Claudia Putnam's Reviews > Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone

Objective Troy by Scott  Shane
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: journalistic-synthetic-non-fiction, history, war-writing, politics

July 2016-I really wanted to get back and give this a more comprehensive review, even though by now I have forgotten a lot of what I wanted to say.

I have to get my thoughts together on this one. I listened to it rather than read it, so I can't quote and don't have notes, as I was driving. But it deserves a thoughtful review. It's changed my thinking on a number of things and deepened it on others. I think every American should read this book. More soon.


I believe this is one of the most important books I will have read in 2016. One takeaway is that the responsibility for the breadth and depth of America's drone program belongs squarely with Obama. It cannot be outsourced to JSOC or to whatever dark forces you want to see at work in the CIA or NSA or leftover from Rove/Cheney/Blackwater/Blackops/whatever. That does not mean those elements are not involved. It just means that Obama was and is at the helm and he authored the program and totally knows what's going on though he may at times have delegated responsibility for the day-to-day and may not have been thrilled with every hit.

The drone program rose to its heights because of the attempt to blow up a plane over Detroit in Obama's first year as president. The infamous underwear bomber that became something of a joke only because the guy's bomb did not go off as planned. The issue was that the bomb was undetectable by TSA. Even worse, though, was that the guy was actually on a no-fly list. Even worse, his father in (I think) Nigeria had gone to the US Embassy (or Consulate, I forget, sorry, it's been awhile and I'm an American idiot for not knowing which we have there) and denounced his own son. The father was a banker and a credible source, concerned that his son had been developing radicalized views and had recently made a trip to Sudan to contact radicals. He had received what seemed to be a goodbye message and the father believed that his son was traveling to America on a legitimate passport. So, the US had all the information it needed to stop this guy, but due to one thing and another, all this info was lost in the shuffle and the guy sailed through.

So, naturally Obama hit the roof. The whole presidency could have gone down as a result of this one incident in his first year. If that plane had blown, the Republicans would have been all over him. Although TSA and all the security measures were Bush's construction, it had not failed before and the fact that it failed so soon in his presidency would have been laid at his feet. Obama's real concern and interest lay with domestic policy--fixing the economy, which also was worse than he thought, thanks to Bush, and fixing healthcare. Also climate change. So the last thing he wanted was boots on the ground in Yemen, which was what dealing with an increased terror threat would lead to.

(As an aside, Shane comments on Obama's poor handling of the press in the whole situation--he was on vacation when this happened and did not appear to reassure the public. In general Obama and his staff have done terribly with the press IMO on this and other complex issues. But throughout the book Shane comments how badly Obama has communicated about how he has handled terrorism. Obama has killed hundreds of top terror agents through the drone program but has not publicized this, often due to agreements with the countries in which the drone program has operated... even though individually, newspapers have often reported the hits, there has been no public accounting of the figures... and his record in this area... so the public does not have a good sense of what he has accomplished--if you want to think of this type of thing as an accomplishment... more about that later.)

Enter the drone program. Via drones, you can limit collateral damage and narrow your targets. By Obama's lights, this was much better than the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths that occur with an on-the-ground war, even if civilians were killed in drone strikes. To date, perhaps a couple of thousand civilians have been reported killed by drones... accounts vary depending on who is reporting. But that is small by any accounting compared to traditional warfare.

However, obviously no one is looking at it from the POV of those on the ground. If you are a member of a small village in a remote area who happens to have a cousin visiting, you are probably not thinking of him as a terrorist but as a cousin. You might not have any idea about buildings in New York. You might not have any idea of where New York is (soldiers fighting in Afghanistan reported their shock at discovering that tribal peoples had often not even heard of the Trade Towers--our own ethnocentricity is what's shocking, really). And suddenly more than half your village is wiped out by a rocket. That's surreal and of course beyond enraging.

So then the book begins tracing the development of Anwar al-Alaki from an ordinary US immigrant who seemed quite well-adjusted to a radicalized imam and eventually a terrorist leader. As well, the Obama administration's commitment to killing him. And the Justice Department's collusion in justifying the decision to execute him without trial. Which justification has been released, but so heavily redacted that the reasoning behind it cannot be discerned. Which is odd, you know? If there is a reasoning that can be seen as legal, you think they'd stand behind it and it wouldn't need to be redacted for security reasons. What "security concerns" can there be in a legal decision? Show us the reasoning, I say, or scrap the decision and never, ever do that again.

Anyway, so on this whole questionable scaffolding, al-Alaki gets executed by drone, and then, shortly after, his son, age 16, who has never shown any history of terrorism and who has never really even lived with his father, and who has been highly involved with the pro-democracy Arab Spring movement, which is the opposite of terrorism, is also executed by drone, supposedly by accident, according to JSOC. Obama, to his credit, was furious about this, and at that moment some of the control he had delegated was taken back or at least re-delegated. But still. Out of hand and unforgivable.

My thing with al-Alaki is that well, yes, he was sending people after American lives. He would have been hard to capture and bring back for trial. But under US law he was entitled to that trial. And the thing is, Jesus himself was only a rebel until he was killed. It was not until his martyrdom that he developed any force as a spiritual figure. Al-Alaki on the other hand was already an imam with considerable weight. Martyr him and you have a mess. WEAKEN him and that's another thing. The US had all kinds of info on Al-Alaki regarding his corruption with prostitutes and the like. A trial with pictures in which he confessed to these would have been a golden opportunity. In fact arresting him much earlier on and going through that would have been so much smarter. What idiots.

In any case, this book is well worth the read for the inside look at the tradeoffs, muff-ups, hard choices, personal moral failings, not to mention Republican obstructionism, that have got us into a lot of unnecessary entanglements.

If you want to understand more than the headlines that will continue to plague us, I urge you to read this book.

9 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Objective Troy.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

January 19, 2016 – Started Reading
January 19, 2016 – Shelved
January 21, 2016 –
page 0
0.0% "About 3/4 thru. Everyone, absolutely everyone, should be reading this, I'm thinking."
February 5, 2016 – Shelved as: journalistic-synthetic-non-fiction
February 5, 2016 – Shelved as: history
February 5, 2016 – Finished Reading
July 5, 2016 – Shelved as: war-writing
September 23, 2018 – Shelved as: politics

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Holly Is the audio version adequate, then? Or should I get the print/ebook version? You seem to have gotten a lot out of the audiobook.

Claudia Putnam Yes, the audio is great. The only issue was not being able to highlight points for review, which I esp like being able to do w NF.

Holly I just finished the audiobook and re-read your review: agreement on all points.

Claudia Putnam Thanks Holly. Would love to sit down with you and talk face to face sometime. :)

back to top