Saturday, February 09, 2013

A solid right hook

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program[me(s)] for a breaking news bulletin.  The executive branch of the government of the United States of America has decided that, in the name of protecting citizens of that country from harm, it will henceforth (and retroactively) be allowed to kill citizens of that country, or any other country, when they participate in activities that may at some point in the future, where that point is to be determined, harm other citizens of the United States, when those activities occur as part of the organization known as Al Qaeda. 

To be clear, if you are a citizen of the United States, you are still allowed - and even encouraged, in some states - to own as many of these as you want:

If you own any of these the American national security establishment does not view you as a threat, so you are free to pursue your second amendment rights to, heh, safeguard American liberty.  However, you may not be perceived as advocating for the removal of the US from the Muslim world.

(Al Qaeda is of course the shadowy group that has funded/supported/motivated/inspired random and not-so-random acts violence against thousands of American citizens and soldiers around the world since roughly 1994, some of whom were sitting at work minding their own business, and some of whom were dropped into hostile neighorhoods looking to pick a fight.  In keeping with recent American strategic history, Al Qaeda is probably more of a theme or metaphor for terrorist acts at this stage of the fight, and so war has been pursued against Al Qaeda with the same alacrity as its pursuit against poverty, drugs, and "terror" itself.  Indeed given the vast quantities of money and blood spent in engaging in war against Al Qaeda, I would hope that those prosecuting the war would be embarrassed if Al Qaeda were more than a metaphor.  Given the way these sorts of things have worked in the past, we can look forward to a day when mere use of a metaphor about terror counts as membership in Al Qaeda.)   

This position presents a quandary for many people.  David Brooks' column on Friday, which isn't yet up on the NY Times website, argued that Democrats can't be relied on to abuse power the way Republicans can, which is with the proper Machiavellian angst you see reflected in those old picture of Eisenhower.  Assassination plans that involve the low-altitude dropping of self-propelled bombs into random neighborhoods are safer for everyone involved - there certainly are fewer civilian deaths, in fact, than having a bunch of terrified 19-year-olds from Sadr City and Plano shoot it out in someone's backyard in Quetta, and certainly much fewer dead kids than the JDAMs the previous administration would have preferred to use.  But Brooks and the Menshevik wing of the Republican party think you can really only trust a Republican to wield supreme, unchecked secret executive power, and so if we're going to have checks and balances in place, they must be further upstream in the process, where we can prevent it from falling into the hands of the half-African son of a single mother who once did community organizing with poor people.  The Bolshevik wing of the GOP thinks voting for a Democrat in the first place is treason, and so they're mere steps away from advocating drone strikes against high-value targets in certain congressional districts.

On the other side of the aisle, at least politically, there is outrage.  Hmm.  Strange that; usually we're supposed to see some kind of even-handed "Democrats are ok with it" kind of thing, but no, Democrats are not ok with it.  The Establishment papers have pretty much avoided the issue, but they avoided it under Bush too.  There's been some apologetics, and I haven't seen any so I can't link to them, but there must be some apologetics, but it turns out that the Left hoped Obama would stop the stupid robot-killing-machines program in favor of far more effective soft power.  And if you doubt soft power is effective - I suppose "soft" isn't the best marketing for people who prefer lead to bread - you should ask yourself how many terrorist cells were spawned by the Peace Corps.  Well, aside from this one:

Two things that all citizens of the United States and, indeed, the world should now be aware of.

First, while your association, however dim, with Al Qaeda is now grounds for an expensive, state-sponsored execution, the United States will not interfere with your right to own cheap pieces of crap you can use to put holes in targets and/or people from 20 yards/18 meters.  Your right to carry a mechanism that can fire 30 half-ounce packages of lead at high velocity in less than the time it takes to parse this subclause, into a preschool, bar or cockfight is still inviolate in the United States.  If you advocate that the United States get out of the Muslim world and participate, however vaguely, in activities designed to hurt or kill Americans (not including membership in the NRA), the government can have you murdered.  But from the standpoint of the largest military the world has ever known, assault rifles are not a real danger to the government or its interests or stability.

Second, if it could ever be determined that the US government was somehow in league with Al Qaeda, they would be allowed - and some might say required - to harm themselves.  More broadly, the legal authority to murder Americans who may be vaguely engaged in activities to harm other Americans appears to be some kind of infinite logical loop that could just get us all into great deals of trouble.

That is all.        

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