Don't Trust the Government on Drones

Obama's targeted killings set a dangerous precedent.

“Covert” drone warfare requires a level of confidence in politicians that they will never deserve.

In the Kentucky Resolutions, the 1798 protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts, Thomas Jefferson wrote,

It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in [politicians] to silence our fears for the safety of our rights: that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism — free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power.

If Jefferson had this reaction to restrictions on criticism of the government, we can surmise that he would have been appalled by a government whose chief executive has the unchecked unilateral power to kill people—including American citizens—away from the traditional battlefield and without due process, on the basis of suspicions and allegations that they are “involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States.” (The quote is from the Department of Justice White Paper on drone warfare [PDF].)

Jefferson and others of his generation understood that government was simply not something to be trusted. Rather, it was a permanent object of suspicion, because it was uniquely positioned to steal our freedoms. This of course is precisely the opposite of the attitude that government officials—Democrat and Republican—wish us Americans to hold.

Under the drone program, the president and high-ranking senior officials select individuals in foreign countries not at war with the United States for targeting on the basis of claims that they are involved in the operations of “al-Qa’ida or an associated force.” No judicial finding is required before an individual—again, including American citizens—can be killed. As columnist Glenn Greenwald notes, “Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a ‘senior al-Qaida leader’ and who is posing an ‘imminent threat’ to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.”

But we aren’t supposed to be bothered by this policy, because we are expected to have confidence in “our leaders,” at least as long as they are members of the right political party. Surely they would not abuse this terrifying power. At this point, any self-respecting American should be quoting Jefferson: “That confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism.” It is intolerable that the president can autocratically send unpiloted aircraft into foreign countries to kill people. And it is appalling that the administration feels it owes the people no detailed explanation of where this authority comes from. (A Justice Department white paper ostensibly describing a secret legal memo was obtained by NBC News.)

What has America become?

Drones raise a related concern. The technology is attractive to the ruling elite because using it is less expensive than traditional forms of war. That is, it lowers the cost of foreign intervention. “Boots on the ground” are expensive both in the risk to troops and money. Conventional airstrikes are similarly expensive. By comparison, drone warfare is cheap. American personnel are not at risk, because drones can be operated safely thousands of miles from the victims’ location.

This, however, is not the blessing some take it to be. Lowering the cost of foreign intervention and war is a false economy, because it allows government more easily to embroil the country in hostilities. Unintended consequences are inevitable. Thus we shouldn’t want to remove obstacles to a belligerent foreign policy. On the contrary, we should want to make it prohibitively expensive for politicians to enter overseas conflicts, because they have neither the information nor the incentives to perform good deeds in this regard.

But, some will ask, how can Americans be kept safe from terrorism? Let’s recall that the terrorism directed at Americans since the 1990s has been entirely the direct result of U.S.-government-inflicted or -sponsored violence, primarily in the Middle East. Captured terrorists say this, and there is no reason to doubt them. It’s not about “our freedom.” Jihadists don’t attack Switzerland. If people with a disposition for violence plot against American troops abroad, bring the troops home. If people in countries brutalized by American policy plot against us, stop the brutality and embrace nonintervention—a policy requiring no trust in “our leaders.”

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  • VG Zaytsev||

    My two favorite political quotes are:

    If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

    and

    Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
  • Moridin||

    Amen!

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Government is like fire; in most circumstances it is necessary for a comfortable life, and it must never be trusted.

  • Sevo||

    "Blame government or the consent of the governed?"
    The American experiment was intended to limit what the government could do regardless of the consent of the governed.
    It remains open to question whether it will yet succeed.

  • crashland||

    Nope, I think the question has been answered.

    The feds have been living outside of the box they were supposed to be contained within for well over a century. The constitution isn't something to uphold and protect, rather it is just a piece of paper that can be circumvented or ignored.

    No information voters happily wear their chains. Hell they don't even realize they have them on. The federal government believes we are their property, our earnings are there earnings and they are generous in what they allow us to keep. We are slaves with big screen tvs, two car garages and decent food, but we are still simply slaves.

  • Lyle||

    The Louisiana Purchase was also outside of the box, so to speak.

    And remember Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts?

