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Home » Salon A debate to be ashamed of

23 October 2012 Salon 7 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

A debate to be ashamed of

A progressive nightmare: On drones, Israel, and Iran, the candidates presented a united hardline front


(Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking)

It was the moment progressives had been waiting for. Bob Schieffer turned to Mitt Romney and said, “What is your position on the use of drones?”

Twitter gasped. Up to that point, Schieffer had thrown one softball after another, but here was the high hard one down the middle. For many liberals, President Obama’s aggressive deployment of drones to kill suspected terrorists in northwestern Pakistan is a stain on the current administration that cannot be washed away, a profound betrayal of civilized values. A campaign of murder from the skies in a country that is supposedly our ally — how is this remotely conscionable?

But liberals are also accustomed to Obama getting a free pass on the topic from the mainstream media and political elite. So just hearing the word “drones” spoken was shocking — here it was, finally, a chance to address this ongoing national shame before an audience of millions and millions of Americans.

And then came Romney’s response, which basically boiled down to drones are awesome!

Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.

End of discussion. Obama did not even mention the word “drones” in his followup to Romney’s comments, aside from a vague “we’re always also going to have to maintain vigilance when it comes to terrorist activities.” And all those progressives whose ears had perked up when Schieffer raised the issue returned to their default position: Soul-killing despair.

There were numerous other instances during the debate when the two candidates vied with each other to express hardline positions on issues that drive progressives crazy. The fight to see who could declare himself the greater friend to Israel, and the (closely related) struggle to establish who supports the most “crippling” sanctions on Iran come immediately to mind.

OBAMA: Israel is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency.

ROMNEY: I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And — and if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.

OBAMA: We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80 percent. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in a shambles.

ROMNEY: Crippling sanctions are something I’d called for five years ago… And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I’d have put them in place earlier, but it’s good that we have them.

And so on. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a debate in which the two candidates expressed so much fundamental agreement on major foreign policy issues. But nothing underscores the dilemma that progressives face on the lack of a meaningful foreign policy choice more than the exchange on drones. Romney’s endorsement of drone warfare laid out with perfect clarity why President Obama has been free to pursue policies — extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, drone warfare, detention without trial — that appear to clearly violate basic human rights, not to mention the U.S. Constitution.

He can do so because he is never going to be questioned from the right on such tactics.

Quite the contrary — the main line of attack is to berate Obama for being too soft. Ponder this: In the same debate in which Romney applauded the president for using “any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us,” he also slammed Obama for his “apology tour” throughout the Arab world. If you’re perplexed at how to reconcile Obama’s drone war of terror in Waziristan with the idea that he’s been wandering the globe saying “I’m sorry” to our enemies, well, join the crowd. It’s not easy.

It was probably always true that a president whose middle name was Hussein would be required to protect his flank from the right more than the left on foreign policy issues related to the Mideast. It’s also true that when voters are asked to rank what issues they think are most important, the moral ambiguity of drone warfare doesn’t register anywhere close to the top ten. One can also make a realpolitik argument that targeting Al Qaeda networks with drone bombs in Pakistan is amuch smarter and more efficient use of resources than invading an entire country that had no connection whatsoever to the 9/11 attacks.

But the stain remains. And no matter how sincerely Obama touts his record supporting democracy during the Arab Spring in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia; no matter how strong a case can be made that intervening in Libya to prevent a likely horrendous massacre of civilians by Gadhafi was justifiable; the net effect of Obama’s foreign policy, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in Israel and Iran, is to breed more resentment and hatred of the U.S. in the Islamic world.

We could use a real debate on how to resolve that paradox. But we’re not going to get one.


  1. I thik that drones should go back to the drawing board because they are killing more innocent people and children than terrorist.Most Muslim countries look at America as a Christian country and when their women and children are killed by drones they believe that America is carring out a jihad on them. When a jihadist plants a roadside bomb and innocent people are killed the west cries out ,but who cries out when women and children are killed in Pakistan dailly.Are the lives of the the westerners more precious than those in Pakistan?GOD (yaweh) created all men equally and he loves them all the same.He sends the rain and sunshine on all.

