37 thoughts on “Obama National Security Chief Calls Drone Strikes “Just,” “Wise,” But Concedes We Attacked Militants Knowing Civilians Would Be Killed – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. Who will you be voting for in November? Is there a third party or write-in candidate that you will be supporting?

      1. Same here, Richard. I’m living in Egypt now, and I’m told the policy regarding expats is that our votes are only counted if there is a tie back in the US. So I’m even less inclined to go through the trouble of casting an uncounted and useless vote. It will be the first time in my life, too.

        Medea Benjamin was in the audience during this speech, and she stood up and spoke calmly about how the US has been killing innocents with its drones. She was led away in handcuffs.

        I swear, I don’t understand why Americans are so afraid of “Islamists” on this side of the world. The real nightmare is what’s happening in the US. I’m scared to death for my family, because of what the US is rapidly becoming.

          1. Well, I have not been able to get an absentee ballot for a loooong time. Voting in the US is like voting in Rome under Tiberias or Constantine, anyway. The rituals continue, but real power, real decisions, are not affected.

      2. It is sad to see this, especially in light of how excited you were about his election. Do you think that he did not pursue the policies that he said he would, or do you think that your own politics have changed in the last four years to the point that they are no longer aligned with his?

          1. Yep. But what choice do we have? We are headed into a nightmare state (don’t get me started on documenting this!) and Obama is the only presidential tool we have, badly flawed as it is. I am certain his strategists knew that he could use up some his “overhead” with progressives, and play to the center and right with the wars in place, etc. I, too, would like to tell him that he lost credibility entirely and not vote for him. But, the alternative is modestly worse overall. ???

  2. American friends tend to agree that:

    A/ Obama simply isn’t good enough.

    B/ They’re not being presented with a choice of anyone better.

    Either America has a comprehensive absence of talent and integrity, or the talent is being deliberately kept from you!

    I would note that the UK media has a tendency to highlight the dangers of the BNP gaining power if people stop voting for the Tories/Labour/LibDems, whilst not generally mentioning if there is a UKIP or sensible independent candidate standing.

    Perhaps at least some of the blame belongs with editors and journalists, for either cowardice or downright complicity?

    1. PS:
      Actual BNP support has been steadily falling for years, yet we are still threatened with them by the Liberal media.

      The other thing is that in the US, any equivalent to the BNP wouldn’t be at all easy to distinguish from many “mainstream” Republican candidates.

      1. There is an equivalent to the BNP in the US – it’s called the Tea Party, and it’s quite distinguishable.

  3. Anything to guarantee a Republican victory in November, eh? Still believe one of the great American lies, that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats?

    There’s less difference than I would like on Middle Eastern politics, true. But even there, one party gets us into wars and one doesn’t.

    Politicians are never pure. Get over it.

    Also, as much as I am unnerved by drone-war (so easy!), I would not equate Israel policy (one supposed bad guy in the building? Blow it up and kill or maime 30 innocents…) with American rules of engagement.

    1. Which party doesn’t get us into wars? Funny, but I recall that LBJ, a Democrat, escalated US involvement in Vietnam. Bush Jr., a Republican, got us into Iraq and Afghanistan. And Obama has stepped up drone attacks on Pakistan and may very well be persuaded by Israel to attack Iran.

      You wouldn’t equate Israel policy with American rules of engagement? Excuse me, Steve, but you need to have some conversations with Iraqis. You will change your mind.

      1. Yes — you see the “rules of engagement” in Brennan’s speech, don’t you? He flatly states that we do what we want, when we feel we have to and that could include anything. In fact, Brennans talk is nothing but assertions about how good he and Obama are, how considerate, and that, well, we should just trust them to do the right thing. That’s basically it: Don’t worry about, we’re good Americans, etc. It is inconceivable to me that a spokesperson who adopt this sort of “openness”! But there it is.

        I don’t feel any better about drones as a result of this “openness” that is not open. Not one bit. The hazards of the structure he wants us to believe is in place are fantastic, and bear in mind, we have no way of knowing if they even are in place. It could just be some kid at the joystick who aims his drone at bearded men when he wants to amuse himself.

