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John Kass: Drone doctrine simple

  • Chicago Tribune
  • Published Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, at 12 a.m.

For years, scholars and journalists have struggled without much success to define the Obama doctrine – the president’s foreign policy principles.

As a Democratic candidate, Barack Obama couldn’t even define his own doctrine as he sought to succeed outgoing Republican President Bush.

In a debate in 2007, back when he was Sen. Civil Liberties and the darling of the left that hated Bush for leading the war party into Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama said the world was too complicated for him to formalize his doctrine.

“Well, I think one of the things about the Obama doctrine is it’s not going to be as doctrinaire as the Bush doctrine because the world is complicated,” the senator said. “And I think part of the problem we’ve had is that ideology has overridden facts and reality.”

But now President Obama has finally stripped away those complications to define the Obama doctrine this way:

He can assassinate American citizens abroad without trial if they’re suspected terrorists.

His weapon of choice? Drone strikes from the air.

Drones are politically antiseptic weapons of death, almost like a video game, except that real blood and tissue are blown against the walls. And it’s all being done in secret. The White House won’t publicly release the rationale explaining how the Obama administration has shredded the Constitution and taped the bits back together again.

Two things are astounding here: The lack of Democratic outrage over Obama’s convoluted policy, and the ease with which Republicans and Democrats have brought us to this point.

Many of us – and to my shame I include myself – bought into many Bush Republican policies after al-Qaida killed thousands of our countrymen on Sept. 11, 2001. And then came more cameras watching us, and more eavesdropping, and a steady erosion of American privacy.

It came in the name of efficiently thwarting the terrorists. Now the supreme efficiency is offered by a president who campaigned in opposition to waterboarding terrorists.

The president’s drone strikes against American citizens overseas “are legal, they are ethical and they are wise,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. He added that such drone strikes are “fully consistent with our Constitution.”

Carney must be talking about some other little booklet. He can’t mean our American Constitution. If he actually believes that the Constitution allows the president to kill Americans without trial, someone should lead him by the nose to a loony bin.

Not all Republicans are for this. But many establishment Republicans just love it, like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an Obama critic and friend of defense contracts.

He stopped thwacking Obama for a day or so to support the president in the assassination doctrine.

“Every member of Congress needs to get on board,” Graham said. “It’s not fair to the president to let him, leave him out there alone, quite frankly. He’s getting hit from libertarians and from the left.”

Some on the portside are angry, including MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. But she’s not an elected official. Where was Democratic outrage? Sadly, Democratic pols are rather church-mouselike about Obama’s drones. With their own guy on the throne, they’re worried about damaging the dignity of the presidency.

Instead, they shook their jowls angrily at John Brennan, the career CIA officer and supporter of drones and “enhanced interrogation techniques” who was nominated by Obama to run the CIA. He testified last week at a Senate confirmation hearing.

There is a big difference between intelligence officers and politicians. Obama seemed to understand this once, when the world was complicated for him. Intelligence officers do what’s necessary, and once the work is done and the threat removed, they’re often thrown under the bus by politicians.

But politicians? They change the rules to justify what they want to do. And in so doing, they make the future far more dangerous and far less free.

The president once opposed “enhanced interrogation” of terrorism suspects. But now he claims constitutional protection to kill them without trial, if they’re Americans overseas.

That complicated, nuanced world Obama once lived in? It’s been simplified.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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