A few months ago, we discussed the disturbing suggestion that there could ever be a rulebook for drone warfare. Most of us are horrified by the fact that remote-control killer aircraft is now a “thing”, and we should be.
But we should also be horrified by the thought of non-remote-controlled killer aircraft. A big news story broke in the United States of America last week when Rand Paul staged a filibuster in the Senate to ask whether or not a military drone could ever be used to kill an American citizen on American soil. This is a good question, but it makes no sense for Rand Paul to stop there, since there doesn’t seem to be a big moral distinction between the use of a drone to kill an American citizen on American soil and the use of a drone to kill a non-American citizen on non-American soil. There also doesn’t seem to be a big moral distinction between the use of a drone to kill any person on any soil and the use of a different weapon to do the same thing.
It’s good that the scary new phenomenon of drone warfare is causing Americans to question the foundational principles of militarism, but this inquiry won’t amount to much unless we are prepared to realize the obvious truth: militarism itself is the problem, and the entire institution of war should be the target of our protest. There are small glimmers of hope that the recent debate over drone warfare is leading a few smart thinkers to ask the bigger questions about militarism, even though many others who’ve heard about Paul’s filibuster are missing the point.
This topic creates hard splits that cut across conventional party lines, and cuts deeply into well-set belief systems. Rand Paul is the son of Ron Paul, a controversial Republican libertarian who refuses to buy into typical Republican pro-militarism, and the larger implications of his protest were recognized and sharply criticized by John McCain, a politician who has constructed his entire career on an image of noble militarism (a humorous moment occurred shortly afterwards, when McCain and Paul were photographed awkwardly sharing an elevator).
Rand Paul’s filibuster has continued to dominate political chatter, and the startling vision of a popular Republican criticizing the US military has catalyzed all kinds of strangeness, even coaxing the usually hidden name of Ayn Rand onto the lips of another Republican politician, Ted Cruz. Some conservatives are trying to ignore the anti-militarist slant of Paul’s question and pretend that Paul’s target is President Obama. This would be more believable if Obama’s position on military technology differed from that of, say, John McCain, but unfortunately it doesn’t.
“Two Sides of Rand Paul“, an Andrew McCarthy article in the conservative magazine National Review, tries to limn the schism at a greater level of detail, and the results are bizarre. McCarthy twists various political positions into knots, hoping to find a single knot that holds. His main trick is to only agree with Rand Paul when he criticizes USA military spending on allies like Egypt that Republicans can fashionably criticize, and to pretend (again) that Paul’s target is Obama. But no amount of twisting can reconcile Rand Paul’s question about drones with the Republican party’s traditional pro-military stance, and the resulting stretches are amazing to see.
To his great credit, Senator Paul tried to stop our government’s transfer of F-16 aircraft and Abrams tanks to Egypt. He certainly has that half of the equation right. At Heritage, he observed that while “the war is not with Islam but with a radical element of Islam — the problem is that this element is no small minority but a vibrant, often mainstream, vocal and numerous minority.” I’d say “minority” is hopeful — at least in the Middle East, where, as Paul further noted, the enemy ideology grips “whole countries, such as Saudi Arabia.” Islamic-supremacism — what he called “radical Islam” — is, as he described, “no fleeting fad but a relentless force.” To empower Islamic supremacists is a grave mistake …
Any successful conservative foreign policy is going to marry the clarity about the enemy that animated Rand Paul’s Heritage speech with the clear distinction John Yoo draws between fighting war and fighting crime. And we’d better get about it because the stakes are high.
Rand Paul’s filibuster has left the right wing in a tizzy, but it’s done the same thing to the left. Rand Paul’s stances on Obamacare, taxation, abortion and states rights make it hard for a liberal like me to ever applaud him, and I do agree with most of my liberal friends that the idea of this rigid ideologue as a future President is truly creepy. However, I am not afraid to contradict myself when it’s truthful to do so, and I will never insult your intelligence with the kind of logic-twisting that Andrew McCarthy engages in above. So I will state my conclusion straight out: I do not agree with Rand Paul on most issues, but I think his filibuster was absolutely great, and I would love to see more like it.
Let’s not forget, for what it’s worth, that Rand Paul might have gotten the filibuster idea from Bernie Sanders, a liberal Senator who has never been called a Presidential hopeful, but who created a similar splash on the Senate floor in 2010.
A year after Bernie Sanders’s filibuster, I wrote on this blog that Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party should protest together. I trust the principles of the better proponents of both of these movements more than I trust most mainstream Democratic or Republican politicians currently in office. The fact that the vital philosophy of pacifism has some slight presence in both the Occupy and Tea Party movements is one reason why I feel this way. Pacifism is nowhere to be found in the platforms of either the Democratic or Republican parties, and that’s a damn shame.
The schisms Rand Paul exposed with his filibuster are, I hope, the pressure points for better political movements currently emerging. It’s moving slowly, though, and I’m sure I’m not the only frustrated activist who feels like he’s stuck in a crowded elevator with Rand Paul and John McCain. This elevator is moving way too slow. I hope the door will open soon.