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October 5th, 2011 6:44 pm
Ron Paul: Wrong on al-Awlaki
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The other candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination could learn a lot from Texas Congressman Ron Paul. During his 2008 presidential bid, Paul was essentially Tea Party before Tea Party was cool, delivering a principled defense of the constitution and limits on federal power. That’s all for the good, and it seems to be a growing sentiment throughout the Republican base.

Where Paul is deeply problematic, however, is in his fundamentally flawed understanding of foreign policy. As the Daily Caller reports today, Paul’s latest misstep is his condemnation of President Obama for allowing the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric who was one of the leading public faces of Al Qaeda:

Speaking to a group of reporters at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire on Friday, Rep. Paul said that American leaders need to think hard about “assassinating American citizens without charges.”

“al-Awlaki was born here,” said Paul. “He is an American citizen. He was never tried or charged for any crimes. No one knows if he killed anybody.”

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, my friend and podcast partner (and frequent guest on “Your Turn”) John Yoo sets Paul and his sympathists to rights:

Today’s critics wish to return the United States to the pre-9/11 world of fighting terrorism only with the criminal justice system. Worse yet, they get the rights of a nation at war terribly wrong. Awlaki’s killing in no way violates the prohibition on assassination, first declared by executive order during the Ford administration. As American government officials have long concluded, assassination is an act of murder for political purposes. Killing Martin Luther King Jr. or John F. Kennedy is assassination. Shooting an enemy soldier in wartime is not. In World War II, the United States did not carry out an assassination when it sent long-range fighters to shoot down an air transport carrying the Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

American citizens who join the enemy do not enjoy a roving legal force-field that immunizes them from military reprisal.

Lest this be oversimplified to a libertarian vs. neoconservative argument (a caricature of both Congressmal Paul and Professor Yoo), I should note that Richard Epstein — perhaps the leading libertarian legal scholar in the country — happens to agree with John Yoo. If you’re interested in hearing more, you can hear professors Epstein and Yoo hash this issue out on the newest episode of Ricochet’s Law Talk Podcast (hosted by yours truly and available by subscription).

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