Confusion reigns

Two articles have appeared commenting on President Obama’s recent speech on the future of the drone programme. In the first, Micah Zenko writes that Obama said very little new.

Zenko opens his piece writing “President Obama gave an exhaustive and wide-ranging speech that attempted to re-frame U.S. counterterrorism objectives, defend his administration’s policy choices, and provide guidance for the remainder of his second term. This speech had been promised in Obama’s State of the Union address, and it was effectively the culmination of a 16-month effort to selectively engage with — and shape — public debate so as to put drone strikes on a more defensible footing”.

Zenko adds, “The term “force protection” is defined by the Pentagon as “preventive measures taken to mitigate hostile actions against Department of Defense personnel (to include family members), resources, facilities, and critical information.” The force protection objective of Pakistan drone strikes partially explains why their numbers expanded and contracted with the surge and withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Why the Bush and Obama administrations refused to acknowledge, until Thursday, what was plainly evident to anybody who followed this issue, will likely remain an unsolved riddle of the war on terror”.

He writes that Obama did not address when, whether or if DoD or the CIA will control the drone operations, or that “the new guidelines indicate that targets must present a “continuing, imminent threat to Americans,” according to a U.S. official. The New York Times and the Financial Times both wrote that this indicated an end to the controversial practice of “signature strikes” against anonymous military age males whose guilt is determined, in part, by the patterns of their observable behavior. But, on Tuesday, Baker wrote: ‘For now, officials said, ‘signature strikes’ targeting groups of unidentified armed men presumed to be extremists will continue in the Pakistani tribal areas.’ Meanwhile, Declan Walsh revealed that this year ‘the United States cut back on so-called signature strikes against clusters of militant suspects.’ So, who knows?”

He adds that “President Obama did not directly address any of those issues, nor are they discussed in the declassified summary of the presidential policy guidance. He also did not speak to the longstanding concern of what procedures are in place to mitigate harm to civilians, stating instead: “Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.” This is merely an assertion, and it raises further questions about how the Obama administration defines “near-certainty” and what lower standard they were following previously”.

He ends the piece “This was supposed to be the speech in which President Obama clarified his targeted killing policies. Instead, he further confused both domestic and international audiences. By comparing it with previous administration officials’ comments, Jonathan Landay determined that “Obama’s speech appeared to expand those who are targeted in drone strikes.” Wall Street Journal reporters came to the opposite conclusion: “The new language is more restrictive than the policy declared in an April 2012 speech by John Brennan, then White House counterterrorism chief.”

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2 Responses to “Confusion reigns”

  1. Order and Tradition Says:

    […] Micah Zenko’s recent article arguing that President Obama’s speech was confused, Aaron David Miller argues that Obama […]

  2. “Already violated” | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] Obama gave on the reform of the drone programme, some have questioned whether the speech was confused, necessary and now, already broken as a result of the strike against a senior leader of the […]

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