At the end of last week we were consumed by the question of whether the President of the United States can order a drone strike on an American in the United States.
But why ask that question only about a drone?
The B-52s arrive over Rush Limbaugh's Palm Beach compound in under two hours and begin to pound away at his 2 acre estate dropping 2,000 pound bombs until absolutely nothing is left standing. Every building has been destroyed, the staff is dead, the golf courses are wrecked and there is no sign of life.
The 11th returns to base and receives a congratulatory call from Obama on a job well done.
Why can't this happen?
For one thing it doesn't make much sense. If Obama ever gets that determined to take down Rush, Team O will put together some ex-Feds turned private investigators to plant evidence of a Federal offense and then bring in the FBI. It's a lot cheaper and less likely to make even Obama's most loyal lapdogs balk at wrecking Palm Beach.
Federal prosecutors have nearly as good a track record at getting their man, innocent or guilty, as drones do. And they raise a lot fewer questions. Even mad dictators in totalitarian states aren't known for sending air strikes to take out individual critics. Not unless they have no control over the territory that they are in.
So why not send in the B-52s to get rid of Rush Limbaugh? Because despite last week's filibuster, military operations in the United States are far more restricted than law enforcement operations. The odds of a member of the United States Air Force killing you outside of a bar fight is very slim, but the odds of a member of a local or state police force killing you are far higher.
When it comes to the Federal government killing Americans, the civilian law enforcement side is far more likely to kill you than a USAF Staff Sergeant taking out Taliban across the border in Pakistan.
Every Federal agency has its own SWAT Team which is why every Federal agency is also buying up huge amounts of ammunition.
That means that you are far more likely to be shot by a SWAT team from the Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General than by a drone operator from the 3d Special Operations Squadron in New Mexico (Motto: Pro Patria, Pro Liberis - For Country, for Freedom.)
The DOE's private police force has the authority to use lethal force, conduct undercover operations, including electronic surveillance, and may not have drones, but does have 12 gauge shotguns and far more authority to use them on you than the Staff Sergeant in New Mexico does.
The Department of Energy has two SWAT Teams. The National Parks Service has four. And if any of them do shoot you, it will not result in congressional hearings or collateral damage. Law enforcement officers kill hundreds of Americans every year. One more won't be a big deal. And the militarization of the police and the proliferation of Special Response Units in the Federal government are a far more serious concern than being taken out by a drone while sitting in a Starbucks.
Military operations in the United States are fairly tightly constrained and while that line has blurred at times, it's still a much more difficult and controversial process. Today's military is far less likely to be deployed against civilians than in 1932 when General Douglas MacArthur and Major George Patton led a fixed bayonet charge across Pennsylvania Avenue to dislodge unemployed protesters to protect President Hoover. And that is because Federal law enforcement has been militarized to such a degree that it can cope with just about anything short of a full-fledged civil war. And whatever it doesn't have now, it will soon enough.
What seems unlikely to happen with B-52s seems eerily possible with a Predator drone. A strange shape that's still somewhat mysterious. A killer robot in the sky.
That mystique around the drone has been partly created by the anti-war movement, the same way that the anti-gun movement has built a special mystique around the assault rifle. Like the assault rifle, the drone is not an evil killing machine. It's not that fundamentally different than the first missiles guided by an operator to their target... and those have been around for a while.
The mystification of weapons dehumanizes people. It makes the debate about the weapons, rather than about the people. And once the weapons are invested with a sinister power, then they come to seem evil... and the people who defend them also begin to seem evil.
What kind of a sick person would buy an assault rifle? What kind of demented mind would defend using a drone? Once you make the weapon seem evil, you can then make anyone who uses it seem evil by association.
The anti-war movement did that with nuclear weapons. Then it extended that aura of menace to nuclear power plants. Now it's doing it with drones.
Armed drones are used abroad because they allow for targeted strikes inside hostile territory while eliminating military casualties. Surveillance drones are going to be used extensively at home, and that is a serious issue, but armed drones are not likely to be because the United States is not hostile territory.
An armed drone makes a lot of sense if you want to kill an Al Qaeda terrorist in Pakistan across territory controlled by the Pakistani Taliban whose weapons would seriously endanger a SEAL Team. It makes no sense if you want to take down someone having a Doubleshot Mocha Frappucino at Starbucks. Until the United States becomes hostile territory for Federal law enforcement, there would be no reason to use an armed drone. And if the United States does become hostile territory, then it is highly unlikely that whoever is running things in Washington by then would care about the finer points of the Posse Comitatus Act in the middle of a civil war.
The only realistic point in time in which drones are being used to assassinate Americans inside the United States is a state of civil war where military force is already being used on a large scale against Americans and the debate will have become moot and will be settled with guns.
Unlike the militarization of civilian law enforcement, military drones are not a threat to Americans. We're not losing our freedom because of the 3d Special Operations Squadron in New Mexico. We are losing it because the Department of Education not only has its own police force with the powers of arrest, but because it is part of a vast Federal bureaucracy with nearly unlimited regulatory powers.
Joining in the anti-war crowd's demonization of the military distracts from the real issue, which is not that military drones are coming to get us, but that human drones are voting in blocs and coalitions for a vast unfunded nanny state.
We aren't dealing with fascism, we're dealing with bureaucratic collectivism. Rather than a militarized society, what we have is a socialized society. The people who run it don't care much for the military. They prefer nudges and regulations. They wipe out entire industries with the stroke of a pen leaving few other options.
The enemy is in the non-profit think-tanks that come up with the latest 'nudge' to socialize people and the latest billionaire who gets bored and wants to treat an entire city like his employees. It's the news anchors whose big ambition is to read things in a serious voice from the teleprompter and all the people who automatically repeat back what they hear on the news.
The enemy is every bright-eyed boy and girl who leave college determined to make the world a better place by eliminating all the things and people they have been told are bad. The enemy is the entire system of education and entertainment that shaped them into human drones on a mission of progress.
The enemy isn't operating a Predator or Global Hawk over Afghanistan. The enemy is right here.