3. ‘I refer you to my earlier obfuscations’
The speech provided government officials with a new reference point for another year’s worth of questions. Whenever asked about a counterterrorism strike by another country, they now refer to Obama’s comments. The White House spokesperson continues to provide a vague response when asked about the administration’s drone strike policies, as he did just six days after Obama’s speech: “There are standards that are in place that are public and available for every American to review.” The State Department spokesperson also continues to offer the standard reply to drone strike questions: “I would refer you to the comments the President made about them in May.” Similarly, Obama himself now does not discuss strikes at all, but rather invites journalists to review his own comments. During an August news conference, he stated: “In my speech in May, I was very specific about how we make these determinations about potential lethal strikes, so I would refer you to that speech.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has taken to outsourcing the public relations for its counterterrorism operations in Yemen to the government in Sanaa. In February, Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby was asked about military drone strikes that targeted a wedding convoy, allegedly killing and injuring civilians. Kirby answered: “I would also point you to comments made by the Yemeni government itself with respect to that operation … that there were some pretty bad folks that were killed in that operation.” When asked again in April, Kirby stated: “The Yemeni government … did confirm some air strikes carried out over the weekend. I would refer you to the Yemeni government for details about that.” So, the government of Yemen is now the Pentagon’s spokesperson when the U.S. military kills “some pretty bad folks” in Yemen.