‘The power of Zeus,’ in the president’s hands

The teaser headline at the bottom of a Slatest email said, “New Drones in Libya Will Give Obama the Power of Zeus.”

The item it links to says, in part:

After the attack on American diplomats in Benghazi last month, President Obama vowed to hunt down the killers and bring them to justice. There is a good chance that this means that they will be incinerated by missiles fired from drones. If so, the United States will have used drones to kill members of al-Qaida and affiliated groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya—six countries in just a few years. Mali may take its turn as the seventh. This startlingly fast spread of drone warfare signifies a revolution in foreign affairs. And, for good or for ill, in an unprecedented way it has transformed the U.S. presidency into the most powerful national office in at least half a century.

A MQ-9 Reaper flies above Creech AFB during a local training mission. (from Wikipedia)

In the past, presidents faced two major obstacles when trying to use force abroad. The first was technological. The available options—troops, naval vessels, or air power—posed significant risks to American military personnel, cost a lot of money, proved effective only under limited conditions, or all of the above. Dead and maimed soldiers, hostages, the massive expense of a large-scale military operation, and backlash from civilian casualties can destroy a presidency, as Vietnam and Iraq showed.

The second obstacle was constitutional. The Constitution includes a clause that gives Congress the power to declare war. Presidents have been able to evade this clause for small wars—those involving only naval or air power, or a small number of troops for a limited period of time. They have mostly felt compelled to seek congressional authorization for large wars, no doubt in part so that they could spread the blame if something went awry.

But drones have changed the calculus. Because they are cheap and do not risk the lives of American soldiers, these weapons remove the technological obstacle to the use of force. And because drone strikes resemble limited air attacks, they seem to fall into the de facto “small wars” exception to the Constitution’s declare-war requirement. Unlike large wars, drone actions do not provoke congressional attention or even much political debate…

The thing is, this isn’t theoretical. This is power that this president is regularly using (in keeping with my thesis that Bush was Sonny Corleone, Obama is Michael).

When was the last time we killed people in six or seven different countries in one year? WWII? Then, even?

And now it’s with no muss, no fuss. Seriously, how many of you could even have named, without prompting, all those countries where we’ve engaged in this kind of warfare? Sort of makes our continuing arguments over the Iraq invasion and Vietnam seem quaint, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s good I look like someone out of the Regency Period while I address such subjects…

3 thoughts on “‘The power of Zeus,’ in the president’s hands

  1. Phillip

    It’s going to be interesting when China uses a drone to take out a dissident “threat” to its “national security” within US territory, maybe in a parking lot in some suburban shopping center while taking a dozen or so US civilians with the Chinese target. We’re entering an intriguing new age of permanent warfare, potentially everywhere, all the time.

  2. Silence

    Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds, and I have come here to destroy all people. Even without you, you all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain.

  3. Steven Davis II

    I’d say if it were to make the decision of an actual military strike, it’s more realistically in Hillary’s hands. Isn’t she the one who told Obama to $#!T or get off the pot with Bin Laden?

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