When A
Mistake Isn’t: Conflict of Interest, Drone Strikes, and Malevolence vs.

       This morning, April 23, the country is
being bombarded with two stories of bad judgment, maybe?

       In the first (urls, below), President
Obama has admitted that raids (probably drone strikes) in the border region
between Pakistan and Afghanistan meant to deal a severe blow to Al Qaeda,
unwittingly killed two westerners, an American and an Italian. While this is
surely an unfortunate turn of events, there was no mistake here. This was a “signature strike” supposedly, meaning that the target exhibited the characteristics of an Al Qaeda cell without definitive proof of who was inside. It was a correct assessment with untoward, unintended consequences. It was not a mistake if this strategy is going to be employed. And what else can the President do if troops are off the table?

       Presumably, the CIA had provided the
President with sufficient intelligence data to warrant his sanctioning of these
two strikes or if it did not reach the level of the President, that protocol on
the decision to attack was followed. Presumably, the President did not
knowingly kill these two “innocents.” But my reading of the story in the NY Times suggests that once again,
Americans and other westerners are in areas of the world where they are not
really welcomed. 

        It should come as no surprise that our citizens are targets for our
enemies and have high value as kidnapped hostages, which they were. That they
were stashed in a place along side high value Al Qaeda targets should equally
be of no surprise. I am actually surprised that Al Qaeda didn’t make sure that
the US knew the hostages were among them so that the President would not order
the strikes. Then again, who knows? Maybe he did know but calculated that the
death of the enemy was worth the sacrifice of an American life. We will never
know, nor should we. This is war and the we have to allow the President to
conduct the war the way he sees fit, have Congress oversee that conduct, and
both the President and Congress can be turned out of office if they do not do
their jobs well. That is our system.

       I appreciate the President’s willingness
to acknowledge these events publicly. He did not have to. He could have quietly
told the families what he knew about these January deaths, but he chose
transparency. He did not say he made an error and should not. He did apologize, which is also reasonable. His government
did what it could with the information it had in the face of unwillingness of
the American people to support a ground effort to once and for all wipe out the
enemies of the US in this part of the world. Thus, the use of the drones was
likely and logical.

       Were the drone strikes, assuming that was
the mode of attack, malevolent? You bet. Drone strikes always are.

       Was there incompetence in the President’s
not knowing that westerners would be killed in these strikes? There is no
evidence of this yet, but that could come.

       My question is far simpler. What the hell
were these westerners doing in such hostile territory and why should American
foreign policy, including war, be hostage to their being hostages?

       Answer: it should not. If you don’t want
to become a victim of Al Qaeda hostage taking, stay stateside. If you go to
Pakistan, no matter how much good you intend to do, don’t be surprised if you
wind up a captive.

       The second story is another one of vuja de.

       Early this morning the NY Times’ Jo Baker and Mike McIntire wrote
about another critical question for American voters. Can Hillary Clinton be
trusted to do the right thing? Answer: only if she makes money at it ad perhaps not then either.

       In this case big money in Russia came the
way of the Clinton Foundation and a huge chunk of change came to former
President Clinton (and thus to Mrs. Clinton assuming they file a joint IRS
return) for a speech during the time Mrs. Clinton was working at Foggy Bottom
(State Dept). Did these funds affect her judgment when she was Secretary of
State with regard to the Russian’s ability to corner a large chunk of the
world’s uranium market? Of course, once again, the answer is: who knows? But
that’s the problem, isn’t it?

       The damage done by a conflict-of-interest
is not that an individual or his or her corporation is beholding to two
competing interests, in this case the American people vs. a Russian atomic
energy agency (Rosatom). The question is do you really want this question asked
about the Secretary of State or a future President? Of course not!

       This is the same issue faced by and
flunked by a past MD Anderson President, the current one and the latter’s wife.
It’s the appearance of wrong doing by those in high office that damages the
reputation of the office holder and by inference the organizations in which
they hold these positions.

       If it turns out that Ms. Clinton did not
report donations to the Clinton Foundation as she pledged to do and/or there is
no clarity that she DID NOT favor the Russians in this deal, she has
disqualified herself for the Oval Office and ought to cease campaigning and
take herself out of the 2016 race for the White House. Since that will not
happen, it is imperative that the media continue to press on this issue with
her and perhaps even with Jeb Bush with regard to what money they took for what
purpose and from whom.

       Frankly, I am tired of discerning which past,
current, or potential Presidents and their staffs are incompetent and which
malevolent. A plague on all of their houses. As Oscar the Grouch would say: “GO

       If Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Bush are the best
we can do for 2016, let’s draft someone else from somewhere. Jon Stewart is
free. Letterman would make a fine running mate.


Leonard Zwelling