On March 7, the United States Senate confirmed John O. Brennan to be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency by a vote of 63 to 34 that was led by 50 votes from Democrat senators, according to a vote summary on the Senate.gov website.
The confirmation occurred after Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky held the floor on March 6 for a 13 hour filibuster of Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA until President Barack Obama’s administration answered a direct question about the president’s legal ability to authorize lethal drone strikes against U.S. citizens on American soil.
Brennan’s role as the chief architect of President Barack Obama’s controversial drone “kill list” policy made the new CIA Director’s confirmation a proxy vote for the future of unmanned aerial aircraft as lethal weapons controlled by U.S. government agencies.
In particular, Sen. Rand Paul’s resolute stand against the Obama administration’s claim of unilateral assassination power and arbitrary target selection – without any judicial or legislative oversight and accountability – has reshaped the political landscape between Democrats and Republicans on the vital issues of civil liberties and U.S. foreign policy.
Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster is likely to become a historical marker that defines the relationship between the U.S. government and ordinary people all over the world who are simply going about their daily business under the shadows of drone aircraft in the skies above them.
In a fundamental sense, the drone debate sparked by President Barack Obama’s policy and Sen. Rand Paul’s challenge of it has realigned Republicans and Democrats 180 degrees from where they were only 5 years ago.
Democrats loudly condemned policies they claimed were “creating more terrorists” and turning world opinion against the U.S. during former President George W. Bush’s presidency. That turns out to be righteous indignation that now seems, in the context of history, to be hypocritical opportunism and cynical political rhetoric that was devoid of true principle or substance.
After years of excoriating Bush policies - and Republicans who supported them - for boosting terrorist recruitment and fueling anti-American sentiment in Islamic dominated cultures across the world, the Democratic Party essentially endorsed an even more divisive and indefensible policy with its nearly unanimous support of John Brennan to head the CIA.
As the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, retired General Stanley McChrystal warned about the irreparable damage being done to America’s reputation by its lethal drone policy in Pakistan during a January 2013 Reuters interview, by cautioning:
“What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world. The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes…is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one.”
Notably, only two Democrat senators – Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont – joined Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in voting against the architect of Obama’s drone “kill list” policy.
Guns In The Sky
The Obama drone kill list policy is now officially the de-facto position of the Democratic Party with John Brennan’s confirmation vote. Prior to the Brennan vote, Democrats in the U.S. Senate had not officially voted on any significant drone policies or conducted meaningful oversight of President Barack Obama’s use of the clandestine unmanned aerial weapons program.
Brennan’s role in the drone kill list program inextricably links him to President Obama, the controversial policy, and the burgeoning backlash against the use of such weapons both in the U.S. and key nations such as Pakistan and Yemen.
While Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster arguments and questions to the White House mostly focused on potential use of drones to kill citizens within the United States, the clear subtext was an overall condemnation of the practice of using such lethal technology in such an arbitrary manner without specific charges against a targeted individual or declaration of war against a particular nation.
“We don't see drones as productive at all. The drones are the red line here.”
Similarly, the deadly drone strikes come with considerable risk of killing innocent civilians - whose identities are neither known beforehand, nor disclosed afterward by the U.S. government – which contributes to exacerbating the animosity and hatred toward America in many regions of the world.
A Fall 2011 article in the Stanford Journal of International Relations cites a report from analysts Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann that shows the actual civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan is alarmingly high, by stating:
"..Analyzed the reporting of civilian deaths from multiple media organizations to predict the true civilian fatality rate as 32 percent, or around a third of deaths resulting from drone attacks. This number, while on the lower end of the spectrum, is still a gruesome statistic. At what civilian fatality rate will the US government rethink their drone strike strategy – 50 percent? 60 percent? 75 percent? "
A September 2012 U.S. drone attack in Yemen killed 13 innocent civilians, including three women and three police officers, when the missile hit the wrong car and the suspected terrorists escaped unharmed, according to a CNN report.
The botched drone attack enraged villagers in the Yemeni town of Rada, leading one angry resident to suggest that the strike will help al Qaeda recruit more terrorists to attack the U.S. in retaliation, by saying:
“I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined the lines of al Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake. This part of Yemen takes revenge very seriously.”
Obama’s Global War On Terror
President Barack Obama now has his national security team in place and executing his policy visions with the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA Director following Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
For Democrats, this places ideological liberal-progressives in an uncomfortable position on civil liberties and perceptions of American counter-terror operations in foreign nations.
Specifically, President Obama’s reliance on John Brennan’s counsel is eerily reminiscent of the relationship between former CIA Director George Tenet and former President George W. Bush.
John Brennan is so highly regarded by Obama that he was described in an article titled “The Lethal Bureaucrat” published in ForeignPolicy.com as:
“A priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Obama.”
President Obama has unquestionably dispensed his own healthy dose of rhetoric to project his image of being a committed and fearless prosecutor of the terror war.
In his 2010 State of the Union speech, President Obama attempted to place his stature as a balanced defender of civil liberties and relentless anti-terror warrior above criticism by declaring:
“So let's put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let's reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values.”
To many citizens of the United States and people concerned about the drone kill list throughout the world, Sen. Rand Paul must look like a hero for standing up to Obama and Brennan.
Although Democrats confirmed the drone kill list architect, history might make Sen. Rand Paul look prophetic someday.