What Have We Done: Executive Power, Drones, and Trump

The news is rife with President Trump’s threatened and actual military misadventures: in Syria, Yemen, and North Korea. But these military actions take on a new gravity considering the vast and secret powers Trump inherited.

Former President Obama escalated the use of drone strikes – including in non-battlefield arenas such as Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen – so it is no surprise that President Trump has continued with abandon. While Obama put some constraints on drones, Trump gave the secretive, unaccountable CIA new authority to conduct drone strikes against “suspected militants.”

Specifically, President Obama’s constraints on drones included that targets pose an “imminent threat,” that their capture is “not feasible,” and that there be “near certainty” civilians will not be injured or killed. However, Obama didn’t always hew closely to his own policy, which evolved throughout his Presidency as legitimate criticism of drone strikes increased. One of the most famous Americans targeted and killed by a drone, al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, met none of the early purported criteria. Still, the Justice Department under Obama maintained that the President had the unilateral authority to target and kill American citizens like al-Awlaki. That power now rests with President Trump who has undertaken aggressive and messy military actions in the early days of his presidency.

Trump has pushed for a $54 billion increase in defense spending. Americans can expect Trump will use their money for expensive military actions like the botched raid in Yemen that killed innocent women and children and an American soldier and resulted in destruction of a $75 million military helicopter. Or, for decisions that upend years of international relations policy, such as launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria. (Replacing them will probably cost at least $1 million per missile).

This does not bode well for the millions of people living under the daily buzz of U.S. military drones. The power to target and kill using drone strikes went too unchecked in the Obama administration because we “trusted” him. Although small pockets of national security, civil liberties, and peace groups complained about the Trust Doctrine, which seemed to apply to the most controversial conduct in which our country was engaged – from torture to surveillance to drone operations–people in positions of power were generally unwilling or unable to imagine what this power would look like in the hands of someone unpredictable, petty, and vengeful. The Obama administration exalted the drone program’s “surgical precision,” the internal checks and balances built in, and the careful calculations before taking strikes. Because many saw Obama as a reasonable, intelligent President and capable leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize, Americans too calmly and too quietly accepted the secret killing practices being waged halfway around the world from US Air Force bases in our backyards in Nevada and California.

The drone program is plagued by secrecy and unaccountability. That was true even before Trump put strike authority with the CIA and possibly relaxed civilian kill standards. Several whistleblowers have come forward to point out abusive practices and high turnover within the program, misleading government statements on the accuracy of strikes and targeting capabilities, and an overall pressure to launch strikes while falsely presenting the propagandist narrative that drone warfare allows precision targeting with no harmful effects at home in the US. This false narrative persists because politicians want us to believe it – and so do we.

We opened Pandora’s box and unleashed drones upon humankind. But in this case, the damage was entirely foreseeable.

Jesselyn Radack is a national security and human rights attorney who heads the “Whistleblower & Source Protection” project at ExposeFacts. Twitter: @jesselynradack. Reprinted with permission from ExposeFacts.

  • Don

    Just when Americans were coming to love drones that Trump has used and escalated the use of. Now we go back to Americans hating drones again.

    • Dennis Boylon

      This isn’t true. It has led to more civilian deaths and less of the empire’s troops getting killed. It has made it easy for a president to just send in a drone and bomb.

    • tom

      The USA can drone someone who is no more than a civil/human rights worker in another nation that the USA “puppet” ruler there doesn’t like! Drone victims labelled as :”terrorists” is not accurate at all! Extrajudicial assassinations are murder, PERIOD!

    • joeyman9

      The drone is a coward’s weapon.

      • ted dolan

        Imagine the KILLER CONTROLLERS watching as they MURDER HUNDREDS in REALTIME daily in front of them!!! How are their DREAMS?????? Just like a video game but it is STILL MURDER!!!!!

    • deganawida

      Your an idiot-go back to your beer and football

  • Luchorpan

    It takes a special kind of evil to kill using a drone, as if playing some video game…

    With luck, we’ll see enough of a reaction that limitations are restored to the presidency.