    Jefferson was right about government and embraced the truth himself.

  • 16th amendment||

    In this class blame the government. Obama campaigned on an anti-war stance and even won the Nobel prize presumably for this, and he does the opposite. If GW Bush had been elected for a third term then blame the people for giving their consent to a war type person.

    Some parts of the American experiment actually increase the power of government. Case in point: the 16th amendment. Another problem -- the election of electors of a state by popular vote, as well as the popular election of senators. This results in politicians promising gifts, which is sure to bankrupt the country eventually.

    And of course, justices have over-interpreted the commerce clause, necessary and proper clause, and the 14th amendment to allow the government to do whatever it wants.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Zatoichi,

    Blame government or the consent of the governed?


    What if there was never any consent to begin with?

  • Moridin||

    How on earth is it infantile? If YOU voted for the fucker who currently holds the high office and is stomping on our freedoms, killing American citizens, etc., then YOU are to blame. Not we libertarians who voted for someone else. so fuck you, your thinking is infantile.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    It's not a "claim" asshole. I didn't consent to shit. The very real threat of violence keeps me from burning down Washington.

  • Loyce-Meyers||

    If you think James`s story is impressive,, last pay-check my girlfriend worked and got paid $4225 workin a ninteen hour week from there apartment and there best friend's step-sister`s neighbour has been doing this for four months and got paid more than $4225 part-time at Their laptop. use the steps from this web-site... http://www.ace60.com

  • Agreenweed||

    Who the fuck is James? Only way you make that kinda money is by being a politician or selling drugs fucktard.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If Jefferson had this reaction to restrictions on criticism of the government...

    I think we can all agree that Jefferson could not have foreseen a president who is beyond reproach, good and pure, as we have now.

    Drones are cheaper, and I have a feeling this administration has an easier time dealing the intelligence community than the military. CIA droning is probably a pretty comfortable endeavor.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    In a mythical George War Bush "third term" he would be pursuing exactly the same secret drone-Hashish-ination program that Odroner is doing now. All the while claiming to be winding down the ground wars.

  • Homple||

    "In a mythical George War Bush "third term" he would be pursuing exactly the same secret drone-Hashish-ination program that Odroner is doing now. All the while claiming to be winding down the ground wars."

    The difference would be that the Democrats and the news media (but I repeat myself) would howl so long and loudly about his unjust, unconstitutional, and anti-human rights extra judicial murders that public opinion would at minimum cause him to cease and possibly get him impeached.

  • Ted S.||

    Is anybody else finding that half the time, the antisocial networking buttons aren't loading until they show up in the browser's viewing area? I don't know how many times I've had the main page claim to load fully, only to find that every time I scroll down to another article, the "Like"/"Retweet"/"-1" buttons start to load. This is extremely irritating.

  • Hugh Akston||

    You can always adblock the netowrking buttons altogether.

  • sarcasmic||

    +1

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Your spelling is atrocious.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Your criticisms are tedious.

  • Ted S.||

    I use Opera.

  • Jordan||

    That's how they're supposed to work. It's probably using AJAX.

  • Ted S.||

    Well if that's the way it's supposed to work it's fucking irritating.

  • GankFonk||

    Souns like some pretty solid advise to me dude.

    www.RealPrivacy.da.bz

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Your spelling is atrocious.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Your criticisms are tedious.

  • juris imprudent||

    Would you two just go get a room.

  • Ted S.||

    At least they're not talking about Ke-dollarsign-ha's urine.

  • ||

    It's hard to gargle and talk at the same time.

  • Not an Economist||

    I guess John is anon-bot today.

    One question, does it pay well?

  • General Butt Naked||

    His neighbor's horse jus bort a lotus from onlie werking 22 hours a day on the online.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If it's unchecked, there's a way to check it.

    Get rid of the AUMF. It's the source of everything the president claims he can do to anyone anywhere affiliated with Al Qaeda. It's been twelve years--which is far too long to give the executive branch the authority to kill, more or less, whomever they want.

    So, Congress can step in and shut this drone program down, and that's what they should do.

    For historic parallels, see the Case-Church Amendment:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Case–Church_Amendment

    The Vietnam War ended because Congress required the president to seek congressional approval before initiating any action in Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia, and it ended because Congress repeatedly refused to fund our presidents' requests for military aid to South Vietnam.

