The image of President Obama poring over baseball-card profiles of terror suspects in Jo Becker and Scott Shane's now famous New York Times "kill list" exposé probably pleased the administration officials whose cooperation made the story possible, wrapping the president in glinting "warrior in chief" election year packaging. For those concerned about the constitutional protection of civil liberties and the rule of law, however, that image, and the extraordinary practices it represents, was profoundly disturbing. The drone policy the president has developed not only infringes on the sovereignty of other nations, but the assassinations violate laws put in place in the 1970s after scandals enveloped an earlier era of CIA criminality. The new details about Obama's assassination program also remind us how the 2001 Congressional Authorization of the Use of Military Force established a disastrous policy of "borderless and open-ended war that threatens to indefinitely extend US military engagement around the world," in the words of the only member of the House to vote against it, Barbara Lee.
The kill list makes a mockery of due process by circumventing judicial review, and turning the executive into judge, jury and executioner. Even worse, the "signature" strikes described in the Times article, in which nameless individuals are assassinated based merely on patterns of behavior, dispense with any semblance of habeas corpus altogether. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, signature strikes account for most of the attacks in Pakistan today, and they were recently approved for use in Yemen.
One of the darkest aspects of this story involves the administration's method of counting civilian casualties: The CIA simply assumes that any military-age male in the vicinity of a terror suspect must be a militant too. Thus, counterterrorism chief John Brennan was able to state with a straight face in August 2011 that not one civilian had perished from US strikes outside Afghanistan and Iraq in more than a yeara declaration that was greeted with incredulity and outrage in Pakistan, where witnesses have attested to hundreds of civilian deaths.
The drone strikes are inciting even more anti-American hatred in troubled places like Yemen as well as Pakistan (see Jeremy Scahill, "Target: Yemen," March 5/12). It is hard to argue that they are making us safer when, for every suspect killed, one or more newly embittered militants emerge to take his place. This is not a prescription for American security but for an endless war that will sap our moral core and put in jeopardy our most cherished freedoms at home.
The new revelations also highlight the dangers of official secrecy, as we now glimpse some of what the administration was hiding through its invocation of the state secrets privilege in court proceedings. But as urgent as the demand for transparency remains, we know more than enough to conclude that President Obama's continuation and expansion of George W. Bush's "war on terror" has further eroded legal barriers built over decades to limit executive power. For those who believed Obama would restore the rule of law after Bush's imperial overreach, learning the details of these operations has been troubling. Liberals raised a ruckus about Bush's abuses. Silence now is not an option.
In the remarks Mr. Romney later tried to deny, he derided President Obama: "He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers." Then he declared, "It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
You can see why I was ready to give points for honesty. For once, he actually admitted what he and his allies mean when they talk about shrinking government. Conservatives love to pretend that there are vast armies of government bureaucrats doing who knows what; in reality, a majority of government workers are employed providing either education (teachers) or public protection (police officers and firefighters).
So would getting rid of teachers, police officers, and firefighters help the American people? Well, some Republicans would prefer to see Americans get less education; remember Rick Santorum's description of colleges as "indoctrination mills"? Still, neither less education nor worse protection are issues the G.O.P. wants to run on.
But the more relevant question for the moment is whether the public job cuts Mr. Romney applauds are good or bad for the economy. And we now have a lot of evidence bearing on that question.
First of all, there's our own experience. Conservatives would have you believe that our disappointing economic performance has somehow been caused by excessive government spending, which crowds out private job creation. But the reality is that private-sector job growth has more or less matched the recoveries from the last two recessions; the big difference this time is an unprecedented fall in public employment, which is now about 1.4 million jobs less than it would be if it had grown as fast as it did under President George W. Bush.
And, if we had those extra jobs, the unemployment rate would be much lower than it is something like 7.3 percent instead of 8.2 percent. It sure looks as if cutting government when the economy is deeply depressed hurts rather than helps the American people.
The really decisive evidence on government cuts, however, comes from Europe. Consider the case of Ireland, which has reduced public employment by 28,000 since 2008 the equivalent, as a share of population, of laying off 1.9 million workers here. These cuts were hailed by conservatives, who predicted great results. "The Irish economy is showing encouraging signs of recovery," declared Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute in June 2010.
But recovery never came; Irish unemployment is currently more than 14 percent. Ireland's experience shows that austerity in the face of a depressed economy is a terrible mistake to be avoided if possible.
And the point is that in America it is possible. You can argue that countries like Ireland had and have very limited policy choices. But America which unlike Europe has a federal government has an easy way to reverse the job cuts that are killing the recovery: have the feds, who can borrow at historically low rates, provide aid that helps state and local governments weather the hard times. That, in essence, is what the president was proposing and Mr. Romney was deriding.
So the former governor of Massachusetts was telling the truth the first time: by opposing aid to beleaguered state and local governments, he is, in effect, calling for more layoffs of teachers, policemen and firemen.
Actually, it's kind of ironic. While Republicans love to engage in Europe-bashing, they're actually the ones who want us to emulate European-style austerity and experience a European-style depression.
And that's not just an inference. Last week R. Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University, a top Romney adviser, published an article in a German newspaper urging the Germans to ignore advice from Mr. Obama and continue pushing their hard-line policies. In so doing, Mr. Hubbard was deliberately undercutting a sitting president's foreign policy. More important, however, he was throwing his support behind a policy that is collapsing as you read this.
In fact, almost everyone following the situation now realizes that Germany's austerity obsession has brought Europe to the edge of catastrophe almost everyone, that is, except the Germans themselves and, it turns out, the Romney economic team.
Needless to say, this bodes ill if Mr. Romney wins in November. For all indications are that his idea of smart policy is to double down on the very spending cuts that have hobbled recovery here and sent Europe into an economic and political tailspin.
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