Foreign and Defense Policy, Terrorism

With backing of liberals, Obama ramping up defense of drone campaign

A recent Washington Post poll found that 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s drone policy. That is not surprising—Americans have consistently backed decisive action to stop al Qaeda from striking our country again. What is surprising is the poll’s finding that 77 percent of self-described liberals support the drone campaign. Indeed, when asked if they approved of using drones if the targets were American citizens, 65 percent of Americans approved—including 55 percent of self-described liberals.

Think about that: notwithstanding the heated objections of the ACLU and the professional Left, a solid majority of American liberals support the targeted killing of terrorists—even if they are American citizens. (Of course, a majority of liberals oppose capturing terrorists alive and waterboarding them. But blowing them up with drones from the air is just fine. Go figure).

These findings have driven some liberal commentators to distraction. But they have emboldened the Obama administration, which has in recent weeks launched a major public relations campaign in defense of its drone policy.

First, President Obama took the unprecedented step last month of acknowledging the existence of the CIA’s drone campaign—the first time an American president has publicly declared that the United States is using unmanned drones to kill al Qaeda terrorists. The Washington Post quoted the president as saying:

“I want to make sure that people understand that drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” Obama replied [to a question at an online forum]. “For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates.”

The perception that “we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly,” Obama said, is incorrect. “This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on.”

“I think that we have to be judicious in how we use drones,” Obama added.

Then, two weeks ago, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson delivered a major speech defending the legality of the drone campaign at Yale Law School. You can read Johnson’s address here.

Now we learn that Attorney General Eric Holder will enter the fray, delivering a major address this afternoon defending the drone strikes. The Associated Press reports:

Five months after the CIA sought out and killed an American-born cleric and al-Qaeda operative in Yemen, Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to explain how the U.S. can legally kill U.S. citizens on foreign soil.

According to the official, Holder plans to say in a major speech at 3:30 p.m. today in the Thorne Auditorium at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago that lethal force is legal under a Sept. 18, 2001, joint congressional resolution.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force enacted a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks authorizes the use of all necessary force in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.

We will have the full text of Holder’s speech when it is available.

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