Killing has never been so discriminating, so urbane, so cool.
The New York Times and Newsweek both ran long, largely admiring articles about how President Barack Obama selects individual terrorists to terminate with extreme prejudice. The administration’s “smart power” isn’t working out so well, but smart killing is a smash success.
Obama’s national-security team — as well as his top political adviser, David Axelrod — gather on “Terror Tuesdays” to go over an expanding “kill list” that the president examines with the aid of capsule biographies of the terrorists, or “baseball cards.” Then the president decides who lives and who — if we get him in our sights — dies.
Needless to say, had Dick Cheney consulted “baseball cards” to decide in weekly meetings attended by Karl Rove who deserved to have close encounters with drone-fired missiles, Nancy Pelosi would have drafted the articles of impeachment herself.
The Obama killings vindicate the core premises of the Bush war on terror: This is a war, and the protections of our criminal-justice system don’t apply to the enemy. In light of the kill list, it’s a wonder anyone ever objected to Bush-era detentions or interrogations. If we can pick someone off a roster of names and sentence him to death without due process, surely we can capture and hold that same person.
If we can execute someone — and any of his associates who happen to be in the vicinity — from on high, surely we can keep him awake at night and otherwise discomfit him should he fall into our hands.
The New York Times notes that “Mr. Obama’s record has not drawn anything like the sweeping criticism from allies that his predecessor faced.” True enough. It hasn’t been subjected to a highly politicized assault at home and abroad by people desperate to put it in the worst possible light and even make it a war crime.
With a few exceptions, the left has retired from the field when it comes to smearing the executive branch for prosecuting the war. If the left was still in the game, it would insist on always calling the actions assassinations, demand congressional authorization and judicial sign-off, excoriate the secret proceedings and pour scorn on the entire notion of enemy combatants standing outside the criminal-justice system.
It would call the assassinations a “terrorist recruiting tool,” as indeed they are, because almost anything we do to combat al-Qaida will offend some sympathizers of al-Qaida.
For most of the left, the highest principle of just war theory is licet si Obama id faciat (it’s OK if Obama does it). This is how Gitmo, formerly a standing repudiation of all that we hold dear as a nation, becomes an afterthought when it is owned and operated by one Barack Obama. As it happens, the president holds exactly the same Obama-centric view. So long as the kill list is overseen by him as judge and executioner, it’s beyond reproach.
The press tends to agree. The Newsweek article reports, “The choices he faces are brutally difficult, and he has struggled with them — sometimes turning them over in his mind again and again.”
Really? He thinks about who he is deciding to kill? The nation is blessed to have such a scrupulous leader. The Times maintains that the president parses the kill list as “a student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.” If no anecdotes have yet emerged about Obama justifying a particular kill with reference to the Summa Theologica, it’s probably only a matter of time.
In authorizing the strikes, the president is to be commended for his coldbloodedness, although no tactic is perfect or without costs. The war in Yemen is sliding the wrong way, and relations with target-rich Pakistan are at a low ebb.
But there should be no doubt now that the commander in chief possesses fearsome powers in the war on terror. All it took for Democrats to accept that was for President Obama to begin exercising them.
Rich Lowry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.