    When a Democrat returns to office, we’ll be back marching towards Stalinesque totalitarian rule. Democrats trust other Democrats with absolute power.

    And to be fair, Republicans were just fine with the Patriot Act… “They’d never spy on me!”

    Partisan loyalty is a problem.

    • Don

      “It takes a special kind of evil to kill using a drone, as if playing some video game…”

      Of which you seem to be playing far too much. There’s no more evil in the use of drones than slaughtering civilians (Iraq’s people) by the use of bombers from 30,,000 feet. And the cowardice is about equal.

      But I understand how Americans are able to think of both as a video game. Surgery! Surgical strikes! As opposed to evil satanic barrel bombs. LOL

      • Dennis Boylon

        They aren’t the same thing. Drones are slow moving and wait for opportunities to strike. What they have done is taken the place of troops on the ground. Now they circle a militant area and wait for something that looks right to bomb. It is actually worse since there is no actual human intelligence on the ground. They haven’t eliminated any bombings or missile strikes as Syria makes clear. They just added to the slaughter. Why are you posting on an antiwar site when you are clearly pro war.

        • Valerianus Maximus

          He obnoxiously attacks everyone here, so he’s clearly a provocateur affiliated with one of the alphabet spy agencies. He’ll even attack you for things you never said, which only increases the obnoxiousness.

        • Luchorpan

          Don isn’t pro-war. He’s just very angry and condescending. He’s convinced he knows better than everyone else.

          For myself, I don’t claim to know everything. I’ve read antiwar off and on for years. What I know about foreign affairs comes from here. And that doesn’t mean I learned everything or that I blindly agree with every post. But this is a uniquely wonderful, very professional, website that deserves to be more widely read. I know that much.

      • joeyman9

        Nope, at least the bombers at 30,000 feet are going into harms way, especially with the Russian Electronic Warfare and Surface to Air Missles of today.

        • GStorm

          Take away the threat of death and destruction from war and people will wage it endlessly.

  • Robertneil123

    Trump responds to others aggression : Assad, Putin, Kim Jong Un et al.

    • arnieus

      Bullshit. There are no Syrians or Russians threatening the US. North Korean doesn’t even have electricity.

      • Don

        Neither is N.Korea. Why would they want to risk their country? N.Korea is taking the only logical position it can in order to save itself.
        Then on deeper thought, China is doing that which appears to be the work of N.Korea.

        China isn’t going to give up it’s deterrent to US expansion in the region any more than the US is going to give up Israel that is acting for the same general purpose.

  • Just as every president has his defining massacre, every president sets the table for next president’s big massacre. It’s one big mobius strip of war crimes.

    JFK accelerates Eisenhower’s covert regime change project in Vietnam to an overt war. His attempts to dial it back are met by a bullet and his heir LBJ pushes the war into overdrive after the false flag attack in the Gulf of Tonkin.
    He also hedges his bets by OKing the overthrow of Indonesian nationalist strongman Sukarno and replacing him with the ruthless Suharto who intern liquidates the Indonesian Communist Party in a massacre that claims over a million lives.

    Nixon expands LBJ’s war to Cambodia while bombing dikes in Vietnam and making the war in Indochina a genocidal war of attrition that collectively punishes the entire region and leads to the blowback of the Khmere Rouge.
    Johnson takes over for Nixon after the latter’s well deserved impeachment. He scraps the quagmire in Indochina when it becomes clear that it could lead to all out insurrection within the military and open revolt at home. He shifts America’s weight in South East Asia to Suharto’s Indonesia and gives him the green light for the ethnic cleansing of the breakaway nation of East Timor.

    Alleged peacenik Jimmy Carter continues funding for the East Timorese Genocide which ultimately kills hundreds of thousands and OK’s the arming and training of Islamic extremists in Pakistan for the purpose of destabilizing Afghanistan and sucking the USSR into an unwinnable quagmire in order to prevent the spread of jihadism in their own autonomous Muslim regions….

