Hostage Deaths Aside, Support for Drone Strikes Still Strong in DC
Policy + Politics

Hostage Deaths Aside, Support for Drone Strikes Still Strong in DC

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) rarely misses an opportunity to criticize the Obama administration when it comes to foreign policy issues, especially those that relate to national security. Yet, when a U.S. drone strike aimed at al-Qaeda leaders had inadvertently killed two hostages held by the terror group – including an American -- he largely took a pass.

Appearing on CNN Sunday morning, McCain conceded that there had been a mistake but largely defended the program of drone strikes begun under President George W. Bush and significantly expanded by the Obama administration.

Related: ‘JihadiCare’ – ISIS Launches Its Own, Weird ‘National Health Service’

“There was an obvious breakdown in intelligence,” McCain said. “It was obviously preventable, but the question is do we continue these drone strikes?”

Saying the issue was “clearly a subject for review by the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees and the entire Congress,” he nonetheless left no doubt about where he stands.

“We are now facing a new form of warfare with these non-state organizations that are spread all over Hell’s half-acre, and really the only way you can get at them that we know of now that’s viable is these drone operations,” McCain said.

“It’s sort of an aspect of the frozen conflict,” he said, referring to the battle against non-state terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. “We’re not going to send boots on the ground…and that’s certainly understandable.”

Related: Did Putin Snag U.S. Uranium and Sell it to Iran

McCain’s determination that the drone program should continue puts him squarely in the camp of many in the national security community, who, while loath to advertise the remote control killing of U.S. adversaries, are also in no hurry to curtail eye-in-the-sky combat.

Appearing on Meet the Press, President Obama's former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said that while the hostages’ deaths were a “tragic, unintended consequence,” the operation in Pakistan “met all procedures and protocols.”

Donilon told host Chuck Todd: “If you are looking for absolute certainty in a war zone, Chuck, you are not going to find it.”

He defended the continued existence of a drone program. “Absent these kinds of operations, a comprehensive effort against Al Qaeda, there would have been further action against the United States, possibly in the homeland. I don’t have any doubt about that.”

Even Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who last year mounted a filibuster on the Senate floor attacking the use of U.S. drone attacks against American citizens who travel to the Middle East to fight on behalf of terrorist organizations, was silent this week after the news of another U.S. attack likely killed two such citizens in January.

Related: How Hillary’s Email Mess Revived Benghazi

While there appears to be little interest in curtailing the drone program, McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, did say that he expects Congress to take a fresh look at whether the program, currently under the supervision of the Central Intelligence Agency, would be more properly housed within the Department of Defense.

“There is an internal struggle going on within the administration and within the Congress as to whether it should be an armed services operation…or should it be done by the CIA,” McCain said. “Obviously, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I have some bias, but it seems to me that as much as we [can we should] give responsibility and authority over to the Department of Defense…because that’s really not the job of the intelligence committee.”

McCain said that congressional hearings on the subject were likely in the near future.

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times