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Killing Machine: The American Presidency in the Age of Drone Warfare

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With Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008, many believed the United States had entered a new era: Obama came into office with high expectations that he would end the war in Iraq and initiate a new foreign policy that would reestablish American values and the United States’ leadership role in the world. In this shattering new assessment, historian Lloyd C. Gardner argu With Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008, many believed the United States had entered a new era: Obama came into office with high expectations that he would end the war in Iraq and initiate a new foreign policy that would reestablish American values and the United States’ leadership role in the world. In this shattering new assessment, historian Lloyd C. Gardner argues that, despite cosmetic changes, Obama has simply built on the expanding power base of presidential power that reaches back across decades and through multiple administrations. The new president ended the “enhanced interrogation” policy of the Bush administration but did not abandon the concept of preemption. Obama withdrew from Iraq but has institutionalized drone warfare—including the White House’s central role in selecting targets. What has come into view, Gardner argues, is the new face of American presidential power: high–tech, secretive, global, and lethal. Killing Machine skillfully narrates the drawdown in Iraq, the counterinsurgency warfare in Afghanistan, the rise of the use of drones, and targeted assassinations from al-Awlaki to Bin Laden—drawing from the words of key players in these actions as well as their major public critics. With unparalleled historical perspective, Gardner’s book is the new touchstone for understanding not only the Obama administration but the American presidency itself.


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With Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008, many believed the United States had entered a new era: Obama came into office with high expectations that he would end the war in Iraq and initiate a new foreign policy that would reestablish American values and the United States’ leadership role in the world. In this shattering new assessment, historian Lloyd C. Gardner argu With Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008, many believed the United States had entered a new era: Obama came into office with high expectations that he would end the war in Iraq and initiate a new foreign policy that would reestablish American values and the United States’ leadership role in the world. In this shattering new assessment, historian Lloyd C. Gardner argues that, despite cosmetic changes, Obama has simply built on the expanding power base of presidential power that reaches back across decades and through multiple administrations. The new president ended the “enhanced interrogation” policy of the Bush administration but did not abandon the concept of preemption. Obama withdrew from Iraq but has institutionalized drone warfare—including the White House’s central role in selecting targets. What has come into view, Gardner argues, is the new face of American presidential power: high–tech, secretive, global, and lethal. Killing Machine skillfully narrates the drawdown in Iraq, the counterinsurgency warfare in Afghanistan, the rise of the use of drones, and targeted assassinations from al-Awlaki to Bin Laden—drawing from the words of key players in these actions as well as their major public critics. With unparalleled historical perspective, Gardner’s book is the new touchstone for understanding not only the Obama administration but the American presidency itself.

30 review for Killing Machine: The American Presidency in the Age of Drone Warfare

  1. 4 out of 5

    Fenix Rose

    How can you wage "war" on terror by using a terror tactic? Yet that is what we are doing, have been doing for years. Two things i found really interesting. 1. How they change who the "enemy" is as a cover to justify to the public this "war". And the lies they tell that the drone strikes only kill or maim a few innocent civilians..when the truth is only 2% of those killed or wounded by drones are even suspected terrorists or in a terrorist organization. And this is of course with any gathering of ev How can you wage "war" on terror by using a terror tactic? Yet that is what we are doing, have been doing for years. Two things i found really interesting. 1. How they change who the "enemy" is as a cover to justify to the public this "war". And the lies they tell that the drone strikes only kill or maim a few innocent civilians..when the truth is only 2% of those killed or wounded by drones are even suspected terrorists or in a terrorist organization. And this is of course with any gathering of evidence, no arrest, no trial so how do we even know that that 2% is guilty and what are they guilty of exactly? If they break laws within the nation they are residing it is up to that nations police/justice services to deal with, not for another nation to sent a plane into someone elses air space and blow up a building, not once but twice. 2. How they claim they were/are liberating Iraq and helping Afganistan become more democratic when at home in the United States we entered a police state and had the Constitution and rule of law undermined and are still being undermined. How can they tell us they are promoting freedom and human rights elsewhere but denying it at home? There are other nations who have far worse human rights violations and yet they are not invaded, nor do they plan to be. So it makes me wonder what is really going on and what it all really is about. How come people and groups we supported in the past and had them assist in meeting a certain agenda are now labeled enemies? Isnt that what happened with Russia as well. Friend then turned foe because some political agenda changed? How ironic that a junior Senator from Illinois not only became president, but was given a Nobel Peace prize before he even accomplished anything at all, and yet terrorizes other nations and continues the police state set in place by prior presidents here at home. In the end I dont think Obama's legacy will be a positive one, not unless one focuses just on the Affordable Care Act and forgets everything else.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tom Donaghey

