from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

Obama’s Long-Term Drone Concerns

U.S. president Barack Obama in a meeting about the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

October 25, 2012

U.S. president Barack Obama in a meeting about the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).
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While reading Mark Bowden’s new book on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, I came across these startling comments by President Obama:

“I think that creating a legal structure, processes, with oversight checks on how we use unmanned weapons is going to be a challenge for me and my successors for some time to come—partly because that technology may evolve fairly rapidly for other countries as well, and there’s a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems.” (262)

“I think with Special Forces, the dangers [of using them too liberally] are smaller because the human element is still there. Those are still somebody’s dad, somebody’s husband, somebody’s son. When you send them in, you know they may not come back. And for me at least, as commander in chief, I don’t think about that any more casually than I do when I’m sending some green kid off to Kandahar. I think there’s just a solemnity and caution that that instills in me that probably won’t go away. I do think that just from a broader military perspective, that we can’t overstate what Special Forces can do. Special Forces are well designed to deal with very specific targets in difficult terrain and oftentimes can prevent us from making the bigger strategic mistakes of sending forces in, with big footprints and so forth. And so when you’re talking about dealing with terrorist networks in failed states, or states that don’t have capacity, you can see that as actually being less intrusive, less dangerous, less problematic for the country involved." (262)

“But ultimately, none of this stuff works if we’re not partnering effectively with other countries, if we’re not engaging with smart diplomacy, if we’re not trying to change our image in the Muslim world to reduce recruits [to extremism]. It’s not an end-all, be-all. I’m sure glad we have it, though.” (262)

Reread the first paragraph:although it is encouraging that Obama acknowledges the principles and practices of U.S. targeted killings by drone will be emulated by other drone powers in the future, this recognition makes it all the more puzzling that his administration refuses to undertake these steps.

For other comments made by Obama about drones, see here and here, and for all comments by senior U.S. officials, see here.

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