Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Afternoon Logic, Political Edition

There's a certain value in an unqualified, unreserved defense in that it leaves room for its opposite and thus also a dialectical synthesis.

Charles Krauthammer's recent defense of President Obama's drone campaign tests the credibility of this assumption. I don't intend to tackle this issue in toto, only Mr. Krauthammer's arguments here.

We have a problem right out of the gate. He begins by presenting two questions and two answers:

Q1: By what right does the president order the killing by drone of enemies abroad?
Q2: What criteria justify assassination?
A1: Imminent threat, under the doctrine of self-defense
A2: Affiliation with al-Qaida, under the laws of war.
To question his first answer: What is "the doctrine of self-defense?" That one can defend oneself? What about circumstances, proportionality, jurisdiction, legality, constitutionality, clearly-delineated delegated authority, accountability, incidental and accidental destruction, certainty of the facts, and so on? Is there no burden whatsoever on the individual defending himself?

To question his second: He states that
In World War II, we bombed German and Japanese barracks without hesitation.
What's the logic here? That WWII was legal and moral, therefore anything that was done to win it or during it or that helped win it was legal and moral? Or is his point that because there is alleged precedent, the present drone campaign is legal and moral? Or because, supposedly, no one complained then or complains now about what happened during WWII that no one should complain about the drone campaign? Could any of this be relevant?

His next premise is quite interesting:
Once you take up arms against the U.S., you become an enemy combatant, thereby forfeiting the privileges of citizenship and the protections of the Constitution
On being declared an enemy combatant, this may well be legally correct, but such does not mean it is either sound in principle or applicable without discretion. What's the difference between killing Americans and killing Americans? On losing the protections of the Constitution, such a premise is to say the least not self-evident. By what law other than the constitution can the Federal Government of America interact not only with Americans, but with any people? What other law is there for the government?

His next historical example is as curious as his first:
Lincoln steadfastly refused to recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation. The soldiers that his Union Army confronted at Antietam were American citizens (in rebellion)–killed without due process.
What does this observation establish other than the American national government can kill you if you want to secede, regardless of whether you want to be an enemy?

Krauthammer's last point is perhaps the baldest:
In war, the ultimate authority is always the commander in chief and those in the lawful chain of command to whom he has delegated such authority.
So in his estimation, this authority is absolute? I'm not rushing to this conclusion, it's not one I'd expect from anybody, but without any qualifications it seems the case. There's no distinction between leading and planning, executing and creating policy. The president really is, in the immortal words of former president George W. Bush, "the decider." Worse still, the example to justify the authority is Lyndon Johnson? And it's Krauthammer's critics who are on another planet?

To conclude, I'm not pretending that no one can answer any of my criticisms here, only that it's incredible to avoid them. One can make many arguments for and against Krauthammer's points and my own, but to pretend any of this is obvious or clear-cut is. . . not helpful. It's significant that Krauthammer concludes with the contrast between "the war on terror" and "law enforcement." Which important word, I ask, is present in the former phrase, and absent the latter?

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