Thursday, March 7, 2013

Of Drones and Men - Rand Paul Filibuster

Senator Rand Paul has strong legs. 12 hours of Filibuster and counting. Senator Paul's concern? The Obama Administration's unwillingness to provide him with clarification over the use of UCAVs (Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicles) on American soil. I respect Rand Paul's passion. He's taking a stand (quite literally) for a cause that is obviously crucial - there are very few issues as important as the civil liberty of the American people. He's also helping the GOP move to a more intellectual position on national security- a realm of complexity demanding of independent thought. And while I'm personally not terribly concerned that the US Government will be unleashing Hellfires on American civilians any time soon, I'm also cognizant of the need to draw scrutiny to the President's aggressive Executive. The President must understand that democracy does not equal blind acquiescence to his will.

On the flip side, I also have a few concerns here.

First, the FOREIGN deployment of UCAVs provides a critical tool for US counter-terrorism efforts. In the absence of boots on the ground (which nowadays has a distinctly weak political constituency) and in the context of a strategic environment in which our foreign partners do not want an overt US footprint in their territory, UCAVs are a major asset. They enable the United States to identify, monitor and defeat our foreign adversaries. They have allowed us to impose devastating physical and psychological losses on Al Qa'ida and its affiliates. In this regard, we should make distinction between using drones abroad and using them at home.

Second, I genuinely believe that John Brennan would make a strong DCI. He's intelligent, well respected by international intelligence agencies and has an extremely strong resume. For a start, Brennan is fluent in Arabic, an expert on the Middle East and is a former Riyadh station chief. He knows how to fight Al Qa'ida. Yes, he's not perfect. His backtracking on the CIA's interrogation program reeks of supplication to Congressional Democrats- who are desperate to ignore history. But the truth is that the CIA has much important work to do. Whether in facing down AQAP, or restraining AQIM, or continuing to exert pressure on terrorists in Pakistan, or providing accurate assessments on China and Russia, or in addressing the multitude of other concerns that we face, the CIA desperately needs strong leadership and a respected voice in the White House. Compared to Hagel at DoD, Brennan is a good choice.

Finally, I worry about how the White House will try to slander Paul and by association the GOP. If they're able to paint Paul's filibuster as an example of unrepentant GOP intransigence, then the Republican position re-the 2014 midterms will be weakened. Such a portrayal would be unfair - thus far, Obama has lacked a serious willingness to compromise. Sadly however, politics is just as much about perception as it is about reality. To avoid this spin from the White House, GOP Senators must engage Democrats to get behind Paul.
In the end, my position is pretty basic. I hope the President will answer Senator Paul's concerns. But I also hope that Paul recognizes the need for a functioning, well lead Central Intelligence Agency. If the President is willing to get his act together, then over the next four years, America can achieve much around the world. That opportunity is positive. But we also need to recognize the negative - America faces serious threats. Those dangers must be confronted and each day we're absent a CIA Director, our task is made more difficult. President Obama has the ball, he should meet Senator Paul's reasonable requests and then Paul should end his filibuster.


  1. This has been one of the more balanced posts I've seen so far.

    I agree with your point about using drones for U.S. counter terrorism, something that I think people spend far too much time quibbling over, although on the whole I disagree with much of U.S. foreign policy over the past decade. However, I think the idea of "preventive war" (Something the Bush administration was preaching and an idea the "War on Terror" was based on), the idea of giving the government far reaching powers in order to prevent a crisis, enables these types of executive power grabs. It's a difficult balancing act.

    I don't know much about Brennan, so I'll take your word for it. Might take some time to do more research later.

    To avoid this spin from the White House, GOP Senators must engage Democrats to get behind Paul.

    I don't think this is going to happen. In fact, I foresee a lot of conflict within the GOP over this filibuster. But hey, it would be nice if D's and R's could come together for once.

  2. I wrote a post that isn't really a response to this post, but just my general thoughts on the Rand Paul Filibuster. I would appreciate if you dropped by and wrote a comment, or at least responded to it here.