    So, it's important to remember that if Obama's drone program is unchecked, it isn't unchecked because there aren't any checks built into the system. It's unchecked because Congress isn't willing to use its checks to shut Obama's drone program down.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Damn!

    Here's the link:

    http://tinyurl.com/6zmx2js

    Oh, and I suppose it should be said, too, that the solution to this probably isn't capping on Obama, since Obama just doesn't care about our criticism. From ObamaCare to bailing out GM, and TARP, Obama has demonstrated repeatedly that he doesn't care about what the American people want.

    Instead, if you really care about making the drone program stop, you should be going after Congress. The drone program won't stop until a) we get another president (and then only maybe) or b) Congress shuts it down. So, if your strategy is criticizing the president, then we won't get rid of the drone program for at least another three years.

    Go after Congress for not doing their job on this, and we'll get a response much sooner than that.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The drone program won't stop until a) we get another president

    There's no reason to believe this. It's hard to imagine any candidate being more anti war than Obama was in 2008 and he, obviously expanded the use of them.

  • Ken Shultz||

    That's why I added, "(and then only maybe)". It's very rare that a president advocates giving himself less power.

    So, again, criticizing the Emperor is always a good thing for a libertarian to do, but if we want a real end to arbitrary drone strikes, then we should be going after Congress.

    They're the solution to this. The president probably never will be.

  • Libertarian||

    I strongly second this notion. When Bush was in the White House, I told people that we SHOULD be able to elect a complete idiot for President -- and it shouldn't matter if Congress were doing its job. And now I'm saying that we should be able to elect an egomaniac fascist without dire consequences -- IF Congress were doing its job. They, however, have practically abdicated all of their authority.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Yep.

    And that's why we're sliding into dictatorship.

  • grey||

    Too me it seems like a Monarchy, as he is a holy figure empowered by God.

  • Metazoan||

    Really? I don't think Obama was even that anti-war. He claimed to hate the war in Iraq, but that's probably because it was WAR FOR OIL or something. If I recall correctly, he was pretty excited about escalating the conflict in Afghanistan.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The expectation was that he was going to end the war on terror, including Iraq. It's the reason why he beat HRC in the primaries and the anti-war zeitgeist definitely motivated the useful idiots that turned out in record numbers for him.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The only reason Obama is president instead of Hillary is because Obama voted against the Iraq War, but Hillary supported it.

    http://voices.washingtonpost.c....._iraq.html

    Which is to say, Obama was the more credible of the two in his opposition to the Iraq War at a time when people were sick to death of it.

    That's the other thing about presidents--they're like a box of chocolates...

    People voted for Bush the Lesser becasue they thought he had some good ideas about reforming entitlements and they were sick to death of the ethical lapses of the Clinton Administration--not because they wanted to invade Iraq.

    People voted for Obama becasue they were sick to death of the Iraq War--not because they wanted Obama to nationalized GM, and completely remake both the financial system and the healthcare system in his image.

    I don't know who the next president will be, but there's a really good chance that what the voters want and what they get won't be the same thing.

  • John||

    Presidents and leaders are driven by circumstances not plans.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Presidents and leaders are driven by circumstances not plans.

    What circumstances drove Obama to become president Goldman Sachs?

  • VG Zaytsev||

    At a certain level, the presidents do the opposite of what they campaign on.

    Bush the elder ran on a thousand points of light and passed numerous expansions of federal power.

    Clinton ran of getting tough against the butchers of Beijing and normalized relations with China.

    Bush the lesser ran as a compassionate conservative and started two wars, created the dhs and a brand new entitlement program and further expanded federal control of education.

    Obama said I don't support a mandate, Hillary and then made it the keystone of Obamacare. Ran on ending the wars then expanded them and ran as a class warrior that's protected Wall Street at every turn.

  • Boisfeuras||

    The only reason Obama is president instead of Hillary is because Obama voted against the Iraq War, but Hillary supported it.

    What? Obama wasn't even in the U.S. Senate at the time.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It should have been the other way around.

    Hillary voted for the Iraq War, but Barack Obama opposed it.

