There's a conventional wisdom in Washington that there's nothing we can do politically to stop the U.S. government from killing innocent civilians with drone strikes.
But it ain't necessarily so.
Speaking only for myself, I'm willing to stipulate that killing "high value terrorists" who are known to be actively preparing to kill Americans is wildly popular, regardless of whether it is constitutional and legal.
Here's what's not wildly popular: killing innocent civilians.
This is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. This is an American issue. Go to the reddest of Red America. Stand outside a megachurch or military base in the Deep South. Find me twelve Christian Republicans who are willing to sign their names that they want the U.S. government to kill innocent civilians. I bet you can't do it. Killing innocent civilians is un-American.
Consider: after what widely reported news event did even Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum say maybe we ought to get our troops out of Afghanistan? After it was reported that a U.S. soldier massacred Afghan civilians.
The historian Howard Zinn suggested that it's a backhanded compliment to the American people that our government lies to us about what it's doing in other people's countries. Because it suggests that if the American people knew, they would never stand for it.
Thanks to a New York Times report this week, we now know. In an echo of the Colombian military's "false positives" scandal, our government is killing people with drone strikes and then decreeing that "military age men" killed by U.S. drone strikes are automatically "combatants." Born a chicken, raised a chicken, now you're a fish.
Surely no-one has been surprised to see Senator McCain engaged in what Defense Secretary Gates has rightly called "loose talk" about the use of U.S. military force in Libya.
But to see Senator John Kerry, the Democratic head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - the man who as a Vietnam veteran joined other anti-war veterans in asking who would be the last American to be asked to die in Vietnam - engage in such "loose talk" - that is a more painful cut.
Of course, this is the same Senator Kerry who voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in October 2002, even though such action was never authorized by the UN Security Council, and was therefore a major war crime in international law - the crime of aggression. And this is the same Senator Kerry who, as a presidential candidate in August 2004, stood by his vote for the war.
Here is a basic fact about the world that mainstream U.S. media - and politicians like John Kerry - generally find distasteful to acknowledge. The Charter of the United Nations rules out the use of military force by one UN member state against another except in two cases: self-defense against armed attack, and actions approved by the UN Security Council.
Obviously, Libya has not attacked the United States, and there is no realistic prospect that it will do so.
Therefore, because it is an act of war, in order to be legal under international law, the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya must be approved by the UN Security Council. There is no way around it.
The United Nations Charter is not an obscure document that can be safely ignored when it is convenient to do so. It is the founding document of the United Nations. It is the Constitution of the world.
On Thursday the New York Times made an astonishing editorial choice, for which its editors owe the public an explanation: it published an op-ed by an obscure and poorly identified author attacking General Stanley McChrystal for his directive last July that air strikes in Afghanistan be authorized only under "very limited and prescribed conditions." The op-ed denounced an "overemphasis on civilian protection" and charged that "air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties."
The author of the op-ed, Lara M. Dadkhah, is identified by the Times merely as "an intelligence analyst." In the body of the op-ed, the author identifies herself as "employed by a defense consulting company," without telling us which company, or what her relationship might be to actors who stand to lose financially if the recognition that killing civilians is bad for the United States were to affect expenditures by the United States military.
As Glenn Greenwald asks in Salon: