We got a question on drones last night at the third and final presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The mere asking of a direct question on the candidates’ drone policies is an advance over the near complete void of talk on the subject so far this election season. The moderator, Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer, deserves some thanks for that. We learned that Romney supports Obama’s escalation of the drone program and that he would continue the program. But that’s it, because Schieffer only asked Romney his position on drones—and asked nothing of Obama. Here’s the transcript:
SCHIEFFER: Let — let me ask you, Governor because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones?
ROMNEY: Well I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that and entirely, and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology, and believe that we should continue to use it, to continue to go after the people that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.
“We know President Obama’s position on this”? Really? Do we know what his definition of “militant” is? Do we know what his civilian death count is? Do we know how many civilian deaths he considers acceptable? Do we know how targets are selected? Do we know the justification for conducting “signature” drone strikes? Do we know whether he has a policy of conducting “secondary” or “follow-up” strikes targeting civilian rescuers? Do we know whether drones are used as a sort of psychological warfare? Do we know how much Obama would like to expand the drone program himself, and in what regions and for what purposes he thinks drones can and should be used in the future? Do we know what limits he thinks there should be on the program?
No, we don’t know any of these things, because the media has not sufficiently pressed Obama on these issues. All the administration acknowledges is that they conduct drone strikes, and that some civilians die. But that’s not the whole story.
It’s likely that Schieffer thought there was no use in pressing the president on the issue because Romney pretty much agreed, in principle, to Obama’s drone strike policy. But all he agreed to was the use of drone strikes, not the details of such use. Schieffer should have pressed Obama on some of the issues with drones. He should have done that first, and then asked the follow-up to Romney. Unfortunately, all we got was a half question, and an opportunity lost.