Barack Obama is on his book tour for A Promised Land now four years after leaving office. During his latest interview days ago on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert he was asked about his vastly expanded drone strikes (setting a record far and above that of the prior Bush administration) as a preferred method of taking out America’s ‘enemies’. But it’s very well-documented that drone strikes actually killed just as many or more civilians than terrorists in the process.
The former Democratic president still can’t shake his legacy as the “drone president” given he still holds the record for number of ordered kill missions. Now it appears he’s simply embracing the label. This latest interview may have sealed this legacy – indeed it could be his own Madeleine Albright “we think the price is worth it” moment.
Obama defends his drone strikes, which killed hundreds of civilians: “The problem with the drone program was not that it caused an inordinate amount of civilian casualties, although even 1 civilian casualty is tragic. But the drones probably had less collateral damage.” pic.twitter.com/6SwXj7b52C
— Ibrahim (@Ibrahimpols) December 1, 2020
In the interview Obama admits that saying “collateral damage” is basically the nicer sanitized way of saying “it killed people who were innocent and not just targets”.
So he basically casually acknowledged on national TV that he killed a lot of innocent people. And then this incredibly awkward line:
“The problem with the drone program was not that it caused an inordinate amount of civilian casualties, although even 1 civilian casualty is tragic. But the drones probably had less collateral damage.”
As journalist Eoin Higgins noted there was “Zero pushback from Colbert here as Obama defends his drone war in pretty revolting terms.”
And Glenn Greenwald, who spent years covering Obama’s drone killings when he was at The Guardian had this to say…
2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner explains his preferences for how to kill people, falsely asserts that — after some unspecified number of years of the bombs falling on weddings and schools — that his conscience was activated and he imposed greater controls. https://t.co/DMfxoEPwjG
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) December 1, 2020
Here’s the section his book, where the former president actually attempts to present himself as the well-intentioned ‘savior’ of those victims he ordered killed:
In places like Yemen and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, the lives of millions of young men like those three dead Somalis (some of them boys, really, since the oldest pirate was believed to be nineteen) had been warped and stunted by desperation, ignorance, dreams of religious glory, the violence of their surroundings, or the schemes of older men. I wanted somehow to save them—send them to school, give them a trade, drain them of the hate that had been filling their heads. And yet the world they were a part of, and the machinery I commanded, more often had me killing them instead.
Further into the interview he said that killing by “machinery” was becoming “too easy”. He says he had to impose what he called internal controls to remind the military and drone operators “this is isn’t target practice”.
Meanwhile, NatSec insider architects of Obama’s drone policies and secretive ‘kill list’ are baaaaaack…
No, I’m being completely genuine. Avril Haines was the architect behind Obama’s disastrous drone policy, which killed civilians and then dehumanized them as “collateral damage.” https://t.co/AwpkCezu5Y
— Ana Kasparian (@AnaKasparian) December 1, 2020
In the end Obama’s book and interview remarks on drone strikes are full of cringeworthy levels of self-justification and rationalization for killing what many human rights studies have estimated to be multiple hundreds.