Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.This kind of numbers game is to be expected whenever victory is measured by body counts, and numbers games are poison to victory. Once soldiers realize that all that matters is the stats, they'll only take action based on the stats. By classifying all military-age males as militants, a program designed to kill militants has little incentive to check the actual ideologies of its targets or victims. When a entity believes its own propaganda, it becomes a closed loop, blind to reality, and ultimately, doomed.
The second point relates to how the Drone War has become entrenched in the fabric of government, and what might result in its end.
It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.
This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia...
The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.
Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.
“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious process.”
But the control he exercises also appears to reflect Mr. Obama’s striking self-confidence: he believes, according to several people who have worked closely with him, that his own judgment should be brought to bear on strikes.
Imagine, another election, another President. "Terror Tuesday" rolls around, and dozens of CIA and military officers come forward with the latest intelligence about threats against America. They all say, "Mr. President, you have the power of life or death over this man, this militant, this terrorist. What should we do?" In a the complexity and confusion of Washington DC, this kind of clarity and directness must be intoxicating.
On the whole, I trust Barack Obama's moral judgment, I believe he is a good man. But some forms of power are too corrosive for anybody or any political institution to wield for long.