Obama, The Trusted Terminator
The Terminatoresque Skynet warfare that has become the hallmark of the Obama administration’s continued war on terror has provoked the ire of everyone from the families of kill targets and human rights groups to civil rights activists and those who fear what will happen when drones wind up in the hands of the very people we are trying to fight. But who exactly are we fighting with drones?
Since the CIA operated Predator Drone killed suspected Al-Qaeda leader Abu Ali al-Harithi and the five other men riding along with him in November 2002 the United States and the rest of the world for that matter entered a new era of warfare.
Among the counterterrorism tools used to modify the legal framework for 21st century combat was the exception made to Executive Order 12333 which banned United State’s officials from carrying out assassinations except “in response to a foreign terrorist attack on U.S. soil.” Reinterpreting this order made Bush’s “targeted killing” of Mr. Harith, in Condoleza Rice’s words “well within the balance of accepted practice and the letter of his constitutional authority.” Bush’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) following the sweeping interpretation of the Executive Order allowed him “to use all necessary and appropriate force…in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” Now the cornerstone of the Bush Doctrine, AUMF gave the president free reign to secretly target and kill terrorists believed to have perpetrated the 9/11 attacks anywhere in the world.
Obama more than doubled the number of drone attacks during his first year in office all while claiming to usher in a new era of governmental transparency and respect for human rights. The rhetorical often contradicts the actual in politics. This is precisely what makes Obama such a dangerous president. Obama and his marketers have created Barack Obama the public personality, a man who is at once honest, dignified, intelligent, trustworthy, a good father, a loyal husband and for those who only trust a man with at least one fault, he smokes cigarettes and drinks Guiness just like you. It’s much easier for this Obama brand to kill 2,500 plus people away from battlefields in clandestine assassinations that he has helped legitimate and institutionalize than it would be for some cold-blooded Republican. Remember the outrage from the anti-bush “liberals” every time Bush and his “evil” coterie shrouded some aspect of the war on terror in secrecy. In principal, the same people who took a stand against Bush’s sweeping expansion of executive authority would be expected to make that same stand against a president who sought to expand those powers further; Obama. But the public outrage against Obama’s own power grab has been virtually invisible despite the fact that fhe Obama administration’s interpretation of the AUMF was even more far reaching than Bush’s and Cheyney’s interpretation of Executive Order 12333. Obama has not only expanded the powers he campaigned against curtailing in 2008, but he has literally entrenched them. Signing into law the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act Obama institutionalized the Bush administration’s broad interpretation of enumerated war powers, setting America on course for another generation of global war.
Apparently America’s enemies have multiplied. What was once a war against “terrorist perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks” under Bush and at the beginning of Obama’s presidency a war against “operational Al Qaeda leaders or people who posed significant and imminent threats to the U.S. homeland” is now being waged against “militants” and “counterinsurgents” in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The majority of people targeted for drone death by the Obama administration are not carrying out plots against the US. Micah Zenko at the Council of Foreign Affairs was interviewed by Propublica regarding the changing face of America’s enemies:
Most of the people who are killed don’t have as their objective to strike the U.S. homeland. Most of the people who are killed by drones want to impose some degree of sharia law where they live, they want to fight a defensive jihad against security service and the central government, or they want to unseat what they perceive as an apostate regime that rules their country.
Distinguishing between terrorists, insurgents or militants is, however, critically important. Vague descriptions of enemies can and have been used to justify attacks on non-enemies. The alleged Al-Qaeda factory in Sudan bombed in response to Al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies turned out to be a pharmaceutical plant. Several innocents died. The drone attack at Damadola targeting Zawahiri wound up killing 18 civilians, identified as “militants”. Zawahiri, the principal target, was absent during the attack. The U.S. has been involved in hundreds of other attacks against the wrong targets, leaving thousands of innocents to die at the arbitrary hand of US justice. So what is the primary purpose of the US drone war? Can the global war on terror be abridged to America’s global war? If our targets aren’t only terrorists but militants fighting against their own governments in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia are we not as Justin Elliot asked using our drones as a “counterinsurgency air force” for allied governments? And if this is the case should we not be reevaluating our justifications for a protracted war in the Middle East?
Obama’s justification for continuing and expanding Bush’s war on terror was to protect Americans from imminent terrorist threats. That was the stated objective of war. But since a wider range of people have begun to be mowed down by drone fire, many who posed no threat to the United States initially, the ranks of enemies now conducting operations against America and its installations abroad have soared. John Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism executive by his own account acknowledged that AQAP’s ranks had swollen to “more than a thousand members in Yemen” from a mere few “hundred” when Obama first took office. Obama, like his predecessor has gone about combating terrorism like a farmer trying to discover the most productive way to grow a crop. Each drone strike, every image of a dead child that appears online, the videos of womens’ faces charred by Hellfire missiles shot by drones streamed live on the web and aired on Al-Jazeera embolden “terrorists” claims that the United States is a violent imperialist force that should be subdued.
Like the scramble for tanks during WWII and the race for nuclear superiority after the A-bomb was dropped governments and sub-state actors that have witnessed the lethal efficacy of drone warfare are scrambling to get their hands on their own drones. What an outcome for the war on terror, a war with stated objective of eliminating terrorists. Obama, like his predecessor has gone about combating terrorism like a farmer trying to discover the most productive way to grow a crop. Unfortunately his harvest has been bountiful.
The illusions swallowed every time someone buys into the Obama-is not-as bad-as-the-scary-republican-war-mongers argument are poisonous. Teddy Roosevelt said, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic or servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” The reluctance to challenge the Obama image that has been spoon-fed to the American public by savvy marketers and critically examine how Obama has carried out his war on terror results in what we have today: a president who secretly kills anyone he wants, without oversight, shunning due process, even when that person is a US citizen and who resists restraints to his awesome and terrifying powers in the most kingly fashion possible-closing the doors to his citadel and excercising his powers in darkness.