Obama and Drones

Posted on February 6, 2013 by

Though this might sound like a “cold war liberal” defending CIA-led coups and military interventions, I support President Obama’s drone attacks.

And I admit that I’m a hypocrite.

If a republican administration were executing these practices, I’d probably join the chorus to condemn them as unconstitutional, authoritarian or worse.

But I trust this president’s judgment that the drones are a legitimate way to take out terrorists who would – if they could – kill thousands of Americans.  He’s making a trade-off, knowing that a successful massive terrorist attack against us would result in far greater damage to our democratic institutions.

Progressives are indignant over the Justice Department memo justifying the policy but I’m inclined to accept remarks by White House spokesperson Jay Carney regarding “remotely piloted aircraft [conducting] targeted strikes against specific al Qaeda terrorists in order to prevent attacks on the United States and to save American lives….These strikes,” he said, “are legal, they are ethical and they are wise.”

Even if you doubt whether they’re legal and ethical, they might – under the circumstances – be wise.

Comments (48)


  1. Alan says:

    Yes wise but ethical and legal questions must be asked in a democracy. I support the use of drones but also support the ACLU in asking the kind of questions that must always be asked of those in power. AND, I want to know who makes these decisions and what criteria are in play.

    Democracy and open government are the most important questions here, bad guys aside.

  2. jonpjoyce says:

    Yeah, it comes down to Obama for me too. One troubling policy aspect is they say, a strike could be authorized on an American citizen. It’s still frightening the authority the CIA has to target people because they believe they may, in the future, be planning an attack. Too much profiling for my likes.

  3. DK McLeod says:

    As with the torture scandals, it’s important to remember that Due Process isn’t something we do for our enemies, but something we do for ourselves…for our the continuing high regard of our allies…and for what’s left of our democratic (small “d”) souls.

    • Tony says:

      How do you justify Anwar al-Aulaqi being killed by our president without trial? Or his 16 year old son for that matter? They both were U.S. citizens, and they had no trial before our current president had them killed.

      We are acting like the terrorists that we despise and fear.

  4. DC says:

    I am alarmed. I received and appreciated these posts. While I disagreed on many issues, I thought they were in general critical and thoughtful. This display of blind faith and enthusiasm because of an individual is very distressing and dangerous. Saying one is a hypocrite is not enough to excuse an unexamined position, which in this case is contrary to any concern for human life and human rights.

  5. Ben says:

    Well, I am surprised. You are giving me the creeps. Who decides who exactly is “dangerous” or “evil” enough to be targeted by a remotely piloted aircraft? The President? Who gives him this critical information? We have been told too often that someone or some people in the “intelligence” community or the foreign policy establishment know things that the rest of us don’t about the dangerous world we live in and that we just have to trust them. And too often it turns out that these “wise” or “well informed” people got it wrong, even after others–in some cases many others–tried to tell them. Think Vietnam or Iraq or any number of other places around the planet. (And of course, in the case of Iraq, the President was one of those who got it right and tried to warn of the blunder at the time.) Congress needs to gets its nerve up and ask the hard questions. Right now we seem to have a monopoly on drones. How long will that last?

  6. Brad Cagle says:

    DC’s comments are right on the “money”. I will point out that Lou must monitor all comments and his decision to publish DC’s comments shows critical thoughtfulness. However, can you imagine the terrible consequences of a brilliant mind that becomes paranoid and bloated with unanswerable power to kill and destroy, such as a Nixon in these technological times? Must the survival of the “dream” be maintained by constant killing, death, war and highbrow cruelty? What kind of “dream” is that? The “dream” of, I got mine and f… everyone else?

  7. Rod Bradley says:

    I believe Obama’s “hypocrisy” is profound and utterly sincere in that he believes it’s the right course. Of course those who commit all kinds of terrible crimes, are equally “sincere.”

    What is rarely mentioned is that from the perspective of these enemies, these attacks are proof of our evil, our decadence and cowardice and are probably, long term, more corrosive and counterproductive in terms of blow back and recruiting, than they are as a tool of control. So far, there have been no brilliant or essential leaders (not even Bin Laden, who got very lucky in his big 9/11 coup) on either side who cannot be replaced. Violence never gets at root causes and terrorism will never be eliminated by endless flotillas of drones and thousands of targeted assassinations. These are political moves and undermine any moral authority the United States might still have in the world. (Our national hypocrisy, which is reflected by Obama’s, sees to that.)

