In his farewell address, President George Washington likened political parties to a fire, warning Americans to “prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”
Today the American electoral system is divided into two major parties. Despite the current political polarization, however, foreign policy and civil liberties are two positions both parties largely agree upon.
Foreign policy: interventionism
Both Republicans and Democrats support an interventionist foreign policy. Despite his claim to have ramped down American wars, President Barack Obama has committed U.S. military resources to several new conflicts, including Libya, Yemen and Pakistan. The unmanned drone program implemented by former President George W. Bush has been expanded under the Obama administration.
According to a study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in Pakistan alone there have been 347 drone strikes resulting in between 2,572 and 3,341 deaths. Along with military threats, those killed include between 474 and 884 civilians, 176 of whom are children. About 85 percent of these strikes were carried out under the Obama administration.
In the most recent debate, Governor Mitt Romney voiced his support for the president’s use of the drone program and said he would continue to use drones under his own administration.
According to Mark Amstutz, professor of international relations, Obama’s administration has not effected the kind of foreign policy shift that its campaign rhetoric had implied.
Both Democrats and Republicans are willing to carry out military engagements within the borders of sovereign nations, even without a declaration of war by Congress, which is required by the Constitution.
Setting aside this legal issue, many — notably the Libertarian and Constitution Parties, as well as former CIA intelligence officer Michael Scheuer — have argued that the perpetual warfare carried out by the U.S. in the Middle East actually serves to undermine national security interests. U.S. presence abroad may also continue to motivate anti-American sentiments in the region.
Civil liberties: NDAA, detention and assassination
Every year, Congress votes on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which determines budgets and policy for the Department of Defense.
The bill for the 2012 fiscal year was passed by a bipartisan effort in Congress and includes a clause that allows for the military to arrest U.S. citizens suspected of terrorist sympathies and detain them for an indefinite period of time without trial. Obama signed the bill into law, but he issued a signing statement promising not to use the powers granted under that section of the bill.
During the Republican primaries, Governor Mitt Romney stated that he too would have signed the bill into law.
Despite the signed statement, Obama’s policies have gone farther than detaining U.S. citizens.
In 2011, the Obama administration carried out a drone strike to assassinate suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen. The administration also decided to carry out a separate strike two weeks later on al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, also a U.S. citizen with no confirmed terrorist leanings. Romney has repeatedly voiced his support for these strikes.
Due process of law is guaranteed to all American citizens in the Fifth Amendment and has been affirmed as a basic protection as far back as the Magna Carta in 1215.
Many groups, including the ACLU and the Libertarian Party, view these actions taken by the president and supported by Romney as violations of human rights.
Photo Courtesy: World Can't Wait
Printed in the November 2, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.