At The San Francisco Chronicle, moderate liberal columnist Jon Carroll writes paragraphs of criticism towards the very Obama-heavy system of drone strikes detailed in The New York Times a few days ago. Carroll calls the program "assassinations." He admits they are "not strictly legal." He calls them "creepy." And he (correctly) identifies that yes, full-out war is much, much worse. And so:
And I don't see any way around it. We're not going to war with or in Yemen; we're not going to go to war with or in Pakistan. There is a real enemy out there, even though worries about that enemy have been ginned up to allow for various policies, like airport pat-downs and secret police surveillance of mosques.
(It should not go unnoted that the whole Homeland Security infrastructure puts bread on the table of a lot of U.S. corporations, and there is no financial incentive at all to "win" the war on terror any time soon. It's a permanent war; what will happen when the al Qaeda list runs out? My guess: More will be created. We always have enemies somewhere.)
So we have a paradox. We have a president trying to do it right, trying to protect the nation he governs and to take personal responsibility for the lethal decisions his administration makes, serving the greater bad of an American dialogue drenched in fear.
So the relevant question becomes: How much do we trust Barack Obama? We elected him, those of us who voted for him, to rescue us from corruption and despair. The corruption continues and the despair escalates. What do we do now?
I am left with the image of Obama poring over the "baseball cards" he gets listing every possible target's personal information, suspected crimes, current whereabouts and family affiliation; sitting late at night in the Oval Office looking at photos of the pre-dead. It's not a heroic vision, but it may be the one we're stuck with.
Modern warfare is non-heroic, which is probably a good thing—too many heroes are dead.
Ah, the war and "hero" problem.
Sure, targeting people faraway certainly does not require the bravery that traditional fighting does. And yes, George "the decider" Bush started two boots-on-the-ground wars and that is undeniably worse than what is happening now. Even for pure body counts, there is no comparison. But then, it's awfully hard to compare with any accuracy when the U.S. figures for deaths from drones are so lacking in credibility. Death counts are definitely higher than the U.S's timid estimates and this was confirmed moreso recently, since Obama turns out to dub any soldier-aged males killed by missiles as "combatants". That should offend anyone who objects to war on moral grounds, so should the utter lack of transparency. So, indeed, should the whole narrative of Obama supposedly weighed down by the seriousness of this obligation (drone strikes aren't a joke!). How comforting! Carroll writes "The president's insistence on seeing the faces and hearing the personal details of the people he may order killed strikes me as admirable."
So to people like Carroll, who can identify all the things wrong with what Obama is doing, and yet still end up with this meek, vague summation that the world is difficult and so Obama is doing his best, just say it; say when it's wrong, even if it's a lesser wrong than what came before. Why it it so hard to fully condemn Obama? The people who should be held to the highest standards, presidents, are excused because they are on your team or because the last guy was even worse. Just say it. Say it's not okay to wage a secret campaign, justified by secret memos, to assassinate people in countries that the U.S. is not even at war with. Say targeting 17-year-olds is not okay. Say killing American citizens without trial isn't okay.
Why can't they just say it?
The New York Times article has the same problem as Carroll's banal little column: the critique of Obama is withering, the details harsh, yet the takeaway is still forgiving and respectful. The headline says it all "Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will." It's all about him: how difficult it is to possess such powers over the rest of us.
Reason on drones