Libertarians still wrong, confused on national security

Article Highlights

  • Would Amash’s amendment have “shut down” the metadata program. Yes.

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  • My view is that the most important role of government is to keep the American people safe.

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  • Let’s talk about defense budgets and engagement and Syria and Libya and all that. And let’s do it based on honest arguments and facts.

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Over at, Nick Gillespie takes issue with my post on the Christie vs. Paul contretemps of last week. To review the bidding, Christie ripped into Rand Paul and his fellow travelers at Reason and elsewhere for willfully misunderstanding and miscasting NSA surveillance programs. I piled on, adding a failed attempt by Representative Justin Amash to shut down certain NSA surveillance programs to the growing body of evidence that libertarians and their pals on the far left are gaining steam, mustering the courage of their ill-informed convictions. Gillespie, whom I have never known as a natsec type, believes the Amash amendment “would have brought NSA domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens into rough compliance with the Constitution,” among other wonderful things. I am loath to pass myself off as an expert on the Constitution, so I’ll let others take on that particular aspect of the argument. Let’s just talk about the NSA for a moment.

My colleague Marc Thiessen took on those Republicans who sided with Amash and, um, John Conyers last week in the Washington Post yesterday:

The House voted down an amendment by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have killed this vital intelligence program. The program survived by just seven votes. What changed? This time around 94 House Republicans voted against the NSA program — including 50 who had voted to authorize the exact same program two years before.

Does the NSA peer into the calls and emails of individual Americans, idly thumbing through them like prurient redditors? Ask Mike Hayden, the former NSA director:

Properly used, metadata collection was not about targeting Americans. It was about determining who in America deserved (in all meanings of the word: legally, morally, operationally) to be targeted.

And, as Steve Bradbury, the acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department during this period, has pointed out, “At least 14 federal judges have approved the NSA’s acquisition of this data every 90 days since 2006 under the business records provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

And btw:

The data lies fallow until the NSA can put a question to it based on a predicate related to terrorism and only terrorism. A little more than 20 people at the NSA get to do this, under close supervision, and the agency reports that this happens about 300 times a year.

Would Amash’s amendment have “shut down” the metadata program, a tool that was a key missing piece in pre-9/11 counter-terrorism efforts according to the joint intel committee report post 9/11? Yes. Read the text.

Now let’s take on the notion that part of the problem lies in bad communications between Congress and the Executive on classified programs. Some, like Marc, argue that Bush and Obama alike have been more than proactive. Possibly, and perhaps the ignorance of so many members is due to their failure to attend briefings rather than the absence of briefings in the first place. But apparently my argument is a subterfuge; bad comms aren’t the problem. The problem is that the American people have WOKEN UP — grace à Snowden and the Pauls and Amashs — and really want to hightail it back to the 1930′s where bad people and bad stuff was someone else’s problem. Those were great times.

Let’s have this argument. My view is that the years since World War II were good years for the country. Or was our prosperity solely built upon the hard work of Americans at home without credit to the freer trade, freer nations, greater security, fewer tyrants, and global compact led by the United States of America? My view is that the most important role of government is to keep the American people safe. Not everything it does is good or right.  But it certainly isn’t, by definition, wrong. By all means, let’s talk about defense budgets and engagement and Syria and Libya and all that. And let’s do it based on honest arguments and facts. Let me know when you want to start a respectful and, er, reasoned colloquoy.

PS: Thanks for the title of your blog post, Nick, “Defender of Failed Interventions, Surveillance State Attacks Rand Paul, Justin Amash.” I toyed with “Isolationist Terrorist Lover Defends America Firsters, Other Isolationists” to headline this post, but it seemed rather mean.

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About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.

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