President Obama’s decision to restrict drone strikes and again try to close the Guantanamo Bay prison are overdue steps in the right direction. Myself and many other analysts have called for these very measures over the last year.
Obama must actually follow through on implementation of his proposals, including pressuring Congress to close Guantanamo. And he should fully enact changes that can be carried out by the executive branch, such as handing over responsibility for drones strikes to the U.S. military and making them fully public.
As already occurs in American air strikes in Afghanistan, the military should fully investigate claims of civilian deaths and pay compensation where innocents are killed. The current practice of keeping CIA drone strikes secret allows militants to exaggerate the number of civilians who die. Drone strikes do kill senior militants at times, but using them excessively and keeping them secret sows anti-Americanism that jihadists use as a recruiting tool.
The immediate criticism of Obama’s proposal from the right was both predictable and political. Any terrorist attack that occurs in the future, conservatives will argue, will be cited as proof that Obama and Democrats in general are not tough enough on terror.
“The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” said Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. “Rather than continuing successful counter-terrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.”