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Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency Hardcover – June 5, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A good book to read if you want an answer to the question, 'What happened?' That is, what happened to the idealistic Obama of the 2008 campaign who was going to shut down Guantánamo, end indefinite detention, try terrorist suspects in civilian courts, take civil liberties more seriously, and end the rabid secrecy of the Bush era? How did he turn into the guy who not only didn't do any of that stuff, but became a drone-obsessed killing machine in the process?"
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones


"Divulge(s) the details of top-level deliberations—details that were almost certainly known only to the administration's inner circle. Likely to be the most thorough accounts of America's recent national-security efforts that we shall receive before the November election."
The Wall Street Journal

Book Description

HMH hardcover, 2012, previous ISBN 978-0-547-54789-3
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547547897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547547893
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #141,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Keppel on July 6, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Those reading Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power will also want to read Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency. It is the story of how Obama ultimately adopted a national security policy far different from the one most of his supporters expected. In particular, it's the story of how Obama ultimately abandoned his original vow to try terrorists in civilian court and how he turned more and more to drone strikes, which leave a corpse, not a prisoner. Are we killing because we don't know what to do with prisoners? Klaidman does not flatly answer this question, nor does he editorialize on drone strikes, which have indeed killed suspected terrorists, including an American citizen, without due process, have also caused civilian deaths, and have stirred intense anger in Pakistan and Yemen, possibly recruiting new terrorists.

One of the values of this book is that it shows Obama's policy emerging -- as often happens in Washington -- from intense infighting in the Obama administration. Central is the conflict between the principled Attorney General, Eric Holder, and the hawkish and cynical Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel. Under intense pressure from Congress and buffeted by events (including the attempted Christmas 2010 "underwear bombing" on a flight approaching Detroit), Obama chooses expediency, partly under this duress, partly because he himself has more than a streak of it.

Klaidman writes a fast-paced journalistic narrative, which only occasionally slows down for analysis. For a closer look at the issues in drone strikes, see Drone Warfare.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is the best account of Obama's national security policy decision-making that I have read. Like Jane Mayer's "The DarkSide", it is both highly informative and ultimately discouraging...I could only read about ten pages at a time before taking a time out to think about something more optimistic. It is sobering that even someone with the training of a constitutional law professor and the progressive instincts of President Obama can fall prey to the so-called imperatives of national security and be lured into unconstitutional use of drones strikes and limitless detainment. We live in a dangerous world, to state the obvious. But adherence to our constitutional principles is the only thing that can keep us safe in the long run.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those interested to learn the politics within the federal government's actions and attitudes surrounding Gitmo and the fight against terrorism during the Obama Administration, there is no better summation and resource. A great reference to anyone who enjoys Political Science.

Compared to the newspapers coverage on the topic, this book deserves 5-stars for its educational value. However, out of respect for political current event books in general, I can only give it 4-stars.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This meticulously researched and timely book exemplifies the highest standards of investigative journalism. It makes no compromises in its rigorous pursuit of the truth, and displays with subtlety and insight the searing tensions involved in trying to balance national security responsibilities with other comparably important values. It is lucid and devoid of bias and oversimplification.
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I could not put this book done. Klaidman (via those he consulted and conversed with) gives so much detail and information on the foreign policy and terrorism issues that existed during Obama's first term. There isn't much jargon used, which makes it easy to read and follow. The chapters are strategically broken up, and offer individual stories while continuing the overall narrative. I'm glad one of my professors recommended this to me!
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I found all the behind-the-scenes information very instructive. If what Mr. Klaidman puts forth is true, it appears that the "NIMBY" attitude of the States and Congress is more responsible for the apparent shift in policy on terrorism (and increase in drone use) than the President's supposed inconsistency.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the lesser talked-about legacies of the George W. Bush administration is a group of prisoners who are, almost literally, in limbo.

Because of the ways in which they were interrogated (torture) and imprisoned (inhumanely), they cannot be prosecuted. Yet, as it happens, they contain genuine threats to national security, so neither can they be released. So what should a president do?

And the idea of drone warfare can be scary, because it brings to mind thoughts of cold, emotionless killings. The thing is, though...how much do "we the people" really know about it?

Based on this compelling; well-written-if not wholly encouraging-book, probably less than we should. For instance, the argument is made by a player within that drone operators are actually *more* forced to confront the human costs of their actions.

In previous wars, soldiers dropped bombs on people they'd never even seen. The process of a drone strike requires the operator to carefully study a potential target's day-to-day life, which often includes their family. They must watch the strike unfolding in real-time video and stick around to watch the mourning and the aftermath.

I'd say reading this book is the very *least* necessary before forming an at least partially informed opinion on drones. After doing so, mine is: While I may not love it...it may also be the least of an unending list of evil choices.

And one line from the book that does give me at least some hope is this, about two of the men responsible for signing off on targets: "...they were serious, intelligent men who genuinely struggled with excruciatingly difficult questions of security, morality, and law."

I don't know if that's good--this is the kind of thing where likely there is no good--but it is at least, less bad.

At least.
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