CSPAN II will air bookstore talk of mine on The Cause Sunday at 7, more here. That’s all for now. Here’s Reed.
Droning On, Drowning Out
by Reed Richardson
As it happens, three generations of Richardsons spent this past Memorial Day at the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum on Manhattan’s West Side. Mostly this was to please my father, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and Vietnam veteran, who has a thing for military history, but I can’t deny that my two toddler-age sons enjoyed the experience of being on a ship that was big enough to hold dozens of airplanes. Still, it ended up being a rather swelteringly hot day and after a few hours it became clear that both grandpa and grandsons were ready to head back to Jersey from whence we all came.
On the way out, though, we had to pass by several temporary displays—read recruiting tools—set up by marines in town for Fleet Week. Notable to me was that every one of these glitzy, high-tech displays focused on some new piece of unmanned materiel in the arsenal, from GUSS—essentially a robotic, off-road golf-cart (yes, you read that right)—to the Shrike VTOL—a poster-sized drone reconnaissance helicopter that a young enlisted marine was showing off to everyone with the beaming pride of a brand-new father. After a heavy dose of the very personal tales of the U.S.S. Intrepid’s pilots and crew as well as the kamikaze attacks they endured, the juxtaposition of these new, standoff tools of war struck me as a jarring contrast.
All this is to say that I already had drones on my mind when, mere hours later, two significant news stories about our nation’s top-secret drone-strike policy rolled out into public view. I say rolled out because it’s apparent that these lengthy pieces of reporting enjoyed both the blessing and cooperation of Obama administration. For example, this Newsweek article, by Daniel Klaidman, just so happens to be an excerpt from an upcoming inside-the-White-House book on this very topic that, coincidentally, comes out next week. And while the exhaustive New York Times account doesn’t seem to have grown out of such long-term insider access, one has to be pretty naïve to think that the two bylined reporters would have been able to interview three dozen of Obama’s current and former national security advisers without the White House’s help.
As such, it’s not surprising that, at times, both of these stories read more like campaign trail talking points—portraying a president carefully weighing decisions between life and death, national security and public safety. Even in those rare occasions when the reporters lift back the veil a tiny bit and make an oblique acknowledgement that the White House might have its own less than pure motivations for this getting this story out, there’s still a noticeable whiff of deference to authority. For instance, here Klaidman tries to push back against the political stagecraft but instead appears to fall for a different White House narrative hook, line, and Hellfire missile: