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Confront and Confuse

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
May 28, 2013
Foreign Policy

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On Thursday, President Obama gave an exhaustive and wide-ranging speech that attempted to re-frame U.S. counterterrorism objectives, defend his administration's policy choices, and provide guidance for the remainder of his second term. This speech had been promised in Obama's State of the Union address, and it was effectively the culmination of a 16-month effort to selectively engage with -- and shape -- public debate so as to put drone strikes on a more defensible footing.

Obama should be credited for recognizing that targeted killings are controversial among Americans and that discussing their ethical and policy tradeoffs is his responsibility as president. In the speech, he also finally acknowledged what no U.S. government official had ever admitted: that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan predominantly targeted individuals who threatened U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan, not the U.S. homeland. As Obama noted: "By the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we've made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes."

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