The collision of American values and national security interests erupted recently over the Associated Press “scandal” and President Obama’s ordering a new policy limiting drone strikes. The President’s walking a fine line between looking after the safety of our homeland and doing it within the bounds of the ideals. We like to think our country represents knocked over a hornets nest of political controversy. How the President, already under attack for handling the IRS and Benghazi issues, can get past this will be a challenge, but he can.
The AP scandal and outrage from the public, Congress, and journalists heaped another headache on the White House, already besieged by the IRS and Benghazi issues. Attorney General Eric Holder had subpoenaed telephone and email records of journalists who made public information they had obtained from unknown sources in the administration. The Justice Department claims its goal was to discover who in the administration was talking to the journalists in question since the leak endangered national security.
Bi-partisan cries of foul roared to ear-numbing decibel levels. Critics claimed Holder’s actions were suppressing whistle blowers, chilling investigative reporting, violating first amendment rights, and were another example of government overreach.
Was national security endangered ? We may never know all of the details because the White House considers the leaked information to have damaged an on-going covert operation. What appears to have happened is that the 2009 underwear bomber that tried to bring down an airplane and a recent drone attack on an Al Qaeda target in Yemen both involved a U.S. intelligence operative working within the Yemen Al Qaeda organization and the agent and the operation were now endangered, thanks to reports on FOX and Associated Press.
While the President was not implicated in ordering the investigation, he immediately announced his support of legislation to provide immunity for journalists who publish leaks. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced plans to introduce legislation. Politico reported May 26 what the senators had in mind: “Demands for reporters’ phone or email records would need to be approved by a judge under a strict legal standard of… a ‘significant and articulable risk of future terrorism or harm to the national security’” If the President throws strong support to this legislation, he has a chance to put the issue to rest.
The other issue exploding lately was the President’s announcement to limit drone attacks. This policy change addresses an ethical and moral dilemma and helps remove a stumbling block to carrying out American foreign policy.
The CIA had originally used drone strikes to hit high value Al Qaeda control and command operatives, but lately it had expanded their use to lower level activists. Targeting had also killed innocent civilian wedding party and funeral attendees, including women and children, and four US citizens.
The President made it clear drones would still be used, but the extensive, and sometimes indiscriminate use of drone strikes had become a counter productive strategy, turning off those we needed as allies and becoming a recruiting tool for terrorist organizations..
The President plans to transfer execution of drone strikes to the military, limiting their use to when civilians were not near, targeting truly high-value operatives, and being used only when local governments were unwilling or unable to take action. The President believes limiting drone strikes will also make it easier to gather international support, win hearts and minds instead of angering those we need on our side, and to diminish our enemies’ recruiting tools.
This new policy serves two masters: Smart strategy that promotes our national interests and being more in harmony with our national values. He needs to make that argument more strongly than he has so far, but the case is there to be made.