President Obama’s proposed policy changes on the use of drones to kill key terrorist leaders have raised more questions than it has answered.
Under pressure from leftist, anti-drone activists among groups such as Amnesty International, Mr. Obama has suggested making the rules governing these airborne weapons more stringent when a strike might result in civilian casualties.
While he defends their use as legal and necessary in the battle against terrorists, he made it clear in last week’s address at the National Defense University that he intends to place further restrictions on the use of drones in what he still refuses to call the war on terrorism. “And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set,” Mr. Obama said.
He added that “by narrowly targeting our [drone] action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.”
Message to al Qaeda terrorists in the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere: Surround yourself with civilians, and you’ll very likely be protected from one of our drone attacks.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for opportunities where deadly terrorists can be taken out without the loss of innocent life, but we needn’t broadcast our rules of engagement to the world and to our enemies. Better that they think there are no safe places to hide.
The use of pilotless aircraft, begun by President George W. Bush and vigorously expanded under Mr. Obama, has given the United States a major strategic advantage in the war on terrorism.
American military forces and the CIA have carried out nearly 400 drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia during the Obama presidency. They have killed hundreds of the most dangerous military leaders in the al Qaeda terrorist network.
Now, under pressure from the drone program’s leftist critics, the administration is preparing strategic changes in its operations, narrowing rules of engagement and curbing the CIA’s enlarged role in drone warfare by turning it over to our military forces.
The tone of Mr. Obama’s address and the changes he wants to implement, including closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison, have triggered a firestorm of Republican criticism.
Needless to say, the president’s critics do not agree with his repeated insistence that al Qaeda is “on the path to defeat,” the questionable theme of last week’s national security address.
“We show this lack of resolve, talking about the war being over,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham, South Carolina Republican.
He said Mr. Obama is sending a message of weakness at a time when terrorists have stepped up their plots against the U.S. at home and abroad.
“What do you think the Iranians are thinking? At the end of the day, this is the most tone-deaf president I ever could imagine,” Mr. Graham said.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, was similarly troubled by the president’s remarks in the wake of deadly terrorist attacks on civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, as well as the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured more than 260 people.