Daniel Klaidman speaks on Obama's drone operations

The journalist elaborated on his research and novel about President Barack Obama's administration.

By the time President Barack Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he had already authorized twice as many drone attacks as George W. Bush’s administration, said Daniel Klaidman, veteran correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

Klaidman, author of "Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency," spoke in the Miron Special Events Room of Newhouse I Wednesday afternoon.

In 2007, Obama had a meeting with former Bush’s counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, who was doubtful about Obama’s ability to lead a war with necessary brutality, said Klaidman. Clarke told Obama that as president, he would have to kill people, and it would not just be about sending troops to the battlefield, Klaidman said. Obama calmly responded to Clarke, “I know that,” said Klaidman.

“He has the capacity to pull the trigger,” he told the audience Wednesday.

Obama realized the moral complications behind those drone operations, said Klaidman, who was drawn to investigating the human dimensions of Obama.

“Obama is a subtle decision maker,” he said. “He struggles to make individual decisions. In fact, every drone operation, he will personally authorize.”

Obama was shaken on the third day of his presidency by the fact that a pro-peace and pro-government tribal leader was mistakenly killed by a CIA-authorized drone operation, Klaidman said. Because of this, Obama started to exercise personal supervision on every single drone attack, though sometimes he would still regret the decisions he made and wonder if the collateral damages were really negligible.

Klaidman said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will adopt a different approach on anti-terrorism wars, and he doesn’t think there is an intrinsic distinction between Obama and Romney when it comes to this.

“The differences in the area of foreign policy are more tonal and rhetorical than substantial,” he said.

Klaidman added that public focus on national security is more visually based—like whether the candidate is a strong leader—than factually based. “Killing bin Laden is really a powerful shield for Obama when it comes to terrorism issues,” he said.

Katherine Newton, professor and dean emerita of earth sciences, said it was important for students to realize the ethical debates and complexities behind drone attacks.

“These instruments of warfare are evolving so quickly that, in fact, we Americans are responsible for all these killings,” she said. “It’s crucial for the students to learn as much about this as possible."

Many students attending the event admitted they knew very little about this kind of military operation led by the Obama administration.

“The election is coming up and I wanted to know my facts before I vote for president,” said Kelsey Schmink, an international relations sophomore.

Samuel Gorovitz, professor and dean emerita of earth sciences, invited Klaidman to speak at the university. He said he has known Klaidman personally for almost 40 years.

“His work confronts ethically challenging questions as they arise in national security contests,” Gorovitz said. “He works with great care and patience and is above all committed to get it right. That’s what journalists should be.”


Photo by New America Foundation / Flickr

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