Can Trump Unravel Obama’s Rules of War?

The codification of the use of legal force against terrorist targets has been a pillar of the Obama administration. Walking a new tough line might not be so easy.

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Media Outlet: Foreign Policy

Luke Hartig wrote for Foreign Policy about whether Trump can unravel Obama’s rules of war:

For eight years, the Obama administration has pursued a tough-minded war against al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups that has eliminated their leaders from Somalia to Afghanistan to Yemen. Though many critics have argued for more transparency and greater legal constraints, the policy has been anchored in what President Barack Obama considers to be a principled and pragmatic framework for regulating the use of lethal drone strikes outside hot war zones. Many observers think Donald Trump will completely abandon that framework. Perhaps he’ll try — but that will be easier said than done.
In early December, Obama delivered a speech on counterterrorism in which he discussed the principled but pragmatic policies he and his team have developed over the past eight years for some of the most contentious issues of his administration — drone strikes, capture raids, interrogation, Guantánamo. The speech was accompanied by a public document that provided for the first time a comprehensive accounting of the legal and policy framework underlying Obama’s approach to counterterrorism.
Delivered in the twilight hours of the Obama administration and before the transfer of power to a man who has called for, among other things, targeting the civilian family members of terrorists, the speech was a forceful closing argument for Obama’s approach. The president was, as always, high-minded and sought to appeal to Americans’ reason and morality. But among the circles of people who helped Obama develop these policies, the election of Trump and the publicly stated views of his top campaign advisors have led to a deep sense of unease, a feeling that everything we helped build over the past eight years is up for grabs.

Author:

Luke Hartig is a fellow in New America's International Security program, with a research specialization in counterterrorism. He is also executive director of National Journal's Network Science Initiative.