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Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in International, Law, Politics, Society | 43 comments

Liberals Hammered For Supporting Drone Policy

If you’re a liberal or an Obama supporter don’t expect a pass when you attempt to justify or support the administration’s drone policy. Not only are you under attack, but the issue is also being used to shine the images of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney retrospectively.

When Rich Lowry, Editor of National Review, wrote an opinion piece for today’s Politico, the editors of Politico pimped the piece with the front page tease “The left was furious at Bush for waterboarding but accepts Obama’s drones.” In the piece called Cheney’s Revenge , Lowry writes,

The left is still furious that the Bush administration waterboarded three captured terrorists in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet, with a few exceptions, it has blithely accepted the Obama administration’s extrajudicial assassination policy that has killed about 1,000 times as many people.

During the Bush years, a small army of former Democratic officials, law professors, op-ed writers and bloggers blasted the Bush administration as dangerous and un-American for asserting the executive branch’s war powers in the fight against Al Qaeda, aka “trampling the Constitution.”

Move over to the UK Guardian and Glenn Greenwald’s piece , where he says, in part,

The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.

What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch – with no checks or oversight of any kind – but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president’s underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president – at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as “Terror Tuesday” – then chooses from “baseball cards” and decrees in total secrecy who should die.

Then there’s Jim Treacher’s opinion with the unsubtle title “It’s ok to pour water on a terrorist’s face if it’s dropped from an unmanned drone” which comes to us from the Daily Caller .

Here is part of Treacher’s take on liberals who support the drone program:

Water on the face: “You monsters. It’s the end of the republic!”

Hellfire missile in the face: “Whatever you think is best, Barry.”

For what it’s worth, [Treacher’s] okay with both waterboarding and taking out terrorists with drone strikes, no matter where they were born. But then, I’m not the one who thinks it all depends on whether or not Bush did it. It’s almost as if lefties don’t really believe the things they harangue the rest of us about. It’s almost as if their only principle is obtaining and maintaining power.

The above is just a sampling. Best guess: This is just the beginning. See e.g. Kathleen McKinley’s piece just posted here at TMV.

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  • ShannonLeee

    again, apples and orange.

    any idiot should understand the different between explicit premeditated torture and accidental collateral damage, or weighted collateral damage…which is a very dark grey area, should rarely happen.

  • Stephen S

    The article would be more helpful if the author explained to whom precisely he is referring. Simply quoting right-wing idealogues like Lowry and Treacher doesn’t provide a very convincing case that liberals have been inconsistent on these issues. Most of the writing on this topic at the left-leaning sites that I occassionally follow – DailyKos, Digby, Juan Cole, for instance – have been quite critical of Obama on this issue as have all of my friends whom I would catagorize as liberal.

  • StephenS,

    I agree with your critique. The crux of this article was simply to point out how this policy, and support for this policy, is or will be used against liberals/democrats/those on the left who support and try to rationalize the policy. As recently as yesterday, I personally criticized the drone policy in what most would probably consider an “attack from the left” though I do not consider myself a lefty in general.


  • ShannonLeee

    oh, and I wasn’t referring to you tidbits 🙂 I know you were just quoting said idiots.

  • Yeah, I know, ShannonLeee, but thanks for saying it.


  • SteveK

    As an admittedly proud progressive liberal who supported President Obama both in ’08 and in ’12 I’m both against and ashamed of what ‘appears’ to be the US Drone Policy.

    Hopefully a congressional investigation (and oversight) into what is and is not allowed will a) bring out the facts into what US Policy actually is; and, b) bring to a halt any uses determined to be out of line.

    FWIW: Does anyone actually think if Romney were President. Too funny… I had to think for a minute to remember the Republican candidates name.

  • Stephen S


    Thanks for the clarification.

    What confused me was your opening sentence – “… don’t expect a pass when you try to justify or support the administration’s drone policy.” I simply can’t think of any liberals that I know or follow on the net that tries to makes such a justification.

  • zusa1

    “again, apples and orange.
    any idiot should understand the different between explicit premeditated torture and accidental collateral damage, or weighted collateral damage…which is a very dark grey area, should rarely happen.”

    Is it not fair to compare the premeditated actions, the waterboarding of 3 captured terrorists vs. the assassination of US citizens? (ignoring the facts that the waterboarding created no “collateral damage” and the drone strikes do, those that were waterboarded are still living and those who have been assassinated obviously are not). Both are/were justified as a means to fight the war on terror under the cloak of secrecy.

