The First Rule of Drones looks a lot like the First Rule of Retail — location, location, location. According to a new poll by Gallup, almost two-thirds of Americans support the use of drones to spot and target terrorists, as long as we spot them over there instead of over here. When the suspected terrorists are on US soil, two-thirds or more want drones to buzz off:
A majority of Americans oppose the use of drone strikes on U.S. soil and against American citizens wherever they may be, according to a poll on Monday, but are perfectly fine with the program’s primary use — killing suspected terrorists abroad.
Sixty-five percent of Americans say the United States should use drones to launch airstrikes against suspected terrorists living abroad, according to a Gallup poll. Only 28 percent oppose the idea.
But when the suspected terrorist is a U.S. citizen living abroad, opposition jumps to 52 percent, with 41 percent support. Two-thirds oppose the use of drones to launch airstrikes on American soil. And 71 percent oppose targeting an American in the U.S.
This isn’t really an inconsistency, although it seems that way at first. If called to explain, Americans would distinguish between wartime operations abroad and law enforcement activity at home. Just as very few Americans would support military operations on US soil, even against terrorists, the use of war tactics would make for a very bad precedent even by law-enforcement agencies. The fact that the wartime operations are controlled not by the Department of Defense but by the CIA wouldn’t do anything to dent that belief, especially since the CIA is barred from conducting operations in the US as well. (The FBI runs counterterrorism and counter-espionage operations inside the US.)
The poll’s internals show an interesting effect, however. About half of Americans claim to follow the issue of drone use somewhat or very closely, with an equal number (49%) not following it too closely or at all. Rand Paul’s filibuster might have impacted those figures by making it more visible, but his stand on the issue didn’t do much to move the needle among those paying attention. Across the board, those following the issue more closely were more likely to approve their use in each of the four parameters offered — abroad against foreigners, abroad against US citizens, domestically against foreign nationals, and domestically against US citizens suspected of terrorist activity.
Gallup concludes that Paul’s filibuster may not have been a game-changer at all:
Although it was Republican Sen. Paul who filibustered in protest of the potential or possible future use of drones in the U.S., rank-and-file Republicans across the country are actually more supportive of such actions than are independents or Democrats.
And, even with Paul’s effort to bring the issue of drones into the national spotlight during his 13-hour filibuster, less than half of Americans are paying very or somewhat close attention to news about the U.S government’s use of drones. Americans who are following the news at least somewhat closely are slightly more likely to say the government should use drones in each of the four circumstances.