When I wake up in the morning and find myself agreeing with U.S. Senator John McCain, and disagreeing with one of my favorite opinion writers, The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, it's time to start looking for that rabbit hole I must have fallen down overnight.
The positive reaction of some otherwise very reliable Progressives to Sen. Rand Paul's March 6th, 13-hour talking filibuster on the Senate floor -- think Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" -- concluding at 12:40 a.m. March 7th, is beyond comprehension. At best, Senator Paul's filibuster should be viewed as nothing more than the world's longest and most-contrived campaign announcement speech in the history of presidential campaign announcements. At worst, it was rampant pandering to and fear-mongering for the already rabid and wild-eyed "we need to arm ourselves to the teeth against our tyrannical government" crowd, thinly veiled as an effort to protect Constitutional rights and freedoms.
Any serious discussion about the U.S. policy of extra-judicial killings of "enemy combatants" must begin with the drone strikes on foreign soil killing U.S. citizens. That's because these have already happened. It's not hypothetical; it's very, very real.
U.S. citizens Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al-Qaeda cleric, and Samir Khan, publisher of "Inspire" magazine, which promoted jihadist views, were killed by the U.S. government in a drone strike in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011. Anwar al-Awlaki's teenage son, Abdulrahman, was subsequently killed on October 14, 2011, in a separate U.S. drone strike in Yemen. Abdulrahman's connections to threats against the United States, other than by being inferred through who his father was, have never been established.
U.S. citizens abroad have no expectation of the U.S. Constitution's assurance of "due process of law" from foreign governments. They should, however, retain such expectations from their own government, despite not being on U.S. soil.
So, if Senator Paul was at all serious about taking on the Constitutional issue of extra-judicial killings (aka "targeted drone strikes"), he should have made the killing of these three U.S. citizens in Yemen by the U.S. government the focus of his filibuster. But he did not. Instead, his focus was primarily on the potential use of deadly force by President Obama, on U.S. soil, against U.S. citizens. Why?
Three reasons: First, taking on the al-Walaki and Samir Kahn extra-judicial killings in Yemen would make Senator Paul look totally weak on the so-called war on terror. That would be pretty much of a non-starter for someone with his eye on a 2016 run for president.
Second, demonizing President Obama is always a good way to raise your visibility among and influence with the Far Right, for whom despising the president is more than a passion: It's their raison d'etre.
Third, and perhaps most-importantly, connecting the dots between the U.S. policy of targeted drone strikes in foreign countries and those who fear -- or at least claim to fear -- a tyrannical domestic government willing to control its citizens by force, is a sure-fire way to make Senator Paul the darling of the Tea Party and Libertarians in a Republican primary race for the party's 2016 nomination.
Senator Paul's 13-hour filibuster rationalized the irrational: Fomenting fears of domestic drone strikes against enemies of the president. This will resonate and become potent ammunition (pun intended) for opponents of proposed, post-Newtown gun control legislation. A proposed assault weapons ban in the U.S. Senate, and various legislative proposal to limit the legal capacity of ammo magazines, will be particularly vulnerable to Senator Paul's filibuster subtext, because a people who legitimately fear their government have a Constitutional right to be well-armed. It is, of course, unclear how an AR-15 with a 100-round magazine would fare against a nearly silent drone armed with laser-targeted rockets but that's beside the point of Senator Paul's filibuster.
Senator Paul's domestic drone strike hypothetical is intentionally disingenuous, intellectually dishonest, and bereft of Constitutional merit. This makes Progressives' embrace of Senator Paul's filibuster impossible to reconcile.
To the extent that Senator Paul's filibuster shined a much-needed light on a troublesome U.S. policy of using deadly force without any judicial restraint, much less advance review, it did so for all the wrong reasons. In so doing, the Paul filibuster did a great disservice to the national conversation about extra-judicial killings that desperately needs to happen. For this reason alone, I'm afraid that Senator McCain is right, and Eugene Robinson is wrong.
Jimmy Stewart is surely rolling in his grave.
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