The first time I saw Barack Obama speak, in 2004, I knew one day he would be president. He just had to be. On a business trip to Chicago, I read Dreams From My Father and the feeling intensified. Here was a man who was insightful and sensitive, his view of the world nuanced and rich. Even when all my liberal friends were sure Hillary Clinton would be the nominee, early on, I always stood by Obama. He represented something new, the ushering in of a wonderful new day after the mistakes of the Bush Administration.
The people you love the most are the ones who can most break your heart.
No administration is without its missteps, of course. But the disconnect between the Obama message of hope and intellectual honesty and some of his administration’s policies is jarring. Drone strikes have increased from 52 under the Bush administration to 314 (so far) under the Obama Administration. Assassination as a tool has been legitimized. Hardly the hope we can believe in.
In September, 2011, the Obama Administration assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki by drone. Awlaki was an American citizen. It is true he was spewing anti-American hate speech in his blog and in his speeches and sermons, but are we now killing people for having ideas different from ours? The administration argued that he had “gone operational.” We can debate Awlaki’s role in plotting terror (and he was certainly a bad guy) but I still lament that we are not now a nation that tries and convicts people, but instead sends robots out of the sky to kill them.
However, there is no debate that Awlaki’s 16-year-old son had no connection to terrorism whatsoever. He was at a picnic with his friends two weeks after his father was killed when a drone dropped a bomb on him, killing him and his friends. The administration has never satisfactorily explained why. (As if you could have a good reason for killing an innocent teenager). When asked, Robert Gibbs, Obama adviser, said, “He should have had a more responsible father.” Not only are we now a nation that kills without due process, but also that kills based on being related to the wrong people. It is unconscionable.
Besides being carried out in the shadows, the Obama administration’s drone strike policy represents a shortsightedness and violence I never would have thought possible under the leadership of the thoughtful guy who wrote Dreams From My Father. In becoming the nation that rains death from my sky indiscriminately, we have done more to stir up anti-American sentiment in the Middle East than any imam or hate blogger could ever have done. We have killed hundreds of innocent bystanders, many of whose families, never before radicalized, now seethe with the need for bloodthirsty revenge. If you were watching tv with the family and some faceless bureaucrat dropped a bomb on the house next door and the destruction killed your son or daughter, what would your reaction be? What is their recourse? Who makes up for their losses? Do their lives not matter just because they live far away?
My dismay with U.S. foreign policy post 9/11 is simply this: we have lost our moral compass. We can no longer claim to be a country with high ideals and a respect for law and process. Through our hysterical and violent reaction to 9/11, our bloated military build-up, our unjust wars, our skirting of due process in Guantanamo and in our drone policy, we have let the terrorists transform us and make us more like them.
The plotters of 9/11 knew that they couldn’t bring us down, no matter how many planes they flew into buildings. Their goal was not to destroy us, but to cause us to destroy ourselves through overreaction and fear, to expose our ugly side and alienate us from the rest of the world. It was on this basis – that we were playing right into their hands – that I was opposed to the Iraq War. It is for that same reason I am passionately opposed to drone strikes and assassinations. By killing civilians, we are becoming the tyrant they always said they were fighting.