Senator Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) filibuster seemed to cement his standing with 20-somethings in the Twittersphere earlier this month. #StandwithRand populated everyone’s timelines as the Senator droned on about one of the nation’s most effective war-fighting tools. While Paul’s performance may have awed young moderates, his grandstanding about government drones was irresponsible.
Paul drew attention to a program that until recently had largely been kept under wraps. Instead of safeguarding our liberties through cautious inquiry, Paul coaxed Americans into imagining a Brave New World where killer drones snap pictures of you in your bathing suit. When journalists ask questions about drones, it is a check on power. But for senators to slander life-saving programs ... that is a hazard.
Paul's filibuster secured two victories for the senator. First, it pressured the attorney general to acknowledge what everyone feared about drones: their potential to hurt Americans. Second, it elevated his libertarian philosophy as a nonpartisan alternative to bipartisan, government-overreach.
Senator Paul agreed to end the filibuster if the White House dispelled fears that drones could kill Americans walking down the street. You might think that having not received a response, Paul would have assumed the White house was coming up with an explanation of imminent threats. Or maybe they were confused because the administration’s white paper on drones never mentioned backyard barbeques as Paul did.
But Paul went from suspicion to hysteria when he warned of Hellfire missiles raining down on your "café experience."
Maybe there is a reason President Obama wanted politicians like Rand Paul out of this discussion. It is dangerous to have senators openly fantasize about a Big Brother that can not only fly, but strike you dead. It is especially dangerous when that fantasy distorts the reality of one our greatest weapons in the war on terror.
In 2009, the New York Times quoted a Taliban operative who described the drone strikes in Pakistan as "very effective." The Times reported that drone strikes strained Taliban strategy and "thinned" their leadership. Last year, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported drone strikes at an average of one in every four days in Pakistan. That is almost two chances per week to dismantle the enemy while sparing our soldiers.
Drones give Americans the biggest bang for their buck. They deal critical blows to terrorist organizations without the mortal and financial toll of invasion.
We went to war after September 11, 2001. Practically and legally, Congress acknowledged that fighting Al Qaeda was not like fighting the MS-13. Three days after the attacks, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). AUMF gave the President authority "to use all necessary and appropriate force" to prevent future attacks. In other words, Congress told the president "godspeed."
Sen. Paul worried the CIA could use this authority as a go-ahead to kill anyone. Inevitably, Paul argued, this power would create a slippery slope where our never-ending police state tramples on the liberties of ordinary Americans. But can there be a middle ground between unrestrained liberty and extreme tyranny during war? Sure. The fact that serious debates over drones are about imminent threats — and not you in your pajamas — proves this.
The senator should heed John McCain’s advice and calm down. We are not in Nazi Germany, liberty is not in peril because of unmanned drones, and 13-hour filibusters about these things are not the saving grace of liberal democracy. Thursday’s filibuster may have scored Paul political points for his 2016 presidential run. But by grandstanding about one of our most effective tools in fighting terror, he’s not scoring any points for Americans.