Obama and the game of drones
April 24, 2013SCARCELY HAD the smoke cleared from the April 15 atrocity in Boston before President Obama was back playing the game of drones.
Richard Nixon's underlings had more scruples about the use of military force than the liberals around Barack Obama, says Belfast Telegraph columnist Eamonn McCann.
The human detail was horrendous. No one of ordinary sensitivity can have failed to feel a shudder of sorrow and pity at accounts of 8-year-old Martin Richard--killed by the blast as he ran back to his mother and sister after cheering his father over the finishing line.
And there was the second bomb, obviously deliberately intended to kill people hurrying to tend to the injured and dying. "How does anyone become that evil?" asked columnist David Freddoso.
Freddoso, like most Americans and most others, was evidently unaware that follow-up bombing is standard practice in U.S. strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere. The military term is "double-tap."
Since coming to office, Obama has authorized more than 300 drone attacks in Pakistan alone, killing at least 3,000 people, including as many as 1,000 civilians, of whom 176 have been confirmed by aid and human-rights agencies as children.
The U.S. is not at war with Pakistan. So whence comes Obama's legal or constitutional authority to order the bombing of its territory and the killing of its citizens?
A 16-page memo--titled simply The White Paper, and leaked to NBC News in February--sets out the administration's justification for strikes against presumed al-Qaeda operatives abroad, including U.S. citizens, such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, killed by drones in Yemen, in spite of never having been indicted for any crime.
The precedent cited is the Nixon/Kissinger bombing of Cambodia in 1969. But one difference between then and now is that the Cambodia bombing caused consternation within Nixon's administration.
One senior State Department official, William Watts, point-blank refused an order from Kissinger to coordinate information on the effect of the attacks, because he wasn't convinced the action had a sound legal basis. Kissinger told him, "Your views represent the cowardice of the Eastern establishment."
Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis described Watts then "coming towards Kissinger as if to strike him," before turning and walking out of the office. Minutes later, Watts's written resignation was delivered into Kissinger's hand.
Watts was then confronted by Kissinger's top military aide, Alexander Haig, shouting, "You can't resign. You've just had an order from your commander-in-chief." Watts retorted, "F*** you, Al. I just did." Two other Kissinger aides--Anthony Lake and Roger Morris--also quit.
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THE POINT is this: Can anyone imagine any of those smart, plausible, progressive people who surround Obama taking such a principled stance today?
Roger Morris had no compunction back then about publicly declaring that bombing countries with which the U.S. was not at war was criminal and, coming from people who waxed eloquent about the rule of law and the sanctity of life, shamefully hypocritical.
Where are his equivalents today? All too busy, perhaps, finessing their boss's nicely calculated expressions of concern at the three murders in Boston?
It has been a striking feature of Obama's presidency that opposition to his military adventures has mainly come not just from the right, but from some who are regarded as the ridiculous right.
Six weeks ago, Tea Party Republican Rand Paul mounted a 13-hour filibuster in the Senate, delaying the nomination of new CIA chief John Brennan in protest against Obama's refusal to say straight that it would be illegal for the president to order the drone-killing of an American citizen on U.S. soil.
Is this not astonishing? And astonishing that it hasn't sparked hullaballoo? Can Obama not acknowledge in his mind that the family, the friends, the neighbors of adults and children blown to bits by American bombs are likely to be as angered by the cruelty and loss as he has been by the murder of young Martin Richard?
Does it not occur to him that this is among the main reasons for the hatred of the U.S., which drives so much terrorism in today's world?
He is a learned man who has said he loves Shakespeare. Perhaps he should re-read Shylock's words from The Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene I:
...If you prick us, do we not bleed?