    Point stands that Hillary lost to Obama becasue Obama was more credible to Democrat primary voters as the candidate who was genuinely against the Iraq War.

  • ||

    I had an Obama fan tell me the other day that oil and gas prices were going to stabilize and go down once the war in Afghanistan was ended, so apparently there are people out there that think that war is about oil too. He didn't believe me when I told him that Afghanistan didn't produce any, I guess he figures every brown guy in sheets is pumping oil all the time.

  • crashland||

    Executives don't typically relinquish any of the power accrued by their predecessors....

  • Homple||

    Obama wasn't anti war in 2008, he was pro sucking up to the anti war lefties to help get him elected.

    Had there been a sizeable constituency for cannibalism back then, his campaign would have produced photoshopped images of Obama shaking hands with Jeffrey Dahmer.

  • John||

    You are absolutely correct Ken. As much as I dislike Obama and love to watch his lefty sycophants have to explain how this is okay when they do this, Obaama is not doing anything Congress has repeatedly authorized him to do. Congress could revoke the AUMF or put a rider on the next CR making this illegal.

  • JW||

    So, Congress can step in and shut this drone program down, and that's what they should do.

    You're presuming that there is any principled opposition against the drone program in Congress other than "not one of us."

    The Stupider Party wants this power as much as the Eviler Party does and the American voting class isn't goin gto punish them for it, which they know. Considering how Congress just overwhelmingly passed the NDAA, I'd say the chances of rescinding the AUMF is between Jack and squat. And you know where Jack went.

  • ||

    Amazon comments for model drone.

    Great buy if u have peskey sand people in your yard, or yards thousands of towns away! Always a hit at weddings too!
  • VG Zaytsev||

    My son likes to play military with these toys, just like a real soldier he sits in a dark room in from of a monitor while he pretends his predator drone is circling in the skies thousands of miles away over any country where the people are predominantly brown skinned. When he sees a group of three or more people on the ground he yells "terrorists!" and presses the joystick button to shoot missiles down on them. Then we both say "mission accomplished!", high five each other and I give him a medal of honor for his bravery.
  • ||

    Which Hit & Runner wrote that?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Checkout this "review" from a butthurt, bloodthirsty "Progressive":

    5.0 out of 5 stars Proactive Defense, February 4, 2013
    By VoiceOfReason - See all my reviews
    = Durability:5.0 out of 5 stars = Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars = Educational:5.0 out of 5 stars
    This review is from: Fresh Metal Tailwinds RD-1 Predator Drone 1:87 Scale Die Cast Aircraft with Display Stand (Toy)
    Bought this for my kid back in 2001 and its great! He's very proactive and believes in taking initiative so this was perfect for him. Him and his little friend Barack will take turns playing with this for hours. When one gets tired of flying it around they will just switch off and the other will take the controls. They can be vigilant for hours which makes it the perfect toy to watch out for bullies in the neighborhood. Since I bought my son this toy, bullies haven't been in our neighborhood, in fact, they're on the run and desperately trying to hide. Now that my son and his friend Barack have this toy they can fend off bullies and don't have to put themselves at risk. Fun and effective - best toy ever!!!!!

    Voice of Reason....I'm gonna pour myself a Tom Collins.

  • ||

    Barack Obama, beating up America's bullies, one wedding party at a time.

  • ||

    Droanz don't kill people.

    Unchecked chief executives kill people.

  • John||

    Pretty much. Would reason feel better if Obama were using B52s?

  • Ted S.||

    Dropping Kate Pierson on weddings is pretty inefficient.

  • ||

    If that was their only option they wouldn't bother wasting the fuel or risk the pilots life.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    The problem with the Dronaz as the article clearly stated was the ease and in-expense with which some dip-shit in Washington could get us involved in someone else's mess. B-52s would be more expensive and thus may temper the urge to shoot ourselves in the foot.

  • grey||

    Few can see a similarity between drones and other things that explode and kill people. Apparently what type of equipment you use to blow up people in other sovereign countries is a relevant distinction.

    I can't figure out the distinction.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Jihadists don’t attack Switzerland.

    Sheldon, why would al-Qaida and company attack a country that bends over backwards to protect their money-laundering schemes?