        Here’s a policy to consider: If all this due diligence is in place, then why use drones? If you have confidence in your analysis of such “surgical” precision and the justice of the hit, why not require that only armed piloted mini fighters be used in these hits? In short — force the government to risk a US casualty to get this dirty work done. This will slow down the process. Drones are immoral precisely because it is not combat, there is no risk taken.

  4. Yep, I remember your words after Obama was elected. You said with a President like him and a Democratic-controlled Congress, a new day was dawning. I warned you then that ALL presidents end up following the same policies on the Arab/Israeli conflict.

    1. After the 2008 election:

      “Never in my lifetime have I cast a vote for any presidential candidate I believed in as much as Barack Obama.”


      “There is qualitatively little or no difference between Obama and Bush. That is why I will not vote for Barack Obama in November.”‘

      What a difference four years makes. Startling to say the least. One wonders how many others followed this same trajectory with respect to Obama.

    2. Not only are you a pro-settler cynic, but you’ve become entirely too used to rightist Israeli governments getting their way by waiting out U.S. Administrations with obstreperous behavior.

      This will only work for so long. Until it won’t. Unjust regimes fall regularly & the Occupation regime will too. It’s a matter of time.

      1. Israeli clout in US politics is mediated via the Religious Right, the Christian Zionists, etc. When they lose hope in the Rapture solving their problems, they are likely to blame Jews in general, Israelis in particular.

  5. With yr declared intent not to vote for Pres. Obama you increase the prospect (albeit by one vote) that Romney will become president.

    Are you prepared to live with his clear intention to immediately bomb Iran, to give unqualified support to the racist Israeli policies and to savage domestic social programs?

  6. I felt pressured to vote for Obama in 2008 because I knew my vote was needed to stop McCain and Palin.

    At this moment I see no difference in the future of the world regardless of whether Obama or Romney win the election. They are just two products from the same brand.

    I will not make the mistake of letting anyone hustle my vote ever again. I’m sitting this one out because I won’t allow anyone to blame me for whatever the US does anymore.

    I live in Egypt. I am extremely happy to live in Egypt.

  7. My impression is that NATO uses about as many troops in Afghanistan as IDF uses in Area C. If we want to “solve the problem” we should get one or two millions of mercenaries, preferably from low wage countries, North Korea and Ethiopia comes to mind.

    We cannot solve the problem, we are on the way out, killing is only for “retreating with dignity”. One problem is that drones are immensely unpopular in Pakistan. I guess Pakistan still does not allow military transit through Khyber Pass. If so, would Israel attack Iran, my prediction is that Pakistani parliament will forbid any transit for NATO, ground or air, and that the same will happen in Central Asia, and western forces in Afghanistan will be under siege, with really bloody debacles.

    1. Remember the British retreat from Kabul in the First Afghan War! There are few greater debacles in military history.

  8. By and large I agree with much in your blog, though I could raise many issues concerning it. In the interests of economy, I will limit them to two. Those grey people who make the kill determinations must remain anonymous for their own health, issues of morality and ethics aside: Nations do not act morally; they act in their own self-interests, whomever in decision-making capacity decides what they are. Second, technology knows no boundaries. The first drone-mediated attack on the U.S. will not be a grain silo in Kansas.

    1. The first drone attack will probably be some US local government blowing up someone resisting foreclosure of a mortgage or something equally stupid. Possibly someone on the Committee of Public Safety getting rid of a wife or mistress.

      1. The first drone attack will be most likely on Occupy protesters or some demonstration against the myriad wars or other criminal actions the US seems to find so necessary. Either that, or drone may be used to track down “most wanted” criminals a la “Fahrenheit 451.”

  9. Once again, life is cheap in Asia, at least to US politicians.

    I don’t expect this Committee of Public Safety will long resist the temptation to blow up personal or political enemies in the US, either.

  10. It’s worth noting that in its own targeted killings case, the Israeli High Court explained the reasons that the policy outlined by John Brennan are a violation of the customary rules of international law:

    a) The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.
    b) Civilians are protected against attack unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.

