By David Sterman
Since he took office, President Donald Trump has overseen unprecedented escalations in America’s counterterrorism and drone wars in Yemen and Somalia while simultaneously ramping up secrecy around the drone strike program. In some ways the escalations are no surprise, as Trump campaigned in part on extreme violence as a counterterrorism strategy, including arguing for killing terrorists’ families – an act which would be a war crime. Some reports have suggested this attitude found expression within the policy process.
Yet careful tracking of the America’s counterterrorism wars by New America shows that the violent rhetoric is hardly a prerequisite for widespread use of drone strikes by presidents of either party. The Trump administration’s counterterrorism strategy has substantial commonalities with the Obama administration’s approach, and the Obama strategy took many of its cues from the Bush administration. Different administrations have talked about drones and airstrikes in different ways, but such strikes have become a key part of a bipartisan counterterrorism consensus. As a new crop of presidential candidates pledge progressive approaches to foreign policy problems, voters are owed answers about whether and how candidates will meaningfully change American counterterrorism policy.