Opinion

David Rohde

How fear of al Qaeda hurts U.S. more than al Qaeda

David Rohde
Oct 25, 2013 23:46 UTC

Three disclosures this week show that the United States is losing its way in the struggle against terrorism. Sweeping government efforts to stop attacks are backfiring abroad and infringing on basic rights at home.

CIA drone strikes are killing scores of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.  The National Security Agency is eavesdropping on tens of millions of phone calls worldwide — including those of 35 foreign leaders — in the name of U.S. security.

And the Department of Homeland Security is using algorithms to “prescreen” travelers before they board domestic flights, reviewing government and private databases that include Americans’ tax identification numbers, car registrations and property records.

Will we create a Minority Report-style Department of Precrime next?

Obama administration officials have a duty to protect Americans from terrorism. But out-of-control NSA surveillance, an ever-expanding culture of secrecy and still-classified rules for how and when foreigners and even Americans can be killed by drone strikes are excessive, unnecessary and destructive.

Twelve years after September 11, 2001, the United States’ obsession with al Qaeda is doing more damage to the nation than the terrorist group itself.

Obama’s overdue step on drones

David Rohde
May 24, 2013 20:45 UTC

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.

Obama’s legacy of secrecy

David Rohde
Feb 8, 2013 19:00 UTC

John Brennan’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday was a microcosm of the Obama administration’s approach to counterterrorism: The right assurances, with little transparency.

Brennan said the United States should publicly disclose when American drone attacks kill civilians. He called waterboarding “reprehensible” and vowed it would never occur under his watch. And he said that countering militancy should be “comprehensive,” not just  “kinetic,” and involve diplomatic and development efforts as well.

What any of that means in practice, though, remains unknown.

Brennan failed to clearly answer questions about the administration’s excessive embrace of drone strikes and secrecy. He flatly defended the quadrupling of drone strikes that has occurred on Obama’s watch. He gave no clear explanation for why  the public has been denied access to vital Justice Department legal opinions that give the president the power to kill U.S. citizens without judicial review. And his statement that the establishment of a special court to review the targeting of Americans was “worthy of discussion” was noncommittal.

The ‘trust me’ administration

David Rohde
Feb 6, 2013 21:21 UTC

In a bold second inaugural address, one line was my favorite.

“We will defend our people and uphold our values,” President Barack Obama declared, “through strength of arms and rule of law.”

Obama was right to describe the “rule of law” as a weapon the United States can use to defend itself. But the administration’s insistence on enveloping its counter-terrorism efforts in excessive secrecy flouts the rule of law. A proud American ideal is being turned into a liability, not an asset.

“It’s not sufficient for the administration to say, ‘Trust us, we’re taking care of it,’ ” said Amrit Singh, author of a new Open Society Institute report that raises numerous questions about the United States’ use of rendition and torture since 2001. “There needs to be greater transparency.”

How Obama’s drone war is backfiring

David Rohde
Mar 1, 2012 17:16 UTC

This essay was originally published in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy.

When Barack Obama took the oath of office three years ago, no one associated the phrase “targeted killing” with his optimistic young presidency. In his inaugural address, the 47-year-old former constitutional law professor uttered the word “terror” only once. Instead, he promised to use technology to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

Oddly, technology has enabled Obama to become something few expected: a president who has dramatically expanded the executive branch’s ability to wage high-tech clandestine war. With a determination that has surprised many, Obama has embraced the CIA, expanded its powers and approved more targeted killings than any modern president. Over the last three years, the Obama administration has carried out at least 239 covert drone strikes, more than five times the 44 approved under George W. Bush. And after promising to make counterterrorism operations more transparent and rein in executive power, Obama has arguably done the opposite, maintaining secrecy and expanding presidential authority.

Just as importantly, the administration’s excessive use of drone attacks undercuts one of its most laudable policies: a promising new post-9/11 approach to the use of lethal American force, one of multilateralism, transparency and narrow focus.

from The Great Debate:

Awlaki and the Arab autumn

David Rohde
Sep 30, 2011 21:33 UTC

By David Rohde
The opinions expressed are his own.

The death of Anwar al-Awlaki this morning is welcome news, but Washington policymakers should not delude themselves into thinking the drone that killed him is a supernatural antidote to militancy. Yes, drone strikes should continue, but the real playing field continues to be the aftermath of the Arab spring; namely vital elections scheduled for October in Tunisia and November in Egypt.

A series of outstanding stories by reporters from Reuters, The Washington Post, The New York Review of Books and The New York Times, have aptly laid out the stakes. Islamists are on the rise in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, but an extraordinary battle is unfolding over the nature of Islam itself.

“At the center of the debates is a new breed of politician who has risen from an Islamist milieu but accepts an essentially secular state,” Anthony Shadid and David Kirkpatrick wrote in today’s New York Times. Common values, in other words, are emerging between the West and the Islamic world. These “post-Islamist” politicians argue that individual rights, democracy and economic prosperity are elements of an “Islamic state.”

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