the Misplaced Faith in Drone Warfare: An Important Opportunity for Hillary Clinton

06/05/2015 04:27 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

Another day has passed without NSA access to meta-data, and we survive.


Whether it is possible to reconcile the Constitutional guarantees of individual privacy through the expedient of putting Internet service providers between the USG's insatiable demand for ever more sweeping access and stored data, only Ed Snowden likely knows for sure.

The wrangling over the renewal or non-renewal of the Patriot Act unfortunately obscured the open letter from inter-faith leaders challenging President Obama's heavy dependence upon drone strikes as a substitute for a foreign policy addressing, rather than skirting if not undermining, human rights. Formed as an outgrowth of a Princeton conference and report earlier this year, the coalition issued a release about the open letter during the Patriot skirmish highlighting the number of civilians killed by President Obama's drone strikes, the absence of legal authority for those strikes, and the likely boost these presidential actions give to ISIS and other terror recruiting.

It is not surprising that a large number of inter-religious leaders would oppose the repeated use of a practice that kills the innocent. What is surprising is the lack of attention paid to this dubiously justified executive action that invites retaliatory action against the U.S. homeland by terror groups that will inevitably find means to its own make-shift drone weapon. President Obama came to office renouncing the Bush administration's reliance upon the generally worded post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). That loaded weapon sits on the table ready for abuse, as Justice Robert Jackson once feared about Supreme Court decisions giving too great latitude to unilateral presidential or military authority in WWII. It was for this reason, candidate Barack Obama opposed the Bush intervention and occupation of Iraq. The candidate, now president, is undercutting his own principles for which the world community had given him Nobel Prize affirmation. He should reconsider if for no other reason, the long-term wellbeing of his fellow citizens. If unlimited access to everyone's phone records is important to connecting dots, the use of drones that leave innocents, and even a U.S. hostage, dead is a tragic dot so easily connected as to border on the embarrassing.

One fears that President Obama has succumbed to the warmed-over Vietnam analogy that invited the war in Southeast Asia as an expedient means to avoid a cataclysm between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. The pointless killing of the 1960s morphed into the Bush hunt for phantom WMD in 2003 and the unnecessary sacrifice of Iraqi and American life and treasure. Politically, the President points to his promise-keeping reduction of troops and likely accepts drone usage as the lesser cost that permitted our uniformed soldiers to return. As the inter-faith objection to drone warfare makes plain, it is not a lesser cost. The error of thinking, that a nation finds security in the sacrifice of the human rights of others had its embarrassing self-interested proponents in the Bush presidency -- notoriously, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and even in some religious quarters outside government, as in the writing of George Weigel, a Catholic conservative writer whose enduring influence on a church, now under the hopeful openness of Pope Francis, has been the source of speculation in the Catholic periodical, Commonweal.

The back and forth over Weigel and the inter-faith opposition to the president reveal how, without the timely intervention of Hillary Clinton, how far Democrat ideals have been subverted. Secretary Clinton needs to boldly step forward now to challenge the president's unwillingness to fulfill what Obama's earlier principled opposition to Iraq represented: namely, exactly what the inter-religious leaders noted in their letter a few days ago -- the need for "creative strategies, including sustainable humanitarian and development assistance, and policies and programs that address the political, economic and social exclusion that fuel radicalization. Several organizations, many of them religious, are pursuing such strategies around the world."

Mrs. Clinton was relentlessly taken to task by candidate Obama for initially buying into the Bush justification for Iraq. Turnabout is fair play. Unlike some with disproportionate influence in the White House or a few entrenched bureaucratic hangouts at State, Secretary Clinton never wavered, as I saw it (and as noted below I had reason to know) over the importance of inter-faith diplomacy. Why the president chose to involve our military in support of the "Arab spring," at the same time as key staff were losing interest and focus on honoring the inter-religious dialogue he himself called for in Cairo in 2009 remains a mystery. My ambassadorial colleague and friend, the late Chris Stevens, for whom Mrs. Clinton was particularly admiring, was about the business and much in need of a well-informed, religiously-sensitive structure. It is that structure, not the unmanned cowardice of long-range drones, that can help construct the legal and cultural pillars that are necessary prerequisites to a genuine commitment to human rights.

