President Obama’s use of drones to target alleged terrorists on a government “kill list” has attracted some new scrutiny after a major New York Times report, though politicians in both parties have spoken out more against the leaks in the article than the program itself. While some Democratic leaders and progressive groups have been fairly muted on the issue, one Washington group, Just Foreign Policy, has stepped into the vacuum to organize against the drone program.
Robert Naiman, the group’s policy director and president of the board of Truthout, says that Just Foreign Policy is the only organization that has mobilized its members on behalf of drone critics in Congress, including a recent letter from Congressmen Conyers and Kucinich questioning the program. In this new interview, he talks about the challenges of organizing around human rights in the Obama era, and the tangible actions that activists can take to build support within and beyond Congress.
First, what is wrong with the drone program?
People are being killed outside of any traditional battlefield with no oversight, no accountability, no official counting and little public debate or Congressional oversight. The targets include civilians and people who have no dispute with the United States.
Do you think that there is less outrage among Democrats and liberals about Obama’s expansive use of executive power than similar policies under Bush?
I think that this dynamic certainly exists and is obvious, but I also think it is often significantly overstated. It tends to compare an underestimation of what is happening now to an over-glamorization of what things were like during the Bush administration. There was not a constant sea of outrage over the depredations of the Bush administration—but rather spikes of outrage over things at particular times.
We could come up with a long list of Bush depredations that did not provoke a sea of outrage. Was there a sea of outrage over anything that happened in Afghanistan before January 20, 2009? Was there a sea of outrage over the Bush administration’s support for the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon? Lack of outrage over the depredations of US foreign policy is the norm, not the exception.
I would also like “sea of outrage” to be the norm. But it isn’t. There are a lot of people who care a lot about these issues, but we need more people to care more, and we also need constructive things for them to do. If the situation looks futile, people move on to other things; that’s happened under Obama, but it also happened under Bush.