Via Mediaite, here’s why I said in the McCain post that I didn’t share Mollie Hemingway’s receding cynicism. I trust that Paul would have the same objections to drone policy under a Republican president. I trust that Mike Lee would too. Beyond that, things get iffy. Glenn Greenwald has a point here:
Bush-cheerleading conservatives who “stand with Rand” = Rand-mocking progressives who pretended to care about civil liberties under Bush
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 7, 2013
Graham’s the right guy to challenge Paul because he is, in his own way, as nonpartisan on executive counterterrorism power as Paul is. If I understand him correctly, he ends up arguing at the end here that “enemy combatant” status is itself sufficient to justify a drone strike on a U.S. citizen on American soil whether or not he’s carrying out an attack at the time. This is the same guy who once lamented that we couldn’t rein in Koran-burning on grounds that, and I quote, “Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” This is not a guy who worries overly much about constitutional niceties when it comes to the military doing its job on counterterrorism. It’d be nice, at least, though, if he managed not to distort Paul’s point in the process. Paul’s not worried about Obama targeting noncombatants; what he’s saying is that there should be special protocols when dealing with “enemy combatants” if they’re American citizens and within reach of law enforcement here in the U.S. His point about Jane Fonda being theoretically targeted is that the definition of “enemy combatant” can be murky and potentially easily abused; to this day, the hard evidence that Awlaki was more than a propagandist and actually an operational leader is classified. Paul’s trying to draw at least one bright-line rule to limit the president’s power to unilaterally execute American citizens: In very narrow circumstances — U.S. citizen on U.S. soil who’s not presently engaged in an attack — you’ve got to send in the FBI to try to pick him up, not a Predator armed with Hellfires to take him down. Compared to the amount of anti-drone agitation in wider libertarian circles, Paul’s request here is actually conspicuously modest. He’s not asking for drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen to end. He’s not even asking, as Graham is quick to note, that Obama quit firing at American-citizen jihadis overseas. He wants some acknowledged limit on executive power and he chose the strongest conceptual ground on which to ask for it.
But look. Graham’s not really worried about Paul’s drone position here. What he’s worried about is a sea change inside the GOP caucus towards the isolationist view of the war on terror. I can imagine the look on his face when he saw Marco Rubio, the great interventionist hope, head to the floor yesterday afternoon to lend Paul a hand. (Rubio’s not going to make it easy for Paul to paint him as the GOP’s next crazed superhawk in 2016.) After 11 years of war it’s doubtless true that isolationism has more fans among Republicans than at any time in the last few decades; to see a member of the Paul family suddenly the party’s new hero must be a nightmare for McCain and Graham. As Ace puts it:
Now it’s possible they’re suspicious of Rand Paul and think he’s carrying water for his father’s Doctrinaire Pacifism but under the false flag of a much more narrow issue on which he has the right; that is, they think he’s trying to move opinion to the Doctrine Pacifist camp in the typical way the Pacifists and anti-American agitators do it, to wit, seizing one one particular grabby issue at a time.
I have to confess I have the same suspicion. I do believe Rand Paul is his father’s son.
So do I, and so I think do lots of mainstream conservatives, which is why Graham’s worries are overblown. The cynicism-inducing question from last night’s Senate insurrection is how many of them mean it and how many of them pitched in simply because it was an irresistible chance to publicly humiliate Obama on a basic constitutional question. The retail politics of it were so winning that I actually thought McCain and Graham might themselves swing by to offer some sort of tepid endorsement of minimal executive accountability. Didn’t happen, but I also don’t think Paul’s stand presages any tidal shift in the Republican caucus. Anyone believe, if O orders a raid on Iran’s reactors tomorrow, the GOP as a body will react with paleocon laments about imperialism and U.S. aggression? Graham’s not really talking to Paul and Mike Lee here (note his persistent backhanded compliments of Paul at the beginning for being a principled libertarian), he’s simply warning the rest that he knows grandstanding when he sees it and is prepared to call them on it if they keep it up.