Republicans in Congress are making a fuss about whether the White House sought political advantage by leaking classified documents that reveal American involvement in cyber attacks and drone warfare. The debate, on both sides, seems an effort to divert public attention from the policy issues involved.
There have been extensive news reports recently on the use of cyber attacks to disrupt Iran's nuclear program. Such attacks are preferable to a conventional military attack on Iran by Israel, the United States, or both nations, which would almost certainly lead to a war in the Middle East.
The tactic's drawback is that it broadens the global battlefield into an area where the United States, despite its technological achievements, remains enormously vulnerable. If a cyber attack can severely damage Iran's computer-controlled nuclear reactors, what sort of chaos would ensue from a counterattack on part of the U.S. power grid?
The use of unmanned armed vehicles to kill foreigners and Americans targeted by the United States in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen raises equally complex problems. Although drones can kill enemies without putting U.S. forces at risk, they dehumanize warfare, particularly when the President in effect pulls the trigger from halfway around the globe.
The United States is spreading the availability of drone technology, which is not overly complex, to Italy. What happens when Italy sells it to someone else?
Republicans charge that the White House leaked information about these two programs to inoculate President Obama and other Democrats against the traditional campaign charge that his party is flaccid on national defense. In response, the Obama Administration has named two prosecutors to look into charges that classified documents -- but not other forms of communications -- were leaked illegally.
The dispute cannot be allowed to stop Americans from thinking about and discussing the real policy issues -- the wisdom of American use of cyber attacks and drones in global warfare.