Karl von Clausewitz noted that war is an extension of politics. President Barack Obama, with his reliance on drones and seeming decision utterly to eschew capture (with its attendant intelligence value), is making simple killing an extension of politics.
What is the impact on political power of this evolution?
After Attorney General Eric Holder’s evasive testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about drone use, Senator Rand Paul (R, KY) filibustered John Brennan’s confirmation as Director CIA, and this finally convinced Obama to have Holder write a letter to Paul, which says in its entirety:
It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.
But what does it mean to be “engaged in combat?” It means whatever the President needs it to mean.
As Richard Fernandez noted in an aptly titled post [emphasis added],
Lawyers have rarely been able to contain power. As practical matter power is constrained only by politics, which as Clausewitz once observed can be another name for another thing….
He went on:
Power is limited by the degree to which an executive authority can enforce obedience. It is constrained by the extent to which authority can expect an order to be followed. It is bounded by the fear of political repercussions; by the dread of losing office and ultimately, by the apprehension that having lost office a person might face jail.
Obama has assured us through his pressman, Jay Carney, that neither he nor his Justice Department would never abuse such power. And Obama is an honorable man; So are they all, all honorable men.
But with an expansive and expanding government, and Obama’s apparent extension of the tools of politics, our hold on government is growing tenuous. We cannot allow this to continue. As a man once said, elections have consequences. We’re seeing some of those consequences. It’s time to have different election outcomes.