    ….and on and on it goes. So is the way of empire. It’s easy to compartmentalize each presidency as if it’s an individual little snowflake but the harsh reality is that it matters little who serves at the helm of the Titanic. As long as the deep state remains committed to its reckless route across the Atlantic, disaster will always be an inevitable conclusion and the final massacre will occur on American soil when this ship finally self destructs. The only solution to this coming tragedy is a democratic controlled demolition of the warfare state from within it’s borders. This only becomes possible through a Second American Revolution. This time peaceful. A mix of Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance in the streets and Rosa Luxemburg’s general strike in the military and economy. This, I believe, is our only hope.

    • Don

      Is the Mobius band analogy original with you? it’s good for those who know what it even is. It’s probably lost on 3/4’s of Americans.

      • joeyman9

        Why don’t you tell us more about it? We 3/4’s are curious.

    • unam_sanctum

      That is a false hope, because it is precisely with the American people’s approval and consent that we are here. Replacing the leadership with new leaders
      who spring from the revolution would eventually lead to the same result. There are solutions, but they are only embraced or even contemplated on by
      a tiny sliver of the population, mostly all of whom, except the most accredited academics of the lot, simply as malcontents, miscreants, antiquarians or mentally
      impaired. Sanity is to comform, to accept, to allow and to assimilate. The deep, intentional flaws of the U.S. Constitution made this all possible, if not inevitable.
      There is no “hope” for America, the way you see it, or I see it, not within our lifetimes.

    • joeyman9

      The only reason Gandhi’s movement worked was because there was a streak of decency among the British that wouldn’t permit them to kill millions of Indians (plus they were limited by the technology of the time). Today, as Brezeniski said in a talk about two years ago, “it is far easier to kill a million people than to propagandize them.” There’s no doubt in my mind that the US Fed Govt wouldn’t be bothered in the least by millions of American’s killed in a “2nd American Revolution.”

      • What the f**k are you talking about. The British killed scores of Indians. But they couldn’t kill them all. The poorest people on earth stood up to the biggest empire on earth and they won because they would rather die than live in shackles. Your defeatism only serves the powerful. I choose to dream dangerously. If that’s a sin then nail me to the cross.

        • joeyman9

          “What the f**k are you talking about.” Very persuasive technique for engaging in an argument. Gotta work on persuasion, you’ve got alienation and argument down flat. You say defeatism, I say realism. While you’re dying on the cross, I’ll be living and breathing.

      • John_Smith001

        Must have been just a streak, but seriously some one realized that India was more trouble than it was worth shame we have no one like that in Washington.

  • Don

    You Americans are all the same arnen’t you. Full of hate for the people demonize in other countries and never questioning the reason why.

    It’s your country and you people who are the evil. Others throughout the world who you bomb just want to go about living their lives in peace.

    • Ron Johnson

      A rather broad brush, wouldn’t you say?

    • joeyman9

      Nah, Americans generally feel the same way. Your argument is the same as saying the majority of Russians went along with the Soviets because they loved them rather than to avoid mass bloodshed.

  • Mark Shinnick

    Its ironic that the very California population centers which are liberal anti-war biased don’t seem to comprehend the actual capacity of North Korea to wipe them out. The speek of these groups would rather distrust America against NK.

    • At present, here is the actual capacity of North Korea to wipe out California population centers:

      Zero. Non-existent.

      The North Koreans have managed to detonate fission bombs occasionally and unreliably.

      The North Koreans have managed to get missiles to fly a long way occasionally and unreliably.

      Managing to do each of those things reliably would be the next step. Managing to do those two things TOGETHER would be the step after that. And in between or after those things would be transitioning to the fusion bombs that would be needed to reliably destroy California population centers.

      Not saying those things couldn’t happen. But they haven’t happened yet.

      • Mark Shinnick

        Yeah, that’s right, not yet demonstrated. I’m in that firing line so I’m tending more to prevention…maybe China decides that’s ultimatly best for everyone’s business.

        • My impression is that China has finally given up on North Korea and has already negotiated with the US to be the ground component of any US war on the North, in the guise of “peacekeepers.”

          But I could be wrong. And even though a US air war on North Korea would completely destroy its offensive military capabilities apart from light infantry within a few days, there’s a very good chance that Seoul would take a shellacking. So even above and beyond my moral opposition to war in general and to US military adventurism in particular, I’m hoping this balloon doesn’t go up.

