Rand Paul vs. the “Forever War”

The cruelest thing about politics is that it occasionally gets
your hopes up. Sometimes, just when you’ve almost concluded that
the best D.C. has to offer is ringside seats at the latest
legislative catastrophe, you get an unexpected outbreak of
political courage and common sense.
So it was a cruel trick Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), played last
Wednesday with his 13-hour filibuster of CIA director nominee John
Brennan. For a not-so-brief moment, it seemed possible to restore
“normalcy” and bring an end to endless war.
The immediate subject of Paul’s marathon session—whether the
administration could legally execute an American citizen on
American soil via flying kill-bot—is, admittedly, an unlikely
scenario. Still, I had to laugh when, amid the filibuster, I saw a
blog post from the Obamaphilic Center for American Progress,
breathlessly warning that the “Number of Radical Anti-Government
Groups ‘Reached an All-Time High’ in 2012.” Homeland Security isn’t
serious enough about fighting “patriot” groups, who fear federal
policies “aimed at taking away American freedoms.” So send in the
drones, already!
But Paul devoted considerable time to a more pressing issue: the
increasingly tenuous legal authority for our ever-expanding war on
terror. More than a decade after Sept. 11, the legal basis for that
war is the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that
Congress passed on Sept. 14, 2001, empowering the president to go
after those responsible for that atrocity and anyone who “harbored”
them.
As Paul noted, “they take that authorization of use of force to
mean pretty much anything.” We need a serious debate, he said,
about “whether that use or authorization of force is open-ended,
forever.”
Indeed, on the morning of Paul’s filibuster, The Washington
Post’s front page blared: “Administration debates stretching
9/11 law to go after new al-Qaeda offshoots.” Actually, they’ve
already stretched it beyond recognition.
As Paul pointed out Wednesday, counterterror mission creep has
led to “war in Yemen, Somalia, Mali. It is a war in unlimited
places” against increasingly marginal groups that didn’t exist on
Sept. 11. In Mali, the Post reported, “unarmed U.S.
Reapers scour the deserts… to search for so-called patterns of
life—communications and movements deemed by the U.S. to be telltale
signs of militant activity.” The targeting information we’ve passed
on has “led to nearly 60 French airstrikes in the past week
alone.”
Paul raised the possibility of “blowback” from the “inadvertent
killing of civilians”—nearly 200 children in Pakistan alone, for
example.
After Paul’s filibuster, self-styled “serious conservatives”
rose to chastise him. Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), who at a 2007
campaign appearance sang “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” to the
tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann,” said, “I don’t think what
happened yesterday is helpful to the American people.”
David Frum, author of such conservative classics as the George
W. Bush hagiography The Right Man and (with Richard Perle)
An End to Evil, insisted that sober, responsible
conservatives shouldn’t “stand with Rand.”
But Paul’s concerns echo an older, wiser tradition in American
conservatism. In 1967, Russell Kirk praised the late Sen. Robert A.
Taft for insisting that war had to be a last resort, threatening as
it did to “make the American President a virtual dictator, diminish
the constitutional powers of Congress, contract civil liberties,
injure the habitual self-reliance and self-government of the
American people, distort the economy, sink the federal government
in debt, [and erode] public morality.”
Does any of that sound familiar?
Sen. Paul has done Republicans—and the Republic—a great service
by reminding us that there’s nothing conservative about perpetual
war.
This article
originally appeared in The Washington Examiner.

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Rand Paul vs. the “Forever War”


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