The Buzz

Drone Strikes and Congressional Power

Micah Zenko has a new report out yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations about drone strikes. It’s an in-depth treatment of many of the issues raised by Washington’s current policies regarding drone use. Here’s a snapshot of Zenko’s conclusions:

The United States should more fully explain and reform aspects of its policies on drone strikes in nonbattlefield settings by ending the controversial practice of “signature strikes”; limiting targeted killings to leaders of transnational terrorist organizations and individuals with direct involvement in past or ongoing plots against the United States and its allies; and clarifying rules of the road for drone strikes in nonbattlefield settings.

The report is well worth reading in full. Particularly valuable are Zenko’s calls for reform regarding “signature strikes” and targeting policy, as well as his focus on how drone strikes can at times work against other stated foreign-policy goals of the United States. Also noteworthy is the fact that at the end of his report, Zenko offers recommendations to Congress as well as to the executive branch. He observes, “Despite nearly ten years of nonbattlefield targeted killings, no congressional committee has conducted a hearing on any aspect of them.” Among his recommendations to Congress are that it should:

Demand regular White House briefings on drone strikes and how such operations are coordinated with broader foreign policy objectives . . .

Hold hearings with government officials and nongovernmental experts on the short- and long-term effects of U.S. targeted killings . . . and

Withhold funding and/or subpoena the executive branch if cooperation is not forthcoming.

The continuing ceding of power from Congress to the executive branch on foreign and defense policy is one of the more consequential trends in recent American history. If Congress is interested in reasserting its role in these areas, increased attention to and oversight of the drone program would be an good place to start.