Wars have shifting boundaries and rules of engagement. Today, the ability to make decisions about our national security must often be made expediently and weigh the consequences of inaction versus potential catastrophe. This week there has been much controversy surrounding the Department of Justice’s 16 page memo that lays out the legal guidelines for America’s drone policy. This memo is half enumeration of rules of engagement, half legal argument which makes the argument that in the “new war” of the 21st century, it is not always possible to follow traditional chain of command within the limited window of opportunity that often presents itself on the battlefield.
Using drones is not novel; the face of warfare is constantly changing. An old adage is “generals are always preparing to fight the last war”, even if the next is completely different. Europe in WW I, us in Vietnam, failure to adapt to the changing battlefield can be costly. Modern warfare demands we address the proper use of these weapons has presented difficulties’ both on the battlefield and in the policy room.The basic premise of using drones around the globe, to facilitate capturing or killing terrorists, is that we have a right to defend ourselves when threatened. Often, these battles are fought on foreign soil, even if that country is not a combatant. Although we have an inherent right to defend our nation, America must be respectful of the laws of war; drone use must be limited to prevent misuse down the line. This memo lays out the doctrine where these strikes can be implemented.
War is messy. Even in an age of satellite pin-pointed strikes and computer guided “smart” bombs, there will always be unintended causalities. This doesn’t mean we can unilaterally disarm though. People who want to do us harm don’t care about minimizing damage or our restraint. If we don’t adapt, the repercussions will be even more severe. Drones currently present the best option for following the laws of war while minimizing risk to both our armed forces and civilians. People who want drone disarmament are often the same who want the end of traditional surgical strike and often our engagement in war to begin with. While I agree that our foreign policy should be addressed, the reality is that sometimes we must engage those who wish to harm us with force and drones present the best way to do so in some circumstances.
There has been vigorous discussion regarding whether or not our drone policies are in line with the Constitution. Can a US citizen be killed without due process in extreme circumstances? The answer is yes. If a person walks into a bank with a gun and threatens to kill everyone in the bank, neutralizing them is essential to protecting lives. A high-level Al-Qaeda official is no different. Treason is the only crime explicitly spelled out in the Constitution. We are working to keep America safe while also respecting our fundamental principles. This issue is being used by the right as a red-herring. The issue isn’t they are a citizen. The issue is that President Obama’s cabinet is carrying these strikes out. Although it would be nice to see the actual 50 page memo that details the legal justification for our drone policy abroad, I understand that some information must be kept confidential so that our policy makers can make the most rational choices and not have our rules of engagement used against them as they have been in the past. (Not firing on Mosques, then having our forces engaged from forces inside them, etc.)
President Obama is working as hard as possible to make sure that defense policy is crafted within the confines of the Constitution while maintaining robust national security. I am deeply confident that he will respect the Constitution while simultaneously promoting American interest overseas.
Reprinted from 5th District State Sen. Curt Thompson's (D-Tucker) blog. Thompson represents parts of unincorporated Duluth, Norcross, Tucker, and Lawrenceville. Also, check the Senator out on Facebook and Twitter.