The program apparently is uniquely suited for the Obama "leading from behind" way of war: killing far out of sight, and therefore out of mind -- and the news. Indeed, so comfortable is Obama with this new way of war that at a White House correspondents dinner, the president joked about using Predators on would-be suitors of his daughters: "But boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: Predator drones. You will never see it coming."
For President Barack Obama, the Predator drone avoids former candidate Obama's past legal objections by simply blowing apart suspected terrorists without having to capture them -- and then ponder how and where they should be tried. With a dead, rather than a detained, terrorist, civil libertarians cannot demand that Obama honor his campaign pledge to treat suspects like American criminals, while conservatives cannot pounce on any perceived softness in extending Miranda rights to captured al-Qaeda killers.
Antiwar protestors demonstrate in response to American soldiers getting killed, but rarely about robotic aircraft quietly obliterating distant terrorists. American fatalities can make war unpopular; a crashed drone is a "who cares?" statistic.
Still, there are lots of questions that arise from this latest American advantage. Waterboarding, which once sparked liberal furor, is now a dead issue. How can anyone object to harshly interrogating a few known terrorists when routinely blowing apart more that 2,000 suspected ones -- and anyone in their vicinity?
Predators both depersonalize and personalize war in a fashion quite unknown in the past. In one sense, killing a terrorist is akin to playing an amoral video game thousands of miles away. But in another, we often know the name and even recognize the face of each victim, in a way unknown in the anonymous carnage of, for example, the battles of Verdun and Hue. Does that make war more or less humane?
Once the most prominent critic of the war on terror, Obama has now become its greatest adherent -- and in the process is turning the tide against al-Qaeda. And so far, the American people of all political stripes -- for vastly different reasons -- seem more relieved than worried over Obama's most unexpected incarnation as Predator in Chief.
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