    And riddle me this, Sheldon, why did jihadists assault a base of the Royal Thai Marines last Wednesday? Perhaps they didn't drop enough origami paper cranes on the "restive" province?

  • VG Zaytsev||

    I don't know anything about that situation but I'm sure that it's the US's fault somehow.

    < / leftard

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    And don't forget the Zionist JOOOZ!

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    Zionists like other racists are pieces of shit and they probably are responsible for some of this mess.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    But feel free to imagine a connection and get us involved in that conflict too.

  • Ted S.||

    At any rate, Swiss do get attacked.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    Dude you falling into the same sloppy thinking by lumping every attack together into a neat and simple box. That Thai attack doesn't have shit to do with Bin Laden, 9-11 or the middle east.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    But feel free to imagine a connection and get us involved in that conflict too.

  • Mike M.||

    So is Reason ever going to even bother mentioning that Jesse Jackass Jr. and his wife are going to prison for embezzling campaign funds, or have they been given the signal from their drinking buddies in the liberal media that they're to ignore this story?

  • Fladnag the Yarg||

    Along the same-ish lines. The fact that Dorner let at least three innocent people go. He was a different kind of "wacko with a gun". He saw injustice and took the remedy into his own hands. Just something to think about.....

  • iggy||

    And the remedy involved killing a girl's basketball coach and her fiance. He also killed an LAPD officer that he didn't even know, meaning he had no evidence that the officer had ever done any of the things that Dorner was pissed at the LAPD for doing. Then he killed a sheriff of an unrelated police department.

    I don't think there's much to think about.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    Come on now, stop harping on Jesse Jr and his Missus. They want to get this inconvenience over with so they can run again for office.

  • crashland||

    It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.

    Our 4th president one of those dead white guys, sure predicted the future rather accurately. I just don't know what it is we the people can do about it.

  • Old Johnnie Goggabie||

    You could always get a drone of your own and join the fun.

    (Read the reviews - they're priceless!)

  • Vernon||

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  • Vernon||

    If you think Francisco`s story is shocking,, five weeks ago my friend's cousin basically also made $9945 just sitting there eleven hours a week from there apartment and there neighbor's step-mother`s neighbour done this for 9-months and brought in more than $9945 in there spare time from a mac. the information here, http://www.fb26.com

  • Garth55||

    Connor. if you think Edward`s stori is something, on monday I bought a gorgeous Chrysler after having made $4163 this - five weeks past and just a little over ten grand this past month. it's by-far my favourite-job I have ever had. I began this five months/ago and pretty much straight away was earning minimum $82.. per-hr. I follow the details here, http://WWW.FLY38.COM

  • coma44||

    "Don't Trust the Government"

    There i could have save everyone reading the whole thing........If you trust the "Government" they will enslave you one little bit at a time.

  • grey||

    To be fair, sometimes they enslave you suddenly.

    To be completely fair it would be worth mentioning that what makes government special is the many roads it can go down to reach slavery.

  • homme nike air max TN||

    steal our freedoms. This of course is precisely the opposite of the attitude that government officials—Democrat and Republican—wish us Americans to hold.

  • ygsrf||

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  • jecobjesan||

    If you think Lucille`s story is surprising,, four weaks-ago my daughter basically made the small fortune of $6714 putting in a fourty hour month in their apartment and there classmate's half-sister`s neighbour has been doing this for eight months and worked and got paid more than $6714 part time at there labtop. use the guide on this link, www.WOW92.com

  • Alan Wright||

    In general, I agree with the sentiments stated here. But I think it's premature to say that drone strikes will produce blowback and other terrorist strikes of the same kind or the same extent as hostile occupations, land wars, and conventional strikes.

    That in no way excuses the moral costs and very human harm borne by drone strikes.

    If drones were used with great precision and discretion with minimal invasiveness while based on great intelligence, and only moved from surveillance to combat operations in special circumstances (consistent with very clear rules of engagement, etc), there's an argument that they can perform effective policing with minimal costs whether fiscal, military, or political.

    Again, this does not excuse the moral or human costs, or the cost to the body politic and the Constitution. It will mean a greater focus on the immorality and impracticality of drone strikes, even when they do little to offend the majority of Americans.

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