Obama Drone Speech – The Lethal President Sends His Regrets

A few hours before President Obama delivered his national security speech, I called a lawyer who used to work for him. I wanted to gain some insight into a question that everyone seemed to be asking: Why now? Why had the President decided, four months into his second term in office, to admit responsibility for the deaths of four American citizens, to cut back on the drone strikes that have been the hallmark of his counter-terrorism policy if not his entire presidency, and then to give a speech that, if it lived up to its advance billing, would propose limits on his administration’s own lethality?

The lawyer said that the speech was a response to several things, among them the drawing down of the war in Afghanistan and the promotion of John Brennan to the directorship of the CIA. But most of all, the lawyer added, the speech was an opportunity — a chance for the President, finally, to be himself. “From what I know of the president, these are things he really cares about. He’s been displeased with the constant war footing and frustrated with the lack of transparency. These are themes he’s been pressing from day one. But now he thinks that time is running short and he thinks it’s important to the United States and the world for him to be clear about what the administration is doing. It’s hard to move the institutions he has to deal with. He’s finally said, ‘Enough. We have to do this.’ I think this was always coming. What you’ll hear from the president today is what he’s always wanted to say. It’s what I’ve always heard him say.”

A few minutes later, I called one of President Obama’s former counter-terrorism advisors. I told him what the lawyer had said, about the entrenched institutions of government frustrating the president’s inclination to push for transparency, and he said, “I never saw any inclination to push for these things. He’s always talked transparency without being transparent. He must have started pushing after I left.”

From the start, Barack Obama has been a man of epic divisions in matters of national security. He outlawed torture and announced his intention to close Guantanamo as his first significant act in office; he approved a drone strike as his second. He won and accepted a Nobel Peace Prize while personally approving the elimination of those identified in secret as our enemies. Even now, in the matter of national-security leaks, he speaks of reporters not having to go to jail for doing their jobs in response to his administration raising the prospect of reporters having to go to jail for doing their jobs. What passes as his breadth of vision is often the result of the lengths to which he’ll go to reconcile the irreconcilable… via Obama Drone Speech – The Lethal President Sends His Regrets – Esquire

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