"The Jonas Brothers are here; they're out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans. But boys, don't get any ideas. I have two words for you, 'predator drones.' You will never see it coming."

The Obama administration has spent a great deal of time on outreach to Muslims worldwide, and on dialing down the volume and rhetoric of the prior administration in order to defuse al-Qaeda's narrative of a clash of civilizations between Muslims and non-Muslims. So you have to wonder why in the world the president's speech writers would think it was a good idea to throw a joke about predator drones into the president's speech during the White House Correspondent's Dinner, given that an estimated one-third of drone casualties, or between 289 and 378, have been civilians. It evinces a callous disregard for human life that is really inappropriate for a world leader, especially a president who is waging war against an enemy that deliberately targets civilians. It also helps undermine that outreach by making it look insincere. It's already hard enough to convince Muslims that the U.S. isn't indifferent to civilian casualties without having the president joke about it.

Other people have compared this to George W. Bush's joke about missing weapons of mass destruction, but I think this is sort of irrelevant. The American people have really refused to cope with the human cost of using drone attacks against suspected terrorists because for the most part, as long as we feel "safe," we're indifferent to what the government does in the name of security. The president joking about drones just further justifies that numbness, and it's inappropriate even without the comparison.

I suppose the relative lack of outrage has to do with whose lives were the butt of the joke -- we recognize the names and faces of the American service members who died because of Bush's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction as friends, relatives, and family members. The people who die in drone strikes are anonymous -- they have no faces or names -- except for the suspected terrorist targets the administration celebrates as being neutralized.

-- A. Serwer

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