Pelosi: You know, I'm not sure if Obama should tell the public when he's targeted an American citizen

Good lord. How did I miss this last week?

If all you had here was the quotes, you might guess that they came from Dick Cheney or Condi Rice. Actually, scratch that — Condi sounds a bit more dovish about drones than Nancy does. Three words, my friends, just in case O does end up pulling the plug on Hagel: Defense Secretary Pelosi?

“Maybe. It just depends,” she said in an interview with The Huffington Post this week, when asked whether the administration should acknowledge when it targets a U.S. citizen in a drone strike…

“It’s interesting how popular it is in the public,” she said, recalling that the same polling dynamic prevailed during the fight over warrantless wiretaps. “People just want to be protected. And I saw that when we were fighting them on surveillance, the domestic surveillance. People just want to be protected: ‘You go out there and do it. I’ll criticize you, but I want to be protected.'”

“It depends on the situation,” she said [when asked if it’s appropriate for the White House to “disappear” U.S. citizens]. “Maybe it depends on the timing, because that’s right — it’s all about timing, imminence. What is it that could be in jeopardy if people know that happened at this time? I just don’t know.”…

“I don’t know the American people want [the administration] to say, when in doubt, we decided that it wasn’t that imminent, and boom, we get hit again. It’s hard,” said Pelosi. “It’s not an easy thing, especially when you see that the values on the other side are not there. This is their life’s work to go to heaven — not to put down their beliefs, but the fact is, we don’t have a shared respect for life.”

When asked if O should share more info with the public about the drone program, the leader of the anti-war Democratic majority elected in 2006, who promised the most honest, open, ethical Congress in history, sonorously replied, “Oh, I don’t know.” More from Joel Gehrke at the Examiner:

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, responded less blithely. “Anytime the government willfully executes a citizen, regardless of the circumstances, it is a very serious issue,” Lee, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement to The Washington Examiner. “As the body that oversees executive branch actions, at the very least, Congress should have a full accounting – even if it must sometimes be in a classified setting – of the specific considerations that went into the decision.”…

Lee also acknowledged the possibility of some situations that might call for secrecy, though he emphasized the need for congressional review. “Government should always err on the side of greater transparency and make details public where they can,” he said in his statement. “Where there are limited and serious national security concerns about releasing certain details, the appropriate committees in Congress should have the opportunity to perform oversight.”

Three points here. First, it tells you everything you need to know about the state of Democratic civil-libertarianism that Pelosi would feel comfortable defending drones in these terms in the Huffington Post, of all places. She’s speaking directly to the lefty base here and not sugarcoating her points — one, that the public isn’t as opposed to Bushian counterterror measures as liberals sometimes like to pretend (Democrats very much included) and, two, that the politics of counterterrorism pushes presidents towards erring on the side of aggressive countermeasures. Which, of course, is part of the reason why Democrats support drone strikes: They know what it would mean for 2016 if a plot masterminded by a jihadi whom O had declined to target came off successfully. She can afford to be blunt. She knows there’ll be no backlash until a Republican’s back in the White House.

Second, if Pelosi’s confident of the program’s popularity, why is she ambivalent about whether the White House should be more transparent about it? In theory, more disclosure makes everyone happy. It keeps the public informed, which means some degree of popular oversight and accountability. It provides notice to the target, in case for whatever reason he doesn’t realize that O’s demanding his surrender. And it lets our Democratic president take credit for keeping America safe, just like he did when he announced Bin Laden’s death even though that alerted jihadis in the field to go to ground. The answer, I think, lies in this line: “You go out there and do it. I’ll criticize you, but I want to be protected.” When push comes to shove, she’s saying, much of the public really doesn’t want transparency. They may be willing compromise on their ideals but they don’t like being reminded of what that means in practice; a core duty of politicians today is shielding voters from hard choices, either by making those choices on their behalf and keeping the details from them (as in the case of drones) or refusing to make those choices altogether. When it comes to counterterrorism, most Dems want to pretend they’re Glenn Greenwald even though, in reality, they’re Nancy Pelosi. Obama, by withholding info from them, makes it a bit easier to maintain that illusion.

Third, it’s impossible to read this story without thinking of Porter Goss’s and Jose Rodriguez’s claim that Pelosi was secretly briefed with other House Intel Committee members on waterboarding allllllllll the way back in 2002 and said not a single word in objection. Pelosi’s denied that vehemently for years, even to the point of accusing the CIA of having misled her, but it makes perfect sense in light of what she says here. She’s evidently quite willing to accept extraordinary practices in the name of counterterrorism and she’s clear-eyed about the political costs and benefits of doing so. In 2002, when striking back at Al Qaeda was America’s top policy priority and the GOP enjoyed stratospheric support, she had every political reason to go along with waterboarding. Re-read the excerpt above and ask yourself if that sounds like someone who would have made a fuss if told that the government had gotten very rough with Abu Zubaydah in the first few months after 9/11.

Exit question: Regarding what Mike Lee said about congressional committees having oversight of Obama’s drone program, are we sure that isn’t happening already? Watch this clip, via the Washington Free Beacon, of House Intel Committee Chair Mike Rogers yesterday on CNN.

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