Former President Barack Obama still can’t shake his legacy as the “drone president” given he still holds the record for number of ordered covert assassination strikes via drones.
“There were ten times more air strikes in the covert war on terror during President Barack Obama’s presidency than under his predecessor, George W. Bush,” one prior human rights study found.
“Obama embraced the US drone program, overseeing more strikes in his first year than Bush carried out during his entire presidency. A total of 563 strikes, largely by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during Obama’s two terms, compared to 57 strikes under Bush,” the study said.
This infamously included not only the killing of Yemeni-American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki due to his suspected al-Qaeda links, but also his son, 16-year-old US citizen and Colorado native Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, by a drone airstrike ordered by Obama on October 14, 2011. The boy was not even suspected of a crime upon his death while he had been casually eating dinner with this friends at a cafe in Yemen.
The Obama administration later claimed the teen’s death was “collateral damage” and despite lawsuits related to the CIA operation, no US official has ever been held accountable for literally assassinating two US citizens without trial or so much as filing official charges.
President-elect Joe Biden’s first picks for senior national security posts — Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser, and Avril Haines as director of national intelligence — served in the Obama administration and are now being hailed as the sort of steady hands that America needs after the chaotic Trump administration. But that’s not the good news it seems to be. The Biden plan, outlined on his presidential transition website, suggests a “normal” version of national security that includes the deep flaws of the centrist-liberal approach. There is a call for continued mammoth Pentagon budgets (“the investments necessary to equip our troops for the challenges of the next century”) with an emphasis on emerging battlespaces (“cyberwarfare … new challenges in space”), the endorsement of ossified Cold War-era security partnerships (“keeping NATO’s military capabilities sharp”), and veiled references to confronting China (“strengthen our alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and other Asian democracies”), as well as business as usual in the Middle East (“ironclad commitment to Israel’s security”).
Four years after signing the now-infamous “Never Trump” letter condemning then-presidential candidate Donald Trump as a danger to America, retiring diplomat Jim Jeffrey is recommending that the incoming Biden administration stick with Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
But even as he praises the president’s support of what he describes as a successful “realpolitik” approach to the region, he acknowledges that his teamroutinely misled senior leaders about troop levels in Syria.
“We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” Jeffrey said in an interview. The actual number of troops in northeast Syria is “a lot more than” the roughly two hundred troops Trump initially agreed to leave there in 2019.
Trump’s abruptly-announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria remains perhaps the single-most controversial foreign policy move during his first years in office, and for Jeffrey, “the most controversial thing in my fifty years in government.” The order, first handed down in December 2018, led to the resignation of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It catapulted Jeffrey, then Trump’s special envoy for Syria, into the role of special envoy in the counter-ISIS fight when it sparked the protest resignation of his predecessor, Brett McGurk.