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Good Reads: a few tips about how to stay off Obama's 'kill list'

This week's best reads include an investigation into how the Obama administration chooses targets for drone attack, a stirring defense of dictator intelligence, and a scientific explanation of optimism.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / June 1, 2012

Undated image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force shows a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft, also known as a drone.

Courtesy of Lt Col Leslie Pratt/U.S. Air Force/Reuters

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Obama’s ‘kill list’

Few weapons have changed the nature of warfare in recent years as much as the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, also known as a drone. Virtually unheard of a decade ago, it has become the weapon of choice for the Obama administration, both for surveillance of suspected terrorists and for their elimination.

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The New York Times’ Jo Becker and Scott Shane have written a lengthy investigative piece, backed up with interviews of current and former Obama administration officials, looking into the legality and the many uses of drones and how the Obama administration learned to love the drone. Whether drones make the world safer, of course, depends on your definition of safe. But for now, much of the debate centers on whether drone use is legally or morally defensible.

Fans of this article have pointed out how the White House team decides who is a “legitimate target,” and the article says Obama’s legal team “… in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants….”

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

Foreign policy consensus

For all their controversy in intellectual circles, drones will not be a major campaign issue in the upcoming fall elections. Sure, we’ll hear that one candidate would likely hand the keys to the country over to The Enemy, or that another candidate secretly dreams of kicking off the End Times by bombing a Middle Eastern country. But when it comes to foreign policy or military issues, Americans just aren’t that into them.

Truth be told, America’s ambivalence on foreign policy issues is mirrored in the attitudes of its politicians in Washington. Congress may have difficulty passing budgets from this president, and Mr. Obama may have difficulty ordering breakfast without thunderous criticism – French toast? Really? – but when it comes to foreign policy, there really isn’t much difference between Republicans and Democrats, according to a study by Joshua Busby, Jonathan Monten, and William Inboden in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.

In a survey of Republicans and Democrats who have served in the White House, there was broad agreement over some of the most contentious issues of the past decade, including multilateralism, nuclear nonproliferation, and human rights. The differences came down to just how to carry out these basic principles.

As the authors say, this broad consensus is positive for the US.

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