Asked about drone strikes during Monday's foreign policy debate, Mitt Romney basically said that President Obama is right to use them. Expect more drone warfare in 2013 regardless of who wins the election. Does that mean that the two candidates are indistinguishable on the issue? My friend and former boss Andrew Sullivan doesn't think so. "Memo to Conor Friedersdorf," he wrote while live-blogging at The Dish. "You think Romney would be as scrupulous in drone warfare as Obama?" Implicit is the judgment that Obama has been "scrupulous."
But it isn't so.
Sullivan and I agree that Obama won last night's debate, and that he'd be likely to preside over a more prudent, reality-based foreign policy than Romney, based on the respective campaigns that they've run. On drones, however, Romney appears to have the exact same position as Obama. And Obama has been egregiously unscrupulous. I don't want to hear the dodge about how drone strikes are necessary. It's beside the point. This is about the specific ways Obama has waged the drone war. Even if you agree in theory with drone strikes, Obama's actions ought to bother you.
Let me be specific:
- As Jane Mayer noted when describing the CIA's drone strikes, "The program is classified as covert, and the intelligence agency declines to provide any information to the public about where it operates, how it selects targets, who is in charge, or how many people have been killed."
- The Obama Administration avoids judicial accountability by arguing that the drone program is secret, even as it acknowledges the existence of the program when bragging about killing terrorists.
- As the Mayer article goes on to state, "because of the C.I.A. program's secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war. Should something go wrong in the C.I.A.'s program -- last month, the Air Force lost control of a drone and had to shoot it down over Afghanistan -- it's unclear what the consequences would be."
- According to The New York Times, "Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."
- The Obama Administration permits the CIA to carry out "signature strikes" even though they don't know the identity of the people they're trying to kill!
- As Glenn Greenwald explained, "In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals."
- As a report published by the law clinics at NYU and Standford document, innocent people in Waziristan are being terrorized and traumatized daily by Obama's drone war. And the policy has killed, at minimum, hundreds of innocent people, a judgment that is supported even by data from the New America Foundation, whose methods almost certainly under-count dead innocents.