New York Times national security reporter Shane compares and contrasts the trajectories of President Barack Obama and Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen residing in Yemen whom Obama ordered to be killed by a drone.
Al-Awlaki grew up in an educated Yemeni family. When his parents obtained their educations in the United States, he was born a citizen. He grew up in Yemen and returned to the United States at age 19. Obama was also born in the United States to a foreign father who was a secular-minded Muslim. Then Obama resided in Indonesia, returning to the United States at age 10. Due to 9/11, the superficial similarities between Obama and al-Awlaki became more meaningful. One would react by becoming an elected politician, the other by becoming a Muslim holy man who initially spoke for the moderate wing of his religion. But by the time Obama reached the presidency in 2008, al-Awlaki had unexpectedly become a militant calling for the death of the “infidel” Americans. Obama began to explore whether he had the authority as commander in chief of the military to send a drone into Yemen to kill al-Awlaki, even though the cleric had not been charged with a crime. By the time the book ends, al-Awlaki is dead, as is his teenage son. Shane became obsessed about learning how Obama, a former constitutional law professor, justified the drone strikes, especially given his opposition to the conduct of the war on terror created by his predecessor, George W. Bush. The author was equally intrigued by the change in philosophy adopted by al-Awlaki, which required a return to Yemen, as something of a fugitive, despite a privileged life in the U.S. In addition to following his two principals, the author examines the drone technology that gave Obama the remarkable ability to target someone thousands of miles away.
Shane's reporting is superb, and the way he frames the public policy debate makes the narrative compelling from start to finish.