  • KP

    Two observations (not directed at any commentators):

    1) Many liberals/Dems are against the President’s drone program. Many conservatives/Repub were against waterboarding. It would be unfair and inaccurate to assert anything else. Best not to generalize.

    2) Some of those on the right who are critical of the President’s drone program and the liberals/Dems who support it, actually agree with the policy. In other words, it’s a chance to point out perceived hypocrisy, not attack the program. I find that tiresome. It’s like whining.

    Steve, thanks for sharing your views. As well, the humor regarding Romney’s name. He is fading fast. Thirty years from now the trivia question “who ran against Obama for his second term” will stump a lot of people!

  • SteveK

    Is it not fair to compare the premeditated actions, the waterboarding of 3 captured terrorists vs. the assassination of US citizens? (ignoring the facts that the waterboarding created no “collateral damage” and the drone strikes do, those that were waterboarded are still living and those who have been assassinated obviously are not).

    Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there still are those trying to justify water-boarding (premeditated torture)… As long as it’s us (US) doing it of course. If “THEY” were doing it, it would naturally fall into the category of torture but we all know how “THEY” are.

    But I am.

  • zusa1

    SteveK, My comments were not meant to justify either action, merely to try and understand the apples and oranges distinction. Why is one ok and the other not. I can see from your comments that you feel neither is ok.

  • Stephen S


    Yes, this issue would seem to be one upon which the left and right could agree and even work together for change. It always seemed ironic to me that many righties who are inherently skeptical of the ability of government to address problmes efficaciously are often fine with ceding almost unlimited power to the executive branch with regard to who should be tortured or assasinated.

  • SteveK

    zusai, Sorry if I came on strong but, though I’m against both torture and ‘what appears’ to be US policy regarding drones, I see comparing them as misleading… Apples and oranges. Why? Because, though I could never condone torture (water-boarding etc.), I can see a place in the US Military ‘Big Picture’ for drones.

    Drones, unlike torture, are not inherently immoral or evil… They are tools, like a jeep, a tank, or a battleship. It’s up to the Pentagon, with direction from the Executive and Legislative branches, to adopt policies that assure they won’t become immoral or evil.

  • zusa1

    SteveK, It isn’t the drones that make the proper comparison, it is the assassinations….actions compared to actions. (and don’t worry about coming on too strong…I’m sure you’ve read a few of my posts 🙂 )

  • dduck

    Agree with KP, good points.

  • sheknows

    I think KP has a very good point from a political view.
    While both the right and the left decry the use of drones ( sometimes) they both agree it is a real money saver. Pentagon has invested in their use quite heavily to save major bucks. And we are not alone.
    UAV’s have been around since WWI, and they are here to stay whether we like it or not. They will only get more efficient in time. The moral issue is one that can only be resolved with better operators and more accurate systems.
    UAV’s also have a humanitarian capacity as well. They locate missing personnel, planes etc, monitor environmental conditions, and have been used to put out huge forest fires. The consensus of government opinions is that UAV’s save lives and money, and are the future of warfare. Right or left, everyone needs to face up to a worldwide truth. Stop blaming one and other for an inevitable change.
    This is what is happening, this is what HAS been happening and this is what will continue to happen. It is projected that over 30% of all military will be UAV in the next 15 years and that percentage will only rise with technological improvements.

  • No one should agree with this “tactic”, regardless of your affiliation. There’s more…

  • sheknows is correct.

    And as the prevalence of drones increases so will the availability to other nations and interests. Iran has downed a drone. How long before they duplicate it? Or North Korea – never shy about selling to others to prop up its forever dismal economy? How long before they are in the hands of terrorists, like shoulder held rocket launchers? And how long before they can reach our shores from sympathetic nations (Cuba?) or ungoverned nations or those in governance distress (Haiti?).

    How long before they can be used to terrorize, and kill us right here in our homeland? And how many of “them” will want to kill us with their drones because of what we have done to them with ours? And if they can’t reach our shores, how do we protect our embassies and counsulates and foreign bases and the personnel within them?

    How long before we begin to reap what we have sown? And what will we do about it when the reaping begins? Find new ways to kill more of them than they can kill of us until they catch up on that technology too? Never ending escalation is not the answer, at least it doesn’t seem like that will work to me. Someone talk me down; tell me how I’m wrong. Please.

