Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale

Leave a comment

The Oregon Promise

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.” –Winston Churchill

What do you mean civil liberties are partisan noise?

Freshman U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took the political world by storm with his Mad Men-era throwback to the talking filibuster against CIA Director nominee John Brennan. His stand against the most questionable aspects of Obama administration’s drone program was as simple and straightforward as it was—or should have been—avowedly nonpartisan. Paul wanted to highlight and clarify official U.S. drone policy—which Brennan helped author—on such seemingly important questions as whether executive discretion allows for extrajudicial killing of American citizens on American soil. After thirteen hours or so, he finally got his answer.

Rand Paul is certainly a rising star, especially among more libertarian-minded Republicans and Independents, for his perspicacious commitment to individual rights. However, this latest showdown on the real limits of limited government reveals far more about contemporary politics in America than the evolving possibilities for Ron Paul’s heir. As once strident progressives shrink away from their principles before Barack Obama’s remote agenda of unfettered homicidal prerogative—with a certain junior Senator from Connecticut going so far as to describe the defense of our civil liberties as “background noise”—only one Democrat (three, if we’re being exceedingly charitable) exercised the moral integrity of speaking truth to the power of his own party. So raise your glasses to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (and, perhaps, to fellow Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Dick Durbin).

If you’re not affiliated with the Great State of Oregon and yet find that the name Ron Wyden seems inexplicably familiar, it is probably because you have indeed encountered it before—fairly recently, in fact. In the last election cycle, Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan championed a sensible proposal for making Medicare solvent through the foreseeable future, rather than only until my nine-year-old cousin can legally drink. The once bipartisan plan was developed, in part, by none other than Ron Wyden. That did make for some awkwardness last year.

Before that, this Left Coast Democrat promoted a bipartisan approach to tax reform with Judd Gregg, and later with Tea Party favorite Dan Coats, that was praised—with reservations—across the political spectrum. The pro-growth Wyden-Coats plan aimed to “hold down rates” on individuals and corporations while closing various loopholes. (Sound familiar, Mr. President?) Rather than relying on gimmicks like the Buffet Rule or pretending there is no federal spending problem, Ron Wyden has shown that effective tax reform can be fiscally and economically responsible without raising tax rates on anyone.

Earlier still, the Oregonian teamed up with Utah Republican Bob Bennett to push a promising third way on healthcare reform (which, incidentally, helps give the lie to liberal notions of conservative intransigence) to the ire of (some) leftists and unions. To make a rare point of agreement with Ezra Klein, Ron Wyden is far from perfect, and he has voted along with much of Barack Obama’s lackluster agenda. But this particular “ardent liberal” manages to remind a bipartisan audience how statesmen should govern—a perspective generally lacking in the White House and among some on Capitol Hill. Without boasting much in the arena of “conservative bona fides”, Oregon’s senior Senator has championed many a libertarian cause. I expect some savvy conservative actors could make better use of that than President Obama has of the notorious eloquence of Chuck Hagel.

Oregon was once a Republican State—from Dewey through Reagan—and George W. Bush came within 7,000 votes of turning it red in 2000. Nowadays, the Beaver State is home to a rambunctious mix of staunchly liberal and solidly conservative voters, not unlike Iowa or Colorado, and the Democrats run the show. But the parties are not yet monolithic, and nothing lasts forever. Whatever becomes of Wyden, Paul, or anyone else on the political stage, successful leaders from here onward will have to expand the realm of possibilities and the states in play for innovation.

The old ways won’t work anymore. It’s time for a new take on change.


The Drones of Fall

“War is not nice.” –Barbara Bush

Drones don’t kill people; we have people for that!

There’s been much ado about the purported moral hazards of drones. Much of it has come from the Left, but there have been some conservative reservations. As you may recall, I addressed liberal compunctions on this topic not too long ago, reminding the Left of its moral and political complicity in the Obama status quo. But on this occasion, we’re going to discuss the practical validity of drones in our defense strategy.

For this second discussion we thank my friend Leah Libresco over at Unequally Yoked. In detailing her key political qualms with this election, Libresco described the morality of the use of drones as follows:

“We are endorsing an indiscriminate, terrifying way to prosecute a war that is above all inhumane because it leaves the humans in each side of it in isolation.  Death from above robs the killer and their target of the mutual recognition and love that is their natural relationship.  It’s not only murder, it’s murder that fosters a lie.”

