Drone War Powers

With regards to whether the expanded target list in Pakistan is authorized by the AUMF, a correspondent pointed out by e-mail that the AUMF has already been stretched pretty far and wide in geographic terms, and that finding a link between the folks we’d like to target and the folks we’re allowed to target — which is all we need to induct the former into the latter category — isn’t terribly difficult. A meeting over tea in the ole Waziristan compound, for instance, or a shout out on Radio Swat, would probably do the trick.

Meanwhile, in answer to the question of whether anyone will call President Barack Obama on it, Matthew Yglesias notes:

Given the broad expansion of presidential war powers over the decades,I think we can safely say that the answer is “no.” After all, Obama’sstrategy seems to be broadly supported by congress. If there were largelevels of congressional opposition to his approach you might seeefforts to limit the scope of his authority, but there is no suchopposition at the moment so he’ll be able to do as he sees fit.

I agree (and unlike some of Yglesias’ commenters, do not interpret the above as tacit approval on his behalf, but rather clearsighted political realism).

My question was mainly rhetorical, but also meant to underline the fact that the slippery slope to an imperial wartime executive always begins with the majority party’s complacency. A lot of the pre-election Obama mystique was based on the sense that he might just be more committed to restraining executive overreach than a supine Congress has been. I, for one, would love to see Obama actually submit the above question to Congress, knowing that he would in all probability be validated in his request. But at least it would reinforce the perhaps dated idea that the American people have a say in whether and how we go to war.

Meanwhile, as I pointed out in an e-mail to the above-mentioned correspondent and as one of Yglesias’ commenters noted, the drone attacks in Pakistan bear a structural resemblance to the enlargement of American air campaigns into Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. (Keep in mind the domestic and regional consequences of those bombings.) And while the fact that the drones are pilotless might at first glance seem like a novelty, they’re really not much different than the Clinton-era cruise-missile strikes against al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan — a bit more precise and less destructive is about the only distinction I can come up with.

In other words, we’ve seen this approach before and in neither case were the results terribly effective.

Intersting, too, to note how with 40K U.S. troops in Afghanistan ostensibly to hunt down terrorists, the Bush administration essentially walked its al-Qaida strategy back to the very Clinton approach they argued had gotten us into this mess in the first place.

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