The Republican Party is a bundle of politically cynical contradictions. Even before Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour Senate filibuster against President Obama’s drone war, various GOP politicos took shots at the president for overreaching on national security.
Obama’s been lambasted for failing to close Gitmo and his presumed willingness to continue having CIA and counterintelligence forces wage overt and covert war in Afghanistan after the final troop withdrawal. This is the same GOP that, from the moment Obama announced his presidential candidacy in 2007, did everything possible to tar him as a commander in chief who would be a marshmallow on national defense and, more damaging, stand down on Bush’s war on terrorism.
The attack was a typical tactic from the GOP’s playbook to sully Democrats on national security. GOP Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and especially George W. Bush in 2004 in his reelection fight with Democratic presidential foe Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, used this ploy masterfully against their Democratic opponents.
GOP strategists believed that smearing Obama as an amateur on foreign policy would work in 2008. He was a liberal Democrat, untested in foreign policy matters, had made conciliatory remarks about Islam, was a staunch opponent of the Iraq War and — unstated — he was African American. The GOP plan then was simple: Hammer Obama relentlessly as soft on the war on terrorism and tar him as a hopelessly greenhorn novice on foreign policy matters. A novice who, when the first time a crisis arose, would jeopardize America’s security and put Americans in harm’s way
Polls consistently showed that in just about the only policy area that GOP presidential contender John McCain beat out Obama was in his handling of national security issues and the terrorism war. The issue had just enough traction to keep McCain competitive for a time. But following Obama’s election, in quick succession Obama went after the Somalian pirates and kept and even expanded some troubling parts of Bush’s PATRIOT Act authorizing wiretaps, surveillance and preventative detention. He ratcheted up the Afghan troop numbers, took out Bin Laden and issued tough and secret orders to the CIA to continue doing everything in its power to destroy and disrupt al Qaeda. He recently strengthened West Coast anti-missile batteries in a tough signal to North Korea. In the 2012 election, Obama did such a good job of snatching away the GOP’s soft-on-terrorism ploy to discredit Democrats that he outscored Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney in public polls on the handling of the war on terrorism and national security matters.
The GOP, with its one surefire weapon gone, has looked even feebler on foreign policy issues. It then flips the script and latches onto Obama’s drone war in order to paint him as a reckless president who would trample the rights of Americans, and that includes killing Americans at any hint that they are a terrorist threat, no matter how shaky the proof.
The drones appear to be just the prescribed soft spot for the GOP’s attack. There have been three to six times more drone strikes under Obama than under Bush, and the strikes are deadly, killing thousands. There is much controversy over just how surgically precise the attacks are, since many of those killed have been civilians. The reports are conflicting on just how many of those who have died have been innocent victims. Some reports put the numbers in the hundreds. The case has been made by some Democrats who are rightly troubled by the danger of overreach with a secretive drone war, that targeting of Americans mocks due process and constitutional precepts. Obama’s failure to fully disclose how and where the drones are used makes him an even bigger target for attack.
The biggest criticism is that the drone war is no substitute for a comprehensive strategy of diplomacy, goodwill and firm initiatives to strengthen US partnerships and alliances with allies in the region. The criticisms notwithstanding, a GOP president would have done the same as Obama and launched preemptive strikes, and the likelihood is nil that Paul and the GOP would have characterized him as a civil liberties villain.
Obama, like any president, will reach for any weapon that will strengthen national security without risking American lives. The constant ramp up of new weapons technology and their capacity to kill, especially by robotic control, guarantees they will be used more frequently. Whether their use is right or morally defensible is a moot point for administrations, since ethics and morality will never trump safeguarding the nation’s security.
The Obama drone war controversy won’t go away. And the GOP’s hypocrisy in slamming Obama for the use of drones won’t either.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He also hosts the Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles, streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson.