Straightforward, rigorous account of how President Barack Obama’s embrace of high-tech militarism is changing the parameters of the presidency.
Gardner (Emeritus, History/Rutgers Univ.; The Road to Tahrir Square: Egypt and the United States from the Rise of Nasser to the Fall of Mubarak, 2011, etc.) presents a deeper narrative than the title implies, essentially utilizing the George W. Bush administration’s decision to pursue war in Iraq at the expense of the Afghanistan campaign necessitated by 9/11 as a flash point that altered our ability to respond to terrorist threats. Thus, though the author concurs that Obama the constitutional scholar “fell into the embrace of Reaper and Predator drones by circumstances beyond his control,” he still holds responsible the president and his various high-end deputies for blithely advocating their increased use in controversial environments like Pakistan and Yemen. Gardner excels at presenting a lucid narrative that focuses on both dramatic military events—such as the pursuit of the U.S.-born firebrand preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, put on the drone “kill list” after the 2009 “underwear bomb” attempt against an American airliner—and the complex ballet of political calculations that underlie America’s aggressive foreign policy stance. Attentive to the issue’s legal and moral complexities, the author depicts the insidious qualities of drones’ attractiveness to both Obama and his many advisers, beyond the threat of imminent terrorism embodied by al-Awlaki: “Fighting insurgencies was supposedly a different matter altogether, and there was the rub.” Ultimately, the high-tech lethality and legal obfuscation of drone warfare both suggest a handy metaphor for American power and a terrifying portent of the global future: By 2011, following American dissatisfaction with the ground war in Afghanistan, it seemed “the drone had replaced counterinsurgency.” And even though the increased reliance on drones appeared cost-free, “Obama found himself in danger of losing control of the momentum of drone warfare” as he looked past his own second term.
An evenhanded yet grim assessment of the growing consensus regarding “the lethal presidency.”