Rand Paul (Getty Images)
Rand Paul’s marathon filibuster last week – aimed at holding up the confirmation of John Brennan as head of the CIA – was much more than a parliamentary stunt. It has opened up interesting new debates and divisions on the future direction of US foreign policy.
Senator Paul’s highlighting of the Obama administration’s use of drones for “targeted killings” of terrorist suspects, has established an unlikely alliance between the libertarian right and the liberal left. Until Paul took up the drones issue, it was mainly the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union, who were making the running in criticising the drone strikes. But, as Paul illustrated, there is a good libertarian case for suspicion of the over-mighty covert state. Even more interestingly, Paul’s stand placed him directly at odds with the neoconservative wing of his own Republican Party.
The Wall Street Journal has denounced Paul for appealing to “impressionable libertarian kids” – a condemnation quoted with approval by John McCain, one of the party’s leading foreign-policy hawks.
Conveniently for President Obama, this argument between the two wings of the Republican Party places the president somewhere in the middle. He will never be as hawkish as the Republican neocons, many of whom are pressing for intervention in Syria, an assault on Iran and denouncing cuts in the Pentagon budget. On the other hand, the president’s expansion of the drone war and his unwillingness to rein in the burgeoning national-security apparatus makes him very far from being a “libertarian kid”. Read more
John Brennan – Barack Obama’s nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director – testifies before the Senate intelligence committee today. The hearing offers a rare moment of public scrutiny of the government’s expanded use of drones to kill suspected terrorists, which has returned to the news this week.
By Shannon Bond in New York with Geoff Dyer in Washington. All times are GMT.
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