IMHO, Michael Kinsley's essay in the LA Times deserves wide readership and sustained discussion. He concludes:
Why is it not only OK but praiseworthy for the U.S. government to aim at Anwar Awlaki and kill him because he is an Al Qaeda "operative" who may not actually have killed anyone directly (though no doubt he'd have liked to), while Adam Lanza, who shot and killed 20 schoolchildren and seven adults, including his own mother, before killing himself, could have had, if he'd lived, a trial that lasted weeks and cost millions of taxpayer dollars? What about the person riding in Awlaki's car who was killed with him? What about Awlaki's 16-year-old son, who died in a drone attack two weeks later? Awlaki was a U.S. citizen and his child was born in Colorado, if that makes any difference.
The Obama administration's position is that it has looked at this carefully and there's no legal problem with drone assassinations for reasons that regrettably must remain secret. U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon's wonderfully acerbic decision, issued last week, reluctantly acknowledges the administration's right to maintain this absurd position: A "thicket of laws and precedents," she writes, "effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusions a secret."
As is so often the case, Stalin may have said it best (if, indeed, he really said it): "One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." The deaths of Awlaki and Lanza may not be tragedies, but the differences in how we think about them deserve better than a "because we said so" — especially from a liberal Democratic administration led by a former president of the Harvard Law Review.
I wonder especially about the teenage son killed in a separate drone attack, and the two killed just before New Year's, according to Reuters, because they were "suspected of being insurgents linked to Al Qaeda."
Is that good enough for you?
For me? No. But I fear that our recently re-elected president lost his way on the moral and legal issues surrounding drones a long time ago. And as one pundit has commented recently, Obama seems imore ntent on being a steward of US interests abroad than the leader of a charge (a la Bush) to install American values across the world. Bush's catastrophic failure in Iraq demonstrated the costliness and ultimate futility of the latter approach. Obama - as well as John Kerry and Chuck Hagel - are wise to that. Indeed, Obama seems to recognize that his most important responsibility is to protect, rescue, and rebuild the Republic in the homeland.
But over the long haul, Obama's hyper-reliance on drones to protect the Homeland may well be creating thousands more enemies and haters of America abroad. That may very well come back to take a monstrous bite out of the safety of the Republic that he's sworn to protect - especially as other entities, both state and non-state, inevitably gain access to drone technology.
Sorry to employ that trite, time-worn adage - but payback is indeed a bitch. And I can't help fearing that some kind of payback is indeed coming. Obama can only pray that it won't come on his watch.