New Castle News

March 8, 2013

Our Opinion: Senators try to talk commitment out of administration

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Every civics student knows what a filibuster is.

That’s when one or more members of the Senate take the floor and talk endlessly in an effort to block a vote or some other action they deem undesirable.

The filibuster has a long and storied history. It was made famous in the Jimmy Stewart film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” It also was smeared by Southern senators in the 1950s and 1960s who used it to block civil rights legislation.

But for decades now, the filibuster has been more symbolic than meaningful. Changes in Senate rules weakened the power of the filibuster and also allowed a minority of senators to block votes without hours of talking. The true filibuster faded into legend.

Until this week.

A small group of senators, led by Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, took to the Senate floor to block a vote on the nomination of John Brennan as CIA chief. As filibusters go, it was an abbreviated one that began after noon Wednesday and went into the night.

But Brennan isn’t the real target of the filibuster. Instead, Paul and others are raising questions over government policy regarding the use of weaponized drones, and whether there is any intent to employ them against American citizens on U.S. soil.

In response to the filibuster, the Obama administration declared it had no intention of using a drone “to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.” But the definition of “combat” creates legal wiggle room.

For certain folks, the use of drones represents a major expansion of federal military power, in that these devices have the capacity to identify specific targets and then attack. Drones have been credited with killing scores of al-Qaida officials, but mistakes have been made as well.

The morality of certain weapons in time of war is fuel for ongoing debate. But we get the sense Paul and others are worried about domestic targets deemed to be enemies of the U.S. Amid all the debate over gun control these days, you may have noticed that a key concern of gun rights activists is the ability to defend themselves against an oppressive government.

However, an assault rifle is no match for a drone.

Interestingly some Republican senators, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are among the loudest critics of Paul’s filibuster, dismissing the concerns as pointless.

The way we see it, if some credible threat emerged, we presume the government would employ drones on U.S. soil. We note that at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Air Force jets were prepared to shoot down commercial jetliners if it became necessary.

From a practical standpoint, drones are no different. And any statement from any administration on the subject won’t change that.