When President Obama put an American-born radical imam named Anwar al-Awlaki on a list for assassination two years ago, liberal critics howled. Awlaki was a rock-star propagandist for al-Qaeda’s arm in Yemen who recruited new followers over the Internet. He posted fiery sermons in idiomatic English and called on all who listened to attack the West.
We already know how the story ends. A drone found Awlaki in the deserts of northern Yemen last September. And as two Hellfire missiles sealed his fate, he became the most controversial kill of the Obama presidency. Awlaki was a U.S. citizen summarily executed without due process or a day in court. For some of Obama’s early supporters, it seemed like deja vu all over again: A president who campaigned on hope and change appeared more like the status quo.
For those of us covering the events, there was a general sense that the decision to target Awlaki had been difficult for the White House. Now, with the publication of two new books, it appears that we may have had it all wrong and that Obama is more aggressive in his counterterrorism policy than any of us thought he would be.