the NYT piece is billed as just another "process story" about an
interesting aspect of Obama's presidency, part of an election-year
series assessing his record. It is based entirely on the viewpoints of
Beltway insiders. The very few dollops of mild criticism of the murder
program are voiced by figures from deep within the imperial machine. And
even these caveats are mostly tactical in nature, based on one
question: "Does the program work, is it effective?" There is not a
single line that ever suggests, even slightly, that the program might be
morally wrong. There is not a single line in the story
suggesting that such a program should up for debate or even examination
by Congress. Nor is there even a perfunctory quote from mainstream
organizations such as the ACLU or Amnesty International or Human Rights
Watch -- or from anyone in Pakistan or Yemen or the other main targets
of Obama's proudly proclaimed and personally approved death squad.
In other words, this portrait of an American president signing off -- week after week after week after week -- on the extrajudicial murder of people all over the world is presented as something completely uncontroversial. Indeed, the main thrust of the story is not the fact that human beings -- including many women, children and men who have no connection whatsoever to "terrorism," alleged or otherwise -- are being regularly killed by the United States government; no, the main focus is how this program illustrates Barack Obama's "evolving" style of leadership during the course of his presidency. That's what's really important. The murders -- the eviscerated bodies, the children with their skulls bashed in, the pregnant women burned alive in their own homes -- are just background. Unimportant. Non-controversial.
“Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.
“This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. … A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.
“The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.
“Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions.
“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious process.”
Again, words fail. Aides pumping reporters with stories about the
wise, judicious philosopher-king consulting Aquinas and Augustine before
sending a drone missile on a "signature strike" on a group of
picnickers in Yemen or farmers in Pakistan. The philosopher-king himself
nobly taking on the "moral responsibility" for mass murder. And the
cavalier assertion that "a certain amount of screw-ups are going to
happen" -- a bland, blithe acceptance that you are in fact going to
slaughter innocent human beings on a regular basis -- precisely as if
you walked up to an innocent man on the street, put a gun to his head
and blew his brains out all over the sidewalk …. then walked away,
absolved, unconcerned, and free to kill again. And again. And again.
This psychopathic serial killing is, evidently, what Augustine meant by
"moral responsibility." Who knew?
Obama's deep concern for "moral responsibility" is also reflected in his decision to kill according to "signature strikes" -- that is, to kill people you don't know, who haven't even popped up on your PowerPoint slides, if you think they might possibly look or act like alleged potential "terrorists." (Or if you receive some "human intelligence" from an agent or an informer or someone with a grudge or someone seeking payment that a group of people doing something somewhere might be terrorists.) This "moral responsibility" is also seen in Obama's decision to count "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."
Guilty until proven posthumously innocent! How's that for "moral responsibility"? Here Obama has surpassed Augustine and Aquinas -- yea, even great Aristotle himself -- in this bold extension of the parameters of moral responsibility.
It is, I confess, beyond all my imagining that a national leader so deeply immersed in murdering people would trumpet his atrocity so openly, so gleefully -- and so deliberately, sending his top aides out to collude in a major story in the nation's leading newspaper, to ensure maximum exposure of his killing spree. Although many leaders have wielded such powers, they almost always seek to hide or obscure the reality of the operation. Even the Nazis took enormous pains to hide the true nature of their murder programs from the public. And one can scarcely conceive of Stalin inviting reporters from Pravda into the Politburo meetings where he and Molotov and Beria debated the lists of counterrevolutionary "terrorists" given to them by the KGB and ticked off those who would live and those who would die. Of course, those lists too were based on "intelligence reports," often gathered through "strenuous interrogation techniques" or the reports of informers. No doubt these reports were every bit as credible as the PowerPoint presentations reviewed each week by Obama and his team.
And no doubt Stalin and his team were just as sincerely concerned about "national security" as the Aquinas acolyte in the White House today -- and just as determined to do "whatever it takes" to preserve that security. As Stalin liked to say of the innocent people caught up in his national security efforts: "When wood is chopped, chips fly."
Of course, he was an evil man without any sense of moral responsibility at all. In our much more enlightened times, under the guidance of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in the White House, we are so much wiser, so much better. We say: "A certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen." Isn't that much more nuanced? Isn't that much more moral?
There is more, much more of this nullity -- and rotting hypocrisy and vapid sycophancy -- in the story. But I don't have the strength or the stomach to wade any further through this swamp. It stinks of death. It taints and stains us all.