The crux of this argument—an essentially Catholic rendering of familiar secular reservations—is the conviction that deploying troops into the path of harm is a moral requirement of war. In other words, it is wrong to deny an enemy combatant the opportunity—which Libresco calls love and other liberals deem “due process”—to face down his would-be killer. To put it more charitably, opponents of drones seem to believe that such remote targeting results, perhaps inevitably, in greater civilian casualties than conventional troop deployment would cause, and these greater casualties are exacerbating ill will toward the U.S. and our allies.

To clarify something up front, this issue is not about whether you’re for or against the war in Afghanistan or what you think about the 2014 withdrawal date favored by both President Obama and Governor Romney. This discussion is about the moral and practical realities of war. The primary question here is how to minimize collateral damage and protect our allies while successfully fulfilling goals and eliminating enemies.

In the last several years, the Taliban and their terror networks have aggressively increased killing sprees throughout the country. For the sake of undermining the civilian government & attacking NATO troops—to the end of repressively commandeering the country—terrorists are willfully injuring and killing thousands of innocent people. For NATO, a shift in strategy from troop deployment to drones allows for, among other things, less danger to civilians who would be harmed through the kind of broad targeting of troops that produces heavy civilian casualties. In short and against the reigning criticisms, drones allow for less—not “no”—combat among innocents.

According to the United Nations, civilian death from terrorist attacks has sharply increased since 2006, whereas casualties from coalition forces declined. Any nonzero number of innocent dead is a vicious tragedy, and many would argue that the current numbers could and should be lower. I’m not disagreeing with that analysis. But as it stands, civilian deaths from pro-government forces are believed—by the U.N.—to be at their lowest levels in half a decade. By contrast, terrorists murdered more civilians in 2011—nearly six times as many killed by American allies—than in the last six years. This comes even as casualties from aerial attacks, which do account for the bulk of deaths, are down.

Are there problems with U.S. drone policy? Absolutely. But given the numerical trends in casualties and the reality of a protracted war, drone critics must do more than enumerate flaws. The opposition ought to promote and defend a better way to defeat our enemies and keep our allies safe.

I commend our military leaders for continuing to defend us from enemies we may never see, even as the chattering classes drone.


A Song of Drones and Values

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” –Harvey Dent

When you play the game of drones, you win or you die. Or your president stabs you in the heart and twists. There is no middle ground.

Life and death can make for compelling deal breakers in politics. More often than not, we face this reality in the ongoing disputes over abortion law and single-issue voters. But there’s nothing quite like the games of war in a wearily introspective superpower afflicted by enduring frustration and quixotic performance art of leadership. Over the past decade, so many thousands of lives have been lost to terror and the fight against it. Even as the Iraq War has finally ended—for the United States, anyway—American-led campaigns across the Middle East continue the Sisyphean task of eradicating violent extremism.

Enter the drones. As though by miraculum ex machina, the U.S. can target and eliminate enemy combatants without deploying a single boot to a warzone of the whole. But as with all developments in war, there are costs. Some induce nightmares. For liberals who cannot reconcile the costs with the values, the totality of these issues constitutes a moral event horizon for Obama. Many of these disaffected are understandably wary of jumping on the Gary Johnson bandwagon. But I’ll go out on an olive branch and suggest a Romney presidency has more to offer the progressively malcontent than meets the gag reflex.

The persistent criticism about the current administration’s approach to war, which is only partly about drones, is that Obama is the same or worse than “the neo-conservative policy” of George W. Bush. It demands the question, if Obama is already so terrible—even while he promised to be otherwise—what exactly is so frightening about a potential Romney administration? Last I checked, it was Barack Obama who established a framework for killing American children without due process and formalized indefinite detention. And these new bureaucratic tools will be, in the words of the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, “available to every future president against every future enemy or purported enemy.”

Love or hate him, Mitt Romney is upfront about his foreign policy ideas and concerns, from confronting our enemies to defending human rights. At most, he will do what he says. Otherwise, he will pleasantly surprise you. Compare this to the promise of a big game to earn a premature Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama has reduced you, his liberal base, to enabling the legitimacy of policies you fought so hard to destroy, from waiving sanctions on countries that use child soldiers to waging another war abroad—ignoring congressional oversight for either—to codifying military commissions and extraordinary rendition to escalating warrantless surveillance of Americans. (For the record, even “prominent neoconservative” Charles Krauthammer is arguing for limits on drones and surveillance of Americans.)

We all know that war is neither painless nor clean, and collateral damage is as heartbreaking as it is inevitable. But which would you prefer, the rhetorical embrace of a friend who stabs you in the back—from the safety of a remote machine—as you shield his treachery from criticism, or the political opponent who, at the very least, will put his cards on the table and allow you the opportunity to defend your values, such as they are?

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my devils where I can see them. It makes for an easier kill peacekeeping.