Excerpted from: Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control
At the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner, President Bush joked about searching for weapons of mass destruction under Oval Office furniture, since they had never been found in Iraq.
The joke backfired when parents who had lost their children fighting in Iraq said they found it offensive and tasteless. Senator John Kerry said Bush displayed a “stunningly cavalier” attitude toward the war and those fighting it.
Six years later, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, President Obama made his own not-so-funny joke about weapons and war. When the pop band Jonas Brothers was about to play to the packed room, Obama furrowed his brow and sent them a warning to keep away from his daughters. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: Predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.”
For people in Pakistan, where American drones have been dropping their Hellfire missiles, Obama’s joke lost something in translation. According to Pakistani journalist Khawar Rizvi, few Pakistanis had ever heard of the Jonas Brothers or understood the reference to the President’s daughters. “But one thing we do know: There’s nothing funny about Predator drones,” said Rizvi.
That seemed to be the opinion of Faisal Shahzad, a thirty-year-old Pakistan-born resident of Bridgeport, Connecticut. On May 1, 2010, just one day after President Obama made his offensive drone joke, Shahzad tried to set off a car bomb in New York City’s Times Square. The would-be bomber had left his explosive-laden Nissan Pathfinder parked in the middle of the busiest intersection in New York City at the busiest time: 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. Luckily, the bomb failed to explode, and the authorities—tipped off by local t-shirt vendors—disarmed it before it caused any casualties.
Questioned about his motives by the authorities, Shahzad talked about US drone attacks in Pakistan.
“You know what would have made a great punch line for Barack Obama’s joke about Predator drones last night at the White House correspondents’ dinner?” suggested writer Jonathan Schwarz after hearing about the bomb scare. “If the car bomb in Times Square had gone off at exactly that moment, and it turned out it was, in fact, in retaliation for strikes by Predator drones. Then the next night, when they were still washing blood and viscera off the streets of New York, the head of the Pakistani Taliban could have made a quip about killing people with car bombs at a fancy black tie dinner in Peshawar. And then the US could have blown up more Pakistani civilians with drones. And the cycle of funniness would begin anew!”
Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control