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Be assured of one thing: whichever candidate you choose at the polls in November, you aren’t just electing a president of the United States; you are also electing an assassin-in-chief. The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they—and the vast national security structure that continues to be built up and institutionalized around the presidential self—are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against. They are one of the reasons those founders put significant war powers in the hands of Congress, which they knew would be a slow, recalcitrant, deliberative body.
Thanks to a long New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” we now know that the president has spent startling amounts of time overseeing the “nomination” of terrorist suspects for assassination via the remotely piloted drone program he inherited from President George W. Bush and which he has expanded exponentially. Moreover, that article was based largely on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers.” In other words, it was essentially an administration-inspired piece—columnist Robert Scheer calls it “planted”—on a “secret” program the president and those closest to him are quite proud of and want to brag about in an election year.
The language of the piece about our warrior president was generally sympathetic, even in places soaring. It focused on the moral dilemmas of a man who—we now know—has personally approved and overseen the growth of a remarkably robust assassination program in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan based on a “kill list.” Moreover, he’s regularly done so target by target, name by name. (The Times did not mention a recent US drone strike in the Philippines that killed fifteen.) According to Becker and Shane, President Obama has also been involved in the use of a fraudulent method of counting drone kills, one that unrealistically deemphasizes civilian deaths.
Historically speaking, this is all passing strange. The Times calls Obama’s role in the drone killing machine “without precedent in presidential history.” And that’s accurate.