    Lloyd C. Gardner, Professor of History at Rutgers University, has written a fascinating book called “Killing Machine” that explores the growing use of drone aircraft and the weapon platforms they provide in modern warfare. He details the growth of this powerful tool over the last decade and primarily during the current administration’s reign. He discusses the ethical and moral dilemmas involved in this seemingly “no-cost” battle technologies use as opposed to sending flesh and blood into harm’s Lloyd C. Gardner, Professor of History at Rutgers University, has written a fascinating book called “Killing Machine” that explores the growing use of drone aircraft and the weapon platforms they provide in modern warfare. He details the growth of this powerful tool over the last decade and primarily during the current administration’s reign. He discusses the ethical and moral dilemmas involved in this seemingly “no-cost” battle technologies use as opposed to sending flesh and blood into harm’s way. But no matter what the argument for or against one may posit, the simple question is this: Could any person or group of people turn their back on this weapon, a weapon that does take or sons and daughters, fathers and mothers friends and relatives, all of these loved ones away from the possibility of death and dismemberment? Would any sane leader who would ever seek reelection denounce these devises in favor of the possibility of having a soldier killed? What do you think? Professor Gardner’s discussion on this topic is very precise and detailed, with arguments presented in a seemingly balanced fashion, and the book’s logic flows as well as the writing. This is a superior representation of what a Goodreads win can be.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    When combined with Daniel Denvir's work on immigration policy, _Killing Machine_ leaves me with that Rip van Winkle feeling of having slept through a lot of bad things in the Obama presidency. For those of you who have read this book, or Denvir or Michelle Alexander, certainly I am not alone in this feeling? Lloyd Gardner, the author of _Killing Machine_ was my graduate advisor three decades ago. And a great advisor he was. So I am not unbiased. I also used to do tech support for him at his home When combined with Daniel Denvir's work on immigration policy, _Killing Machine_ leaves me with that Rip van Winkle feeling of having slept through a lot of bad things in the Obama presidency. For those of you who have read this book, or Denvir or Michelle Alexander, certainly I am not alone in this feeling? Lloyd Gardner, the author of _Killing Machine_ was my graduate advisor three decades ago. And a great advisor he was. So I am not unbiased. I also used to do tech support for him at his home office in Princeton Junction when I was working in tech support for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers. Writing while Obama was still in office, Lloyd brought us this masterful explanation of the highly problematic evolution of drone warfare under Obama's leadership. I've been meaning to read it for a while. And yet in the Era of Trump, with the world now focused on COVID-19, it seems almost a dereliction of duty (moral and intellectual) to focus on problems in the Obama Administration. I started this book before the virus hit so I have "soldiered on" and just finished it last night. The book takes us on a journey from counterinsurgency to drone warfare in Afghanistan and Pakistan, weaving in the work of other scholars whose books sit on my shelves (physical and virtual) still unread. Obama's drone policy enlarged the scope of the imperial presidency and put new tools for executive overreach in the hands of all future presidents. Many excellent books, an emergent corpus, have piled up while I went on sleep walking in the Obama years. Yet, the prospect of reading further on war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan promises neither the escape offered by literary (and science) fiction nor the immediacy of works on pandemics and public health. I do have Steve Coll's _Directorate S_ queued up. And I am still reading _Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam_, another one I started before the virus outbreak. But now I will check my news feed and turn on C-SPAN and the reality of the present will intrude again. The nostalgia for Obama's America will once again settle in.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Francesca

