Without necessarily intending to do so, Newsweek correspondent Daniel Klaidman, in his new book Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, provides some worthwhile insights into Obama's killer mentality. He elaborated these insight at a forum at the New America Foundation on Oct. 5.
Klaidman recounted what happened when Richard Clarke, counterterrorism advisor for both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, had his first meeting with Obama in 2007, when Obama was running for the Democratic nomination. Clark, worried that Obama was an effete intellectual, confronted Obama directly with the fact that a President has to be tough and brutal at times. "Senator," Clark told him, "As President, you kill people." As Clark tells it, Obama stared back and said calmly, "I know that." Clark later described Obama as "steely," noting that, "He didn't flinch" at the idea.
Klaidman also points out that by the time Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm in Dec. 2009, he had already authorized more drone strikes than George W. Bush had during his entire presidency. And by his third year in office, Obama had approved the killing of twice as many suspected terrorists, as had ever been imprisoned at Guantanamo.
Discussing Obama's drone strike targetting Anwar al-Awlaki, which Klaidman called "a pre-meditated killing of a U.S. citizen," he said that there was "no hand-wringing over it," and according to witnesses, Obama had "no qualms" and didn't lose any sleep over it. The legal memos that came out later, were simply an after-the-fact justification for the killing. Klaidman describes the development of national security policy in the first two years of the Obama Administration, especially over the question of whether to close Guantanamo and over the trial of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, as a fierce battle between the Chicago crowd, especially Rahm Emanuel, versus Attorney General Eric Holder, with Emanuel (who, Klaidman notes, had once enlisted, as an American, in the Israeli army) viewing every decision from the standpoint of political expediency and deflecting Republican attacks on Obama as weak on national security.