America finally gets the debate we needed on drone strikes

From President Obama and Mitt Romney? God, no. Indeed, their non-discussion of the policy of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan or other far-flung Arab lands was probably the low moment of a fairly discouraging debate. I don't even remember what Obama said and as for Romney, he said something that -- on its face -- I couldn't agree with more: "We can't kill our way out of this mess," Except then you dig deeper and learn that Romney likes being able to kill people -- he just claims that he would kill people but also have a strategy. Except that he doesn't. Which is why it really wasn't a debate at all.

No, the "debate" took place about 10 hours later, between Joe Scarborough, the former conservative House Republican turned token right-winger on MSNBC, and the centrist-mistaken-sometimes-for-a-liberal-journalist Joe Klein (known on liberal blogs as "Joke Line.") Predictable stuff, right? But what if I told you that it was Scarborough on the left, and Klein on the right of the discussion. It was one of the more politically illuminating moments I've seen on television for a while, and I'm including all three debates.

Scraborough was actually a bit like a drone-fired missile himself as he homed in on what's wrong with those magnificent men and their killing machines:

"What we're doing with drones is remarkable: the fact that over the past eight years during the Bush years - when a lot of people brought up some legitimate questions about international law - my God, those lines have been completely eradicated by a drone policy that says: if you're between 17 and 30, and within a half-mile of a suspect, we can blow you up, and that's exactly what's happening . . . . They are focused on killing the bad guys, but it is indiscriminate as to other people who are around them at the same time . . . . it is something that will cause us problems in the coming years"

Glenn Greenwald, as incredulous at the discussion as I was, labeled Klein's response as "sociopathic." For once, Greenwald may be guilty of understatement. Scarborough questioned destruction guided by a joystick operator somewhere in the United States, even though a 4-year-old girl might die in the "collateral damage." Here's part of Klein's response defending the Obamadrone:

 "If it is misused, and there is a really major possibility of abuse if you have the wrong people running the government. But: the bottom line in the end is - whose 4-year-old get killed? What we're doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror."

How is Klein's appalling statement any different from much-despised Bush administration lawyer and torture apologist John Yoo saying that the president had the legal authority to order the crushing of a child's testicles? It's not different at all. It just goes to prove one of the biggest problems with the drone campaign. It's not just that the strikes, the collateral damage and the fear inflicted upon faraway towns is creating a new generation of American haters who now may indeed want to attack us someday.

It's the moral rot created by our policy. When someone like Joe Klein is so eager to see Obama get re-elected, and so eager to see a Democratic president prove that he's "serious" because he's out there killing bad guys...and maybe a few toddlersor wedding guests standing nearby, then that's one moral compass that has been stomped on and crushed beyond recognition. A real plan -- to use Romney's terminology -- of winning hearts and minds in the region while keeping the bad guys away from the U.S. and, yes. occasional actions against (see "Bin Laden, Osama") the worst of the worst is far too complicated for our simplistic politicians. Not when you can just kill people with a machine and let my children -- and yours -- worry about the blowback.

Yeah, I still think despite his numerous flaws Obama remains a much better choice for the future than Romney (and Romney certainly dodn't change my mind with his me-too drone-strike endorsement) but I hope I never get sucked into a vortex where I'm defending killing innocent 4-year-olds -- all because it's Obama's policy. I would say that Joe Klein makes me embarrassed to be a liberal but that's not really it. He makes me embarrassed to be an American. 

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