Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.
Bagley: This week a memo was leaked that spelled out the Obama Administration’s legal argument for targeted drone killings. It boils down to “since we’re at war the President can off pretty much anyone he wants to.” Have I got that right?
Lambson: That’s the way I read it. Basically, the Commander in Chief claims vast powers not granted by the Constitution that he has sworn an oath to defend. (In fact, the current president has taken that oath four times.) The Republicans gave us the Patriot Act and now the Democrats are giving us this. “Trust us,” they say, “we aren’t aiming at you.”
Bagley: This might be the one Obama policy that has bipartisan support. The argument is that Constitutional niceties take a back seat when people are trying to kill you. Every wartime president has made it.
Lambson: The problem is that our interventionist foreign policy means that we are always at war. Liberty is a fragile thing. It is much easier to erode than defend. It is much easier to lose than to establish.
Bagley: If our presidents assume too much power it’s because Congress abdicates its authority. Congress excels at kvetching, but it’s mostly about how the President isn’t doing more. If there is going to be real oversight of the drone program it has to come from Congress. I don’t see much appetite for it among our representatives, maybe because there is no reelection fund raising angle to it. Obama, and Bush before him, had no reason to make their lives harder by insisting Congress do its job.
Lambson: You are right about this. On a related note, the Constitution gives Congress the duty to declare war, a responsibility that they have abdicated since World War II. They are good at grandstanding about the budget, but they do nothing real to rein it in. They could start by cutting off funding for undeclared wars. The defense budget could be far smaller if it were really a defense budget.
Bagley: On a practical level, the drone program is turning hearts and minds against the U.S. . General Stanley McChrystal, former head of forces in Afghanistan, said people in that part of the world hate drones on a “visceral level” and their use contributes to a “perception of American arrogance.” Maybe if the drones were repurposed to deliver Publisher Clearing House winner’s checks instead of Hellfire missiles.
Lambson: I think you are on to something.
Lambson: Last week’s top comment is from movesfromcenter: “None of this will change as long as Utahans vote straight ticket Republican. We have a one party system ...” Competition is good in the marketplace and it is good in the political sphere.