Sunday, March 10, 2013

Drones, Spooks and Lawyers

Obama walked into what Daniel Klaidman calls a "public relations debacle" in the events that culminated in Rand Paul's Senate filibuster. Klaidman's article in the Daily Beast lays out the details:

You know it’s not a good day for the Obama administration when a paragon of the Tea Party right is roasting the president and liberal twitter feeds are lighting up in support. But that’s exactly what happened this past week when Kentucky Senator Rand Paul mounted his “talking filibuster” to block the confirmation of CIA nominee John Brennan. Paul kept up the parliamentary maneuver for 13 hours in an effort to extract answers from the administration about its covert drone program, and particularly the question of whether it is legal to target American citizens on U.S. soil.

Klaidman puts the blame on "lawyers and spooks" but of course the buck always stops with the President, especially if he defers too much to his subordinates.

The drones mess also reflects Obama’s tortured, Solomonic approach to dealing with difficult national security issues. In seeking to balance transparency and security, Obama has pursued a middle path that, in the end, has satisfied nobody. And in the case of drones, that approach has been at odds with a basic Washington imperative: it is almost always better to be transparent earlier, lest you end up having to disclose even more later. “The word on the street,” says a former administration national security official, “is they’ll end up giving away the farm, all the animals, and the John Deere equipment by the time this is done.”

One thing you can say about Team Obama: there was no lack of internal debate about the need to be more transparent. The discussions began in the aftermath of the September 30, 2011 drone strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American preacher and senior al Qaeda operative. They intensified a few weeks later when Awlaki’s son, also a U.S. citizen, was mistakenly killed in another drone attack in Yemen. “We realized this was going to be a public relations debacle,” recalls a former senior administration who advocated for greater transparency. Sure enough, academics and national security experts began writing more critically about the drone policy as well as the administration’s penchant for secrecy. One particularly stinging op-ed piece, which ran in The Washington Post, was by a former Bush administration State Department official; it appeared u

nder the headline “Will drones strikes become Obama’s Guantanamo?”