    While Lou is obviously a sincere man, as witnessed by his recognition of his own hypocrisy in this, that he might be able to recognize the profound danger of “hero worship” of those who choose to kill, especially in an abstract and from afar way and can so easily dismiss collateral damage and all the implications of that.

    While this drone war may be politically “wise” — long term it is corrosive and self-destructive to the nation and its instituions, and to all its citizens.

  8. nodrama says:

    This has been a corroded country for a very long time. Starting with the day we stole the country from the natives right up to all the money that has been funneled to dictators around the world in the name of supporting the the masses of those countries and helping them out of poverty. That was all about keeping the dictator in line and allowing us to do what we want. If drone strikes are immoral and I am ambivalent about them, then so is war. As damaging as drones can be, they are much less destructive and indiscriminant than a bomb or mortar shells or an out of control soldier or troop of soldiers.

    • rick chertoff says:

      Aside for wanton killing of humans only being a problem if it’s “them” and not “us”, then choosing “more humane” mass murder or less “humane” mass murder can only be looked upon not only as Orweillian, but as Goebbles-ian. If you have bought the ruling class narrative to the point where they have narrowed your thinking to only inhumane alternatives, they’ve won and you’ve lost/we’ve lost the will to be democratic.

      Maybe Obama leaked the “White Paper”, as Tom Hayden posited on Margot Prescodd’s KPFK show yesterday, because as a constitutional lawyer he sees this as the decent into a police state and wanted to amplify the hearings into a national discussion! I suppose that’s possible.

      Craig Paul Roberts wrote about all this eloquently, “We have had a decade of highly visible evidence of the construction of a police state:
      • the PATRIOT Act, illegal spying on Americans in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,
      • the initiation of wars of aggression–war crimes under the Nuremberg Standard–based on intentional lies,
      • the Justice Department’s concocted legal memos justifying the executive branch’s violation of domestic and international laws against
      • torture, the indefinite detention of US citizens in violation of the constitutionally protected rights of habeas corpus and due process,
      • the use of secret evidence and secret “expert witnesses” who cannot be cross-examined against defendants in trials,
      • the creation of military tribunals in order to evade federal courts, secret legal memos giving the president authority to launch preemptive cyber attacks on any country without providing evidence that the country constitutes a threat, and the Obama regime’s murder of US citizens without evidence or due process.
      As if this were not enough, the Obama regime now creates new presidential powers by crafting secret laws, refusing to disclose the legal reasoning on which the asserted power rests. In other words, laws now originate in secret executive branch memos and not in acts of Congress. Congress? We don’t need no stinking Congress.”


  9. rick chertoff says:

    Age old problem: the handy use of xenophobia by demogoges to justify imperial ambitions and consolidation of wealth by a ruling class over it’s subjects. Read about it in the Pelopenisian War by Thucycides. Pericles becomes dictator to dominate Sparta-ends up losing democracy. Romans same. We are witnessing the “Israelification” of the United States. Ok he’s Black and “nice”/likable, etc, like Clinton and Antonio. Some steps forward on some issues but guess what: he is the status quo on foreign policy, i.e EMPIRE and WAR. That just might be more important than Gays in the military? AFRICOM, Yea, they’ll cut the ‘defense budget a little. What’s $3.5 Trillion for wars when you can still (falsely) say “This is the Best Country In the World!” Answer: your kids future. Speilberg will keep your eye off the ball w some stupid off point drama about the sausage making of deals while we kill the Brown folk. McCristal said we are Creating More Terrorists than we can kill! So keep cheering the flag and hugging your fears as they diminsh our world and that of our kids. Love ya, Lou- at least you’re discussing it. You get the 4 bows for that – I appreciate it.

  10. LOL says:

    I thought this was the Onion at first! Well done, you’ve mastered cognitive dissonance.

  11. atheist says:

    You’re missing the point. Even if you trust Obama’s administration to use drones wisely, the way his administration uses them, and the legal justifications they come up for them, will continue to be used in the future by other administrations that you may not trust.

