Well, I'll just mention that in my personal opinion all of the stink about Benghazi is politically motivated. I tend to be a realist and to accept that one cannot prepare for EVERY eventuality. That said, I'm puzzled at Brad's opposition to Rice, too. It seems clear to me that the whole "spontaneous" vs "not spontaneous" issue was a communications snafu, and all the subsequent angst over it is ridiculous. Everyone now acknowledges that nefarious people were Up To Something that night- but that's hindsight. IIRC she was initially (around 5 days afterwards) saying something like "We think the protests were spontaneous and that extremist elements then took advantage of them"- which isn't exactly lying, y'know? Commo snafu, early in the crisis, with incomplete information. And she's in the Cabinet- hitting the talk shows is part of her job. For a Democratic appointee, I'd take her- she was pretty hard-line with Libya, etc. But, yes, the prospect of Republicans fighting to keep Clinton in the post strikes me as nothing short of hilarious!
But I really just want to respond to James and Tom, then I'm probably out of the debate. Actually, I was going to post a reply almost identical to Bucktoof's- then I saw Bucktoof's- so you can guess what's coming...
I am not a pacifist- just to put that out there. I am not naïve enough to believe that there is always a nonviolent solution. There are Bad People in the world with whom it is impossible to negotiate and who will ONLY respond to violence. I'll go so far as to state that IMO if you do not agree with that last statement that you are delusional. (I had to throw the "IMO" in there to avoid an informal fallacy, but I feel pretty strongly about the issue.)
Ergo, it follows that I accept that war is to some extent inevitable, and that it is possible to have a "just war", or perhaps a "just conflict" since al-Qaeda et al aren't national entities. And, I accept that Bad Things will happen to Innocent People during war, though it is of course tragic. Nonetheless, I believe that those innocent deaths are the fault of the Bad People in question, NOT those resisting them. (I'll not debate whether our current conflicts are "just", so don't try- that's a LONG debate, and frankly my views might surprise a lot of people here.)
So, would you require a legal proceeding for every Talib killed? That would clearly be ridiculous. So if not, why is al-Awlaki different? Just because he's an American? Well, I've already explained why I dismiss that argument- he is in active armed conflict with the United States, so even if he is an American citizen he is a valid target of military action. That is my (and IIRC the U.S. Attourney General's) position on the matter. Being an American is frankly NOT that special- if a NON-American is not in armed conflict with us we should not kill them, for example- the same rules apply. So, he's an American? Meh. I'll grant that it would be desirable to capture him and hold a trial, just as with any non-American terrorist, but it's far from required.
I don't think that our international conventions forbidding assassination really apply. They are sort of outdated, meant to forbid politically motivated assassination of nonmilitary national leaders and the like, for instance killing of the Soviet Premier or Hugo Chavez, etc. And, yes, I'd generally oppose assassinating the political leaders of a hostile government. But a hostile COMBATANT leader during time of armed conflict is ALWAYS a valid target- though this is where the prohibitions are outdated, since it is getting harder and harder to distinguish a protected civilian leader from someone who is helping to direct the conflict. But it is PERFECTLY LEGAL to bomb a general's headquarters with the intent of killing the general, for instance, AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN. Our prohibitions on assassination were never meant to forbid this, because this ISN'T assassination- it is a legitimate attack on a C2 target during combat. We killed Yamamoto on purpose- and yes that was debated but IMO any reasonable person will accept the validity of doing that. We don't live in the Napoleonic era, after all, where masses of conscripts were directed by "gentleman" officers who would avoid targeting one another while a multitude of their soldiers died horribly around them.
Al-Awlaki is the same. IMO the only legitimate objection to his killing involves the whole "is terrorism warfare or simply criminal" argument, on which I stand firmly of the opinion "yes." By which I mean that due to it's special armed and combatant nature it is both. If you consider it merely criminal go ahead and object- and I vehemently disagree with you. Otherwise I don't believe that in this case there is a legitimate objection. On other issues about the wars, sure, but not this one.
And, yes, to a certain extent we must "trust" those making such attacks against hostile combatants. Otherwise we are reduced to the absurdity I mentioned- soldiers unable to return fire until a legal proceeding has found the Talib in question guilty, or being unable to shoot a suicide bomber until after he had detonated and thus proved his guilt. And let me assure you- I would have no objection to a drone strike against Haqqani or al-Zawahiri, for instance, without a trial. They are combatant leaders. IMO the same holds for anyone financing and planning bombings, suicide attacks, assassinations, etc., like al-Awlaki. Who, in addition to being an unrepentant killer was also a bit of a creep and scumbag- soliciting prostitutes and lying to get scholarship money, etc.
So I guess that I hereby claim that the "slippery slope" argument works in my favor in this case.
Final trivia bit- I actually KNOW Nidal Hasan. He was in my medical school class. Quiet guy, kept to himself- all the usual tropes apply. I was in a few study groups with him, have barbequed with him, etc. I've considered going to visit him but I figured that might land me in a tiny well-drained room having a frank discussion with a gentleman holding a cattle prod... But, anyway, if we play "Six Degrees of Anwar al-Awlaki" I think I'd win.
So, regarding the "unsheathing the sword" thing and having a high standard for it- yes, I'll agree with that. There was a character that Bruce Willis played in "The Siege" who was an Army general and who expressed trepidation at the suggestion that the Army be deployed inside the U.S. under martial law. He said something like "I'm a broadsword, not a scalpel." I thought that was a pretty cogent statement.
But then you have to argue over the standard for when it is appropriate to unsheath the broadsword, and I suspect that we'll disagree on that issue. Suffice to say that I was moderately opposed to the Iraq invasion but support the legitimacy of our invasion of Afghanistan in pursuit of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda by way of the Taliban. (And this was even back when we all believed the evidence about WMDs in Iraq.) Don't get me wrong- I don't weep for the Ba'ath party, but I am nonetheless quite glad that through sheer chance I have only ever been deployed to Afghanistan and never to Iraq, thus avoiding a personal moral dilemma. I also know from first hand experience that the Taliban are patently EVIL people (outshining even Cheney) and frankly shooting is too good for them. Being shot is a soldier's death- they should at the least be hanged. There most certainly ARE issues where this gets sticky- recall that I just mentioned having first hand experience- but I'll reserve that discussion for later, if anyone cares about it.