Target al Qaeda: An inside look at Obama’s drone program

Political Punch

One of the most lasting legacies President Obama will likely hand over to his successor, whether in 2013 or in 2017, is the use of drone aircraft for targeted killings. A new book from Newsweek-The Daily Beast reporter Dan Klaidman delves into the successes and failures of Obama's drone program.

"Three days into office, [White House counterterrorism advisor] John Brennan comes into the Oval Office and says, 'Mr. President, there's been a drone strike in South Waziristan in Pakistan. They killed an innocent tribal elder and much of his family.' The President is sort of stunned by this," said Klaidman, author of "Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency."

There is no denying that drones have killed terrorists, lots of them. But human rights groups say the number of civilian causalities is underreported, and denounce the program as unlawful, dangerous, and setting a bad precedent for future presidents and other countries.

President Obama initially set strict standards for drone strikes, but he was willing to, as Klaidman put it, "loosen those collateral damage standards" -- the loss of civilian lives -- in pursuit of one high-profile target.

"After they got bin Laden, Obama was focused like a laser on Awlaki," said Klaidman. During his weekly counterterrorism briefings, Obama would tell his military advisor and others present, "'Keep after Awlaki. I want Awlaki.'"

So what is President Obama's "red line" when it comes to civilian casualties? And why will drones continue to be such a seductive program? Check out this week's Political Punch to find out.