Baseball Card Judgements Without Hand-Wringing


Who would be President? Mitt Romney thinks he has the right stuff, but a fascinating , lengthy article in The New York Times of Tuesday 29th May 2012 describes, in detail, the grim realities of power. It goes like this: a liberal law professor, formerly president of the Harvard Law Review, chooses, as Chief Executive of the United States, to take direct responsibility for deciding, without capture, interview, charge, court proceedings or jury, and on a case-by-case basis, who should be killed by drone strike and who should be allowed, this time, to survive, in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

Nominations for assassination of Al-Quaeda members, made by a 100-strong caucus of US national security advisers who, by conference call, gather each week on “Terrorist Tuesday” to review suspected terrorists’ biographies – “a grim debating society that vets the Power Point slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Quaeda“ – has led, even since April this year, to 14 successful targeted killings in Yemen and 6 in Pakistan. One third of those in Pakistan who are nominated to be terminated with “extreme prejudice” are, as a means of ensuring that mistakes are minimised, personally authorised by Barack Obama, a President who, as a candidate, ran a campaign team fixed on the notion of “pragmatism over ideology”.

The President, says the article, is a serious student of the fraught tropic of morality and war as framed and discussed by thinkers such as St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. He is prepared it says, on the basis of credible human intelligence, to take moral responsibility and to constrain mistakes and outrages, such as the killing of innocents. But, “he has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive”, says one former adviser.

The awesome power of life or death is, for most of us, enough to make our heads swim, but, says the article, a successful attack on the USA or US citizens would overcome, and place in severe jeopardy, the President’s other achievements and ambitions. His constitutional duty, besides, is to protect the country and its citizens. What then of the killing of a US citizen, the radical cleric, Anwar Awlacki, who was killed in a US drone strike last year? “Could the President order the targeted killing of an American citizen, in a country with which the US was not at war, in secret and without the benefit of a trial?”

“This is an easy one”, an aide remembers the President saying. “(It) was based on the weight of evidence showing the cleric had joined the enemy and was plotting more terrorist attacks.”