Targeted Killing

Thoughts on Rand Paul's Publicity Stunt

By Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, March 7, 2013, 9:19 PM

I have held off for nearly 24 hours in writing up my thoughts about Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster because I was trying to think of something to say beyond that this was a dumb publicity stunt. But here's the problem: I can't. Because the filibuster was, in fact, a dumb publicity stunt---and nothing more than that.

There are about a hundred interesting and difficult questions to pose to the administration about targeted killings and drones. Sen. Paul started with one of the least interesting: Can the government kill an American with a drone domestically? It's about as interesting a question as, say, asking whether the Air Force can conduct air strikes against targets in Chicago. In fact, it's the exact same question. And the answer to it is exactly the same: the Air Force would never do that except under conditions so extreme that they implicate all sorts of inherent defense authorities that, of course, exist.

Having started with a dumb question, Paul then posed it in a particularly ridiculous way, as Jack described yesterday. Now the targets are no longer people who pose imminent threats and whose capture is not feasible (the only U.S. citizens the administration has ever claimed the authority to target). Now the question, roughly translated, is whether the Air Force can conduct strikes against targets in Chicago who are “in a cafe.” Or, to put it another way, Paul is asking whether Obama can, like Bashar Assad, murder his own people when he could arrest them. The answer to that question is equally obvious---and nothing, not a word, the administration has said should raise the slightest anxiety that this is what it believes.

And then, having started with a dumb question and posed it in a form that answers itself, Sen. Paul talked about it---for 13 hours. And his colleagues and the press swooned. And Twitter twittered.

I'd like to say there's more to it than that, but I really don't think there is.