Today, both the Pentagon and the White House (in the form of Josh Earnest) went out of their way to make sure everyone knows Obama didn’t personally or specifically sign off on the drone attacks that tragically killed two hostages, including an American.
This is curious. First of all, he’s still responsible, as he himself said in his press conference. He set up and approved a system that lets these attacks happen. There’s something cowardly about honorably taking “full responsibility” in public, and then having your flacks go out and stage whisper “It really wasn’t him.”
At first, when only the Pentagon went out of its way to let the world know Obama hadn’t “signed off” on these attacks, I assumed that it might be the Pentagon’s way of blaming the CIA for this screw-up, in effect saying “The president didn’t do it (and neither did we).” But now Earnest has said it too. Why? One possible reason is that he didn’t want to reveal this at all, but felt he had to because of the useful political timing of it. I’m not sold on this, but I don’t rule it out either.
A more plausible, but hardly contradictory, explanation might have to do with his vanity. I can’t help but think the implication we’re supposed to take away is that if Obama-The-Righteous had been paying attention, mistakes like this would not have been made. The military bureaucracy has failed Obama, who famously reads Marcus Aurelius as he composes his kill lists. At least he avoided saying that he found out about these attacks by reading about them in the paper, but the upshot is the same. The president doesn’t make mistakes, others make mistakes implementing his will.