The hypothetical being inconceivable, Paul’s performance was both theatrically brilliant and substantively irrelevant. As for the principle at stake, Holder’s opinion carries no weight in any case. He is hardly a great attorney general whose words will ring through history. Nor would anything any attorney general says be binding on the next president, or for that matter on any Congress or court.
The vexing and pressing issue is the use of drones abroad. The filibuster pretended not to be about that. Which is testimony to Paul’s political adroitness. It was not until two days later that he showed his hand, writing in The Post, “No American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime.” Note the absence of the restrictive clause: “on American soil.”
Now we’re talking about a larger, more controversial issue: the killing-by-drone in Yemen of al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki. Outside American soil, the Constitution does not rule, no matter how much Paul would like it to. Yet Paul’s unease applies to non-American drone targets as well. His quarrel is with the very notion of the war on terror, though he is normally too smart to say that openly and unequivocally. Unlike his father, who implied that 9/11 was payback for our sins, Paul the Younger more gingerly expresses general skepticism about not just the efficacy but the legality of the entire war.
That skepticism is finding an audience as the war grinds into its 12th year, as our hapless attorney general vainly tries to define its terms and as the administration conducts a major drone war with defiant secrecy. Nor is this some minor adjunct to battle — an estimated 4,700 have been killed by drone.
George W. Bush was excoriated for waterboarding exactly three terrorists, all of whom are now enjoying an extensive retirement on a sunny Caribbean island (though strolls beyond Gitmo’s gates are prohibited). Whereas President Obama, with thousands of kills to his name, evokes little protest from yesterday’s touch-not-a-hair-on-their-head zealots. Of whom, of course, Sen. Obama was a leading propagandist.