A key reason many in Congress haven’t spoken up against the drone strike policy is that many believe the public overwhelmingly supports the policy. A key reason many believe the public overwhelmingly supports the drone strike policy is that the Washington Post said so in February 2012.
But the question the Washington Post asked in its February 2012 poll, and the way the Post reported it, were highly misleading. And in the last year, a lot of criticism of the drone strike policy has appeared in mainstream press that hadn’t appeared before.
As the Senate considers the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, where he will oversee CIA drone strikes, urge the Washington Post to ask the public an unbiased question on drone strikes.
In February 2012, under the headline, “Poll finds broad support for Obama’s counterterrorism policies,” the Washington Post reported that “The Post-ABC News poll found that 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s drone policy.”  This Post report had the effect of convincing many people that the drone strike policy was overwhelmingly popular. But here is the question that was actually asked: 
… thinking about the following decisions of the Obama administration, please tell me whether you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove … c. The use of unmanned, “drone” aircraft against terrorist suspects overseas
The Post assumed there was no meaningful distinction between current policy and targeting “terrorist suspects.” That was the “official story” the Administration had just put out.
On January 30, 2012, just before the Washington Post poll was conducted, in an unprecedented and widely reported public discussion of the policy, President Obama described the policy as “pinpoint strike on al Qaeda operatives.”  But as the New York Times reported a few months later, 
In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.
But some State Department officials have complained to the White House that the criteria used by the C.I.A. for identifying a terrorist “signature” were too lax. The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.
If those State Department officials were right, then describing the policy as targeted on “terrorist suspects” was misleading, and the Washington Post poll question and report were biased.
Urge the Washington Post to ask a poll question on drone strikes that takes account of the State Department officials’ criticism that drone strikes have not been targeted on “terrorist suspects,” as most people would understand that phrase.
Thank you for all you do to help bring about a more just foreign policy,
Robert Naiman, Chelsea Mozen, Sarah Burns and Megan Iorio
Just Foreign Policy
Help us reach our January fundraising goal by donating today! With our small staff and minimal overhead, you know your contribution will go a long way.
1. “Poll finds broad support for Obama’s counterterrorism policies,” Scott Wilson and Jon Cohen, Washington Post, February 8, 2012 http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-02-08/politics/35445649_1_drone-program-support-for-drone-strikes-drone-policy
2. “Washington Post-ABC News Poll, February 1 to 4, 2012” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/postabcpoll_020412.html
3. “Obama’s drone comment was no slip-up, official says,” Dan Lothian and Reza Sayah, CNN, January 31, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/31/politics/obama-pakistan/index.html
4. “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” Jo Becker and Scott Shane, May 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html