My new book, The Drone Memos, will be published by The New Press today. The Guardian is running a 4000-word slice of the 20,000-word introduction on its website this morning. The introduction is unsparing in its criticism of the Obama administration. I argue that the administration claimed too much power, and that its efforts to shield that power from congressional, judicial, and public review were irresponsible and short-sighted. I blame the administration for normalizing extrajudicial killing and for turning over to the next administration authorities that are breathtakingly broad and not subject to any meaningful constraint that can’t be lifted by a stroke of the next president’s pen.
I began writing the introduction a year ago and finished it several months ago, when the world looked very different than it does today. I have complicated feelings about the release of the book at this particular historical moment. Obama has been a great president in many ways, and the United States is a stronger, more humane, and more just country now than it was when he took office. If Donald Trump tries to fulfill even a small fraction of his campaign pledges, the next four years will be a true test of our democratic institutions, and I’m sure I’ll look back on the Obama years nostalgically.
But the election has also made it even more important that the public understand the scope of the powers that Obama claimed, because those powers will soon be in the hands of a president who is likely to use those powers far more aggressively. In addition, if we’re going to ask Congress and the courts to limit these powers, or even to oversee them, we need to fully appreciate the failure of those institutions to do so before now. As the Democratic party regroups, it’s also important that Democrats reckon with the role that their party has played in building the legal and bureaucratic infrastructure of the war on terror—the infrastructure that has been the predicate for so many human rights abuses already, and on which President Trump will now be able to rely.
During the Obama administration, too many Americans were willing to invest sweeping powers in the presidency because they trusted the president. The modest, obvious, but nonetheless crucial point I make in my introduction is that this was a mistake.
I hope you’ll read the book. It’s available here.