Wednesday, February 12, 2014

To Drone or Not to Drone? The Strange Choice in Virginia's 2nd District

Is it possible that voters in Virginia's 2nd congressional district will be forced to choose between a "centrist Democrat" -- who is also a retired Navy officer and just also happens to be a big proponent of the U.S. drone buildup -- and a "Tea Party Republican" -- who also happens to have been an opponent of the Obama administration's plan to attack Syria.

(Does it matter that the 2nd district -- surrounding the port of Norfolk and the military installation at Hampton Roads -- is heavily populated by active service families and veterans?)

Suzanne Patrick served as deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial policy under President George W. Bush. In June, 2003, she testified before the Senate Banking Committee about the Defense Production Act.  In that testimony, she said
The Act's authority to prioritize was key to the rapid fielding of Predator UAV's armed with Hellfire missiles and the provision to the British military of satellite communications technology essential to the conduct of joint operations in Afghanistan. It was used to procure precision- guided munitions, supplies of which were being exhausted by their greater-than-ever rates of expenditure.

Predator UAV's armed with Hellfire missiles were used for the first time in Afghanistan. They included an upgraded sensor package, the Multi-Spectral Targeting System. The contractor's original delivery date for these systems was March 2003, just a couple months ago. Using DPAS, we jumped this order to the head of the production line, and the contractor was able to deliver three systems in December 2001, 18 months earlier than originally promised. Since that time, we have further used DPAS to accelerate 40 additional Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems. We are all aware of the dramatic impact that unmanned Predators had in waging war in Afghanistan, and most recently in Iraq.
It seems odd to suggest that Patrick's opponent in the 2nd district, Republican incumbent Scott Rigell, may be the "dove" in this race. However, when the Obama administration was on the verge of attacking Syria, Rigell was one of the members of Congress that insisted that Congress be consulted. "Rigell authored one of the congressional letters, demanding the president come before Congress and put forth the necessary information so the lawmakers can make an informed vote," Politico reported.

Despite being characterized as someone who entered office on the wave of Tea Party victories in 2010, Rigell professes pride in his independence of judgement and his willingness to stick to principled stands, even if it leads his constituents to abandon him at the polls.  (See NPR Interview: Audie Cornish speaks with Rep. Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia, who says he will vote for the Senate plan to end up the government shutdown and increase the debt ceiling.)

At the same time, Rigell is a member of the Unmanned Systems Caucus, the so-called "drones caucus" in the House. One wonders if he's really capable of being objective on drones.

Patrick and Rigell both come from military families: she describes herself as a "fourth-generation military officer" and Rigell speaks proudly of his "Iwo Jima Marine" father and the "yes-sir, no-sir home" he grew up in.

And we don't really know where exactly Patrick and Rigell, respectively, stand on the burning issues of surveillance, government secrecy, and drone assassination being practiced by the (Democratic) Obama administration.

So here's a modest proposal:  how about if they tell us?

Related posts

There will be elections for 435 House seats in 2014. In at least some of those races, U.S. surveillance, secrecy, and assassinations will be an issue.

Herewith an Insider's Guide to the 7 S's (surveillance, secrecy, and assassinations) in the 2014 Midterms.

(See Will the 2014 Midterms be a Referendum on Obama's Surveillance, Secrecy, and Assassinations? )

Just this past June, people around the country and around the world were startled to hear that an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, had crashed in Maryland. "The RQ-4A Global Hawk drone crashed during a routine training flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River," reported CNN.

(See Maryland Drone Experience A Harbinger for U.S.A.? )

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