While it’s important to learn more about the details, in concept these are all good changes. As a general matter, military decisions should be made by military commanders, not bottlenecked at the White House where an inexperienced civilian commander-in-chief micro-manages the war. Moreover, the “near-certainty” standard of avoiding civilian deaths incentivized the use of human shields and went well beyond the requirements of the laws of war. Finally, by relaxing the requirement that targets pose a threat to U.S. personnel, commanders will have greater ability to help allies under fire. In other words, the drone program stands to become more agile, more lethal, and more responsive to the needs of combatants in the field.
There’s much to say about all this (perhaps I should do an extended piece), but for now it’s important to note that the Obama restrictions on the drone program were not required by the laws of war. Even the Trump changes may result in a legal regime stricter than that required by the law of armed conflict. I’m uncomfortable with any policy regime that ties commanders hands beyond the traditional rules of war, but the Trump administration’s potential changes represent an important step in the right direction.