  • KP

    “How long before we have reaped what we have sown.” “Someone talk me down; tell me how I’m wrong. Please.”

    On the flip side, some believe those targeted may be reaping what they have sown. Since this is a grey area and I won’t spend readers time here discussing it.

    I do think we were developing drones used today in the 80s. Similar to other tactical aircraft. Some of our ships are from the forties. My view is that combating drones will be like swatting down big fat flies by the time those who wish to do us harm have perfected the technology. We are decades ahead. We have been for decades. It seems prudent to limit exploitation of the advantage we have where possible and to maintain the advantage at significant cost.

  • dduck

    KP, I bet we will be buying our drones from China in the near future. Hopefully we can keep the lead for awhile on the software/optics/communication systems. But after awhile, we will need those big fly swatters and then I would be wary being a small plane owner. Zapp. 🙂

  • KP

    G’Day, mate. Good onya. I was once riding my bike up a steep mountain toward Jindabyn, Australia. It is the highest settlement of the sort in Australia and a ski resort in the winter. That day it was 120 degrees F. The flies were so big and we were so challenged that they could fly faster than we could ride. And they could nibble on us. And we couldn’t remove a hand from our bars and stay upright. We all spit the dummie. That’s how I see drones in the future. Aw-strine flies!

  • SteveK

    That’s how I see drones in the future. Aw-strine flies!

    For more information regarding aerostatic defensive micro-machines of the future I recommend “The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson”… The Audio-Book is even better.


  • sheknows

    Elijah, when the drones start coming, they won’t be because of what we have done, but because of what they can do, and perhaps always wanted to do. Please don’t ever forget, it was OUR twin towers in 9-11.
    I suspect we have used drones for quite a awhile but it was always “classified”. Obama is not the first administration, knowing the long history of these machines, to use them for surveliiance OR attack.
    Just heard on the news
    They are now calling for a congressional investigation into the innocent lives problem to see how this can be solved. The first step is honesty, and they have not been honest supposedly due to “classified” information.

  • We may simply be destined to disagree on this, sheknows. Saying “They started it” doesn’t instruct in how to end it. And if we don’t end it, the results will be dangerous, bloody and an ongoing experience we should not have to suffer as a people. For all of KP’s bravado, I don’t buy that we will technologically be able to swat drones from the sky like flies. And, if even one drone gets through carrying a dirty bomb? Or, God forbid, more than one?

    Tell me, what is your end game? When does the war on terror end? On what terms? Does every would be terrorist on earth surrender to us? Do we kill every last one? How do we know when the last one is dead? How does it end? Or do we simply escalate and escalate and escalate, pointing at one another and saying “This is why I hate your kind; this is why I want your kind dead; this is why I kill.”

    What is your end game? How does it end?

  • sheknows

    Elijah, I certainly echo your frustration and dissappointment that we live in such a world. The ugly truth I think, is that there IS no end game. There is only continual strife, suspicion,and war-mongering. The way it has always been on this planet and until we have evolved, or managed to destroy ourselves first, will always be. It is the nature of man.
    I am not saying that this is a “you started it first” situation that will escalate out of control . It has always been out of control. How long have we infidels been disliked and hated….since the crusades?? But it is not only us. N Korea hates everyone, China ticks off the rest of Asia, India hates Pakistan,and Isreal is hated by every bordering country. The list goes on.
    As I asked earlier…what would you have us do in such a world? Are we squabbling over the morality of war itself?.. cause you have no argument with me. Are we arguing over the methods of war in the 21st century? What indeed is the endgame?

  • No, I will not accept despair and hopelessness as an answer. There is a generation to follow me, and hopefully others to follow after that. We owe them more than “learn to accept the hopelessness of it all.”

    A little time, and then again he snatch’d
    Utterance thus. – “But cannot I create?
    Cannot I form? Cannot I fashion forth
    Another world, another universe
    To overbear and crumble this to naught?

    Hyperion, Book 1, John Keats

  • KP

    Elijah, you asked to be talked down. I don’t think it fair to poke fun at me for trying. Bravado? I disagree.

    sheknows gets it. There is no end game that is favorable to everyone on earth unless Captain Kirk shows up with the Starship Enterprise. But that wasn’t an endgame was it? It was the ultimate escaltion of force on earth. Then, into other worlds in order to spread “peace”.

    Life’s good on a day to day basis in most of our communities. This is a good time to consider that maybe we can’t fix everything, everywhere on earth (climate change), in other countries or even in America.