          • Mark Shinnick

            Yeah..that’s the whole problem with keeping the peace with a primitive species; there must be a credible willingness and ability to make war nobody ever wants in order to achieve it. Your impression fits China’s declared intent for expansion…have you seen the official Chinese gov’t map redefining Hawaii as part of its territories? This certainly all plays to China very opportunistically.

          • L. Reichard White

            : >>”with a primitive species like us”<<

            That would be less than 1% of us. And, while our ancestors knew how to keep that 1% under control, we've ALMOST completely forgotten. This is most obvious when you ask – – –

            "What Went Wrong With The Worldwide Socialist Revolutions?"
            https://www.lewrockwell.com/2016/02/l-reichard-white/worldwide-socialist-revolutions/

          • Mark Shinnick

            Your 1% is off by a factor of 5, where the scientifically accepted rate of narcissism / psychosis, 1 out of 20 persons explains significant disruption to everyone else. Its the 1 most common explanation behind most of what goes wrong. Any idealism has to be realistic about that primitive/intractable limitation in human affairs.

          • L. Reichard White

            No, Mark S, I mean the psychopathic/sociopathic 1%. Like this:

            The Hare Psychopathy Checklist: Take a test to find out whether you’re a sociopath http://www.businessinsider.com/hare-psychopath-checklist-test-sociopath-2016-11/#1-do-you-have-excess-glibness-or-superficial-charm-1

            But there ARE “situational psychopaths” who, as part of a psychopathic machine (nearly all governments, for example), mimic psychopathy.

            Certain “professions” do tend to concentrate folks with psychopathic tendencies in the range you suggest, politicians and CEOs for example.

            AND, incidentally, not all of the psychopathic 1% are seriously harmful – – –

            So, while, unlike our tribal forebearers, Mark S, we mimic psychopathy and allow psychopaths to define our cultures, maybe you’re correct to refer to, especially “Western” man as “primitive.”

      • L. Reichard White

        Also, even a cursory look at the sad history that brought things to this state of affairs demonstrates an easy out that doesn’t require nukes or war of any kind. And would lead to the removal of all those US troops in South Korea.

        Which is all why the MIC and rest of the Deep State stick their fingers in their ears and hum loudly anytime anyone brings it up.

        You can find a BIG clue to that sad history here: “Advocates Urge Trump to De-escalate with North Korea, Not Ratchet Up Threats & Military Aggression”

        https://www.democracynow.org/2017/4/17/advocates_urge_trump_to_de_escalate | Democracy Now!

      • joeyman9

        Sorta like turkey’s saying the farmer feeds and takes care of us everyday. “Not saying those things couldn’t happen. But they haven’t happened yet…” until November. Normalcy Bias.

  • L. Reichard White

    Don’t forget the “Signature drone strikes,” murdering folks based only on appearances and without even knowing who they are.

    “Judge, jury & executioner?”
    http://antiwar.com/blog/2013/01/27/judge-jury-executioner/

    AND the context — What does the Jonbenet Ramsey murder case and DNA exoneration of death-row prisoners have to do with “Signature drone strikes?” Don’t know? Find out here:

    Predators — creeping into perpetual war?
    http://www.antiwar.com/blog/2011/04/23/predators-creeping-into-perpetual-war/

  • ted dolan

    Drones are ILLEGALLY USED by the USA to strike terror into people worldwide!!!

    Imagine being droned in your home in Boston Mass at 3am with no warning!!! We are CRIMINALLY LIABLE as Americans for the WAR CRIMES done in OUR NAME WORLDWIDE 24/7 against at least 9 sovereign nations!!! We are a very SICK Psychotic society which is getting More FASCIST daily..Trump is a PUPPET of the MILITARY!!!!! They are in charge and always have been!!!

  • GStorm

    North Korea is doomed for the same reasons you give…doomed to collapse on itself. Already Jr. is losing the battle to hold it together. Wait it out. Just as the USSR imploded because it was an unsustainable system.

  • GStorm

    And you have a solution? If you do you are an egomaniac and quite insane.