Pointing out the hypocrisies of the Obama administration is becoming a sport, and the New York Times is only providing more targets. Candidate Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay, but President Obama had no plan for an alternative prison. Candidate Obama criticized the Bush-administration interrogation policies (on which I worked), but President Obama sought to create exceptions to Miranda warnings (which he demands) for terrorists so that FBI questioning can continue. Candidate Obama criticized the Bush administration’s war approach to terrorism, but President Obama has ramped up the use of drone attacks to kill terrorist leaders.
But the most disturbing aspect of the latest NYT insider’s account of the war on terrorism, no doubt timed to shore up Candidate Obama’s national-security credentials for his re-election campaign, is the selection process for drone targets. Apparently President Obama personally selects the targets and approves each operation. This is both an incredible misuse of presidential time and a serious distortion of proper war management. Does no one remember the problems created when Lyndon Johnson took a similar hand in the Vietnam war? First, this president has no military background or expertise that would make him particularly good at this, meaning that he is likely to make errors of commission (picking the wrong targets) and omission (not hitting the right targets). Second, the Defense Department and the CIA will become excessively responsive to Obama’s agenda, which will predictably conflict with the best intelligence and military judgment. Third, a President’s micromanagement of targeting will draw his attention to tactical issues and away from the more important strategic issues — which is unintentionally revealed several times in the Times piece.
Lastly, if President Obama is picking targets, and has no military background or experience, one is left to ask what criteria the president does use. The laughable answer given in the Times piece is that Obama is a student of Aquinas and Augustine and Catholic just-war theory. I hate to say it, but I wonder whether this was proffered because of the Obama administration’s terrible relations with Catholics right now, because I saw no signs in the article that Obama is in the least bit familiar with Catholic just-war theory, and his background of teaching and practicing civil-rights and constitutional law in Chicago would never have exposed him to it. As someone who has spent some time reading, thinking, and even (right now) writing about Catholic just-war theory, it could actually lead to a much broader use of drones than Obama contemplates (which is the opposite of the article’s thrust) or it is just irrelevant to the modern just-war theory. But in either case, the idea that Obama is applying Catholic just-war theory to pick out drone targets is simply not believable or deeply mistaken.