  12. Eric11 says:

    “Even if you doubt whether they’re legal and ethical,”

    I don’t know how to get past this. I don’t know how it is either.

    To kill citizens before bringing them in a court is not excusable in any capacity.IMO.

    It doesn’t go any further than that, for me.

  13. p says:

    Congress funds the drone program, and oversees it. Every drone strike has been reviewed by Congress, monthly, since 2010. Detailed here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/middleeast/la-na-drone-oversight-20120625,0,7967691,full.story

  14. Over time, it’s become more and more clear that Al Qaeda as we thought it existed immediately after 9/11– a large, organized, hierarchical, and powerful organization that was run under the command of Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and had the ability to organize large-scale attacks in the United States– almost certainly never existed, and without question does not exist now. There is no Al Qaeda. And what’s more, even if some pathetic rump of terrorist cells exist in the world around us, they have demonstrated absolutely no ability to harm Americans. The odds that you are going to be killed by terrorists is effectively zero. You are more likely to drown in a bathtub, more likely to be stung to death by bees, more likely to be mauled to death by a dog, more likely to die from food poisoning, more likely to fall down the stairs and die…. That’s not an opinion. That is an empirical fact.

    Since all of that’s true, why are you willing to undermine some of the most basic protections and fundamental human rights– the rights to due process and representation before the law– in order to address that chance?

    The only reason is pure irrationality, driven by fear.

  15. Rob says:

    “But I trust this president’s judgment…”

    Therein lies the crux of the problem. Trust should be earned, no? The whole point of legal checks and balances is that no one person should be trusted with this kind of power of life and death over individuals. Will you blindly trust the next president, or the next John Brennan?

    You do also realize that, in your words, the realization of being “a hypocrite” does nothing to alleviate the suffering which results from bad policy, right? Personal soul searching, however honest it may seem, if it doesn’t result in any action, is not necessarily an ethical position at all. You may be able to look yourself in the mirror, but that doesn’t help the people on the receiving end of the violence.

  16. Tae says:

    And the use of such drones has nothing to do with further terrorist attacks. And the first terrorist attacks were in no way a response to policies and conflicts prior (I’m not justifying terror attacks, I’m just saying that they didn’t originate by spontaneous auto-ignition). You’re throwing your hands up and clutching to Obama, because you think he’s trustworthy and intelligent. You put American lives above all other civilian lives, you ignore that among the ones killed were Americans. It’s not just hypocrisy, it’s supremacy and imperialism. Obama is the lesser of two evils. Deal with it.

    • Lou says:

      A devastating terrorist attack against the U.S. during Obama’s first term could have destroyed his presidency and opened the door to a victory by the hard right. I want this president to have the option to target suicide bombers who plot to blow up planes, buses and buildings.

      Of course, the national security state is a threat to our democratic institutions and future presidents could find new ways to use “remotely piloted aircraft” against American citizens. More debate, transparency and accountability in the use of drones are inevitable and necessary.

      But I still want our government to have the tools to identify and kill extremists intent on committing mass murder and wrecking our country.


      • Benjamin says:

        Your argument is an admission of essentially “I support whatever made Obama’s re-election more likely, because I really hate his opposition.” This is incredibly unhealthy for our democracy. There are certain powers that we should never allow any president to have, regardless of how much we might like him/her, and the power to kill without oversight is one of them.

        Also, I really don’t see how more transparency and accountability are “inevitable” under this president. He has consistently resisted both of these things, Democrats in congress shows no interest in challenging him, and most Republicans support anything that sounds like “kill terrorists.”

  17. Pegleg says:

    3 Americans have already been murdered using drone strikes
    authorized by Obama.

  18. Your honesty is so refreshing! How many people are able to actually stand up and say they are a hypocrite? Your brave and stunning admission will undoubtedly bring solace to the families whose loved ones have been slaughtered by Obama. I can only hope that find their way to your blog.

    And I’m with you on trusting Obama. I mean – did you see those pictures of him and Michele dancing at the inaugural ball? How can you not trust a guy like that?

