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What would Aquinas do? The Kill List Saga

It turns out there’s a whole book coming out about the Kill List – Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency by Daniel Klaidman. (I would have known about this if I watched Morning Joe but, luckily I read the New Yorker story and got caught up.) It’s due out in June but Newsweek has published an excerpt:

Drones: How Obama Learned to Kill

Sometimes called “crowd killing,” signature strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan. Obama struggled to understand the concept. Steve Kappes, the CIA’s deputy director, offered a blunt explanation. “Mr. President, we can see that there are a lot of military-age males down there, men associated with terrorist activity, but we don’t always know who they are.” Obama reacted sharply. “That’s not good enough for me,” he said. But he was still listening. Hayden forcefully defended the signature approach. You could take out a lot more bad guys when you targeted groups instead of individuals, he said. And there was another benefit: the more afraid militants were to congregate, the harder it would be for them to plot, plan, or train for attacks against America and its interests.

Obama remained unsettled. “The president’s view was ‘OK, but what assurances do I have that there aren’t women and children there?’?” according to a source familiar with his thinking. “?‘How do I know that this is working? Who makes these decisions? Where do they make them, and where’s my opportunity to intervene?’?”

Did he really mean that it’s OK about the boys — but what about the women?

The president had come a long way in a short time. Schooled as a constitutional lawyer, he had had to adjust quickly to the hardest part of the job: deciding whom to kill, when to kill them, and when it makes sense to put Americans in harm’s way. His instincts tilted toward justice and protecting the innocent, but he also knew that war is a messy business no matter how carefully it is conducted. He saw the drones as a particularly useful tool in a global conflict, but he was also mindful of the possibility of blowback.

In this overheated election season, Obama’s campaign is painting a portrait of a steely commander who pursues the enemy without flinching. But the truth is more complex, and in many ways, more reassuring. The president is not a robotic killing machine. The choices he faces are brutally difficult, and he has struggled with them—sometimes turning them over in his mind again and again. The people around him have also battled and disagreed. They’ve invoked the safety of America on the one hand and the righteousness of what America stands for on the other.

Stop right there. … “The hardest part of the job: deciding whom to kill, when to kill them” — When did we put THAT in the job description?

This story isn’t at all different from the NY Times version but it’s interesting that the Times obviously didn’t do their research in a vacuum.  As disgusting and disturbing as it is, it seems this really is a story President Obama wants told — and told before the conventions too. They must think we’re going to like it a lot.

I don’t think so.

Thursday’s Kill List Reading List:

The Huffington Post shares the episode of Morning Joe where he and his colleagues discuss the NY Times & Newsweek stories and The Kill President. It’s scarily-sickeningly fascinating. And I still hate it.

Cleaning Up Obama’s Dark Side by Glen Ford

THE PRESIDENT’S KILL LIST by Amy Davidson, New Yorker

The “Kill List” Is a Shiny Object by emptywheel

And finally The American Extremist point of view:

American Extremists: “Worst-case scenario”

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13 Responses

  1. What a weird week. All those years of History and Government classes and it’s only now that I learn that the hardest part of the President’s job is deciding whom to kill and when to kill them.

    They should have flunked me. I had no idea!

  2. It all sounds so innocent. It could almost be a children’s book: “How Obama Learned to Kill” for 5th graders, I guess.

  3. Is Obama interested in curtailing Islamic Terror threats to America or is this just like his pronouncement on same gender marriage, a ploy designed to get the Hawk vote instead of the GLBT vote this time?

  4. Would it have been better if Obama had left it up to the CIA and D of D? Saying: “maintain my plausible deniability and tell me nothing”?

    That is a real question, not a rhetorical question. America does have enemies and they do need killing. So how and who do we decide about that? And who does it how?

    It certainly looks like the Obama Administration has crafted all this in a way to make it possible to “bring the drones home” against Occupy Leaders and other “domestic inconveniences” at some later date if he or another President decides the time has come. But would a President HRClinton have refused any more-narrowly-tailored and targetted version of this assassination program? Or a President anyone else?

    As long as our so-called “ally” Pakistan keeps giving sanctuary and protection to al quaeda and numerous talibans especially including the Haqqanis, what do we do about that? Something? Nothing? (Obviously a lot of this particular Afghanistan problem would be solved by abandoning Afghanistan totally and soonest and bringing everyone and everything home. But that means we have to accept that we will have no further influence on events there, including womens rights, democratic rights, anything. In that scenario, the only thing we could do for womens rights in Afghanistan would be to get in contact with a group called RAWA (Revolutionary Afghan Womens Association) and ask them if they would like us to give each of their members all the guns/ammo/grenades/ IED ingredients and guidebooks/ etc. that they would need to fight for womens’ rights inside Afghanistan. And if they didn’t want any, we wouldn’t insist that they take any .)

    If we really don’t like this, we are going to have to unwind a whole lot more than just the targetted assassination program. We are going to have to unwind much of our overseas presence and overseas goals. That might stop turning neutrals into hostiles and enemies. But we will still have to do something or nothing about the enemies we already have And if we decide not to have any more such targetted assassination programs, then we will have to fall back on deterrence.
    The deterrence would be this: the next country which permits the next al quaeda to stage the next 9/11 from its territory will have its entire leadership class thoroughly and comprehensively exterminated in detail as punishment for letting it happen. Now . . . is that really a better approach? If it is, then lets plan for it and be ready to carry it out.

    And if I get banned for this, then so be it.

    • No reason for banning.

      • Thank you. And I hope if I ever veer close to getting-banned territory
        that I will get a warning first. Then if I decide to stomp on the mine anyway, I would have only myself to blame.

    • If I were president, I would make the decision, not palm it off to the CIA or the DOD. That said, I wouldn’t do what Obama and Bush did by having my Attorney General cook up some lame-assed “legal” defense of my actions.

      If Obama wants to target people for assassination, he should stand up and say that he felt that the act was necessary for the defense of the American people and let them judge him on that basis. There’s no excuse to tearing up the Constitution in order to give him cover. A ten-year-old could take apart Holder’s argument that a discussion in the White House satisfies the guarantee to due process.

      • Given how tough HRC has been hanging lately, I can almost imagine
        a President HRC taking that very approach. Or at least a more-standup-than-Obama’s version of that very approach. But that assumes that I would expect a President HRClinton to fight our PakISItaliban enemies in AfPakistan in semi-similar ways. And I think I would expect it.

        And if the DNC can somehow be tortured into swapping Obama out of the Prez-line on the ticket, and swapping Clinton into the Prez-line on the ticket, I will go right ahead and take that chance with my vote.
        ( If any DemParty moles and sappers are reading this, I hope they take it as advice to implement, rather than as a “natives are restless” challenge to manipulate.)

    • I wouldn’t venture a guess as to what any other person in office would do, but I find the acceptance of “pols will be pols” and “say anything to get elected” practice somewhat appalling. Expecting honesty from campaign to office shouldn’t be considered a ridiculous expectation.

      The idea that military responses is the absolute only method of dealing with people who don’t like us is absurd, and I’d love a chance to see an administration that can back off that practice in my lifetime. Just maybe it is our aggressive and first line of action military that makes us so hated in the world.

      • That “pols will be pols” thing made me sick! It’s a total conversation stopper.

        And the “they all do it” “have done it” is the same sort of thing.

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