More than a year ago I wrote about President Obama’s use of drones in the war against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world. I essentially endorsed, with some discomfort, the way the President was handling his job as commander-in-chief relative to his use of drones in general and the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al Awlaki in particular.
Mr. Obama’s incredibly thoughtful speech on Thursday, at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., confirmed by endorsement and took away much of the discomfort.
I don’t know how any fair-minded person, which excludes most of the conservatives you meet on the street, or on cable TV, these days, could have heard the President’s speech and not have come away with a great deal of comfort that he, and not John McCain or Mitt Romney, is our commander-in-chief.
I won’t analyze the entire speech, but I do want to point out a part that addresses what so many liberals and lefties—as well as the usual gaggle of libertarianish Republicans—have been harping on, with some increasing intensity, for quite a while:
For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen — with a drone or with a shotgun — without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.
But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team.
That’s who Anwar Awlaki was. He was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S.-bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack, and his last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil.
I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn’t. And as president, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took him out.
I suggest a careful reading of the entire speech for anyone interested in how our modern military power should be applied these days. It is essentially the President “thinking out loud” about some of these topics, while being resolute on others. (He also handled a Code Pink protester fabulously, granting her the dignity of her position and weaving her into his speech at the end.)
Particularly interesting was his comments on the Authorized Use of Military Force, which was passed on September 14, 2001:
Now, all these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact, in sometimes unintended ways, the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.
The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al-Qaida is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al-Qaida will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.
So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine and ultimately repeal the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands.
Contrast this discussion with what the now-ridiculous columnist George Will wrote in yet another ridiculous column about President Obama’s “lawlessness.”
Will was discussing Obama’s controversial recess appointments (the Supreme Court will ultimately determine their constitutionality) of three members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and comparing that action, unbelievably, to the infamous racist act by George Wallace 50 years ago, “when he stood in the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama to prevent two young blacks from registering as students.”
If that comparison weren’t embarrassing enough, Will wasn’t finished:
Courts defeated Wallace’s lawlessness. Presumably the Supreme Court will defeat Obama’s by telling the NLRB that the D.C. court was right about recess appointments. By such judicial vigilance against the excesses of elected officials, democracy is disciplined and progressivism’s agenda — unchecked executive power — is understood to be unconstitutional.
I, being a progressive, wasn’t aware that progressivism’s agenda was “unchecked executive power.” Geeze. I thought it was unchecked executive power that gave progressives and liberals the heebie jeebies. In any case, President Obama’s amazingly engrossing and thoughtful speech on Thursday, in which he wants Congress to take pack the “unbound powers” it has granted to the executive branch, makes a fool not only out of George Will, but all those who think this president is power mad.