This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.
Is the fight against al-Qaida chiefly a criminal proceeding, or is it a campaign of war?
If it’s the former, President Barack Obama must stop ordering drone strikes against Americans who’ve fallen in with al-Qaida and its affiliates, and who are working with them abroad.
In fact, he must stop ordering strikes against non-Americans, including al-Qaida leaders – because Hellfire missiles deny them due process, criminal defense teams and trials.
But if armed drones are weapons of a congressionally authorized war against avowed enemies of the United States, the Constitution fully empowers the president to use them. The only questions that remain are matters of practicality, ethics and wisdom.
Count us in the second camp. The nomination of John Brennan as CIA director has been foolishly sidelined in the Senate over this issue.
An individual drone strike can be criticized on various grounds: Was it effective? Did it hurt or help U.S. strategy? Did it create more enemies than it killed? Did it kill a disproportionate number of civilians?
But the president’s constitutional authority to order drone strikes as part of the war against anti-American jihadists is unquestionable. The presidential war-making power is not contingent on avoiding civilian – or American – casualties.
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