    This was one of the most eye-opening books I read in high school. It was assigned by my AP US Gov teacher and introduced a lot of us to concepts that were entirely different from the romanticised and overtly, blindly patriotic view of the US that our small, rural town had indoctrinated us with.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    This book wasn’t really what I expected. Most of it focused on policy decisions, while there was little talk of specific strikes, or even the technology involved. It was very well written, with a lot of sources and information, but just not exactly what I expected. We live in shifting times with regards to warfare. The US has condemned torture, but Gardner says that the new m.o. is simply murder, or assassination. Not really better. The legality of the drone strikes is something that comes up a This book wasn’t really what I expected. Most of it focused on policy decisions, while there was little talk of specific strikes, or even the technology involved. It was very well written, with a lot of sources and information, but just not exactly what I expected. We live in shifting times with regards to warfare. The US has condemned torture, but Gardner says that the new m.o. is simply murder, or assassination. Not really better. The legality of the drone strikes is something that comes up a lot. They classification for who is a militant (all men over 16) is absurd. The kill list is really an assassination list, which goes against US law. These drone strikes are happening in countries where we aren’t at war, and aren’t being conducted by the army. Strikes on US citizens take this to the next level, as the 5th amendment is being thrown away. I think they fact that the president personally signs off on each one is interesting, makes them more culpable, although I’m not sure if that is slowing things. The focus on this book really seemed to be about Obama’s shift from a peace candidate in the early 2000s to a realist in 2008 to almost a hawk today. Interesting to read about the changes, but still not exactly what I expected.

  6. 4 out of 5

    William

    Another book that provides the reader with a well researched background on the topic. I felt it was a little left wing and has a certain bias against the use of drones in the global war on terror. However it was still interesting and one has to keep an open mind. I was hesitant before I checked this book out from my local library but I found it was informative. I may not agree with the authors political slant but I did certainly discover information I wasn't aware of before. Another book that provides the reader with a well researched background on the topic. I felt it was a little left wing and has a certain bias against the use of drones in the global war on terror. However it was still interesting and one has to keep an open mind. I was hesitant before I checked this book out from my local library but I found it was informative. I may not agree with the authors political slant but I did certainly discover information I wasn't aware of before.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Vinny

    I am actually still reading this, but I may not finish. Interesting topic, but the author meanders too much in getting to his point; too much discussion of irrelevant information, pulling in things that seem to have no connection to the point he is making. It seems like an objective analysis on the surface, but too many words like "supposed," "so-called," etc. indicate that there is an agenda here. It's not a slow read, so maybe I will finish it, maybe not. I am actually still reading this, but I may not finish. Interesting topic, but the author meanders too much in getting to his point; too much discussion of irrelevant information, pulling in things that seem to have no connection to the point he is making. It seems like an objective analysis on the surface, but too many words like "supposed," "so-called," etc. indicate that there is an agenda here. It's not a slow read, so maybe I will finish it, maybe not.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Matt Roberts

    I picked up this book expecting a tell-all of the US Drone program (extensive, to say the least). This book did not meet those expectations. Gardner tries to set up the story of how drones became the go-to weapon for our global war, but fails. This book jumps around a lot, and there is only about a chapter and a half of heavy drone-related substance. I would not recommend this book as a catch-all for the coming-of-age of drone warfare.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    A lot of v important q’s abt sovereignty and accountability and law. I dont think any of them have been answered yet //hard to read this without thinking about that one first hand account, about how terrifying a clear blue sky is for someone living in the targeted countries

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tony Parsons

    PS major in undergrad luv 2 win/read this book

  11. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stansbury

    A nice meditation on the idea of drone warfare and what it means for our country.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erik

  13. 4 out of 5

    Luca Trenta

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  15. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Calhoun

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

  17. 5 out of 5

    Manuel

  18. 4 out of 5

    Forest Book

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ragnar Thorisson

  20. 5 out of 5

    Eric Clapp

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  22. 5 out of 5

    Martha Amaro

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dusan Fischer

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brion

  26. 5 out of 5

    Chad

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kenny Cordasco

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emma S

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shera Pop

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kenny

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