    We should try to find the best way forward — but continue to enjoy what is beautiful today. Come inside Elijah.

  • KP

    Steve, interesting link.

  • Thank you for the kind invitation, KP. I decline to come inside. There is no warmth in that for me. Someone needs to stand in the yard and rail against the wind. I find more comfort there.

  • KP

    Sounds like you are most comfortable (not comfortable) where you are and don’t need to be talked down. Like all of us, things could be better. Peace.

  • sheknows

    I do not think of life here on earth as filled with hopelessness and despair, and I certainly do not think you look at it that way either. So…you didn’t get the magical answer to “How can we stop wars?”. Get in line, behind a hundred generations before you.
    We can’t stop wars. We can’t even take a pacifist role in attacks waged against us or our allies. Well…we could, but I am certain even you see we would only invite more aggression. I suppose one could move to Denmark or Switzerland and live in a neutral zone , but someone needs to stay and protect our country. Again, no simple solution.

    In every generation to follow, there will always be people somewhere having this very discussion. They won’t have the answer either. 🙂

  • adelinesdad


    Granted the collateral damage of drone strikes is not intentional, but when it happens repeatedly I don’t think you can continue to call it “accidental”. Clearly they must know there is a possibility of innocent casualties, and after so many strikes they can probably statistically determine how many there will be over time, but the determination is that it’s worth the cost to proceed with the method determined to be (rightly or wrongly) of most efficacy. I’d assume they’ll do their best to minimize the cost as much as possible.

    When torturing someone the goal isn’t to make them miserable. It’s to get information from them. The torture is the unfortunate method determined to be (rightly or wrong) of most efficacy. I assume they’d do their best to use the minimum level of torture that is necessary.

    No, it’s not a perfect comparison, but I think there is a perspective where they are closer than you are giving them credit. On the other hand, to the extent they are different, they are also different in another important aspect: on one hand, a few people we’ve determined to be really bad guys get tortured, and on the other hand a few hundred innocent people get killed and some US citizens are denied their right to due process.

  • Enkindle

    It’s all the same old merry-go-round.

    Instead of finding the obvious reason for agreement here, “drone envy” becomes just another excuse to transform ourselves into hypercritical heathen. Our likenesses on the subject are far more than the differences, but apparently agreement is the very reason we should squabble!

  • adelinesdad

    I’ll weigh in on the despair and hopelessness question.

    I think we live in pretty good times, historically speaking. We, at least in the first world, are probably the safest human beings that have ever lived. We grieve over those we’ve lost, but we, as a people, have survived terrorist attacks and we will probably survive more. If there’s anything we won’t survive, it may be our fear that drives us to compromise our principles to save our own skins. When did our survival become our highest ideal? I’m a wuss like most of us. I’m pretty sure in a life-and-death situation my instincts would tell me to run like mad, screaming like a girl all the way. I only hope I would have the courage and presence of mind to make sure my loved ones are also safe. But I also know there are things worse than death, and we don’t live just to be alive.

    Our government should do what it can to track down terrorists and take reasonable measures to keep us safe, but in the meantime we here at home would do better to stop worrying about some crazy half way around the world and start worrying about how to make our communities a better place and how to help people hurting much more than us all around the world. If the terrorist wish to wreak havoc on the world they have a lot of catching up to do with disease, undernourishment, crime, natural disasters, and accidents. Until then let’s take a deep breath and consider the thought that we probably won’t die of a terrorist attack. And wouldn’t that take some of the wind out of their sails? And maybe we really do have a choice whether we decide to take out innocent civilians as collateral damage to get our target who might someday carry out an attack on us. Would I give up my child to possibly save 100 strangers? I hope to never have to make that decision, but surely I also wouldn’t want to make it for someone else. I’m thinking it’s not such a crazy idea to save the child and take our chances with a clear conscience. Maybe we can’t achieve peace on earth but we can manage with peace in the soul.

  • epiphyte

    Even “The Diamond Age” envisages a future where the death-dealing micro-machines are under the control of a societal defense and/or judicial apparatus of some kind.

    For good or bad there is no reason why this should continue to be the case. Any tech-savvy member of the arduino generation with a serious gripe and a burr up his backside will soon be quite capable of, for example , discharging a downward-pointing 12-gauge shotgun shell after guiding it from a balloon at 50000′ to a point 48 inches above any given cellphone within a 10 mile radius.

