The white paper has ignited not quite a firestorm (again, this isn’t the Bush administration), but at least a smoldering ember of brow-furrowed consternation among the president’s supporters and journalistic sympathizers who find the document “chilling.”

They rarely say what their alternative would be. Does a U.S. citizen get an exemption from targeting if he joins Al Qaeda at a high level? Should his status be litigated before he can be targeted, and if so, by whom and for how long and on the basis of what evidence? Can he show up in the court room to confront his accusers, a basic element of the Anglo-American system? Should al-Awlaki have gotten a court-appointed lawyer (assuming Gloria Allred wasn’t available) and access to all the intelligence about him so he could properly contest it? Maybe over Skype from somewhere in the badlands of Yemen?

It is self-evidently absurd. Civil libertarians lament that the argument of the white paper parallels the reasoning of the Bush administration. No kidding.

It’s not for nothing that the author of the white paper sounds like he could have worked for Dick Cheney. The Obama administration’s approach reflects the logic of the laws of war, the structure of American government and the exigencies of the fight against Al Qaeda.