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How Washington's Political Culture Turned a Community Organizer Into a Deadly Drone Killer President

A letter to president Obama.

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Still, who woulda thunk it?  Don’t these “accomplishments” of yours sometimes amaze you? Don’t you ever wake up in the middle of the night wondering just who you are? Don’t you, like me, open your eyes some mornings in a state of amazement about just how you ended up on this particular fast-morphing planet? Are you as stunned as I am by the fact that a tanker carrying liquid natural gas is now  making a trip from Norway to Japan across the winter waters of the Arctic? Twenty days at sea lopped off an otherwise endless voyage via the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Did you ever think you’d live to see the opening of the Northeast Passage in winter? Don’t you find it ironic that fossil fuels, which helped burn that oceanic hole in the Arctic ice, were the first commercial products shipped through those open waters? Don’t you find it just a tad odd that you can kill someone in distant Yemen without the slightest obstacle and yet you’ve been able to do next to nothing when it comes to global warming? I mean, isn’t that world-championship weird, believe-it-or-not bizarre, and increasingly our everyday reality?

Aren’t you amazed that your Pentagon has recently  issued a directive meant to ensure that armed robots will never kill human beings on their own? Not so long ago, that was the stuff of sci-fi; now, it’s the subject of a bureaucratic document. Tell that to Skynet someday, right? 

Who could make this stuff up? Maybe  William Gibson -- maybe he already did -- but not me and my guess is not you either.

Putting Yourself in a Box

I know that we humans are terrible at predicting the future. Still, if I had told you back in, say, 2003 that, in the wake of a lawless administration, we would vote a constitutional lawyer into the White House as a “peace candidate” and he’d do exactly what you’ve done so far (see, again, above), you wouldn’t have believed it, would you? And if I had told you it would beyou, I’ll put my money on your laughing me out of any room (not that I’ve ever been in a room with you).

Just the other day, something leaked by two “administration officials” onto the front-page of the New York Times got me started on this letter. In a piece headlined “Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy,” reporter Scott Shane  wrote that, fearing you might lose to Mitt Romney, you were rushing to develop “a formal rule book,” including “explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures.” You won the election, of course, but Shane claims you’re “still pushing” -- though at a far more leisurely pace -- “to make the rules formal and resolve... exactly when lethal action is justified.”

To use your term, you are putting “a legal architecture” in place for a process of White House-directed robotic assassination -- you call them “targeted killings” -- that will assumedly be long-lasting. These are acts that in the years before 9/11, as Shane points out, Washington used to condemn when Israel committed them and that most countries consider illegal to this day.

 

I understand why the idea of Mitt Romney as  assassin-in-chiefmade you nervous and why you wanted to put him in a straitjacket of drone codification. But it’s hard not to ask -- and I’m  not the first to do so -- what about you? It’s human nature to trust ourselves over the other guy, but has it occurred to you that some of us might have the same reaction to you at the helm of a globalizing robot war as you had to Mitt?

 
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