The over-riding issue that I see is a total disconnect from WAY too many on the left about what the real issues are. I tend to agree with them that the direction some of this is going sounds troubling. Can the President of the United States order the military to kill someone he alone determines to be a threat? You have to admit that if the answer to that is "yes," it raises serious questions.
But the problem I have with almost all of the analysis of these questions is that the left wants to frame it as a civil liberties issue when its not.
To begin to understand where the problem really lies, all you have to do is look at the brief wording of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress in 2001 just after 9/11.
That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
Note that the President is authorized to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against persons he determines to be a part of Al Qaeda (the group responsible for 9/11). In the case under discussion, Al Awlaki made no attempt to conceal the fact that he was a member of Al Qaeda. So the AUMF gave the decision about whether to kill him to the President's discretion.
As Holder made clear in his speech, the rules of war are not governed by the same civil liberties we expect otherwise from our government. And if applied during a more traditional war, those ideas would be nothing if not ridiculous. No soldier is going to go to court for judicial review before killing someone that is deemed to be a threat. And no Commander in Chief would be expected to do that either. As I've noted before, the same applies to indefinite detention during a time of war. To think those are civil liberties issues is faulty logic at best and laughable at worst.
The issue we on the left have to grapple with then is not one of civil liberties, but in defining the appropriate frame for what it means to tackle the threat posed by an organization like Al Qaeda as opposed to, for example, the Axis powers of WWII. It seems clear to me that they are not the same thing. And so the concept of "war" as we've known it in the past is - for me - equally troubling as a frame.
I believe that is what AG Holder and President Obama are attempting to do. With their Constitutional duties to protect the people of the United States, they don't have the luxury of simply ignoring the threat or hamstringing their operations with the kind of judicial oversight we have come to expect in civilian life. And yet we've seen how horribly wrong this kind of power can be in the hands of a president like George Bush. We can't afford to ignore that reality.
The truth is, I don't have the answers to this one. But I'd suggest that if liberals want to engage in any meaningful action on this, we're going to have to grapple with the very real questions involved and quit screaming about civil liberties. The one thing I know for certain is that until we do, we can't afford to make a mistake in who we elect to be our Commander in Chief. I'm pretty comfortable with the guy we have wrestling with all this in the White House right now. And the one's with an "R" after their name scare the hell out of me.