  19. TS says:

    “Perhaps they think, “Well, Obama’s such a great guy. If he does this stuff it too, then he must have good reason. After all, he gets daily CIA briefings and we don’t. He knows more than we do.” If you genuinely think this way,then I submit you must now apologize to George W. Bush for your previous protests. To be consistent, you must say, “Bush was right and I was wrong. He knew what he was doing and I didn’t know better. The fact that Obama does the same and more shows Bush was right.”

    I think apologies are in order…

  20. Mark Buehner says:

    This society functions under the assumption that there is a rule of law and that it at least TRIES to be evenhanded. Once you abandon that and treat the law as only a cudgel to beat your opponent but which does not apply to those you approve of, the consequences will be unpredictable. The entire fabric of society relies on the law at least endeavoring, at the very least pretending to be impartial.

  21. Dan Kaplan says:

    Wow. To place blind faith in a single person and ask him for no evidence of one’s terrorist ties, to not question all of the incentives for the government and U.S. defense companies to keep the U.S. in a perpetual war, to throw out the Constitution…well it makes me sick I ever associated with the Democratic party.

  22. [...] CommentsDan Kaplan on Obama and DronesMark Buehner on Obama and DronesTS on Obama and DronesFire Tom Friedman on Obama and DronesLou on [...]

  23. Brendan says:

    At least you admitted early on in the article that you’re a hypocrite who’d be fake-agitating about this if it were Romney at the helm of the “disposition matrix” and saved me having to read the rest of this idiotic garbage.

  24. Sandra says:

    Never ceases to amaze me – I’ve run across idiots like this all the time of every political stripe–ever since I started working in politics in high school, esp on matters of foreign and military policy —

    people like you saying the exact same thing–”I trust this president” or “this particular politician” with deadly force and place blind faith in a personality, a leader because you like him as a person–and because he belongs to a certain political party. Heard the same crap in the 80s from Reaganites re his Central America, Afghanistan and Africa military policy & covert operations…same crap from rightwingers who loved Bush during the Iraq war…

    You’re just like them. You put personalities ahead of principles and laws and policy.

    Obama could nuke Yemen & Pakistan & you’d be scrambling for excuses–believing everything the administration spewed to rationalize it.

    You’re nothing more than a Good little German who shuts down their brain & cedes power & authority over to the Great Leader because…well….”I just think he’s a good decent guy who wouldn’t do anything bad.”

  25. beastsdc says:

    Thanks for being honest. It takes a person of great character admit he’s soulless. Here’s the problem. The law has been totally debased in the last 12 years, by the Bush Junta, and the Obama Imperial rebranding effort, to be nothing but a means for protecting the powerful.

    The “ethical” argument seems to be based on the idea, which has zero foundation, other than Executive public assertion (meaning the word of those who would be prosecuted if the public demanded the law actually be enforced when it comes to official criminality), that these drone strikes are preventing Americans from being killed. That criteria only passes as ethical if it is believed, and that one believes American lives are worth more than lesser valued “others”.

    Whether it is “wise”, or not would take into account the legitimacy of the lawful, and ethical basis, with one added caveat. That being, whether keeping your own skin safe is more important than the soul of your society. Whether sacrificing, as Americans, and their overlords have for over a decade, every pillar of ethics, principles, and values you supposedly believe in, just so you aren’t scared at the mall. You’ve been terrorized into cowardice. Congratulations.

  26. Robot Commission says:


    How is angering civilian populations who would otherwise bear us no ill will, WISE?

    How is THIS wise…?


    If this clumsy policy is meant to actually LIMIT the influence of terrorism, please tell me how it’s supposed to do that, when we kill would-be allies, and draw civilians into the conflict by killing their friends, family, and neighbors. Do you think such actions aid our cause? Do you think a man who sees his own son gunned down, is going to tell himself, “It’s okay. Just collateral damage. The US is looking our for me.” ?

    Our drone strikes are pretty clearly NOT legal or ethical, and I think you’d have to be a COMPLETE fool to believe that they’re in any way wise.

    • rick chertoff says:

      Boil it down: 1,200 +/- bases in 108 countries, to do what?
      extract wealth in natural resources and suppress democracy? Tell me how not? If so, engenders resistance by it’s the very nature of its actions, and emboldens military adventures in its defense, thus creating more resistance. We label resistance “terrorism”? did they fly planes into Brazil’s buildings, Canada’s? Please tell me how defending suspension of due process for US citizens is not an extention of that. And while you’re at it, since when has the Demo party not been a party to imperial genocide, e.g. Vietnam, Iraq, ad nauseum. Please do tell.

