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The Game of Drones


At last we know. The mysterious legal authority for Barack Obama’s killer drone program flows from another administration with an elastic interpretation of executive power: that of Richard Nixon.

In a chilling 16-page dossier known simply as the White Paper, one of Obama’s statutory brains at the Justice Department cites the 1969 secret bombing of Cambodia as a legal rationale justifying drone strikes, deep inside nations, against which the United States is not officially at war.

This startling disclosure is drafted in the antiseptic prose of an insurance adjuster announcing the denial of a claim based on a pre-existing condition. Yet, the bombing of Cambodia (aka Operation Menu), which involved more than 3,000 air strikes, was almost universally acknowledged as a war crime. Now the Obama administration has officially enshrined that atrocity as precedent for its own killing rampages.

Since Obama’s election, the CIA has overseen nearly 320 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, killing more than 3,000 people, as many as 900 of them civilians. Among the dead are at least 176 children. Assassination was never this easy, never so risk-free.

George W. Bush was mocked by liberals for calling himself the Decider. Bush deployed this pathetic bit of oil slang to defend himself against accusations that Cheney and his coterie of Neo-Cons were calling the shots in the Iraq war. But was Bush’s posturing any more absurd than the image of Obama piously consulting the homilies of Aquinas, as he personally checks off the names on his drone kill list and watches streaming videos of the writhing bodies shredded by Hellfire missiles?

Bush’s murderous psyche at least presented presented itself for analysis and explication. Perhaps W’s blood lust stemmed from a Freudian fixation on Saddam’s pathetic attempt to off his father in Kuwait City. Perhaps it was warped by spasms of subconscious guilt over allowing 9/11 to occur on his watch. What, however, is the driving force behind Obama’s savagery? Unlike Bush, who tended to show revealing glimpses of emotional strain, Obama operates with the icy rectitude of a political sociopath.

In Obama’s game of drones, the atrocities in the name of empire seem consciously geared to some deep political algorithm of power and death.

The Left remains largely insensate to the moral and constitutional transgressions being committed by their champion, leaving only the faintly ludicrous figure of Rand Paul to offer official denunciations against these malignant operations. For his troubles, Paul’s admirable filibuster against the nomination of John Brennan, master of the drones, to head the CIA is ridiculed as an exercise in paranoia by the likes of Frank Rich and Lawrence O’Donnell.

The professional Left, from the progressive caucus to the robotic minions of, lodge no objections and launch no protests over the administration’s acts of sanctimonious violence against the empire’s enemies.

Worse, they behave like political eunuchs, offering groveling tributes and degrading supplications to their Master, even as Obama defiles their ideological aspirations.

The president has offered us a master class in political mesmerism, transforming the anti-war Left into supine functionaries of the imperial management team.

The cyber-Left is kept rigidly in line by the architects of liberal opinion. From David Corn to Rachel Maddow, the progressive press acts in sinister harmony with the administration’s neoliberal agenda. They seduously ignore Obama’s constitutional depredations, and instead devote acres of airspace to the faux clashes over sequestration and gay marriage.

Night after night, we are presented with sideshows, what Hitchcock called the McGuffin in his films, the dramatic diversions designed to distract the audience’s attention from the real game being played. Meanwhile, the liberal commentariat is balefully complacent to the rapacity of Obama’s remote control death squadrons, even in the face of somber evidence regarding the drone program’s criminal nature. Raid after raid, kill after kill, ruin after ruin, they remain silent. But their silence only serves to emphasize their complicity, their consciousness of guilt. Their fingers too are stained by distant blood.

Even Nixon, the ultimate enforcer, was rocked by insubordinates defecting from his regime, aides and staffers who reached their limit and resigned in disgust. One of them was Roger Morris. Morris, an occasional contributor to CounterPunch, served on the National Security Council during LBJ’s administration and continued after Nixon’s election under Henry Kissinger. But Morris reached his limit in the spring of 1970, resigning over the covert bombing of Cambodia. How times have changed.

Where are similar figures of conscience in the Obama White House, or even the Democratic Party? Where are the leaks and resignations? Perhaps this is the ultimate object lesson on display in the ongoing persecution of Bradley Manning. Internal dissent, regardless of its legal and moral standing, shall not be tolerated. Indeed, it will be considered sedition and will be smothered by the supreme sanction of the government.

Acts that were once considered outrages against conscience are now routine.

Welcome to the age of Murder.Gov.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book (with Joshua Frank) is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at:

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