Over the winter, I heard military commanders and White House officials murmur in hushed tones about how they would have to figure out a legal and moral framework for the flying killer robots executing targets around the globe.
They were starting to realize that, while the American public approves of remotely killing terrorists, it is a drain on the democratic soul to zap people with no due process and little regard for the loss of innocents.
But they never got around to it, leaving Rand Paul to take the moral high ground.
After two bloody, money-sucking, never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the idea of a weapon for war that precluded having anyone actually go to war was too captivating. Our sophisticated, sleek, smart, detached president was ensorcelled by our sophisticated, sleek, smart, detached war machine.
In an interview with Jon Stewart last year, President Barack Obama allowed that he was in the grip of a powerful infatuation.
"One of the things that we've got to do is put a legal architecture in place," he said, "and we need congressional help to do that to make sure that not only am I reined in, but any president is reined in."
America's secret drone program, continually lowering the bar for lethal action, turns the president, the CIA director and counterterrorism advisers into a star chamber running a war beyond war zones that employs a scalpel rather than a hammer, as the new Langley chief, John Brennan, puts it.
But as the New York Times' Mark Mazzetti notes in his new book, "The Way of the Knife," "the analogy suggests that this new kind of war is without costs or blunders — a surgery without complications. This isn't the case."
Mazzetti raises the issue of whether the CIA — which once sold golf shirts with Predator logos in its gift shop — became "so enamored of its killer drones that it wasn't pushing its analysts to ask a basic question: To what extent might the drone strikes be creating more terrorists than they are actually killing?"
Mazzetti writes that Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of M16, the British Secret Intelligence Service, watched one of the first drone strikes via satellite at Langley a few weeks after 9/11. As he saw a Mitsubishi truck in Afghanistan being blown up, Dearlove smiled wryly. "It almost isn't sporting, is it?" the Brit asked.
In the run-up to the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld and his hawkish inner circle were disgusted that the CIA dismissed their spurious claims of a connection between Saddam and al-Qaida, so they set up their own CIA at the Pentagon. Soldiers became spies.
Meanwhile, the CIA was setting up its own Pentagon at Langley, running the ever-expanding paramilitary drone operation. Spies became soldiers.
Mazzetti writes that after 9/11, the CIA director morphed into "a military commander running a clandestine, global war with a skeleton staff and very little oversight."
Why did the CIA, as Gen. James Cartwright asked when he was the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, need to build "a second Air Force?"
Leon Panetta made the CIA far more militarized and then went to the Pentagon. When an actual military commander, David Petraeus, became head spook in 2011, he embraced the drone program, pushed to expand the fleet and conducted the first robo-targeted killing of an American citizen.