  2. I think, Carlton that most people support the use of Drones. Any bomb dropped from the air is likely to kill more than just the people intended. Drones simply take the risk away from what would be a piloted aircraft, and it saves money as they use less fuel and cost less than a plane. In addition you do not need a large airport to launch a drone. To give them up would be to concede a significant advantage. Maybe the terrorist leadership and the fanatics that make up the Islamic extremist elements should move out of populated areas and not hide in places that will get women and children killed.

    With that said If I were in charge I would place the troops in boats and planes sending them home and out of harm’s way. I would take the drones and the U.S. equipment with me and allow the countries were in to sort out their own problems. I would then tell anyone who said “How can we simply stand here when religious fanatics are forcing young girls into marriage or out of schools that it is none of our business. When one Muslim group decides to kill off another Muslim group and we see pictures of entire families laid out dead in front of their homes, I would say, its none of our business let them sort it out. If you do not like seeing it then turn off CNN. We are killing more people than we are helping and to date all our efforts have achieved little progress except to upset a great number of people.

  3. Criley,401; i was looking at the use of drones from a moral perspective,at the potical level it is much more complicated.You look at it from a political perpective when you mention most people agree ,if you consider the population of both Pakistan and her neighbour you may have close to 200 million people along with those from America who opposed the case you still believe that most people agee,right or wrong do not depend on numbers .when i was a boy my mother use to tell me to don’t follow a multitude to do evil.Then you look at it from an economic point of life cost more than 100 planes,we can make more planes but we cannot make one life,neither do we know the grief and sorrow that is caused by the losss of one precious life.GOD created lefe and he alone has the moral right to withdraw it.I will close with your last two sentences because i like them.we are killing more people than we are helping,and to date all of our efforts have achieve little progress ,except to upset a great number of people.

  4. Well Carlton I do feel these wars are needless. Today I just found out one of my best friend’s son was sent to Afghanistan two months ago. A boy, whom I helped raise, was wounded in Iraq several years ago. It may sound awful but I want to protect our soldiers more than I want to protect their people since the war is in their region. War is not a moral act thus its actions and consequences are not moral, though, at times they may be just when taken as a whole. If I could I would save them all including our enemy. These countries need to rule themselves and settle their own problems for good or ill. They also need to stay out of our affairs and airspace when it comes to ill intentions. Innocent people always die in war there is no help in it. We seem to go to war so easily now days.

    Our forefathers had it right when they set up a system that Congress should vote to go to war. Our presidents now simply engage in war by decree thus sending our boys to whatever doom awaits them in its aftermath. These decrees kill not only our citizens but those in other countries in much larger numbers. What is worse is that they last for years and years building cultures of hate, bias, and abject poverty. The basic needs of people in these war torn regions cannot be met as they can never feel safe. They can never feel that their children and families are safe. It has to be horrible. How can a 12 year old who was born to it ever even imagine an end to it? How will he or she even adjust to its end? What will be their mindset when it is over? Yet we continue them year after year with no clear successes and no end in sight. The situation is pathetic and the leadership behind it is abysmal.

  5. Criley401,i do agree that wars are needless.the Bible says that war started in Heaven i believe before the world was created and was bought to earth by Saton ,the master mind behind all wars.Wars is caused by selfishness and as lon as they are men they will be wars ;the Bible also promise a world without wars, for all that believe in GOD.I live in the Caribbean and i in a way experienced war when America invaded Grenada, they set up base in my island.I remembered as a young man watching the Helicopter -gun-ships and planes flying overhead.They were thousands and thousands of bullets flying everywhere.I do not like to talk about it but i went by a friend who had some rockets shells from the gunships and when he told me how deadly they were and how many men they killed i trembled.we cannot stop the wars but we can highlight the pain and suffering war causes.

  6. I think its funny that DumbO uses drones. Could put them in Gitmo but guess he decided against it since it was suppose to be closed Jan of 2010. So its easier this way DumO doesnt have to worry where he is going to put them or if he has to put them on trial just kill them with drones. I mean we can believe DumbO he would never lie to the American people ever or change his story 1000 times. Oh wait he did its called Libya. Sounds like DumbO is having a real bad cae of DUMBENSIA.

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