Published for Washington Post, February 7, 2013

“If George W. Bush was whacking American citizens on the basis of secret legal memos,”writes Dick Polman, “Senate liberals would be conducting hearings.”

“If George Bush . . . had done this,” argues Joe Scarborough, “it would have been stopped.”

On the right, this argument is an accusation of hypocrisy. On the left, it is an expression of horror. In reality, it is an indication of continuity.

The Obama administration’s defense of drone strikes against al-Qaeda and associated groups — including U.S. citizens who are part of those groups — is based on a certain concept of self-defense in an age of terrorism. In this view, a threat does not become “imminent” when a terrorist boards a plane or straps on a bomb vest. It emerges when terrorists plot, train for and incite attacks. “The Constitution,” says Attorney General Eric Holder, “does not require the president to delay action until some theoretical end-stage of planning.” The recently leaked Justice Department memo argues similarly, “The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

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