As reported last month by the Washington Post, the White House has been scrambling to unify its targeting procedures for extrajudicial drone strikes. The development of the ‘playbook’ as its called, was accelerated in the weeks leading to the U.S. election. The prospect that Obama might be kicked out by a Romney administration led the Democratic White House to standardize a set of procedures for future inheritance.
In effect, this playbook, of which John Brennan is the principal architect, sets a bureaucratic template for a permanent drone war–regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.
As The New York Times reports,
The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last summer after news reports on the drone program, started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Mr. Obama, revealed some details of the president’s role in the shifting procedures for compiling “kill lists” and approving strikes. Though national security officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful, the president and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of action that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win the presidency.
“There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave an “amorphous” program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.
Speaking of his desire to check executive power, Obama said in an interview on the 18th of October, 2012 that
“One of the things we’ve got to do is put legal architecture in place and we need congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president is reined in, in terms of some of the decisions we’re making”.
Simply replacing a sovereign leader with a sovereign rule-book, however, does nothing to tackle the expanding contours of legally and geographically amorphous war that continues to set a dangerous geopolitical precedent.