The argument against using drones to kill enemies
This is in response to your post, “The hysteria against ‘killing Americans’”:
If the U.S. thinks it right to kill anyone in the world that it deems an enemy, along with others in the vicinity who may or may not be so deemed, does that right exist for any other state? Does the Chinese government have the right to kill anyone it so pleases, including Americans in America? If not, why not?
Let’s get to your bottom line. Are you saying that the U.S. does not have the right to kill, and that it should not kill, declared enemies abroad, such as Anwar Awlaki, who are waging terrorist war against it and actively seeking to kill its people? All states have that inherent right. If you are saying that they do not have that inherent right then you and I have no common ground on which to have a discussion, because you are denying the fundamental function of a state, a function that even libertarians affirm: to use force to defend its citizens from the use of force. Instead you seem to have embraced the anarchistic, nihilistic liberterianism of a Llewelyn Rockwell, who regards the state as simply evil.
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Also, no one is proposing a government’s “right to kill anyone it pleases.” This is the sort of reckless verbal inflation to which the opponents of the policy of killing terrorist enemies constantly resort. They generate hysteria by stating that the U.S. government is claiming the right to “kill anyone it wants to,” including you and me, when in fact it is claiming the right to kill declared enemies who are attempting to kill its citizens.
I think the realization that we are moving ever closer to a Soviet-like totalitarian state is motivating the reckless verbal inflation. The fear is legitimate. We are at the point in America 2.0 where “enemy” means you, and it means Paul Kersey and Bruce Charlton and Kristor and and Mark Richardson and Richard Spencer and Thomas Fleming and Alan Roebuck and so on and on. You say, “it is claiming the right to kill declared enemies who are attempting to kill its citizens,” but, for this regime, that’s not far from cleaning up a list of “enemies of the people.”
M. Jose writes:
I think the concern is to know exactly what the system is for determining who is to be considered a declared enemy, and more importantly, what the checks and balances are. I think the thing that people are worried about is that Obama could at whim declare that, say, Jim Kalb has announced his support of America’s enemies and then order a drone strike against him.
The question bothering people is, who has the authority to check the “declared enemies list” and confirm that they are, indeed, enemies of the U.S. and not just someone the president does not like?
It’s a lot like the issue of combatant prisoners in Guantanamo. The scenario that the opponents of Guantanamo fear is that someone who is totally innocent will be sent to Guantanamo due to faulty information or due to some higher up declaring him an enemy and that he will have no recourse. Telling them how dangerous it would be to give civilian trials to people who actually are enemy combatants does nothing to allay that fear, and plays into the narrative that the pro-Guantanamo side is just using fear to get people to give up their rights.
The reason why the pro-drone and pro-Guantanamo sides have never been totally successful at convincing their opponents is that their arguments always come down to why people who are enemies don’t deserve certain procedural protections or to why we need the authority to do these things because of the scary results of leaving it to civilian justice. They rarely address the actual concerns of the opponents, which is why checks and balances are needed to protect innocent people from being targeted. The proponents of these things more or less seem content to leave intact the impression that people can be targeted for death or imprisonment at the sole discretion of the president, with no need to verify that they are dangerous; and therefore are seen as defending arbitrary targeting and imprisonment rather than defending the process for targeting people as being thorough and non-arbitrary.
I think if people were to address the actual concerns that worry their opponents more frequently, they would have more success.
The actual policy of targeting terrorist enemies of the U.S., on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fear that, on the basis of that policy, political enemies of president may be targeted are so far apart that the fear is, and sounds, irrational and hysterical. Try to imagine a scenario—meaning, a scenario in the real world—in which Obama claims the right to assassinate Lawrence Auster or James Kalb because they are enemies of liberalism. How far do you think he would get?
Which is not to say that the liberal regime may not at some point in the future start imprisoning or killing anti-liberals. I myself have said that it’s possible that the United States may eventually turn into a Soviet-like totalitarian system. But saying that the legitimate and necessary policy of killing terrorist enemies may be a doorway to the killing of anti-liberals, and therefore that we should not kill terrorist enemies, is an overheated, silly argument which discredits itself. It is taking the slippery-slope type of argumentation to absurd extremes.
James P. writes:
David P. is incorrect to say that “the U.S. thinks it right to kill anyone in the world that it deems an enemy.”
According to the DOJ white paper, the U.S. thinks it right to kill “senior operational leaders of al Qaeda” when there is an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States and capture is infeasible. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me. If the Clinton administration had done so in the late 1990s, it would have saved thousands of American lives.
And yes, every country has an inherent right of self-defense under international law, not just America.
Brandon F. writes:
Good answer to David P. There are only two reasons that some so-called conservatives are against this. They are either on the extreme Libertarian front, as you pointed out, or they are so blinded by hatred of this administration they want to jump on the bandwagon of left wing criticism of it.
Or blinded by fear.
David P. writes:
One thing about your site is that it raises questions that are uncomfortable, and that some find intolerable. You yourself do so with courage, and this is what makes VFR attractive to me.
What worries me about the state of the U.S. is that it is skirting perilously close to illegality on a grand scale. It is one thing for a criminal gang, but quite another for a government that claims to follow the rule of law. The U.S. has the right to kill its declared enemies, who themselves are waging war on it. However, it must declare such a state. Al Qaeda openly declares to be in a state of war with America, but the U.S. has not declared a war, even in response to 9/11.
The trouble is that the U.S., for reasons that are complex, and possibly obscure, did not deem it necessary to declare war on its enemies in the aftermath of 9/11—a hostile act larger then Pearl Harbor, and put in place policies that would inhibit further acts of jihad in the U.S.—quite the reverse in fact. Instead, it opted for a combination of police, military action, and undeclared undercover war. It has destabilised regimes that were nominally pro-Western, possibly in order to flush out the radicals. In a way, we are seeing the beginnings of the “separation” that you have advocated for a long time. The results are quite fruitful, if one takes a long term Machiavelian view.
But the downside is that America is setting precedents which may come back to bite America. Moreover, America has to resort to legalese to justify holding jihadis indefinitely in Gitmo. The other harmful effect is that it makes people who are sympathetic to the U.S., less so. None of this was necessary.
In the real world it is not practicable, or even logically possible, to declare war on non-state actors. President Jefferson did not declare war on the Moslem pirates of Tripoli when he waged war on them. The U.S. has over the course of its history used military force dozens of times against dangerous non-state actors in other countries without declaring war on them.
James P. writes:
David P. writes:
“What worries me about the state of the U.S. is that it is skirting perilously close to illegality on a grand scale. It is one thing for a criminal gang, but quite another for a government that claims to follow the rule of law. The U.S. has the right to kill its declared enemies, who themselves are waging war on it. However, it must declare such a state. Al Qaeda openly declares to be in a state of war with America, but the U.S. has not declared a war, even in response to 9/11.”
Yes, we did. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force of September 14, 2001, states: “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
This is the legal basis for drone strikes. The legislation does not have the words “declaration of war” in it, but the Constitution does not require a declaration of war to have a specific format, and that is clearly what it is.
I would not say that the Authorization by Congress of September 14, 2001 is “clearly” a declaration of war (because it is not formally a declaration of war), but that it substantively and constitutionally achieves what a formal declaration of war would achieve: that the Congress authorizes the use of force by the President. People who say that no use of force by the U.S. is constitutional unless there is a formal declaration of war are living in a world of their own.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 09, 2013 09:32 AM | Send