Mrs. Clinton's campaign has been the media's target since day 1. There is unfairness in this, but there is also the hand of those who misled their nation in Iraq and in the weakening of the president's personal resolve to stop supporting the oppression of dictators and expedient stability over the genuine cause of peace. Republican Hawks like Lindsay Graham are wedded to the failed policies, and failed states that resulted. Libertarian "doves" a la Rand Paul are indistinguishable. By contrast, Democrats are not prone generally to similar saber rattling or isolationist error, but they become an unwitting ally when they forsake their principles for the short-term appearance of order. As a dividend to this strategy, Mrs. Clinton can nicely use the "group-think" mistakes of the almost exclusively male decision makers of the past to document the hubris of a "macho" policy that ends up killing women and children by remote control.

When Mrs. Clinton handles the immorality and imprudence of drone warfare, and it is inescapable, so sooner the better, her empathetic and humanitarian efforts to address the thousands of "irregular migrants" can be used to demonstrate the positive influence of drawing upon the individual and localized credibility of faith communities to address the needs of those being detained, for example, after heroically surviving the human trafficking and other piracies that leave so many dear souls to be consumed by the Mediterranean. The Holy Father now in retirement (Benedict XVI) came to Malta where it was my privilege to serve as ambassador and to proudly and earnestly attempt to fulfill what President Obama at one time identified as "the special logic" behind my own appointed responsibilities to set the further foundation for inter-religious dialog. Pope emeritus Benedict discovered, as I did, a tiny nation filled with families who live (not just debate) the social justice mission of the Church in their families. He also took note of the hundreds of migrants being welcomed and assisted by the U.S. embassy there long before Pope Benedict stepped down and the publicly beloved Francis started to reopen the commitment of the Catholic Church to the poor and the specifically pointing to the overlooked plight of the migrant. Mrs. Clinton approved and encouraged our leading diplomatic efforts to do the same, and encouraged our close cooperation with the Jesuit commitment as well as that of other denominations in that region, especially the Scottish Presbyterian church, to migratory need. Because she felt this a matter of basic humanity, the Secretary never trumpeted her efforts to assist the "happy challenge" (in avoidance of using the word "burden" as the Maltese of uncommon kindness -- especially Father Mintoff who runs the John XXIII Peace Lab housing and teaching migrants would) of rescuing especially the migrants launched into the sea by mercenaries. Because of Secretary Clinton's idealism, these populations had their needs better met until additional public notice resulted -- very recently -- in an enormously enhanced EU commitment.


To those who would find collaboration between church and state to be unseemly, even as it is entirely non-coercive and fully Constitutional, let me simply observe in closing that no free democratic republic known to man ever succeeded without this cooperation. Documenting that, here are multiple audiences to engage, and new sources with which to engage them -- including, for example, a slender volume that landed on my desk earlier this week by Maltese writer, Lino Callus, entitled The Family -- The "Bricks" on which Society is Built. Dedicated to Francis, the book plainly restates the truths of the Church in everyman form -- which is both more accessible than my own recent offering from Oxford Press, entitled Secularism, Catholicism, and the Future of Public Life. Edited by Gary Adler at USC's impressive Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, the Oxford volume originated with a public lecture I gave at the University of Southern California that I provocatively styled "Secularism Crucified?"

Benedict XVI and Francis have obvious differences in personality, emphasis and style, but as the book conveys in my dialogue with many U.S. and international scholars, including Bryan Hehir and such international thinkers as Hans Joas, Massimo Franco and Stephen Calleya, who directs the highly regarded school of diplomacy in the Mediterranean, they are equally resistant to the false and freedom-denying secular promise. At heart, and by trained disposition and deliberate choice, Hillary Clinton is a progressive in the cause of freedom -- including freedom of religion, which cannot be confused with the use of faith as either discriminatory weapon or unthinking standardization of belief. As I believe the larger campaign for the presidency in 2016 will reveal, to not appreciate the intellectual and illiberal shallowness of secular demand is to invite the insidious damage of a secularist suppression of personal beliefs that are often the chief motivators in a person's daily life.