  27. Rick Salaman says:

    George Zimmerman was operating on the exact same principle

  28. Tony Goldenstein says:

    Uninformed hypocrites are the greatest threat to this democracy. It’s OK for Obama to do this because you think there will never again be a President you don’t like? Or because you think these executive powers reset with each new President? I guess I’m confused as to how removing judge and jury rights for American Citizens isn’t a huge threat to our democracy?

  29. Mohammed Junaid Noori says:

    That’s because you don’t actually care about foreign policy. The troop surge in Afghanistan was an abject failure. So, too, has been the drone campaign in Yemen. Al-Qaeda has tripled in size in that country.

  30. Buddy Gottlieb says:

    I don’t want any POTUS to have this unilateral unfettered power, and frankly, I don’t trust this president with it. That he’s better or more trustworthy than Bush/Cheney is sort of like saying I like chocolate flavored ice cream better than pickle ice cream, and I like breathing better than the alternative. More seriously, at least since Nixon, virtually all presidents have attempted to accumulate more power in their jockeying with the other government branches, and Obama is no exception. He has not disavowed the “unitary executive” theory of his predecessor, has argued for constitutional expansion of his unilateral power, has established “kill lists” and who knows what else in secret, and will leave this aggrandized power to his successor, who may or may not be”benign” (And don’t think for a second that Hillary would be a peacemaker). The Dems at least feel the need to appear tough and the Republicans enjoy being bellicose, both strutting around as the world’s (undesired) policemen and women. There must be a fundamental change in our country’s national defense and security policy, and that means, for starters, adhering to the constitutional separation of powers and protection of civil liberties before we take others’ lives, liberties or property.

  31. [...] Obama and Drones Though this might sound like a “cold war liberal” defending CIA-led coups and military interventions, I support President Obama’s drone attacks. [...]

  32. [...] for liberal hypocrisy on drone strikes, I turn to a blog post on laborlou.com, first pointed out by Chris Hayes on Sunday: laborlou.com — [...]

  33. [...] who complain any time he critically covers Obama’s actions in this area. He cited an amazing post by an Obama supporter who wrote: “I support President Obama’s drone attacks. And I admit that I’m a [...]

  34. [...] who complain any time he critically covers Obama’s actions in this area. He cited an amazing post by an Obama supporter who wrote: “I support President Obama’s drone attacks. And I admit that I’m a [...]

  35. [...] who complain any time he critically covers Obama’s actions in this area. He cited an amazing post by an Obama supporter who wrote: “I support President Obama’s drone attacks. And I admit that I’m a [...]

  36. Anonymous says:

    [...] many progressives who complain any time he critically covers Obama's actions in this area. He cited an amazing post by an Obama supporter who wrote: "I support President Obama's drone attacks. And I admit that I'm a hypocrite. If a [...]

  37. Truck Driver says:

    I’m wondering how far your trust in Obama goes…. During the Great Depression, I’m sure I would have supported and trusted FDR. And when FDR started rounding up and imprisoning Japanese citizens, despite all the “national security” reasons he gave, I would hope that I would speak out against him.

  38. [...] from Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, to Touré’s MSNBC colleague Krystal Ball, to liberal bloggers also admit to a higher level of comfort with President Obama’s overseeing of otherwise troubling [...]

  39. [...] from Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, to Touré’s MSNBC colleague Krystal Ball, to liberal bloggers also admit to a higher level of comfort with President Obama’s overseeing of otherwise troubling [...]

  40. Louis Proyect says:

    So the same guy who claps like a seal for Obama’s kill lists works for Michael Milken’s think-tank. No surprise there. This is real scum.

  41. DWM says:

    So if Obama can be trusted, and Republicans can’t, rip up the constitution and put a crown on his head. Of course, this is the same crowd of people who went along with Clinton’s sanctions- which killed 500k Iraqi kind- but screamed about water-boarding. Bush and the Neo-cons are bad , but you “Liberals” are much worse.

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