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Authors: Lloyd C. Gardner

Tags: #History, #Americas, #United States, #Politics & Social Sciences, #Politics & Government, #Elections & Political Process, #Leadership, #Political Science, #History & Theory, #Public Affairs & Policy, #Specific Topics, #National & International Security, #Executive Branch, #21st Century, #Public Policy, #Federal Government

Killing Machine

BOOK: Killing Machine
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Killing Machine

Also by Lloyd C. Gardner

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Economic Aspects of New Deal Diplomacy

Architects of Illusion: Men and Ideas in Foreign Affairs, 1941–1949

The Creation of the American Empire: U.S. Diplomatic History
(with Walter LaFeber and Thomas McCormick)

American Foreign Policy, Present to Past

Looking Backward: A Reintroduction to American History
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A Covenant with Power: America and World Order from Wilson to Reagan

Safe for Democracy: The Anglo-American Response to Revolution, 1913–1923

Approaching Vietnam: From World War II to Dienbienphu

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Pay Any Price: Lyndon Johnson and the Wars for Vietnam

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Edited by Lloyd C. Gardner

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Vietnam: The Search for Peace
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Killing Machine

The American Presidency in the

Age of Drone Warfare




© 2013 by Lloyd C. Gardner

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, in any form, without written permission from the publisher.

Requests for permission to reproduce selections from this book should be mailed to: Permissions Department,

The New Press, 38 Greene Street, New York, NY 10013.

Published in the United States by The New Press, New York, 2013

Distributed by Perseus Distribution


Gardner, Lloyd C., 1934–

Killing machine : the American presidency in the age of drone warfare / Lloyd C. Gardner.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-1-59558-943-9

Executive power—United States.
War and emergency powers—United States.
Drone aircraft—Government policy—United States.
Targeted killing—Government policy—United States.
United States—Military policy—Moral and ethical aspects.
Obama, Barack.
United States—Politics and government—2009–
Afghan War, 2001—Aerial operations.
Iraq War, 2003–2011—Aerial operations.

JK558.G37 2013



The New Press publishes books that promote and enrich public discussion and understanding of the issues vital to our democracy and to a more equitable world. These books are made possible by the enthusiasm of our readers; the support of a committed group of donors, large and small; the collaboration of our many partners in the independent media and the not-for-profit sector; booksellers, who often hand-sell New Press books; librarians; and above all by our authors.

Composition by Westchester Book Composition This book was set in Goudy




The Dream Candidate

AfghanistanShortc hanged

A Tale of Two Speeches

On to Marja!

The War of the Drones

The Meaning of Two Deaths

A Better War?

American Hubris

The New Normal?




I did not intend to write a book about drones. I planned to write a chapter on counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of another work. But then counterinsurgency doctrine disappeared in the Hindu Kush, and drones soared upward out of the confusion, becoming the weapons of choice against would-be evildoers everywhere. It all happened so fast that the usual chronological organization historians rely upon will hardly do. I have written this book, therefore, as an observer of when public attention became focused on a particular question in the headlines and commentary of the day. The narrative begins with an Illinois state representative challenging the Bush White House’s determination to go to war with Iraq in 2002, but a history of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks on al Qaeda targets going back to the 1990s does not come until
chapter 5
. Even though there were critics who wrote early on about the blowback danger involved with the use of drones, few people paid much attention to drone warfare before 2010, when the number of attacks on Pakistani borderlands increased dramatically, as did the crucial role of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Partly this is because, as President Obama’s first press secretary, Robert Gibbs, confirmed in an interview recently, “one of the first things they told me was, you’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.” Gibbs knew it was “crazy,” because everyone out there asking questions knew it existed, and they were being told to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” This mandate not to acknowledge the existence of the program, Gibbs believes—as do most other observers we will encounter in the chapters that follow—“undermines people’s confidence overall in the decisions that their government makes.”

Along with the Gibbs revelations have come other disclosures about Obama’s foreign policy, such as information that the United
States has quietly resumed sales of arms to countries that use children in their armies—effectively circumventing a ban enacted in the George W. Bush years.

Penalties were put in place by Congress to prevent U.S. arms sales to countries determined by the State Department to be the worst abusers of child soldiers in their militaries, but the Obama administration has waived almost all of them each year, arguing that continued arms sales to abuser countries are needed either to bolster those countries’ fragile security or to support cooperation with the U.S. military in areas such as counterterrorism.

“Through all this,” writes Peter Beinart, “mainstream liberal Democrats have mostly yawned.” They are not thrilled about drone warfare, but they trust the president more than they did George W. Bush, and they do not question the wisdom of breaking the ban on arms sales to such “allies.” The president’s lack of availability to the press—which ABC White House reporter Ann Compton has called “a disgrace”
—means that Gibbs and later his successor as press secretary, Jay Carney, have seemed to be defending the president’s policies from a defensive crouch.

There are no archival sources available for a book about recent events such as these, and there probably will not be for a long time. The ability of governments to keep embarrassing—or at least controversial—decisions secret, on the other hand, has crumbled under the pressure of reporters and other commentators reluctant to accept government’s assertions of “trust me.” The classifier’s
stamp has been overwritten not simply by WikiLeaks but by the plethora of information made available from legions of government insiders who talk anonymously to investigative reporters. Drone warfare is a very special case, however, for government officials—pleading different reasons at different times—have refused in public speeches and in responses to lawsuits to acknowledge ownership of attacks on certain targets, especially those outside recognized war zones. I hope this book will provide some insight into the reasons for this. Particularly controversial in this
regard is the Obama administration’s refusal thus far to declassify a fifty-five-page memorandum prepared over a six-month period in the Office of Legal Counsel that lays out the legal basis for lethal attacks on American citizens living in foreign countries without regard for Fifth Amendment protections calling for due process under the normal procedures of a court trial. There are also indications that more than one memorandum on the subject exists, and that a reason for keeping them all secret is that the authors apply different standards depending on what particular events seem to require.

Ever since John Yoo of the White House Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) authored the infamous 2002 memoranda on torture, the OLC has put itself in a position not unlike that of farmers who force-feed grain to captive geese in order to produce the abnormally distended livers eaten as the delicacy foie gras. The OLC’s memos distort the Constitution to provide presidents with the swollen powers they desire. Perhaps the most revealing aspect of this behavior pattern became public in the aftermath of President Obama’s reelection, when newspaper articles carried stories about his desire to write a “rule book” for drone warfare. The administration was said to be concerned about a Republican victory bringing Mitt Romney into the Oval Office. Hence the need for rules in place by the time of the inauguration—the assumption being that Romney and his people would be less careful about paying attention to American responsibilities under international law.

It was hard to say what was more disturbing about this revelation: the implicit belief that Obama was more trustworthy than any of his successors would be, or the explicit assertion that the White House enjoyed the sole right to develop regulations governing this new form of warfare. It was said that the administration felt its responsibilities so keenly because the nation—and the world—was entering upon new territory, just as we had at the beginning of the atomic age. The ability of each successive president to write his or her own rule book governing the use of drones certainly raised questions about the responsibility being left to the executive branch.

BOOK: Killing Machine
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