John Brennan’s confirmation hearing on Thursday for CIA director is shaping up to be a rare moment of scrutiny into the war on terror, especially the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists. Among politicians, there is little opposition to the basic idea of targeted killings, but a growing feeling among some members of both parties that the programme has got out of control. Here are 10 questions he should be asked.
1) Legality. The legal opinion that justifies killing suspected al-Qaeda terrorists who are Americans is being shared with some members of Congress, but is secret for everyone else. If the government claims the authority to kill some of its citizens, at the very least shouldn’t the legal justification be made public?
2) The Decider. According to a leaked summary of the legal opinion, drone strikes can be authorised by an “informed, high-level official”. How senior does that official have to be? Only the president? His counter-terrorism adviser? Military commanders in the field? And what happens if other high-level officials disagree? Read more
Facing a grilling: Chuck Hagel (Getty)
Chuck Hagel’s keenly awaited confirmation hearing on Thursday to be the next US defence secretary is likely to be dominated by the hot-button issues that have already got him into trouble with some of his fellow Republicans (and a few Democrats) – his position on Israel, his opposition to Iran sanctions, his criticism of the Iraq war and his views on gays.
If so, that will be a shame, because it would be both interesting and important to hear him explain what his brand of “principled realism” actually means for US foreign policy. The hearing could provide a seminal debate on America’s global role. Here are ten questions he should be asked.
1) Defence budget. You said in September 2011 that the defence budget was “bloated”. That was before the Pentagon announced $485bn in cuts over the next decade. Is the budget still bloated? Are more cuts possible or necessary?
2) Pentagon cuts. To meet the cuts that have already been announced, will the Pentagon need to axe some important capabilities? Can the US still afford all of its aircraft carrier groups? Is the F-35 jet fighter too expensive to support? Does the US need such a large presence in Europe? Read more
By Gideon Rachman
In their second terms, many American presidents decide to strut the global stage. Richard Nixon had his overture to China. Bill Clinton became obsessed by the Middle East peace process. George W. Bush was embroiled in the Middle East war process.
We’ve wrapped up our live coverage of the unfolding crisis at the In Amenas gas complex, but you can follow the latest developments on FT.com. Read more
Islamist militant leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. (AFP/Getty)
A breach of the security at gas and oil installations was the Algerian regime’s nightmare back in the 1990s, when the country was wracked by an Islamist insurgency.
Under intense financial pressure at the time, and desperate to attract foreign investment into its energy sector, installations in the southern part of the country were heavily guarded exclusion zones that seemed a world apart from the heavily populated north.
There are two Algerias, people would say at the time, one soaked in blood, the other peaceful and bursting with oil and gas. Read more
It was always my impression that spies generally try to keep out of the papers, and out of the law courts. Judged by those standards, MI6 is not doing a very good job – and neither is the CIA. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
What is worse? Locking somebody up for years, without trial, while you try to find proof he is a terrorist? Or killing somebody whose name you don’t even know because his pattern of behaviour suggests to you that he is a terrorist? The first strategy, internment without trial at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, was a signature policy of the George W. Bush administration. The use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists has become a trademark of the Obama administration. Yet while Guantánamo attracted worldwide condemnation, the use of drones is much less discussed.
Perhaps predictably, Imran Khan’s protest march against US drone strikes was stopped before the marchers could make it into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Khan is a politician and so not averse to a bit of free publicity. He has also been accused of being soft on the Pakistani Taliban. Nonetheless, the issues that he and others are raising about the drone strikes are very important.
The allegations involve the death of hundreds of innocent civilians. If these charges are true, they strike me as much more serious than – for example – the detention without trial of terrorist suspects in Guantanamo, which became such a cause célèbre, during the Bush presidency. Read more
Mitt Romney makes remarks on the attack on the US consulate in Libya (Reuters)
There are moments that can indelibly brand a politician and Mitt Romney may just have met his.
The alacrity – and brittle certainty – with which the Republican nominee responded to the violence against US diplomats on Tuesday night offers a snapshot of why his candidacy has failed to attract true believers. On Wednesday morning, Hillary Clinton read out a sombre statement condemning the killing of Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans. Forty minutes later, Barack Obama followed suit. Both focused on Mr Stevens’ tragic death. Read more
Yesterday the FT opinion desk was offered a piece from a prominent French commentator, attacking President Sarkozy for having helped to create a climate of intolerance in France. A decision was made not to run it, on the grounds that we didn’t yet know who was responsible for the killings in Toulouse and Montauban. It was not yet clear that this was the work of right-wing extremists.
The rush to judgement was not confined to the French left. Also yesterday I heard a strange piece on the BBC’s “Today” programme (compulsory listening for the British middle-classes), where once again the premise of the discussion was that the killer of the French soldiers and the Jewish school-children was likely to be a right-wing extremist. This also struck me as very premature.
And so it seems. As I write the French police are surrounding the house of the chief suspect, who appears to have been an al-Qaeda member or sympathiser. Read more