    The rules only allow attacks on civilians based upon the person’s actual conduct at the specific time and place, not upon their previous behavior, or membership in an organization.

    The big difference between the official US and Israeli policies was revealed when Anat Kamm and Uri Blau subsequently published documents which proved that the IDF was violating the Court’s orders and the customary rules. Its forces had been ordered to attack, not arrest, suspects who were not actively engaged in any hostilities.

    The Court took no action and even threw out a lawsuit that was seeking to block the nomination of the individual responsible, Yair Naveh, as IDF Deputy Chief of Staff.

    There is an article at Opinio Juris which points out some of the flaws in Brennan’s policy speech.
    link to opiniojuris.org

    1. Haver, that opinion piece makes some very usefull points.

      After all, if we accept that:
      a) The USA is in an armed conflict with the Taliban
      b) “being a member of the Taliban” makes you a legitimate military target
      then we must also accept that
      c) “being an employee of the US Government” makes you a legitimate military target for the Taliban.

      US Postal Service employees.
      Internal Revenue Auditors.
      US State Department cleaning ladies.

      All those Federal employees would be legitimate targets for a Taliban Bomb Up The Backside.

      Yet I doubt that there would be a single person in the Obama Administration who would accept that argument when it is applied to THEM, even though they appear to have no problems applying it to the Taliban.

      Odd, hey?

      1. But you see we’re “good guys” & hence untouchable, while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are the bad guys. Not only that, but anyone even remotely associated with them (and some completely unassociated with them, but innocent bystanders) are legitimate targets by our logic.

        1. Richard: “Not only that, but anyone even remotely associated with them (and some completely unassociated with them, but innocent bystanders) are legitimate targets by our logic.”

          That may be their “logic”, but it is clearly incorrect as a point of international humanitaria law.

          In an armed conflict any member of “their” armed forces is fair game, whereever they are and whatever they are doing.

          If “they” aren’t in the armed forces then you can’t target them UNLESS they are directly contributing to the ability of those armed forces to fight.

          But simply being a member of the organization that this armed force reports to does NOT necessarily mean that you make *any* contribution towards the war-making ability of that armed forces.

          And in that case you *can’t* be targetted.

          This is an important point to make: the laws of war are there to HELP THE CIVILIANS STAY ALIVE, they don’t exist to HELP JUSTIFY THE KILLING OF CIVILIANS.

          Israel and the USA sometimes seem to be rather confused on that distinction.

      2. that opinion piece makes some very usefull points.

        Yes, there was a follow-up article by Bobby Chesney, over at Lawfare that offered a defense of US policy, and Gabor Rona’s response at Opinio Juris made the same points that you mentioned in your post:

        The more important question is whether the American vision of the outer limits of targeting powers articulated by Brennan is a net plus or minus to both national and international security, once it is inevitably adopted by others.

        Brennan’s speech is no mere refinement. He has taken things to a new level. If the legitimate targets are indeed in the “thousands,” then we live in a world in which the U.S. is dangerously close to asserting the powers of war anywhere, and against any perceived threat, whether or not it chooses to use those powers. When others do follow suit, with less forbearance than that exercised by the U.S. today, and very possibly against Americans, the U.S. may well decide to shoot back, but it will be in no position to complain.

        1. Forbearance? What forbearance? Sounds like the “good guys” mentality here again – that no matter what the US does, we are to take it as a given that it is doing the right thing, with wisdom and restraint, blah blah blah.

          And drones do make it possible for Obama to “assert the powers of war anywhere,” which he has done, and he does so without the necessity of getting congressional approval.

          1. Forbearance? What forbearance?

            The US government claims that it has some sort of civilian oversight panel that makes determinations regarding targets, even though it has deprived US citizens and others of their lives without due process of law in violation of the 5th Amendment and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

            In Reid v Covert the Supreme Court ruled that the President and the Congress are creatures of the US Constitution and that they have no power to commit acts beyond our borders which that document explicitly prohibits.

  11. “The US government claims that it has some sort of civilian oversight panel….” — Haver

    This is what I’ve been calling The Committee of Public Safety, after Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety.

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