A very strange story, that 6,000-word front-page New York Times piece on how, every Tuesday, Barack Obama shuffles “baseball cards” with the pictures and bios of suspected terrorists from around the world and chooses who shall die by drone strike. He even reserves for himself the decision of whether to proceed when the probability of killing family members or bystanders is significant.
The article could have been titled “Barack Obama: Drone Warrior.” Great detail on how Obama personally runs the assassination campaign. On-the-record quotes from the highest officials. This was no leak. This was a White House press release.
Why? To portray Obama as tough guy. And why now? Because in crisis after recent crisis, Obama has looked particularly weak: standing helplessly by as thousands are massacred in Syria; being played by Iran in nuclear negotiations, now reeling with the collapse of the latest round in Baghdad; being treated with contempt by Vladimir Putin, who blocks any action on Syria or Iran and adds personal insult by standing up Obama at the latter’s G-8 and NATO summits.
The Obama camp thought that any political problem with foreign policy would be cured by the Osama bin Laden operation. But the administration’s attempt to politically exploit the raid’s one-year anniversary backfired, earning ridicule and condemnation for its crude appropriation of the heroic acts of others.
A campaign ad had Bill Clinton praising Obama for the courage of ordering the raid because, had it failed and Americans been killed, “the downside would have been horrible for him. “ Outraged vets released a response ad, pointing out that it would have been considerably more horrible for the dead SEALs.
That ad also highlighted the many self-references Obama made in announcing the bin Laden raid: “I can report . . . I directed . . . I met repeatedly . . . I determined . . . at my direction . . . I, as commander in chief,” etc. ad nauseam. (Eisenhower’s announcement of the D-Day invasion made not a single mention of his role, whereas the alternate statement he’d prepared had the landing been repulsed was entirely about it being his failure.)
Obama only compounded the self-aggrandizement problem when he spoke a week later about the military “fighting on my behalf.”
The Osama-slayer card having been vastly overplayed, what to do? A new card: Obama, drone warrior, steely and solitary, delivering death with cool dispatch to the rest of the al-Qaeda depth chart.
So the peacemaker, Nobel laureate, nuclear disarmer, apologizer to the world for America having lost its moral way when it harshly interrogated the very people Obama now kills, has become — just in time for the 2012 campaign — Zeus the Avenger, smiting by lightning strike.
A rather strange ethics. You go around the world preening about how America has turned a new moral page by electing a president profoundly offended by George W. Bush’s belligerence and prisoner maltreatment, and now you’re ostentatiously telling the world that you personally play judge, jury and executioner to unseen combatants of your choosing and whatever innocents happen to be in their company.
This is not to argue against drone attacks. In principle, they are fully justified. No quarter need be given to terrorists who wear civilian clothes, hide among civilians and target civilians indiscriminately. But it is to question the moral amnesia of those whose delicate sensibilities were offended by the Bush methods that kept America safe for a decade — and who now embrace Obama’s campaign of assassination by remote control.
To read the entire editorial by Charles Krauthammer, go to Washington Post