Even as redoubtable a liberal as the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson proclaimed that "Rand Paul was right."
But was he?
The drone issue is real, it is urgent, and the Obama Administration has not answered many legitimate questions about it. But the danger to our country is not the danger Paul identified in his filibuster -- that "Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky." The present danger is that a new, low-cost, deniable technology will become a covert instrument of foreign policy, used on targets abroad without adequate attention to international law.It is the danger that the United States will become an international outlaw, stirring hatred abroad and eventually threatening the peace.
Kenneth Roth lays the real questions out in the current issue of the New York Review of Books.They deal with questions of customary international law and human-rights treaties -- subjects that the larger American public is, by and large, uninformed and uninterested in. Paul's filibuster has changed the subject from the uncomfortably practical to the bombastically improbable.
The killing of a U.S. citizen is important, in either practical or legal terms. The case of Anwar Al Awlaki, killed in Yemen by a targeted drone strike in September 2011, is a disturbing one. AsScott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, and Charlie Savage of the New York Times note, in the Awlaki strike, "[f]or what was apparently the first time since the Civil War, the United States government had carried out the deliberate killing of an American citizen as a wartime enemy and without a trial." Disturbing in a different way are the deaths of three other American citizens, including Awlaki's son, in strikes that were apparently not specifically targeted at them.