Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rand Paul Stands Up Against Drone Warfare

Wonderful bit of grandstanding yesterday by Rand Paul, a 12-hour old-style filibuster against John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA. We need more debate about the very dangerous powers Bush assumed and Obama has taken up, and maybe Paul's stunt will help get that debate going.

Sadly, the move to stop Brennan will fail, because in America today, violence still has the majority. When Mitch McConnell turned up yesterday afternoon to "lend support" to Paul, the thing degenerated into partisan farce; McConnell and the rest of the Republican leadership have been rock solid for every kind of Presidential power, including drone strikes, and nobody believes they care about the principles Paul was trying to defend.

I don't know what to make of Rand Paul. Sometimes, like yesterday, he stands up for civil liberties as his father did; other times, like in the Hagel hearings, he parrots the Republican line about supporting Israel and being tough on Iran. Why would he oppose Hagel for weakness one week, and oppose Brennan for being too belligerent the next? Seems to me he is trying both to be a Republican insider and to speak for the libertarian causes he favors, and when it comes to foreign policy that leads into a maze or mirrors. If he really wants to run for President, he will have to come down on one side or the other. I hope very much that he comes down on the side of civil rights; that might doom his bid for the nomination, but it would force the other Republicans to take those issues seriously and might make more people aware of the powers our government has claimed.

I think there are powerful forces pushing any President toward secrecy and violence. He is surrounded by people from the intelligence world who tell him he has to "do something" about looming threats; he gets a briefing every day on potential dangers all around the world; part of his job, and the whole job of many of his close advisers, is to monitor threats. Because so much of this is secret, it is hard to air it in the light of day where it might seem less scary. So he feels pressure to act. He has other advisers telling him that he has the right, legally and morally, to use drone strikes, special forces raids, and other clandestine means to strike at "terrorists." Which, again, have to be secret to do any good. Who would renounce those powers? Add to this the personal element, that anyone who becomes President is by definition somebody who enjoys power, and also someone who feels comfortable within the Washington power structure. No, we simply cannot count on any President, no matter how liberal, to give up those powers willingly. A fanatic like Ron Paul might, but the American system is set up to keep any such person from becoming President.

Change in our policies toward secrecy and violence will only come when the people demand them. Look at how quickly our political leaders have "evolved" on gay marriage. When the people were against it, they were against it, but as soon as support crossed 50 percent in the polls, Obama was in favor, and once he won as election a raft of Republicans followed. If the people demand an end to  policies of secret warfare and unending drone strikes, our leaders will evolve. But not until then.

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