    In this context, it seems sensible to suggest that a policy of giving peace a chance is probably a good bet all around…

  • ShannonLeee

    To all, thanks for your comments…
    not to reduce people to animals, but…

    we kill cows for food every day, quick and as painless as possible.
    It is illegal to torture animals…period.

    We view death(murder) and torture in completely different ways.
    We can kill the enemy.
    We cannot torture the enemy.

    Geneva Conventions

  • The_Ohioan

    Back to the original premise that liberals that “try to defend” (read – try to look at in a pragmatic way) will be accused of a double standard while at the same time the Bush/Cheney legacy of state sponsored torture will be given a fresh “shine” (read – see, we told you it was necessary). Anyone who has watched Joe Scarborough the last couple of days knows exactly what that means.

    I can’t count the times he has argued that information from torture led directly to the killing of bin Laden. Didn’t matter how many security mavens denied that, he was told by someone that it was so. And after watching the denial of those facts in the hearings yesterday, I don’t doubt he will say so again.

    Point being – everyone has to look at the evidence they trust and make a decision on that while understanding we may never know everything. The link that I included in another thread

    gives the closest to the ground information I’ve seen. The group linked to by the article is suspect in my eyes for a couple of reasons, but everyone will have to judge for themselves. The Peter Bergan link is a better encapsulation for my money, but unless you are a person involved on the ground you simply do not have the information and must make a judgement based on others information (and their agendas).

    If you think there is not enough care being taken to limit civilian casualties, that is one thing; if you think civilian casualties should prohibit the operations entirely because it is immoral, that is something else again. And the constitutionality of targeting an American is something else yet and shouldn’t be confused with killing civilians while targeting al Qaida leaders.

  • dduck

    A lot of good points on both sides here. I hope that our leaders will be as thoughtful and find a way to be more careful in applying what is just another weapon to kill people as its primary use, but I fear Pandora is out of her box.

  • adelinesdad


    I admit to not knowing if the Geneva conventions say anything specific about the legality of assassinations outside of a war zone that have a high probability* of causing civilian deaths including children, when the claim of imminent danger is not substantiated.

    But I know what the US constitution says about due process for US citizens. TO is right that it is two separate issues. Maybe we can reach an agreement on at least one?

    *The counting of civilian deaths, it seems to me, is not an exact science. My non-expert opinion is the the varying in accounts depends partly on how you define it. If you don’t count any “military aged male” then the count is going to be much lower. This makes sense when you are in a firefight with the enemy. If someone’s shooting at me in a war zone and there’s a guy standing next to him, It’s reasonable to engage both of them assuming they are both the enemy and are both a threat. But that reasoning is not as clear when I am not in danger and the target is not in a war zone.

  • KP


    Great stuff. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker will be lecturing to the faculty at the Salk Institute in La Jolla today. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine. In his just released book titled “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” he points out that we are living in the most preaceful era in history. Our perception is different due to extensive media coverage of the violence that remians. There is a nice Q&A in the San Diego Union Tribune.

  • dduck

    What, media hype, internet regurgitation, blog pillow fights, and now I find out it was more dangerous with nukes pointed all over the U.S. and the Soviet Union. What a bummer.

  • adelinesdad


    Thanks I’ll take a look at his book. I do think the extensive media coverage is partly a result of our heightened sense of injustice and the value of life which is partly a result of our relatively safe world relative to the past. That’s a good thing. The experiment of civilized society has been an unqualified success. So the abhorrence of violence is good but we need to keep the panic in perspective and approach the problem with a rational view of its magnitude.

  • ShannonLeee

    thanks for your response. You bring up an area that is of serious concern.

    When torturing someone the goal isn’t to make them miserable. It’s to get information from them. The torture is the unfortunate method determined to be (rightly or wrong) of most efficacy. I assume they’d do their best to use the minimum level of torture that is necessary.

    While I agree that intent is important, I think it is generally understood that torture for any reason is both inefficient and illegal. Purposefully targeting civilians is also illegal. Accidentally killing civilians or targeting a military target with a high probability of civilian death is a grey area that deserves serious oversight.

    I will still take those murders over the US capability to mass-murder on a grand scale when provoked.

    But I know what the US constitution says about due process for US citizens. TO is right that it is two separate issues. Maybe we can reach an agreement on at least one?

    I do struggle with this one. I can concede that my emotions probably rule my opinion more than the rule of law.

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