The Way of the Knife, Part 2
April 25, 2013
Here are some further passages from The Way of the Knife, by Mark Mazzetti.
Describing the debate that accompanied Obama’s embrace, rather passionate embrace, of drone killings, Mazzetti writes: “Some in Washington likened President Obama to Michael Corleone during the final minutes of The Godfather, coolly ordering lieutenants to dispatch his enemies in a calculated burst of violence.” [p. 300]
And then again, regarding the campaign of 2012: “Throughout the grueling presidential election season of 2012, President Obama frequently alluded to targeted killings as a sign of his toughness, speaking with braggadocio reminiscent of President Bush during the early days after the September 11 attacks. Once, a reporter asked him about accusations made by Republican presidential candidates that his foreign policy amounted to a strategy of appeasement. ‘Ask Osama bin Laden and the twenty-two out of thirty al Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,’ Obama shot back. ‘Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.’” [p. 314]
Please take note how the Republicans frame the debate, appeasement or not. Of course, this is like throwing a major league batter a fastball right down the middle of the plate; you can pretty much count on that ball being hit out of the park. Like any major leaguer, Obama did just that. And by framing the issue this way, it obscures other issues: “Fundamental questions about who can be killed, where they can be killed, and when they can be killed [which] had not been answered.” [p. 315] In fact, when the issue is framed as it was by the Republicans, these fundamental questions don’t even appear on the agenda. And not surprisingly then, “For all their policy differences during the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama and Governor Romney found nothing to disagree about when it came to targeted killings, and Romney said that if elected president he would continue the campaign of drone strikes that Obama had escalated.” [p. 314-15] Of course he would. What other choice was there, appeasement?
But as Mazzetti knows, these questions need to be raised. As one Richard Blee, a former CIA head of its Alec Station – which was focused on bin Laden – has said: “In the early days, for our consciences we wanted to know who we were killing before anyone pulled the trigger….Now, we’re lighting these people up all over the place….Every drone strike is an execution. And if we are going to hand down death sentences, there ought to be some public accountability and some public discussion about the whole thing.” [p. 319]
After Obama had killed an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was a cleric giving sermons in English on You Tube and who helped to facilitate the attempt to bring down a jet flying into Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009, he also took out Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Anwar’s 16 year old son, but did so by mistake. The son was in "the wrong place at the wrong time.” [p. 311] And “The teenager had not been on any target list.” [ibid] Oh well, a bit of “imprecision” isn’t always a bad thing; it serves as a deterrent in any case.
The youth’s grandfather, Dr. al-Awlaki, in a broadcast where he asked Muslims to keep his son’s message alive, “described America as a ‘state gone mad,’ enthralled with a strategy of assassination in the darkest corners of the world. The attacks had become so routine…that the strikes that killed his son and grandson went almost unnoticed inside the United States.” [p. 312] As Mazzetti points out, this assessment is fairly accurate. Obama mentioned the killing on the day Anwar died but by the next night no mention was made of it on the nightly news. And “Two weeks later, barely any attention was paid to the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the skinny American teenager.” [p. 312]
It is fair to say that if our destination after 9/11 was “the dark side,” we have arrived.