Now that Paul Ryan has been selected as Mitt Romney’s running mate, the battle lines for the 2012 campaign for the American presidency are clear. The size and role of the Federal government, especially financing for health care, will be at the centre of debates in the media, on the internet and on whistle stops across the country. The legalisation of gay marriage, which has already been endorsed by President Obama and will probably be part of the Democrats’ platform, is also shaping up as an election issue.
But there are other serious ethical issues which deserve voter scrutiny. One which interests me is the growing use of targeted assassination. In the first three years of the Obama administration, there were 241 secret drone strikes, compared to only 44 under President Bush.
Many would applaud the President for eliminating America’s enemies. But is this the right response? The drone program is secret. No doubt the government is trying to reduce civilian casualties, but how do we know if it has been successful?
The problem can be summed up in this name: Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. He was a 16-year-old American citizen born in Denver and living in Yemen. On October 14 last year, he was killed by a drone strike. His father, also an American citizen, was a terrorist, but the teenager just happened to be “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, according to a US official. Something is wrong if the president is authorising the execution of alleged terrorists who are American citizens without a trial. Something is very wrong if innocent American citizens are executed and no one is brought to justice for it.
Whether the US is safer because of drone strikes remains to be seen. They seem to have forced al-Qaeda forces to hunker down. But where is this tactic leading the world’s most powerful nation? Mexico’s drug cartels are responsible for the deaths of far more Americans than al-Qaeda. Should they be put on Obama’s hit list? The 2012 campaign is a chance to put difficult questions like this on the table.
So far this week, we have published quite a range of articles. Graham Harris contends that instead of moaning about climate change, environmentalists need to create innovative solutions. R.J. Stove reviews a magnificent exhibit of the Napoleonic era in one of Australia’s leading museums. I have written about Singapore’s plummeting birth rate (222nd out of 222 countries). And Jennifer Roback Morse argues that Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day could mark a moment when ordinary people push back against political correctness.