Just returned from the nation’s capital, where I attended an event at the Heritage Foundation.
Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank. Very prestigious.
On Tuesday, there was panel discussion with the imposing title, THE CONSTITUTION AND THE COMMON DEFENSE: Who Ensures America’s National Security?
Three heavy hitters led the panel, all former Attorneys General of the United States; Ed Meese, John Ashcroft and Mike Mukasey.
It didn’t take long into the question period before the issue of the drone bombing of Anwar al-Awlaki was raised.
Ashcroft was pretty direct. The President is sworn to protect and defend the nation, said he, and that meant doing whatever was necessary to defend the nation. Successfully, he added.
Neither of the other speakers took issue with that idea. As far as Awlaki is concerned, they all seemed to think that the main reason why he was killed was the same reason Osama Ben Laden was dispatched. The President didn’t want them at Guantanamo.
All of the speakers agreed that the courts have gone too far in trying to referee the war on terror. Apparently, the military now has lawyers in the trenches advising on tactics. Not a very efficient way to win a war.
That said, I was intrigued by a comment made by John Ashcroft at the private luncheon which followed the panel. He confessed to being at least ambivalent about a hypothetic case in which the CIA might take out someone like Awlaki in a Denver condo or an Arby’s in Atlanta.
I think too often we lawyers, and indeed the public at large, assume that only the courts can enforce the constitution.
Ed Meese said it well when he observed that, in the final analysis, the constitution belongs to the people and can be enforced by the people.
Every Congressman and Senator, indeed every elected official in the United States, and every soldier, sailor, marine and airman takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution.
If the President were to authorize the military or the CIA to knock off every suspected terrorist sympathizer with neither writ nor warrant, he should expect to be summarily condemned by the public and impeached by the Congress.
The Awlaki killing was apparently not an isolated event. Just today more American drones landed in Yemen, killing Awlaki’s 21 year old son and eight others suspected of being al-Qaida operatives.
This while 300,000 people demonstrated in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, demanding the ouster of 31 year President Ali Abdullah Saleh. For their insolence, eighteen protesters were shot to death in the streets.
Apparently what we are doing in Yemen is pretty much what we are doing all over the Middle East. We want to see the long time autocratic leaders ousted, but not by Islamic radicals. We want to build modern democracies in the sand, and turn Bedouin tribal sheiks into precinct captains.
That’s a pretty big finale to the 19th century notion of Manifest Destiny.
And it’s damned dicey.
How, indeed do you distinguish between the radical terrorist revolutionaries and the benign, concerned citizen-demonstrators when they are all mixed together in the park?
Here at home, the 99ers have called for world-wide demonstrations. It looks like they are getting their wish. They’re building tents in Minnesota, burning cars in Rome, raising hell in Madrid.
I went on their web site to see just what it is that they want. One fellow summed it up pretty well. His placard read:
EVERYTHING FOR EVERYBODY.
Like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?