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This Is Not the Drone Debate We're Looking For

Author: Micah Zenko, Senior Fellow
March 19, 2013
Foreign Policy


After 10 years of disinterest from policymakers and pundits, and one year of carefully-managed official statements from the Obama administration, there is finally an active debate on the U.S. policy of non-battlefield targeted killings via drones. Suddenly, everyone feels compelled to offer their opinion on drone strikes on political talk shows and in op-eds and congressional hearings. There is just one problem: Little of the public debate discusses the actual conduct of targeted killings, and focuses instead on hypothetical operations. As a result, there is even greater misinformation that distorts, muddies, and distracts from the real issues.

During his 13-hour filibuster, Senator Rand Paul repeatedly asked if President Obama believed he had the constitutional authority to target U.S. citizens within the United States. He specifically mentioned the hypothetical scenario in which Jane Fonda, Kent State protestors, or someone in a café (mentioned 34 times!) could be targeted under the Obama administration's legal framework. While Paul raised several important questions about targeted killings, his focus on such implausible examples obscured the full scope of the drone wars. Of the 3,500 to 4,700 victims, only four were U.S. citizens -- and only one was targeted intentionally. In short, the longest congressional discussion held on targeted killings concentrated on one one-thousandth of the issue.

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