The GOP is as always a bundle of politically cynical contradictions. Even before Kentucky Senator Rand Paul's half-day-long Senate floor filibuster against President Obama's drone war, various GOP politicos took shots at him for overreaching on national security. He's been lambasted for failing to close Gitmo and his presumed willingness to continue to have the CIA and counterintelligence forces wage overt and covert war in Afghanistan after the final troop withdrawal. This is the same GOP that from the moment Obama announced his presidential candidacy in 2007 did everything possible to tar him as a president that would be a marshmallow on national defense, and more damaging, stand down on Bush's war on terrorism. The attack was the standard page from GOP's playbook to sully Democrats on national security. GOP presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and especially George W. Bush in 2004 in his reelection fight with Democratic presidential foe Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, used this ploy masterfully against their Democratic opponents.
The GOP strategists believed that to peg Obama with the soft-on-terrorism, rank amateur on foreign policy smear would work in 2008. He was a liberal Democrat, untested in foreign policy matters, had made conciliatory remarks about Islam, was a staunch opponent of the Iraq War, and unstated, he was African American. The GOP plan then was simple. Hammer him relentlessly as soft on the war on terrorism and the military, and tar him as a hopelessly greenhorn, novice on foreign policy matters. A novice who the first time a crisis arose would jeopardize America's security and put Americans in harm's way
Polls consistently showed that in just about the only policy area that GOP presidential contender John McCain beat out Obama was in his handling of national security and the terrorism war. The issue had just enough traction to keep McCain competitive for a time. But following Obama's election, in quick succession, Obama went after the Somalian pirates, kept and even expanded the troubling parts of the Bush's Patriot Act that authorized wiretaps and surveillance and even preventative detention. He ratcheted up the Afghan troop numbers, took out bin Laden, and issued tough and secret orders to the CIA to continue to do everything to destroy and disrupt al-Qaeda. He recently strengthened West Coast anti-missile batteries in a tough signal to North Korea. In the 2012 election Obama did such a good job in snatching the GOP's soft-on-terrorism ploy to discredit Democrats from them that he outscored GOP presidential rival Mitt Romney in public ratings on being tougher and more effective in handling the war on terrorism and national security matters.
The GOP with its one surefire weapon political hit weapon gone, has looked even more feeble on foreign policy issues. It then flips the script and latches on to Obama's drone war to paint him as a reckless president who would trample on the rights of Americans and that includes killing them at any hint that they are a terrorist threat, no matter how shaky the proof.
The drones appear to be just the prescribed soft spot for the GOP's attack. There have been three to six times more drone strikes under Obama than under Bush and the strikes do kill, and they have killed thousands. There is much debate and controversy over just how surgically precise the kills are since many of those killed have been civilians. The reports are conflicting on just how many of those that have died have been innocent victims. Some reports put the numbers in the hundreds. The case can and has been made by some Democrats who are rightly troubled by the danger of overreach with a secretive drone war, that targeting of Americans mocks due process and constitutional precepts. Obama's failure to fully disclose how and where the drones are used makes him an even bigger target for attack.
The biggest criticism is that the drone war is no substitute for a comprehensive strategy of diplomacy, goodwill, and firm initiatives to strengthen U.S. partnerships and alliances with allies in the region. The criticisms notwithstanding, a GOP president would have done the same as Obama and launched preemptive strikes, and the likelihood that Paul and the GOP would have characterized him as a civil liberties abuser and a villain is nil.
Obama, like any president, will reach for any weapon that will strengthen national security without the risk of American lives. The constant ramp up of new weapons technology and their capacity to kill especially by robotic control insures that they will be used more frequently. Whether their use is right or morally defensible is a moot point for administrations since ethics and morality will never trump safeguarding the nation's security.
The Obama drone war controversy won't go away. And the GOP's hypocrisy on this in slamming Obama on it won't either.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He also hosts the Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com.